Monday, December 23, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W51: Anne of Green Gables

12/21/19: Anne of Green Gables
What: Chance Theater revives its holiday production of a musical adaptation of the beloved L. M. Montgomery novel.
And? I gather that if I had already had familiarity with the source material (or its miniseries adaptation), I might have felt more nostalgic fondness for this show. I've really enjoyed the past holiday productions at the Chance, including a darling She Loves Me and a frothy Emma, but this one didn't do it for me--though I lay most of the blame on the writing, which was fairly inactive throughout. Emily Abeles was a real treat as Anne, however.

Emily Abeles as Anne Shirley. Photo by Doug
Catiller, True Image Studio.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W50: Little Women

12/15/19: Little Women
What: Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre's new adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic novel.
And? Lovely work. Full review here.

Samanthia Nixon, Ashley Kristeen Vega, Rachel Schmeling, Desiree Baxter,
and Sara Hymes as Amy, Beth, Jo, Marmee, and Meg. Photo by Allison Stock.

Margin Notes: Little Women

Rachel Schmeling as Jo.
Photo by Allison Stock.

Seen on: Sunday, 12/15/19.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre presents a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel about the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, as they grow and mature into adults.

What I Knew Beforehand
I had earlier reviewed Hedgepig's production of All's Well That Ends Well, and this is my third theatrical adaptation of a novel I still haven't read (yeah, yeah, don't @ me).


Play: You enter the March home through a set of double doors to see a lovely wood-paneled room with tall curtained windows, a (fake) fire burning merrily in the fireplace and a modest, popcorn trimmed tree against the opposite wall. You're encouraged to join the March sisters in making holiday cards at the large, comfortable table in the center, or to help Jo and Meg hang boughs with red bows from the wall sconces. You sip from your cup of eggnog (or wine, or cocoa), munch a cookie, and wait for the show to begin. It's cheery and festive, without decadence. This new adaptation of Alcott's novel prioritizes the importance of home and of these four sisters and their mother in that home, and so it makes sense that the audience should also be welcomed into the family. Although the spell of making us all Marches (which I suspect was their goal) isn't quite achieved, an intimacy with the family and its private concerns mostly is. Beth is the audience's confidant: the heart of the March family and content to stay at home (and a bit fearful of larger society), Beth tells us of her sisters and their dreams, and helps shift us forward in time as the play dictates. While the narration itself is often clunky, I accept it as a necessary evil with this at-home version of the story, and with Jo, Meg, Amy, and Marmee flitting in and out of doors while Beth remains with us. The audience is invited to join in on select carols throughout the play (sing-along lyrics included in the program), as we share in the family's joy and pain. This is a largely successful production, efficiently told and ably performed. It's a bit too easy for the balance of the story to tip to favor Jo, but the play works hard to give equal space to her siblings, including Amy's time quarantined away from Beth's fever, and Meg's jelly episode; though Beth, with her piano covered in cloth dolls, seems more infantilized than she is sometimes played.

My Picks: Best Theater of 2019

Andrew Scott and Sophie Thompson as Garry Essendine and
Monica Reed in The Old Vic's Present Laughter.
Photo by Elliott Franks.

I had an easier time making my list this year than I normally do, but the tragic cause of that is my viewing numbers were down again, with a projected 109 unique shows, and 122 shows overall  for 2019 (one show to go on Dec 28th; also, I am fully aware of just how awful I sound, complaining about seeing only 122 shows this year. Please believe that I do not take my life here for granted, or my ability to see as much theater as I do). I definitely suffered from some activity fatigue this year, partly due to the exhaustion of moving into a new apartment and all its attendant stress; this resulted in some neglect of my Off- and Off-Off- options. In any case, the list wasn't as hard to whittle down, a small mercy for a weary Zelda. But I will say this: the shows that made my top ten list? Astoundingly good theater, every one of them. And while I'm attempting to rank them this year, it's tight as anything for the top five (except Octet, which I knew would top the list when I saw it; basically the top four after Octet are all second, but in an apples and oranges and bananas and mangoes situation).

This year gave us extraordinary new takes on older works, like Erica Schmidt's schoolgirl Mac Beth, the Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof, and the Old Vic's hilarious new spin on Coward's Present Laughter. It also gave us astonishing new work that defiantly challenged expectations of what can be done in the theater, like Dave Malloy's a cappella brain explosion Octet, Michael R. Jackson's breathtaking not-autobiographical A Strange Loop, and Jeremy O. Harris's uncomfortable and gutting Slave Play.  We had actual magic onstage, from Harry Potter to Derren Brown to Slava and his Snowshow (I know some of the shows I just mentioned weren't new in 2019, but Slava excepting, they were new to me in 2019, and as the old refrain goes, this is my blog, dammit).

(also, I hear people are making their Best of the Decade lists as well. That's cool, though as my friend Tyler pointed out, we technically have one more year in the decade, but also I think it would hurt my heart too much to boil a decade down to ten shows. Think of all the gems that wouldn't make the cut!)

Anyway, we had so many good shows in 2019. Here were some of the best:

Monday, December 9, 2019

An Independent Scholar (or, what else did I do this year?)

In May of last year, I wrote with pride about the publication of my first academic article, in collaboration with my dad, Professor Raymond Knapp. I say first because ... there are now several such collaborations. This has been such a rewarding and joyous process (if occasionally plagued with deadline-induced anxiety).

In the year 2019, I presented at two conferences, Music and the Moving Image (joint paper with Prof. Knapp) and Song, Stage and Screen XIV (my first solo paper), which, while brand-new experiences, were not as nerve-jangling as I'd predicted. Acting aside, I used to be so uncomfortable with public speaking that I would visibly shake with the adrenaline. But both papers went well, even with the oh-so-convenient laryngitis that hit the day before MaMI, and I may say the dreaded post-paper Q&As were manageable. In fact, our MaMI paper will soon be published in MaMI's eponymous journal.

In addition to that, two further collaborations were published this year, one in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, and the other in The Routledge Companion to the Contemporary Musical. So academically speaking, it's been a pretty good year.

Things I Learned:
  • How to make a PowerPoint
    • That I'm allowed to be silly when I make a PowerPoint
  • When one has no university affiliation at a conference, one is an Independent Scholar
    • This has more dignity than calling oneself a civilian and running away
  • Collaboration includes remembering to share your toys and not hoard all the best bits for yourself. Sorry, dad. I'll share better next time.
  • Q&A doesn't have to be about others tearing you down. It can also be a moment to expand, explore, and exchange ideas. I'd apologize for that phrasing, but ... naw.
  • There's a whole field of nerds out there like me who like analyzing musical theater and I'm friends with a bunch of them now.

What I've presented/had published this year:

(to read any of these, please reach out to me)

Weekly Margin 2019, W49: Fefu and Her Friends, NTLive: Present Laughter

12/07/19: Fefu and Her Friends
What: Fefu hosts a gathering of her female friends at her house, ostensibly to plan for an upcoming fundraising presentation. Maria Irene Fornes's 1977 play helped begin promenade theater (with the middle section composed of four scenes performed simultaneously, the audience rotating among the four until they've seen them all), an important ancestor of immersive theater productions like Sleep No More and Then She Fell.
And? If you try to sort out what the show is "about," you might not have the best time. The reason the friends are gathered is more McGuffin than anything else. It's about who these women are when they're quietly unobserved: practicing French, philosophizing about love or genitals, quietly worrying for their safety or for the safety of their friends. And bourbon and ice cubes and croquet and water fights and bad jokes. The actors are perfect, distinct and human, full of will and contradictions, and Montana Levi Blanco's costume design is stunning. While I will admit to not perfectly understanding all that I saw, I'm fine with that; my only real complaint is about the nature of the promenade section of the play: it was not always communicated clearly who was meant to go where, which led to confusion at each stage of transition, and because each scene was in hearing distance of the others, I had trouble hearing the scene in front of me, as my ears strained at catching the farther away dialog.

Ronete Levenson, Lindsay Rico, Helen Cespedes, Jennifer Lim, and Brittany
Bradford as Sue, Paula, Emma, Cindy, and Julia. Photo by Henry Grossman.

12/08/19: NTLive: Present Laughter
NTLive broadcast of the same production I saw at the Old Vic this summer. Still perfection. I wouldn't mind seeing it five more times.