Thursday, March 12, 2009

Theatre Review: Theatre in Struggle

Theatre in Struggle

The Theatrical Industry is in Deep Trouble
in NYC, Around the Country, and the World

The Actor, Director and Production Unions Must Lead the Way Out of the Crisis

by Eric Green

A few weeks ago I reviewed, "August: Osage County" with the great performance of 81-year-old Estelle Parsons. [PA Blog, Feb 11th] Well you can add a few more "Older" actors to the honor roll of theatrical giants working on Broadway. This issue of age and gender is one topic of this blog.

The overriding issue is the worldwide Capitalist financial crisis; and, how it will affect the arts.

Clearly, it will take the entire theatrical world to struggle and survive the Wall Street financial crisis. The world wide reach of the crisis will directly affect international support for theater whether it is in London, New York, and every other stage around the world. Every continent has its theatre.

In the U.S. the attack by the Republican Party right wing against funding of the National Endowment of the Arts and the NE of the Humanities is just one aspect of the struggle. Fortunately, the new Administration is keeping those financial support systems in the budget.

But more will be needed. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Broadway almost went dark with peoples' fears of traveling. This crisis is far more dangerous, now, since it will affect all theatres across the country; including regional theatres. The whole Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway companies face going out of business completely. Off and OFF-OFF Broadway productions are where there are the most progressive productions.

The recent production of "Terre Haute," [PA blog Feb. 6th] the vitally important play, based on Gore Vidal's expose' of the ultra-right wing bomber, Timothy McVey, is the kind of production that will have very hard time getting produced

The "August: Osage County" piece from Steppenwolf, in Chicago, is also the kind of out-of-NY production that will also find it hard to keep going on the level that is needed in these times. The ACT Company is San Franscisco is another centerpiece of theatre that must saved and built up.

While the pressure to keep federal funding at the highest possible level, local and state governments will have to step up and provide financial support. Theatregoers will have to continue to attend and support their local theatre companies.

In fact, this is th time to establish a New Federal Theatre movement that establishes theatre companies across the country, similar but broader than the 1930s theatre movement.

Jane Fonda; Jeremy Irons; Andre' de Shields

Recent productions in NYC show the real value of theatre.

Jane Fonda, who hasn't worked in live theatre for over 46 years, is now in the Broadway run of "33 Variations" a truly creative production about the Ludwig Beethoven's "Diabelli" 33 Variations. Ms Fonda is 71 years of age and going strong. Anyone who is a Beethoven enthusiast will love this production. And, of course, Jane Fonda has a special spot in the hearts of peace and justice activists. The NY Times review by Ben Brantley [NYT Mar 10, 2009.] gave her about the highest rave that is possible.

Moise's Kaufman, a Venezuelan playwright and director, is in charge of this play and does a very good job.

"Impressionism" a play by the Michael Jacobs, directed by Jack O'Brien, stars Jeremy Irons, the great English actor, well know to moviegoers; but it is on stage where he really excels; and excels he does. Irons just turned 60. Joan Allen plays opposite Irons and does a great job. Allen is in her '50s. Marsha Mason, also a well know film star, is in the production. She is very good. Ms. Mason is 67 years old.

But, its when Andre' de Shields comes on stage that the production livens up. At 63, de Shields has a long theatrical resume'. It is great seeing him on the stage again, in a major Broadway production. De Shields is an African American actor is has worked every level of stage in NYC and across the country; and, has taught in many colleges and universities. He truly personifies live theatre production. His first major success was the 1097 production of "The Wiz." He achieved theatrical fame in 2001 in his role in the, "the Full Monty."

This eagerly awaited production has been having serious difficulties in previews. In fact, so difficult that they canceled one preview nite. They took a two-act play, and reduced it to one act. A very good move. This preview production was not just interesting, but also very entertaining.

Why do I point out the age, gender and race of these actors? Simple, while age discrimination against older actors, male and female, is rampant in Hollywood filmmaking; and gender and race bias is still rampant in films, there is greater fairness in the legitimate theater world.

This is similar to the anti-communism that gripped the film industry in the 1950s and into later years; the theatrical world resisted that illegal, vicious, inhumane and undemocratic activity. The economic crisis will surely put added pressure in both the film and theater industries. It will be up to the actor, director and production unions to lead the way against unscrupulous producers who might want to use the crisis to the own ends.

We can all do our part in supporting those unions: SAG; AFTRA; NABET; IATSE; Teamsters; Actors Equity; American Fed. of Musicians, and the others.

Affording Theatre Tickets

Don't be discouraged with the price of theatrical tickets. The recent years theater prices have gone through the roof. Well, that ticket prices are coming down, but they are still very high.

Every theater company has special prices for their tickets. Go to their websites to find out what they are. In New York City, the Theatre Development Fund [TDF] offers special prices for almost all Broadway shows; and Off Broadway theatrical productions. Check out their website to see if you qualify. Also, in NYC, on Broadway at about 48th Street there is a Same Day ticket purchase, which also offers good ticket prices. Theatres across the country are making the same offers.