Briefly noted: Antigone lives! Where are her modern successors?

A production of Antigone currently touring the United States has caught the attention of an Economist writer, who uses it as a springboard for comments on women’s roles in classical Greek tragedy and, briefly, in present-day American film. According to a recent report, which is quoted and linked in the post, “women comprised only 12% of lead roles in 2014’s top-grossing films (a drop of 4 percentage points since 2002), and make up less than a third of all speaking characters.” A sign, if any were needed, that Hollywood is not the new Athens.

The post says nothing about the proportion of roles allocated to women in American theater, for which statistics may be harder to come by. One wonders whether Theatre Communications Group, a national organization for nonprofit theaters, has data on such things. TCG does report the representation of women among the most-produced playwrights, which, for the 2015–16 season, is only four out of the top 20.


Briefly noted: A new stage credit, a newly restored film

The October 12 New Yorker included a report by Nick Paumgarten on a production credit you may see in a theatrical playbill someday: sex choreographer. The particular production he was writing about, of a Thomas Bradshaw play called Fulfillment, already opened and closed at The Flea in New York, but it will reopen next month at American Theater Company in Chicago.

A masterwork of the French New Wave, Jacques Rivette’s Out 1: noli me tangere, was originally released in 1971 but has seldom been seen since because of its 12-hour-plus running time. A correspondent who’s much better versed in French film than I am called it, by email, “a great, really stunning work.” The film has recently been restored and will be shown in its entirety at BAM beginning November 4. My alert correspondent discovered that a home-video release, on Blu-ray as well as DVD, will arrive later in November. You can find that news here, and a 2006 appreciation of the film by Dennis Lim here.

Notes on Maya Beiser at BAM, and an argument for allowing pictures at concerts

Rockin’ out: Jherek Bischoff, Maya Beiser, and Zachary Alford in All Vows (photo ©Stephanie Berger)

Rockin’ out: Jherek Bischoff, Maya Beiser, and Zachary Alford in All Vows (photo ©Stephanie Berger)

How do you know whether you’re at a pop-music event or a classical-music event? Sometimes you can’t tell from the music itself. Wednesday night, the All Vows show at BAM’s Fishman Space (which runs through tonight) got underway with a performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” arranged for cello, electric bass, and drum set. The first part of the program also included AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and a knockout piece that began with a fierce, blasting chord from the bass, amplified and distorted, seeming to signal the arrival of doom. This piece, called “Hellhound” and written by David T. Little, went on to confront us with something fiendish, relentless, ineluctable. It would’ve killed at a heavy-metal club. The program’s central performer, cellist Maya Beiser, has built a career in that category of mixed categories we call crossover, and part of her appeal is that she simply looks cool when she’s playing, as did her companions in this show. I was strongly tempted to pull out my phone and Instagram an image of her with her hair dancing as she delved into a riff, or of bassist Jherek Bischoff, whose sports jacket, snazzy shirt, and slicked-up hair could’ve come from a rockabilly show, or of percussionist Zachary Alford sending the cymbals flying.

Continue reading

The problem with “strong” women

Weaponized: Emily Blunt in Sicario (photo from Lionsgate)

Weaponized: Emily Blunt in Sicario (photo from Lionsgate)

In a late-September comment about Emily Blunt’s role in Sicario, I asked whether women taking up arms alongside men in TV and film is the kind of equality we really want. This form of strength isn’t a new concern for me. A few years ago, one of my friends answered my question about this by saying that, as long as so many of our movies and TV shows involve action heroes, she wants some of those heroes to be women. Sometimes I’ve avoided the issue. In a recent post about the work of a playwright (who happens to be a woman), I omitted this exchange:

How important is it to have strong female lead characters like Rosalind [Franklin]?
Hugely important! And it’s also important, I think, to show scientists (and female scientists) as human beings.

Continue reading

Briefly noted: Another opera company goes down

Yesterday, I received this email message from Gotham Chamber Opera:

From Il sogno di Scipione (2001), Gotham Chamber Opera's first production. (Photo by Richard Termine)

From Il sogno di Scipione (2001), Gotham Chamber Opera’s first production. (Photo by Richard Termine)

Dear Friends,

We wanted to write to you to express our profound sadness and to thank you for all that you have done to support our work. Our Board of Directors made the difficult decision to cease the operations of Gotham Chamber Opera, and we are beginning preparations to wind down the company.

Thank you to all our donors, audience members, artists and creative partners for fifteen glorious years of intimate opera. We hope you will share the memories with us by visiting the archives of our website and feel proud of what we were able to accomplish together.

Thank you so very much.


Neal Goren
Founding Artistic Director

Beatrice Broadwater
Board President

Alex Ross’s blog has a short post from a few days ago announcing the same thing, with a link to a New York Times report and to two columns by him on Gotham’s work. Coincidentally, the New York City Opera ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy almost exactly two years ago.

One might imagine that, as a smaller-scale operation, GCO offered lower prices than the big shows in town. Not exactly true, if memory serves; the Metropolitan Opera’s cheapest ticket is less expensive than the cheapest seat I ever saw offered by GCO, which is one reason I never saw its work. But I will miss the opportunity to see operatic productions in relatively small spaces; GCO performed in venues as intimate as (Le) Poisson Rouge and The Box, both of which are essentially nightclubs. Another thing to lament is the vanishing of what Ross called GCO’s “offbeat repertory,” which ranged from Monteverdi and Cavalli to the premier of a work by Nico Muhly; there’s a production history in the Wikipedia entry, and a detailed list is still available at GCO’s website.

Woman in a man’s world: on Anna Ziegler’s play about Rosalind Franklin

An uncredited composite image of Rosalind Franklin, from a French website

An uncredited composite image of Rosalind Franklin, from a French website

Most of us, if we encounter the names “Watson and Crick,” instantly think of them as the discoverers of the double helix. We might not recognize the name “Rosalind Franklin” at all, yet she made critical contributions, including an X-ray photograph, to the groundbreaking research on DNA. In fact, the fair thing might be to say that common perception is wrong and that the structure of DNA was deciphered, not by two people or even three, but by four: James Watson, Francis Crick, Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins (with whom Franklin worked, in a manner of speaking). But the paper announcing the discovery, published in Nature in 1953, was authored only by Watson and Crick[1], and the 1962 Nobel Prize for the discovery included Wilkins but not Franklin[2]. Early on, for a variety of reasons, she quite simply became the odd woman out. Watson, writing a highly personal account of the discovery in 1968, began to set the record straight but also added to the distortion: his book The Double Helix included her but in derisive terms. (An equal-opportunity offender, he was also critical of Crick, his own collaborator.) Nowadays, Franklin is better known, but the story of her work on the structure of DNA is still fascinating, complex, and marked with uncertainties and controversies. Considering that many professional fields are still dominated by men and that we must often speak separately of women film directors, women scientists, women playwrights, women executives, and so forth, Franklin’s tale continues to be relevant as well.

Continue reading