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.

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