Thursday, January 29, 2015

Margin Notes: Let the Right One In

Cristian Ortega and Rebecca Benson as Oskar and Eli.
Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Let the Right One In

Seen on: Saturday, 1/24/15.
My grade: A. Gorgeous production, faithful adaptation, fantastically acted, but a few missed opportunities in the staging.

Plot and Background
Oskar, a young teen perpetually bullied by his classmates and forced into self-sufficiency by an absent father and a distracted mother, meets his new neighbor Eli on the neighborhood jungle gym. Eli is alternately standoffish and friendly, but seems compelled by Oskar. Meanwhile, an old man is going around town killing people and draining their blood, for some unknown purpose. This dark but sweet story was adapted by Jack Thorne from both the Swedish novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and was previously performed by the National Theatre of Scotland at Dundee Rep and Royal Court in 2013, and on London's West End in 2014. St. Ann's Warehouse is now hosting it, and its run has already extended into March.

What I Knew Beforehand
I'd seen the Swedish film as well as the American remake, though I've not read the book. And I knew the company who created the production was Scottish, so I was looking forward to a Scottish Sweden, because I'm mature like that.


Play: It's rather hard to talk about the show without delving into spoilers, so ... guess what? Spoilers! Eli's a vampire. Or close enough. A young (and yet old), rather emotionally stunted vampire. And her relationship with Oskar, as in the film, grows organically - strange and awkward, but somehow sweet and deeply felt. The story is dark, with as much moral grey area as there is snow, and yet the innocence of their love keeps a clean feeling, even as we see Eli kill, repeatedly. There's a simple magic to their interactions. from her sudden appearance on the jungle gym, to her solving of Oskar's Rubix cube. While there are a few missed opportunities in staging (I'm thinking specifically of the climactic pool scene, where they went to the effort of creating a pool and then not quite using it during the confrontation), for the most part director John Tiffany and Associate Director/Movement coach Steven Hoggett find gorgeous stage pictures, horrifying displays of blood, and a marvelous economy of storytelling. If you loved the Swedish film (or even the American one), I doubt you'll be disappointed by this rendering. You may even love the story more.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Margin Notes: Into the Woods

Andy Grotelueschen, Emily Young, Ben Steinfeld, Jennifer
Mudge, Claire Karpen, Patrick Mulryan, and Noah Brody.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
Into the Woods

Seen on: Wednesday, 1/7/15.
Ticket purchased: Alas, full price was all I could find.
My grade: B-. A solid enough idea of a production undermined by some of its elements.

Plot and Background
The familiar fairy tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel are interwoven with a new tale of a childless Baker and his Wife attempting to undo a curse. The first act takes us through their various interwoven stories as they all journey into the woods to seek their goals, and ends on a happily ever after; the second act shows us what happens after the ever after. This musical, by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, originally opened on Broadway in 1987. That production was immortalized in a televised broadcast of the original cast. It has been revived regionally and in New York a number of times since, and a film adaptation starring Meryl Streep is now playing in theaters. This production, though hosted by Roundabout, was created by Fiasco Theater, and features only ten actors.

What I Knew Beforehand
I know the show practically by heart, thanks to the DVD of the OBC (I've also seen multiple productions regionally and the movie adaptation). I loved Fiasco's production of Cymbeline in 2011 and 2012, which had only six actors and was an utter delight, and was very much looking forward to their next offering. I knew there would be some changes afoot here to accommodate the ten person cast, but I went in with high hopes.


Play: I have a great affection for Fiasco's joyful - and slightly chaotic - storytelling style. There's very much a sense of creation out of found objects, which gives a spontaneity to even the most carefully crafted moments. The Stepsisters' dresses can be two curtains on a rod; Rapunzel's tower can be a ladder; Milky White can be a man with a cowbell around his neck, squeezing an empty baby bottle (this last actually worked quite well, thanks to Andy Grotelueschen's sympathetic and funny performance). I've always thought that some of the most interesting staging and theatricality can come from having to solve problems with limited resources, and Fiasco is a fantastic illustration of that. There's something rather charming about the cast climbing onto the rolling piano as they sing the title song, and even something thrilling about the shadow play staging of the Giant's final attack at the end of the show (this may have actually been my favorite portrayal of the Giant I've seen). And with so much double-casting, quick onstage changes happen continually, and with some delightful results (I don't want to spoil the best ones except to say Florinda's transition to Milky White had me gasping with laughter, and the transition after "Witch's Lament" was haunting and lovely). The choreography within the songs itself was not always particularly dynamic or interesting, but staging of the show as a whole was exactly the kind of high-spirited controlled chaos I've come to expect from Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Margin Notes: Constellations

(trying out a new format, bear with me)
Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson as Roland and Marianne.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Seen on: Sunday, 1/4/15.
Ticket purchased: MTC's 30 Under 30 program.
My grade: A. A fantastic start to the second half of this theater season.

Plot and Background
We follow the many different permutations and possibilities of a relationship that spans parallel universes, time, and inner demons. Equal parts funny and moving, with clear transitions and a steady jog of a pace. American debut; premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre. Featuring the Broadway debuts of both Gyllenhaal and Wilson. Playwright Nick Payne's last NY show was the Off-Broadway If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, also directed by Michael Longhurst and starring Gyllenhaal, which ran at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre in Fall 2012.

What I Knew Beforehand:
Pretty much nothing. Just the cast. Right before the show started, my friend told me it was about (see above) different permutations on a relationship. Apparently I had told her this months ago. Good job me!


Play: God, I loved this. The structure of it, the story itself, the quickness and flexibility of the dialogue. It felt sometimes like a Meisner exercise gone horribly wrong - or perhaps horribly right. The structure relies largely on scenes being recycled - or re-attempted - several times through; sometimes with strong dialogue revisions, and sometimes with identical dialogue but vastly different tone and intent. And somehow it doesn't matter which version is the "real" version - I invested strongly in them as characters, in their relationship, whichever shape it took, and in what drew them together and apart. Wilson's character Marianne, a Cambridge theoretical physicist, has three semi-speeches which help illustrate the play's themes - the first, a whimsical theory that if you could lick your elbow you could live forever; the second, a discussion of the possibility of multiple parallel universes (multiverse), all based on different choices one could make, which both demands and denies free will; the third, that time - being the one asymmetrical concept in physics - doesn't matter on as fundamental a level as molecules - so there's no "more" time or "less" time but a sense that you have all of the time, the time past and present, with you always.