Friday, June 15, 2007
When a news outlet's columnist writes about their own ventures, it's wrong and self-serving. When a blogger does so, it's . . . all in a day's work, I guess.
Hence, I can't resist mentioning that Gallery Players 10th Annual Black Box continues on. Still playing this weekend is Joe Lauinger's full-length play, BURY HIM, directed by Alexa Polmer. Lauinger is a Gallery stalwart and portraitist of some sensitivity--indeed, his play WEDDING ALBUM was a collection of inter-related two-handers stemming off one wedding, in which we got to know a myriad of folks intimately vis a vis their relationship to the bride, the groom or the main event. Other works have included office co-workers, divorced people working through sorting and assigning the things and people in their lives, and numerous other human negotiations. I'm seeing BURY HIM tonight, so I'd tell you more but I don't know much, other than a) I believe it deals with the death of a family patriarch and how family members (especially the daughter) move through the aftermath, and b) the production, which performs tonight and tomorrow at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm, features a talented cast along with Joe's insightful writing. (The world being a small place, I also just found out that a play of Joe's is being performed in the Dayton FutureFest this summer in Dayton, OH. Having participated a couple of summers ago and knowing the folks he will be working with, I'd say Joe's in good hands.)
Why is this self-serving? Because on the THIRD weekend of the Black Box Festival, June 21-23 (Thurs-Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 3pm), there will be a delightful bill of four plays by three other regular Gallery Players writers: the talented Daniel Damiano, the gifted Staci Swedeen, and . . . yours truly, who will have two plays on the bill--VIOLATING UNCLE PIGGY and A TEMPORARY LAPSE. The rehearsal processes, under the direction of Amanda Friou and Rich Ferraioli respectively, has been lots of fun, and the young and vibrant casts have been going out on the high diving board fearlessly, so I'm fairly certain this should be a fun evening. To order tickets for this limited engagement, call 212-352-3101 or purchase tickets online at www.galleryplayers.com.
As I wait for the cable repairman (who's just about to miss the window of his four-hour appointment time), I'm still thinking about last Sunday night.
On the Tonys, we saw hard work rewarded. Certainly, shows that broke new ground were celebrated, like SPRING AWAKENING (not yet seen) and GREY GARDENS (truly lovely exploration with killer performances). Other classics were revisited, like the venerable JOURNEY'S END, the eloquent plea to stop man's senseless propensity for war. There were many fine artists and craftspeople honored and rightly so. And doesn't the network understand that awards shows are just another form of reality TV, like IDOL or DANCING WITH THE STARS. People are actually more interested in the acceptance speeches representing years of hard work and struggle than they are with flashing well-known starts credentials. This process of chasing folks off the stage with music that drowns that out only serves to make the thank yous MORE mundane, rushed and problematic--and then the cruelty of chasing folks off. It's like getting the hook! And yet having a host can usually tie things together and keep a show moving. This year's Tony's--disjointed, ungrounded and somewhat dull, despite a rather good season with a lot of potential entertainment clips to show. Sigh . . .
Folks are more concerned about the BIG Tony, Mr. Soprano. Great show up until the last 20 seconds--suspenseful, taut and tingle-producing. But while the various messages interpreted into the great blackout are indeed interesting, the fact remains that one feels tricked, cheated. Even THAT may be an appropriate response, but I believe that an audience's loyalty deserves better than that. Time is precious; devotion and loyalty rare. Why squander that? Maybe THE SOPRANOS won't feel it, but other HBO series will as they develop, mature and end, as all things must. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
But still, Mr. Chase, thanks for the terrifying, funny and intense ride.
Friday, June 08, 2007
BEFORE "JOURNEY'S END"
A sad fact of human nature: we wait until the last minute to do things, particularly if something is "good for us" but might take more work or thought.
The best-reviewed show of the entire Broadway season was/is JOURNEY'S END, R.C. Sherriff's WWI drama, lovingly revived at the Belasco Theatre. It is expected to win the Best Revival Tony. And it will close this Sunday because no one has been going to see it. It's been playing to half-empty houses and the production will probably lose its entire investment.
So of course, when we went to see it last night (I didn't say I was better than anyone else, did I?), the show was mobbed by all those fellow theatergoers who had meant to get there sooner. And watching the brilliant cast (led by Boyd Gaines, Jefferson Mays, Stark Sands and authentic Brit Hugh Dancy) in David Grindley's sensitive production of this harrowing and absorbing anti-war, piece you couldn't help but be saddened that more people weren't getting to experience it.
What does it say when we (the public) stay away from thought-provoking theater, especially when this beautifully done? That we just don't want to think? That we as a society don't want to question? That we refused to be moved? Are we doing ourselves harm as a society if we refuse to ask ourselves the big questions until a personal tragedy forces us to do so?
You may say, "Why trouble ourselves? There's enough on the nightly news. Life's hard. Why go looking for more to stir the pot? And who cares about World War I? We've got our own situation."
But . . . isn't it our apathy, our blind faith and our abdication of responsibility to others in power to do the thinking for us that has led us to this place in our history--when for the first time, you really can't feel that "American behavior" is beyond reproach.
If art is to not only enlighten but to stir us to action, don't we at least have a responsibility to make sure we get exposed to it?! Not just the easy fun stuff--the stuff that asks more of us.
For those who can run there, hurry over to the Belasco Theater at 44th & 6th Ave. JOURNEY'S END will close at the Sunday matinee.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
"GARDENS" IN BLOOM
In 1975, just as I was graduating (gulp) high school, the independent documentary film was on the crest of a wave, with the work of D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles Brothers setting the groundwork for Barbara Koppelman, Errol Morris, Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock and many others to come . Documentary film was becoming its own genre, American newsreel reporting giving way to more subjective explorations of non-fictive subjects. (One could argue this had already happened with Leni Riefenstahl and others in Germany, but this was a distinctly American wave.) Jumping on a fascinating news story, the Maysles Brothers created what was and has remained one of the most startling film documents of the 20th Century--GREY GARDENS, the cinema verite exploration of the world of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edie, cousins of Jackie Kennedy Onasis, who after being passed over by the rich and the aristocratic in the 40s and 50s were now living in total squalor with over 50 cats, crumbling plaster and faulty plumbing in a once-grand mansion that had been called Grey Gardens in East Hampton. Even a high school senior saw the articles and pictures, and the film was one of the most talked-about events of the year. I remember desperately wanting to see it, but documentary films and teenagers living outside of major cities rarely came together. (And by the time I was in college, things had moved on.) Yet to this day, GREY GARDENS is on the list of top ten all-time great documentaries (as compiled by the Independent Documentary Association or IDA).
That someone would think to create a piece of musical theater from this 30 years later is pretty hard to believe, but that they would do it so well is amazing! GREY GARDENS: THE MUSICAL is currently at the Walter Kerr Theatre, adapted by Doug Wright (Tony winner for I AM MY OWN WIFE), with a score by Scott Frankel & Michael Korie. Michael Greif (RENT) has directed with sensitivity and imagination, and a gifted supporting cast (John McMartin, Bob Stillman, Erin Davie, Michael Potts, Matt Kavenaugh, Sarah Hyland and Kelsey Fowler take a bow) is anchored with lightening-bolt performances by Mary Louise Wilson (playing Edith in Act Two) and the incomparable Christine Ebersole (playing Big Edith in the Act One and Little Edie in Act Two).
If you weren't part of the select few who saw the off-Broadway production, you must see its Broadway transfer. If not always the perfect show, it is at the very least perfection in what it is trying to do--exploring people in a piece of history and their emotional lives, while doing said exploration in a most imaginative and theatrical way. To essay mental, physical and emotional deterioration is certainly a challenge worthy of Tennessee Williams, and to do so to people who, due to who they were AND to the cult status of this film, are icons of American culture is a risky challenge that could border on the kitsch. But GREY GARDENS heroines are treated unsparingly but with respect, and the result is a fascinating journey into madness. Act One is mostly supposition based on fact--one day in the life of the Bouvier-Beale household on the day Edie is to become engaged to a young fighter-pilot and senator-to-be, Joe Kennedy Jr. In a beautiful well-manicured estate, we detect some rot under the surface and the potential for the disaster of a lifetime. Act Two, more than 30 years later, shows how the rot had taken over and settled in, with mother and daughter now living like two bag-ladies in a place they hadn't the courage or strength to leave, surrounded by stray cats, raccoons, and filth.
What's so scary about the documentary--and what continues to work in the musical--is not that the mighty have fallen so far, but that it is easy to feel yourself sucked into the madness. These women have both lost it and yet not, such that you begin to fear for your own sanity--and begin to understand that unless the fates are kind, such a thing could happen to you. Ebersole's amazing dual performance of a glamorous, eccentric society star in the first act and a slightly unhinged former debutante in the second act is sure to remain in the pantheon of classic Broadway performances. But Ebersole and Wilson are not merely imitating the speech patterns and appearances of these two abandoned harpies (although they are indeed spot on as far as that goes). They indeed have channeled these women, and much as the documentary bares their souls, you feel these women on stage as truly as you do in the film.
There may be lags and limitations to a stage adaptation--one might wish for more of the cats and their presence (who seem to function as a feline Greek chorus in the film). But to see this kind of audacious exploration done with such talent and bravery deserves support and encouragement, for this is the realm to which great theater endeavors to take us.
Oh, and did I tell you it's also genuinely hilarious amidst the heart-break?!
Highly recommended for anyone who loves to see new, different and well-crafted theater.