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theater round-up
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away
innie_darling
Hi, everybody!

I'm so behind on putting together reviews of the live shows I've seen - in part because I've been writing and/or obsessively rewatching New Girl [when do my season 2 DVDs get here, OMG?!?] - so here it is, in one huge lump, a summary of what I've seen in the first six months of 2013.

BUT, before I forget, the help_syria fandom auction ends soon, so please go bid on something that tickles your fancy! I've made two offers - one for a New Girl fic and one for either a Sherlock or Cabin Pressure fic - but there are plenty of awesome authors out there, willing to write the story you've always wanted! Go!

In Acting Shakespeare: This was a one-man show based on Sir Ian McKellen’s Acting Shakespeare (which is available on DVD). The earlier show, which I've only seen on DVD, was an exploration of some of the things Sir Ian thought about as he was acting various Shakespearean roles – context from Shakespeare's time, thoughts on the meanings certain words accrued through repetition within certain speeches and/or plays, etc. That was great. The later show, however, was not. In general, I'm not a fan of any piece of art that tries to sell me on the idea that something created is "universal," and James DeVita pushed that angle hard – he’s a poor fisherman but Shakespeare turned his life around; fine, but not to the point where it turns out what everyone needs in order to live a richer, more fulfilling life is more Shakespeare. I felt like DeVita completely reversed the point of McKellen's production – while McKellen was talking about how he approached Shakespeare, DeVita was saying that Shakespeare could be used to explain him. Deeply unsatisfying. 1/10

Picnic: That infamous show starring Sebastian Stan, Elizabeth Marvel, Ellen Burstyn, and Mare Winningham. This was kind of a mess. There were a couple of very good moments – a few even coming from SS – but for the most part this felt really hastily assembled without any discernible purpose. From the get-go, the play creaked in a very old-fashioned way, and there was never a moment that explained why this show, with its old-fashioned concerns, was being put on in 2013. Maggie Grace had a fairly thankless role as the prettiest girl in town, and while SS smoldered his best, it was hard to work up much outrage or concern for her – anything would be better than sticking around that town. 3/10

The Suit: A gorgeous show that still felt padded by too many audience-interaction scenes despite a running time of 75 minutes. The story is simple: Philomen, devoted husband to Matilda, comes home one day to find Matilda in bed with another man; the other man flees, leaving behind his suit. As a form of drawn-out revenge, Philomen from then on makes Matilda treat the suit as if it is a guest in their home – she must offer it food, conversation, life. All three actors (Nonhlanhla Kheswa, Jared McNeill, and William Nadylam) were excellent, and the show made good use of the on-stage musicians as well. The staging was very swift and clean, helped by the actors doing much of the work and providing a lot of the music. In one scene, Matilda gets to sing a song apparently well-known to her audience, and the beauty of her voice was really overwhelming. I found a version of the song on youtube: Malaika. 7.5/10

Macbeth: I had a Shakespeare-heavy few months, and this show was the first proper one I saw this year. The gimmick was that the production would perform Macbeth entirely in the original pronunciation – not a bad trick. If only the cast had been up for the challenge. Due to my impeccable timing (and serious overestimation of how long it would take me to run all of my errands in the heavy rain), I ended up getting to the theater an hour before curtain. I was allowed to sit quietly with my book in the back of the theater, and so witnessed the cast debating how to pronounce certain words, only to decide it didn't really matter much. So much for the show! It was a confused, needlessly noisy, and uncertain production – the men acted as though they’d never heard of Shakespeare and were wildly inconsistent. The women offered coherent performances, but weren't enough to elevate this mess. 0/10

Much Ado about Nothing: Ah, this was more like it! It will sound like faint praise when I say that Don John was actually threatening and Dogberry was actually funny, but that's only because who can focus on anything else when you've got Beatrice (Maggie Siff) and Benedick (Jonathan Cake, whom I recognized as that British secret agent Sarah had a little bit of a thing with in the excellent second season of Chuck) doing their thing so joyfully all over the stage? JC was especially good, looking amused as he kept quipping and then vulnerable when he realized all the words in the world weren't going to do him much good when Beatrice was right there. The "I do love nothing in the world so well as you; is not that strange?" line made me shiver with delight at hearing it said so beautifully. JC made for a vigorous, athletic, credible Benedick, and MS was almost his equal. 8.5/10

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: I'd never seen this play before, but I had seen works derived from it; that still didn't adequately prepare me for the sucker-punch of the show, which is an exercise in elongated brutality. Tracy Letts (as George) and Amy Morton (as Martha) were incredible, though perhaps too effective, as the lighter moments virtually vanished under the repeated sledgehammer blows of the fight that took no prisoners. One of those plays I'll be glad I saw, though maybe not just yet. 8.5/10

Falstaff: An evening – half-academic, half-performative – dedicated to Falstaff, this was a nice treat. While the academic portion seemed to be aimed at people who'd maybe taken one Shakespeare survey course in college rather than more avid students, it was still a good night – the amazing Brian Cox was on hand to get things going with his portrayal of the big man. I'll definitely be going to any other events put on by the Shakespeare Society.

La Traviata (Placido Domingo!): Not a play, obviously, but the opera. I'm going to take a moment here to complain a little about the Metropolitan Opera: despite the outrageous ticket prices and the see-and-be-seen thing, I have not enjoyed a single opera here as much as I loved the shows I saw at the Philadelphia Opera House, where I had season tickets for four or five years while I was in grad school. I don't like the stagings of the operas at the Met, and find the performers to be mostly unengaging. This production, unfortunately, was more of the same. Though Placido Domingo was in the cast (!) as Germont, the production seemed largely uninspired. I think I've learned my lesson. 5/10

Dmitri Hvorostovsky: Ah, I say that, but I still spent a lot of money to attend this recital, in part because of the great reviews DH has garnered, in part because I wanted to hear a Russian baritone sing Russian works, and (let's be real) in part because he's gorgeous. The first half of the program, which was works from Sergei Rachmaninoff, was a little off – I was bored and not feeling that frisson of watching someone do something amazing live and in the same room as me, though the songs "Ty pomnish' li vecher" (Do you remember the evening) by Aleksey Tolstoy and Siren, Op. 21, No. 5 ("Lilacs") by Ekaterina Beketova were very good and impressively evocative. But things got amazing in the second half when DH sang the entirety of Georgy Sviridov's Petersburg (which the composer apparently finished expressly for Hvorostovsky to sing). Even there (all text by Aleksandr Blok, translated in the program notes by Levon Akopjan) there were standouts: "Nevesta" ("The Bride"), "Ya prigvozhdyon k traktirnoi stoike" ("I am nailed to a tavern counter"), and "Bogomater' v gorode" ("The Virgin in the City"). Here's the translation of "The Bride":

Our Lady Soothe-my-sorrow
Was before the coffin, bright and serene.
And behind the coffin, in a black veil,
The bride walked, she was bidding farewell to her bridegroom . . .

He was but a fashionable man of letters,
A creator of blasphemous words . . .
Yet every dead man is dear to the people's soul,
For the people revere every death.

And those who met the procession bowed their heads and crossed themselves
Heavy with thought and work,
While the friends and relatives scattered dust
On the icon, on her, on the coffin . . .

And with what infinite sadness
(God knows for whom she was grieving)
She was accepting the words of condolence
And the casual wreaths, one after another, though she was grieving not for him

These repeated, standard phrases,
These words that nobody needs
She has transformed them to the acme of creation,
Into a secret divine smile . . .

As if there, where people were singing and burning incense,
Where even death cannot be silent,
She was waiting for another bridegroom,
Dressed in a bridal veil against the dust. If you get the chance to hear him sing this song-cycle, GO.

The Mound Builders: I was really looking forward to this one, as I'd loved Lanford Wilson's Burn This (which my friend G and I saw as a birthday treat eleven years ago – the cast was Catherine Keener, Edward Norton, Dallas Roberts, and Ty Burrell) (!!!). But this show – man, the actors were doing their best, but the staging was confused and the writing felt muddled. There were a lot of lines that clearly were meant to resonate, but given that we had no idea who these characters were, it was hard to get emotionally involved. I left at intermission, which I dislike doing, but felt I'd be better off at home. 2/10

Assembled Parties: This was a great show, full of feeling and while the plot could have been tightened just a bit more, the three main actors - Jessica Hecht, Judith Light, and Jeremy Shamos - just ran with what they were given and made something fantastic. Judith Light was even better here than she'd been in Other Desert Cities, and Jeremy Shamos got more emotionally deep material here than he had in Clybourne Park. The show was very funny and very satisfying. And it's still on, so GO. 8.5/10

Dance of Death: I wanted to see this for three reasons: (1) I'd seen the Ian McKellen/Helen Mirren/David Strathairn version many, many moons ago, (2) to compare it to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and (3) because Daniel Davis (Niles the butler from The Nanny! I still need to write that fic - maybe for Yuletide?) was the male lead. I took my friend A to the show, and she pointed out that a setting change/update might have made the first act work a little better. The show's a bit of a drag - there's a lot of scene-setting that is necessary but could have been accomplished more efficiently - but the actors, again, did their work with vigor. 6/10

Macbeth: This is the Alan Cumming version, and it wasn't exactly a solo performance, as I'd thought it would be. There are two other actors who speak very little and mostly show up to provide other bodies. A very ingenious production, with three large monitors imperfectly synchronized sometimes playing the weird sisters, sometimes echoing Macbeth's own anguished words, sometimes giving the audience a closer view of whatever character Cumming was playing than was possible without such technology. The show is set in a mental institution, with Cumming playing all of the major characters. I've never seen one person act out both sides of a sex scene before, and I wasn't expecting it to be so very convincing. His Lady Macbeth was a particular triumph. It's still running, so GO. 8.5/10

Bunty Berman Presents: Have you ever seen something that was enjoyable and yet troubling at the same time? That's what this was. The show is set in Bollywood, in some past decade. Bunty Berman is a director whose studio is failing because his last few movies have been flops, in part because his leading man is too old for the work. So you've got the aging and vain matinee idol, his newest leading lady, the tea-boy who loves her, Bunty's assistant, the screenwriter, and the gangster who's offering to finance Bunty if his son is the new leading man. It should have been a light-hearted and delightful caper, but it got bogged down in mashing together American and Indian culture in ways that were frustrating and senseless. (Though the old leading man was hilarious.) There was a talkback after the performance, and the playwright (who played Bunty) was really unwilling to hear criticism - at least from the Indians in the audience. Those of us who spoke up had our points shot down with "it's just a play!" 5.5/10

On Your Toes: I wanted to see this revival (I'd never heard of the show) simply because Christine Baranski was in it, and I loved her in The Ref and have been loving her in The Good Wife, and she is just flat-out amazing. Her role here was fairly small, but she made the most of it, all steel spine and empathy. She played a producer who's trying to get a new show put on, only to have backers drop out, the director get cold feet, the leading lady be difficult, the playwright get nervous, etc. The show does something interesting in combining modern dance with ballet - Irina Dvorovenko, who played Vera, the Russian prima ballerina, was absolutely hilarious and talented - but it was clear that the dancing, and not the music, was the focus. If I'm going to a musical, I want to leave with at least one song stuck in my head, and this just didn't do that. But the dance-off to the song "On Your Toes" was thrilling. 7/10

Kinky Boots: I enjoyed this so much. First of all, Stark Sands was phenomenal as Charlie, and I have never seen a love-interest like Annaleigh Ashford, who was a scream as Lauren - she was off in her own little world, crushing on Charlie, and all of her songs tumbled out of her as if she just couldn't keep them buttoned in anymore. They were fantastic. Billy Porter got a lot of fantastic press (and the Tony) for his portrayal of Lola, and while I thought he was great with the physicality of the role and his work in the group scenes, I thought he went way too far with the quieter moments of Lola. There's a moment in which Charlie tells Lola that he loves her and she doesn't need to keep hiding behind the Lola persona, and it's played as if Charlie has made a huge error. In the real world, it would be - it's not up to Charlie to decide if Lola is the real Simon or a mask that Simon is hiding behind - but here, BP's portrayal made it seem plausible that Lola was simply a means of achieving something, and so Charlie's words carried the weight of love rather than error. Kudos to Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper for the book and score - both were effective and entertaining and emotional. I'd absolutely see this again, so let me know if you want to go! 8.5/10

Midsummer Night's Dream: I have seen countless wretched productions of this play - the nadir was one I saw in England, where everyone was on roller-skates in Indian clothes and speaking with cartoonishly bad Indian accents for no discernible reason - and this one finally broke that streak! My friend E wanted to go, as she knew someone on the crew, and it was great. The play was performed in a church, which gave the actors a very limited space in which to work, and also put us (in our pews) very close to the action. The lovers were credible, the displays of power depressingly realistic, and the whole thing was done with a really charming energy. A very enjoyable afternoon. 8/10

Ann: Tell me what's not to like about Holland Taylor playing Ann Richards? The answer: nothing. This was a one-woman show, and HT did it with gusto. Her Ann was funny and irreverent and hopeful, while also so clearly tired; there was real feeling there, and it all clicked beautifully. It was also incredibly funny - Ann apparently attended a costume party as a tampon once - and I texted my friend with my favorite Ann Richards insult after the show: "That guy couldn't organize a circle jerk." This was a real treat. 8.5/10

The Nance: Nathan Lane in a part that was apparently written for him - that was enough to get me to the show. He was very good, though there were a few moments that jolted me back to "oh, right, this is fiction," when characters behaved in certain ways only because the play needed them to, not because that's what they really would have done. NL plays Chauncey, a gay vaudeville performer who plays "queer" onstage because it's assumed he's straight offstage. Jonny Orsini was excellent as the man Chauncey picks up and falls in love with, but the rest of the cast was given pretty short shrift, which was a mistake, as their romance (real, requited, wonderful to watch) was made into a sort of metaphor for all closeted romances. NL was so good, but the material didn't live up to his performance. 7/10

Peter and the Starcatcher: A totally charming take on Peter Pan with an appealingly meta undertone to it, this was a really enjoyable show, though it would have been much improved by (1) Christian Borle as Black Stache and (2) a better seat - I was halfway back in the orchestra, and I missed a lot due to the layout of the theater. Nicole Lowrance was an adorable Molly, and the whole production had a melancholy tone that made the whimsy really click. If you go, get seats right up front. 7.5/10

Cornelius: Wow, so boring. I have no idea what people were raving about. I left at intermission. 1/10

Matilda: I've been feeling guilty about maligning Bertie Carvel's teeth in a Sherlock fic I wrote, so I really wanted to see him as Miss Trunchbull, and damn but he knocks it out of the park. He's grotesque and fully realized and looks just like the Quentin Blake illustrations. The show itself is very high-energy and fun, though it was a bit difficult to hear the lyrics, which is a shame, since they must have been witty. The staging of one of the early numbers - I think it might have been "School Song" - was delightfully clever and effective, and a nice surprise. There were a few things that fell flat for me (the other children's rebellions, the additions of Mrs. Wormwood's dancing mania and the acrobat/escapologist backstory) but that may have been because I knew the book so well. Highly recommended. 8/10

Murder Ballad: A simple story, interestingly and effectively staged. When you walk in, you're walking into a room that has a stage at one end (on which the five-piece band sits), a pool table at the other, a working bar to one side, and a dozen small tables at the other. Some of the audience was at those tables, some were in rows behind the tables or the bar. The cast made full use of the space, and wove themselves into the audience repeatedly. The story: Sara and Tom fall in love in downtown Manhattan, she leaves when he can't commit, she meets and marries Michael and has a daughter with him. Five years later, she starts an affair with Tom, and Michael finds out. It's all laid bare for us by the Narrator, the luminous and extremely talented Rebecca Naomi Jones, as lovely here as she was in Passing Strange. And it ends in murder. The book and score were really well done, and I'm taking points off only because so much of the evening was spent watching Tom and Sara make out, which was unnecessary. [Hahaha - obligatory New Girl reference, as this review asks, "why do bartenders look so good in henley shirts?" Oh, NICK MILLER!] This closes in a few weeks, so go now if you can. 7.5/10

. . . And that's how I spent the first six months of 2013. *curtsey*

How are you all doing?

This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/429068.html.

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How am I doing? I'm currently... feeling less cultured than you, frankly ;)

I have to ask: where on earth was the Indian roller-skating MND? That sounds sort of terrible-amazing.

Hahaha, what you read as culture, I look at as the steady diminution of my bank account!

The roller-skating MND was staged when I was at the University of Sussex (so, spring and summer terms of 1997) - I have succeeded in repressing the name of the theater company that foisted that horror on the stage, so please don't make me recall it now.

Are you all set for the next stage of Help Syria stuff? Email me if I can help out in any way.

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