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Arts & Entertainment Preview | June 2001 | Sponsored by Chrysler


Dance & Theater

by Nancy Dalva and John Istel
 


Headlining Heddas

Judith Light

Judith Light, in Shakespeare Theatre's production of Hedda Gabler

"Do it beautifully," Ibsen's protean heroine, Hedda Gabler, urges Lovborg, her former beau, when she hands him one of her father's pearl-handled dueling pistols. Of course, Lovborg doesn't "do it" with any style at all—he shoots himself in the guts—and so disgusts Hedda that she turns the other pistol on herself. Nevertheless, Hedda's exhortation could be read as Ibsen's offstage whisper to generations of actresses who have attempted to scale the title role, rightly revered as an Andean peak of female performance, if not the Everest. This month, the hills are alive with Heddas. The most visible production stars Kate Burton under Nicholas Martin's direction. It received such rapturous reviews in Massachusetts last season that it's headed to Broadway this fall. In the meantime, a pair of intrepid actors scale Hedda this month: Martha Plimpton portrays the haughty general's daughter for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company (June 28-August 19), while Judith Light takes on the role for the Shakespeare Theatre, in Washington, DC, under Michael Kahn's direction (June 5-July 29). Both productions serve further notice that film actress Plimpton (200 Cigarettes) and TV sitcom star Light (Who's the Boss?) are more determined than ever to center their careers on the stage: Plimpton has become a full member of Steppenwolf's esteemed ensemble, and Light starred in the national tour of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner, Wit. Today, all too often, when performers forsake more financially lucrative jobs in film and television for the challenge of the theater, managers and agents echo Ibsen's famous curtain line from Hedda Gabler: "People just don't do such things." —J.I.



Deep Structures

If you haven't felt the earth move under your feet in the theater lately, stop by Seattle's Intiman Theatre (June 8-July 7). At one point during the awkwardly titled R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe, audiences stand to feel the rotation of "spaceship earth," a term coined by the titular polymath, environmentalist, and utopian. But the central thrill to expect at the ninety-minute one-man show is Ron Campbell's cosmic-caliber performance. His quirky and comic impersonation pays better homage to Fuller's kind of idiosyncratic American autodidacticism (he was kicked out of Harvard twice) than the script, which as written and directed by D. W. Jacobs chaotically rambles through Fuller's theories on geodesic domes, octahedrons, and synergetics, among other topics. Campbell serves as the show's "trimtab," the tiny steering device on a ship's rudder which Fuller co-opted as the symbol for an individual's place on the great ship of state. (In fact, "Call me Trimtab" serves as Fuller's epitaph.) And the combination of Campbell's performance and Fuller's increasingly cult-like status has led to acclaim since the show opened in San Diego more than a year ago. Subsequently, the production, according to Campbell, "turned away twenty people a night from the waiting list in San Francisco." At Chicago's Mercury Theater, the improv-accustomed audiences ate up the interactive aspect of the play—Bucky scoots all over the house, asking audience members to participate, turning the theater into a slightly wacky college seminar. Ultimately, it's a class in the seemingly lost art of American intellectual audacity, a course well worth retaking this summer in Seattle. —J.I.



Forward Steps

From time to time, I run across a balletomane who is bemused, or outright vexed, or feels betrayed by the turn Mikhail Baryshnikov has taken late in his dancing career. These fans don't understand why one of the greatest danseurs of his day has founded a troupe dedicated to American modern dance. But the truth is, Baryshnikov didn't have to defect to be a ballet star. He could have danced his Albrechts and his Siegfrieds and the like with his mother company, the great Kirov Ballet of Saint Petersburg, and known the same great acclaim he has known here. But to dance what he is dancing now, Baryshnikov had to come to America. His White Oak Dance Project is dedicated not only to shining the light of his fame on contemporary choreographers of greater and lesser note, but also to exploring where modern dance has been. To that end, White Oak (with postmodern papa David Gordon serving as Director/Performances) has amassed a quite amazing repertory of postmodern works from the last forty years, billed under the rubric "PASTForward." With two new works and a revival by Deborah Hay and golden oldies from Simone Forti, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, and David Gordon, the affair is a real hippie hit parade. (Each multimedia performance features a selection from the rep.) To see happy new audiences sit forward in their seats and see it for the first time is simply a joy. (June 5-9, Brooklyn Academy of Music; 718-636-4100.) —N.D.


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Nancy Dalva's essays appear in the magazine 2wice.
John Istel is the editor-in-chief of Stagebill.

Photograph of Judith Light: Carol Rosegg.

Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.