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Theater: the last six months of 2014
instinct, artists both, martin as rembrandt, synthesist
innie_darling
Hi, everybody! Here's what I saw in the last six months of the year that's ending.

Atomic: A middling musical on the making of the atomic bomb. Most of the characters were caricatures - which made the good ones really stand out - and the music was unmemorable and most of my attention ended up being caught by the actors' labor in terms of transforming the set while they sang. A lot of reviews focused on whether the subject matter was appropriate to the musical genre; I personally don't think there's a genre that is ill-suited to any topic, as long as that's the genre the idea wants to be expressed in. I just wish this had been sharper and smarter and more thoughtful about what it was trying to say. 5/10

Strictly Dishonorable: A Preston Sturges comedy for the stage, this one had a nicely fizzy kick to it. Isabelle's engaged to stuffy Henry and ends up charming and being charmed by Gus, and there's a whole Greek chorus (of Italians!) to egg her on. Aside from the judge (played by John Robert Tilletson, who couldn't seem to remember his lines), this one was fun, with good momentum and nice little twists. Isabelle (Keilly McQuail) and Gus (Michael Labbadia) were especially good. 7.25/10

Amor & Psyche: I had no idea what to expect with this show, which turned out to be a hodgepodge of poetry, opera, and drama all centering on the myth of Cupid and Psyche. A lot of the works were new to me, and a lot were not, which made the evening really fun, like a lottery. All three of the onstage performers (Hayden DeWitt, Beth Anne Hatton, and Alan Dornak) were extraordinarily talented and clearly having a lot of fun. I will definitely see anything else Opera Feroce puts on. 8/10

Then came all the shows I saw in England: My Perfect Mind, A Streetcar Named Desire, Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies, and Richard III.

It turned out I'd just missed the chance to see the National Theatre's production of Medea while I was in England, so I saw it through NTLive and was blown away. Helen McCrory, tiny though she is, was a powerhouse as Medea, and having her children onstage with her made her decision to kill them all the more incomprehensible and powerful. It was also a smart and interesting decision to have so much of the stage taken up by the women who are Medea's (unwanted, fascinated) audience. The production was only 90 minutes, but it was gripping and intense, and I wish I'd seen it live. 8.5/10

King Lear: Man, do I dislike this play, and Lear himself is one of my least favorite literary characters ever. The cast did well, and Edmund was, as usual, my favorite; there was a lot of doubling that led to Lear's daughters and noblemen being played by the same women, which was interesting without really going anywhere. I wasn't especially enamored of the staging, some of which felt unexpectedly clumsy. 6/10

Excuse My Dust: I knew nothing about this show going into it, and it turned out to be a one-woman show in which the actress (Jennifer Engstrom) got to play several of Dorothy Parker's female characters as they loved and lost. Like Amor & Psyche, this one skipped around a bit, but it had more of that unsatisfying "Greatest Hits" feeling - I wanted to see more of one character, explored fully, rather than seeing all the ways women were disappointed by men. 5.5/10

Cirque Alfonse: Timber! I described this show in my birthday post as lumberjacks doing Cirque du Soleil, and that basically sums it up. This was an unusual show that I'm glad I saw, not just for the novelty but also for watching people pull off feats I'd never dreamed of. 6.5/10

Miss Julie: Man, this show was a hot mess. The setting had been changed to a southern plantation just before the (American) Civil War, and John was now his master's favored slave. I don't know what was gained by changing the setting, other than the introduction of some explosive racial dynamics, but no one involved seemed up to pulling that off. The whole thing came off as very amateurish and disappointing. 1/10

Shakespeare's Sonnets: Legitimately one of the worst experiences I've ever had in a theater. There was nothing about the staging that connected in any way to the source material, which was rendered unintelligible by being spoken/sung in German (which meant all of the rhythms and rhymes of the sonnets were lost). How does it illuminate Sonnet XXIX ("When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes") to have three cross-dressed characters, entirely in white, each next to an all-white gas pump, sing the sonnet while gesturing with the gas pumps as a black bowler hat was lifted slowly by invisible string from the stage to the flies? The music, by composer Rufus Wainwright, was largely unmemorable and uninspired, and there was only one song that I found really beautiful - Sonnet XX ("A woman's face with nature's own hand painted"). It was beautifully sung by a man (whose German accent made some of the pronunciations a little wonky, but not a big deal) but each stanza ended with a woman lying on a nearby sofa shrieking the last word/phrase derisively, which interrupted the melodic flow; all I could think of was, "This is why we can't have nice things." Ugh. The whole piece was basically Vulva's performance-art piece from Spaced, except that Daisy and Tim only had to sit through two hours of nonsense, and I sat through three. I know I have a very low tolerance for absurdity, but The Killer was absurdity done right. This was just horrifying. At least now I know to avoid anything by director Robert Wilson in the future. 0/10

Found: And this was one of the best shows I've seen; it was fresh, original, and wonderfully cast. The premise is that Davy (Nick Blaemire) gets fired and mugged in the same day, and on his way home to his roommates Denise (Barrett Wilbert Weed) and Mikey D (Daniel Everidge) finds a note on his windshield meant for someone else. He gets obsessed with finding notes that people have left, things that they've been driven to write down, and with the help of Denise and Mikey D, begins a magazine devoted to these found pieces. That's where the show starts, quickly introducing a girl (Kate, played by Betsy Morgan) that Danny likes and who might be able to lead him to wider success; I don't want to give away where it ends, but it's very satisfying, watching the cast - Christina Anthony, Andrew Call, Orville Mendoza, Molly Pope, Danny Pudi (!), Sandy Rustin - inhabit so many different characters to give voice to their found notes. Everyone was spectacular, and I'd happily watch spinoffs about a number of the note-writers. BWW came across as an Aubrey Plaza type, and she has a lovely singing voice. The music was inventive, appropriate, and really well done. And the scene just before intermission - the one with the class trip to the theater to see a production of Johnny Tremain - made me laugh so hard I nearly wet my pants. Also, ahem, DANNY PUDI SMILED AND WINKED AND WAVED AT ME AND ASKED ME HOW I WAS DOING WHILE HE WAS ONSTAGE. I know the run is over, but if this show revives or tours, SEE IT. 9.5/10

Tamburlaine: Well, now I know why this Christopher Marlowe play isn't often staged - it's positively epic, and needs the kind of doubling and efficiency it got in this production. John Douglas Thompson was magnetic as Tamburlaine, and the rest of the cast (particularly Chukwudi Iwuji, whom I'd seen in Antony and Cleopatra) kept up with him. It's more of a plot-driven piece than a character-driven one, but there are moments of arresting beauty in the poetry. I'm glad I had a front-row seat for this one, even if I did have to dodge some blood, because I wanted to see the labor involved in making stagework look so easy. 7.5/10

Lips Together, Teeth Apart: I went to see this because I'd heard of the play (though never read/seen it) and because America Ferrara was part of the cast. I thought she was fine, quite good even, but, aside from one or two moments stolen by John (Austin Lysy), the evening belonged to Chloe (Tracee Chimo), who was hilarious and poignant and familiar and surprising all at once. The play is loaded with all kinds of symbolism and significance - the two couples are staying at the house Sally inherited from her brother David, who died of AIDS - but this production made it clear that that was too much, and a more interesting play might have been made just from the relationships of the four characters. 6.5/10

The Real Thing: And this one I went to see to watch Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal make their Broadway debuts, and to glory in Tom Stoppard's language. While the whole cast was very good, EM and MG in particular, the play itself couldn't match the heights of Arcadia or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It's about two couples that split up and basically swap partners halfway through the play, and the male half of one of the couples is a writer, and the big question of the play is whether love can be captured in words. Is it a thought or a feeling, how to convey its truth. It's not supposed to be as literary a play as some of Stoppard's others, but it felt quite artificial in places. I did like that the cast sang pop tunes between the scenes - so now I've heard Ewan McGregor sing in person - but thought this one was ultimately less than satisfying. 7.25/10

Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3): This was EXTRAORDINARY. The reviews I linked should give you an idea of what the subject matter is - slavery and the American Civil War and personhood and love - but this was so beautifully written, acted, and staged that such a summary only gets across a little of the impact. Sterling K. Brown (yes, Gordon from Supernatural) played the lead, and everyone else in the cast put in an equal effort (I especially liked Jenny Jules (Penny) and Jeremie Harris (Homer)). Wow. I cannot wait for Parts 4 through 9. A real, earned epic. 10/10

You Can't Take It with You: So this show has an insanely talented cast - James Earl Jones, Rose Byrne, Kristine Nielsen, Mark Linn-Baker, Annaleigh Ashford, Fran Kranz, AND MORE - but doesn't give them a lot to do. Each one has one weird tic, and it's rather charming seeing how they've all accommodated each other out of love, but it's all in service to a very flimsy story that feels very dated (girl won't marry the boy she's in love with because her family's so weird). I get why the critics raved, but I wanted there to be more here than just a sweet collection of oddballs. 7.25/10

The River: Not just another chance to see the glorious Hugh Jackman onstage, but a play I ended up liking more the more I thought about it. I'd seen Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, but found more to like here (perhaps because of the casting). The substitution of one woman for another, which at first struck me as misogynist (maybe by the playwright, maybe by the male character), seemed to be doing a lot of work, and I liked the ways in which layers of fantasy and memory kept slipping around. All three of the cast - HJ, Laura Donnelly, and Cush Jumbo - were very good, and the play felt much longer and more weighted with significance than the 85-minute running time suggested. 8/10

The Last Ship: I wasn't a fan of this show. The music was not particularly memorable, though there were one or two exceptions, and the cast was up for it but the story let them down. I'm aware that I intensely dislike stories in which a man goes off wandering and returns home years later, expecting to be welcomed back by the lover he abandoned, the family he scorned, and the town he deserted, but even beyond my prejudice, this plot was a clunker. Gideon showed no awareness of his part in not raising his son, no comprehension that he couldn't simply slot into the life his one-time love was making with her son and a new suitor. It was really aggravating. 4/10

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time: This show was a stunner. The staging was inventive and effective and wildly different from anything else I've seen, and the lead actor, Alex Sharp, was extraordinary. He played an autistic 15-year-old, and was completely committed to the portrayal, including the aggravating behaviors and inability to understand certain situations. I'd read the book years ago (didn't care for it very much, as I recall) but my heart was in my throat for Christopher for the entire show. I'd definitely recommend this one. 9.25/10

Lost Lake: My friend A wanted to see this, and I certainly had no objection to seeing Traci Thoms and John Hawkes onstage in a two-hander. It's a slow show in which much of the action takes place offstage and is described for the audience later, but TT and JH forged a really precise and interesting relationship in their time on the stage, and their small kindnesses and cruelties were very well done. Nicely and sparely staged. 8.5/10

So, that was 2014! I have more posts to make soon, but I don't want to close this one without sending my best wishes to all of you for a stellar 2015!

This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/447325.html.

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Re: The Curious Incident, does the seating location affect the experience of the show, would you say? The tickets are not cheap, and I'm trying to decide if orchestra seating would be worth it. (Can't wait to see it, btw, and hoping to do so next month.)

Hmmm. I was in the orchestra but over to one side, jsyk. I think being in the center is more important than being in the orchestra - the effects are stage-wide and I wished I didn't have such a slanted perspective for some of them. I think it would have been better to be higher up, actually. Does that help? Also, I think that the lead actor is switched out for the Wednesday and Saturday performances - when you book, make sure you get a performance with Alex Sharp playing Christopher.

Oh, this is fantastic - thank you very much, that's exactly the info I was looking for! I'm excited to see this show; the more I hear about it, the better/more impressive it sounds.

Have a FABULOUS New Year, filled with great theatre! :)

Oh, excellent! Thank you, and you too!

Not yet - my friend and I are trying to decide on a date, but we're determined to see it by the end of the month.

Email me (inniedarling AT gmail DOT com) - I might have a discount code for you.

I'm jealous of all the amazing plays you're able to see. What an amazing year!

This is my vice, where all my money goes. When it's good, it's SO good.

(We need to talk about Selfie still. JOHN CHO, come back to me!)

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