Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thoughts on Junk, Describe the Night and Once on This Island

I'm in a theater-going frenzy at the moment - I don't know why I do this to myself, but I'm again seeing too many shows in a short frame of time.  I saw three shows last weekend , one last night and I have two more coming up; I'll offer a few thoughts on just a few...

I'm very grateful to a Tony-voter friend for taking me to see Ayad Akhtar's Junk at Lincoln Center.  I enjoyed Akhtar's play Disgraced (you can remind yourself of my review HERE), though my overall favorable impression got me into some hot water with another Tony-voter friend.  Ah well.  I had a vague idea of the plot of Junk, but I had purposefully stayed away from reviews, figuring I'd get to see the play eventually.

Junk takes place in the 1980s, in the world of high-states finance and junk bonds.  It's pretty heady, with talk of investments, takeovers, debt ratios, and insider trading.  Among other financial things.  I will admit that I know next to nothing about anything relating to finance, so when details of the illegal money transactions were being described, it was as if the characters were speaking Greek.  I mean, it was very clearly laid out, but it was still utterly foreign to me.  Such greed and venality is of little to no interest because it is so utterly distasteful to me, so although I was relatively engaged by the high production values, committed acting and smart dialogue, I was ultimately left with a 'why'.  Why this topic, why now?

photo credit: T. Charles Erickson
Why are seeing a play about so many rich white men?  And why was it a play and not a movie?  I'm just unsure as to what current human experience is illuminated by this play.  It may be there and I'm just not seeing it.  But I will say the production is attractively presented, very neat and tidy in its execution.  Well, I found one thing untidy: similar to the theory 'if you see a gun onstage, somebody better use it,' there was one plot point that kept coming up, a question that was continually asked of one of the characters.  AND IT WAS NEVER ANSWERED.  That was annoying, especially since I wasn't completely keen on the play anyway.  But the guys in the row in front of us LOVED IT.  In fact, after the show was over, and they stood up for a standing ovation (my friend and I did not indulge), one turned around and said, "Did you like that?"  I smiled politely and said "Yes, thank you," with little enthusiasm, which seemed to dampen his spirits.  Perhaps he was considering asking my friend and me to join him for celebratory drinks or something.  I don't know.  It was pretty funny.

Other in-theater occurrences:  there was a set or sound cue malfunction right at the top of the show.  I was unsure if it was part of the play or not, but I guess it wasn't.  And in the second act, there was a dreaded cell phone.  I heard a noise and thought, "That's an odd place for a sound cue," but the noise just kept happening, pretty much through the entire second act.  The audience around the perpetrator kept rumbling and making noise, so it was a constant, low-level disruption that was an annoyance, but not a total disturbance.  I do wonder how the actors can maintain their focus when a third of the audience is focused on a cell phone, but that's why they're the pros, I guess.

Sunday, I had to go into the office most of the day to finish up a project that I just never seem to have time to finish during the week, so I decided to treat myself after work and went to see an early preview of Rajiv Joseph's Describe the Night at the Atlantic Theatre.  I believe you all already know how much I admire Rajiv's work (you can remind yourself of a few of my reviews HERE and HERE).  He's such a favorite playwright of mine that I actually have a ticket for a performance later this month, but I guess I just couldn't wait to see what was going on.  I saw the third preview, though, so I'll only offer a few thoughts.

Here's the official description of the play, from the Atlantic's website:  "In 1920, the Russian writer Isaac Babel wanders the countryside with the Red Cavalry. Seventy years later, a mysterious KGB agent spies on a woman in Dresden and falls in love. In 2010, an aircraft carrying most of the Polish government crashes in the Russian city of Smolensk. Set in Russia over the course of 90 years, this thrilling and epic new play traces the stories of seven men and women connected by history, myth and conspiracy theories."

borrowed from the Atlantic's Facebook page
Exciting, yes?  Big, big stuff.  The description even uses the word 'epic.'  So my first thought is that the ushers shouldn't be telling all of the patrons, sometimes more than once, as they walk into the theater, that the show is three hours long.  I heard every person around me, as they were sitting down, say "Ugh, three hours," in a negative-sounding way.  I'm not exaggerating, every person who sat down after me said it.  That bothered me - these people already had a negative feeling, almost like defeat, about the play, even before it started.  I totally get the impulse for the ushers to tell people they should use the bathroom early and often, but I could just feel people's deflation as they sat down to watch the play.  It was frustrating for me.  I read the synopsis, so I figured this wasn't a short piece, and when I hear "it's three hours," I'm usually excited, because I love a three-act play!  I just do, whether it's in perfect shape or not.  I love the time used to build the structure, I love the way I can get to know the characters, and live in the world more freely, without being rushed.

Not that Describe the Night is in perfect shape yet, I don't think it is.  It's smart, it's interesting, it's bold and has a lot of humor.  Most of the acting is terrific.  But I'll be honest and say I didn't have the powerful emotional response I usually have after one of Rajiv's plays (though my pulse did quicken as the third act hurtled to a conclusion).  But, then again, there were some scenes where I honestly thought I could listen to those characters talk forever.  And there's one mental image that is still in the front of my brain, two days later.  So I think it's on its way to something pretty special, it just needs some time to get there.  I love a big play with big ideas and stories I don't hear anywhere else.  I'm looking forward to seeing Describe the Night again, to see how it's grown and changed, so I'm glad I went to see it early.  I'll report on my feelings more in-depth after I see it again.  But you should probably go ahead and get tickets anyway, since based on track record, you won't regret it...

Finally, I've already told you the story, multiple times, about the first time I saw Once on This Island, blah blah blah.  Well, the handsome friend with whom I saw the original Broadway production is in town this week, and last night he very generously took me to see the revival of this perfect little jewel of a musical.  Again, we saw an early preview, so I won't say a lot, because there may be changes and because I don't want to spoil anything for you.

I LOVED IT OH MY GOD I LOVED IT PLEASE GO PLEASE GO PLEASE GO.  Ok, there are most of my thoughts.  When I say I started crying sometime during the opening number, and just kind of kept sobbing (happily) throughout, I'm not exaggerating.  Oh, and I was making ugly cry noises by the end.  I was nervous that nothing could ever live up to my memories of that original production, but oh, my expectations were met and more.  This revival of Once on This Island is simply glorious, filled with love and joy and hope.  It was exactly what I needed to see and I can see myself returning many times.  The cast is spectacular, the concept is terrific, and honestly, just everything is beautiful.  There were so many wonderful things, I can't even single any one thing out.  The cast is working beautifully together and it was just a joy and delight to see this show with my dear old friend.  After our standing ovation, I probably embarrassed him by throwing my arms around him for a big hug - I just had to share all the happiness I was feeling.  Please, everyone, go see this.  It must run forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment