Monday, September 30, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W39: The Lightning Thief - The Percy Jackson Musical, Caesar & Cleopatra, I Can't See, Terra Firma, Twelfth Night

9/23/19: The Lightning Thief - The Percy Jackson Musical
What: Broadway transfer of a new musical adaptation of the first book of the popular YA fantasy adventure series, about a teenage boy who discovers he's a demigod, and then gets framed for a theft that could lead to an all-out war among the pantheon of Greek gods.
And? I saw this in early previews, so I can hope that the things I'm about to complain about get better: I kept being blinded by the lights, and the sound mix was so bad that the orchestra kept overpowering the singers and I often couldn't hear or understand the lyrics. Unfortunately, both of these elements conspired to make me turn off fairly early on in the show. Although Percy's banter was enjoyably snarky, a lot of the other humor betrayed some laziness on the writers' part (guys, isn't it hilarious when a man wears a dress? isn't femininity by definition just so funny? also, making a crack about a musician ending up in the Underworld is playing to the Christian version of Hell much more than the Greek version, so that joke made no sense, and if it sounds like I'm nitpicking, guess what I was super annoyed that I couldn't understand 3/5 of what I was hearing, so this is what you get). Chris McCarrell as Percy and Jorrel Javier as Grover and Mr. D were both very funny (though again, diction and sound mix meant I missed a lot). Ryan Knowles as Chiron, Hades, Poseidon, and basically any rando the three adventurers met was a consistent delight. Also I liked the concept for Lee Savage's scenic design, but would have appreciated more textual integration.

Also I just realized that this year has three different incarnations of Hades on a New York stage (Hadestown and the Public Works run of Hercules being the other two), and that's kind of fun.

Jorrel Javier, Chris McCarrell, Kristin Stokes, and James Hayden Rodriguez as
Grover, Percy Jackson, Annabeth, and Ares. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

9/25/19: Caesar & Cleopatra
What: George Bernard Shaw's play about, well, Caesar and Cleopatra, a proto-Pygmalion. Presented by Gingold Theatrical Group.
And? Unfortunately distinctly unengaging as a production, though the design is appealing.

The cast of Caesar & Cleopatra. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W38: The Sound Inside

9/19/19: The Sound Inside
What: Adam Rapp's new play, starring Mary-Louise Parker: A tenured and reclusive writing professor at Yale finds herself in an impossible situation, and reached out to her strange but compelling student to help her solve it.
And? I found myself craving a booklist of all the titles and authors name-dropped throughout the 90 minute show. The language of the play is beautiful and compelling, the lighting design poetic, and the structure and story engaging. I do wonder how it might fare in a differently-shaped theater. The scenic design in particular rather feels like it has been plopped into the cavern of Studio 54 and we were all making do. But while I was engaged in the journey of the play, I'm still not sure if I actually liked the play, the story it told. However, days later I still find myself thinking about it, which is probably a good sign.

Mary-Louise Parker as Professor Bella Baird. Photo by Carolyn Brown.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W37: The Great Society, Wives, Slave Play, The Height of the Storm

9/09/19: The Great Society
What: The sequel to All the Way, this is is playwright Robert Schenkkan and director Bill Rauch's second examination of President Lyndon B. Johnson, tracking the decline of his term, as any good intentions are stymied by his need for political maneuvering.
And? Schenkkan and Rauch have now spent two Broadway plays trying to convince me I needed to see one Broadway play about LBJ. I don't remember minding the first play when I saw it, but The Great Society ... this play is nearly three hours when it doesn't even need to be two. It's three hours about how much Johnson failed as a president, as an ally to the African American community, and in the war in Vietnam, without convincing me I should care about whether or not he deserved to fail. I couldn't for the life of me find a story in the series of events I was shown, and once we hit the two hour mark, I became increasingly disengaged and distracted, wondering how much longer this could go on. Brian Cox, though he doesn't attempt LBJ's Texan accent, is excellent, but it's not enough to make this show worth my time.

9/10/19: Wives
What: Playwrights Horizons presents Jaclyn Backhaus's new play, about women defined in history through their relationship to men, but who forge new strong bonds with each other.
And? I loved it. Weird and brilliant and funny and moving, a conjuring really of all of these things and more, in only 80 minutes. While I wasn't bowled over by Backhaus's recent play, India Pale Ale, Wives reminded me of all the things I loved in her other work at Playwrights, Men on Boats. Great stuff.

Adina Verson, Aadya Bedi, and Purva Bedi as Mary Welsh, Martha Gelhorn,
and Hadley Richardson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W36: Derren Brown: Secret, Troilus & Cressida

9/06/19: Derren Brown: Secret
What: Acclaimed mentalist Derren Brown brings his skills to Broadway.
And? He asked us at the top of the show not to reveal any of the show's contents (it's a secret, you see), so I'll just say I had a great time. Sometimes you feel the strings, sometimes you don't, but you find yourself doing the puppet dance regardless.

9/07/19: Troilus & Cressida
What: Hamlet Isn't Dead's latest installment, an all-female cast in Shakespeare's version of the Trojan War.
And? full review here.

The cast of Troilus & Cressida. Photos by Valerie Terranova.

Margin Notes: Troilus & Cressida

Seen on: Saturday, 9/07/19.
Madeline Egan Addis and Natalie Welds as Cressida and
Troilus. Photo by Valerie Terranova.
My grade: B-

Plot and Background
The Trojan War as told by William Shakespeare, including the ill-fated romance of Troilus, a sibling to Hector and Paris, and Cressida. Presented by Hamlet Isn't Dead as an all female epic.

What I Knew Beforehand
I know some remnant details of the Trojan War, and I'd seen Shakespeare in the Park's recent production of this play. And as anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a long-time fan (and reviewer) of Hamlet Isn't Dead and their playful approach to Shakespeare.


Play: This is a weird play. It doesn't end so much as stop, and before that happens, it's this odd mix of star crossed lovers and the politics of war. A bit of Romeo and Juliet meets Julius Caesar, except neither feels finally resolved by play's end. I left the show wondering if this was one of the plays, like Macbeth, where we know we're missing chunks of text (as far as a quick internet search can tell me, nah). And that's the play itself, not a reflection on HID; it's a weird play. Sure, it's an interesting and engaging bit of battle and romance, but it's not a coherent story, and like I said, after all that it just stops. And I don't know that this particular cutting and production does anything to successfully ameliorate these issues. There were definitely times during the performance I felt I'd lost the plot, and story beats that didn't make much sense to me. And though the all-female casting of this is appealing, it's not lost on me that, in this particular cutting, all female characters except the titular Cressida have been excised from the narrative (gone is the ship-launching face of Helen, gone is the seer Cassandra). It's an all-female production with the textual female perspective all but removed. Perhaps what's more worrisome is not that they were removed (HID is good at streamlining their texts, and some male characters are also cut), but how easy it is to lift them out without affecting the narrative. Cressida may be in the title, but this is very much a story of men. 

To end this section on a positive note, hot DAMN Greg Pragel's fight choreography. From the earlier sparring bits to the final epic battle, Pragel's kinetic unarmed combat shows the performers to their most athletic and acrobatic advantage, kicking and striking and howling their warrior rage.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W35: American Moor

8/26/19: American Moor
What: Red Bull Theater presents Keith Hamilton Cobb's (mostly) one man show about a seasoned black actor who loves Shakespeare, who understands the character of Othello on a deep level, and who is tired of having that character explained to him by white directors.
And? Although the central idea and argument of the play are strong, the structure lacks a bit of focus, and it begins to repeat its points. But Cobb is a wonderful and charismatic performer, compelling and interesting and my goodness, he is excellent with Shakespeare's text. I really would like to see his Othello. And his Titania.