“So how’s your prostate?” I asked Ed Asner the other day.
It’s not a question I pose to many people I interview. In fact, I’ve never asked it. But Asner was bringing his show A Man and His Prostate to Old Saybrook’s Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center Aug. 16-17, where he also did his solo show about FDR a few years back, and it seemed appropriate.
“Oh, my prostate is in fine shape,” says the unmistakable crusty voice on the phone. “It’s peripatetic.”
But the show is really based on experiences of Ed Weinberger, who was writer-producer of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the series that earned Asner an armful of Emmys.
Asner says the story follows Weinberger’s travails when the comedy writer was vacationing in Italy and developed medical issues in the nether regions.
Prostate talk may be one of the last frontiers for polite conversation, at least by men in a public setting, says Asner, 87. “I think it may tend to reflect their waning sexuality,” he says, “Maybe, too, it’s their prudery.”
But the hesitation is not just for embarrassed men of a certain age.
Asner says that he showed the work to leadership in the prostate medical community. “But they didn’t seem to want to pick up the banner [of the show], no matter how informative — and funny — the show is. They showed their own prudery.”
But Asner persevered anyway and waves the prostate banner proudly.
“I call it the male response to The Vagina Monologues,” he says.
The Sybil of Composers
If it’s Tuesday, it must be Tchaikovsky.
Hershey Felder is a man of so many identities it’s difficult to keep all of them straight. Even for him.
As a performer with a rotating repertoire, he’s performed in solo shows behind a piano as Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, Frederic Chopin and, most famously, George Gershwin. (His George Gershwin Alone and Monsieur Chopin were previous shows at Hartford Stage.)
“Eventually you just look at the color of the costume and you think, ‘Oh, that’s the show I’m doing,’” says the prolific Felder, who has been performing his musical pieces for 20 years, giving more than 4,500 live performances.
Felder returns to the Hartford theater for Our Great Tchaikovsky, in which he will play from Aug. 18-27 the most famous of Russian composers, best known for The Nutcracker Ballet and Swan Lake.
Felder says he learned that Tchaikovsky is the most popular composer in the world, based on sales, programs and uses of his music.
“[The music] is accessible, [but] at the same time it’s brilliant,” he says. “It’s inventive. It’s also crazy and even the crazy part is accessible. It’s not just intellectual. First of all, it’s melodic. It’s an endless supply of melody.”
But it’s the composer’s personal story in which Felder also empathizes.
“I feel for him because he suffered greatly,” says Felder, referring to the composer’s homosexuality, which he wrote about in letters. “There was this problem and he didn’t know how to deal with it, but he wasn’t clueless, like some lost artist. He just didn’t have the luxury of being able to speak about it as we do today. And that’s a lot of this story. I have great compassion for him. Some of his story hurts so much. He suffers and he cries in his music and we’re the beneficiaries of it.”
Oh Dad, Poor Dad
Sure, we all know about King Lear, that it’s-all-about-me king who had to deal with a storm, a fool, madness and a couple of ungrateful daughters.
But wait. Regan and Goneril have more to say — and so do those other Shakespearean next gens, Cordelia, Edgar and Edmund.
In Lear, which plays the Yale Summer Cabaret Aug. 4-13, the playwright Young Jean Lee refocuses on those darn existential kids.
“We want to learn so much more about these daughters,” says Shadi Ghaheri, who directs the production at the subterranean theater. “Young people can understand on a different level. It’s the same questions looking from a different angle.”
Like the current Broadway hit A Doll’s House Part 2, which views its source material from another angle, so does Lear.
“It asks the questions of what happens to you when you decide to cut someone else’s suffering out of your life,” says the show’s dramaturg, Ariel Sibert. “What happens when you decide you can’t deal with someone’s aging or pain or mortality anymore? That’s at the heart of the play and that has applications to children dealing with parents’ dementia or chronic illness. It’s really allegorically rich in that way.
“None of [these characters] are good and none of them are bad,” says Ghaheri. “None of the characters are as black and white as they are in the original King Lear. The New York Times called the play ‘a hot mess,’ and I like that description because that’s what love, life, death is.
“This is a generational play that only has one generation on stage, and that’s the daughters of Lear and the sons of Gloucester. This is an adaptation that’s really invested in a generation that is offstage, one that is howling in the storm and that affects the generation onstage. It alternates between suffering and solipsism.”
I heard that …
… Westport Country Playhouse earned top honors for its production of Ayad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand at the recent Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. For those who missed this riveting play, Hartford’s TheaterWorks will present the work in its 2017-18 season, again staged by the playhouse’s associate artistic director, David Kennedy (who was honored as outstanding director of a play). It is not clear yet whether any of the actors from the Westport cast will repeat their roles in Hartford.
… Roxbury’s Jerry Adler, who played politically incorrect law partner Howard Lyman in the CBS show The Good Wife (as well as Hess in The Sopranos, the rabbi in Northern Exposure and a long list of other credits) will next step up to the role of Jeffrey Tambor’s father in Amazon’s Transparent.