A Tale of Two Cities - Synetic Theater

As the frequency with which I go to the theater has expanded from casual attendance to OCD levels of attendance (that some may say required professional intervention,) I have made it a conscious decision not to just attend the traditional theatrical performances of a known quantity/quality, but to widen my scope to include what some would call "fringe" productions; of course a production is only fringe until it's successful critically and financially; Rent is a good example of such a transition. This is how I came to be a frequenter and often admirer of Synetic Theater productions; this is a group that is not afraid to push boundaries and take risks that other theater companies are less inclined to take.  It is one of my favorite things about them but this is also my way of sugar coating a bitter pill.

Two-Cities-03With risks there is always the danger of failure. If I'm being kind I would call this production "uneven;" if I'm being less than kind I would have to say it fell more into the category of "hot mess." I'm not sure if this is a failure of material or method but as in most things it's likely a combination of the two; although I'm not sure anyone could make this material work.

The material was tough. The conceit of the show was that a budding drag queen finds an abandoned baby on her door step and in an attempt to calm the baby she reenacts the majority of the movie of "A Tale of Two Cities." Something that complex with that many characters and backstory being relayed by one person, that's a lot of acting.  Thanks goodness she wasn't reenacting the book we'd still be there, Dumas Dickens was not known for brevity. If you were not familiar with the story being depicted, I'm not sure at all that you would have gotten a handle of it from this material. I think greater clarity would have come from brief periods of narration to help ground the tale; this show seemed to rely on the assumption that audience was familiar with the characters and their relations to each other. Granted, I'm assuming the retelling A Tale of Two Cities was not the point of the story but what was is not quite clear to me. If I was digging for some relevant modern day meaning, one could draw parallels between the persecution of people (not just the aristos) during the French Revolution with the persecution and marginalization of LGBTQ community, that's not a difficult reach.

Two-Cities-01As far as the execution of the work goes, it definitely did not feel...what's the word? settled? gelled? fully formed? any and all of those really. I appreciate keeping the show with-in it's 2 hour run time, especially with no intermission, but the entire production felt rushed and frentic and it needed a better construct to help contain all the characters that inhabited that stage. Alex Mills, who's work I've enjoyed at Synteic and elsewhere, cannot be faulted for lack of effort, he's selling those characters as fast as he can but he can't seems to find a good rhythm with which to progress the narrative. I am curious if the decision to make the baby character interactive was part of the original off-Broadway production or if that was an invention of Synetic to give Mr. Mills a foil to play off of on stage. The Vato shaped baby-head worked better than I would have expected had anyone forewarned me of it; it was simultaneously amusing and just little disturbing.

It was not an awful production and there were a couple of instances where Mr. Mills landed on one character long enough to create a moment that was quite good but then we were off to the races again. It was obvious by the paucity of attendance that the concept of this show is not appealing to their typical audience but I must admire Synetic Theater's willingness to take risks and I will likely meet them on that limb again.

Their next season has been announced and I think there's great potential there and I am especially looking forward to them bring back their wonderful production of Twelfth Night.

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The Audience - Broadway

The latest Broadway Blitz* was a lovely, lovely weekend of theater with not a dud in the bunch! And I'm already plotting as to how I can get up there again, preferably before I the Tony Awards, I'm a little low on the play quotient this year; I've only seen one of the Tony nominated plays! But that's for another post.

audience01We kicked off our weekend of show-tasticness with something that really could not be missed, Dame Helen Mirren as QEII(Queen Elizabeth the 2nd, not to be confused with the ship) in The Audience. This really was a simple decision, I'd heard great things about this show when it played in London and was very excited when they announced it was coming to Broadway. Dame Mirren is one of those actors that you just go see; although, not to brag, it was not the first time I got to see her on stage. Several years ago she was in a quite wonderful in a production of Phèdre at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, right here in our modest little city on the Potomac. See... not at all braggy.

But back to the show; The Audience depicts 60 years of the Queen's meetings with the different Prime Ministers that have served during her reign...but it is actually quite interesting and entertaining. It's an interesting journey through a history I admit I'm a bit lax in knowing. I always love the shows that make me go back to my computer and google things. It is also a very interesting glimpse beyond the stoic royal faςade, that may or may not be accurate, but you leave the play hoping that it is. The play portrays the Queen not only as intelligent and thoughtful, even at a young age, but also as kind of wickedly funny.

audience02The play does not follow a strict chronology but bounces back and forth between the different decades of her reign; Dame Mirren's (yep, going to keep calling her that) first transformation, from the Queen in her mid-60's to her mid-20's, which they manged to do almost seamlessly on stage, was rather awe inspiring. Yes, the costuming does help, but the subtle and not so subtle changes in the portrayal was quite exceptional. You start with the 65+ year old queen with 4 decades of rule under her belt and you regress to the 26 year old woman, not yet even crowned, dealing with the onset of a vast amount of responsibilities and having to wrangle with a Winston Churchill, who has distinct ideas of how things should be done. As you move forward and backward through the history her reign Dame Mirren continuously transforms herself, yet maintains a continuous thread of who Her Majesty is beneath the required royal protocol. Flashbacks to Elizabeth as a child lays what seems to be a pretty good argument that QEII has always found the Royal Life rather chaffing and restrictive and having been given her druthers she would have been quite content with a life in the Scottish highlands, having been able to take her husbands name as "normal" women were wont to do.audience04

The Prime Ministers, and don't worry you don't go through all 12 of them, only seven of them, were a diverse and varied group of actors. Dylan Baker is nominated for his role as John Major, although I have to say that amongst all the other excellent actors he did not leap out as exceptionally better. Not that I'm disagreeing with nomination, just and observation, all the actors were quite good. I found it interesting that of all the Prime Ministers it seemed that Margaret Thatcher got the least sympathetic portrayal; and that's even with Anthony Eden causing the whole Suez Canal Crisis (look it up, it's and interesting early slice of the West meddling in the Middle East over oil.) Although my understanding is that the Queen actively disliked Mrs. Thatcher and since this is her story perhaps it is not in appropriate.

audience05One interesting construct in the play is that Queens Equerry (Majordomo/Factotum) did not change at all throughout the play, obviously this position would have been filled by different people throughout the 60 years but he is our guide/narrator for the play and remains unchanged. Perhaps this is a nod to the consistency of the Queen's reign, or perhaps even of the British Empire? Or I'm just reading too much into it. The coronation scene that ends the first act is one of the most moving scenes of the play, it brought a tear to my eye, and is a wonderful argument to give Dame Mirren the Best Actress Tony, besides the fact that she's Dame Helen freaking-Mirren, and we should all just shut up and give her the award already!

All that aside, an excellent and entertaining evening of theater, would I give it the Best Original Play Tony? Probably not, I still think Disgraced is a much better play.

Coming up Next my review of the new musical, Fun Home. Don't let the name fool you.

*Broadway Blitz = a weekend spent seeing as many shows as possible
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Dunsinane - National Theatre of Scotland

dunsinane photographs october 14It is now officially a requirement that I go see whatever the National Theatre of Scotland sends "across the pond" and I sincerely hope the Shakespeare Theatre Company maintains their current relationship. Out of the 4 shows that I've seen over the last several years, Blackwatch, The Undoing of Prudencia Heart, Macbeth (Lincoln Center) and now Dunsinane all have been excellent original pieces of theater. And I think David Grieg, who also wrote wonderful The Undoing of Prudencia Heart, is going to have to go on my list of modern playwrights to follow. This play was both engaging and entertaining and annoyingly thought provoking (that's a good thing).

Dunsinane04The play begins roughly where Shakespeare's Macbeth leaves off, with Great Birnam Woods marching to high Dunisnane and with Macbeth's head on a pike. Where it deviates from the original story is that Lady Macbeth is not dead (not a spoiler) and there is a fantastic and not unfunny speech by Malcom that explains why it "seemed" she was dead. Mr. Grieg's play does however continue the oft supposed precept that Lady Macbeth (Gruach, is her given name in the play) is the real strength and power behind the throne and that defeating Macbeth does little to secure peace in Scotland nor quash the dispute over who is the rightful heir.

The conflict of play can be distilled down to a battle of wills between two people, Gurach and Siward and it does great justice to Mr. Grieg's skills as a writer that both these characters, despite some decidedly questionable actions, are never unlikable; they are actually quite likable and the play is never better than in the scenes they have together. It doesn't hurt that their actions, within the constructs of their world and how they understand it are justifiable. Gurach is repelling a foreign invader who wants to install a usurper on her son's, and her clan's, throne and rob her son of his rightful place and even his life. Siward is a soldier tasked with a mission to unify and bring peace to disparate nation and to serve the greater good. Two powerful people equally matched in wit and wills, it's makes for a very engaging first act.

Dunsinane05Our Lady Macbeth, Gurach, is quite the Woman, never does she waver from her purpose, never does she seem to lack confidence in her ability to achieve her will and never does she seem not to be in control; you always feel she somehow has the upper hand even as a prisoner. She personifies the Scotland that befuddles the invading army; she is never as she seems, she wraps lies in truth and truth in lies; she is beautiful, charming and vastly deadly. Even in loss she is victorious.

Dunsinane01Siward, is the classic prototype of the noble soldier. He is tasked with a mission and honor demand that he deliver and he makes every attempt to complete the mission with his honor intact. He is the soldier tasked by politicians to achieve impossible deeds. Invade a country and bring peace, as if peace is achievable with force of arms and foreign invaders will ever be welcomed as liberators. All forces work against Siward, and you feel sympathy for him even as he cuts a bloody swath though the country. He is saddled with trying to make peace with a culture he does not understand, allies who speak in riddles, and an army whose purposes often cross that of the mission, it is enough to drive anyone to the brink of destruction.

The play draws very obvious parallels between this ancient story and current conflicts around the world. Can you think of anywhere else in the world foreign armies are simultaneously welcomed and reviled, where we have little understanding of the culture, where we don't really know what victory will look like?  It's one of those plays that lingers in you mind long after the curtain has dropped.

The cast is wonderful, Siobhan Redmond and Darrell D'Silva are wonderful as our respective Gruach and Siward. Their scenes together are the best part of the play. And Ewan Donald performance as Malcom was excellent, he gave the perfect portrayal of a politician, and while you did not want to like him it was hard to deny his perspective even though he is the last ally one would ever want.

Sadly the run has closed here in DC but there are a coupe of other opportunities to see the show both at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and  Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in LA

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Much Ado About Nothing - Synetic Theater

synetic_logoAfter Synetic Theater's wonderful production of Twelfth Night last year I was really excited to see what they would do with this play. Much Ado...is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, easily my favorite of his comedies and Beatrice and Benedick are probably my favorite romantic couple (is it odd that the Macbeths are number two? but I digress) so I had expectations, which can be dangerous, but can I tell you how much I love it when my expectations are exceeded?

This show...this show is Synteic Theater doing what it does best at its best. It was fun, it was intense, it was laugh out loud funny, it nicely skirted along the edge of absurdity, it was poignant, it had perspective and it was beautifully choreographed and fantastically performed. What I'm trying to say is I really liked the show. One of the hardest things to do in Shakespeare comedies is to make them genuinely funny, mostly you realize "Oh, that's funny, ha-ha," rarer is it just to spontaneously laugh at a funny moment (not that it doesn't happen.) In stripping the language out of the story Synetic allowed the humor to take center stage and then they just had fun with it.

MuchADo01Largely, the success of this show has always rested on the couple "too wise to woo peaceably," Beatrice and Benedick, and I can't think of performers more capable of bringing these characters to life than Ben Cunis and Irina Tsikurishvili. They have great on stage chemistry, this is a battle royale between equals in character and temperment and they portrayed the love/hate/love, nature of their relationship beautifully. I really liked the backstory vignette they created for the couple and I really like adding the PTSD factor to Benedick's backstory, it makes sense, it's topical and it lent some intensity to the story. Mr. Cunis gives a wonderful performance, with a distinct young Brando vibe (think The Wild One, 1953,) with a deadly combination of machismo, charisma and vulnerability, that is so unattractive in  a leading man right? Ms. Tsikurishvili as Beatrice is an equal to her Benedick and their scenes together are always entrancing and entertaining to watch. It would have been very easy for the romance to tip over into treacly territory but they balanced out the sweetness of genuine love with sufficient pride and stubbornness to keep the relationship interesting. Bravo!

But let me not diminish the rest of the cast, this was a wonderful collaborative performance and there was no weak link. The scenes where the actors are tricking Benedick and Beatrice in to falling (back) in love with each other are hilarious, and I'm mildly amazed at how well the narrative came a cross. There is a fantastic scene in between Don Pedro (Philip Fletcher) and his bastard brother Don John (Dallas Tolentino) where a struggle over a leather jacket becomes a phenomenal pas des deux and yet still serves to highlight the power struggle between the characters. Actually it would have been very easy for the individual performances to overwhelm the narrative but throughout the entire show the performances, the choreography all worked together to serve the narrative most effectively.

And I have to give special kudos to Vato Tsikurshivili, Zana Gankhuyang and Justin Bell as Doggberry and the Nightwatch! That was just flat out, straight up, comic genius. From the moment they came on stage they stole show, just a little bit, the facial expressions the, "driving," the chasing, I was nearly in tears. Just really really well done!

So this is the point were I usually talk about what I didn't like about the show...I got nothing. As I was watching it the first act break didn't come where I expected it, but I was wrong, they put it in the right place. There may be flaws in the show (all shows have them) but the positives of the show are so thoroughly overwhelming they just don't matter. I think, I might have to go see the show again, to see if there's anything I really don't like; yes that is the excuse I'm going to use to go see the show again. Actually there is a friend I've been meaning to introduce to Synetic and I think this is the show to do it with and if you haven't gone to see them yet, this is an excellent place to start.

The show runs through March 22nd so there is ample time to go see this and I encourage you to go. I would rate if PG 13 for sex and drug content but it's no worse than whats on Prime Time cable. There aren't any videos of the performance but here's a little behind the scenes.

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Gigi - Pre-Broadway Run

GiGi06Well I managed to catch the show on it's next to last day in town, but fear not, if you're a fan of the movie and music this was merely the out of town try-out and GiGi is headed for a revival on the Great White Way, starting mid March.

So lets start with the good stuff and we'll work our way down to Vanessa Hudgens; well, that was mean right off the bat, sorry. I was excited when I heard of the revival and then less so when I heard the casting of the lead, I am not a fan of stunt casting but being a firm believer in taking chances (on theater) I decided to give the show a whirl. I am always willing to be pleasantly surprised.

GiGi03The show is a frothy, frivolous, fun slice of La Belle Époque en Paris. Don't look too far below the surface or the border line pedophilia and grooming your granddaughter to be whore, albeit a refined and high class one, might make you a little queasy. And, boy were there were a lot of mothers with their little girls at the show. But it's Paris! at the turn of the century, that's just the way things were! My understanding is that the book has been reworked since the shows original (and unsuccessful) run on Broadway and I did notice a distinct effort to ameliorate the viewpoint of beautiful women merely as disposable objects of entertainment for men of wealth. I liked taking the iconic "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," originally charmingly and kind of creepily warbled by Maurice Chevalier and making it a duet between Mamita and Aunt Alicia; it was a nice point/counterpoint of two women's philosophies. Mamita in her gentile but honorable poverty and Aunt Alicia in her grand accommodations, yet both secure in their independence even if by different means.

Speaking of these two ladies, Victoria Clark as Mamita and Dee Hoty as Aunt Alicia,  are the best part of this show, easily. I'm going out on a limb, especially since I haven't seen ANY of the recent contenders and say Ms. Clark is going to get herself a Tony nod. She grounds that show and gives it heart while the rest of the cast twirls and glitters around her. She is the real Paris, beneath the frivolity and froth. She was excellent, as one would expect, and she and Dee Hoty seemed to be having much fun on that stage. Ms. Hoty's Aunt Alicia can throw some very elegant shade, it was most entertaining to watch.

GiGi04That I'm halfway thought the post and haven't mentioned GiGi yet should be telling, there I go being mean again! Not that Ms. Hudgens was bad. Actually, GiGi as a young naive girl doesn't really have a great deal of depth for an actress to portray, her character is all surface. For the first 3/4 of the show Ms. Hudgens does fine playing the bubbly, giggly, not a care in the world girl, it suits her relatively well. But when it comes for her to transform to the grown woman ready to make grown decisions it starts to falter a bit. One issue might be the transition is too abrupt. I would have gotten rid, or seriously cut down the "contract" negotiations song (which was supposed to be funny but wasn't) and done some great song and dance medley of GiGi being "trained," clothes, walking, talking balancing things on her head to segue in to grown and ready to be a whore self supporting GiGi. Granted, it probably did not help that poor Ms. Hudgens had to share most of her stage time with Ms.s Clark and Hoty, its is easy for a young actress to seem diminished in the presence these two talented ladies.

GiGi02It also probably did not help that there is no discernible scrap of chemistry between GiGi and her leading man, played by Corey Cott, at least not from my seat in the balcony. I think they cast Gaston as too young; because in this day and age it's far more palatable if an 18 year old girl is sold to a 25 year old man instead of a 35 year old man right? Mr. Cott is charming but Gaston is supposed to be a sophisticated world weary man in the grips of ennui, and GiGi is his escape form that. The relationship did not seem to evolve in any organic way from an avuncular relationship to a romantic one. (It really sounds wrong when you write it like that doesn't it, an avuncular relation ship should never become a romantic one, right?)

I'll wrap up with the set and costume design which were beautiful. The sets evoked the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful Art Deco wrought iron detailing and architecture of the time and place. It was unmistakably Paris. The only off note in the costuming, oddly enough, were GiGi's costumes. They've quite clearly used the movie as the inspiration for her costumes but they looked cheap; from the 2nd row of the balcony they looked cheap. Even the penultimate gown she wears to Maximes, looked shiny and wrinkly and like they were trying to use the feather boa to hide it. It just struck me as odd; all the other costuming was beautiful and rich looking and it really stood out. Weird.

GiGi opens at the Neil Simon Theater, March 19.

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Macbeth - Shakespeare's Globe #44

macbeth01All Hail Macbeth! I know not why I love this play so much but I really do; I’ve seen it numerous time and I am certain I will see it many times more. It is a powerful story with complex character relatively simply told (compared to many of Shakespeare’s works.) And the play is kind of difficult to screw up, I've yet to see a production that has failed to be enjoyable (not that I'm issuing a challenge.) But as one would expect from Shakespeare's Globe they do this show great justice.

I am assuming I don't need to recount the story of Macbeth, it is the iconic tale of a man who initially bettered himself by doing the right thing, fealty to crown and country; then in attempting to achieve greatness started doing the smart thing and thereby ended up screwed royally, or royally screwed. It's also a valuable cautionary tale about not taking advice from weird bearded women who appear to you out of the mist. That lesson is appropriate across the board.

macbeth03This is simply an excellent production, the cast is uniformly excellent, Joseph Millson, as Macbeth anchored the performance and give us a fantastic ride from erstwhile King to monomaniacal madman. One interesting decision in this production was the treatment of Lady Macbeth, played wonderfully by Samantha Spiro, toward the end of the 1st act, they portray her as a battered wife. There is a pivotal scene where Macbeth's ambitions fully consume him and become self driven, they need no more encouragement and beratement from his dear love. It starts simply with a bruised eye and by her mad sleepwalking scene she is a battered husk of who she was. I assume this is symbolic of the shift in power in the relationship, her dominance early in the relationship is clear. The other character that was very well plays was that of Banquo. Don't you hate it when an actor is so familiar but you can't quite place them, well this actor was Billy Boyd, the Hobbit! I have to say complete transformation and phenomenally acted; he disappeared entirely into the character. I always love it when an actor surpasses my expectations of them. Not that I really had any, but playing a kick-ass Banquo is not something I would have connected to that actor.

macbeth05I am entirely enthused that Shakespeare's Globe is diving full force into the screening trend, that will not however stop me from going there to see a show on my soon to be planned sojourn to explore the London theater scene. Also, if you have not heard of it they are launching Globe Player where you can rent or buy there previously recorded productions. I'm totally in on this!!

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Indian Ink #43

indian inkI have an ongoing pact with a close friend to see as many of Tom Stoppard’s works as possible. A noble goal, all will agree, and not an undaunting task. Mr. Stoppard has been staging a play every 2-3 years since the mid ‘60s! And he’s still writing! Nevertheless, we are resolute and that is how we came to spend a lovely fall afternoon in a darken theater.

I really enjoyed the show, it was entertaining, well-acted, well written and even educational but at the end I’m not sure what the point was, or if there was a point. Being a work by Mr. Stoppard it possible that meaning is too subtle for me to discern or that the play is no more than it was, a snapshot of a person and a time. Which is entirely acceptable. Not to say that the play is irrelevant, there was conflict, and character growth and culture and history, but at the end none of it seemed to tie together, at least to me. Still, an enjoyable afternoon of theater.

IndianInk063rThe play takes place in two time periods and two places, 1930’s Royal India and 1980’s England and India. The story follows the adventure of a slightly known (and fictional) poet Flora Crewe who travels to India for her health. Her story is recounted from letters she wrote to her younger sister, Eleanor Swan, who as an old woman in 1980’s England is sharing the letters with an English professor who is attempting to write a biography of Flora. Flora has had minor success as a poet and is known for having a scandalous life, although she intimates that her life is less scandalous than most credit. Although there is almost certainly an affair with the artist Modigliani, which may or may not be the source of her illness. The majority of the story focuses on Flora’s relationship with an Indian artist, Nirad Das, who befriends her and asks to paint her portrait. He is the main conduit through which Flora experiences the culture of India. During this period of history British Expats in India had done a pretty good job of making India Britain, except for the heat and humidity. Flora is disappointed with the portrait when she sees it as the artist has rendered her in a continental style. “I thought you were and Indian artist,” she says; she quite clearly wanted a portrait in a “native” style, while he was attempting to please her by painting in a style he thinks she would prefer.

One of the mysteries that Ms. Crewe’s erstwhile biographer is attempting to solve is a reference to a nude portrait and her travels to India to find it. For some reason, not explained, both Flora’s sister and Nirad Das’s son conspire to keep this information from her biographer, initially independently of each other and them in collusion with each other. This is a curious point of the story, why does it matter to them now that this be kept secret when all other aspect of her life have been revealed. It’s not like in this day and age a nude portrait would hardly be shocking, it was barely shocking then. I suppose it’s a way to keep a piece of her for themselves or perhaps they are merely trying to protect Flora's and Nirad's memories from further exploitation for someone elses ambition.

The performances were all very good. Rosemary Harris as Eleanor was quite charming and funny. Firdous Bamji was excellent as the artist Nirad Das, I really enjoyed his performance very much as I did Romola Garai as Flora. In enjoyable and entertaining afternoon of theater and for 2-1/2 hour play very well paced.

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A Streetcar Named Desire - NT Live #39

AStreetcarYes, this show is out of order but I just couldn't figure out what I wanted to say about it. Every so often there are those shows that I really want to like but I just can't seem to work-up any real enthusiasm for. I had heard generally good buzz about this show and about Gillian Anderson's performance; I had heard especially good things about her recent performance in A Doll's House so while I like A Street Car Named Desire I really was going to see this performance to see "what all the fuss" was about (plus I'm a Scully fan). I mostly came away feeling...fine. This was part of the NT Live series (which I am a HUGE fan of) so perhaps the performances just didn't translate on screen but for me the show never really became engaging. So we're going to keep this simple.

What I liked:

The acting was good, generally, I especially enjoyed Ben Foster's Stanley, he seemed to properly encapsulate his bravado and insecurity simultaneously.

The rotating stage was a cool, especially when I realized it would sometime be rotating in the middle of a scene not just as a set change. It could almost be seen as a metaphor for the whirling dervish that is Blanche DuBois psyche. You know, if the second thing out of your mouth is "wonderful set design," that's not really a good thing. The set should always be in service of the actors.

Wow that might be it...nothing else was particularly note worthy.

What I didn't like:

The southern accents just did not work for me. They did not at all bring to mind the languorous speech patterns of of the Deep South. It bugged just a little bit. Okay, a lot.

Minor anachronisms in the props; the play mostly seemed set in the 50's - ish but then why are they using a cordless phone? It's stupid but it really stood out and became a little distracting.

The penultimate scene, Blanche is descending a serious spiral of delusion, emotionally and physically. She's a make-up smeared, drunken mess laying on the floor when Stanley comes in and this, this is the moment he decides it's time to put an end to the "tension" between them? When Stanley rapes Blanche it is an act of dominance of bringing her down to his level, or more a confirmation that she was already at his level. The sodden mess he finds on the floor is most pathetic and hardly a challenge to his vanity or manhood.

I think the performance just lacked chemistry. Each actor did a good job but the performance never seemed to gel. The passion between Stanley and Stella, eh; the sexual tension between Stanley and Blanche, non-existent. I wonder if the rotating of the stage (it was relatively slow when they were in scenes) somehow made it harder for the actors to connect on stage. I can see it being disconcerting.

So this show falls into the "fine" category; it did not offend but neither did it excel. Never the less, still a huge fan of what Nation Theater is doing and I think my 2015 resolution is going to have to be a trip to the West End. I think it's time I see some of these NT Live performances, live.

 

 

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Elmer Gantry #42

elmergantry01The theme at Signature Theater last month appeared to be people who love each other but are still capable of exploiting their lover for their own personal benefit. You have the wonderful "Sex with Strangers" which explores the perils of modern day love, lust, publishing and the cyber age and "Elmer Gantry" which explores lust, love, faith and salesmanship in the prohibition era. One was more successful than the other. Not to say this was a bad show, but it is obviously a work in progress. It is not, as I had first thought, a revival of the original Broadway show "Gantry"  (which closed on opening night) but a new version that has been bouncing around the regional theaters for several years.

The baselmergantry02is of the musical is Sinclair Lewis's 1927 novel of the same name and follows the exploits of a down on his luck salesman of, shall we say 'loose,' moral character. He is having little luck selling his wares and finds a much more appealing product to peddle in the beautiful, self determined Evangelist Sister Sharon Falconer and her traveling tent revival troupe. Gantry, taken by the sisters beauty and light that passed through her white dress if you sitting to the left of the pulpit, decides to insert himself into the revival troupe and help them sell God to the masses, for a cut of the gross receipts of course. Our Sister Falconer, knowing you can't spread the gospel if you can't get them into the tent, agrees to bring him aboard. Gantry, with seeming free reign, proceeds to rework their acts to be more "commercial" and inserts himself into the service as a repentant sinner who wandered off the path but has found salvation in the oratory of Sister Falconer. Hallelujah! The act works and pretty soon they're sad little revival tour is the the hot ticket coming to a small town near you. As the tour progresses so does Gantry's efforts to seduce the seemingly virtuous (yes, I said seemingly) Sister Sharon. She hints pretty early on that she is not all that she seems, she is no less ambitious that Gantry but the nature of her ambition is quite different and in the long run much more dangerous. Gantry's ambition for money and easy sex are simple compared to Sister Sharon's ambition for validation and recognition. It's apparent that Gantry misreads the Sister from the beginning and when he final succeeds in seducing her, or more like when allows him to seduce her, he assumes they are cut from the same cloth and thinks he's found a soul mate.

elmergantry17I like the concept of the story a lot, it hearkens back to the 80's when television became a powerful tool to spread the "word" to a much larger audience and the line between providing genuine ministry and using flash and bang to sell God (and make a buck) was distinctly blurred. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" There is also an attempt to relate the depression era story to the current economic climate where the fat cats on Wall Street are "skimming the cream" and the businessmen who offer Sister Sharon her fondest desire, her own church, while they feign piety in a blatant effort to make a profit on the backs of the poor. In a not terribly surprising turn, Gantry, even with his less than moral behavior, I mean he fakes a healing so well even Sister Sharon thinks she's actually healed someone, decides is a bridge too far. He'll bilk the believers out of the hard earned dollars but foreclosing on their houses is wrong; rob a little not a lot! Sister Sharon is to blinded by her ambition for a her own church that her ministry is most important, since now she's a faith healer, that she ignores the issue, or just doesn't care.

elmergantry11It's quite clear the intent is for Gantry to be wastrel with a heart of gold, a la Han Solo or Rick Blaine or Jack Sparrow kind of way. The charming lothario who saves the day, except he doesn't and I'm not sure there was enough character development to take him from the 1920's version of a Bro to a dark horse hero. Or at least it seems abrupt. Part of the problem there may have been the less than stellar chemistry between our leads. The passion just didn't come across perhaps if it had our protagonists "conversion" at the end would have been more believable. For me, Sister Sharron was the less believable character, she's either a honest pious woman overwhelmed in her zeal for God or she's a shady lady looking to get ahead and starts to believe her own hokum; it's kind of unclear which she's supposed to be.

In all, it's a good effort that with a little more work, and a little recasting the show could be much fun. The music is quite good and I'm always glad to hear other musical genres explored. The rousing gospel numbers made it easy to believe how people could be lured into the show and would leave feeling energized and excited. I thought the supporting cast and ensemble were quite good but this show rises and falls with the leads.

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Broadway World - Columbus

I'm not one to generally promote such things but a talented young actress who I happen to know has been nominated in multiple categories for her local chapter of BroadwayWorld.com.

She's been treading the boards for the better part of her life (a brief time it may seem to some) in one form or another, be it dancing, acting or singing, and sometimes all three. While her career is yet young their is such potential for much more.

taryn 1taryn 2She can be as dainty and delicate as a princess ...

Or as gruesome as the ghouliest of ghouls ...

trayn 3To say she has great flexibility is an understatement ...

This is a way of saying that if you were to go to Broadway Wold.com-Columbus (as in Ohio) and voted for a Taryn Huffman under the categories of "Person to Watch," Leading Actress in a Musical" and "Best Young Actor Under 18" it would not be a vote ill-spent.

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