Monday, July 29, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W30: Hamilton, The Woman in Black, Rutherford and Son, Witness for the Prosecution, Present Laughter, Whodunnit [Unrehearsed], The Lehman Trilogy, The Bridges of Madison County, Henry V, or Harry England

London Week Continues!

7/22/19: Hamilton
What: The London run of a super obscure Broadway musical that you probably haven't heard of.
And? My seventh time (yes, I deserve to be hated). I am pleased to report that this show remains absolutely wonderful, though it gets fewer laughs throughout in the UK than in the US (except King George, whom they adore). The cast was great (especially Tarinn Callender, officially my favorite Hercules Mulligan), and the production is tight, high energy, and as thrilling and heartbreaking as one could want. King George's question to America, "Do you know how hard it is to lead?" felt very uh well ... apropos, if we look at where we are.

Jason Pennycooke as Thomas Jefferson with the cast. Photo by Matthew

7/2319: The Woman in Black
What: The long-running two hander adaptation of Susan Hill's novel, about an aging man who enlists the help of a young actor to tell the story of his haunted past.
And? Sure I've seen it like six times. What's your point? Scariest time I've had in a theater, and I adore the amazing storytelling achieved by just two actors and a wicker chest full of props.

Matthew Spencer and Stuart Fox. Photo source (no photographer given).

Monday, July 22, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W29: Hamlet, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Disaster struck my second attempt to see The Secret Life of Bees, as rainwater began leaking through the ceiling and dripping down the brick wall, causing the show to pause about twelve minutes in. Then as they cleared the area, the ceiling opened more and water started gushing down. Rather a disaster, but no one was injured and Atlantic handled things as best they could. It's bad luck, as the show closed that upcoming weekend so not many attendees were likely to be able to rebook--and as I left town Friday evening, I definitely wasn't. Holding out hopes that it gets that commercial transfer everyone thinks it will, so I can see it at last.

London Week Begins!

7/20/19: Hamlet

What: We kick off our London week with Iris Theatre's outdoor promenade production at St. Paul's Church. It's the same-ish story as The Lion King, but fewer lions. (you can call me the worst all you want, it won't stop me)
And? It's a tight-feeling cut of the show (though it still comes out to about two and a half hours), periodically moving the audience among different areas of the churchyard gardens as we follow the story of Hamlet's unintended self-destruction. This production has several different devices in play, some of which work more effectively than others (of all the Shakespeares, I think Hamlet is a much harder fit for a fascism frame than a number of the histories. That aspect ultimately feels forced without being activated or integrated with the rest of the piece). In this production, Hamlet, like their portrayer, is trans non-binary, and what then becomes particularly telling is the recognition of whom Hamlet is out to, who may suspect or outright know, and who is and isn't using the correct pronouns (going by the fact that court characters use masculine pronouns, but that schoolfriends Horatio and (initially) R&G use feminine, I infer that Hamlet is out at school but not at court). It lends a new and lovely affection and intimacy to Hamlet's relationship with Horatio, as well as an interesting edge to their relationship with Ophelia: how much does she know? She uses masculine pronouns when speaking to and of Hamlet, but is that only because she knows others are listening in? (A quick note: I looked at Jenet Le Lacheur's (Hamlet) twitter, which confirms she/they pronouns; my inference is that Hamlet’s pronouns are also she/they, as Horatio calls Hamlet "my lady," but Hamlet self-refers, in the Gravedigger scene, as "they." If I am being in any shape disrespectful or sweeping in my understanding, I welcome correction for my errors). I also know that Le Lacheur didn't want the production to just be about Hamlet's gender, as if it were a gimmick, but I didn't want to let this go by without celebrating their performance, or what this layer adds to the story.

Final wrap-up thoughts because I am sleepy and jetlaggy:

  • great performances from Jenet Le Lacheur (hot damn, the nunnery scene), Paula James (Polonius, Grave Digger, others, all marvelous), and Iris alum Jenny Horsthuis (Ophelia, Guildenstern, Fortinbras, others); 
  • for the rest, I don't think the text work is consistently strong or clear, and hearing is hampered by the side-effects of an outdoor space; 
  • being in the churchyard gardens, a stone's throw from Covent Gardens, is a real treat of atmosphere, with roaring crowds for street performers, music, and the clanging of the church bells--you'd think all that would be distracting but instead it helps further isolate this small kingdom from the world around it.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W28: Fiddler on the Roof, The Mountains Look Different

7/13/19: Fiddler on the Roof
a repeat visit (family in town). We were extremely lucky, as this was one of the few shows to not have to cancel its performance due to Saturday night's midtown blackout. We had a couple understudies, including marvelous performances from Bruce Sabath and Adam B. Shapiro as Tevye and Leyzer-Volf, respectively. We also had an understudy Fiddler who, unlike Lauren Jeanne Thomas, was unfortunately not playing the fiddle live. This might not have bothered me (the Fiddler usually mimes the playing in other productions), had I not seen the usual Fiddler who does play live, and had the Fiddler not been standing next to a live clarinet player and cymbal player during the nightmare.

7/14/19: The Mountains Look Different
What: Mint Theater's production of Micheal mac Liammoir's play about an Irish woman whose marriage to the son of a farmer returns her to Ireland after thirteen years in London, a potentially devastating secret in tow.
And? Not really for me.

Brenda Meaney as Bairbre. Photo by Todd Cerveris.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W27: Moulin Rouge!, Ink

the performance of Secret Life of Bees I was supposed to see on 7/05/19 was cancelled due to actor illness (I'm seeing it in a few weeks instead), so as a reward for us all, you get 3.1 paragraphs on Moulin Rouge!

7/03/19: Moulin Rouge!
What: The new musical adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's 2001 hit film, about a penniless composer, Christian, who is lured into the Moulin Rouge and falls in love with its sparkling diamond, Satine.
And? I've been wrestling with how to write my reaction to this, partly because it's as varied and eclectic as the show and source film, and partly because I think there's a longer piece I could write about this at some point. Act One is wonderful, full of the excess and charged energy that thrills through the film, a mix of numbers used in the film (don't worry, "Lady Marmalade" and "Nature Boy" are still there) and new ones chosen (including a gorgeous mash-up of "Shut Up and Dance" and "Raise Your Glass," and a revised "Elephant Love Medley" that nails its spot as the Act One finale). Act Two falls apart a bit for me (which I at least had braced myself for, as bookwriter John Logan often fails to stick the landing with his theatrical work); Satine's illness is barely telegraphed in the first act, so its sudden appearance as a deux ex kill-the-girl (or consumption ex machina, per Duncan Pflaster) toward the end feels more shoe-horned than it needs to be, and the lovers' reunion doesn't reach the full ecstasy required for her final exit to land as it should. The show instead saves that ecstasy for an extended encore/curtain call, so that the audience still leaves happy.

I've been trying to think back to what appealed to me about the film, as well as how I think it appealed similarly and differently to those who were not-me. It traffics a lot in familiar music--but familiar only to some, as most of the film score was new to me. I know I responded to the aesthetic of excess in it (it's part of what I love in Great Comet as well), as well as the earnest idealism, and I responded to the love story. Here with the show, the music nostalgia is a new mix: songs I now associate fondly with the film, new songs (some of which I know, some of which I don't), and the love story is differently painted. Gone is the Orpheus myth that infused so much of the film, gone is the Duke as an ineffectual fop (Tam Mutu brings an appealing menace to his new take on the role), gone is much resemblance to the real life Toulouse-Lautrec (though Sahr Ngaujah is a beautifully realized weathered bohemian who bears the same name and some of the same artistic bent). And at least for me, gone is a chunk of my investment in the love story. This isn't Orpheus anymore; it's a story of the club, and of some players within it (this distinction is made especially clear when the aesthetic of the Moulin Rouge takes over a private moment between Christian and Satine, elevating it Baz-style), and that hurts the emotional weight of the second half.

But with all that, we also have a perfectly-cast Aaron Tveit as Christian, golden-throated heartthrob that he is; we have Karen Olivo, every inch a star in a more actualized Satine (though her accent work is spotty); we have a marvelously lush Moulin Rouge recreated in the Hirschfeld Theater (yes, we've got the elephant and the windmill, thank you Derek McLane), presided over by the wonderful Danny Burstein, in his element as the seedy but benevolent Zidler; we have stunningly visceral choreography by Sonya Tayeh, and a sense of immersion reminiscent of both the frenetic cinematography of the film and of Broadway's recent Great Comet.

I loved the first half. I think the book fell short in the second half. But man oh man, what a ride.

Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

7/04/19: Ink
a repeat visit (family in town)