- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Fantastic acting from Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio as Doc.
- Loved the minimalist set design, effectively conveying everything from a sleek flat, to a crummy apartment, to a rooftop, to the frozen tundra.
- Loved all of the sounds of the show. Loved the way the doors were played as instruments, the way one door had a gratingly echoey megaphone thing going on, and I loved all of the guitar playing that went on.
- Doc’s character became progressively more fascinating and likable as the story progressed.
- It was kind of cheesy, but I genuinely enjoyed how much of the script was written on the two guitars, and on a couple occasions, I had the surreal experience of my eye being caught by the text as it was being said out loud.
- Not sure this was a story that needed to be told…
- Call me a traditionalist, but I want a story to have stakes, and for the protagonist to be empathetic. This had neither– it was about a loser-junkie screwing up his big break, then spiraling downward for two hours. I needed more highs and lows, and for Ethan Hawke’s character to have some semblance of a redeeming quality.
- Too many shock moments and not enough story moments
- Some of the ensemble actors struggled to effectively play the multiple characters required of them. And it was simply confusing to have someone your recognized as an important character early on turn up as a new, nameless character.
Tales from the Stagedoor…
- This was opening night of the show and we scored front row center seats using a handy trick I’ve discovered (ask if you’re curious). I saw Evan Handler at the show, best known for playing Charlie Runkle on Californication. It got me thinking about how Ethan Hawke’s character was basically a music-version of David Duchovny’s Californication character, only less likable.
- There’s a reason this is one of the most enduring American plays. Even with a lackluster production, these characters come off as real people, and the story rings true on a deep emotional level.
- I particularly love the pulling desires I feel of wanting Big Daddy’s land to go to Brick instead of Gooper, but knowing full-well that unless Brick gets his act together, it’s all for naught. And the ‘mendacity’ that keeps Brick all bottled up is a sentiment we all can relate to at one time or another.
- Some fantastic casting choices here. Scarlett was good as Maggie, and Emily Bergl was perfect as Mae; they would have held the show fine on their own. But I was extremely impressed by Benjamin Walker’s frustrated, knotted portrayal of Brick, reminding me of something between Raylan Givens and any role played by Garret Dillahunt, and I was blown away by Ciaran Hinds’ level of gravitas as Big Daddy. Watching the wind get taken out of him when he learns he has cancer is devastating. I can’t wait to see him play Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones.
- Benjamin Walker cut himself to the point of bleeding (by accident) in the first act, but played it all off perfectly in character. I was in the front row and had the, um, pleasure? of watching the blood continuously ooze out of him while he as Brick found opportunities to wipe at it angrily or ignore it pointedly.
- The ensemble is well-used, adding some lovely singing to a few parts of the show. In fact, the only ‘music’ in the whole show was sung (save a silly mandolin part played by Mae in a singing performance by the “no-neck monsters”), and I found that to be perfectly fitting.
- I liked the choice to have a ghost of Skipper (he never makes an appearance in the playscript). There’s a moment where Brick sings “On Moonlight Bay” and it’s mouthed by Skipper’s ghost– lovely and moving.
- I had to check to see if the playscript has Brick explicitly revealing what was said in the “drunken late night phone call” between him and Skipper (and if the production had cut it to make it less overt). The script never had it in there. It’s amazing and wonderful to me that in 1958 (before we were inundated up to our ears with complex narrative), Tennessee Williams trusted his audience’s intelligence enough to think they could connect the dots on their own. Very cool.
- My favorite line delivery: Brick yells: ‘Hello moon! I envy you, you cool son-of-a-bitch!’ Poignant and hilarious.
- Scarlett had one particular gesture where she would floppily swing her arm out while speaking. It was overused, looked unnatural, and was distracting. I looked to the other actors to see if this was some kind of Southern thing they were all doing, but no, they didn’t. Hands are always a difficult thing to make ‘act natural’ on stage. Lucky Benjamin Walker had the advantage of having his hands nearly always occupied by a crutch and/or a drinking glass.
- All of the actors (save Emily Bergl) had their accent go astray at one point or another. Never enough to take me out of the moment, but still, enough to notice the lapse. I should be kind– this was only the second night of previews!
- Debra Monk as Big Mama certainly isn’t fat or ugly or annoying enough to warrant the deluge of vitriol that comes from Ciaran Hinds’ Big Daddy.
- While I generally loved the set, one of the ceiling fans was swinging back and forth like a pendulum most of the production to the point of distraction. And there was some ‘is that or isn’t that a wall’? confusion in a few scenes where characters in the bedroom are deciding how private they want their conversation to be. I would argue that in a realistic set, a wall should never be implied. Just build the darn thing.
- How unfair is it that the ladies in the audience get to look at Benjamin Walker naked, while all the men are left to see Scarlett never show more skin than her slip allows? Also, the dress she wears most of the show? Super blech.
- The ending didn’t leave on quite as hopeful a note as I feel the story wants. I dunno… the line “Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true?” doesn’t really do it for me. Let’s at least see them collapse into each other’s arms or something!
Tales from the Stagedoor…
- Scarlett is a sweetheart. She only came out for about 30 seconds before getting into her black shady vehicle, but I got a signed program from her, complimented her on the performance, and received a cordial reply. I should also mention this was amid 300 screaming fans. What did I sputter out? “That was a very elegant performance” to which she said “Aw, thank you so much!”, though immediately after I wish I’d said “Your upset face has the power to stop an exploding train.” My desire to interact with celebrities is often overtaken by my desire to say something they’ll think about some random 3 AM.
Yeah yeah… it’s not live theatre. But I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy about as much as life itself and have watched the extended-edition appendices something like eighty-seven times. Anyway, saw the premiere of The Hobbit at midnight last night, and here are my (not-so-mini) thoughts:
- We’re back in epic New Zealand as an epic Middle Earth with an epic tale to tell! God I love this world.
- All the humor in the film worked wonders underscoring tension and darker subject matter.
- The quick glimpse we got of Erebor looked EXACTLY like how I imagined it from reading the book. It was also cool to see a full goblin city in the Misty Mountains.
- With all the incredible CG in the film, I liked when we didn’t see things. I like that that we get all sorts of glimpses of Smaug without ever seeing him in his entirety. And the Necromancer and Witch King were also properly menacing in their respective ethereal forms.
- Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo. I love all the ‘Britishness’ of his reactions to that which is not proper. Great comedic timing as well, and so many little facial twitches that cracked me up.
- Loved Bilbo convincing the trolls not to eat them and the dwarves angrily oblivious to what’s going on. This is where Bilbo shines– as a talker, not a fighter.
- So so so happy to have Gandalf back in the form of Sir Ian McKellen. Gandalf the Grey is such a loveable, wise, responsible goofball.
- Appreciated the time given to Gandalf making a case for why Bilbo the Hobbit of all people and all creatures should singled out as the burglar to go on this journey.
- Richard Armitage is an excellent Thorin. Sure is prideful though, eh? Wonder if that will become a problem later on, hm <cough> <cough>?
- Speaking of coughing, I was exhausted and sick last night, yet the film held my attention throughout its nearly 3-hour runtime (got home about 4 AM). I never even came close to falling asleep!
- I loved all the little references to The Lord of the Rings, particularly the prologue at the beginning as Frodo and Bilbo prepare the birthday party.
- Bret McKenzie gets an expanded role in Rivendell. Nice.
- Enjoyed the Galadriel and Gandalf scene (with a whining Saruman in the background, tee hee), but I thought their final words to each other should have been a little more auspicious and foreshadowing of the fact that they will never speak to each other again.
- The film did a fantastic job of giving each of the thirteen dwarfs some distinct characteristics, whereas in the books they’re all very broad and gestural. So we got dwarf that eats too much, the wise old dwarf, the gay slingshotty dwarf, the clearly-Gimli’s-father dwarf, and the sexy Legolasy arrow-shooting dwarf with his quiet brother. Think I missed a few, but that’s not bad.
- ‘Riddles in the Dark’ was a glorious scene. Perfect writing, directing, acting, animating, pacing. Mm, mm, pristine. I don’t know if it says more about the advances in animation and performance capture, or the cartoonish nature of the other characters, but Gollum had more life and depth to me than any actor in the film…
- This felt like the extended-edition of the film. I mean it had EVERYTHING from the book, plus all sorts of appendices stuff. What the heck was cut? How much longer can the extended edition be?
- I saw it in normal 2D, 24 fps so I can’t comment on the 3D HFR stuff, but there were parts of this version that felt strangely sped up or something. Weird conversion problems?
- Maybe things have gotten more high definition in the past decade or I’m simply a more discerning viewer now, but I was very much aware of artifice of a lot of the prosthetics, particularly Gandalf’s nose and all the pointy ears.
- The music… oh boy. I love Howard Shore, but this felt phoned in. The ‘dwarf theme’ made so popular in the trailers is rehashed about a dozen different times throughout the film, and it quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns. What was particularly irksome was that the most ‘epic’ version of the song, which to me evokes determined perseverance after a hard-fought loss (something that would be fitting after Gandalf fell into Moria in LotR), is used in this film during a complete non-event: stock ‘look at everyone travelling’ footage. So much oversaturation… this is literally the thing I will dread most about repeat watches of this film.
- One more gripe about the music: toooo many rehashes of LotR themes. In the Shire, fine, yes, by all means play around with that lovely theme, but once we’re out on a very unique adventure, we should have very unique music. At one point, Thorin is given music that I clearly recognize as Aragorn’s. What the hell? And then Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and Rivendell are all given (as far as I can tell) EXACTLY the same music they had in LotR. At least the Shire theme got played with and reorchestrated. I also just realized that the major foes in this story, ‘the goblins’ aren’t given any theme that I can recall, much less one as memorable as the Isengard Orc Theme.
- As I said, the CG was stunning, but there was a tangibleness missing from the orcs and goblins that I felt much more in LotR when they were all being played by real people in real costumes.
- The trolls and goblins spoke too much like humans. I wanted their voice, their timbre, their pitch to all feel more distinct from humans. For example, I loved the way Treebeard spoke, and the Uru-kai. Which makes me realize– there wasn’t much growling in this film, was there? Hm… too bad.
- Now that we’ve introduced Ratagast the Brown and his connection to animals, I couldn’t believe we didn’t see anything related to him and the eagles. For those who don’t know, it’s supposed to be Ratagast that sends the eagles to Gandalf, not weird little moths providing on-call ‘eagles ex machina’. I mean, at least have a little scene where Ratagast gives Gandalf the knowledge of how to summon the eagles or something. Right now he contributes nothing to Bilbo’s quest, only the long set-up Gandalf is involved with for the ‘dark power’ that becomes Sauron in Lord of the Rings.
- I wish the Troll scene had ended with Gandalf summoning daylight (like in the book) instead of him just cracking a rock to bring it early. Are we really supposed to believe that the trolls thought they had enough time to cook and eat or bring the dwarves back into their cave with a minute to go before daylight would have come on its own?
- The two scenes I was hoping to be blown away in terror by didn’t quite do it for me, mostly because of some substantial deviations from the book: 1) In the dark of the misty mountain cave while the dwarves sleep, the ponies are supposed to be taken away, screaming as though being devoured live, and before any of the company can find a light, they’ve all been captured. In the film they’re sent down some weird elaborate video-gamey tunnel trap in full light and by that point the ponies have already ‘run away’ (none get eaten). Boo. 2) In the final ‘battle’ scene, the company is supposed to be up in the trees, terrified as the goblins light the forest on fire and cackle and sing about them burning to death. Instead, the risk was a tree falling over a cliff, and the company actually used fire in the form of flaming pinecones against the goblins. Why? You already have the dwarf song with that awesomely menacing line ‘the trees like torches, blazed with light’ and now you’re completely copping out on that element of the story?
- On that note, NOT A SINGLE ‘GOOD’ THING DIES! This drove me crazy. The ponies’ death should have been terrifying and traumatizing. I then thought maybe Peter Jackson might have raised the stakes a little, deviating from a the book a tad by featuring then killing off a dwarf which would have given us some kind of catharsis. But nooo–no one! Heck, not even cute little Sebastian the hedgehog died. Let’s see some sacrifice! Some tragedy! Some stakes!!
- Why the heck didn’t Bilbo put his ring on when he went to save Thorin? Awfully big risk to take when you’re very small, surrounded by wolves, and not a real fighter. I would have been fine if it was played off like a ‘noble sacrifice’, but I read Martin Freeman here like a pompous jackass thinking to himself ‘I can take these assholes…”
- Suspense of disbelief was a bit of a problem when comparing this film with the parameters established in The Lord of the Rings. Sure, I can believe that in a 100:1 battle, no good guys are killed, but I still believe in basic laws of physics and force/weight ratios. Thus, the rock giants crashing into each other should have killed everyone, as should the Goblin King falling on top of them from hundreds of feet in the air. And there’s no way the dwarves could have done that crazy stuff with Bilbo’s dishes. My friend made me feel better about all this stuff though by telling me to imagine that this story is Bilbo’s unauthorized subjective telling of it– not the ‘official’ version. So some things are bound to be a little exaggerated. That also makes me feel better about Bilbo saving Thorin at the end, because let’s face it– in the ‘official version’, either he put on the ring while he did that, or one of the constantly-professing-love-for-Thorin dwarves beat him to the punch.
- Speaking of punching, some of the exposition was so expositiony that it felt like it was beating you over the head. Two elements that stood out– the fifty times they talk about how scary Smaug is, and how many times we’re explained to how much Thorin and asdlfj Goblin-Leader-Guy hate each other.
- The Lord of the Rings was aided a lot by stripping the story of anything unrelated to Frodo and the Ring. The lack of a similar focus in The Hobbit made the film (at times) feel like a lot of big set-pieces that could have been mostly stripped away without any real detriment to the emotional journey of the story. After all, if no one dies or is irreversibly changed by an event, it’s probably only being shown because it’s ‘cool.’ Case in point– the weird Rock Giant battle thing. That just kind of happened… then everyone is fine and moves on.
- Is it just me, or did it seem like the biggest f*** you in the world to have that elf army in the prologue turn away from helping the dwarves. I mean, you’re already in formation! By the way, that’s Legolas’ father.
- Speaking of slights, the scene with Saruman whining while Gandalf and Galadriel telepathically communicate is what I imagine Peter Jackson did with his wife while Christopher Lee whined at him to be cast as Gandalf instead of Saruman because ‘Tolkien gave me his blessing‘ and yada yada while they’re all like ‘so where’re we going for dinner tonight?’
- How do so many characters recognize blades at a glance? Are there drawings? Do they study them? Even if you saw swords in battle, you’re probably not going to have too much time to focus on one in particular.
- Who is in on Sauron coming back as the Necromancer? Is he sending orcs out on his will or anything like that? How did asdlfakajsdfla Goblin-Leader-Guy find Thorin anyway?
- Why are the chickens in scale with the hobbits? Shouldn’t they be up to their shoulders? Or do they breed mini-chickens?
- How close is Moria to the part of the Misty Mountains this Goblin City exists in? Are these the same goblins that will eventually retake Moria and attack the Fellowship?
- I’m going to make a parody video of when the Goblin King hints to Thorin that his alasdjlja Goblin-Leader-Guy enemy is still alive and hunting him. It took like 20 seconds for Thorin to get it. That’s almost as bad as Ice-T.
Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Crossover References, updated as I think of more:
- A lot of the prologue stuff. Talking about the Sackville-Baggins, the ‘No Admittance Except on Party Business’ Poster, Bilbo’s stand-offishness about writing his book, Frodo going out to wait for Gandalf. All very lovely.
- “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” comes from the book in the troll chapter. In the film they put it after the Misty Mountains ordeal. Reminds me of in LotR when we have the line “A shortcut! To what? To mushrooms!” after the chapter title ‘A Shortcut to Mushrooms.’
- Speaking of mushrooms, I love how Saruman is always ragging on wizards and their drug use. In LotR he whines at Gandalf for his potsmoking (‘your love of the halfling’s leaf has clearly slowed your mind’), and in this he scolds Gandalf for listening to Ratagast, who he says eats too many shrooms.
- The morgul blade Gandalf presents to Galadriel and Saruman is the same blade (or same kind of blade?) that the Witch King stabs Frodo with at Weathertop.
- Thorin being thrown by a warg then passing out as Bilbo protects him was very similar to Theoden being thrown by the Nazgul then passing out as Eowyn protects him. Also similar to how Aragorn saves Boromir from being shot in the head with an arrow by gutchecking the wood-be-executioner from screen-left.
- Gandalf handing Bilbo ‘Sting’ and talking about knowing when ‘not to take a life’ is reminiscent of Gandalf having a similar talk with Frodo. The effect of both ends up being ‘don’t kill Gollum.’
- ‘Eagles ex Machina’ with the everyone on a tree falling off a giant cliff was very similar to the Gandalf’s ‘Eagles ex Machina’ escape from Saruman’s tower. Except this time, we knew what was going to happen so there was no tension/stakes.
- Gandalf on a tiny bridge in the Misty Mountains confronting the Goblin King was very similar to the ‘you shall not pass’ Balrog scene.
- The way Thorin’s party is hunted throughout his journey by the goblins/orcs reminds me of the way the uruk-kai hunt and follow the fellowship. And Peter Jackson made similar choices in both The Hobbit and Fellowship to create a leader out of what was written out an amorphous rabble of enemy hoards.
- “This is Sting,’ you’ve seen it before!” Yes you have. Wouldn’t change a thing about the whole Riddles in the Dark scene (words Gandalf distinctly mutters in LotR), but this played out rather different than the flashback scene we got in LotR. For one thing, Bilbo is wearing a different outfit, and for another, he puts the ring in his right pocket instead of his left. Ha.
- Bilbo takes one last longing look at Rivendell before departing. It’s a great moment to know how much he fell in love with the place, and as we see in The Lord of the Rings, that’s where he retires.
- Goblin-leader guy looked a heck of a lot like Voldemort…oh wait, wrong franchise comparison. Still, I think it was a mistake to have him CG instead of a live actor. I loved how the had that hook appendage just jammed into his arm though.