Monday, March 25, 2013

Les Misérables: Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack

The time has come...and Les Misérables has been released on DVD and Blu-ray.

No huge fan of the stage musical, which I barely remember seeing in the late 90's, I find I still know a great deal of the score through osmosis.  The songs are infectious and really you can end up cleaning your apartment and humming or singing the tunes while butchering the lyricsJust me?

We begin with the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a prisoner who has suffered for 19 years under hard labor and the watchful eye of Javert (Russell Crowe), all for stealing a bit of bread.  He is paroled but struggles to find work as a released prisoner with a record.  Nevertheless through religious transformation, he rediscovers his moral core and abandoning his parole obligations creates a new identity for himself, as an upstanding mayor of a town.  He encounters Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is cast out of her job because they discover she has an illegitimate child.  She is forced into prostitution and that is where Valjean discovers her, rescues her and promises to look after her child for her.  Since France only seems to have 12 different people living there, Javert shows up as a police officer and haunts Valjean...until he finds out his true identity.  Valjean rescues Cosette, from the Thenardiers (Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter) who have treated her a bit like Cinderella in their tavern where they steal from their customers.

Time leaps ahead and we are moved to Paris and introduced to the student revolutionaries Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) who are protesting the French government.  The Thenardiers are still up to their old tricks and run a street gang which includes their grown daughter, Eponine (Samantha Barks).  Eponine loves Marius,  Marius however spies the now grown Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) across the market one day (again France has only 12 people in it) and immediately falls in love.  Eponine follows him and pines after him.  Then Cosette and Valjean go back on the run, because again Javert shows up.  Paris being I guess a small hamlet of 12 people.  Marius is devastated and throws himself into his rebellion and Eponine, dressed like a boy, joins in.  There are battles, suffering, death, sadness and a whole lot of songs sung. 

Personally Jimmy Smagula's mother's description of the movie is my favorite (it contains spoilers).


As I expected I found the filmed musical a bit tough to watch.  I listened in on the Tom Hooper commentary quite a bit (which is available on both the DVD and Blu-ray).  But alas he did not really explain why he felt the need to shoot so far up everyone's nostrils I could diagnose a sinus infection.  Actually he did say he felt the environment did not inform the songs and because many of the songs are sung to God or sung as prayer and reflect their internal struggle he felt keeping the camera on their faces was the right approach.  Alas because there is almost no spoken dialogue then the camera pretty much stays on a face at all times.  He seemed to favor shallow depth of field and shooting through objects--again keeping it intimate but frankly I overdosed on intimacy.   And lord there were a lot of crosses. I get it, Tom. Sacrifice, faith, redemption, Jesus.

The epic songs we are used to seeing fill a stage do play different in close quarters.  But the emotion almost felt trapped in the tight camera frame.  The story felt very choppy because of the lack of dialogue, exposition, and well the lack of action that takes place outside someones face.  There is a great deal of CGI (some was strict necessity because of live singing on the sound stage) but sadly I find Hooper's work drifts into saccharine sentimentality (I swear there is a digital butterfly flapping its wings during a love song--vomit).  I wanted to be liberated along with the students.  But open vistas or wide shots were few and far between.  

As for the performances, I was really surprised by how much I liked Eddie Redmayne.  He seemed to come alive in this film in a way I have not seen in other works.  I often find him to be a little cold and remote.  Maybe the songs loosened him up but it was a welcome respite.  Once the story turns to the student revolution it did feel like a breath of fresh air in a story that is one bad luck turn after the next.

Hugh Jackman is the unique singer who can act a song more than sing it, as was evident from his stage show Hugh Jackman:Back on Broadway (Side note: according to the interview with Jackman in the extras part of his training for this movie shoot was doing his Broadway show--glad we could help Hugh. Come back anytime).  And that's not a dig.  He makes a performance extraordinary through his acting even if the singing is just fine.  He gives the film 200% and whether you like it or not you cannot help but feel for him.  He is the film's greatest asset.  Russell Crowe was painful to watch.  His singing seemed lost in his cheeks.  And those of us who like Broadway star Aaron Tveit (Catch Me If You Can) can rejoice that he makes the stage to screen transition quite well. 

Nevertheless  if you like theater it is worth checking out the film on DVD/Blu-ray and the Combo Pack (which also includes a digital download and UltraViolet copy of the film).  There is definitely a drinking game to be had with spot the West End musical stars in the background of many scenes.  Many cast members who had been in stage productions of Les Misérables appear in the film.  I wish Hooper had spent a little more time pointing them out in the commentary (he does note the original Jean Valjean in one scene). 

There are many extras in the Combo Pack if you want to learn a lot more about the film's production.  For the Blu-ray, there are featurettes on the live singing, the battle at the barricade, a history of the West End theater connections to the film, and the on location shooting that did take place.  On the DVD (and also Blu-ray), there is a short documentary on the stars of the film where you can listen to Anne Hathaway talk about her "suffering" and tear up talking about her character, a history of Victor Hugo and his mistress who wrote him 20,000 letters in their lifetime (!), and the production design to recreate Paris. 


I was provided with a complimentary copy of the Blu-ray Combo Pack for review.     

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Imma Let You Finish Annie Baker: A Rant

I was surprised to receive an email from Playwrights Horizons addressing the divisiveness of Annie Baker's new play The Flick.  I noted in my review that there were walkouts but I figured it was important to point out that not everyone will like it--BUT THAT'S NOT A BAD THING (Lord knows we here at Mildly Bitter's Musings, island of misfit toy opinions, know what it is like to be the minority view on certain shows).

I appreciate that many theaters are dependent on their subscriber base to survive.  And I expect them to make business decisions that find a balance between creative endeavors and money-making ventures.  But I'd like to think those decisions are made before audiences flood the box office demanding their money back.  Reading Tim Sanford's email I was chilled by the admission that they considered shortening the three hour show in the face of the walkouts.
"Theatergoers rarely encounter three-hour plays these days even though most classic scripts from earlier ages routinely clock in well above that length. When performances began and some of you walked out at intermission, emphatically expressing your displeasure to our House Manager, we had lengthy discussions about what to do. Could we make internal cuts within the scenes or could whole scenes go? Were there places to pick up the pace? Each scene seemed to have important reasons for being there. And what about those long silences between lines?"
God forbid an audience watches a 3 hour play that isn't by the Bard.  Le sigh.  One of the things that impressed me about the work was that it was given the chance to run three hours and felt like it was moving at a different pace than we are used to seeing in theater.  I really reveled in this "indulgence" because it seemed critical to the spirit of the play and that Playwrights Horizons was offering a  playwright a chance to do this seemed truly ballsy.  Until, well, I read this email.  In the end Sanford says they chose not to make any cuts:
"But after our initial concern about walkouts, we began to pay attention to the other voices, the voices that urged Annie and Sam not to cut a second, the voices imbued with rapture for a theater experience unlike any they had experienced and for a production that stayed with them for days, even weeks afterwards. And it became clear to me that every moment of the play and production was steeped in purpose. Annie had a vision and this production beautifully executes that vision. And at the end of the day, we are a writer’s theater and my first responsibility is to that writer."
Now wait a minute.  ONLY THEN DID HE BELIEVE THAT THE PLAY AND PRODUCTION WAS STEEPED IN PURPOSE?!  That they EVEN considered it for a minute I'm stunned.  But maybe my real outrage is that they have chosen to reveal to the subscribers they considered acting on behalf of this vocal minority to change the work and now want some sort of gold star that they did not. 

For the row of people that left the night I went, the majority of the audience stayed.  Why then would you coddle or accommodate this vocal minority and give substantial credence to their complaints.  I didn't know you were listening to your audience. If so, well then where are my accommodations for the six shows over the last two seasons I didn't like.  I have seen a large number of shows at Playwrights and for every show I have liked and or loved (Completeness, Maple & Vine, The Whale), there are two I have notes for (Rapture, Blister, Burn, Detroit, The Great God Pan, Assistance, The Big Meal). 

I jest of course.  Don't listen to me Playwrights.  Jesus.  But don't listen to those other guys either.  Set your own course. Listen to your artists.  Some things will work.  Others won't.  We all want the work to connect to the audience and get the best reception but those who are not ready for Annie Baker will probably still return to see Far From Heaven--AS LONG AS STEVEN PASQUALE IS SHIRTLESS AGAIN (hint that would help on your poster--again if you're asking for my opinion).  

And most of all never apologize for your artists.  You can feel bad that not every one "got" what Baker and Gold were going for but for those who did, we really loved it, and to back away even slightly, suggesting a foul smell emanating from a 3 hour show full of silence, is going too far in the name of customer service.

I'm betting I'm kind of alone in this non-troversy.

Man I loved The Flick so much it kind of hurts. 

Much Ado About Nothing: Inconceivable Futures

 "Some cupids kill with arrows. Some with traps."

With barbs and boasts and scorn and sarcasm, Shakespeare's notorious wit warriors, Beatrice (Maggie Siff) and Benedick (Jonathan Cake) take swings  at each other in love and in hate in the Theatre for a New City's production of Much Ado About Nothing.  Smartly staged by Arin Arbus, the production captures a time in Italy before World War I where battle weary soldiers finally allow themselves to contemplate their future and in that optimism fall in love.  In a garden with crisp leaves beneath the audiences feet, a garden swing that emulates the back and forth of our leading players, and under the gentle shade of a billowing tree, our story unfolds.

Entertained by Don Leonato (Robert Langdon Lloyd), soldier Claudio (Matthew Amendt) falls for Leonato's daughter Hero (Michelle Beck).  Claudio is teased mercilessly by his friend in arms Benedick (Cake) for falling prey to a woman's charms. Benedick has sworn off marriage.  He has become accustomed to trading insults and volleys with Leonato's niece Beatrice (Siff) who herself sees no value in men or marriage. In suitable revenge to their protestations against love, their friends and family conspire to convince Beatrice that Benedick loves her and vice versa.  Claudio intends to marry Hero but before he does he is tricked into believing she is unchaste. He slanders her at their wedding and Hero fakes her own death and is reborn when the truth is revealed.

Both Beatrice and Benedick have their lives held up to a mirror by their friends and families, but what is reflected back is not the merriment of their wit but the harm that denying another's love would have.  When confronted with hurting someone, truly wounding someone, neither wants to be the villain.  Essentially it is all fun and games until someone loses their heart.

We're it not for the seriousness of Claudio's accusations perhaps a flirtation between Beatrice and Benedick would not have become something more serious. But when Beatrice's family is attacked Benedick rises to her aid.  Beatrice is powerless to do anything to punish Claudio for his slander.  She shouts with impotent rage,"Were I a man!"  Benedick choose love over loyalty to his fellow soldiers and agrees to fight his friend in Beatrice's stead. This sacrifice, this honest truth shifts the battle between Beatrice and Benedick from a war of words to a detente of respect.  In these dark hours, contemplating a life without love, children and permanence, Beatrice and Benedick forge an unexpected bond.

The tone shift in the play, from wild repartee, to serious grief is a challenge. But this production remarkably makes it across that bridge.  Of course, much credit goes to Cake and Siff. Siff is stronger in the dramatic portions of the play than the comedy.  But she keeps up with the remarkable Cake whose boundless energy and impish spirit gives way to profound gravity.  His athletic eavesdropping scene is worth the price of admission alone.  Of course the real challenge is believing any woman could resist his charms in the first place--he's the sexy bad boy we'd all love to trade insults with if we were guaranteed a ride in the garden swing with him when the battle is over.

Cake offers the rare Benedick whose character contradictions make sense--we see him weigh his past life as a solider against a future he never thought he would have.  His protestations against marriage come then as a defense against a life that was not to be his.  Opening himself up to the idea, it is less radical a departure from his previous position, and more a peeling back of his defenses and false bluster to his true nature. It's an impressive and enlightening performance. 

I found Michelle Beck's speech as Hero talking about Beatrice's shortcomings to be quite powerful.  Beck seems truly pained as Hero speaks of her cousin's character-- how Beatrice's scorn can be dismissive and even cruel.  Hearing her loving cousin speak of her shortcomings, makes Beatrice's motivation to change less about becoming someone else for a man, but of being more honorable--in a story where honor and villainy are central.  It's another in the many smart directing choices here.

I found the rest of the ensemble serviceable and I quickly forgot the dragging Dogberry scenes when Beatrice and Benedick returned to the stage.

Cake and Siff open up the text and offer fantastic interpretations of Beatrice and Benedick.  With those performance, the insightful direction, the simple but expressive set, this a production you should not miss.   

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Daniel Kitson 2013 Tour: Latitude Festival

Daniel Kitson had mentioned that he had some summer festival news.  Today they announced the line-up for the Latitude Festival in the UK and he is all over the schedule.

According this online report he will be bringing a number of works:

He will be performing his new standup show After the Beginning. Before the End which will be touring this spring as a work in progress in Australia and as a completed work in the summer in the UK and New York.  He will debut a new, as yet unnamed, theater piece.  His poem Lucinda Ding and the Monstrous Thing, which premiered last summer at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, will be performed again with Gavin Osborn.

And as if that was not enough, he will be premiering a filmed version of his show It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later and participating in a Q&A with the filmmaker Ewan Jones Morris.

What the actual fuck. It's all too much for me to handle.  Mind you, I won't be there so at least no one will have to calm a hyperventilating enthusiast who looks like me. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Flick: We Go On Living

"Maybe the problem is I am waiting for things to change."

It takes a confident writer to write a play full of pauses, repetition, and inaction. It takes trust that the audience will do the work--stay focused and engaged--to stick around for the payoff.  Practically a full row in front of me walked out at intermission of Annie Baker's The Flick. Not everyone has the tolerance for this kind of theater. But I was energized by every minute of it where questions of authenticity, honesty, and life imitating movies are thrown about.

Sam (Matthew Mahar) is 35 and lives in his parents' attic. He's been working at this one screen dying movie theater for many years, sweeping the floors, pouring the sodas, skimming from the till.  He's also been hiding his crush on twenty-something projectionist Rose (Louisa Krause) who oscillates between rage and nonchalance. New arrival to the team is Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten). A college student at nearby Clark University, Avery is film savant who can easily get from Pauly Shore to Ian Holm or Michael J. Fox to Britney Spears in six degrees.  He proudly chooses to work at one of the last movie theaters in Massachusetts that still projects the films on film.  Issues of friendship, love, class, and race all get addressed but with deft hand.

The Playwrights Horizons audience faces an empty movie theater with the projector projecting out onto us as the screen.  The romantic film student in me loved watching the projector light bathe the live audience and make us the story for a moment--sitting in the one spot you would not sit in real life.  And all we could do is feel the bright light on our faces and hear the soundtrack without ever seeing the films.  This interstitial device was used throughout giving the play its rhythm and setting up scenes between movie screening times.  And anyone who has used movie-going as an escape from life can tell you that reality only happens when the lights come back up again--that heart-breaking moment when the movie magic is gone and you have to go home again. 

Director Sam Gold moves his characters around the theater seats and in the projector booth where we can only see and not hear what goes on behind the soundproof glass.  Coaxing arias of awkwardness out of his cast, the yearnings, agonies, petty defeats, and life set-backs are borne nobly by the characters and actors.  Much of the action, emotion, and trajectory of the play is without words and the performances must carry the story.  The dialogue is often quite banal--banter over movie titles, chitchat about their "stupid" boss Steve, or tiny bits about their personal lives quickly brushed off.  But all the banality is all building to something.  The framework is there and Baker lays a foundation for each character and the confrontations that are to come later.

Unlike Really Really, where the writer felt the need to lecture us about the Me Generation, here Baker manages to let the story, setting and characters just be and we get a full picture of contemporary life without any lecturing.  She stuffs the play full of meaty topics like depression,  dead-end lives, economic realities, betrayal, and loyalty but all without grandstanding.  She makes each character portrait familiar but without stereotype--the unexpected and the unique are buried in there as well.  She takes monumental issues but plays them out locally such that they are not "issues" but simply life.  And unlike Really Really there are characters here with hope ("I'm so curious about my future") and characters adrift ("Don't expect things to turn out well in the end.")  And maybe they aren't the ones you think they are.

Baker's strongest takeaway is reminding us that we never know what is in the heads of those around us.  That we can even communicate with each other all the while not knowing what is in others hearts is worth recognizing and appreciating.  And to assume we know is to often be made a fool of when we underestimate people's capacity to face pain, rejection, life and keep moving forward regardless.  Time moves only in one direction and to quote Tom Stoppard, "we must stir our way onward."

Gold gives the actors ample room to make these characters breathe.  Matthew Maher looks like Hamlet after being struck with a poisoned sword when Rose and Avery make plans to hang out, without him.  We know Sam pines for Rose even though it has never been spoken of.  Though Rose's the dolorous blow may be with words, Maher's reaction is no less than that of a man whose is bleeding even if we cannot see the wound.  Later, Sam has a Gatsby-like moment where he confesses his crush--explains himself and his overwhelming "love." His feelings are so epic and painful, he cannot even face Rose in this confession.  It's a beautifully staged moment.  Making use of the rake in the movie theater and allowing the audience to stare directly into Sam's eyes as he experiences this moment.  But there is a twist here--Rose is no Daisy and she knows she's Sam's green light.

Important to Baker's work is that this "confrontation" is far from the end of this "story" and as in life, big speeches are not met with a curtain and a swelling score.  In the words of a singing vampire, "Life isn't bliss, life is just this, it's living....You have to go on living."  (Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once More With Feeling--which by the way does end in a curtain and swelling score). And so they do.

Rose too has her suffering. Reaching out to connect with Avery her advances are not met in kind and Krause sulks and despairs without words.  This silent breakdown is a challenging feat and Krause makes great use of body language to convey Rose's disappointments.  Avery is meant to be a bit of a cipher and I struggled with Moten's performance.  He's meant to be emotionally distant but I wished in his performance he would have managed to have broken his walls occasionally and let emotion creep out when things escalated.  Unfortunately I found even at those moments, Moten was still too remote.   

With confidence and delicacy, Annie Baker's play The Flick creates vivid characters, their quotidian lives, and reminds us that the unexplored moments in life, the every day in between moments of living are rich and worth paying attention to. Patience is a virtue and the patient audience is rewarded here in kind.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Daniel Kitson 2013 Tour: Australia Edition

Daniel Kitson has provided information about his Work in Progress shows for the After the Beginning. Before the End tour in Australia.  Dates and ticket information are as follows:

MELBOURNE
WIP shows at the Tuxedo Cat (a pop up venue at 17-23 Wills Street) (SOLD OUT)

March 
11pm - March 27th, 28th, 31st,
11am - March 30th

April
11pm - April 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th
11am - April 6th, 13th, 20th

Tickets on sale 19/03/2013 at noon.
Please note the MICF link above does not go live until noon 19/03/13

SYDNEY

WIP shows at Sydney Comedy Festival Seymour Centre - Reginald Theatre

9:00pm- April 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, (SOLD OUT). Additional shows 28th (5pm), 29th, 30th.


Tickets on sale 19/03/2013 at noon.  Available at this link.


PERTH
Perth Comedy Festival Astor Theatre

May 
8.20pm - May 2nd

Tickets on sale now at  the PCF link above (TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE).


There are no shows scheduled for Brisbane, Adelaide or Darwin.   Now I feel bad I got my friends in Brisbane into Kitson's work.  I'm the worst.

As previously mentioned he has tour dates for the UK part of the tour in May and June and there are a few shows with tickets left.  I continue to update my post about that.


No word yet on London and New York for the summer but from the email that still seems on track. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ann: Just One of the Good Ole Boys

"I have a lot of opinions."--Ann Richards

Holland Taylor authors and stars in this one-woman show about former Governor Ann Richards.  Her work "Ann" is clearly a labor of love.  But audiences won't have to labor with it.  It's quick-witted and entertaining.  It might lose some momentum by the end but Taylor's sharp delivery and charming demeanor is hard to resist.

I will admit I had great resistance to the idea of a biographical play about a politician, so found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I was laughing.  Here, Taylor structures the story around Ann giving a speech to a college graduation.  We fade into Richards's memory and relive some moments of a day in her life as Governor of Texas and then after she has left office.  It's a gimmick that largely works and Richards's life story, as she tells it, is more interesting than most.  Taylor's play covers Richards's childhood with a loving, encouraging father and a tough-as-nails mother, to her life as a housewife where she was always helping others get elected to office, to her time in rehab for alcoholism and then her work in the Texas Capitol.  Richards, as seen here with her "Republican hair," is a tough cookie, who does too much, juggles everything, and expects the best from those around her (calling her young granddaughter "nearly perfect").  It's any wonder she ended up an alcoholic.

She talks in comedic one-liners ("I wasn't drinking for nothing") and political aphorisms ("Life is not fair.  But governments should be.").  But the delivery is so delightful, and a key part of Richards's character and persona that it makes sense. The story of her rise to prominence builds up to a very funny manic tirade as she is the Governor.  Between a speechwriter she wants to strangle ("I do let go and let God. But he can't get Suzanne to do anything either."), to a scheduling staffer who has some how left the Fourth of July empty to give the Governor a day off  ("Pick some little town and find me a parade.") to the male staffer she makes cry, she is on non-stop tear. She has to make a decision about an execution (it is Texas after all) and so between the comedy, the yelling, the sass, and the frustrations, there is a tinge of the serious that drifts in as she must determine whether to stay the execution of a man who raped a 76-year old nun. Taylor's bravura performance makes this transition seem natural and effortless. 

The flashback to her time as Governor is the best part.   As we drift away from that time period and she moves to New York I thought the story lost some steam.  But it was not so overlong that it undid the good work that had come before. I thought some of the direction (by Benjamin Endsley Klein) was too literal (and there was some over-gesticulation that was distracting) and I understand where the music cues came from but they were maudlin.

In the end this all rises or falls with Taylor.  She sells it with panache to spare.  Like any good politician, I was won over by her charms. 

I received complimentary tickets to this production. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Talley's Folly: The Things They Carry

"This is a waltz.  Remember. One, two, three."  Danny Burstein delivers this line with a skip in his step and an unknown song in his heart--he is a man in love and is about to tell us a story.  So it begins with "Once Upon a Time."   
Talley's Folly is a romantic two-hander by Lanford Wilson which manages to keep sentimentality at bay. This is helped by the sharp writing, smart direction, and the stellar cast of Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson.

Danny Burstein, at his most charming, is the lovable mensch Matt. He's a St. Louis based accountant. He's come to woo Sally (Paulson), daughter to a wealthy factory owner, a nurse's aide and self-proclaimed old maid.  They spent a wonderful week together last summer but since then despite Matt's letters and romantic gestures Sally has since kept him at arms length.  Wilson's play breaks the fourth wall at the beginning and makes the audience a co-conspirator in Matt's fairy tale.  Setting the scene in such a way that I was unsure if this was merely the tale as Matt imagined it or as it really was. 

The play reveals the tentative dance of intimacy between this couple. Set against the backdrop of the end of World War II, Sally and Matt, not naturals at romance, must navigate the uncharted waters of unexpected love, and deal with religion, family, history, and geography.  A million things can separate people. But at its core the play is not about those big ticket issues really.  It's about the truth we keep hidden in our hearts that is rarely revealed that is often the mountain that must be overcome to connect. And the ultimate risk that we will never be understood by the person we love--or once understood they find they cannot love us. 

Here these themes are well-served by the cast.  Burstein is simply effervescent.  I have seen him in a number of shows (most recently Golden Boy and Follies) and never quite "got" him.  But here I was with him every step.  With a glisten in his eye, oscillating between hope, despair, happiness, and loneliness, his smallest gestures spoke volumes. Whether he's gingerly holding Sally's hat or after taking a swig shaking off the gin Sally has hidden in her grandfather's boathouse.  Burstein convinces us readily he is a grown man made young again by opening himself up to love.  He stands there exposed before Sally and the audience and makes Matt's courage feel epic--leaping where's he's never leapt before without the safety net of assurances that Sally feels the same. Sally is the mystery. She's wealthy but uncomfortable with it. She's political and educated. She desperately wants out of her family home but something keeps her cold and distant from Matt.  Paulson is successful in the difficult role of being reserved and remote but reminding us of the girl she was last summer when this romance was in full bloom.  Flickering moments of softness, encouragement and warmth sneak out between her decisive pronouncements that Matt must leave.  Sally is a fascinating outcast. The black sheep of her family being over 30, unmarried, employed but a society girl who is supposed to be a pillar of the community.

Michael Wilson's (The Best Man) direction keeps Matt circling the "puzzle" that is Sally. He might be the energetic bee he speaks about in his prologue--he's squeezed a lifetime of words and passion into the brief and precious moments he has with Sally.  He's spilling over. She is the rock. Reserved and stoic.  Michael Wilson poses them so that sometimes it seems as if they are awkward teens mooning over each other and other times as the adults with baggage that they really are.

The set design was the least successful aspect for me.  Although it was supposed to be an interpretation of a Victorian folly of a boathouse, it was more architecturally reminiscent of the set of Golden Girls. 

I fell hard for the production.  Burstein and Paulson kept me hoping for the best and fearing the worst.  Spending 90 minutes with them was pure dramatic bliss.  I'm definitely going back for seconds.

I received a complimentary ticket to this production.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Wild Bride: Kneehigh's Dark Fairy Tale

The Wild Bride is a moody, atmospheric bent fairy tale with a bluegrass tinge that at 70 minutes might have been the right balance of style and archetypal story, but unfortunately at two hours the work runs out of steam and so did I.

England's Kneehigh theater company brings this story of a woman's strength in the face of constant adversity to St. Ann's Warehouse this season.  We first meet a young girl (Audrey Brisson) whose drunken father (Stuart Goodwin) does a deal with the Devil for a life of riches in exchange for what is in his backyard.  Not realizing the Devil (Andrew Durand) has his eye on his daughter and not his crops, the farmer agrees and the child is the victim of this plot.  Finding her pure touch makes it impossible for him to take her, the Devil demands the father cut her hands off.  After her father acquiesces, the Girl becomes the Wild (Patrycja Kujawska) and opts for a life in the wilderness rather than stay with her father who has betrayed her.  She encounters a Prince (naturally) who despite her grubby exterior and handless situation falls for her immediately.  They live a charmed life until the Devil again intercedes.  The Wild Bride is now a Woman (Etta Murfitt) and she gives birth to the Prince's child.  The Devil causes mayhem for the Woman and her newborn and she is again cast out, now with her child, and must survive again.  But this time the Devil wants to punish her for good. 


Emma Rice has staged the adaptation of  the Grimm's fairy tale The Handless Maiden at the Robert Johnson Crossroads.  I was not expecting the Cornwall based theater company to use jug band music and Southern American accents (well the Devil is American...but the Dad is Irish, the Prince is Scottish).   Despite soulful singing and an inventive visual approach, I found the tale for me seemed to drag.   The dynamic dance, the somber forest setting, and mournful tunes got lost in the meandering pace of the story and show.  By the third character change I was a little tired of the Devil plots against the Woman.  And I had lost interest in her and her problems.

Whether daughter, wife or mother, the Wild Bride is at the mercy of the men in her life, whether welcome partners or interfering Devils.  It is meant to be a feminist retelling of survival, power, and strength.  But something about that nagged at me. She speaks so little.  Much of her story is expressed in dance and then she also expresses herself in song (though sometimes fractured as one performer sings while another dances/acts the role).  Having three different women perform her arguably sets her up as an "every woman," or it emphasizes the three different roles she has in life-- daughter, wife, and mother--and the different ages being represented.  But for me, her voice was not so much multiplied as divided by this choice.   Of course it's a fairy tale and the characters are archetypes but she felt just as unknown at the beginning as she did at the end.  And if we are bending fairy tales for today's audiences maybe give the over-victimized woman a voice.  I never quite felt the hope Rice suggests is there in the work.  But I'm also at a place in my life where "survival" is not enough for me.  I want more.

I enjoyed Patrycja Kujawska's performance the most.  She gets to let loose as the Wild and her physical exploration of life in the wild without hands is the most exuberant part of the show.  Audrey Brisson has a gorgeous voice and the dark tones of her torch-y songs were fantastic.

Just after it was all said and done I felt like the promise and goodwill the work built up with me in the beginning had wasted away by the end.