Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Week Off Off

Catherine and I saw three shows during the past week; nothing much unusual there. Catherine actually saw a fourth—a friend of ours got her a ticket for Hair at the Delacourt on Wednesday (I stayed home to do some work on my own play, Floydada, because I don't know Hair or have any special fondness for it as Catherine does). I spent a lot of time this afternoon trying to come up with a single title for this post that could encapsulate them all... and, obviously, I failed miserably. Regardless, I thought I'd share my thoughts on them with you all.

The first was Robert Lyons' Red Haired Thomas in Soho Think Tank's Ice Factory festival at the Ohio. It's a quirky little play about a gambler—a nice, family man—and how his personal and professional problems propel him into a delusional reality. There's a lot to like in the piece: interesting characters and relationships (I especially enjoyed the scenes between the gambler and his pre-teenage daughter as he tries to offer her life lessons), an intriguing use of language (both natural dialogue and more poetic abstractions) and it offers an unusual perspective on our expectations of the American Dream. There were several times when it difficult to hear the actors—always a possibility in the Ohio (a great space but a big ol' barn!)—and there a few other production elements that could have been tighter. But it's never predictable and a thoroughly entertaining play; I'm anxious to see what Robert will do with it next.... rumor has it, you may be seeing something next spring...

On Friday, we went to McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn for Caridad Svitch's 12 Ophelias, which riffs on Hamlet by setting it in a Louisiana bayou (or that's what I imagined: apparently it was supposed to be Appalachia, according to the company's website) and focusing on the character of Ophelia (hence the title... however, the 12 part wasn't at all clear to me). I know Hamlet extremely well (I directed it in college and have seen several productions over the years—the 1988 Bergman production in Swedish is, to this day, the best piece of theater I've ever seen) but it's not really necessary for this play. Caridad has a gift for stylized, poetic language that still seems oddly appropriate for the characters she's created. Unfortunately, 12 Ophelias doesn't have a very strong story arc (the characters and relationships are based on Hamlet but the plot isn't), it's a little repetitive and the characters here tend to talk about their goals more than they pursue them. On top of this, the production by Woodshed Collective actually highlights these weaknesses—director Teddy Bergman has used the space visually very well (it's staged in the round in the middle of the empty Olympics-size pool) but he's done little to help the actors: there's a lot of sameness throughout in their vocal intonations and rhythms, like Philip Glass with all of the notes that create tension in the music removed. It's something I see pretty frequently in abstract performances: there's very little drama in the piece, no sense of immediacy at all and I get bored about halfway through. There's an interesting play here but unfortunately this production hasn't found it.

Finally, last night we saw Susan Bernfield's Tiny Feats of Cowardice in fringenyc. I should start by saying that we've been friends with Susan for over 15 years and this particular piece was first performed in one of our BIG ART in small places events in 1997... so I'm hardly 100% objective here. However, the play we saw last night is greatly changed from the one at Judson Church over a decade ago. It's simply Susan, accompanied by a three-piece jazz combo—bass, piano and trap set—telling us about how dealing with her fears (of which she has many more than I ever realized) has shaped her life. In person, Susan is engaging and extremely entertaining and that comes through in her performance; as a writer, she's done a good job of writing for the actor—which ought to be easy when you're the actor, but it isn't. The music, by Rachel Peters, has a nice retro feel... it made me think of Peggy Lee and, indeed, Susan references her at one point in the piece. I would have liked a little more variety in song styles—for the most part, it's swingy jazz rhythms with a couple of slower, softer moments—but I was glad that Peters avoided that McMusical Theater style I hear so often (a Jerry Herman-ish sound without Jerry Herman's talent and skill). Ultimately, however, it's a minor quibble: Tiny Feats is a fun journey into a somewhat twisted psyche that only becomes disturbing when you sometimes realize, "Hey, wait a minute: I think that, too!"

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