ATCA Event Blog (Archive)


Gerald Weales on Indianapolis

Gerald Weales, a self-confessed 87 (and not incidentally winner of the 1964 George Jean Nathan Award) writes from Philadelphia to reminisce:
Thanks for sending the news of ATCA.  Even though I am a superannuated critic—still writing but not regularly—I like to hear what is going on in the old neighborhood.
I found Lou Harry’s promise of doings in Indianapolis intriguing.  Instead of his choice of opening names, I might have said that Central Indiana had given the world Booth Tarkington and Carol Lombard and ME, but the idea of Indianapolis as theater town is comforting, though hardly surprising.  Since I grew up in Connersville, a short drive from Indianapolis, the big city was where I got my initiation into professional theater (give or take traveling troupes like that of B. Iden Payne, who brought Shakespeare to high schools).  Thanks to the organizational skills of my older sister, I started going to plays in Indianapolis when I was still in my early teens. 

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More links to Chicago conference reviews and commentary

(NOTE that we’ll link to other reviews from our Chicago conference as we get them.)

In the Desert Local News, Jack Lyons reviews Timeline Theatre premiere, My Kind of Town: click here.

Chicago report from Jacksonville’s Dual Critics (Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom): click here.

Jack Petro (Jack’s Theatre): click here, scroll down to June 24.


Vigorous and brawny, full of variety

Chicago, writes Chris Rawson in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “feels like a throwback to the great age of cities” — and that includes five Tony-winning theaters, out of some 200 in all. Quick survey of seven shows: click here.


Chicago is my kind of theater town

Jay Handelman writes in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:
With more than 200 companies of all sizes, styles and genres, Chicago offers audiences a theatrical variety that most cities can only envy. Click here.


Two more Chicago reviews by Charles Giuliano

“The remarkable Jackie Taylor built the new $19 million Black Ensemble Theatre. She also writes, produces and directs musicals about the immortals of soul. Currently a boffo hit The Marvin Gaye Story: Don’t Talk About My Father Because God Is My Friend is the coolest show of a sizzling Chicago summer.” Read the whole review here. (As a bonus, Guiliano includes pictures he took of a Marvin Gay concert in 1983, plus pictures of the current cast, including “the massively talented Rashawn Thompson as Marvin Gaye.”)

“Conforming to Aristotle’s paradigms for drama, in Immediate Family by Paul Oakley Stovall, the action involving an African American family gathered for a wedding occurs at a furious pace with over the top histrionics, directed at warp speed by Phylicia Rashad, all in one day.” Read the whole review here.


Milwaukee odyssey and Chicago reflections

Bill Hirschman: The post-Chicago odyssey to Milwaukee was a stunning surprise for those of us who Milwaukee-boundhad never been there and might even have been dismissive. Anne Siegel gave us a whirlwind tour of a fraction of the city’s theatrical community that was impressive to say the least. Yes, the visit occurred when much of the actual production activity was literally out of town, but the visions that the artistic directors shared with us and the extensive tours we were given whetted our imaginations. In particular, the co-op paradigm of the Broadway Center – like Theater Wit in Chicago — is an intriguing model for economic survival for medium and small companies.

The Milwaukee Rep operation is what really qualified for the adjectives stunning and surprising.

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Essential words from the Milwaukee add-on

Some of the attendees from the Chicago Conference, which Jonathan Abarbanel so masterfully put together, have come to Milwaukee for an “add on” arranged by Anne Siegel. Among our stops today was the Broadway Theater Center — home to the Skylight Music Theatre, The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and Renaissance Theatreworks.

The jewell in their crown is the Cabot Theatre — a 366-seat “jewelbox” based on European houses. The dome above the playhouse features a painting with this quote lettered around the circumference which I think captures the essence of why theatre is so magical: “To help us forget some things, remember others, and to refresh the dry places in the spirit.” I’ve not seen it expressed so succinctly before.  — Brad Hathaway


'Eastland' review by Lou Harry

Lou Harry’s review of “Eastland” at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre. Click here.


Charles Giuliano on 'Eastland' and the ATCA website

Charles Giuliano reviews “Eastland” at Lookingglass (click here) and then responds to the ATCA website:

Overall the Chicago conference was rich and insightful.
Johnathan did a great job of organizing theatre and panels.
I enjoyed meeting and interacting with other critics.
It would have been better to have that integrated into the program.
Like more time for discussion and debate.

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Survive and thrive

The conference so far has gone off without a major hitch and conference chair Jonathan Abarbanel deserves kudos and awe. In addition to the worthy productions we’ve seen, there has been a great deal to be learned talking with artistic directors discovering what they have done to thrive and survive, as Elwood Blues sang. One of the more interesting ideas was a special promotion offered by Theater Wit: for a $29 monthly fee (less than the cost of a full-price ticket) a patron can come to any or all of the works being done at the facility’s three stages -– as many times as they wish. I’m not sure how the economics of that works out, but I would think it would turn occasional patrons into frequent visitors. — Bill Hirschman


Chicago conference stages African-Americans

Lou Harry, Indianapolis: By accident rather than design, the first three plays of my current Chicago theater jag (where I’m participating in the American Theatre Critics Association conference) focused on (and, in two cases, were created primarily by) African-Americans. And while the results were mixed, collectively, they provide glimpses into places largely missing from Indianapolis stages.

That isn’t to say that our established theaters don’t make efforts in that direction (and occasionally, as with the IRT’s “Radio Golf” last season, deliver). But we won’t be a serious theater city until there’s more diversity in our offerings led by creators of color. An occasional August Wilson play is wonderful, but there’s a lot more to be mined.

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At the tower, around the world 

After our five hours of O’Neil last night, I delighted in the cool air and bright sun as I walked to our morning meeting in what was designed to be “the most beautiful office building in the world.” In 1922 the Chicago Tribune held a competition for a design for its new headquarters with precisely that criteria as its primary consideration. Raymond Hood and John Mead Howell won with a design for a tower adapting the style of a classical French cathedral complete with flying butresses.

I’m not sold on the “most beautiful” classification as I have some other candidates (Seagram or Transamerica or Marin Center anyone?). But I’m mightily impressed by one ground level feature. Embedded into the stone blocks visible from the sidewalks around the base of the tower and the adjacent WGM building are bricks and stones from important buildings and places around the world.

Where else can you see and/or actually touch a piece of such legendary places as Hamlet’s Castle in Elsinore, the Berlin Wall, The Great Wall of China, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of Tears in Amsterdam, the Great Pyramid of Cheops or chunks of stone from the islands where so many of the battles of World War Two were waged!! — Brad Hathaway


You oughta be here

If you not here in Chicago with the ATCA conference, you’re missing a terrific time. Gorgeous weather, yes. Good food, sure. But what great theater Jonathan Abarbanel has lined up. Last night, a four hour and fifty minutes (including three intermissions) production of The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman. You forget O’Neill was writing for an audience with a different attention span, but, still, this is a finely-wrought production with an intentionally elegiac pace. The headline is Nathan Lane giving what is likely the performance of his career, a completely different take on Hickey ripped out of his guts. I’m still trying to figure out how heavily miked the stage was and how much was just good ‘ol acoustics and trained actors projecting. Crystalline sound up in the third row from the roof –- but it did not sound miked at all. Looking forward to seeing you all if you’re here. Looking forward to making you jealous otherwise. — Bill Hirschman


Down to the depths with O'Neill

Obviously the big (in every way) event of the conference’s first day was “The Iceman Cometh,” a painstakingly rich version of the O’Neill classic. Opinions will naturally differ – hey, everyone’s a critic — but no one can deny the size of the accomplishment, or the continued truth of O’Neill’s sledgehammer attack on the addiction of the pipe dream, saving lie, willful delusion, whatever you call it, in personal life as well as civic.

In the less memorable part of the first day we were welcomed by Chicago’s commissioner of culture, who reminded us this was our 39th annual gathering and the fourth in Chicago – the latter, naturally, a record (though only if you don’t  count all those mini-meetings in N.Y.). Waking up bleary-eyed to face Day 2, I feel I’ve already been here a long time. — Chris Rawson


ATCA in Chicago, city of theater

Chicago, Tuesday, June 12: What a great city – to arrive in the Loop by train (subway? what do they call it?) on a glorious day like today you discover what a city can be, lively, vigorous, brawny (as the poet says), a real urban city. For me, Chicago always feels like the grownup city that Pittsburgh hopes to grow up to be.

And to find my way to the classy little Club Quarters hotel, right on the north edge of the Loop, looking out over that canal they call the Chicago River, is like coming home to urban essence, just why cities were invented. I had to head out to Jonathan Abarbanel’s home in a farther reach of the city for an afternoon meeting, and after trying to find the right train stop and making a couple of mistakes, I knew I’d be late. But when I called ahead to say so, I was told I had an extra hour. Call it the Phileas Fogg Effect — I hadn’t reset my watch to account for the time zone. Extra time! I love Chicago.

As you can tell, I’m feeling good. Why not, with five days of theater to look forward to, along with old friends from 28 years of ATCA gatherings. Perhaps others will join me here to blog, perhaps even about the plays. But today, it’s all about arriving and the excitement of this great city all around us.

Chris Rawson


ATCA in Ashland

July, 6-10 — This week ATCA is in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for its annual conference. In so far as we can, in between meetings, panels, 8 plays, late night discussions in the Crystal Room of the Ashland Springs Hotel and the attractions of Ashland, members will post comments here on aspects of the experience.

(At right: The Bard and the Daumier critic draw their quills to duel.)


Jim O'Quinn, the show must go on

Neither raging fever, pounding headache nor general malaise could keep Jim O’Quinn from delivering his impeccably artistic Perspectives in Criticism speech to ATCA members and their guests, gathered last week in Ashland, OR, for their annual conference at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Jim, a New Orleans Times-Picayune city desk reporter in his salad days, shared salad day stories, poked fun at himself with archival clips and photos and laid out some answers to the question, “What are Critics For?”

Making connections, was the simple answer: of course between the stage and the audience, but in a broader sense, between art and society.

Regarding that connection factor, Jim reveals that American Theatre mag is going live online later this year.

BTW, after his presentation, Misha Berson whisked him off to a walk-in clinic in Medford. Sante, Jim, and thanks for making the show go on.  — Lynn Rosen


(NOTE that the seagull above Jim’s head is left over from last year’s O’Neill conference.)


Round the clock in Ashland

Although it’s pretty mellow in beautiful Ashland, the home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, this small mountain town has been the site for an energized ATCA conference.

With the OSF’s provocatively contemporary productions of not only Shakespeare, but also Moliere and(Rear) Paul Hyde, Barbara Bannon, Judith Reynolds and (front) Ashley Polasek around a post-show roundtable Gilbert & Sullivan, ATCA members are having great fun rolling up their critics’ sleeves and having at it during post-show round-table discussions. This new conference offering takes us frequently into the wee hours. Despite the consequential lack of sleep, I for one hope these round table discussions will become a regular feature.

Two shows I have particularly enjoyed were “Julius Caesar” with a female Caesar … and “August: Osage County,” which had to be moved into a tent when the original venue suffered a massive crack in a support beam. Along with other colleagues, I’m most impressed with how the designers, cast and crew worked the sudden move with such elan.

Looking forward to Chicago in 2012! But after these warm days and cool nights — not to mention Oregon wines, beers and wild salmon — we’re a little spoiled. — Pam Harbaugh


The Bowmer Beam, or, Bowmer in the Park


Jay Handelman, Lynn Rosen and Bruce BurgunJust experienced the remarkable first-ever opening of the Bowmer in the Park tent production of “August: Osage County” — yes, in a tent in Lithia Park adjacent to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR. Why is Bowmer in the Park? On June 15, a 78’x14”x70’ supporting beam of the Bowmer Theatre cracked during a rehearsal and the building was declared unsafe. Scramble, regroup, rinse, repeat et voila! After only one performance (that night) was canceled, plans B,C and D went into actiion. The OSF cares about its audience and the experience today at the first-ever BITP was spectacular. Don’t miss an opportunity to visit this amazing venue. — Lynn Rosen

Click here for more of Lynn’s posts on Ashland and OSF.


On the way to Ashland

Somewhere on the way westward from Pittsburgh on the multi-leg flight necessary to keep the price down, I saw a placard declaring this National Ice Cream Month. Actually, it’s always National Ice Cream Month for me. But on first encounter with Ashland, it seemed providential: you can tell immediately that this is one of those perfect, silky-tasting towns just about as good as ice cream.You have to love a place that knows how to treat its dogs

My favorite leg was the last. Getting off the plane in Medford, as I walked past the cluster of fellow travelers waiting for checked luggage, I announced, “Anyone going to Ashland? Ashland? Anyone”

“Hey, Mon, you going to the Shakespeare Festival?” was the reply. And that’s how I got a ride for that final half-hour from Mongezi and Kuku, two South African musicians from Washington, DC on their way to play this week in the festival’s Green Show.

Not that I’ve seen the Green Show yet, the pace of shows and panels and time with ATCA friends has been so intense. But the ice cream hasn’t disappointed me — the best place in town is just across from the hotel. – Chris Rawson