Archives 'Performance'

31 May
ibrews

A-

A quick word: I’ve never liked Neil LaBute. I fell asleep during The Mercy Seat, found Fat Pig funny but lacking in substance, and The Break of Noon was one of the most worthless experiences I’ve ever had at the theatre. I was ready to give up, but I’m glad I didn’t.

 

Hoo-rah!

  • A well-crafted play with a sense of dialogue and pacing that’s been worked over, refined, and reworked to the point where it achieves a remarkable level of honesty.
  • Perfect set design: one very detailed sliding set (the break room of a factory), and simple benches and props to evoke the additional scenes.
  • The four characters were previously seen in ‘reasons to be pretty’, taking place a few years earlier, but this truly is a standalone companion piece. I would love to see the older show, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything important. Ultimately I think LaBute benefited from building on characters he already had a strong grasp on.
  • It was revealed in the talkback (see below), that the first play focused on Greg’s journey, whereas this play brought a gratifying arc to each of the four characters. Greg was my least favorite character, so I’m glad we were given this 2 hours with each character going on an organic journey with lovely moments of reversal and discovery.
  • Back to the crafting of the play: excellent choices of what scenes to show and not show. The play feels sequential, but actually covers a fair span of time with a number of important events happening offstage (Steph confronting Carly about the baby, for example). The fact that you remain in the moment is a testament to the precision of the scenes we are seeing.
  • Lovely acting by the entire cast. It was fun to see Jenna Fischer (Pam from The Office) play a borderline insane clingy irrational woman. Leslie Bibb (that reporter from Iron Man 1&2) as Carly reminded me a lot of a friend I lived with in Richmond, VT who works the graveyard TSA shift at Burlington Airport. She brought a much needed sense of common sense and practicality to the show. Josh Hamilton was appropriately charming (though infuriating in his indecisiveness) as Greg, and Fred Weller brought a surprisingly nuanced performance to the role of the most super-ego-lacking character, Kent. Without trying to convince us Kent and Greg are best friends (a common contrivance I find hard to believe in plays of this nature), they share enough circumstances in common that it makes sense for them to have the few conversations they do, and they work as an excellent counterpoint to each other; Greg reluctant and reserved about every choice, while Kent dives in head first, usually bruising himself in the process but feeling much more alive.
  • Love Kent’s line, something like “So I walked up to the guy in the bar, and I tapped him on the shoulder, probably less hard even than I just tapped you, and he turned around, and I punched him. And I was willing to leave it at that and let it go, but he had to take it further.” De-lightful.

Blech…

  • Music was strangely chosen and far too loud in between scenes. This seems to be a stylistic choice of LaBute across all of his plays, and I’m yet to see it work as effectively as he seems to think it does.
  • Nitpicky but something I was still very aware of: the various contrivances brought about to stop a character from leaving the scene. Some conversations that certainly would take place across multiple locations in real life were compressed into one (a Trader Joe’s Parking Lot, a school bench, a restaurant waiting area), and in at least one occasion I knew what was supposed to be a big conversation later at, say, an IHOP almost certainly wouldn’t take place there, and everything important was about to be told to us now.
  • Except for Carly who needed to be in uniform, very poor costume choices. Nothing any of the characters wore gave me a better sense of who they were, and in a few cases (particularly with Steph), it just confused me.
  • Nothing brought me to tears. This is important to me. Let me be clear again– this was an incredible ‘slice of life’ play, but none of the characters tugged on my heartstrings enough to pull me close on their emotional journey. This isn’t a flaw of the writing or the characters (who were very true to life), but simply who they were and my lack of empathy for them.
  • Ultimately I found Greg to be too indecisive, to the point where he just kept hitting the same ‘nothing’ beats and I was frustrated to not see the show move things along. Out of the cast of characters, I would only want to be friends with Carly and maybe Kent.

 

Tales from After the Show…

 

Leslie Bibb led a fantastic talkback along with one of the MCC’s artistic directors (Will Cantler) and the associate general manager (Jessica Chase), providing great insight into the development of the show and LaBute’s writing/directing process. LaBute’s relationship with the MCC was covered in detail, and Leslie spoke at length about what draws her to pursue theatre when she’s clearly doing fine at film and television. I also got to ask her about how the play evolved from when Neil first gave it to them, to the point where it was now in previews and she had a ton of fun with the audience taking us through that experience. She showed us her script and it was full of slashes and chunks of dialogue moved to other pages and subtext and just, wow. Looked like the writings of an insane person, but in the best possible way.

 

Download the full 30-minute talkback here.


22 April
ibrews

A-

Okay okay, so I shouldn’t really be reviewing this because it was put on by the theatre group I cofounded while at Syracuse, WhAT (Warehouse Architecture Theatre), but this is a good moment for reflection.

First of all, I had nothing directly to do with this production. WhAT was founded in Fall of 2006, and I was deeply involved in everything it did until my graduation in May of 2010. Three years later, I was invited by the current trio to come see WhAT’s final production involving people whom I personally knew, before the group goes on to be run and operated entirely by people I don’t know. Passing of the torch kinda stuff. Anyway, it was a thrilling weekend of old friends and new, and I now feel super confident in the future of my baby.

And here’s some thoughts on the show:
– LOVED LOVED LOVED the cardboard set designed by Beryl Tayte Johnsen-Seeberger. It made the scenes where character comment on the beauty and tax-deductible quality of this amazing desk all the more hilarious. And when things fell apart, it allowed the actors to riff on what an old house they’re in! Lines like ‘She’s dead!’ and ‘So is my desk…” were gut-busting. Oh, and all the cardboard weapons, complete with Easter Eggs like a lightsaber, were delightful. And the cardboard crossbow actually worked!
– a lot of the dialogue was presented with a certain wooden style that I wasn’t a fan of at first, but grew to love as the play progressed.
– really fun show as its written. I saw the movie with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, but didn’t remember it that well, so all the twists and turns were delightful. I love the meta commentary throughout as the main characters discuss writing the show that they are now in, and even bring up things like scenes that seem to be missing that include important information about key characters (just like in the real show!)
– Ethan Blank almost died! I flashed back to our second season in Spring of 2007 where the giant green wall we made for our Picasso at the Lapin Agile set almost fell on AJ, and Jon Yoder almost became Batman to save her. Anyway, Ethan was getting choked in what was even supposed to be fake within the play, but he passed out and woke up backstage having no idea where he was. Yikes!

After the show, I gave a little presentation to keep up the whole ‘passing of the torch’ motif. Just for fun, here’s the pdfs of the presentation I gave, and the presentation I gave on behalf of Danton. At the cast party I got to spend more time with the awesome new folks who will be running WhAT from here on out, and the only thing that makes me sad is NONE of them are architecture majors, even though WhAT currently still does most of its performing and rehearsing out of the architecture school in Slocum Hall.

This makes me wonder if my archie friends and I who did WhAT throughout school are strange. Myself, and most of them, I’m confident would have joined a theatre group like WhAT if it already existed. The architecture school is so laser-focused on just architecture, I think we all would have gone crazy without any other creative outlets. Maybe there’s too much hostility toward WhAT because sometimes they’re too loud and bother the students focused on their studio projects? Maybe not as many of them enjoyed theatre in high school as I thought? Or maybe none of them have any idea what a huge bonus it is to your job prospects if you leave school as a well-rounded individual with many talents.

Alas, this lack of architecture majors is truly my only regret, but I am proud and humbled by WhAT’s legacy as it lives on, soon entering its fourteenth season!


15 March
ibrews

B+

Hoo-rah!

  • Thoroughly enjoyed the set design. A large golden wall menacingly loomed over the stage through the entire production. It reflected just enough for effect, and produced misshapen  and powerfully defined shadows. This combined with a lack of any stage furniture lent the actors a restless energy as they paced the stage, pressed up against the cold concrete wall of the theatre. fell to the ground, or rocked back and forth on that wonderfully wood pellet-y ground. Very appropriate.
  • This was an excellent cast– strong voices, strong acting, and a thorough command of the language. Similarly to using the ‘empty’ stage well, they were great listeners (what I call ‘silent acting’)– staying right in the moment as other characters monologued on and on.
  • Oh, and this is a small thing, but I’ve seen a lot of show lately with some very unconvincing crying– all five or so actors who had to cry in this were positively dripping with genuine tears. I find that impressive.
  • I’ve always believed in Aristotle’s Poetics, and while I know ‘Music’ can be interpreted as far more than literally music, I think literal music nearly always adds to a production. This show made excellent use of literal music– it opens and closes with some (almost) overwhelmingly powerful sounds, and also contains a couple songs that allow that singing characters the opportunity to exude buckets of information on their emotional states.
  • Electra was insane! Kelli Holsopple plays the hell out of this part. In the moment you’re right with her thinking ‘oh yeah, well of course your mom was wrong to try to rescue your sister from your father sacrificing her to the gods’, but take a step back and of course you realize– “what a normal reaction for any mother to have!”
  • Because there were so few props, an extra level of intensity seemed to land on the small urn that’s meant to hold Orestes’ ashes. All characters who touched, spoke of, or stared at this urn were magnetic to watch. Side note: I imagine the speech Electra gives while holding the urn went on to inspire Shakespeare when writing Hamlet’s ‘Alas, poor Yorick’ speech.
  • The Greek Chorus as a single character was well-used and provided a nice way in to the story.
  • Good story Sophocles! Which I guess also means good translation Anne Carson! I can see why this play has lasted so long. I wasn’t familiar with the plot at all, and found most of the reversals to feel well-earned and surprising– no easy feat when you consider the vast number of plotlines I’ve consumed compared to an ancient Grecian. One reason I think this still holds up even today is that we are still horribly deprived of strong stories with a lead female character that aren’t centered on her finding ‘true love’. This is a revenge story, and one very specific to Electra as a believable female living within her station and all that that entails. Oh, and I imagine the original play is longer than this– the hour and a half here flew by and felt like about the right length for the story.

Blech…

  • While the lack of conventional seating or stage furniture was mostly well-used, Electra spent far too much time down on all fours weeping or writhing. Actually, this speaks to a larger point:
  • Electra goes too crazy too quickly. Pretty early on in the show you see her reach a level of irrationality that is hard to top, and she doesn’t. Then most of the play continues with her in a state of emotional extremes– super sad, super angry, super crazy… I would have appreciated more of a build.
  • Some of those monologues just go on and on, and while I understand this was typical of the time, I just can’t suspend my disbelief to think Electra’s mother would let her rail on her for so very long completely uninterrupted. Page Clements did her best with this– listening and reacting– but seriously, no one (even in ancient Greece) would let that kind of verbal assault continue uninhibited.

12 March
ibrews

B+

Hoo-rah!

  • Fantastically diverse collection of short plays, all of reasonable length, exploring the idea of ‘home.’
  • The first one was hilarious– a woman convinced she’s an alien and trying to convince a telemarketer that he is too. Great way to start the show.
  • Another one I really liked: a girl and her grandmother wearing a wig, trying to go on the run. The little girl is blissfully unaware of how hard it is for an old woman to do all the things required for being on the run, particularly wearing a wig. There’s some great comedy here and touching moments.
  • I think my favorite though was a poignant and funny multi-scene story about a gay couple where one of them is trying to become a citizen. It was called ‘The Procedure’ and featured some terrific acting and writing that explored the notion of getting a microchip implanted in you to become a citizen from an impressive variety of angles. The main characters were instantly likable, relatable, and clearly in love, and the diverse ensemble they bounced off of over the show’s 15 or 20 minute run time provided great opportunities to express their value and struggles.
  • The sets and props were simple and allowed the show to move between pieces quickly and fluidly.
  • The show was at Public Assembly, which provided a fascinating inverted Elizabethan theatre set-up: half the audience was seated in front, while the other half stood in the back by the bar. Surprisingly, this seemed to work out fine– the standing audience didn’t interrupt the show much at all.

Blech…

  • A couple of the plays felt underdeveloped or aimless.
  • There was a warning at the beginning that these plays were all very new and being workshopped, so please don’t be upset if you see an actor reading from a script or something like that. Well that’s a fine warning, but awkward when all but one play seems to have been rehearsed enough to produce a disbelief-suspending performance.
  • All of the shows could have used music… some excellent moments in particular would have played even better with the right scoring. Still, word on the street was each performance only had about 10 minutes to tech, so it’s a miracle all the light cues were correct and the transitions were so seamless.

 

Tales from After the Show…

  • This has nothing to do with anything, but in a mark of crazy coincidence, it turned out that one of the actresses in the show was the sister of someone I went to architecture school with, and another actress was the girl who runs the Trivia Tryste nights in the Park Slope bar, The Rock Shop. Small world!

29 January
ibrews

A-

Hoo-rah!

  • Peter Brook = amazing. I’d heard of him, I have a book by him, I saw a play all about foreigners dreaming to see a play directed by him, and still, nothing prepared me for actually seeing his work.
  • The entire production had a beautiful minimalism to it. Simple and brightly-colored chairs littered the stage, some upright, some knocked over. All were used in multiple ways. Movement, blocking, text;  all remarkably precise.
  • The story itself was presented with an unusual yet very fitting tone. A man catches his wife cheating on him, and instead of reacting with some kind of outward physical aggression, he identifies the suit of the man she was with as a ‘new guest’ who the wife must treat with infinite hospitality. There’s something sick and twisted about it all, but somehow the play remains light on it’s feet and there’s plenty of laugh-out-loud, touching, warm moments presented above the bubbling rage.
  • Thrilling music– accordion, guitar, lots of singing– all wonderful. Most of the songs were well-fitting unknowns, so it was a particularly interesting choice to include Feelin’ Good by Nina Simone.
  • I know it wasn’t technically part of the show, but Peter Brook came out after the performance and talked for about 45 minutes without a moderator (because he’s never liked anything in moderation!) and that was just as good as the show itself. See below.

Blech…

  • The ending is tragic, yet also feels inevitable. Because the event of the end held no surprise in itself, I wish the manner by which it came was less predictable. I hate to sound horrific– but something loud like a gunshot or violent with screaming would have been a powerful contrast to the quietly percolating emotions that pervaded the rest of the play. To throw out a TV reference, I think the most tragic moment in Battlestar Galactica was this event with Dualla (spoiler alert), precisely because of how calm everything around it was.

Tales from After the Show

  • Peter Brook is truly a genius. And he’s a wonderful performer in his own right– endlessly fascinating to hear speak about most any subject. He’s funny, witty, and above all else, British. He spoke about his method of starting a production by throwing everything at it then carving away until there’s absolutely no excess, how he feels about theatre in the age of technology, how the apartheid serves as the backdrop of ‘The Suit’, and the importance of filching brilliant ideas from others. You can download the entire talk-back for your listening pleasure here.