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    How Helen McCrory Shone, Even in a Haze of Mystery

    She was unforgettable onstage playing seemingly serene women who rippled with restlessness.Selfishly, my first feelings on hearing that the uncanny British actress Helen McCrory had died at 52 were of personal betrayal. We were supposed to have shared a long and fruitful future together, she and I. There’d be me on one side of the footlights and her on the other, as she unpacked the secrets of the human heart with a grace and ruthlessness shared by only a few theater performers in each generation.I never met her, but I knew her — or rather I knew the women she embodied with an intimacy that sometimes seemed like a cruel violation of privacy. When London’s theaters reawakened from their pandemic lockdown, she was supposed to be waiting for me with yet another complete embodiment of a self-surprising life.Ms. McCrory had become world famous for dark and exotic roles onscreen, as the fiercely patrician witch Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies and the terrifying criminal matriarch Polly Gray in the BBC series “Peaky Blinders.” But for me, she was, above all, a bright creature of the stage and in herself a reason to make a theater trip to London.More often than not, she’d be there, portraying women of wit and passion, whose commanding serenity rippled with hints of upheavals to come, masterly performances in masterworks by Shakespeare, Chekhov, Pinter, Ibsen, Rattigan and Euripides. Sometimes, she’d take you to places you thought you never wanted to go, to depths where poise was shattered and pride scraped raw.How grateful, though, I felt at the end of these performances, even after a pitch-bleak “Medea,” at the National Theater in 2014, which she turned into an uncompromising study in the festering nightmare of clinical depression. Granted, I often felt sucker-punched, too, maybe because I hadn’t expected such an ostensibly self-contained person to unravel so completely and convincingly. Then again, that was part of the thrill of watching her.Her “Medea,” also for the National Theater, dared to hit rock bottom before the play had even started.Richard Hubert SmithMost of Ms. McCrory’s fans felt sucker-punched by her death, I imagine. Aside from her family — who include her husband, the actor Damian Lewis, and their two children — few people even knew she had cancer. The announcement of her death was a stealth attack, like that of Nora Ephron (in 2012), who had also managed to keep her final illness a secret.I have great admiration for public figures who are able to take private control of their last days. Still, when I saw on Twitter that Ms. McCrory had died, I yelled “No!,” with a reiterated obscenity, and began angrily pacing the room.Damn it, Ms. McCrory had within her so many more complex, realer-than-life portraits to give us. Imagine what we would have lost if Judi Dench, Maggie Smith or Helen Mirren had died in her early 50s.McCrory, center, with Emily Watson, left, and Simon Russell Beale in “Uncle Vanya.”Stephanie Berger for The New York TimesLike Ms. Mirren, Ms. McCrory, at first glance, exuded a seductive air of mystery. Even in her youth, she had a sphinx’s smile, a husky alto and an often amused, slightly weary gaze, as if she had already seen more than you ever would.In the early 21st century, I saw her as the languorous, restless Yelena in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” a role she was born for (in repertory with a lust-delighted Olivia in “Twelfth Night,” directed by Sam Mendes); as a defiantly sensual Rosalind in “As You Like It” on the West End; and (again perfectly cast) as the enigmatic friend who comes to visit in Harold Pinter’s “Old Times” at the Donmar Warehouse.In those productions, she brought to mind the erotic worldliness of Jeanne Moreau. It was her default persona in those days, and one she could have coasted on for the rest of her career. She brimmed with humor and intelligence, and I could imagine her, in another era, as a muse for the likes of Noël Coward.But Ms. McCrory wanted to dig deeper. And within less than a decade, between 2008 and 2016, she delivered greatness in three full-impact performances that cut to the marrow of ruined and ruinous lives. First came her electrically divided Rebecca West in Ibsen’s “Rosmersholm,” a freethinking “new woman” torn apart by the shackling conventions of a society she could never comfortably inhabit. Then there was her heart-stopping Hester Collyer, an upper-middle-class woman destroyed by sexual reawakening, in Terence Rattigan’s “The Deep Blue Sea.”In between, she dared to be a Medea who had hit bottom before the play even started. In Carrie Cracknell’s unblinkingly harsh production, Ms. McCrory played Euripides’s wronged sorceress as a despair-sodden woman who believed she would never, ever feel better. It was the horrible, dead-end logic of depression that drove this Medea.“Nothing can come between this woman and her misery,” observed the household nanny (played by a young Michaela Coel). But it was Ms. McCrory’s gift to lead us into that illuminating space between a character and her most extreme emotions, and to make us grasp where those feelings come from and how they have taken possession of her.I never failed to experience that flash of revelation watching Ms. McCrory. London is going to seem so much lonelier whenever I return to it. More

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    Helen McCrory, British Star of Stage, Film and TV, Dies at 52

    She was acclaimed for her work on the TV series “Peaky Blinders” and in three Harry Potter movies, but she first gained notice in the London theater.Helen McCrory, the accomplished and versatile British stage and screen actress who played Narcissa Malfoy in three Harry Potter films and the matriarch Polly Gray on the BBC series “Peaky Blinders,” in addition to earning critical plaudits for her stage work, has died at her home in north London. She was 52.Her death, from, cancer, was announced on social media on Friday by her husband, the actor Damian Lewis.Ms. McCrory was a familiar face to London theater audiences and to British television and film viewers well before she won wider recognition in the Harry Potter movies. She began her career in the theater in 1990, straight out of drama school, playing Gwendolen in a production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” in Harrogate, Yorkshire. In 1993, the director Richard Eyre, who was the head of the National Theater, cast her in the leading role in his production of Arthur Wing Pinero’s comic play “Trelawny of the ‘Wells,’” for which she earned glowing reviews.“Helen McCrory, in the title role, perfectly captures Rose’s crossover from a lovelorn ingénue to wounded woman,” Sheridan Morley wrote in The International Herald Tribune.The next year she played Nina in Chekhov’s “The Seagull” at the National Theater, alongside Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, and in 1995 she was named “most promising newcomer” in the Shakespeare Globe Awards for her portrayal of Lady Macbeth in the West End.Ms. McCrory worked steadily in the theater over the next two decades, with notable appearances as Yelena in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” in 2002; as Rosalind in “As You Like It” in 2005 (which earned her an Olivier Award nomination for best actress); as Rebecca West in Ibsen’s “Rosmersholm” in 2008; and as Medea in 2016.“Portrayed with unsettling accessibility and nerves of piano wire by Helen McCrory,” Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times, “the Medea of ancient myth has become the sad but scary crazy lady next door, the kind who inspires you to lock up your children.”But as early as 1994, Ms. McCrory was also venturing into film and television work. In 2003 she appeared as Barbara Villiers, the mistress of Charles II, in Joe Wright’s four-part series “Charles II: The Power and the Passion,” and in 2006 she made a cameo appearance as Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, in Stephen Frears’s “The Queen” — a role she reprised in the 2010 film “The Special Relationship,” written, as was “The Queen,” by Peter Morgan.Ms. McCrory became known to worldwide audiences through her 2009 role as Narcissa Malfoy, the mother of Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy, in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” She played the role again in Parts 1 and 2 of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the final films in the series. (She had in fact been slated for a larger role, as Bellatrix Lestrange, in the earlier “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” but had been forced to withdraw after discovering she was pregnant; Helena Bonham Carter took over.)She was good at playing villains — the evil alien Rosanna Calvierri in an episode of “Doctor Who,” the spiritualist Evelyn Poole in the series “Penny Dreadful,” and, perhaps most notably, Polly Gray, the aunt of the gang boss Tommy Shelby, on the period crime drama “Peaky Blinders,” a role she played for its entire five-season run, from 2013 to 2019.Ms. McCrory with Jason Isaacs, left, and Tom Felton in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” (2011).Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Brothers PicturesHelen Elizabeth McCrory was born on Aug. 17, 1968, in the Paddington neighborhood of London, the eldest of three children. Her father, Iain McCrory, was a diplomat; her mother, Ann (Morgans) McCrory, worked for the National Health Service.During her childhood, her father’s work for the Foreign Service took the family to Tanzania, Norway, Madagascar and Paris.“Dad tells me my first appearance onstage was dancing during an official visit by the French president,” Ms. McCrory said in a 2014 interview with The Times of London. “I’m pretty sure the idea of being an actress came to me around that time. Every evening at the house was like a little concert.”In her teens she was sent back to England, to the Queenswood School for Girls in Hertfordshire. She began to act while there and, after graduating, spent a year traveling around Italy before being accepted at the Drama Center London.Being an actress “was the only thing I wanted to be,” she told The Times of London in 2017, adding that she had been “incredibly lucky” to be quickly given major roles.Ms. McCrory met Mr. Lewis in 2003, when they were both appearing in Joanna Laurens’s “Five Gold Rings” at the Almeida Theater in London. “Damian’s naughty, and I’ve always loved my naughty boys,” she said last year on the BBC 4 radio program “Desert Island Discs.” They had two children, Manon in 2006 and Gulliver in 2007, and married in 2007. Although Mr. Lewis also found fame, on the television series “Homeland” and “Billions,” they maintained a low-key life in London.Ms. McCrory with her husband, the actor Damian Lewis, in London in 2017 after she was named an officer of the Order of the British Empire.Pool photo by Wpa“I’m much happier as I’ve got older,” Ms. McCrory told The Times of London in 2016. “Age has given me nothing but confidence, security and joy.” She added, “To me, ‘Helen McCrory, 47’ means nothing. ‘Helen McCrory, bad housewife and argumentative after a bottle of gin’ would be much more relevant.”In recent years she appeared on TV in leading roles in David Hare’s political drama “Roadkill” and James Graham’s “Quiz” and as the voice of a daemon in “His Dark Materials.”Last year, Ms. McCrory and Mr. Lewis spearheaded a fund-raising effort to provide meals for members of the National Health staff amid the coronavirus pandemic. Their work led to donations of close to £1 million ($1.4 million) to the Feed NHS Scheme. Just a month ago, on March 12, she appeared with Mr. Lewis on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain” to discuss the project.Her illness was not widely known, and her death came as a surprise to most. Complete information on survivors, in addition to her husband and children, was not immediately available. More

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    Head of New York Theater Workshop to Depart in 2022

    James C. Nicola, who balanced provocative programming with shows aimed at Broadway, will have served 34 years as artistic director.As the New York theater world points toward reopening, one major force within its nonprofit sector — and a central figure in its often lucrative collaborations with Broadway — is preparing to walk away.James C. Nicola, the artistic director of New York Theater Workshop, announced on Friday that he will step down in June 2022. At that point, he will have spent 34 years — nearly half his life — at the off-Broadway theater, which spawned the once-in-a-lifetime hit musical “Rent” and grew under his leadership into a steady home for provocative fare by the likes of Caryl Churchill, the Five Lesbian Brothers and the director Ivo van Hove.“I’ve been around long enough to see some of my colleagues carried out of their jobs in a pine box,” Nicola, 71, said on Thursday. “I didn’t want to go that route.”His announcement comes at a time when theaters in New York are grappling with numerous internal and external pressures. Besides the protracted closures related to Covid 19, which has wreaked havoc on theaters’ finances, several groups of theater artists who are Black, Indigenous or people of color have pointed out the overwhelmingly white and male demographics of their artistic leadership, most notably in the “We See You, White American Theater” manifesto that came out in July 2020.One of its demands was that theater leaders should view it as “an act of service to resign” if they have served in the role for more than 20 years — a benchmark that Nicola reached when George W. Bush was president. Nicola is the first prominent New York artistic director to announce his departure since then, and the process of replacing him will undoubtedly be closely watched.Asked about his replacement, Nicola said he would “love to see someone who has the trust and faith of all the constituencies of the community.”Unlike many artistic directors, Nicola was not primarily a stage director himself. He came to New York Theater Workshop in 1988 after stints in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s casting office and at Arena Stage in Washington.In recent years, the workshop has seen several works transfer to Broadway from its airy East Fourth Street theater, including the Tony Award-winning musicals “Once” and “Hadestown”; the acclaimed personal-meets-political memoir “What the Constitution Means to Me”; and “Slave Play,” which is currently nominated for 12 Tonys. (Another transfer, “Sing Street,” was two weeks away from its first preview on Broadway when the Covid-19 lockdown happened.)Nicola — who recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Rent,” the theater’s first Broadway transfer, with a starry online fund-raiser — says he is of two minds about the pipeline between commercial and nonprofit theater.“There are many wonderful people in the commercial Broadway world, but I think we’ve become too dependent on their enhancement money,” said Nicola, referring to the funds that commercial Broadway producers will invest in smaller productions with an eye toward larger subsequent productions.“If it’s a large project and it doesn’t have commercial enhancement, it’s probably not going to happen,” he said. “And I think that’s something we as an industry need to be really concerned about.”New York Theater Workshop still plans to present two works that were canceled last year, the Martyna Majok play “Sanctuary City” and a new adaptation of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” by Clare Barron.Until that is feasible, the theater has established an ambitious Artistic Instigators program, connecting traditional theater artists, filmmakers and digital artists on projects that subscribers can watch in their evolving states. As Nicola envisions a post-coronavirus theater landscape, he hopes theaters will learn from these innovations.“This year, we had 18,000 people view the ‘Rent 25’ gala from all over the globe,” he said. “Eighteen thousand. That kind of access — it’s hard to imagine not having the capacity to do that going forward. So maybe instead of doing eight shows a week, we do seven live shows and then stream a capture.”Members of the original “Rent” cast during the recent anniversary fundraiser.via New York Theater WorkshopBut those decisions will ultimately fall to his successor. Whoever it is, Nicola will be watching from the sidelines.“I want to absolutely stay out of it,” he said. “I think it’s completely inappropriate to be hovering or hanging out, both during the process and when that person comes in. They shouldn’t have to contend with the old guy.”He said he was at peace with what comes next.“As a child, my dad told me he thought he was going to die at 37,” Nicola said. “He didn’t, but I started thinking the same thing: Was I going to make it past 37? And oddly, I was 37 when I started at New York Theater Workshop. In a certain way, it was like the beginning of my life, not the end.” More

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    Karen Olivo Won’t Return to ‘Moulin Rouge!’

    Citing recent reports of abusive behavior, including by the powerful producer Scott Rudin, the actress said advocacy mattered more than a lucrative role.Karen Olivo, a Tony-nominated star of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” said Wednesday that she would not rejoin the show’s cast when Broadway performances resume.She made the announcement in a five-minute Instagram video. “I could easily go back to the show and make a lot of money,” she said, “but I still wouldn’t be able to really control what I was putting out into the world, and what I’m seeing in this space, right now, with our industry, is that everybody is scared, and nobody is really doing a lot of the stuff that needs to be done.”She referred specifically to the powerful producer Scott Rudin, who has long been described as abusive toward staffers, most recently in a detailed April 7 article in The Hollywood Reporter. Rudin is not a producer of “Moulin Rouge!,” and Olivo has not worked with him, but she has been vocal with her concerns about overall industry practices.“The silence about Scott Rudin: unacceptable,” she said in the video. “That should be a no-brainer.”She challenged colleagues to speak up. “Those of you who say you’re scared — what are you afraid of?” she said. “Shouldn’t you be more afraid of not saying something and more people getting hurt?”In a phone call later Wednesday, Olivo said that the lack of a broader response to The Hollywood Reporter story “cracked me open” and contributed to her feeling that “Broadway is not the place I want to be.”A Rudin spokesman said he would have no comment.Olivo, 44, began her Broadway career as an understudy in “Rent.” She broke out in the original cast of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical “In the Heights,” and in 2009 won a Tony Award playing Anita in a revival of “West Side Story.”She has stepped away from the industry before. In 2013 she relocated to Madison, Wis., where she and her husband have a home and are co-parenting two children. She has been living there since Broadway shut down last spring.Olivo has been teaching classes virtually at her alma mater, the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, and said she remained committed to helping develop aspiring artists. During the pandemic, she and another actor, Eden Espinosa, also formed an advocacy organization, Afect, that seeks to bring greater financial transparency to the theater industry.In an interview conducted in December, Olivo expressed concerns about whether Broadway would evolve after the shutdown, and whether she would return to it. “I hope that everyone is working to change the industry and not just trying to get back so we can fill our coffers again,” she said.Since the Broadway shutdown, Olivo has moved back home to Wisconsin and is teaching classes virtually.Lauren Justice for The New York Times“Social justice is actually more important than being the sparkling diamond,” she said in Wednesday’s video, alluding to her “Moulin Rouge!” character, Satine, who is referred to that way in the musical. “Building a better industry for my students is more important than me putting money in my pockets.”In the telephone interview, Olivo added: “I’m going to make art with the people that I think match my integrity, who want to do it right, and if those people don’t come, then I will make it myself.”The “Moulin Rouge!” producers said in a statement that the show “is forever indebted to Karen Olivo’s artistry, passion, and craft in creating the role of Satine onstage. We applaud and support Karen’s advocacy work to create a safe, diverse, and equitable theater industry for all.”Earlier this week, three entertainment industry unions issued a statement calling for “harassment-free workplaces,” prompted by the Hollywood Reporter story, but not referring to it.“No worker should be subjected to bullying or harassment, whether or not they are a union member,” said the statement from the presidents of SAG-AFTRA, the Actors’ Equity Association, and the American Federation of Musicians Local 802. More

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    With ‘Dramazon Prime,’ Streamed Theater Goes Head-to-Head With TV

    A German playhouse realizes it’s no longer competing merely against other local venues for audience attention.MUNICH — When playhouses throughout the world first closed their doors in the early days of the pandemic, many scrambled to upload recorded performances to their websites as a way of staying connected to their audiences. The result was an overwhelming — but short-lived — explosion of archived theater that varied in artistic and technical quality. Virtually all of it was free.Since then, a growing number of theaters have flirted with pay-per-view formats, devoting lavish resources to professionally filmed productions for online premieres. Along with ensuring that the show goes on, these pay-per-streams are designed to test the hypothesis that people are willing to open their wallets for quality shows they won’t find anywhere else.It took decades before anyone figured out how to successfully charge for media content on the internet. It’s easy to forget just how difficult it was to convince people that digital subscriptions were worth paying for. That pay-per-view theater has taken off so quickly seems one measure of how the pandemic has changed the way people consume culture.Here in Germany, theaters like the Volksbühne, in Berlin, and the Bavarian State Opera, in Munich, are finding that audiences starved for culture are willing to fork out significant sums to virtually experience the drama that they love and miss.Perhaps nowhere else have these streaming efforts been so focused and abundant as at Schauspiel Köln, the main theater in Cologne, in western Germany.In little more than a year, its pandemic-era streaming platform, Dramazon Prime, has become an increasingly sophisticated and flexible online showcase. Indeed, its programming has evolved to something resembling an actual theater schedule, with nightly streams of new and recent productions.Birgit Walter, left, and Kristin Steffen in Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II,” directed by Pinar Karabulut.Ana LukendaAnd despite the bad play on words, the platform’s name indicates that, even early in the pandemic, the Cologne theater had a key insight: When they offer programming online, playhouses are no longer merely competing against other local venues for audience attention. They need to contend with streaming giants like Netflix that lure us with the promise of endless “content.”Dramazon Prime’s recent schedule shows how Schauspiel Köln is attracting virtual audiences with finely wrought streams of everything from traditional to experimental productions that tinker with formats reminiscent of film and TV.Recently, the theater unveiled its most elaborate digital production to date, a six-part mini-series based on Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II.” Cheekily updating the 1592 tragedy for the streaming age, “Edward II: The Love Is Me” is a sendup of Netflix costume dramas, with sitcom and soap operatic touches. Each episode runs between 20 and 40 highly stylized minutes, with glamorous sets (it seems to have been largely shot in a shuttered luxury hotel) and costumes that liberally mix Elizabethan dress and modern styles.This “Edward II” was directed by the young German director Pinar Karabulut. As in her recent “Mourning Becomes Electra” for the Volksbühne, she shows a flair for pop cultural pastiche — but it threatens to overwhelm the production. She wears her movie mania on her sleeve, and one often tires of all the fangirl references to the likes of Scorsese, Tarantino and Luca Guadagnino. There’s sex and camp and violence galore.The most consistently enjoyable parts of the series are the lavish opening credit sequences, which establish a slick, tongue-in-cheek tone that the episodes struggle to sustain. The more sexually explicit installments are prefaced with disclaimers that the actors have all been tested for the coronavirus, and advise viewers never to engage in unprotected sex, in an apparent sendup of American “trigger warnings.”Nicola Gründel in Elfriede Jelinek’s “Black Water,”  directed by Stefan Bachmann.Tommy HetzelA more distilled version of theatrical madness packaged as film is “Black Water,” a short feature based on the latest play by Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian Nobel laureate. “Black Water” had its world premiere in Vienna shortly before the pandemic hit, in a production that ran to three and a half hours; the Dramazon Prime version, by the theater’s artistic director, Stefan Bachmann, is a mere half-hour. It features six of the company’s actors reciting bitter and often darkly comic monologues in a cocaine-fueled bacchanal, trapped in a freight elevator and, later, huddled together on the floor of a bathroom. There’s lots of belching, Red Bull-guzzling and expulsion of bodily fluids. And I would be hard pressed to tell you what any of it means.Even when dealing with more conventional stage works, Dramazon Prime seems committed to making online drama that is more than a secondhand theatrical experience.“Birds of a Kind” by Wajdi Mouawad, directed by Stefan Bachmann.Tommy HetzelBold camerawork and editing distinguish Bachmann’s production of Wajdi Mouawad’s “Birds of a Kind,” which premiered before a live audience in September. For its stream (which is subtitled in English), the theater enlisted the cameraman Andreas Deinert, who devised a rigorous and restrained visual style that cuts between wide- and split-screen compositions to show the characters from multiple perspectives. In the end, the cinematography and editing are far more impressive than the play itself, a sprawling and overwrought family saga set against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with dialogue in German, English, Hebrew and Arabic.A more harmonious blend of stagecraft and camerawork comes in an emotionally shattering version of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Rafael Sanchez’s production sets the action of John Steinbeck’s vast American tragedy in various backstage sites, with simple props to suggest the locations crossed by the Joad family on their journey from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl years. Sanchez is the Schauspiel Köln’s in-house director, and his production (also subtitled in English) succeeds at being at once epic and intimate.Martin Reinke, left, and Seán McDonagh in “The Grapes of Wrath.” Krafft AngererAs with all the Dramazon Prime streams, you pay what you want to watch “The Grapes of Wrath”: For most productions, you can select a price between 1 and 100 euros. According to Jana Lösch, a theater spokeswoman, people tend to choose amounts that reflect what they would ordinarily spend for a night at the theater. Even so, online ticket sales don’t nearly cover the theater’s operating costs, let alone generate profit, Lösch said.I’ve heard similar things from other theaters: Nobody’s expecting to get rich from selling online tickets. Then again, state-subsidized theaters in Germany, such as the Schauspiel Köln, do not rely on box-office receipts the same way Broadway or West End venues do. Generous government support for the arts here in the best of times means theaters and other culture venues can still forge ahead in the worst. But state largess is not enough to ensure the show goes on. For that, you need determination, creativity and a willingness to experiment with new formats and aesthetic possibilities. More

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    The Brief, Brilliant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry

    The curtain rises on a dim, drab room. An alarm sounds, and a woman wakes. She tries to rouse her sleeping child and husband, calling out: “Get up!”It is the opening scene — and the injunction — of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun,” the story of a Black family living on the South Side of Chicago. “Never before, in the entire history of the American theater, had so much of the truth of Black people’s lives been seen on the stage,” her friend James Baldwin would later recall. It was the first play by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway. When “Raisin” won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play, Hansberry — at 29 — became the youngest American and the first Black recipient.How often the word “first” appears in the life of Hansberry; how often it will appear in this review. See also “spokeswoman” or “only.” Strange words of praise; meretricious even, in how they can mask the isolation they impose. Hansberry seemed to anticipate it all. At the triumphant premiere of “Raisin,” at the standing ovation and the calls for playwright to take the stage, she initially refused to leave her seat. “The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all,” she later wrote, “is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.”Hansberry died in 1965, at 34, of cancer. The fact still feels intolerable, almost unassimilable — her death not merely tragedy but a kind of theft. “Look at the work that awaits you!” she said in a speech to young writers, calling them “young, gifted and Black” — inspiring the Nina Simone song of the same name. Look at the work that awaited her. She goaded herself on, even in the hospital: “Comfort has come to be its own corruption.”But a flurry of recent renewed interest attests to how much Hansberry did accomplish — the range of her interests and seriousness of her political commitments. There has been Imani Perry’s 2018 book “Looking for Lorraine” and Tracy Heather Strain’s 2017 documentary “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.” The pre-eminent Hansberry scholar Margaret B. Wilkerson has a book in the works.To this Soyica Diggs Colbert, a professor of African American Studies and Performing Arts at Georgetown University, adds her contribution with “Radical Vision,” positioned as the first scholarly biography. Here is Hansberry resurrected from the archives, from her scripts, scraps and drafts. Through a series of close readings, Colbert examines “how her writing, published and unpublished, offers a road map to negotiate Black suffering in the past and present.”.To quote Simone de Beauvoir, an important influence, Hansberry could not think in terms of joy or despair “but in terms of freedom.” And she could not think of freedom as a destination but as a practice, full of intervals, regressions. It is the same idea one encounters in radical thinkers today, in Mariame Kaba’s notion of abolitionist feminism as a practice of freedom.A central aim of Colbert’s biography, as with Perry’s book and Strain’s documentary, is to reclaim Hansberry as the radical she was.In the public eye, she was the slim and pleasing housewife, the accidental playwright featured in a photo spread in Vogue. “Best Play Prize Won By a Negro Girl, 28,” The New York Herald Tribune declared. “Mrs. Robert Nemiroff,” The New York Times profiled her, “voluble, energetic, pretty and small.”Studies of Hansberry excavate her behind-the-scenes activism. There is the now famous story of her confrontation with Robert Kennedy, who as attorney general in 1963 convened a group of Black activists and intellectuals. Hansberry demanded Kennedy acknowledge racism as a moral problem, not a purely social one, before walking out in disgust.Colbert adds detail and dimension to Hansberry’s work — covering, for instance, the years she spent writing for Paul Robeson’s newspaper Freedom, reporting on the Mau Mau Uprising and child labor in South Africa. She held fund-raisers, and studied alongside Alice Childress and W.E.B. Du Bois. The mythos of “the first” obscures so much of the communality of Hansberry’s thinking. “We never talked about men or clothes or other such inconsequential things when we got together,” Nina Simone wrote of Hansberry in her memoir. “It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution — real girls’ talk.”A small interlude. Imagine another opening scene. Another dim, drab room. The alarm sounds. A woman wakes, tries to rouse a sleeping child. This is the beginning of another story set on Chicago’s South Side — Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” published in 1940. The parallels to me have always felt too uncanny for it not to be homage. Hansberry reviewed Wright’s fiction — a little uncharitably, to my mind. She had no patience for despair, for victims, really; her plays hinge on a decisive moment in which a character fends off complacency and takes a stand (quite often while making a thunderous speech about the necessity of taking a stand). There’s an odd narrowness to her vision. Her commitment to realism was absolute, a matter of moral principle. Interest in anomie, absurdity or paralysis was dismissed as liberal silliness, and an abdication of artistic responsibility.This stringency is curious, given Hansberry’s openness when it came to tactics, her insistence that the movement required a multipronged approach. “Negroes must concern themselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and nonviolent,” she wrote. “The acceptance of our present condition is the only form of extremism which discredits us before our children.” This belief, Colbert argues, was her inheritance.Soyica Diggs Colbert, the author of “Radical Vision: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry.”Paul B. Jones/Georgetown UniversityHansberry was born on May 19, 1930, in the first Black-owned and -operated hospital in the nation. She was a “movement baby,” Colbert writes. Her father built a real estate empire by chopping up larger apartments into smaller units to provide housing for the waves of Black migrants who fled the South only to encounter deeply segregated Chicago.In 1937, the family moved to a white neighborhood — the story she revisits in “Raisin.” A segregationist landowners’ association challenged the sale of the house. White mobs harassed the family, on one occasion throwing a concrete mortar through the window. It narrowly missed Hansberry, who was 7 years old.These years taught Hansberry the necessity of fighting on all fronts. Her father filed a lawsuit, and Hansberry recalled her “desperate and courageous mother,” home without him, “patrolling our house all night with a loaded German Luger, doggedly guarding her four children.”Colbert’s study is loving, lavishly detailed, repetitive and a little stilted in the telling. (The notes, however, are splendid — fluent, rich and full of a feeling of discovery; here she permits herself to speak more freely.) The book circles a few points very dutifully — even as we feel Colbert itching to rove. She has a habit of making arresting asides and then refusing to follow their trail: “Hansberry’s writing suggests that she understood Blackness to implicitly include what we would now describe as queerness.”It’s not incidental, I think, that these asides often have to do with desire. Colbert pays forensic attention here to scripts, articles and stories, but takes less intellectual interest in the jottings and journals — to the self that was feverish, exultant, wary in its sexuality. The thinking gets pleasantly tousled and unsure here; Hansberry is off the podium and on her second glass of Scotch, wondering at her attraction to femininity — “the rather disgusting symbol of woman’s oppression.” And yet: “I am fond of being able to watch calves and ankles freely.” She divorced her husband in 1964 (they remained artistic collaborators) and began to move in lesbian circles that included Patricia Highsmith and Louise Fitzhugh, the author of “Harriet the Spy.” For years, she kept annual inventories of her loves and hates. (“My homosexuality” made both at age 29.) To read these notes, their shame and their thrill (At 32, under “I like”: “the inside of a lovely woman’s mouth”) recalls some of the pleasures of the private writing of Virginia Woolf and the fragmented diaries of Susan Sontag — two other writers capable of caginess about their attraction to women.Hansberry exhorted students to “write about our people, tell their story. Leave the convoluted sex preoccupations to the convoluted.” And yet out of her own convolutions, a new self was emerging, a new understanding. “I feel I am learning how to think all over again,” she wrote anonymously to a lesbian magazine.What would this thinking have wrought? Her impatience, her greed for work, for thought — for more life — is palpable until the end. The final journal entries burn. She is desperate for her lover (“I consumed her whole”) stuck in the hospital, she is hungry to return to her play. “The writing urge is on,” she wrote. “Only death or infirmity can stop me now.” More

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    Miami Outdoor Theater Hit Announces a New York Arrival

    “The Seven Deadly Sins,” a theatrical anthology series, will start off on June 23 at a series of storefront windows in the Meatpacking District.After enjoying a successful run in Miami Beach from late November through January, “The Seven Deadly Sins,” an outdoor theatrical anthology series that explores humanity’s basest impulses, will come to New York. Performances are scheduled to begin on June 23 and will take place in storefront windows in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.“I think it was important for us to do it in this moment of transition,” said Moisés Kaufman, the founder and artistic director of Tectonic Theater Project, which is producing the show with Madison Wells Live in association with Miami New Drama. “We wanted to be able to create something while the pandemic is still with us because it feels more like an act of defiance.”The New York version of “The Seven Deadly Sins” will feature short new plays by Ngozi Anyanwu, Thomas Bradshaw, MJ Kaufman, Jeffrey LaHoste, Ming Peiffer and Bess Wohl. Moisés Kaufman will also contribute a piece to the anthology and direct the production. Each playwright’s work will address a particular “sin”: pride, greed, wrath, envy, gluttony, sloth or lust.“We really wanted the event to not be a revival of an existing play,” Kaufman said in an interview on Wednesday. After having been through a pandemic, “the idea that new art can be born on the streets of Manhattan is something that excites us.”The 10-minute-long plays will be viewable from the street — by a masked, socially distanced audience, who will be provided with disposable earbuds to hear the actors in the storefronts. Escorted by a guide, they will watch the seven pieces in different orders. Before viewing the artistically rendered debauchery, ticket holders will have the opportunity to grab a drink at a pop-up bar called Purgatory.The Meatpacking District Business Improvement District is pitching in to identify performance venues and manage the production’s use of public space.Dael Orlandersmith and Nilo Cruz were among the writers who contributed plays to the twice-extended inaugural production, which was conceived of by Michel Hausmann, a co-founder of Miami New Drama with Moisés Kaufman.Storefront performances have cropped up in New York periodically since the pandemic began, but none so far have matched the scale or complexity of “The Seven Deadly Sins.” In March, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that live indoor and outdoor shows could resume in the state at limited capacity beginning April 2, paving the way for more ambitious projects to take root in the city this spring and summer.Tickets go on sale May 14. Casting information will be released soon. More

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    Theater to Stream: ‘Assassins’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’

    Highlights include a virtual production of Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside” and a new reading series by Roundabout Theater Company.In March of last year, Classic Stage Company announced that its revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Assassins” was postponed. “The production was to begin performances on April 2,” the email said. “C.S.C. intends to resume rehearsals and present ‘Assassins’ in the coming months.”Fast forward 13 months, and the company is indeed presenting “Assassins,” or at least a stopgap event until the director, John Doyle, can fully proceed. Still, fans will enjoy “Tell the Story: Celebrating Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s ‘Assassins,’” a tribute to the show — which is told from the perspective of people who have tried, successfully and not, to kill an American president — featuring chats (including with Sondheim and Weidman), performances and testimonies, with actors from the 1990 premiere and the 2004 Broadway production joining the Classic Stage Company cast.This is a rare opportunity to hear, for example, three John Wilkes Booths (Victor Garber, Michael Cerveris and Steven Pasquale) talk about their craft — and killing Lincoln. Among Doyle’s most alluring casting moves: Tavi Gevinson as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Judy Kuhn as Sara Jane Moore. Even the theater superfan Hillary Clinton will weigh in on the show’s impact. Thursday through Monday; classicstage.orgMaggie Bofill, left, and Ephraim Birney “The Sound Inside.”Pedro Bermudez‘The Sound Inside’A drama as suspenseful as any thriller, Adam Rapp’s brilliant two-character Broadway debut considers how fiction can be uncomfortably close and personal. TheaterWorks Hartford’s digital version was hatched by the stage director Rob Ruggiero and the filmmaker Pedro Bermúdez, with Maggie Bofill as a Yale professor of creative writing and Ephraim Birney (the son of Reed Birney) as a student both troubled and troubling. Through April 30; twhartford.orgFrom left, Jessie Buckley, Lucian Msamati and Josh O’Connor in “Romeo and Juliet.”Rob Youngson‘Romeo and Juliet’With Jessie Buckley (“Fargo”) and Josh O’Connor (“The Crown”) as the unluckiest lovers ever, the swoon factor is high in Simon Godwin’s staging of Shakespeare’s tragic romance for the National Theater. Watch also for Deborah Findlay (a Tony Award nominee for “The Children”) and Tamsin Greig, who almost hijack the show as Juliet’s nurse and mother. April 23-May 21; pbs.orgSecond ChancesAfter a prologue set in 1600, the Chilean theater collective Bonobo’s “Tú Amarás” (“You Shall Love”) jumps to a present-day medical conference, where the arrival of aliens weighs on the proceedings. The Baryshnikov Arts Center captured the play’s New York premiere in February 2020, and is now featuring it as part of the center’s digital season. April 22-29; bacnyc.orgAnother small show getting a welcome encore online is Lizzie Vieh’s dark comedy “Monsoon Season.” All for One Theater is streaming a performance filmed during the play’s 2019 run at the Rattlestick Theater in Manhattan. Danny (Richard Thieriot) and his ex-wife, Julia (Therese Plaehn), live in a world of tech-support jobs, wannabe YouTube influencers and crummy apartments. The couple are almost never onstage at the same time yet share a weird chemistry, until an even weirder finale. Through Sunday; afo.nyc‘The Norman Conquests’In 2009, a terrific British cast led by Stephen Mangan and Jessica Hynes barreled through an inspired Broadway revival of this Alan Ayckbourn trilogy, in which each play offers a different perspective on the same hectic weekend in the country. If you want another take on these farcical shenanigans, the streaming platform Acorn and Broadway HD have made available the British mini-series adaptation from 1978. It’s deliciously drenched in 1970s aesthetics — behold the brown palette — with Tom Conti in the pivotal role of Norman. acorn.tv and BroadwayHDFrom left, Florencia Lozano, Jimmy Smits and Daphne Rubin-Vega in “Two Sisters and a Piano.”via New Normal RepNew Normal RepIt takes moxie to create a theater company these days. Welcome to the emerging New Normal Rep, which is presenting Nilo Cruz’s “Two Sisters and a Piano.” In the play, which predates Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Anna in the Tropics” by a few years, the siblings of the title are under house arrest in the Havana of 1991. The cast of this virtual production, directed by the playwright, includes Daphne Rubin-Vega, a veteran of both shows, and Jimmy Smits, who was also in “Tropics.” April 21-May 23; newnormalrep.orgThe ReFocus ProjectThe powerhouse Roundabout Theater Company is launching an initiative to help rethink what constitutes the American theatrical canon. For the first year, which focuses on 20th-century works by Black playwrights, Roundabout has partnered with Black Theater United and unearthed promising texts for readings. The first is Angelina Weld Grimké’s “Rachel,” from 1916, which is thought to be the first professionally produced play by a Black woman in the United States (April 23-26). The following week brings Samm-Art Williams’s “Home,” originally produced by the Negro Ensemble Company before transferring to Broadway in 1980. (April 30-May 3). roundabouttheatre.orgThe Gay ’80sDid the recent Russell T Davies mini-series “It’s a Sin” leave you wanting more? Two solo shows explore a similar milieu: the lives of gay men in the 1980s. Ben SantaMaria’s semi-autobiographical solo play “Really Want to Hurt Me,” captured in 2018, depicts the coming-of-age of a young gay man (portrayed by Ryan Price) in 1984 Britain. bensantamaria.comThe protagonist of “Cruise” discovers he is H.I.V. positive in 1984 and spends the following four years living life to its fullest. Written and performed by Jack Holden, who was inspired by a story he heard while working at a hotline, this play is getting a digital run before a physical one (if all goes as planned) in May. Thursday through April 25; stream.theatreRosalyn Coleman in “The Woman’s Party.”via Clubbed Thumb‘The Woman’s Party’The Clubbed Thumb company, whose discoveries include “What the Constitution Means to Me” and “Tumacho,” is serializing Rinne Groff’s play, about the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment, over three episodes released weekly. The show, directed by Tara Ahmadinejad, tracks the arguments among feminist activists as they wrangled over goals and strategy. This should be catnip to the terrific cast, which includes Alma Cuervo, Marga Gomez, Marceline Hugot and Emily Kuroda. April 22 through August; clubbedthumb.orgBen Thompson, left, and David Ricardo-Pearce in rehearsal of “The Lorax.”Manuel Harlan, via The Old Vic‘The Lorax’As part of its In Camera series (“Lungs,” “Three Kings”), the Old Vic Theater in London is bringing back its 2015 production of Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax” for a handful of livestreamed performances that jointly celebrate the book’s 50th anniversary and Earth Day. Max Webster directs David Greig and Charlie Fink’s adaptation of the eco-minded story. “I am the Lorax,” the title character says. “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” Wednesday through Saturday, with free performances for schools on April 22; oldvictheatre.com More