Monday, November 1, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W44: American Utopia, The Visitor, Minor Character, Sanctuary City, The Taming of the Shrew

 10/28/21: American Utopia
What: David Byrne's completely staged and designed concert/celebration.
And? I keep going back and forth on this. During the first three songs I came to the conclusion that this just wasn't for me, and that's fine. But as the stage filled with more and more musicians, as their pure enjoyment of the evening spread, it turned into a good time. I had a few disadvantages: I'm not too familiar with Byrne/Talking Head's song catalog, and during one song in which he encouraged the entire audience to their feet (and they joyfully acquiesced), I could see exactly nothing of the stage for an entire song. Which is not the most fun, y'all. It was a pretty sour note to hit near the end of the night for me, and it brought me back around to "this isn't for me, and that's fine." Back to the stuff that worked: the kinetic chemistry of the performers was consistently engaging, the design was clean, and the between-song patter didn't get in the way too much (near the end he seems to try to tie it all together into a cohesive whole, and that didn't work for me, but whatever). Byrne is a strange performer, never quite seeming at ease in his body, which looks sometimes like it's being marionetted across the stage, and his face has little affect. In spite of that, he commands the eye and attention, because he doesn't apologize for who he is or try to be what he's not. He's there, he has some songs to perform, he has a bunch of friends to help him do it, and we'll all be out of here in 100 minutes. So ... not really for me, but it might be for you?

David Byrne and the cast of American Utopia. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

10/31/21: The Visitor
What: The Public Theater presents a new musical adaptation of the 2007 film about a mild mannered economics professor awakened to the dire consequences of being an undocumented immigrant in a post-9/11 world through his surprise exposure to a Syrian drummer and a Senegalese jewelry maker.
And? Ugh. I spent most of the show wondering who the intended audience was, because it certainly wasn't for people who are already upset about the inhumane treatment of undocumented individuals in this country (and, for all that we're already upset, this portrayal is strangely cold and unaffecting). But then in David Hyde Pierce's embarrassingly written eleven o'clock number, "Better Angels," he flat out says he wants other old white men to be upset about this to. Okay then. But maybe a downtown musical isn't the right venue to reel them in? That's just one of many missteps here, in a production that delayed its opening in an attempt to decenter whiteness (mission not particularly accomplished), and lost one of its leads, Ari'el Stachel, in the process (we haven't officially been told why, but rumors are rumoring). I don't really understand casting David Hyde Pierce unless the point is that he can't sing well (and if that's the point, then I have questions ... we see him gradually get better at learning the beat of the drum, but his voice remains what it is)--and listen, I have a lot of respect for DHP and his love of live theater, but this was a mistake. Meanwhile, Tom Kitt needs to stop and think whether his melodies are actually serving the story being told, and the tenor of that story. The melody for Tarek's song about life in the prison is a great melody but it doesn't actually match the fear and desperation of the lyrics. And that's just one example. Did you like anything about the show, Zelda? Yes, I thought Alysha Deslorieux and Ahmad Maksoud were terrifically voiced, and the drum circle stuff was fun to listen to.

The company of The Visitor. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

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