Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rapid Reviews From an Over-Extended Blogger

I'm really sorry that I haven't had time to blog lately. We visited family in the midwest last week (had a wonderful time with my sister, Heather, in Omaha and with Catherine's mother in Joplin); for the past month, the work on our upcoming workshop of my play, Floydada, has been all-consuming (we're in the rare position of having multiple possible spaces in which to perform the piece... and the usual position of not having a firm commitment from any of them as the clock continues to tick down to a May production); and, of course, there's my day job... which may not be a problem for very much longer—only to be replaced by a different problem as I try to find a new job in this economy! Every day, I have at least a half dozen posts that I begin composing in my head—walking down the street, in the shower: all the places that I can't write them down—and I can't really justify taking time away from other, time-sensitive projects to dedicate to the blog. I hope this will change very soon.

The biggest thing I've wanted to write about are the plays that we've seen lately, but reviews are the most time-consuming posts I write. So here, in brief, is our theater-going over the past two weeks. For some of them, I've already begun to write more extensive posts but haven't had time to finish them; I'll post the full reviews when I have.

Othello at the Duke on 42nd Street: a straightforward, decent but not outstanding production; it made me think a lot about what I might do with the play if I ever direct it... which means that I wasn't as engaged as I ought to have been.

Mois├ęs Kaufman's 33 Variations: the best production I saw on Broadway this year. Jane Fonda does a very good job, Zach Grenier is outstanding as Beethoven and the script and direction are beautiful. I've begun a more thorough post on this piece and will finish it as soon as I can.

The Bridge Project at BAM—Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale: Sam Mendes' rep productions, with a cast of British and American actors, are both very good. The Cherry Orchard is by far the stronger of the two, for my money, and it had a transcendental moment in it the day we saw it (but that definitely requires a longer post!)

Oren Lavie at The Living Room: My friend, Chris Douridas, is a partner on the new label for this very talented singer/songwriter. Lavie has an engaging presence onstage and the album, The Opposite Side of the Sea, is intelligent and musically intriguing.

Gerald Sibleyras' Heroes, translated by Tom Stoppard: the script is simple and a little sweet for my tastes (and seems a little out of character for Stoppard). I wasn't impressed by the direction but the actors—John Cullum, Jonathan Hogan and Ron Holgate—make this play worth seeing.

West Side Story: I think this revival is a textbook example of how not to do a revival of a great musical. The Spanish songs were interesting but didn't really illuminate anything other than to acknowledge that if Anita and Maria were alone together, they would most likely be speaking Spanish. The direction is awful—Act I is uneven; Act II is interminable. MUCH more on this to come...

Yasmine Reza's God of Carnage: A solid script, well-directed and phenomenally acted by Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Hope Davis and, most especially, Jeff Daniels—he's hilarious in the moments when he doesn't say a word. Plus, Catherine got to sit next to Academy Award-winner Dianne Wiest!

Alison Pou's A Slight Headache: Performance art relies very much on the personality of the performer; theater requires the ability of the performer to take on another personality. Pou has a interesting voice as a writer and I could see where she would be engaging onstage... but she's not a very strong actor.

Charles Fuller's Zooman and the Sign: a powerful revival of an excellent play. One of the best pieces I saw Off Broadway this year—and I saw several exceptional plays Off Broadway.

Nature Theater of Oklahoma's Rambo Solo: a one-person (Zachary Oberzan) retelling of David Morell's novel, First Blood, (upon which the Stallone film was loosely based). The planning required to make this very clever piece work—with three projected videos of Oberzan performing the exact same text simultaneously (thanks to an ear prompter he wears in each video and in the live performance feeding him his own pre-recorded words)—is outstanding. Oberzan is funny and fun to watch but the production is about 30 minutes too long—little new material or insight is introduced after 45-60 minutes. But this is one of the most inventive theater companies in NYC today—if you've never seen them before, I highly recommend heading down to Soho Rep.

2 comments:

peggy said...

Hi Barry. I'm glad you've come back to your blog ... you are a wonderful writer and I enjoy your detail and sense of humor! It's such a coincidence that your wrote about 33 Variations. I was just online searching for tickets. By the way, did you see any of the Porters on your trip? ... Peggy

Barry Rowell said...

Hey, Peggy: thanks for the kind words—I really have missed it. I've done a pretty good job of keeping up with reading blogs (lunch at work, you know) but I'm just not a very fast writer. I hope you find 33 Variations--I think it's a beautiful piece. We did see all but Brooke for a couple of hours the first night we arrived: Bethany's father is in the hospital and she and the kids came to MO during spring break to see him. Sadly, they all had to go back west early the next morning except for Bethany, who stayed a few more days with her dad; we had dinner with her the next night but then our schedules diverged and we only saw her for a few minutes after that. But even a few minutes with them was wonderful. Have to get out to WA to see them all in their new natural habitat... and see Brooke, of course.