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NEW YORK COVID THEATRE SAFETY LESSONS
As you will know from receiving (and hopefully reading!) this newsletter, I’ve been in New York for the past 11 days and nights, with three more nights to go; and I’ve been struck, in particular, about how seriously this city and its theatres have taken the ongoing COVID crisis, and mitigating against further harms to the theatrical economy by doing all it can to protect both itself and its audiences.
Proof of vaccination status is required on entry to every venue, and it has been rigorously checked at each and every venue I’ve been to, including matching it against photo ID. And mask wearing is obligatory and followed without question or protest.
There’s none of the “personal choice” and “personal responsibility” claptrap here that allows audiences to decide whether or not they will keep themselves and their fellow audience members safe; there’s a recognition that if this is what it will take to keep theatres open, we all must play our part. And people are more than happy to oblige.
If only SOLT and UK Theatres had taken a similarly proactive and responsible approach, audiences in the UK could have felt a lot safer going to the theatre, especially as the UK continues to report around 200 COVID-related deaths a day. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: living in a libertarian-infused England under Tory rule feels a bit like a GOP state in America, where vaccine mandates are being challenged in the courts; people want the freedom to choose to die, it appears, unimpeded by requirements from the state to protect themselves and each other.
But surely an element of self-interest might prevail amongst theatre producers and theatre owners, who’d prefer their audiences, on the whole, to be alive rather than dead.
THEATRICAL RARITIES, ON AND OFF BROADWAY
The current moment and movement on Broadway towards a greater inclusivity in terms of the work it presents, in the wake of Black Lives Matter, has led to a season with an unprecedented amount of work by black writers. As Jesse Green notes in his New York Times review of the (very long overdue) Broadway premiere of Alice Childless’s 1955 play Trouble in Mind that opened at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre last night,
“So far this season, five plays by Black authors have opened on Broadway, each with something urgent to say. Whether despairing (Pass Over) or lighthearted (Chicken and Biscuits), broadly representative (“Thoughts of a Colored Man)“ or laser-beam specific (Lackawanna Blues), they are talking to us now, like a newspaper come to life. Like newspapers, too, they are remade every day; when I caught up with Thoughts of a Colored Man” recently, it had been updated with a hot take on the Kyle RIttenhouse trial. Yet for sheer crackling timeliness, the play most of the moment is in fact the oldest: Alice Childress’s Trouble in MInd.”
There had originally been talks about transferring it to Broadway after its 1955 Off-Broadway premiere in Greenwich Village, but these plans were derailed when the playwright refused to bow to demands from producers to re-write and soften its ending. Life was imitating art, as the play is about a black actress confronting racism on and offstage; here Childess was dealing with a white theatre establishment who had their own ideas about her work.
As its director Charles Randolph-Wright comments of the fact that it’s finally reaching Broadway now, “It’s as if Alice is orchestrating it, and saying, ‘We’ll come in now, as people are hopefully listening in a different way’.” And in an intriguing coincidence it is also being produced, in a different production, at London’s National Theatre (where it begins performances from December 2 in the Dorfman, starring Tanya Moodie, pictured below).
But neglect to plays and playwrights comes in all shapes, sizes and hues. Paul Osborn’s Morning’s at Seven, a seemingly genteel portrait of co-dependent family life but with a bitter recognition of life’s disappointments, losses and roads not taken, had not been a hit on its first outing in 1939, running for just 44 performances. It was rediscovered on Broadway in two successful revivals (in 1980 and 2002), but in the words of Terry Teachout in his Wall Street Journal review of a new Off-Broadway revival that opened earlier this week, “it has still never quite managed to establish itself as the modern classic it is.”
Less generously, Alexis Soloski writes in the New York Times of the play that “it has clung to the fringes of the theatrical canon” since its short-lived premiere in 1939. “A dyspeptic example of American realism, like an apple pie lightly dusted with arsenic, it plunks its audience into the adjoining backyards of two modest Victorian houses that a few sisters in their 60s and 70s call home. During a late afternoon and the following morning, marriages crumble, siblings quarrel, a brief affair surfaces, an engagement breaks, a mother smothers. Just one big not especially happy family. Old fashioned even when it opened, Morning’s at Seven became a regional theater darling and yielded two Broadway revivals, likely because it provides hefty roles for aging actors.”
In a much changed Broadway landscape, it is notable to find a cast of heavyweight Broadway veterans (shown above) reviving the play now at the off-Broadway 161-seater Theatre at St Clements on west 46th Street. Dan Wackerman’s entirely delightful production for his resident Peccadillo Theatre Company there is acted with glinting perception and perfection by a cast that includes Lindsay Crouse, Tony Roberts and John Rubinstein, plus actors better known for their TV work like Dan Lauria and Alley MiIlls (reunited from The Wonder Years) ands Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed, for which she was Oscar nominated).
Like Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, but with less of a surreal, experimental twist, Morning’s at Seven is an exercise in charming observation; and this observant revival is a Broadway calibre revival in the close quarters of an Off-Broadway setting.
TODAY’S THEATRE BIRTHDAYS
SEE YOU ON MONDAY
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