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May 18, 2009


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I thought Carey Perloff put on some terrific work when she headed CSC, but then again, I had a major crush on her skillz. Just smitten.

Eric Ziegenhagen

Chicago offers several directors who are at least on par with Sher.

Bob Falls, clearly. Death of a Salesman and Desire Under The Elms both are landmark productions of those particular plays.

David Cromer, clearly. His productions of Picnic, The Glass Menagerie, Come Back Little Sheba, and (my favorite, staged in a tiny $10-a-ticket theater) The Hot L Baltimore, all were gripping, immediate productions.

Charles Newell, Artistic Director of the Court Theater. Like Falls, he has radical visions of how to suit a play, and he is on the money most of the time. Terry Teachout's review of the Court/Long Wharf production of Carousel gives a good sense of his work:

Sean Graney, Artistic Director of The Hypocrites, the company that produced Cromer's staging of Our Town last year. He's another one whose best productions serve their scripts with both reverence and complete reinvention. This review of his production of The Glass Menagerie gives a sense of his work:

I would also to the list director Bain Boehlke, who runs the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis (and often designs its sets and occasionally acts). He's a sharp, thorough, detailed director of classic American plays, always with great precision and immediacy. This review of "Bus Stop" gives some idea of his work:

I have no idea what David Cote is talking about when he makes such a sweeping and negative generalization.


Hmm. Eric, your list is suspiciously all-male.

David Cote

First, Isaac - thanks for the shout-out. Second, Eric, point taken. I did mention Cromer's OUR TOWN in the original copy but it was edited out. The piece was slanted toward recent Broadway history, but I understand if the rhetoric seemed to blur the boundaries between Broadway and the rest of American theater.


What lies deeper in this discussion is, as Isaac hinted out in the last line of his post, the ahistoricity (is that even a real word?) of America in general, not just in the post-Reagan era, but always. There is something inherit in the American character that wants only to look forward. Looking back, remembering and learning from the past, only slows us down. There's a feeling that only old, quaint places like Europe can afford to engage with their past, but not us--we have too much at stake.there's too much to be done, too much money to be made, etc. Confidence, not knowledge, is held in highest esteem here (How else do you explain the last 8 years?).


I often feel like part of the unique American tension is that we're pulled between the past and the future. It always seems like there's some segment of the population loudly saying that it was better yesterday and another segment saying it will be better tomorrow. There seems to be little actually regard for the present. How that filters into theatre is interesting. It definitely feels like the conventional wisdom is that no one is really interested in hearing about the past, but period pieces and faithful revivals dominate the landscape. It's a curious thing...


my .02


Eric Ziegenhagen

My sense is that when a production of a classic transcends "period piece" or "faithful revival" is when it fully engages in the immediate present, in the immediate moment in the theater. I'm thinking, again, of Cromer's OUR TOWN, of Curt Columbus's translations Chekhov that use American rhythms and word choices, of Brook's HAMLET; of Falls's DEATH OF A SALESMAN (and his Goodman production of KING LEAR), all of which are still set in the past, but are also deliberately set in the immedate present, in the theater in front of us. These productions were the opposite of a whitewash, the opposite of sentimental.

For whatever reasons, many of the most foolproof and quitessentially American plays are dismissed and knocked as chestnuts, as community-theater fodder: I'm thinking OUR TOWN, OF MICE AND MEN, THE CRUCIBLE and THE GLASS MENAGERIE -- when none of those three, in a good production, feel superficial or Norman Rockwell-ish or light when you're in the audience and engaged.

Last week, I happened to see THE MIRACLE WORKER (I know, THE MIRACLE WORKER!) in a 50-seat theater in Chicago. The director cut the three-act play down to an intermissionless 90 minutes, cut the play down primarily to the Keller family and Anne Sullivan, and in doing so basically distilled the script down to its immediate dilemma: what happens when a family lets one member (Helen Keller, in this case) do absolutely anything she wishes, with love and pity but no discipline or restrictions; not so different from RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. Not sentimental at all. Who knew.

P.S. Ismael, the only reason I didn't list any women directors in my comment is because the ones I would consider for this discussion aren't focused on American classics. Anne Bogart did PICNIC and there are other exceptions, but they just haven't been the plays of choice from Akalitis, Landau, Whoriskey, Anna Shapiro, Barbara Gaines, Lisa Peterson, all strong American directors but not a fit here.

I know this is tangential to a discussion of Broadway productions, but, as Cromer has proven, the signs of hope, and of commercial and large-budget theater transcending its self-imposed limitations, are out there.

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