Monday, July 23, 2018

Preview Thoughts on The House That Will Not Stand/Waiting for Giovanni/This Ain't No Disco

this is how my brain feels
As is my usual, I either see nothing or I cram a whole lotta stuff into a short time frame.  And so it goes that I saw three shows last week, all in previews, and it's taken me time to untangle all of my thoughts.  Actually, they're still pretty tangled.  Here are a few random scribblings (since my upcoming work event has made my brain hurt, it's hard to even type at this point), as jangled as they may be...

Wednesday night, an extremely handsome pal took me to New York Theatre Workshop as his plus-one.  I am a fortunate girl.  We went to see The House That Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley.  I've never seen one of Marcus' plays and I've long wanted to.  The fact that this play is inspired by Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba made the evening even more attractive to me.  I'm reminded that there should be more revivals of Lorca around town...

Gardley's play reimagines Lorca and sets his story in 1836 New Orleans, at a time of upheaval for free people of color.  The more lax French rule is dying out and the more repressive American ideas are coming into play.  The House That Will Not Stand deals with all sorts of freedoms and the loss of freedoms; using music, magic and lots of humor, Gardley presents six strong women of color with terrifically interesting characters.  Daughters want freedom from their mother, their mother wants freedom from her dead lover, their aunt wants freedom from her madness, and their servant just wants her freedom and is willing to do anything to get it.

I enjoyed The House That Will Not Stand - the performances were excellent and the dialogue was beautifully insightful.  And I am always on board for a play that has such strong characters to be played by women of color (especially the characters for women of color of a certain age - these women were fierce!).  I will say, however, that I did find the play to be a bit too long and I could've used even more of the magical realism throughout.  There are two exquisite scenes (in my opinion) and they both take advantage of the New Orleans idea of voodoo and spirits.  Those scenes, for me, were the most exciting and boldest combination of Lorca and Gardley.  I really wanted more of that excitement, though that could just be me.  I hope this production gets good reviews so that a more diverse crowd will want to see it.

Oh, I also have to mention: New York Theatre Workshop may want to go in with a hammer and nails to fix their armrests.  My handsome pal's armrest fell off and one of the handrails nearly toppled over as a person with precarious balance was walking down the steps.  That really is a lawsuit waiting to happen...

Thursday night, I went to a production of Waiting for Giovanni, produced by TOSOS (who produced the divine Street Theatre), and written by Jewelle Gomez.  Everything I said above about being grateful for a play with strong characters of color can be echoed here.  I did a reading of this play a few years ago and I was so happy to hear it was going to be produced at the Flea (so I guess that means you could take my affection for the show with a grain of salt).  This was my first time in the new Flea Theatre space - the particular theater that Waiting for Giovanni is in is very small, but that only adds to the feeling of connectedness and occasional despair.  We were all a real part of what was happening.

Waiting for Giovanni imagines the crisis of conscience that author James Baldwin went through as he wrote Giovanni's Room. He is a bold man and bold writer, yet still reticent about certain aspects of his life.  When he confides in fellow artists Lorraine Hansberry and Richard Wright, he struggles to see their point of view about what he must write about his race against his own desires.   

photo credit: Mikiodo
You all know I love plays about art and artists and I'm a big fan of Waiting for Giovanni.  Gomez takes pains to honor Baldwin's beautiful use of language in his writing to inspire his gorgeous monologues, where he is trying to understand himself and his place in the world - not just the literary world, but the world of life.  To hear him struggle out loud was really compelling.  What do you owe your people with your writing?  What do you owe your art?  What do you owe yourself?  So many questions were brought up during the play.  The show is beautifully directed by my friend Mark Finley, who has made this tiny space open up exponentially.  The actors are all terrific, though sometimes I did feel they were pushing a little too hard in such a small space, but that's a quibble.  They were telling a big story with big ideas, so if they resorted to a little 'bigness,' well, ok.  Waiting for Giovanni tells an important story - I was particularly heartened to see such a diverse audience.  Obviously, people are hungry for these stories.  I only hope we can see more of them everywhere.  This production runs through August 4 - get your tickets now.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon, I went to a preview of the new musical This Ain't No Disco at the Atlantic Theatre.  I believe I pointed out that I bought a subscription for the current season because they were doing plays by two of my friends.  So this was my last flex coupon of the season.  And my, this was quite an experience!  Put together by people who had a hand in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Peter and the Starcatcher and the group The Wallflowers, This Ain't No Disco is described on the Atlantic's website thus:  "Part rock opera, part impressionist tone poem set in the nightclubs and art world of 1979 New York City, This Ain’t No Disco interweaves the stories of strivers, dreamers and drifters searching for their place at Studio 54 and Mudd Club, the art scene and downtown lofts. In their uptown/downtown quest for revelry and kinship, this disparate group, in different stages of becoming and falling apart, find themselves and each other in a city on the verge of a massive cultural shift."

photo credit: Ben Arons
Huh.  OK.  Well, I don't know how much of that I got while I was watching the show, but I will say that even without really understanding what was going on, I had a great time at This Ain't No Disco.  I thought most of the songs were terrific, the design was incredible, the performers were AMAZING (seriously, they are just crazy-stupid-talented) and I had a big smile on my face the entire afternoon.  Well, except for the times I cried.  I really enjoyed myself, though I fully acknowledge that the storytelling wasn't always clear, I think there are too many stories being told, and maybe the creators are a little too close to it/in love with it now to see what works and what doesn't.

But hey, who am I?  I did have fun, so...why complain?  I even went to Wikipedia after the show to do a little research on Steve Rubell and Studio 54, because why not?  The show is pretty well-sold already, but if you're into watching scantily clad amazing kids dance and sing their hearts out, well, this one could be for you.  Oh, and when you walk into the theater, there's a disco ball on stage just waiting for you.  Seriously.  They had me at the disco ball.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review - Pass Over

One of my favorite theater blogs will put up a ghostlight when it seems as if she's not going to post for a while.  Maybe I should do that, too.  I have an enormous work event coming up and I've been hoarding my energy and saving my money lately, so I'm sorry to have been so scarce.  I did see a show last weekend and I have a few coming up, so we'll see if I need to put the ghostlight up anytime soon...

I did want to report on the show I saw last week, since it's closing next Sunday and I think everyone needs to see it asap - I went to see Pass Over, produced by LCT3.  Full disclosure: I know the playwright and I saw an early version of this play produced a few years ago.  But even with the full disclosure of my history, I still was completely bowled over and gobsmacked by the play.  It's one of the most exciting, fearless, horrifying, moving, topical, and provocative plays I've ever seen.  I was simultaneously laughing, crying, and holding my breath throughout the night.  Some spoiler-y language may follow.

For the tiniest bit of background, Pass Over was done at Steppenwolf last season and one of the reviews caused a huge stir.  If you have a New York Times subscription, you can read about it HERE.  It caused such a stir that Spike Lee was inspired to see it and he decided it needed to be filmed immediately, so you can actually watch a filmed version of that Chicago production on Amazon Prime.  I do know that the play has been through some rewrites since Chicago, so what you watch on tv will not be the same as the power punch I saw last week at LCT3.

Antoinette Nwandu, the playwright, has written a political play for our times, using fresh and topical language alongside familiar structures and play references - I definitely saw an overt homage to Waiting for Godot, in some flavors in the set and in the use of repetition and hopelessness.  Pass Over introduces us to Moses and Kitch, two young African-American men who live on this particular street corner.  Their fear and dread are always present, but also their quick wits, their resilience and their affection for each other.  You can tell that a lot of the word games they play with each other are games they play each and every day, then, periodically, the lights shift and you see the young men raise their arms in fear.  Fear of the police.

photo credit: Jeremy Daniel
Pass Over is a play that puts directly in front of you the danger that young African-American men constantly face from the police.  There is a policeman character in the play, but there is also another unsettling character, a seemingly benign white man who says he's lost and wants to chat and rest for a moment.  I found that character utterly terrifying - the rest of the audience laughed at him a little too long, I think.  Not that he wasn't saying some funny stuff, he was, but I guess I felt underlying menace too soon.  I was so scared of him, I started to cry pretty early.

You think you know where a play like this is going to go and you would be wrong.  It is completely original (even with the Godot references) and completely unexpected.  The dialogue is absolutely thrilling.  My heart raced throughout and I just hung on every word, every double- or triple-meaning behind what was being said.  I feel this is one of the most exciting plays I've seen in a really long time and I hope it has a terrifically long life.  I hope the reason the play is so topical right now becomes extinct (seriously, when will white men realize their lives are not the most important??), but the experience of seeing this play will never be out-of-date.  In my opinion.

photo credit: Jeremy Daniel
The acting was simply fantastic by all three actors: Gabriel Ebert, Jon Michael Hill, and Namir Smallwood.  They were just all electric and real and in the moment.  They all had lightness and darkness and were totally committed to the world Antoinette has created.  The production is also fantastically directed - even the pre-show music of Golden Age Broadway show tunes was a genius touch that started off unsettling us just a bit.  The set, lights, and costumes are also first-rate.  I really can't recommend Pass Over highly enough.  It only runs for another week, so you should run over to Lincoln Center's Claire Tow space and check this out.  You won't see another play as in tune with what is happening in America right now, I'm guessing.  Oh, and I forgot to mention, there was a talkback with Antoinette after the play and it was just grand.  This was one of the best theatergoing nights I've had all year.  I so look forward to more success for Pass Over and more attention for Antoinette Nwandu.  They both deserve it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Review - Teenage Dick, plus a little extra

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to get to see a lab production of a new play called Teenage Dick.  I was interested in it for several reasons - I like the author, I like adaptations of Shakespeare and I like seeing plays that deal with disability (and uses disabled performers) in an authentic manner.  This play hit my targets all the way around.  I've been about talking Teenage Dick ever since and I was especially thrilled when My-Yi Theater Company paired with the Public Theater for an Off-Broadway run.  I bought my tickets months ago and finally got in to see the show last week.

I'll cut to the chase:  this play (and production) is fabulous!  GO SEE IT!  The run keeps getting extended, so you should definitely check it out.  Even if they tell you the performance is sold out, still go.  There were a very-few empty seats around me last Friday and you could've been the person to fill the seat!  It was so heartening to see a full, diverse audience watch this play that is so relevant to what's happening right now.  The experience of seeing it moved me and the play itself left me quite undone.  I highly recommend it.

To get more into things, Teenage Dick is a riff on Shakespeare's Richard III.  Shakespeare's character is one of the more famous disabled characters in theater history, so it was fascinating to see how a contemporary take could be expected and yet completely unexpected.  Lew's Richard, in an amazing performance by Gregg Mozgala (who is rapidly becoming one of my very favorite actors), is a high-school junior who has finally had enough with the bullying and lack of acceptance for who he is, so he sets out to systematically destroy the people who might be in the way of his becoming senior class president.  There's a lot of humor and a lot of concealed rage in Mozgala's performance, who makes this character charming, realistic and oh so damaged.  The scene in the dance studio, where his character attempts to describe what it feels like to be inside of his body (the actor and the character have cerebral palsy), is astounding.

photo credit: Carol Rosegg
But most of the scenes are astounding.  I was quite breathless throughout, either from laughter or emotion.  This play has some really bold storytelling, dialogue and performances.  And I love boldness on stage.  I also really love the fact that this is a story that uses disability, and disabled actors, to reveal more about the world.  A world that has disability in it, goshdarnit.  We can't have enough of these stories, if you ask me.  The production is also wonderfully directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel; there are quite a few images that will haunt me for a very long time.  And this acting ensemble is one of the best I've seen.  Obviously, I really recommend Teenage Dick.  Please, go see it.  Go see what theater is capable of being.  Bravo, Mike Lew, I can't wait to see what you bring us next.

photo credit: ME!
Here's the little bit extra - last night, I made a return visit to ABT, for my final ballet night of the summer.  I saw Whipped Cream, which delighted me last year.  It delighted me even more last night, but I was looking at my review and it was pretty spot-on.  So I'll just paste a link:  WHIPPED CREAM review.  I will say that last night's cast was even better than last year's and oh my gosh, those dancers wearing the giant heads are my heroes (take a look at that photo below!).  Remember the photo on the right from last year?  Such an enchanting design - and during the curtain call, the pink yak was bopping around and just made me chortle with glee.  I hope ABT keeps Whipped Cream on the roster for many years to come, it makes me so happy.  The rest of the audience seemed to agree.  In these dark times, enchanting delight and happiness is oh so necessary...

photo credit: Gene Schiavone