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Theater: the first six months of 2014
visual medium, are you kidding me?, chiaroscuro
innie_darling
Hi, everybody!

It's time for my semiannual theater round-up! (There's so much fannish stuff I want to share, and I will soon.) How are you all doing?

Macbeth: What a hot mess. I should say that Daniel Sunjata was excellent as Macduff - he had the bearing, physique, and gravitas of a soldier and leader - but the rest of this production was atrocious. There were a lot of liberties taken with the text to give the Witches and Hecate more prominence (they were clearly running the show). 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 Macbeth 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. 1.5/10

Dinner with Friends: Another chance to see the wonderful Jeremy Shamos in action, and he did not disappoint. He and Marin Hinkle were excellent, first as those awful stereotypical overprivileged American foodie tourists who enthuse over really authentic old-world cooking, and then as people confronted with the notion that they might not know what a marriage really means, if the friends they set up are so easily falling apart. The stuff with this other couple was a little too neatly done – neither the writing nor the acting was all that good – but as the main couple, Gabe and Karen, Shamos and Hinkle were fantastic. 7.5/10

Winter's Tale: I only saw the first act of this Shakespeare production; I was very sleepy and what I saw before intermission was uninspiring. I'd really love to see this one done well, but so far I've had no luck. 3/10

Rocky: I took my little brother to see this – I bought him the first five movies in a DVD boxset for his birthday one year, and he was thrilled - and surprised the hell out of myself by genuinely enjoying it. It's pure spectacle – it seems to forget it's supposed to be a musical after two or three numbers – but it does that really well. Margo Seibert, who played Adrian, has a lovely voice and I wish she’d gotten more than one song; meanwhile Andy Karl, who played Rocky, sang and emoted while doing chin-ups, which I did not even know was humanly possible. There's a lot lifted from the movies (plural), so I missed out on some of the nuances, but then there's just giddy silliness like having sides of meat descend from the ceiling to indicate that we're in the freezer where Rocky's training. This is the only show I've seen that does something with the much-touted, new "premium seating" option – for the final fight, the audience members in those seats were displaced by a boxing ring, and they got up on the stage so that the show suddenly became theater in the round. The music was distinctly unmemorable, but the show as a whole was a lot of fun. 7.5/10

Measure for Measure: I had very high hopes for this production, as I'd loved Fiasco Theater's Cymbeline so thoroughly. This production, perhaps because the play is more familiar to me, didn't feel as startlingly inventive, though the staging was clean and quite beautiful. This production was explicitly pitched for a younger/new-to-Shakespeare audience, which meant playing up the comedy, but I appreciated that there was no winking at Isabella's motivations. Solid work all around. 7.5/10

All the Way: I ended up seeing this one twice, once in previews and once during the proper run, and was impressed by the edits that were made. In both performances, Bryan Cranston was a tower of strength and persuasion. There were a lot of familiar faces in the surprisingly large supporting cast, but it was Cranston's show completely, due both to the writing and his performance. I just finished reading An Idea Whose Time Has Come by Todd Purdum, which details the process of getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, the same subject as the play, and was retroactively even more impressed with Cranston's work. (Plus, he was wearing prosthetic earlobes!) Really marvelous work. 9/10

Tales from Red Vienna: Oh, I wanted so much for this to be great! Nina Arianda, who was so incandescent in Venus in Fur and Born Yesterday, was the reason I went to see this mess of a show. The storyline is that Helena (Arianda) is a Viennese aristocrat whose husband died in WWI, and she has no way to support herself other than to become a courtesan. Of course her client (possibly her only client ever?) falls in love with her, and of course she falls in love with him. And of course her husband returns then, revealing that he just wanted to escape his life and managed to avoid detection by living in France. The problem with the show is that it had no point of view, and all of the absurd events are played absolutely straight, without any humor. Even Arianda couldn't do much, though I will say they made the most of having a leading lady who is this beautiful. 5/10

Antony and Cleopatra: Now this was more like it! The dreamy Jonathan Cake (whom I last saw in Much Ado About Nothing as the best Benedick I've ever seen) spoke Shakespeare as if the lines bubbled up from his brain and heart, and Joaquina Kalukango was a ravishing Cleopatra. This production featured an edited text and was set in colonial Haiti, an interesting and illuminating choice. There was some interesting doubling of some roles, but really I went just for the pleasure of hearing Shakespeare spoken with such authority and delight. 9/10

The Heir Apparent: This was hilarious. David Ives (of Venus in Fur fame) translated Regnard’s play into irreverent verse. This felt very similar in spirit to Figaro, a very good show to mimic – there was the same boisterousness and ridiculousness, with moments of actual touching emotion. The whole cast appeared to be having a ball, particularly in the scene with three different pig masks, and the set was beautiful. I don't normally enjoy French farce, but this one was a clockwork masterpiece. 9/10

Under My Skin: A silly little show that felt like a first, unbetaed draft of what could have been a great piece. The premise (rich man and poor woman swap bodies) has been done to death, but the additions of disinterested fates, health care, and friends in peril were nice spices that livened up the proceedings. The two leads – Kerry Butler and Matt Walton - were good but hampered by the amateurish writing. 5/10

As You Like It: A fantastic production, very effectively modernized and adapted to its tiny space. The actors – particularly Ellen Adair and the beautiful Nat Cassidy – should be stars any minute now. I was wary when I read that this production would use the text to explore how stories are told, as I've been burned by "message Shakespeare" productions, but this one nailed it. 9/10

Violet: I adored this show even more than I did the staged reading. Sutton Foster continued to be absolutely incandescent in the role of Violet, and she pulled off the rare trick (like Nina Arianda in Venus in Fur) of making the role so completely her own that it is inconceivable to me that it still exists and could be done with another actor. Colin Donnell was much better here – again paired with Foster – than he'd been in Anything Goes, and Joshua Henry looked like he was relishing his chance to let loose and sing. As I noted before, the music is fantastic – I bought the soundtrack and am willing to share mp3s if anyone wants them – and the whole thing was just joyous. 9.5/10

The Most Deserving: A dull poke at what should have been sharp satire. Full of cardboard characters who were across the board unsympathetic, and the staging was just blah. 3/10

Dancing the Gods: I took my mom to this annual festival of classical Indian dance. I don't have much to say about it – I don't know enough, and I definitely can't explain if you haven't seen the dance styles for yourself – but I'm planning to go every year.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: So Neil Patrick Harris was, no surprise, phenomenal in this show – poignant, funny, athletic, graceful, everything you'd want a Hedwig to be. The supporting cast was good in their limited roles, particularly Lena Hall as Yitzhak, but the problem was that the story – already fairly flimsily bookended – sort of petered out and the resolution seemed to belong to a different show entirely. The staging was intense and I honestly don't know where NPH got the energy, but this could have been more satisfying, particularly given that the music, despite the volume, was largely unmemorable. 7.5/10

Murder for Two: Now this was a delight. It's an old-fashioned murder mystery, with one actor as the Inspector and the other actor as all of the suspects. Both actors play the piano at various times. I saw it with the original suspects actor (Jeff Blumenkrantz) and the understudy Inspector (Adam Overett), so I missed out on the heralded chemistry between the two original leads, but I had no complaints. There was tongue-in-cheekness that shaded over into Urinetown-style meta-comedy, which was done with a (much appreciated) light touch. The energy of Blumenkrantz in particular was inspiring, and the ticking off of suspects managed to be both funny and logical. It looks like this show is touring, so catch it if you get a chance. 8/10

The Killer: This was billed as experimental theater, and at over three hours, it felt like it. Which isn't to say that it was bad. Michael Shannon threw himself into the role of Berenger, and his ramblings kept coming full circle in odd ways, not that they illuminated much. The cast seemed game, but other than Shannon, I wonder how many of them knew what they were actually doing. Berenger must be an insanely difficult role, given the length of his absurd speeches, but Shannon was up to the task. 6.5/10

Just Jim Dale: I really am not a fan of one-man shows, but Jim Dale was charming and so prodigiously talented that I didn't mind spending 90 minutes watching him talk and sing and dance and mime. He skipped Pushing Daisies entirely, which I'd find harder to forgive if there wasn't so much else on his resume. His tale of performing a ballet duet solo (his cousin's bus got stuck and she never showed up) in mime was absolutely hilarious. 7/10

Cabaret: Michelle Williams, why were you so terrible in this? And why have you adopted that weird, lispy baby voice in real life and a quavering Miss Havisham voice for the role of Sally Bowles? Ugh, she brought the whole show down, and while Alan Cumming was as scintillating and outrageous and wicked as the Emcee should be, the production as a whole was kind of a mess – the staging was muddled, with too much happening or not enough happening. Linda Emond (of The Good Wife! Yay!) and Danny Burstein were wonderful as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, and Bill Heck made for an appealing Cliff, but Williams as Sally was really staggeringly bad – her acting, singing, and dancing were all off the mark. 6.5/10

Annnnnd I'm done until December/January!

This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/443091.html.

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Wow, such a lot of plays - and a number of excellent ones, lucky you. It sounds as if you may feel as I do at times, things you are really looking forward to don't turn out as well as you'd hoped, whilst others that you're not sure about really shine.

It's such a shame that you didn't get to appreciate Anne-Marie Duff's acting in Macbeth. I've seen her act and would definitely go and see her again, she was brilliant when I saw her.

A Winter's Tale is a strange story - I've seen it three times and enjoyed it every time, because the acting has carried it. Without good acting I suspect it would be just a silly tale. I wish I'd seen the production of Antony and Cleopatra I've not seen one I've particularly liked yet.

Murder for Two sounds good. I loved the Urinetown meta when we saw that, so I suspect it would be right up my street.

I've definitely been pleasantly surprised - most often by shows that I get $5 tickets to - and have really regretted some of the outrageously high prices I've paid for shows with buzz. All the Way was worth every penny both times, though.

I've seen Anne-Marie Duff in other things, and know she's capable, but Lady M can only work with what her Macbeth is giving her, and so there she was hampered. But she adapted so seamlessly to his big transition that I suspect it was something that they'd agreed upon earlier, which made me question her thought processes, you know?

Yes, Winter's Tale is a very silly story - this production just couldn't convince me that any of the actions made sense (which, honestly, they don't objectively, but an actor should at least be able to sell you on the idea that he's doing something irrational because that's in character for his part). I've now seen two excellent Antony and Cleopatras - this one and one with untouched text back in 1997, when I was studying abroad at the University of Sussex. That one was visually very striking, with the two armies divided up not only by colors (blue uniforms vs orange uniforms) but also because each actor had a drum, and the two armies each rapped out a different rhythm. I'm making it sound like a muddle, but it was highly effective and memorable.

Urinetown (many many years ago) was my first exposure to the meta-musical, and it took me a lot of thought to be able to appreciate it. But yes, you would definitely like Murder for Two, and I do hope it makes its way across the ocean to you!

Oh hai there.

I remember some of these - together! Heir Apparent and Antony and Cleo were really standout weren't they?

I didn't know you saw The Killer as well -- yeah, just, yeah. I have thoughts. Some positive, some negative.

Michelle Williams had an UNDERSTUDY the night we went, and now I am VERY VERY glad she did! I didn't think the understudy did very well at all, but might have been better all in all.

:)

Yes, those two were really fantastic - and HA had that gorgeous set, too! Tell me your thoughts on The Killer, please?

I honestly do not get how MW's performance is being praised - she was mind-bogglingly terrible. Did you like the rest of the show?

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