Thursday, January 24, 2019

The January Blahs

Sorry there has again been a long stretch with no blogging.  I'm currently finding myself feeling a little bit listless.  I'm not sure if it's the post-holiday blahs, or the gray winter blahs, or a cold that just won't go away, or the fear that my stupid ceiling will collapse because the building won't repair it until spring, or the 'would menopause start already' blahs, or what.  But I'm struggling to find pleasure in much of anything right now, so I've been burrowing down.  I pretty much want to sleep all.the.time, though I'm also finding it hard to sleep.  I'm really ready for January to be complete (though Restaurant Week has just started, so there's always that to be happy about)...

I have had some terrific moments, though:  I went to see a dear friend's concert last weekend and was entranced.  He is just the most talented musician and I can't wait for the world to discover his wonderfulness.  I went with a handsome pal and we had a grand time - we even crashed the after-party and enjoyed ourselves even more!  So that was a good day.

photo credit: Sarah Rebell
I had a fun, yet super busy weekend at BroadwayCon a couple of weeks ago.  You might remember I went last year and my office sent me again this year.  My company isn't exactly the target audience for the BroadwayCon participants, but it was good to meet so many young people who love theater.  I moderated a panel with some fabulous writers and I think it went well.  So although the weekend was EXHAUSTING, it was also pretty valuable.  I also was thrilled to meet the husband of one of my 2007 game show opponents, which was random and hysterical!  So thumbs up for BroadwayCon.

I saw a Broadway show recently that I, well, loathed, so I won't write about it.  Actually, I won't write about the first act because that's all I saw.  I'm sure this means it will get raves from all the press.  Sometimes I just get so mad at the myopic producers who think this is what people want to see on Broadway!  Gah!  I'm in the middle of working with a committee about the excellent work we saw last year, so it's hard to get my head into new shows at the moment.  But, still, I think we can do better than that piece.  Happily, I HAVE seen an amazing show, which I'll talk about in a bit...

My job sent me to a college in New Jersey to lead a session at the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival local region.  That was fun - the students were curious and interesting and we had a terrific dialogue.  I have another ACTF trip coming up at the end of the month; I'll be headed to Abilene, TX!  I've never been there, so I'm looking forward to it.  If only I could finish the travel plans, we'd be all set.  I have other work trips coming up to Portland, OR, and Evanston, IL, later this spring.  I can't wait to enjoy myself during the trips, but the planning of all of these events may be my undoing!  I seem to be losing the ability to multitask successfully, and everything I don't get done keeps me awake at night.  Let's all put some good vibes out in the world that I can move out of the blahs and back into super-planner mode asap.

But my absolute favorite thing about January has been seeing my darling IHBB's new play, Secret Identity, which is currently enjoying a run at The Flea.  I can't really review it, because I adore him and have absolutely no objectivity about him or his work.  But I CAN say, even with sharing my bias, Secret Identity is a wonderful play and it's being given a wonderful production by TOSOS.  If you don't know, TOSOS is New York City’s oldest and longest producing LGBTQ+ theater company.  They do amazing work, featuring artists who should be household names, but aren't.  I'm proud to have worked with TOSOS over the years and I fervently believe they are well worth supporting.  Check out their website and read about their amazing history:  history of TOSOS.  

I've seen Secret Identity twice already and plan to see it two more times before it closes.  It's getting great reviews by people other than me, so you should all go see it.  In these times of division and hatred, seeing a show about empathy and compassion (and superheroes!!) is what we all need right now.  The cast is to die for and I'm just so proud of my dear friend, I could burst.  PLEASE go downtown to the Flea and check out this beautiful play.  It may be just what YOU need to shake off these January blahs!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Thoughts on Slave Play

In my zealousness to keep an eye on my gender parity in theater-viewing, there are a few plays by men (sorry) that fell by the wayside last year.  One of them was Jeremy O Harris' Slave Play.  Even though I didn't really plan to see it, I also didn't read all that much about it, preferring to hear about it from trusted friends if and when we needed to discuss it for work purposes.  Before the holidays, though, a handsome friend invited me to be his guest at last Saturday's performance at New York Theatre Workshop and I happily joined him.  So I went in rather blindly, with a few vague thoughts about what I was going to see.  After I saw the play, I went online to look at the reviews and promptly fell down a rabbit hole of commentary.  Oh my.  And so, for many many reasons, I feel as if I can't, and shouldn't, use the word 'review' to talk about Slave Play.  I'll just offer some thoughts, scattered though they may be; spoilers will most likely follow...

Actually, if you're planning on seeing the play (and I think you should), I'd stop reading now.  I had no idea where Slave Play would lead me and that's part of its appeal.  Even my vague thoughts didn't really prepare me for how it would unfold and I'd recommend that method for you, too.

OK, we're back.  I found Slave Play to be monstrously smart, fabulously acted, stunningly designed and completely provocative.  I laughed and I was also stunned.  I'm not sure that I found it to be completely successful, though, as a piece of theater.  At least successful for me.  It was clever, topical, fascinating, and intellectually engaging most of the time (I do think the play is a little long at an intermission-less two hours), but I couldn't latch onto any emotional connection.  This may be the playwright's intent, I don't know.  This may just be me.  But I wanted to feel more than I did - not that the characters' situations weren't set up to be emotionally moving, I think they were, but somehow my brain and my emotions were not completely connected.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
We first see scenes apparently set in the south during the Civil War, with an African-American character and a white character in different power and sexual dynamics - there's an overseer and a young female slave, the plantation's mistress and her mulatto servant, and a white indentured servant monitored by an African-American land manager.  The dialogue is fresh and interesting, with some very clever juxtapositions to modern-day behavior, which kept my brain wondering what was going on.  All three couples engage in some serious and adult sexual behavior, until one gentleman starts to yell the word "Starbucks! Starbucks!"  Suddenly, two contemporary women come from the back of the house, onto the stage, to stop what's going on.  To say I was taken aback is an understatement.

What we discover is the opening scenes were actually 'fantasy role-playing' in a study being conducted as (what the play calls) antebellum sexual performance therapy, intending to help these interracial couples get through the problem of the African-American partner's inability to achieve sexual pleasure.  Consider my mind blown.  I had no idea that's where we were headed.  What follows is then a group therapy session, led by another interracial couple, who are heading a sociological study about sexual dynamics.  The opening of the therapy session scene is very funny, with lots of scientific buzzwords like 'unpacking' and 'processing' and 'I hear you and...' that cause the audience to laugh at the satirical way these modern intellectuals are depicted, but some of the characters onstage release more frustration than they did during the previous sex scenes.

When we meet the characters as contemporary couples, we soon see that the power structure and the sexual hierarchies are still unbalanced, but not in the way we might imagine.  I did enjoy how the play always kept me on my toes and I couldn't guess where it might be going.  I probably should've seen the last scene coming, but I didn't, which I always appreciate.  But, again, though I can intellectually see how I should've been moved by the last scene, I was more taken aback than moved, and that is an issue for me.  And, again, I don't know if that was the playwright's intent or just my reaction.  Maybe I have failed the playwright, I just don't know.

I thought the set was brilliant, with the upstage wall being completely covered in mirrors, so there was nowhere for anyone to hide, including the audience.  We were unwilling participants, being called to consider our own reactions and ideas throughout.  I definitely enjoyed the provocative quality of the set.  All of the performers were brilliant, in my opinion, brave and willing to seriously dive right off the deep end.  They went to some dark and scary places, I'm thinking.  And I appreciated the boldness of the storytelling and I certainly have never seen THIS story before.  So even though I didn't find Slave Play completely successful as a play, I do think it's worth seeing for the ideas it's putting out there.  I definitely think this is a young playwright to keep an eye on.

When looking at reviews and think pieces afterwards, though, I started to feel bad about saying anything at all.  As a straight, white, cis woman, should I even talk about this play?  There's really no way I can ever really comprehend the magnitude of what's being explored or even satirized.  There's also a faction of people who feel this play shouldn't be produced at all, since it presents slaves and sex in a not-always-negative way (the fact that the characters aren't really slaves doesn't figure into the equation).  That goes a bit too far, I'm thinking.  I'm never for censorship - if you think a play is offensive, don't go and tell everyone you know not to go.  But I do feel uneasy now, either recommending or not recommending people see the play.  That's probably silly, but in these fractious times when I want so badly to be an ally, I certainly don't want to say or do the wrong thing.  I guess we'll just have to see what happens...     


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Post-Holiday Catch-Up!

Howdy, dear readers!  I hope 2019 is going swimmingly for you - I've already had a couple of work screwups that make me think I should've stayed in bed for a few more days, but I guess I can get past them.  I had a great time over the break, spending time with my family (most especially my sweetheart), but it was over much too quickly.  Before I went home, I also saw two shows that I neglected to blog about - here's a report on all of that...

Heading home the day before Christmas Eve is a risky proposition - what if the weather doesn't cooperate?  What if I'm driven nuts by the airport?  So many 'what if' issues.  Well, the airport WAS nuts, but I guess it was ok.  It took me over an hour to get my bag checked, then through security, then to the gate.  Fortunately, I'm one of those people who like to be at the airport extra-early, just in case.  Oh, and it also took me almost a half hour to get through the ladies room line.  LaGuardia may be renovating, but they're not doing it fast enough.  I was in a terminal that still isn't spiffed up, so there was one ladies room in the whole gate area, and one of the stalls was broken.  There was basically two places for all the women in Terminal B to go to the bathroom.  NOT FUN.  

seriously?!  on a plane?!
Security was a bit weird, too, now that I think of it.  The woman in front of me was wearing (I kid you not) hip boots, so it took her forever to get out of them.  But I couldn't get around her in line.  So her suitcase went right through the machine, but she was still struggling to get her boots off.  I tried to alert the security guard that a bag was going through unattended, but he seemed unconcerned.  And the bags piled up so quickly on the other side of the scanners, that my liquids and boarding pass popped out of my bin and into someone else's.  What a crazy start to the vacay.

Apparently, there had been some weather issues before I even got there.  There was a family arguing with the gate agent - the agent said, "I can see how you can be frustrated," and the mother said "Yeah, I've already spent one night here, please get us on a plane!"  I also noticed there was a group of three kids who were traveling unaccompanied.  And no one was keeping an eye on them.  They were supposed to be on the flight before mine - when the agent announced the last group to board, the kids were still sitting there.  Finally, someone noticed them and got them on the plane.  I still wonder if their bags made it - the agent kept saying it was a full flight and all of the bags wouldn't make it on board...

My flight itself was fine - I got some reading done and my developing head cold didn't bother me that much.  Earplugs and cold pills are on my definite 'to do' list before boarding a plane.  When I got off the plane at home, I was so happy to see my sweetheart waiting for me.  He's so grown up!  And he very sweetly let me hug him for a very long time, even though we were in public.  I'm just crazy about him.  Oh, ok, I love everyone else in my family, too, lol.

It was a busy week - it seemed like we were doing something every minute, though I don't think we really were.  I helped my mom make our Christmas Eve cookies, which is a tradition; we had a big family Christmas Eve party (and for some reason, I became my six-year-old cousin's very favorite person, so we hung out a lot.  I loved it.); Christmas Day was fun - I got a lot of lovely gifts (the one from my sweetheart was my favorite, of course!) and people seemed to like the gifts I chose for them.  I didn't get to see quite as many holiday lights as I usually do, but that's ok.  I enjoyed spending time with my family, no matter what we did.

photo credit: John Wilson
My sweetheart wanted all of us to see a movie together - he decided on Holmes and Watson.  Well, I had heard it was terrible and people were walking out.  But we went anyway.  It's pretty dumb, and I really don't know why they made it, but we had a good time.  My sweetheart laughed at some stuff, and we all laughed at each other throughout.  I marveled at the demented glee of Will Farrell (whether it's misplaced or not), and there was a fun, and completely unnecessary, musical number.  Oh, and it had Ralph Fiennes.  I hope he got paid a lot.  After the movie, we all went out for dinner (uh, not Ralph Fiennes), so it was a totally fun family afternoon.

photo credit: Jay Maidment
My mom and I went to see Mary Poppins Returns.  I told my mom that I wasn't leaving without seeing it, so she knew what she had to do.  Thankfully, she wanted to see it, too.  She said she was ready for some happiness and fun, which is a great attitude.  And we did have some happiness and fun.  I think I had a smile on my face the entire movie - well, except for the parts where I was crying.  A couple of times I felt as if the movie was trying a little too hard, but that's quibbling.  For the most part, I was enchanted.  The children in the movie were adorable without being annoying, the songs were lovely, the underscoring with music from the original film was a gorgeous bonus, and the joie de vivre of Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda was just wonderful.  I loved the little cameos throughout the movie and just had the best time.  I can't wait to see the film again.

My sweetheart, sister and I got the parents a new big-screen tv, so that was fun to program and watch.  I got my mom to watch the first few episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is a delight.  I can't wait to find time to binge season two.  I made my parents watch Battle of the Sexes with me, which was great fun.  I can't believe I didn't go to the movies to see it.  It was so well done.  We also watched several episodes of The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as they were meant to be seen.  Terrific.  Oh, and there was even a tennis tournament in Australia that my mom and I could watch before bedtime.  It was a wonderful week and I was sorry to leave.

Just to add a little sprinkle of theater to this post, before I left, I caught two shows that you should see:  Fabulation, or the re-education of Undine by Lynn Nottage (produced by the Signature Theater), and the Broadway revival of Harvey Fierstein's Torch SongFabulation is so funny and so moving, with amazing acting and just smart smart writing.  I mean, I never expect anything less from a play by the incredible Lynn Nottage.  Please go.  And although I had heard some negative reports of Torch Song, I enjoyed myself.  I had actually never seen the play before, so I enjoyed watching the way it all unspooled, and Michael Urie has great charm and empathy.  You all know I love me some charm.  Those plays were a good way to end my year of theater (you can look at my previous post to see what my favorite theatrical experiences of last year were) - now I'm ready for some great stuff to come!  Let's all grab 2019 by the horns and make it the best year ever!