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Interview: Martin Sherman on Gently Down the Stream, Gay History, and More

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Interview: Martin Sherman Talks Gently Down the Stream, Gay History, and More

Walter Kurtz

Interview: Martin Sherman Talks Gently Down the Stream, Gay History, and More

It’s hard to pin Martin Sherman down. His work as a playwright ranges across a wide variety of styles and subject matter, and getting him to talk about this work isn’t exactly easy. As I learned from several conversations with him over the past two decades, Sherman can be friendly without being revealing. Now a sprightly septuagenarian, he hasn’t exactly changed his tune.

Sherman’s best-known work, of course, is Bent, arguably one of the most influential gay-themed plays in theatrical history. That 1979 triumph is in large part responsible for raising awareness of the persecution of gay men in Nazi-occupied Germany, and the adoption of the pink triangle as a symbol of gay activism may be traced to Bent’s cultural impact. The American-born writer made London his home nearly four decades ago, shortly after the 1980 Broadway debut of Bent. Today, as Sherman himself ruefully acknowledges, his subsequent plays are better known in London than in New York.

Among those plays that still managed to cross the pond and find success in America: When She Danced, a comedy about Isadora Duncan; A Madhouse in Goa, an apocalyptic satire about art and commerce; and Rose, a one-woman show (starring Olympia Dukakis) that chronicles the life of a European Jewish émigré. In addition, Sherman also wrote the book for the Broadway version of The Boy from Oz, the musical which starred Hugh Jackman as the Australian composer and entertainer Peter Allen.

Sherman was recently back in the United States for the world premiere of his latest work, Gently Down the Stream, which is currently in previews at the Public Theater in Downtown Manhattan. When we sat down to chat, I set out to draw him out enough to learn something about the current play, which is publicized as a funny and moving love story about Beau (played by Harvey Fierstein), an expat pianist living in London who meets an eccentric young lawyer, Rufus (Gabriel Ebert), at the dawn of the Internet dating revolution.

Theater Review: Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at BAM

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Theater Review: Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at BAM

Stephen Cummiskey

Theater Review: Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at BAM

Martin McDonagh is best known for plays like The Pillowman and films like In Bruges, which mix over-the-top violence with laugh-out-loud banter. But he began his career writing very Irish plays about Ireland, starting with the first in his Leenane trilogy, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a funny and crushing production of which is now at the BAM Harvey Theater (through February 5).

McDonagh famously drafted seven plays in nine months in 1994, which formed his entire oeuvre for the next decade (until his Oscar-winning short Six Shooter, in 2005). Since then, his work has dealt with other topics, especially the function of violence in art and society, but at first McDonagh’s Tarantino-reminiscent interest in the ways people hurt each other seemed pegged specifically to his heritage. (He was born and raised in London, but his parents were Irish immigrants who returned home after he was born.)

Review: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 with Josh Groban

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Review: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 with Josh Groban

Chad Batka

Review: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 with Josh Groban

I’ve never seen a Broadway theater look like the Imperial does now. For Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, a catchy, silly and profound new(ish) musical, the 45th Street playhouse has been reimagined by set designer Mimi Lien as a lavish nightclub, in Metropolitan Opera style: There’s lots of red plush and Sputnik chandeliers—what you wish Tatiana’s in Brighton Beach looked like. It’s also multitiered, with stadium and counter seating, four-seaters, and end tables in the orchestra seats, all cut through with runway stages. There are at least three bars just in the orchestra.

This production recreates the spirit of the unique layout of the show’s Off Broadway runs, which were hosted for four years in small downtown theaters and a custom-built popup venue in the Meatpacking District. The biggest difference in the move to Broadway isn’t the scale of the production, the price of the ticket, or the demographics of the audience; it’s that Pierre, once originated by the show’s creator, is now played by a big star, adult-contemporary singer Josh Groban, making his Broadway debut.

If They Could See Her Now Director Leigh Silverman on Sweet Charity

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If They Could See Her Now: Director Leigh Silverman on Sweet Charity

Heather Phelps Lipton

If They Could See Her Now: Director Leigh Silverman on Sweet Charity

Over the course of the past two decades, Leigh Silverman has spent most of her time as a director working on new plays, collaborating with writers and helping shepherd their work through years of development. Her partnership with playwright Lisa Kron led to her directing Kron’s quasi-autobiographical Well, which marked Silverman’s Broadway debut 10 years ago. At age 31, she joined that extremely exclusive club of female directors working on Broadway. That group has grown larger in the intervening years, and Silverman herself went on to direct the Broadway premiere of Chinglish by David Henry Hwang, with whom she enjoys an enduring collaborative relationship.

Under Silverman’s sure-footed directorial guidance, several actors and writers have received Tony recognition, but it was for her direction of the 2014 revival of the musical Violet that she finally garnered her first Tony nomination. Now Silverman is directing Violet star Sutton Foster in the New Group’s Off-Broadway revival of the 1966 musical Sweet Charity, playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center. We talked recently to the director about her current production and her relatively new foray into the world of musicals.

Review: Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities at Randall’s Island

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Review: Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities at Randall’s Island

Martin Girard

Review: Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities at Randall’s Island

For over two decades, Cirque du Soleil has made a living by gussying up the circus, leaning on their French-Canadian roots to transform the American big top into their more pronounced “grand chapiteau.” The steampunk aesthetic of Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosity provides a clear and winning way in which to wring magic from the old, and features several stunning illusions, many of which—like a whimsical cardboard cutout of a train that weaves through the aisles before chugging onto the stage as an elaborate, gigantic costume—seem like a live-action homage to Georges Méliès.

Interview: Peter Brook on Battlefield and His Return to The Mahabharata

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Interview: Peter Brook on Battlefield and His Return to The Mahabharata

Colm Hogan

Interview: Peter Brook on Battlefield and His Return to The Mahabharata

It’s no exaggeration to claim that Peter Brook is one of the most influential theater directors of the latter half of the last century. The English-born theater maker, and established filmmaker in his own right, is internationally hailed, revered even by some, as a kind of guru whose work is a constant search for the essence of theater. His 1968 book The Empty Space is a seminal work of theater analysis, and his productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s and 1970s (Marat/Sade, King Lear, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) are celebrated for their groundbreaking innovation.

Since then, he’s developed and staged a series of adventurous productions around the globe. In New York City, Brook’s experimental staging of The Tragedy of Carmen re-lit and revitalized Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater in 1983, and in 1987, his elemental nine-hour production The Mahabharata, based on the ancient multi-volume Sanskrit epic from India, restored life to a long-defunct movie theater in Brooklyn.

That venue, now the BAM Harvey Theater, has been an integral part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s arts programming ever since. It’s to this same stage that the 91-year-old director brings his latest, Battlefield, a small-scale production featuring four actors and a drummer, which is also based on the classic Indian text that inspired him three decades ago. When I reached Brook by phone earlier this month, he spoke from his office at the Théâtre Bouffes du Nord, his home base in Paris since the mid-’70s.

Richard Nelson on The Gabriels and the Hunger of Politics and Family

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Richard Nelson on The Gabriels and the Hunger of Politics and Family

Joan Marcus

Richard Nelson on The Gabriels and the Hunger of Politics and Family

Earlier this year, playwright Richard Nelson launched a unique three-play cycle at the Public Theater which sets out to track, in real time, the lives of an American family during this tumultuous election year. Each play takes place on the day of its opening night: the first, Hungry, which opened in March, introduced us to the Gabriel family of Rhinebeck, New York (the playwright’s own home for the past 34 years); the second, What Did You Expect?, opens tonight at the Public Theater, while the final play in the cycle, Women of a Certain Age, will premiere on election night, November 8.

This isn’t the first time that Nelson has undertaken a project that comprised a set of contemporaneous plays. His last venture at the Public, The Apple Family Plays, was a cycle of four intimate plays that premiered over a period of four years. The Apples, like the Gabriels, also lived in Rhinebeck, and each play was designed to open on the evening of a significant moment or event in American life and politics: That Hopey Changey Thing on the eve of the 2010 midterm elections; Sweet and Sad on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; Sorry on election night 2012; and Regular Singing on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Interview: Playwright Bess Wohl and Director Rachel Chavkin Talk Small Mouth Sounds

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Interview: Playwright Bess Wohl and Director Rachel Chavkin Talk Small Mouth Sounds

Ben Arons

Interview: Playwright Bess Wohl and Director Rachel Chavkin Talk Small Mouth Sounds

The silence enforced on six participants of a healing retreat proves most eloquent in Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds. A small theatrical gem, where minimal dialogue is enhanced with acutely observed and honestly portrayed human behavior, the play made an acclaimed debuted at off-Broadway’s Ars Nova last year. Directed by Rachel Chavkin, the production, staged alley-style in an intimate setting, has made a welcome return and is now playing for a limited three-month commercial run at the Pershing Square Signature Theater. I talked recently with Wohl and Chavkin about their collaboration on this unusual and compelling theater project.

A Streetcar Named Desire at St. Ann’s Warehouse

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A Streetcar Named Desire at St. Ann’s Warehouse

Teddy Wolff

A Streetcar Named Desire at St. Ann’s Warehouse

Round and round Blanche DuBois goes, and where she stops, everyone knows. Tennessee Williams’s legendary character earns our respect for refusing to accept defeat despite steadily mounting losses of home, riches, reputation, loved ones, and ultimately her mind. Lately, though, the playwright’s valiant, if fading, heroine has also had to contend with the potential loss of her power to surprise and affect her audience: In just over five years, New York has had three major productions of A Streetcar Named Desire—with Cate Blanchett and Joel Edgerton, Nicole Ari Parker and Blair Underwood, and, now, Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster.

The Longest Day Long Day’s Journey into Night

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The Longest Day: Long Day’s Journey into Night

Joan Marcus

The Longest Day: Long Day’s Journey into Night

If you catch the matinée of this revived titan of American theater, you really will spend a long day journeying from day into night; if it’d opened in the fall instead of the spring, you’d go in seeing daylight and leave in the dark. The 1912-set play’s characters have an even longer day than the audience, withstanding an exhausting stream of emotional revelations and endless confessions that lasts from breakfast to midnight. My God, if this is what one day is like with these people, imagine how fatiguing a whole life would be?