The Show Must Go On

I have a friend who had a stunning home on a hill in Glen Ellen, California; until yesterday.  He emailed me this morning: “Our house can be rebuilt, and (most) of the stuff inside can be replaced. But shimmering green hillsides and hundred-year-old oak trees will not be replaced in my lifetime.”

Amid all the horrific stories of destruction from the hurricanes and the on-going California fires, I want to write some good news.  I have several friends personifying the spirit of the theatre community who worked in Houston to mount shows there despite the devastating damage of Hurricane Harvey.  Both shows are now playing in Houston and will move on to a run in New York.


Alley Theatre after Hurricane Harvey photo: Giovanna Sardelli

Alley Theatre after Hurricane Harvey
photo: Giovanna Sardelli

Playwright Rajiv Joseph and Director Giovanna Sardelli had only been in Houston a few days starting rehearsals on Joseph’s world premiere new play Describe The Night at the Alley Theatre when Harvey blew in.  Yahoo news reported that  “of all Houston’s cultural institutions, the Alley was the one most damaged when 51 inches of water fell between August 26 and 29 during Hurricane Harvey.” When Giovanna posted photos on Facebook the next day of the extensive damage to the recently renovated Alley Theatre, I thought they would have to cancel the production.  So, apparently, did they at first; but the Alley Theatre community rallied quickly and found performance space for the show at the Quintero Theatre at the University of Houston.  They had to rebuild the set completely – the original had been destroyed and they had to restage the play to configure it to the new space.  For a wonderful personal account of the experience, see Giovanna Sardelli’s article in Women In Theatre journal online.

Rajiv Joseph (writer of Pultizer Prize finalist Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo, The North PoolGuards at the Taj, and many others – see my 2015 post) has said that Describe the Night is “the most ambitious thing I’ve written, a very big step for me and my playwriting”.  A challenge to describe in a few sentences, here is what the Alley theatre says about it:

In 1920, the Russian writer Isaac Babel wanders the countryside with the Red Cavalry. Seventy years later, a mysterious KGB agent spies on a woman in Dresden and falls in love. In 2010, an aircraft carrying most of the Polish government crashes in the Russian city of Smolensk. Rajiv Joseph[‘s]  epic new play Describe the Night traces the stories of seven men and women connected by history, myth and conspiracy theories.


I saw the play in an early developmental reading at TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival a couple of years ago and it already had many of what I’ve come to think are some of Rajiv Joseph’s signature characteristics – adroit dialogue, multifaceted fiction informed by well-researched history; complex, authentic characters; and a large dose of smart humor to mix up the mood and help the darkness go down.

Elizabeth Bunch as Mariya and Stephen Stocking as Feliks.  Photo by Lynn Lane

Elizabeth Bunch as Mariya and Stephen Stocking as Feliks.
Photo by Lynn Lane

The Houston Chronicle said Describe the Night is “a  political, technical and emotional tour de force.  Joseph’s dazzling play is a document of paranoia in the era of Trump and Russia, a feat in magical realist storytelling and a touching love story…”  After its current run in Houston ends October 15, it’s going to the Linda Gross Theatre in New York beginning November 1.


Not far away, my friend Donald Corren has been rehearsing Stages Repertory Theatre’s world premiere production of Balls, battlea spectacular new work that bounces one of the most memorable tennis events of all-time off the cultural debates it ignited.”  Donald flew to Houston to take on the role of Bobby Riggs very shortly after the final post-Harvey rainfall.

Donald Corren as Bobby Riggs in "Balls".

Donald Corren as Bobby Riggs in “Balls”.

Balls was commissioned by One Year Lease Theater Company (OYL) with the support and partnership of Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston and 59E59 Theaters in New York.    OYL describes its work as “bold, physically powerful, ensemble-based theater . . . creating worlds that are raw, poetic, and visceral.” Co-written by Bryony Lavery and Kevin Armento, Balls  is a “physical account of the most-watched tennis match ever, held in Houston’s Astrodome in 1973 (and coincidentally getting current attention through the recently released movie “Battle of the Sexes”).  It features a shot-for-shot reimagining of the famous match, albeit without anyone serving an actual ball.” [Houstonia]

I spoke with Donald Corren, who plays Bobby Riggs, by phone and he said it was an exciting and audacious piece.  He described it as a series of vignettes played out against the background and/or as part of a meticulously charted portrayal of every serve and shot of the match, as a tool to both tell the story of the match and to review and address the relevant gender issues.  Confirming that it is a very physical piece, he said “I’m playing 55 and feeling 75 because everyone else is 25.”  He is, please excuse me, having a ball.

Balls will have its first preview tomorrow, October 11, 2017 with a formal opening on Friday October 13 and will run to October 29 at Stages Repertory TheatreIt moves to New York in January for a six-week Off-Broadway run at 59E59th Street theatre.




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