selected essays, scholarship, and criticism
New England Theatre Geek
Driving along the twisted back roads to Ashfield, Massachusetts, my friend and I were in high, hopeful spirits. Double Edge Theatre, now in its 40th year, has crafted a foolproof yet ever-surprising mode of experiential performance. Season after season, it guides wide-eyed audiences through a labyrinth of natural scenic tableaus: dancers weave spiral paths through waist-high grasses; actors spin poetry from atop boulders, trees, ladders, canoes, and stilts; aerialists swoop across the rafters of the warm wooden barn. And, so my friend and I joyfully trekked 40-plus minutes to a remote stretch of farmland, expecting an evening of unexpected delights.
But the most delightfully unexpected element of The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae was not at the behest of the artistic team, but was instead a brilliant creative choice from Double Edge’s most important collaborator: the weather. About 40 minutes in, dark storm clouds started to impede our otherwise picturesque dusky tableau. Dionysus’ (played by both Travis Coe and Milena Dabova) braggartly claims of godlike power took on awe-inspiring meaning, and the performers leaned into the new subtext. We in the audience chuckled at the sky’s clever dramaturgical timing, but nervously so. We were not only at the mercy of the elements, but of our Double Edge guides, and we could only hope that our trust in them was not unfounded.
New England Theatre Geek
Laughter is never neutral. Whiteness is never neutral. A comedy of manners might stake the claim that farce is some great, humanizing equalizer, but humor is inherently directional: someone is always doing the laughing, and something, or someone, is always being laughed at. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which won the Tony in 2014 for Best Musical, is vague about its directionality. Ostensibly, we’re laughing at the hypocritical mores of upper crust Edwardian England, but we’re just as often prompted to laugh at, for example, effeminate men, hyper-feminine women, or the “exotic” peoples suffering under the thumb of colonialism offstage.
Spiro Veloudos, director of the Lyric Stage Company production, addresses these complications in his program note: “Our team’s approach in this production aims to send up the supremacist and imperialistic standards of Edwardian English culture… Our belief is that the comedy of this show comes at the expense of these corrupt ideals, and not at the expense of those who were and are greatly disadvantaged by these same ideals.”
Veloudos outlines an admirable directorial goal, to be sure, but one that is swiftly undermined by an embarrassingly fundamental misstep: the cast is almost entirely white.
First, if you feel called to read this essay, then you belong here. Welcome. Do you belong in the Jewish community? Are you a part of this religion, culture, and peoplehood? Are you actually technically Jewish at all? To give a very Jewish answer: yes, no, maybe. It depends. But this journey of exploration and curiosity—of questioning and wrestling—is absolutely yours for the taking. So welcome. Welcome, welcome, welcome.
Not everyone along the way will greet you with such open arms, so I want to make sure that mine are stretched extra wide.
Journal of Dramatic Theory & Criticism
Abstract: ˆAmerican Theatre magazine senior editor and arts critic Diep Tran discusses shifting power dynamics in the field of arts journalism, callout culture’s role in social media and arts criticism, and her use of the personal narrative in a traditionally objective form. We interpret Tran’s body of work as subversive within the genre of criticism for modeling a form of resistant readership that addresses systemic issues of race, gender, and representation. We frame her subjective, identity-focused work within the ideologies of intersectionality and decolonialism and demonstrate how she embodies these methodologies through both the content and form of her work.
A Cautionary Tale of the Forgivable White Male Genius – or, What the Theatre Community Can Learn from Hugh Hefner
Let’s examine the biography of a man who lived and breathed entertainment – a man who, by so many standards for so many years, was branded a genius. This man redefined how and what kinds of stories his community told, and was the brilliant mind behind that was credited with discovering and nurturing the careers of numerous critically lauded artists. He created an empire of not only art, but of people: he curated a personal community of followers who were brainwashed or threatened into degradation and violence for the sake of their craft. More than one woman went public about the terrifying environment that his company enforced via media exposes, nightmarish practices that went ignored for decades because of the sheer amount of power this man wielded over his artistic community.
I’m not talking about Hugh Hefner of Playboy. I’m talking about Darrell W. Cox of Profiles Theatre.
At 11 years old and in the wake of his parents’ bitter divorce, Manhattan native Stephen Sondheim was shuffled off to live with his mother in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. This dark period in the burgeoning musician’s life changed course when he befriended Jimmy Hammerstein, the son of the legendary Broadway composer (and soon-to-be mentor to Sondheim), Oscar, and a fellow cinephile. The two spent their summers watching every movie that came to town, and soon, Sondheim’s dramaturgical sensibility was inseparable from cinematic language: flashbacks and narration, cutaways and fade-ins and fade-outs, perspective and distortion. Broadway had yet to integrate this vocabulary into its repertoire, but these formative artistic experiences armed Sondheim with many of the tools that later helped him marry filmic techniques with musical theater.
Evita is rock opera of contradictory proportions: the music is a hypnotic collision of songs that range from intricate and soaring to just plain weird; it is hailed as one of the greatest woman-centric musicals of its generation, but upon closer examination, uses the male gaze to place its supposed heroine on a shallow pedestal; it introduces Americans to a blind spot in contemporary world history, but ultimately dilutes the political and social climate of 20th century Argentina down to a superficial Cinderella story. In short, it is the quintessential example of two white men putting their words into the mouths of marginalized historical figures, a colonized story camouflaged under a smattering of pretty dresses and songs.
HowlRound Theater Commons
Perhaps the best place to preface a critique of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s all-male Taming of the Shrew is the end: Katherina (Kate) delivers her final speech with unflinching honesty, bemoaning that women “seek for rule, supremacy, and sway/ Whey they are bound to serve, love, and obey.” She implores Bianca and the Widow to join her, creating a silent, encapsulating snapshot: three women prostrate before their husbands, hands extended to be crushed beneath their companions’ feet. Regardless of the corseted actors’ gender identities, Shakespeare Theatre Company leaves audiences with a searing image of female submission to men—about as traditional an interpretation of Shakespeare’s play as one can find.