Monday, March 26, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W12: My Fair Lady, Harry Clarke, Grand Hotel, Julius Caesar

3/20/18: My Fair Lady
What: Bartlett Sher/Lincoln Center's lush revival of the Lerner & Loewe classic, about flower seller Eliza Doolittle, who takes dialect lessons with phonetic expert Henry Higgins, so she may earn a better living in a more refined environment. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.
And? It's fine; neither definitive nor disgraceful. Lauren Ambrose has great presence and charm. Fuller review/defense of the show's merit here.

3/22/18: Harry Clarke
What: David Cale's one-man show starring Billy Crudup in an encore run after its stint at Vineyard. A shy midwestern man creates an alter ego, London-born Harry Clarke, insinuating himself into the life and family of a man he randomly sees on the street.
And? There's a lot to admire here. The noir of it all is satisfying, the writing is tightly structured, and Billy Crudup is absolutely wonderful at transforming himself physically and vocally among all the characters (and among Philip's various personae). I will admit that I am bothered that the narrative is playing into some unfortunate stigmatizing tropes about queer people and about mental illness. I don't think it's deliberate stigmatization, but it's there.

Billy Crudup. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

My Fair Lady Doesn't Hate Women. Henry Higgins Hates Women.

On March 20th, I saw a preview of the newest revival of My Fair Lady. This production has been lately included in lamentations over the reviving of dated and sexist material; I find its inclusion in the conversation misguided chiefly because people are lumping it in with Carousel, an unfair and inaccurate coupling. Entering a This-Is-Zelda's-Opinion Zone, I'll start by saying Carousel is a bad show.

How is Carousel bad?
  • It's a bad story
  • It has a bad protagonist
  • It's full of bad messages romanticizing abusive and unhealthy relationships (some of which the current revival tries to mitigate)
  • I can stand only half the score
  • It's angered me since I saw it as a child. Even child-me knew it was bad
  • It's bad, you guys
My Fair Lady is a good show, with some problematic characters. There's a difference.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W11: A Brief History of Colonization, Much Ado About Nothing, Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craiglist

3/16/18: A Brief History of Colonization
What: Kal Mansoor's one man show, as part of Emerging Artists Theatre's New Work Series, is part epic movie pitch, and part a humorous survey of India's colonial history.
And? Kal Mansoor is a good writer, and the piece was entertaining and informative. The frame could use some tightening, and the presentation would benefit from a director, but the work is solid and shows good potential.

3/17/18: Much Ado About Nothing
What: Hamlet Isn't Dead's latest installment, a musical and playful take on (full disclosure) one of my favorite comedies.
And? Truly delightful and hilarious. Full review here.

James Michael Armstrong, Noah Ruff, and Joe Regan as Leonato, Claudio,
and Don Pedro.

3/17/18: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist
What: Rejected and depressed, Walt is on the brink of suicide when Tilda Swinton - supposedly answering a craigslist ad placed by Walt's ex-boyfriend - arrives to upend his life as she pursues what is sure to be her next Oscar-winning performance.
And? This was so dang silly and fun. Full review here.

Byron Lane and Tom Lenk as Walt and Tilda.

Margin Notes: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craiglist

Byron Lane and Tom Lenk as Walt and Tilda Swinton.

Seen on: Saturday, 3/17/18.
My grade: B+

Plot and Background
Rejected and depressed, Walt is on the brink of suicide when Tilda Swinton - supposedly answering a craigslist ad placed by Walt's ex-boyfriend - arrives to upend his life as she pursues what is sure to be her next Oscar-winning performance. Playwright and star Byron Lane brings his farce to New York after a successful run at LA's Celebration Theater.

What I Knew Beforehand
I'm a big ol' Buffy nerd (see: my other blog), and was very excited to see Tom Lenk be silly in something.


This was exactly the ridiculously fun and silly play I thought it was going to be. While there is a narrative of growth and change for poor Walt, beset on all sides by neglectful parents and a callous ex (to say nothing of his new Oscar-winning roomie), most of the fun to be had comes in the person of Tom Lenk's outrageous performance as Ms. Swinton. Tilda here seems to a glorious melding of the eccentric and celebrated film star, the absurdist/dadaist twitter account @NotTildaSwinton, and Tom Lenk's own social media fashion brand, LewkBewk. Which delightful eccentricity of Tilda's to choose as your favorite? Is it when she declares that she was in the movie Die Hard (she played Christmas)? Is it when, upon being told that someone has merely read The Chronicles of Narnia but not seen the film, and she hastily averts her eyes, muttering "Trash!" Is it when she tells literally everyone she meets that they remind her of someone, who just happens to be a role she has played, and how many times they seen that movie? Is it when she steals a patron's flagon of beer and painstakingly downs the whole thing? Or is it her entrance in a hooded cape made of bubble wrap? That's rather hard to beat. Tom Lenk is perfection in a role he seems born to play, delivering the most absurd lines with conviction and deep gravitas.

Margin Notes: Much Ado About Nothing

James Powers, Morgan Hooper, and
Megan Greener as Balthazar, Verges, and

Seen on: Saturday, 3/17/18.
My grade: A+

Plot and Background
Leonato plays host to the prince, Don Pedro, and his soldier friends, and love is in the air: Claudio, with the prince's aid, woos and wins Leonato's daughter, Hero. When the verbal sparring between too-witty-for-their-own-good Beatrice and Benedick gets out of hand, Don Pedro leads the others in persuading the two combatants of each other's unspoken affection. Complicating matters is Don Pedro's bastard brother, Don John, who is set on ruining as much happiness as he can. Hamlet Isn't Dead presents Much Ado About Nothing as part of its ongoing journey to present the entire Shakespeare canon in chronological order.

What I Knew Beforehand
I've seen (and reviewed) several Hamlet Isn't Dead ventures, and I know a few of the artists involved. I also have Much Ado accidentally-half-memorized, because the Branagh film is one of my favorites.


Play: I always enjoy a Hamlet Isn't Dead production, and this one may be the most fun I've seen. Evident in every moment is the company's affection for the text and joy in playing. Director James Rightmyer Jr. leans full tilt into the title's meaning - there is, indeed, much ado along the journey the characters take, but as things wind to a happy end and the company joins in (very catchy) song, there is the most joy and release as they hit the nonsense refrain of "hey nonny nonny." Shakespeare sticklers may note the combining of several roles for economy here - servant Ursula and Leonato's brother Antonio become Leonato's wife Ursula; Balthazar, Don Pedro's musician, absorbs some smaller roles, like Conrade and the messenger; the Friar, too, is merged with the Sexton - this economizing largely works, though it makes the argument over grief and anger between Leonato and Ursula a bit confusing, stakes-wise (Ursula's passivity might make more sense regarding a niece than a daughter). This is a small quibble, though - I thoroughly enjoyed myself during this high-quality performance.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W10: Carousel, Escape to Margaritaville, The Signature Project, The Bloody Deed of 1857

3/06/18: Carousel
What: Since Lincoln Center and Bartlett Sher are busy with My Fair Lady this season, Jack O'Brien is in charge of the current prestige Rodgers & Hammerstein revival. Fiercely independent Julie Jordan falls in love with charismatic rogue and carnival barker Billy Bigelow. They marry, but it's a tense partnership, with his violent temper making everyone fear for Julie's happiness and safety. After learning of Julie's pregnancy, Billy agrees to aid in a robbery that would help him support his family, but when it goes south, he commits suicide to avoid imprisonment. In the afterlife, he is given the chance to redeem his existence and help the family he left behind, fifteen years later.
And? I don't like this show. I never have. I saw it as a young child and had an instantaneous recoil against a narrative about a man who foolishly ruins the lives of his entire family, but then the show wants to redeem him. I wanted none of it. I still don't want much of it. So my repulsion to the content aside, I will say: I respect the craft I see Hammerstein the bookwriter doing, experimenting with form, having scenes that seamlessly shift between song and spoken word - a clear antecedent to Sondheim and his collaborators. This production is solidly anchored by the heartbreaking earnestness of Jessie Mueller's Julie, the perfectly-delivered soliloquy of Billy by Joshua Henry, and the amazingly hilarious and heartfelt Carrie as performed by Lindsay Mendez (my GOD, these three). The rest of the cast was uneven - neither the ballet dancers nor the opera star are particularly good actors, but they're good at the dancing and the singing, respectively. Outside of a few isolated small personal interactions, I was not particularly fond of the staging of the show ("Blow High, Blow Low" was a high point, however), or of the set design. Also it's Carousel. [further note: it's still in previews, and I've been told they're experimenting with different revisions of the script, so the production that opens might be different from what I saw]

3/07/18: Escape to Margaritaville
What: A new musical based around the song catalog of Jimmy Buffet (some classics, some new material, if my understanding is correct). Workaholic Rachel takes her bff Tammy on a week-long bachelorette holiday to a tiny island with a volcano which may or may not erupt. While there, both women find romance in unexpected places. Also everyone drinks a lot.
And? I mean ... if you want to see a brightly-colored musical with songs by Jimmy Buffet and don't care if there's an actual story or conflict, this is a show you might enjoy. It was kind of fun seeing it on blizzard night - we hardy few who made it there were invited to move in close and enjoy. The show is harmless; I was mostly bored. Also, I managed to make a lot of my friends hilariously angry when I announced on Facebook that until that night I didn't realize Jimmy Hoffa and Jimmy Buffet were two separate men. So that was fun.

Andre Ward, center, as Jamal. Photo by David Gordon.

Margin Notes: The Signature Project

Patrick Dunning with musician Cat Patterson and
dancer Melissa Maricich. Photo by Ingrid Butler.

Seen on: Friday, 3/09/18.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Dubliner Patrick Dunning has been working on a massive artwork for the past twenty-five years, made entirely out of 171 4x4 canvases covered in signatures. He tours these canvases around, gathering further signatures and stories to tell, in this multimedia performance of visual art, storytelling, music, and dance, in the ongoing quest to complete his magnum opus.

What I Knew Beforehand
I knew loosely that this was a multi-media performance somehow related to an artwork, but not much else, as I wanted to let myself be surprised.


In telling the story of his life and of his art, Patrick Dunning speaks of passing "beyond the visible light." Sometimes this means when people, such as his father - immortalized in a metallic paint portrait visible only under an X-ray of Square 43 - pass away. Sometimes it means that you need to reexamine a thing to see its full nature; look at it from a different angle, or, more literally, from a different light (ultraviolet, infrared, and X-ray, to name a few) to see what's there. The mission to make each moment of life and of his work worth this reexamination is at the heart of his mural, and of the performance piece around it, The Signature Project. From a distance, his massive mural is a celestial celebration, with Earth, the stars, the crescent moon, the galaxy, framing a shining sun with a heart at its center. Up close, each 4x4 square within the work is a tapestry of signatures in different colored acrylic inks. Up close, he can tell you the story of individual signatures on his mural. Some squares have hidden within them metallic paintings seen only by X-ray. Some squares are overlaid with sections of an ornately flowered silhouette of a man embracing the painting, the central heart in his chest, but visible only under ultraviolet light. Every inch of his mural is crafted and planned, and Dunning has so many stories to tell. He doesn't know when the work will be finished. He doesn't know where the work will go. But perhaps it is the journey of the work, his travels, his stories, and the stories he collects along the way, which make this memorable: it is a work of memories set to outlive every person whose name is but a piece of its whole.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W9: Three Tall Women

3/01/18: Three Tall Women
What: Three ages of women (A, 92; B, 52; C, 26) look back on A's life, its bitterness and its sweetness, looking for how she became who she is. The first act/half is realism, the second half/act, more an imagined deconstruction.
And? Honestly, I had a really tough time focusing during the first half. The second half, though, was terrific, with a gorgeous set concept by Miriam Buether (so much poetry in its reveal), and stunning performances by Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalf. I saw the first preview, so there was a technical snafu at the transition, but otherwise this is in pretty good shape.