Monday, August 19, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W33: Sea Wall / A Life

8/12/19: Sea Wall / A Life
What: Transfer from an earlier Off-Broadway run at The Public. A pair of monologue plays by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne, of two men telling stories of family and loss.
And? I think this production might have gotten a skosh overhyped for me. At least, on the scale of heartbreaking monologue plays from across the pond about losing children, it's very hard (possibly impossible) to beat Carey Mulligan in Dennis Kelly's Girls & Boys. That being said, I read that Sea Wall  was written specifically for Andrew Scott to perform, and though Tom Sturridge was fine, I would have loved to see Scott's version (Jake Gyllenhaal was fine and charming in his piece, too). I think ultimately both plays feel a bit underbaked to me; the first play is too close in time to the events told, but it's neither immediate or distanced enough to reach any conclusive idea (I know the point is it doesn't conclude, but that's life, not theater), while the second play does a fine job of melding the two timelines without actually communicating any ideas I haven't heard before. And then the final moment, when the two are woven together in a wordless epilogue, just does not work for me. Is the point that they are two stories among many? I already know that. This tells me nothing new. Is the point that in each window is another story of life, of death? I know that, too. The two plays already have enough thematic joiners for me to accept them as one piece. The epilogue is unnecessary and an unearned attempt at a final emotional manipulation. (rereading this, it sounds like I hated the shows. I didn't; I just think they could be better, and hope this isn't the final draft)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge as Abe and Alex. Photo by Richard
Hubert Smith.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W32: Bat out of Hell

8/09/19: Bat out of Hell
What: Jim Steinman creates a musical out of a post-apocalyptic Peter Pan and Meatloaf's song catalog.
And? I don't even know. The reviews I've read so far are way kinder than I expected; and well, a New York audience will give anything a standing ovation these days. This is one of the most inarticulate things I've seen at this production level. It feels like it was staged as a concert, then they shipped in a set and didn't bother to change the staging to respect the new spatial parameters (seriously, is there an entrance to the subway tunnel inside the Falco living room? Can anyone tell me?) (also someone should tell the stagehands moving set pieces during scenes that if they can see us, we can see them). The choreography is repetitive and communicates nothing, shoving the ensemble into numbers where they don't belong, and further problematizing the question I kept having throughout: where exactly am I meant to be looking right now? The script is a silly non sequitur of cliches, and keeps hinting that it knows how silly it is and wants to be camp, without actually understanding what camp is (for other examples of this misunderstanding, see: the most recent Met Gala). (Lena Hall and Bradley Dean both know what camp is and do their damnedest but seriously what is this show) The most valuable thing I took away from the production was a newfound respect for director Ivo van Hove's use of livestream and multimedia in his productions: there's often a lot going on, but no matter where you look, you know the story being told and even with multiple focal points, he's good at directing the eye. Anyway, Bat out of Hell is a show that I saw.

Andrew Polec, center, as Strat with the cast. Photo source.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W31: Hannah Senesh, Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoots Macbeth, In the Green

7/29/19: Hannah Senesh
What: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and the Museum of Jewish Heritage present Lori Wilner and David Schechter's play based on the diaries and poetry of Hannah Senesh, a Jewish Hungarian Zionist and paratrooper during the second world war, whose heroism made her a symbol of hope for the resistance.
And? I think it would benefit from a different director (perhaps one who is not also the playwright), in terms of finding new and unique ways to stage evocative moments. I kept waiting to be surprised. The story is a good one, and Hannah Senesh is a true hero and an inspiration, but too often this performance couched itself in cliches which sapped moments of their full emotional potential.

Lexi Rabadi as Hannah Senesh. Photo by Victor Nechay.

8/03/19: Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoots Macbeth
What: PTP/NYC presents Tom Stoppard's paired one-acts about two separate troupes putting on Shakespeare: the first, a schoolgroup who speaks Dogg (a regrammared English that starts to make sense if you listen with your ears crossed); the second, a troupe of unemployed actors in someone's living room, interrupted repeatedly by a government official making sure they're not being subversive.
And? I read this script years ago and assumed it was too bizarre for me to ever see it produced. Seeing it produced ... it's still bizarre, but it hits a lot of the Stoppard standards: playing with familiar material, intellectual absurdism, political subversion. Mostly good performances, with Christo Grabowski (Fox Major/Hamlet/Banquo/Cahoot) and Christopher Marshall (Macbeth) strong standouts.

Lucy Van Atta, Peter Schmitz, Christo Grabowski, Zach Varricchione, and
Connor Wright as Gertrude, Claudius, Hamlet, Osric, and Laertes. Photo by
Stan Barouh.