Sunday, January 31, 2010

Still More Kindness

Gambit Weekly just appeared on the newsstands. Inside was another review of The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman. Among other things, Dalt Wonk,  the reviewer, said,
... Recently, at Allways Lounge [Marigny Theatre], Karen Shields held the audience spellbound in "The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman", a one-woman play by Carolyn Gage ... "

Kudos to Karen Shields for her portrayal of this brave woman. Glenn Meche skillfully directed the character study (as he did in the memorable biographical drama about Gertrude Stein at the ...  [same] ... theatre in 2008).
Nice ... and so to bed.

Update, 02/02/2010: The review is now online. You can read it in its entirety here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kind Words

Last night on our local PBS station, longtime theatre critic David Cuthbert had a few remarks about The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman. He said:
I almost never review something that a viewer can't see – such a show that's played only a few performances and closed. There are exceptions, however.

Last week, at the Marigny Theater, I saw a one-woman show, The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman," that is simply extraordinary and if there's any justice, it will return there or somewhere else, for a real run after Carnival.

Karen Shields gives a beautifully modulated performance: moving, poignant, terribly theatrical and funny as hell – as the 19th century actress Charlotte Cushman.

Cushman was, in her day, the most acclaimed actress "on two continents," as she says. Her repertoire included 190 roles – male as well as female – and her private life was a scandal to the jaybirds. She played Romeo to her younger sister's Juliet, had multiple, overlapping romantic female friendships and her story even has a dramatic turning point in New Orleans.

Playwright Carolyn Gage has written a superbly structured monologue, a showcase for a strong, dynamic actress and Ms. Shields fills the bill and then some. It has also been directed with great sensitivity and humor by Glenn Meche for the new Break the Mold Productions and that it does.

"Hey, Mr. Producers – I'm talking to you sirs" --Discriminating local theatergoers deserve the opportunity to see "The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman" and I hope to see it again at the Marigny Theater, Le Chat Noir, Muriel's Cabaret – ANY intimate performing space. Please?
How sweet it is ... Here's to you, Karen! Congratulations!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

O Domine, Miserere

It seems I no sooner hop out of the skillet than I leap into the flames. It wasn't that long ago I was making my way uneasily on the stage in Louie Crowder's last play, Manje, which was really about more than food; and now I find myself embarking on Louie's newest play, a vodou drama called O Domine, Miserere.

O Domine, Miserere is about Pere Antoine and Marie Laveau, and there's not one single hurricane in its two acts plus an epilogue. Furthermore, my thespian shortcomings in Manje must have had some influence on Louie's thinking along other highways and byways, as well, because he's going to present this new play as a staged reading rather than a full-on production. So everybody gets to carry a script.

I'm working with two actors who were strangers to me until tonight, although they both posses what is called stellar reputations in the environs of our city's theatre salons. Please understand, though, they are not members of that throng of happy, peppy people who compose the exclusive "local theatre community" (sic) but are, instead, more radical, socially-conscious artists. They get grants.

She was lithe and gracious. He was courteous and self-effacing. Together they were charming and very kind to me. Age has its advantages. It has its disadvantages. too. I could not construe a word they were saying the whole evening, but I blame that less on my own hearing loss than on the concrete box that is Louie's apartment in that artists' collective he calls home.

Once we got down to the business of reading the play, however, I found I could not stop staring at the young actor's feet. He has such tiny feet. He was wearing boots, but they were tiny boots - tiny boots for tiny feet. How does one pass through the hurtling years from youth  to maturity and leave one's feet behind? I spent all night when it wasn't my turn to speak my lines wondering about that. It's going to nibble at my cortex for the rest of the night.

But, hey, that's why I'm a confident director and an uneasy actor. I just keep noticing these things.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Who Dat?

Saints 31 - Vikings 28

What do you call that feeling when somebody does something, something you yourself could never do - and neither could they for a long, long time - something seemingly impossible? It's a feeling of well-being, a sense that anything is possible and that everything is going to be all right? There's a word for it, probably German, I don't know. But I know there's a word.

Well, that's what it's like down here tonight.

(Okay, my nails are bitten to the quick and my stomach is for shit, but the Saints are geauxing to the Super Bowl!)


And just that quickly, it has ended, Break the Mold's production of Carolyn Gage's play, The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman. The show drew intelligent, quick-witted audiences who genuinely enjoyed the history, the humor, and the pathos of the life lived by the legendary actress.

Karen Shields was brilliant as Cushman, alternately domineering, self-deprecating, proud, "charming, seductive, gracious, vivacious, flirtatious". She astounded everyone and was rewarded with standing ovations and audience members who stayed behind, eager to meet and speak with her after each of her performances.

It's a lovely feeling to be reminded how rewarding the act of making theatre can be when it is done as a collaboration among people with a common goal: something as simple as entertaining an audience, uplifting them, and shining a light on the common, shared occurrences of life we ordinarily take for granted.

I feel privileged and grateful to have had a part in this undertaking.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Overture! Curtains! Lights!

Tuesday night, the cast and crew of The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman moved into the little barn that is the new Marigny Theatre. By the end of the night, the curtains had been hung and the lights set and focused. Last night, Karen ran a dress rehearsal for a tiny audience of invited friends. She'd been nervous about performing in a play that required she directly address an audience, but she did fine. She (as Cushman says about herself early in the script) "expanded" and met the demands she and the playwright, Carolyn Gage, had set. She charmed the people there, which, in its magical sense, is one of the handful of things an actor must be able to do in order to be considered an actor.

She opens tonight and runs through Saturday. We had to cancel Sunday's performance since it would have run opposite the Saints' NFC Championship game, and you can't do that. Geaux Saints!

In an email I received yesterday, I learned a new phrase in another tongue. A friend of mine from Brazil wrote and wished us luck in the tradition of her own country's theatre.

So I say to Karen, "Muita merda para vocĂȘ!"

Muita, muita, and even more muita merda, Karen!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

From a Twenty-Year-Old!?

It's hard to believe this came from a 20-year-old. The 20-year olds around here couldn't have spelled those words.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


"This thing in Haiti. I can't wrap my head around it. It's so big. It's bigger than Katrina was. At least, it seems to me to be bigger than Katrina was. The only thing about it I can begin to grasp is that, after all the Haitian people have had to endure these past few days, now they'll have to live with what the people who come to help them are going to put them through. Being saved is the bitch of all time."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Congratulations Are in Order

I've been so busy, what with this and that, I didn't notice Ambush Magazine had recently announced the nominations for its seventh annual Ambie Awards.

One of my favorite productions of 2009 is numbered among those nominees. The Glass Menagerie was named as one of the "Best Productions of a Drama". Lyla Hay Owen was cited as "Best Actress in a Play" for her portrayal of Amanda Wingfield, and Liz Mills received a nomination for "Best Supporting Actress in a Play" for her role as Laura.

On the other hand, I'm sad the selection committee overlooked the incomparable performances of Keith Launey and Leon Contavesprie as Tom and the Gentleman Caller, respectively. Those boys should never have come out of the closet as heterosexuals. They'll be lucky to find theatre work in this town again.

But, in the spirit of celebration, I congratulate the producers of The Glass Menagerie, and the two ladies who helped make it a heartrending experience.

Wish I'd had something to do with that show.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What a Day This Has Been

It started in the early morning hours beginning between one and two when I found myself waking up out of my bed, standing in the hallway between my bedroom and my office, shaking from fright, muttering, "No, no." I've been experiencing what might be considered night terrors for a month or so now. I hesitate to speak with assurance when I use the term "night terrors" because that seems to be a diagnosis rather than a description, and no doctor has spoken with authority about what it is I'm going through. I have no idea what it can be that's terrorizing me this way because I cannot remember any dream I might be having that propels me out from under the comforter laid across my chest.

I really needed my sleep last night, too. I had an early morning checkup with my doctor - nothing big, no concern - just my regular six-month visit. But I wanted to be alert and sunny, not drained and hollow-eyed. I managed to catch a couple of light naps downstairs in the chilly living room before it was time to get ready to get to my 9:15 appointment.

The visit went well. I like my doctor, young Doctor Wise. We have pleasant chats, during which he manages to find out what sort of thing might be ailing me, like that crick in my right knee or that dry cough I've been having since we shuttered the apartment from the cold and turned the central heat up to 85. My blood pressure had him dancing in the examination room this morning, it was that good. (And don't laugh about him dancing; he's young enough to still be able to get away with that - and he's not half-bad.) Once he was done, he turned me over to his lab assistant, Katrina (yes, Katrina. He realized today he'd never told me her name. I guess he figured I might freak out - like so many others must have done before me ...). Katrina draws my blood. Dr. Wise takes blood after every visit. He uses it to check up on everything he can't get out of me verbally, hidden illnesses or diseases neither he nor I can detect with the naked eye or the upset tummy.

And, bless his heart, he even has his lab scan for STDs. Now he and I both know these tests won't come up positive, because you really can't get those pesky bugs from toilet seats, and at my age with my appearance that's the closest I'll get to anybody else's junk, but, nevertheless, it always makes me feel like a beau boulevardier - and he knows it.

I like him, my young Doctor Wise.

Once done with him, it was off to run errands. This was when, running around the central business district, that I began to notice a sinus headache beginning to build in the cavity behind my eyes. It never eased up but continued to drum in ever widening circles of throbbing beats throughout the rest of the day.

Once home, I had only a short time to grab a bite to eat before running off to a rehearsal and photo shoot for The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman. Karen and Eric, our stage manager, and I got off to a late start because Karen was going to get into make-up and costume for the pictures, and once we started shooting, we found ourselves committed. We spent so much time on the pictures that once we were done, she didn't have it in her to make it through a run of the script. Needless to say, I didn't either, my head still smarting as it was.

I made it home and started working on the photographs. Damn those photographs. We had such wonderful setups, and 90 percent of the shots were disasters! All my fault. I was shooting with my good Nikon and my new strobe, and I really don't have the expertise to make these two things work together yet. Tomorrow, I'll just have to get Karen into a good mood and break the news that she might want to redo the photo session. Really, really, redo the whole photo session. Notice I said tomorrow. Don't breathe a word to the dear girl before I get a chance to break it to her gently.

I did manage to get one shot of her as Charlotte Cushman that comes as close as I will ever get to the feeling of a fin de siecle image of a star actress, something Duse-esque. I think Karen will like it

I even incorporated it into the poster for the show. Fine time to revise the poster, isn't it? We open in a week. What can I say? My work is organic. It grows as time goes by. ("You played it for her, you can play it for me. Play it!") Here it is - the new poster, I mean:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bigezbear!

Five years ago today, I sat down at my desktop PC and wrote, "Chapter One: I Am Born ... So let's see if I can keep this one up." Those first few little words sort of set the tone.

I never knew what I wanted this bloggy thing to be, but by the time I started it, I was old enough to know that most critters will inevitably grow up to be what they were meant to be all along. So I trusted Bigezbear to be, at least, entertaining and, I hoped, articulate.

What can I say? You feed 'em, try to dress 'em nice; then you send 'em out into the world and pray they don't embarrass you.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Curtain Up!

Finally unveiled, my poster for our upcoming production of Carolyn Gage's play about Charlotte Cushman.

"Charlotte Cushman?" you ask incredulously. "Who is Charlotte Cushman?"

Rather than fixate you with (oh, what's that cliche?) a withering glance, I take pity on your poor education and whisper, "Surely you Google ... Well, look her up."
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