Monday, December 23, 2013

The Best Theater of 2013 (in my own humble whatever)

Well, the year is winding down, which means retrospections are in order. As a self-proclaimed theater junkie, I try to see as much theater as I can manage, time- and funds-wise. And this year I've been extraordinarily lucky. I went through my calendar and programs, and - not counting any repeats, like the fact that I saw Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 three times, by the end of 2013 I will have seen 122 different plays/musicals/theatrical whatnots. 122. That means that, on average, every three days I saw a new show. You guys.

So I'm pretty pleased with myself, I'm not gonna lie to you. And I saw a lot of good theater. A LOT. Some thrilling, some heartbreaking, some hilarious, some huge spectacles, and some small intimate affairs. Boiling down the list to my favorites was very, very hard. First I took out any production that had premiered prior to 2013. That helped ... eliminate 10 shows. All right, then I really got to work. I couldn't include every amazing show, or good-enough shows that had amazing moments in them. But these listed below were the top shows that really blew me away, in one way or another.

And, in honor of its being 2013 (and my inability to narrow my list down to 10), here are my top 13 theatrical adventures of 2013:

Friday, December 13, 2013

Jesus, BC: Re-Gift of the Magi

Patrick Pizzolorusso as Joshua.
Re-Gift of the Magi, by Janet Hopf. Directed by Greg Cicchino. Featuring Steven Bidwell, Kirk Gostkowski, Nicholas Alexiy Moran, Patrick Pizzolorusso, and Megan Sass. Currently running at The Chain Theatre through December 21st, 2013.

As the lights dim, our friendly voiceover asks us the age-old question - What would Jesus do? And he answers, "He would turn off his cell phone." And thus we are thrown back to the days of the early New Testament - with more than a hint of modern flavor thrown in. Jesus may have grown up in the single digits of recorded years AD, but Joshua - a sweet-faced 28-year-old southern messiah - is a man for all times.

As directed by Greg Cicchino, Magi has the air of a traveling troupe of players: an economic basic set with drawn-on clay bricks and interchangeable clapboard backgrounds - changed by the players themselves - hosts the five actors playing thirteen characters, all in brightly-colored costumes by Samantha Newby. And with tongues firmly planted in cheek, our players make more than one anachronistic nod in pretty much every direction. The story follows Joshua in his wandering years - after losing his job, he decides to seek out the three magi who witnessed his birth, meeting along the way the Prodigal Son, a Pretty Good Shepherd - with a pretty good lamb puppet - and a Roman Tax Collector (all three played by Steven Bidwell, for the record). With each new person he meets, Joshua grows in wisdom and understanding, trying to help all he can, even in his naivete. The story climaxes when he, with two of the magi backing him up, finally locates the third magus's widow. There he must reconcile with the consequences of his existence, as his birth and Gaspard's search for him have wrought nothing but tragedy upon Gaspard's wife. As his story concludes, Joshua is able to return each of his gifts to its original magus - myrrh to Melchior, frankincense to Gaspard's widow, and gold to Balthazar for his daughter's dowry. And as Joshua returns home to Galilee, tired but wiser, he goes with his cousin John the Baptist down to the River Jordan, to begin ... well, the Gospels.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Preacher and the Shrink

The Preacher and the Shrink, by Merle Good. Directed by Steven Yuhasz. Starring Tom Galantich, Dee Hoty, and Adria Vitlar. Currently running at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row through January 4th, 2014.

"Are women's bodies evil?" Connie, a frustrated poet, asks her pastor father this question, a father she's barely seen in the eight years since her mother's death. Are women's bodies evil? Connie feels betrayed by her own body, convinced she will succumb to the same breast cancer which killed her mother. Michael, Connie's father, suspects Connie of somehow tempting the man she accuses of sexual misconduct. Are women's bodies evil? The poster art, a woman's red lipstick, reminiscent of the art for the 1962 film Lolita, certainly points in that direction. This troubling question, along with the question of a benevolent God in a malevolent universe, lies at the center of Merle Good's new play opening at The Beckett Theatre this month.

Connie, newly returned to her hometown in Pennsylvania after a failed marriage and her seventh rejection from a publisher, tries to sort out what's left of her life, first with her therapist Alexandra (Dee Hoty) and then with her estranged father Michael (Tom Galantich). But when Connie accuses David, a fellow reverend in Michael's church, of touching her inappropriately, her story and her intentions are immediately doubted by both confidantes. David vehemently denies any improper intentions, though he admits his hand may have slipped in the fervor of his prayer. However, when Connie offers to recant her complaint, in exchange for Michael's publicly condemning the loving God he professes to worship, Connie's true wounds come to light, wounds from which she has never healed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Don't Mess With Me, Delta

Delta Airlines
Attn: Charles In Charge, Director, Customer Care
To Mr. In Charge:

On September 29th, 2013, I experienced one of the most unpleasant travel experiences in my life. I’m not referring to my cancelled flight, though that was of course unpleasant, but more to the unprofessional and dishonest way it was handled.

I was initially set to depart Dallas-Fort Worth for LaGuardia on Delta 5801 at 2pm. After everyone had boarded, they shut down the plane to deal with a just-discovered mechanical problem. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent an hour in a powered-down plane in the 2pm heat of a Texas sun, but I’ll tell you right now that was less than pleasant.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

EPICish - A Journey Through Georgia

EPICish, written by & starring Eve A. Butler. Part of the 2013 FringeNYC Festival, playing at Venue #9, Jimmy's No. 43, through August 25th, 2013.

Upbeat pop music with a violent undercurrent leads us into Eve A. Butler's examination of three women in Savannah, Georgia, coming back again in the brief interludes between each story (including Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and Lily Allen's "Fuck You Very Much"), reminding us that inside the friendly atmosphere, beneath the veneer of southern charm, and behind the sweet doe-eyed face of Ms. Butler, darker thoughts and actions dwell.

Playwright and performer Butler has written three monologues inspired by some of the great heroes of traditional epic poems - Bea Woolf (Beowulf), Masha Gilyov (Gilgamesh), and Odessa (Odysseus) - all set in Nausicaa, a small coffee shop in Georgia. There is a satisfying interconnectedness of the pieces, though they tell disparate stories, as Masha mentions in passing the fate of Bea, or Odessa and Bea reveals a friend in common.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Einstein: An Absent-Minded Narration

Richard Kent Green and Sheilagh Weymouth as Einstein and
Elsa surrounded by reporters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Einstein, by Jay Prasad. Directed by Randolph Curtis Rand. Starring Richard Kent Green. Currently running at Theatre at St. Clement's through August 25th, 2013.

As Act One of Jay Prasad's bioplay Einstein closes, the title character declares to the whirling electrons of reporters circling the nucleus of his press conference (sorry, couldn't help myself; carry on), "Do I think I'm the greatest scientist the world has ever produced? Does anyone doubt it?" The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

All biopics and bioplays face the same problem: they're supposed to stay true to the facts, even when they don't make a particularly compelling story; even when the ending disappoints. What's disappointing here is that Albert Einstein, who revolutionized physics and the way we look at the universe, does have a compelling life story - but Prasad hasn't presented it in a particularly compelling manner. Following Einstein's life from his humble beginnings in a patent office in 1905 through to his death fifty years later, Prasad's play gives us everything without enough editing down to give us a narrative with a through-line - a series of steps down an inevitable path, to the building of the man, the genius, the legend. So Act One in particular is peppered with scenes, not of young Albert on his scientific discoveries, but of him standing with old school friends, with his soon-to-be wife, with his former teacher, and narrating to each other flashbacks to respective youths (including an arbitrary use of accents for Mileva's parents, when no other scene or character sports them), however irrelevant they are to the supposed story being told. There's all too much telling going on here, and not nearly enough showing, and a lot of it feels irrelevant.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


It was 9:45 pm. Hardly witching hour, but still dark out. I was walking up 8th Avenue to meet a friend, reading twitter on my phone. A man I didn't know fell into step beside me.

"I just thought you should know, you look very attractive in that outfit."

I spared a side glance at him, didn't break my stride, then replied while looking at my phone, "I just thought you should know, that makes me uncomfortable."

Now, as NYC catcalling goes, as pedestrian sexual harassment goes, this was fairly mild. Polite, even. So I replied politely but firmly that this wasn't great behavior on his part.

"You can just take the compliment." Again, not an aggressive tone, but he's pressing the issue when he should back away.

"Yes, but you don't know me and I don't know you and so it makes me uncomfortable."

He said something else but I peeled away into a u-turn to cross the street, and I didn't hear it.

Here's the thing - I believe he didn't mean anything cruel by it. He didn't cuss me out. He didn't corner me against a wall. He wasn't a potential rapist. He didn't even call me a bitch (that I'm aware). But he also didn't realize that even what he did was inappropriate, was a quiet form of harassment.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Talking Heads: A Lovely Night of Melancholy

Talking Heads (series 2), by Alan Bennett. Directed by Paula D'Alessandris. Starring Tom Patrick Stephens, Amy Scanlon, and Fiona Walsh. Currently running at The Secret Theatre through July 27th, 2013.

There's rarely any money in Off-Off-Broadway theatre. They do it for love, we see it for love. Sometimes companies can produce fascinating spectacles with small budgets. And sometimes they rely on the two tenets of storytelling which are truly vital to having a good theatrical experience - the story being told and the ones telling the story - the writing and the actors and director. The Secret Theatre's and Mind the Gap's production of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads has no budget and no spectacle; the actors move their own furniture and props and there are no elaborate stage pictures. But what it has in spades is good stories being told by good storytellers - and so, with very little fanfare, we have a moving and funny night a the theatre.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Finding the Funny at The Explorers Club

David Furr and Lorenzo Pisoni as Harry Percy and
Lucius Fretway. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The Explorers Club, by Nell Benjamin. Directed by Marc Bruni. Starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Lorenzo Pisoni, and David Furr. Currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club, City Center Stage 1 through August 4th, 2013.

The Explorers Club, a new play by Nell Benjamin, is a sparkling love letter to old-school British farce. It's a lushly-designed one-set play stuffed to the walls with eccentric characters, chaotic misunderstandings, slapstick, wordplay, and one or two mistaken identities and impersonations.

The play opens in London, 1879, with a meeting of the members of this exclusive Explorers Club, where our timid and clumsy hero, Lucius (Lorenzo Pisoni), proposes the admission of the club's first female, Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Jennifer Westfeldt). Met with responses varying from oblivious geniality to outright moral indignation - John McMartin, perpetually clutching his bible as the doddering Professor Sloane, is particularly scandalized by the notion - Phyllida soon wins the rest of the members over with the presentation of Luigi, a member of an elusive tribe from a hitherto lost city. However, after a disastrous introduction to the Queen (Luigi's traditional manner of greeting is slapping the other in the face), the club soon finds itself under siege by not just Her Majesty's army, but also a mob of angry Irishmen and a group of monks who can kick people's heads off. Things are looking pretty dire, as vines of Lucius's latest plant discovery climb the walls and railings of the club.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Fear and Self-Loathing in The Cradle Will Rock

Martin Moran, Anika Noni Rose, and
Henry Stram perform "Art for Art's Sake."
Photo by Joan Marcus.
The Cradle Will Rock, by Marc Blitzstein. Directed by Sam Gold, choreographed by Chase Brock. Starring Anika Noni Rose, Danny Burstein, and Raul Esparza. Currently running at New York City Center through July 13th, 2013.

There's something peculiar going on when the actors at City Center Encores! are better dressed than the audiences. Particularly when the show is about the organization of a steel workers' union, and the characters include the union organizer, a vagrant former pharmacist, and a prostitute.

The Cradle Will Rock, perhaps better known for the attempts to block its initial performance in 1937 (dramatized in Tim Robbins' 1999 film Cradle Will Rock) than for any actual merit as a piece of theater, is presented here, in all its Brechtian atonal glory, with very few frills or elaborate staging - an appropriate choice both for Blitzstein's text as well as for the concert setting - and so each choice made by director Sam Gold is as strong a statement as the names of Blitzstein's characters: Larry Foreman, Mr. Mister, Joe Worker, Editor Daily.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Previously on ...Nobody Loves You

Heath Calvert as suave but clueless host Byron
and the cast of Nobody Loves You. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Nobody Loves You, by Itamar Moses and Gaby Alter. Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum, choreographed by Mandy Moore. Starring Bryan Fenkart and Aleque Reid. Opening July 18th, currently running at Second Stage Theatre through August 11th, 2013.

The Bachelor, Love Connection, Boy Meets Boy - we've all seen the reality shows. A hodgepodge collection of contestants deemed interesting or strange enough (and willing enough to subject themselves to a reality competition for love) living together in a house full of cameras and hijinks. We know it's not real and wonder if the contestants know, too. We watch, we mock, and we live-tweet. So what happens when one of the heaviest detractors of reality dating shows lands himself a role on one of them?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Incredibly Inaccurate Tony Predictions

The Tony Awards are this Sunday!!!! I am excited, even if I don't invest in the awards nearly so much as I did when I watched my first telecast in 1998 and had my heart broken (really, Lion King over Ragtime? I mean, I was pulling for The Scarlet Pimpernel, but ... Lion King over Ragtime? Really?). And perhaps nothing will best the moment of triumph in 2004 when Avenue Q beat out Wicked. I think my face matched John Tartaglia's in that moment.
Like this, but excited.

Unfortunately, that was also the year a lot of ugliness was revealed about the motivations behind voting, and I started emotionally investing a little less.

But my investment in Broadway, in live theater, never waned, and the Tony Awards, if nothing else, are a celebration of that. So I still tune in, to cheer when people I admire get awards, to shrug when people I ... admire less ... get them, and mostly to enjoy the live performances during the telecast. I especially appreciate the latest trend of allowing shows which were not nominated to get an abbreviated performance, as a nationally-broadcast commercial. It's a real gesture of camaraderie, and represents the best kind of spirit in the Broadway community. Do I wish closed shows that were nominated also got to perform? Yes, but I can understand the logistics are more complicated to achieve that (Sorry, Edwin Drood).

Overall, I think it's been an exceptionally strong season. The number of "snubs" catalogued elsewhere is testament to that (my personal bugaboo is about the MTC revival (and new translation) of An Enemy of the People, which was so good I couldn't breathe. Ah well). We had so many good plays, and some really delightful musicals on the boards this past year, and I have definitely enjoyed myself watching them.

I haven't really been reading the chat boards, so I actually don't know what popular predictions are this year. I know there's apparently some Matilda backlash going on, but that's all I know. And that's dumb. Matilda is awesome.

Though I would like to take a moment, in light of the "Special Tony" being granted to the four Matilda girls (no doubt to prevent a repeat of the win for the three Billy Elliot boys), to acknowledge the high number of talented child actors currently working their butts off on Broadway. We've got the ragamuffins in Annie, belting it out every night, the two charming boys in Kinky Boots, and the young man in Motown doing triple duty, including a star turn as young Michael Jackson with the Jackson 5 (and, last fall, the boys in Chaplin as well). Well done, kids!

And now, my predictions, preferences, and paraphernalia:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

We Need to Talk About Annie

I saw the current Broadway revival of Annie last week, and immediately got requests from my friends to write a review of it. I took notes, but my notes were so vitriolic, I couldn't quite bring myself to write the review they dictated. I like to be conscious of how much bile I put out for public consumption. But I think the majority of my objections stemmed, not from the production, but from my general distaste for the show itself. So rather than review Annie, I'll just break down the basic crippling flaws in the show itself and leave it at that.

(This production? It was fine, veering strongly into dull. There was nothing new being said about the show in the staging or the design, the kids all sang fine, and my biggest complaint in terms of choices being made would probably be Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, a bewildering hybrid of Bill T. Jones-esque stylized gesture, naturalistic movement, and (of course) tap routines.)

My Three Big Problems with Annie the musical

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Chandeliers and Caviar: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, by Dave Malloy, adapted from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. Starring Phillipa Soo and Dave Malloy. Currently running at Kazino through September 1st, 2013. Previously ran at Ars Nova in 2012.

Lucas Steele as Anatole
You are seated at a small round table in a club lined with plush red curtains, adorned with 19th century paintings (including the famous Napoleon portrait). The tables are scattered across the long space, some on the ground level, some up small sets of stairs, lining the walls. The tables are crowded with food - fruit, crudites, small pastries, shots of borscht, as Dmitri (or a similarly Russian-named and -accented waitstaff) takes your drink order. Techno music plays as you observe the starburst-shaped chandeliers and naked bulbs hanging down, and Royce the House Manager makes his rounds, swatting playfully at the waitstaff, saying hello, and being the first to ask you to turn off your cell phone (he will not be the last). Dmitri brings you your second course as you anxiously wait for the show to start. You've skimmed through your program, where there is a helpful summary and character chart, but you're still trepidatious. You never read War and Peace, but you strongly suspect it is Russian, which means it is complicated, depressing, and full of characters with at least three different names apiece.

But the atmosphere is festive, and some of the ensemble have begun to mingle, and perhaps this will not be as dark as all that.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Murder Ballad: The Problem of the Pop Opera

Caissie Levy and Will Swenson as Sara and Tom
Murder Ballad, by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash. Directed by Trip Cullman. Starring John Ellison Conlee, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Caissie Levy, and Will Swenson. Currently in previews Off-Broadway at Union Square Theatre, opening May 22nd, running through September 29th. Previously played at MTC at City Center Stage II, October 21st, 2012-December 16th, 2012.

The Pop Opera is a troubling genre. It's not true musical theatre, it's not true opera, and it's not a concert (well, maybe Movin' Out was a concert with dance). There's no problem with having a sung-through narrative, provided the narrative still takes precedence in the storytelling, but all too often that is sacrificed - because in the pop idiom, the songs are not plot- or character-driven, as in a traditional musical, but emotion-driven. Pop songs, as a form, sit in the emotion of the moment, but rarely move beyond it. And often (unless we have a narrator to help us through it, which we'll get to in a moment), we are left to rely on a bare-bones narrative full of familiar tropes and archetypes (or just flat-out cliches), with not much new to say about any of them. American Idiot was a rousing good time, but I don't think anyone was there for the story; I don't think anyone left with much of a story beyond, "Gee, it's hard to be a guy in his 20s in Modern America." The plot's there, but it's rarely actually in the action of the songs themselves - the songs are reactions to the plot. And there's no dialogue to help us literalize whatever dreams or plans were abandoned or compromised, as it's all skated through on the way to the next chorus.

This is the way the Pop idiom cripples storytelling and prevents Pop Operas from being true musicals.

What's fascinating here is how much Murder Ballad embraces those very limitations of the genre and turn them on themselves - it luxuriates in those flaws and says, "Yes, that's the point, and that's the story we need to tell."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Trip to Bountiful: Her Story and Her Song

The Trip to Bountiful, by Horton Foote. Directed by Michael Wilson. Starring Cicely Tyson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Vanessa Williams, with Condola Rashad and Tom Wopat. Currently running on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre through September 1st.
Vanessa Williams as Jessie Mae
and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Ludie

There is hardly anything more satisfying than a good story, well-told. Well, there's one thing - being surprised into a good story, well-told. I didn't know what I was in for when I saw the current revival of Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful. I usually have some clue, before I see a show, of how much I'm going to like it. Whether it's from some prior interest in the performers, the writer(s), the director, or the company presenting it, or from word-of-mouth, I can usually predict accurately at least an outline of my enjoyment (or lack thereof). Here, I had almost no predictions. I didn't know the play or director, I didn't have much investment in the performers, and the poster art didn't really tell me much beyond what the leads looked like:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Jekyll & Hyde: Bad News From God

Constantine Maroulis as Jekyll
Jekyll & Hyde, by Leslie Bricusse, Frank Wildhorn, and Steve Cuden. Directed/choreographed by Jeff Calhoun. Starring Constantine Maroulis, Deborah Cox, and Teal Wicks. Currently running on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre through May 12th.

It's almost cruel, at this point in Jekyll & Hyde's abbreviated run, to spit too much upon its grave, or to take much joy in its failings. It's a flawed show, and everyone knows that. The lyrics are uneven at best, the book is clunky and blunt, and it indulges more in the pulpy love triangle than in the more compelling moral quandary of its source material. But I want to like it. I'm in the minority, but I like Frank Wildhorn. I like his music. There's a heroism to it, a romantic hope for the best in us. The Scarlet Pimpernel was my first Broadway show, and it made me fall in love with live theater in a permanent way. And I loved the two-disc concept album for Jekyll & Hyde, starring Anthony Warlow, Carolee Carmello, and Linda Eder. The original Broadway production, which I saw in 1999, did not live up to the show I imagined as I listened to the concept album; but then, neither did this one.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Assembled Parties: Confronting Our Expectations

(not a review, but a response to The Assembled Parties)

Jessica Hecht as Julie, Jeremy Shamos as Jeff,
and Judith Light as Faye

There's a little Jewish Mothah in all of us.

Just as the stereotypical Jewish Mother is always looking to matchmake her children (and everyone else's children), so we the audience, while watching a story unfold, are looking for clues for how it will all work out. This includes, of course, any romantic options for our characters. We expect a little romance with our drama.

So when Jeff, under interrogation by his best friend's parents, with whom he is spending a Jewish Christmas dinner, starts describing their son's girlfriend in glowing terms, even revealing that he met her first, we think, "Aha! He is in love with her." And perhaps he is, but as we never meet her, that is a love that never comes to fruition. But then - his best friend's cousin Shelley, an awkward young woman, appears, and her Jewish Mother deliberately leaves the two of them alone to get acquainted. Could perhaps this be our expected romance?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Buyer & Cellar: A Basement Utopia

Buyer & Seller, by Jonathan Tolins, directed by Stephen Brackett, starring Michael Urie, currently running at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, through May 12th.

Buyer & Seller opens with Michael Urie, in a delightfully dynamic and honest solo performance, perched on the edge of the stage, clutching a coffee table book to his chest, explaining to us what it is we are about to see. While behind him the neutral white space with piano bench, chair and table holding teapot wait for his use, he clarifies for us - interrupting himself several times - what is actually going on. The play is, as he is quick to point out, strictly a work of fiction and not meant to incite the ire of the apparently highly litigious Ms. Streisand. He is an actor - "You may know my work ...No? Oh..." - and Jon, the guy who wrote this, met Barbra only once, when she offered him part of her Kit Kat - an offer he declined. No, this is a work of fiction inspired by this very real book:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pippin: Not Your Average, Everyday Kind of Show

Pippin is a show that, regardless of its actual merit, engenders a lot of affection. It is telling that, after the stunning acrobatics and joyful greeting of beloved actors, the moments that were met with the most applause were not conclusions of songs, but rather beginnings - the opening piano chords of the overture, the beginning of the Manson Trio, the only Fosse choreography preserved from the original production. The audience was so delighted to be there, reliving their first time with the show, enjoying this new time, ready to be swept away by the entrancing Magic in the opening number.

"Magic to Do" - Patina Miller & Company
"With You" with acrobats.
It's a very familiar show at this point - after Little Shop, it seems to be one of the more "done" musicals for high schools. Jackson 5 covered their songs. And there are familiar faces up there for us to love, too - Matthew James Thomas, recently of Spiderman, as our increasingly charismatic titular character, Patina Miller, of Sister Act fame (a striking if unnerving presence), the real-life couple of Terrence Mann and Charlotte d'Amboise deliciously hamming it up as king and queen, and Broadway favorite Andrea Martin, holding the audience all too easily in her capable brilliant hands.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Another Goodbye

Every year at Christmas, Grandma and Grandpa visited. They drove out to LA in their RV, bearing cookies and gifts. Chocolate Refrigerator Cookies, Sugar Cookies, Shortbread, Melt-a-Weighs. And a big tin of flavored popcorn for everyone, and a fresh deck of pinochle cards for each kid, and some kind of polished stone from their winter home in Quartzsite, Arizona. An ornament, usually handmade, sometimes by Grandpa himself. Grandpa had a video camera and documented the unwrapping of presents. Grandma, in the evening, sat at Daddy's upright piano and played carols, singing along, inviting the rest of us to join in as we pleased. As she got older, Daddy played more of the carols, but Grandma always sat near the piano as he did, and sang along with him.

After Christmas, we'd all pile into the car and follow them back to Quartzsite, where we'd spend a day or two wandering the swap meets, enjoying all the Christmas lights and decorations in the RV camp full of other retired grandparents enjoying a warmish winter.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Good Night for Ghosts: a review of Then She Fell

Alice and Alice
"I wonder, when you look in the mirror, who stares you down at night?"

A Nurse greets you at the door you almost didn't find, past the ruined garden, down the stairs, around the corner. She checks your name off a clipboard and tells you to find your place, labeled, at one of the three tables. Waiting for you is a ring of keys, and another Nurse is at hand with your elixir. This is Then She Fell, Third Rail Project's immersive adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, and it is both strange and familiar.

The lobby where we waited was appropriately dark and curious. Our bags left in an open trunk, our coats piled on a single coatrack, and locked boxes scattered throughout the room, begging to be unlocked - one box contains letters from Lewis Carroll to Alice Liddell (the real-life inspiration and intended audience for the Alice books), another photographs of the two, another a tiny parlor of dollhouse furniture, complete with minuscule playing cards scattered on the floor and a toppled chess set. Each table has a folder full of hospital admittance forms, already filled out.

Eventually the Doctor stepped up to a microphone to welcome us and tell us the rules of the space - no talking, no opening closed doors, relock anything you happen to unlock with the keys you've been given. He then spoke on liminality while nurses guided audience through various doors, one or two at a time. So the audience was separated and sent on its various journeys, and so the show began.