PASSING STRANGE at Berkeley Rep

ps.jpgSaw this new musical last night at Berkeley Rep before it heads to the Public in New York. Talk about mixed reactions. A woman to my right was laughing uncontrollably at everything, including things that were clearly meant to be serious and touching; a man to my left was eating and yawning and pointedly refused to stand up when his wife joined in with the standing ovation.

Being a Libra, I found I was appropriately placed in the middle of these two folks. Much of it I liked quite a bit: the writer/narrator/lead musician Stew is a true poet. Some of the lyrics floored me and I wished I could stop the show and take them in. The actors are extraordinarily talented and charming and each had standout moments while playing multiple characters. The set is awesome, especially when the story travels to Amsterdam.

But I found myself wishing I was just seeing a concert of Stew’s music instead of watching it as a play. I think the problem is that the lyrics are fantastic and do a great job of telling a story in a beautiful and poetic and mysterious way. So when the same scene is then enacted right in front of us, it comes across as repetitive and not as interesting as the version in the song lyrics.

I also think the main character is probably based on the author, and thus he spends a lot of time being passive while things happen to him. I think people have a hard time turning a character based on themselves into active people going through hell and being bastards. Since things seem to “happen to” you as you go through life, you write plays where things “happen to” the main character. But interesting characters make things happen. This character spent a little too much time watching instead of doing.

But what the hell do I know. The woman in front of me turned to her friend and said, “That was the best theater experience I’ve had in five years.” She must be a Leo; they’re always making everything all about them.

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