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    LA Stage Alliance Disbands After Awards Ceremony Blunder

    The organization that runs the annual competition honoring theater work in Los Angeles imploded after it misidentified an Asian-American actor.Jully Lee, an actor and director, had a bad feeling about this year’s Ovation Awards, the annual competition honoring stage work in greater Los Angeles. She was a voter who had never been told when the ceremony would be, and she learned she was a nominee only when she was given 48 hours to submit a pretaped acceptance speech for use in the event that she won.She watched anyway.What she saw was not good. The awards ceremony, streamed online last week, showed a picture of a different Asian-American actress when announcing her category. And it mispronounced her name.Lee laughed, reflecting a lifetime of trying to be a good sport. But her boyfriend grabbed a screenshot, and posted it on social media, and he was not the only one.The reaction was swift, and furious, as long-simmering frustration over the functioning of the LA Stage Alliance, which administers the awards, combusted with the pain and anger of an Asian-American community devastated by a wave of anti-Asian violence.Forty-six theaters resigned from the alliance — about a third of its members. And on Monday, the organization, which for nearly a half-century had been the main coalition for a sprawling theatrical ecosystem in the nation’s second largest city, announced that it was disbanding.“It is with deep regret that the board of governors has unanimously decided to cease all operations,” the group said in a statement posted on social media.The rapid implosion was precipitated, most recently, by East West Players, the Asian-American theater that co-produced “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” the play in which Lee performed. (In another slight, the Ovation Awards attributed the production only to the Fountain Theater, saying it would not credit co-producers.)The morning after the ceremony, Snehal Desai, the producing artistic director for East West Players, announced that his theater was revoking its membership in the alliance, and urged others to do the same.“I felt like I needed to make a strong statement, because we were paying to be part of this organization that was diminishing us,” Desai said. “And I did call on other theaters to join us, because I wanted more than statements of support. Statements don’t do anything.”Many of the region’s theaters, which had been speaking up in support of diversity, equity and inclusion, first in response to the unrest over racial injustice last summer, and then again in response to hate crimes this spring, followed suit.“This was an inexcusable, terrible, unfortunate act, but it was also emblematic of a bigger failure of the LA Stage Alliance in the past few years,” said Danny Feldman, the producing artistic director at Pasadena Playhouse, who said the organization’s inadequacy had become more clear during the pandemic. “They lost the confidence of the community, and this was the tipping point.”The LA Stage Alliance was a nonprofit, dating back to 1975, that sought to support theater in Los Angeles. In addition to overseeing the Ovation Awards, it maintained onStage:LA, a website with listings and ticket discounts and published a digital arts magazine called @This Stage.Last summer the organization furloughed its staff; emails to the executive director, Marco Gomez, were answered by a publicist, Ken Werther, who said the leadership was declining to make any further comments.Lee, in an interview on Monday, said she was uncomfortable being seen as the face of the controversy, but also upset about the events that had transpired..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-rqynmc{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:0.9375rem;line-height:1.25rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-rqynmc{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-rqynmc strong{font-weight:600;}.css-rqynmc em{font-style:italic;}.css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-16ed7iq{width:100%;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;-webkit-box-pack:center;-webkit-justify-content:center;-ms-flex-pack:center;justify-content:center;padding:10px 0;background-color:white;}.css-pmm6ed{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;}.css-pmm6ed > :not(:first-child){margin-left:5px;}.css-5gimkt{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:0.8125rem;font-weight:700;-webkit-letter-spacing:0.03em;-moz-letter-spacing:0.03em;-ms-letter-spacing:0.03em;letter-spacing:0.03em;text-transform:uppercase;color:#333;}.css-5gimkt:after{content:’Collapse’;}.css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-eb027h{max-height:5000px;-webkit-transition:max-height 0.5s ease;transition:max-height 0.5s ease;}.css-6mllg9{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;position:relative;opacity:0;}.css-6mllg9:before{content:”;background-image:linear-gradient(180deg,transparent,#ffffff);background-image:-webkit-linear-gradient(270deg,rgba(255,255,255,0),#ffffff);height:80px;width:100%;position:absolute;bottom:0px;pointer-events:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1pd7fgo{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1pd7fgo{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1pd7fgo:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1pd7fgo{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}.css-1pd7fgo[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-1pd7fgo[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-1pd7fgo[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-1pd7fgo[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-1rh1sk1{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-1rh1sk1 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-1rh1sk1 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1rh1sk1 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;}.css-1rh1sk1 a:visited{color:#333;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccc;text-decoration-color:#ccc;}.css-1rh1sk1 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}“I was trying to be brave, and trying not to make it a big deal,” she said. “But then, reading all the posts — all the anger and pain that was being expressed — I had to acknowledge that this is angering and painful and hurtful. And there have been so many attempts to try and get the LA Stage Alliance to be more inclusive, and they’ve largely been ignored.”Deaf West Theater, the nation’s leading sign language theater, sought unsuccessfully to have this year’s Ovation ceremony interpreted for the deaf. “All of these oppressions go hand in hand,” said DJ Kurs, the theater’s artistic director. “We are all fighting the same fight, and we are fighting it together.”Los Angeles has a robust theater community that is often overshadowed by the city’s film and television industries, and includes not only a handful of big-budget nonprofits, but also a large number of small organizations, many of which were facing financial stress even before the pandemic.Throughout the pandemic, 65 of the “intimate theaters” have been meeting collectively as Alternative Theaters of Los Angeles to compare notes and support one another.Gary Grossman, an organizer of the group and the producing artistic director of Skylight Theater Company, called the collapse of the stage alliance “the right outcome.”“They have not represented the community,” he said. “It needs to be rethought from the ground up.”A variety of Los Angeles theater industry leaders interviewed Monday said the stage alliance was already in trouble financially before the latest conflagration, and its future had seemed uncertain throughout the pandemic.And several described a number of grievances with the organization, citing insufficient diversity in its leadership and programming, an ineffective response to the pandemic, high membership dues that made it harder for some theaters to participate, and a “pay to play” system in which theaters were supposed to pay a fee for each production they wanted considered for an award.“There’s been a fraught relationship from the perspective of most theater companies,” said Meghan Pressman, the managing director and chief executive at Center Theatre Group, which is the biggest of the Los Angeles nonprofits. Pressman said many theater administrators have already begun talking about what happens next.“I do think the community can come together to craft what we need in an organization,” she said. “And I don’t know if these awards will continue, but I feel strongly that some awards should, because it’s an important way to celebrate the theater community.” More

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    ‘Underneath the Freeways of Los Angeles’ Review

    This interactive play gives voice to marginalized people, while also asking its audience to mistrust them.Cities bury their histories beneath them, though the past persists in plain sight. Here in New York, Wall Street whispers of a long-ago barrier, Canal Street commemorates forgotten waters, and Madison Square Garden, which has no garden, conjures former pleasure centers.Los Angeles has its own history — of dreams, disaster and displacement — and a talent for paving over it. “Underneath the Freeways of Los Angeles,” an immersive show from the Echo Theater Company, summons a particular incident: the construction of the East Los Angeles Interchange, perhaps the busiest freeway interchange in North America. To build it, the city razed portions of Boyle Heights, a multicultural enclave. In an infrastructure decision that would shatter any Jane Jacobs fan, urban planners ran a particular stretch of freeway above and through the lagoon of Hollenbeck Park.“Underneath the Freeways,” written by Matthew Paul Olmos and directed by Michael Alvarez, takes place in 1960, the day after two bodies were discovered floating in that lagoon, in the shadow of the concrete piers. The victims, a young white man and a younger Latina woman, had both experienced blunt force trauma. (The murders are fictional.) The audience, divided into breakout rooms, is tasked with solving the crime. Serially, the groups question a quintet of suspects — an artist, an activist, a mother, a drifter, a freeway-system employee. During each interrogation, participants try to discern intentions and disprove alibis.Hollenbeck Park, in Los Angeles, is at the heart of the play.via The Echo Theater CompanyA day before the show, participants received prompts asking them to imagine themselves in the world of the play. “Whom do you associate with?” one document reads. “What neighborhood do you live in? What are your political beliefs?” Costumes are encouraged, it adds, though not required. As my performance began at 10:30 p.m. (blame a West Coast curtain time) and putting on fancy clothes for late-night events is something I gave up, willingly, once I had children, I kept my sweater and leggings. I was still briefly mistaken for a suspect. “No,” I stammered when a participant began to question me. “I’m just a person.”But was I? Was anyone? Because the play borrows structural elements from murder-mystery dinners and role-playing games, many audience members, playing the roles they had assigned themselves, treated “Underneath the Freeways” as a game that needed winning. Many attendees questioned the suspects aggressively. And when certain characters offered narratives of loss and dislocation, their stories were answered with distrust rather than deep listening. (Me? I couldn’t get a word in, though I did put a question about the particulars of the blunt force trauma in the chat.)I often felt uncomfortable within my breakout room. Had we not all lived through last summer? Did we really want to playact police-like interrogators? Could we not meet these characters with empathy? I don’t mean to scold the audience; the more relentless participants did what “Underneath the Freeways” asked of them, which points to a schism at the heart of the play. Olmos and Alvarez want to give voice to marginalized people, but they also ask us, explicitly, to distrust those voices.“Keep them talking,” a strict woman (Amy K. Harmon) says in the opening scene. “Notice if they slip up. Notice what they’re trying to avoid.”Experiencing “Underneath the Freeways,” I thought of another immersive show, “Rio Records,” which I’d seen in January. That piece was also inspired by a dark chapter in Los Angeles’s history of civil engineering: the paving of the Los Angeles River. “Rio Records” was messy, inchoate and all over the (city) map. But it met its subject with generosity and invited generosity in return. “Underneath the Freeways,” on the other hand, demands suspicion and rewards it.The East Los Angeles Interchange is a marvel of engineering. It is also a deeply dehumanizing structure. And even as “Underneath the Freeways” wants to excavate the stories that underlie those piers, it is dehumanizing, too.Underneath the Freeways of Los AngelesThrough April 26; echotheatercompany.com. More

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    Broadway Reopened. For 36 Minutes. It’s a Start.

    Before a masked, distanced and virus-tested audience of 150, the dancer Savion Glover and the actor Nathan Lane performed, celebrating theater and testing safety protocols a year after the pandemic caused theaters to close.Three hundred and eighty-seven days after Broadway went dark, a faint light started to glimmer on Saturday.There were just two performers — one at a time — on a bare Broadway stage. But together they conjured up decades of theater lore, invoking the songs and shows and stars that once filled the grand houses in and around Times Square.The 36-minute event, before a masked audience of 150 scattered across an auditorium with 1,700 seats, was the first such experiment since the coronavirus pandemic caused all 41 Broadway houses to close on March 12, 2020, and industry leaders are hoping it will be a promising step on what is sure to be a slow and bumpy road to eventual reopening.Mr. Glover, a renowned tap dancer, performed an improvisational song-and-dance number in which he seemed to summon specters of productions past.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesThe dancer Savion Glover and the actor Nathan Lane, both of them Tony Award winners, stood in for a universe of unemployed artists and show-starved fans as they performed a pair of pieces created for the occasion.Mr. Glover, a renowned tap dancer, performed an improvisational song-and-dance number in which he seemed to summon specters of productions past. He walked onstage, removed the ghost light that by tradition is left on to keep spirits away from an unoccupied theater, and began to sing lyric samples, accompanied only by the sound of his bright white tap shoes. “God I hope I get it,” he began, citing the yearning theme of “A Chorus Line.”And from there, he was off, quoting from “The Tap Dance Kid,” “Dreamgirls,” “42nd Street” and other shows that he said had influenced him, often celebrating the urge to dance, while also acknowledging the challenges of the entertainment industry. (“There’s no business like show business,” he sang, before adding, “Everything about it is eh.”) He also made a pointed reference to Black life in the U.S., interpolating the phrase “knee-on-your-neck America” into a song from “West Side Story.”“I was a little nervous, but I was elated, and happy, and there was nostalgia, and I was sentimental — it was everything,” he said in an interview afterward. “And I felt very safe. I want to be rubbing elbows and hugging — we’re looking for that eventually — but there’s no more safe place than right in the middle of that stage.”Mr. Lane, a three-time Tony winner, performed “Playbills,” a comedic monologue written for the occasion by Paul Rudnick.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesMr. Lane, one of Broadway’s biggest stars, performed a comedic monologue by Paul Rudnick, in which he portrayed a die-hard theater fan (with an alphabetized Playbill collection) who dreams (or was it real?) about a parade of Broadway stars, led by Hugh Jackman, Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald, arriving at his rent-controlled apartment and vying for his attention while dishily one-upping one other. (“Have you ever heard of a little show called ‘Evita’?” Ms. LuPone, Broadway’s original Eva Perón, asks Mr. Jackman, to which he retorts, “I loved the movie with Madonna,” at which point Ms. LuPone grabs a steak knife.)In an interview after the event, Mr. Lane said: “These are baby steps toward a real reopening. It’s a way of signaling to everyone that we’re coming back.”And did he feel safe? “I felt as safe as anyone who has been vaccinated and tested 123 times,” he said. “I’ve been swabbed. I’ve been hosed down. There were a lot of precautions and protocols, so yes, I felt safe.”The event’s safety measures included the limited audience, mandatory masks and socially distanced seating. Plus, all attendees were required to show proof of a negative coronavirus test or a completed vaccination regimen and to fill out a digital questionnaire attesting to an absence of Covid-19 symptoms or recent exposure; attendee arrival times were staggered; there was no intermission, food or drink; and although bathrooms were open, attendees were encouraged to use a bathroom before arriving to reduce potential crowding.The 150 attendees sat spaced apart in the 1,700-seat theater, and had to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test or a completed vaccination regimen in order to enter.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesThe St. James, a city historic landmark built in 1927, was chosen in part because it’s big — one of the largest theaters on Broadway — and empty. The theater also has a modern ventilation system, which was installed when the building was expanded in 2017, and its air filters were upgraded during the pandemic in an effort to reduce the spread of airborne viruses.The theater’s owner, Jordan Roth, teared up in the lobby before the event, moved by the moment. “It’s the first step home — the first of many,” he said. “This is not, ‘Broadway’s back!’ This is ‘Broadway is coming back!’ And we know it can because of this.”The event, while free, was by invitation only, and the invitations went mostly to workers for two theater industry social service organizations, the Actors Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Among them was a Broadway Cares volunteer, Michael Fatica, who is an actor; he was in the ensemble of “Frozen,” which was the last show at the St. James, and which has announced that it will not reopen on Broadway. “They were fantastic,” he said afterward. “And it’s incredible that people are performing. But it’s so far away from commercial theater, and tens of thousands of actors are still out of work.”The event was also a chance to bring back the theater’s employees. Tony David, a porter, was there wearing his black suit and a tie and hat with the logo of the Jujamcyn theater organization, plus latex gloves and a face shield over a mask. “It’s nice to be back and doing something,” he said. “Hopefully this is the beginning.”Jordan Roth, left, the theater owner, greeted the event’s director, Jerry Zaks. “It’s the first step home,” Mr. Roth said of the show. “The first of many.”Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesThe event was directed by Jerry Zaks, a four-time Tony winner, who over the years has both acted and directed at the St. James. “This has been the longest I have not been inside a theater in 50 years,” he said. “I don’t want to sound giddy, but I’m excited, and I feel like a kid. There is a pulse — it’s faint, but there is one, and it augurs well for the months ahead.”The performance was sponsored by NY Pops Up, which is a partnership among the state government, the producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal and the artist Zack Winokur. Empire State Development, which finances the state’s economic development initiatives, has set aside $5.5 million from its marketing budget to pay for 300 performances through August; the purpose, the state says, is to lift the spirits of New Yorkers and to jump-start the entertainment industry.The organizers said they would confer on Monday morning about lessons learned from the Saturday event, and they anticipate nine other programs in Broadway houses over the next 10 weeks. But most producers expect that full-scale plays and musicals will not return to Broadway until the fall; commercial theater producers have said they do not believe it is financially feasible to reopen at reduced capacity, and the state is hoping to increase occupancy limits and reduce restrictions over time.“I don’t have a crystal ball — none of us do, but we have shows scheduled to reopen in September, October and November,” said Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League. Ms. St. Martin, who attended the Saturday event, said the Pops Up performances could be helpful steps toward reopening.“It will give the health department the opportunity to see how the theaters work, and hopefully to learn what it will take for us to be declared OK to open at 100 percent,” she said. “And it’s also a great opportunity to remind us all of what makes New York so special.” More

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    Review: Live Theater Returns, With Mike Daisey and His Beefs

    The monologuist appeared onstage, indoors, in front of a real audience, on the first day possible. Maybe he shouldn’t have rushed.Mike Daisey has been a monologuist for more than 20 years. Not continuously — though it has sometimes felt like it.So his disappearance from the stage during quarantine was an especially vivid marker of the pandemic’s devastating effect on live theater. Likewise, his re-emergence in a new show, which popped up on Friday night like a bud in early spring, signifies the beginning of a long-hoped-for renewal.But what will that renewal be like?On the evidence of the 90-minute monologue Daisey performed in front of an actual audience at the Kraine Theater in the East Village, it will be — at least at first — a hasty and hazy affair with redeeming glints of brilliance.The haste is to be expected: Daisey was eager to be the first actor back onstage on the first day permitted by new state regulations. That was Friday, when plays, concerts and other performances were allowed to resume at reduced capacity, with the audience masked and distanced. At the 99-seat Kraine, that meant a sellout crowd of 22; to accommodate others — in all, 565 tickets were sold — the show, produced by Daisey and Frigid New York, was also livestreamed.That’s how I saw it; for additional safety, the Kraine requires all in-person audience members to show proof of vaccination, and I have not yet been jabbed. (One unvaccinated couple was turned away.) But even watching remotely, I was tickled by the familiar old sounds of people settling into their seats, and the sight of their heads silhouetted against the blue light of a stage awaiting action.The show quickly dispelled those good feelings. Daisey has never been what you’d call a feel-good performer; he usually has a beef, and it’s often overcooked. In “21 Dog Years,” his breakthrough, the beef was with Amazon, where he’d once worked. In “How Theater Failed America,” it was the corporatization of entertainment that, he argued, had ruined theater as a building block of community. And in “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” it was, somewhat infamously, the Chinese supply chain that feeds our iPhone addiction.Daisey’s new show lacks the invigorating animus supplied by such adversaries. If it has a beef, it is with the pandemic itself: a foe of little inherent dramatic interest. (A virus is no Iago.) At the same time, the pandemic is still too present to be fully fathomed, as Daisey’s title admits with a shrug: “What the Fuck Just Happened?”Daisey’s performance was among the first live indoor shows allowed under new state regulations.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesIt doesn’t help that after an amusing public-address introduction — “The management regrets to inform you that the role of Mike Daisey will be played by Mike Daisey” — he begins, sitting as usual at a simple table with a glass of water and a pad of notes, by telling a seemingly sitcom tale about a bedbug infestation that he and his girlfriend endured in late 2019. Getting rid of the insects involved hiring a company to heat his apartment to 180 degrees for five hours.The bedbug gambit is ironic; Daisey uses it to suggest how unprepared he and everyone else were for the worse disruptions that would come in 2020. Unfortunately, the “worse” is not fleshed out except in trivial ways that have the effect of deflating yet centering Daisey himself. The apartment in which he and his girlfriend are stuck “in captivity” is so small, he tells us, that he must work on the deck, sometimes in the rain. They have to learn to plan and make their own meals, something people move to New York specifically not to do.Small talk has rarely seemed smaller. And even as the story grows to include Daisey’s delivering food in the spring, cheering the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the summer and phone banking for the November election — all admirable — he somehow winds up the star in each case. His self-deprecation is only a kind of chamois, polishing his brass.For a monologuist, that’s a professional hazard. (He calls his calling “an exercise in mansplaining.”) But in previous works, Daisey has managed to use himself as a lens; here he is more of a mirror, reflecting his own obsessions, disappointments and, it has to be said, thin skin. Apparently, he is an underappreciated giant in a world of straw men.In this self-promoting mode, I find him no more (or less) interesting than an old college chum who corners you at a party and doesn’t notice your eyes glazing over. In his social-critic mode — sniping at obvious targets like Donald J. Trump, whom he has pilloried elsewhere — I find him unexceptional; is it so revealing to refer to the ex-president’s last day in office as “Garbage Day”? As he feels his way through the sweaty dark toward a theme that just isn’t there, you begin to wonder whether his apartment ever cooled off.But in his oracular mode, which though built on the bedbug story at the start doesn’t arrive until the end, he is outstanding. Connecting Covid-19 not only to ecological disaster but also to the pandemic of racism, he finally aims at antagonists worthy of his rhetorical big guns.In language that is burnished and implacable — and, it seemed to me, less improvised but more alive than the rest of the show — he says that though the “plague was not a gift” it was an opportunity, a “dress rehearsal.” Noting that there’s “no vaccine for fascism,” he calls for a “refining fire” that will burn out the hate in our system.These were startling and stirring words, the kind that hogtie your attention. They are worth having Daisey, and live theater, back for. Perhaps by the time he repeats the show, on May 9, there will be less of him and more of them.What the Fuck Just Happened?Repeated on May 9 at the Kraine Theater, Manhattan; frigid.nyc. More

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    Arthur Kopit, Whose ‘Oh Dad’ Shook Up the Theater, Dies at 83

    A three-time Tony nominee, he first became known for avant-garde works, many of them christened with rambling titles, that sparked spirited reactions.Arthur Kopit, the avant-garde playwright who thrust Off Broadway into a new era with the absurdist satirical farce “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad” and earned Tony Award nominations for two wildly different plays, “Indians” and “Wings,” and the musical “Nine,” died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 83.His death was announced by a spokesman, Rick Miramontez, who did not specify the cause.In 1962, when “Oh Dad, Poor Dad” opened at the 300-seat Phoenix Theater on East 74th Street, American popular culture was shifting. Julie Andrews was between the idealistic “Camelot” and the wholesome “Mary Poppins”; Lenny Bruce, the hot comic of the moment, was known for what came to be called “sick humor.” Broadway was dominated by “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “A Man for All Seasons.”Along came a 24-year-old playwright with a script about an older woman who liked traveling with her virginal adult son and her husband’s preserved corpse. The New York Times critic, Howard Taubman, had reservations — he called it “funny” and “stageworthy” but “nonsensical” — but it won the Drama Desk Award (then the Vernon Rice Award) and even transferred to Broadway for a few months in 1963.There was often vehement disagreement about Mr. Kopit’s work. Before “Indians” (1969) — a dreamlike production that positioned Buffalo Bill Cody as the first guilty white American liberal and prominently featured his 19th-century Wild West show — arrived on Broadway, there was a production in London, where critical reaction was decidedly mixed. The script included the rape of one Native American and the casual murder (for sport) of another.Clive Barnes, writing in The Times, called the Broadway production, starring Stacy Keach, “a gentle triumph” and praised Mr. Kopit for “trying to do something virtually no one has done before: the multilinear epic.” But Walter Kerr, his Times colleague, compared it to “bad burlesque.”John Lahr, writing in The Village Voice, summarized “Indians” as “never less than scintillating” and called it the “most probing and the most totally theatrical Broadway play of this decade.” “Indians” received three Tony nominations, including for best play.Mr. Kopit professed a very specific social conscience. “I’m not concerned in the play with the terrible plight of the Indians now — they were finished from the moment the first white man arrived,” he told a London newspaper in 1968. “What I want to show is a series of confrontations between two alien systems.” Many saw parallels to the Vietnam War, then at its peak.When Mr. Kopit returned to Broadway a decade later, his subject could not have been more different. “Wings,” which opened at the Public Theater in 1978 and moved to Broadway the next year, followed the journey of a 70-year-old woman (played by Constance Cummings) having a stroke and reacting to it with fear, determination and kaleidoscopic verbal confusion. As The Washington Post reported, when the main character is asked to repeat the sentence “We live across the street from the school,” she replies, “Malacats on the forturay are the kesterfacts of the romancers.”Mr. Kopit in 1999. “When I wrote a play,” he once said, “I found that I lost myself as Arthur Kopit and I just wrote down what the characters said.”Jack Mitchell/Getty ImagesRichard Eder of The Times called “Wings,” which had been inspired by the post-stroke rehabilitation experiences of Mr. Kopit’s stepfather, “a brilliant work” — “complex at first glance,” he wrote, “yet utterly lucid, written with great sensitivity and with the excitement of a voyage of discovery.”The play was nominated for three Tonys. Ms. Cummings won the Tony and Drama Desk awards for best actress and an Obie for her performance.Mr. Kopit discovered his gift for writing plays almost by accident. In a 2007 interview with The Harvard Gazette, the official news outlet of his alma mater, he looked back at his initial reaction when he switched from short stories to scripts. “I was having a lot of trouble with the narrative point of view,” he recalled. “When I wrote a play, I found that I lost myself as Arthur Kopit and I just wrote down what the characters said. I wasn’t anywhere in the play, and I liked that.”Arthur Lee Koenig was born on May 10, 1937, in Manhattan, the son of Henry Koenig, an advertising salesman, and Maxine (Dubin) Koenig. His parents divorced when he was 2, and his mother’s occupation was listed in the 1940 census as millinery model. He took on his stepfather’s name after his mother married George Kopit, a jewelry sales executive.Arthur grew up and attended high school in Lawrence, an affluent Long Island community. He was already writing by the time he left Harvard in 1959 with an engineering degree. As he began a graduate fellowship in Europe, he heard about a Harvard playwriting contest. He wrote, entered and won the $250 prize with “Oh Dad,” which he said he never believed had any commercial potential.Mr. Kopit was at first fond of wordy, rambling titles. “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad” even had a subtitle: “A Pseudo-Classical Tragifarce in a Bastard French Tradition.” He followed that success with a collection of one-acts, including “The Day the Whores Came Out to Play Tennis,” set at a suburban country club. “On the Runway of Life, You Never Know What’s Coming Off Next” was another early work.His last Tony nomination was for the book of the musical “Nine” (1982), based on Federico Fellini’s film “8½.” That same year, he adapted the book of Ibsen’s “Ghosts” for a Broadway revival. More

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    What Makes ‘Follies’ a Classic? 7 Answers and 1 Big Problem.

    Fifty years ago, Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman exploded the Broadway “concept” musical by conjuring the bittersweet reunion of aging showgirls.It was supposed to be a murder mystery: two couples, four motives, one gun. What it became was a different kind of mystery entirely: a musical that got prominent pans, alienated much of its audience and lost most of its investment — yet survived.Not only is “Follies,” which opened on Broadway on April 4, 1971, still here 50 years later, trailing a string of revivals, revisals and gala concerts, but it is also now recognized as the high-water mark of the serious “concept” musical, that genre in which form and function are brought into the tightest possible alignment. The score, by Stephen Sondheim, is a marvel and a minefield of layered meanings. The sets make comments. And in the original staging, by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, even frivolity had to serve a purpose.Not that there was much frivolity in James Goldman’s script; the gun disappeared but the two couples were still floridly dysfunctional. Both wives had been showgirls in the Weismann (think Ziegfeld) Follies at the end of its run of annual extravaganzas in the years between the World Wars. Both had been in love with Ben, a Stage Door Johnny with big ambitions. But Phyllis was smart enough to nab him; they are now wealthy, unhappy sophisticates. Sally — romantic, conventional — got Ben’s feckless pal Buddy; never for one moment in the 30 ensuing years has she been happy with the trade-off.Ghostly showgirls wander through the ruins of a theater in the 2017 London revival.Johan PerssonDuring a Follies reunion at the decrepit Weismann Theater, on the night before it will be razed to make room for a parking lot, the two couples meet up and promptly disintegrate. As they do, their past selves appear alongside them as living characters. At the same time, former stars of the Follies relive memories and stumble through old numbers, magically ventriloquized from Broadway’s past in the Sondheim songs.As the ghosts crowd in, the couples’ tangled history is unearthed, bringing them to the point of a group nervous breakdown in the form of a 30-minute mini-“Follies” of their own. To see them collapse, dissolving into a fantasy world accompanied by a Golden Age score, is to see American optimism collapse along with them.But its big canvas is not the only reason “Follies” remains important. (See seven more reasons, and a caveat, below.) In its seriousness and cleverness, in its matching of style to substance, in its use of a medium to comment on itself, it has hardly ever been bettered. In any case, ambitious musical theater would never be the same; we would not have “Fun Home” or “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hansen” without “Follies” hovering behind them, the most beautiful ghost of all.1. A requiem for nostalgiaThe ensemble of older actors with their younger counterparts hovering above in the 2001 Broadway revival.Sara Krulwich/The New York Times “Follies” is about two lousy marriages. Mucking around among their mind games and betrayals, it more readily recalls midcentury drama than anything in the musical canon. (Imagine “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” staged by Busby Berkeley.) But it’s also about the lousy marriage of American ideals and American reality, a union of near opposites polished and preserved by the shellac of nostalgia.The brilliant concept was to use the two stories to inform each other, letting the Faulknerian past that is “not even past” intrude upon the present. So Sally’s ghost makes love to Ben while his makes love to her; later, she sings a torch song that sounds as if it’s from 1941. The reunion, if it reunifies one couple, destroys another. Even the songs we love are dangerous. That paradox is crystallized in “One More Kiss,” warbled by an ancient Viennese soprano while her younger self casually tosses off its coloratura. “Never look back,” the lyric warns. “Follies” is what happens if you do.2. In praise of older womenThe ghosts of Follies past that live in the theater had to be both ethereal and imposing. Casting was done among Las Vegas showgirls who were already six feet tall before their enormous headdresses turned them into giants. Even so, a Who Was Who of middle-aged and older women stole the show: Dorothy Collins, 44; Mary McCarty, 47; Yvonne De Carlo, 48; Alexis Smith, 49; Fifi D’Orsay, 66; and Ethel Shutta, 74, among them. Though cast for the kick of nostalgia their names elicited, they made survival itself seem vital and sexy, as Smith’s high-stepping Time magazine cover demonstrated.3. Copies that improved on the originalsBernadette Peters performing the now-standard “Losing My Mind” in the 2011 Broadway revival.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesAll of the performative songs in “Follies” — the ones sung as if they were real numbers from the past — are pastiches, sampling Harold Arlen (“I’m Still Here”), George Gershwin (“Losing My Mind”), Irving Berlin (“Beautiful Girls”), Sigmund Romberg (“One More Kiss”) and many others. With this catch: In almost every case, they are better crafted and richer than their templates. Which makes their salute to the past a wonderfully complicated, and sometimes cruel, gesture.4. A number for the agesTerri White, center, as Stella Deems leading “Who’s That Woman” in 2011 with (from left) Elaine Paige, Florence Lacey, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Jan Maxwell, Peters and Susan Watson.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesStella Deems, an old-school belter, had a specialty “mirror” number in the Follies. Now, at the reunion, she and six alumnae of the chorus line, including Phyllis and Sally, try to perform it, even though the dance (as one of them puts it) “winded me when I was 19.” Soon you see why, as the choreography, which at first involves simple poses and mirroring gestures, turns into an exhausting tap extravaganza, courtesy of Bennett. But the mindblower comes halfway through, when strange shards of spinning light emerge from the dark behind the panting, middle-aged women. These are the ghosts of their former selves: glamazons in mirror-encrusted costumes performing the number tirelessly and perfectly.By the time the real and the remembered choruses merge in a thrilling finale, the idea of mirroring has taken on a larger meaning. “Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord!” Stella sings in wonder and horror at the person she sees in her looking glass. “That woman is me!”5. ‘I’m Still Here’De Carlo — a movie star of the ’40s and ’50s but Lily Munster to everyone thereafter — had the biggest name in the cast yet one of the smallest roles. She needed a showstopper; the one Sondheim originally wrote wasn’t working. During tryouts in Boston, he replaced it with “I’m Still Here,” a five-minute number that catalogs with tart good spirits a showbiz life (based on Joan Crawford’s) in which you “career from career to career.” It could not have been staged more simply: De Carlo basically just stood downstage and let it rip. Still, it was (and remains, in the many interpretations since) a knockout, driving home the point that long-term professional survival, and maybe emotional survival as well, is often a matter of inoculating oneself with failure.6. The fabulousnessAt $800,000, “Follies” was a very expensive show for its time, but you saw where the money went. Boris Aronson’s set, which exploded into lace and froufrou for the final sequence, was technically complex; Florence Klotz’s costumes were among the most sumptuous seen on a Broadway stage since Ziegfeld himself. And with all the major roles doubled by “ghosts,” the cast was huge: 47 performers, not including understudies and standbys.“Nearly everything that could cause a Broadway musical to go over budget did,” says Ted Chapin, now the president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization but then Prince’s apprentice — and the author of “Everything Was Possible,” a memoir of that experience. “If it were produced today, I would imagine it would log in at close to $30 million.” Alas, that’s a sum no one would spend on such a chancy show, which means we’ll never see its like again.7. That posterDavid Edward Byrd designed the poster for the original production.PhotofestIn 1971, the graphic artist David Edward Byrd was best known for his rock posters, including one for the original Woodstock and one for Jimi Hendrix. But he’d started designing for theatrical productions as well, and when an “aesthetic argument” led Prince to ditch one of his Art Deco-inspired sketches, Byrd came up with the now-famous face of “Follies”: an impassive beauty with flowing Technicolor hair and a branching crack from chin to brow. (The face was based on Marlene Dietrich’s, in a photo from “Shanghai Express.”) To Byrd, it represented the end of an era, but it also conveyed, with powerful concision, the crackup of an American fantasy of endless tranquillity. And, not incidentally, made a Broadway show seem as cool as Woodstock.8. Then again …“Follies” is brilliant and “Follies” is a mess. It bowls me over perhaps more than any other musical, yet I have never been fully satisfied with it intellectually. Look beneath the unparalleled packaging — the score, costumes, casting, staging — and you find a lot that doesn’t add up. As Frank Rich noted in his 1971 Harvard Crimson review, it’s “a musical about the death of the musical” — a wonderful paradox but one that undermines the experience. If musicals are dead … is this one too?Sometimes — even when Carlotta sings “I’m Still Here” — the vaunted concept seems a bit opaque. (If it’s about her own life, how could it also be her Follies number?) And don’t look too closely at the main characters, either; spouters of self-conscious dialogue, they are only fully believable when they sing. For that, Goldman usually gets the blame — but if so, he should also get credit for providing the armature for everyone else’s epochal achievement. It may be about the death of musicals, but “Follies” pointed the way to bringing them back to life. More

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    Setting the Stage Once Again for Shakespeare, and Live Theater

    With coronavirus restrictions easing in England, several venues have plans to give classic plays new life.LONDON — Shakespeare is coming back, and I can’t be the only person who has missed him.There are signs of renewed activity at Shakespeare’s Globe, and talk of at least one star-studded production that is, after many delays, scheduled to be performed — can you believe it? — live. This comes after a year of a pandemic that has affected in various ways what has, and hasn’t, been staged, with Shakespeare a particular casualty.Understandably so. Amid a theatrical state of affairs dominated by Zoom and a brief return of live performances of small-scale shows in London that came to an abrupt halt in mid-December, the logistics of Shakespeare have seemed pretty daunting. How do you accommodate a writer whose capacious narratives depend on size, scope and dimension in these strange, socially distanced times? It’s far easier to return to the two-character environs of, say, “Love Letters” or “The Last Five Years,” to name just two titles that could be (and were) easily married to coronavirus rules.A lining of sorts to this bleak cloud came in the form of theatrical archives. With playhouses less inclined to revive Shakespeare, recordings of past productions were made available, giving theater fans a new chance to see or revisit notable performances. Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theater were among the venues in Britain that drew upon a sizable back catalog. The Globe reported an increase of nearly 500 percent in its video-on-demand GlobePlayer service.What better chance was there to be reacquainted with the National’s thrilling 2018 production of “Antony and Cleopatra,” which remains among the few productions of this play in my experience with an Antony, in Ralph Fiennes, worthy of his Cleopatra, the sinuous Sophie Okonedo. The R.S.C.’s extensive archive offered up a 2015 “Othello” that, in a first for that company, cast a Black actor, Lucian Msamati, as Iago, opposite Hugh Quarshie as Othello; the result was both riveting and revelatory.The actress Rebecca Hall, right, rehearsing opposite Luisa Omielan for an online presentation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by Hall’s half sister, Jenny Caron Hall.But it wasn’t until the start of this year that theatermakers appeared to find a way to present Shakespeare afresh, even if the same few titles seemed to be under consideration. (My visions of numerous anxious Hamlets subjecting their best “To be or not to be” to the vagaries of YouTube went unrealized.) Sam Tutty, who won an Olivier Award for the West End production of “Dear Evan Hansen,” widened his range in a newly conceived “Romeo and Juliet” that was streamed online in February. In accordance with pandemic-era requirements, the play was filmed with the actors in isolation for the most part, then joined up in the editing. For all its best intentions, this approach just couldn’t deliver the reactive thrill that comes from performers sharing a scene in real time and space.The Royal Shakespeare Company offered the tech-intensive “Dream,” which filleted the multiple plot strands of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” into a brief if ambitious exercise in interactivity that was arresting to look at but didn’t reveal much about the oft-revived play itself. The result may have suggested new ways of looking at Shakespeare, but it didn’t help us hear him anew.A direct contrast was the rehearsed reading this past Wednesday of the same play, directed by Jenny Caron Hall, whose father, Peter Hall, founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and was Laurence Olivier’s successor running the National Theater. As might be expected from such a lineage, Jenny Hall’s emphasis on her starry reading of the play via Zoom lay very much with the text, which looked to be in safe hands at a rehearsal I eavesdropped on the previous week: It helped, of course, to have doubling as Titania and Hippolyta the supremely accomplished Rebecca Hall, Jenny Hall’s younger half sister, who brought clarity and a welcome playfulness to some of Shakespeare’s most ravishing verse. (Rebecca Hall played Viola in her father’s final production for the National, a mortality-inflected “Twelfth Night,” in 2011.)Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor as the young lovers in a coming screen version of “Romeo and Juliet.” Behind them is Lucian Msamati as Friar Laurence.Rob YoungsonLooking ahead, audiences have every reason to anticipate a marriage of sumptuous visuals and textual expertise from a new screen version of “Romeo and Juliet.” For this heavily cut rendering of the play, Simon Godwin, the director of the National’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” is refashioning on film a production that had been intended for the National stage. The change means that the leads, Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley, will be joined by a heady lineup that includes Tamsin Greig, Adrian Lester, Deborah Findlay and Msamati — deft Shakespeareans all. (This “Romeo and Juliet” will air on Sky Arts in Britain and PBS in the United States.)As for breathing the same air as the actors, even through a mask, that enticement draws nearer daily. Shakespeare’s Globe has announced a mid-May reopening, albeit with a capacity of up to only 500 in a popular auditorium that can hold as many as 1,700. The coveted standing places that allow the so-called Globe groundlings to jostle one another, and on occasion the actors, will be replaced by seats; a lack of intermissions will further limit unwanted contact. The idea is to return to normal practice, assuming restrictions ease as the summer season continues.Not to be outdone, the West End’s most recent Lear, Ian McKellen, is opening his deliberately age-blind Hamlet in a repertory season that will include “The Cherry Orchard” and is due to start at the Theater Royal Windsor, west of London, on June 21.That’s the very day long earmarked as the end to the social restrictions in England that have been in place to varying degrees since March 2020.Will these productions go ahead, returning actors and spectators alike to the mutual discourse and interplay upon which the theater thrives and that no degree of technical finesse or Zoom-era sophistication can replace? As ever, time will tell. But the London theater seems poised for action, and the readiness, as Shakespeare knew so well, is all. More

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    Pat Collins, Tony Award-Winning Lighting Designer, Dies at 88

    She sought to move audiences with her lighting in shows like “The Threepenny Opera,” “I’m Not Rappaport” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”Pat Collins, a Tony Award-winning lighting designer and a Broadway mainstay whose work was seen for nearly 50 years in plays, musicals and operas, died on March 21 at her home in Branford, Conn. She was 88.The cause was pancreatic cancer, said Dr. Virginia Stuermer, her partner of 64 years and her only survivor.Ms. Collins, who won her Tony for Herb Gardner’s “I’m Not Rappaport” in 1986, was the lighting designer for more than 30 other Broadway productions, among them “The Threepenny Opera,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Doubt,” which earned her a Tony nomination.“Her lighting was like her personality: She was nervy and intelligent but with a sensitive side,” John Lee Beatty, a Tony-winning scenic designer and frequent collaborator, said in a phone interview. “She really blossomed in tech rehearsals; she loved to create on the spot.” He added: “She could do conventional lighting, but she also wanted to try everything.”Ms. Collins brought an autumnal palette to “I’m Not Rappaport,” about two irascible and inseparable octogenarians who meet on a Central Park bench, and the darkness of looming death to a 1989 production in Baltimore of “Miss Evers’ Boys,” David Feldshuh’s play about the federal government’s withholding of treatment for syphilis to poor Black men. In a 2002 revival of Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This” at the Union Square Theater, she transformed figures onstage into what Ben Brantley of The New York Times called “ambiguous silhouettes.”She also worked at regional theaters throughout the United States and with opera companies in New York, San Francisco, Santa Fe, London, Paris and Munich — always using light to establish moods, create the illusion of time passing and indicate where the audience’s attention should be on the stage.“Lighting has everything to do with how you feel and how things affect you,” Ms. Collins told The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., in 1975. “Almost everyone has had the aesthetic experience of being moved by seeing light filtered through trees in the forest. Multiply that by one thousand and you’d have some idea of the constant subliminal effect lighting has on us.”The musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’” on Broadway. It was one of more than 30 Broadway productions for which Ms. Collins designed the lighting.Alamy Stock PhotoMichael Chybowski, a lighting designer who worked with Ms. Collins on two productions at the Alaska Repertory Theater in the 1980s, said of her: “She understood the point of the show and made sure that you saw it. Whether it was portentous events in ‘An Enemy of the People’ or the sheer fun of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’,’ her light reflected and communicated that.”Mr. Chybowski recalled the lighting design that Ms. Collins devised for “An Enemy of the People,” Ibsen’s political drama about a scientist who tries to save his town from water pollution but becomes a scapegoat.“She went into the studio, worked at my drafting table for four hours, drew up the plan and went off to the airport,” he said. “I said, ‘It can’t be that easy,’ but we put on the show, and it was the most beautiful show we did in my five years at the theater.”Patricia Jane Collins was born on April 3, 1932, in Brooklyn to Jerry and Alta (Hyatt) Collins. Her mother worked in a law firm; her father left the family when Pat was very young.Ms. Collins attended Pembroke College in Brown University, where she studied Spanish and joined a campus drama group. After graduating, she spent a year at Yale Drama School — where she met Dr. Stuermer — but felt it was a waste of time. She went to work instead as a stage manager at the Joffrey Ballet, and then as an assistant to Jean Rosenthal, a top Broadway lighting designer, at the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford, Conn.Ms. Collins won a Tony for her work on Herb Gardner’s “I’m Not Rappaport” in 1986. She also designed the lighting for a 2002 Broadway revival with Ben Vereen, left, and Judd Hirsch.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesMs. Collins worked as a stage manager, among other jobs, in the 1960s but did not hit her stride until Joseph Papp, the founder and director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, hired her to design the lighting for productions of “The Threepenny Opera” at Lincoln Center in 1976, which earned her a Tony nomination, and at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park in 1977.“She had fixed somebody else’s show, and he offered her ‘Threepenny,’” said Mimi Jordan Sherin, a lighting designer and longtime associate of Ms. Collins’s. “That put her on the map, and she never stopped working after that.”For all that she worked on Broadway, she spent much of her time away from it, designing lighting at regional theaters, including Ford’s Theater in Washington, Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, Berkeley Repertory Theater in California, the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Conn.For the Hartford Stage Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” Malcolm Johnson of The Hartford Courant wrote admiringly of “the ever-changing light patterns” that Ms. Collins had created with “mirror images and stars and moons and comets.”Ms. Collins, who began listening to opera on radio at age 9, designed lighting for productions at the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House in London and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. She also conceived the lighting for Lar Lubovitch’s production of “Othello: A Dance in Three Acts” at the American Ballet Theater in 1997.Ms. Collins conceived the lighting for Lar Lubovitch’s production of “Othello” with the American Ballet Theater in 1997.Andrea Mohin/The New York TimesHer other Broadway credits include “The Heidi Chronicles,” “The Sisters Rosenzweig,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” “Good People,” “Orphans” and “Execution of Justice,” for which she won a Drama Desk Award in 1986.Mr. Beatty recalled being in London one year when Ms. Collins had a double bill of work there — Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” and a performance nearby at the English National Opera.At “Into the Woods,” he said, “the curtain goes down, the music starts” and the lighting was “bright and simple, like the world’s biggest flashbulb had come on. Whoa, in your face!”“There was a certain joyfulness to that,” he added. “Then, she was down the street, doing an esoteric opera, challenging that director to think out of the box. It was perfect Pat.” More