Monday, January 13, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W2: Jagged Little Pill, The Woman in Black, Judgement Day, London Assurance, The Inheritance, Parts One and Two

1/08/20: Jagged Little Pill
What: A new jukebox musical combining an original script by screenwriter Diablo Cody and the song catalog of Alanis Morissette to tell the story of a suburban family struggling for perfection--or at least the veneer of perfection--whose various crises come to a head when a student is assaulted at a party.
And? My dad and I wrote recently about how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and even Dear Evan Hansen owe a large debt to the Pulitzer-winning next to normal for its nuanced approach to struggling with mental illness, and the inability to achieve a perfectly tied bow of a conclusion. This show, too, is a descendant of next to normal, though it takes a different spin with Mary Jane, the suburban housewife and mother of two teens, addicted to pain medication, suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, and unwilling to confront her own demons until they threaten to tear her entire family apart. There's more to the show than that, and that's actually a bit thrilling in itself--that it's not nearly so tidily and tightly focused as musicals--especially jukebox musicals--often are. There's also the all-star son Nick, struggling with his conscience over being a passive bystander; there's adopted daughter Frankie, angry activist, bisexual, and newly attracted to a boy; there's Frankie's best friend/partner Jo, watching helpless as Frankie drifts away; there's Bella, the victim of the assault, guarded and defensive and confused (there's also Steve, the husband, but his struggles are mostly surrounding his relationship with Mary Jane and hey, it's fine if he takes a backseat on this one). All this is interesting and at times even compelling, particularly when the rallying cry is finally sounded in support of Bella. However, the show still falls prey to that which plagues all jukebox musicals: how well do the songs actually fit the narrative--not just the emotional essence but the specific narrative beat? And that doesn't always work out. They come closest with Jo, as played by Lauren Patten, who charms with "Hand in My Pocket" and knocks it out of the damn park with "You Oughta Know," but in other numbers when two characters from vastly different angles and backgrounds share the same lyric, it loses some of its authenticity and specificity (understanding the lyrics when sung by the full ensemble is also an occasional challenge). I'm also not wild about Riccardo Hernadez's scenic design, especially with that many ambiguous entry and exit points (gonna call out director Diane Paulus for this too--I need consistent world rules), and the seemingly arbitrary sliding in and out of the band's platforms (coupled with the I-guess-this-is-a-concert-now? lighting work by Justin Townsend). Those complaints aside, this thing is badass in a lot of ways. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's choreography is fluid and kinetic and performed seemingly effortless by a crazy gifted ensemble. The staging of "Smiling" and "Uninvited" are particularly hauntingly crafted, the voices are great, and the story is relevant.

Elizabeth Stanley and Kathryn Gallagher as Mary Jane and Bella,
with company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

1/09/20: The Woman in Black
What: The McKittrick Hotel (famed home of the long-running Sleep No More) hosts the even-longer-running The Woman in Black, this time sharkening back to the play's original pub staging, by hosting it in their upstairs Club Car restaurant.
And? I suppose when I saw the language that it was originally staged in a pub, along with the fact that it was hosted by the McKittrick, I assumed this would be immersive, so I'll say upfront that it is not. It is instead an intimate performance, but largely similar to that which is still running on the West End (some of the staging, like the staircase behind the scrim, or the disappearance into the orchestra pit, had to be scrapped and replaced with something better suited to the space). It's marvelous. As my friends know, I am a longtime fan of this play, and the two stars of this run, David Acton and Ben Porter, are absolutely terrific. As an added treat: at times one can hear--and feel--the louder moments of Sleep No More's soundscape coming up from the floor (the Club Car is on the sixth floor); and then, on our exit, we took the elevator down to the lounge and got to pass through the maze. I hadn't been back to the McKittrick since August 2012, so that was a nostalgic return for me.

1/10/20: Judgement Day
What: Park Avenue Armory presents a new translation of Odon von Horvath's play about a Stationmaster who, in a moment of distraction, allows an express train to crash, killing eighteen people, and the aftermath of blame-taking and blame-placing, as the villagers' loyalties constantly shift.
And? Ultimately the play itself is okay but not particularly subtle or surprisingly. For this production, everyone's talking about the set more than the show itself, and that's appropriate. Set designer Paul Steinberg, whose CV is stuffed with opera credits, builds massive wooden structures to represent locations in the village, including the viaduct; his structures are meant to awe us in their scale, meant to dwarf the tiny humans running through and around them in a desperate attempt to assert authority and control over forces beyond their scope. It's certainly something to see, and it's a design that couldn't be done anywhere else in New York but the Armory. But while I was watching the show, I was thinking that the performance itself would be just as at home in a black box staging, or a promenade. It's interesting, but it didn't convince me it was necessary, beyond stretching muscles to fill the vast cavern of the Armory.

The cast of Judgement Day. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

1/11/20: London Assurance
What: New York's Irish Rep presents Dion Boucicault's farce of manners and means about an aging London lord affianced to a wealthy young woman in the countryside and the weekend where they finally meet, amid romantic machinations, false identities, a good deal of indulgence.
And? Splendid and silly, a great deal of fun. Irish Rep can be inconsistent, but this is them at the top of their game, with a delightful and satisfying scenic design by James Noone. The cast is overall fine (and well-directed by Charlotte Moore) but the true standout, by a country mile, is Craig Wesley Divino as the friend of everyone's family, Dazzle, who simpers and smirks gets invited wherever he invites himself.

The cast of London Assurance. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

1/12/20: The Inheritance, Parts One and Two
a repeat visit

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