He Says: Classic Stage Company Reworks Two 19th Century Strindberg Plays
The winds blow in strong onto the trio of souls (+1) that share the oval tiled space in the center of Classic Stage Company‘s theatre. Surrounded on all four sides, two 19th Century Strindberg plays are getting a gusty tweak and cool twist from two very different writers; Conor McPherson and Yaël Farber. Each one is bringing forth a very different take on the tales of hate and love that was forged together by Strindberg many moons ago. These souls of his stage, in some ways, are waiting for death to resolve the issues at hand as both are condensed into one-act plays with unique and different results. It’s a tendency that works very well for one, while the other feels arbitrary and in some ways forced by some social template, pushing the tolerance of this formulation to a non-dramatic brink, when a break is almost etched into the makeup of this particular Dance. It’s surprising they didn’t take the cue from the text, as the resulting presentation might be met with a warmer reception to a cold and bitter comedy about attachment.
The Dance of Death is Stringberg’s decent into the dark corridors of the soul and the bleak manner of human attachments with a surprising and abstract sense of humor that is still firmly attached. The play was actually written as two, The Dance of Death I, and The Dance of Death II, written by Strindberg in 1900 but not intended to be performed together as there are numerous unexplained discrepancies that reside within. With this new version written by the wonderfully detailed Conor McPherson (The Seafarer, Girl from the North Country), the dark comedy of DoD 1 exists inside The Dance and is etched most elegantly in the deepest “blackest pessimism” that it can find within this bitter marriage. In celebration of their 25 years together, the play begins, oddly enough, like a piece of musical theatre, literally waltzing in the eternal torment that exists within this couple’s connection. This constructed modern dance of dissension plays with your instincts, almost suggesting that the two will break out into a mournful song as the movement comes to an end. But no such luck. Or maybe that’s not true, as what exists is strong and compelling, but sadly lacks a strength and power to last to the bitter resolution.
This twinge of connection is not so surprising as this Dance of Death is directed with agility and commitment by the phenomenal musical stage star, Victoria Clark (NYMF’s Newton’s Cradle) making her directorial CSC debut. She wisely blows in the crisp coldness of the Swedish autumn night, bathing the scene in bitterness and discontent. The chill infiltrates the couple’s stark living room, designed by David L. Arsenault (as Associate, CSC’s Arturo Ui), that at moments feels more like a wrestling or boxing ring than the shared space of a marriage. Alice, powerfully played by the engaging Cassie Beck (Broadway’s The Humans) shares sharp insults and mean-spirited banter with her Edger, solidly portrayed by Richard Topol (Broadway’s Indecent). He’s a retired artillery captain who at times seem more like a tyrant crisscrossed and at odds with the persona of an adoring but jealous husband. Alice is a former actress, once glamorous now desperate, craving her lost sensuality and appeal, forever angry at what she has lost by marrying Edger, but still in need of his attention and gaze. They live unhappily, confined within a state of continued dominance and frustration, isolated on an island without any other interactions to satisfy their hungry souls. Next door to a party, but they live in a state knowing they are uninvited neighbors and disliked souls. Even within those four walls.
They play games and throw daggers, but a redirection in the bitter winds brings Kurt, played forcibly by Christopher Innvar (Broadway’s Victor/Victoria) entering the space with trepidation. His presence forces the two to find different tactics then they have used in all these long years dealing with their “miserable mistake“. Kurt is making a courtesy call, or so it seems, but he quickly discovers what he might have come looking for. He learns from Alice that in the past, possibly on purpose, Edger might have caused Kurt to lose custody of his own children in his equally bitter marriage and divorce. Kurt and Alice, wonderfully costumed in sometimes mourning black by Tricia Barsamian (KPOP), join forces to plot against Edgar, with revenge and hate reigniting a relationship that borders dangerously on domination and desire. Is there love, or just a power play to fulfill an empty heart? That’s a question to ponder as this complicated dance drives forward through the long gust of winds that cool their embrace.
It’s a complex saga, and as the winds deliver the frigid night air, shifting the mood with a compelling lighting design by Stacey Derosier (Rattlestick’s Lewiston/Clarkston) and sound design by Quentin Chiappetta (Off-Broadway’s Irena’s Vow), the energy of conflict and hate makes us all uncomfortable guests, wondering where this all will end, and what will become of this tormented trio. Clark embraces the bleak humor of the piece almost musically, as we join with Kurt as complicit spectators to Alice playing the piano in order to get her husband to dance a bizarre and frenzied dance, with hopes that this activity might actually cause his heart problems to rise up and strike him down dead. The three embrace the darkness, the hate, and the humor, diving with glee into the dark crashing waters of that Swedish island, and even though the Dance sometimes feels forced, overly structured, and not entirely in sync with one another, the essence of the still walking and breathing corpses screaming into the cold air resonate. An obvious break in the dance about half way through feels like an intermission was built into the piece and could have easily been inserted but was chosen to be ignored. This Dance, one that lasts 110 minutes, is a bit of a slog, something right out of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” when it didn’t have to be. It only made us all look at our watches and groan a bit under our breath, somewhat upset that we were only half way through, even though when “I came here, I had no anger“. When the dance, helped along by composer Jeff Blumenkrantz (Inner Voices’ Scaffolding), finally does come to an end, somewhat musically, repeating like a verse within a song, we are disturbed but gratified by the return to the attachment stalemate, watching these two frustrated codependent souls wait for death to bring peace from a pool of cruelty and absurdist humor. And within that dark ending, the bleakest of marital engagement ever examined, we find salvation, even if they only find isolation in their commitment.
Yaël Farber (Shakespeare Theatre/DC’s Salomé) in a more daring attempt, adapts another Strindberg classic written in 1888, Miss Julie for the CSC stage, resetting the erotic dance of power onto a whole other landscape then first intended, something that might have helped McPherson. On top of the imbalances of power and gender, Farber adds race and ancestral domain rights into the dynamic attachments on display in his Mies Julie. It’s a wise move, slapping down this battleground, not in Sweden, but in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, 2012, on the evening of the annual Freedom Day Celebrations. It’s a solid and thoughtful parallel universe that gives rise to the wild and pained alliance in conflict that is at the core, although the added complexities in their passionate power struggle, as directed by Shariffa Ali (Cell Theatre’s The Year of the Bicycle), shoots Mies Julieoff in a number of different directions, not always hitting their mark.
Patrice Johnson Chevannes (Broadway’s The Crucible w/Liam Neeson) is Christine, the aging housekeeper who scrubs the tiled floor of the oval, also designed and sparsely furnished by Arsenault, with similarly strong lighting and sound by the same team. It’s a house that she calls her home, working for the rich land owners that have taken control of her family’s ancestral soil, one that is watched over by her grandmother Ukhokho, hauntingly portrayed by Vinie Burrows (Foundry’s The Good Person of Szechuan) with costuming for this particular play by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene (Public’s Wild Goose Dreams) and Andrew Moerdyk (FIG’s Go Get the Axe). Christine and her son, John, handsomely and powerfully played by the impressive James Udom (PR’s The Revolving Cycles…) live somewhat favored lives within the rich man’s power structure, existing in a special place of affection with the white Afrikaans landowner who lays claim to the land underneath their feet. But it is in the eyes of the owner’s daughter Julie, played brazenly by Elise Kibler (Broadway’s This Is Our Youth) where a more complex dynamic exists, swallowed by all three every day with unfair bitterness and pride.
John, an Xhosa farm laborer, walks in to the oval they equally share in spirit with the Dance of Death, and greets his hard-working mother. He is by far the best thing in Meis Julie, and he does so with a sensual rawness that is hard to ignore, encompassing exhaustion, pride, and powerfulness on top of his beaten down angry soul. He’s a far step away from those bitter Swedes, although not entirely different in his brokenness, but the way his mother looks upon him is as shiny and saintly as a prayer. He’s “too proud“, she says, but “not proud enough“, she thinks. Julie, the landowner’s daughter, also can’t help herself in the way she looks at John, but in her eyes there is a struggle between a desire to control and an ache to be taken and used. And thus, their dance to the death, to a musical score by composer Andrew Orkin’s (“Dead Pigs“), begins with a too eager earnestness, as Kibler’s Julie lays herself down far too quickly to take in. Her Julie is beautiful, but lost in a fog, playing it too fast and furious in the way she jabs at him with unabashed cruelty. We are supposed to, I believe, like her even with her spoiled brattiness at full display. Without that attunement, the end results loses its way. Like the married couple in the other Strindberg play, the love and hate that is forged between them is as vicious at times as possible, hiding the opposite underneath, but with these two, there are the roots of lust and want, born many years prior, that will never go away. They are long and storied, but entangled and possibly rotten and destroyed by the graves of John’s ancestors buried underneath the house, that these gnarled roots have grown through and inhaled their mistrust and anger.
Strindberg described his two lead characters, Miss Julie and Jean at war in an evolutionary and stylistically natural battle for survival of the fittest. The character, Miss Julie, represents what remains of the old aristocratic breed about to fall away on the road to modernity, whereas Jean, the manservant to the Count, represents the modern man fighting his way up and out of the confines of the century’s old power dynamic. He’s seen as far more fit to survive because he is better equipped to adapt to the changing world order. The same can be said of these two Farber creations. The winds of change, much like the cold autumn gusts that unsettle the dust of the Dancing duo in Sweden, are sweeping across South Africa, awakening an anger and thirst for triumphant survival over their oppressors. John and Julie are forced to do battle for dominance in the same manner as Julie and Jean, but with added complexities. Farber has altered the dynamic of the ending, and I’m not all together sure why the shift is needed. Maybe the descent into destruction of the old power structure is self-inflicted, or something akin to the same defeat that both Edgar and Alice decide to embrace. I’d love to know the logic behind that restructuring, but the end result is as significant in its solidarity to the environment as it is to these two characters. Only John and the Swedish Kurt find their way out of Death’s waiting room, escaping the tediousness of union and erotic bondage. We also escape into the new world order, after two consecutive nights of adapted Strindbergs. Both are not without their flaws, although they each share a damaging wind shift that impacts the demanding attention that needs to be paid. Death awaits us all, but do we sit and wait for it to come a-callin’? Or do we act in desperation to save our unsatisfied souls? You tell me, but even though I enjoyed the descent, I’d personally rather rise up and face the gale force of nature and death.
1- Strindberg, August. Meyer, Michael, translator. Strindberg Plays: 2: Dream Play; Dance of Death; The Stronger. Introduction. A&C Black. 2014.
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Toby Keith Interview Reveals Personal Thoughts on Lifetime Achievement Award
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW REPOST FROM “THE MAGAZINE LIFESTYLE”
Toby Keith was born to be in the spotlight.
While so many performers have been bestowed the same grand gift of stardom throughout history, there is something much more meaningful when this artist stands in front of millions of fans. It’s not just the strums of his guitar you hear when he takes the stage. The light that surrounds him shines brightly because inside of Keith a sound made from a pulsating heart of gold radiates throughout the world.
Considered one of the most beloved musicians of all time, the National Medal of Arts recipient’s list of accomplishments is nothing short of outstanding. Keith has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, as well as honored with the Academy of Country Music’s prestigious Merle Haggard Spirit Award just to name a few remarkable achievements. The superstar’s body of work has made him a luminary trailblazer in the entertainment industry. A trusted and upstanding performer, he has sung some of the biggest country hits of the 20th century including “Should’ve Been A Cowboy,” “Who’s That Man,” “Me Too,” “How Do You Like Me Now?!,” “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This,” “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight,” “Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American),” “Beer For My Horses,” and “American Soldier.”
Celebrated for his artistry, the seven-time Grammy nominee and two-time Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year is an unstoppable force. But for all the joy his triumphant collection has brought to the masses, it is the way his storied career has produced something far more than just alluring tunes and catchy music videos.
Since the very beginning, Keith’s mission has always been to create a space that makes people feel accepted. His profound emotions persevere in front of an audience at a sold-out concert just as equally as his sincere interactions with other celebrities. Backstage and behind the scenes his unwavering need to unconditionally help those in need rises to the forefront.
The musician’s widely known philanthropic efforts have made an everlasting effect on mankind. From voicing support for veterans to aiding citizens recovering from natural disasters, Keith considers it his patriotic duty to use his impactful voice to empower change and inspire others to follow suit.
For someone who is a larger-than-life entertainer, it is fascinating how completely down to earth he is when the curtain falls. Any hint of intimidation quickly sheds away when he looks at you with his twinkling eyes. Peeling back the layers of the idol, you discover that the making of this legendary singer is not rooted in ego. There is simply a person standing before you who doesn’t wish to be music royalty worshiped on a pedestal. There is only a humble man who is eternally grateful for what he has been gifted. You only see the compassionate cowboy.
Perfectly flawed and rough around the edges, his presence is that of a burly character perpetually dressed in a slightly disheveled wardrobe. Keith carries the look of someone laboring outdoors all day just to finally sit on the porch and kick back with a frosted beer as the sun sets in the horizon. His dusty boots have walked a million miles and left behind a trail of deep footprints full of Oklahoma red dirt no matter where he goes.
The music sensation’s legendary status has allowed him to build an expansive empire of goodwill. Keith’s unconditional love is especially felt at The Toby Keith Foundation. The center’s mission is to encourage the health and happiness of pediatric cancer patients. It also funds OK Kids Korral, which is a cost-free and comfortable home for pediatric cancer patients and their families receiving treatment at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, Stephenson Cancer Center, and other nearby facilities.
The valiant Keith and his dedicated team are now set to be honored by the laudable SabesWings Foundation. On September 18, the icon will receive the SabesWings Lifetime Achievement Award during the Second Annual Strike Out Event in Paso Robles, California. The festivities will help raise funds through ticket sales to support cancer patients suffering from medical financial toxicity.
Together throughout the past few years OK Kids Korral and SabesWings have joined forces to help patients who must choose between paying for medical treatments or common everyday living expenses.Giving cancer patients of all ages the chance to heal without worry is the philosophy that Keith and SabesWings founders Bret and Kandace Saberhagen embrace. The famous Kansas City Royals pitcher and his wife know the power of supporting those in need during a medical crisis after she went through a past cancer scare. Seeing how much the cost of care escalated at that time, they knew that something had to be done for those who were not fortunate enough to afford it.
Keith has personally experienced how the disease can change your life in an instant. In June, he disclosed through social media that he had been privately battling stomach cancer. Fortunately, he is now cancer-free. While recovering from treatment, the survivor witnessed firsthand how community love can be a pillar of strength to patients who are bravely fighting the dreaded disease.
The sad truth is that there is no person in the world who has not been affected by the disease. Lives are rocked and fundamentally shifted. Neither celebrity status nor birthright can stop it from happening to someone. But it is the ones with the golden hearts like Keith who can help make the process more humane. The power of kindness is truly uplifting.
During an exclusive interview with “The Magazine Lifestyle,” Keith revealed why being honored by his friends and fellow philanthropists at SabesWings is a momentous occasion.
Your foundation assists and supports pediatric cancer patients and their families. How did this mission come about?
Twenty years ago, my friend – who happened to be my first guitar player in the very first band I was ever in and ended up being my road manager later – had a 2-year-old daughter, Allison, who developed cancer. In her most dire moments, in the eleventh hour, the hospital had just told them to take Allison home. They had to bring in hospice when necessary. I had been supporting St. Jude in Memphis and as a last-ditch effort we called in a favor. St. Jude had a couple of things there that they hadn’t done yet here in Oklahoma. Allison and her mother drove over. When they had exhausted all their options they came back home, and Allison passed away.
After the funeral, the mother said that the most eye-opening part of it was that when she got to St. Jude she was provided with food, lodging, and transportation free of cost. She wanted nothing. She was actually going to worry about all that when they got there since she was in such a rush, didn’t prepare, and hadn’t brought anything with them. She was given everything from Walmart gift cards to medicine to whatever they needed. I said, ‘In Ally’s honor we should look at doing something like that here in Oklahoma City.’ And that’s how OK Kids Korral was born.
What are the things about your foundation that you are most proud of at the end of the day?
I think I’m most proud of the fact that we handle more than 300 families a year. They come from all over and they are desperate just like Allison’s mother was. It makes me proud to know that when it comes to this part of it, they can show up at Children’s Hospital and have a burden lifted the second they know they can stay right across the street in a wonderful lodge that is gated and safe. OK Kids Korral is the Ritz Carlton meets Disney World.
You are being honored by SabesWings this September. As an icon in music and the world of philanthropy, what does this mean for you to receive this award?
These things are designed as fundraisers. And the Saberhagens have given their time to my event and to other events, Make-A-Wish, etc. So, it’s honoring them as much as it is anybody. On paper it looks like I’m being brought in and honored, which is wonderful for them to pick me to do it. But at the end of the day, it’s just like a keynote speaker at any event. It’s a reciprocal type of situation where he’s (Bret Saberhagen) done stuff for my event so I’m doing stuff for his event. But in my opinion, this event honors them as much as it does anybody for all the work they do.
What is it that makes the combined efforts of SabesWings with your foundation so unique in the philanthropic community? Also, what is it that you think you do best in comparison to other organizations out there?
Me showing up has SabesWings granting us donations as well; what I said is reciprocation in the previous answer. The thing that I think separates us is our Executive Director, Juliet Bright, who is the woman who runs my foundation. She is such a master at this and champions so well that it just makes us operate at a really high level. That being said, other people who have come in like SabesWings as well as other celebrities who have come to my event and have events themselves, have often returned after the event and asked if they could talk to Juliet. I ask why, and they say, ‘I want my event to run as well as yours.’ Maybe they’ve not dreamed big enough, or looked at it as a big enough picture, or just the overall quality of how the event is run. Juliet has done a wonderful job through the years, and she just gets better. It’s kind of on cruise control now, and I say that not taking her for granted, but because she’s got it running so smoothly now that even though it takes her 365 days to set up the event, she’s still got it down. It’s run as well as anybody’s foundation in the country.
When you hear how much the two organizations working together are making a difference in real lives, what does that incredible goodwill mean to you?
It’s nice to be able to focus and have all your energy in the world go toward one thing that really matters to you. Up until OK Kids Korral was formed, all my charity stuff was scattered. Whoever came at the right time got it. I worked with St. Jude a lot, most of my efforts went there, so that tied in really well. But if I was at an event or TV show where you won some money for charity. I really didn’t have anything that just made me go, ‘Yeah, this is my charity.’ And once OK Kids Korral came into play, I could focus all my energies just on that. And you can look at the other stuff and say, ‘I’m sorry, this takes up all my time, energy, and money.’ It has to because it’s my job to make sure we raise the money each year that is the lifeline to OK Kids Korral.
Keith generates wisdom that can only be understood by someone who really savors life and is aware that giving is the biggest gift of all. The superstar is ultimately a superhero who will always sing an enduring and enlightened ballad for all of mankind.
Reposted with permission by “The Magazine Lifestyle” and writer ElizaBeth Taylor
Cover art and photography by Greg Watermann
Actors to Watch – Danny A. Abeckaser in ‘Lansky’
One thing the pandemic certainly didn’t take away from us was the love for a good film with a great cast.
This summer the much-anticipated film “Lansky” starring Harvey Keitel, Sam Worthington, Danny A. Abeckaser, David James Elliott, Minka Kelly, David Cade, John Magaro, and Anna Sophia Robb, among others, hits theaters and digital streaming channels.
Director and writer Eytan Rockaway’s crime-drama was inspired by actual conversations that took place between Rockaway’s father, Rob Rockaway, and gangster Meyer Lansky before his death. Actor Abeckaser portrays an FBI agent in the film, which departs his often seen mobster and nightlife character roles in prior projects.
Last seen in “The Irishman,” the performer demonstrates a new range as an actor in the feature, alongside Worthington and longtime friend Keitel, who starred in his directorial debut, “First We Take Brooklyn,” in 2018. It’s an exciting turn as Abeckaser continues to hone his craft.
“It’s been a passion project. I was obsessed and grew up knowing about Lansky,” he told Times Square Chronicles during a recent interview. Though Abeckaser didn’t produce the film he was around during the inception and had brought some of the original content to the attention of the filmmakers. It was his keen sensibilities as a true artist that helped carve out the path to production.
“He was someone known to be a tough guy and strong – kind of like a bully,” he reflects about the true story lead. “But, then you see this little five-foot-two Jewish guy who was running everything in real life. For me I wanted to to get to know this fascinating story more. This whole thing came about and I just really wanted to be a part of it.”
And, attractive characters is something that Abeckaser truly understands. He himself has a soulful presence that is undeniable. He is a legit artist who appreciates the team he works with as much as the road to get there.
“I just want this to be successful. I want people to see it with everything I put into a film and what I create when I act. All you want is people to see it and enjoy it. All the hard it took was about six years of labor. We just want people to appreciate and enjoy it, you know, and I hope it gets the audience it deserves.”
For these artistic endeavors we applaud him.
Abeckaser’s next film, “I Love Us,” is a feature romantic drama that he stars in and directs, due out in September 2021, further showcasing his depth in the emotional film.
Follow Danny A. Abeckaser on social media at @DannyA27 and head to theatres, VOD and digital on June 25 to watch LANSKY.
Cover Photo by Ben Draper
My View: Prayers For Larry King
Roger Friedman who has scooped many major stories in his career on Fox TV and in NY Magazine broke another one on his Showbiz411 website. Roger had an exclusive about Larry King being hospitalized and battling COVID for the last 10 days in a Los Angeles hospital. Roger has chronicled many sad stories this year concerning the Friars Club, but this one had to be the most heartbreaking about it’s Dean, Larry King.
Here is a look back a happier times at the Friars Club with Larry King.
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