Category Archives: Global Theater News

‘Wynn Handman Way’ is THE Way on 56th Between 6th and 7th Avenue in Manhattan

(L toR): City Councilman Keith Powers, Liza Handman, friend, former Mayor Bill De Blasio shadowed by the black and white photograph of Wynn Handman teaching acting in his studio. (Carole Di Tosti, 9/12/22)

A crowd of friends, Wynn’s daughters Laura, and Liza Handman, close friend, filmmaker, acting teacher Billy Lyons, former Mayor Bill DeBlasio and City Councilman Keith Powers gathered together around 11 AM on the corner of 7th Avenue and 56th Street, September 12, 2022. They were there to celebrate the recognition of Wynn Handman’s prodigious contributions to American theater, American society and New York City with the renaming of 56th St. between 6th and 7th Avenue as “Wynn Handman Way.” This recognition is a long time coming and well deserved, though many may not be familiar with the name Wynn Handman.

(L to R): Daughters Laura Handman, Liza Handman and friends, a black and white photo of father Wynn in the background. (Carole Di Tosti, September 12, 2022)
Laura Handman discusses the Carriage House studio (Carole Di Tosti, September 12, 2022)
Liza Handman shares an anecdote about her mother on this very street which now is “Wynn Handman Way” (Carole Di Tosti, September 12, 2022)

Wynn flew under the radar unlike other acting teachers. Reading about Wynn’s life, seeing him in talkbacks, one in 2018 at Tribeca Film Festival after the showing of Billy Lyon’s film on Wynn, It Takes a Lunatic, (a Tribeca review is at this link, one immediately has the sense that Wynn was all about the work. Perhaps the last thing he was interested in was promoting himself or advertising his acting classes. He never did. Yet, somehow, actors who studied with him and later became giants in film and on stage (i.e. Olympia Dukakis, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, Michael Douglas, Richard Gere), found out about Wynn and studied with him, realizing it’s all about the work, the authenticity, the humanity of the characters they portrayed.

Billy Lyons, and friend of Wynn Handman standing below the new sign, Wynn Handman Way at 56th and 7th (Carole Di Tosti, September 12, 2002)

To study acting with Wynn, one picked up information about him by word of mouth. He was down-to-earth, authentic, loving. At the Wynn Handman Street Sign Dedication, those who knew and loved him best, his daughters Liza and Laura and his friend and filmmaker biographer of Wynn, Billy Lyons, spoke fondly about Wynn. What a boon to study acting with him and be in his presence and in the presence of others studying with him. Just to be a fly on the wall would have been enough. However, if you were accepted after you auditioned, you worked, and worked hard.

Billy Lyons in the above two videos discussing the “Wynn Handman Way” (Carole Di Tosti, September 12, 2022)

Wynn Handman was the Artistic Director of The American Place Theatre, which he co-founded with Sidney Lanier and Michael Tolan in 1963. Going against the grain and a maverick for his time, Wynn engaged with Lanier and Tolan because they understood the vitality of theater to change lives and improve cultural understanding and awareness, making us more humane and empathetic. With these goals in mind and many more, Wynn and the others intended to encourage, train, and present new and exciting writing and acting talent and to develop and produce new plays by living American playwrights and writers.

Wynn Handman was honored at The Players, 2007, in a celebration of The American Place Theatre’s 45th season. Behind: John Martello. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

As a change agent, The American Place Theatre was one of the first not-for-profit theaters in NYC. Unlike the current mission of non profits which sometimes appears to serve the CEOs and not the actors, creatives and playwrights, The American Place Theatre was dedicated solely to the development of new American playwrights and writers. Writers whose work was developed and produced there included Robert Lowell, Maria Irene Fornes, William Alfred, Ron Milner, C Frank Chin, Sam Shepard, Ron Tavel, Joyce Carol Oates, Clare Coss, William Hauptman, Jeff Wanshel, and solo performers Bill Irwin, Eric Bogosian, John Leguizamo and Aasif Mandvi, to name a few.

The American Place Theatre moved to a custom-built basement complex in 1970. The complex at 111 West 46th Street, operated until 2002. The organization received several dozen Village Voice Obie Awards and AUDELCO Awards for excellence in Black Theater.

Wynn Handman in his Carnegie Hall studio, circa 1987. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff).

Always at the forefront of innovation with the intent to impact the New York City community, in 1994 friends and members, led by Wynn under the auspices of The American Place Theatre, created a Literature to Life program. The program adapted significant works of American literature to encourage literacy. Performed by solo actors, productions were offered to middle schools and high schools. Wynn Handman directed a number of projects. Also, Elise Thoron directed other projects; currently she heads up the program. To continue with the vital importance of literacy and theater’s place in revitalizing young people’s interest in reading, Project 451, a funding initiative of Literature to Life came into being during the 2008/2009 season. The mission is to ensure that reading, writing, and the arts remain a primary component of the education of young American citizens.

City Councilman Keith Powers and Wynn Handman’s daughter Liza Handman and friends at the Wynn Handman street sign dedication (Carole Di Tosti, September 12, 2022)

In the videos above City Councilman Keith Powers and former Mayor Bill DeBlasio underscore the great contributions Wynn Handman made to the New York City community and American theater. Funding, which has become problematic with skyrocketing city rents and the focus on purely commercial shows, has modified the impact of innovation, risk-taking and genius in the theater arts, and other processes and attributes that Wynn Handman prized.

Billy Lyons and Liza Handman, former Mayor Bill DeBlasio (Carole Di Tosti, September 12, 2022)

In his remarks Billy Lyons stated that Wynn told him not to fret or worry about American theater and the direction in which it appeared to be going. He said in effect, “Don’t be a “Miniver Cheevy.” Wynn’s reference to the Edwin Arlington Robinson poetic portrait of “Miniver Cheevy,” a man who mourned the glories of the past and drowned himself in drink, is apt. How comfortable it would be for theater to rest on the laurels of past great American playwrights, and quail at producing those who exemplify the unique, original, current and “off the charts” shows. How facile to put away the maverick and the daring for the sake of commercial success. Don’t fail has become the unspoken meme wafting through the psyches of those in the theater arts.

Indeed, the innovations in American theater have been occluded by rapacious Philistines quick to produce a Jukebox Musical, easy to finance a show adapted from a film that has a “sure-fire,” lucrative track record. There is nothing wrong with that. And yet, there is everything wrong with that. Is balance possible beyond Off Broadway and non-profits which overly reward the institution and give short shrift to the creatives?

Wynn Handman. (Photo by Lou Gonda, 2019)

To be forward thinking, as Wynn would have theater artists and producers be, then failure is something not to be feared. Above all the “critics” must understand the necessity of “Dynamic Theater,” which dares to fail to reemerge with new insights and new genius. Perhaps, in many respects, American theater over the past decades has been failing abysmally, though the box office looks good. There are plenty of anecdotes about shows whose audiences needed to catch up to their brilliance, doing better the second and third time around, when the time was “right and ripe.” Perhaps formulaic success is not an option, except in small doses. Isn’t a modicum of realignment necessary? After the ravages of COVID, it might be as good a time as any to innovate and take risks (i.e. Daryl Roth’s Kinky Boots reboot with reasonable ticket prices).

“Wynn Handman Way” (Carole Di Tosti, September 12, 2022)
Wynn Handman at the wedding of his granddaughter, Charlotte Ickes. Photo courtesy of Estate of Wynn Handman, 2016).

What to do in this shifting financial climate? We must rely on the generosity of those who have the abundant resources to share (private and government), so that they might bring ticket prices down, bring rentals down and establish more foundations to help subsidize the artists (actors, technicians, creatives), who live and work in New York City and justify its renown as the “#2 theater capital of the world.” If Wynn Handman has been a guiding light toward theater’s evolution, his “lunacy” must continue in theater’s bravest of hearts (producers, directors, actors, creatives), and all those willing to dedicate themselves to forge anew American theater’s next chapters.

‘Company’ A Sensational, Triumphant Revival

The Broadway cast of Company (Matthew Murphy)

Five days before his passing on November 26th, and almost two weeks after the long awaited Broadway opening of director Marianne Elliott’s West End transfer of Company to Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Stephen Sondheim discussed the revitalization and revision of Company’s updated music and lyrics (with book by George Furman and additional dialogue taken from his work). During this time when many question the direction of theater going forward, we need to remember Sondheim’s parting words.

“What keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints. It’s not just a matter of changing pronouns (related to the protagonist gender switch from Bobby to Bobbie) but attitudes.”

Beyond refreshing, the revival of Company is thought-provoking, expansive and groundbreaking. The female character update of Bobbie (the entrancing, adorable Katrina Lenk in a full on bravura performance) is the linchpin around which five couples revolve and have their being, conceptualized in Bobbi’s mind. As the ironic magnifier and savvy observer of her friends’ relationships, during Bobbi’s quest for herself, the shibboleths of marriage, divorce, partnerships, love and their attendant fears and isolations become exposed with LOL insights and revelations. Then, Bobbie kicks herself clear of them.

Katrina Lenk in Company (Brinkoff Moegenburg)

Bobbie’s “surprise” thirty-fifth birthday, which her friends hold for her at her apartment initiates the conflict and sets Bobbie musing about herself at “35,” after she listens to their phone messages “spilling the beans” about the party. These are her crazy friends, her company which has been imprinted in our minds with the neon signage “Company” vibrant against the dark before the musical begins.

As her “company” emerges from the recesses of her mind arriving with gifts “she won’t like,” as they humorously excuse their selections telling her to “return them,” they importune her. They underscore how they love her and need her in their lives, singing over and over the searing refrain “Bobbie baby, Bobbie Bubi, etc.” (the phenomenal titular song “Company”). Only when she tells them to, do they wish her “Happy Birthday,” but she can’t blow out the candles of her cake with them watching, ever.

The neon lights in the lettering and bars that swiftly form into frames around the rooms in hers or her friends’ apartments (flashback events) are symbolic and thematically clever, carrying throughout the musical. They suggest the compartments in her mind which consider the strictures binding the couples’ relationships as she reflects about who they are, what they mean to her and whether she wants to be married like them, as they insist she be.

Katrina Lenk as Bobbie in Company (Matthew Murphy)

A square neon box frames Bobbie’s grey one-room kitchen in her NYC apartment where the couples crowd in like in the Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera as she doesn’t make a wish for a husband and the candles don’t go out on the cake when she tries to blow them out. For some of the couples, Bobbie visits later in the musical, the neon boxes symbolically underscore that the couple has placed their lives in their own defined “box,” confined, without freedom. For Peter (Greg Hildreth) and Susan (Rashidra Scott) the definitions and ties that bind are inextricable, even after they divorce.

Thanks to Elliott’s conceptualizations effected by her technical team (Bunny Christie {scenic design} Neil Austin {lighting design} Chris Fisher {illusions}) the clever, sliding neon staging (frames, lettering) becomes the driving force/development of the musical as we realize that the frames contain Bobbie’s reflections about herself in the company of her friends who are married and who push the institution on her to be as “happy,” as they are in their quasi misery and resentment of her freedom as a single person in New York City.

Additionally, Elliott uses door frames as a set backdrop for the men she has relationships with, all of them well built and gorgeous, but of a superficial type. These include the dim flight attendant Andy (the riotous Claybourne Elder) the nice Theo (Manu Narayan) the young, hip PJ (Bobby Conte). Each get to harangue Bobbie superlatively in the “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” ironic song and dance number choreographed by Liam Steel. Interestingly, they do not see Bobbie for who she is, perhaps, because she doesn’t want to be seen for they wouldn’t accept it.

(L to R): Claybourne Elder, Manu Narayan, Bobby Conte in Company (Matthew Murphy)

The question of safety and security in a relationship, dependence upon a man, the need to be nurturing and maternal by becoming a mother are thrown into chaotic array during Sondheim’s incredible exploration of Bobbie’s inner self, as she expresses her need to define herself beyond the traditional folkways which her friends have unequivocally embraced and expect her to as well. Importantly, we note her journey on this increasingly dire thirty-fifth birthday (check out the sinister balloon in Act 2) in flashback vignettes prompted by songs which reveal her perspective of the couples’ relationships as she questions their experiences pegged against her own choice to be single.

Katrina Lenk as Bobbie in Company (Matthew Murphy)

The songs and cast are spectacular without any dead spots to slumber the audience. Highlights occur as Bobbie visits with each couple and we find out Bobbie’s perceptions about these crazies. Indeed, they are fortunate they have her love as Lenk’s Bobbie is charismatic and sweet, though probing, traits which belie her courage, independence and questing heart for a worthy partner who will really “get her.”

With Harry and Sarah in a comfortable living room, boxed in the defined neon frame, Christopher Sieber is Harry, a “recovering” alcoholic who slides a drink down his throat when no one is looking. Jennifer Simard is Sarah who exercises on chairs and sofas to continue her weight loss regimen while scarfing a brownie or two quickly in secret openness because she’s (emotionally) “starved.” This couple’s scene reaches the height of hysteria as both compete in a wrestling match with each other, while Joanne (the unparalleled Patti Lupone) serenades their gyrations, blocks and flips, ironically singing “The Little Things You do Together” which adds “fun” to the marriage.

Lupone’s assurance about “the neighbors you annoy together, children you destroy together that keep marriage intact,” with Sieber’s and Simard’s enthusiasm for felling each other with each toppling twist more extreme than the next is well choreographed, paced and utterly priceless. As the other couples in Bobbie’s company sing their “wisdom” (“people that you hate together, bait together, date together make marriage a joy”) we note the evolution of Bobbie’s singularity and marriage avoidance. The couples’ sardonic refrain “shouting ’til you’re hoarse together, getting a divorce together that make perfect relationships,” closes out the song with a directed punchline of “kiss kiss.”

(L to R): Christopher Sieber, Jennifer Simard, Katrina Lenk, Patti Lupone in Company (Matthew Murphy)

As Bobbie thanks Sarah and Harry for an “entertaining” evening, her quest bubbles up and she asks Harry about regretting his marriage. His, David’s (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Larry’s (Terence Archie’s) reply in the lovely and humorous “Sorry-Grateful” confuses Bobbie with its opaque conflicting uncertainty: “Why look for answers where none occur? You’ll always be what you always were. Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.”

From the husbands’ perspective in their marriages, there’s terrible regret intermingled with gratefulness which puts Bobbie no closer to defining her life differently than she already has. Being single is the best selection for her at this point in her 35th year review, but she acknowledges that despite her “company” wanting to introduce her to someone in “Have I Got a Guy for You,” she must choose for herself, a combination of the men she has gone out with and the someone out there just for her, “Someone Is Waiting.”

Matt Doyle in Company (Matthew Murphy)

Bobbie’s fear and confusion about marriage referenced by her zany friends is paralleled with Jamie’s in the vignette of Jamie and Paul’s marriage preparations. In Jamie and Paul’s kitchen, dressed in white for their wedding, Jamie has a panic attack and refuses to go through with it. As Jamie, Matt Doyle is riotous in his lightening speed delivery, spewing out his terror to Bobbie’s listening ear.

(L to R): Etai Benson, Matt Doyle in Company (Matthew Murphy)

Doyle is letter perfect, articulate, not dropping one word, making “Getting Married Today” a show stopping number that raises the stakes for Bobbie whose reply is “Marry Me a Little,” which Lenk sings with sylph-like tenderness and beauty. Her adjurations along with the couples popping out of various doors in Jamie and Paul’s kitchen appliances, another brilliantly funny feature, help stir Jamie back into Paul’s arms. Elliott has outdone herself in the direction, pacing and staging of this scene which Lenk, Doyle and the “company” perform to perfection.

By the time Act II rolls around, the balloon “35” is hugely sinister, almost crowding out Bobbie from her kitchen, and the lighting shifts to a Satanic reddish glow. As she attempts to get rid of the balloon, questions in her conflict continue: where is her life heading and who can she mentor when her friends are wacko? Jamie comments they are different,, that she is afraid of not getting married, when indeed, he has misread her; as she tells him, we feel the same about marriage. But when he marries, this, too, proves he is following in the footsteps of their friends, the coupled company. She is solo and alone. This may be a good thing, for as her company has sung, it is not that being a couple prevents alonenness, it just magnifies that in a couple one is more alone. The questions continue, who is Bobbie like and why are these individuals her “friends?”

Katrina Lenk, Claybourne Elder in Company (Matthew Murphy)

Andy is a possible marriage partner, until after sex, she realizes what their marriage would be like. The extraordinary sequence begins with “Poor Baby” sung by the couples projecting her “deficiency” as a single person, but actually envious of her freedom to be with many partners, in this instance Andy. It ends in “Barcelona,” where Bobbie convinces Andy to stay longer delaying his trip to Barcelona. How Elliott paces the scene with humor, coordinating the triptych of action that morphs to the scene when in bed she envisions her life (“Tick Tock”) haplessly drain its vibrancy into vapidity with Andy if she marries him. “Tick Tock,” unfolds as wives standing in for Bobbie, dressed in similar red outfits, go through various robotic motions of her marriage with Andy: routines of work, children, the drudgery, housewifery, etc. And thus, with him she watches as married, her life ebbs away into nothingness. But as a love partner, he’s just fine (“Barcelona”).

To top off her understanding of what she would become, Joanne spells it out for her toasting to the squandering of her own life in the iconic song Lupone steps into with grace, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” This is another show stopper; the night I saw it, the audience cheered for about 2 minutes while Lupone waited as Joanne with wry “dissatisfaction,” because Joanne has a lot more to say and do and the clapping interfered. Lupone configures the dour, lush as part kid, part sadist, part ironist and altogether vulnerable in her sardonic snappishness. She is just grand.

(L to R): Patti Lupone, Katrina Lenk in Company (Matthew Murphy)

As she portrays what Bobbie will become married (her fourth time) she duns the idea of Bobbie getting hitched, with some of the funniest lines that Lupone expertly delivers with wit and pace. Interestingly, Larry (Terence Archie) reveals who controls and who gets the blessing from their union by the end of the song. When Joanne suggests that Bobbie and Larry “make it” Bobbie says “make what?” Indeed, at Joanne’s control, Bobbie would “take care of Larry.” Once again, Bobbie charmingly side-steps her friend’s manipulation, as she has side-stepped all her friends’ manipulations and influence with distractions and silence. In this instance, Bobbie cleverly replies, “but who will take care of me?” Joanne replies bluntly attempting the drunk’s insult, but Bobbie proves herself a sophisticate with humor, a high emotional IQ, disarmingly, subtly. It is a fantastic scene revealing the inner character of Joanne, Larry and Bobbie which Lupone, Archie and Lenk smack down with precision.

Joanne and Larry have presented an unwittingly convincing portrait of what their marriage is like and what marriage could be like for Bobbie, however uncertain and tripped up with problems, issues and unhappiness. And after acutely watching them, she arrives at the understanding that “alone is alone, not alive.” And unbounded with just herself and the darkness behind her, outside of any neon frame of bondage, Lenk’s Bobbie opens herself: “somebody let me come through, I’ll always be there, as frightened as you, to help us survive, being alive, being alive, being alive.”

(L to R): Rashidra Scott, Katrina Lenk, Greg Hildreth in Company (Brinkoff Moegenburg)

Lenk delivers an incredible moment, beautifully sung with heartfelt emotion and joy. And then it rains on her, proving it doesn’t matter what she does: it rains on the just and unjust. Though her “company” has attempted to control and influence her, her life’s decisions are wholly hers. She will be happy apart from their influence; she has that strength to know the difference and she has an incredible sense of humor which we have been watching through her flashback “frames” of neon reference.

In the end scene Bobbie leans against the proscenium outside the neon frame of her kitchen as in the first scene all her company crams in waiting and wondering “where” she is. The musical has been a reverie and an evolution toward affirming what the picture frames of her friends have shown her. She is her own person. After they wait for her, realizing the surprise party is over, they have the good sense to leave. Only then, alone, Bobbie is able to blow out the candles of her cake after making a wish, a wish that only Bobbie will ever know.

Katrina Lenk in Company (Ahmed Klink)

Elliott’s and Sondheim’s updated conceptualizations can be taken as far as the inner eye can see, into immutable human truths and modern trends of how women shape their being today. Unfortunately, some will not get this revival of Company which is smashing and with a female protagonist, audacious and courageous. What effrontery to show Bobbie with a smile on her face at the end when she alone blows out her candles without her “company” watching, carping and “wishing” for her. Such a simple yet profound look/gesture indicates Bobbie is satisfied with herself for being who she is. Indeed, this sly, smart, engaging protagonist might actually love herself, as she has shown throughout with her wry, ironic, humorous selection of crazy-funny portraits of her “company” “determining” her life for her. What an end stop to this wonderful, humorous treasure of a Sondheim revival.

The score with music supervision and music direction by Joel Fram soars into the heavens. Kudos to all creatives aforementioned which made this revival praiseworthy in its ethereal conceptualization of Bobbie’s interior being. For all of the cast, nothing more can be added except they seamlessly flowed as a “company,” thanks to the shepherding of their director Marianne Elliott. Company should be witnessed a number of times because all in the cast mirror “being alive” onstage. God, they are so on point!

Company should be seen at least twice. There is so much to see or to miss the first time around. Some audience members mentioned the night I was there that this was their second or third outing. That’s about right for this production which is written in the stars thanks to Sondheim’s forward thinking encouragement to revise, expand and deepen. This production should be digitally recorded. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.

‘SIX the Musical’ is Glorious Fun!

The Queens of SIX the Musical at the Brooks Atkinson (Joan Marcus)

It took over 500 years for the six wives of Henry VIII to finally remix history and set the record straight, which they do nightly on Broadway in SIX the Musical at the Brooks Atkinson. What a phenomenal fun time to join these ex-wives in their exclusive club as they dish up the failed monarch, who is driven to upend the Catholic Church, lie, steal and kill in the name of gaining a male heir. We’ve had enough mansplaining about Henry’s actions. It’s time for the ladies!

The Queens of SIX the Musical at the Brooks Atkinson (Joan Marcus)

Gloriously, these ex-wives take back their queenly power, rudely wrenched from them by Henry’s cruel machinations: divorce, decapitation, expulsion. And in sisterly collaboration they raise their voices which becomes a chorus of jubilation and foot stomping exuberance to vacate the patriarchal, historical perspective and lift up their identities, apart from the monarch, who never got the best of them. With their audience fandom singing along, whooping and applauding rhythmically during the songs and especially in the final song “Six,” it is enough to rock Henry VIII in his moldering grave in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Can you hear them, Henry?

Adrianna Hicks as Catherine of Aragon in SIX the Musical (Joan Marcus)

Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss in an inspirational fit of glory have come up with one of the most joyous and meaningful concepts that wraps history in a modern, insightful, revealing perspective, as told by women who are great in their own right. And in the retelling of their stories, we realize because of who these women were/are, Henry VIII is one of the most written about monarchs in British history and media (TV, plays, movies). The women are the central focus in SIX the Musical as they should be. This marvelous production is mind-blowing, refreshing, profound.

Why do Marlow and Moss, and Moss and Jamie Armitage, who both directed succeed in this show first presented at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017? They enjoin historical facts with hot rhymes and rhythms and rock/pop concert fever topped off with a dynamic, explosive, vibrant, “It’s showtime” cast and creatives.

Abby Mueller as Jane Seymour in SIX the Musical (Joan Marcus)

The design, look and feel of this Renaissance of light and sound knocks the audience’s enjoyment into the heavens. All design elements cohere with the theme, showcasing these women as stars. The women’s story deserves this futuristic retelling. Hence the sparkles and spangles and beads and sci-fi metallic-looking brilliance, thanks to Gabriella Slade’s out-of-this-world costume design which makes sense. Indeed, with Emma Bailey’s sensational set design and Tim Deiling’s equally eye-popping lighting design, the exuberant grandeur is fanciful, magical and funny. It has all the smattering of the Renaissance royal court in a mash up of pop/rock elegance.

Importantly, we’ve come to hear each of the women relate their story, especially the ones we are least familiar with. Initially, they tell us this is a competition of songs and virtuoso singing. Who is the most miserably treated by the cruel Henry? And we get to vote our favorable, miserable Queen to aggrandize her fame above the others, perhaps to make up for Henry’s malevolence.

The Queens in SIX the Musical (Joan Marcus)

They sing in order of their marriages after they introduce the funny and rousing fact that they are “Ex-Wives.” However, the tone is all about being “out there!” And we realize from their sassiness and boldness, being an ex-wife of a monarch is something to take pride in.

Catherine of Aragon, the dynamic Adrianna Hicks dishes on Henry in “No Way” in the Queenspiration style of Beyoncé and Shakira. The feisty Andrea Macasaet as Anne Boleyn insists she lost her head in the hysterical “Don’t Lose Ur Head.” Thus, no one can “top” Boleyn she quips; she feels she’s already won the prize as the most miserable of the ex-wife sufferers. Many jokes follow her separation from her head as the running-joke that never tires. Her Queenspiration style follows Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne, but she is all Andrea Macasaet, a spit-fire, not really standing in anyone else’s shoes.

Brittney Mack as Anna of Cleves in SIX the Musical (Joan Marcus)

At this juncture, Marlow and Moss create a pause in the rollicking, pop/rock song and hip-hop movement ballyhoo. It is an appropriate change up. After all, history wrapped in music and shining light is never hackneyed or the same. Thus, Jane Seymour (the soulful Abby Mueller), appears not to be disabused by Henry like the others. She’s the one “he truly loved.” Obviously, she can’t parade herself as the most victimized. So she sings a beautiful ballad “Heart of Stone” of Henry’s love and her loyalty to him, but so soon lost in childbirth. Abby Mueller’s song style is Adele and Sia.

One of the most LOL and Social Media twitting of the queens is Brittney Mack’s Anna of Cleves, who must take back her power after all the queens mock her in the song “Haus of Holbein.” Henry famously went to Germany for this wife, fell in love with her portrait in oil and proposed via his officials. When she showed up in person, Henry rejected her outright as unattractive.

Andrea Macasaet as Anne Boleyn in SIX the Musical (Joan Marcus)

In “Get Down” are some of the funniest lyrics as Anna of Cleves reveals her great good fortune sitting on the throne in her castle living in luxury without having to deal with the bruiser Henry. “You said I tricked ya, cause I didn’t look like my profile picture,” hearkens to all the dating sites and social media sites where folks don’t put up their most recent pictures. In the style of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, the sensational Brittney Mack has a blast stomping Henry.

Perhaps the most memorable song and the most true to life is what the beheaded Katherine Howard (Courtney Mack was terrific when I saw it October 6th), sings, “All You Wanna Do.” Kathrine Howard had many affairs and sings of the men who importune her sexually, then leave her “high and dry.” Of course, Henry, finding out about her former promiscuity, creates an act to punish her for her sexual experience and knowledge. “It’s off with her head, too!” The double standard here goes beyond the pale with Henry sewing his wild oats in every village and town in his kingdom. The song meaning in the style of Ariana Grande and Brittney Spears sung by Mack is powerful and beautiful.

Anna Uzele as Catherine Parr in SIX the Musical (Joan Marcus)

Catherine Parr (the brassy Anna Uzele), brings on the 4th Wave feminist revelation. Why should there be a contest, a male construct of oppression to divide and conquer? Catherine Parr singing “I don’t Need Your Love,’ is the modern woman who can make it on her own. Indeed, the first woman in England to publish books in her own name, Catherine Parr rocks. Also, she outlived Henry and his penchant to divorce and behead. Anna Uzele sings in the style of Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé.

By the concluding song, “Six,” even men stand up, applaud and clap to the finale. The cast and the wonderful Ladies in Waiting all girl band (Julia Schade, Michelle Osbourne, Kimi Hayes, Elena Bonomo), help to explode male presumptions and make sure the message is clear: patriarchy has no place in a kinder, gentler, decent society and culture where equanimity is a key goal.

This production and its creatives can’t be praised enough. See it twice. For tickets and times go to

Reflections on ‘The Gardener’by Lanie Robertson, With a Stellar Cast in its World Premiere Online

Stacy Keach Zoom Theater, the “good friends of Lincoln Center Theater” is offering a free virtual event to benefit The Actor’s Fund. The world premiere of Lanie Robertson’s magnificent play The Gardener is streaming live until February 18, 2021 on this link.

Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at Musée de l’Orangerie (courtesy of the site)

Starring Ed Harris as Claude Monet, Stacy Keach as the Prime Minister of France, Georges Clemenceau, and Amy Madigan as Monet’s stepdaughter Blanche, the playwright spins out the days which become the turning point in the lives of Monet and Clemenceau as they reaffirm the closeness of their relationship as good friend,s who inspire each other to benefit the culture and world around them.

Robertson begins the play identifying elements that essentially intimate the cultural times in which both men, lived though not through specific dates. The chronology is abstruse. For example Monet has lost his wife Camille and his son, Jean which has devastated him. And he refers to these events and their impact on him as does his stepdaughter Blanche. At the top of the play we follow the discussion that Clemenceau has survived an assassination attempt which identifies the time around 1919 after WWI. After the assassination attempt which Monet and Blanche believe killed Clemenceau, he turns up jocularly alive to visit Monet. The painter is at Giverny, Monet’s studio and garden, which he is planting and developing and to which Monet refers as his true legacy.

Ed Harris as Monet in ‘The Gardener,’ written by Lanie Robertson, directed by Stacy Keach, (courtesy of Stacy Keach Zoom Theater)

Interestingly, Clemenceau doesn’t “get the love” Monet expresses about the flora and fauna of the garden environs which Monet works day and night, and has come to know as intimately as he knows his paint’s thickness on his variety of brushes. Clemenceau claims he prefers the city noises, uproar and busyness of street hustle and bustle and his life as a politician, journalist and Prime Minister of France.

Much is subtext and inference in this play which draws one into the mystery of these two icons. It may force one to look up more information about the time, Monet’s greatest of masterpieces and this statesman of France who was prickly, Republican (in the French sense of the word) a humanist, Monet’s good friend and lover of art. I cannot imagine a better selection of cast than Amy Madigan, Ed Harris and Stacy Keach who also acutely directed this vibrant production.

Amy Madigan as Blanche, Monet’s stepdaughter, in ‘The Gardener’ by Lanie Robertson, directed by Stacy Keach (courtesy of Stacy Keach Zoom Theater)

Of course though Clemenceau could not have foreseen the romance of Giverny for global tourism and posterity, art lovers and professionals alike understand the importance of Giverny’s gardens to Monet’s final works; the garden informed his painting and provided the inspiration and respite to innovate and be energized to the muses of the creative process. Thus, both Monet’s garden and his works have become synonymous with Monet’s complicated genius and artistry.

Monet’s painting of Giverny house and studio (courtesy of Stacy Keach Zoom Theater)

What is intriguing about Robertson’s The Gardener, which heightens this interplay of Monet’s artistic talent being dependent upon his skill as a gardener, is the vitality of Monet’s relationship with Clemenceau. Again, this is inferred as the great unspoken. It was Clemenceau who after Monet died, arranged for the display of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies) cycle which eventually ended up in 1927 at Orangerie, now Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France. Clemenceau understood the greatness of Monet’s intention to symbolize the hope of peace, and healing power of nature, light and solace of the garden to soothe and renew the souls of soldiers who returned emotionally and psychically deadened after the hellish abyss of WWI. Clemenceau’s attraction to Monet’s work and friendship, was reaffirmed in 1908 and lasted to the end of their lives. Robertson suggests Clemenceau sought Monet and his work for its power to revitalize and restore his being. The friends’ connection lies beyond the veil, in an ineffable, immutable bond. And if one investigates further, theirs was an agreed upon arrangement that was fated for all time.

Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at Musée de l’Orangerie (courtesy of the site)

What is not spoken of in the play, Robertson alludes to and the brilliant actors convey, inhabiting these iconic individuals. It is Monet’s Water Lilies masterpiece that he worked on for three decades and to which Clemenceau encouraged him to add panels. The day after the Armistice in 1918 was when Monet asked Clemenceau to take two panels which he signed on Victory day and offer them to the State. Clemenceau was the intermediary to have Monet’s “great decoration” displayed in the way Monet wanted, a display that he finalized the conceptualization of right after his son Jean died. Thus, when Harris as the bereft Monet discusses Jean’s death with Clemenceau and the sonorous and vital Amy Madigan as Blanche expresses her grandfather’s great grief and hers at Jean’s loss, we understand why Monet sent away everyone from his home. We understand his need to be alone for his final work to be finished. We understand (sorry for the spoiler alert) why Blanche leaves with Clemenceau. It is for the greatness of what is to come; and all contributed in their way to its becoming.

(L to R): Stacy Keach as Clemenceau, Ed Harris as Claude Monet in ‘The Gardener,’ a World Premiere (courtesy of Stacy Keach Zoom Theater)

This “becoming” achieved its final form in the arrangement of the panels in the Orangerie as a panoramic frieze exhibited seamlessly to embrace the viewer in two elliptical rooms. The two panels at Clemenceau’s suggestion grew to 8, though Monet pledged more. But these 8 are the apotheosis of the Water Lilies cycle that Monet had begun thirty years before. He meant it to be his final contribution to the uplifting of France and perhaps for all time and for all of the world, as a monument to peace.

It has been said that Clemenceau encouraged Monet to create a total of 19 paintings some of which Monet destroyed. Indeed, Monet held them all back, hoping to achieve greater and greater perfection until he could work on them no longer, and his death released the paintings to Clemenceau in 1926. In1927 Clemenceau secured the 8 panels to establish the exhibit which is the impressionist’s monumental achievement, not necessarily appreciated nor understood by the public in 1927 or the next decade.

Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at Musée de l’Orangerie (courtesy of the site)

However, when one visits the Musée de l’Orangerie, one experiences the arrangement of Monet’s unique vision of form and color in a watery landscape that is sprinkled with waterlilies, shimmering ripples, willow branches, tree and cloud reflections, varying shades of light and dark green vegetation, all suggesting the ethereal qualities of light and air. Symbolized beautifully is the thread of life these natural elements that were conceived in Monet’s consciousness and then manifested in his garden which, for as long as it remains, imbues the eternal as does the “great decoration.”

Monet’s lily pond at Giverny (courtesy of the site)

Monet said about his creation, it is the “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore.” Assuredly, the “elliptical shape of the rooms” suggests the mathematical symbol for infinity. The panels are a seamless continuum in time and space materialized. Likewise, Monet conceptualized his garden, planted, watered and cultivated the rich soils to express a beauty which he materialized using his vast array of knowledge of florals and accompanying plants to align the inner eye with the infinite, the eternal. His Garden and Monet’s exhibit in Musée de l’Orangerie are nonpareil.

This production is broadly relevant in its themes and scope. What better way to memorialize the message to remain uplifted through art in our time of mob violence at the Capitol, the horrifying insurrection against democracy, a noxious political divide and a pandemic. What could be better than to view the exchanges between two exceptional actors portraying cultural giants looking back to a similar time (the aftermath of the brutal WWI and the Spanish flu epidemic) as they worked to bring the hope of peace through the halo of artistic expression.

Monet’s lily pond at Giverny (courtesy of the site)

Harris, Keach and Madigan give brilliant performances re-imagining individuals we are barely acquainted with but know culturally. Memorable is Madigan’s humorous taking down of Harris’ Monet when as Blanche, she is outraged that Monet gives her pate to the cats, the sumptuous pate that she slaved. Her specific and factual description of what it took to make pate back in the day is marvelous. The actors convey the humanity of these greats at a still point in time that allows us to identify, engage and appreciate their friendship and the value of such friendships in times of great trouble.

The messages, themes and parallels of that time to this carry great relevance and currency for us today. Bravo and thanks to Robertson, Harris, Keach, Madigan and the creative team for this superb and unforgettable zoom theater experience. To see it CLICK HERE. IT ENDS ON FEBRUARY 18, 2021. You will be happy you did. And after you finish watching, donate to The Actor’s Fund, CLICK HERE

‘Meet Me in St. Louis’: Irish Repertory Theatre’s Spectacular Holiday Show

Irish Repertory Theatre continually proves that it can do the extraordinary with skill, talent and enthusiasm, as it mesmerizes and endears its members, donors and global audience with exceptional productions. This is particularly amazing during a time when New York City theater is staying safe and waiting until the blessings of the COVID-19 vaccines mitigate the dangers of the pandemic which to date has killed 330,000 Americans.

Thus, we welcome being cheered up for the holiday season. And what better way than to peer into past reflections of hope when The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, unofficially the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, commemorated the 100th year of the Louisiana Purchase. The Fair, the last great international exposition before World War I, was an extravaganza that included hundreds of thousands of people, animals, unique items and displays. It magnified the bright future of industry and innovation from 63 exhibiting countries and 43 of the 45 United States.

Max Von Essen as “the boy next door” in Irish Rep’s ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ (courtesy of Irish Repertory Theatre)

Excitement about the St. Louis Fair, which is the central image highlighted in the titular song of the musical Meet Me in St. Louis, drives the beginning and finale of the Irish Rep production. The book by Hugh Wheeler and songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane are based on the Kensington Stories by Sally Benson and the 1944 MGM Motion Picture Meet Me in St Louis. Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore with musical direction by John Bell, orchestrations by Josh Clayton and produced by Ciarán Reilly, this Holiday Special in Song and Screen can be appreciated again and again, whether with family or individually. You will never tire of the show because it is that wonderful.

Shereen Ahmed as Esther in front of a green screen, ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ (Irish Repertory Theatre)

The production values are sophisticated and spot-on. The orchestra’s superb technique performed seamlessly on zoom (thanks to the wizardry of musicians, Bell, M. Florian Staab and others) perfectly blends with the gorgeous voices of the cast, a tricky technical feat, especially with the ensemble numbers. The tuneful and lighthearted, upbeat songs (Trolley Song,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Drunk Song,” “Touch of the Irish”) and in other instances poignant, familiar numbers (“The Boy Next Door”) are a pleasant remembrance, if you have seen the MGM film and the 1989 Broadway version which starred Charlotte Moore as Anne Smith.

(L to R: William Bellamy, Ali Ewoldt, Kylie Kuioka, Austyn Johnson, Shereen Ahmed, Top Row: Jay Aubrey Jones, Melissa Errico, Kathy Fitzgerald in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ Irish Rep (Irish Repertory Theatre)

Some of the songs in the Broadway version have been cut, a wise choice for a streaming production you watch via your tablet, phone or computer. But one song that had been cut from the 1989 Broadway show was added in the Irish Rep version (“You’ll Hear a Bell”). This song, reprised in the second act, is beautifully rendered by the golden-throated, imminently watchable Melissa Errico the mother. Anne Smith encourages her daughter Esther (Shereen Ahmed) about understanding and recognizing love based on her own experience with her husband, Alonzo Smith, Esther’s father.

Melissa Errico in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ (Irish Repertory Theatre)

Charlotte Moore shepherds the cast with precision. She astutely teases out winning performances and humor from Kylie Kuioka (Tootie) who is a fireball of joy and mischievousness, the perfect foil for the sedate, companionable, near-in-age, wry, older sister Agnes (Austyn Johnson). The marriageable sisters, Rose (the vibrant Ali Ewoldt) and linchpin of the production, Esther (the soulful, exciting Shereen Ahmed) propel the plot development. Theirs is newfound love with their prospective partners the reserved Warren Sheffield (Ian Holcomb in a fine portrayal) and the “boy next door” John Truitt (the affable, illimitable Max Von Essen).

As Esther expresses good will toward the family which is sorrowful about moving, she  poignantly sings the profound (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) which is nostaligic under any circumstances and particularly heartbreaking under present circumstances of the pandemic. Shereen Ahmed’s Esther is particularly well wrought with her lyrical vocal instrument and authenticity of portrayal in the lead that Judy Garland played on film.

Shereen Ahmed in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ set magically appears (Irish Repertory Theatre)

With the couples’ togetherness thrown down by Alonzo Smith’s moving the family to New York to make more money and raise their standard of living, we note this makes sense if seen through modern values that lift wealth and money above well being and happiness. However, Father Smith (Rufus Collins does a fine job in the concluding scene) in a throwback to old-fashioned values and economies of the past (only Dads worked) chooses to please his family by remaining in St. Louis. It is a gift that all adore beyond treasure and we yearn for in a culture that over the last two decades has been on the brink of losing its fundamental values of the preciousness of life, love and family.

William Bellamy, Kerry Conte, Kathy Fitzgerald, Jay Aubrey Jones and Ashley Robinson round out the cast of this marvelous production which was produced remotely with the dexterous application of green screens and lovely backdrops. In its technique, applied imagination and sheer audacity, the production, not streamed live from a stage, is a book musical with actors separate, home alone. filming, which has never having been done before. This was a realization which John Bell musical director affirmed to Melissa Errico who quipped in her New York Times article that Meet Me in St. Louis was a show where no one actually would meet in St. Louis or anywhere else. Read Melissa Errico’s account here.

Great praise goes to the cast, the creative team and director Charlotte Moore for this Christmas treasure. The Irish Repertory Theatre has exercised their vitality and prodigious cleverness to provide this most American of celebratory entertainments at a time when we crave affirmations of friendship, love, family, togetherness and joy present in the show’s themes. This is one you must not miss.

Irish Repertory Theatre’s Meet Me in St. Louis runs until Saturday, 2nd January. For tickets and times go to the Irish Repertory Theatre’s website. Click Here.

Rosary O’Neill Talks ‘Clark and Carole’

Rosary O'Neill, Clark and Carole

Rosary O’Neill, ‘Clark and Carole,’ New Orleans (DCLarue)

When playwright Rosary O’Neill was living in New York City, she was inspired to write Plane Love based on her own love relationship and the love relationship between Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. She mounted a number of successful readings of Plane Love at the National Arts Club, The Player’s Club, The Actor’s Studio and a few other venues. I attended a few of these readings and reviewed Plane Love which is an intriguing and beautifully written love story,

Rosary and I had the opportunity to touch base in emails, texts and phone conversations these past months. It was then she mentioned that she had reworked Plane Love into another version of the play and titled it Clark and Carole. Playwrights and writers who subscribe to my Social sites will be interested to discover Rosary O’Neill’s motivation in reworking an older idea. Arthur Miller said in the biographical film about his life and writing that he felt that he was never “finished” with a work. He believe that there was always something more to discover.
The thrust of this interview with Rosary O’Neill about this play that she refashioned, follows Miller’s conceptualization that writers are not always “finished,” with their works. And indeed, the great writers are always evolving and reshaping what they’ve written. The interview with Rosary was conducted via email.

Rosary O'Neill, Clark and Carole, Degas in New Orleans, Musée d'Orsay, Musee Dorse

Rosary O’Neill, ‘Clark and Carole,’ pictured at Musée d’Orsay in Paris with Degas ballet dancers (Carole Di Tosti)

What if any are the differences between the old version (Plane Love) and this new version (Clark and Carole)?
The new version Clark and Carole is set in 1937-42 rather than today. So we have all the delicious details of pre-World War II Hollywood glamour: the big movie stars, the glorious silver screen, the larger than life seductions. Most importantly are the lure and the sizzle that sparks the real love behind the silver screen.
Why did you decide to change the title from Plane Love to Clark and Carole
The play was always based on the wild, strange, circuitous and surprising love story of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Their relationship took off during the time when Gone with the Wind was shot. It was also a time when Hollywood stars lived on ranches outside Los Angeles and their amorous girl friends were lured by letters, phone calls and surprise visits. Since the play was actually based on Clark and Carole I decided to put their names in the title to make that clearer. I also changed the characters’ names to “Clark” and “Carole.”
I found that using the title Plane Love and changing the names of Clark and Carole to Bill and Jane confused audiences so that they forgot or didn’t get the story was based on the love affair of Gable and Lombard. Because much of the plot—unwanted pregnancies, children put up for adoption, infertility—that was considered “shameful” in the time of Clark and Carole is no longer considered so, I felt I could remove the guise of an update and name change.
In the earlier version of Plane Love, I had the Carole Lombard character live after the plane crash and find herself pregnant, in the search for a happier ending. In the Clark and Carole play I returned to the real and sad ending. The crash that killed Carole Lombard sent Clark into shock, a love shock he never truly recovered from

Rosary O'Neill, Clark and Carole

Rosary O’Neill, ‘Clark and Carole,’ pictured in Paris at Musée d’Orsay, with Degas’ Little Dancer (Carole Di Tosti)

What is Carole and Clark about?
It’s about love, Love, and more LOVE. It’s a madcap love story told through letters and phone calls and secret meetings and wild romance that ends in a fantasy marriage, furious love, infertility, more lavish romance, a plane crash, and FOREVER LOVE.
What is poignant about their relationship? 
What’s heartfelt is how they loved and never stopped loving each other. She was racing home through bad weather on a prop plane to be with him for her birthday. She never made it to his loving arms.
They had both been married unhappily. Clark was married twice, to his acting teacher, and a society maven, both of whom launched his career. Carole was married to the famous actor William Powell in a partnership that strengthened her career.
Both Gable and Lombard were at the height of their careers and had more roller coasters to ride when their love affair ascended. Other actresses embroiled with Clark and Carole who added fuel to the tryst included Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow and Lana Turner. One of these glamorous stars added an illegitimate baby to the mix.

Rosary O'Neill, Clark and Carole, New Orleans

Rosary O’Neill, ‘Clark and Carole,’ New Orleans, (DCLarue)

Why might millennials, the younger generation, be interested in learning about Carole Lombard and Clark Gable and that time in Hollywood?
 It was a GREAT TIME of beauty and intrigue. Stars started young. Bloomed young, died young. Jean Harlow died at 24, Carole Lombard at 33. Jimmy Dean died at 24. This was the time before bodywork and face-lifts, and lip injections happened on the scale that they occur today. The the line up of youth and beauty was awe-inspiring; and of course, women’s careers ended by 40-years -old.

Rosary O'Neill, National Arts Club

Rosary O’Neill at the National Arts Club (Carole Di Tosti)

Actor training for the screen was coming into its own. Gable studied acting (Stanislavsky method) prodigiously. The screen required close ups and psychological verity. The secrets of the stars were kept secret and so their beauty was magnified with supposed virtue. This was the pre-drug pre-decadence pre suicide era. It wasn’t that problems weren’t rampant, they were just hidden, and virtue and good looks were promoted.
Why were you drawn to these personalities particularly and not others during that era of Hollywood or later? 
I have always been attracted to actors from a broken past. Gable and Lombard each, like Marilyn, like Jimmy Dean, like Monty Clift lost a parent at an early age. They grew up in a broken household and looked to the theatre to build their dreams. All the actors I’ve studied worked so hard to be great artists. And they were each successful until—some big blow. For Dean and Gable/Lombard and Clift, it was a big physical crash. For Marilyn it was a body pill crash.

Rosary O'Neill, Actor's Studio, Plane Love, Clark and Carole, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard

Rosary O’Neill, outside the Actor’s Studio, NYC (Carole Di Tosti)

I love Gable because he worked so hard to be a great actor and had such a bucolic but buoyant sense of humor. Carol Lombard bore all kinds of pain and endured betrayal and trickery to work her way into stardom and into the arms of Gable. I also love Clark and Carole because of the tragedy behind their beauty. Carole couldn’t conceive, and Gable couldn’t keep her. Finally, the actors were on a timeline. Pre plastic surgery and pills, pre fertility pills and drugs, pre exercise and life coaches, time ran out.
But in my play, there is no time limit. Glark loves Carole and Carole loves Clark, forever!
You will be able to see Rosary O’Neill’s play Clark and Carole on July 20 at 8 PM in a live streaming format on these links below.
Alan Smason is producer/director of the reading. Kelly Lind and Robert Pavlovich play Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.




Seamus Scanlon Interview: Chatting With the Playwright of ‘The McGowan Trilogy’

The McGowan Trilogy, Seamus Scanlon

‘The McGowan Trilogy,’ written by Seamus Scanlon, directed by Kira Simring, part of 1st Origin Irish Theater Festival, Seamus Scanlon Interview (courtesy of Seamus Scanlon)

I had the opportunity to see Th McGowan Trilogy and review it on Blogcritics as an offering of The Origin Company’s 1st Irish Theater Festival 2014.  Since then I have been in touch with Seamus Scanlon on social media and have kept up with his activities from time to time during posts. Finally, I caught up with him during the COVID-19 pandemic when we both had the time for me to interview him online via email.

Seamus, give the readers a bit of backstory about yourself.

My background is in science so I am a late convert to the arts. I am a first generation college goer in my family so gainful employment was the priority not frivolity (i.e. the creative arts). Science did appeal to me because it was definitive;  equations and formulae were a great attraction for me. Also, my hand writing is appalling. I can’t even read it myself. I knew I would never be able to write papers or complete an analysis in college that a teacher could decipher.

Despite this, I recall playing a recording of Dylan Thomas reading Do Not Go Gentle Into That Night and I was immediately affected by it although I did not let on because our school was an artistic black hole. (In 2018, the Japanese production of The McGowan Trilogy played this recording during the performance which was an amazing surprise for me. I felt I had come full circle!) In English class we also read the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh – a self taught genius raised in poverty in rural County Monaghan. This poetry stirred me and remained with me despite my selection of science to pursue for a career

My hometown of Galway is an artistic epicenter with the Tony Award winning Druid Theater Company; the Galway International Arts Festival and The Cúirt International Festival of Literature.  Nora Barnacle (James Joyce’s wife) was born there and Lady Gregory (Yeats’ mentor and co-founder of the Abbey Theater in Dublin) lived about 15 miles from Galway, Ireland. Galway county was the backdrop for Synge and Martin McDonagh. So there was no excuse for me not to be enamored of literature, but I just ignored it all.  I was too timid to explore it.

How long did you work on the McGowan Trilogy?

Not very long. It was kick started by Nancy Manocherian’s Cell Theater Company Ltd (artistic director Kira Simring) who read a short play of mine Dancing at Lunacy and then staged it as part of the The Irish Cell event in March 2012. They then asked for a full play so I developed two other inter related one acts – The Long Wet Grass and Boys Swam Before Me. They were great to work with – two Jewish women interested in all things Irish. This was staged in Oct 2014 as part of the 1st Irish Theater Festival and was well received. The play was also published by Arlen House. Get a free digital copy here.

The McGowan Trilogy, Seamus Scanlon, Kira Simring, 1st Origin Irish Theater Festival

‘The McGowan Trilogy,’ written by Seamus Scanlon, directed by Kira Simmring, Seamus Scanlon Interview (courtesy of Seamus Scanlon)

What experiences helped you frame the story?

I lived in Belfast for five years so I was exposed to the daily life of Army patrols, constantly hovering Army helicopters, riots, shootings, July 12th marches where the deep seated tribal differences are in full flow. Before living in Belfast I had been affected greatly by the Hunger Strike in Belfast where 7 IRA and 3 INLA political prisoners died. Hunger strikes in Ireland have a long tradition. They are doubly significant and symbolic in Ireland because of the Great Famine (1847) which killed 1.5 million and caused forced emigration of 1.5 million to the US. A therapist in Belfast treating ex gunmen (late teens and early twenties) who had killed for the ‘cause’ and were suffering major trauma after killing someone.

Where has it been produced since it premiered in the US?

After The Cell production in 2014, they brought it to Hastings (UK) to the Kino-Teatr owned by a devoted Russian Hibernophile, Olga Manonova. The same Summer it was staged in two venues in Galway, and in Westport’s Townhall.

The major surprise for me came in 2018. The McGowan Trilogy (in Japanese) play was staged in Japan (in Japanese) to full houses (the lead was a rising movie star so that helped!). I traveled to Tokyo to see it and it was an amazing experience. They were selling merchandise in the foyer so I felt like a rock star! Japan has an amazing richness of theater and other art forms.

In Ireland three amateur drama groups have staged parts of the Trilogy and the feed back is usually positive. Amateur drama in Ireland is a long standing cultural phenomenon.

In April 2020 a theater student, Molly Flanagan at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) was to direct The Long Wet Grass. I was very excited to see this but it had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 situation. Our mixed genre presentation Galway: The Good, the Bad, The Ugly at the New York Irish Center for April 23 had to be cancelled as well as an April performance at Lehman College.

Seamus Scanlon, The McGowan Trilogy,

Seamus Scanlon, ‘The McGowan Trilogy,’ Seamus Scanlon Interview (courtesy of Seamus Scanlon)

In addition to The McGowan Trilogy, what are some of your successes over the years of which you are most proud?

Since 2016 I have self produced The Long Wet Grass at a number of locations such as Lehman College, City College Downtown, Art House, An Beal Bocht, Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and The New York Irish Center.

In February 2020 I collaborated on the immersive theater event Echoes of Calling with the Japanese dancer and choreographer Akiko Kitamura. If the COVID-19 restrictions lift in time this may be staged again in the Fall.

I worked on two film projects The Long Wet Grass (Ireland/USA, 2017) and The Butterfly Love Song (Ireland/USA, 2019) which was a new medium for me and challenging. I learned a lot – mainly that I should stick to play writing!

My first art form was fiction so I managed to have seven pieces published in Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder slot.

In 2019 I was awarded a special achievement award by the United Federation of Teachers for my work as a librarian at City College Downtown and the international success of The McGowan Trilogy.

What projects do you have in the works?

My next full length play The Blood Flow Game is a sequel to The McGowan Trilogy and is due for publication shortly. The end game for all plays is to have them produced so that is my goal. I have had four table readings of it as part of that process. I thought after The McGowan Trilogy success in Japan I would be a hot prospect but that is not the case!!

The radio play script of The Butterfly Love Song was short listed in Ireland in 2020 and that was a great thrill for me. It was the first radio play I had written. The Cell Theater, where I started off with Dancing at Lunacy, is going to develop it in Fall 2020 as a radio play/podcast.

I have few short films in the works including Three-Nil, Move Baby, Recycle This and The Resurrection Love Song.

Have you been able to get around Covid 19 virtually as other playwrights and artists have done?

The Butterfly Love Song which premiered in NYC in October 2019 and was screened in Dublin in early March 2020 is now being screened offline by various film festivals so that is encouraging. Film lends itself to this more than any other artistic format. Watch the trailer and the full film free at Irish Film London.

What is the first thing you will do, once the medical profession and the government has a handle on Covid 19 and has decided that businesses can reopen along with bars and restaurants?

I am looking forward to getting back to job as a librarian at City College Downtown. It was set up by the Labor Unions in 1981. Many students are first time college goers (like myself), many are from blue collar backgrounds (like myself) so I have a natural affinity with these students. We offer BA, BS and MA programs. Classes run weekday evenings and Saturdays. We specialize in one-on-one advising from day one. Email for more info.

I am pretty deaf so I can’t really hear anyone in a noisy café or bar. I write in cafés. My office in Galway – when I am home – is The Secret Garden where I accomplish a lot. I hope it is open by July or I will be in trouble.

I have no writing schedule or format or craft advice or a writing desk or writing techniques. I am probably the worst person to look at for guidance since I do not really know how I write etc. I did an MFA in City College in New York and that was very useful because I had writing deadlines so I had to produce.

You can update Seamus’ activities on his website at



‘The Aran Islands’ by J.M. Synge at The Irish Repertory Theatre

Brendan Conroy, J.M. Synge, The Aran Islands, Joe O'Byrne, Irish Repertory Theatre

Brendan Conroy in J.M. Synge’s ‘The Aran Islands’ adapted by Joe O’Byrne at Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

The Aran Islands J.M. Synge’s work adapted and directed by Joe O’Byrne in an extended run at the Irish Repertory Theatre through 6 August, first and foremost is a tome to the three, stark, wind-swept, rocky islands that are the sentinels of Galway Bay on the picturesque and green-lovely West Coast of Ireland. For millennia the Aran Islands have had as their mission to mitigate the ferocious and fickle storms, oppressive fogs and shattering clashes between air, land and sea. They provide a powerful breakfront for Galway City, so that it might prosper unhinged by the natural elements. Without the stolid, natural wall of Inishmaan, Inishmore and Inisheer, all the harshness of the weather and roaring sea would continually have battered Galway and perhaps lessened Irish interest to build an incredible, romantic, tourist friendly city that is currently flourishing and is a favored recommended spot of Irish citizens who suggest to visitors, “You must visit the west country.”

W.B. Yeats said the same to J. M. Synge when they met at the Sorbonne, Paris in 1896. Only with Yeats being Yeats and Synge being Synge, Yeats encouraged the younger writer to visit and spend time on the Aran Islands to get to know the people and their primitive culture and rural, seaward  lifestyle. Yeats’ hope was that Synge’s visit would be the catalyst to spur the young man’s imagination and experience the profound themes of birth, life and death. How these central dynamisms of life teased and blasted the inhabitants directly, the fascinated Synge captured in his work. The islanders, who lived without the distractions and stimulations of city life, like the Aran Islands themselves, had to confront and withstand, as it were, the batterings of the elements with only the bulwark of their isolated community network and companionship of their fellow resisters.

Brendan Conroy, J.M. Synge, The Aran Islands, Joe O'Byrne, Irish Repertory Theatre

Brendan Conroy in J.M. Synge’s ‘The Aran Islands,’ adapted by Joe O’Byrne, Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

Yeats most probably wanted Synge to also experience the symbolism of raging nature  in confrontation with the stalwart, intrepid character of the lonely inhabitants who managed a meager daily subsistence in an unwelcoming land. There, they had to front the torments of sickness, ill health and old age at the edge of the world, which appeared to be going backward in man’s history when cities were beginning to experience electricity and modernism.

The fact that they were able to carve out a hard scrabble life was a luxury. Indeed, everywhere they went life and death were married in tortuous embrace and the residents, like a tribal people, used their myths and storytelling to fill the dreary nights and chronicle their relationships to each other and the land as life’s and death’s immutability clamped down upon all that they endeavored.

Brendan Conroy, The Aran Islands, J.M. Synge, Joe O'Byrne, Irish Repertory Theatre

Brendan Conroy in J.M. Synge’s ‘The Aran Islands,’ adapted by Joe’OByrne, Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

A visceral and memorable portrait of the natural elements, the people’ struggle and the barren, bleak, rock-hard lifestyle and landscape are indelibly portrayed in the cadences and rhythms of Synge’s description of the Aran Islands in O’Byrne’s incisive adaptation of Synge’s work, The Aran Islands, formerly a book length journal.  The sheer poetic call of the undulations of the sea in its ferocity and tameness, the delicious descriptions and sound effects of language which are indelibly linked to Synge’s later work, have found a marvelous home in this travelog/adaptation. O’Byrne has reshaped it into a solo performance of an individual, the reaffirmation of Synge himself, who is a neophyte of all things “Aran.” As the production develops, this comes to mean all realms that flow easily among the levels of consciousness in stories told about the past in historical time and place, and which do represent the present, and are harbingers of the future.

I can imagine no one but Brendan Conroy to be the sojourner to the Aran Islands, an older Synge, whose face brightens as we might imagine Synge’s did when he saw the lands in the distance and eventually stepped off on to the pier and then on hardened, rocky ground. Conroy’s mastery of Synge’s poetic cadences and luscious images and his manipulation of pauses, digressions and silences transform him into the islands’ storytellers and ancient, wizened,  rural magi (wise ones), who stories convey  ever-present themes. Conroy beautifully renders the particularity of each with effortless realism.

Brendan Conroy, The Aran Islands, Joe O'Byrne, J.M. Synge, Irish Repertory Theatre

Brendan Conroy in ‘The Aran Islands’ at Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

I could understand and visualize every beat, every declension, every word spoken and inferred in the descriptions and characterizations of the islanders who shared eerie  stories around the central core of every family, the hearth. Conroy’s insight and understanding of how aural power may transform the listener into his or her own visualist  and imagist is greatly appreciated in a time when we may too often rely on visual effects selected by others to relate stories which we then can easily dismiss because we have not used our own imagination to power up the visuals.

On another level this is a production about visualizing with the eye of consciousness, of employing one’s imagination to be transported through the rich medium of Synge’s figurative, elegant, word crafting. If one listens, then one cannot help but focus on Conroy’s dark, full-bodied,  resonant, somber and sometimes higher pitched musical instrument of a voice which he modulates with just enough breath and lung power to reverberate and touch the hearts of the audience.

Brendan Conroy, J.M. Synge, The Aran Islands, Joe O'Byrne, Irish Repertory Theatre

Brendan Conroy in J.M. Synge’s ‘The Aran Islands,’ adapted by Joe O’Byrne, Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

Conroy entices all to see encapsulated in the words, the airy visions which are transformed through the medium of sound. With focused attention and appreciation, Conroy provides us with a heightened awareness of Synge’s rich language, the sound effects (i.e. alliteration, onomotopoeia), and imagery. Conroy’s gestures and changes in posture convey the various island characters; he effects these characterizations with a minimalism that does not detract from the beauty of Synge’s words. We are rapt and caught up in the consciousness of Synge’s personal observations made real to us. It is of a time and place which is now gone but will be ever-present in the writer’s journal and O’Byrne’s adaptation.

If you enjoy Synge and love traveling to Ireland, even if, at this point, you have no intention of going, allow the Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of the Aran Islands to take you there. This adaption ably directed by O’Byrne, with the assistance of artistic team Margaret Nolan (set designer) Marie Tierney (costume design) Joe O’Byrne (lighting design) Kieran Duddy (original music) is incisively brought to life. Special kudos goes to Conroy’s performance effected by his prodigious talent and artistry. This presentation will bring the sentinels of Galway Bay to your imagination and deliver you to a time and place more viscerally felt than looking at historic sepia photographs.

The Aran Islands is currently at the Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) until 6 August. It is around 100 minutes with one intermission. For tickets visit the Box Office in person or go to their website: CLICK HERE.   You can order by phone at 212-727-2737

Soulpepper’s Adaptation, ‘Of Human Bondage’ by William Somerset Maugham at the Signature Theater, a Review

Gregory Prest, Michelle Monteith, Soulpepper Theatre Company, William Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

Gregory Prest, Michelle Monteith in a Soulpepper Theatre Company adaptation of William Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ (Cylla Von Tiedemann)

Love is a scourge if it becomes an obsession that devours one’s soul and fouls one’s career, friendships and very life. And what if the pursuit of the love object is never requited in sincerity and kindness? William Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece Of Human Bondage reveals the withering devastation wreaked by obsessive, twisted love’s sadism and masochism.

Though the work has been transferred to the medium of film three times, it has never made it to the stage. It took a renowned playwright from Canada, Vern Thiessen, and a visionary Artistic Director Albert Schultz (director) to meld hearts, minds and artistic genius during a lively discussion to create the work. And it took Canadian Soulpepper Theatre Company to have the will to commission Thiessen to write Of Human Bondage the play, so that the adaptation of this immemorial story of human desire and repudiation would be able to soar on stage.

Theirs is a remarkable effort. The production from beginning to end is breathtaking. How the playwright and director unfold Philip Carey’s (Gregory Prest is just stunning), journey of infatuation for Mildred Rogers (Michelle Monteith’s wickedness is infuriating) through emotional enslavement and out, is mesmerizing, voyeuristic, horrific. The characters’ devolution into the abyss which touches upon class strife, gender exploitation, the crippling derangement of inferiority, self-deception, soul entrapment, sadism and masochism is a tour de force that encapsulates the seminal themes of the novel. That Soulpepper Theatre Company has so vitally put such a production before its audiences to magnify the best and worst of human nature and human relationships in all of their exceptionalism, and to refract it through a visceral lens by the brilliant Maugham in what is an exaltation of his work, will remain unparalleled for a long while.

William Somerset Maugham, Soulpepper Theatre Company, Of Human Bondage, Oliver Dennis, Gregory Prest, Vern Thiessen

(L to R) Oliver Dennis, Gregory Prest in Soulpepper Theatre Company’s adaptation of William Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ written by Vern Thiessen (Cylla Von Tiedemann)

The play presented by this acclaimed civic theater company has won numerous Dora awards (equivalent to our Tonys) deservedly so. How Thiessen, Schultz, the transcendent cast, Lorenzo Savoini (Set and Lighting Designer), Erika Connor (Costume Designer), Mike Ross (Composer and Sound Designer) and others crystallized the novel’s essence and distilled its characters and story into the magnificence that is currently playing at The Pershing Square Signature Center, is most probably a fascinating story in itself.

How did all unite to shape this epic production which is akin to Greek Drama? For each there must have been their own singular talent, passion, focus and the understanding that they were/are still contributing to something of great moment. With the expertly conceived of and executed unity, harmony and coherence in the acting and the theatrical spectacle, from the sound effects, music, lighting, seamless staging, props and costuming, not only are we transported back into the historic period of Victorian England, we are elevated into the consciousness and realms of feeling and emotion of the characters, especially that of Carey and the pitiably proud Mildred Rogers.

William Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, Sarah Wilson, Gregory Prest, Soulpepper Theatre Company, Vern Thiessen

Sarah Wilson, Gregory Prest in Soulpepper’s adaptation of William Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ written by Vern Thiessen (Cylla Von Tiedemann)

Shame, embarrassment and self-consciousness about his club food have deformed Philip Carey’s personality and emotional nature, though he is a promising medical student who is wise and humane and has artistic talent which he has thrown over for medicine. Thiessen cleverly reveals the underbelly of Carey’s weaknesses that nearly destroy him: competitiveness, envy, slavishness, self-blindness to his own need to control others with manipulative acts. Thiessen also reveals his strengths: his artistic, soulful impulses, his life-long ties to artistic friends, his kindness, his perception, his insight.

Carey becomes entranced with his colleague’s object of infatuation, Monteith’s lower class, uneducated and exploitive gold digger waitress Mildred, who has no intentions of making a career plan or refining her inner emotional traits to encourage a more genteel way of living. We watch fascinated at how her sharpened claws prod and dig into Carey’s flesh; she entangles him and torments his soul. Their fates are sealed, regardless of the variety of sub-scenes which layer upon layer reveal Carey’s strengthened self-awareness which he gains with the help of his artistic friends as they show him the evolving corruption of Mildred’s soul and attitude. She presumptuously assumes she has the greater power over him because of his weak desires. This is a bitter mistake which destroys her.

Though it appears to be the reverse, for a good part of the play, like Mildred, we are duped to believe that she controls and drains the lifeblood from Carey while he becomes more destitute and obsessed with her. He follows her whims which she blows up into storms or breezes and he is blown about by her, as her kite to drop when another more “princely” man comes near, even his own colleague.  Though he meets other learned, more attractive women through his friends, who are interested in him, Carey goes back to Mildred when she is rejected by other suitors who dupe and dump her. Like an addict, he must get his Mildred fix, while she enjoys tormenting and acting superior to Carey’s club foot Quasimodo (his inferior perception of himself).

As each scene and interaction seamlessly slips into the next one, we are driven by the emotions of the characters whose fuses fire-up then blow out based upon their relationships with the protagonist Carey and the antagonist Mildred. Carey’s once pompous colleagues fall prey to their own addictions and failures, and Carey, is thrown out of his rooms and his medical school because he wastes his money on Mildred each time she returns to him. However, his artistic genius is still alive; can his corrupted soul be redeemed by a finer love?

Ironically,  it is Carey who actually is the subtle master of the two characters. His passive, puppy dog, slavishness is the iron chain that binds Mildred into the sadistic domination to which he submits, a domination which self-destructively, she cannot do without. He is and always was the “better” person. Regardless of how much he allows her to feel her mastery over him, he controls that dominance and has her on a long lead. It is why she resents him, though she never has the self-awareness to realize why she hates him (she indeed hates her own weakness to oppress as the culture oppresses her). If she had gained self-awareness, she would have picked herself up from the gutter and attempted to change her life and annihilating ways.

William Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, Soulpepper Theatre Company, Jeff Lillico, Gregory Prest, Vern Thiessen, Soulpepper Theatre Company

(L to R): Jeff Lillico, Gregory Prest in Soulpepper’s adaptation of William Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Vern Thiessen (Cylla Von Tiedemann)

As the play’s ending lifts us toward the light, the playwright reinforces the theme manifest through a symbolic object, a gift, Carey receives from his friend. He lost this possession when he was destitute, but it is restored to him. Thiessen has poignantly woven this symbol/object/theme throughout the play. It is whimsical and profound, beautiful and sad, it represents a conjunction of Carey’s life and it wraps around Carey’s new circumstances as it once wrapped around the skeleton Carey used for studying the human anatomy (another profound theme). This is Thiessen’s meta theme and it is heartbreaking and simply gorgeous.

The actors, especially Prest, Rogers, Oliver Dennis, Stuart Hughes, John Jarvis, Racquel Duffy, Sarah Wilson are smashing, but the ensemble who also play instruments, sing, perform sound effects (i.e. doves, horses sauntering, street noises) and generally tell the story and give it shape are all exquisite and fit together like the threads of a priceless tapestry. What hath the director Albert Schultz wrought? In a word? Majesty.

I can’t sing this production’s praises enough except to say see it, see it, see it while it is in town if you are in New York City. If you are not, look for their work in Toronto. They are a marvelous company. This production is gobsmackingly singular.

Of Human Bondage runs until 26 July at the Pershing Square Signature Center. It has one intermission. Tickets may be purchased at the Box Office on 42nd Street, by calling 888-898-1188 or online by clicking HERE.




‘Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie,’ Theater Review

David M. Lutken, Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, Irish Repertory Theatre, Woody Guthrie

David M. Lutken in ‘Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie,’ at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, devised by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley, Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein is an entertaining and poignant evening of music and story-telling. The production directed by Nick Corley with music direction by David M. Lutken, orchestrations and vocal arrangements by David M. Lutken, Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein, presents the life and work of the monumental musician and singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, whose work resonates for all Americans especially so when citizens feel they are powerless in the face of injustice.

With his ballads, political, traditional folk and country-blues songs and stories, Woody Guthrie chronicled the lives of Americans in the first half of the 20th century. He traveled across the country living with the little people with whom he identified and became a call sign. He recognized that the “salt of the earth” were the backbone of the nation squeezed by the banking industry and Wall Street. He sang of their economic tribulations and deprivation, their struggles through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl era which led to the California migration and the abuses of migrant farm workers by farm conglomerates such as they were at that juncture in our history.

David M. Lutken, Helen Jean Russell, Megan Loomis, Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, Irish Repertory Theatre, Woody Guthrie

(L to R): David M. Lutken, Helen Jean Russell, Megan Loomis in ‘Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie,’ Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

Above all, he uplifted and encouraged that, “This land is your land, this land is my land…” With these words many were able to gather their forces, unionize and create movements to strengthen and consolidate their efforts in the struggle for economic equity.

Guthrie was the “Dust Bowl Troubadour” and advocate, whose songs excoriated the wealthy and their puppet politicians of both parties as the root of the farmers and little peoples’ hardships and evils. Though he flirted with communism and socialism and even wrote the column “Woody Sez” for the Communist paper People’s World (which appropriately is the title of this production) his music was his primary vehicle to uplift and exhort. He never joined any party and preferred to roam freely, always an observer and chronicler more than a participant who supported any one political cause. His cause was that of all of humanity. This production of Woody Sez highlights the finest and most endearing turning points in his life, always revealing the complexity of his nature in its most humorous, glorious and flawed states.

Megan Loomis, Andy Teirstein, Helen Jean Russell, David M. Lutken, Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, Irish Repertory Theatre

(L to R): Megan Loomis, Andy Teirstein, Helen Jean Russell, David M. Lutken in ‘Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie’ at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

Act I starts with the Company’s singing “This Train is Bound for Glory.” It is an appropriate  memorial of the journey of Guthrie’s glory that the actors/singers/musicians  (stirring performances by Megan Loomis, David M. Lutken, Helen Jean Russell, Andy Teirstein) lead us through to understand the beauty and humanity of Guthrie. In a relaxed, down-to-earth performance style, Lutken assumes the persona of Guthrie first by introducing himself as one who venerates Guthrie. He becomes Woody through episodic narration as he relates the key points of Guthrie’s life and the songs that reveal major themes and issues Guthrie experiences.

The production structure is essentially a flashback of his life. It is framed by Guthrie’s time in New York City in 1940 with Guthrie’s stint on a radio show at Rockefeller Center which a friend helped secure for him. The first scene includes the ensemble. They portray various roles throughout the production: Megan Loomis, Andy Teirstein, Helen Jean Russell. Guthrie (Lutken) sings one of his political songs on the radio which ridicules the wealthy. We are introduced to Guthrie’s freedom-loving personality. He is incapable of compromising his values, his dreams, his autonomy to tow the conservative line and accept censorship of his politics and criticism of Wall Street bankers and old J.D., the scion of Rockefeller Center. When Guthrie is fired, we are transported to the past to envision how Guthrie became that revolutionary individual.

Helen Jean Russell, David M. Lutken, Woody Sez, Irish Repertory Theatre, Woody Guthrie

Helen Jean Russell, David M. Lutken in ‘Woody Sez,’ Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

Guthrie/Lutken discusses that he was born in Okemah, Oklahoma. We are introduced to his mother and siblings in song, the ensemble filling in the roles. We learn of the family’s troubles and the tragedies they faced with his mother’s evolving illness. The narration is simple yet heart-breaking and is also chilling. The ensemble and Lutken backdrop the prose with the dynamic of themed songs that are powerful and touching.

Guthrie’s journey continues through their impoverishment and his resilience attempting to “sing for money” during the boom town years when oil was discovered in Okemah. But their family situation worsens with death and more tragedy and eventually Guthrie strikes out on his own as a teenager discovering who he is and what he is made of. He travels to Texas to see his relatives and Dad. He sings in a makeshift band with his uncle and makes some money and even gets married.

Megan Loomis, Helen Jean Russell, Andy Teirstein, Woody Sez, Irish Repertory Theatre, Woody Guthrie

(L to R): Megan Loomis, Helen Jean Russell, Andy Teirstein in ‘Woody Sez’ at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

But the April Dust Storm of 1935 overwhelms, and all is lost in a country that has been consumed by dust and sand. Everyone’s bank accounts are fallow as the bankers come for the land to pay off the farmers’ debts. Once again Guthrie travels, hopping a freight to California where he sees thousands of Americans traveling across the country. Their hopes and dreams of survival must be found at the precipice of the country’s Pacific Ocean border  in California, the new Eden. After that, there is nowhere else to go.

By the end of Act I, Guthrie’s young eyes have been opened, and his political discernment solidified. Life and success are about money which the working man can never obtain without credit and which gamblers seem to be luxuriating in despite their craven, wanton existence of selfishness. It is an ever-recurring theme throughout the production, threaded through various songs.

Helen Jean Russell, Woody Sez, Irish Repertory Theatre, Woody Guthrie

Helen Jean Russell in ‘Woody Sez,’ Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

In Act II Guthrie has gained notoriety as a voice of the people. By this point he has accepted his identity that this is where he belongs as their advocate and more importantly, a mirror to validate their experiences as human beings who must never lose their power in hope. This time of American farmer migrants is represented in such songs as “I Ain’t Got No Home”  “The Ballad of Tom Joad” (sung throughout the production), “Vigilante Man,” and “Union Maid” the last two based on true stories which reveal the oppression of the working class against the businessmen owners and the violent abuse they sustain when they attempt to assert their rights as human beings to obtain a living wage through organizing unions.

It is in this act that Guthrie’s legacy takes flight. He sings with Pete Seeger’s group The Almanacs and uses his voice and guitar to fight Hitler during WWII with a sign on his guitar, “This machine fights fascists.” The emphasis is on fighting fascism at home and abroad to support peace with songs which ring loudly and clearly against American and foreign war lords who would sacrifice their countrymen to make money. He records various songs and though he copywrites his music, he encourages others to sing his songs, even without paying him. This has led to controversial copywrite wars up to the last decade and represents a rapacity that Guthrie would abhor. As the production winds down to the conclusion, we discover how Guthrie’s music and recordings triumph despite his being rendered silent by the same illness that engulfed his mother. The production reminds us of this iconic man and helps us appreciate the wealth of historic moments captured for all time by his songs.

Irish Repertory Theatre, Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, Megan Loomis, David M. Lutken, Woody Guthrie

David M. Lutken, Megan Loomis in ‘Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie,’ Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

With a minimalistic set and adaptive, flexible staging, the ensemble brings together their sterling musical skills on every string instrument that rings out Guthrie’s country, folk, blues from violin to banjo, from guitar to harmonica and more. The performers’ voices soar with the haunting melodies and joyful rhythms of 20th century Americana that have been taken up by everyone from Bob Dylan to Billy Bragg.

The production reveals why tributes are continually held to honor Woody Guthrie’s music and life. His work is imminently universal and timeless. He is a beacon for future generations as long as economic injustice blankets any area of the planet. Indeed, as this production of Woody Sez thematically indicates, “the chickens have surely come home to roost.”  A researcher in 2016 discovered in the archives of the Woody Guthrie Center in Oklahoma that Guthrie criticized Fred Trump, father of President Donald Trump, revealing his disgust with the father as a landlord. In song lyrics, Guthrie accuses Fred Trump of stirring up racial hate “in the bloodpot of human hearts.”

Guthrie’s words will continue to reverberate in our hearts and minds. The injunctions in his songs are a welcome anodyne to get us through the next day or over a rough patch to eventually take the stand necessary in our own lives and for our culture and nation.

This fine production of Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie (one intermission) runs at the Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd) until 23 July.  You may purchase tickets HERE.

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