25 June
ibrews

B-

Summary: Lovely music and production design can’t quite make up for over two hours of a predictable story with no sympathetic characters.

 

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen many operas in my life, and I was given free tickets by my company to see this in San Francisco as part of the Opera America conference. As usual at operas, I struggled to stay awake the whole time, and after the show I was unsure how I felt. Discussing the show with more learned opera-goers than myself (including one woman writing a dissertation on Madame Butterfly) helped clarify my own opinions.

 

Hoo-rah!

  • Pretty music with crazy talented opera singers
  • I enjoyed the physical performance of the guy playing Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (great name). He had a frat-boyish, carefree kind of attitude that stayed interesting to watch throughout. Too bad he’s absent for the whole middle.
  • Excellent set design. A swirly ramp culminating in a platform was abstract enough to excite the imagination but practical enough to clearly delineate different spaces, from a house to a bench to a ship.
  • Some of the projection design was excellent. While the death scene at the end is pretty melodramatic, a great white projection where a drop of blood grows and becomes a mess was undoubtedly powerful stuff.

Blech…

  • Here’s the whole plot: guy with something falls in love with girl with nothing, marries her, bangs her, and forgets her (typcical frat guy). She has hope he’ll come back, and he does, but has a new wife. She kills herself in shame. All of this seemed inevitable from about 2 minutes in when he’s singing about how contracts all have to be renewed or they expire, and how much he likes that custom.
  • All of the characters basically come off as idiots. The guy is like ‘Whhhaaa? What do you mean you’re upset that I went off and started another family?’ and the girl is like ‘Just because he hasn’t contacted me in years doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me!’ I just can’t feel sorry for them.
  • Some of the projection design was too literal and frankly, dumb. Oh look! A boat is approaching! Let’s have a super simple animation of a toy boat silhouette with an American flag move cross the set for five minutes.
  • There was like a twelve-minute section in the middle of the opera with no one on stage and weird drawings of people being projected while soft music played. I had no idea what was going on, and neither did anyone else I was with. THEN I learned that Madame Butterfly is supposed to be on stage, during all of this, basically still, silently coming to grips with the fact that her husband has left her and she has nothing. Oh look! A chance for character development. Why didn’t they take it?
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25 June
ibrews

Summary: Danton Spina deftly directs a variety of short plays about ‘the end’ of something. The results are a night of fast-paced, entertaining blackbox theater.

 

Disclaimer: No rating because I’m too close to the source material– I wrote one of the plays and have been involved in two of the others, so my opinions simply feel too biased.

 

 

“Time Flies” by David Ives

  • Nice energy
  • Not sure what some of the set was for
  • Lots of puns… probably too many.
  • Great little meditation on the brevity of our lives

 

“If You Were the Last Man…” by Alex Coulombe

  • Tonally different from how I wrote it
  • The actress playing Sarah was a solid straight-man to the wackiness of Lester.
  • In some ways I enjoyed the ‘high-energy athlete’ version of Lester, but it makes the dialogue about how antisocial he is ring untrue.
  • There was no beeping… so I’m sure that aspect of Lester’s personality didn’t make sense. If they didn’t want to deal with sound cues, I’m curious why there wasn’t at least the speaking of ‘beep beep’
  • Since they did go with a much more energetic take on the show than what I wrote, I did like the way they built up and bounced off each other, culminating in a really fun ‘GOD DAMMIT LESTER!’ from Sarah.
  • Fun but sudden ending– kind of felt like the ending of an SNL skit that ran out of steam (no pun intended)

 

Variations on the Death of Trotsky by David Ives

  • Although Mrs. Trotsky will always be Nate Chesley for me, Julia Terruso was lovely.
  • I forgot how much David Ives loves puns… man, so many puns. I suppose those are more fun when you’re a kid.
  • Great accent for Trotsky.
  • Great comic timing, especially for all of the deaths.
  • I like the gargantuan size of the mountain climber’s axe.

 

“Forsaken Cubicle” by Danton Spina

  • Very Mad-Men-esque imagery and moments (there seemed to be a replicate Peggy Olsen presentation template there)
  • There’s a fun ‘what’s going on’ puzzle dynamic through most of the show, but I think at a certain point there needs to be more hints at what’s happening
  • I understand the ‘nostalgia drug’ thing in retrospect, but I think there’s too few hints at it within the show itself.
  • The ending happens a little too quickly so there’s not a chance to process it.

 

“The Zombie Aesthete” by Alex Dremann

  • Without a doubt the highlight of the evening
  • Even more entertaining than the production I saw Danton act in a few years ago
  • Stunning stage debut by Lizzy Henwood Spina– perfect listless stare and broken walk
  • Entrance by the other zombie couple is perfect– door slams open and they’re GRARRRHHHGG!!!
  • The brains they eat really do look like brains… ugh. Well done!

 

Danton Spina gives his thoughts on the full run of the show here. Liz, Morgan, and I were there for opening night. I wish I could have hung out longer after the show and talked with the cast, but I had to book it out of there to get back on a train to NYC for my 8 AM flight out of JFK to San Francisco for the Opera America conference!

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13 June
ibrews

A-

Summary: Gloriously epic production of Macbeth staged unlike anything you’ve ever seen. With a few minor distractions.

 

Disclaimer: I worked on the seating of this production. Here’s the model I made, which I enjoyed comparing to the reality using my Kindle Fire version.

 

Hoo-rah!

  • Goosebumps the moment I walked into the room. Nothing (including my 3D model) prepares you for how the transformed Armory space hits you. As you progress to your seats in a beautifully long procession, the witches crawl around in the darkness on the floor. The floor was made into a field complete with rocks, dirt, and an overgrown stone path.
  • Everything was staged and blocked to take full advantage of the unique stage and set– two Stonehengey nodes connected by a dirt runway.
  • Rain, fire, mud, all used to great effect.
  • The lighting was surprisingly understated (not a lot of color), but worked wonders on the set by what it highlighted, what it made soft, what it sharply cast in shadow. In this way it was easy to imagine the same set as everything from a battlefield to the the witches’ lair to a castle.
  • Breathless staging moved swiftly from one scene to the next with little or no downtime. The two hours flew by!
  • Macduff had a ferocity behind him that I was consistently compelled by.
  • Loved the way the witches’ cauldron was done, and the progression of Banquo’s lineage that emerged from it.
  • The wide open field was used beautifully only twice–  once during a Macbeth vision (understated lamps) and once when the soldiers progress using their foresty shields in a sequence that hit me like the Battle of Helm’s Deep when I first saw The Two Towers.
  • Lady Macbeth performed her hand-washing monologue superbly– I cringed throughout it but was also unable to look away.
  • I thought Branagh as Macbeth was pretty good– there were times when I felt he was too controlled in his descent into madness. My wife thought it was a strong performance, full of nuance and showing a clear progression of Macbeth from loyal servant to his king, to remorseful killer, to paranoid tyrant.
  • End swordfight between Macbeth and Macduff was excellent. Well-choreographed with some great high-energy moments.

Blech…

  • A late start to the show, which I think can be attributed to the clever but unnecessary act of dividing the audience up into clans before marching them into the drill hall.
  • Throughout the show we could hear stagehands/actors? rustling behind the seating.
  • Some actors handled the size and reverb of the space better than others. Lines were lost.
  • The opening swordfight was, frankly, disappointing. Despite the rain and mud and perfect lighting, it was painfully clear all of the extras were progressing through exactly the same swordfight choreography.
  • The seats were bleacher-style, and with no intermission, it’s easy to have back pain start to distract from the show as it progresses.
  • Tough to follow action that progressed along the runway. I made the seats as tall as possible, but because of the nature of the stage, there’s still moments when you can’t quite look between the heads in front of you.
  • My wife thought Lady Macbeth was too consistently crazed the entire show. I didn’t feel that way at first, but after discussing the specifics, I see her point. There wasn’t enough of an arc.

RANDOM THOUGHT: What if the witches aren’t actually psychic? What if they’re like Petyr in Game of Thrones and have all sorts of spies that allow them to plant seeds in the hearts of those they know to be easily corruptible? After all, would Macbeth have done anything if he hadn’t met them?

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16 May
ibrews

I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me over a month to write about this. WHAT KIND OF THEATER BLOG IS THIS IF I CAN’T KEEP MY THEATER LIFE UPDATED?!
 

In addition to Dystopiapiapia being part of the Thespis Theatre Festival in July, (HOW DID I NOT MENTION THAT?! MORE YELLING!!) I wrote another short play around the same time, called something like “The Last Man” or “If You Were the Last Man (on Earth)” or “Man Lasts on Earth for Last Time” or I don’t know. Title isn’t important.  My good friend and Warehouse Architecture Theatre co-founder Danton Spina decided to run his own little festival in Philadelphia from  June 16th-22nd. The theme is ‘the end of stuff’, and so he wrote a one-act and he has a couple other great little one-acts scheduled and he’s directing it all. Anyway, hopefully I’ll have the chance to post something about it when we get closer, but for now, here’s a great little compare and contrast on the rewrite process in a bite size serving:
 

So in like a day, I wrote the first draft of this play having the simple idea: what if there was an end of the world scenario where two people ended up being the last two people on earth, but they didn’t know it, and so when they decide not to reproduce it’s a much bigger deal than they thought? I knew I didn’t want to be heavy-handed about anything, and even thought it could be fun to not specify that it’s the end of the world (kind of Waiting for Godot-y). After a little back and forth with Danton, I realized I was being a little too obtuse, and it would likely just confuse people. I also fixed some potential copyright pitfalls.
 

Anyway, here’s the two scripts. Hopefully you’ll agree the second one is stronger:
 

Download (PDF, 804KB)

Download (PDF, 806KB)

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14 March
ibrews

C+

Summary: I love Bryan Cranston so so much, and while I know he prides himself on only working with well-written material, this story simply did not feel like it needed to be told.

 

Hoo-rah!

  • I learned about the passing of the Civil Rights act in a manner slightly more interesting than reading a textbook.
  • Actor playing Martin Luther was phenomenal– great speaker and captured his essence.
  • Made me feel like I need to watch Lincoln, so I guess it put me in a historical-dramatization mood.
  • The ensemble handled the 60-some-odd roles they needed to play well; rarely did I confused multiple characters played by the same actor, so props also go to the makeup and costumes department. And the props department!
  • Great set and use of projections– minimal in some respects, but captured the sense of all the places LBJ visits.
  • Bryan Cranston got to repeat one of his iconic Breaking Bad lines in this show “You’re goddamn right it’s my party.” For some reason people also cracked up at a line about ‘the walking dead.’

Blech…

  • I learned about the passing of the Civil Rights act in a manner slightly more interesting than reading a textbook.
  • Unlike something like, say, 1776, there was no charm or fun to this.
  • I never felt a sense of stakes– you already know the Civil Rights Act will pass and LBJ is going to get elected, and none of the obstacles dramatized in the play feel particularly insurmountable.
  • Didn’t feel like I learned anything meaningful about Lyndon Johnson; there was a surprising lack of distinction between his public and private life.
  • At times, the characterization of LBJ had a caricature-y quality, bordering on Foghorn Leghorn.
  • Sound could have been used to greater effect, particularly to emphasize the bigger moments. The only music I recall was at the beginning of Act 1 and the beginning of Act 2… and it wasn’t particularly memorable.

Tales from the Stage Door…

Bryan is an incredibly sweet guy. He hung outside for at least 20 minutes talking to fans, signing things, and taking pictures with them. He might have stayed longer– I don’t know! I left after he took care of me. Here’s some fun moments:

  • Me: Bryan! I watched a ton of Malcolm in the Middle growing up. You were like a second dad. Bryan: (looks hard at me) I’m pretty sure I’m your real dad.
  • Guy: Bryan! Can you talk to my dad? He’s on the phone. Bryan: (on the phone) Are you this young man’s father? We’re at the police station. He’s been arrested for indecent exposure. Please come pick him up.
  • Couple: We’re a couple because of Breaking Bad! Bryan: Breaking Bad made you a couple? That’s terrible. So you’d watch the show then have anxiety sex?
  • Young Girl: This is my first Broadway show and I’m just starting to realize I’m in love with acting. Any advice? Bryan: Always attach yourself to well-written material. It’ll never fail you. When I was your age I always dreamed of being on Broadway. I took work where I could find it, but always made sure I believed in what I was performing.
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