Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kennedy @ Globe weighs in on BRENDAN

Review: Noone's Brendan Is at Home in Boston
By Louise Kennedy, Globe Staff | October 25, 2007
Fluid, funny, and heartfelt, "Brendan" is Ronan Noone's most expertly crafted play yet. And that's saying something.
.... "Brendan" places its central character in the midst of complicated relationships: with fellow Irish immigrants in Boston, with the American women he pursues with touching awkwardness, and most of all with his mother back home.
Brendan's relationship with Mammy is particularly complex, not least because she's dead. ... the play finds ways to be about one particular guy, Brendan, while also saying some interesting things about the United States, Ireland, and what it means to change your allegiance - or at least your passport - from one to the other.
The Huntington has given "Brendan," which Noone developed as a playwriting fellow with the company, a stylish and substantial production. Alexander Dodge's set begins by capturing a specific, and quintessential, Boston sight: It's the mirrored walls of the Hancock Tower, reflecting the older architecture around it.... with sections sliding out or swiveling open to represent an apartment, a pub, or a courtroom, as Brendan moves haltingly along the path to citizenship....
Nancy E. Carroll ... as the Woman {is} charming, exasperating, amusing, controlling;
Mother and son are surrounded by a capable cast, with Ciaran Crawford particularly vivid as the foul-mouthed joker Steveo, and Natalie Gold bringing a nice mix of timidity and strength to Brendan's attractive neighbor, Rose. But what matters here, what we'll remember, is the way Brendan talks to his mother, and the way she talks to him - and the way, inevitably, Noone brings them to a point where they can accept the gulf that now lies between them.
Brendan may never see his mother, or his motherland, again. But so deftly does Noone trace his journey that we, with Brendan, come to understand: Nothing loved is ever wholly lost.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Kentucky Cycle

The Kentucky Cycle was "in development" at Sundance in 1990, when I was "in development" there with my play set in a Boston abortion clinic, "Under Siege" (at that point titled "Choices"). I was so impressed by the Cycle that I took the dawn bus to NYC to see both parts, matinee and evening, and staggered onto the wee hours red eye bus to ride back home. That was a good production, a memorable one-- but I thought at the time that the play was actually more moving in the bare-bones intimacy of the well-rehearsed reading it got at Sundance than in the elaborate proscenium staging it got on Broadway. I was very much looking forward to seeing it again staged by Zeitgeist/Way Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts

Carolyn Clay gave it a rave in the Boston Phoenix

"Whitewash has floated like a soap scum on the bloodbath of America’s past as told in the history books. Robert Schenkkan’s THE KENTUCKY CYCLE blows the skim off the water, offering 200 years of Appalachian “progress” — from lawlessness to vengefulness to Norma Rae. This seven-hour, nine-play saga, which begins in 1775 on a precious piece of Eastern Kentucky ground that will be strip-mined before all is done, premiered in Seattle in 1991 and in 1992 became the first stage work to win the Pulitzer Prize before being produced in New York — which, of course, propelled it to Broadway, where it ran for a month. The Kentucky Cycle may be just too expensive and unwieldy for commercial production, requiring as it does two three-and-a-half-hour sit-downs and 20-some actors deployed in 120 speaking roles. (It probably didn’t help that the cycle came to fruition at the same time as Angels in America.)"

[Don't I know! It was hard for the rest of us at Sundance in 1990 to get any attention at all, with Angels there to blow us away! And Kushner got the epic sweep staged with a more economical cast, half the size of Kentucky's, or my own female epic's -- GLH).

CLAY again: "Perhaps the only sort of theater that could, with any thought toward fiscal prudence, take a shot at Schenkkan’s epic would be a non-Equity troupe whose leader is insane enough to try. Enter David J. Miller, honcho of two-time Elliot Norton Award–winning Zeitgeist Stage Company, which teams with Way Theatre Artists to present an area premiere of The Kentucky Cycle (at the Boston Center for the Arts through November 17) that is a sweeping, small-scale triumph..."

"Schenkkan’s cycle offers, along with its large doses of history and melodrama, flights of poetry and a keen sense of place. What Zeitgeist adds, in this vigorous chamber staging, is human scale. The saga unfolds in the tiny BCA Black Box on and between two small stages.....As he proved with Stuff Happens, the David Hare drama ... Miller is adept at deploying his talented non-professionals — who here include two refreshingly natural kids, Matthew Scott Robinson and Jacob Rosenbaum. The actors bounce among roles without, for the most part, falling into delineating caricature. Even the worst of the characters is pitiable. Callous dynasty maker Michael Rowen is imbued by Michael Steven Costello with a demonic energy that’s irresistible. Christine Power brings a lyrical fierceness to reluctant union matriarch Mary Anne Rowen. Peter Brown is effective as both a fire-and-brimstone preacher whose Bible is a retribution manual and a 20th-century United Mine Workers leader squeezed into a compromise that proves both fatal and personal. There are robust turns, too, by Bill Bruce, Amanda Good Hennessey, and Jonathan Orsini. And the whole cast is to be admired for getting its collective arms around this Herculean effort and remembering from moment to moment just where in the course of its all-too-human events they are."

I went to see part #1 with June Lewin last night, and we're going to pt #2 tonight.
The cast is uneven, but unified as an ensemble, those who are good as individual characters are astonishingly good! The spirit is fierce and totally committed, and what I found melodramatic in 1990 seems spot on after nearly 2 more decades of exposure to American greed and authoritarian violence. Pity and terror; pity and terror.

Here's an excerpt from a Jane Smiley essay in Slate c. 2004 explaining what Schekkan shows:

"Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states. There used to be a kind of hand-to-hand fight on the frontier called a "knock-down-drag-out," where any kind of gouging, biting, or maiming was considered fair. The ancestors of today's red-state voters used to stand around cheering and betting on these fights. When the forces of red and blue encountered one another head-on for the first time in Kansas Territory in 1856, the red forces from Missouri, who had been coveting Indian land across the Missouri River since 1820, entered Kansas and stole the territorial election. The red news media of the day made a practice of inflammatory lying—declaring that the blue folks had shot and killed red folks whom everyone knew were walking around. The worst civilian massacre in American history took place in Lawrence, Kan., in 1863—Quantrill's raid. The red forces, known then as the slave-power, pulled between 150 and 200 unarmed men from their beds on a Sunday morning and slaughtered them, many in front of their wives and children.* The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America. Listen to what the red state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to. They know who they are—they are full of original sin and they have a taste for violence. The blue state citizens make the Rousseauvian mistake of thinking humans are essentially good, and so they never realize when they are about to be slugged from behind.

Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you—if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it.

Next, they tell you that you are the best of a bad lot (humans, that is) and that as bad as you are, if you stick with them, you are among the chosen. This is flattering and reassuring, and also encourages you to imagine the terrible fates of those you envy and resent. American politicians ALWAYS operate by a similar sort of flattery, and so Americans are never induced to question themselves. That's what happened to Jimmy Carter—he asked Americans to take responsibility for their profligate ways, and promptly lost to Ronald Reagan, who told them once again that they could do anything they wanted. The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what to do—they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable.

Third, and most important, when life grows difficult or fearsome, they (politicians, preachers, pundits) encourage you to cling to your ignorance with even more fervor. But by this time you don't need much encouragement—you've put all your eggs into the ignorance basket, and really, some kind of miraculous fruition (preferably accompanied by the torment of your enemies, and the ignorant always have plenty of enemies) is your only hope. If you are sufficiently ignorant, you won't even know how dangerous your policies are until they have destroyed you, and then you can always blame others."--JSmiley

In linking Schekkan's name to his Wikipedia reference I discovered that we share the same birthday, March 19th, and that he is an actor whose work I've seen on TV in Star Trek TNG. I didn't recognize him when I met him at Sundance-- but I did like him on sight.....GLH, Ares cusp Piscean.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, October 11, 2007

BRENDAN at the Huntington/Calderwood

Saw the preview of this tonight. I liked it more than any other Noone play I've seen. Of his trilogy, I liked The Blowin of Baile Gall best and The Gigolo Confessions of Baile Breag not at all, but there is no doubt that Noone has a distinctive voice. I suppose that being invited to see a preview means not talking about the play publicly till after press opening-- but surely it is OK to say it was a pleasure to sit through and that I'd recommend it? I particularly enjoyed the skillful performance in several roles by my old Sugan colleague Ciaran Crawford. We commiserated afterwards as I congratulated him in the lobby: neither of us has worked much since that excellent Irish theatre closed.

BRENDAN Press release
by Ronan Noone
Directed by Justin Waldman
Wimberly Theatre
Oct. 12 - Nov. 18, 2007

"Noone's plays are now the highlight
of any given theatre season!"
- The Boston Globe

A recent Irish immigrant, Brendan now calls Boston home. He misses his family, but works hard to fit-in in his adopted country, earn his American citizenship, and find love and meaning in his new life in this funny and touching premiere by acclaimed Boston writer Ronan Noone.

Born and raised in Ireland, Huntington Playwriting Fellow Ronan Noone is quickly becoming one of America's top young playwrights. His recent play The Atheist was part of the Huntington's 2006 Breaking Ground Festival, and premiered in both New York and London. His other works include the acclaimed trilogy The Lepers of Baile Baiste (National Playwriting Award), The Blowin of Baile Gall (Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play), and The Gigolo Confessions of Baile Breag.

Advance Article from The Boston Globe
In two plays at the Huntington, the Irish-born writer turns to America
By Louise Kennedy, Globe Staff | September 9, 2007
Justin Waldman sounds a bit incredulous, if delighted, as he contemplates the fall season at the Huntington Theatre Company. With good reason: Waldman, the Huntington's artistic associate, will be directing not one but two plays this fall, both by the award-winning Boston playwright Ronan Noone.

"It's a little Ronan Noone festival," Waldman says with a laugh. "It's kismet, I think."
Noone himself has a different word for the happy coincidence of seeing both "Brendan" and "The Atheist" on the same fall schedule: "It's my Xanax," he says - the ideal cure for any anxiety he may have felt after finishing the trilogy of Irish plays that put him on the theater map.
... the Huntington's Wimberly Theatre will have "The Atheist," Wednesday through Sept. 30, and "Brendan" from Oct. 12 through Nov. 17.
"It made more sense to do them on top of each other than spread out," Waldman says. "But they're such disparate plays. If you didn't have the title page, you would never guess that they're by the same guy. But they do have the same smarts."

Labels: , ,