LADY at Rattlestick

Friday night was our final night of NY theater, and we went with Laura Rohrman‘s suggestion of Craig Wright‘s Lady at the Rattlestick. In keeping with the theme of the trip, the acting was unbelievable. In a theater that small, even a brief moment of the actor tuning out, a tiny flicker of “I wonder if we’re going out after,” can take you out of the show.

None of that here. These guys were completely on, in what one of the critics called “a master class in naturalism.” Michael Shannon, in particular, had no trace of acting in his performance; it was like a guy wandered onto the stage and happened to fit right into the show. Damn!

The play is pretty brilliant, weaving in some political issues in such a smooth way that you never see it coming and never feel a false note. It’s dark and twisted and funny and has some incredible dialogue, some fantastic moments that stick with you for days, and a wonderful way of layering in the backstory without ever feeling like exposition. Just a wonderful, fantastic, adjective-busting play.

But I will say, this play also kept up with another theme of the trip by not having a real ending. I was kind of shocked when the play just sort of stopped. The play zips along at such a compelling speed that, when the lights go down, you can’t possibly believe ninety minutes have passed, and that the play’s over. “There? That was the end? But what about the — how’s about the — aren’t they gonna…?”

Now, I’m not the type who needs a happy ending all wrapped up with a bow. But this play really got me thinking about how often plays nowadays sort of fade out. No “son-of-a-bitch stole my watch.” No “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? I am, George…I am.” No “Shall we go? Yes, let’s go.”

I wonder if it has something to do with the influence of television. So many episodes of TV end with a — not a cliffhanger, per se, but a suggestion that there’s more to the story and you should come back next week. I wonder if that’s permeating the subconscious of a lot of us writers, making us afraid to have a definite lights out, blackout, curtain down, satisfying moment to end our plays.

After seeing five plays that had that “slow fade to black” feeling, I wanted to immediately run back and look at the end of my plays and see whether they have a sort of “end of story, end of play” moment or if they just sort of fade out and make the audience go: “Oh. That’s it? Huh.”

Anyway. After the show, we met up with Davina Cohen and Zac Jaffee for drinks at a little cafe around the corner. There’s something great about meeting up with friends in a city you don’t even live in. And Davi and Zac (and Davi’s awesome friend whose name I’m not sure how to spell—Taka?) made for a fantastic night of chatting and laughing and talking theater.

After-afterward, we walked all the way back to our hotel. A luxury we don’t have in San Francisco, where there’s absolutely no way we can walk home that doesn’t involve hiking up a ginormous hill. A fantastic night that left no indication how the universe was about to screw us in our attempt to fly home.

(See? No ending. Just a suggestion that there’s more to the story.)

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AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY on Broadway

I love Steppenwolf. I love the Steppenwolf style of acting. I also really like Tracy Letts. Bug was one of my favorite plays I’ve ever seen in New York. Killer Joe is a killer script (although the particular production I saw bugged me because the accents were pretty bad, and as someone who’s lived in Texas and who’s married to an Oklahoman, I know that accent.)

Still, I have a tiny bit of mixed feelings about this play, which we saw last night. The first act is really good. The second act is phenomenal. I mean, just amazing, perfect, wonderful, leaving the audience buzzing and giddy. But the third act…hmm. A few too many revelations for me, I think, with not a lot of ’em wrapped up.

Perhaps the build-up of it being “the greatest play ever” and “winner of everything” made it hard to live up to the buzz. Perhaps the second act is so good that the third act could never build beyond it. Or perhaps it’s a little too familiar: “The Big Chill meets Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” I believe M more or less said. But I really wanted to walk out jumping up and down about how awesome it all was, and instead I was in a very thinky, analytical, dramaturgy mode. The complete opposite of the visceral excitement at the end of act two.

Still, overall, I was pretty blown away. Some really funny dialogue, some brilliant moments, and some unbelievably great acting. I could single out Amy Morton, Estelle Parsons, Molly Regan, Robert Foxworth and Frank Wood, but really every single one of them is just incredible.

In fact, now that I think of it, everything I’ve ever seen that’s come from Steppenwolf has been pretty damn amazing. So I’m going to go out on a limb and give the controversial opinion that those guys rock.

Read The PopCycle

Laura Rohrman is a California native, a NYC playwright, a blogger, and recently posted a comment on my blog, which led me to read her blog, which now leads me to link to it because it’s great. She’s interviewing one person a day until November 3rd and all the ones I’ve read so far (until I felt compelled to stop and post this) have been awesome.

THE ATHEIST at Barrow Street Theatre

Two plays in one day. Last night, we went to Barrow Street Theatre to see Ronan Noone‘s The Atheist, a one-person show starring Campbell Scott.

After seeing several awesome shows at Barrow Street, our new rule of thumb is to just go to see whatever they’re presenting every time we come to New York. Tracy LettsBug was unbelievably great; Adam Rapp‘s Red Light Winter was fantastic; and now Ronan Noone‘s The Atheist keeps the streak going.

I’m not sure whether it’s the writing or the acting, but I suspect the acting has a whole lot to do with it. Campbell Scott is immensely compelling as Augustine Early, a manipulative journalist who tells a fascinating story of his rise from obit writer to nationally-known pundit with not much care of how he gets there.

But he was equally compelling in a talkback after the show. In fact, the several times I’ve had a chance to meet or see movie stars in real life, you understand why they’re movie stars. A lot of ’em just have a charisma that dominates a room and would probably blow away casting directors.

So maybe it’s him. But I don’t know. The writing is pretty damn powerful, too. Ronan Noone is an Irish playwright, and a lot of those bastards have a way of writing crazy-good monologues that make me question my knee-jerk aversion to one-person shows. Scott mentioned in the talkback that the script is written in poetic form, like a jazz score, with no punctuation and lots of odd line breaks — and you can kind of feel that in the performance. The whole thing flows in a gorgeous, jazzy way.

And hey, it’s 40 minutes for the first act, 45 minutes for the second act, and only about $40, so there’s plenty of time afterwards to hit a Village bar for a beer and discussion afterwards. And isn’t that what theatre really is? Something to talk about while you do the important work of drinking beer and talking?

THE SEAGULL on Broadway

I had some free time yesterday afternoon, so I went by the half-price ticket booth at about 1:30 and half-heartedly bought tickets to the Royal Court Theatre‘s production of Anton Chekhov‘s The Seagull on Broadway.

I say “half-heartedly” because (1) this is one of those productions with movie stars making their Broadway debuts, which is hardly ever a good sign, (2) most Chekhov, Ibsen and non-Impact Shakespeare shows I’ve seen are stiff and deadly dull, and (3) it worked well with “half-price” in that sentence.

Turns out, this was one of the most lively and human productions of a classic that I’ve ever seen. I think it’s a combination of the acting (most of the actors came over from the acclaimed British production of the play) and especially the adaptation/translation.

I read somewhere in an article that I now can’t find that Christopher Hampton sat down with a Russian speaker who took him through the script page-by-page, saying “This line gets a big laugh in Russian but has never worked in English.” So Hampton worked to make the scenes work the same way, rather than worry about word-for-word translation.

I also think the direction made it nice and snappy. The stage was minimal, with not a lot of furniture being hauled around. I know I’m starting to get a bit repetitive on that point, but it’s really been noticeable in the last few plays I’ve seen: the plays that use the theater to simply suggest a room and then quickly move from scene to scene work nicely; the plays that pause the action to shift around a bunch of tables lose momentum and look like they’re trying to approximate a TV show.

Oh, and Kristin Scott Thomas, making her Broadway debut, was wonderful, so maybe I’ll revise my statement about movie stars on Broadway. Then again, Peter Sarsgaard was just okay, so maybe I won’t.

(That’s probably unfair. Sarsgaard reminds me of a creepy guy I used to know, so I think I project more freakiness on him than’s actually there. Then again, he was in the world’s worst Saturday Night Live sketch ever — about the Sarsgaard SARS Guard — so now I don’t know what to think.)

BOYS’ LIFE at Second Stage Theatre

So I’m in New York, tagging along on M’s business trip and seeing as many plays as I can. Last night I went to see Howard Korder‘s Boys’ Life at Second Stage Theatre — with Rick McKern! Rick was in PlayGround until he rudely decided to abandon us and plan a move to New Jersey. He just happened to be in town, so we went out for a show and some beer, just like we would have done in Oakland, only about $100 more expensive.

Boys’ Life ostensibly stars Jason Biggs, but the real star is Rhys Coiro, who most people apparently know from Entourage, a show I’ve never seen. The play covers Mamet themes without the Mamet-style dialogue: guys trying to figure out what it means to be a guy. Korder was a Pulitzer finalist when the play first appeared in 1988, but it hasn’t been revived since. Hence the “second” part of “Second Stage.”

The play was very funny, and really well-written, playing off the audience’s expectations nicely. Just when you thought you knew where a speech or a scene was going, things turned. And many of the scenes went from comedy to dark drama really quickly, which you know I always like.

Interestingly, even though the play is written to be minimalistic short scenes, where a park bench slides in to represent a park and a table slides in to represent a wedding reception, the production made some incredibly realistic sets that where slid around onstage by the actors themselves. I’ve said before that I tend to like scene changes to be quick, fluid and minimal, and these did indeed stop the action while things were shifted around, but it did give a chance to play cool 1988 music that took us right into the scene.

Afterwards, Rick and I met up with M for drinks and BBQ. So we were with a friend from SF, in a place that felt like Austin, and really in New York. Disorienting, to say the least.