Monday, January 29, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W4: The Undertaking, Miles for Mary, In the Body of the World

1/24/18: The Undertaking
What: The Civilians' founder, writer-director Steve Cosson, interviewed a variety of figures - a philosopher, an artist, a cancer survivor, and a woman who momentarily died - and assembled a multimedia two-actor dialogue exploring these perspectives, as well as the bounds of the artifice of theater, while he himself goes on his own undertaking to confront his fears connected with death and loss.
And? I really liked this one, you guys. The two actors, Aysan Celik and Dan Domingues, are excellent, imbuing each character (including the play's auteur) with such natural and understated humanity that each seems like the way they must always stand, speak, think, as opposed to one of several roles in only eighty minutes. I found the interweaving of the various perspectives on death with the ongoing dialogue between Steve and Rita compelling and engaging (and now I really want to see Cocteau's Orpheus), and the ideas explored stayed in my mind such that I went home and wrote a story about a child's rudimentary engagement with death. Definitely worth catching.


Dan Domingues and Aysan Celik (with a scene from Jean Cocteau's Orpheus).
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

1/25/18: Miles for Mary
What: In the gym room of a high school in Garrison, Ohio in 1988-1989, five teachers (with a sixth on speakerphone) plan an upcoming annual fundraising telethon.
And? Honestly, this just wasn't for me. It was well-acted and an adept demonstration of passive aggressive negotiation, but not something that I ever got into. Several of my friends were raving about it, though, so this is just one Zelda's opinion.


Stephanie Wright Thompson, Marc Bovino, Michael Dalto, Stacey Yen, and
Joe Curnutte as Sandra, Ken, David, Julie, and Rod. Photo by Sara Krulwich.

1/26/18: In the Body of the World
What: Performance artist and activist Eve Ensler explores her disconnection and eventual retaking of ownership of her body, in the context of her work in the Congo building the City of Joy, her history of abuse, and her journey through cancer treatment, in this adaptation of her memoir.
And? This woman is an absolute force of nature, and I'm so glad I finally got to see one of her works. Her piece was shocking, moving, and intimately familiar. She stands as a challenge to artists to be brave enough to be scared.

Eve Ensler. Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W3: Fire and Air, Mankind, Hangmen

1/17/18: Fire and Air
What: A bioplay about Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev, founder and producer of the Ballets Russes, following his complicated relationship with dancer/choreographer Vaslav Nijinksy, and the struggle of those around him to live up to the beauty and vision only he fully sees.
And? It was okay? It was the first preview, and I don't know if rewrites are in the works. It had the John Doyle stamp, with seamless transitions between scenes and non-literal space and staging, as well as an embrace of the minimal listening style of performance. The production is polished, but I didn't care a whole lot about what I was being shown. I don't think it was a story, so much as a series of things that happened.



1/18/18: Mankind
What: One hundred years after the last woman has become extinct due to over-regulation and bad treatment, two men who have been casually hooking up find out one of them is pregnant - and attempt to have an illegal abortion. Things then pivot pretty extremely out of control in ways I don't want to spoil.
And? I had a lot of trepidation going in, both from being concerned that I was seeing a play about how horrible men had been to women, without any women there to speak for themselves; and because I'd been hearing mixed reviews. I think, ultimately, this play really isn't about feminism. It doesn't feel like it's about gender politics at all, except for the absurdity of laws regulating women's bodies still being on the books, a century after their extinction. The disappointing part is probably the conviction that seeing this same treatment inflicted on men is the only way for some men to grok the injustice. But what I think this play is actually about is the dangers of extremism, fanaticism, and the removal of context and humanity. Arc-wise, it reminded me very much of another Playwrights Horizons prod, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, in that we keep returning to rehash earlier moments, each time farther from true understanding, each time farther from the actual people, and (spoilers?) each time approaching more the behaviors of a religious rite. This play isn't quite about people, and it's a satire without being funny, and maybe that's why it got some pushback. I see what it's doing without necessarily liking it, if that makes sense.

Ariel Shafir, Anson Mount, Bobby Moreno, and David Ryan Smith as
Bob, Mark, Jason, and Bob. Photo by Joan Marcus.


1/1918: Hangmen
What: In 1960s Lancashire, England, hanging has just been outlawed as a means of execution, and local hangman Harry must reckon with the messy aftermath of his career when a stranger enters his pub.
And? Martin McDonagh is really an excellent craftsman of storytelling, keeping steps ahead of his audience even as we race to catch up. That element is always satisfying in a McDonagh yarn for me, and I was engaged the entire time. That being said - and perhaps this is just in the context of seeing it back to back with Mankind - it was fairly irritating how the only two female characters were props to the story. The cast was uniformly excellent, particularly Mark Addy as Harry.


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!