Monday, January 15, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W2: Hansbury & Slack, Improvised Shakespeare, Cardinal

1/10/18: Hansbury & Slack
What: Brian Hansbury and Beth Slack perform an improvised hour-long musical based on a suggestion from the audience, exploring an important moment in someone's life.
And? These two (three if you count their pianist Jody Shelton - and you should) consistently blow me away with their talent, humor, and heart. This particular rendition of a couple anticipating the birth of their child while Ocean's 11 plays on the television was both touching and hilarious.

1/12/18: Improvised Shakespeare
What: A troupe of five players improvise a ninety-minute play in iambic pentameter (ish), based on a suggestion from the audience, using familiar Shakepearean tropes, style, and structure.
And? These guys are absolutely phenomenal and I don't know how they do what they do. "The Globe and the Shell" was hilarious, weird, bloody, and full of weasels.

1/13/18: Cardinal
What: Young mayor Jeff gets persuaded by former classmate Lydia into painting downtown red, in the hopes of putting their small town on the map, revitalizing outside interest, and boosting commerce. When the outside interest comes in the form of a bus tour full of made-up stories, they have to decide if what they love is the town or those who inhabits it.
And? I think whatever message playwright Greg Pierce was trying to convey was muddied at best. It is a good question, but there's a lot of excess noise, to the degree that I ultimately didn't know why we were here. (I also got a bit annoyed by the set design, but it's a bit of a petty rant that would probably be appreciated only by my fellow PHTS alum)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W1: John Lithgow: Stories By Heart, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Farinelli and the King

1/2/18: John Lithgow: Stories By Heart
What: A one-man show in which John Lithgow shares two of his favorites from a short story anthology prized by his family, framed by connected anecdotes from his life.
And? An excellent vehicle for Lithgow's talents as a storyteller. I was more engaged by the first act, where he enacted Ring Lardner's "Haircut," which had some good pantomime in addition to the charisma of the conversational style, even as the story got nasty. The second act, featuring P.G. Wodehouse's "Uncle Fred Flits By," was funny though less compelling to me in its content; however, he framed it well within his family's story.

John Lithgow in Stories By Heart. Photo by Joan Marcus.

1/5/18: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
What: A deconstruction of Mary Shelley's classic, interspersing the journey of the creature with Shelley's grief at losing her children to illness and miscarriage. The performance is a mix of text and scene with live music, aria, and dance.
And? Meh. Neither the creature's story nor Mary Shelley's were interestingly told. Redeemed only by Robert Fairchild's dancing (The Monster) and the live music provided by Krysty Swann (Mezzo-Soprano), Steven Lin (Piano), Parker Ramsay (Organ/Harpsichord), and Kemp Jernigan (Oboe).

Krysty Swann and Robert Fairchild as Mezzo-Soprano and The Monster.
Photo by Shirin Tinati.

1/6/18: Farinelli and the King
What: A London transplant of a new play, told in Shakespeare/Globe style, starring Mark Rylance and written by his wife, Claire Van Kampen, about how the friendship between King Philippe V of Spain and celebrate castrato Farinelli restored the king some of his mental and emotional acuity, while also enriching the singer's existence.
And? A lush design and a top-notch cast (particularly Rylance as the King, Melody Grove as the Queen, Sam Crane as Farinelli, and Iestyn Davies as Farinelli's voice). There ended up being less to the story than I anticipated, with set ups for familiar tropes from history plays built but then dropped (scheming courtiers, a love triangle, etc.). Worth it for the performances, but not a script for the ages.

Iestyn Davies and Sam Crane as Singer and Farinelli.
Photo by Joan Marcus.


Note: I'm attempting a new weekly digestible digest of my playgoing, to better track my initial impressions of shows even if I'm not writing full reviews. Fingers crossed I can keep this up!