Archives May, 2012

25 May
ibrews

B+

Hoo-rah!

  • I love me some Pinter. The actors used the pauses well and there were a lot of fun moments that you can only find in a Pinter play.
  • The actors and the writing tackle some heavy subject matter (random acts of kindness for the homeless & mentally disturbed) with enough levity to keep the show entertaining without ever trivializing the issue.
  • Although it was only the second play Pinter ever had produced, it felt like it could have been a sequel to my favorite Pinter play ‘No Man’s Land.’ In that play, a homeless man spends the show working up the courage to ask if they can live with someone. In this play, that’s the jumping off point. ‘No Man’s Land’ had more juicy menace, but this was funnier.
  • On the funny note, there were some hilarious standalone bits. One involves Mick’s entrance where he keeps repeating the same questions to poor, already-troubled Davies, one involves a matchbox in the dark, and one involves a bag being passed around. Brilliant.
  • Jonathan Pryce was magnetic. His laughing was well-considered and provided magnificent pacing to his diatribes, his anger was terrifying and saddening, his physicality was flawless. And when it came time to make us truly pity him, truly wish we could help him, he delivered. The last few moments we see him are truly heartbreaking.
  • I was really hoping the play would go to where it did in the last 10 minutes, and I’m glad it did. It helped ground the entire show.

Blech…

  • In the moment, I enjoyed the ending. In retrospect, it leaves a yucky taste in my mouth. Without completely giving it away, it hints that a lot of what happened in the play could have been imagined. Maybe one or two of the characters never existed? It’s a fascinating idea (if done right), but as far as I could tell, the seeds for such a contention were never planted in the show. Needlessly spooky.
  • The actor playing Mick… either he needed more of a history to justify his behavior, or he needed to act more human and take time building more to his extremes. None of his outbursts felt particularly earned–just like shock value.
  • As much as I love Pinter’s dialogue, a lot of it in this play felt excessive and like it needed the work of a good editor. At the same length as ‘Death of a Salesman’ (2 hours and 45 minutes), this show had maybe one third of the emotional discoveries. I think the show could get the same story across and ultimately pack more punch if it lost about an hour.
  • Because I love ‘No Man’s Land’ so much, I couldn’t help but keep comparing the two shows, and be secretly thinking how ‘No Man’s Land’ conveyed a lot of elements concisely and powerfully that were still being fussed with in the writing of this play (e.g. quiet threats are better than vocal ones, monologues should be earned and are most interesting when you’re deeply invested in the reaction of the listener(s), the nature of memory loss is more interesting if there are dots to connect). But hey, ‘No Man’s Land’ came much later in his career, so that shows improvement.

Tales from the Stagedoor…

  • Actually, a talkback session with the actors and a Pinter scholar.
  • Jonathon Pryce played Mick in this show back in 1980. He says “when the writing is really good, it’s like working with an orchestra behind you.” Also, his dad was sent to an asylum, so this was a very personal production.
  • “What is the nature of the Buddha statue?” Enlightenment. A precious object. Smashed to bits. Metaphors abound.
  • One person said that it felt like too often they were just ‘playing for laughs.’ The response from the actors was a well-reasoned explanation of being true to the material and never playing for laughs, but keeping in mind that laughs are certainly intended by Pinter. They argued that tragedy feels that much darker when its contrasted with the levity of humor. I agree.
  • When asked ‘why does Aston invite Davies to live with him at all’, the actor said that his character’s life was a very boring one and more activity could help. In addition to being a random act of kindness, this was kind of like having a dog or a cat. It’s just nice to have life around.
  • The whole session was very enlightening, both looking at the craft of acting, and doing justice to a solid piece of writing. Listen to the whole talkback here.

20 May
ibrews

A-

Hoo-rah!

  • You saw it here folks. My first true NYC Catharsis. Lucky me. Copious weeping on all fronts.
  • It is truly one of the great American plays, and they did it absolute justice. The text was brought to life in ways I never imagined.
  • Possibly the most powerful moments for me were watching Willy Loman’s delusions blend with real life– I have to give due credit to the lighting and the blocking for making these moments feel lonely and truly unsettling.
  • I enjoyed the contrast between the father/son relationship of Willy/Biff and Charley/Bernard. Willy pumps Biff so full of hot air and is incredibly involved in Biff’s life and he ends up a failure. Charley, on the other hand, had what seemed to be a laissez-faire approach to fathering. He was kind and genial to Bernard, but was never a super active part of his life, and look at how Bernard turned out– presenting cases to the Supreme Court!
  • How do Andrew Garfield and Philip Seymour Hoffman maintain their throats, performing this once, sometimes twice a day? The level of visceral anger and yelling and sobbing they produce (never unjustified in my opinion) would undoubtedly destroy the voice of mere mortals.
  • Again, Biff and Willy– just… oh god. Their rapport is so genuine and heartbreaking: such wonderful intentions turn so very sour. Their refusal to level with each other is infuriating and a fundamentally timeless element of families. Andrew Garfield and Philip Seymour Hoffman invest everything they have into these roles; I’ve never seen such raw, unabashed emotion on stage before.

Blech…

  • Not a critique of the show, but rather the audience: am I the only person who hates the tradition of raucous clapping when a famous actor enters a scene for the first time? Ughh… completely kills the moment.
  • I appreciate the intention of using the music from the original production, but I felt the play would have been better served with a different soundtrack. Sorry, the flute is just a hokey instrument to me.
  • while undoubtedly a masterful performance well-deserving of its Tony nomination, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Willy Loman seemed one too many times exactly like the performance Dustin Hoffman gave in the 1985 film. Particularly his laugh.
  • I did not enjoy the performance of the actor playing Howard. At all. Way too over the top and farcical.

 


20 May
ibrews

B+/A-

Hoo-rah!

  • Wow. I don’t know if it was just because this was a world-premiere performance, but the energy and acting here was absolutely superb on all fronts.
  • Giancarlo Esposito was given the chance to be both more loud/extroverted, and much more quiet/vulnerable than when he plays Gus on Breaking Bad. That guy has such control of his craft– such a pleasure to watch.
  • The performance of the night, however, might actually go to Zach Grenier who plays a stroke victim with a troubled past. It would have been so easy for his character to become one-dimensional Eeyore-esque comedic relief, but the depth of his performance provided both levity and powerful weight to many of the themes in the show, including a distrust of miracles and the corrupting influence of money.
  • Excellent pacing. Pauses were all in the right places. Lovely quiet scenes told mountains about the characters in them (and in later scenes, wordlessly forged a connection between them)
  • Characters played off each other with genuine conflict– I had empathy for all involved in this as they all felt like the protagonists in their own way.
  • As soon as I realized the main couple was an interracial marriage I was dreading some over-wrought commentary on it. Race actually had really nothing to do with the story (despite three minority cast members), and I appreciated that. There were plenty of ‘hot topics’ in the play that would have been easy to zoom in on to the point where you can virtually hear the writer shouting their political stance from the characters’ mouths, but that was never the case here.
  • The metaphor was super heavy-handed, but I loved a scene where two guys eat a gingerbread house while discussing foreclosure. Delicious.
  • Last scene could have been a disaster– all the characters in a tight space talking for what felt like about half an hour with almost no pauses. A real tight rope, but it was pulled off flawlessly, bouncing between humor, sadness, tension, insight, and emotional reversals. Masterful.
  • Favorite lines all came from the husband: “I’m a secular Jew. I don’t know what that is, but there’s a lot of us!”  and “My doctor just died. He told me I would die and now he’s dead. You know what I call that? Justice.”

Blech…

  • distracting snowflakes kept falling the entire show from the catwalk (mistake)
  • ending wanted to end on a cathartic note… instead it was just a pensive note.
  • while it was super well-acted and scripted, it didn’t quite rock my world. New York Theatre is still too safe for me.

Tales from the Stagedoor…

  • Giancarlo Esposito is a great big ball of enthusiasm and energy. Lots of hugs and kisses to people he knew, and genuine kindness and gratefulness toward people he didn’t know (like me). When he told me stories, he put his hand on my shoulder; very mentor-like. He’s so busy now between this, Once Upon a Time, and the new JJ Abrams/Jon Favreau show Revolution. On the downlow– he has one week of free time in the coming months and it will likely be devoted to filming some Breaking Bad flashbacks.
  • Zach Grenier was very low-key and dismissive of his remarkable performance. Poor guy deserves to have his career skyrocket the way Mr. Esposito’s is. Surprisingly, I got a bashful laugh out of him when I said I loved him in Fight Club.
  • John Patrick Shanley is super smiley. And has a really young wife/girlfriend(?) He was happy with the premiere. We talked about pacing and how impressive it was that the last scene came together so well. He said “it was a real bitch to write.” No kidding.

18 May
ibrews

B-

Hoo-rah!

  • Epic in scope in a manner usually reserved for musical theater
  • I love the connection between the ripped sketchbook page and the giant projection screen that helps tell the story
  • I like the idea of showing World War I through the eyes of a horse and the reminder that they are these truly beautiful, noble, obedient creatures who will work until they die of exhaustion.
  • Music always helps… and it did for this too
  • Despite the size of the stage and some very large and impressive set pieces, some sets were created in very simple and elegant ways that I liked (e.g. sticks held by actors that form different kinds of fences)
  • Doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war, including death, shell shock, starvation…
  • I like how long Albert and Joey are kept apart… I liked following Joey’s story more than Albert’s.
  • Good puppetry

Blech…

  • puppetry was amazing in London…so that felt disappointing in that I talked it up so much for my friends I went with.  Sometimes the horses here would move in ways I simply know horses do not.
  • pretty one-dimensional characters
  • really distractingly bad accents. It made a big difference in the London production that the Brits were played by Brits and the Germans were played by Germans.
  • I just don’t care about Albert; he’s too over-the-top sentimental for me.

9 May
ibrews

B*

Hoo-rah!

  • Fully-committed, entertaining performance by the great John Lithgow
  • sumptuous, thoroughly-cinematic set design. Watching transitions was a treat!
  • I liked the Russian character’s accent-evolution. At the beginning, we get to hear full-on Russian– at the end, him convinced his English has lost all trace of accent (but of course it hasn’t)
  • solid acting all around– you felt these people age
  • a reasonably clear and focused character study on what it means to loose relevancy as you age. Alternate play title: ‘How I Learned to Become a Grumpy Old Man and Start Hating the Youth!’

Blech…

  • Stakes never felt high… yes he’s gay, but even in that time period that secret never felt terrible enough to ruin his life/career. Everyone (including the audience) already knew he was gay!
  • Not a single major-reversal in the whole play
  • His only real antagonist was his own stubbornness, and if a protagonist is only as interesting as his greatest antagonist…
  • None of his relationships with the other characters developed enough for me to particularly care about them. (spoiler alert) Someone dies… and it didn’t mean anything to me.
  • Abrupt ending– silly to think the final ‘reversal’ of the play is him showing a small act of decency at the terrible terrible cost of being a little late with his column.

 

 

 

*My first side note:  You’ve undoubtedly noticed a boringly narrow range of grades in my reviews thus far. Unfortunately, that’s because most of the shows I’ve been seeing in New York have neither blown me away, nor felt like a complete waste of time.

 

There’s an unfortunate level of ‘safety’ that permeates American theater; plays seem to be chosen for performance based more on the quality of language in them than on the depth of human experience conveyed. I thought this might be different in NYC, but it seems to be even more true here than in other parts of the country. Elsewhere, lackluster plays are performed by talented nobodies. In NYC, lackluster plays are performed by movie stars.

 

This makes me sad.

 

If you look at the my full score page, you’ll see I do indeed give As and Cs and even a few Ds, and a lot of that came out of England. England, whether its because of their vastly superior funding, or higher public-acceptance of theatre seems to make them feel comfortable taking genuine risks. And deep down, I know that I’d rather see a play that hits me in the face really hard with something new that I despise than to see a tepid rumination on slice-of-life characters with stakes I have little to no investment in. After all, a show like …some trace of her could have been terrible. It was new, experimental, bizarrely-conveyed. Yet that’s probably the last time I walked out of a theater with butterflies in my stomach.

 

I want to be moved. I want my values challenged. I want to be rooting for a thing to happen, or terrified that another thing could happen. I want to be taken on a journey that makes me sick to my stomach, makes me bite my nails in suspense, makes my eyes dry from lack of blinking, makes me weep uncontrollably, makes me want to leap for joy– maybe all in the same performance.

 

I don’t believe theatre should be light entertainment. I believe it should be a transformative, world-shaking experience. And don’t tell me it’s not possible, because I’ve had it happen. And every time I go into a theater, I’m begging to have it happen again.