Last week, I got a chance to see Lemony Snicket’s The Composer Is Dead at Berkeley Rep. The play is basically an adaptation of a children’s book, but since the book would only take about six minutes to read, they pad it out with a film about “the magic of living, breathing theater.”
The problem is, there’s not quite enough “magic of living, breathing theater” happening. (It is a movie, after all, even if the main character does interact with it.) The script seems to be based on that memory game where you say, “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking an apple. I’m going on a trip and I’m taking an apple and a bassoon. I’m going on a trip and I’m taking an apple and a bassoon and a cantaloupe.” So after 15 minutes that felt more like 45, we learned that the actor is mute, the lighting designer is lazy, the this thing is that thing, and the film still wasn’t over.
Finally, the screen disappeared, and there was a moment that brought home the idea of the magic of theater: The curtain went up on what looked like a gorgeous Victorian paper theater come to life, with some super-charming puppets filling out the orchestra, and the audience broke out into applause. Unfortunately, not much else happened: the puppets didn’t get to do very much, and the only “living, breathing” person in the play more or less stood behind them and gave us all a get-to-know-your-instruments lesson disguised as an interrogation.
So it was definitely not for me — but then I’m not in what I presume is their target market of little kids who seek a deeper understanding of woodwinds. Critics, on the other hand, are mixed: Some find it “delightful”; others say “you might want to skip this one.” In the end, I’m with Chad Jones over at Theater Dogs: the highlight was the truly funny blooper reel at the end of the film.
(Disclosure: I was comp’d to this show.)