Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, which comes live from New York City this week. Apologies for radio silence yesterday, but as it was mid-week two-show day and I was back-to-back, side-to-side filled with seeing people (five in all!) on either side of the shows, I just didn’t have time!
DIARY OF A THEATRE ADDICT
Regular readers will know that my name is Mark and I’m an addict — a theatre addict — and much else; if you have an addictive personality, you addict to anything that makes you feel different — sex,sugar, coffee, and in my case, theatre, too (at least I turned it into a job, which was creative of me). I’ve even worked two twelve-step programmes to deal with some of it — one that dealt with one of those numbing devices, the other with the source of that pain, namely family trauma.
And New York has long been a playground for some of the unhealthy addictions — and where I also first found recovery, attending meetings here for the first time; on my first fellowship, I was in New York for four weeks over Christmas in 2013, and went to meetings every single day, including on Christmas Day itself. During the course of those meetings, I actually felt a depression I’d been in for 21 months — the longest of my life — lift in the rooms. And it didn’t return for four and a half years — my longest period of being depression-free too.
When the depression returned in May 2019, I realised I needed more of it — and stumbled into the family-of-origin trauma fellowship purely by accident (or, as we say in 12-steps, I was led there by a Higher Power). That depression continued right into and through the pandemic — but it all gave me a lot more time to attend (and eventually run) meetings online for this second fellowship. During the theatre shutdown, I had an existential crisis: if I wasn’t going to the theatre and writing about it, who even was I? The fellowship helped me to find out. And in October 2020, after 19 months, THAT depression lifted in turn — and nearly 18 months later, I’m still depression-free.
I’m sharing all of this today to add context to the theatre addiction which still fuels me and I can’t entirely shake — nor do I want to — but which also led me to move from London to the countryside last summer: if you’re an alcoholic, you don’t want to live above the pub, and moderation for me in theatre proved impossible living in London, so my husband and I moved to West Sussex.
Now I still return to London at least once a week for a quick “fix” — I usually stay overnight and see two shows each day before returning home, so that’s four a week, plus I often add one or two more by a regional or London theatre visit on a Saturday as well.
But being in New York this last week I’ve been back up to my usual tricks — and this past week, I’ve seen nine shows in a 7 night stay (the first night, though, didn’t count as I took it off, landing too late to see anything).
Here’s a catch-up on a few more of them. (My report on THE MUSIC MAN, which opens tonight, will follow tomorrow; critics, unusually in New York, were not invited to previews ahead of the opening, but are going in see the first night tonight; as I’m on a plane when that happens, I bought a ticket for the matinee yesterday, but I’m going to honour the system and not jump ahead and review it anyway now).
AN ABBREVIATED LONG DAY’S JOURNEY AND HARRY POTTER TOO
Interestingly both Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT and HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD both deal with family trauma and parental legacies, which I’ve just been describing above (I should “twelfth step” the sons in both of these plays to join my fellowship, but there’s be no plays if they resolved those tensions!)
And intriguingly, both have just been filleted and reduced in New York from their bloated but impressive former selves to much shorter versions. At full, unedited length, O’Neill’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT lives up to its title and runs over four hours; but in a new production for Audible Theater — a podcasting company who stage live productions in New York and then record them for subsequent broadcast on their platform — it runs for less than two.
That may make it altogether more digestible for a contemporary audience; and in Robert O’Hara’s intensely focused, intimate modern update, it still has a shattering effect, as it portrays a mother’s drug addiction and its impact of her sons, one fo them who is dying, the other an alcoholic, as is their father. With the parents played by a real-life husband and wife actor pair — BIll Camp as James Tyrone and Elizabeth Marvel (who puts the marvel in to marvellous) as his wife Mary, and Ato Blankdson-Wood and Jason Bowen as their damaged sons, its an discomforting but poignant production.
Even more brutally cut and filleted is HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, which premiered in London (and then New York) as a two-play event, that you could see either in one long day or two separate evenings. But that proved too much of a commitment and too tough a sell for Broadway, where tickets run to much higher prices than in London, so asking audiences to shell out for two plays was too much of an ask.
So when Broadway re-opened in September, the announcement of Harry Potter’s return here was made that it would be restaged into one play, lasting 3hours 30 minutes. This means that roughly two hours has been shorn from the original production; but having seen the latter twice (both in London and New York), it didn’t feel like too much was missing. Obviously the narrative points are still made; all the magic effects are still in place, too. There are times when it feels a little hurtling, and non-Harry Potter affionados may have trouble keeping up with the plot’s twists and turns; but the heart of it is still there, which beyond the magic is to do with a father (Harry Potter is now a dad) trying to protect and heal his relationship with his son Albus.
Harry Potter is still a major event; but it also has real theatrical integrity. What could have been tourist fodder — another attraction to tick off in Manhattan — is actually a beautifully crafted and gorgeously staged family drama, with added magic. It also has a sense of scale that you hardly ever see in the theatre, especially for a play; and a stunningly committed cast — led by Steve Haggard in the title role, and a stupendous young actor James Romney as his son — make it a moving, resonant evening.
HANGING WITH TAYLOR MAC AGAIN….
Still, no theatrical epic of my lifetime has ever compared to the 24 hours I spent in 2016 with Taylor Mac in New York watching their 24 DECADE HISTORY OF AMERICAN MUSIC, wbich comprises a one-hour show for each decade since America was founded, to make 24 hours of theatre.
Originally presented in three hour segments, for one and only one day, night and day, Taylor Mac bolted them all together and performed them in sequence at Brooklyn’s St Ann’s Warehouse; having previously seen one of the three hour segments, I made sure I was there. And as an act of the communal experience of theatregoing, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Yes, it was a true marathon, not least for Taylor Mac themselves; by the end of the 24-hours, their voice was but a rasp. But the show also harnessed the audience’s own energy and participation to make us an integral participant.
And in Taylor Mac’s new show, THE HANG at HERE (pictured above, with Taylor Mac on the left at the curtain call last night), a downtown arts centre, judy (as their preferred pronoun identifies themself) offered a playfully incomprehensible Greek theatre lesson. No, I didn’t have a clue what was going on most of the time; I just bathed in its wonderful sounds and invigorating strangeness, a bit like a gay alternative to HADESTOWN. This is brand of experiental theatre is not there to be carefully dissected. Its there just to be there; and being in Taylor Mac’s extraordinary presence again, albeit for less than two hours instead of 24, was again phenomenal.
SEE YOU TOMORROW
….when I’ll be back here reporting on THE MUSIC MAN, which opens tonight at the Winter Garden Theatre. You can also get regular updates on ShentonSTAGE LIVE, a rolling theatre blog that appears on my website, updated throughout the day as necessary, to reflect news updates and other observations and commentary as they occur. The landing page for this is here: http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-live/
I can also be found regularly on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/