Monday, October 14, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W41: The Inheritance - Part One

10/07/19: The Inheritance - Part One
What: A transfer from The New Vic/West End of Matthew Lopez's two-part epic play, which takes the narrative of E. M. Forster's Howards End and transports it to contemporary New York City, to explore the modern male gay experience, a generation whose mentors and cultural ancestors were wiped out by the AIDS epidemic.
And? This production has been hype hype hyped on its way to Broadway, celebrated as the next Angels in America. I think it's definitely worthy of the praise it's earned, though the likening to Kushner's (also) two-part creation is an unnecessary reduction, a lazy crutching on the fact that both plays are (primarily) about gay men in New York. The ambition and scope of the two works are entirely different, as is the style of writing and performance. Angels is about the soul of a country abandoned by the celestial and on the road to ruin; Inheritance is about a generation of men defying both abandonment and appropriation, holding on to each other, to their history, to themselves. Angels has the feel of the final days before the apocalypse; Inheritance is about what came after the end of the world (obviously, both plays are about a lot more, but this is my reduction) They're both important and moving works, but to lump the two together is to not bother to examine either particularly closely.

The Inheritance wins its way into my theater nerd heart very quickly, as it uses one of my favorite theatrical devices: activating the players as storytellers, telling each other the story even as they tell it to us. Bob Crowley's minimal design -- a raised platform, a collection of floor pillows and laptops, glasses of wine -- gives the actors nowhere to hide. But with this unified and dynamic cast, as directed by Stephen Daldry, there's no need to hide. I was surprised to realize how much of the play is just people talking, and how refreshing it is to see that that can still be good theater, in the right hands. This play is funny and honest and heartbreaking and elegant and naked and poignant. And I can't wait to see Part Two.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W40: Hadestown

10/04/19: Hadestown
a repeat visit (family in town). while I'm still not invested in the Orpheus/Euridice love story, I love Hades/Persephone, and every other element of the production: the muscular choreography, the marriage of scenic and lighting design, the beautifully detailed costume design, and the direction.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W39: The Lightning Thief - The Percy Jackson Musical, Caesar & Cleopatra, I Can't See, Terra Firma, Twelfth Night

9/23/19: The Lightning Thief - The Percy Jackson Musical
What: Broadway transfer of a new musical adaptation of the first book of the popular YA fantasy adventure series, about a teenage boy who discovers he's a demigod, and then gets framed for a theft that could lead to an all-out war among the pantheon of Greek gods.
And? I saw this in early previews, so I can hope that the things I'm about to complain about get better: I kept being blinded by the lights, and the sound mix was so bad that the orchestra kept overpowering the singers and I often couldn't hear or understand the lyrics. Unfortunately, both of these elements conspired to make me turn off fairly early on in the show. Although Percy's banter was enjoyably snarky, a lot of the other humor betrayed some laziness on the writers' part (guys, isn't it hilarious when a man wears a dress? isn't femininity by definition just so funny? also, making a crack about a musician ending up in the Underworld is playing to the Christian version of Hell much more than the Greek version, so that joke made no sense, and if it sounds like I'm nitpicking, guess what I was super annoyed that I couldn't understand 3/5 of what I was hearing, so this is what you get). Chris McCarrell as Percy and Jorrel Javier as Grover and Mr. D were both very funny (though again, diction and sound mix meant I missed a lot). Ryan Knowles as Chiron, Hades, Poseidon, and basically any rando the three adventurers met was a consistent delight. Also I liked the concept for Lee Savage's scenic design, but would have appreciated more textual integration.

Also I just realized that this year has three different incarnations of Hades on a New York stage (Hadestown and the Public Works run of Hercules being the other two), and that's kind of fun.

Jorrel Javier, Chris McCarrell, Kristin Stokes, and James Hayden Rodriguez as
Grover, Percy Jackson, Annabeth, and Ares. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

9/25/19: Caesar & Cleopatra
What: George Bernard Shaw's play about, well, Caesar and Cleopatra, a proto-Pygmalion. Presented by Gingold Theatrical Group.
And? Unfortunately distinctly unengaging as a production, though the design is appealing.

The cast of Caesar & Cleopatra. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W38: The Sound Inside

9/19/19: The Sound Inside
What: Adam Rapp's new play, starring Mary-Louise Parker: A tenured and reclusive writing professor at Yale finds herself in an impossible situation, and reached out to her strange but compelling student to help her solve it.
And? I found myself craving a booklist of all the titles and authors name-dropped throughout the 90 minute show. The language of the play is beautiful and compelling, the lighting design poetic, and the structure and story engaging. I do wonder how it might fare in a differently-shaped theater. The scenic design in particular rather feels like it has been plopped into the cavern of Studio 54 and we were all making do. But while I was engaged in the journey of the play, I'm still not sure if I actually liked the play, the story it told. However, days later I still find myself thinking about it, which is probably a good sign.

Mary-Louise Parker as Professor Bella Baird. Photo by Carolyn Brown.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W37: The Great Society, Wives, Slave Play, The Height of the Storm

9/09/19: The Great Society
What: The sequel to All the Way, this is is playwright Robert Schenkkan and director Bill Rauch's second examination of President Lyndon B. Johnson, tracking the decline of his term, as any good intentions are stymied by his need for political maneuvering.
And? Schenkkan and Rauch have now spent two Broadway plays trying to convince me I needed to see one Broadway play about LBJ. I don't remember minding the first play when I saw it, but The Great Society ... this play is nearly three hours when it doesn't even need to be two. It's three hours about how much Johnson failed as a president, as an ally to the African American community, and in the war in Vietnam, without convincing me I should care about whether or not he deserved to fail. I couldn't for the life of me find a story in the series of events I was shown, and once we hit the two hour mark, I became increasingly disengaged and distracted, wondering how much longer this could go on. Brian Cox, though he doesn't attempt LBJ's Texan accent, is excellent, but it's not enough to make this show worth my time.

9/10/19: Wives
What: Playwrights Horizons presents Jaclyn Backhaus's new play, about women defined in history through their relationship to men, but who forge new strong bonds with each other.
And? I loved it. Weird and brilliant and funny and moving, a conjuring really of all of these things and more, in only 80 minutes. While I wasn't bowled over by Backhaus's recent play, India Pale Ale, Wives reminded me of all the things I loved in her other work at Playwrights, Men on Boats. Great stuff.

Adina Verson, Aadya Bedi, and Purva Bedi as Mary Welsh, Martha Gelhorn,
and Hadley Richardson. Photo by Joan Marcus.