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.
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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!
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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.
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29 January
ibrews

C+

Hoo-rah!

  • 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.

Blech…

  • 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.
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2 January
ibrews

B+

Hoo-rah!

  • 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.

Blech…

  • 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.
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