I’m torn on this one and I’ll tell you why. I read a “review” of this play in the New Yorker that I didn’t realize gave away every single plot detail. Now here’s the thing with this play: plot is the whole deal. It’s not a subtle character study. It’s like watching a Tarantino movie; if someone gives away all the twists and turns of Reservoir Dogs, it’s not all that enjoyable a film. Part of the experience is the tension of wondering if some outrageous violence is really, truly going to happen right in front of you.
It’s like Grand Guignol. The thrill is in wondering, “Is he really gonna chop that dude’s head off?!” If someone nudges you and says, “He’s gonna let that guy go in a minute but he’s gonna shoot that guy there and blood will spurt everywhere,” it’s just not all that much fun. So, instead, I found myself watching how good the actors were and how much the audience was digging it.
It was like watching improv: since I was a mainstage improvisor for years and years, and did literally hundreds of shows, I now very rarely laugh at most improv. I smile a small smile and mutter, “Well done.” And that’s what I was doing here: admiring the construction and the wit of the play, but not getting caught up in it. I know, I know, I should never read reviews, but in this case I figured I’d never get a chance to see it. Oh, well. Still fun to see so much dark humor onstage.
Holy crap, this is a fun play. I wouldn’t be surprised if it won every damn Tony out there. Here’s the deal: We knew absolutely nothing about this play. It’s still in previews, and when we first got here, there was no word-of-mouth whatsoever. But we were handed a flier that made it look really fun, and — with our background in advertising — figured it was either a really hilarious show or they hired a really talented copywriter. So we were intrigued. And, since it had no word-of-mouth, we figured we could wait a day or two and still get half price tickets.
Bad idea. That night, reviews came out raving about the show. Now we had to clamor to get tickets they couldn’t give away the night before. But we got in. Within seconds of the lights going down, I knew we were in good hands. It was the kind of funny that I like: straight-up, kinda mean, satirical kind of funny. Brilliant improvisor kind of funny, not the lame little chuckles that pass for “hilarious” on Broadway. Like the difference between some book that people say is “brilliantly funny” that barely makes you smile vs. full-on David Sedaris choke-on-your-salad kind of stuff.
The cast is great, the music is authentically parodying old musicals, the jokes are actually funny, Sutton Foster is as likeable as always. I only kinda like musicals and I loved this thing; if you’re a full-fledged musical queen then, honey, run don’t walk. Previews still run for a couple more days.
Okay. So. I think I have a new rule: Only see big Broadway hits that win big Broadway awards when you can see the original big Broadway cast. Because this puppy didn’t work for me. I understand that Cherry Jones, in the original version, had a lot of subtlety and angst and, dare I say it, doubt. And that the original priest, Brian O’Byrne, was able to balance her perfectly, so you really were in doubt throughout the piece.
But this new cast, I don’t know. Eileen Atkins is just too powerful and too sure of herself. So through the whole piece, there’s not much tension. She doesn’t wrestle with any (I guess I have to say it again) doubt; she just barrels through the play until the very end, when we’re suddenly supposed to think she’s unsure of herself, for no apparent reason.
I certainly won’t condemn the play itself. But in this production…well, I’ll just chalk it up to breaking my new rule.
We’re in New York for my friend Paul’s wedding to the fabulous Jenny. And we’re hitting as much theatre as we can possibly cram into the itinerary. First up is Barrow Street Theatre. We’ve figured out by now that we like their aesthetic and tend to enjoy whatever’s running there, so we went to see Adam Rapp’s RED LIGHT WINTER first.
Now, I’m not sure how I feel about Adam Rapp. On the one hand, I wasn’t crazy about NOCTURNE, a long monologue that played at Berkeley Rep a while back. I’ve said before that I tend to hate direct address (despite the title of this blog), so an entire evening of one guy babbling at me just didn’t connect with me.
But I dig Steppenwolf, and this was a remount of the exact production that ran forever in Chicago. So I knew I’d at least like the acting…. And, bingo! I loved the acting. Especially the two dudes in this piece, who came across like you were peering into an actual apartment. Not one false moment, move, line or gesture.
As for the play itself, I liked a whole lot of it. I like dark, and this has suicide, false identities, sex, violence and just about everything you look for in an entertaining night out. There were a couple of wobbly parts — mostly with the woman who’s maybe a French hooker — and a long bit in the middle of the second act where things start to wane, but overall it was a nice way to kick off the trip.
Tonight was the benefit for the PlayGround at Berkeley Rep. For the past two years, I’ve been part of the PlayGround Writers Pool: thirty-six writers picked to write 10-minute plays on a variety of themes throughout the season. We get the topic on a Friday and have to turn in the play on the next Tuesday. They pick the best six for staged readings, and then the pick the best of those for a full production in a festival.
This year, my play NOWHERE MAN got selected for the Best of PlayGround festival. It’s an odd little play, different for me because it features direct address and nothing but. I’m not usually a fan of direct address (despite the title of this blog) because I’d rather see the characters going after each other; which is why I specifically decided to try my hand at it. I guess people dug it, because it’s in the festival, it’s getting published, and it’s led to me being named a PlayGround Emerging Playwright.
Since this is the 10th anniversary of PlayGround, they’re also doing a Best of The Best, with some of the best from the entire ten years also being featured, including the one that led me to apply for PlayGround in the first place: Tom Swift’s MY NAME IS YIN. Goddamn, that is one awesome play. I saw it three years ago and I can still picture every second of it.
Not a lot of people in San Francisco know this, but back in my Austin days, I was the literary manager (officially called the “literary associate”) of Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre. This was right after the legendary Megan Monaghan left to go to Minneapolis, and I was brought in first as an intern and then ended up running the department, coordinating the volunteers, computerizing the responses, and answering letters addressed to Megan because the Dramatist Sourcebook listing was about two years behind.
I really enjoyed the job, particularly getting a chance to read great stuff hot off the laser printer by people like Erik Ehn, Daniel Alexander Jones, Naomi Iizuka, Sharon Bridgforth, Ruth Margraff and Steven Tomlinson. And I was missing it. So, since I know the Magic’s Mark Routhier from the PlayGround, I asked if he needed any help reading submissions. And I just so happened to ask right at the exact moment that someone left the Literary Committee. So I’m in!
The committee meets once every two weeks, and about 10 of us report back on the exciting submissions we’ve read recently. The nice thing is, almost the entire discussion is about things that people like, so it doesn’t spiral into negativity. And I get to read the occasional hot off the laser printer stuff by people like Elaine May. Plus, there are bagels. Cool!
Tonight we ushered for GLASS MENAGERIE. Before the show, I realized I hadn’t seen a production of this play since college. In my mind, I’d remembered it as dark and sad, with very little humor, and with Tom completely closeted. This production surprised me: it’s full of humor, especially from Rita Moreno, and Tom is funny, witty and overtly gay.
I heard or read somewhere that Les Waters had never read it before this production. I have no idea if that’s true, but it definitely has the feeling of someone approaching it without any baggage. The set is fantastic, with a fire escape that loops around the entire stage, trapping the living and dining room like it’s Tom’s prison.
Afterwards, we went to Night/OUT. (A couple nights per season feature post-show parties for the LGBT community, with fabulous food, drinks and music.) Jimbo found Rita Moreno standing in the lobby of the small theater; no one told her the reception was across the way outside the Roda, so he escorted her over in exchange for a photo with her. Jimbo claims that there originally wasn’t going to be a Night/OUT party after this show, but that Rita insisted. Again, no idea if that’s true, but I’m not one to hold off printing gossip just because it’s completely unsubstantiated.
Tonight we saw Culture Clash’s ZORRO IN HELL. I love these guys. They blend commedia with street theatre to do something amazingly inventive. It’s all fast and furious, with political jokes and sight gags and hilarious characters thrown at you as fast as you can take. And they add to the mayhem with multimedia, using film clips and animation and parodies of classic movies. The audience was roaring within ten seconds.
Best of all, they bring out a crowd that doesn’t normally see theater. (And a few that don’t understand why you can’t show up at 9:00 for an 8:00 show, apparently, according to a staff member. “They think it’s like a rock ‘n’ roll show,” he told me, “so they assume there’s an opening act.”)
I love, love, love good satire — and these guys do everything that the Mime Troupe wishes it could do. (Did I say that? I guess I did.) It’s a mashup, comedy, call-to-arms, hell of a fun show.
Thanks to Mariella, who has been doing a blog about travel that’s taking the world by storm, I’m now an official blogger. I’ve had humor sites and business sites and other sites, but this is my first step into the actual blogosphere. So blame her.