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...


Carly said...

A new blog! How exciting. How on earth do you get to so many shows? Do you have a secret source for cheap tickets?

Joe Rojas said...

i prefer myspace to facebook as well! I always have. I think facebook is getting more popular but I don't care. I will always like myspace more. I will be the one to stand in front of the tank...Not really.

Good theatre stuff. We should start filming discussions about shows we've seen and put it on youtube.

Linton said...

I have come to find out that the East Coast is much more prone to use Facebook than MySpace. This has to do with their origins. After having done a huge theatre workshop in Florida over the summer, with most of the participants being from East Coast states, I found out they all had a Facebook and only about two people out of the 150 had a MySpace (excluding us 8 participants from Utah...the West) :)

Zediker said...

the guy that runs face book is so freaky and strange, don't like him and don't like the thought of that possibly socially retarded "toddler CEO" representing me or my generation. The new google, whatever. Facebook is set up for people who have no reason to make their profile their own, sterile and over medicated. bleaaachk.

thats my rant, love your new blog i will check it all the time. You are the voice of reason in a time of nasty crap on stage. Down with Disney and up with something that has never been a fucking movie. Amen

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