Monday, March 23, 2009

'sNewz occasional series mentioning current events which lately held my interest...

Once again my inbox is full of items which are beginning to creak with age, so please forgive the fact that most of them are beyond their "sell by" date...

Apparently, authority figures around the world are discovering the disciplinary powers of Barry Manilow. A while back I wrote about the judge in Colorado who sentenced some juvenile delinquents to listen to an hour of Manilow's music as punishment. More recently, a mall in New Zealand, a nation known for its pacifist tendencies, was having problems with teen-agers loitering and causing trouble. (This has always been a confusion to me, the fact that teens love to gather at the mall just to hang around. Perhaps I am prejudiced against malls, as I worked in one for [get this] FIFTEEN YEARS, and cannot abide such places now. Why anyone would think going to one would be FUN and SOCIAL is beyond me...) These New Zealand teens have been spraying graffiti, tossing trash, and otherwise wreaking havoc. The mall owners plan to solve the problem by piping in Barry Manilow music, to discourage the youngsters from spending time there. Poor Barry; apparently, he writes the songs that make the whole world cringe..

Here's another tale that is old news, but worth repeating. Censorship remains alive and well in our nation's public schools. The rock musical Rent has been released for amateur production, and a school in California's Orange County (a region notorious for its right-wing attitudes) planned a production. The principal banned the show without reading the script, after having heard it deals with prostitution, homosexuality, and AIDS. She recently rescinded her ban, and the show will go on next month. Her about-face may have something to do with the lawsuit which the California ACLU slapped on the school and its officials. They are not concerned with the Rent production, per se, but with the rampant bullying of gay students. A female student involved in the Rent production received threats of death and rape, and the administration has done little to counter sexist and homophobic behaviour in the school. Security officers even cracked down on a grass-roots effort on the part of the students to signal their support of the Rent production by wearing rainbow-colored buttons; the buttons were confiscated. It was only after the ACLU filed suit in Superior Court that the production was reinstated.

No such luck for the school in Oregon which wanted to produce Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapine Agile. A petition with 137 names was presented to the school board, who then halted rehearsals for the show, which the petition complained had "adult content." What? Martin himself offered to fund the production off-campus because he wanted to keep the show from "acquiring a reputation it does not deserve.” I'll say. The play's concept is a meeting between Einstein, Picasso, and Elvis, in a Parisian bar; for the life of me, I cannot imagine what the hell problem the parents had with the thing.

While the above items made me mad, the next two just made me sad. Did you hear that Milan Stitt died? I never would have known if my new buddy Hans had not mentioned it. His loss will be felt in the theatrical community. Don't know who Milan Stitt is? I hadn't heard of him either, but he had a strong impact on American Theatre for a while. He was a playwright (The Runner Stumbles; remember Dick van Dyke in the movie?) but was better known as a teacher, mentor, and dramaturg. He helped found the play development program at the Circle Rep in Manhattan, where he nurtured Bill C. Davis (Mass Appeal), Arthur Kopit (Wings), Paul Zindel (Effect of Gamma-Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds) and David Mamet, among others. I have a lot of respect for anyone who has the talent to help other talent emerge, so Stitt's influence will be missed.

And speaking of death, the theatre community continues to mourn Natasha Richardson. In Sunday's NY Times, Charles Isherwood writes admiringly of the special discipline of the stage actor, and cites the Redgraves as perfect examples of actors who always show up, and always do the work. He attributes such professionalism to the "dailyness" of stage acting, as opposed to the rather contrary, sloppy aspect of Hollywood fame.

It's a nice article, but I was much more moved when I read about last Thursday night. It was the night when all the lights on Broadway were dimmed for a minute, in tribute to their lost star. reported that, among the regular theatre-goers in Shubert Alley, there were some surprises. Members of Richardson's stage and real family had gathered to watch the tribute. Liam Neeson, who met and fell in love with Richardson while debuting on Broadway together in Anna Christie, was joined by Richardson’s sister, Joely, and her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, as they stood outside the Booth Theatre to see the Broadway community dim its marquees for one minute, a traditional honor saved for stage greats. Seen comforting Neeson with hugs and condolences were friends Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, Ralph Fiennes (Richardson’s co-star in the movies Maid in Manhattan and The White Countess, and Neeson’s friend since the two co-starred in Schindler’s List), Laura Linney (who starred with Neeson in the 2002 Broadway revival of The Crucible), and Richardson's costars from the Cabaret revival, Ron Rifkin and John Benjamin Hickey. At 8pm, the lights of the theater district began to dim, theater by theater, and mourners, onlookers and passersby began to respectfully applaud, at times even shouting Richardson’s name.

As the lights returned, Neeson shielded his eyes with his cap, and ducked into a waiting car with his family.

That image makes me cry.

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