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.

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

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

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.

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!!

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.

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.

 

 

Sex With Strangers #40

sexThere is just something about really good piece of theater where all the elements, the writing, the directing and the acting, even the set design, come together to form this perfect  morsel of theater that is entirely satisfying and still leaves you wanting more. This is what keeps me coming back to the theater time after time; sitting through bad shows, mediocre shows, the merely good shows and the really good shows, every once in a while you find these tasty morsels of goodness that tip over into an exceptional piece of theater. Frankly, I’m usually happy to come out of a show entertained but occasionally you hit that wonderful trifecta of entertainment, talent and content that make a great show; that’s Sex with Strangers.

Ethan and Olivia meet on a dark and stormy night in a secluded retreat. Olivia is a talented writer who was traumatized by the unsuccessful launch and criticism of her first book years ago. Ethan is a bros bro who has gotten wealthy from turning his blog (about his escapades having sex with strangers) into a couple of successful books and a movie. These divergent people, both who are trying to escape what they have become and become what they would like to be, meet in the woods one night and the paths they choose makes all the difference. I’m not going to give too much away, the discovery of the characters and there action and motivations is part of the fun.

SexWithStrangers2The show does a wonderful job of maintaining this undercurrent of tension throughout the play about the characters feelings and emotions. There is always that soupcon of doubt about their true motivations. These are two people who are genuinely attracted to each other, have not insincere feeling for each other but who also find they may have a use for each other. There is this back and forth on which is the stronger motivator in the relationship. From the beginning you’re certainly skeptical of Ethan’s motives, at least I was, but at the same time you are really rooting for him to be the person he’s attempting to be as opposed to the person he has been or may still be. His persona, the one he mostly lets you see, is so damn likable and charming that you want to believe this is a person genuinely seeking change.

Olivia, well, you like Olivia from the beginning. She’s smart and talented with a droll sense of humor and aside from her fear of trying to publish again she is the epitome of the modern urbane woman but not in a stuck-up way (okay a little stuck-up.) Olivia secures the high moral ground pretty early on but there comes a moment in the play where the decisions she makes related to Ethan, spurred by the possibility of success, may be as much about his utility as her affection for him. The real tension blooms when what is best for each of their ambitions stops following the same path.

SexWithStrangersThe playwright, Laura Eason’s, writing is witty and insightful and very relevant to the hurdles of love and ambition in the digital age. In exploring these characters relationship we’re also exploring numerous modern day issues; the pervasive nature of social media and how it affects how we interact with the world, the on going objectification of women and their bodies for entertainment, women’s complicity in the that exploitation, the bros will be bros culture of men (to be fair, of some men.) All issues we see and talk about nearly daily and rarely have consensus on. Yes, social media is every where but damn if it’s not a useful tool. The bro culture isn’t positive but this is America and a bro’s got a right to be a bro. (But be careful, when you’ve decided you don’t want to be a bro no more, social media may object to that!)

This wonderful and witty writing is beautifully performed by Holly Twyford and Luigi Sottile (I’ll let you figure out who plays who.) For the tension in this play to work you really have to believe that these two characters are truly attracted to each other and Ms. Twyford and Mr. Sottile have on-stage chemistry that is simply off the charts. You expect a play with “Sex” in the title to be at least a little sexy and they deliver steamy passion. And if that isn’t enough they are also quite good in the parts of the play that require speaking. They’re equal to the witty intelligent dialog and bring these two characters to life and bring into reality their emotions and conflicts. You care about these characters and you can’t help but root for them but at the same time you must acknowledge that  life doesn’t always, actually rarely, allows for the perfect happy ending. Of course I’m not saying it’s not a happy ending, or actually an ending at all. Just like life there are always new decisions and new conflicts to be resolved.

One final nod to the set designer, I loved this set, I want to live on that set. Like the performance the design had wit and charm.

The show is playing through the first week of December at Signature Theatre and I really can’t recommend it enough.

Island of Dr. Moreau #38

dr moreau 2Synetic Theater first show of their 2014-15 season is right in their wheel house, H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” What had me really excited about this show was the return of Paata Tsikurishvili to the stage. It’s been years since I’ve seen him on stage, I think I have to go all the way back to Macbeth. And I swear any day now I’m going to learn to spell his last name without looking it up (I came really close this time.) But I digress, The Island of Dr. Moreau, the tale of an “evil” scientist that has created his own race of man-(and woman-)beasts is just the type of gothic material that Synetic excels at producing. I put “evil” in quotes because Dr. Moreau is not evil scientist in the death ray/rule the world kind of way; he’s more of the sociopath who thinks he is misunderstood and his real aim is to benefit the greater good; therefore the ends justifies the means. His goal is to make a better man and to achieve that end he experiments on animals, the idea being that if he can get simple beasts to act civilized, and to put aside their base instincts for violence, then the same can theory can be applied to mankind in general. Dr. Moreau personifies the constant struggle to balance the ends achieved with the methods used and (similar to Synetic’s recent production of  “Jekyll and Hyde”) it explores finding a better or at least faster way for humans to evolve away from our baser nature.

It is no secret that I prefer Synetic silent productions, but their speaking production have improved significantly in recent history and while I enjoyed this show it is not one of their stronger performances. The production felt a bit formulaic, it’s a similar pattern that they’ve repeated several times, there is a back and forth between the spoken section of the show and the movement based  but not rally a cohesion between the two. I would like to see a more fluid transition and perhaps even see more choreography with in the spoken section of the performance. The stylized nature of Synetic’s work is their strong suite. Last years production of The Three Musketeers is a good example, that show had a much better integration between the two mediums.

dr moreau 1Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Mr. Tsikurishvili prowl the stage as our quite mad yet oddly likable Dr. Moreau. He portrayed Moreau with the empirical callousness of a scientist towards his subjects, they are just his lab rats, yet there is an under tone of affection for his creations, when they do well he is proud and it’s all neatly tied together with a massive God complex. He can fix the world, just give him a little time and a whole lot of ethical leeway. Dallas Toletino as Moreau’s equally sociopathic assistant give the best performance I’ve seen to date, apparently drunken brain eater may be a nice niche for him, it was a wonderfully eerie performance.

The show plays through the end of the month for those looking for a little Halloween-y creepiness to enjoy.

On The Town #37

1004141259I’ve decided I’m rather lacking in exposure to a lot of our “classic” musicals, think pre-1950’s. I’m pretty well versed in the Rodgers & Hammerstien/Lerner & Lowe/Gershwin Brothers oeuvres but there are many more musicals/artists that I only know peripherally.  So in an effort to beef-up my knowledge I decided to go see a musical about handsome strapping sailors dancing their way through New York City. smile.

On the Town, which originally open on Broadway in 1944, follows the misadventures of three sailors who have only 24 hours to make the most of the Big Apple. Our erstwhile heroes cling pretty closely to the archetypes of male friends: there’s Gabey, the earnest one, Chip, the geeky one and Ozzie, the ladies man; you can pretty  much tell their character traits by there names, right? Although, they all have the unlikely quality of be squeaky clean guys, for sailors. There really isn’t much of a plot to the story, Gabey spots his true love on a subway poster “Miss Turnstiles” and is determined to find this paragon of talent and beauty so that they can…well I’m not sure what…maybe, live a life time in a day? Being good buddies Ozzie and Chip are willing to cast aside their own plans to help their friend and so they subdivide the isle of Manhattan to try and find her. Totally doable in one day! Of course in their travels both Ozzie and Chip manage to find love, or least readily available sex. It’s actually a pretty high libido show despite it’s overall veneer of earnest goodness.

This is a really well put together production and I really can’t complain about anything, which I know does not come off as a ringing endorsement. This is one of those shows that equals the sum of it’s parts, and when you have talented actors, fun music, great dancing and a shiny lucite New York City that is not at all a bad thing, it’s an entirely enjoyable afternoon of theater. But I can’t give it a rave; for me it did not reach the same level as the 2011 revival of Anything Goes, that show tipped over into something exceptional and has set the bar for what I expect for revivals from that era of musical theater. I did see this relatively early in previews so the performance may have still been a little underdone; certainly Mr. Brantley’s recent review is a ringing endorsement, but tastes vary.

On the Town Barrington Stage CompanyI did really enjoyed the dance numbers, and yes there are several dance numbers; I say that because that seemed to be the consensus of the audience members around me. “Yes I like it. There’s a lot of dancing(with quizzically furred brows)” rather like they’d never seen dancing in a musical before. In all fairness the show was originally conceived of as a ballet by Jerome Robbins so it does have more than the usual numbers that are purely dance but frankly they were some of my favorite parts of the show. To cast Tony Yazback (as Gabey) in a show and not have him dance would be incredibly wrong. All three of the main actors, Tony Yazback, Clyde Alves (Ozzie) and Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip), were excellent, fun to watch and had great chemistry on stage. Of their lady loves, Ivy, aka Miss Turnstiles, Hildy, the cabbie, and Claire, the apparent nymphomaniac, it was Alysha Umphress whose attempts to seduce Chip really get’s you attention. It’s not just the guys who are looking to bet a little something-something in this show. She put a lot of jazzy Umph in her two main numbers, “Come Up to My Place” and  “I Can Cook Too,” and the only one of the female characters I actually liked. Claire was just kind of annoying and Ivy had about as much depth as her poster. Granted none of these characters are meant to have depth.

on the town 2After the show you leave humming that damn earworm “New York New York” which was not entirely inappropriate as I crossed Times Square. I did have the thought as I listened to the lyrics of the song that, it is only the manner in which the song is sung that keeps it from being taken ironically. I wonder if anyone has every tried to sing this song satirically. Read some of the the lyrics:

New York, New York, a helluva town. (mhmmm…yep…helluv a own I tell ya’)
The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun’. (hole in the ground is not an unapt description for some subway stops)
New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!

New York, New York, a visitor’s place,
Where no one lives on account of the pace, (well gee that’s positive imagery)
But seven millions are screaming for space. (and not inaccurate)
New York, New York, it’s a visitor’s place!

Manhattan women are dressed in silk and satin,
Or so the fellas say; (no exaggeration there!)

There has to be someone out there who can turn this on its head right?