A Summer of Remembrances
by Larry Murray
The Berkshire Theatre Season of 2012 is shaping up to be recalled as the year in which real people and their lives were made into intimate docu-dramas for the stage.
Back in June there was the fascinating – and largely untold – story of the lively Dr. Ruth Westheimer which returns September 19 to October 7 (Review) for another run at Barrington Stage Company. Then that of John Merrick, The Elephant Man (Review) who came and went in the blink of an eye at Wiliamstown Theatre Festival last month, and most recently Edith about the redoubtable First Lady, Edith Wilson, currently playing at the Berkshire Theatre Group.(Review)
Now comes the biography and back story on Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, an incredible musician, a colorful celebrity, and a witness to America as it changed from a segregated nation to one that has attempted to legislate civil rights for all. Terry Teachout’s play is based on his book, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong. He is expected to be on hand for much of the rehearsal process, and has been seen in the Berkshires quite often this summer as the company has prepared to mount his play.
The time is March of 1971. Louis Armstrong, the greatest jazz musician of the twentieth century, is backstage at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, preparing for what will be his last performance. And though he was a radiantly optimistic man who was rarely seen in public without a smile, it turns out that there was more to Satchmo—much, much more—than met the eye…
A Preview Production
The press announcement reads that “Shakespeare & Company and Artistic Director Tony Simotes are pleased to present the New England premiere of Satchmo at the Waldorf, the new one-man play by critically acclaimed author Terry Teachout, directed by Gordon Edelstein, the award-winning Artistic Director of the Long Wharf Theatre, and starring OBIE Award winner John Douglas Thompson.
“Satchmo runs from August 22 through September 16 in S&Co.’s newly renamed Tina Packer Playhouse. A special localized Press Opening will take place on Friday, August 24 at 7:30PM.”
So this appears to be a preview of the production, since New York and other national press will be invited to review the show when it transfers to the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut this fall. That will be the definitive version for the nation. We in the Berkshires will see – and judge – it first. (That is a compliment to the sophistication of our local audiences and those who write about theatre locally, and why a healthy proportion of readers of Berkshire on Stage are actually in New York City and LA.)
John Douglas Thompson returns to the Berkshires
Satchmo at the Waldorf features John Douglas Thompson in the challenging double role of Armstrong and Joe Glaser, his mob-connected manager. As Armstrong relaxes in his dressing room, we listen to him recount his rise to fame, and wonder whether he paid too high a price for it. Teachout shows you the private Armstrong, charming and angry—and bluntly, shockingly honest.
Actor John Douglas Thompson returns to the Shakespeare & Company stage, where he was last seen in the riveting and dynamic title role of Richard III in 2010. (Review) Thompson won an OBIE Award for his portrayal of Othello in a 2009 production at Theater for a New Audience, a role that he played to critical acclaim at Shakespeare & Company that same year. Thompson recently finished a successful run of The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre with Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy. In 2009, Ben Brantley of the New York Times called Thompson “one of the most compelling classical stage actors of his generation.”
Terry Teachout on Satchmo
Back in June, before he left for his residency at the McDowell Colony, I had the pleasure of talking with Teachout about Satchmo and Thompson. He thinks the team that is coming together to put the show together is ideal. He recently blogged that “John Douglas Thompson, Gordon Edelstein, and I have a week’s worth of rehearsals for Satchmo at the Waldorf under our belts. We’re very pleased with our progress to date. Not only is most of the script now staged, but Lee Savage’s set and Ilona Somogyi’s costumes are under construction at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, and I’ve written three new speeches since we went to work on Tuesday.”
The source of material for his book and play about Satchmo couldn’t be better.
“Between 1947 and his death in 1971, Armstrong taped hundred of after-hours conversations with his wife, friends, and colleagues in which he revealed a very different side of his personality,” says Teachout. “Some of these tapes are startlingly intimate, and many of them contain very strong language that Armstrong never used on stage.
“Satchmo at the Waldorf is a work of fiction, but it is based on and informed by the facts of the lives of Armstrong and Glaser, and though and I made up most of the dialogue, it closely resembles the way they talked in private. Having my play produced by Shakespeare & Company, and seeing it done by such great artists as John and Gordon, is a dream come true—except that I would never have dared to dream of such good fortune.”
Gordon Edelstein DIrects
“Music is my greatest love,” says director Gordon Edelstein, “I earn a living making theatre but it is music that lives deepest in my soul. Louis Armstrong’s monumental gift as a jazz player, improviser, and singer has been an inspiration to me since I discovered his music when I was young. It is an honor to work with on this play about him and to work with two such distinguished fellow Armstrong fans: Terry Teachout and John Douglas Thompson.”
Performances and Tickets
Tickets are $15-$95, and S&Co. offers a wide range of discount options, including discounts for groups, students, senior citizens, military, teachers and our very popular 40% Berkshire Resident Discount. To view a complete schedule, receive a brochure, or inquire about discounts, please call the Box Office at (413) 637-3353 or visit www.Shakespeare.org. For customized group visits—which may include artist talkbacks, tours, and catered events—contact the Group Sales office at (413) 637-1199, ext. 132. The Tina Packer Playhouse is air-conditioned, hearing aid assisted and wheelchair accessible.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012, 7:30
Thursday, August 23, 2012, 7:30
Friday, August 24, 2012, 7:30 (Localized Press Opening)
Saturday, August 25, 2012, 2:00
Saturday, August 25, 2012, 7:30
Sunday, August 26, 2012, 2:00
Sunday, August 26, 2012, 7:30
Tuesday, August 28, 2012, 7:30
Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 7:30 (Q&A)
Thursday, August 30, 2012, 7:30
Friday, August 31, 2012, 7:30
Saturday, September 1, 2012, 2:00
Saturday, September 1, 2012, 7:30
Sunday, September 1, 2012, 2:00
Friday, September 7, 2012, 7:30
Saturday, September 8, 2012, 2:00
Saturday, September 8, 2012, 7:30
Sunday, September 9, 2012, 2:00
Friday, September 14, 2012, 7:30
Saturday, September 15, 2012, 7:30
Sunday, September 16, 2012, 2:00 (Closing)
At a Glance:
PRODUCTION: Satchmo at the Waldorf
THEATRE: Tina Packer Playhouse
PLAYWRIGHT: Terry Teachout
DIRECTOR: Gordon Edelstein
CAST: John Douglas Thompson
COSTUME DESIGNER: Ilona Somogyi
STAGE MANAGERS: Diane Healy & Hope Rose Kelly
SET DESIGNER: Lee Savage
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Matthew Adelson
SOUND DESIGNER: John Gromada
SOUND ENGINEER/BOARD OPERATOR: Mike Pfeiffer
LIGHT BOARD OPERATORS: Derek Bever & C. Clara Patterson
GORDON EDELSTEIN first season (Director of Satchmo at the Waldorf) Artistic Director of Long Wharf Theatre, eleven seasons: world premieres of Athol Fugard’s Coming Home and Have You Seen Us?, The Train Driver, Uncle Vanya (adapted), A Moon for the Misbegotten, The Price, Mourning Becomes Electra, The Glass Menagerie, The Front Page, A Doll’s House (adapted), others. NY: The Road to Mecca, The Glass Menagerie (Lucille Lortel Award), A Skull in Connemara, The Homecoming (all Roundabout); Some Americans Abroad (Second Stage), BFE (Playwrights Horizons), Horsedreams (Rattlestick), The Day the Bronx Died (also London), others. Former Artistic Director of ACT (Seattle), five seasons: The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, Donald Margulies’ God of Vengeance (world premiere), others. Opera: La Traviata, La Boheme, Black Water (world premiere). TV: “Abby, My Love” (CBS, Emmy nomination), “Street Smarts” (HBO), “Notes for My Daughter” (CBS).
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON seventh season (Louis Armstrong and Joe Glaser inSatchmo at the Waldorf) S&Co: Richard III, Othello, The Dreamer Examines His Pillow, All’s Well That Ends Well, King Lear. Joe Mott in The Iceman Cometh with Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy at the Goodman Theatre, Kent in King Lear at the Public Theater with Sam Waterston, Macbeth at TFANA, Marc Antony in Antony and Cleopatra at Hartford Stage with Kate Mulgrew, Gennady in The Forest at CSC with Dianne Wiest, Brutus Jones in The Emperor Jones at The Irish Rep (Lucille Lortel, Drama League and Drama Desk nominations), Othello at TFANA (OBIE, Lucille Lortel Award, Drama League nomination, AUDELCO nomination). Broadway: LeBret in Cyrano with Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner, and Julius Caesar with Denzel Washington. International credits: Hotspur in Henry IV (Royal Shakespeare Company). Other off-Broadway credits:Women Beware Women (Red Bull), Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra, Orombo inOroonoko (TFANA, AUDELCO nomination), Judge Brack in Hedda Gabler (NYTW), Edgar in King Lear (Classical Theater of Harlem, AUDELCO nomination). Regional credits: Lucious Jenkins in Jesus Hopped the A Train (Wilma Theater, Barrymore Award), Williamstown Theater, Trinity Rep, Shakespeare & Company, ART. TV/FILM: Law and Order, Conviction, Michael Clayton, Midway, Malcolm X.
TERRY TEACHOUT (Playwright, Satchmo at the Waldorf) is the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal. His books include Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine, A Terry Teachout Reader, and The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken. He has written the libretti for two operas by Paul Moravec, The Letter(premiered by the Santa Fe Opera in 2009) and Danse Russe (premiered by Philadelphia’s Center City Opera Theater in 2011). He is currently at work on Mood Indigo, a biography of Duke Ellington, and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012 to support the writing of the book. He lives with his wife Hilary in New York and Connecticut. Satchmo at the Waldorf is his first play.