Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Ragtime"

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AMAZING RESPONSES

to my letter to
Mayor Martin J. Walsh

FROM

13 September 2014
Joyce Linehan
Chief of Policy
Office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh
617-635-1414
joyce.linehan@boston.gov

Larry-
Thanks for your note to Mayor Walsh. He asked me to respond. He and I also believe that the arts can be a catalyst for social change and healing, and appreciate your ideas. The Walsh Administration’s commitment to the arts is genuine, and I believe that even in the infancy of this administration, we have proved that. We are in the final stages of a nationwide search for an Arts Commissioner – the first one the City has had in decades. Look for an announcement very soon, and let’s be prepared to welcome the person who will help us create the plan that will see Boston become a municipal arts leader. Though the budget for this year was largely formed before we got to City Hall, we committed to matching the contribution the Massachusetts Cultural Council makes to the Boston Cultural Council, which will enable us to DOUBLE the amount of grants we give to small and medium sized arts organizations in town. This was one of just four additions to the tight budget we were faced with. The only other additions were for increased K1 seats, the establishment of an Office of Recovery Services, and additional resources for trauma treatment in neighborhood health centers. This gives you an idea of where the Mayor sees the arts in his personal priorities. We realize that what we’ve done so far is just the start. When the new Commissioner gets here, we will work with him or her to identify revenue sources that can help us build a great department. We’re excited to see where this will take us, and hope the rest of the arts community is as well.

What you are asking us to do – produce and market a play – is really outside of our charge, not to mention our skill set. (In fact, I believe that City Hall shouldn’t really even be in the programming business. Rather, we should work on ways to support those who do programming well. Ultimately, it will be up to the new commissioner to set that course, but if he or she decides to listen to me at all, that’s what I will tell them!) Therefore, we are going to put your idea back on the theater community. The Boston Cultural Council is currently accepting grant applications for FY15 (http://bostonculturalcouncil.com/). Any arts organization can apply, and we are always happy to talk to anyone about use of the Strand. It’s affordable, and there has been much investment in the building in recent years, making it a good place to work. As with all Strand programming, we are happy to have the team in the Arts office think about ways we might reach particular constituencies.

 Thanks for your advocacy.
Sincerely,
Joyce Linehan

FROM

Charles McEnerney
10 September 2014

Larry: 
Hi; I’m working with the Mayor’s Office of Arts + Culture and saw your open letter to Mayor Walsh. 
The Strand Theatre does not have a programming budget, but it is available for rentals to any interested theater company. Details at http://strandboston.com/rentmenu
It would be great to share this information with your readers and arts organizations so that more know this is a possibility.
Thanks for your help,
Charlie

FROM

Brian Balduzzi

Larry: 
I have long admired you as a theatre reviewer and mentor; your passion and commitment to the Boston theatre scenes (in all of its sizes and colors) is more than admirable. Your zeal for arts and social advocacy is even more impressive. You bring wisdom and experience to the Boston arts community, and I am thankful for your guidance and perspective. Your letter to Mayor Walsh is exactly the kind of dialogue that we need in our communities throughout the Greater Boston area. 

If you do not receive a timely response, perhaps you could consider publishing this letter (edited perhaps) to a major local newspaper for greater coverage. Others deserve to know about this timely idea, and, moreover, people need the encouragement to speak out. While you articulated this idea beautifully, others may share or even be able to expand upon it! 

Thank you for your mentorship and passion. 
Kindly, 
Brian Balduzzi  Head of My Theatre (Boston), My Entertainment World

FROM

Mort Kaplan

Hey, Larry,
I just got up to speed with my emails. It is comforting to know that you are still full of vim, vinegar, and good ideas at your age. The love and energy you exude for the theatre [I will spell it that way always..] is admirable  for an octogenarian.

Loved your letter. Too bad the arts in the Hub of the Universe/Athens of America are always having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, by justifying themselves as "good for business" or "good for healing the racial divide" or "a new way to teach critical thinking." Here, unlike other great cities in our great nation, there never was Ars Gratias Ars.

 Pardon this octogenarian's cynicism but I don't think this new mayor guy is going to give the kind of support we saw during the  Kevin White years and in the 70s and 80s.

Keep banging the drum, grumpy old man with a cane…
My best………Mort Kaplan

FROM

Berkshire Fine Arts

  Open Letter to Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh
My Theatrical Response to Disaster in Ferguson
Opinion
By: Larry Stark - 08/29/2014
Back in the day Larry Stark was the theatre critic for Boston After Dark which elided as The Boston Phoenix. He has covered theatre for decades currently with his website Theatre Mirror. Following up on campaign promises Stark in an open letter has questions for Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "To put it bluntly Mayor, I voted for you Only because I thought at the time that your commitment to The Arts was genuine."

FROM

Hey, Larry,
I just got up to speed with my emails. It is comforting to know that you are still full of vim, vinegar, and good ideas at your age. The love and energy you exude for the theatre [I will spell it that way always..] is admirable  for an octogenarian.

Loved your letter. Too bad the arts in the Hub of the Universe/Athens of America are always having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, by justifying themselves as "good for business" or "good for healing the racial divide" or "a new way to teach critical thinking." Here, unlike other great cities in our great nation, there never was Ars Gratias Ars.

 Pardon this octogenarian's cynicism but I don't think this new mayor guy is going to give the kind of support we saw during the  Kevin White years and in the 70s and 80s.

Keep banging the drum, grumpy old man with a cane…
My best………Mort Kaplan

FROM

Julie Hennrikus

Thank you for forwarding this to me, Larry. A very thoughtful letter. And I love your casting of Long Day's.
Will I see you next week at the Greater Boston Theatre Expo? We are almost at 70 companies!
Julie

FROM

Paula Plum

Larry, what a wonderful letter and a brilliant idea to bring Fences to a larger audience. I endorse this 100%-- it was a stunning afternoon of gorgeous work, brilliant performances and lovingly directed by Eric. 
 I am always so happy to see you in the house! 
Thanks for representing us at City Hall!
Much Love, Paula

FROM

Susan Daniels

Hi Larry,
Great letter.  Great ideas.  Finger crossed that Mayor Walsh has a great response.
If  I lived in Boston I would have voted for Walsh too because of his comments about the arts.  And because of his long-standing friendship with Joyce Linehan.
Hope all is well.
Cheers,
Susan

FROM

Peter Snoad

Hey Larry,
Great letter! I, too, have been thinking about how theatre can play a more engaged educational role in the ongoing national conversation about race and racism, and your suggestions to Mayor Walsh address that concretely. I'm also been thinking more specifically about what white playwrights are doing in this regard, since racism in the U.S. is a white creation and white people, above all, need to take responsibility for it.

As you indicate, there are some wonderful plays by black playwrights in which race is an underlying theme -- you mention "Fences", but pretty much anything by August Wilson qualifies in my book, and Ntozake Shange, Lorraine Hansberry etc. and then there are some fine contemporary playwrights whose work has been produced in Boston, such as Lydia Diamond and Kirsten Greenidge. But how many plays do we see with a white perspective on race? David Mamet wrote "Race", and Bruce Norris "Clybourne Park", and I'm sure there are others, but, I venture to suggest, not too many and not nearly enough.

As you know, from coming to see "Guided Tour" with the inestimable Vincent Siders in the cast, I write about race myself. My next one, "Identity Crisis" -- a comedy about white people turning black -- goes up at Hibernian Hall on November 21. Given recent events in Ferguson, MO, I'm curious about how it will go over. Hope you can make it and see for yourself.

Have you heard back from Mayor Walsh? I'd be interested to know of his response.
Cheers,
Peter

FROM

From: Barbara Lewis
Sent: Sunday, August 31, 2014 12:45 PM

hi larry,
because of the work i am doing in the arts, kathleen bitetti copied me on your email message which she forwarded to the mayor. she knew that i would strongly endorse your recommendations, and indeed i do. you may or may not remember, but i have sent you several reviews, which you have posted.

to bring you up to speed on my recent efforts in the area of theater and art, i designed an august wilson staged reading series, which was produced in 2013 in five theaters across boston, brookline, and cambridge.  johnny davenport was featured prominently in the series, and so were other wilson alumni from the huntington years.  the five theaters were boston playwrights, the strand, hibernian hall, central square theater, and umass boston. 

in may 2014, i invited arts folks from film, dance, theater, music, spoken word, etc. for a cultural convening at the strand to register the city's current arts voice. that convening  was documented and the record is being used now in a umass boston honors course, which the mayor asked the university to teach. the record of that may cultural convening will also be given to the mayor and other political figures as a template for the city's cultural future.

at umass boston, i direct the trotter institute for the study of black history and culture, and have prepared several current grant applications to work with the boston public schools in the area of art and drama. for example, i have submitted a grant to work with students at jeremiah burke high school to dramatically interpret  dudley's history, both contemporary and originary since the history of the area goes back to the 1630s. such a project is designed to develop and increase a sense of pride in the younger generation, which would come from knowing that they are walking every day on sacred ground, every bit as sacred and historically important as the boston common.

a concept paper that i submitted on friday involves having public school students studying a 1913 sculpture by meta warrick fuller, whose celebrated bronze stands now in harriet tubman park in the south end. students from the higginson-lewis elementary and middle school will reinterpret that sculpture through the lens of freedom and emancipation, and how that plays out or does not in their world. the resulting dramas and art work will be shown publicly at the national center for african american art, which is around the corner from the higginson-lewis.

the fuller initiative, last year's wilson initiative plus the two grants currently under review and another in development (which is similar with what you are proposing (minus a black cast in o'neill)) draw on the themes of emancipation and freedom. what guided me in creating The Emancipated Century (the title i gave the wilson series) was the notion that emancipation and freedom remain unfinished american projects. promises of freedom remain unconsummated as ferguson and its antecedents demonstrate. many of those commenting on ferguson now identify the riots of the 60s and 70s as precedents, but the history is longer than that.  it goes back to lynching, which is a theme that wilson often references across the span of his ten decade-by-decade plays.  

i should add that my interest in wilson is informed by my doctorate in theater, which involves a triple lens - criticism, literature, and history from the greeks to the romans to the middle ages through the renaissance into the modern and postmodern eras.  also, i wrote my dissertation on the first ten american plays to address lynching.  so, i see ferguson from a longer vantage. isabel wilkerson, pulitzer prize winner and author of the warmth of other suns, cited the lynching link in the guardian last week and so did jelani cobb in the new yorker.

long story short, i endorse and applaud your recommendation that the healing arts of the theater be brought to bear on this wide and ugly breach that ferguson and its forebears have opened in this country and instead offer boston an up-close exposure to the rich theatrical talents that have not yet been given their full due in boston.

perhaps we could work together to craft something positive for the black theatrical and larger communities, with  support from the umass boston chancellor and the mayor. further, i enjoy good and cordial relations with marshall and green at the strand, bustin at hibernian hall, and dower at arts emerson, where i am on the OneBoston steering committee. in addition, i am on good working terms with myran parker-brass, BPS head of the arts. 

looking forward to more discussion,
barbara

 

FROM

Lynne Moulton

Larry,
So well said.  I have never seen Johnny Lee Davenport.   But I think Jacqui Parker is a goddess.  She acts right down to her tonenails.  It would be wonderful to have August Wilson's entire canon performed by the same cast in Boston.  And sign me up for the Long Day production right now.  That play would rock with an all black cast. 

Get the mayor going on the arts.  The only way we will have theater in the future is if we get the kiddies interested.  What better way than having them attend theater as a part of their school day.
Lynne

FROM

charles giuliano

Larry
We reposted this with a link to Theater Mirror.
I enjoy your feisty indignation.
Perhaps we might swap some reviews with links and credits.
I am about to post the Berkshire summer summary.
Does that interest your readers?
Best
Charles Giuliano

FROM

Nancy Curran Willis

Larry, thank you for sharing your letter. It was very well written and laid out a plan that would be wonderful to see should Mayor Walsh decide to do something with it. I particularly loved how nicely you prodded him with the reason why he got your vote. I'll be curious to see what kind of response you get, if any. Congratulations good friend. Well done.
Sent from my iPad
Nancy Curran Willis

FROM

Sheila Barth

Well said, well written, and wonderfully done, Larry!
Are you aware Joyce Linehan works for Mayor Walsh? She'd be a great person for you to approach with your ideas, too!
Love,
Sheila

FROM

shana dirik -- On Friday, August 29, 2014 5:17 PM

Wonderful letter to the Mayor Larry!  I am seeing Fences next week and am very excited to see it!  Hope you are having a lovely summer!

Shana  

This is what they're talking about:

My THEATRICAL Response to
The Disaster in FERGUSON Mo.

Friday, 29 August, 2014, 12:38 p m

Dear Mayor Walsh:

The national awareness of the supression of minorities on a municipal, block-by-block level in America is a cry for Concrete Action in every city. There are specific actions, financial and political, that can help. Another avenue that will help is a concrete and sincere effort to instill in minorities a feeling both of pride in self, and involvement in the general welfare. It's in such matters that the Theatrical Community still growing here in Boston could be of use. Let me suggest a few general, and probably expensive ways YOU could lead the way in this regard.

I just saw Eric C. Engel's amazing production of August Wilson's FENCES up north at the Gloucester Stage Company. I had seen the play several times before, but Never did I see it done better. I have no idea of the commitments the cast may have, but were I Boston's mayor I'd find the money and ask all seven of those exceptiomally gifted actors to bring this movingly Human play into Boston --- perhaps at the Strand Theatre --- and bus in as many high-school students as possible to see, and later discuss, the ideas this play brings up. That would put Great Art at the service of the community in a way it does best.

Again, early this summer I went out to "the left coast of Massachusetts" to see Johnny Lee Davenport play Bottom the Weaver in Shakespeare & Company's MIDSUMMER. I have seen Mr. Davenport do readings of the canon of August Wilson's 10-play series about the Black Experience of the entire 20th Century, and I would love to have him participate in production of The Entire Series, here in Boston, with the same cast committed to performing the same characters in several plays. I'm thinking of an entire new company that could do the canon, a play every month, twice --- again, with an emphasis on high school audiences. August Wilson IS America's Shakespeare, so perhaps one of the highly successful Boston industrial firms could be cajoled or coerced into financing such a municipal project. (I wonder if Ratheon, for instance, would like to spend some of the profits from selling Iron Dome Systems and other war machineries, to this worthy peacetime project.)

But there is another part I would love to see Johnny Lee Davenport play; it's of a self-made, miserly yet moneyed aging actor and his wife and two sons during their summer away from touring in their shore-side mansion. The play is LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, and Eugene O'Neil based it on his own lace-curtain Irish family --- but I do not believe that family could not be Black, I do believe Johnny Lee could be a magnificent James Tyrone ... and after seeing her in FENCES, I believe Jacqui Parker could be an unforgettable Mary Tyrone. And, since O'Neil IS America's Shakespeare, such a cross-casting would bring the universality of the play into the open.

For theatres here in Boston, these would be Major Projects, demanding coordination, and cash. But the entire city would benefit: not only would they fan a personal pride in many Bostonians, they would place Boston in the forefront of a movement to make a Difference by Making Art.

And, to put it bluntly Mayor, I voted for you Only because I thought at the time that your commitment to The Arts was genuine.

I'm asking you for some proof of that commitment, right now.

Sincerely,
Larry Stark

P.S.
Yes, I know, Terrence McNally really IS America's Shakespeare, and so is Stephen Sondheim --- but the current crop of playwrights Here In Boston are howling at their heels! Maybe some Boston medical firm ought to fund a project, say at Hibernian Hall or Roxbury Community College, to found a sort of Black equivalent to the Boston Playwrights' Theatre --- giving original plays by or about Black people productions and mentoring criticism. August Wilson and Ntozake Shange shouldn't stay America's ONLY Shakespeares!


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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