Theater in London: Home-grown Classics; Broadway Drama, Comedy, Musicals, and Epics
By: Ellis Nassour
Many are aware of Shakespeare’s works and his Globe, first built in 1599 for the opening of the Bard’s Henry V. However, maybe not as many know of the Rose “playhouse” on London’s Bankside. It’s where for over 50 years, during the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I, an early theatreland thrived – from the 1570s to the closure of theatres in 1642, with the outbreak of civil war.
Without these playhouses, it’s said that London’s vast/spread out theatreland known as the West End wouldn’t have been possible.
The Globe was destroyed in a 1613 fire and rebuilt; but was closed, as above, in 1642. In 1997, near the original site, the Globe was reconstructed and later named to honor Sir John Gielgud. It sits on Park Street in the Southwark/London Bridge area known as Market Borough, adjacent to the Thames and not far from historic Southwark Cathedral.
Quite nearby remnants of the original Rose discovered in 1989 led to a campaign by Lord Laurence Olivier to protect the site. The Rose Playhouse (56 Park Street, London SE1 9AR) continues the tradition of that great era. For site history, event scheduling, such as their May 24 A Night in Vienna and August 1 – 26 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and tours, follow on Facebook and visit www.roseplayhouse.org.uk.
American theatrical footprints are all over London theater – just as West End footprints are all over Broadway.
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize, Tony, and Drama Desk-winning double-header Angels in America, the gripping epic of America in the mid-80s in the midst of the AIDS crisis, is being revived at the National’s Lyttelton, with Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches beginning April 11; and Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, on the 24th.
Directing is Olivier, Tony, and two-time DD winner Marianne Elliott (War Horse; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). The cast includes Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, Denise Gough, Tony and Drama Desk winner and six-time Emmy nominee Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn, James McArdle, and Russell Tovey.
Part One was first produced at the National in 1992; Part Two, the following year.
Angels in America, Part One will telecast live in cineplexes July 20; Part Two, July 27. [Manhattan’s Beekman is among area theatres screening the play.]
Complicite Theatre’s The Kid Stays in the Picture
There has been much talk about two-time Tony and three-time DD nominee Simon McBurney and his Complicite Theatre’s experimental, multi-media production The Kid Stays in the Picture, which just ended its limited engagement at the award-winning Royal Court Theatre. Co-directed by James Yeatman, it delves into the rise and fall of actor/studio chief/film producer Robert Evans. It’s rumored to be transferring to Broadway.
McBurney (Director, 2008 All My Sons; The Chairs; Film roles, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, many more), earlier this season created quite an event on Broadway with his The Encounter. His and Yeatman’s adaptation is based on producer/actor/studio chief Robert Evans’ 1994 blistering memoir, written following three strokes. A critic referred to it as “a contemporary Rake’s Progress.” It was adapted into a 2002 film.
The title comes from what 20th Century-Fox studio chief Daryl F Zanuck shouted when he visited the Mexico set of the adaptation of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1957) when director Henry King and cast members (including Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner, but not Errol Flynn) wanted Evans, playing a fiery matador, fired.
Evans, now 87, was a stunningly handsome actor who segued into becoming a major Tinseltown power broker as head of Paramount Pictures and saved it from collapse green-lighting Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, Parts One and Two, Chinatown, Marathon Man; and then there was the infamous Cotton Club.
U.S. cast members Heather Burns, Christian Camargo, Max Casella, Danny Huston, and Ajay Naidu appeared with notable Brit actors Thomas Arnold, Cline Dyer, and Madeleine Potter.
The play, fast-paced, often hilarious, and certainly unique given McBurney’s flair and intense obsession with sound and video, unfolds live and via shadow acting, projections in/on a giant glass box which can go opaque for projections.
Evans, whose father was a Jewish dentist in Harlem, chose to follow his older brother selling women’s clothing; when they became millionaires and sold the business, he headed West to pursue an acting career.
His break came when screen icon Norma Shearer noticed the scantily-clad sportswear model at a Beverly Hills pool and chose him for the role of her late husband, celebrated M-G-M producer Irving Thalberg, in the Lon Chaney bio-pic Man of a Thousand Faces (Universal Studios).
Film writer David Thomson has an uncannily apt description of young Evans’ beauty and infectious narcissism: “His smile had the unshy self-love of a man seeing his own dazzle in the mirror.”
Evans wasn’t shy about making headlines. There were seven tumultuous marriages – one to Ali McGraw, an 80s conviction for involvement in cocaine trafficking, and an implication in a murder. Insider tidbits include his shrewd plan to get Francis Ford Coppola to make The Godfather into the family epic he wanted; Marlon Brando’s refusal to attend the Oscars on his nomination as Best Actor; Evans enlisting Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a sort of conciliatory; McGraw’s attraction to “dirty” Steve McQueen [her future husband in an abusive marriage]; and how no one understood what Chinatown was about.
The cast of characters include Paramount/Gulf & Western boss Charles Bluhdorn. Faye Dunaway, Mia Farrow, Ava Gardner, Richard Gere, Hemingway, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Roman Polanski, Mario Puzo, and Sharon Tate.
Evans was as famous as producer Samuel Goldwyn for his quips. One summed up his philosophy: “What matters most is the story. I subscribe to the idea that if you can sum up your story in a paragraph, your film will be a hit. If you can reduce it to a sentence, it will be a blockbuster.”
While 90% of reviews and audience reaction were favorable, some audience members, especially those clueless of cinema history, had difficulty keeping up with the abstractness of presenting different aspects of Evans – son, brother, actor, lover, husband, producer – portrayed by various cast members, including an actress, in “a cantata for voices.”
Michael Arditti in the Express wrote: “With a mixture of live performance and film clips, [McBurney and Yeatman] create a suitably ornate visual equivalent for Evans’s high-octane prose. The actors’ constant use of microphones is a telling symbol of Hollywood inauthenticity. The result is that rarest of things: a profound exploration of superficiality.”
Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski noted, “The great Simon McBurney offers a haunting, sense-overloading tribute to Hollywood producer Robert Evans. If La La Land celebrates Hollywood’s all-singing, all-dancing, Technicolor facade, this production from Complicite’s mastermind is a delve into its brutal black-and-white heart.”
Leslie Felperin noted in the Hollywood Reporter, “As befits the avant-garde reputation of Complicite, this dynamic production is almost constantly in tightly choreographed motion. Projectors, closed-circuit cameras, and audio effects collaborate playfully to amplify, multiply, and distort the action while footage from some of Evans’ films flickers . . . The whole noisy, giddy shebang is masterful rather than migraine-inducing.”
“It’s a cautionary tale with uncontroversial morals,” stated the Guardian’s Kate Kellaway. “For all its skilful finesse, the production is, by Complicite standards, static. What is most underwhelming is that Evans – workaholic in designer specs, is a colorful cipher . . . It’s hard to feel anything for Evans. He remains as dimensionless as his silhouette. The story stands, but does not run.”
Huston, 54, is the grandson of Walter and son of John (who co-starred in Chinatown as villain Noah Cross and literally stole the movie). Because of his linage, he was very familiar with most of those featured in the play. “I was visited by ghosts,” he said, “some are still alive, but a lot more are not.” He was born in Rome, but spent most of his childhood at the family retreat in Ireland where visitors included Lauren Bacall, Brando, Robert Mitchum, Peter O’Toole, and, among others, author John Steinbeck. “It was a hard-drinking and decadent time!”
The Kid Stays in the Picture was produced in association with Evans, theater/film producer Barbara Broccoli (eight James Bond films; West End/Broadway, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Brian Carmody, Patrick Milling Smith, and Michael G. Wilson.