Friday, October 10, 2008

This Week On Stage

Catherine and I have been to the theater four times since we saw The Tempest but I just haven't had time to write anything about them. Of the four, two of them were good to very good and two of them were on the dumb side but well- to very well-executed. Let's hope the trend continues with the two plays we're seeing this weekend.

Chekhov Lizardbrain by Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theatre Company was, for me, the highlight of our theatrical week. They call themselves a "dance-clown-theater ensemble" and all of the pieces I've seen have employed performers with strong senses of physicality and humor. Pig Iron productions don't always completely succeed—while their take on Measure for Measure, set in a morgue, didn't really illuminate all that much about Shakespeare's play, it may be the bravest production I've ever seen of any play—but they are always entertaining. This particular production was a mash-up of vaudeville, Chekhovian-inspired melodrama and "autistic author Temple Grandin's inquiries into the evolving contortions of her own brain." It was a bizarre and beautiful combination of elements, more than a little disturbing at times and extremely funny. Check out their touring schedule and, if they're coming to city near you, go see them.

Frank Langella is Sir Thomas More. Well... okay, he does a good job playing More in A Man for All Seasons but let's get real: he walks onstage and he's Frank Langella. That's not really intended as an insult but just an acknowledgment that he has an incredible presence that, for me, overpowered his ability to transform; in recent years, the only "star" I've seen onstage who was able to overcome this was Billy Crudup in The Coast of Utopia, possibly my favorite performance of 2007. Nevertheless, this is a strong production by a talented cast and, really, I enjoyed Langella in the role. There was a point, early in the play, when I felt a small wave of pleasure as it occurred to me that there's really nothing better than watching good theater, performed live! The play, in its first New York revival since the original 1961 production with Paul Scofield, shows its age a little—it's very talky and some of the legal arguments are... well, let's just say that legalese under the Tudors was every bit as interesting dramatic as it is today—but director Doug Hughes has done a good job of streamlining the script (in particular, the narrator has been excised, as it was in the 1967 film, with the blessings of Robert Bolt's estate). My only significant qualm, really, is the marketing campaign: I'm going to see Frank Langella... play a doctor? A Red Cross volunteer? I figure they wanted to avoid revealing that it's about political machinations in 16th century England: they have succeeded admirably.

Clearly, I am not the intended audience for 13 the Musical: I am over 12 and don't care for pseudo-pop musical scores. Our friend, Nomi, put it best: it's like an ABC Afterschool Special set to music; if you like that sort of thing (or if you're the target demographic for that sort of thing), you'll probably like 13. The older gentleman (well, older than me, at least) sitting next to me seemed pretty bored throughout the show; I didn't think it was that bad, it's just obviously not really for me. My biggest question at first was why someone thought this ought to be on Broadway when an Off Broadway venue seems much more appropriate—more intimate, cheaper tickets—but then I immediately knew that it was all about money: a Broadway run will make it more attractive to the regional theaters. I think they needn't have worried: this is the kind of show that will play the rest of the country forever (like Grease or Forever Plaid or High School Musical or... the list goes on and on...). The cast is very talented, energetic and darned cute; the 4-piece band (who also appeared to be teenagers) are exceptionally good.

Finally, we come to Spin at the Cherry Lane. Catherine liked it okay; I didn't really. This was an evening of short plays that have all been commissioned since March—the last one was turned in at the beginning of September before the cast started rehearsals—and the immediacy of that quick turnaround is supposed to make them more timely or relevant. It didn't really. The play that involved a dead Iraqi war veteran competing in a game show against Britney Spears (I'm not kidding) could have been written any time since 2003; the others weren't even that timely. Catherine and I were trying to decide how the authors had defined spin (ostensibly the topic they all had to write); some of the connections were a little strained, to say the least. The talented ensemble cast manages to make some of the pieces work all right; none of the scripts are actually badly written: they just didn't seem as immediate as the producers would have us believe.

1 comment:

RLewis said...

while i try to stay out of your shit, i saw this and laughed, thinking of you....

"Hints of an answer to the perennial question, “Why this play now?” (posed continually by my former colleague, the famed theatre historian Oscar Brockett) are provided mostly by the supporting cast, especially Christopher Patrick Nolan as Yakov."

...just call me Oscar II.