Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Concentration. Focus.... wait? what was I saying...

In Sunday in the Park with George, Dot, the painter George Surat's lover, talks about the art of concentration when she's modeling for him. She says that she used to think that concentration was about sitting still but now she realizes that concentration is about... about...

Oh. Sorry. I lost my own concentration and can't remember the rest...

This play was a big test of my concentration. Part of that was that I knew nothing going in.

When going to see a play, I feel like it's best to know nothing about it. And while Sunday is hardly a new play, I don't know it at all, it's not often produced, and chances to see it are few. Let alone first class productions.

When I heard there was a revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company, I was so excited and jumped at the chance to see it. I put off listening to my cast recording of the London Revival (The show is a transfer of that production) in anticipation of it. Not wanting to know anything. Wanting to soak it all up fresh.

To say that the show didn't connect to me, is an understatement. I feel like I not only needed to memorize the cast recording before hand, but also have read "Pointillism For Dummies" and taken at least 6 units of Art Appreciation classes at a French Art University. I was so lost the entire show.

That said, it's not necessarily a negative about the show. It was just very dense. The score is beautiful and I think with repeated listening, this could very well be a favorite show. But the experience of watching a show, this show, for the first time, knowing nothing was overwhelming.

The sets and lighting were absolutely beautiful and stunning. Everything was basically projections on three walls. Using the word projections is a little misleading, because saying projections makes it sound cheap. These were truly beautiful, and seamless. They turned us into the world of what George was seeing on his drawing pad. It looked more like living breathing scenery.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I feel like it could be a show I grow to love. I know it holds a dear place in lots of people's hearts (The boy sitting next to me was weeping at the first act finale, almost too emphatically.)

I only wish I had studied that cast album before I went in.

In my last blog I mentioned that I was going to see David Mamet's November, but wasn't able to get in on account of the box office not having any kind of rush policy. Damn them!!!! I don't quite know what is next on my list... until then!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wow.... that's F**ked up! (August: Osage County)

I think I've heard the phrase "That's F**ked" more times in the past week and a half, then I've heard it my whole life.

I saw August: Osage County last night. The phrase was used by many members of the Weston clan to describe their family. And they are right.

The play, a Broadway transfer from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, the play is a three and a half hour epic about a family that comes together after the death of the father. Let me tell you, this family has more problems then most. Throughout the course of the night, I think I saw 2, maybe 3 marriages end, drug abuse by a grandma and granddaughter, suicide, unspeakable sordid relations, and molestation. (That's F**ked up!!!)

It almost reminded me of the first season of Brothers and Sisters. The Walker family on that show go through a family crisis every episode; a crisis so big that their very lives seem to hang in the balance every week.

But the best part of August is that despite all the breaking dishes, cursing and drama the show is the funniest thing I've seen in a while!

Most of the laughter comes from being uncomfortable, a mother saying something a mother should never say to a daughter or visa versa. But there were some genuinely funny moments. I guess with a family this crazy it's bound to happen. Sort of like a "My Big Fat W.A.S.P. Funeral."

I don't mean to cheapen it by comparing it to Brothers and Sisters and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This show features some of the best acting and the best playwrighting I've seen in a while.

Tracy Letts (Bug, Killer Joe) has crafted a play that lets every actor shine. It was a true ensemble piece with every actor creating a deep and full character. And despite the play being three and a half hours with two intermissions, it is extremely tight and flies by! There isn't anything that could be cut. It is a great play, and I know it is for sure in the running for Best Play of the Year Tony.

This is a play I very strongly recommend. Go see it. And there is no excuse, while I student rushed it and got great seats, the last three rows are on sale and available for reservation for $26.50 which is about as cheap as Broadway gets. The play was just extended through April (no doubt a chance to give more Tony voters a chance to see it.)

This really is the play of the season.

I'm going to go see Sunday in the Park with George next Tuesday, and hopefully November on Saturday. So look out for those entries soon! Until then....

Monday, January 21, 2008

Crimes of the Heart

For me, Crimes of the Heart holds an awkward place in my own heart. Right next to Steel Magnolias.

Not only because they are simple, kitchen sink, explorations into the southern women's lives, but because I think every girl in high school was forced to do a scene from these shows in acting class at some point.

As a result, I was forced to watch way too many scenes from Crimes of the Heart. And with all due respect to the ladies whose scenes I watched, I hated watching them.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the show last night and liked it!

Watching the scenes out of context, the characters seemed silly, and the situations absurd. But seeing the whole story it made what was torture into a sweet story about sisters. Or rather... only slightly tortuous.

The sweet, sentimental, southern family slice of life serio-comic play is not my thing. But for what is was, it was a nice evening out.

Now just to be clear, when I say I "liked it", I do mean it in the most condescending way possible. It was overly sweet, overly sentimental, and overly southern for me. But I am a sucker and will fall for that stuff despite my better judgement.

It revolves around three sisters. One sister is just turning 30 and one has returned home after moving to LA to pursue a singing career. She comes home because the third and youngest sister just shot her husband, and they come to help her.

I wish the play went deeper and darker then it does, but that's not the style. It's about people who make coffee (on the stove mind you) for every guest who comes to their house and who leave their doors unlocked all day and night and where gossiping and catching up is the night life.

The set was great and overly detailed and decorated. I could have stared at it for ever, and whenever my attention wained, the set was there to hold my attention.

My favorite detail was a cellar door that was never used. And looks like it hasn't been used in years, as there is a bunch of furniture and a lamp in front of it, as if it isn't even a door, but part of the wall. Of course we find out later that the girls mother hung herself down there, and while its never spoken about, it served as a reminder of the sadness that these sisters felt for their mothers suicide.

I saw an understudy for the role of Babe, Jessica Cummings. She was great. I'm assuming she had little time to rehearse as they just started previews and understudy rehearsals don't start until then, if not after opening. Kudos to her!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Speech & Debate and Next To Normal

GROWING up in California, Broadway was a far away place... literally. So I would see every touring show that came through town, and try as much as I could to coax my family into seeing shows that came to San Francisco or LA.

After moving here and seeing so much theatre, it was a small milestone for me to sit down and watch the Tony's and have seen virtually every show!!! I was finally in a place where I could do that!

(Cleaning out my house for the new year, I went through all my playbills, and in 2007 I had seen over 40 shows!)

So, I've been trying to start this year off right. On the 8th I saw Speech and Debate at Roundabout's Underground Black Box Theatre and last night I saw the final dress of Next to Normal at Second Stage.

The fact that I saw Speech and Debate in January is laughable, because it's been extended like 20 times, and I've never gotten around to seeing it, despite hearing great things, and with HipTix being able to get in cheap! But I finally got around to it, and was more then happy that I did.

Speech and Debate follows three high school seniors, all outcasts in their own right, who through a series of events involving alleged student/teacher sexual relationship and the formation of a Speech and Debate club on campus, become unlikely friends.

The play featured some hilarious scenes that revolved around IMs (where there was no speaking, only IMs projected on screens behind the actors.) Also of note are some very funny musical sequences that were part of the speech and debate performance given by the seniors, played by Jason Fuchs, Gideon Glick and Sarah Steele.

Susan Blackwell ([title of show]) is hilarious in her supporting roles as a teacher and a NPR author.

Unfortunately before I saw the show, I read a piece of promotional material that quoted a review saying this a "play for the facebook generation."

That bothered me for a number of reasons.

1) I prefer myspace to facebook.
b. It's patronizing to say something like that.
Third - I prefer myspace to facebook. And feel very strongly about it! :)

The play was so much fun, and quirky, and spoke to me directly which I loved. But I couldn't help but hear that quote in the back of my head throughout the show, and was mad at myself for laughing at jokes about what ROFL means...

I wish I had seen it in previews so I wouldn't have had that annoying tag line in the back of my head nagging at me whenever something contempory came up... That said this was a play for people my age and younger (the fact that I have a myspace vs. facebook argument unfortunately proves the quote!) And while the older gentleman who sat next to me, did not laugh or even crack a smile once, I do think anyone could enjoy it.

NEXT to Normal, which begins previews tonight and opens February 15th, is a play that is also trying to speak to a younger generation.

I saw the final dress rehearsal, so I'm more then sure that what I saw will change and continue to grow into something stronger as rewrites are applied and things tighten.

But from what I saw, I liked it. I don't know if it will be the "next big thing" as talk on the boards (and it's own advertising) claim it to be, but it is a nice addition to the contemporary musical theatre canon.

Next to Normal revolves around a suburban family who is far from normal (or "next to?") but wants to have the Leave it to Beaver "normal" life.

The matriarch of the family (Alice Ripley) is bi-polar and possibly schizophrenic. (Despite some painfully clinical dialogue and songs we are never actually told what is wrong.) We also meet her husband, played by Brian D'Arcy James, who is loving and cares, but unable to keep up with his wife and increasingly distant daughter (Jennifer Damiano.)

We find out the family has a deep secret that haunts them, and they all try medicating the problem away with everything from pot, to Valium to electric shock therapy. If this all sounds bleak and bizarre, it is. But it's very interesting and I hope it continues to evolve into something beautifully tragic.

I don't want to give away too much, as there are some M. Night Shyamalan style surprises, but this is definitely a show you want to catch. Although I do feel the stories of suburban kids who have everything yet hate their parents, husbands who aren't there, and wives with a pharmacopoeia of self destruction in their purse are a little played out, the music saves it and makes it a story that you can sit through.

Word on the street is that it's vying for the Great White Way, and will more then likely play the Circle in the Square Theatre where Spelling Bee is closing this month. (Spelling Bee also debuted at Second Stage then moved to Broadway.)

I'm glad that I was able to start 2008 with two shows that were fresh and appealed to people my age (or at least marketed that way.) I just wonder what all the blue haired season subscribers (who are a main source of revenue for both non-profits Roundabout and Second Stage) think of them...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Striking 12: The new GrooveLily Musical

Like every year, I was looking for something to do on New Year's Eve (on the 30th mind you) when I came across a article that mentioned that it would be returning for a special holiday engagment at the Zipper Theatre. So I figured that seeing a play on New Year's Eve would be a lot of fun. And it was called Striking 12, so I figured it would be New Year's themed...
The first time I heard of Striking 12, was when "recommended" it to me as I was shopping. And it always pops up as a "recommended item."

I've been very cautious of blind recommendations from websites or other media, when I had the weird experience of going through some extras of the Cabaret DVD where I was told "If you loved Cabaret, you'll love Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me"

Of course the same movie company just happened to own both properties, and Michael York is featured in both, but when one thinks of Cabaret, Austin Powers is no where to be found.

But I gave Striking 12 a chance since I wanted something to do on New Year's Eve and Amazon was so insistent.

I knew nothing of it except that it was some sort of retelling of "The Little Matchgirl" by Hans Christian Anderson and was written by a New York area band called GrooveLily.

Amazon was right.

The story is simple, on the last day of the year, a grumpy office worker (Brendan Milburn) wants to be left alone on New Years Eve when a young girl (Valerie Vigoda) selling "extra bright holiday bulbs that are designed to cheer people up" shows up at her door. When he starts to shut the door on her, she tells him that people have been rude to her and yell "get out of here little light bulb girl." Which he explains to her is a literary reference to "The Little Matchgirl."

Not needing any lights, the man closes the door on her still, then decides to read "The Little Matchgirl." and the story has a profound effect on him and makes him reconsider his life in the upcoming new year.

The simple story of "The Little Matchgirl" takes over and packs a heavy emotional punch when GrooveLily's music is added.

The play is half concert and half theatre piece. It is performed by the three member band as they simoaltaniously play the keyboard (Milburn), electric violin (Vigoda) and drums (Gene Lewin).

The show seamlessly switches back and forth between the present day and the story of "The Little Matchgirl".

It was a great show and I had a great time. I managed to laugh and (almost) cry which I think is essential to a great night out (what is a night out with out some drama!!! it can't be all laughs)

Striking 12 really struck a chord with me and I went home and immediatly bought the CD on iTunes. (Sorry amazon, I couldn't wait for shipping.)


Hello! Welcome to my blog.

My name is Alex! I'm originally from Fresno, California but recently moved to New York City in November 2007. I'm starting this blog as a way for me to get some writing done about theatre. As part of some new year cleaning, I went through all my Playbills and realized in the last year, I've seen over 40 plays!

I wanted a place for me to talk about and share my thoughts on the plays I've seen and other (as they say on New York 1's On Stage) "Theatrical goings on around town"

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions.

Have a wonderful new year! Thanks for visiting.