Much Ado About Some Things

January-February 2016

Events   Literary News
Folios on Tour at U Oklahoma
Jan 4; Norman, OK: The University of Oklahoma becomes first to host a 50-state tour of Shakespeare First Folios (from Folger Library) in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Click here for tour
dates and locations.

Piano Lesson at Princeton U
Jan. 8-Feb.7; Princeton, NJ: Watch Broadway and Off-Broadway actors in August Wilson's drama about an heirlom piano with historical etchings and the conflict between sibilings over whether to sell the instrument. For more details, click here.

Repertorio Español's Aunt Julia
Jan. 10, 16, 28 and Feb 7, 13, 14; New York, NY: See the company’s new adaptation of Mario Vargas Llosa's novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. The story features an 18-year-old who falls for a 32-year old divorcee and a writer who generates scripts for radio soaps in 1950s Peru. Performed in Spanish, the show includes English subtitles via captioning at the back of each seat. Click here for details.

Race Riot Revisited at U Georgia
Feb. 2-7; Athens, GA: University of Georgia stages Anna Deavere’s Fires in the Mirror, an award-winning docudrama about the 1991 Crown Heights Riot in Brooklyn, New York. Based on interviews, the show includes 29 monologues full of black and Jewish views in reaction to the facts: A car driven by a Jewish man inadvertently killed a black, 7-year-old boy, Gavin Cato, in Crown Heights. In the three days (Aug. 19-21) of rioting that ensued, black youths killed 29-year-old Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jewish student from Australia. Click here for more details.

Twelfth Night Abridged at NYU
Feb. 16-20; New York, NY: England's Filter Theatre brings NYU a 90-minute version of Shakespeare's comedy about a female twin who disguises herself as a male, serves a duke, and falls for him. Forced into the role of go-between, she pleads his love to a countess, who promptly falls for the messenger (i.e., twin in male disguise). Click here for details.

RSC’s Midsummer Experiment
Feb. 17-July 16; Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK: The Royal Shakespeare Company performs A Midsummer Night’s Dream, about four young lovers, feuding fairies, the mischievous spirit Puck, and some amateur tradesmen-actors (the mechanicals). In an inventive approach, the RSC casts professional actors in all parts except the mechanicals—they’re played by actual amateur actors. For more details, click here.

Berkeley Rep Stages Macbeth
Feb. 19-Apr. 10; Berkeley, CA: Olivier Award winner Conleth Hill and Academy Award winner Frances McDormand star as the Macbeths in Shakespeare's tragedy about ambition, regicide, and the retribution that follows. Click here for details.

James Joyce at St. Louis U
Feb. 19-20; 26-28; St. Louis, MO: University Theatre stages Joyce's "The Dead," about Professor Gabriel Conroy, a party he attends, a memory he becomes privy to, and the comfort he takes in the fuzzy boundary between the living and the dead. For more details, click here.

OSF's Twelfth Night in Hollywood
Feb. 19-Oct. 30; Ashland, OR:
Oregon Shakespeare Festival opens the season with Twelfth Night reset. A play about cross-dressing, mismatched love, and more, the comedy takes on a new twist when OSF shifts time and place to 1930s Hollywood. Click here for details.

A Lesson Before Dying at UTK
Feb. 24-Mar. 13; Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee performs an adaptation of Earnest Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying, about an innocent black man convicted of murder in 1930s Louisiana and an attempt to transform him before he’s executed. Click here for details.

USC Hosts The Learned Ladies
Feb. 25-28; Los Angeles, CA: The University of Southern California stages Molière's comedy in verse about female intellectuals, a con artist who wins their admiration, and the havoc this wreaks on a genuine love match. For details, click here.

Hamilton on Broadway
Jan 1- ; New York, NY: Broadway’s Richard Rodgers’ Theatre stages Lin-Manuel Miranda’s biography-inspired musical Hamilton. For details, see the article to right. For tickets, click here.

  Best Books of 2015
The list of titles below is drawn from a synthesis of favorites selected by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers’ Weekly, Washington Post, The Guardian, and NPR. Among the most acclaimed titles of 2015, the selection ranges from American nonfiction to the final novel in an Italian fictional series.

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In the tradition of James Baldwin writing his 14-year-old nephew in The Fire Next Time, Coates writes a letter to his 15-year-old son about being black in present-day America. Coates's message appears less positive than Baldwin’s, though. Amid rising outrage at violence against blacks by police brutality and incarceration, the letter holds out little hope for the power of one person to affect lives. “In America," says Coates, "it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage”; to expect this to change, he adds, is for dreamers. Still, he encourages his son to try, raising thought-provoking questions in the process.

The Book of Aron: A Novel by Jim Shepherd
Aron, an impoverished Polish Jew, comes of age in WWII's Warsaw Ghetto. An Artful Dodger of sorts, the boy joins a gang that steals, smuggles, and fights other gangs to elude hunger, typhus, the Ukranian and German soldiers, the Polish and Jewish police. He informs on others too, “all to provide a meager sustenance for his family even as its members are torn from him” (NYT; May 22, 2015). Ultimately he's befriended by an orphanage-running doctor (Janusz Korczak—a real-life figure), whom the boy tries to save from being deported to Treblinka Concentration Camp. The story is deftly told from Aron's limited point of view.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The novel follows a tight-knit group of four college graduates who settle in New York City. A hefty tome (734 pages), the novel traces their development from ambitious young men in their 20s to well-established professionals in their 40s: actor, artist, architect, and lawyer. The focus narrows to the lawyer, Jude St. Francis, who suffered child abuse as an orphan raised by monks. The details emerge slowly, through flashbacks, with the abuse leaving a searing imprint on his relationships with himself and others in the present.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
This is a semi-autobiographical collection of 43 short stories by Berlin (1936-2004) that reflect facets of her life, including her struggles with alcoholism. Often the protagonists are single mothers. They labor as clerical staff, nurses, and cleaning women in Mexico, the Southwest, California—places from Berlin's past. Her prose is celebrated for its ability to tease humor even out of tragedy.: In “Mama,” two sisters discuss their mother’s death. “I don’t believe it. Sally, you’re actually jealous because I got all the suicide notes?”

The Story of a Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
The final and fourth novel in a series about two friends, this last installment features the return of bookish, intellectual Lena, now a succesful writer, to working-class Naples and to Lila, her brilliant, passionate, complex friend. Both women are pregnant and each has a baby girl. But the fates of the two infants diverge in a novel that's more generally focused on both women and language in late-1900s Italy.


Hamilton: A Musical Corrective
Sometimes, when we're lucky, the world gets a work of art that both signifies the progress of humanity and helps effect that progress. Take, as a case in point, Broadway's current musical hit Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Starring mostly Latinos and blacks, the play traces the rise and fall of a neglected historical figure. His rivals lived, Hamilton died, and they told, or failed to tell, his story. In 2004, Ron Chernow published Alexander Hamilton, a 738-biography that set the record straight and inspired Miranda’s wildly popular 2015 musical, Hamilton. Miranda, in fact, consulted Chernow in pursuit of historical accuracy, adapting the saga into a mix of rap music, hip-hop, R&B ballads, and, earlier '60s-style British pop (sung by King George in lyrics dripping with irony: "When push comes to shove / I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love")

Act 1 follows Hamilton's rise from 1776 to Secretary of the Treasury in 1789; Act 2 focuses on ensuing conflicts and on Hamilton's fall to the deadly duel of 1804. The show triumphs not only in that it is told by America's disenfranchised (given the ethnic makeup of writer and cast, who take ownership of the nation's history). The musical's feat lies also in its well-rounded portrayals of nuanced men and women. Full of contentious opinions, the rebels are young upstarts with individual personalities and ambitions. "I wish there was a war / Then we could prove that we're worth more / Than anyone bargained for," chants young Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) to the older, colder, less outspoken Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.). Identifying Hamilton as an immigrant orphan, early lyrics describe his rise to right-hand man to General Washington (Christopher Jackson) in the Revolution. Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton goes on to become a tireless persuasive writer for ratification of the Constitution (on his own, he pens 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers), and a visionary Secretary of the Treasury, who calls for the Cabinet to pay the states' war debts, and to establish a national bank and common currency. Romantically Hamilton becomes involved with three women, marrying Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), enjoying a flirtatious rapport with her sister Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), and pursuing an extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds (Jasmine Cephas Jones), which leads to his political downfall. Meanwhile, over the show’s 47 songs, Hamilton makes male enemies, Thomas Jefferson, among them. The talk grows vicious. Their views differ politically and at one point Jefferson, now Secretary of State, becomes a target of Hamilton’s invective: "Thomas. That was a real nice declaration / Welcome to the present, we're running a real nation." But Burr is the one who becomes Hamilton's deadliest foe. The two meet in a fatal duel that, true to this progressive telling, does not end the story. Instead it moves on to Hamilton's widow, Eliza. Having reconciled with Hamilton, she survives him by 50 years, in which she struggles to have history set the record straight about his professional ethics and efforts. But she struggles in vain, it seems—until the arrival two centuries later of a pivotal biography and the musical it inspires. Click below to see Hamilton in and after the Revolution. Click here for the lyrics from the show's songs.

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