Parkland Survivors Get a Broadway Master Class in Healing


They began rehearsals five weeks before the shooting and they insisted on continuing after. The show opens May 2.

As Broadway musicals go, “Spring Awakening,” with music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, is arguably the worst show that a town in South Florida could stage right now. Or if you believe in catharsis, in theater’s ability to transmute painful feelings into something constructive and cleansing, maybe it’s the best.

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Lea Michele, second from right, offered advice to the Florida students. With her, from left, were her Broadway castmates Gideon Glick, Lauren Pritchard and Jonathan Groff.

Credit
Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

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Phoebe Strole, right, another original cast member, is overcome while watching the rehearsal.

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Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, it’s a story of adolescents failed by an older generation, with tragic results. The character of Melchior, which vaulted Mr. Groff to stardom and is played here by the 17-year-old Never Again activist Cameron Kasky, sings a second-act number flanked by the ghosts of a dead friend and a dead lover.

But for many of the students, rehearsal has been a reprieve, a temporary escape from real-life dramas.

As Sawyer Garrity, 16, who plays Melchior’s lover Wendla (Ms. Michele’s role), said before rehearsal began: “Nothing has been normal. This isn’t even fully normal.” (Because of death threats some of the students have received, a police cruiser waits in the parking lot during every rehearsal.) “But this is the one place where I’m centered,” she said.

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Kirsten McConnell, 17, left, and Sawyer Garrity, 16, shared a moment during warmups for the “Spring Awakening” rehearsal.

Credit
Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

When the Broadway actor Gideon Glick read about the production in a New Yorker article, he reached out to its director, Christine Barclay, asking if a visit would be welcome. With her approval, he began to muster his former castmates.

Many of the actors had flown in that day. Several of them were bunking together at a house Remy Zaken had borrowed. Lilli Cooper couldn’t make it. She’s starring in “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.” But she FaceTimed the girl playing Martha, her “Spring Awakening” role.

Theater-world support has become a part of this new not-normal. Every current Broadway show has provided the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Drama Club with signed posters or similar swag. The evening before this rehearsal some of the “Spring Awakening” student actors had performed alongside “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” cast members in a benefit concert called “From Broadway With Love.”

But even generosity can breed exhaustion and complicate grieving. After the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, there were so many fund-raisers and celebrity stop-ins that Newtown’s first selectman requested an end to outside events in town.

With that in mind, Mr. Glick hadn’t publicized the visit and he and Ms. Barclay had conceived it as a respite with occasional music, a chance for the young actors to chat “Hair” with Mr. Groff and “Glee” with Ms. Michele, to “feel good and supported,” he said, speaking by telephone the week before.

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Remy Zaken, left, another Broadway veteran, surrounded by members of the Florida cast after rehearsals.

Credit
Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Ms. Barclay wanted that, too. But she also hoped that the professional actors could counsel the students on taking a character to a dark place without staying there yourself, on making it “not so personal and raw,” she said a few days before the Broadway actors arrived.

In the theater, after the breathless warm-up, the rehearsal began in earnest, with the original cast watching from three and four rows back. “They’re here to support your rehearsal. They’re not here to cast you in the next Broadway show,” Ms. Barclay said.

“I wish someone would cast me in the next Broadway show,” Skylar Astin, who played Georg onstage, murmured jokingly.

Performing in front of the invited guests wasn’t always easy. Alfonso Calderon, 17, had to mime masturbation right in front of what he called “his celebrity crushes and dreams.” He looked ashen when he finished the scene, though he still managed to compliment Mr. Astin on the “Pitch Perfect” movies.

The Broadway actors praised the vulnerability and even the discomfort of some of the student actors. “I can see in your faces and on your bodies what we felt as well when we were first doing the show,” Phoebe Strole said during a break. “It’s like taking your heart out of your chest and shoving it at us.”

“But you also have to be loud, guys,” Mr. Glick said, adding an apologetic, “I don’t want to be like a Jewish mother here.”

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Christine Barclay, right, who is directing “Spring Awakening,” watched as Ms. Garrity and Mr. Kasky rehearsed a scene.

Credit
Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

“Please Jewish mother them,” Ms. Barclay said. (A new mother herself, she’d brought her 2-month-old baby to the rehearsal.)

Eventually a prop gun required by the script would be used, but Ms. Barclay hadn’t introduced it yet. No one wanted to mention the shooting head-on, though there were some oblique references to Valentine’s Day.

When a question for the Broadway actors seemed to veer that way, Mr. Kasky, who had spent most of the rehearsal threatening to break into “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid,” tensed up. “We want to talk less about the shooting,” he said. His character cried during a funeral scene in a way that seemed to bypass technique.

The professional actors had advice on handling the hard stuff.

“You choose when you want to use what you went through to cry or to laugh or do whatever, and if you don’t, if you just want to go into the song, you can do that, too,” Ms. Michele said.

The younger actors studied their counterparts as though searching for clues about what their own lives would be 12 years from now. But mostly they wanted to be near the people who had sung the same songs and mumbled the same speeches and known what it is to show up for rehearsal with a face full of pimples or perform a love scene when your own body is still a mystery.

“I felt like, ‘Am I going to have to pretend I have any clue what I’m doing?’” Mr. Groff confessed.

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Q&A: Christine Lahti’s Tales of Feminism, Sex and Aging in Hollywood


Every mother will appreciate how one of the finest stage actresses of her time was told by her children that her voice was disgusting, and forbidden from singing and dancing in front of them. You write: “Until the little control freaks go off to college, you will be in a song-and-dance straitjacket.”

LAHTI: I had to go full-awkward, because so much of what is imperfect about me is awkward and embarrassing — and hopefully funny.

Your book seemed to start off as a traditional memoir, and then it morphed into something else — an awakening of sorts that centers on what it means to be a first-wave feminist. Is that what happened?

LAHTI: I started writing, not knowing what it was going to be. My daughter was sick of me complaining about, you know, “There’s no jobs for women over 50, I didn’t know there was a shelf life for actresses.” Obviously, I was a little naïve. And she said, “Stop complaining, stop being dependent on men hiring you, and write some of your stories down.”

This book is largely about how you evolved as a feminist, which included the rejection of the family model you grew up with: doctor dad beloved by his patients but remote to his family; mother who was sort of an iconic 1950s housewife …

LAHTI: … who I judged so harshly. I think she was a product of that internalized misogyny many women feel but after her kids left the house she had another life — she became a professional painter, and a pilot. None of us have to be stuck.

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You recount stories of Broadway and Hollywood that remind us of why the #MeToo movement was inevitable — for example, the day a casting agent assured you a role, when all you had to do was have sex with the directors. Did he really say it that casually?

LAHTI: Yes, as if it was an understood thing that I would automatically do that. It wasn’t even couched in a joke or an apology. It was really just, “Yeah, here’s what you have to do.”

It was something that we all back then just knew we had to navigate through. And it sounds benign; it’s not like they even touched me. But these experiences aren’t benign. I think that they break you in some way. Especially when I was young, and I was full of hope and optimism about my worth as a human being and my talent as an actress. All that was disregarded. It dehumanized me in a way that devastated me.

But that story was very telling. You walked home 75 blocks raging, vowing no one would every treat you that way again.

LAHTI: And by the time I get home and some man I want to see calls and asks me out, I can’t go because I feel like I weigh five pounds too much. That sort of sums up a lot of stuff about how women go through life.

Did you still feel vulnerable, even after you got more power in your career? How did you cope with unwanted attention?

LAHTI: Early on in my career, if I wanted the job, I would giggle and flirt back, because I wanted the job. But I would leave feeling dirty and disgusted with myself and powerless — and dehumanized. But I never had anyone go so far that I would have to say, “No,” and, “Zip up your zipper.” Maybe I was tall and a little scary or something.

You talk a lot about aging in Hollywood, and you write wonderfully about your own struggles about getting plastic surgery: the appointments with the doctor, the breaking of appointments. And you leave us with a cliffhanger. What did you do?

LAHTI: I haven’t done it yet, but the jury’s still out. Yeah, you know, I see cutting, and that’s all I see on the screen. I see people with face-lifts, and I’m almost just looking at, “O.K., wow, that’s a pretty good one. Oh, but her lips aren’t quite right. I’m looking at the “work,” not the acting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that you can’t tell.

It’s a lot of pressure to resist. How many women in Hollywood haven’t had stuff done?

LAHTI: I think I’m the only one! (Her publicist emails later, to make it very clear that she was joking.) And by the way, I’m not judge-y about anybody who does it, because I still might. It’s just that I resent the pressure to do it. I resent the need women feel to stay young to be relevant. I resent all that. And I want, somehow, to be valued for other things. I still want that.

You won an Academy Award for directing your 1995 short film, “Lieberman in Love.” What do you want to be doing now?

LAHTI: I want to either direct or act in movies about women. That’s what I want to do. I have a couple of scripts I want to direct. And I have a series that I’m developing about an older woman — everyone wants to put her out to pasture — who’s trying to find a way. She fights valiantly, and sometimes foolishly, to stay visible. It’s a half-hour dramedy.

Many of us want to see more of you onscreen. And P.S., before I go, can I just say you offer one of the greatest acting tips of all time?

LAHTI: I do?

When you hate someone you’re working with. “Sometimes when I have to look adoringly into someone’s eyes, I imagine they’re the eyes of Nellie, my golden retriever.”

LAHTI: Oh yes! It works. And I’m sure the ones who hated me thought about their dog, or maybe their favorite sports team.

Continue reading the main story

Q&A: Christine Lahti’s Tales of Feminism, Sex and Aging in Hollywood


Every mother will appreciate how one of the finest stage actresses of her time was told by her children that her voice was disgusting, and forbidden from singing and dancing in front of them. You write: “Until the little control freaks go off to college, you will be in a song-and-dance straitjacket.”

LAHTI: I had to go full-awkward, because so much of what is imperfect about me is awkward and embarrassing — and hopefully funny.

Your book seemed to start off as a traditional memoir, and then it morphed into something else — an awakening of sorts that centers on what it means to be a first-wave feminist. Is that what happened?

LAHTI: I started writing, not knowing what it was going to be. My daughter was sick of me complaining about, you know, “There’s no jobs for women over 50, I didn’t know there was a shelf life for actresses.” Obviously, I was a little naïve. And she said, “Stop complaining, stop being dependent on men hiring you, and write some of your stories down.”

This book is largely about how you evolved as a feminist, which included the rejection of the family model you grew up with: doctor dad beloved by his patients but remote to his family; mother who was sort of an iconic 1950s housewife …

LAHTI: … who I judged so harshly. I think she was a product of that internalized misogyny many women feel but after her kids left the house she had another life — she became a professional painter, and a pilot. None of us have to be stuck.

Photo

You recount stories of Broadway and Hollywood that remind us of why the #MeToo movement was inevitable — for example, the day a casting agent assured you a role, when all you had to do was have sex with the directors. Did he really say it that casually?

LAHTI: Yes, as if it was an understood thing that I would automatically do that. It wasn’t even couched in a joke or an apology. It was really just, “Yeah, here’s what you have to do.”

It was something that we all back then just knew we had to navigate through. And it sounds benign; it’s not like they even touched me. But these experiences aren’t benign. I think that they break you in some way. Especially when I was young, and I was full of hope and optimism about my worth as a human being and my talent as an actress. All that was disregarded. It dehumanized me in a way that devastated me.

But that story was very telling. You walked home 75 blocks raging, vowing no one would every treat you that way again.

LAHTI: And by the time I get home and some man I want to see calls and asks me out, I can’t go because I feel like I weigh five pounds too much. That sort of sums up a lot of stuff about how women go through life.

Did you still feel vulnerable, even after you got more power in your career? How did you cope with unwanted attention?

LAHTI: Early on in my career, if I wanted the job, I would giggle and flirt back, because I wanted the job. But I would leave feeling dirty and disgusted with myself and powerless — and dehumanized. But I never had anyone go so far that I would have to say, “No,” and, “Zip up your zipper.” Maybe I was tall and a little scary or something.

You talk a lot about aging in Hollywood, and you write wonderfully about your own struggles about getting plastic surgery: the appointments with the doctor, the breaking of appointments. And you leave us with a cliffhanger. What did you do?

LAHTI: I haven’t done it yet, but the jury’s still out. Yeah, you know, I see cutting, and that’s all I see on the screen. I see people with face-lifts, and I’m almost just looking at, “O.K., wow, that’s a pretty good one. Oh, but her lips aren’t quite right. I’m looking at the “work,” not the acting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that you can’t tell.

It’s a lot of pressure to resist. How many women in Hollywood haven’t had stuff done?

LAHTI: I think I’m the only one! (Her publicist emails later, to make it very clear that she was joking.) And by the way, I’m not judge-y about anybody who does it, because I still might. It’s just that I resent the pressure to do it. I resent the need women feel to stay young to be relevant. I resent all that. And I want, somehow, to be valued for other things. I still want that.

You won an Academy Award for directing your 1995 short film, “Lieberman in Love.” What do you want to be doing now?

LAHTI: I want to either direct or act in movies about women. That’s what I want to do. I have a couple of scripts I want to direct. And I have a series that I’m developing about an older woman — everyone wants to put her out to pasture — who’s trying to find a way. She fights valiantly, and sometimes foolishly, to stay visible. It’s a half-hour dramedy.

Many of us want to see more of you onscreen. And P.S., before I go, can I just say you offer one of the greatest acting tips of all time?

LAHTI: I do?

When you hate someone you’re working with. “Sometimes when I have to look adoringly into someone’s eyes, I imagine they’re the eyes of Nellie, my golden retriever.”

LAHTI: Oh yes! It works. And I’m sure the ones who hated me thought about their dog, or maybe their favorite sports team.

Continue reading the main story

Fiction: In a Thriller About Girlfriends, Which Femme Is Fatale?


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Christine Mangan

Credit
Casey Carsello

TANGERINE
By Christine Mangan
308 pp. Ecco/HarperCollins. $26.99.

Christine Mangan’s camera-ready first novel, “Tangerine,” opens with three men hauling a corpse — pecked by magpies and missing its eyes — from the sea. Whose body is this, and how did it end up in the water? In alternating chapters, two female narrators provide the long, lurid and psychologically complex answer. Neither woman is necessarily trustworthy, a trait they share with the unreliable female narrators of recent best sellers like “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train.” Like those novels, “Tangerine” is on track to become a film, with Scarlett Johansson tentatively attached to star.

Mangan draws her narrators with broad strokes, using classic Hollywood color coding. Alice Shipley is pale, rich and emotionally fragile. She wears lace gloves and pearls. Lucy Mason is dark, voluptuous and worldly. She smokes. They meet on their first day at Bennington College in the mid-1950s and develop one of those possessive, erotically charged friendships that never seem to end well. The two young women experience — or perhaps instigate — an unspecified tragedy. Then Alice drops out of school, marries and flees to Tangier with her caddish new husband, John, to escape the traumatic memory, and perhaps Lucy as well. Soon, though, Lucy turns up unannounced at Alice’s Tangier flat. Alice’s response: “I thought of the few works of Shakespeare I knew and the line that frequently rattled in my brain — what’s past is prologue.”

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But what exactly is that past? As Lucy and Alice re-establish a volatile intimacy over sugary mint tea in sweltering Tangier cafes, via flashback we gradually learn the details of that earlier mystery, which unfolds in frosty Vermont. It’s as if Mangan couldn’t decide whether to write a homage to Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” or a sun-drenched novel of dissolute Westerners abroad in the tradition of Patricia Highsmith and Paul Bowles, so she tried to do both. She mostly succeeds.

Mangan openly acknowledges the influence of Bowles on “Tangerine.” Lucy strikes up a friendship with a shady Moroccan artist named Youssef, who tells her: “You are unfamiliar with Bowles, I see. You must read him, if you want to understand this place.” Youssef claims to know the novelist, who lived in Tangier and wrote about Westerners who lose their moral compasses, and sometimes themselves, in North Africa. The “Tangerine” of the title refers to a native of the Moroccan city, and it seems inevitable that one or both of the narrators will lose herself there. And at some point, that corpse will end up in the water.

Mangan, who has a doctorate in English, wrote her dissertation on 18th-century Gothic literature and she knows all the notes to hit to create lush, sinister atmosphere and to prolong suspense. Unfortunately, she hits them all, and she hits them a little too hard. Both narrators periodically lapse into the language of academia, bluntly signaling how we should interpret the narrative rather than letting us figure it out for ourselves. Alice worries that her tone of voice is “wavering somewhere between lighthearted and serious, skirting the liminal boundaries between laughing and crying.” In 1956, a young woman in a white pillbox hat would not have talked about liminal boundaries. When Lucy refers to the “intertextuality” that once existed between her and Alice, she uses a term coined by the French semiotician Julia Kristeva a decade after the novel takes place. At times, “Tangerine” reads as if it were reverse-engineered from a scholarly paper about suspense fiction. Happily, you can write a satisfying, juicy thriller this way, if not a blazingly original one.

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