Posts Tagged ‘mike nichols’

Apollo’s Girl

November 22, 2014

apollo and lyre



Word Count: R.I.P.

A few years back I had to write an article no longer than 1,000 words about Mike Nichols. There would be lots to absorb.  At the Lincoln Center library I asked for the Nichols’ clippings files and received three boxes bursting with newsprint and magazine pages. Most harked back to the time when 5,000-10,000-word profiles were assigned routinely, especially for celebrity subjects. And besides-–he was a beguiling interview.

So I set to work, poring over the folders, xeroxing what was relevant. There was so much more than I needed, but it was fascinating stuff. I read on. All of it. When the library closed, I knew everything about Mike Nichols, from his birth in Berlin through his refugee’s voyage with a name tag pinned to his coat and only two nichols and maysentences of the language he would one day master: “I don’t speak English” and “Please don’t kiss me.” Then, how he first made them laugh in Chicago with Elaine May. How he later had four hits running simultaneously on Broadway. How, after his Hollywood debut with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, he moved on to The Graduate and just kept going until there were over two dozen films with A-list royalty before he was done.

He could act, too: he was offered the part of Iago (to Richard Burton’s Othello), and Hamlet (for Tyrone Guthrie), but turned them down. Later his brief appearance in The Designated Mourner in London moved Newsweek to declare it “…a revelation in its unnerving mix of anger, despair, perverse wit and emotional force.” How he won a lot of awards and also made a lot of money. And how he met Diane Sawyer in an airport and married her (“…she had her own constituency and her own checkbook.”) It was a brilliant life, lived to the hilt by a man of huge and protean talents.nichols 2

But here’s the most amazing thing about it: in all of those hundreds of interviews and their thousands of words, except for the two sentences/eight words he spoke on his way to America (they alone appeared everywhere), Nichols never repeated himself; not a line, not a quote, not an anecdote. It was a stunning achievement and the first and last time I’ve researched anyone of whom it was true.

In the end, struggling with impossible choices to maintain the assigned wordage, I cut the sentences, figuring they’d already appeared everywhere, and too tired to realize that they’d appeared everywhere because they’d remained etched in Nichols’ heart since the day he stepped off the boat.

Promised approval of the final version, he wrote “It’s a lovely bio,” but requested firmly (and beguilingly) a single change: to include “I don’t speak English” and “Please don’t kiss me” in the first paragraph. Afterwards, I was told, he’d added, “Otherwise it seems to be fine. Very nice in fact.”

May his judgment be my epitaph.

Cogito: John Branch

March 11, 2013

JB photo-painting by RC 2


Fearless Predictions
Bedlam at the Access and More

Hamlet and Saint Joan (in alternation through April 7, Bedlam, Manhattan): Last spring, one of New York theater’s nifty little trick questions was to ask friends if they’d heard about the small-cast Saint Joan running on Broadway. The explanation lay in bedlam theatrethe location of the Access Theater, where the Bedlam company performs—it’s on lower Broadway. The production was no gimmick: it vivified Shaw’s historical drama in an unconventional staging that used only four actors and placed scenes on the stage, in the seats, and even in the lobby. (See my review at St. Joan.) Now Bedlam is reviving that show and also tackling Hamlet with the same four actors. Though I haven’t attended yet, it’s a good bet that the same bedlam hamletcommitted and imaginative rethinking that burnishedShaw has been applied to Shakespeare.!tickets

Hamlet (March 15–April 13, Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven): yale hamletPaul Giamatti, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, returns to New Haven to play the melancholy Dane. The American film complex turns many actors of broad ability into narrowly defined commodities—“pigeonholing” is the term—but it hasn’t done that with Giamatti. He’s virtually a chameleon, so there’s no telling what he’ll do with this role. Giamatti, now in his mid-40s, probably won’t be the youngest Hamlet you’ve seen, which may make the prince’s recent studies in Wittenberg problematic, but different editors and even different editions differ on how old the character is. As with Juliet and others, anyone who’s the right age may be too immature for the role. Sarah Bernhardt, who ignored gender as well as age when she took the part, may have overreached, but at least she knew that playing Hamlet didn’t depend on externalia.

Pierrot Lunaire(March 28–30, Yale Cabaret, New Haven): Yale Cabaret shows are single-weekend productions created by Yale School of Drama grad students, not to be confused with the longer runs and mixed student/professional creative teams used in other shows at the school or at Yale Rep. This event will present a theatrical staging of Arnold Schönberg’s song cycle, which is currently enjoying a handful of performances in honor of its centenary year. It can be argued that the entire 19th century was decisively killed off during the second decade of the 20th by events as varied as the Great War, the sinking of the Titanic, and the immense cultural ferment in Vienna, which produced Pierrot Lunaire. It’s a groundbreaking piece for solo voice and small ensemble that employs Sprechstimme (a cross between speech and song) and abandons traditional Western tonality, though without adopting the full rigors of serialism, which Schönberg developed later. Bonus: the Yale Cabaret, true to its name, always offers food and drink.

Silkwood (March 20, Signature Theatre, Manhattan): One of three films written, in part or in full, by the late Nora Ephron that are being presented in the Signature Cinema series this spring. Silkwood dramatizes the story of Karen Silkwood, a factory worker who met a mysterious death after trying to call attention to problems at a Kerr-McGee plutonium-processing plant. Superficially akin to Norma Rae and The Insider, it differs from both in taking a more ambiguous viewSilkwood3--www-bfi-org-uk-photo-credit of its central character, which makes it more admirable in my book. It was mostly shot near Dallas, Texas, rather under the radar, to keep Kerr-McGee from catching wind of it and trying to shut it down; surprisingly for anything that involved director Mike Nichols (not to nicholsmention Cher, or Meryl Streep, though she wasn’t then the monument she has become), the tactic seems to have worked. Personal note: I worked on the shoot as an extra and appeared in a short but crucial moment. Signature Theatre tickets

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