Tag Archives: Patricia Conolly

Even Actors go on Holiday

Before we left we noticed that everyone we told we were going to Barcelona had something to say along the lines of: “Oh, it’s great, you’ll love it.” And now we can say that too.

There’s the oddly named Hotel REC, which I wholeheartedly recommend, is situated close by the Arc de Triomf. The entire staff is extra friendly and helpful, and the cool design of the building on an oddly shaped footprint includes a roof terrace with views over the old part of the city.

We did the Gaudi Basillica of course, we did the Picasso museum,  which inspired a self-portrait.

We strolled in the parks and the wide tree-lined boulevards. One evening we went to the beach when I ordered a dish of langoustine, a challenging gastronomic adventure.

There was a seaside moment, this was L’escala. Could have stayed longer. Next time.

 

And a hotel we didn’t stay at with this perfect Romeo and Juliet balcony but, alas, too many flights of stairs, no elevator…

… and a hotel we did stay at:

And we took the occasional mysterious alleyway

We went to the confusingly named “City Hall” – which is neither a hall, nor in the least any kind of civic centre. It is in fact a tired old theatre reminiscent of some of the gloomier London fringe venues or some off-off Broadway space. There was long dimly lit corridor and starts to a basement. It was lit with very low level red-light and some sort of automatic, dancing follow spot and some pretty average sangria was included in the price of admission.

We were there to see “Authentic Flamenco”, and from the surroundings we did not expect much. But then…
The show lasted about an hour. Four men, two women including one guitarist. The other three men each sang, one danced, and everyone supplied percussive accompaniment with syncopated hand-clapping. They began slowly and softly, but then each of the dancers took a solo turn.
It was spectacular. Physically the dancing included gymnastics, ballet, tap, tango, and sculpture.
But emotionally… sudden flares of passion, equally sudden moments of poise and stillness. Contrasting and instant states of fierce pride, disdain, seduction, invitation, flirtation, challenge, devotion.
It was enthralling, hard to believe that human beings can move like that.
Oh and before all that we were sequestered for a week in an ancient villa in the hills where there was a terrace with views and a gathering of astrologers. More here.

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We Interrupt This Juice Fast…

With news of an unusual theatrical footnote.

On Saturday we received a phone call from Ciaran O’Reilly co-founder of The Irish Rep and excellent director. On Sunday Patricia Conolly, highly experienced actress of Broadway fame (who happens to be my wife), took over at very short notice in The Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of The Dead 1904. Patricia saw the show once and after a single brief rehearsal, joined the cast on Sunday in performance complete with period costume. I rushed from the end of my show catching a subway uptown and then a cab across Central Park and I made it just in time for curtain.

Patricia looked as though she was born to play the part, she excelled in the role, bringing all her own charm and quality to the event. The lady whom she replaced was temporarily indisposed and is expected to return to the show tomorrow.

The Dead 1904 is an adaptation of the short story by James Joyce. It is set in a house belonging to two sisters in Dublin who are holding a dinner party, there is, in truth, not much plot, not much story. The evening is a slice-of-life event, beautifully acted by a superb ensemble, and a fascinating insight into the time and place. What there is, is dancing and singing, and food.

Food. And Drink. Sherry before, wine during, port afterwards. And did I mention.. food?

The patrons mingle with the actorsimages and are seated amongst them, while dinner is served. It is a splendid repast. Once again for emphasis: dinner with alcoholic beverages. Had this occurred merely 10 days ago, I would have joined the reveling theatre goers and done justice to the hospitality, but none of the above is any use to you if you happen to be in the middle of a juice fast. Oops!

But I enjoyed the show.

Nvbuunghh, ‘glaar’ghh

Nvbuunghh, ‘glaar’ghh is of course, the approximate sound of a foghorn in New London, Connecticut in 1912 where Eugene O’ Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night is set.

In our zero-attention-span-smart-phone times sitting through a play with the word ‘long’ in the title may be a challenge. Think of it as binge-watching a family drama which deals in a pre family-therapy era with the emotional undercurrents around denial in a desperate family situation. Anyone touched by the current opioid addiction epidemic will recognize the profoundly disturbing themes of the play.

It is slightly amazing that a theatre in a barn as far north in the USA as you can go without bumping into Canada can field this dark masterpiece immediately following that witty frivolity, The Importance of Being Earnest, with some of the same actors.

http://www.bagaducetheatre.com for details, where Trish Conolly, Broadway veteran (and full disclosure: my wife) has done it again, directing a splendid cast in a formidable production.

I reckon the planet Neptune has a lot to do with this play, if you’re interested in my take on that please go here for more…

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Talking of storytelling and the intuitive arts, when I was 19 I was given a deck of tarot cards. I had no idea what to do with them. But later I discovered number, color, seasonal, elemental, runic and other correspondences. The deck is an intuitive lens. Next Tuesday I will be talking about how the cards relate to the planets of the solar system. Get in touch with your inner woo-woo here.

Proud to be Australian

I’m half Australian and at this moment I’m very proud of it. Here’s why:

http://www.4ocean.com

A couple of Aussie surfers decided to make a difference. Oh and credit where due, it was a proud American who pointed this out to me with the gift of a bracelet.

I was on the way to Maine from New York City (where my wife Patricia has directed a very fine, very funny production of The Importance of Being Earnest. If you’re up this way http://www.bagaducetheatre.com for details), and I took in some fast food. The immediate cost to me was about $12 and the medical risks. The cost to the planet in plastic waste absurdly higher and more durable.

So at the micro-level of the individual, this was a piece of political and eco irresponsibility on my part and in many ways almost impossible to avoid given that our global mono-culture is in thrall to plastic.

At the macro-level political nonsense abounds, there are no limits to the appalling absurdities, callous cruelties, preposterous posturing, and general drongo* behaviour … well we all know that, right? After all:

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As usual Shakespeare gets there first. On tyrannical political power he says:

“Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep.”

As I get older the woo-woo perspective makes more sense. Your basic vote-chasing politico will go so far as to say we ought to be environmentally responsible for “future generations” – Well I’m not too sure that anyone is actually too bothered about these famous “future generations”. But what if …

What if the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Zoroastrians, the neo-pagans, the Platonists, the early Christians, your basic esotericist, quantum physics and Shakespeare (What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl?) all have a point, and we the present generation are more intimately connected to future ones than appears in three-dimensional linear space-time thinking?

Somewhere between the micro and the macro there is a remedy, one of many that we will need.

http://www.4ocean.com

For 20 bucks you can get a bracelet made from recycled materials and 1lb of plastic taken out of the seas.

It’s a start.

 

  • Drongo – Australian vernacular. Dozy f***wit, silly fellow, waste of space etc…

A Festival of Beginnings

thAs a non-observant polytheistic neo-pagan, I’m able to tell you that the end of January/beginning of February is the Celtic festival of the start of the year (northern hemisphere). Imbolc. I’ve always considered it an advantage to be able to have a second go at those New Year resolutions.

Photo by Carl Rosegg

Photo by Carl Rosegg

I’ve come across two varieties of theatrical memoir recently. One, a solo stage piece by Ed Dixon, chronicling his friendship with his idol and long-term mentor, George Rose. Georgie: My Adventures With George Rose, is playing at The Davenport Theatre on West 45th Street, NYC, as we speak. The delivery of the show is immense in its precision. It is hugely funny, and masterfully constructed. Just when you get the whisper of anecdote saturation, the show turns unbearably dark. For an actor, seeing this show is one of those times when you remember why you got involved in the first place.

The other, is a book called Acting Foolish by Lewis J. Stadlen, recently a colleague of my wife’s in her Broadway run of the late production, The Front Page. A word on the show before I talk about the book. This was lavishly produced (produced in the old-fashioned mid-20th century sense of the word – I mean where do you get companies of 29 actors these days?) by Scott Rudin. A 1928 play, modified for its audience 70 years later, impeccably directed by Jack O’Brien, impeccably acted by a starry Broadway cast, featuring a list of splendid performances, (I include here my wife – I tell you, the things Patricia Conolly as Jenny the cleaning lady, can do with a mop…) but one performance, which for sheer energy, commitment and comic inventiveness was matchless in my experience. I refer, of course to that dynamo of the raised eyebrow, the throwaway, the twisted emphasis, the seductive tone laced with menace, Nathan Lane.

Usually I reckon I can see how it’s done. After 35 years if you don’t know how the sausage is made you might be in the wrong game. But now and then, there is a performer whose secrets just won’t yield to scrutiny, Brian Bedford was one, the late Bill Fraser another. Not so with Nathan Lane. One could see exactly how it was done. All you’d have to do to bring that role to life is: gain every single laugh latent in the text and many not, play with searchlight focus, lift the entire stage with one hand like a superman of energy, whilst spitting comedic bullets all around the house with the other, and above all break no sweat. Make it look easy. Simple, no?

517f7fdvw2l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Lewis’s book is a memoir, it tells in more or less linear narrative the story of his adventures in the business. It’s wry, sad, funny, original. Takes you backstage, on set, and to lunch with stars. There’s an overarching awareness of the irony of it all. It’s written with open honesty and tells in depth of the self-awareness that can come to you with a career in show, well sometimes. And there are laughs. Lewis has worked a lot, and you may know of him, but again maybe not. He’s had a ‘that guy’ career, as in “Who’s that guy in the thing with, you know, about the lawyer, the astronaut, you know, with Julia whatshername, where they fly kites on Chinese New Year, you know – him”. What it is, is authentic. A view from behind the scenes, oh, and did I say, funny?

These two memoirs have me thinking about two of my beginning memories.

One was when Juliet Quicke took a party of school kids to see She Stoops to Conquer at The Young Vic theatre in London. I was about 13. I had tried to read Congreve’s play but it might as well have been Sanskrit for all the sense it made. And then…

Nicky Henson played Marlowe, the dashing young blade who was overcome with shyness in the presence of a lady of refinement. The actors were so close you could touch them, they wore period costumes, but we were close enough to see the fabric. Under the lights it seemed more real than anything worn in the audience. The men, led by Nicky were virile and sexy, the women were sexy and stylish, the language was frivolous and funny, and most astonishingly, it made sense. For the young Colin McPhillamy it was a destiny moment.

Mrs. Quicke organized other theatre trips, and in general in her English classes opened doors and windows for me in the way I began to love language. Now I knew what I wanted to be. But somehow all through my teens I just could not find a way to begin.

About six years later, consumed with ambition and frustration and also very shy, I was given an introduction to a man named John Line. He was an actor about the age I am now. He invited me to his house and we sat in an upstairs sitting room with cups of tea.

John: So you want to be an actor?

Me: Mmfp.

John: Well that means you must get an Equity card. And that means training. I don’t think you should go to RADA. Central is where you should go.

Me: Erg.

John: There’s a phone book over there, why don’t you give them a ring and ask them how to audition?

Me: ?!? Hrm…

I made the call, was told I should write and request an audition. Internally I had a sort of tsunami of revelation – all you had to do was pick up a phone and ask. Astonishing.

John and I chatted for a while. I hung on every word. We agreed that we should meet once a week, which we subsequently did and he very generously coached me in Shakespearean monologue. We would work in the local park among indifferent kids and dogs, and slowly, slowly, I began to understand what I might be getting in to.

That first time we had tea, I didn’t know that was going to happen, nor that I would audition and get in. When I got up to leave, John said the words that now, 40 years later, still make me cry.

John: Get that letter off for me this weekend, will you?

So now, decades have passed, as decades do. And the end is, if not exactly in sight, well not as far out of sight as it used to be, and as we learn from metaphysical literature, beginnings and ends may well be connected in ways that are not exactly clear. And in troubled times it’s good to remember that wonderful summation of all wisdom: Even this shall pass away… And in this game every show is a new beginning anyway, and for me there have been several auxiliary – what to call them? – experiments along the way. Here’s another one:

The Stage at the end of the Lane

Every theatrical venture is a triumph of the improbable over the impossible. None more so than a theatre in northern Maine where I’ve just had an intense few days.

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The Bagaduce Theatre lives in a large barn where swallows nest at the end of a long driveway on a peninsula where seals frolic in the swift flowing tidal inlets.

Here I am with an actress that I know well, Patricia Conolly of Broadway fame:

unnamed (5)It was like one of those European whirlwind tours — if it’s Thursday it must be Prague — The centre piece this season was an adaptation of The Tempest by Shakespeare, but also including segments from all your Bardic favorites! Other programs took in: Checkov, Durang, Shanley, Bennett, all the way up to and including a reading from that little-known British/Australian author C. McPhillamy.

I would have posted earlier so that you could have come to see a show if you were passing, but the days were full, hopping in and out of various costumes, brewing the excellent coffee available from the nearest town, Blue Hill, and grappling with the local mosquitoes which in that locale are special forces trained.

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Here are some of the company: Monique Fowler who is the driving force behind this splendid effort is center. She gives us a delicate Prospero aided by all the actors seen below and that redoubtable man of theatre craft John Vivian, who when not operating lights and sound, was everywhere, performing in one body the work of three men with behind the scenes support.

 

And this is the company at a lobster dinner given by the producers: The lobster flowed (there’s no other word for it), the wine flowed. We laughed, then there was singing. We all ate and drank more than would be advised by a doctor. I’ve said it before, in my line they pay you in fun.

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It was a theatre fest of the kind that reminds you why you joined.

 

What if a new Tennessee Williams play came to light?

When I was fifteen I played Tom in The Glass Menagerie. It was an experience that opened the door on poetic language for me.

Cherry Jones as Amanda, and Zachary Qinto as Tom, in The Glass Menagerie

Cherry Jones as Amanda, and Zachary Qinto as Tom, in The Glass Menagerie

When I was sixteen I saw A Streetcar Named Desire in the West End. Claire Bloom played a fragile Blanche, Martin Shaw was a virile Stanley, Joss Ackland a sympathetic Mitch, and Morag Hood a sisterly Stella. Doors on acting — and windows too — opened then.

In the second year of acting training at Central in London, it was American plays. Even though I was playing Harry Brock in Born Yesterday, I was still among those who would revisit Streetcar in empty rehearsal rooms and practice yelling ‘Stella!’, and then, ‘Stella… Steeee… eeee….elllaaaa!’

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I heard a story once from Professor Charles McNulty about how, unable to get into a musical next door, he stumbled into the very first preview of The Glass Menagerie in Chicago, starring Laurette Taylor of luminous legend. He spoke of the stunned silence at the end. That first audience was small, but he had been so gripped by the play that he had ended up kneeling between the seats leaning forward, intent on not missing a word.

A student production of Camino Real, directed by Tony Falkingham, was a revelation. A kind of underworld answer to the transcendence of Our Town, or the poetic portraiture of Under Milkwood.

When the National Theatre in London did Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I attached my old American friend, Jim Franz, who’d been to college on a sports scholarship, as football consultant to the production. Jim recorded his thoughts and insights on a tape and sent it over. When Ian Charleson as Brick, said “…all summer long we’d pass those long, high balls that couldn’t be intercepted by anything but time…” the speech was transformed.

Paul Newman as Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Becky

Paul Newman as Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat

 

As we all know the great trio of Menagerie, Streetcar and Cat are foundational in the canon of world 20th century drama.

 

 

And now here is Baby Doll at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.

Susannah Hoffman as Baby Doll. Photo Richard Termine.

Susannah Hoffman as Baby Doll. Photo Richard Termine.

The movie of that name was derived from Williams’s one-act play Twenty Seven Wagons Full of Cotton. The movie starred Karl Malden and Eli Wallach, and Carol Baker in the title role, and is a dark not-so-funny tale of revenge.

Williams returned to the theme and the characters in more than one version including another one-act called, The Long Stay Cut Short or The Unsatisfactory Supper, experimenting with different perspectives on the story.

The production at the McCarter in a new version, developed by artistic director Emily Mann (who also directs) in partnership with French playwright Pierre Laville, elevates the nuance in the story, finds all the Williams elements of passion, desire, desperate tension and latent violence, and is played with pitch-perfect subtlety by its cast.

Full disclosure; Trish Conolly (Three Blanches, a Stella, one Maggie, a Laura, an Amanda, an Alexandra del Lago and an Esmeralda) plays Aunt Rose Comfort inhabiting a storyline that embodies one of Williams’s “… birdlike women without a nest…” —nibbling at — “… the crust of humility…” is a close personal friend of mine, sometime professional colleague, and er yes, also related to me by marriage.

Patricia Conolly as Aunt Rose Comfort. Photo Richard Termine.

Patricia Conolly as Aunt Rose Comfort. Photo Richard Termine.

The rest of the cast (who are all new to me, and to none of whom I am related) are: Bob Joy, who plays to the life an uncouth man of the reddest neck, Dylan McDermott who, poised and dangerous as the Sicilian, commands the stage, and Susannah Hoffman, who as Baby Doll gives us magnificent work in a detailed performance that should be seen everywhere.

Brian McCann playing the cameo policeman brings with him the danger of the 1950s Delta. And special mention must be made of the real live chicken who plays ‘Fussy’ in her stage debut.

From the set, which is both substantial and ghostly, to the evocations in the lighting, to the delicate underscoring of the soundscape, to authentic costumes and props which complete a production rare in its unity of accomplishment across all elements, we get as exciting an evening in the theatre as if Williams himself had finished this text yesterday.

I could say more about the acting from the entire cast, but I won’t, beyond that it is about as superb as I’ve seen. But here’s the thing. This play (as with all Williams) would be easy to do badly.

Even the finest actors benefit from inspired direction. Here, the play is impeccably directed. Rhythmically it finds variety, and quicksilver turns, in tone, pace and mood. Good direction leaves clues in standout performances. Great direction is scarcely visible because the ensemble takes precedence. Kudos to Emily Mann.

In the ephemera that is regional theatre who knows what happens to this play after the 11th of October 2015, but if you can get to Princeton before then and get a ticket, do yourself a favor.

http://www.mccarter.org/babydoll/

It’s actually like seeing a new play by Tennessee Williams