Gabriel Ebert (#110 of 2)

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.

Family Ties: An Interview with Playwright Amy Herzog

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Family Ties: An Interview with Playwright Amy Herzog
Family Ties: An Interview with Playwright Amy Herzog

The most dramatic thing that happens in playwright Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles occurs at the beginning of the play. That's when 21-year-old Leo, all grimy from a cross-country bike ride, arrives unexpectedly in the middle of the night at the door of his 91-year-old grandmother's apartment in Greenwich Village. But with the series of incisive scenes that follow, both funny and moving, Herzog has written one of the best new plays of the season. She charts an unconventional intergenerational friendship between grandmother and grandson; Leo is dealing with the recent loss of his best friend in a biking accident while Vera is coping with the annoyances of getting old. Herzog's writing is surefooted and quietly brilliant. She's equally comfortable writing dialogue for characters that are more than half a century apart and suggests complex lives for even the supporting and off-stage characters. At 33, she has the grace and insights of a mature writer.

4000 Miles has been given an impeccably calibrated production at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (through June 17), directed by Daniel Aukin and featuring the Tony and Drama Desk award-winning actress Mary Louise Wilson, as Vera, the nonagenarian grandmother and Gabriel Ebert as her grandson. Wilson, best known for Grey Gardens and Full Gallop, and the relative newcomer Ebert give memorable performances providing perfect foil for each other; the production is also enhanced by Greta Lee and Zoë Winters in the supporting roles and by Lauren Helpern's evocative set design.

Herzog first gained attention in New York in 2010 with After the Revolution, an epic, semi-autobiographical family drama which spans three generations of an American communist family in New York and Boston. Vera, the matriarch of family, is a recurring character in both After the Revolution and 4000 Miles. The House recently caught up with Herzog to chat about her work.