Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Prolific author/playwright/broadcaster J.B. Priestley is perhaps best known for the novel, The Good Companion, his play The Inspector Calls, and pro-Britain wartime propaganda broadcasts until socialist themes got him booted off by the government. This is the U.S. premiere of 1932’s The Roundabout which played on its native soil and was then retired. One can see why.
Ostensibly a lightweight drawing room satire about changing social order, the play evolves over a Saturday afternoon in the life of failing businessman, (Lord) Richard Kettlewell (Brian Protheroe). The reserved patrician has a single guest at his country manse, old friend, Churton Saunders, aka “Chuffy” (Hugh Sachs), a self avowed Edwardian who gets all the good lines. Expecting only his young associate Farrington Gurney (Charlie Field), the host is informed by butler Parsons (Derek Hutchinson) of imminent arrivals by Lady Knightsbridge (Richenda Carey), a mercenary, all purpose “fixer,” and territorial mistress Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks). Kettlewell is long separated, but still married.
Steven Blakeley, Emily Liang
Add to this curious mix the highly unexpected appearance of daughter Pamela (Emily Liang), whom he hasn’t seen in ten years, her companion, Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley), both avowed communists returned from Russia, and, lastly his wife, Lady Kettlewell (Lisa Bowman).
In the hands of George Bernard Shaw, we might’ve seen the classes spar with meaningful illumination. Were the piece by Noel Coward, then it might’ve been sharply witty. As it stands, we’re subjected to a tedious two hours in the hands of milquetoast Kettlewell, almost-ran Chuffy, bratty, tantrum-throwing, mischief-making Pamela, and boorish, cliché Comrade Staggles. (Other characters are frankly negligible.)
Hugh Sachs, Lisa Bowerman, Emily Liang, Charlie Field
Having not seen Roundabout before, I can’t conjecture whether it might improve with a different cast (or some cast members would appear more capable in a different play). Here, aside from flickers, those onstage range from poor to irritating to ho-hum.
Hugh Ross’s Direction is so heavy handed, movement has no motivation except audience view, irony goes by practically unnoticed. Pamela is so over the top she’s in another script, there’s not a flicker of character definition, actors often tune out when not speaking.
Polly Sullivan’s Set works fine but has no attractions. Holly Henshaw’s Costumes exhibit well tailored men but, except for Hilda, uniformly unflattering apparel for women.
What more can one say?
Photos by Carol Rosegg Opening: Carol Starks, Derek Hutchinson, Anne Jackson, Brian Protheroe, Rachenda Carey
Also featuring Ed Pinker as artist Alec Grenside and Annie Jackson as Alice the maid.
The Roundabout by J.B. Priestley Directed by Hugh Ross 59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street Through May 28, 2017
The life of Saki is a story unto itself story. Much like the characters the iconic British writer created in his later years, Saki—the pseudonym of journalist Hector Hugh Munro—spent his youth in exotic locales. He mourned tragic losses, including that of his mother by a freak accident when he was still a toddler, and suffered through an upbringing by puritanical aunt guardians. Later he took on adventurous occupations and assumed his secret identity to become a writer of contemporary fables. In the play Life According to Saki, the fruits of his imagination mix with details pulled from biographical accounts, offering a charming, touching glimpse into how his stories came to be.
Munro was in his prime when he insisted to march as a private into the muddy, miserable trenches that characterized the Great War. In those muddy troughs of misery he met his nation’s youth, the boys and men just emerging from their teenage years, some of whom would see nothing but those trenches until the ends of their short days. In this telling of his story and stories, it was in those desperate conditions that he did what he could to lift his companions’ spirits of and take their minds away from the field of battle.
L-R: Caitlin Thorburn and Phoebe Frances Brown
Going by the name of Saki—a reference to the cupbearer in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam—Munro penned sometimes humorous, sometimes macabre, always satirical short stories about the follies of the landed gentry back home and the absurdist behaviors unique to Edwardian England. The heroes of these stories, often children or members of the working class—easily imagined as proxies for the boys around him—are always cleverer, kinder, and all-round better at life than the silly sods who rule over them.
These tales, adapted for the stage by children’s author Katherine Rundell, are performed with precision and impeccable comedic expression by a troop of six very hardworking actors: Phoebe Frances Brown, Ellen Francis, Tom Lambert, Tom Machell, Caitlin Thorburn, and David Paisley, as Saki. This production and its cast won a Best of Edinburgh award in 2016, and it’s no wonder why. It is a marvelous piece of work told marvelously.
The vignettes are bound together, told as if in those trenches by a company of soldiers, with a narrative provided by the character of Saki. Along with a small assortment of everyday household props that stand in for weaponry and costuming, there is a collection of striking puppets—a small boy and a small menagerie of animals designed by Clair Roi Harvey and Suzi Battersby—that set an unsettling tone. They looked heaped together like rags, but have an expression of menace that nicely balances the twee and often silly aristocrats with whom they interact.
Ellen Francis (foreground); L-R (background): David Paisley, Tom Lambert and Caitlin Thorburn
Important to note is that Munro was a gay man who grew up in the same period as the trial of Oscar Wilde, which undoubtedly had an effect on his writing. Like Wilde used coded language to discuss love and sex in a highly repressed era, Munro used animals to write about the secrets in his heart. That the work can be enjoyed by children at one level and appreciated by adults at another is just one more reason why the work remains so alive and revered. It’s also delightfully silly.
Silliness is really key here. There’s satire and commentary on Important Social Issues, applicable both then and now, but what makes these stories so memorable is the full-on, high-energy delivery and the way these talented actors throw themselves head-first (literally in some cases) into the tall tales. Director Jessica Lazar has not spared her cast, leaving them only the brief interstitial moments of narrator Saki’s contemplation to catch their breath. But they never lag, never fumble, and offer unique and interesting characters by the dozens. They are a beautiful and talented group of performers, but special mention goes to the ladies, whose breadth of accents and investment in the physical comedy made them as hilarious as they are lovely.
All photos by Alex Brenner Top: R-L: Caitlin Thorburn, Phoebe Frances Brown, Ellen Francis and David Paisley
Life According to Saki Written by Katherine Rundell Directed by Jessica Lazar Now playing at 4th Street Theater Through March 5, 2017
The Anglo-Irish Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900), unabashedly carried the banner of aestheticism into fashionable circles of after-university London. Known for quick, biting wit and flamboyant dress, he authored poetry, lectured on art (in America), and was employed as a journalist before embarking on the successful career of fiction, playwrighting, painful memoir, and epic, prison verse for which he’s artistically best remembered. Wilde, who was gay, kept up pretense, marrying and siring two children whom he adored and for whom he wrote his wonderful fairy tales.
Charlie Rowe and Rupert Everett
The artist’s other historical prominence, his destruction and downfall, can arguably be said to have been brought about by young, pretty, spoiled Lord Alfred Douglas with whom Wilde was besotted. Almost everything written about the icon describes his being lead astray by the oblivious young man. Not that the author hadn’t maintained a secret life, but his had been discreet, while Douglas, fueled by permissiveness and protected by rank, frequented low clubs and rent boys (lower class prostitutes). Wilde became reckless, though never as quite reckless as Bosie, his nickname for Douglas.
Lord Douglas’s father, The Marquess of Queensberry, became increasingly suspicious of the boy’s relationship with the public figure. At first, Wilde was able to mollify him. Things reached a head when Bosie’s father left his calling card at the author’s club inscribed “For Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite.”
Lord Douglas was angrier than his lover and misguidedly convinced Wilde, who knew the possible consequences, to sue for libel. The only way the Marquess could defend himself was to prove his accusation. He naturally hired private detectives who set out to make a case that this more worldly man ensnared the youthful and naïve of his own sex. Wilde’s friends advised him to flee, but Bosie would not have it.
Rupert Everett, Cal MacAninch, Charlie Rowe, Alister Cameron, Elliot Balchin, Jessie Hills
The trial, for sodomy and gross indecency, what they called “The love that dare not speak its name,” was a bloodbath. Playwright David Hare begins this piece on the day Wilde (Rupert Everett) decides either to allow himself to be imprisoned or escape to France. Even the government wants him gone and waits to make the arrest.
Wilde’s old, dear friend, ex-lover, and eventual executor, Robbie Ross (Cal MacAninch), has arranged everything, but petulant Lord Douglas (Charlie Rowe) is convinced he can get the artist off. There’s no question that the victim knows the truth of his situation.
The three take temporary refuge in a hotel room attended by Head Butler Sandy Moffatt (Alister Cameron), Bellman, Arthur Wellesley (Elliot Balchin), and Floor Maid Phoebe Cane (Jessie Hills). All three actors do an admirable job, with Cameron ready to crisply buttle tomorrow and Hills standing out.
Act II finds us in Naples after Wilde spent 2 horrific years in four different prisons at least two of which were at hard labor, and some impoverished time on the continent. He takes full responsibility for consequences suffered. Bosie has found a villa. Wilde supports them as best he can with meager earning from his writing and, up till then, a small allowance from his wife, Constance.
Bosie does what he likes with whomever he likes. The breathtakingly beautiful Italian fisherman, Galileo Masconi (the refreshing, fully present Tom Colley), is his current companion. Unexpectedly, Robbie, who continues in his regard for Wilde, appears with a message from the author’s estranged wife, Constance which will, in its way, determine the rest of Wilde’s life. Hare has stated that these two pivotal, “incomprehensible actions” are the nexus which inspired the play.
Charlie Rowe, Rupert Everett (Tom Colley behind)
Wilde’s principles of morality dictated that each man bears responsibility for himself to such a degree, other’s intentions or actions are literally blameless. Art was his religion, beauty, his God.
Oscar Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on 30 November 1900.
Charlie Rowe’s Bosie is an imperious, self indulgent child. His (and the director’s) interpretation never takes advantage of the playwright’s often brutal dialogue which can aim for the jugular with ego-inflated glee.
Cal MacAninch is superb as Robbie (Robert Ross). There isn’t a moment of emotional falseness in his performance. One can palpably feel the character’s frustration, commitment, and heartrending love as well as fear of discovery. MacAninch moves with the precise grace of a self-made man in a world above his station. Even his posture is conscious. In Act II, we empathize with his fatalism.
Rupert Everett resembles Oscar Wilde. Benevolent generosity and subservient response appear natural around him. The actor wears an over-inflated sense of aesthetic appreciation with finesse. We believe this Wilde to be both willful and bound by irrational attraction to which he voluntarily submits. Though Everett chooses to present himself as less flamboyant than that which we expect, perhaps Wilde tamped itdown among intimates.
What we don’t believe is inner turmoil and pain which is impossible to discount. There’s no indication of struggle with decisions that must spell doom. Even resolved, the icon is unlikely to have been oblivious. When Hare shows us a dramatic moment of decisiveness in Act I, he indicates, I think, that his hero is suffering. During Act II, Wilder lives with ongoing humiliation, yet there isn’t even a halting pause in flip reaction. Everett appears to have eschewed emotion in favor of intellect.
Director Neil Armfield uses the large set with great skill. His pacing is pitch perfect. Characters move and speak within class designation. Stage business is realistic. I would disagree with his take on Wilde.
David Hare’s The Judas Kiss (as in Judas’s betrayal of Jesus) is literate, insightful, and illuminating, allowing questions rather than answers to arise. His portraits feel authentic, dialogue plausible. Facts, of course, are undeniable. The surprise opening of the piece is inspired. Still, the play never takes flight.
Dale Ferguson’s Set Design manages to reflect exactly where we are with sharp detail and minimal fuss. He makes beautiful use of curtains. Costumes by Sue Blane are as if second skin. Varied accents (Charmian Hoare) are excellent. Of particular artfulness Rick Fisher’s Lighting Design is evocative and painterly.
Performance Photos by Cilla von Tiedemann Opening: Rupert Everett
The Judas Kiss by David Hare Directed by Neil Armfield BAM Harvey Theater Through June 12, 2016
Ireland has long been rightly renowned as a country of storytellers that has birthed such legendary authors as Johnathon Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, and James Joyce. But with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner and this being the year of Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy it seems appropriate to consider some of Ireland’s leading female authors. Many of the books by these authors are out of print, but a handful have been reissued for succeeding generations to enjoy. Click on a book’s cover to learn more and order on Amazon.
Anne Burke (1780-1805) Anne has once worked as a governess and after finding herself widowed with a son to support she took up writing. She specialized in Gothic novels and was one of the earliest women writers in the genre.
Rosa Mulholland (1841-1921) Also known as Lady Gilbert, Rose was a novelist, poet, and playwright. She originally wanted to be a painter but received encouragement in her literary aspirations from Charles Dickens! Dickens greatly admired her work and encouraged her to continue. Her first novel Dumana was published in 1864 under the pen name Ruth Murray.
Edith Somerville (1858-1949) and Violet Martin (1862-1915) These two ladies were cousins who wrote under the pseudonym of Somerville and Ross. Together they published a total of fourteen novels and collections of stories until Violet’s death in 1915. Whereupon Edith continued to publish works under “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that she and Violet continued to collaborate via spiritualist séances.
M.E. Francis (1859-1930) M.E. Francis was the pen name of Mary Elizabeth Brundell an astonishingly prolific novelist who published dozens of works, she was described as being the best known female novelist of her time.
Jesse Louisa Rickard (1876-1963) Though she didn’t publish her first novel Young Mr. Gibbs (1912) until she was 36, Jesse was an extremely prolific writer who published over forty novels ranging from light comedy to crime novels. She was a founding member of the Detective Writers Club along with Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, and Agatha Christie.
Kate O’Brien (1897-1974) Kate was an novelist and playwright whose books dealt with themes of female agency and sexuality. At the time this was quite controversial, in fact it was so controversial that her 1936 novel Mary Lavelle was banned in Ireland and Spain while her 1941 novel The Land of Spices was banned in Ireland on publication.
Deirdre Purcell (born 1945) Dierdre is a former stage actress as well as having done tv and press journalism. She has published twelve critically acclaimed novels all of which have been best sellers in Ireland.
Anne Enright (born 1962) While Anne had won the 1991 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the 2001 Encore award she was still relatively obscure until her 2007 novel The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize-a decision that was made unanimously by the jury. Since then she has written two more novel The Forgotten Waltz (2011) which was short-listed for the Orange Prize and won the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and The Green Road (2015) which won the award for Irish Novel of the Year.
Tana French (born 1973) Tana is a theatrical actress and novelist whose debut novel Into the Woods (2007) won the Edgar and Anthony awards for best first novel. She is referred to as the First Lady of Irish Crime and she has another novel The Trespasser scheduled for release this August.
Eimear McBride (born 1976) Eimear wrote her debut novel A Girl is a Half Formed Thing in just six months but it took nine years to get it published. The book then went on to win numerous awards including the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for fiction and Desmond Elliott Prize for debut novelists.