Tag Archives: Broadway

THE LITTLE FOXES

Over the past few months I’ve learned a few things about an American playwright named Lillian Hellman:

 

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“I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions” – L. Hellman.

 

When I read those words I ponder… who says something like that? Or, more importantly, when she looked out through her own lenses at the world around her, based on what she saw, heard, tasted, felt, smelled and sensed… why did she make a statement like that?

 

I traced Austin Pendleton to a scene study class at HB Studio this spring to study a concentrated workshop called Lillian Hellman Scene Study. I can say through my experience of narrowing in on the tragedy of Martha Dobie in her first play called The Children’s Hour that Hellman plays are little mysteries; the best kind – there are little truths hidden like Easter eggs waiting to be discovered by a group of relaxed and present actors. For example… how do you cut a conscience? Why would you need to? Hellman’s autobiographies tend to give a little insight – but also tend to have a significantly controversial history attached to them. I borrowed my copies of her autobiographies as they sit on a shelf at the New York Library for Performing Arts .

 

Fun fact: I’m sitting on my sofa in New York right now listening to a YouTube recording of Ocean Waves wondering if any of the same insight that Hellman thought will run through the tide of my consciousness in this blog post.

 

That’s the thing about plays though – when brought to life they can’t but help to carry you through the playwright’s reflection of her time. You can’t (or maybe you can) imagine how nerding out with her plays on down time at my day job while New Yorkers stroll in and out to say hello all morning has inspired me. I’ve been looking up to find faces and voices talking to me with her plays fresh on the tip of my tongue. I can’t be quite sure if I’ve been grasping at a little something of what she saw – but residually – an undercurrent of life.

 

The best part about studying acting in New York – the very plays I’m reading and studying find their ways to Broadway stages! And sometimes they inspire groundbreaking endeavors; two talented female actresses alternating roles. The Little Foxes is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th Street and is directed by Daniel Sullivan.

 

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The Manhattan Theatre Club production has Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternating the lead of power-hungry REGINA HUBBARD GIDDENS and her careful sister-in-law BIRDIE HUBBARD given the “blue” or “green” nights listed on their website. My imagination is mulling over what it might be like to do that – alternate roles within the same production. I just might attempt to one day after seeing these ladies lead the cast through the switch.

 

floating troubles

atop my

sea of hopes

stack full

pressure

against

my chest’s

rise and fall…

 

The emotional rises of REGINA and the emotional falls of BIRDIE are fascinating to witness. In this play, set in the South, the Hubbard family schemes and quarrels over pieces of their pie i.e. the distribution of money among each other. Regina likes to join in on the competitive schemes with her brothers; while Birdie escapes from any pain as much as she can. There doesn’t seem to be a medium among the two; they are either slowly lurking in charge, as Regina does, or lightly asking power to please step away, as in Birdie’s case.

 

…I feel

the barge

passing

parting

liquid thoughts

again…

 
What struck me the most in this play was an examination of getting more. There is raw, gritty desire for more shares, more information, more time with a loved one, or more opportunity to banter about any of the above desires. Some desires seem to overshadow others when in competition – and some desires conveniently find symbiosis when necessary. An example being the scheme to arrange a marriage between Regina’s daughter ALEXANDRA GIDDENS and her gullable cousin LEO HUBBARD in order to ‘keep money in the family”. What a thought – who needs to sell shares when you can marry them? Or something along those lines.

 

…soft landings

brim my eyes

closing

to feel the waves

opening

to feel the waves

roll under…

 

Over time – as the play progresses into the Act III I started to see undercurrents that carried the characters along. There are colorful, hand-painted Easter eggs hidden underneath each character’s learned and necessary ability to cut a larger piece of a whole. These mysteries were tugged along and pushed to the surface every so often – memories of Birdie’s kind mother, Birdie’s ability to hide abuse, Alexandra’s piano duets with Birdie, Regina’s revelations of her true feelings to her husband even when they’re ugly, Birdie and HORACE GIDDENS’ opposition to his daughter Alexandra’s marriage, Leo’s subtle wishes to gain approval from his father and grandfather, and the final moments of the play which open up Alexandra’s mourning of her father. These mysteries, to name a few, seem foreign when they peak because they are only allowed every so often when the characters can’t help but notice a competing humanity.

 

…foreign mechanics

tug my mind

through the

natural rhythm…

 “Sea Of Hopes” in A Collection of Thoughts: Poems By Carrie Robinson.

 

WHAT IF Birdie and Regina were literally foxes? My wager is below. Respectively:

 

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THE WORLD IS (ROUND) WIDE ENOUGH

 

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Honestly if I hadn’t seen Hamilton last night there possibly could have been an unconscious cloud-shaped vapor lingering over me the rest of my life. Honestly as a person-of-the-theatre or even just as a New York pedestrian I was starting to feel like something was gravely wrong – and it was – I was totally missing out.

 

Good news is that this little New York ant (me) is now one of the many masses who rounded onto West 46th street in order to SEE HAMILTON! When I was in line I really felt like part of a super-organism or something…

 

First thing you should know about this rendition of events is that I am a lottery cynic. Know that this arises from a history of lottery losses. The last time I was enlisted to buy lotto tickets, on behalf of a brother, I reported back that I’d self-checked them at the convenience store machine. Instead of ‘success!’ I’d regurgitated the “You Are Not A Winner” that had streamed through my consciousness 15 times. Needless to say I don’t like revisiting that sensation – yoga mantras are more highly recommended!

 

So as I was mulling over some new headshots and planning a night of reading plays and potential monologue finding/learning and maybe even some non-dairy ice cream devouring… I got a text from a, now proven loyal, friend named D’ariel Barnard

 

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Dear D’ariel had played the online Hamilton lottery a steady 6 weeks before finally arriving at the 2 tickets that got us in the door yesterday evening.

 

As I tracked the leader’s footsteps towards our seats I was in a bit of eerily silent shock due to the marching to Broadway on such short notice having not expected to be ‘in the room where it happens’. As soon as I breathed in the space, however, I began to realize what a pleasure this was going to be. The set is simple, yet intricate with its warm brick walls, strong wooden beams, connecting ropes and mysterious entranceways along its parameters. “Such a large, mobile cast must require this,” I thought before seeing any action.

 

I turned off my cell phone… YES to turning off cell phones in theatres people…

 

The action began and what struck me most, apart from the obvious talent on stage, was the revealing of these historical figures as flesh and blood before my very eyes. The strength of the relationships the Hamilton cast creates on stage is really astounding. Each human interaction stands on it’s own very specific terms. In that sense I began to see what might have been in the hearts and imaginings of the daunting faces that I might normally only glance at when forking over United States’ minted paper for some groceries at my local bodega…

 

What unexpectedly touched me most, I think, in this well-oiled musical has to be the vulnerability of the antagonist Aaron Burr (Sydney James Harcourt). In the intermission I found myself confessing that Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) was so easy to root for. I was with him every step of the way as he climbed the ladder and got Washington in his pocket. I rooted for his relationships to resolve themselves peacefully. I empathized with his conflicting emotions at every turn in his life. It is odd, however, that the character whose actions I couldn’t forgive (he antagonizes Alexander Hamilton the most) turned out to be the character I felt the most compassion for – Aaron Burr. Isn’t that odd?

 

I thought about why and I now know that it has to do with what Burr discovered through his grave mistakes. It’s interesting. Burr discovers something Hamilton inherently knew, something the other characters grappled with but overcame… that the world is wide enough. Any actor in an audition room shuffles through it, any young professional intern in a boardroom meeting seethes through it, any little New York ant waiting in the box office line knows it – it’s an oh so familiar competition with people placed in a similar position and often striving for a similar widget…

 

The play reminded me to strive for what Burr longed for in his ‘private moments made public’… to choose love more. I’m sure it’s hiding within those uniquely competitive relationships where I least expected it. It got me wondering along with Burr – what if he’d thrived on harnessing those competitive relationships?

 

Hamilton’s got me feeling small, or rather, unexpanded. New York theatre and acting teachers have harnessed my ability to live in curiosity about the people around me – to take in all of it and carve out windows for the shoes and souls of others. In my voice class today with Julia Lenardon I had a fellow actor’s hands supporting my back so I could experience the expansion of my ribs when I breathe. What if I thought of the world more like that – good and bad resistance & healthy competition – all of it is something to push against, or release into?

 

THE WORLD IS (ROUND) WIDE ENOUGH.

 

Maybe I can incorporate that?

 

At the very least I did touch the gold paint on the wall of the Richard Rodgers Theatre before I left the front row of House Left to ground myself in reality – I was there – with a fellow little New York ant (THANKS D’ARIEL)!

 

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EXAMINING GRACE a.k.a. elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action.

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Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Questions to risk posing include when does the ‘sweet sound’ of grace become necessary… useful… inevitable… and why? How can it be ‘heard’ or ‘herded’ by people? When is it rejected… and how… and why? Where does grace come from? How is it generated? Who possesses it and can it be transferred to another? Does grace have the capacity to ‘find’, ‘unblind’ or ‘save’ another? Can grace inspire social change? These questions arise and are outlined by the famous Amazing Grace song, which is funnelled into Christopher Smith and Arthur Giron’s new musical, Amazing Grace, on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

One manner in which grace seems to be transferred to another is through sound. I first experienced, was teased, with Chuck Cooper’s musical gifts in snippets of him singing to demonstrate a sound, an experience or a manner of singing when he taught me in my conservatory. Chuck helped me to realize (although he doesn’t know it) that singing is a valuable thing. A thing that can release and express my true voice and can connect me for better or worse to others. The problem with having been in a class with Chuck is that you don’t get to hear him sing nearly as much as one might hope for. At the risk of being biased he is the reason that I was inspired to buy a [rush!] ticket, to tell a friend, and make my way to this musical. In my pursuit I was not let down – not only is his singing superb – his storytelling is on another level – graceful – the kind that brings forth the belief that people are equal regardless of the color of their skin. Enough about Chuck – what about his character (a highlight of the musical for me)?

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It is not just sound that inspires grace in this musical… it is what the sound carries within it. It can carry unconditional love – which in the context of this musical about slavery and the subjugation of one race under another is very difficult to allow. Chuck’s character is introduced as Thomas, a slave charged with looking after the every need of John Newton (Josh Young), a rebellious, young slave trader who regularly disappoints his father Captain Newton (Tom Hewitt) and childhood love Mary Catlett (Erin Mackey).

It is not Thomas, or John’s father or Mary’s love that inspires him to use his resources and privilege to correct societal wrongs on behalf of other people. It is when he is challenged to grow beyond his own difficulties and prejudices and to face his own actions that he decides to free slaves and to look at equality among races. A true understanding of love enlightens John when Thomas forces him to confront the fact that John’s spinelessness allowed him to betray one of the only people that showed him unconditional love – to torture Thomas and abandon him. It is Pakuteh who demands John’s respect and finds it in himself to forgive John despite all odds.

What struck me most was the efficiency of resource that Pakuteh, and the other slaves, possess throughout the play as compared to the more privileged characters learning how to utilize their resources more efficiently – especially in the arena of social change. Even in the face of his own daily survival and in the face of utter cruelty Pakuteh chooses to protect, to love, to keep safe, to have dignity, to educate, to see a larger picture at every turn. Simultaneously I witnessed Mary’s Nanna (Laiona Michelle) discover that she could help the willing Mary advocate racial equality despite all fear. The stakes are so high (life or death).

Pakuteh and Nanna, when backed into a corner, choose to allow and wield their meager resources towards a long road of racial equality. It spurred the utilization of John Newton’s abundant resources and influence to begin affecting racial equality and social change. In real life John eventually joined with others in campaigning to abolish the slave trade leading towards the Slave Trade Act 1807. He also wrote the song Amazing Grace, which has been tied to anti-slavery sentiments ever since. It seemed that somewhere along the line he began to believe that grace saved a wretch like him.

It still makes me pretty upset – to trace the mistreatment of people, to glimpse at both sides of prejudice, to understand what a tool forgiveness might be in the face of ignorance – but studying the evolution of social change while enjoying a musical on Broadway is definitely my cup of tea. I was educated and enlightened too.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home…

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

This famed song, this musical, all demand a belief in a higher power. At the very least an interest in examining where grace comes from – be that a Creator (God) or a confronting of prejudices and classes. What sort of resources are actually necessary to achieve joy and peace? Who gets to judge whose misery (be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual) is more worthy to counter a ‘life of joy and peace’?

We’ve all got our takes on what that looks like post-mortality? Watch Pakuteh and he’s got a convincing point of view towards the belief in eternal life and light. A belief that may have been transferred to John Newton – a ‘resource’/ a young person that Pakuteh chose to protect and to forgive. He forces him to remove the ‘brand’ of Thomas the slave and, not only to look at him as a human being, but also to reciprocate his consistent and powerful love.

This musical is an example of the culmination of many experiences and influences that led to the conversion of one man, John Newton, towards the belief that redeeming his wrongs on earth will lead him towards an eternal resting place, a ‘home’. The cold hard facts are that this belief led him towards action, to a feeling of grace… to affecting social change leading towards the abolition of slavery and racial equality within a system that he happened to hold privilege in. It became irrelevant that he had been convinced for a certain period of time that he had more of a right to be considered a human being than the other people surrounding him.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

Some people, and some music, just has that way about them/it that lets one unknowingly shift the light on different areas of one’s life and others’ lives – regardless of how one’s belief system or socio-economic class causes one to interact with the world.

How relevant indeed…

Oh and this was the line… OY!

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“WHAT WILL WE DO WITH THE KING’S HEART?”

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“What will we do with the King’s Heart?”

The possibility-packed question becomes the responsibility of Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles), a lawyer and advisor to King Henry VIII (Nathaniel Parker) in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Part I: Wolf Hall and Part II: Bring Up The Bodies directed by Jeremy Herrin and playing in repertory at New York’s Winter Garden Theatre.

I began in a box for Part I and then scored some dream-like seats (second row) in the orchestra for Part II. Initially what struck me was the great casting of the plays by Helena Palmer CDG. The roles that each character had to play in the kingdom became clear throughout the play due to that casting. I was never distracted from the story in this respect and there’s not an actor in the ensemble that I didn’t love for that reason!

There was a prominent advisor, Cromwell, the hand maneuvering the pieces on the chessboard influencing every direct decision the King makes and controlling the actions of any person who affects the King. There was a lot of conflict (you might say drama) with potential male-heir bearer queen wives (King VIII goes through several unsuccessfully). There is a removed fatherhood role the King takes in his own daughter’s lives (legitimate and illegitimate). There are soldiers, servants, maids, messengers and others. As the plays progressed I started to see how much power Cromwell wielded by being next-to the prominence of the King and leading him through marriages and a search for a woman who could bear a royal son.

I mainly find stories about royalty compelling because there are interesting and dynamic power wielding struggles and strategies being employed by the characters. I can’t say I find this one particularly romantic, in the female perspective, that’s for sure! There are no real heroines written into it…. even so, I liked observing Cromwell playing the love. It is surprising because although he begins in low status in life, and his job is a dark one making decisions to place harm upon others in order to protect the King… at times I was able to see his humanity and this made him a star. I started to see why his presence is necessary in nearly every scene. In order to tell the story of King Henry VIII the man who largely influenced the writing of that story is required – Cromwell – a man with an acute ability to pay attention to detail.

One image of Cromwell ‘playing the love’ that stays with me is when his youngest son Gregory (Daniel Fraser) waltzes onstage in a soldier’s uniform ready to go to battle with the King. Cromwell stands just behind him delicately touching the metal armor as if it was just a costume on a baby – but instead of pulling him out of harm’s way – he tries to compel the King to keep his son safe instead. It’s actually heartbreaking to watch; particularly because the well-known story begins with the death of Cromwell’s female family members.

Oh the costumes! Christopher Oram‘s costume design is another main reason to watch a period piece like Wolf Hall. The stage is minimal – a large mass of grey grounding that occasionally has fire roaring up through it (real flames – my jaw actually dropped in Act I like a child!) It is, therefore, the costumes and the imaginations and voices of the players that fill in the blanks of the story. The difference between a queen’s layers and robes and the more simple dress of the numerous maids following her is notable. The contrast of the simple design of Cromwell’s, often darker, clothing and the King’s elaborate velvet speaks to status as well.

It is the stripping of title and status in the lives of the women that spoke to me the most (being a woman myself). As unlikeable as Queen Anne (Lydia Leonard) is in her thirst for power and status… when she’s being taken down and her expectation of assistance with her daily tasks and her habitual action (use of her maids) is taken away from her I watched her realize that she had no choice but to crumble in silence and stillness. It is difficult to watch someone lose what they love most – with Cromwell the possibility of losing his son could leave him with no true loving relationships in life – only the cold reality of the pawns he uses around him. With Queen Anne the loss of her status is difficult to watch because it is only in attachment to the King that a woman seems to be able to protect her and her family’s interests in King Henry VIII’s world – whether the woman be innocent or savvy.

There is resolution of the question of the King’s heart by the end of the play… but I’ll remain silent on this end.

All the characters in this production are based on real people pulled up out of history and the actors breathed life into them. It was truly amazing to watch and educational too!

Next mission – check out another acting HERO of mine, Mark Rylance, in the television adaptation of Wolf Hall!

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“TO HAVE FAITH, IS TO HAVE WINGS”

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As I ventured under the New York raindrops last night, to see Finding Neverland, I spared myself too much anticipation. I worried that a play relating to a famous movie, or the historic Peter Pan fairy tale might influence me to imagine a spectacle too unlike what unfolded before me in real life (running the risk of disappointment). I found the contrary. I was not disappointed. I was rather inspired!

With a line in the first Act, “to have FAITH, is to have WINGS”, I began to enjoy the story itself. The delivery of this line was quite perfect from the Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, played by Laura Michelle Kelly, to J.M. (James) Barrie, played by Matthew Morrison. Sylvia’s character is so full of life, which I’m sure is a requirement of raising four boys, and her presence is a necessary force in a play dealing with themes such as loss, grief, sickness and the death of parents.

It seems strange to include dark themes into a musical meant for children and families to enjoy… but all fairy tales do contain dark elements and lessons for living life. Finding Neverland is no exception – and it extends its lessons to adults as well.

Faith demands imagination regardless of the age of the person engaging with it. It is not exclusive to religion. Faith involves a belief in something greater than the individual, connection to a force causing a fair balance of light to compensate for life becoming dark. It’s generally effortless for a child to achieve this symphonic balance. For Peter Llewelyn Davies (Aiden Gemme), however, it proves to be more difficult to deal with life after the loss of his father than his three brothers Jack (Christopher Paul Richards), George (Sawyer Nunes) and Michael (Alex Dreier).

It is heartbreaking to discover, and even more disturbing to be able to relate to, the denial of imagination and faith that takes place in Peter’s life. It is disturbing because the loss mirrors the degradation of a person’s imagination slowly being denied as part of growing up causing a separation of the reality of our lives from the possibilities for our lives. The uplifting contrast by the end of Act II is watching Peter experience the ability to trust the people around him and to discover that his writing can act as an outlet to sort through things like grief/pain, but also love/joy!

The power that children have struck me as I watched Peter’s journey because even though he is a child… the difficult process of bravely reclaiming his imagination, faith and connection to life inspires his acclaimed playwright and step-father, James, to cease a long-standing writers block and create a play about Peter Pan and a whole world of fairies. This world goes on to capture the imaginations of children through future centuries of bedtime stories! It even goes on to inspire adults like me with a beautiful, maternal line that “to have faith, is to have wings”. It rings in my mind like the golden fairy dust that Tinkerbell uses to fly. It seems to transfer that ability that I had to believe that maybe, maybe pixie dust could make me fly in my room as a kid to the faith that maybe, maybe my dreams could come true if I have the type of courage that Peter has to reach out and inspire the people around me.

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