Much Ado About Some Things

November-December 2014

Events   Literary News
SF’s African American Tempest
Oct. 18-Nov. 9; San Francisco, CA: Set in 2020, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest features an industrial conglomerate named SYCORAX, whose dumping practices have created an island of debris. For additional details, click here.

Belle of Amherst Off Broadway
Oct. 19-Feb. 1, New York, NY: Joley Richardson stars as Emily Dickinson in William Luce’s The Belle of Amherst at Westside Theater Upstairs. The one-woman show weaves a portrait of the poetess from her poems, diaries and letters. Click here for more details.

Amy Herzog at U Tennessee
Nov. 1-16, Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennesse's Clarence Brown Theatre stages Amy Herzog’s comedy 4000 Miles, about Leo, who loses his best friend on a cross-country bike tour and appears at his grandmother’s New York apartment. The story features the relationship of a young man learning to face his life and an older woman starting to forget hers. For more details, click here.

Earnest at Sonoma State U
Nov. 2-6; Rohnert Park, CA: Sonoma State University Theater Arts performs Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, about two bachelors who court two young women, both bent on marrying a man named Earnest. For more info, click here.

Globe’s Lear at the Broad, SMC
Nov. 4-16; Santa Monica, CA: Eight actors play all the parts in a Shakespeare Globe performance of King Lear, about a father who forfeits control of his realm to his daughters and the tragedy that ensues. The production features Joseph Marcell as Lear at the Santa Monica College Broad Stage. Click here for more details.

Romeo and Juliet at U St. Thomas
Nov. 6-15, Houston, TX: University of St. Thomas performs Shakespeare’s tragedy of feuding families, flamboyant swordplay, and young love at first sight. For more info, click here.

NT Live’s Of Mice and Men
Nov. 6-Dec. 27; various: James Franco and Chris O’Dowd star in a live Broadway performance of Steinbeck’s novella, newly filmed for the big screen. For more on the show, see the article to the right. To find a venue near you, click here.

Pride and Prejudice at Indiana U
Nov. 7-15; Bloomington, IN: Watch Elizabeth Bennet clash with the higher-class Fitzwilliam Darcy in an adaptation of a novel about 19th-century marriage and our individual biases.  Click here for details.

Darwin Onstage at Georgetown U
Nov. 9-14; Washington DC: Billed as a "science-show-meets-nautical-melodrama," this adaptation of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species takes place on his ship. The ensemble cast concerns itself with our sturggle for existence in scenes, songs, movement, animation, and more. Click here for additional info.

U Alabama’s Jazzy Twelfth Night
Nov. 18-23; Tuscaloosa, AL: In this updated adaptation, twins Sebastian and Viola are washed ashore in the jazz-filled streets of 1920s New Orleans. Separated from her brother, Viola, in male disguise, becomes embroiled in a comedy of misdirected love and more. For additional details, click here or call (205) 348-3400.

Comic Classics at Cambridge U
Nov. 18-Dec. 13; Cambridge, England: See the clash of a zany and a straight-laced family in You Can’t Take It With You, by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. In Richard Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, Sir Oliver Surface picks a nephew as heir in a play of savory and unsavory behavior. Click here for details and additional titles.

DC’s Conflict-Fiction Contest
Jan. 15, 2015, deadline; Washington DC: The American University in Washington DC welcomes up to 5,000 words on a conflict of your choice: climate change, racial injustice, armed battle, etc. Win a $1,000 first prize and publication in the 2015 issue of FOLIO, a univeristy publication. For additional topics and details, click here.

  French Writer Wins the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature
The Swedish Academy is clearly undeterred by past criticism that the Nobel Prize for Literature favors obscure European writers. This year’s winner, Patrick Modiano, is a largely unknown novelist outside France. The Academy shared the news that he had won on October 9th. Lauded for his concise style, Modiano is set to receive the $1.1 million prize at an award ceremony on December 10th.

The 69-year-old Modiano was born in 1945 in France to a Belgian Catholic mother (an actress) and a Jewish father. Escaping the round-up for transport to concentration camps during World War II, Modiano’s father worked the black market during the Nazi occupation. The young Modiano finished his formal education at age 17, after graduating from a top preparatory school. He grew estranged from his family and roamed Paris, scraping together enough of a living so that he could write. As he admits, he's “never thought of doing anything else,” (France Today, Nov. 14, 2011). Modiano has roughly 30 works (novels, screenplays, children’s stories) to his credit to date. Much of this writing is set in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Clearly his parents’ experiences have had a profound impact on Modiano's judgment of what stories cry out to be told. Published in 1968, his first novel, La place de l’étoile (“Star Place”), is titled for both the yellow felt stars that Jews were forced to wear during the occupation and the famous road junction in Paris near the Arc de Triomphe. Modiano’s other novels include Missing Person (Rue des boutiques obscures), in which a man searches for his own identity—lost in World War II. Also notable is Dora Bruder, a mix of memoir and historical fiction born of Modiano's ten-year search for information about a lost young girl. Her name appears on a list of the Jews that were slated to be deported to Auschwitz in 1942. In his writing, Modiano returns again and again to the same subjects (memory, identity, seeking). He has produced a corpus of works that echo off each other. In the words of the Academy secretary, Peter Englund, Modiano's "art of memory" depicts otherwise “ungraspable human destinies” and uncovers “the life-world of the occupation” for ordinary people in France during World War II. In an October 9th interview, the normally shy Modiano explained: “I always have the impression that I write the same book—which means it’s already 45 years that I’ve been writing the same book in a discontinuous manner” (Nobel Media, Oct. 9, 2014).

Patrick Modiano. Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images.

World War II POW Story Takes the 2014 Man Booker Prize
News Flash Oct. 14 Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North won the Man Booker Prize for best novel in English published in the UK. The story features the WWII experience of an Australian surgeon-officer in a Japanese POW camp. As his men build "Death Railway," he combats starvation, cholera and beatings, meanwhile haunted by a past love affair.

Of Mice and Men: From Broadway to the Big Screen
There is business and there is art, in this case the hauntingly poignant instance of it that is John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Written 77 years ago, it's been newly reborn on Broadway in a production that resonates as achingly for today's audiences as if they were there, on a Depression-era ranch in northern California, just barely eking out a hardscrabble living. The show enjoyed a successful 19-week run (at Longacre Theatre), winning audience approval and profits. Now the fledgling business of live-theater-on-film is setting out to win the same. This month (Nov. 6) the show starts to run at 1400 movie houses worldwide, courtesy of National Theatre Live. This is a groundbreaker for NT Live, its first Broadway play in a five-year history of capturing theater on film in the UK.

The story is male-dominated, to be sure; nine of its ten characters are men, mostly ranch hands. George and Lennie are the central pair. You hire reserved, resourceful George (played by James Franco) and you get strong, slow-witted Lennie (Chris O’Dowd) too. They're a team with a dream, of buying a small farm, living off the land, raising animals—rabbits, Lennie insists, again and again. "Dumb bastard like he is, he wants to touch everything he likes,"  George explains. "Jest wants to feel of it.” Unaware of his strength, Lennie caresses a mouse and kills it, caresses a puppy and kills it, caresses the hair of Curley's wife and subjects her to an unintended fate too. Curley’s wife (played by Leighton Meester) is unhappily married to a bully of a man, the ranch owner’s son, and George warns that she too is trouble. Audiences seem to hate her (reports Meester). Outrageous flirt that she is, she asks for her tragic fate, people say. Steinbeck himself disagreed. "She’s a nice, kind girl and not a floozy,” he once wrote. But “no man has ever considered her as anything except a girl to try to make,” sexually (Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, NY: Viking, 154). So she flirts. She visits the ranch hands. And she offers Lennie, who likes to pet soft things, the feel of her hair, which he touches—at her peril and his. Above all, she’s intensely lonely. So are others: for example, the bookish, black stable hand Crooks (Ron Cephas Jones), who’s relegated to his own sleeping quarters on account of his race, and the elderly, one-handed Candy (Jim Norton), who’s persuaded to let his bunkmates shoot the annoyingly stinky old dog that he cherishes. Reviewers lavish praise on various actors and details: Lennie’s finger gestures when excited, the artful staging (e.g., of a bunkhouse card game inside, while Candy’s dog is about to be shot outside). A few aspects stir controversy (Is Curley’s wife enough of a vamp in this production?). But audiences generally embrace the show for its fine acting, fidelity to the original, and focus on the searing loneliness of life on a Salinas Valley Ranch in the 1930s—highlighted below.

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