Much Ado About Some Things

May-June 2015

Events   Literary News
Oppenheimer from the RSC
Mar. 31-May 23; London, UK: The Royal Shakespeare Company stages a new play by Tom Morton-Smith about the development of the atomic bomb. A hit in Stratford-upon-Avon, the play moves to London's West End. Click here for more details.

WWII and After at Stratford
Apr. 22-Oct. 10; Stratford, ON: This season's lineup at the Stratford Festival includes The Diary of Anne Frank, true account of a Jewish family in hiding during World War II. Also on tap is Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Physicists, a 1960s satire on the danger of unethical politicians' gaining access to scientific information that can destroy the world. Three physicists commit themselves to an asylum run by a meglomanical psychiatrist in a play full of intrigue and unexpected twists. For more details, click here.

NT Live's The Hard Problem
Mid-April-early June; worldwide: National Theatre Live screens its stage debute of Tom Stoppard's new play, his first in eight years. For plot details, see the article on the right. For venues in your area and additional NT Live titles, click here.

Stoppard's Takeoff on Hamlet
May 12-June 21; Washington DC: Folger Shakespeare Library stages Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, featuring two confused minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet as that play unfolds. Click here for more details.

Life of Galileo at Stanford U
May 15-16; Stanford, CA: Stanford Repertory Theater presents a reading of Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo, about the scientist's unorthodox views and their cost to him and his daughter. Included are period songs, visual projections, and a cast of 13. Click here for more details.

Chekhov at Wellesley College
May 21-June 21; Wellesley, MA: Wellesley Summer Theater stages Three Sisters, Anton Chekhov's drama of pretension and despair in rural Russia. The play features three upper-class sisters whose brother marries a controlling, nasty social climber. For more info, click here.

The Tempest in Central Park
May 27-July 5; New York, NY: Free Shakespeare in the Park opens its 53rd season with Shakespeare's The Tempest. Exiled on an island with his daughter and armed with a powerful command of magic, a deposed duke sets out to avenge the injustice. For more details, click here.

Antony and Monte Cristo at OSF
June 2-Oct. 11; Ashland, OR: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival stages Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, about love and politics in the ancient world. Also debuting is Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, about the falsely imprisoned Edmond Dantès. Click here for more info.

Faust at Western Washington U
June 2-6; Bellingham, WA: A takeoff on Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus and Goethe's Faust, the play features filmmakers Maria and Felix, who are engaged to be married.The demon Mephistopheles, confined in Hell, tries to win his freedom by convincing Felix to trade his soul for a great filmmaking career. Click here for more details.

Wittenberg at U Colorado
June 11-Aug. 8; Boulder, CO:
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival stages David Davalos's Wittenberg, featuring Prince Hamlet at Wittenberg University, circa 1517, in the middle of a rivalry between two professors, the skeptical Doctor Faustus and and the religious Martin Luther. For more details, click here.

Kinnear in Kafka at Young Vic
June 19-Aug. 8; London, UK:
Rory Kinnear stars in Franz Kafka's The Trial. Bank official Joseph K. awakens one morning to be arrested on unclear charges. He dutifully operates within the bureaucratic system of the law, to his own disaster. For more details, click here.

WRITING CONTESTS
NYU Medical Center Prizes
July 1 deadline, New York, NY: Belleview Literary Review offers three prizes, $1,000 each, for writings related to health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body. To see contest guidelines and submit entries in the categories of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, click here.
  The 99th Annual Pulitzer Prizes
Announced April 20th, the 2015 prize winners for excellence in U.S. literary genres receive their award ($10,000) on May 28th. Listed below are the Prize's six "letters and drama" winners:

BIOGRAPHY The Pope and Mussolini by David Kertzer
Grounding his work in research from fascist and newly opened Vatican archives, Kertzer uncovers the secret relationship between Pope Pius XI and fascist dictator Mussolini, who both came to power in 1922. United in their disgust for communism and suspicion of democracy, the two traded favors to bolster and solidify their individual authority.

DRAMA Between the Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Walter Washington, aka "Pops," a retired, African American cop, heads a motley group of tenants in a huge, rent-controlled apartment in New York’s Upper West Side. The residents include his son Junior (a petty criminal); Junior’s girlfriend, Lulu; and Junior's friend Oswaldo (a recovering drug addict). Pops fights both eviction by the landlord and a lawsuit he's brought against the city (for being shot on the job by a white NYPD rookie).

FICTION All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Marie-Laure, a blind, 14-year-old French girl, flees to Saint-Malo to avoid Nazi occupation. Meanwhile, Werner, an orphan boy from a German mining town, travels on a wartime mission as part of the Hitler Youth. Sickened by the brutality and seemingly senseless death, he finds his way to the same French sea town and meets Marie-Laure.

GENERAL NONFICTION The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Kolbert details Earth’s prior mass extinctions and calls for action related to the current one. Human activity, the work explains, is altering Earth’s environment too rapidly and drastically for various species to adapt. Their demise, due to climate changes instigated by human behavior, threatens our survival as well.

HISTORY Encounters at the Heart of the World by Elizabeth A. Fenn
The Mandan Indians once populated bustling towns near the upper Missouri River, numbering 12,000 in 1500 and becoming known in later years for hospitality to American settlers. But the contact came at tremendous cost. Diseases such as smallpox, whooping cough, and cholera decimated the Mandan population, which dwindled to 300 by 1838. Fenn uses a vast array of sources to flesh out the complex history of the Mandan people.

POETRY Digest by Gregory Pardlo
Pardlo’s poetry explores Brooklyn, drawing inspiration from the everyday and painting intensely personal scenes of fatherhood. The dense poems contain classical reference, poke fun at academic-speak, and root themselves in pop culture. (“I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet / whispering my name.”–From “Written by Himself”)


PulitzerPrizes

Pioneer of the Psychological Crime Novel Passes
News Flash May 2, London: Crime writer Ruth Rendell has died, after a stroke. Rendell pioneered the psychological thriller, creating the Chief Inspector Wexford character and winning multiple U.S. and British awards for consistently high quality. Forthcoming is her novel Dark Corners (October).

Tom Stoppard's The Hard Problem
Great artists take chances—artistically, that is. In his corpus of 13 plays, Tom Stoppard has done so again and again, much to the delight of audiences worldwide. True to form, his new play, The Hard Problem, takes risks. A short (100 minutes, no intermission) drama, it asks why we are conscious beings. How do we explain the existence of the conscious mind? Not yet answered by science, the question leads, over the course of the play, into other heady issues: the brain vs. the mind, self-interest vs. self-sacrifice, coincidence vs. miracle.

But this time there's less than universal applause. Long anticipated, The Hard Problem has stirred backlash. Some early reviewers faulted the play as short on emotion, plot, and/or character depth. Others have since disagreed, directing our attention to the rich wit, "laugh-out-loud" dialogue, and dramatic beauty of the play. During its eleven scenes, a decade (1999-2008) passes, in which characters spar over the large questions and we bear witness to behavior that supports or contradicts the opinions they express. At the center is pretty, likable Hilary Matthews (played by Olivia Vinall), biology student, who moves on to become a researcher at the Krohl Institute for Brain Science. Hilary is at odds with her "romantic" interest, Spike (Damien Molony), a materialist cynic, who insists that everything harks back to biology and self-interest always trumps selfless concern. Hilary objects. Spike doesn't have it right, she insists. The mind-soul exists apart from the brain; beyond biology, there is God. If some of their scientific talk eludes us, the basic controversy does not. The trick is to follow the play's nine characters to see if their actions confirm or counter the stated ideas. There's no such thing as motherly love, protests Spike: Raphael's Madonna and Child ought to be called "Woman Maximizing Gene Survival." Is that so? Well, then why does Hilary, whose backstory includes a private grief (she had a daughter at age 15, then gave her up for adoption), pray nightly for the child's well-being? And why, at one juncture, does Hilary sacrifice herself for a coworker? Among the other characters is hedge-fund manager Jerry Krohl (Anthony Calf). He founded the Institute, which employs neuroscientists to predict the behavior of financial traders in an era of economic crisis. Jerry has an adopted daughter (and Hilary has given up one for adoption—coincidence? Divine guidance?). Let's turn to another scientist on staff, Amal (Parth Thakerar), who "evolves" into a creator of computer models to manage financial risk in a market that at times behaves irrationally. All this unfolds on a spare set under a masterfully brainlike cloud of narrow tubes with hanging cords that flash, between scenes, with colored lights. The "brain" flickers to Bach piano pieces, fugues, a fitting type that stresses the interrelationships between a piece's parts. There's a graceful intertwining of multiple production facets here. At first glance, The Hard Problem may appear to be little more than a scientific lecture in dramatic disguise; a second look says quite differently.

     
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