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.

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