Much Ado About Some Things

January-February 2015

Events   Literary News
New Civil War Play at Harvard
Jan. 4-18; Cambridge, MA: American Repertory Theater stages a new play by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks: Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2, & 3. Set during the Civil War, the drama follows the slave Hero, who’s promised his freedom if he helps his master fight for the South. For more details, click here.

Young Vic Update of Golem Myth
Jan. 5-31; London, England: In Jewish myth, the golem (a clay man who comes to life) generally turns monstrous. But in this highly lauded update, he grows smaller and ever more useful, first to technical geek Robert Robertson. Then everyone must have one. Click here for details.

Curious Incident on Broadway
Jan. 6-Sept. 6; New York, NY: Using his eminently logical mind, the autistic Christopher Boone solves two mysteries in a topnotch adaptation of a best-selling novel. For more info, see the article to the right. For tickets, click here.

Waiting for Godot in Chicago
Jan. 15-Feb. 15; Chicago, IL: Two vagabonds wait futilely on a lonely road for a mysterious Mr. Godot. To pass the time, the two discuss life, suicide, and more. Interrupting their talk is the arrival of Pozo and Lucky, a haughty master and his abused slave. Click here for more details.

U Washington’s Twelfth Night
Jan. 28-Feb. 26; Seattle, WA: Surviving a shipwreck, Viola has lost her twin brother at sea. In disguise as a boy, she becomes entangled in a love triangle in Shakespeare’s comedy on misdirected love and more. For details, click here.

Master Harold at U Tennessee
Feb. 5-22; Knoxville, TN: Harold, a white South African teenager, has been raised in the company of two black waiters, who work in his mother’s tea room. Dreading the return home from the hospital of his racist, alcoholic father, the boy exhibits racism of his own against his waiter "friends." Click here for details.

African-American Xtigone
Feb. 14-Mar. 8; Los Angeles, CA: Updating Sophocles' Antigone, the African-American Shakespeare Company performs Xtigone, about a young Chicago woman whose brothers have been killed in drive-by gang shootings. Her uncle, the mayor, wants to bury the bodies (and bleak truth of their deaths), a cover-up that she protests at her peril. For more details, click here.

Hamlet Spinoff at Stanford U
Feb. 19-22; Stanford, CA: Stanford University stages Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, about former schoolmates of Hamlet. Between scenes in his play, they entertain themselves in their own. The two joke, play games, and discuss free will, identity, and death. Check here for performance details.

The Scottish Play at MSU
Feb. 20-Mar. 1; Lansing, MI: Michigan State University stages Shakespeare's tragedy about the rise and fall of the Macbeths. Eager for the throne, the nobleman and his wife commit regicide to achieve their ambition. Click here for more info.

Yale Rep Hosts Songs of Lear
Feb. 26-28, New Haven, CT: Poland’s Song of the Goat Theatre performs 70 minutes of lyrics, gesture, and dance to convey the essence of Shakespeare’s King Lear. In the tragedy, an aging father relinquishes control of his kingdom to his daughters and havoc ensues. For more details, click here.

Kansas U’s A Raisin in the Sun
Feb. 27-Mar. 8; Lawrence, KS: Kansas University Theatre stages Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959), about the Youngers, an African American family whose members disagree about what to do with the life-insurance money they receive after the father dies. For more details, click here.

U Memphis Prizes in Three Genres Mar. 15 deadline; Memphis, TN: The University of Memphis's literary journal, Pinch, welcomes submissions to its annual competitions in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. The prize in each genre consists of $1,000 and publication in Pinch. For contest guidelines, click here.

  Best New Fiction of 2014
Which new fiction books of 2014 do critics identify as the finest? The list below contains a consensus of favorites from an analysis and synthesis of multiple sources (The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Slate Magazine, The Telegraph, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and NPR).

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
In post-World War I London, 26-year-old Frances Wray cares for her mother. The formerly wealthy Wray women are forced to house lodgers for financial support, which leads to a love affair between Frances and the wife of a lodger.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Holly Sykes, a 15-year-old runaway in England, 1984, wanders the countryside, hearing voices and seeing ghosts until she learns that her brother has disappeared. The novel unfolds in six parts, unveiling an underground war between supernatural beings and reaching forward in time to the 2030s.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
Translated from Italian, this is the third book in the author’s Neapolitan Novels, a series that unfurls the life-long friendship of Lila and Elena, women who grew up in poverty-stricken Naples. Set primarily in the 1960s and '70s, this third novel features Elena's struggle to gain confidence in her new, upwardly mobile role as a respected novelist.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
As they try to survive, two children on either side of World War II have their paths collide. Young, blind Marie-Laure flees to Saint-Malo to avoid Nazi occupation while Werner, an orphan boy in the Hitler Youth, finds his way to the same French sea town.

Euphoria by Lily King
Based on the life of the renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead, the historical novel chronicles her time in New Guinea in the 1930s. When Mead and her husband encounter another anthropologist working close by, the three become tangled in a love triangle.

Other agreed-upon favorites: Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (a critique of the art world); A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (a stream-of consciousness tale of abuse); All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu (an African immigrant narrative); Bark by Lorrie Moore (short stories—e.g., “Wings,” about an aging female singer); Redeployment by Phil Klay (a tale of war in Iran and Afghanistan).


Shakespeare Discovery of First Folio in France
News Flash Saint-Omer, France (reported 11/25/14): Librarian Rémy Cordonnier has discovered a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays from a defunct Jesuit college. The world’s 233rd known copy of the roughly 800 First Folios printed in 1623, the find contains some potentially revealing handwritten notes.

Autism Novel Wows Broadway
Christopher hates metaphors. That's because metaphors are a lie, at least in Christopher's autistic, brilliantly mathematical mind. A metaphor, he says, describes a thing by calling it something that it is not. Similes, on the other hand, are fine; they truthfully help you picture in your head what something is like. And Christopher's head is the issue here. It's in the differently wired mind of this gifted, socially challenged 15-year-old that Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time unfolds, a tricky enough feat in print. How astonishing, then, that modern theater likewise sets the play in his mind! A daring effort, the show has mushroomed from trial run to wild hit, first in London (2012), now on Broadway (2014).

In the book, Christopher is himself writing a book, a murder mystery from his “real” life about who killed Wellington, his neighbor's dog. The same plot drives the show—with variations: In Act 1, instead of Christopher's voice coming to us directly, his teacher Siobhan (played on Broadway by Francesca Faridany) reads to us from Christopher’s memoir-like novel; in Act 2, the novel is transformed into a play (an innovation that adds metadrama to the metafiction). The show otherwise retains the original's storyline, impetus, and characters. Christopher (Alex Sharp) is smart and aims to prove it in math, maybe in physics too. He’s also touch averse. Love me, Mom and Dad, but don't hug me. I'll hold up my hand, spread my fingers in a fan and touch yours. That's the most I can do. Otherwise I'll scream or hit or break into a groan, like I do when my senses are overloaded by input from the outside world. Only Christopher doesn't inform them of all this. They discover it, and more: Christopher always tells the truth; he likes machines and computers and outer space and routine and the color red. He enjoys numbers and gardens and Toby, his pet rat; has a sharp eye for detail; and plans to take and ace the UK’s Advanced (A-Level) math exams. Father (Ian Barford) knows this. How much Mother (Enid Graham) knows is unclear at first, since her whereabouts are a second mystery to solve. What emerges is that in their own way, both parents are fallible—we all are. Ultimately the two mysteries intersect and Christopher goes on a harrowing adventure from small-town Swindon to metropolitan London. Relying on his internal logic to defy the limits of his autism, he navigates space on a boxlike black stage, divided by lines into a grid that simulates his brain, which splits into fragments of letters and numbers and convulses with light and sound when the world assails him. Below is a clip from London (with Luke Treadway as Christopher).
Credits: Mark Hadden, novelist; Simon Stephens, playwright; Marianne Elliott, director; Bunny Christie, set; Paule Constable, lighting; Finn Ross, video; Ian Dickinson, sound; Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett, movement. On Broadway, Alex Sharp plays Christopher most nights; Taylor Trensch is an alternate in the part.

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