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August 30, 2018
 
Lindsay Kemp performing Kemp Dreams Kabuki Courtesans in Florence in 2017. (When Kemp took his show Onnagata to Japan in the nineties, the crown princess entertained him in the Imperial Palace.) (Photograph: Maurizio Degl'Innocenti/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock)
1.   TEARING THE VEIL
 
This Saturday, August 25, British choreographer, mime, and gender-fucking drag artist Lindsay Kemp passed through the veil in Livorno, Tuscany. 
 
A viaionary, Kemp influenced the work of Kate Bush, Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel—and especially David Bowie.
 
In 2016, Kemp told The Guardian, “You need to liberate an audience, put them under a spell—it makes the heart surgery less painful. And that kind of mesmerism or hypnotism, I acquired at a very early age in order to stave off the bully’s blows or the mocking of the crowd. I made them laugh; I put them under my spell.”
 
Raised by his impoverished single mother in the coastal English town of South Shields, Kemp started his performing career by doing camp turns in working men’s pubs. Then he studied drawing at Bradford Art College with David Hockney and Hockney took him to see his first ballet at Sadler’s Wells. By the sixties, Kemp was running his own dance company. 
 
He met Bowie in 1966, when the 19-year-old singer attended Kemp’s movement classes in Covent Garden. 
 
In this piece in The Guardian, Kemp remembers the first dance class that he taught the young rocker. “David was a huge hit with the ladies,” he recalls, “especially during the improvisations—improvising sailors drowning at sea, animals hunting their prey. Those ladies would have devoured him like the Maenads devouring Dionysus. He seemed quite pleased about it all and came back for another class.”
 
Kemp and Bowied enjoyed a brief romantic relationship and an ongoing professional collaboration. In 1972, Kemp choreographed Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust concerts. 
 
Then, in 1974, Kemp had a breakout hit with Flowers, a mime and dance adaptation of Jean Genet’s novel Our Lady of the Flowers.
 
When I was 21, I saw Flowers in London and I still remember Kemp’s entrance. In silence, he glided—very, very slowly—across a raised walkway that was the width of the stage. Beaded skullcap. Flowing robe. Breathlessness. Then he disappeared, reappeared at stage level and crossed the stage again in the opposite direction. It was an extraordinary combination of delicacy and command. 
 
+ The Guardian has assembled Kemp’s life in pictures

IIf you think RuPaul’s Drag Raceis progressive, well…44 years ago Lindsay Kemp was scrambling gender binaries, not reinforcing them. Check out this video to smell those Flowers
 
...


 
When I was a young actor, it was fashionable in my circle to diss Neil Simon because he was commercially successful. We were idiots. (Photo by Irving Penn for Condé Nast)
2.   THE FINAL HIT
 
Neil Simon is dead. On August 26, the prolific playwright succumbed to complications from pneumonia—and I have never seen so many tributes and obituaries in the theatre press.  
 
The attention is justified. Simon, who is the author of Barefoot in the ParkThe Odd Couple, and Brighton Beach Memoirs, among many other scripts, was the most commercially successful American playwright of the twentieth century. Twice—in the 60s and then again in the 80s—he had four hit shows running simultaneously on Broadway. 
 
As Playbill notes, “Fifteen of his plays and musicals were nominated for Tony Awards. Three won: The Odd Couple in 1965, Biloxi Blues in 1985, and Lost in Yonkers—his last big Broadway hit—in 1991. The latter also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year.”
 
In this piece in the Los Angeles Times, Charles McNulty writes, “It may be hard for niche-inhabiting denizens of the internet era to appreciate the phenomenal popularity of playwright Neil Simon, who died Sunday at 91. When his name was regularly on the marquees, the theater was the center of the middle-class universe.”
 
McNulty borrows from author William Goldman who described standing outside the Plymouth Theatre on a cold morning in February, 1968 after Simon’s Plaza Suite had opened. According to Goldman, the line for the box office tripled in a couple of hours and never shortened throughout the day. The theatregoers, who were undaunted by the fact that they were buying tickets for shows in April, were, Goldman said, “well dressed, most of them — men with briefcases, women with children in strollers — and they were perfectly content to stand there, waiting their turn to buy tickets for the first real blockbuster to hit Broadway in 798 days”—which is how long it had been since Simon’s previous hit. 
 
Brighton Beach Memoirs launched Matthew Broderick’s career and Barefoot in the Park made Robert Redford a star. Simon’s halo effect was huge: according to The Guardian, his works brought an unparalleled 50 Tony nominations for their actors.
 
Simon collaborated on the musicals Little Me; Sweet Charity; Promises, Promises; and They’re Playing Our Song. And he was a script doctor on A Chorus Line
 
He was nominated for Oscars for The Goodbye GirlCalifornia Suite, The Sunshine Boys, and The Odd Couple.
 
+ Here’s critic Jesse Green on why he prefers Simon’s early works and here’s critic Charles McNulty on why he prefers the plays from later in Simon’s career.
 
+ These are some of the best quotes from early in Simon’s rise and from this week:
            
     Critic Clive Barnes: ““Neil Simon is destined to remain rich, successful and        underrated.”
 
     Performer Josh Radnor: “There was no sweeter sound a young actor could
     hear than the laughter of Neil Simon during your audition.” 
 
     Playwright and TV writer Lucy Prebble: “A certain Broadway era is over with      the death of writer Neil Simon. In 2004, he received a kidney transplant from      his press agent, which is really getting your ten percent back.”
 
     Simon in 1997: “I know that I have reached the pinnacle of rewards. There’s      no more money anyone can pay me that I need. There are no awards they        can give me that I haven’t won. I have no reason to write another play                except that I am alive and I like to do it.”
...

 
Lynn Nottage has won two Pulitzer Prizes but as a person of colour—and as a woman—she is still an outlier on Broadway. 

3.   NOW IS THE TIME
 
I’ve watched a lot of Lynn Nottage videos. This is by far the best one.
 
In it, she talks about Sweat, the play she won her second Pulitzer Prize for in 2017. In 2009, she won her first for Ruined. (This October, the Arts Club is producing Sweat at the Stanley. Get your tickets here.)
 
Sweat is about how a lay-off at a manufacturing plant threatens to break up a group of friends who hang out in a working-class bar. It’s about race, economics, and immigration. Even though Nottage wrote Sweat before Trump was a recognizable threat, the play is about Trump’s America. 
 
In this video, Nottage explains how she researched Sweat by going to Reading, Pennsylvania, which was, at that time, the poorest city of its size in the US. Hearing citizens talk about the tenuousness of their lives, Nottage told them, “Your experience sounds very much like the African-American experience.” 
 
“That’s what motivated me to write the play,” she explains. And she goes on: “I thought, ‘Let me listen and let me lead with my empathy.’ And I think that’s why Sweat is the play that it is: because it’s truthful and it’s complicated and you have to enter into that complication.”
 
This seven-minute video also contextualizes Nottage’s work. In it, we hear her describing how early approval from her parents hooked her on applause: “I can still hear it. I can still see their smiles.”

And she considers the broader ramifications of her success: “For young women of colour I think now is the moment to sort of spread your wings and make art because there is space and there is going to continue to be space. And winning the Pulitzer Prize, I think what it’s saying to the world is that there is value in our stories—and people are finally sitting up and taking notice.” 
...


 
Stratford police are investigating a hate crime committed against actor David Collins. 
4.   RACISTS CAN’T SPELL
 
David Collins, a 56-year-old actor who has been at the Stratford Festival for ten seasons, was the victim of a recent hate crime. 
 
On August 22, when Collins, who is black, was heading to work, he noticed a note tucked under the windshield of his car. It read, “Haill (sic) Hitler.”
 
Somebody had also knocked over Collins’s recycling and leaf bags and tossed the contents around. 
 
"I foolishly assumed things had changed,” Collins told the CBC. “But, in the last couple of years, everything just seems to be escalating back to the way it was.” Collins associates this regression with the rise of Trump. 
 
Collins now sleeps with a baseball bat by his front door and he double checks his locks. 
...


 
Luisa Jojic is starring in Lysistrata, one of the best shows at Bard on the Beach this season. 
5.   SEEING THINGS

Lysistrata   I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun at a sex strike. In this play by Aristophanes—which is 2,029 years old, by the way—an Athenian woman named Lysistrata convinces the women of Greece to withhold their favours until the men stop going to war. Director Lois Anderson and her collaborator, playwright Jennifer Wise, have their way with the script. They introduce a framing device, for instance, in which an all-female acting troupe is performing Hamlet at Bard on the Beach. Amazingly, this conceit works. Although it takes a while for this adaptation to find its focus, it’s always funny and, by the end of Act 2, the themes of misogyny and degradation of the planet intertwine to moving effect. Barbara Clayden’s costumes, which are made of found objects, are absolutely freaking brilliant. Excellent work from the cast, including Quelemia Sparrow—often as a wacky version of herself—and Sebastien Archibald as a VPD officer. 

Here’s my full review. Here’s where to get your tickets. This Bard on the Beach production runs in rep in the tent they call the Douglas Campbell Theatre until September 13. 

 
Timon of Athens   With her Bard on the Beach production of Timon of Athens, director Meg Roe takes a famously problematic play and…leaves it pretty problematic. Because Roe’s interpretation never really lets us into the heart of the wealthy title character, her production becomes flat and repetitive. Roe dresses things up—she has Timon tear apart Drew Facey’s innovative set, for instance—but these choices feel showy rather than revelatory. Still, there is some strong work in this mostly female cast—from Moya O’Connell as a steward named Flavius, for instance, and Marci T. House as the grumpy philosopher Apemantus. Mara Gottler’s costumes—including a breathtaking parade of footwear—are to die for. 

Read my full review here. And get your tickets here. This Bard on the Beach production runs in rep in the Douglas Campbell Theatre in Vanier Park until September 9.


As You Like It   This the show to see this summer. Book now or don’t come whining to me when it sells out as it certainly will. Director Daryl Cloran has cut almost half of Shakespeare’s text and filled the holes with Beatles songs. It might have been a disaster, but it works. The production is full of stellar performances—notably from Nadeem Phillip, Ben Carlson, Kayvon Koshkam, Ben Elliott, and Harveen Sandhu. Cloran has set his production in BC in the 60s and costumer Carmen Alatorre runs the risk of giving old hippies like me acid flashbacks with her costumes: they are fantastic. 

If you want to know more about this gem, read my full review. Here’s where to get your ticketsAs You Like It is running in rep until September 22 in the Mainstage tent at Bad on the Beach, but don’t let that long run lull you into complacency. Buy your tickets now. I mean it. 

 
Macbeth   There’s a lot of hollering in director Chris Abraham’s mostly straightforward take on the Scottish play. With the witches, though, he gets more adventuresome: playing them, Kate Besworth, Harveen Sandhu, and Emma Slipp congeal out of sorrow on the battlefield and quickly slip into demented laughter. The lush mostly Elizabethan costumes—there’s some medieval armour thrown in—are by Christine Reimer. 

Here’s my full review. Get your tickets here. Macbeth runs in rep in the Mainstage tent at Bard on the Beach until September 13.
 
 
Please consider making a pledge to my PATREON CAMPAIGN, the fundraising initiative that allows me to keep writing about theatre. 

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