Much Ado About Some Things

September-October 2014

Events   Literary News
The Crucible at the Old Vic
June 21-Sept. 12; Sept. 22-Dec. 20; London, England: See Yaël Farber’s The Crucible, about witchcraft in colonial America. Next up is Sophocles’ Electra, about children’s avenging the murder of their father by killing their mother. See article on the right for more on The Crucible. For performance details, click here.

Antony and Cleo at Princeton
Sept. 5-Oct. 5; Princeton, NJ: McCarter Theatre Center stages Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, about the passionate love and tragic death of leaders of Ancient Rome and Egypt. Click here for more details.

U Calagary's Sci-Fi Experience
Sept. 9-13; Calgary, Alberta, Canada: University of Calgary adapts Ray Bradbury’s “Tomorrow’s Child” into an audio-only experience, presented to a blindfolded audience. An experimental childbirth method produces a nonhuman-looking baby that severly tests the sanity of the mother. For more details, click here.

Love's Labour's Lost in Stratford
Sept. 23-March 14, Stratford-upon Avon, England: The Royal Shakespeare Company stages Love’s Labour’s Lost, about a king and three noblemen who swear off women. The Bard's comedy has been updated to 1914. At the end, an ominous hint enters the play when the lovers part, unaware that World War I is about to erupt. For more info, click here.

Globe’s Lear Comes to NYU
Sept. 30-Oct. 11; New York, NY: Starring Joseph Marcell as Lear, the tragedy featuries an old, foolish king who disowns one loving daughter and transfers control of everyday rule to two undeserving others. Eight actors play all the parts. Click here for more details.

Bliss at Carengie Mellon U
Oct. 1-4, 2-11; Pittsburgh, PA: A Russian satire by Mikhaíl Bulgakov, the play features an engineer who invents a time machine that takes subjects into the past and future, to an area of Moscow called Bliss in the year 2222. Also showing  is August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, about the African American male's struggle for self-worth in 1948 Pittsburgh. For more info, click here.

Stoppard’s Arcadia at Yale
Oct. 3-25; New Haven, CT: An English country house plays host to a brilliant young female of the early 1800s and also to scholars who study her in the late 1900s. Stumbling on her ideas about math, nature, and physics, the scholars uncover truths about the earlier residents. Click here for more details.

Streetcar at U Texas
Oct. 3-12, 10-19; Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin stages Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. A fading Southern belle collides with her brutish brother-in-law in sultry New Orleans during the mid-twentieth century. For further details, click here.

Hurston’s Spunk at Howard U
Oct. 8-12; Washington DC: Including blues narration by Chic Street Man, the adaptation stages three tales from Zora Neale Hurston’s Spunk: “Story in Harlem Slang,” “The Gilded Six Bits,” and “Sweat.” In this last story, the shiftless husband of washerwoman Delia Jones plays a deadly trick on her that backfires. Click here for more info.

Latino Fest in Albuquerque
Oct. 15-26; Albuquerque, NM: National Hispanic Cultural Center stages Silvia González’s The Boxcar, about eight men who enter the U.S. as undocumented immigrants. For more details, click here.

Philly’s Great Expectations
Oct. 23-Dec. 14; Philadelphia, PA:Arden Theatre Company performs Charles Dickens’s coming-of-age classic about Pip, an orphan who comes into a fortune after three fateful encounters that change his life. Click here for more info.

Three Genres at San José U
Nov. 1 deadline: In a trio of contests, San José State University’s Reed Magazine offers three prizes of $1,000 or more: The John Steinbeck Award for fiction, The Bariele Rico Award for creative nonfiction, and The Edwin Markham Prize for poetry. For more details, click here.

  First Americans on the Man Booker Longlist
The 2014 Man Booker Prize worried many across the pond. Since its inception, the British-born literary prize (awards £40,000—about $66,000—to the best original novel written in English) only judged nominees from the UK, Ireland, and British Commonwealth countries. This year, for the first time, the nomination process opened the gates to U.S. writers. Although furrowed brows feared that Americans would overwhelm the contest, the results prove otherwise. There are thirteen longlisted finalists. Five are American:

A middle-aged, misanthropic dentist in Manhattan is shocked to learn that someone has set up fake social-media accounts for his dental practice. The dentist attempts to track down the imposter.

Twenty-two-year-old Rosemary looks starkly at her childhood when she leaves for college in California. It turns out that the “twin sister” she was raised with, Fern, was actually a chimpanzee. Her mother and father, a psychologist and a scientist, raised the two as sisters.

THE BLAZING WORLD by Siri Hustvedt
Provocative, homely, middle-aged artist Harriet Burden decides to expose the art world’s gender bias by convincing three attractive male artists to pose as the creators of her elaborate art installations.

THE DOG by Joseph O’Neill
A New York lawyer, known as X., starts a new life in Dubai after a bad breakup. He takes a job as overseer of a fortune for a nouveau riche Lebanese family, whose excesses X. notes with humor. Comically, the novel explores the moral “progress” of humanity.

ORFEO by Richard Powers
Seventy-year-old Peter Els has strange hobbies; he spends time manipulating the genomes of bacteria, trying to splice musical patterns into cells that are alive. When government agents discover his tinkering,  the ex-avant-guarde composer flees.

For the remaining lonlisted titles, click here. A shortlist of six titles will be announced September 9; the winnning novel, October 14.


Italian Writer Wins Prestigious Mexican Prize
News Flash Sept. 1 Italy’s Claudio Magris won Mexico’s Guadalajara Int'l Prize in Romance Languages ($150,000). A writer, historian, and lit professor, Magris is best known for his memoir Danube, a riverway journey through Central Europe that blends travel, ancedote, history, and literature.

The Crucible Transformed in London
It took three hours twenty minutes to fly from New York to London on the supersonic Concorde, roughly as long as it takes to see Yaël Farber’s new production of the New York classic The Crucible (1953), currently onstage in London at the Old Vic. But while the Concorde has been retired from service for 34 years, the Arthur Miller play is experiencing quite the opposite fate. Its run at the Old Vic shows the play to be a psycho-thriller of enduring relevance. The script is Miller’s: the time, 1692; the place, small-town Salem, Massachusetts; the citizens, Puritans who succumb to a witch-hunting frenzy. There’s a deliberate parallel to the anti-Communist hysteria (McCarthyism) in Miller’s 1950s, and a coincidental parallel to the spread of religious fanaticism in our own day. The revival's triumph, however, is that it transcends all three periods, bringing into sharp relief universals: humanity’s capacity for inhumanity, for religious manipulation, for internal angst ending in high moral action.

Picture yourself in a theater-in-the-round, your seats encircling a grim, dark stage. It’s mostly bare, except for a smattering of chairs and a pile of old boots. You smell burnt hay. Traces of ash float from the ceiling and some drab figures appear in dull-colored garb (browns, blacks, grimy whites). A slave named Tituba chants. Intense, the atmosphere grabs you from the outset and bone-chilling performances, puntuated by eerie music, keep you riveted throughout. At the heart of the play is a married couple—the muscular farmer John Proctor (played by Richard Armitage) and his initially distant but ultimately loving wife, Elizabeth (Anna Madeley). They’re estranged; he cheated on her in a momentary lapse with a 17-year-old house girl whom the Proctors have since let go—vile, vicious Abigail Williams (Samantha Colley), ringleader of all the destruction that’s about to occur. She recruits other young women to join in a frighteningly believable display of possession by the Devil. Apart from her vindictive self, all the characters emerge as marvelously textured, even haughty Judge Danforth (Jack Ellis), whose deadly religious zeal gives way to flashes of visible self-doubt. The judges, the girls, the “witches,” the townfolk, they’re all achingly convincing, especially John and Elizabeth, who rediscover their love for each other in the mayhem. Interrogated by Danforth about her husband’s adultery, Elizabeth lies, uneasily, to spare John shame, not knowing he’s already confessed. Tragedy follows. At issue is John’s life or his honor. He can save himself from the hangman’s noose by confessing to a second sin—witchcraft. Should he? The lie would return him to his wife, his children. Tormented, troubled, trapped, this John Proctor shouts a lot, and to great effect, rediscovering, in all this turmoil, not only marital love, but also a shred of faith in himself.

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