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Theater Round-Up (July-December 2013)
instinct, artists both, martin as rembrandt, synthesist
Hi, everybody!

I've got so much to get done today, so let me get this out of the way. Here's a list of shows I managed to see in the second half of 2013. I've had a very slow 2014 for theater so far - given the weather, I'd rather be tucked up snugly at home than venture out for a show - but hopefully that will change.

Violet: This was a staged reading/singing, with the actors (in their own clothes, not costumes) still working from scripts and doing vague pantomimes at best to act out any necessary action. I was surprised how much acting most of the cast was able to do with their faces and line-readings, particularly the fantastic Sutton Foster, who played Violet, the so-called "ugliest pilgrim" who's on a bus to the evangelist she believes can heal her disfiguring wound through faith. The story felt less hackneyed than it sounds, with some interesting and convincingly mature choices being made along the way. And the music was a complete delight – rollicking, sweet, confessional – a flexible and panoramic view of Violet's world. I'm definitely booking tickets for the full version soon. 9/10

Soul Doctor: This got great reviews, for the most part, but could have been better. I wasn't impressed by Eric Anderson's portrayal of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach – there was a lot of the same benevolent smiling that dragged down the portrayal of Jesus in the last version of Godspell that I saw – and felt that the story was simplified to the point of incoherence. Characters dropped in and out of the story in ways that might have been convenient to stage but felt artificial with respect to emotional entanglements. Amber Iman, however, was phenomenal as Nina Simone, singing offhandedly with a smoky flutter in her throat and injecting the evening with some honest drama and emotion; I just wish she'd been on stage for more than a few minutes. 4/10

Forever Tango: I thought there would be a story here, as there was in Contact, but it really was just several couples doing several variations of the tango. There were some really impressive moments. Good fun. 5/10

Lady Day: Boo. Clumsy, manipulative, and just tone-deaf in its storytelling and only partly redeemed by the music. There's no denying that Dee Dee Bridgewater looked and sounded very much like Billie Holiday, but dismissing the backing band to make all of the dramatic scenes into one-person playlets was a big mistake, as it led to a lot of telling rather than showing. Bridgewater's Lady Day was so unpleasant that it was hard to empathize with her, despite the clear evidence of her past trauma. 4/10

The Norwegians: The reviews made this sound like a laugh-riot in the vein of One Man, Two Guvnors. That's a very high standard to live up to, so it's hardly surprising that this little play, with a small cast in a small theater, didn't quite get there. The premise is simple – the local mobsters are Norwegians, you know, nice and polite even when they're killing someone. It's cute, but thin, and though the cast (particularly Veronica Cruz) was game, there's only so much to be done. 6/10

First Date: Way cuter than it should have been, due entirely to the energy and commitment of the cast, which makes this the theater version of the movie What's Your Number? Zachary Levi (from Chuck) and Krysta Rodriguez (apparently from Smash) made an appealing couple (and were great at the singing and dancing and emoting), though the story was hampered by a number of issues that should never have made it in there. His ex-girlfriend is a manipulative shrew while the anonymous bad boys she's been with are let off the hook with a sort of "that's how guys are" dismissal; the gay characters are flamboyant and interested mostly in getting their straight friends together; there's drama! when it's discovered that he's Jewish and she's not. All in all, a very dated story that the cast was very good in. 6.5/10

No Man's Land & Waiting for Godot: I didn't know the Pinter play when I saw it, which is a shame, because it seemed to me to be some brilliantly acted scenes strung together rather than a coherent piece. There was a lot going on, and it was frustrating being in the very last row for the first half (we got to move down after intermission) because McKellen (Spooner), Stewart (Hirst), Crudup (Foster), and Hensley (Briggs) were all doing so much with their faces that would have clarified much of the inward drama. I did know the Beckett play, but had never before appreciated how funny it could be; McKellen as Estragon and Stewart as Vladimir made an unbeatable comic duo. 7/10 & 8.75/10

The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence: An interesting, involving play about several characters named Watson, including, of course, Sherlock Holmes's partner, Alexander Graham Bell's assistant, and the computer. I took my mom to see this as her birthday treat, and it paid off – all three of the actors (John Ellison Conlee, David Costabile, Amanda Quaid) were excellent and made the transitions between settings smoothly and convincingly. It's a play about intelligence and how much it matters and what it means to know things in your head and in your heart. Smart and emotional, though it did wrap up lickety-split. 8/10

Phew! Now off to do some writing! Hope you're all having a wonderful weekend!

This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/436219.html.

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That's an impressive number of plays there. I think I've been to three Pinter plays now, and I'm still waiting to understand what people see in him. I liked the sound of The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence.

There are definitely playwrights whose work is better read than seen; I'll have to try it, to see if Pinter is one of those for me. Watson was really fun, and it seems like it would be an easy one to move - three actors, a few costume changes, one flexible set - so keep an eye out for it in England!

What have you seen recently that made you happy?

I saw Strangers on a Train in December, which was very good, amazing set, film noire setting and really good acting (Laurence Fox and Jack Huston). I also saw Jude Law as Henry V last month, again a good production, but not a Henry I would follow into battle. And I'm going to King Lear tomorrow at the National Theatre in London, which I'm looking forward to, especially as I'm taking a couple of days leave and planning on doing museum visits at the same time.

Your London trip sounds fantastic - was it great? I'm skipping a Lear playing over here (Frank Langella has the title role) because the reviews have not been great and I'm not particularly fond of the play in any case. Plus I was badly burned by the Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff Macbeth.

I have to say, despite good reviews, I have a hard time picturing Jude Law as Henry V. Though that might be partly due to Jamie Parker being magnificent in the role.

London trip was great - I shall be posting about it in the next few days. I walked out of the theatre at the end of Lear and thought "that was a brilliant performance". I went to one of their talks the following day and Stephen Boxer, who played Gloucester, said that it was very much an ensemble performance and he was right; it worked so well because everyone was good and no-one was dominant. It's not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but that didn't matter because the performance was excellent.

What was wrong with Macbeth? I have read a few reviews that made it not sound as good as it should have been. I've seen Anne-Marie Duff once and I thought she was very good - had the play been over here I would probably have gone to see it. Although it would have been strange seeing her as Lady Macbeth, having seen James McAvoy as Macbeth last year.

Everyone I've spoken to have said that Jamie Parker was the better Henry. I would have followed him into battle (and probably elsewhere, too).

Mmm, Jamie Parker!

This Macbeth started off fairly well - I should note that Daniel Sunjata was very convincing as Macduff (and the only one of the soldiers with a soldier's physique) - but there were a lot of liberties taken with the text to give the Witches and Hecate more prominence (they were clearly running the show), and Ethan Hawke seemed to either give up about a quarter of the way through or change the characterization of Macbeth completely. His Macbeth started off as a gruff, victorious warrior and somehow became a (literally!) limp-wristed whiner. Anne-Marie Duff had very little to work with, given how constantly we see Lady M in the company of her husband. I would have liked to see what she could do with a proper Macbeth, like (by the reports I heard) her husband.

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