Welcome to Pogue's Pages!

I'm POGUE...known by many as Chuck Pogue, a few as Charles Pogue, and billed professionally as Charles Edward Pogue...just because it really looks BIG splashed across a theatre programme or a movie screen. From that last remark and the profile on the left, you can see I'm a theatre man...And the term "theatre" encompasses stage, film, TV. I've been shooting my mouth off on other people's blogs and message boards for forever. So having finally gotten the hang of it, I've decided to build my own soapbox from which I can pontificate, blather, and muse...mostly on theatre, film, writing, music, books...but ultimately anything that interests me, irritates me, or just catches my fancy. I invite you to join me. I'll try to be faithful and update regularly, so that when you visit there will always be something fresh percolating and maybe even provocative that we can discuss, dissect, or debate.

Charles Edward Pogue

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Ones That Stay With You...

A couple of weeks ago, the Independent newspaper in England had an article by Johann Hari, asking whether Tom Stoppard’s play ARCADIA was the greatest play of our age. The article prompted a response by David Jays in the Guardian and, with a new production of the play at the Duke of Yorks Theatre in London (featuring Stoppard’s son in the role of Valentine), ARCADIA seems to be everywhere lately.

I sent the article off to a small coterie of theatre cronies, to whom I always email such items which I think might pique their interest. The most amusing reply I got to the query of whether Arcadia is the greatest play of our age came from David Melville, managing director of The Independent Shakespeare Company in LA (and actor par excellence), “Not the production I was in.”

But barring dicey productions and dealing with the play itself, I would have to say ARCADIA is certainly high on my list as one of most memorable plays I have seen in the last quarter of the twentieth century and into the first decade of the 21st. I’ve been fortunate to see three terrific productions of the play…The West End transfer from the National Theatre at the Haymarket which featured Roger Allam and was directed by Trevor Nunn, a production at the Mark Taper Forum in LA, and our own production at Actors Guild directed by Ave Lawyer.

I’m not a huge fan of “greatest” lists…usually because people have short memories or don’t put much historical perspective in their choices and you end up with “greatest” lists of films or songs or plays that are top-heavy with stuff from more recent years and significant work from earlier days gets short shrift…their impact and importance forsaken for picks that were, not actually better, but merely fresher in the mind.

When I compose lists, I emphasize their personal impact on me and try not to speak for entire generations (you won’t find Star Wars in my top one hundred films…) and stress that my picks are usually “favourites” and have nothing to do with the austere weightiness of greatness.

But the whole question of Arcadia’s place in the pantheon of theatre in the last twenty-five/thirty years…certainly fertile years in my theatre development…got me thinking about what were the most influential plays, for me, written during that time. The ones that impressed me the most and, more importantly, have stayed with me the most…those that got under my skin and still rattle through the brain.

So without, rummaging through my stash of theatre programmes (I think I’ve got them all the way back from my earliest theatre-going days in high school…anyone remember HOSTILE WITNESS with Ray Milland?) and only ransacking my memory…a tool that becomes more deficient as I creep toward decrepitude…I proffer my list of ten plays that have stood out for me from say, 1980 on (written in that period), in no particular order…

1) ARCADIA…would definitely be on the list. Again another brilliant Stoppard melding of intellect and emotion that produces an exquisitely moving play.

2) THE REAL THING…I know some will argue that ARCADIA is Stoppard’s best; some will champion ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. I was tremendously moved by EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR at the National this past January. But THE REAL THING, for me, balances the scales with ARCADIA. I saw the original London production on the third day after it opened with Roger Rees and Felicity Kendal. It’s a wonderful play about love and language and loyalty.

3) AMADEUS…Along with Stoppard, Peter Shaffer is my favourite playwright. Again, a play I saw on my first trip to London in 1982 while I was shooting my Holmes films, HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES & SIGN OF FOUR. Imagine being young and turned loose in London with plenty of per diem pocket change. It was a revelatory time for me.

4) GIFT OF THE GORGON…another Shaffer and what’s interesting about it is that I’ve never seen a production of it. But when I read it in the mid-nineties, I simply said, “This is the best play I’ve read in ten years.” About revenge, the theatre, the death of theatre, the endurance of theatre. And so much more. And, as one might imagine from its title, it's very Greek…an awesome inexorableness about it. Struck a very personal chord with me.

5) THE PIANO LESSON…saw it in LA with Charles Dutton. Every August Wilson play I’ve ever seen I’ve enjoyed immensely. But this is the one that has hit the deepest and lingered the longest.

6) NICHOLAS NICKLEBY…How could one not be overwhelmed by its sheer magnitude of its bravura theatricality. Nine hours and not a moment of boredom.

7) PILLOWMAN…Again, one of those plays that bowled me over when I first read it. Eric Seale’s stunner of a production last season at Actors Guild confirmed to me the play’s power and poetry.

8) AMY’S VIEW…Saw the West End transfer from the National with Judi Dench. David Hare mixing the cultural politics of our time with a love letter to the theatre.

9) MUTABILITIE…by Frank McGuinness. Set in Ireland in the sixteenth century, it involves myth, Shakespeare, Spenser, the Faerie Queene, and so much more. I’m not sure I could even tell you what this play is about, but I found it riveting seeing it in its initial production at the National’s Cottesloe. I’m not sure it’s even had any other productions. A strange, dreamy, poetic play that still haunts me.

10) NOISES OFF…another of those I saw on my first trip to England. I love it for its obvious theatrical connections and because it is a very funny farce. Reminds me of my days in dinner theatre.

Well, I’ve reached my ten and feel it’s only the tip of the ice-berg. I suppose some psychologist could make something out of how many of them have literary, theatrical, artistic underpinings or themes. But on another day, in another mood, that list could shift and change some. And actually I realize all but one of these…PILLOWMAN…are from the twentieth century. Maybe the first ten years of the new century is a list for another day.

So give me your list. What are the most memorably significant plays for you from the last 30 years?



INTO THE STORM…the HBO films about Churchill’s war years. A time when we still had politicians and leaders of greatness.

JEZEBEL & THE LETTER…two collaborations of director William Wyler and Bette Davis that played on TCM this weekend. JEZEBEL is sort of their version of GONE WITH THE WIND, a year before it came out. THE LETTER is a terrific Somerset Maugham melodrama. Interesting to watch James Stephenson (who died much too young) and how his subtle playing can undercut Bette Davis’ often overwrought histrionics.

THE TONY AWARDS…I remember when this used to be the classiest awards show on TV. No more. As with far too much TV, they have desperately tried to appeal to that 18-49 year old demographic and junked the show up. This show should either be turned over to PBS or CBS should just acknowledge the Tonys is never going to be a ratings coup and let it be what it needs to be.

The opening number epitomized to me everything that is wrong with Broadway…Bad rock musicals, musicals based on movies, revivals of musicals that have either been revived too often or don't need to be. Rock of Ages is an embarrassment to Broadway and the Tonys, but then, of course, it’s an embarrassment to rock ‘n’ roll too. SHREK? Who needs this? Please, stop the Disneyification of Broadway. Do we really need yet another revival of GUYS & DOLLS which seems like it’s in perennial revival mode…if not Broadway, in the West End. We certainly didn’t need this phlegmatic version. If Broadway wants to revive something, why not FLAHOOLEY or HAZEL FLAGG? Of course, during the Bush years, they missed a chance to revive LI’L ABNER…which would have been a trenchant and timely satire.

And did we really need the numbers of the Road Show companies that looked like high school musicals?

Of course, there were some good things. BILLY ELLIOTT & NEXT TO NORMAL look like interesting musicals. I was pleased with Geoffrey Rush’s win for EXIT THE KING and enjoyed his classy acceptance speech. Always terrific to see the great Frank Langella, even if he’s only presenting and not up for anything. Jerry Herman was a reminder of great old book musicals. Herman has never been a favourite of mine, but I’ll take him over today’s fare and Michael Feinstein singing a few bars of I WON’T SEND ROSES reminded me of what a great song it is…for my money, maybe Herman’s best.

It looked like an fairly interesting season of straight plays which, alas, on a show like this always get short shrift to the musicals. And poor Liza. Poor, poor Liza.


SALAD DAYS…a much-loved British musical from the fifties that is really the silliest bit of tosh.

BEN BAGLEY’S IRVING BERLIN REVISITED…In these composer salutes, the late Mr. Bagley always assembled the most interesting performers and the lesser known songs of the tunesmith; some being little gems, others lesser known for a reason…MR. MONOTONY is not a Berlin high point.


THE CURSE OF CAIN…by one Theodore J. Nottingham. It purports to be the untold story of John Wilkes Booth even as the author purports to be his descendant. The premise is Booth was not caught, but lived and escaped to Asia. I’m not sure how much I buy into all this…but these kinds of mysteries fascinate me…Who was Jack the Ripper, who killed the Princes in the Tower (I’m a devout Richardian, who believes Richard III was innocent), who wrote Shakespeare’s plays?

EMPEROR & GALILEAN…one of Ibsen’s early history plays. I’ve become quite a fan of these, once I learned of their existence. This happened perusing the exhibits of the now defunct and much lamented Theatre Museum in Covent Garden, where I chanced upon a production photo of Ellen Terry in Ibsen’s VIKINGS AT HELGELAND, directed by her illegitimate son, Gordon Craig. The intriguing title sent me on a hunt for this play and I discovered Mr. Ibsen had been quite busy before such modern classics as A DOLL’S HOUSE and HEDDA GABLER.

EMPEROR & GALILEAN is about the Roman emperor Julian who tried to dispense with Christianity and re-instate the pagan gods. Not that far along in it yet to know how the play holds up, but the subject matter has intrigued me ever since a meeting eons ago with actor Michael York up at his house above Sunset Boulevard where he gave me JULIAN, Gore Vidal’s novel on the same subject to see if it might be something I’d be interested in doing. I was, though I could never figure why he wouldn’t want Vidal to do it. In any event, for reasons I have no memory of…it never came about.

So what’s on your media checklist? Any films, books, or music you want to give thumbs up or down to?


  1. Welcome, Shayne Brakefield, to my merry band of followers. You don't have to join as a follower, of course. to read and comment, dear readers out there, but feel free to do so.

    Shayne (who, I may add, is a very fine actor), I'd love to hear your thoughts about the Tonys and the current season, since you are actually living in New York and seeing a lot of this stuff!

  2. Chuck-

    I've never heard your thoughts on Angels in America, which I certainly think is the MOST IMPORTANT play of the last 25 years. (Part 1 anyway, Part 2 is a bit rushed and doesn't pack the wallop that part 1 does, but how could it?)...

    As far as August Wilson goes, I prefer JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE and FENCES.

    Also, for me...GROSS INDECENCY: THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE by Moises Kaufman, WIT by Margaret Edson, and before all is said and done, I may elevate ROCK AND ROLL above ARCADIA...It's too soon to tell...

    I also really like AMY'S VIEW and currently I am in love with THE VERTICAL HOUR by David Hare...How about VIA DOLOROSA?

    Interesting tidbit about THE REAL THING, I kicked around the idea of doing it with Bo List the season we ended up doing THE UNDERPANTS....

    Finally, has the world moved on? Could an Angels in America have the impact today that it had when it first premiered??


  3. Rick, confession: I've only seen the first part of ANGELS IN AMERICA. I saw it in what I think was an LA workship situation. All I remember was that it was done in a small cramp indoor theatre space at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre (which used to do outdoor Shakespeare when I first came to LA).

    It was summer, there was no air-conditioning, and so the space was sweltering and the play seemed endless. My only thought was: This could stand cutting. Some of the cast that went to Broadway were in the production. I think that the less-than-ideal conditions under which I saw it so coloured my view of the play that I never went out of my way to see a production.

    Pal Jason Isaacs was in the production that premiered at the National (he came straight to Dragonheart from it) and he loved being in it and the play. I have the dvd of the filmed production, but have yet to watch it.

    I saw FENCES with James Earl Jones and liked it very much, but PIANO LESSON stands out more in my memory. Not read Joe Turner, though it's on my "to do" list to read all of August Wilson.

    Not seen or read WIT...the subject matter doesn't lure me. I saw GROSS INDECENCY at the Taper years ago. Remember liking it very much.

    As for Stoppard, pretty much anything. I still love ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. COAST OF UTOPIA was an amazing read. The only one of his I've seen that didn't really kick me in the butt was INVENTION OF LOVE, but I saw it on a night when I was succumbing to jet lag and could barely keep my eyes open, so it didn't get a fair shot.

    As for Hare, after AMY'S VIEW, I love SKYLIGHT. It came close to making my list. Saw the Great Gambon do it. I was sitting in the second row, so he was towering over me. Very impressive. Tried to get a copy of VERTICAL VIEW this weekend, but the store was sold out. VIA DOLOROSA is Hare's one man show, isn't it? I remember enjoying reading PRAVADA years ago, by Hare and Brenton. You should read PAUL by Brenton. Having done TARTUFFE with you, you would probably love this play.

    As I say, my picks have nothing to do with greatness or necessarily what plays will transcend to classic status. They're very personal picks (again, look how many have to do with theatre and the literature in some way) and things that have remained very vivid with me over the years. Some may not even be good plays.

  4. Robert Brustein called AMADEUS a "celebration of mediocrity..." but I am a fan of the play...as far as favorites go, not necessarily on the greatness meter, I would include some of the following (and thankfully since I am a director and artistic director, I've directed or produced most of them):

    1. GLENNGARY GLEN ROSS (I've actually done neither with this one but we are lining up the boys to do it)

    2. JAILS, HOSPITALS & HIP-HOP...my first foray into hip-hop theatre and perhaps the most successful production I have had...starred Scott Wichmann and was self produced and subsequently produced 3 more times at Richmond's 2 major theatres....sadly one now gone.

    3. SANTOS & SANTOS by Octavio Solis...GREAT GREAT play and very timely about immigration, assimilation and the sins of the father...been wanting to do this one for years.

    4. THE WAITING ROOM by Lisa Loomer...Don't get me started...I broke my heart to remove this from our season.

    5. subUrbia and TALK RADIO by Eric Bogosian...sadly we seem to have lost him to the LAW AND ORDER universe as his later plays haven't been very good. TALK RADIO becomes more and more topicals as we get more and more loons with their own radio shows....

    6. THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Moises Kaufman

    7. THE STORY by Tracy Scott Wilson

    8. THE GATE OF HEAVEN by Lane Nishikawa and Victor Talmadge...a beautiful play about a Jewish concentration camp survivor and a Japanese-American soldier in the all Neisei 442nd that liberated Dachau. They become friends and family over the course of the next 40+ years and their story is heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time. Two actors play the main roles and are supported throughout by Kurogo's (Japanese shadow play actors) and the denoument of the play is the Japanese character singing Kadish at the Jewish characters funeral...we were supposed to produce it at TheatreVirginia the season it closed and not getting to see it is one of the regrets of my career...Benny Ambush was involved in the development of the play from the outset with Lane and Victor and David Henry Hwang served as the dramaturg...would have been stunning...

    That's all I can think of for now!!


  5. Well, we all have our deficiencies in theatre. Mine seems to be late 20th Century American Theatre.

    Nearly half of your picks I've never heard of. I've only seen THE STORY and I have read THE WAITING ROOM. I can't say THE STORY kicked me in the butt. No gripes about the production; just didn't much care for the play. And while THE WAITING ROOM has its charms, I can't really summon up the same amount of enthusiasm you have for it.

    AMADEUS might be the play I would reconsider on my list. I've seen two very powerful productions of it; both directed by Peter Hall (Frank Finlay; Nicholas Grace in '82/ David Suchet; Michael Sheen in '98), so that might have something to do with it. But the Shaffer play I absolutely love that was written too early to include in my time frame is ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN. I would kill to play Pizarro in that.