Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W27: Hamlet, Don't Look Back

6/20/22: Hamlet
What: Park Avenue Armory presents Shakespeare's longest tragedy, about a prince who learns from his father's ghost that his uncle is a bad bad man and then spends way too long checking his sources. Robert Icke's celebrated production first played at the Almeida Theatre and the West End and is now running in rep with his adaptation of Aeschylus's Oresteia.
And? Well, this production messed with the timeline enough that Hamlet doesn't actually spend all that much time checking his sources. The scenes are reordered to such a degree that, on the night of Gertrude and Claudius's wedding reception, Hamlet is able to overhear both Laertes and Polonius warn Ophelia off him, learn about his father's murder, decide to put on an antic disposition, scare Ophelia with his piteous and profound sigh, and miss the moment when Claudius has already preemptively invited Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on their school friend. He spends Day Two being sad, breaking up with Ophelia, meeting the players and setting up the "Mousetrap," beating himself up for not murdering his uncle yet even though it's only been a day in this timeline calm down dude, tearing his mother a new one, eavesdropping on Claudius's confession and yet somehow not murdering his uncle but yes murdering Polonius, and--a day after being told the king doesn't want him to leave Denmark--being shipped off to England. Y'all, it's a lot. And while they find some interesting moments with Hamlet's propensity to eavesdrop (Claudius delivers half his confessional speech while looking right at a lurking Hamlet, which is a choice), I think it drastically undermines anything resembling Hamlet's traditional journey. A lot of the usual cause-and-effect building blocks of the play as written are reordered, and I don't know if this new house has enough grounding to avoid collapse. Some of the cast are truly excellent, especially David Rintoul (strikingly doublecast as both Ghost and Player King), and Angus Wright and Jennifer Ehle as Claudius and Gertrude. Alex Lawther's Hamlet is fine if unexceptional, and overall I felt a great lack of stakes or urgency across the whole company. It's not just that this production of Hamlet, at 3hr45min, is long, it's that it feels long, which is a greater sin.

6/23/22: Don't Look Back
What: Voyage Theater Company presents the world premiere of Adam Kraar's adaptation of the story of Lot's wife.
And? Beautifully cohesive, though a bit repetitive. Full review here.

Masha King, Lina Silver, Cynthia Bastidas, and Jeff Rubino as Annie,
Molly, Edith, and Lot. Photo by Beowulf Sheehan.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Margin Notes: Don't Look Back

Masha King, Lina Silver, Cynthia Bastidas, and Jeff Rubino
as Annie, Molly, Edith, and Lot. Photo by Beowulf Sheehan.
Seen on: Thursday, 6/23/22.
My grade: B+

Plot and Background
Voyage Theater Company presents the world premiere of Adam Kraar's adaptation of the Genesis story of Lot's wife, Edith, and their family's flight from Sodom's destruction. Voyage Theater is dedicated to presenting works of diverse cultures and disciplines.

What I Knew Beforehand
Vaguely I knew about Sodom, Gomorrah, and the pillar of salt.


Play: As the audience enters the space, two gloved individuals dressed all in black are carefully tending to a vast, rumpled grey sheet spread across the playing space within the arena seating. They are not smoothing out the wrinkles but rather carefully defining them, crafting each ridge, each tiny mountain range of fabric. Occasionally they pause to look up at the night sky (as projected on the scrim overhead) or to gaze into an unseen horizon. The quiet care these two Shadows take with the space, coupled with the sound of Aviva Leong's Hebrew recitation, creates a meditative sense of a prepared space. When a shock of harsh side lighting blasts the space for the play's proper beginning, it transforms all to a desert plain, a lifeless arid wasteland that must be traversed by Edith, Lot, and their teen daughters Annie and Molly before the next sunrise. What follows is ninety minutes of a family trying not to fragment as they leave everything they know behind, all on Lot's faith that the two who warned him to leave were angels, and that this is their only chance to escape God's wrath upon the city of Sodom.

Playwright Adam Kraar has a facility with language, dropping evocative poetry like cool sips of water into the mouths of his characters: Lot, who says of his family, "in their faces, in their laughter, when they sleep, there is something holy"; Edith, who notices as they climb the mountain that "the stars up here don't twinkle"; Molly, who sees pomegranate seeds even in the bashed-through brains of an unnamed man; Annie, whose second sight tells of how he died, and of the deaths to come, warning that "something alive is burning." These lyrical moments are gifts that help lift the play out of some of its repetitive bickering, as Lot and Edith seem to have the same fight over and over without resolution. And then, perhaps that lack of resolution is the playwright's point. A story from the Hebrew Bible, like the Ancient Greek tragedies, is partially couched in the assumption that a majority of the audience knows how this story will end. At the last, Edith will look back. At the last, Edith will see the destruction (or, in some interpretations, including this one, she will see the Eye of God) and will turn to a pillar of salt. "I was bad, I know," Edith concludes, "but I was also good."

(small side note about the writing: this story is from the Hebrew Bible and yet sometimes the play's language has a more Christian understanding of worship than Jewish. This rankled me partly because I am tired of media discussion of "Old Testament" stories in a direct erasure of the Jewish religion. Lot and Edith are Jews. This is a Jewish story. Jews do not kneel upon the ground to pray.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

My Returned-From-Hiatusly Inaccurate Tony Predictions

 Tony Awards! Soon! What will win? Hell if I know! Here! We! Go!

What will win. Zelda's choice.

Best Play
Clyde's by Lynn Nottage
Hangmen by Martin McDonagh
The Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini and Ben Power
The Minutes by Tracy Letts
Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morriseau

They're all solidly well-written plays and consummate productions, but for me Lehman is a cut above in terms of an overall experience. It's still a tough call to make, because I loved Skeleton Crew. That being said, I don't think I'd be surprised if Clyde's snags it after all.

Uzo Aduba, Kara Young, Ron Cephas Jones, Edmund Donovan, and Reza
Salazar as Clyde, Letitia, Montrellous, Jason, and Rafael in Clyde's.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Musical
Girl From The North Country
Mr. Saturday Night
Paradise Square
SIX: The Musical
A Strange Loop

Even if it hadn't already won the damn Pulitzer for its Off-Broadway run, A Strange Loop would be the clear frontrunner this season, more dramatically compelling and narratively coherent than most of its competition, while also simultaneously embracing its predecessors and pushing the medium forward. It's too bad for SIX, which is a really good (if thin) time and will probably have a healthy sold-out run, but A Strange Loop deserves this win.

Jacquel Spivey, center, as Usher, with James Jackson, Jr., Jason Veasey, 
John-Michael Lyles, L Morgan Lee, John-Andrew Morrison, and Antwayn
Hopper as Thought 2, Thought 5, Thought 3, Thought 1, Thought 4, and
Thought 6 in A Strange Loop. Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W24: Which Way to the Stage, Epiphany

What: MCC presents Ana Nogueira's play about fandom, performance, and identity as the friendship between Judy and Jeff -- two theater afficionados (or obsessives, depending on who you ask) -- is tested over the course of their regular stage dooring for Idina Menzel during her run of If/Then
And? It felt very much like this play was written for me -- and I'd wager you'd hear the same from anyone who's ever argued the merits of different performers' takes on Mama Rose while waiting in a rush line or at the stage door for autographs. The jokes in this play are very inside baseball, so it's a piece that delights now but might have a harder sell in regional circuits, which is too bad because, especially as delivered with rapid-fire hilarious chemistry by the two leads, Sas Goldberg and Max Jenkins, these quips are fucking gold (the overlapping riff about Chicago and the revival versus the show itself are just *chef's kiss*). The play hits on some challenging and painful topics, especially as manifested in the quiet tensions between these two close friends: the misogyny that is sometimes a part of drag, the tendency of both friends to try to relegate the other to sidekick while resenting feeling like they themselves are the sidekicks, their mutual frustration at not booking the roles they want, the awkwardness of both being attracted to the same man (who may or may not be attracted to  both of them as well). I don't know that the play satisfyingly resolves most of these tensions, but the lead up and the explosion themselves are a worthy ride. And maybe the point is that we need to self examine our own mindsets to see if we're guilty of the same casual cruelties in our friendships, without being handed a pat solution by the playwright.

Sas Goldberg and Max Jenkins as Judy and Jeff. Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez.

*Columbo voice* One more thing. I read through a bunch of reviews today and I cannot find one mention of the fact that Michelle Veintimilla (doing fantastic and varied work as Actress/Bachelorette/Casting Director) bears a striking resemblance to Idina herself, especially when she's playing the Casting Director with Idina's signature rasp and vocal timbre. I DON'T GET WHY NO ONE ELSE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS AND IT IS DRIVING ME BATTY. Anyway, she was terrific and I wish her, Sas Goldberg, Max Jenkins, and playwright Ana Nogueira many many good things.

This isn't the most convincing photo for my point,
Sas Goldberg and Michelle Veintimilla as Judy
and Actress. Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez.

I've since talked to two other friends who saw the show and neither of them saw the resemblance, so I guess this is just a Zelda Experience that I had and no one else did, FINE.

6/01/22: Epiphany
What: Lincoln Center's production of a new play by Brian Watkins about a group of friends gathering for a dinner party in the middle of a snowstorm.
And? the tl;dr version is: I liked everything but the play. John Lee Beatty's scenic design of an aging manor house with looming windows and staircases, backed back the falling snow against starkly lit bare tree branches is beautifully evocative and--coupled with Daniel Kluger's sound design--just unsettling enough to clue us in that not all is as it seems. Montana Levi Blanco's costume design is specific without being cartoonish, at helping us quickly get a sense of who each guest is as they arrive. And the directing! You all know my opinions about working on a thrust stage (yay!) and how a director really needs to activate the full space and play to all sides of the audience. I was sitting near the side and felt like I had the best seat in the house! With a cast of nine onstage for nearly the whole show, that's no easy trick. So much respect. And the cast, too, is excellent, each performer making honest and subtle choices even when they're not holding focus. And then the play was just ... it was okay? I kept waiting for it to either go somewhere or, at peace with going nowhere, stun me with a moment of profundity, a la Richard Nelson's work. But it didn't reach that level, and at the end of the play things just sort of wound down. It's not that it was bad, it's just that it wasn't much of anything for me to take home with me.

The company of Epiphany. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.