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Posts Tagged ‘Drama

“A novelist may lose his readers for a few pages; a playwright never dares lose his audience for a minute”*…

 

Archaeologists working in southeastern China have identified the tomb of Tang Xianzu, a renowned late 16th-century playwright who is often dubbed the country’s Shakespeare.

Known for his defiance of nobles in the Ming dynasty, Tang specialized in exploring the triumph of humanity over hierarchy and authority through works like The Peony Pavilion, which depicted a poor scholar’s love for a noblewoman. In the 55-scene drama, Tang portrays the struggles of a relationship imbued with supernatural power—a young woman is brought back to life by the handsome scholar she had fallen in love with in a dream. The woman’s father, a nobleman, accuses the scholar of being a grave robber (link in Chinese) and has him imprisoned. Fortunately, in a theme that must still resonate today, the scholar is pardoned after securing excellent results in an imperial examination.

Tang died at the age of 66 in 1616, the same year that saw the death of English playwright William Shakespeare…

More at “Archaeologists have found the tomb of China’s Shakespeare.”

* Terence Rattigan

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As we note that Shakespeare might be known as the Tang of England, we might spare a thought for Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev; he died on this date in 1883.  A novelist, short story writer, and playwright, he helped define Russian Realism with his first book, A Sportsman’s Sketches (1852); his 1862 novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century fiction.

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Written by LW

September 3, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above / Don’t fence me in”*…

 

All of humanity could fit in a building the size of this red box, though it wouldn’t be very comfortable…

The human urge to own land sometimes borders on the absurd… Do we have too many cities with too few people in them? (Answer: Yes!) But there’s an implicit question embedded in that notion of anti-NIMBY place-making, once posed by Leo Tolstoy: “How much land does a man need?”

Tolstoy’s answer was pretty grim. But leave it to a YouTuber to take that existential literary question literally by asking, “How much land does humanity need?”

That’s the issue enterprising online video-maker Joseph Pisenti explores on his channel, Real Life Lore.

Pisenti ups the ante on the density game by examining two more specific questions in three videos: How large would a city need to be to fit all of humanity, and how big would a building need to be fit every human being?…

More metropolitan musing– and all three of the videos– at “Could the Human Race Fit in a Single City?

* Lyric from the song “Don’t Fence Me In”; music by Cole Porter, lyrics by Porter, adapted from a poem by Robert Fletcher.  Originally written in 1934 for an unproduced film musical (Adios, Argentina), it was recorded a decade later by Roy Rogers, and (almost simultaneously) Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters; later it was covered by Ella Fitzgerald, and many others.

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As we speculate about space, we might spare a thought for Jean-Baptiste Poquelin; he died on this date in 1673.  Better known by his stage name, Molière, he was a respected French actor who became one of the great comedic playwrights in Western literature.  His worldy farces– The Misanthrope, The School for Wives, Tartuffe, The Miser, The Imaginary Invalid, and The Bourgeois Gentleman.–  earned him popular adulation… and the scorn of moralists and the Catholic Church.  At the time of his death, French law forbade the burial of actors in the sacred ground of a cemetery. But Molière’s widow, Armande, asked the King if her spouse could be granted a normal funeral at night.  The King– a fan– agreed, and Molière’s body was buried in the section of a cemetery reserved for unbaptized infants.  (Molière’s remains were later transferred to grand Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and re-laid to rest near those of La Fontaine.)

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Written by LW

February 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination”*…

 

“share-en-shnit-uh,” from the German, meaning “the art of cutting paper into decorative designs”

Last Wednesday,285 participants 15 years old and younger took the stage in National Harbor, Maryland to recite words they’ve probably never used in conversation; the finals were held the following evening.  For the third year in a row, the result was a tie; the title was shared by  Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., who were declared co-champions after fighting to a draw during 39 rounds of competition.  Jairam’s final word in the competition was “Feldenkrais” (a trademark that refers to a system of aided body movements); Nihar’s, “gesellschaft,” (a type of social relationship).

 “A lot of it is luck, to be totally honest,” says 2006 winner Kerry Close, now a 23-year-old reporter at Money Magazine. “There’s maybe a dozen, maybe more, kids who have a realistic shot of winning,” says Close. “Who actually wins comes down to pretty much who’s asked the right word.”

Ten of the final words from previous Scripps bees, and the reason why spelling them is such a feat: “Why these winning words from US National Spelling bees are so hard to spell.”

* Mark Twain

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As we ask that it be used in a sentence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that poet and playwright (Shakespeare’s nearest rival) Christopher Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl.  Marlowe reputedly supplemented his income as a spy; in any case, he ran afoul of Queen Elizabeth’s government when, earlier in the month, his roommate, fellow playwright Thomas Kyd, was grilled by authorities.  Kyd insisted that the “heretical” papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested, but was able to use his connections to arrange bail.  While out Marlowe became involved in a fight– ostensibly over a tavern bill, but believed by many to have been a set-up– and was stabbed to death.

The 1585 portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1953, believed to be of the 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe.  The inscribed motto is “QVOD ME NVTRIT ME DESTRVIT,” “that which nourishes me destroys me.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

May 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

“What is that unforgettable line?”*…

 

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Samuel Beckett: avant-garde dramatist, brooding Nobel Prize winner, poet, and…gritty television detective?

Sadly, no, but he had the makings of a great one, at least as cut together by playwright Danny Thompson, cofounder of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck.

Some twenty five years after Beckett’s death, Thompson—whose credits include the Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett as Found in a Dustbin in Paris in an Envelope (Partially Burned) Labeled: Never to Be Performed. Never. Ever. Ever! Or I’ll Sue! I’ll Sue From the Grave!!!repurposed Rosa Veim and Daniel Schmid’s footage of the moody genius wandering around 1969 Berlin into the opening credits of a nonexistent, 70s era Quinn Martin police procedural.

The title sequence hits all the right period notes, from the jazzy graphics to the presentation of its supporting cast: Andre the Giant, Jean Paul Sartre, and Jean “Huggy Bear” Cocteau. (Did you know that Beckett drove a young Andre the Giant to school in real life?)

Thompson ups the verisimilitude by copping Pat Williams’ theme for The Streets of San Francisco and naming the imaginary pilot episode after a collection of Beckett’s short stories

More background– and other (real) 70s title sequences for reference, at “Watch the Opening Credits of an Imaginary 70s Cop Show Starring Samuel Beckett.”

* Samuel Beckett

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As we wait for you-know-whom, we might recall that it was on this date in 1983 that the Apollo Theater in Harlem was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1913-14 as Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, and designed by George Keister in the neo-Classical style, the Apollo fell on hard times in the 20s and limped along until, under new management in the 30s, it became a mecca of the Swing Era.  It featured musical acts including Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Webb, and Count Basie, dance acts such as Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers.  And though the theater concentrated on showcasing African-American acts, it also presented such white performers as Harry James, Woody Herman and Charlie Barnet during the swing era, and, later, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Buddy Rich, who was a particular favorite of the Apollo crowd.

The Apollo’s “Amateur Night,” a Monday-night talent contest launched many storied careers, from Ella Fitzgerald and Thelma Carpenter to Jimi Hendrix (who won in 1964).  Others whose careers were hatched or given an early boost at the Apollo include Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown & The Famous Flames, King Curtis, Diana Ross &The Supremes, Parliament-Funkadelic, Wilson Pickett, The Miracles, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Rush Brown, Stephanie Mills, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Short, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Jazmine Sullivan, Ne-Yo, and Machine Gun Kelly.

Restored 10 years ago, the venue draws an estimated 1.3 million visitors a year.

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Written by LW

November 17, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are”*…

 

Riverside Shakespeare Company production of The Mandrake Root, at the Casa Italia, New York, 1979, with a young Tom Hanks (center). Photograph by W. Stuart McDowell – Source

Most familiar today as the godfather of Realpolitik and as the eponym for all things cunning and devious, the Renaissance thinker Niccolò Machiavelli also had a lighter side, writing as he did a number of comedies. Christopher S. Celenza looks at perhaps the best known of these plays, Mandragola [The Mandrake Root], and explores what it can teach us about the man and his world…

More at “Machiavelli, Comedian.”

* Niccolò Machiavelli

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As we ponder power, we might recall that it was on this date in 1515 that Thomas Wolsey was invested as a Cardinal.  Henry VIII became King of England in 1509; Wolsey became the King’s almoner.  Wolsey’s affairs prospered, and by 1514 he had becomeLord Chancellor, the King’s chief adviser– the controlling figure in virtually all matters of state, and extremely powerful within the Church. (His elevation to Cardinal gave him precedence even over the Archbishop of Canterbury.)

He fell from the King’s graces after failing to negotiate an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and was stripped of his government titles.  He retreated to York to fulfill his ecclesiastical duties as Archbishop of York, a position he had nominally held but had neglected during his years in government.  He was recalled to London to answer to charges of treason—a common charge used by Henry against ministers who fell out of favor—but died en route of natural causes.

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Written by LW

September 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”*…

 

If New York, as E.B. White said, is a city that “never quite catches up with itself,” no one may be more aware of it than [Paul] Schweitzer. He is believed to be among the nation’s last typewriter repairmen, and he largely rejects computers, iPhones, laptops, and even credit cards in his workplace. Like a speaker of a vanishing language, he laments the loss of his tribe.

“There are fewer and fewer of us that do this,” he said. “Years ago, if you looked at the yellow pages, there were six pages of typewriter companies in Manhattan. Now, there’s us.”…

The poignant– and powerful– story of “The Last of the Typewriter Men.”

* Ernest Hemingway

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As we tap away, we might send darkly humorous birthday greetings to Samuel Barclay Beckett; he was born on this date in 1906.  A novelist, poet, and theatrical director, Beckett is best remembered as the playwright who created (with Eugéne Ionesco) what Martin Esslin dubbed “The Theater of the Absurd.”  His Modernist masterpieces– Krapp’s Last Tape and Waiting for Godot, for instance had a profound influence on writers like Václav Havel, John Banville, Tom Stoppard, and Harold Pinter.  Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

No mean typist, Beckett turned out typescript for James Joyce (to whom he was an assistant in the 1920s), for the French Resistance during World War II, and of course, for himself.

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Written by LW

April 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising”*…

 

A ghostsign for Black Cat cigarettes

 

Ghostsigns are the typically faded remains of advertising that was once painted by hand onto the brickwork of buildings.  In 2006 London resident Sam Roberts began the Ghostsigns Project, collecting the work amateurs and professionals in appreciation of the painted history found on walls around the world.

Philadelphia Belting Company (Lawrence O’Toole)

 

More at Ghostsigns

* Mark Twain

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As we admire ancient advertising, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that Archibald MacLeish’s JB premiered at the ANTA Playhouse in New York.  The play, a retelling of the Biblical story of Job in free verse, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for Best Play and Best Direction (Elia Kazan).

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Written by LW

December 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

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