Even before Farinelli and the King, starring Mark Rylance, opened on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre, I was chomping at the bit in anticipation of seeing the ever brilliant Rylance unleash his incandescent magic once again. Winner of three well-deserved Tony’s, Boeing-Boeing (2008), Jerusalem (2011), and Twelfth Night (2014), an Oscar for best supporting actor in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015), not to mention a number of Olivier awards, was enough to have me drooling. (more…)
Immersed in wintery gloom and headlines of doom, perhaps it’s time for us to take a deep breath and remind ourselves to laugh! Humor –remember that?!–is the perfect prescription for sanity.
From slapstick to Seinfeld, America’s popular culture has always embraced humor. Composers of the classic American songbook extolled happiness in such songs as “Make ‘Em Laugh”, which Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed wrote for Singin’ in the Rain. Who can forget Donald O’Connor’s romp (left) while singing, “You start off by pretending you’re a dancer with grace,/You wiggle till they’re giggling all over the place,/And then you get a great big custard pie in the face,/Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh!” (more…)
“What is honored by a country is cultivated there” ~Plato
Left: Artist Unknown, The “Cobbe” Portrait of Wm. Shakespeare (early 1700s), owned by Charles Cobbe, Archbishop of Dublin (1686–1765). Undiscovered until 2009.
Greatness with Grace
Editor’s Note: It is not ordinary policy at ARTES Magazine to take a political stance on matters, but given the emotionally charged environment in our cherished ‘house divided,’ we must occasionally speak out. Circumstances sometimes necessitate that we reflect on the dire cultural climate in which we, as artists, musicians and writers now find ourselves working. Common ground for those concerned with the arts can often be found in public gatherings, where shared values of open social critique, expository expression and challenged cultural boundaries are the common currency. These moments are rare and when they occur, we should rightly expect our nation’s leaders to lend credence to events honoring those who have devoted their lifetime to giving voice to our values as a People. The 2017 Kennedy Center Honors is just such an event; and while the awards ceremony occurred in early December, the proceedings were only just recently aired on network television. In response to the decision on the part of President Trump not to attend, Playwright Sarah Rule wrote an editorial that appeared in the New York Times on December 25th. It follows here, in its entirety, for your consideration.
By Sarah Ruhl (for The New York Times Editorial Page)
Dec. 25, 2017
On Tuesday night CBS [aired] the Kennedy Center Honors, and President Trump [was] not be on the screen, because he declined to attend the event when it was held on Dec. 3 in Washington. What does it mean that Mr. Trump didn’t have the nerve, for a single night, to be in a room with artists who have criticized him?
The president’s team claimed that he did not attend so that the artists could celebrate in peace rather than having a political distraction. But the president votes, as we all do, with his feet.
Though the arts have never been neutral politically, the honoring of artists is a bipartisan ritual. The Kennedy Center was a place where the left and the right could agree that the arts occupy a central place in our culture, worthy of our attention and respect. Artists chosen for the Kennedy Center awards generally have fans on the left and the right and everywhere in between. The checkbooks of art patrons are not marked with their party affiliations.
I came of age in the culture wars of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan planned to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, and, instead, ended up whittling down its budget by a small percentage. Still, in 1984, before putting medals on Arthur Miller and Lena Horne among other luminaries, he reflected on the way Americans had developed “a culture that was as fertile as this new land” and had continued to innovate in arts and entertainment.
“And today our nation has crowned her greatness with grace, and we gather this evening to honor five artists who have helped her to do so,” he said. I never thought I would be quoting Ronald Reagan to make an argument for the centrality of the arts in American life — but his phrase struck me, during the bizarre cultural moment we are living through: “Our nation has crowned her greatness with grace.” Mr. Trump wants “to make America great again” without dissent and without the arts; but can one truly have greatness without grace?
When President George W. Bush presided over the Kennedy Center awards for the final time, in 2008, one of the honorees was Barbra Streisand, a vocal critic of his policies. After Mr. Bush read her biography, he added, “She’s also been known to speak her mind.” The audience laughed, then applauded. Ms. Streisand later wrote: “President Bush gave me his signature wink and mouthed, ‘We showed ’em.’ I guess in some small way, he and I proved that we could agree to disagree, and, for that weekend, art transcended politics.” The wink and the joke were actually profound — they signaled a functional democracy.
During his eight years in office, President Barack Obama could be seen one minute on Broadway with Michelle Obama, at August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” or at “Hamilton,” and the cast of “Hamilton”could also be seen at the White House.
I remember the Obamas appearing on a video feed at the Tony Awards to introduce and exalt “Hamilton,” and thinking: We are living in the golden age of theater. An age in which a poet-politician was at home with the great Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was himself at home with the sonnet form in an acceptance speech. This cultural flowering and embrace of an artist by a ruler made me think of the synergy between Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare. If “Hamilton” represented a national renaissance and a broadening of our democracy, where are we now?
Shortly after the election, Mike Pence went to see “Hamilton.” Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Aaron Burr, addressed the vice president-elect after the show: “We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.”
Does it get more Shakespearean than this? The actors speaking an epilogue directly to a ruler? Mr. Trump wanted the cast to apologize. Because, he tweeted, the theater must be a “safe and special place.”
“Safe and special?” For whom? In an “us” versus “them” culture — when most artists have become a “them” to the ruler, what hope is there for gentleness in civil discourse, a welcome difference of opinions, multiplicity, empathy and grace?
In dictatorships, the artists are often the first to go. Or maybe they are the third to go, after the press and the intellectuals. The refusal of the president to celebrate them is a chilling and clear departure from American values. Perhaps the Trumps didn’t want to compete with the Obamas, who at the 2016 Kennedy Center awards received the longest standing ovation of the evening.
Mr. Obama met with Marilynne Robinson, a writer he admired, to interview her for The New York Review of Books in the fall of 2015. I think of a president with enough humility and curiosity to interview her — a politician-writer meeting a fellow writer on equal ground, discussing the virtues of the yellow notepad — and I want to weep.
* * *
Sarah Ruhl is an American playwright, professor, and essayist. Among her most popular plays are Eurydice (2003), The Clean House (2004), and In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) (2009). She has been the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for a distinguished American playwright in mid-career. Two of her plays have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and she received a nomination for Tony Award for Best Play.
In 2015, she published a collection of essays, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write. Her most recent play, For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday(2017), premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. She currently serves on the faculty of the Yale School of Drama.
“We philosophers are never more delighted than when we are taken for artists.” ~F. Nietzsche
“Painting from Nature is not copying the object: it is realizing one’s sensations.” ~P. Cézanne
“The living is merely a type of what is dead, and a very rare type.” ~F. Nietzsche
Chapter 1. La Recontre
Pämierlieutenant Friedrich Nietzsche walked down the gangway into the bright Mediterranean sun, a battered valise in hand. The year was 1869. Scanning the busy dockside, he saw a sign over the customs house door announcing, ‘Marseille,’ along with a fingerpost directing travelers ‘ à droite’ for public transport to his next destination, L’Estaque. Conscription into the Prussian army two years earlier meant a brief return to active service as international tensions mounted, with a duty station assignment in Lucerne. But in spite of his military responsibilities and ongoing squabbles among diplomats far removed to the north, Nietzsche intended to use his short military leave to seek the warmth and intellectual stimulation of this azure-drenched, palm-fringed coastal retreat.
Above: Friedrich Nietzsche as a Prussian military officer (1868-69).
Many of our earliest memories of Christmas are rooted in stories that made sugar plums dance in our heads. I remember being enthralled by having “’Twas the Night before Christmas” read to me, and later relishing Dr. Seuss’s tale of the Grinch (voiced by Boris Karloff) trying to steal Christmas.
Left: Thomas Nast, Merry Old Santa (1863).
Storytelling is essential to the spirit of Christmas, and the Washington Stage Guild decided this year to celebrate that spirit with a show that cobbles together several favorite Christmas stories in a holiday production called A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Other Stories. Dylan Thomas’s story takes center stage, but Artistic Director Bill Largess has also included Louisa May Alcott’s short “Merry Christmas,” Charles Dickens’s “What Christmas Is as We Grow Older,” “A Medieval Puzzle,” and A.A. Milne’s “King John’s Christmas.” (more…)
Mark Bradford uses the language of abstraction in his texturally layered paintings in which he combines collaged commonplace materials with paint. This celebrated African-American artist from Los Angeles since the early 2000’s continues to fuse his interests of cultural identity with abstract forms tackling a full spectrum of subjects including race, class, gender, aestheticism, or everyday life. (more…)
Arena Stage is a stellar Washington, D.C. theater that regularly presents new productions of classic Broadway musicals. For the holidays this year, Arena is producing The Pajama Game. A smash hit when it was first staged on Broadway in 1954, The Pajama Game won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, and Best Choreography. (more…)
In May 1988 the New York Times critic John Russell wrote, “Ilya Kabakov is many things in one – a poet, a reporter, a storyteller in prose, a portraitist who never shows us his sitters directly, an environmental sculptor and an understated magician.” Having witnessed Ilya Kabakov’s ”Ten Characters,” at the Ronald Feldman Gallery, in 1988 and other constructions in Europe including the famed “Toliet” at Documenta, and “The Ship of Tolerance” at the Venice Biennale, I am in full agreement, that Kabakov is perhaps one of the most creative artists who continually expresses his humanist concerns through architectural quixotic realism, suggestive of the 19th century French utopian architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. (more…)
For a number of decades both the name and work of English-born, Californian by adoption, David Hockney, has been quietly flying under the art world’s radar, breaking all attendance records, despite a major exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2012 which included a gallery of works he had composed on an iPad. More than likely, the gently reserved Hockney was outshouted by the manufactured spectacles of circus artists’ billionaire Damian Hirst and half billionaire Jeff Koons, unarguably the two richest artists on the planet. (more…)
Washington Stage Guild is a long-standing gem in the national capital’s sparkling theater scene. The repertory company was founded in 1986 in a derelict area of downtown Washington near the National Portrait Gallery. Traumatized by riots that swept through in 1968, the area was still dominated by empty spaces, boarded-up windows, and porn shops. Ford’s Theatre was nearby, but the Gaiety Burlesque house was a highpoint. Few tour buses lingered. (more…)