Emily Mann, celebrating her 25th year as artistic director of McCarter Theatre, regaled an enthusiastic lunch audience at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce last week with the toils and tales of creative endeavors. In her case, it was her production of Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra — how her collaborators — scenic, costume, music, choreography — combined their ideas to come up with an experience that the New York Times reviewer labeled “beautifully bold.”
Revealing the secret of the very sensual movement sequence that opens the play, with Nicole Ari Parker and Esau Pritchett having a tumble under the sheets, except there are no sheets, she said it was choreographer Peter Pucci’s idea to have the actors (each happily married) go through the indoctrination for new dancers that Pilobolus uses. Pilobolus dancers are required to grasp each other in places where you aren’t supposed to grasp, so to start them off they must do an exercise where they touch — with the top of their heads — every part of the other person’s body. Makes sense, because skull skin doesn’t many nerves. The result was that Parker represented, as one reviewer said, the embodiment of physical love and desire.
After she finished, anyone who hadn’t seen the play was wishing they had seen the play.
During the Q&A she talked about how she is doing a documentary play on Gloria Steinem, and how she got started doing social justice documentaries or “theatre of testimony”. She was born to to the cloth, to mix religion metaphors. Her father was an eminent professor of American history at the University of Chicago, and the late John Hope Franklin,a pioneer in African American history, was his best friend.
Mann had such a compelling voice and podium presence that I was wishing I could see her on stage as an actress.
My photo shows Emily Mann, left, with Melissa Tenzer, founder and CEO of CareersUSA Princeton and president of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which awarded $35,000 to four nonprofits that day.