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Josh Radnor, Gretchen Mol Open in Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Disgraced’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

There is a chilling, heart-stopping moment at the height of Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar’s sharp and engrossing Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opened on Broadway last night at the Lyceum Theatre. Once you recover from the shock of it, you’ll wonder how you allowed yourself to be so caught off guard.

Disgraced4Maybe you were busy admiring the seductive surfaces of director Kimberly Senior’s sleek, vivid production, getting wrapped up in the lives of the über smart, affluent and self-possessed thirty-somethings onstage, who seem to embody every astute, aspiring young person’s idea of That Perfect New York Life.

Amir (Hari Dhillon), a dapper corporate lawyer and second-generation Pakistani immigrant, and his wife Emily (Gretchen Mol), a thoughtful, blossoming visual artist, share an enviable, impeccably modern Manhattan apartment and cut a prime yet casual example of cross-cultural harmony. While Emily mines Islamic forms and aesthetic ideals in her latest work, Amir is a self-professed and often vocal apostate to Islam.

Disgraced2The drama begins when Amir’s nephew Abe (Danny Ashok) asks him to offer legal counsel to an imam imprisoned (falsely, Abe believes) on suspicion of funding Hamas. Amir strongly resists stepping in, while Emily urges him to help. Fast-forward several weeks when Emily has a shot at being included in a show at the Whitney. The curator Isaac (Josh Radnor), husband to a close colleague of Amir’s, Jory (Karen Pittman), visits to view Emily’s work. Jump ahead another few months to find the four friends gathering for an intimate dinner party.

Akhtar’s drama unspools a number of distinct threads that come together only in its explosive, compelling climax. Above all, it’s a play about ideas and appearances—intelligent, grounded people who think they know who they are and what they believe, until they don’t. The play raises provocative questions—about identity, race, faith, art, love and at times, the whole of human history. This is, of course, no small feat in 90 minutes and could easily go down like a giant pill.

DisgracedBut Akhtar’s characters are people you want to know, and uniformly excellent performances from the cast make you feel as though you already do. The heady and pressing questions that arise are firmly grounded in the very human and messy drama unfolded onstage. That they come from the mouths of characters so convincingly rendered makes them all the more haunting.

Senior, who also directed the play’s Off-Broadway premiere at Lincoln Center Theatre in 2012, does fine work balancing the Akhtar’s litany of nuanced perspectives on hot-button issues. For a drama so much about visual surfaces, the production’s design adds rich texture to the story, including the set by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Jennifer Von Mayrhauser and lighting by Kenneth Posner. 

In the time between the play's first production and its Broadway premiere, the context in which we hear and understand its core dilemma has changed dramatically, with renewed violence in the Middle East and racial tensions at home. Akhtar's drama certainly doesn't have the answers, but it asks the poignant questions.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


The Story of Gay Rugby Star Gareth Thomas is Coming to the Stage

A stage play about the life of gay Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas is in development, Wales Online reports:

ThomasA joint production between National Theatre Wales and Out of Joint, it tells the story of the former Wales rugby captain who came out as gay five years ago.

Alfie has been involved in the production, which is described as telling “a great Welsh story about sport, politics, secrets, life and learning to be yourself.”

Full details about the show’s tour, and its cast, are to be announced in the new year.

Writer Robin Soans is known for his documentary verbatim plays based on interviews with real people, and it is being directed by Max Stafford-Clark.

The announcement said: “This is the story of two Welsh names bruised, but not beaten, by media speculation; Gareth “Alfie” Thomas, 100 caps for Wales, once its captain, now the world’s most prominent gay sportsman; and his hometown, Bridgend.”

National Theatre Wales' artistic director John McGrath said: "National Theatre Wales has always set out to tell great Welsh stories, and they don't come much greater than this. Gareth Thomas is a hero to thousands of people, and his journey from world-class rugby player to world-class gay rights campaigner is extraordinary.

An upcoming movie about Thomas stars Mickey Rourke. Over the summer Rourke told Jimmy Kimmel about a scene in which he shares a bath with another man:

“There’s a scene where I’m in the tub with another guy and I remove my teeth at the front and put them on the edge of the bath – you know, before we get it on."


Theatre News: A New Hedwig, Pacino Back on Broadway, 'Once' Closing, Upcoming Sondheim Musical

Michael c hall

This month in theatre news, Broadway gets a new Hedwig, Once sets closing date, Pacino teams with Mamet and Sondheim at work on a new musical.

> Michael C. Hall began performances last week in the title role of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, stepping in after Girls star Andrew Rannells completed his 8-week run as the trans rocker. Hall, best known for Dexter and Six Feet Under, was just on Broadway last spring in Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses. No stranger to gender fluidity, he previously played several stints as the Emcee in Roundabout Theatre Company’s 1998 production of Cabaret. Hall will continue as Hedwig through January 4.

Once> Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical Once announced a closing date of January 4 at the Jacobs Theatre. Based on the acclaimed Oscar-winning film of the same name, the Dublin-set musical about a passionate and unlikely romance featuring an ensemble of actor-musicians, will have played 1,167 regular performances and 22 previews. The show’s U.S. national tour continues and a number of international productions are currently running or in development, including a West End production that will close in March of next year.

> Producers announced that Al Pacino will return to Broadway next fall in China Doll, a new play by David Mamet. In a statement, the playwright described it as “a play about a wealthy man, his young fiancé, and an airplane […] I wrote it for Al. It is better than oral sex.” The new play will be directed by Pam MacKinnon and produced by Jeffery Richards, Jerry Frankel and Steve Traxler at a Shubert theatre to be determined.

Stephen-Sondheim-08> Lincoln Center Theatre announced two new additions to its 2015 docket: Shows for Days, a new comedy by Douglas Carter Beane (The Nance, The Little Dog Laughed) set in a 1970s community theatre, to be directed by Jerry Zaks Off Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, and Preludes, a new musical by Dave Malloy, directed by Rachel Chavkin (creators of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) about Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff at LCT3’s Claire Tow Theatre.

> Stephen Sondheim is at work on a new musical with playwright David Ives (Venus in fur) based on two films by Spanish director Luis Buñuel, The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, according to the New York Times. The Public Theatre and Scott Rudin are producing the new work. No timeline has been set; Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public, said in a statement, “We will do it whenever Steve tells us to.”

> Producer Kevin McCollum announced that Robert Askins' dark comedy Hand to God starring Steven Boyer will open on Broadway at the Booth Theatre on April 7, 2015 with previews beginning March 12. Featuring a critically-acclaimed performance by Boyer as a young man whose hand puppet takes on a demonic life of its own, the play was previously produced at Ensemble Studio Theatre and again at MCC Theater earlier this spring. Moritz von Stuelpnagel directs.

 


Alan Cumming Discusses the Shia LaBeouf Butt-Grabbing 'Cabaret' Incident: VIDEO

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Last week, actor Shia LaBeouf appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and told an insane story about the night he drank too much last June and ended up in a jail cell after causing a scene at a performance of Cabaret on Broadway and grabbing actor Alan Cumming's butt in the process.

Cumming told Conan O'Brien his side of the story last night and showed some concern for LaBeouf's state of mind. He said that the cast of the show that night was "freaking out because somebody seemed to be a crazy person in the audience", or "a LaBeouf quality to the air" as Conan puts it.

Cumming says that he thinks LaBeouf has "made a good recovery" in the public eye given the craziness of the incident and forgives him also given the fact that he said Cumming is "the sexiest guy he's ever seen."

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

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David Mixner on Activism, History, and His One-Man Sold-Out NYC Show 'Oh Hell No': INTERVIEW

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BY ANDY TOWLE

One week from today on October 27, longtime LGBT and civil rights activist David Mixner will take the stage at New World Stages for the world premiere of Oh Hell No!, a theatrical, autobiographical (and occasionally musical) one-man-show in which he will plumb the depths of his history to deliver a storytelling session that promises a few shocks, his signature wisdom, and a hefty dose of humor.

The more than $175,000 in proceeds from Mixner's show, which sold out in less than a day, will benefit The Point Foundation, an organization he has long supported. The Point Foundation empowers promising LGBTQ students with scholarships and enables them to achieve their full academic and leadership potential.

Mixner's activist role in numerous moments in our nation's social struggles — from anti-Vietnam efforts to battling California's Proposition 6 (which would have made it illegal for gays to become schoolteachers), to battling the AIDS epidemic, to the very public split with his friend Bill Clinton over the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, (the list goes on) — has given him one of the most fascinating and unique perspectives on the LGBT and civil rights movement you're likely to find.

I had a chance to sit down with Mixner, who is also a contributor to Towleroad, to talk about his generous gift and what he has in store for audiences.

OhhellnoOn September 27, you wrote on Facebook, "One month away and I am scared to death already! What have I done????" What did possess you to do such a thing and what about it scares you the most?

In February, I almost died in intensive care and I realized that so much of the history that I have witnessed over the last five decades hasn't been shared. Each day as another pioneer of this movement passes without an oral history we are losing a part of ourselves. What scares me the most is that someone will believe that my story is the definitive history of the LGBT movement. It is only about my journey and my recollections. I don't want to diminish anyone else's story or their differing memories.

How do you prepare for such an undertaking?

Practice, practice, and more practice. I have an incredible team working with me. Director Stephen Brackett (Buyer & Cellar) and Musical Director Mat Eisenstein are simply astoundingly talented. Producer Tim Ranney came up with the idea and the team at Point Foundation has been amazingly talented. I'm so proud that we have raised enough funds through this show already to send seven LGBT students to college for a full year!

Why did you choose The Point Foundation as the beneficiary of the proceeds from your show?

I love the concept of being responsible for the next generation of LGBT Americans. The Point Foundation is supporting some of the best and brightest of American LGBT youth.

What part of performing the show do you find the most challenging?

Without question, talking about my personal journey with HIV/AIDS and the loss of friends. It devastates me every time when I have to share publicly about it. Of course, there is the old fashion fear of falling flat on your ass in front of a powerful audience filled with friends.

Did you grow up doing theatre? Do you have any history as a 'showman'?

Actually, no. I did grow up on the old Southern/rural tradition of storytelling. My Grandpa Grove (aka Buzzard Bait) taught me the art and I was riveted by his stories. Storytelling was a powerful art form before the advent of modern media. Only once have I done a similar production, called "From The Front Porch", and "Oh Hell No!" is part two. Of course, I have a little bit of the 'preacher man' in me and I have spoken publicly for all my life.

Your previous show "From The Front Porch" - do you consider that a sort of preparation for this production or are they two separate things entirely?

After the first one, which was well received, I didn't think I would ever do it again. That one was off-off-Broadway at Dixon Place. After being critically ill and in February, I felt an urgency to get more of our history out to the masses. This one will be at New World Stages and is more elaborate in its staging. The two fit together almost perfectly as Part I and Part II.

What can people who were lucky enough to get tickets expect from this one?

Besides an entertaining and moving evening of storytelling, they have a right to believe that I will be honest, forthcoming and not sugarcoat difficult periods in our history. Actually, we could do ten of these shows and only scratch the surface of the stories that need to be passed on to future generations.

DmixnerWhat parts of your show do you think will surprise folks the most?

Oh, there is no question there will be surprises. I plan on a very frank discussion of the dialogue I had with President Clinton and members of his team around the issue of LGBT Americans serving in the military. I have never spoken of these meetings before this production.

I will also speak for the first time about some highly illegal activities that I engaged in during the HIV/AIDS crisis. However, the art of storytelling is not about 'shock value'. It is about passing on knowledge in a funny and moving way.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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North Carolina High School Cancels Play With Gay Scene for 'Sexually-Explicit Overtones'

53-5-K_a3jrgB8cRuJZfSKFAfSyyOKmo9eL7g5Ea0b0Though in 2010, it became the most widely-produced play among American High Schools, "Almost, Maine" has been cancelled due to opposition at a North Carolina high school, Maiden High School. The play is made up of nine vignettes about love, and one of the vignettes is about a gay couple. 

According to WSOC, “some parents and area churches complained”  about the play. The school then decided "Almost, Maine" was too controversial, cancelling it. In a statement on the decision, the school's Principal Rob Bliss (pictured) cited “sexually-explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendos that are not aligned with our mission and educational objectives.”

According to a Maiden student, Conner Baker, who spoke with ThinkProgress, the students had already paid for rights to produce the play — a cool $300. The show had already auditioned and was in rehearsals.


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