Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review - Passion

I didn't live in New York when the original Broadway production of Passion opened, however I did come to the city to visit a sick friend and I got a (then) half-price ticket at TKTS for a matinee.  After the matinee, I went back to TKTS to get a ticket for the evening performance.  THAT'S how much I loved Passion.  The music, the story, the agony, the ecstasy.  I just loved it.  I cried and cried.  :)  Over the years, I have listened to the original cast album and the London cast album repeatedly.  It broke my heart to miss the Kennedy Center production.  So, when CSC announced they were doing a revival, I pounced.

I identify deeply with this show.  Well, not the obsessive stalker-y aspect, but the overwhelming need, the desire to be loved, the surrrender.  The culpability versus the unsuspecting.  I know what it is to be more in love with someone than they are with me.  The feeling that I'm screaming and nobody hears.  The realization that physical beauty is perhaps not what I bring to the table.  All those things are explored so beautifully in Sondheim's rapturous music.  During the original production, my TKTS tickets were in the second row for the matinee and in the fourth row for the evening performance.  I was enveloped in a swirling whirlpool of emotion - it was incredible.  And I thought that seeing the show in a smaller venue would magnify that feeling, but for some didn't. 
Maybe I just couldn't get the original out of my head.  Maybe I expected too much.  Maybe I was too tired.  Maybe the music's tempos were too slow.  Maybe I just don't get John Doyle's directing aesthetic.  But whatever it was, I didn't love this production as much as I wanted to.  I was still moved by the music and was weepy walking to the subway afterwards, thinking about the show, but I didn't feel as much during the performance as I hoped I would.
The performances seemed a bit inert to me, as if they were telling me about all of these huge emotions, but they weren't feeling them.  Almost like they were sitting on top of it, but not getting down deep INTO it.  At least, that's how it felt to me.  Until the Flashback scene where Fosca is writing the letter to Giorgio about her past and her cousin is also telling a version of the same story.  There, finally, in Stephen Bogardus' thwarted desire for revenge, did I get some real feeling, some real energy that I could tap into.  Suddenly, I wanted Stephen Bogardus to be playing Giorgio instead of playing the cousin and that's all I could think about the rest of the evening.  Oop.
The cast, on the whole, was fine.  The score was beautifully sung.  But beautifully sung isn't all I was looking for.  There were moments, here and there, of more, but they were only moments.  I really do feel like I can lay the blame for most of the problems at the feet of the director.  I honestly don't get him.  As in other productions he's directed, people are moving around, marching around, always moving moving moving, and all I could think was "STAND STILL AND SING!!!"  The moments that were most successful were when the motion stopped and we could  And feel.  I know there are soldiers, I know there are scenes that take place in two locations simultaneously, but there has to be another directorial choice out there other than having everyone wander around the stage constantly.  I also know that the three-quarter thrust stage at CSC is hard to navigate, but it seemed like Doyle was trying to make sure NOBODY could see Fosca's beautiful final moments.  So odd.

Still, having said all that, a production of Passion that I don't love is still 99% better than most other things I see.  I'm ever so glad I saw it, and especially that I heard it, because I love it so much.  Like Fosca, maybe I just love a little too much...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review - Ragtime concert

I love Ragtime.  I think it's a wonderful wonderful show - so moving and vibrant.  I loved the original production and ADORED the recent revival.  I listen to the cast album all the time.  I pretty much start crying at the first piano notes and don't stop until after I get home.  I think the opening number is one of the best, if not THE best, opening number ever.  I get chills just thinking about it, let alone watching it.  Having said all that, for some reason, I wasn't going to buy a ticket for the Manhattan Concert Productions' special one-night-only concert version of Ragtime until I saw the last press release with the full cast list.  OH.MY.GOD.  What an amazing cast.  I knew then I couldn't stay away.  So I gathered some pennies together and sat pretty far back, but who cares?  I was in that room!!!
It may have been freezing outside, but it was warm and toasty inside Avery Fisher Hall - not just temperature-wise, but audience-wise, too.  Everyone there was so excited to be there and the excitement was palpable.  I was in line behind two very young guys who love the show; we had a very nice conversation about the strengths of the different casts.  The audience seemed to be very diverse, with a lot of young people throughout the house.  That's always nice to see.  Seat neighbor report:  the guy sitting on one side of me slept through most of the evening (?!) and the gal on the other side of me was wearing a perfume that can only charitably be described as bugspray-like.  Blech.  But at least everyone sat back in their seats, left their phones off, and enjoyed the concert just like me.
One of the things that excited me the most?  When the conductor came out to get the show started.  The conductor, Sheilah Walker, is an African-American woman.  How thrilling to see her conduct that orchestra and all those voices (there was a huge choir, maybe 100 singers?  grand).  I guess it was doubly meaningful to me that she was in charge, though it's sad she's still such a rarity so many years after this show takes place.  Thumbs way up for Sheilah Walker.

Again, from the very first notes of the piano, I was enthralled.  I had tears in my eyes at the opening number - it's just so perfect.  It sets up the stories and the musical motifs beautifully, and it packs an emotional wallop.  Quite a feat for the beginning eight minutes of a musical.  Don't believe me?  Go to YouTube.  Everyone in the cast was wonderful; it was like a who's who of American musical theater.  I think has a video of this concert's opening number, so take a look, if you enjoy great music and great performers.  And an enthusiastic respectful crowd.  :)
Lea Salonga was a gorgeous and grounded Mother (why isn't she on Broadway all the time?!).  She sang beautifully, but also was touching in her book scenes.  Howard McGillin, who I LOVE, was fantastic as Father.  He really showed the entire arc of this character and made you feel such pain.  Of course, he also sang thrillingly, and he had a nice rapport with young Lewis Grosso, who played his son.  Grosso was adorable and captured the otherworldy, yet stereotypical young boy. 
I knew I would love Norm Lewis as Coalhouse.  I mean, hello.  Who doesn't love Norm Lewis?  And he did not disappoint in the least.  He was arrogant, sexy, angry, loving.  Seriously great stuff.  And his singing?  Off the charts.  "Make Them Hear You"?  Shut up, it was AMAZING.  Soooooo moving.  Patina Miller was a lovely, touching Sarah and she knocked "Your Daddy's Son" out of the park.  I thought she was terrific.

I could say that about every single cast member, but I think I most enjoyed Tyne Daly as Emma Goldman - she found so many layers and was so moving to me.  I just loved her.  And I was so taken with Jose Llana as Harry Houdini.  I doubt he would play Houdini in a full production, but he took this chance and ran with it!  I thought he was wonderful and found so much in that small-ish part.  But, seriously, everyone was good.  Jarrod Emick was riveting as Willie Conklin.  Manoel Felciano as Tateh was expert, as well.  I could go on and on...
I am SO GLAD I was at this concert.  It moved me so much.  I just find it hard to express how much joy and emotion was shared in this one evening.  I've seen (and listened to) Ragtime many times, and I still find new things to cherish in it.  There's such beauty there.  I'm counting the minutes until there can be another revival - this show is so relevant and powerful.  I'm still depressed that the last revival couldn't find an audience.  When (not if) it comes back, it deserves more. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review - The Other Place

I don't know what's taken me so long to get to The Other Place at Manhattan Theatre Club.  I'm a big fan of Laurie Metcalf and I'm a big fan of new plays.  But, for some reason, I dragged my feet.  Well, one of the reasons is it was rarely on TDF.  I'm all about ticket discounts.  When the play showed up on TDF for last night, I pounced.  And, boy, am I glad I did.  I may have to pounce again before the show closes in a couple of weeks.
On the surface, Sharr White's play could seem to be a disease-of-the-week event, but it's so much more than that.  It's almost a puzzle, moving back and forth, in real time and imagined time, so that what we're experiencing is almost like the fragmenting in the brain of our main character.  Laurie Metcalf is on stage the entire evening as Juliana, a medical researcher who has turned to giving sales pitches to doctors to peddle a new drug that battles dementia.  I guess it's not a spoiler to say that the drug will perhaps come into play further down the line.

Describing the rest of the plot could become a spoiler.  Much of what unfolds are the aftershocks of the 'episode' Juliana suffers during her opening sales pitch.  She's speaking to doctors at a conference in St. Thomas and becomes fixated on a girl in the room wearing a yellow bikini.  The things that go through her mind, and ours, regarding that girl begin the unraveling of the events.  There's a long pause during her speech and we all wonder did she have a stroke?  What's going on?  Juliana becomes certain she has a brain tumor after the 'episode' and takes action accordingly.  But, as the play progresses, Juliana is often the narrator of a scene, although she becomes an unreliable narrator.  Can we believe her?  What's real and what isn't?  Her perspective on events doesn't align with the other characters, so the audience is also in a state of befuddlement that mirrors her confusion.
Laurie Metcalf is nothing short of incredible.  This character easily could've been a huge turn-off, because of her rather bitchy demeanor and her decline into a nasty, surly woman who refuses to acknowledge her disease.  Somehow, Metcalf gets us on her side.  This supersmart, supersuccessful woman isn't as smart or successful as she seems.  She has done terrible things, but now terrible things are being done to her.  My heart really ached for her.  Her regret and pathological need for forgiveness was so raw, but so recognizable.  The twists and turns in the script made me feel as if I were off-balance throughout the play, but Metcalf was never anything but completely real, and kept showing so many layers.  She was almost like a kaleidoscope.  Turn one way and Juliana looked/acted like this.  But turn it another way and everything changed.  Just masterful.
The rest of the cast is also terrific - I loved Bill Pullman as her exasperated husband, who may, or may not, be the villain Juliana describes.  I am a little sad that I missed seeing Daniel Stern in the role, because I enjoy him, but Pullman really captured the frustrated love in this man and his fear of what will happen to him during his wife's possible disintegration.  He also fully realized the dimensions of a man who was probably tired of being the peacekeeper and the warm fuzzy one in the relationship.  Good good stuff.  John Schiappa is good in his few scenes and Zoe Perry is wonderful as several characters.  Her work in the penultimate scene of the play was amazing.  She had to really go through the wringer in the scene and play a huge range of emotions.  Plus, her rapport with Metcalf (her real-life mother) was extraordinary.  I will admit that through most of the play I was happily engaged intellectually, but in that scene, finally, I was hit in the gut emotionally.  I was just sobbing at the depths the playwright found, and how the actors dived into those depths.  Really beautiful work.  I will say that I found the last scene to be a little too pat and 'full circle,' though the final image was heartbreaking and I did not see it coming, though I probably should have.  Clearly, I really really enjoyed The Other Place.
Having said all that, I was sitting in the last row of the house, on the left side.  That was not a good seat to experience much of the play, but most especially that penultimate scene.  The scene was staged so that Metcalf played most of it seated with her back to me.  I felt cheated that I didn't get to experience her facial expressions throughout.  And the set design didn't really help either.  Intellectually, I think I understand what the design was going for, but it just seemed to get in the way, at least from the last row of the house.
Seat neighbor-wise, the gent on one side of me had on entirely too much cologne, blech, and the gent on the other side of me was a little odd.  The first thing I heard him say was "Bill Pullman is in this?  What is he doing in this?  He's a MOVIE STAR!  And he gets second billing??"  Um, ok.  Then he started going on about the set (which generally never ends well, though I did ultimately agree with him).  After the play, he said, quite loudly, "I thought this was supposed to be a new play!  I know I've seen this on HBO!"  So I don't know if he was commenting on originality, the subject matter or the actual play.  I just rather wanted to get away from him.
The two girls in front of us arrived about ten minutes into the show (it's a lean 80 minutes), then the one with the clangy bracelets got right back up and left.  She came back in maybe five minutes later and stood to wave to people down a few rows.  They were distracting to say the least.  They probably didn't help with my dissatisfaction with my seat location, though it's to the play's and the actors' credit that those annoying gals (who kept their phones on) didn't distract me so much that I was completely taken out of the play.  Oh, and the final straw, was when I got downstairs.  I was quickly out of my seat and down the stairs to get away from the cologne, but I was struggling to get my coat on.  So I pulled over when I got to the main floor to finish putting my coat on.  An MTC staffer says to me, quite snottily, "Miss, you can't stand there!  I'm expecting about 30 people to get in line!"  OK, so I landed in front of the assisted hearing device station.  But I was clearly putting my coat on and just paused while still in motion.  I really resented her huffy tone and she nearly ruined my evening by putting a snotty button on the experience.  If she had been polite, I would've smiled and moved on.  I must admit, I glared.  She looked a little scared.  Sorry, rude MTC girl.  Sigh.  I guess when you get a nicely discounted TDF ticket, you shouldn't really complain, but, well, I'm a complainer.  What can I say? 

On my way to the subway, I passed a marquee for a show I'm dying to see.  Fingers crossed I don't wait too long to see it...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thoughts on Talley's Folly

I was very fortunate to get a ticket to an early preview of the Roundabout Theatre's revival of Talley's Folly.  I believe I've mentioned once or twice (or 130 times) how much I love Lanford Wilson's plays.  I just find his dialogue so lovely and poetic, and his characters so rich and real.  Those wonderful qualities are definitely on display at the Laura Pels Theatre.  I won't really review the show, because it just started previews last week and it wouldn't be fair.  I'll just make a few observations.

I've actually never seen this play performed before, though I've read it dozens of times over the years and almost performed it many years ago with an old beau.  I totally should've done this role in my actress-days.  But it was nice to hear so much loveliness.  For an early preview, the show is in really good shape.  If I wasn't as taken with Sarah Paulson as Sally as I was with Danny Burstein's Matt, well, I have a strong feeling they'll be on more equal footing by the time the show opens.  And I totally have to go back.

There's such recognizable longing and humor in this show, but ripples of fear, too - how can I take a chance on loving this other person?  Are they worthy?  Am I?  It's all so identifiable and relatable.  And, ultimately, romantic.  Matt even calls the show a 'valentine,' so it's perfect to see Talley's Folly this time of year.  I was truly hanging on every word - even though I knew all of the plot points, I still was breathless with the revelations spilling out.

I didn't love the set and I think the lighting could've been more magical, but that theater space is complicated and maybe there's a limit to what could be done.  I was sad that the theater was nowhere near full, though that's probably why my ticket was in the fifth row center, which was fantastic.  Except for the woman sitting next to me who asked "Are you here alone?"  Oh my.  Thankfully, the gent on her other side started talking to her about the original production with Judd Hirsch and she forgot all about me.  Oh, and there was a pre-show talk about Lanford and his Talley trilogy, which was quite interesting.  I'll have to remember to check from now on when those talks are happening; the gent who presents them is quite engaging.

I enjoyed myself immensely and recommend everyone go check out this lovely, gentle play.  Any opportunity to see a revival of Lanford Wilson's work is worth a look, in my opinion.  I'm so happy I'll be seeing another one of his plays in a few weeks at my second home, Signature Theatre! 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


So, after all my ballsy "hey, I'll have an MRI and this time, it will all be easy!" thoughts, of course things couldn't go smoothly.

Had the MRI last Friday.  Almost first thing Monday morning, the technician called me and told me there was something 'suspicious' on the left side.  I couldn't believe it!  Where could something suspicious even be?!  They took everything off, didn't they?!  Immediately, I begin panicking that the five errant cells have taken hold and this whole health nightmare would begin again.  The technician did mention that perhaps the MRI was just picking up scar tissue, but that would have to be confirmed.

The technician then told me I needed to come back in for a directed ultrasound and a physical exam.  She said someone would call me later to schedule it.  Um, what?!  You just call to give the perhaps-bad news and then leave me hanging?  Grrrrrrr.  A few hours later, Dr Pay in Advance's office called and said she wanted to do the physical exam herself, then I should have the ultrasound.  So we made an appointment for this morning.

Being me, I couldn't just sit and brood on my own, so I called my sister.  She told me to e-mail my plastic surgeon's office and see what they might have to say about scar tissue.  My sister is very smart.  I e-mailed the office manager, who is always very kind to answer my paranoid e-mails, and talked to her later that afternoon.  She said that yes, scar tissue can develop, and it would probably be fine, but I should keep them in the loop.  And if, heaven forbid, I needed a biopsy, not to worry because insurance would cover replacing the ruptured implant.  OK, so...I felt better talking to her for about the first few minutes.  After that, not so much.

Two days of terror, worry and concern I wouldn't be able to do all this again.  Then I would tell myself to calm down and just decide that yes, it is indeed scar tissue screwing up the MRI and nothing is the matter.  I was having quite the conversations with myself, especially at night.  I went to a reading of a new musical Monday night, which took my mind off things, then worried most of the day yesterday.  I feel sorry for my workmates.  Then I saw a show last night (post to come), which took my mind off it pretty well.  Didn't sleep at all and dragged myself into that dang office again this morning.

For once, I didn't have to pay Dr Pay in Advance in advance.  That was a first!  Which kinda scared me.  But she came right out and said she thought it was scar tissue, too, but we should do the other tests, just to be sure.  When the nurse took me back to the examining room, we stopped at a scale.  I said, really?  We have to do this now?  I'm depressed enough.  She laughed and said never mind.  Then, when we got into the room, she took my blood pressure.  She said, um, that's REALLY high!!  Are you nervous about something?  I said, uh, YES.  Hello.  Doesn't she read the chart?

Dr Pay in Advance came into the room and took a very long time doing an exam.  She also peppered me with questions, like have I had the flu recently, do I feel pain, any changes in general health since my last visit.  She said she did feel something, but was certain it was scar tissue underneath.  Since the MRI didn't show any activity on the breast wall behind my implants (and that's the area she's worried about), she was confident things were fine.  Though she did say she wanted to take my blood pressure again before I left and if it wasn't lower, she was sending me back to the cardiologist (Dr They Didn't Operate On Your Legs).  I said, believe me, once everyone says I'm ok, the blood pressure will skyrocket downward.

So down I went to the third floor and waited around for the ultrasound.  Good times.  I hate waiting in that waiting room.  The tension in there is always palpable.  I picked up the People magazine and tried to relax and lower my blood pressure.  Finally, they took me into the ultrasound room.

It's a strange feeling, or non-feeling, to have implants tested.  I see that the technician is pouring that gel stuff on my person, and I see her pass the wand back and forth, but I can't feel it.  It's just really strange.  The technician seemed, to me, to be taking an awfully long time to look at scar tissue.  Then she went and got this weird disc that sort of looked like a bar of glycerin soap.  She put that over the area, then put the wand on top of that.  It was just odd - how could she get a reading if she wasn't actually touching the area?  I didn't understand.  Then she went out to get a doctor (and by now I'm sweating bullets), then the doctor did the same thing.

Thankfully, FINALLY, the doctor agreed that it was scar tissue under there.  She suggested I have another MRI next year, and maybe even a mammogram (blech), just to make sure everything stays in tip top shape.  As long as she said it wasn't bad news, I was happy.  Then I had to go back up to Dr Pay in Advance's office and wait around for her to read the test results herself.  After maybe an hour, she came and sat with me in the waiting room and told me yes, it was scar tissue, nothing to worry about.  WHOOSH.  Big relief.  OMG.  No words.  Then she made me take another blood pressure test, which, indeed, was scads lower.  Everyone laughed and I went on my merry way.

But.  Wow.  I know I've had it pretty easy this whole time.  They caught the DCIS early, I had everything taken off, I've had no complications (imagine me knocking wood right now).  But I just could not wrap my head around starting the whole thing over again.  And adding more invasive measures to the mix, because I can't imagine having things quite so easy again if another problem should crop up.  I believe I've mentioned my avoidance/denial way of life.  Having a two-day worryfest before getting the all clear is not conducive to that way of life.  I'm thinking I may have to go home tonight and watch a really sad movie (I have A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on the DVR, that should do the trick) and have a really big cry-out.  Then, pull up my big girl pants and get on with things.  Which is what I probably would've done if the news had been bad, but I'm thanking my lucky stars that I didn't have to put that theory to the test...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wow. Two Years.

I don't necessarily want to do another "oh, here's what happened two years ago today..." post, but I did want to ruminate on a couple of things.  I mean, it's not like I sit around and think hmmmm, I wonder how many days it's been since my surgical adventures.  :)  But there is something about seeing the date on my desk calendar that makes me think twice.

Anyway, I can hardly believe two years have gone by since my surgery madness!  In some ways, it seems like yesterday and I'm still getting used to new body parts!  But, in some ways, it's just the way things are and the ways things have always been.  Strange.  I do find myself, though, sometimes thinking of myself 'before' and 'after.' 

I will admit that another reason to 'reminisce' is that having a post-implant MRI on Friday did bring back many unpleasant memories.  I've been back to that building a dozen times, but going to the testing floor?  Uncomfortable.  Dr Vera Wang had said it was fine to have an MRI to make sure my implants are in good shape, but Dr Julie Halston did NOT want me to have one.  She said it was unnecessary.  The winner this round was Dr Pay in Advance, the biggest worrywort of an oncologist ever.  She has been hot for me to have an MRI as a 'baseline' test for anything that might come further down the line.  Because one of my pathology reports showed a suspicious five cells that may have migrated elsewhere, she wants to make sure they aren't planting themselves behind my implants.  She says there's an infinitesimal chance that will happen, but better safe than sorry.  Right.  Naturally, it panics me.  Every twinge around my implants causes me to stop and hold my breath.  And those phantom itches?  Drive.Me.Nuts. 

Every time I talked to someone, I made sure to mention my implants.  I don't think the MRI scheduler was too thrilled with my paranoia, but hello, I wanted to make sure they were careful around the implants!  You break 'em, you bought 'em!  She tried to tell me they didn't compress, but I've had my share of MRIs in the past.  They totally compress, to make sure nothing moves during the test.

My original appointment was at 5:30, but because of the incoming storm, they called and asked if I'd like to come in at 2 instead.  I said sure.  But then I didn't even get in to the MRI room until around 3:45.  So dumb.  I realize they were probably scrambling to get more people in early, but man.  Sitting around and sitting around is not good for my imagination.  I imagine all sorts of bad things in those waiting rooms - imaginary conversations that usually end with Dr Pay in Advance saying "oh, let's do some chemo.  just in case."  Oh, and the very nice girl who couldn't find my vein for the IV?  Sigh.

I hate MRIs.  I totally believe a man invented this test.  You completely throw your dignity out the window to lie on a table, crawl on your belly and try to put the objects of the test through a couple of holes.  Interestingly, this time, they had me put my arms up over my head, instead of at my sides.  I wonder if that's because implants don't naturally hang and keeping arms up will keep them in the right position?  I don't know.  It was vaguely more comfortable, though it sorta creeped me out because it reminded me of Jill Kinmont in The Other Side of the Mountain.  After she was paralyzed.  Shudder.  Moving on.  During the test, they had put a headset on me and I listened to some classical music, though it's hard to hear the music over all the noise the MRI machine makes.  I also like to count to distract myself.  I would've distracted myself by thinking of the pleasant gathering I had originally planned for afterward, but the stupid bad weather put the kibosh on that.  So I had to have a nerve-wracking test AND miss out on drinks with my dear ones.  Double dumb.

OK.  Putting stupid scary medical tests out of my brain.  Moving on.  I can also hardly believe it's been two years since I had a nice white tile floor in my kitchen!  I'm so lazy, I haven't replaced those dingy fire-stained tiles.  Though I don't go in my kitchen all that much anymore.  I so need to work on that.  Cooking for myself: good.  Ordering in via the genius that is the Seamless phone app:  bad.  And expensive.  I would be ever so rich if I didn't eat...

And realizing that it's been two years since I've talked with 'friends' who suddenly stopped contacting me and dropped me from their lives once I shared what was happening, is also freaky to me.  I'm generally pretty good at judging people and selecting friends.  I wonder if there's significance to the fact that these particular people who dumped me were all straight men.  Not that I had romantic feelings about any of them, but still.  I know it reflects on them more than me, but it still makes me sad and causes me to worry about a whole myriad of other things.  Who can I trust?  Can I ever really share?  Again:  before and after.  Will that feeling ever go away?  And will I ever stop looking at the calendar in February and taking a deep breath?  Probably not, i guess...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Reviews - Clive and Picnic

While I was on grand jury duty, ticket discount offers came pouring in, but I couldn't take the time to look at all of them.  However, when the name Vincent D'Onofrio was in the subject line of a ticket offer, I pounced.  I had no idea he was going to be doing a play with the New Group this season!  After much trial and error of buying a ticket via my iPhone (I need one of those password apps!), I got a discounted ticket to Clive.  Without knowing a thing about it.  Sometimes, crushes can get you into trouble...

After a little more research, I discovered Clive is loosely adapted/based on Brecht's Baal.  Intriguing.  I've never seen a production of Baal.  It was adapted by Jonathan Marc Sherman, whose plays I have enjoyed in the past, and it was directed by Ethan Hawke, whose work I have enjoyed in the past (but not always, if I'm being totally honest).  So, I figured I was in for an interesting evening, no matter what.  But THEN I heard from several friends that the play was, um, perhaps, not quite ready for audience consumption.  Hmmmm.  Oh well, what the heck.  I decided to take a chance.

OK.  So.  Honestly?  This production did not make itself known to me.  I found it mainly to resemble an acting school project.  The cast was enjoying themselves in the extreme, and seemed smug and self-satisfied in their knowledge that they were the cool kids updating Brecht.  I didn't find that so enjoyable.  I know that Brecht didn't really believe in naturalism, or empathizing with character.  OK.  But I don't think 'alienating' the audience by being pretentious and self-indulgent was the alienation effect Brecht was talking about.  Although, if that was Brecht's intent: job well done.  I'm guessing, however (and this is just a guess, I'm not an expert in Brecht or epic theater), that this adaptation didn't quite go far enough.  It used several 'Brechtian' principles, like direct address, and songs, and the speaking of stage directions, in an inconsistent way.  And not in an offputting, theatrical inconsistency, but rather a 'let's throw that in' kind of way that didn't make the piece entirely successful.  And having characters in the insane asylum be the ones to espouse the principles (No emotion!  Just the words!) seemed so cliche.  All I could think was: Symbolism much?  Sigh.  In my opinion, of course.  There were several audience members who seemed quite engaged and committed to what was going on. 

Having said that, I will say that I found Vincent D'Onofrio's acting to be quite good, but I AM predisposed to enjoy his work.  He's an imposing physical presence and he used that to great effect - the juxtaposition of his largeness and the minute detailing of his characterization is intriguing.  Ethan Hawke, just like in Ivanov recently, had to walk across a thin tightrope, playing an antisocial anti-hero, and after awhile, his slacker-ish affect just didn't work for me.  Unless the goal was to turn me off.  Then, I guess, it worked.  He looked great, though.

Actually, everything LOOKED great.  I thought the physical production was very impressive - the set and lights and costumes were terrific, and I thought Ethan Hawke put together some intriguing and attractive stage pictures.  So...I don't know.  Maybe this was the best adaptation of Baal ever done and I just wasn't open enough to see it.  All I know is I felt vaguely intrigued once or twice, but was mainly annoyed throughout.  Smug is never my favorite theatrical attribute.  I think the show opens tomorrow night, so I'm prepared to have my reviewing hat handed to me.  I'm not sure the critic I sat next to last night was having a good time, though.  But I've been wrong before.

This afternoon, my boss took me to see Picnic, produced by Roundabout.  I love William Inge plays.  I just love how they're so seemingly simple and plain, but there's so much pain roiling underneath.  There's a wistfulness that's very appealing to me.  Plus, his midwestern characters are just so familiar.  In fact, the set looked like my great-grandmother's house, and Ellen Burstyn reminded me of my maternal grandmother so much, I wanted to cry.  As a single gal of a certain age, plays which find the loneliness and heartache in everyday life are just so moving at this point in my life.

Of course, being the softie that I am, I DID cry, a couple of times, especially with regards to the 'spinster schoolteacher' character, Rosemary, played by Elizabeth Marvel (clearly, I should've played the role during my acting days).  I thought she was spectacular.  At first, I thought she was overdoing it, but then, as she began to unravel and show her agony, I understood the posturing and oddness of the earlier scenes.  It was quite wonderful and I gasped at her nakedly raw need and desperation in the second act.  First-rate stuff.  In fact, I found all of the supporting actors to be first-rate and totally wonderful.  Ellen Burstyn was beautifully touching, and Mare Winningham played all sorts of levels throughout.  Reed Birney was fantastic as Howard, Rosemary's beleaguered beau.  Madeleine Martin was wonderful as Millie, the younger sister, and the gals with the small roles as the schoolteacher friends were spot-on and so specific.  I also thought Ben Rappaport as Alan, Madge's jilted boyfriend, was quite affecting. 
If I wasn't as enraptured by the leads, Maggie Grace and Sebastian Stan, oh well.  They certainly were pretty, though I'm not sure if Stan's uber-buffed six pack abs were totally accurate for the period.  Their awkwardness seemed an actor issue instead of a character choice, but they were earnest and honest enough.  They just didn't generate much spark or chemistry, and if you don't have chemistry between Madge and Hal...well, where's the drama?  Luckily, the other characters mined their drama for all it was worth and made this revival an enjoyable one to watch.  I'm glad I finally saw it.  Talk about a theatrical gamut - an adaptation of Brecht to William Inge.  I'd like to think I'm a savvy enough theatergoer to find much to enjoy in both.  Unfortunately, my enjoyment was pretty confined to the Inge.  But Clive did take more risk, at least on its surface.  There is value in that...

Monday, February 4, 2013

FROM THE ARCHIVE: thoughts on Richard II

I was flipping channels the other night and, as it frequently happens, I landed on PBS.  I saw an episode of the new series Shakespeare Uncovered.  It was the episode about Richard II and our host was Derek Jacobi.  (I borrowed the photo from the PBS website and will take it down if they ask. ;))  This show brought back a TON of memories. 
In the ninth grade, my English teacher was tough.  She demanded the best from each of her students and sometimes that was exhausting.  I was having a hard time with diagramming sentences (I know, I'm a dope), and was despairing about keeping my grade up, so my teacher offered me an extra-credit project.  I could read some Shakespeare (which we hadn't studied yet) and watch the corresponding new TV versions of the plays, then write a report.  Always being a fan of extra credit, I signed on.
And so, Richard II was the very first play I ever read.  And Derek Jacobi as Richard II was the very first Shakespearean play I ever saw, albeit on television.  The play and that broadcast burned into my brain and changed my life.  Even 30-some years later, I can still remember scenes and speeches.  Theater entered my world and nothing was the same.  I can never thank that teacher enough.
During Shakespeare Uncovered, watching Derek Jacobi watch his younger self as Richard II was incredibly touching, since I can remember MY younger self watching his younger self!  Very meta, yes?  But, because of that broadcast in the 1970s, I've had a love for Shakespeare, Richard II and Derek Jacobi.  One of the productions of the past that I desperately wish I had seen was Jacobi in Cyrano.  I treasure my VHS, but to have seen him live must've been heaven.  I was fortunate to see him in Uncle Vanya a number of years ago, and I even got to meet him.  Happily, he was just as enchanting in real life as he is on stage and screen.  I can still see him blowing kisses as he went in the stage door.  Happy happy theater memory.  Sorry to digress...

Anyway, Shakespeare Uncovered was so interesting, and I loved hearing so many things about Richard II - I probably heard many of the references before but had forgotten them.  Did I know that Richard II is the only play by Shakespeare written completely in verse?  And did that have an impact on me as a young reader?  I guess I'll never know.  The filming of rehearsals, and the clips from various productions of Richard II were also fascinating.  I wish they had shown more of the Mark Rylance production, since I find him to be GENIUS, but ah well.  I could've done with less of the "Shakespeare didn't really write his plays" opinions, but that's just me.  :)

I've seen dozens of productions of Macbeth over the years, as it's also one of my very favorite plays, but I haven't seen as many productions of Richard II.  I don't think it's done as much, sadly.  I did make a trip out to BAM to see Ralph Fiennes do it, and loved him quite a lot (which is to be expected).  I'd like to see the play done more - it's so beautifully crafted and has many speeches that resonate to a modern audience.  At least I think so.  Let's put some Richard II mojo in the air so that another company will suddenly decide to take it on...
Looking through my old reviews, I finally found one to reprint.  Unfortunately, all I found was an uncomplimentary review of a recent-ish production of Richard II.  I've edited out most of the uncomplimentary stuff.  Just because.  The good stuff is basically all I remember now anyway.  I put the particulars that I didn't enjoy out of my brain.  So, from 2006:
Saw Michael Cumpsty in Richard II at CSC last night.  I love this play.  I just don't think I'm a fan of this director and his conceptulizations of Shakespeare.  I'm a purist at heart, which can be a difficult thing.  I believe there may have been vogueing in this particular production.  I kid you not.  Didn't really work for me.  Cumpsty was very good, as always, though maybe not as capricious as he could’ve been.  And George Morfogen as the Duke of York was brilliant.  Their scene together, after the death of John of Gaunt, was great.  Just what the play should be.  But instead, throughout a lot of the production, we get a lot of artsy fartsy stuff that makes us mad.  I use the word “us” loosely.  I really mean me.  Your mileage may vary.  :)