Monday, September 24, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W38: Be More Chill, I Was Most Alive With You, Bernhardt/Hamlet, Bigfoot Stole My Wife (and Trudy Carmichael's Character Cabaret)

9/19/18: Be More Chill
What: My easiest allusion to make here is Little Shop of Horrors meets 21st century high school popularity woes. Be More Chill is the new hot show among the youths (who, for the record, were very well behaved during the show), about the lengths to which people will go to achieve popularity. They've already announced a Broadway transfer.
And? It didn't blow me away, but it's fine. Everything felt like it was at level 11, which is a bit exhausting, especially in a relatively intimate space. The cast is funny, though I don't love the timing of the actor who played all the adults (but his bio tells me he's collaborated with the composer for over a decade, so he's not going anywhere). Jason Tam is fantastic as an increasingly glammed-out Keanu-inflected Squip, and it's nice to see a fairly diverse cast. Musically I felt a lot of echoes of this genre's (youth-geared) predecessors (opening number recalling Dear Evan Hansen themes, "The Smartphone Hour" causing simultaneous Bye Bye Birdie and JRB's 13 flashbacks, etc.), which isn't necessarily a criticism (I can still recall many of the melodies days later). I think the show definitely knows its market, and that market is responding with great enthusiasm.

Jason Tam and Will Roland as The Squip and Jeremy. Photo by Maria Baranova.

9/21/18: I Was Most Alive with You
What: Craig Lucas's new play at Playwrights Horizons, inspired by his own struggles with addiction, about a family who must come to a peace with the things they are helpless to change. Taking a heavy allegorical parallel from the Book of Job, I Was Most Alive with You is performed with a shadow cast of Deaf actors, performing the show in ASL (this is not a gimmick: one of the characters, Knox, is Deaf (played by noted Deaf actor Russell Harvard), and another character, Farhad, is losing his hearing.
And? Very powerful theater. Both the ground level cast and the elevated shadow cast were compelling and daringly vulnerable in their performances, making it equally as engaging to watch one cast as the other. Russell Harvard, for whom the play was written, is gut-wrenching and poetic. The beauty of his signed prayer, contrasted with the clumsy but well-intentioned signing of his family, or even the more eloquent signing of the shadow cast, highlights the purity of his soul, and making it ache further, when that beauty is lost. And the ending, you guys, is perfect. Bring tissues.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W37: The Nap, Hamlet (What Dreams May Come); Bonus Content: Disney Magic Cruise

9/13/18: The Nap
What: A new play from One Man, Two Guv'nors scribe Richard Bean, about a competitive snooker player, and the forces around him conspiring to convince him to corrupt his sterling integrity by throwing a game.
And? You guys, I had such high hopes, and nearly all of them were dashed. This play isn't funny or even engaging, the stakes feel completely fabricated, and the only times I (and, to my belief, the rest of the audience) was at all emotionally invested were during the actual snooker matches (filmed from above and livestreamed onto a large screen), conducted by the protagonist and the show's ringer, actual snooker champ Ahmed Aly Elsayed, as his various competitors. The accent work was a mess, and the only solid (and funny) performances were from John Ellison Conlee and one of my favorites, Max Gordon Moore.

Ahmed Aly Elsayed, Ethan Hova, and Ben Schnetzer as Baghawi Quereshi,
Referee, and Dylan Spokes. Photo by Joan Marcus.

9/14/18: Hamlet (What Dreams May Come)
What: Ript Theater Company makes its debut with a 90 minute, four person Hamlet, the story of a tortured Danish Prince who takes his time planning his revenge.
And? While some clarity was lost in the cutting of text and doubling of performers, it was well-produced and gorgeously designed. Full review here.

Nathan Winkelstein, Ade Otukoya, Chauncy Thomas, and Lindsay
Alexandra Carter. Photo by Reiko Yanagi.

Margin Notes: Hamlet (What Dreams May Come)

Nathan Winkelstein and Lindsay Alexandra Carter.
Photo by Reiko Yanagi.

Seen on: Friday, 9/14/18.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Ript Theater Company makes its debut with a 90 minute, four person production of Hamlet, following the dissolution of two families as Prince Hamlet plans to exact revenge on his uncle for his father's murder.

What I Knew Beforehand
I knew Hamlet quite well, of course. This was actually my second four person Hamlet, thanks to Bedlam.


Play: In his director's note, Winkelstein explains that he became most interested in following the destruction of the two families (Hamlet's and Polonius's) and thus pared down the play to eliminate Norway, England, and the inner machinations of the court. Unfortunately with this economic cutting, some important facets of the story do get lost, most especially (regrettably) Hamlet himself as an active player in the drama. It becomes too easy to get caught up instead in Polonius's schemes, as the more proactive plotter at hand. Lost, too, is Horatio's importance, as witness to the action, and sole survivor of the principals (that's more a personal preference, I suppose). It becomes a bit too easy to forget that Hamlet is the main character here, were it not for the fact that he's the one performer in black, and the one performer not doubling. I worry too that the story as told would be unclear to someone not already familiar with the text (I had to remind myself whether Hamlet was speaking to Laertes or Horatio from scene to scene). I'm picking at this a lot because the work otherwise is very very strong. The staging of the show is economic and clear, with smooth transitions for the performers to shift roles, or retreat to corners to observe the action, hoods drawn. Cat Yudain's fight choreography for the duel between Hamlet and Laertes is dynamic and thrilling, and, frankly, better staged than some I've seen on Broadway.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W35: A Sex Thing

*publishing a few days early, as I'll be internet-less for the next week*

8/31/18: A Sex Thing (or, a bunch of liberals getting uptight about the sociopolitical implications of their desires)
What: A three-years-later revival with much of the same creative team of Kati Frazier's play about two couples struggling to connect, both emotionally and sexually, and the delicate balance between what they want and what they think the world thinks they should want. One couple, Ann and David, are dealing with the aftermath of an abusive relationship and a seemingly easy if uneventful co-existence, while the other couple, Stevie and Alice, contend with a hesitant interest in S&M, tempered by a resistance to Stevie's masculine presentation and the patriarchal implications.
And? I was psyched to see this revival because I missed it the first time (and heard nothing but good things about it), and it stars my very good friend (and Rosencrantz), Erin Keskeny. And I'm so glad I was able to catch it this time. I like the frank discussions these characters have, the conviction that while it's not an easy process, open communication is the only way for love and deep relationships to flourish. I understand that in this iteration, the two parallel couples have an awareness of each other they didn't before (before, they ran in tandem/parallel but without acknowledging each other), and I think that could be taken even further, so that it's not just about taking turns during the storytelling monologues (duologues?), but having some sense of conversation in the content - my one complaint would probably be that, without a connection between the duologues, it can be a challenge to follow both threads fully in the moment. However, that connection is more strongly forged in the parallel scenes, throwing both couples into crisis at pivotal and powerful moments. Frazier is a gifted writer and I can't wait to see more from them, and the cast, particularly Keskeny (Ann) and Mia Kang (Stevie) are terrific.