LONDON — Family life doesn’t have much going for it in “The Duchess of Malfi,” the blood bath of a play from John Webster in which corpses are piled high by a conclusion that is merciless even by 17th-century standards.
Centering around an ill-fated Italian noblewoman and her two venomous brothers, this favorite of the London stage has resurfaced in a sleek, stylish production from the director Rebecca Frecknall, at the Almeida Theater through Jan. 25.
Frecknall made her name on this stage with a highly abstract production of “Summer and Smoke” in 2018 that made its way to the West End. The similarly stripped-back, installation-art feel to her latest production is of a piece with the Almeida’s Continental aesthetic, as filtered through such English directors as Robert Icke, a former Almeida artistic associate.
Much of Chloe Lamford’s set — itself ready for display in Tate Modern — is given over to a glass box that makes the characters into human specimens on display. Microphones appear on cue, and chapter headings let us know where we are in Webster’s labyrinthine narrative.
The characters tumble toward the abyss, as Lydia Wilson’s transgression-prone Duchess lingers in view of the audience even after Webster’s text has relegated her to oblivion: The onstage structure becomes a transparent mausoleum whose inhabitants won’t be so easily dispatched.
And so the play’s women become silent witnesses from beyond the grave to the bloodshed of the men, who behave like beasts. (One of them — Jack Riddiford’s Ferdinand, the more outwardly crazed of the brothers — starts thinking he’s a wolf.) It’s a play that honors its author’s near-contemporary, Shakespeare, while mining even further depths of depravity.
Politics, and not (thank heavens) the threat of spilled blood, weigh heavily on a father and his daughter in “Snowflake,” the Mike Bartlett play at the Kiln Theater through Jan. 25. The timing means that Clare Lizzimore’s lit fuse of a production will finish just a week before Britain is set to leave the European Union, as Brexit, after many delays, finally takes place.
Andy (Elliot Levey), the 48-year-old widower and father who gets the entire first act to himself, is pro-Leave, though he’s far more concerned about reconnecting with his estranged daughter than with matters of state, at least at first. That explains his jittery anticipation as he paces a church hall in the run-up to Christmas, in the hope that the child he hasn’t seen in three years will make a festive-season appearance to her still-devoted father. (Her affection for him, we quickly realize, is more ambivalent.)
After the intermission, Bartlett brings into the fray the errant Maya (a spiky Ellen Robertson). Her conciliation-minded girlfriend, Natalie (Amber James), arrives first so as to smooth the way for the set-to that follows. Maya, it comes as no surprise to discover, isn’t just emphatically pro-Remain but views Andy as a relic from a bygone era: a man whose enthusiasm for James Bond and “The X Files” consigns him to an uncritical past that the culturally hyper-aware Maya wants no part of. “The X Files,” to her, is merely “two white people scared of aliens.”
Bartlett has explored such competing mind-sets before, in the richer, more nuanced “Albion,” which will return to the Almeida next month. By comparison, “Snowflake” seems slight: an exercise in theater-as-showdown, but one that, to its credit, values both points of view.
Bartlett’s neat title refers to the wintry conditions of the holiday season when the play is set, as well as to those overly emotive, fragile members of the younger generation to which Maya and Natalie belong. And Levey, a reliable ensemble player too rarely given such a hefty part, tears into the play’s lead role as the well-meaning parent who can’t budge a child’s implacable resolve.
Can these two find a shared way forward, and will the divided country they inhabit? Bartlett suggests only that identity politics alone won’t take you very far. Within families, love is helpful, too.
That’s assuming, of course, that you know who your family is. The revelation of an unknown family member signals the provocative starting point of “The Arrival,” at the Bush Theater through Jan 18. This 70-minute two-hander is the bristling playwriting debut of Bijan Sheibani, the well-established theater director whose National Theater production of “Barber Shop Chronicles” traveled to New York last month, and who doubles as his own keen-eyed director here.
Set on an unadorned, circular stage that suggests a gladiatorial ring, the play introduces two British Iranian brothers, five years apart in age, who meet for the first time. Tom (Scott Karim), 35, the older, was put up for adoption before Samad (Irfan Shamji) was born.
Greetings have barely been exchanged before the brothers make clear their differences: Samad is more expensively educated and bookish, while the leaner, more impulsive Tom gives off an energy that Samad can’t match.
Told across 16 scenes, the last of which pushes events forward several years, the play has the feel of an uneasy mating dance.
Both performers are terrific. Shamji’s eyes hint at a reserve not easily cracked, while Karim’s volatility keeps pace with a restless sound design from Gareth Fry that suggests an amplified heartbeat. In the end, their arrival in each other’s lives merely leads to a further departure. The two may share DNA, but any emotional bond remains poignantly out of reach.
The Duchess of Malfi. Directed by Rebecca Frecknall. Almeida Theater, through Jan. 25.
Snowflake. Directed by Clare Lizzimore. Kiln Theater, through Jan. 25.
The Arrival. Directed by Bijan Sheibani. Bush Theater, through Jan 18.
7 Great Contemporary Novels for Teenagers
My smell test for this list was simple: Which novels do teenagers themselves think are incredible? Which ones do they recommend to their friends? Which ones do they want to own, rather than borrow? As a grown-up, and therefore an interloper, figuring this out took a little detective work. I confess to eavesdropping, Twitter-stalking and the like in pursuit of the answers.
I consider this test especially important when it comes to realistic Y.A. novels, the ones that take place in the world as we know it. That is because while audience research shows that all of Y.A has a strong following among adults over age 21, I strongly suspect that it is the Y.A. fantasy novels (paging Leigh Bardugo, Sabaa Tahir, Neal Shusterman) that cross over most frequently into the lives of adult readers.
Of course, the excellent, realistic contemporary novels below are clearly enjoyed by adult readers — like me! But my evidence suggests that they have been cherished in an extra-special, even life-changing way by teenagers, and will continue to hit that sweet spot for the newest crop of kids to discover them.
[ This list is part of Story Times, a project from our children’s book editor to recommend the best books for young readers across all ages. ]
This has been a staple of best seller lists for few years now, and for good reasons: It provides an ideal story to help teenagers think through questions of justice, racism, activism and personal responsibility, and it’s got catchy writing, perfect pacing and emotional smarts to boot. After a black student at a mostly white private school witnesses a police officer shoot her unarmed friend, she has to decide whether or not to speak up and pursue justice for him and for her community. There are also many appealing characters and dramatic moments. (The movie is great too — but don’t let it take the place of reading this gem.)
Yes, it’s a hit Broadway musical, in the form of a novel — and it works. Both onstage and on the page, the story expertly dissects teenagers’ tortured relationships with popularity and social media. A lonely, anxious teenager writes notes to himself on the advice of his therapist. One of them falls into the hands of a deeply troubled classmate who commits suicide. Partly to help the bereaved parents, Evan pretends he and the boy were close, but struggles under the weight of his secret. The novel fills in scenes only alluded to in the musical, and fleshes out peripheral characters.
This heartfelt, breathlessly told novel takes teenagers’ emotional lives seriously without being either sappy or gloomy. An artistic boy named Noah narrates half the story and his daredevil twin sister, Jude, tells the other half. The siblings are close until a family drama wrenches them apart, and they must find their way back to each other. Each experiences an exhilarating romance — Noah’s is with another boy — and an earnest struggle to figure out where their passions in life truly lie.
[ Looking for more? Our editor recommends great fantasy novels for teenagers. ]
‘The Poet X,’ by Elizabeth Acevedo
This gorgeous, award-winning novel in verse tells the story of a quiet Dominican-American girl from a religious family who scribbles her frustrations in a notebook and learns to speak her truth when she joins her school’s slam poetry club. There’s a sweet, forbidden romance and an inspiring story of finding your own creative voice. The book’s enduring popularity is a powerful reminder that teenagers groove on poetry, especially when it’s geared to the realities of their lives.
This one is a clever psychological thriller and an insightful family saga all in one. A privileged teenager named Cadence, who spends summers on an island owned by generations of her mother’s family, narrates an addictively enigmatic story. Something is amiss on the island, and a sudden tragedy only deepens the mystery — until all is explained in a shocking ending that will make you want to start the book all over again.
This novel delivers a romance that is mind-blowing in the best way. Natasha is a science-minded Jamaican girl who is hours away from being deported because of a paperwork error. Daniel is a Korean-American guy who has always been “the good son,” even when it goes against his poetic nature. They meet and catch one others’ eyes while literally crossing the street, and they — and we — have to picture all the improbable ways their futures could work together.
Published way back in 2012, this modern classic may already have produced more tears than any book in existence — and that is a good thing, because every teenager needs a genuine emotional workout now and then. Even better when that comes in a plot-driven story written in effortlessly engaging prose. Hazel Grace is a 16-year-old with cancer. At a patient support group she meets 17-year-old Augustus, who’s already lost a leg to cancer. Together they pursue a mysteriously missing writer all the way to Amsterdam, fall in love and, of course, face their own very real mortality. Reading this book has become a rite of passage for some kids, and it’s easy to see why.
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Barry Tuckwell, French Horn Virtuoso, Is Dead at 88
Barry Tuckwell, considered by many to be the finest horn player of his generation, who displayed his skill in concerts all over the world and on dozens of recordings, died on Friday in Melbourne, Australia. He was 88.
The Maryland Symphony Orchestra, of which Mr. Tuckwell was founding music director and conductor, posted news of his death on its website. The Sydney Morning Herald of Australia said the cause was heart disease.
Mr. Tuckwell, Australian by birth, was a master of the French horn, one of the more difficult instruments in the orchestra to play well, especially as a soloist. People magazine, in a 1979 article about Mr. Tuckwell, called it “some 21 feet of coiled brass, valves, crooks, sockets, slides, keys — in short, booby traps.”
Mr. Tuckwell offered an analogy. “Playing the horn,” he told the magazine, “is like driving a very fast car on an oily road. You have to anticipate the things that may go wrong.”
Mr. Tuckwell took up the instrument as a teenager and became principal horn of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1955. Thirteen years later he embarked on a solo career, a rare step for a horn player.
He quickly developed a reputation for both a rich tone and a dexterity with difficult passages. He also conducted, leading the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra of Australia in the early 1980s before spending 17 seasons leading the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.
“As the most recorded horn soloist of all time,” the Maryland orchestra’s executive director, Jonathan Parrish, said in the posting, “Tuckwell had a global impact on the world of horn playing and has inspired every generation of horn player for the past 70 years.”
Edward Schneider, reviewing some new recordings by Mr. Tuckwell in 1984 in The New York Times, nodded to his eminence. The recordings included three horn duets.
“Since no other horn player is named on the label,” Mr. Schneider wrote, “we must assume that, thanks to modern technology, the second horn, too, is played by Barry Tuckwell, who could not ask for a better partner.”
Barry Emmanuel Tuckwell was born on March 5, 1931, in Melbourne. His father, Charles, was an organist, and his mother, Elizabeth (Norton) Tuckwell, played piano; his father and others in his extended family had perfect pitch, and so did he.
He tried his parents’ instruments as well as violin before a friend introduced him to the French horn when he was 13.
“It was an important age to find something,” he told People. “I was not bright academically, and I was on the verge of being a juvenile delinquent.”
Two years later he was playing the instrument in the Melbourne Symphony. He also played with the Victoria and Sydney symphonies in Australia before moving to England, where he performed with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra before joining the London Symphony.
In a 1997 interview with The Times, Mr. Tuckwell credited an unexpected source with his ability to give a musical phrase a pleasing turn and to make a simple melody interesting: the jazz trombonist Tommy Dorsey.
“I played along with his records when I was a kid,” he said. “I’m proud to say I took lessons from Tommy Dorsey.”
As a soloist, Mr. Tuckwell played some 200 concerts a year. In 1978 he performed at Avery Fisher Hall in Manhattan during the Mostly Mozart Festival. A young man questioned him at length afterward, holding up a line of well-wishers.
“He wanted to know the secret,” Mr. Tuckwell explained to a reporter who had noticed the exchange, “and there isn’t any secret. It’s in the head, not in the lips.”
Mr. Tuckwell recorded almost everything in the classical French horn repertoire, and added to that repertoire by unearthing unknown or incomplete works for the horn, finishing those that needed finishing. But he also made efforts to push the French horn into the popular-music arena. In 1979 he and the pianist Richard Rodney Bennett recorded “A Sure Thing: Music of Jerome Kern.” In 1986 came “George Shearing and Barry Tuckwell Play the Music of Cole Porter.”
In 1994 he surprised the journalist Jim Lehrer and his wife, Kate, by agreeing to their out-of-the-blue request that he performed at their daughter’s wedding.
“I had never played for a wedding before, but I phoned up and said, ‘Why not?’” Mr. Tuckwell told The Times. “I will play the usual appropriate wedding music: the Trumpet Voluntary, the Mendelssohn ‘Wedding March’ and ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin.’”
Mr. Tuckwell, who lived at various times in Australia, England and the United States, retired from performing in 1997. His final program, played in Baltimore, included Oliver Knussen’s Horn Concerto, which was written for him and which he had given its premiere in Tokyo in 1994, with Mr. Knussen conducting.
Mr. Tuckwell’s survivors include his fourth wife, Jenny Darling, and three children, David, Jane and Tom.
Though Mr. Tuckwell was known for making difficult musical passages look easy, he was less impressed by flashy horn playing than he was by expressiveness.
“There are a lot of people who can play loud and fast,” he told The Times in 1978. “But it is still very difficult to play one note. In fact, I would like to institute a competition — although I don’t like them — in which each participant would be asked to play only one note. The length, the dynamics would be up to the player.”
“It would be a good exercise,” he added, “for the judge, too.”
A Climate Show Was Canceled. Then Came the Finger-Pointing.
The Public Theater, one of the nation’s biggest and most influential nonprofit theaters, has abruptly shortened the run of a climate change activist’s provocative one-man show, saying the creator, Josh Fox, had violated the theater’s code of conduct.
Fox, a film and theater artist best known for his Oscar-nominated anti-fracking documentary “Gasland,” announced the cancellation on social media, where he levied a series of serious claims against the Public, accusing the institution’s staff of “verbal threats, coercion, angry tirades and physical intimidation” as well as “acts of aggression.”
“They were clearly suppressing the content of the show,” he said.
The Public, in a statement, said the decision to end the run of Fox’s production, “The Truth Has Changed,” had nothing to do with content, but instead concerned problematic behavior by Fox.
“‘The Truth Has Changed’ was canceled following multiple reports of Josh Fox’s violations of our code of conduct,” said the statement. In a subsequent interview, the theater’s spokeswoman Shareeza Bhola was more specific, saying “It was a series of verbal abuses to the staff.”
In the show, Fox recounts his anti-fracking work and what he describes as subsequent incessant harassment by the oil and gas industry; he also links the fossil fuel industry with white supremacy and the architects of big data. He was the show’s writer and performer, and was also directing it with Ron Russell.
The show had been running since Jan. 11 as one of multiple works featured in the Public’s annual Under the Radar Festival. It had been scheduled to run until Jan. 19; instead, its final performance there was Jan. 16, and Fox said he would relocate the remaining performances to a rehearsal space in Brooklyn.
Fox said on Saturday that he and his crew had been subjected to a series of intimidating and disruptive behaviors during the run at the Public.
He said that he had been berated by festival staff just before a performance, that a sound technician had aggressively rushed the stage during a rehearsal and that written complaints to the Public from his crew, in which they had described not feeling safe, had gone unanswered.
He accused the Public’s employees of “anti-Semitic tropes.” When asked to explain, he said he had been told that he was too passionate, too loud and too emotional. “To me that is distinctly cultural,” he said. “That’s a classic anti-Semitic trope.”
And he has pointed to several major donors to the Public that, he said, have fossil fuel industry links. “The Public Theater takes a lot of oil and gas money, so we suspect that this was a factor,” Fox said.
The Public denied that its employees had behaved inappropriately or that its decision making had been influenced by any donors. “We have confidence that our staff did their best to treat Josh and his team with dignity and respect,” Bhola, the spokeswoman, said.
The theater, which is the birthplace of “Hair” and “Hamilton” and has regularly staged politically charged work about contemporary issues, said it had no concerns about the substance of Fox’s show. “The Public has a longstanding history of defending innovative and provocative artistry,” the theater said. “The content of Josh’s show had nothing to do with the cancellation.”
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