Monday, March 12, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W10: Carousel, Escape to Margaritaville, The Signature Project, The Bloody Deed of 1857

3/06/18: Carousel
What: Since Lincoln Center and Bartlett Sher are busy with My Fair Lady this season, Jack O'Brien is in charge of the current prestige Rodgers & Hammerstein revival. Fiercely independent Julie Jordan falls in love with charismatic rogue and carnival barker Billy Bigelow. They marry, but it's a tense partnership, with his violent temper making everyone fear for Julie's happiness and safety. After learning of Julie's pregnancy, Billy agrees to aid in a robbery that would help him support his family, but when it goes south, he commits suicide to avoid imprisonment. In the afterlife, he is given the chance to redeem his existence and help the family he left behind, fifteen years later.
And? I don't like this show. I never have. I saw it as a young child and had an instantaneous recoil against a narrative about a man who foolishly ruins the lives of his entire family, but then the show wants to redeem him. I wanted none of it. I still don't want much of it. So my repulsion to the content aside, I will say: I respect the craft I see Hammerstein the bookwriter doing, experimenting with form, having scenes that seamlessly shift between song and spoken word - a clear antecedent to Sondheim and his collaborators. This production is solidly anchored by the heartbreaking earnestness of Jessie Mueller's Julie, the perfectly-delivered soliloquy of Billy by Joshua Henry, and the amazingly hilarious and heartfelt Carrie as performed by Lindsay Mendez (my GOD, these three). The rest of the cast was uneven - neither the ballet dancers nor the opera star are particularly good actors, but they're good at the dancing and the singing, respectively. Outside of a few isolated small personal interactions, I was not particularly fond of the staging of the show ("Blow High, Blow Low" was a high point, however), or of the set design. Also it's Carousel. [further note: it's still in previews, and I've been told they're experimenting with different revisions of the script, so the production that opens might be different from what I saw]

3/07/18: Escape to Margaritaville
What: A new musical based around the song catalog of Jimmy Buffet (some classics, some new material, if my understanding is correct). Workaholic Rachel takes her bff Tammy on a week-long bachelorette holiday to a tiny island with a volcano which may or may not erupt. While there, both women find romance in unexpected places. Also everyone drinks a lot.
And? I mean ... if you want to see a brightly-colored musical with songs by Jimmy Buffet and don't care if there's an actual story or conflict, this is a show you might enjoy. It was kind of fun seeing it on blizzard night - we hardy few who made it there were invited to move in close and enjoy. The show is harmless; I was mostly bored. Also, I managed to make a lot of my friends hilariously angry when I announced on Facebook that until that night I didn't realize Jimmy Hoffa and Jimmy Buffet were two separate men. So that was fun.

Andre Ward, center, as Jamal. Photo by David Gordon.

3/09/18: The Signature Project
What: Dubliner Patrick Dunning has been working on a massive mural for the past twenty-five years, made entirely out of 171 4x4 canvases covered in signatures. He tours these canvases around, gathering further signatures and stories to tell, in this multimedia performance of visual art, storytelling, music, and dance, in the ongoing quest to complete his magnum opus.
And? A striking examination of art, what we see, and what is "beyond the visible light." Full review here.
Patrick Dunning in front of a projection of his vision for the final work.
Photo by Ingrid Butler.

3/10/18: The Bloody Deed of 1857
What: in 1857, Dr. Harvey Burdell was violently murdered in his home, and his betrothed, Emma Cunningham, was accused of the crime. In a parlor on the posh Colonnade Row, patrons are invited to a seance where the ghosts of the Burdell and Cunningham linger, trapped by their unresolved relationship and the truth of Burdell's death. Playwright Elise Gainer adapts and stars in this environmental true crime story.
And? Ultimately, I think I liked the aesthetic more than the content and performance of this piece. It's a very intimate space, and the control of light and the audience's eye is well-crafted, as well as the use of sound and space by the ensemble of Shadow Actors. But there was an under-rehearsed quality to some of the scenes which made it hard to invest in the characters and the mystery they were trying to solve. The performance also has a pretty cool framing element - both a pre- and post-performance ghost tour of the neighborhood by the engaging Meghan Sara Karre.
The cast of The Bloody Deed of 1857. Photo by JJ Ignotz.

Margin Notes: The Signature Project

Patrick Dunning with musician Cat Patterson and
dancer Melissa Maricich. Photo by Ingrid Butler.

Seen on: Friday, 3/09/18.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Dubliner Patrick Dunning has been working on a massive artwork for the past twenty-five years, made entirely out of 171 4x4 canvases covered in signatures. He tours these canvases around, gathering further signatures and stories to tell, in this multimedia performance of visual art, storytelling, music, and dance, in the ongoing quest to complete his magnum opus.

What I Knew Beforehand
I knew loosely that this was a multi-media performance somehow related to an artwork, but not much else, as I wanted to let myself be surprised.


In telling the story of his life and of his art, Patrick Dunning speaks of passing "beyond the visible light." Sometimes this means when people, such as his father - immortalized in a metallic paint portrait visible only under an X-ray of Square 43 - pass away. Sometimes it means that you need to reexamine a thing to see its full nature; look at it from a different angle, or, more literally, from a different light (ultraviolet, infrared, and X-ray, to name a few) to see what's there. The mission to make each moment of life and of his work worth this reexamination is at the heart of his mural, and of the performance piece around it, The Signature Project. From a distance, his massive mural is a celestial celebration, with Earth, the stars, the crescent moon, the galaxy, framing a shining sun with a heart at its center. Up close, each 4x4 square within the work is a tapestry of signatures in different colored acrylic inks. Up close, he can tell you the story of individual signatures on his mural. Some squares have hidden within them metallic paintings seen only by X-ray. Some squares are overlaid with sections of an ornately flowered silhouette of a man embracing the painting, the central heart in his chest, but visible only under ultraviolet light. Every inch of his mural is crafted and planned, and Dunning has so many stories to tell. He doesn't know when the work will be finished. He doesn't know where the work will go. But perhaps it is the journey of the work, his travels, his stories, and the stories he collects along the way, which make this memorable: it is a work of memories set to outlive every person whose name is but a piece of its whole.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W9: Three Tall Women

3/01/18: Three Tall Women
What: Three ages of women (A, 92; B, 52; C, 26) look back on A's life, its bitterness and its sweetness, looking for how she became who she is. The first act/half is realism, the second half/act, more an imagined deconstruction.
And? Honestly, I had a really tough time focusing during the first half. The second half, though, was terrific, with a gorgeous set concept by Miriam Buether (so much poetry in its reveal), and stunning performances by Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalf. I saw the first preview, so there was a technical snafu at the transition, but otherwise this is in pretty good shape.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W8: Ghost Story

1/10/18: Ghost Story
What: Three women deal with the grief, pain, and growth that cancer leaves in its wake.
And? While I don't fully agree with the play's philosophy, I like the structure of it, and the performers are quite good. Full review here.

Randa Karembelas, Chelsea J. Smith, and Elissa Klie as Lisa, Meryl, and Hannah.
Photo by David Fletcher.

Margin Notes: Ghost Story

Elissa Klie and Chelsea J. Smith as Hannah and
Meryl. Photo by David Fletcher.

Seen on: Friday, 2/23/18.
My grade: B

Plot and Background
Three women - Meryl, a healer; Lisa, her client facing a return of her breast cancer; and Hannah, Meryl's girlfriend - are haunted by the spectre of illness, and by questions they cannot answer. Little Spoon, Big Spoon partners with Cancer Hope Network to present this one-act by Mark Ravenhill, with 20% of the ticket sales going to CHN.

What I Knew Beforehand
I'd seen (and reviewed) an earlier Little Spoon, Big Spoon production, which included two of the same cast members as this show. Otherwise, I knew very little of the play going in.


Play: I like very much the idea of these women sharing strength with each other - giving when they see another is weak and needing support, and accepting that support when it's given. The play is an interesting sort of skirt to the gritty and mundane unpleasantness of illness, dealing instead with its emotional scars, the worries and fears, but skipping ahead past the actual dying. However, I remain troubled by a recurring theme in this play, which is the characters' choosing a lie over the truth, albeit with good intent. Lies wait to be found out; truths simply are. And this action is a bit too central to the play for me to completely look past it. Looking near it, though, I like the non-linear fluidity of the narrative, the idea that these three women perpetually haunt the same space, whether they are physically in the room together or no. The play's tagline is "We are the stories we tell ourselves;" I would addend that with "and the people we carry with us."