Monday, December 24, 2018

Best Of ... 18 for 2018

2018's spring continued the trend of 2017's autumn, with rather a dearth of content, and a lot of disappointment along the way. I'm sad to say that it wasn't nearly as difficult to whittle down my list to a "best of" this year as it has been in years past (I mean, there was still whittling ... but it was less torturous). I also saw fewer shows this year than my record of last year: 118 unique shows, with six repeats at 124 shows total. 
The cast of Head Over Heels. Photo by Joan Marcus.

This year I also did something new to help me track my theater-going, as anyone who reads this blog knows: with my Weekly Margin digest, I made a concerted effort to document at least my first impressions of every show as I saw it, with the idea that it would make drafting this final post a bit more, well, digestible. This year's post is going to be more economic in fill as a result, with the idea that I have already said a deal of what I thought the first time around. 

So now that I've managed all our expectations, I will say that, as always, there were still extraordinary things to be seen, productions that reminded me why I love live theater so much, stories that thrilled me, performers who blew me away. So let's get to it.

Weekly Margin 2018, W51: Emma

12/23/18: Emma
What: Paul Gordon's musical adaptation of Jane Austen's novel about a matchmaker who knows little about love and even less about herself. Presented by the Chance Theater in California.
And? Sweet and absolutely charming throughout, with some very clever staging by director Casey Long, especially for the ball. Lovely framing set by Masako Tobaru which immediately puts one in the mood for some Austen snark and social mores. A frothy and fun cast, all with beautiful singing voices, and with some delightful comedy from Zoya Martin's Harriet Smith (hilarious and endearing perfection), Jeff Lowe's Mr. Knightley (walking snark with a lovely tenor), and of course Mandy Foster's Emma (perfectly poised with smiling mischief).

Mandy Foster as Emma Woodhouse. Photo by Benjamin Busch.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W49: Head Over Heels, All's Well That Ends Well

12/05/18: Head Over Heels
a repeat visit with a friend. still delightful

12/06/18: All's Well That Ends Well
What: Hedgepig Ensemble's production of one of Shakespeare's problem plays
And? Full review here.

Basil Rodericks and Sara Hymes as the King of France and Helena, with
Andy Baldeschwiler as Lafeu. Photo by Allison Stock.

Margin Notes: All's Well That Ends Well

Elizabeth C.J. Roberts and Kariana Sanchez
as the Widow and Diana.
Photo by Allison Stock.

Seen on: Thursday, 12/06/18.
My grade: B-

Plot and Background
Helena, daughter of a deceased doctor and ward of the Countess of Roussillon, loves the Countess's son Bertram, though he barely notices her. After she cures the ailing king, she is offered her choice of husbands, and she chooses Bertram--who reluctantly weds her, then immediately flees to the war in Italy and starts wooing a local girl, Diana. Helena follows and bed trick hijinks ensue. Hedgepig Ensemble is a company which "elevates the voices of all women by reimagining the classics."

What I Knew Beforehand
Weirdly, this is a play I didn't know beforehand, aside from having heard a monologue or two.


Play: Emily Lyon's director's note in the program acknowledges that All's Well is a problem play (boy is it ever), then places Helena's plight in the context of our country's current situation, which includes the #MeToo movement, 45, and the midterm election results. And I have to say, that's a weird context for me. What's interesting about the play is the way it gender-flips problematic tropes that are walking red flags in the #MeToo movement, but that doesn't necessarily reflect well on anyone. Helena loves Bertram, who doesn't love her (which she has to realize on some level), but forces him to marry her anyway; when she pursues him after his flight, she tricks him into sleeping with her, which is pretty damn rapey. But we're used to seeing these tropes with the men disregarding the woman's autonomy and consent. I think this narrative would have been difficult for me to watch, whichever way the disregarding went. And by the time we reach the conclusion, the supposed ending-well which makes all the rest well (as the title indicates), it's just so hard to buy why anyone would love either Helena or Bertram, much less why they would love each other (and don't get me started on Helena's final reveal, in a glamorous dress, hearkening to everyone's favorite moment in teen romcoms, when the geeky girl takes off her glasses, puts on a dress, and suddenly jock boy is in love).

Monday, December 3, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W48: Pretty Woman, Julius Caesar, Once On This Island

11/28/18: Pretty Woman
What: A musical adaptation of the beloved '90s romcom.
And? Really boring. Almost none of the dialog worked (even that lifted straight from the film), most of the songs paused the story rather than furthered it, and even quality performers came off as awkward and uninteresting. The most embarrassing sequence was the opera sequence, where Edward's milquetoast falling-in-love song sounded so crude and clumsy when thrown into relief against the exquisitely emotional arias in Verdi's La Traviata (and I don't even like opera!). Standout was Tommy Bracco as Giulio the Porter.

Eric Anderson and Tommy Bracco as Mr. Thompson and Giulio, and company.
Photo by Matthew Murphy.

11/30/18: Julius Caesar
What: Hamlet Isn't Dead's latest, about the rise and fall of both Julius Caesar and his assassins.
And? Full review here.

Mia Isabella Aguirre as Marcus Brutus (with Noah Ruff as Cassius).
Photo by Mia Isabella Photography.

12/02/18: Once On This Island
a farewell visit, as they've posted their closing date for January. I cried through half the show (as is right)

Margin Notes: Julius Caesar

Mia Isabella Aguirre as Marcus Brutus (with Noah Ruff as Cassius).
Photo by Mia Isabella Photography.

Seen on: Friday, 11/30/18.
My grade: B+

Plot and Background
Hamlet Isn't Dead's latest venture, about the rise and fall of both Julius Caesar and his assassins.

What I Knew Beforehand
I've reviewed and enjoyed HID's productions over the last several years, and I've seen a few productions of Caesar as well.


Play: Director Emily Jackson inverts the Balcony Theater so that the audience is seated in the pit, looking up at a stepped space, allowing for dynamic (and literal) level-playing, as well as facilitating the many side-conference schemes that happen throughout. The stage pictures created against this are clear and interesting, with the audience leaning forward, leaning in, part of the crowd and unseen witness to inner turmoils. Part of the flavor of a HID production, aside from the live music, is the playful approach to the text by the performers, tossing in sotto voce (or simply voce) asides during each other's speeches. In the comedies, this usually works fairly well, and adds to the enjoyment of the story unfolding; but somehow here, perhaps because it's a weightier story, it undercuts (at least for me), some of the moments of rhetoric for which this play is known.