alexxkay: (Default)
Kestrell and I went to see Constellations at the Central Square Theater. I quite liked it; Kestrell hated it. Which, to my mind, makes it worth talking about.

The play has only two actors, each of them on stage throughout. They both get to show off their acting chops as almost every scene is repeated multiple times, with slight but significant variations. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, but none of the characters are aware of what’s going on, it’s merely the audience observing different forks of a branching multiverse. I’ve seen Marianna Bassham in a number of local plays over the years, and gotten to be rather a fan; I thought she was brilliant in this.

Interestingly, one scene was almost entirely in sign language. I’m not sure if it’s more or less funny if you as an audience member don’t understand sign. By the end of the scene, at any rate, I found the communication to be quite effective.

The set is abstract but gorgeous. The floor and (tilted) ceiling are mirrors reflecting the action (which of course reflects itself). The back of the stage is a dark but translucent curtain, behind which are an array of light bulbs of varying sizes and colors; stars in a night sky, lights of a ballroom floor, points of significance slowly dying…

The ads for the play say that it is “about love, possibility, bees, and… quantum physics”. This is true, as far as it goes. It is perhaps more difficult to fill seats with such phrases as “fatal brain cancer”* and “coping with a meaningless universe.” I found the ending bittersweet in a manner reminiscent of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia; Kestrell found it nothing but bleak. Obviously, mileage varies. Hopefully, this random assortment of reactions will give you some idea whether or not you want to go see it. It runs through October 8.

* This play is likely to evoke strong feelings in those who knew Caleb Hanson, especially in his final months.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Michael Anderson (of A Bloody Deed fame) is masterminding a new show going up next month: A Palpable Hit: Shakespeare's Best Fight Scenes. I haven't seen it yet, but it looks to be a humdinger. Check it out:
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Here, a friend does a beautiful recounting of a beautiful show. Hey, Chicago friends, know any companies that might want to mount a production?

Originally posted by [ profile] sovay at That was not six months
[Begun on the regional Amtrak back to Boston, completed much, much later when the internet was reliable enough to allow me to finish my day's work first.]

The last time I caught an evening train out of Penn Station, it was early April and the sky at eight o'clock was already dark. Now I'm looking at railyards and construction scaffolding and cranes by that smoky peach-blue light for which there should be an English adjective, but I've never heard one. It's a wonderful color for seeing a city at a distance. The river looks like folded metal; the skyline looks like a set behind a scrim. I'm pretty sure I learned how to describe cities from Tanith Lee's Paradys. From a height, I glanced behind me once, and saw the river, a scimitar of pure metal, white-hot, as the City lapsed in the shallows of the dying afternoon.

I was not expecting to love Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin's Hadestown even better than the original album, but I am not entirely surprised. It is not just that the ellipses of the original songs are fleshed out into a full through-composed score which allows even its gods the depth of tragedy or that at least a third of the music is new since the original recording, although the new music is half of the show's power. The haunting opener "Any Way the Wind Blows" explicitly strengthens the Dust Bowl, Depression echoes of the original setting, pointing up the harshness of the world and the stakes for Eurydike who has already known what it is to starve: in the fever of a world in flames, in the season of the hurricanes, flood'll get you if the fire don't . . . in the valley of the exodus, in the belly of a bowl of dust . . . Sisters gone, gone the gypsy route. Brothers gone, gone for a job down south. Gone the same way as the shantytown and the traveling show—any way the wind blows. Where we were originally introduced to the lovers with the playfully combative call-and-response "Wedding Song," the show first gives them a courtship between Eurydike's experienced wariness and Orpheus' dreamy arrogance, to be echoed devastatingly when they meet again in the underworld: it is called "Come Home with Me." When steel-hard, coin-cold Hades is softened in the second act by Orpheus' simple retelling of his love for Persephone when it was awestruck and new, the Fates' "Word to the Wise" recalls him to his responsibilities as the unforgiving king of walls and floodlights, to the very same self-doubt and mistrust and anxiety that will in turn, inexorably, cause the poet to look back. It's not even just the sprechstimme narration of Hermes, the cardsharp of the gods with his hip flask and his rolled-up sleeves and his nattily feathered fedora, although his scratchy confidence man's storytelling ensures that the only moments of dialogue in the show without some kind of rhyme or musical support are the ones that land like blows. Blessed among epic traditions, it's the reperformance and the recontextualization.

I can explain this best with two songs that I happen to love, because they're katabatic. "Way Down Hadestown" is the third track on the original album, after Orpheus and Eurydike's "Wedding Song" and Orpheus' "Epic I," the first version of the song with which he will turn a god's heart. It is our introduction to Hermes, bawling "All aboard!" before the music kicks off; it is our introduction to Persephone, as if she just stepped onto the platform with a suitcase in her hand, waiting for the god of the railway depot to conduct her to the other world. In the show, Hermes has been our master of ceremonies for six or eight songs already; we have watched Orpheus and Eurydike fall in love in the blossoming days of spring and summer, "living it up on top" with Persephone who makes the most of her half-year in the light, patron of fruit and wine and flowers and things that grow, like love. Now it is autumn and all of a sudden the song takes on a specific and immediate importance: it is a New Orleans jazz funeral for Persephone, a trombone-wailing, fiddle-slanging processional—second line umbrella not excluded—accompanying her to her annual death. Winter's nigh and summer's over—I hear that high and lonesome sound of my husband coming for to bring me home to Hadestown. Way down Hadestown, way down under the ground. A train whistle wails twice, blown by Hermes; a dry white light makes a blinding tunnel between the audience's seats, the headlights of Hades' oncoming train.1 The god who should not be seen steps out of its nothing-colored glare, silhouetted in the haze like three-dimensional film noir. "You're early," his wife spits, her carpetbag full of flowers and a flask and even a little morphine—those multi-purpose poppies—against the worst of winter. His voice is dark and amused, deep as a seam of coal: "I missed you." And she's gone. Which brings me to "Wait for Me." In the original recording, it is the duet of Orpheus guided by Hades: the god whispering the perils and tricks of the underworld, the poet following, calling over and over to his lost love, Wait for me, I'm coming . . . Onstage, it is explicit that the "long way down" is the roundabout route that the living must take with no coin to cross the Styx—he's some kind of poet and he's penniless—but it is not a solitary journey. The Fates prepare the way, transforming the open sky of the upper world into the industrial ceiling of Hadestown with its fan-grilled electric lights instead of moon or sun or stars: set them swinging in time with Orpheus' singing, slow as the drag of a nightmare. The rest of the cast join in with him, the gods and the Moirai and the dead, Eurydike with her hood pulled up like Persephone, her light snuffed out, not knowing that anyone is coming for her. Wait for me, I'm coming with you, I'm coming, too . . . She will sing the same words to Orpheus as he begins the long walk out of the underworld and she follows with the same dreamlike slow motion, an insubstantial shade struggling against the event horizon of death. The expanded script of Hadestown parallels Hades/Persephone and Orpheus/Eurydike throughout, down to the casting of two white men and two women of color. Take it from an old man, Hades cynically counseled Orpheus, just as Persephone encouraged Eurydike to take the advice of a woman of my age, both of them speaking of the inevitable breaking of love. When Orpheus turns back at the threshold of the upper air with the light behind him, it is the same pattern, fixed and repeating as figures moving around the curve of a vase. "You're early," Eurydike breathes, the last thing she will ever say to her husband. Orpheus' voice is caught in his throat, small as the snapped stem of a flower: "I missed you." And she's gone. I loved both "Way Down Hadestown" and "Wait for Me" when I heard them for the first time six years ago; now they are a significant part of the reason I want a recording of this cast. ("Any Way the Wind Blows" is also incompletely stuck in my head.)

The set is simple. The theater looks like it would be a black box in its natural habitat; this show built it into an amphitheatre. The seven-piece orchestra occupies a section of bleachers opposite the audience's entrance, beneath the catwalk and the door in the blank brick wall that leads to the upper world. A tree grows out of the bandstand, twisting its branches like the tines of antlers up into the stage lighting; it sheds paper blossoms in spring for Persephone's return and autumn leaves the color of iron rust for her departure in the fall. The cast carry on a handful of props at best—kerosene lanterns for the Fates, Persephone's carpetbag, Orpheus' guitar. Eurydike's winter coat that is not heavy enough to keep the road-weary cold from her back. A coin. There are two or three old-time-radio-style microphones2 that can be moved from the bandstand to the circle of center stage; Hades commands one to seduce Eurydike with the deep black river of "Hey, Little Songbird" or catechize the denizens of Hadestown in the anti-revival "Why We Build the Wall," while another is reserved for intimate duets between mortal lovers or gods. The costumes suggest the 1930's and are full of little touches, entirely extratextual nods to the myth. The Fates are never named, but the tall lynx-slim blonde one must be Atropos because she wears a pair of shears in a holster at her side; the pendant on the breast of dark-skinned Lachesis with her tightly cropped crimson hair is a folded slide ruler in its leather sheath; sharp-smiling Klotho with her dark hair braided atop her head wears three cords of undyed yarn across her chest like a bandolier. Persephone is dressed in slinky, summery green wrapped ankle to shoulder with a trellis of blooming vines; the lacy edge of a poppy-red slip just peeks out from beneath its hem. There are flowers in her hair, but their petals are as split and red as pomegranates. Hades wears dark glasses—the signature of anonymity, as good in the movies as a helm of invisibility—which he removes only once safely under the earth and even then his eyes are narrowed in a skeptical sneer, except for one vulnerable, precisely timed moment when he is reminded of something he thought forever lost: the smell of the flowers she held in her hand and the pollen that fell from her fingertips . . . a man with a taste of nectar upon his lips. Hermes with the step-right-up showmanship of a carnival talker captions the first meeting of Eurydike with Hades as "Songbird vs. Rattlesnake," shivering a matchbox's rattle to signal that the god himself is the serpent that caused her death. And the Fates are not malevolent, but they are the immutable way the world goes: they do not drive the story to tragedy; it always was—was going to be, has been—one. There is a fragile hope in the parting of Hades and Persephone, the gods who have eternity to get it right. We who are human have one shot and sometimes we get it wrong. We try. Goodnight, brothers, goodnight.

The production runs through the end of the month, which means next Sunday; I strongly encourage anyone in the New York area and even some people who aren't to see about tickets if they can. I am told that there will be a recording of the NYTW cast, and I am just waiting until I can throw money at it, but some of the more piercing moments will not be audible, like the transformation of the instrumental "Lovers' Desire" into a dance between Persephone and Hades, their first moment of affectionate connection in millennia, or the way that Hades' token of promised wealth and luxury, folded into Eurydike's hand as he leaves her, is the same coin with which she pays Hermes for her own death. I saw all of the original cast except for Hermes and Atropos and I have to say that they were as iconic and indelible in their roles as everyone else onstage. The whole thing was eminently worth the exhaustion and flurry of travel, even if I seem to have paid for my own descent-and-return in the time-honored fashion, leaving behind part of my pants and an unexpected amount of blood.3 I will describe the rest of the trip tomorrow. It was also lovely. Right now I'm going to see about sleeping before dawn.

1. I realized then that I was hearing a different song inside my head, conjured by nothing more than the stagecraft and the slant chime of the folk tradition. Go tell the ballroom lady, dressed all in worldly pride, that death's dark train is coming—prepare to take a ride. There's a little black train a-coming . . . I can't prove it's intentional as opposed to a side effect of drawing on the same symbol-set as the relevant folk songs, because there are no lyrical or musical allusions that I was able to detect, but I found it extremely resonant either way. I always heard the owe my soul to the company store of Merle Travis' "Sixteen Tons" behind Mitchell's Hades who rules over miners of mines, diggers of graves, they bowed down to Hades who gave them work and they bowed down to Hades who made them sweat, who paid them their wages and set them about digging and dredging and dragging the depths of the earth to turn its insides out yet whose realm is inescapable because Mr. Hades is a mean old boss with a silver whistle and a golden scale—an eye for an eye and he weighs the cost, a lie for a lie and your soul for sale, sold to the king on the chromium throne, thrown to the bottom of a Sing Sing cell, but the likeness leaps out even more strongly when Eurydike, newly arrived in Hadestown, literally signs her life away behind the closed doors of Hades' office. The show is scattered with moments like these, intermingled with the classical ones: two oral traditions in tandem.

2. [ profile] derspatchel, if it turns out there's video of this show, I will play it for you and you will tell me exactly what make and model the microphones were, because I can describe them if you give me time but not so technically that the internet will cough up the documentation I want.

3. Due to wholly unrelated incidents, I hasten to add! I pay weird travel prices with New York. In April, my hat broke (and was resurrected thanks to the good offices of Salmagundi, but still). This time, the zipper on the fly of my corduroys rather startlingly disintegrated—tiny metal teeth went flying—requiring me to purchase some safety pins from a drugstore in order to go among decent people without comment and all I'm going to say about the blister on my heel is that my pain thresholds must have come back up in the last ten years, because I wasn't expecting to walk down Broadway from 31st Street to 12th and then from East 4th Street to the World Trade Center in perceptible but otherwise manageable discomfort and then take my shoes off to find that my sock looked like it belonged to one of Cinderella's older sisters according to Grimm. I just looked at my original statement and realized it sounded like Theseus, that one time he quite literally left his ass in Hades.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Ghost Light (2013) is undeservedly obscure. There are several near-contemporary movies sharing its title, it seems to have been poorly marketed, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, and no DVD seems to have ever been marketed. Luckily, it is available on Amazon Video (link above), where Kestrell stumbled upon it, and where I recommend you go watch it. If you have Amazon Prime, it’s even free!

If you were to look at the poster without any additional context, you would probably think that this was a horror movie. While it does have some horror elements, they are too few and far between to put it into that genre. The film slips effortlessly between several different genres from moment to moment; if I had to assign a simple one to it, I’d say “comedy”.

I think, however, that a designation more likely to communicate to its true target audience is to say that this is in the same obscure mix of sub genres as Slings & Arrows.

A small theater company is putting on a production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”. With one show left in the run, the actors and crew decided to stay overnight in the allegedly haunted theater in hopes of seeing some ghosts. They spend much more time seeing each other’s human foibles. And when the ghosts finally do make their presence known, they largely bring emotions other than terror with them…

In addition to Slings & Arrows and “Earnest”, the film’s DNA also seems to us to include bits of “Noises Off”, and Shakespearean comedy in general. Very Highly Recommended.


Apr. 3rd, 2016 01:20 pm
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Yesterday, Kestrell and I saw Tom Stoppard’s "Arcadia" at Central Square Theater. It’s a decent production of a brilliant show. Stoppard’s use of language and structure is dazzling. And he manages the difficult trick of making the many brilliant characters speak in ways smart people actually do, while maintaining their own individual voices.

It occurred to me that in addition to a general recommendation, I should also recommend this to Boston area fans of Hamilton. While it contains no singing of any kind, it does share a surprising number of themes. Much of the show is set in the early 19th century, and dueling plays a significant role in the plot. It is also a story about how the past is echoed in the present, while the present struggles to interpret the past. And though it has lots of funny stuff in the middle, and does its very best to end on a positive note, the ending leaves me sobbing Every Damn Time.


Jan. 31st, 2016 01:50 am
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I finally got around to listening to Hamilton. Yeah, it really is all that. If you want an overview of what the show is, and why everyone is talking about it, Siderea did an excellent write up.

Having listened to the music, I began a cursory read of some of the associated meta-text; news articles, interviews, and such. In so doing, I’ve come up with one insight that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

The composer and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, reminds me of no one so much as the young Orson Welles, with one crucial difference. Like Welles, Miranda is brilliant, driven, and egotistical. However, unlike Welles, he understands that theater is not a zero-sum game.

Welles always had to be the lone genius. Though he surrounded himself with talented people, he always denigrated them, or played power games to assert his dominance. Karmically, this resulted in relatively untalented people exerting power and dominance games over Welles, greatly reducing the amount of art he was able to complete.

Miranda, by contrast, doesn’t seem to play power games at all, as far as I can tell. He understands that when everyone is working to make the best possible show, that results in the most personal gain for everyone involved.

What it was is an environment where everybody felt they could do their best. That sounds simple. But all of us have been in environments where we didn't feel like that. We felt like our best was going to threaten somebody else, or we were stifled in some way. But Hamilton was a carefully crafted environment where everyone felt like we could come in and dump all of our toys out in the center of the floor.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I said some of this in conversation recently, and thought the analogy worth expanding upon.

He produced a great deal of work in genres and formats that were widely considered to be lowbrow, disposable entertainment for the lower classes. Most of his work wasn't

collected during his lifetime. Shortly *after* his death, some of his literary disciples started getting his work collected and reprinted, marking the start of the genre and form being seen as (at least *capable* of being) "literature".

Some of his political attitudes are not in fashion today, which some readers can't get past. And he had stylistic quirks (including a fondness for long words) that are easily parodied (and arguably became self-parody in his own lesser works).

Of his prodigious output, about the top 5% consists of enduring classics, works that influenced *everything* that came after them in their "home" genres, and had considerable influence even outside those genres. The next, say, 10% of his output was also very good, though not quite *as* enduring as the first-rank material. After that, the work ranges from "good" down to "wretched".

Although only the cream of his work is widely influential, devout fanboys of his work (starting with his first reprinters) have been completists, including everything they could get their hands on, indiscriminately. This has inadvertently led to a dilution of his mass appeal. People often hear great things about his work, but are then exposed to (sometimes quite large) pieces of his work that is not at all impressive. This is, IMO, why so many people are willing to say, "I'm not a fan of his stuff", even if they generally like the genre he helped make respectable. I believe they *would* be fans of his if they read his best works, and avoided the vast sea of mediocrity around it.

[Of course, countless arguments could be made about *which*, exactly, the best works are. But if you compiled a list of many people's opinions, I don't think many people would put works in the top tier that anyone else thought weren't at least second-tier.]

I once had a conversation in which I drew a few comparisons between Shakespeare and Neil Gaiman. While there's still some validity there, when I look at the *whole* of the description above, the name Jack Kirby leaps out at me as the Shakespeare of superhero comics.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I love hanging out with [ profile] rickthefightguy. Even when he has go off to do some work, it often results in things like getting to listen in to his side of a phone conversation about different possible ways to create impressive-looking fake stakes for a vampire play he's working on.

Or, you might head out with him to see an educational performance about the futures market in Chicago in the late 19th century, only to discover that, since he knows some of the people running it, you get to be *in* the show instead! It's true that that meant that we missed out on most of the actual educational content. On the other hand, we got to spend an hour in a sort of micro-LARP, shouting out BUY! and SELL! at the top of our lungs :-)

Rick wrote more about it here.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
The other major show of the weekend was The Crownless King, the middle play of an epic fantasy trilogy. It's an odd mix of influences, including lots of previous epic fantasy, but also riffing on early United States history. Near as I can tell, it was inspired by the authors having a problem with the inherent monarchial bias inherent in the typical "orphan boy turns out to be the lost One True Heir to the throne" story. So they set out to tell something that seems to be exactly that, but ends up subverting the tropes in multiple ways.

While the Orphan/King is the protagonist, the true struggle of the story is between the multiple Storytellers (i.e. Wizards) who are attempting to define his life. Instead of the traditional Good/Evil dichotomy, the two main forces here could perhaps be characterized as Authoritarian / Democratic. Audience sympathies shift over the course of the first two plays, and I don't know where it'll end up in the third part. But I was sufficiently entertained and intrigued that I want to see it next year!

Good acting and costuming. Brilliant lighting, sound design, and puppetry (ranging from tiny, delicate birds, up to an enormous f-ing dragon!). Best use of Chess metaphors I've seen in years.

Sadly, the performance we were at was closing night, so I can't usefully recommend you go see it. But if you're intrigued, the link above has lots more info, including a downloadable pdf of the script for Part 1.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Saturday, [ profile] rickthefightguy and [ profile] tamarinne took me out to see Lifeline Theatre's production of The Killer Angels. It's an adaptation of the Michael Shaara novel about the Battle of Gettysburg. A powerful story, powerfully told.

The fairly small cast included a lot of doubling, but the actors were all skilled enough that this never resulted in confusion. This was helped by the use of differing regional accents which, while not perfect, were good at implicitly creating sub-groups of related (and distinct) characters.

I love Lifeline Theatre. I've never seen a show there that was less than excellent. I hope they continue successfully for many, many years to come. That said, I hope they are never *too* successful. They're a perfect demonstration of the creativity that comes from the constraints of limited space and a limited budget.

For example, the way that they depict Picket's Charge. This was the last major action of the battle. Quoting wikipedia: "Approximately 12,500 men in nine infantry brigades advanced over open fields for three-quarters of a mile under heavy Union artillery and rifle fire. Although some Confederates were able to breach the low stone wall that shielded many of the Union defenders, they could not maintain their hold and were repulsed with over 50% casualties, a decisive defeat that ended the three-day battle" So how on earth do you evoke that on stage? Here's what they did. spoilers )

The show has been extended to November 24th, so if you're in the rare category of someone reading this, who can get to Lifeline in Chicago, and you *haven't* already seen this, I Highly Recommend it.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
So, the South Korean english class got around to watching our "Knight of the Burning Pestle" DVD.
Here's some ensuing email (quoted with permission):
Our class greatly enjoyed your production today, espcially the portrayal of
the citizen couple was the main topic of today's discussion.
Concerning the "cuteness" of your George and Nell, there was a dispute
whether the couple's intimacy is one of the targets of satire(because they
break the convention of play and the social decorum)
or a proof of the play's genuine warmth towards the citizens.
One of the students pointed out that since we live in a society that is
very much "bourgeois"( I mean modern Korean society) that value private
life over all things else, we are more easily led to take their intimacy
Overall, we felt that the production was quite sympathetic to the citizen
couple while keeping the original text.
(someone detected the change in the script; some comments on Rafe
originally given to Wife are given to George in the production, and whether
that change is significant as an adaptation was another point of the
And I felt that the class now have more clear sense of what the play would
look like on stage thanks to the DVD.

and my reply:
Excellent! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and that it was useful.

At this late date, I don't remember any particular intentional
interpretation I was imposing on George and Nell's relationship, though I
may well have had one at the time. Or, it might have been that the
cuteness originated from the actors, and I just went with it :-) I did
knowingly cast the part of George with an actor who was very much a
larger-than-life member of the local community, known to be both bombastic
and charismatic. The actress playing Nell was married to him at the time,
so perhaps some of their chemistry comes from their real-life

Similarly, I don't now recall the specific line changes you refer to. I
have a vague memory that some of that may have been due to an attempt to
slightly reduce the burden of memorization on Nell's actress -- her part
is *extremely* large, the most lines in the play by a good margin, if I
recall correctly. It was definitely the case that some outright cuts were
at least partially motivated by memorization difficulties, though other
concerns factored in. I do recall that Rafe's long death poem was trimmed
with an eye towards picking up the pacing, and for removing some of the
bits that I thought would be more obscure to a modern audience.

Of course, whatever my reasoning may have been, all changes are part of
the process of adaptation, and are legitimate grounds for discussion.
Even changes done for one simple, boring, practical reason, will have
repercussions on other levels. I can (or at least could if I had a better
memory) tell you what *I meant*; I can't tell you with authority what *it

So, any interest in a viewing party? Say, some weekend in November? Early responses may influence my exact choice of date :-)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Just caught the latest ASP production at The Strand, only a few miles from my house. It wasn't a perfect production, but it was *damn* good. It's more or less in-the-round; a traditionally-shaped theater, but with a large number of auditorium seats actually *on* the stage. As is often the case with ASP, the set design was fairly minimal, and the costuming was modern, but both did their jobs just fine.

Bad points: One actor blanked on his lines in an early scene, and had to ad lib a bit to get back on course. Friar Lawrence was played with a *heavy* Spanish accent, damaging both the meter and my ability to understand what he was saying.

Good points:
* R & J were both young, pretty, and *totally* sold being in love (and comfort with the language). It's the one thing the show absolutely requires, and everything else is gravy.
* Excellent violence design, mostly knife fights, but in a variety of different styles.
* Excellent supporting performances by the Nurse, Mercutio, Tybalt, and a kick-ass female "Benvolia".
* Having "Benvolia" and Mercutio be lovers was really nifty. They didn't change any actual text to do that, just a few scenes suddenly had rather different connotations than usual.
* They actually managed to make Romeo's death scene more horrifying and heartbreaking than any other version I've seen. spoilers )

The show just opened, and runs through November 3rd. Highly recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
While visiting Rick and Libby in Chicago, they took me out to see Facing Angela, a play written by a friend of theirs, Scott Barsotti. They warned me up front that Scott writes disturbing plays about the nature of identity, and this certainly qualified. I didn't actually *like* it, but I have a lot to say about it, so it's successful art in that sense, at any rate.

First, here's the official blurb:
Angela has lost her face. Acquiring a new face alters more than skin and tissue, cutting into Angela's relationship with her husband, Wes, and mutating her sense of self. As Angela re-constructs, re-invents, and re-defines her identity, Wes ceases to recognize the woman he loves, and doubts whether he really knows himself either. This re-imagining of Barsotti's 2003 play, explored over the course of the season with the cast and company, will delve deep into how we recognize ourselves and those we go to bed with, and the collateral damage of transformative change.
Though the blurb doesn't mention this, Angela suffers from a chronic skin condition, and subsequent body-image issues and persistent low self-esteem. Her husband does his best to be a supportive partner, but (spoiler) ultimately fails.

I had what I expect is an atypical reaction to this play. I am myself married to a woman with chronic medical issues and subsequent self-esteem problems. If her problems had been worse, and I had been stupider, "Facing Angela" could have been our story. Thankfully, rather than psychodrama, we live in a screwball comedy :-) But it made the story very personal for me, and made me frequently want to smack the characters: "*NO*, you idiot! You're doing it wrong!"

This identification also made me sensitized to all the things the playwright *didn't* show. Does Wes have a job? Does Angela? Where does their health insurance come from (and is that putting extra strain on their relationship)? Do they have any friends? Does Angela have *anything* positive in her life, even a hobby, or does she literally spend *all* her time in self-loathing?

As depicted in this play, Wes and Angela are each other's only emotional support. That is a doomed scenario. It's not that great an arrangement with fully healthy people, but it can't possibly work when low self-esteem is a big factor in the mix. If person X has low self-esteem, then no single person Y can counter that by affirmations. From the point of view of person X, Y can -- must -- be written off as an anomaly, and their affirmations as, at best mistakes, at worst, outright deception. "Since I clearly have no value, then this person who *claims* to value me must be mistaken or lying." And this reaction, naturally, erodes person Y's self-esteem in turn. It's only through socialization, through showing that *many* people find value in person X, that their self-esteem issues can be ameliorated. (Partially at least. It seems to be like alcoholism; one can be in recovery, but never quite 'cured'.)

I had some very interesting conversations with Rick and Libby afterwards. I complained at one point that I don't like stories that are so negative. Rick argued that my response to that negativity was to figure out what the character's were doing wrong, thus engaging deeply with the text, and thus fulfilling the goal of the Artist in communicating ideas. As a counter-example, he posited that "You have to watch a lot of Thin Man movies before you realize what a healthy relationship Nick and Nora have, and start to wonder why." I wanted to reflexively argue against that, but then realized than my own history suggested he was right. Early in my romantic relationship with Kestrell, I successfully communicated an important-but-complex point to her by comparing a problem we were having to a problem Buffy and Riley were going through (it was early season 5 of BtVS when this happened). Art that shows characters making dumb decisions demonstrably *can* help people to "not be that guy".

Having spent a lot of time complaining about various aspects of the writing, I'd like to mention that the production was excellent. Excellent acting. Set and costumes were simple but effective. Makeup was brilliant, and far more impactful than in most plays. The sound design *hurt*, but I think in ways that were intentional. [Sidenote: the Athenaum has the creepiest bathroom acoustics I've ever encountered. Seriously Lovecraftian gurgling.] The writer and director do a bunch of fascinating things with identity and the uncanny valley. I can't precisely *recommend* the show, but I hope I've given you an idea of whether or not you would like it.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Just got an email from the A.R.T. about next year's season. Much of it looks kinda moderately interesting, but the final entry grabbed me hard:
The Tempest
Adapted and Directed by
Aaron Posner and Teller from Shakespeare's play
Magic by Teller | Music by Tom Waits
Experience Prospero's wizardry as never before in this startling production, featuring magic by the illusionist Teller (of the legendary duo Penn and Teller). When shipwrecked aristocrats wash up on the shores of Prospero's strange island, they find themselves immersed in a world of trickery and amazement, where Tom Waits' Dust Bowl balladry and Teller's magic animate the spirits and monsters. The Tempest is a co-production with the Smith Center, Las Vegas.
Posner and Teller did a marvelous co-direction of "Macbeth" some years back, so I trust them a lot. Tom Waits is just icing on the cake.


Apr. 29th, 2013 09:40 am
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
[ profile] kestrell, [ profile] teenybuffalo and I went to the ASP's Pericles yesterday. It was a good production of a challenging show. The cast of characters is large, as are the number of settings, and it's difficult to keep them all distinguished, but I thought they did very well. They set it in 1700s Acadia, which had plenty of resonance with the recurring themes of a maritime lifestyle and exile. The play includes a lot of music, in this case mostly folk music that either was from or about maritime life of the 1700s, and was both well chosen and performed.

For those not familiar with Pericles, it bears some structural similarity to Winter's Tale. There's a king who loses his wife and child (though Pericles is merely unfortunate, rather than a jerk like Leontes), a skip in time for the child to grow to ingenue age, and a heart-rending conclusion when all are happily reunited after they thought themselves forever bereft. It's not Will's best poetry, but the plotting and characterization is quite good. More stuff *happens* in this show than in any two average plays. It's got a certain Grimm quality, featuring both an incestuous evil king and, later (and unrelated), an evil stepmother/queen who sends a servant out to kill her step-daughter. There are many narrowly averted murders and rapes. But the good characters all come to a good end, and at least some of the evil ones are punished.

alexxkay: (Default)
I'm sure I have earlier here plugged my favorite bit of Shakespeare-related silliness, A Bloody Deed. If you haven't seen it, go watch it now. Or hell, even if you have seen it, it's worth a rewatch. And, y'know, these days you *can* easily rewatch it.

But back in late 2003, I didn't even know that the performance was being recorded, much less that that recording would be widely available. So, in order to share what I could of it with my friends, I wrote down what I could from memory. I just came across the file again. It gives interesting insight into the production of the Bad Quartos of Shakespeare, some of which are allegedly sourced from audience accounts in a similar manner.

What I wrote down is recognizably the same story. It's a lot shorter, and only has about half the laugh-lines. There are lots of paraphrases. Bits of it aren't quite in the right order. It's good, but it's only a shadow of the Real Thing.

For historical interest, I'm going to put that 'bad quarto' here. (In the comments, though, so that I won't get the full text in every reply...)
alexxkay: (Default)
I hope the show lasts long enough that I can afford the time+money for another visit.

In related news, my Sleep No More spoiler post from a while back has had a couple new visitors in recent weeks, with some nifty recountings.
alexxkay: (Default)

I've stopped describing myself as a "Shakespeare fan", and now use the term "Early Modern Theatre". Sure, Shakespeare is at his best was better than anyone else, but there's so much other great stuff out there. And even if you mostly focus on Will, reading his contemporaries gives valuable perspective on Will's works.

This thesis has a lot of Shakespearean commentary, but also touches on many other plays, describing the ways the traditions of horror evolve, and finishing up with a discussion of how these themes manifest in modern drama. I found it fascinating, and quite readable. There is some use of academic jargon, but not so much as to obfuscate what she's talking about.

The section on The Revenger's Tragedy shed some interesting light on some aspects of the play, but I don't think it has any direct application to our current production. Conversely, if I ever do get around to directing Hamlet, I expect the ideas herein will prove very useful indeed.

Highly Recommended to those with an interest in Early Modern Theatre.

ETA: And I nearly forgot. The bibliography includes reference to another article I want to read, on the basis of clever title alone: "ABATTOIR AND COSTELLO: CARNIVAL, THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY AND THE MENTAL LANDSCAPE OF REVENGE".
alexxkay: (Default)
I've long thought that what made Hamlet so interesting, compared to his dramatic peers, was that from very early in the play, he recognized the fact that he *was* in a play, and moreover, what genre. This leads directly to the realization that he is doomed/damned, no matter what he does. He delays action as long as he can, because he knows that any actions he takes will, ultimately, destroy him as surely as Claudius.

Vindice, in "The Revenger's Tragedy" is /almost/ as clever as Hamlet. Vindice conceives of himself as in a play -- but in his arrogance, he comes to believe that *he* is the playwright.

The notion that he is in a revenge tragedy is brought up formally in the very first speech of the play:
Vengeance, thou murder's quit-rent, and whereby
Thou shouldst thyself tenant to tragedy, (I.i)

By Act 2, Vindice is using the language of a playwright, though still ascribing the action of revising the text to others.
This their second meeting writes the duke cuckold
With new additions, his horns newly reviv'd. (II.ii)

By Act 3, he takes responsibility for setting out props and casting roles:
Now to my tragic business. Look you, brother,
I have not fashion'd this only for show
And useless property; no, it shall bear a part
E'en in its own revenge. (III.v)
After the Duke's murder, he comments on his successful scene in theatrical terms.
When the bad bleeds, then is the tragedy good. (III.v)

By Act 4, Vindice scolds the special effects team for missing their cue.
Is there no thunder left, or is't kept up
In stock for heavier vengeance? There it goes! (IV.ii)
The fact that the thunder seemingly responds to his complaint confirms in him the notion that he is in complete control of events; that he has, in some sense, become God.

In Act 5, the language of theatrical revision comes up again:
I could vary it not so little as thrice over again, 't 'as some eight returns like Michaelmas Term. (V.i)
(The second half of this is simultaneously a pun on legal terminology, and a reference to Middleton's earlier popular play "Michaelmas Term", which may well have already been 'varied' in a 'return' by now.)

In his final act of vengeance, Vindice happily notes that the thunder comes in, literally, on cue this time.
Mark thunder?
Dost know thy cue, thou big-voic'd crier?
Dukes' groans are thunder's watchwords.
Shortly thereafter, he comments on the thunder as proving the approval of a divine audience:
No power is angry when the lustful die;
When thunder claps, heaven likes the tragedy. (V.iii)

When Vindice, in his arrogance, admits his crimes, he is surprised to find himself no longer in the position of control he had become accustomed to. His theatrical metaphors leave him, with one possible exception.
This work was ours which else might have been slipp'd, (V.iii)
"Work" might, with a little stretch of the imagination, be taken to refer to the play itself, "The Revenger's Tragedy".


alexxkay: (Default)
Alexx Kay

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