skygiants: Beatrice from Much Ado putting up her hand to stop Benedick talking (no more than reason)
If you are currently in Boston, you have one week left to go see Or at the Chelsea Theater! As [personal profile] aamcnamara put it on Twitter, "it is the Restoration queer bedroom farce spy writing-themed play of your dreams."

Or features three cast members, playing, respectively:
- former spy and ambitious playwright Aphra Behn
- Charles II of England and also Aphra Behn's ex-lover double agent William Scot
- Nell Gwyn, and also Aphra Behn's elderly and extremely cranky maid, and also in one memorably stamina-requiring and scene-stealing monologue Lady Mary Davenant, manager of the Duke's Company of theatrical players

Most of the play takes place in Aphra Behn's apartment, with cast members popping in and out of side rooms as Aphra Behn vainly attempts to keep all her love interests separate AND ALSO thwart a hypothetical plot on the king's life AND ALSO and most importantly finish writing the final act of her career-launching play by a deadline of 9 AM the next morning! Which nobody will let her do! Because they keep wanting to make out with her and/or tell her about plots on the king's life! It's all very frustrating!

The dialogue is delightful, the actors do a fantastic job rattling out natural-sounding rapid-fire iambic pentameter, I laughed aloud at the final plot twist, and the ending contains a solid dose of much-appreciated optimism; it's an extremely enjoyable experience and one I would strongly recommend.
skygiants: the Phantom of the Opera, reaching out (creeper of the opera)
This weekend I went to go see a production of Sweeney Todd, notable for being 'immersive' and featuring pie, like real edible pie. (It was also going to be notable for featuring Norm Lewis, aka Handsome Javert in the Les Mis 25th Anniversary Concert, but TRAGICALLY FOR ME left a week before I got there.)

A few notes:
- the immersive aspect was largely based on the fact that most of the audience was sitting at long pie-eating tables, and cast members would frequently come and sit at the last seat of them and stare you intently in the face while singing at you, or march up and down along the top of them and stare you intently in the face while singing at you
- was weirder when you were looking up at them marching along in front of you because you became very conscious of the fact that your neck was extremely exposed
- the Beggar Woman was double-cast as Pirelli sashaying around in a giant moustache chewing on all the scenery, which was delightful and also I imagine nice for the actress to get something to do in the show besides wail at people
- also she lounged around our table for a bit and flirted with me during the big Pirelli number, which, no complaints
- on the flip side, they cut most of her "City On Fire," which is one of my favorite numbers :(
- the three-person orchestra all got to ham it up being visibly nervous during the bit in "A Little Priest" about the respective taste factors of fiddle player and piccolo player
- Johanna's actress was amazing -- very good at selling Johanna as a character and not just just an ingenue, and all her desperation about her situation throughout
- Mrs. Lovett and the Beadle were also extremely good
- I did not love our Sweeney though, who spent most of the time sort of pulling his face down and opening his eyes really wide to signify that he was INTENSE
- most importantly, the pie that they fed us beforehand was delicious
- (and probably not made of people)
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (cosmia)
I have never read Dhalgren or indeed any Samuel R. Delaney. However, as of yesterday I have at least had a Dhalgren Experience, thanks to [personal profile] aamcnamara, who turned up a local theatrical-dance-music-light-'architectural puppetry' performance of something called Dhalgren: Sunrise this weekend.

Dhalgren: Sunrise is comprised of bits of text from what I assume is Dhalgren the book, accompanied by dance, light, and music, almost all of it improvised. Also, some of the music was performed on imaginary instruments. "That must be a theremin!" I thought brightly to myself on seeing one of the instruments, mostly because I don't know what a theremin looks like and therefore I assume that any instrument I don't recognize is a theremin. But it turns out it was not a theremin, because there was a credit in the program for 'invented instruments,' though I don't know whether the one I saw was the Diddly Bow, the Bass Llamelophone, or the Autospring.

Anyway, so my new understanding of Dhalgren is that it is about a city in which Weird, Fraught and Inexplicable Things Are Happening. This is not a very thorough understanding, but it's still more of an understanding than I had before. The show is composed of seven scene-vignettes:

Prelude: A brief reading of [what I assume to be] the book's introduction.

Orchid: Three women dance on a bridge and a man acquires a prosthetic hand-weapon-implement. The director at the end gave special thanks to the dude who made it, understandably so, because it very effectively exuded Aura of Sinister!

Scorpions: Gang members dance and fight in front of a building? Alien gang members? Just aliens? Anyway, some entities wrapped in glowing lights have a dance fight in front of a building; the text is from the point of view of a worried inhabitant of the building who Has Concerns.

Moons: The moon has a new secondary moon friend named George. The dancing in this section was one of my favorite bits -- the Moon did some amazing things with her light-strung hula hoop. [personal profile] aamcnamara pointed out later that the narration in this bit, which featured a wry and dubious radio announcer, seemed like a perhaps-intentional echo of Welcome to Night Vale. I have never actually listened to Welcome to Night Vale, but from my cultural osmosis knowledge this seems about right.

Fire: The light show took front and center in this bit about everything being on fire and also, simultaneously, not on fire. The maintenance man doing the narration is very plaintive about all of this. There may also have been dancing in this bit but I don't remember what anyone was doing.

Sex: The guy with the sinister prosthesis has an intimate encounter with two other people inside a blanket fort. I always like the blanket-fort method of showing sex onstage, it hints appropriately while allowing actors not to have to do anything they're uncomfortable with. At some point in this process the sinister prosthesis is removed for the first time, which I expect symbolizes something about human connection.

Sunrise: The characters who have previously just had sex emerge from the building and now seem to have a difference of opinion about whether the sunrise is just normal, or whether the earth is actually falling into the sun. Eventually all the characters are onstage being distressed, along with the music and the lighting -- again, really cool light effects here, especially the final overwhelming projection of light followed by and darkness.

It's a one-hour show without intermission, which we all agreed afterwards was for the best; the deeply weird mood and atmosphere would have been difficult to slip back into if one could get up in the middle to go to the bathroom. For those of you who have actually read Dhalgren, I will leave you with [personal profile] aamcnamara's sum-up: "It was a strange experience, but honestly could have been stranger."
skygiants: Cha Song Joo and Lee Su Hyun from Capital Scandal in a swing pose (got that swing)
This weekend [personal profile] genarti, [profile] wickedtrue and I went to go see Arrabal at the A.R.T. -- a theater piece in my favorite genre, dance dance revolution.

I haven't seen very much dance theater that isn't just straight-up ballet. Arrabal uses the language of tango rather than classical ballet, but it still feels quite a lot like a ballet -- there's very minimal dialogue (two brief scene-setting news-clips, two significant letters read aloud, and a brief callout song in which the psychopomp/magician makes fun of the love interest for his machismo comprise the whole of it) with everything else conveyed through motion and mime.

The music is gorgeous, the dancing likewise. The plot is relatively simple, and not actually as depressing as I thought it would be. Arrabal is the infant daughter of an Argentinian protester. Eighteen years later, she's haunted by his absence; his surviving friends, meanwhile, decide it's time for them to meet her and tell her his story.

....his surviving friends run a dance club, so along the way Arrabal gets a cute new dress and a pair kicky high heels, learns how to tango, falls for the leader of the pack, makes out with the leader of the pack's girlfriend, and briefly visits an orgy before deciding that it's maybe not for her, thanks. None of us were entirely sure what was actually going on with the orgy, plot-wise. This is the downside of ballet theater with minimal dialogue. But it's all very pretty and beautifully danced!

And then we cut back to Arrabal's grandmother and her friends marching for their disappeared children and suddenly we're all crying, so, you know. The important parts come through.
skygiants: Beatrice from Much Ado putting up her hand to stop Benedick talking (no more than reason)
Guys, if you are in New York and you have time to go see the Public Works' Twelfth Night this weekend, DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. I've seen a lot of good Twelfth Nights this past year, including the one where Toby gave the audience free pizza and the one in which Malvolio was a squid, and this show somehow managed to be the most charming of all.

This is the same kind of one-weekend event as the musical Tempest and Winter's Tale that I have seen in previous years, featuring a couple of professional actors plus A Significant Percentage Of New York. This year's Significant Percentage Of New York includes, among others:

- an extremely sparkly Greek chorus hilariously stolen straight from Disney's Hercules ("Olivia and Cesario: Illyria's newest power couple!" "Cesarolivia?")
- a brass band of sorrow that follows Olivia around for most of the first half of the play
- a set of very enthusiastic professional can-can dancers as backup for Malvolio
- ASL dancers from New York Deaf Theater to perform the song accompanying Viola's "Patience on a monument" speech
- the proud students of the Ziranmen Kung Fu Wushu Training Center as inspirational fight instructors for Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek
- an Official Mailman and Representative of the National Association of Letter Carriers to deliver Maria's letter to Malvolio (he very professionally made sure Malvolio signed for it, and probably got the most applause of anyone)

So all this was great, as it is always great, and all the extremely enthusiastic community Illyrians were ALSO great, but in addition to this it was just a really adorable adaptation of Twelfth Night! The music's fantastic. There's a fairly significant amount of time spent on Viola working through what stepping into her brother's role means to her -- they don't get all the way to genderqueer, but nobody asks to see her in her women's weeds at the end of the show, either. The song that Feste sings for Sir Toby's party scene is replaced by a musical roast titled "You're The Worst," with Feste on accordion. After Toby and Sir Andrew's verses, Toby tries to turn it back around on Maria and gets stumped: "Your name's ....Maria .... I ....really can't think of anything bad to say about you, you're basically the greatest." It's adorable. Everyone's adorable. MALVOLIO'S adorable! Feste shuts him in the boot of her car for the equivalent of the Sir Topas scene, and instead he pops defiantly out to sing a power ballad about how some people are born great, LIKE HIM, HE WAS BORN GREAT, AND HE'S JUST GOING TO GO ON BEING GREAT, THANKS. He gets his angry speech at the end, but they still pull him back up on stage to dance with everyone for the closing credits, because this is, at heart, an extremely good-natured production and even Malvolio is delighted to be there.

As a sidenote, Shaina Taub, who pretty much steals the show as a fourth-wall-breaking Feste ("Viola and Sebastian both think the other is dead ... I could just tell them, but then the play would be over and we spent all summer rehearsing!") also wrote all the music and lyrics for the show, because some people are unfair. She's apparently writing a musical right now about Alice Paul and the women's suffrage movement. SIGN ME UP.
skygiants: Hazel, from the cover of Breadcrumbs, about to venture into the Snow Queen's forest (into the woods)
Tonight [personal profile] obopolsk and I went to go see Indecent, a play about a play -- to be specific, about Sholom Asch's Yiddish-language God of Vengeance, in which the nice young daughter of a pious hypocrite who makes his money from a brothel falls in love with one of the prostitutes.

So basically it is a show about a.) lesbians b.) Yiddish theater c.) metatheater, aka BASICALLY ALL MY INTERESTS, hi Paula Vogel and thank you for this. You will be unsurprised to hear that I almost entirely loved it.

The cast consists of seven actors, and three extremely brilliant musicians (including an accordionist with more swagger than I've ever seen from an accordionist before). All of the cast whirl from role to role. Sholem Asch is almost always the same, until he gets too old to be the young man, and then he's the old man. Manke and Rivkele, the two lovers in God of Vengeance, are always the same, even when they're different people -- the first cosmopolitan German Manke, who has no difficulty playing a lesbian but worries about how to portray a Jew; the two young Yiddish actresses who express their feelings for each other onstage every night, until one of them can't speak English well enough to make the leap to Broadway; the rookie all-American actress out to shock her parents by playing a lesbian Jew onstage (who gets the biggest laugh of the night when, after she surprises her Manke with an extremely passionate onstage kiss, she mentions that she went to Smith).

Lemml, the Polish villager who happens by luck to be there at the first reading of the play in I.L. Peretz's living room and falls in love with it, is always the same actor and the same person too -- God of Vengeance's guardian spirit, stage managing every production until the entire Broadway cast is arrested for public indecency, and a disillusioned Sholem Asch can't or won't do anything to stop it.

It's all very good, the cast is very good, the music is fantastic, the linguistic shifts are too. Here's the thing I really want to talk about, though. The play is an hour and forty minutes long. We were probably about an hour and twenty minutes in when Lemml went back to Poland, when the actors put stars on their shirts, when we were in the Warsaw Ghetto with the cast doing the show in pieces in order so as not to go up against curfew.

I'd been loving the play up until then, but at this point I started to get angry. I knew that we had to be near the end of the play at this point, and I was sitting there fuming and thinking to myself, 'oh, come on, Paula Vogel, you're going to end the story here? They ALWAYS end the story here, it's a huge black slash across our history but it's not the end of it by any means, ending it here takes a story that was about the power of love and language and literature and just makes it about this one thing that it's always about, PLEASE don't end it here --'

And just as I'm thinking this, as the cast is grimly lining up in front of an invisible concentration camp with ominous pronouncements about dust and ashes printed on the wall, the actor playing Lemml looks out at the audience and says, "Please don't let it end here," and the actresses playing Manke and Rivkele burst out from the line and run off into the wings for the next scene.

AND OK, SARAH VOGEL! Fine! FINE! You knew exactly what you were doing! I've never had my mind read in such an impressively infuriating fashion before.

(The play does not, in fact, end there. It doesn't go as much beyond it as I would like, but it doesn't end there.)
skygiants: Cha Song Joo and Lee Su Hyun from Capital Scandal in a swing pose (got that swing)
I got free opera tickets through work, so last night [personal profile] sandrylene and I went to go see the Boston Lyric Opera's production of The Merry Widow.

The Merry Widow is a very fluffy, very light operetta that takes place at the embassy of a make-believe tiny European country in 1905, where the ambassador is panicking because the country's richest widow is thinking she might want to marry again, and if she marries a foreigner and takes all her money out of the bank it will cause national financial collapse. Therefore everyone is very determined to hook widow Hanna up with drunken playboy Count Danilo, who happens to be her ex. Meanwhile, in the B-plot a French officer attempts to seduce the ambassador's wife, who is having none of it, and would therefore like to marry him off to the widow ASAP to get him out of her hair. Waltzing and hijinks ensue!

Boston Lyric Opera has made a couple of interesting decisions in their production of this opera. The first is that it is completely multilingual -- they've sort of picked and chosen from among the various translations, so the libretto is all in English, and the songs are in whatever language they feel like the character in question might plausibly be speaking at that time.

...conveniently their interpretation of Hanna is an American former showgirl, so a SIGNIFICANT CHUNK of her songs are in English, but they do get a fair bit French and German in there as well, which is kind of a cool approach!

The second is that they have changed the plot so that the entire story takes place in 1914, rather than 1905. As a result:

- a frequent gag is the ambassador's conviction that the greatest danger lies in the threat of attack from perfidious Monaco
- an even more frequent gag is the appearance of Kivowitz the attache (a show-stealing character invented for this production) with some telegraph of vital importance regarding a.) Belgium's fears about invasion b.) the development of tanks and machine guns c.) Archduke Franz Ferdinand's travel plans d.) submarines etc.
- to which the inevitable response is 'lol what's a tank? anyway we have IMPORTANT, SERIOUS things to worry about, SOMEONE LOCK THE WIDOW AND THE COUNT IN A CLOSET TOGETHER IMMEDIATELY'
- while Kivowitz, constantly in the background, is visibly hating his life more with every moment that passes

It's actually very funny, in a black kind of way that highlights the fact that the world in which this operetta takes place is Short-Lived And Doomed.

(The updated libretto is overall genuinely funny -- as I said on Twitter, my favorite was the guy who yelled "Don't get between them! IT'S A TRAP!" as the entire cast stares at Danilo and Hanna finally making out.)

It's not until act 3 that things start to get kind of sledgehammery, for ex.:

- an extremely bizarre flash-forward to Franz Ferdinand's death in the middle of a comic song titled "Quite Parisien"
- a lengthy speech by the French officer in which he declares that he is going off to join the army, then despairingly tries to convince the diplomat's wife to run away with him and leave Europe because everyone here is dancing and ignoring the fact that the world is going to end in terrible war!!
- a subsequent lengthy speech from Kivowitz at the end of the play, complaining about how everyone here is dancing and ignoring the fact that the world is going to end in terrible war!!
- a bit where most of the cast come out dressed in WWI military uniforms, looking vaguely shellshocked, and wistfully waltz with the empty air as the curtain drops, which would actually have been really effective for me in a Cabaret sort of way if we had not just had two lengthy speeches already about how the world is going to end in terrible war!!

I mean I get what they were trying to do but I personally would have toned it down maybe a little, is what I am saying.

That said, it was overall a really fun production and I had an excellent time! (Also, don't worry about Kivowitz, he runs off with Hanna and Danilo to be their bouncer in the bar they are going to start in America in order to get away from the terrible war.)
skygiants: Wendy from the Middleman making faces at Ida (neener neener)
Right before going to New York this past weekend, [personal profile] cinaed happened to toss me a link to Emily Dickinson: Paranormal Investigator, a one-hour show that JUST HAPPENED to be running during the, like, 36 hours I was going to be in the city.

I was supposed to be meeting [personal profile] nextian for coffee during that part of the afternoon, so of course I immediately emailed her to ask if in addition to having coffee she would like to see Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe fight supernatural crime in a tiny black-box theater, and the rest was destiny.

Here is what you ought to know about Emily Dickinson: Paranormal Investigator:

- Emily Dickinson is, of course, a brisk, competent, no-nonsense, Sherlock Holmesian detective who happens to investigate the paranormal, and also write poetry
 - the Holmesian adventure sense of the play is furthered by its framing as a write-up by her Watson
 - it is also unfortunately furthered by such unfortunate Victorian plot devices as "I disappeared into Chinatown, where I learned all about the Japanese kitsune!" oh ..... really ...............
 - it's worth noting that aside from dispelling ghosts by reciting her own poetry, Emily Dickinson also makes at least two Sailor Moon references that I caught
 - PROBABLY THERE WERE MORE, I'm not a Sailor Moon expert
- anyway Helen Hunt Jackson is Emily Dickinson's gay, gay Watson
- Helen Hunt Jackson's parents were, of course, tragically killed in a GHOST POSSESSION incident
- in a later scene, Helen Hunt Jackson and Henry David Thoreau chug beer out of red solo cups while Henry David Thor-bro advises her on the best way to confess her love to her boss, Emily Dickinson
- Edgar Allen Poe is Emily Dickinson's estranged mentor
- he is a dick
- he spends most of his time chugging whiskey from a flask and/or fighting ghosts with brass knuckles (Emily: "They're not even iron!" Edgar Allen Poe: "But they're so satisfying! >:D")
- in most of his scenes he has a tiny plastic raven attached to his shoulder
- the Fox Sisters make an appearance
- they are spirit rappers
- so of course they have a rap number
- this was the one thing that happened in the entire show that did not take me 100% by surprise and I felt very pleased with myself about it
- the villain is evil Walt Whitman
- evil talentless hack Walt Whitman who is scheming to steal Edgar Allen Poe and/or Emily Dickinson's RAW SUPERNATURAL TALENT
- (it is their raw supernatural talent, you see, that allows some people to write such good poetry before their link with the supernatural overwhelms them and they inevitably lose all grip on reality)
- (unless you're Henry David Thor-bro, who is able to overcome this propensity with hard work and good clean living, as well as a lot of beer)
- evil talentless hack Walt Whitman, for the record, is a breeches role
- evil talentless hack Walt Whitman spends most of the show lurking around the edges of the stage in a floofy poet shirt and leather pants, scheming with demons and laughing maniacally
- halfway through the show, after one particularly maniacal speech, [personal profile] nextian leaned over to me and hissed 'I KEEP FORGETTING SHE'S SUPPOSED TO BE SEXY EVIL WALT WHITMAN???'
- I feel like that about sums it up
So. I mean. Is it worth ten dollars and an hour of your time? ABSOLUTELY it is, why would you EVEN ask me that, purchase your tickets IMMEDIATELY.
skygiants: Beatrice from Much Ado putting up her hand to stop Benedick talking (no more than reason)
In the past two weeks, I have seen two children's musicals. One was New Repertory Theater's The Snow Queen, which jinian has already posted about, and [personal profile] genarti has promised to post about, and [personal profile] littledust has made a number of pointed tweets about, so I'm just going to ... let that unfortunate conglomeration of snow bees, talking flowers and poor directorial judgment sit where it's lying for a while.

INSTEAD I am going to talk about A.R.T.'s The Pirate Princess, the Twelfth Night MUSICAL PIRATE AU, which [personal profile] genarti and I went to see tonight and which was everything we wanted it to be AND MORE! )
skygiants: a figure in white and a figure in red stand in a courtyard in front of a looming cathedral (cour des miracles)
I'm home in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving, and my dad suggested that we all go and see Equivocation at the Arden Theater. If you happen to be in the area: WORTH THE PRICE.

Equivocation posits a hypothetical in which Robert Cecil, Secretary of State to James I, commissions Shakespeare to write a "true history" play of the Gunpowder Plot.

SHAKESPEARE: I don't write propaganda stories.
CECIL: You wrote Richard III! You made Richard of York a hunchback!
SHAKESPEARE: He was a murderer!
CECIL: They're all murderers! He balanced the budget.

In his attempt to turn the Crown's version of events into a coherent and semi-truthful play without getting executed for it --

SHAKESPEARE: A group of men plan to blow up Parliament, and then they don't. There's no plot!
CECIL: It is TREASON to say that there was no plot!
CECIL: .... ohhhh, you mean there's no plot!

-- Shakespeare goes hunting for the actual truth about what happened during the Gunpowder Plot, along the way confronting interpersonal conflicts among his actors, questions of morality and politics and posterity, and his own stoppered-up emotions about the death of his son Hamnet. Judith Shakespeare, Hamnet's cranky and neglected twin, who keeps track of the number of deaths in Shakespeare's plays and has VERY strong feelings about soliloquies (she hates them) plays a major role. She's the one woman in the production, but she has a lot to say; Shakespeare's relationship with her is either the heart of the story or very close to it.

Richard Burbage also plays a major role. He has a passionate scene in which he confesses that Shakespeare means more to him than anything in the world, and then he strides forward and clutches Shakespeare's face and the fact that they don't actually make out at that point surprised me more than just about anything else in the play. It could just be that Richard was probably the best actor in the cast; he doubled as an incredibly powerful Henry Garnet, a historical figure about whom I previously knew nothing, so it's really quite unfair that I'm now extremely sad about him. James I, who doubles as hotheaded young actor Richard Sharpe, is also much more interesting than he initially appears (although his Scottish accent stays sadly terrible throughout the whole thing.) The cast of Shakespeare's company is rounded out by Nathan Field, who doubles as Cecil and does all his interesting acting there, and Robert Armin, who doesn't really get to do anything interesting as far as I recall except a brief scene in which he doubles as Buckingham in order to bang King James.

The playwright is clearly very pleased with himself for the opportunity to play around with plays within plays -- Shakespeare goes through multiple (intermittently terrible and/or treasonous) drafts of the Gunpowder Plot play, many of them performed with/during/around his interviews with the participants -- and somehow manages to turn the line "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" delivered exactly as per Macbeth's script into one of the best brick jokes in the entire show.

It's not a perfect play; it's very clever and very pleased with its own metatextuality and it's probably got too much crammed into it, but this is one of those cases where the flaws probably make it more fun for me, specifically. (Except some unnecessary slanders on the name of Anne Hathaway. RUDE.) But it gives me lots of what I like best, which is lengthy explorations of why people write things the way they do, and also getting to watch people watching shows and reacting to them in interesting ways. Anyway, it's all HIGHLY enjoyable and I would absolutely recommend.
skygiants: Pemma from Legend of Korra, looking deeply unimpressed by the fact that she's covered in snow (thrilled)
Last night I dragged [personal profile] genarti, [personal profile] jinian and [personal profile] gaudior to go see Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, a musical about the inspirational romantic connection between a down-on-her-luck electric violinist and the legendary turn-of-the-century polar explorer.

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me does legitimately feature a love triangle between our heroine, Ernest Shackleton, and Ponce de Leon, and really what else do you need to know? )

As we sat around at a bakery at the end of the show, I asked my companions what their most important takeaways from the show were that I should make sure to note down in this write-up.

[personal profile] gaudior: I really appreciated that Kat's struggle to get through the challenges of her life was treated like as much of a heroic quest as Shackleton's polar expedition!
[personal profile] jinian: I was a little confused structurally by the fact that the plot thread about her job was completely dropped?
[personal profile] genarti: It was really good for a while but WHY PONCE DE LEON
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
I'm on a bus right now on my way back from a very whirlwind 24-hour trip to New York for the purpose of meeting with various people about long-term archiving projects left over from last summer. Most of the people I was meeting with are also friends from grad school; one of them has a subscription to Theater For a New Audience in Brooklyn, and asked last week if I wanted to go see a play with her while I was there, which is how I ended up seeing An Octoroon.

An Octoroon is constructed as a collaboration between two people -- Dion Boucicault, wildly popular white nineteenth-century melodramatist, and Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, up-and-coming black playwright, who begins the show by re-enacting the conversation with his therapist that led to him deciding to adapt Boucicault's 1857 popular melodrama, The Octoroon. ("Are you angry at white people?" " Most of my best friends are white." "But, like, really, deep down, are you sure you're not angry at white people?") He leaves the stage, then comes back: "Just kidding. That's not true. I can't afford a therapist."

(Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the playwright, is played by Austin Smith.)

After that, "BJJ" (as he's credited in the program) comes back in again to apply his whiteface makeup: because he's having trouble finding white actors who are willing to play explicitly racist characters in a nineteenth-century melodrama, he explains, with irritated resignation, he will be playing all the white men in the show himself.

(The Jacobs-Jenkins monologues are in general witty, incisive and cutting, although I was briefly distracted by the part where he's relating a dream that concludes "then I realized the bees weren't attacking me ... I WAS the bees." DAMN IT, JUPITER ASCENDING.)

At this point, we are interrupted by an angry white man in underwear: hello, Dion Boucicault! Boucicault is VERY DISAPPOINTED in the state of the theater today, wants to know why this low-grade theater doesn't have a petting zoo, and bemoans the days when he was the king of town and "everyone was hating on me. LIKE JESUS. ... I was the JESUS OF THEATER."

Boucicault then sits down to apply redface makeup: he'll be playing Wahnotee, the noble savage. "You can put Negros on the stage these days -- though you have to pay them! -- but you still can't get an Indian actor anywhere." His assistant, also onstage, gives the audience a speaking look before starting to apply his own blackface. (The assistant, played by Ian Lassiter, is also clearly not white; I wouldn't be surprised if he were Native American, but I couldn't say for sure.)

OK, now we're ready to start the actual play.

The Octoroon, the original melodrama by Dion Boucicault, centers on a noble young white man, George who comes back to his aunt and uncle's failing plantation and falls in love with his uncle's beautiful illegitimate child Zoe, daughter of a slave but raised as a young lady in the house. Alas! due to a bureaucratic technicality, Zoe still belongs to the estate, and is going to be sold at auction along with everything else to the evil M'Closky. M'Closky is extra evil because he murders an adorably mischievous slave boy in order to get his way and blames it on the boy's hapless Indian friend Wahnotee and it's all INCREDIBLY TRAGIC.

An Octoroon progresses its way through the first three scenes of the melodrama, retaining large chunks of the original text, with most of the cast -- in their various switched-around racial identities -- giving gloriously satirical performances. Austin Smith, as Every White Guy including Noble George and Evil M'Closkey, gets particular joy out of George's tragic declaration that he's going to SELL HIMSELF in marriage to a woman he doesn't love, to get the money to SAVE THE ESTATE AND THESE POOR SLAVES, while the loyal, elderly slave played by Lassiter trembles in teary-eyed awe at his sacrifice.

Meanwhile, slaves Dido and Minnie (played by black actresses; all of the men are race-swapped, but none of the women) switch on a dime from acting as background scenery in Boucicault's drama of white people to swapping jokes and gossip in stereotypical inner-city dialogue; they're brilliant, and it's funny, until the lines that drop in to remind you that no, actually, it's not funny at all, and then they keep going and it's horrifically funny again.

(Also, for reasons I'm not entirely clear on, every act is concluded with the entrance of somebody in a giant white rabbit costume who wanders around tidying up the stage. I have no idea what this is meant to represent.)

And then there's Zoe, portrayed by the absolutely gorgeous Amber Gray, who is the only one in the show who's playing it one hundred percent straight. Unlike everyone else, Zoe doesn't know she's in a satire. Zoe's confronting gut-wrenching racism, external and internal, and Amber Gray sells it one hundred percent.

The third act ends with Zoe sold to evil M'Closkey, Dido and Minnie also sold to a noble sea captain and pretty excited for their new life ("girl, we're gonna live on a BOAT!"), and Austin Smith-as-George getting in a knock-down drag-out fight with Austin-Smith-as-M'Closkey in the most hilarious piece of physical comedy I've seen in a long time.

And then comes the fourth act. I'm going to put this under a spoiler-cut, since it includes stuff that's potentially triggery and is definitely in the show for deliberate surprise and shock value as part of the point of the experience. )

"Well," said my friend, as we walked out, "I feel really weird right now."

She's planning on seeing it again. If I were still in New York, I think I might too.
skygiants: Drosselmeyer's old pages from Princess Tutu, with text 'rocks fall, everyone dies, the end' (endings are heartless)
The official last physical book I got out of the New York Public Library was called Landmark Yiddish Plays: A Critical Anthology, which has been sitting on my shelf for several months since the petering-out of my last Yiddish-literature binge, and which was a DEFINITE level up in the bizarre/fascinating realm from my last foray into Yiddish literature.

Silliness and Sanctimony: So this is a drawing-room comedy of manners from the 18th century -- contemporaneous with (and influenced by), like, Moliere -- and the author was a major figure in the Jewish enlightenment who was very pro-secularism and assimilation, and anti-Hasidism. It's ... really not hard to tell.

A RICH JEWISH FATHER: So I am arranging my daughter's marriage to this Hasidic scholar I have hired to study Bible with me.
EVERYONE ELSE IN THE FAMILY: That is ... the worst. Just the worst idea ever.
THE HEROINE: Ugh! I'm running away with this goy nobleman!
EVERYONE ELSE IN THE FAMILY: That is ... also not a great idea, but we're all agreed that it's basically your dad's fault, for being a dick.
THE HEROINE'S UNCLE: So I found your daughter in a brothel! Don't worry, she's fine, no harm done really. Guess who else I found in that brothel? YEAH. YOUR FAVORITE religious scholar. Are we all agreed now that religious Jews are stupid hypocrites, arranged marriages are terrible, and we should all embrace the Enlightenment?
EVERYONE ELSE IN THE FAMILY: Yeah! Yeah, I guess we are!

Serkele: This a pretty straightforward domestic comedy/Cinderella story about a hypocritical hypochondriac who steals her disappeared brother's inheritance and takes advantage of her sweet, beautiful niece, who really just wants to believe that her aunt is a nice person! Add a con artist who wants to marry into the family, a noble young student who's in love with the niece, a cute romantic subplot about a couple of the household servants, a ~*~mysterious stranger~*~, and a chorus of police officers wandering around pointing and laughing at everyone, and this is all pretty generally enjoyable.

The Two Kuni-Lemls: One of the very first plays of the Yiddish theater boom period around the turn of the century, this is another variation on Silliness and Sanctimony's theme of "ugh, who wants to marry a Hasid?" except wackier, and also, a musical! Basically the plot revolves around the heroine's boyfriend disguising himself as Arranged Match Kuni-Leml so that he and the heroine can get married, which leads to a lot of mistaken-identity hijinks -- as when, for example, the heroine accidentally starts making out with the real Kuni-Leml because she thinks he's her boyfriend in disguise, and he's like "OH GOD NO, SINFUL GIRL PARTS, GET IT AWAY!" INCLUDING a full chorus of chipper young med students pretending to be ghosts.

(Super ablist, though. It's not enough for poor Kuni-Leml to be an easily scandalized religious Jew who is no match for the heroine's dashing young med student boyfriend; he also has to have a limp and a stutter, which are not treated kindly.)

Miriam: I expected this one to be dull and depressing -- it's the sad story of an innocent young seamstress who is seduced by a rich boy, and ends up as a prostitute -- but actually I thought it was good? Lots of scenes of the family that Miriam lives with being like "NO MIRIAM THIS WILL NOT END WELL" and Miriam being like "YOU'RE NOT MY REAL MOM!!!" but, I mean, the dynamics between Miriam and her adopted temporary family are really interesting. The final scene is Miriam and two other prostitutes locking themselves away to have a girls' night and rant, with remarkably little judgment on the part of the author.

The Duke: OK. The Duke is about a rich Polish nobleman who converts to Judaism, but -- no, I'm sorry, I have to summarize this in full. )

I genuinely can't tell how we are supposed to take most of this. Is it a commentary on cultural appropriation? A genuine indictment of the Jewish people for being sad and depressing and uncool? A satire on class distintions? All of the above? Do the bear trousers ... symbolize ... something ....? WHO CAN SAY? Certainly not me, but I spent the whole text completely fascinated, that's for sure.
skygiants: Betty from Ugly Betty on her cell phone in front of a cab (betty on the go)
Tonight I dragged [personal profile] nextian with me to see The Winter's Tale: A MUSICAL starring A SIGNIFICANT PERCENTAGE OF NEW YORK, because a.) last year's Tempest Starring A Significant Percentage Of New York WAS AMAZING and b.) tonight is actually my last night for at least a while as a resident of the city, which is really weird, and going to go see the city celebrate itself seemed like an appropriate thing to do.

Anyway, Winter's Tale was not quite as good as last year's Tempest, which was just, like, mind-bogglingly wonderful, but it was still pretty delightful! The ballerinas had significantly less swagger, but on the other hand, a swing band on stilts. Also, still on the other hand, SESAME STREET.

If you were wondering if Sesame Street is just as good live: yes. Yes they are. )

I got like three hours of sleep last night so I'm going to go fall over now, but I'm really, really glad this is how I decided to spend my last night in New York. Tomorrow I move to Boston? TOMORROW I MOVE TO BOSTON. File under: things that I still haven't fully internalized yet.
skygiants: an Art Nouveau-style lady raises her hand uncomfortably (artistically unnerved)
All right, so, yes, AFTER SOME PEER PRESSURE FROM THE AUDIENCE AROUND HERE, [personal profile] obopolsk and I did ... in fact ... just get back from seeing Ethel Sings. ([personal profile] nextian: it was in the same place we saw 'Philosophy for Gangsters.' For the record. I'm sure you're shocked.)

And Ethel did, on occasion, sing! )

I mean, OK. The thing is. THE THING IS. I could often see what the playwright was getting towards. It was very well meant! I can understand why she wanted to connect the Rosenberg trial with incarceration-related injustices ongoing today! It would have been nice if it was more coherent, and I really do not think Goddess Muse Lorraine Hansberry was necessary for this, and admittedly for actual success I think it would probably have been necessary to cut out any and all references to Chicago. And also decide whether Ethel Rosenberg was a passionate martyr who died for her convictions, or an innocent housewife who didn't care about Communism and never did anything wrong to begin with, because, like ... that decision ... was not made ...

...but an attempt was made? An attempt was made. And I've just found out that ten percent of the ticket proceeds go to benefit The Rosenberg Fund for Children, and now I feel like a heel, so [personal profile] rymenhild, [personal profile] evewithanapple, since you offered charitable donations to get me to the show, I direct your attention there.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (les cloches)
I just got back from one of the more incredible theater experiences I've had in New York, and I'm trying to figure out how to talk about it.

The Mysteries is a six-hour retelling of the Bible (Old and New Testament), as interpreted by 48 playwrights and one director. Disparate pieces of the story that get sutured together, with mood, characterization and interpretation changing wildly from scene to scene -- it really shouldn't work, but somehow it SUPER DOES. Some of the scenes are gorgeous, some are hilarious, some think they're funnier and smarter than they are, and some of them, in my opinion, are wild missteps (although I suspect everyone's opinion on that will be different), but everything that didn't work for me ended up balanced by a moment of incredible grace. The rest is cut for images and sacreligious content, in case anyone is bothered by that. LET'S TELL EVERYONE JESUS RODE A UNICORN. )
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (anarkia)
The last thing I hit up on my Yiddish-literature binge last month was God, Man and Devil: Yiddish Plays in Translation. This is pretty much a motley assortment of SERIOUS YIDDISH THEATER and includes five plays:

God, Man and Devil: Depressing morality play about Satan coming to Earth to tempt an Upright Man into being evil by giving him lots of money. Shockingly, he succeeds.

Green Fields: Rabbinical student passes through idyllic rural town and gets sort of caught up in the feud between two local farmers, one of whom has a flirty daughter and one of whom has a tomboy daughter, but everything's fine and everyone gets married in the end. Pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral.

Shop: This was probably my favorite; it's an ensemble play about various machine-shop workers in and around a union strike. The main emotional thread centers around the political/emotional triangle between the former ardent revolutionary who has sold out and is now a guilt-ridden shop boss, the woman who was in Siberia with him and has conversely become a more ardent revolutionary than ever, and her new love interest who is not as capable of being terrible as she is. Would I read fanfiction about all of this? Yes, I would.

The Treasure: Poor gravedigger's son finds unspecified amount of money in unspecified location; town subsequently goes MAD WITH GREED; at the end, irritable ghosts emerge to explain to the audience that unfortunately, as you know, people.

Bronx Express: A Dream in Three Acts with a Prologue and Epilogue: Satire in which cheerful, upright, hardworking man is seduced into the world of capitalism by various personified advertising figures, i.e. the Nestle Baby and the Wrigley Chewing Gum Twins.

In case you didn't catch it from the summaries, the one common thread in these plays is: CAPITALISM BAD. Also, being Jewish is hard. (Well, okay, not in Green Fields. Everything's pretty much fine in Green Fields, because it's nostalgia for an idyllic country past that only ever existed in an alternate reality without Cossacks.)

I still wish I could find anywhere a collection of Yiddish pop entertainment plays though.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (cowboy glee!)
So one of the things I did this weekend in Boston was hang out at Arisia, on which possibly more anon. But the other thing I did was go see a play called The Heart of Robin Hood with [personal profile] genarti, [personal profile] thewickedlady and [personal profile] sotto_voce, which is certainly one of the most ridiculous Robin Hood adaptations I have ever experienced.

The Heart of Robin Hood involves a lot of crossdressing, shirtlessness, adorable moppets, and ... creepy meat puppets ....? )

In other news, the set was amazing, the aerials and acrobatics were pretty stellar, the costumes were hilariously all-over-the-place (why did Adorable Moppet #1 get a Regency jacket and the random nobles get random steampunk bustles? WHY NOT), and all the actors chewed every piece of scenery they could get their teeth into with the greatest of glee. GENERALLY AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE FOR ALL.
skygiants: a little girl spreads out arms and wings and beams up towards the sky (wings glee)
The playbill that we read described this weekend's musical production of The Tempest in Central Park -- starring Norm Lewis, several gifted professional comedians and singers, 250 or so New Yorkers from various community performance ensembles, and three taxi drivers -- as being inspired by the idea of a "community masque" from 1916 called Caliban by the Yellow Sands, which in turn was inspired by courtly masques of the sixteenth century, which for those unfamiliar mostly involved lots of music, dancing and pageantry strung together by a plot. There was also a lot of very earnest language about theater INVOLVING THE COMMUNITY and people SEEING THEMSELVES REFLECTED ONSTAGE which I will admit moved my heart, because YES.

Anyway, [personal profile] genarti and [personal profile] littledust and I looked at this description, and then we looked at the list of community groups that had been invited to participate, and said, "This is going to be either AMAZING or COMPLETELY INCOHERENT . . . and where the hell are they going to fit in the Taxi Driver's Union?"


I am so sorry that the show only lasted a weekend and so most of you will never get a chance to see it. But I so, so hope that they do as they implied they would and put on more shows like this one, which could have been totally incoherent and instead somehow came together in a glorious explosion of pageantry and joy and celebration of this city that I love and the people who live in it. Sometimes there is actually nothing better than two hundred people having the TIME OF THEIR LIVES onstage getting to showcase all the stuff they do awesomely well.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (in a just world)
A few weeks ago, [personal profile] obopolsk and I went to go see Water By the Spoonful (thanks to [personal profile] obopolsk's subscription theater tickets) which . . . I did not actually realize until just now was the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner. Go us and our classy taste!

Anyway, Water By the Spoonful has two main storylines. One follows Elliot Ortiz, a war veteran who is haunted by an interaction he had in Iraq, and his cousin Yazmin, a professor of music who feels distanced from her family because of her privilege. (Sidenote: I was so excited when I figured out the play was set in Philly! Elliot works at a Subway on Lancaster Ave and I'm like ". . . my Lancaster Ave? My Lancaster Ave!" Too few things are set in Philly, is the moral of this story.)

The other plot thread focuses on an online . . . chat? Messageboard? This was actually never one hundred percent clear. Anyway, it's an online support group for cocaine addicts, and the story is about the development of friendships and connections in virtual space, and how the person you are online does and does not reflect the person you are in real life. The two storylines are of course DRAMATICALLY CONNECTED, but the how is a spoiler!

The play had a director's Q&A afterwards, which ended up translating to the producer asking the audience questions about what worked for them while the director nodded sagely and put his thinkiest face on.

First question: how did the representations of online dialogue work for you?

As various audience members chimed in helpfully about the little ding sounds! and the user-icons projected on the back of the wall! we started to look around . . . and gradually realized that we were the only people under sixty in the audience.

Producer: "So, how many of you have ever been on an online forum or chat?"
[personal profile] obopolsk and I: *awkwardly raise hands . . .*
Everybody else: *polite blank smiles*

It turns out that while I'm very happy to share critique of stuff online, I'm a lot shyer about doing so while the director is staring at me wearing their thinkiest face, and therefore I kept a subdued silence for the rest of the Q&A. But for the record, Davis McCallum, if you happen to come across this, I'm sorry for being a coward two weeks ago, and here are my thoughts:

- overall the play was great and cast was magnificent, and yes, the representation of internet chats worked very well
- although the ghost!victim angrily following Elliot around occasionally verged into overkill, especially when big booming subconscious guilt voices echoed from beyond the stage
- and speaking of overkill . . . you might want to consider restaging the reverse pieta pose at the end, or at least lighting it less DRAMATICALLY. Because it made me have to try really hard not to giggle during a meaningful moment and I don't think that's what you want


skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)

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