Posts Tagged ‘julie taymor’

Culture Vulture: the year in review

December 30, 2015

Top Theater of 2015:


  1. A View from the Bridge – Ivo van Hove’s intense Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s, staged within Jan Verseweyveld’s evocative stark set and lighting, an excellent cast headed by Mark Strong, Michael Gould, and Nicola Walker
  2. Between Riverside and Crazy – I’m thankful that Second Stage brought back the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of Stephen Adly Giurgis’s deep, dark well-deserved Pulitzer recipient, full of amazing performances (Stephen McKinley Henderson and Liza Colon-Zayas – pictured below — with Ron Cephas Jones and Victor Almanzar) directed by Austin Pendleton.


  1. An Octoroon – the kind of big, messy, important, risk-taking production that keeps me engaged with theater. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had key collaborators in director Sarah Benson, eight brave actors, smart producers (Theatre for a New Audience extended the life of the show that began at Soho Rep), and a design team at the top of their game (especially Mimi Lien, who certainly deserves the MacArthur Foundation fellowship she won this year).
  2. John (Signature Theatre) – Annie Baker’s long astonishing play staged by Sam Gold on Mimi Lien’s hyperrealistic set with four terrific performances: Georgia Engel, Lois Smith, Christopher Abbott, and Hong Chau.

    GhostQuartet3(Ryan Jensen)

  3. Ghost Quartet – a sweet and haunting chamber piece from Dave Malloy (above, plaid shirt), composer of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, performed in the cozy setting of the bar at the McKittrick Hotel.
  4. And That’s How The Rent Gets Paid – Jeff Weiss (below) and Ricardo Martinez’s East Village epic revived at the Kitchen featuring a cast of veteran and emerging downtown stars under director Brooke O’Harra’s fine-tuned cat-herding.
    7-14 jeff weiss
  5. iOW@ (Playwrights Horizons) — playwright Jenny Schwartz gave herself an amazing amount of freedom with this piece, one of the most aggressively odd-shaped plays I’ve ever seen in how information is delivered, how characters are introduced, how the story advances, the use of music (gorgeous and scrupulously unpredictable score by Todd Almond), etc. Kudos to director Ken Rus Schmoll and a super-game cast.
  6. Composition…Master-Pieces…Identity (Target Margin Theater) – I don’t know how he does it but David Greenspan again inhabited Gertrude Stein’s prose with effortless genius.
  7. Gloria (Vineyard Theatre) – another fine example of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ gift for merging social commentary, shrewd humor, and extraordinary performance opportunities; Evan Cabnet directed the fantastic six-member cast, among whom Jennifer Kim and Ryan Spahn stood out for me.
  8. Hamilton (Public Theatre) – I had my reservations about the most acclaimed musical of the year (the hiphop score is monotonous, the staging is theatrically square, and author Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance struck me as charmless) but there’s no denying that this retelling of early American history by black and Latino performers is smart, conceptually ambitious, and fiendishly well-written.
  9. Steve (New Group) – Mark Gerrard’s smart, hilarious gay comedy about sad stuff, impeccably directed by Cynthia Nixon with a fine cast and a seriously great performance by Matt McGrath.

Honorable Mentions:

Eclipsed (Public Theatre)– Danai Gurira’s original play about the experience of women during Liberia’s civil war with an exceptional all-female ensemble directed by Liesl Tommy

Ada/Ava (3Legged Dog) – unusual, inventive, emotionally absorbing shadow puppet play created by the Chicago-based Manual Cinema

Spring Awakening – DeafWest Theatre’s revelatory revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s play with a cast full of impressive Broadway newcomers directed by Michael Arden, noteworthy set by Dane Laffrey.

Grounded (Public Theater) – Julie Taymor brought her theatrical magic to this small honest play starring Anne Hathaway (below) as a disillusioned and war-damaged drone pilot


Preludes (LCT3) – another exceptional eccentric musical event from the team of composer Dave Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin starring Gabriel Ebert (below, with flowers) on another dazzling Mimi Lien set.


Disgraced – Ayad Akhtar’s play superbly directed on Broadway by Kimberly Senior.

Living Here (Foundry Theatre) — Gideon Irving’s one-man musical performed in living rooms all over NYC (including mine)

Raul Esparza in Cymbeline in Central Park

1-8 keith abronsKeith Hennessy’s bear/SKIN in the Abrons Arts Center’s American Realness Festival

Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes and Robert Fairchild’s performance in An American in Paris

Daniel Oreskes, Cameron Scoggins, and Tom Phelan in Taylor Mac’s Hir at Playwrights Horizons with a set by David Zinn that screamed “toxic America”

Other Culture Vulture High Points:

South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s show Isibonelo/Evidence at the Brooklyn Museum

Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s Partita in the White Light Festival

The new Whitney Museum

Habeas Corpus, Laurie Anderson’s collaboration with Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed el Gharani at the Park Avenue Armory

Love and Mercy, Bill Pohlad’s harrowing, arty, moving, thrilling biopic of Brian Wilson with an incredible performance by Paul Dano – my favorite film of the year

Performance diary: GROUNDED and THE NIGHT DANCE

April 27, 2015

It was one of those only-in-New-York weekends of performance-going. Saturday night Andy and I went to the Public Theater where we sat 20 feet away from Anne Hathaway performing George Brant’s Grounded in a spectacular production staged by the great Julie Taymor. Hathaway plays a female pilot who, after many missions flying over Iraq and Afghanistan, meets a man on leave and gets pregnant, which means getting reassigned from “the blue” to the “chair force”: sitting and watching a high-definition black-and-white screen as the remote operator of a missile-mounted drone tracking targeted individuals in…Pakistan? Iraq? The play isn’t great literature; it arrives at a moral point of view most of us walked into the theater already holding. But it is an honest, dense, skillfully crafted performance poem that Hathaway handled with impressive skill (despite a wandering Wyoming accent).


And the production surrounding her is intensely dazzling, thanks to Taymor and her stellar team of designers (Riccardo Hernandez sets, Christopher Akerlind lighting, Will Pickens sound design, Peter Nigrini’s projection design, Richard Martinez electronic music design , with original music and soundscapes by Elliot Goldenthal). As my friend Jeremy Gerard wrote in his review, “this master of spectacle is just as imaginative and ingenious working on an intimate scale as she is on larger canvases.”


Then Sunday afternoon I went by myself to the Park Avenue Armory to see The Night Dance, an hour-long recital with Charlotte Rampling reciting poems by Sylvia Plath and Sonia Wieder-Atherton playing Benjamin Britten cello suites. It was a beautiful, elegant, austere, and — you can imagine — fierce performance. Wieder-Atherton bowed, plucked, and strummed her way through Britten’s pieces, by turns keening, lyrical, and brooding, usually on their own but occasionally overlapping with Rampling’s simple, inhabited recitations of familiar poems (“Daddy,” “Lady Lazarus”) and less familiar ones. “It is a terrible thing/To be so open: it is as if my heart/Put on a face and walked into the world.” The rapt audience in the cozy Board of Officers Room at the Armory (capacity 200?) was full of women Rampling’s age and temperament who grew up with these poems, felt all the rage and confusion and feeling contained in them, and still survived, miraculously.


Best Theater of 2013

December 23, 2013

1. Fun Home – beautiful adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic family memoir by Lisa Kron with top-notch score by Jeanine Tesori, an excellent cast with three Alisons and Michael Cerveris as her closeted gay father, keenly directed by Sam Gold and keenly designed by David Zinn.
fun home diner
2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Julie Taymor’s smart, inventive staging with spectacular scenic design by Es Devlin, costumes by Constance Hoffman, and major performances by Kathryn Hunter, David Harewood, Tina Benko, Max Casella and 20 rambunctious children.

3. Love’s Labours Lost – fast funny musical adaptation of Shakespeare by director Alex Timbers and composer Michael Friedman in Central Park, with a cast of newly minted stage stars.

Love's Labour's Lost Public Theater/Delacorte Theater
4. Good Person of Szechwan – Lear de Bessonet’s excellent funky staging of Brecht’s masterwork at La Mama ETC (later the Public Theater) starring Taylor Mac and other downtown luminaries.

good person prodshot
5. The Designated Mourner – deeply affecting revival of Wallace Shawn’s disturbing play with fine performances by Shawn, Deborah Eisenberg, and Larry Pine directed by Andre Gregory.
6. Here Lies Love – delirious immersive musical about Imelda Marcos by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim staged by Alex Timbers with a game young cast headed by Ruthie Ann Miles.

Here Lies Love Public Theater/LuEsther Hall
7. Pippin – Broadway revival brilliantly staged by Diane Paulus as a circus with an instantly legendary performance by Andrea Martin.
8. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 – a chunk of Tolstoy shaped into a dense, hip musical by Dave Molloy and crisply staged cabaret-style by Rachel Chavkin with a memorable leading performance by Philippa Soo (below) and luxurious costumes by Paloma Young.
phillip soo in natasha pierre
9. The Assembled Parties – Richard Greenberg’s play with a cast of good actors smartly directed by Lynne Meadow.
10. All the Rage – Martin Moran’s monologue about loss, death, life purpose, dreams, and anger, delivered with the same beguiling mixture of writerly detail, grace, and humor that characterized The Tricky Part.

Laramie PC_Michael Lutch
11. The Laramie Project Cycle – Tectonic Theater Project’s documentary about the murder of Matthew Shepard and its aftermath, still powerful 15 years later.
12. The Flick – Annie Baker’s latest crack at mining mundane lives for drama with a richness that bears comparison to Beckett (with whom she shares a reverence for silence) and Chekhov, set in a rundown movie theater (designed with hilarious drabness by David Zinn) with a heartbreaking performance by Matthew Maher (below), directed by Sam Gold.

the flick 2

Honorable Mentions:
Clint Ramos for costuming Here Lies Love and Good Person of Szechwan
Judy Kuhn for her performance as Fosca in John Doyle’s production of Sondheim’s Passion
Marin Ireland for her stylized performance in the title role of David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette

Mark Rylance for his performance as Olivia in the all-male Twelfe Night on Broadway
Tom Pye’s set design for Deborah Warner’s production of The Testament of Mary
Craig Lucas’s libretto for Nico Muhly’s Two Boys at the Metropolitan Opera
Bernardine Mitchell for her performance as Rose in La Divina Caricatura
John Tiffany’s staging of The Glass Menagerie on Broadway, Bob Crowley’s set, and Celia Keenan-Bolger’s performance as Laura (below)

glass m celia k-b

Quote of the day: THEATER

December 8, 2013


Alisa Solomon: You’re using children as the Fairies — right? — or the Elementals, as you are calling them.

Julie Taymor: Yes, there are 20 prepubescent kids. They not only play the Fairies, as written, but also play the forest. They’re the trees, the creatures, dogs, does, snakes, bats, moths. They are the wind, they’re your mind. They’re Puck’s posse, who terrorize the Mechanicals when Bottom changes. They’re an incarnation of the emotions of the lovers. They’re the nightmare of Hermia. They are the elements.

Solomon: Were you jumping off of the scholarly conjecture that historically, in the original production, the Fairies were indeed played by children?

Taymor: No, I don’t care what other productions did, though I would imagine that they would have been children. I think it works better with children, just the idea of it, the energy. Most initiation ceremonies all over the world are when you’re 13 or so, when you finally start to have sexuality that is recognizable and separates boys from girls, and they have to control their nature. That’s what we call it: our nature. So I wanted that feeling. What has been amazing in the rehearsals with these kids is the sheer joy they get out of a trap opening, or a line coming down. I mean, seriously, the unfettered, sheer, pure, direct emotion.

Solomon: Isn’t that the thrilling thing that theater lets all of us do — I mean, don’t we get to have that sort of childlike wonder?

Taymor: Well, that’s what I hope. It goes to a DNA part of us that relates to the first shadows on the wall that were made into foxes and rabbits. Where we suspended our disbelief and we said: “Oh yes, I know it’s a hand with a light behind it casting a shadow; but no it’s not, it’s a fox, it’s a rabbit.”

— Julie Taymor interviewed by Alisa Solomon about her production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream



December 8, 2013

12.5.13The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence by Madeleine George at Playwrights Horizons is one of those plays with an interesting theme – the search for mechanized perfection – and a clever conceit through which to pursue it. A super-smart computer programmer named Eliza is creating a robot-helper (picture a life-sized full-bodied Siri) whom she has named Watson, and her quest is bounced off historical scenes featuring other Watsons: Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick and Alexander Graham Bell’s right-hand man, with glancing reference to the IBM computer of the same name who famously beat human contestants on Jeopardy. Ultimately, though, the play devolves into a kind of heterosexual soap opera about Eliza, her ex-husband Merrick, and the computer repair guy – also named Watson – he hires to spy on her. The clever contrivances don’t actually deliver believable human truth, though. The actors have fun playing several roles in several periods.

curious case
I found Amanda Quaid (above) appealing and persuasive, and John Ellison Conlee (above) inhabits all the Watsons beautifully, but David Costabile might have been miscast as Merrick – he’s so high-strung that there’s no way to take him as anything other than The Bad Guy, which quickly gets tedious.

12.7.13 — Julie Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, at Theater for a New Audience’s splendid new theater down the street from the BAM Opera House, is fantastic – spectacular design, hugely inventive staging, stuffed with terrific performances. I’ve seen any number of productions over the years, and by halftime I was already convinced this is the best ever. Each scene came with some original, funny, sexy, visually stunning, or otherwise delightful element. Some that stayed with me: at the very top of the show, out comes Puck – a very small androgynous creature (renowned British performer Kathryn Hunter) in clown makeup, bowler hat, and a suit that might fit an organ-grinder’s monkey made of soft rumpled gray fabric (the first of what seems like hundreds of amazing costumes designed by Constance Hoffman). The only thing onstage is a bed, Puck lies down to sleep, and the bed rises up with tree branches underneath. The guys who will later turn out to be the “rude mechanicals” come onstage, saw the tree branches loose from the bed, which flies to the ceiling and disappears behind a white sheet, on which the title of the play appears. I’ve never seen a production frame the entire play as Puck’s dream and was curious if we would come back to that at the end. Not exactly. Taymor comes up with another beautiful, quiet, unexpected image involving a sleepy girl and a dog mask, coming back to the sleepy/dreamy image but transformed. And so it is throughout the production, one transformation after another.

The fairies are played by a rambunctious batch of 20 children (Taymor originally wanted 100), who sing, dance, do acrobatics, manipulate scenery and props, wear masks, scream like banshees, and sometimes get hauled around like real-life bunraku puppets by black-clad manipulators. David Harewood and Tina Benko, both great actors, make the most striking Oberon and Titania I’ve ever seen – he’s black black black, with spiky gold armor and gold tattoos across his chest and down his back; she’s white white white with boob-lights on antennas and transparent clamshell wings. Taymor dresses the rude mechanicals like working men and cast them with some great veteran actors who can play broad comedy without making it stoopid, most notably Max Casella (unforgettable as Timon in the original cast of Taymor’s The Lion King) as Bottom.

The whole sequence at the end of the first half is thrilling: Bottom is transformed with a donkey’s head with creepily human nose and lips which Casella manipulates with hand-held remotes; smitten Titania invites him into her hammock bed, which drapes across the entire stage; and their union is consummated with an explosion of color and light that is funny, sexy, ecstatic, and mythological all at once. The young lovers give the weakest performances in the large cast, but once they’re all in the forest in the middle of the night they wind up stripping down to their underwear and having a pillow fight, which is not a chore to watch at all (especially hunky hunky Zach Appelman as Demetrius). The puppets, masks, and constantly morphing sets are clearly a collaboration between Taymor and her designers (scenic designer Es Devlin is clearly some kind of theatrical genius himself), and Eliot Goldenthal’s music contributes numerous perfect multiflavored touches. For all of its fun, sexiness, and visual splendor, this is no dumbed-down Shakespeare for the masses but a smart and deep interaction into the dangerous fields of love, where casual cruelty often masquerades as play. I’d like to see this production two or three more times. It only runs til January 12 and I suspect there are very few tickets left. What are you waiting for?

By the way, Theater for a New Audience has made available online a free PDF of an extensive study guide to A Midsummer Night’s Dream that includes some terrific essays an an in-depth interview of Taymor by Alisa Solomon.

12.8.13 – The live broadcast of The Habit of Art, Alan Bennett’s play about actors rehearsing a play about W. H. Auden and Benjamin Britten at Oxford, showed up for one screening in New York as part of the National Theater’s 50th anniversary celebration. It’s one more brilliant play from the author of The History Boys, The Madness of King George, Bed Among the Lentils, and so many others. And another extraordinary production directed by Nicholas Hytner with a superb cast headed by the late great Richard Griffiths (below) as a fat, shambling, supernaturally eloquent Auden, Alex Jennings as Britten, and the amazing Frances de la Tour as the stage manager who keeps the rehearsal going. On the National Theater Live’s website, you can also download a free PDF of a lavish 33-page programme with essays about Auden and Britten as well as an introduction by Bennett.

habit of art

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