Monday, April 23, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W16: Frozen, The Metromaniacs, Travesties, YOU / EMMA

4/17/18: Frozen
What: Live stage adaptation/expansion of the Disney hit film. Princesses Elsa and Anna are as close as sisters can be, until the manifestation of Elsa's winter powers injure her sister, and she withdraws until she can regain control. At her coronation as queen, she instead loses control and sends the kingdom into eternal winter. Only Anna can bring her sister back, and rescue the kingdom.
And? During the opening sequence, a twenty-minute montage of six songs which covers the younger days of the two princesses, leading up to Elsa's coronation, I was blown away. The storytelling and staging were great, the cast was stellar, and I trusted that this beloved film's adaptation was in good hands. However, as the show went on, it never quite lived up to its opening. I questioned a lot of the staging choices throughout (even some of the content choices), and the ending felt beyond rushed. "Let it Go," the film's breakout hit song, was an excellent closer to Act One, and some of the effects, particularly in that number, were very well rendered. But, to quote another song from the score, this show's "a bit of a fixer upper."

Caissie Levy, Patti Murin, and the ensemble as Queen Elsa, Princess Anna,
and the people of Arendelle. Photo by Deen van Meer.

4/20/18: The Metromaniacs
What: David Ives's updated translation of Alexis Piron's French farce (complete with rhyming couplets). Ives describes the play as "a comedy with five plots, none of them important." So we'll leave it at: changing partners, mistaken (and faken) identities, and some Rooney-Garland-style "let's put on a play."
And? Utterly delightful, start to finish. Marvelous and polished cast, nonsense plot, and hilarious rhyming couplets which continue to surprise. I loved it.

Adam Greene, Amelia Pedlow, and Noah Averbach-Katz
as Mondor, Lucille, and Dorante. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Margin Notes: YOU / EMMA

Valerie Redd as You/Emma, watching a montage of bad boys.
Photo by Samantha Fairfield Walsh.

Seen on: Saturday, 4/21/18.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Paz Pardo adapts Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary into a multimedia solo performance which places the audience as the protagonist (hence the title, YOU / EMMA) who must contend with the tragic mundanity that brings Emma Bovary to her ruin. We are reminded just how young Emma is as she enters a loveless marriage, a friendless life, and disappointing affairs, at an age when contemporary young women are leaving home for college. Flaubert himself makes a few cameo appearances to both claim full ownership of Emma while also denying all responsibility for her unhappiness.

What I Knew Beforehand
I'd seen (and reviewed) an earlier production by Wandering Bark, also starring Valerie Redd. And I read a plot summary of Madame Bovary on Wikipedia about half an hour before the show.


Play: "Flaubert doesn't tell us what you dream about that night," our narrator confides to us midway through Paz Pardo's 65 minute exploration of what it is to live Emma Bovary's journey. The play is a giddy mixture of whispered secrets, flights of fantasy, confrontations with a negligent author, and the woeful realization that, with all the possible futures Emma imagines for herself, she's stuck with a lonely reality riddled with irresponsible choices. The actress onstage telling us our story is Emma, and so are we (Flaubert claims he is too, but half an hour later he denies it), stuck in a cage only partly of our own making. It's a rather cynical story, and Pardo doesn't let Flaubert off the hook for it, demanding that Emma be given her due, demanding an answer for why he created her, then abandoned her with no friends, no one to love or to love her, and nothing but her dashed fantasies and rising debts to keep her company.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W15: Lobby Hero

4/13/18: Lobby Hero
What: Second Stage finally has a Broadway house in the newly renovated Hayes Theater, and commemorates it with a revival of Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero, a play about what we're willing to sacrifice - career, family, friendship, integrity - to get what we want.
And? Lonergan is not a playwright I particularly care for, but this is probably the work of his I hate the least. The cast is good, including the Hollywood guests (Michael Cera is surprisingly well cast as Jeff; and Chris Evans is actually pretty great as Bill, and doesn't try to charm his way around his unlikeable character), with Brian Tyree Henry a particular standout as the upright William with a moral dilemma.

Brian Tyree Henry, Bel Powley, Michael Cera, and Chris Evans as
William, Dawn, Jeff, and Bill. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Twenty Years a Theater Junkie

Twenty years ago, I visited my sister - then a freshman at Columbia University - for my spring break. We had a fun first-visit-to-New-York planned: Central Park, Empire State Building, New York pizza, Staten Island Ferry, and my first Broadway show. Twenty years ago, my life changed forever.

Let's be clear, I was already a theater fan. Both my parents grew up loving live theater, and they took us to a lot; as well as playing All the Cast Albums on road trips and at home (and let's not forget that fateful day Dad showed us the VHS of Into the Woods). My Mom is such an advocate of supporting live theater that we saw all the community theater my small town had to offer, some of which was great and some of which was ...  you know, not great. But I was predisposed to have my life changed, I suppose.

Seventh grade is a bad year for many people, and it certainly hadn't been a good one for me so far: nearly all my friends from sixth grade and beyond suddenly stopped talking to me (I still don't know why), my best friend and sister had left for college, and I was feeling a bit rudderless. Two big things happened that year: Mom took me to audition for my first community theater youth show, and Mom sent me to New York to visit my sister.

I'd seen, at this point, a range in quality of live theater: school shows, community theater, non-Eq tours, and the occasional quality Equity production (I can think of three: the Broadway company of Beauty and the Beast in their LA run; a lovely production of She Loves Me playing in Roanoke; and one of the tours of Les Miserables, starring the future Tony-winning Alice Ripley as Fantine). But sometimes the right thing has to find you at the right time.

Weekly Margin, 2018 W14: Yerma, Saint Joan

4/04/18: Yerma
What: Park Avenue Armory hosts The Young Vic's production of Simon Stone's modernized adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca's 1934 Yerma: a woman's fixation on conceiving, and whose perpetual inability to do so poisons her pysche as well as her relationships with all of those around her.
And? I'm of two minds on this. I thought the performances were, across the board, excellent. I thought the stage craft was impeccable - like a magic trick, those scene changes. The staging concept - the characters interacting within an enclosed glass box, their voices piped out to us - gave the whole performance an air of a scientific experiment observed, or of pets in a terrarium (I did think the interstitial music was, in general, too overbearingly loud). However, I don't think I particularly like the play itself, or the story it's telling. It's not just that it's contributing to the Hysterical Woman trope; it's that I'm not sure what they intend for me to take away from what I saw. Was I affected? Yes. But the final moment is one of horror, and it comes at a moment when the main character has lost all sympathy already. Miserable People Being Miserable has never been a favorite narrative of mine.

Brendan Cowell and Billie Piper as John and Her (Yerma).
Photo by Stephanie Berger.

4/05/18: Saint Joan
What: MTC's revival of George Bernard Shaw's play about Joan of Arc, a woman of conviction, courage, and integrity, one whom the world was not yet ready to embrace, and whom the world would still prefer remain a dead saint, rather than a living woman.
And? An adequate production of an excellent and moving play. I don't know that it has anything new to tell me beyond what I'd already gotten from the last two excellent productions I'd seen (National Theatre Live and Bedlam). There are a few tonal inconsistencies for me, namely that we have period costumes, but some of the performances are incongruent with that aesthetic, favoring instead distinctly contemporary inflections and delivery. Had the entire cast made this choice, it would be a statement; when only some do, it looks like carelessness. Scott Pask's scenic design is pleasing, with rows of large hanging flutes, reminiscent of a church organ, or of wind chimes. Condola Rashad is excellent as Joan, and the ensemble also includes good performances from Max Gordon Moore, Patrick Page, and Jack Davenport.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W13: Children of a Lesser God, The Lucky Ones, Yeomen of the Guard, Kings, Pygmalion, Jesus Christ Superstar Live

3/28/18: Children of a Lesser God
What: Revival of Mark Medoff's Tony-winning 1979 play about the professional and personal relationship between a speech therapist and a deaf student, exploring the interpersonal dynamics within the Deaf community, and the divides between them and the hearing world.
And? Unfortunately, this play has not aged particularly well. Lauren Ridloff is mesmerizing; Joshua Jackson is serviceable.

Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson as Sarah and James.
Photo by Matthew Murphy.

3/29/18: The Lucky Ones
What: Rock duo The Bengsons tell the true story of Abigail's childhood: of an extended and interlocked family that shatters into pieces when tragedy strikes.
And? I loved it. The narrative could use some tightening, but I loved this. It was heartbreaking without being sentimental, and it kept shifting its shape, as Abigail examined the tragedy from different angles, trying to understand, and trying to reconnect the scattered pieces of her childhood and memory. There's a piercing quality to the lyrics of these songs, and that poetry is grounded by the everydayness of the dialogue. Shaun starts the show by telling us that everything is true, even the parts that didn't happen (a phrase-flipping of an Ann Patchett quotation in the program), and we need that reassurance. Some things are so unbelievable they have to be true.