The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Saturday, March 31, 2012

FCS: Pipe Dream

Quick facts:
  • Show: Pipe Dream
  • Staged Reading
  • Date: Friday, March 30, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Closing date: April 1, 2012
  • Venue: New York City Center Main Stage
  • Running time: 2:15 (one intermission)
  • My seat: Fair.  I was in the Mezzanine, stage right
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: none
Know someone working the show? No.

Synopsis: Hmmm...  Well, I guess it's the story of the leading man and the leading lady finding love together.  But there really isn't much in the way of story.  A better synopsis might be: a fluffy Broadway musical.  It's only really about itself.

My thoughts:  I really don't have a lot in the way of thoughts - mostly because it was a staged reading and not a full production.  But in reality, it did have much more in the way of production quality than one might typically expect from a staged reading.  The set, though minimal, was more designed than previous Encores! presentations I've seen or than I would expect from a production of this type.  There was corrugated sheet metal and old signs along the wings.  The orchestra was perched atop a pier-type structure - representing the seaside motif of the story's setting.  A couple of set articles - not much more than substantial props - came on and off the stage as needed.  But in general, it was minimal.  The costumes were appropriate for story-telling, but not significant.  The lighting was actually quite a bit more designed than I might have expected, but still, not terribly extravagant.  The choreography, on the other hand, was nearly full-production quality.  It was excellent and perfectly appropriate to the style of the show.

In terms of the talent, it was a mixed bag.  Leslie Uggams had a strong presence, but her vocal abilities were often mixed.  Her strongest moment was in her reprise of "All at Once You Love Her".  Tom Wopat was, predictably, disappointing, both in terms of his singing and acting.  It was a delight to get to hear Laura Osnes again.  Her voice really has a lovely and affectionate tone.

The real performing stars were to be found in the ensemble - always a treat!  The greatest among them was Matthew Bauman.  His stage presence is eye catching - bordering on too much so for an ensemble - but a delight to see, nonetheless.  When I was able to peel my eyes away from him, it was usually at the demand of the commanding vocal abilities of Nicholas Ward - a rare and beautiful bass voice.  Too often bass soloists come across as strained or imprecise.  Ward, however, made it sound easy.  He was truly thrilling, though too rarely on display.

One can easily see why Pipe Dream is not one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most popular shows.  It has virtually no discernable plotline, and while the music is often lovely, it doesn't produce much in the way of a takeaway.  It's purely fluff, but that's not necessarily always a bad thing.  Sometimes we just love a good silly musical.  And this show certainly qualifies.  But it is a sweet piece and certainly worth the time in seeing (though many of my fellow audience-mates didn't seem to agree - the house emptied noticably at intermission).

I will say, however, that I really do love the concept of the Encores! series.  They produce high-quality, professional, short runs of staged readings of musicals that aren't often revived.  They are doing a great service in keeping the canon of musical theater literature at the foreground of the audience's mind.  I look forward to seeing many more of their shows in the years to come!

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again? Nah.  I'm glad to have seen it, but now I've seen it.
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who? I can't think of many people other than die-hard theater lovers such as myself who would have enjoyed (or even endured) it, so probaly not.
  • Twitter review: A silly and fluffy show, but hell...  Sometimes that's what we need!

Friday, March 30, 2012

FCS: Porgy and Bess

Quick facts:
  • Show: Porgy and Bess
  • Broadway
  • Date: Thursday, March 29, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Closing date: September 30, 2012
  • Venue: Richard Rodgers Theatre
  • Running time: 2:30 (one intermission)
  • My seat: Good! I was in the orchestra, stage right - more than half-way back, but the seating is steeply terraced, so I had a very nice, unobstructed view of the stage.
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: none
Know someone working the show? No.

Synopsis: Porgy is a man crippled since birth.  Bess is a party-girl living the fast life.  When she encounters troubles with her man, Porgy steps in to offer help when no one else will.  The two fall in love, but Bess' past continues to haunt her.  Don't let the title fool you, however.  The real relationships at the center of the story, in my opinion, are not between Porgy and Bess, but between all of the residents of Catfish Row.  The community is the main character - not really any individual.

My thoughts: Early in the course of my formal music study, I remember having my thinking on the subject blown open by a music theory professor who described music as "ordered sound and silence."  It was the silence that I'd never before considered.  But it made so much sense!  Sound would mean nothing without its contrasting counterpart - silence.  Moreover, without careful attention to silence - carefully placing it and using it, as might a painter or a poet in their mediums - the sound can quickly become meaningless dribble.

Emblematic of the brilliance of this production is its use of shadow.  Lighting design isn't just about what is illuminated, it's about what is left in the dark - literally and figuratively.  The evocative use of shadow by designer Christopher Akerlind consistently amazed me.  Long shadows across the architectural features of the set in the opening song, "Summertime", convey not just the evening after a long, hot, southern day, but the whole "livin' is easy" mood.  The shadows off mourning funeral dancers stretch at least twenty feet up the back wall of the set, adding a depth of emotion playing across the stage.

The use of shadow speaks to the larger subtlety of the production as a whole.  The audience has to work for what it gets.  So many shows beat us in the head with the points they are trying to make, but Porgy and Bess gently places its many gifts in that space between and almost beyond the reach of both the actors and the audience.  Both have to stretch and strain to make the necessary connection.  While this approach may not be as easy as some other, more crowd pleasing devices, the connections it yields are deeper and more lasting.

Though a friend who works in lighting has helped to teach me how to watch for it, the lighting design isn't the only point of brilliance of this production.  The choreography, though never the focus, was powerful, but restrained.  Like the intentional and measured movements of people who are used to being held down.  The notable exceptions to the rule of restraint are in the few scenes where the gathered community gets to focus on itself: the mourning funeral dancing, and the picnic are both unrestrained and free.  Fleeting moments of freedom in restrained and carefully measured lives.

The set design is rag-tag and rarely changing.  It is made up of mismatched boards, peeling paint, and only sparse attempts at beauty and decoration.  In short, it tells the story of the people of Catfish Row - their cobbled-together existence, and their focus on survival instead of the luxuries most of us take for granted.

The performance itself was stellar - in the truest sense of the word with such a star-studded cast.  Audra McDonald certainly did not disappoint.  The TONY award does mean something, after all.  The four-time winner showed again tonight just how much she deserves all of the accolades she has earned.  Equal in stature was the performance of Norm Lewis - an actor unlike almost any other.  He sold the role of Porgy so completely that it was almost shocking to see him abandon his limp at the curtain call.  The break-away star was NaTasha Yvette Williams in the role of Mariah.  She was the matriarch of Catfish Row to the core of her being.  If one of the goals of the theater is to spur feeling (and I think it is), Williams proves herself integral in this production.

Sitting in the production, lured ever deeper into the world of Catfish Row by the beautiful music and it's masterful and passionate performance, I found myself feeling like I was in the midst of something really important.  Porgy and Bess, however, is not just important historically, or in terms of the writing or its current performance and its unmatched quality - no, this show is important in its execution - in that it is even being done.  Broadway is still mostly the "Great White Way" in some less-than-flattering ways.  The vast majority of both performers and audience members are white.  I haven't seen any studies to this effect (though I'm sure they've been done), but I have been in a lot of theaters, and I have looked around.  Porgy and Bess helps to open the doors a bit wider.  It takes seriously the stories of African Americans and the African American story as a whole.  Her people are not put on display, or exploited - they are celebrated and honored.  And the proof is in the pudding - the house at the Richard Rodgers Theatre was among the most diverse I've ever seen.  And I was honored to have been a part of it.

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again? Given the time and resources, absolutely.
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who? I would.  To anyone who takes music or theater seriously.  To anyone who values deep studies of the human experience.  But not to the people who are just looking for a light escape.  The escape is there, but it isn't light.
  • Twitter review: Probably the most important show I've seen this year - maybe longer.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

FCS: Once

Quick facts:
  • Show: Once
  • Broadway
  • Date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Closing date: open-ended
  • Venue: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
  • Running time: 2:30 (one intermission)
  • My seat: Fair. Fourth row of the Mezzanine, far stage right. Some view obstruction by parts of the set.
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: none
Know someone working the show? No.

Synopsis: Guy and Girl meet.  They fall in love through a shared passion for music and appreciation of the others' talent, but both have relationship baggage.

My thoughts: After that REALLY long last post, you'll be glad to know that my thoughts this time will be much more succinct!

Once is described as an Irish folk-pop musical, and I can't think of a better way to describe it.  It's a stage adaptation of the recent film of the same name.  I had recently seen the film in preparation for seeing it live, and I wonder if that might not have been a mistake.  The film is much quieter, slower, and more subtle.  And while I realize it's necessary to present a stage show with a higher energy, I often wondered if it might have been a tad too much.

As I walked into the theater, there was pre-show music already being played on stage by members of the cast.  Additionally, there was a bar onstage and members of the audience were wandering up there to get drinks.  It was a clever way to establish the mood of the evening, if not a bit too rollicking to faithfully setup the mood of the piece as a whole.  Indeed, the pre-show time blended seamlessly with the show opening.  The house lights didn't fully dim until well into the first musical number.

The guiding principle for the show seems to be simplicity.  The set never changed, the costumes never changed (at least not dramatically), the lighting was simple, the choreography (if you could even call it that - it was really more just arranged, slow movement) was simple.  It was clearly a small production that made its way (perhaps unexpectedly) to Broadway.  In fact, I often found myself wishing that I'd seen it when it was still Off-Broadway.  The size of the Broadway theater costs us some of the intimacy that seems to have been built into the production - but that's not the fault of the actors or anyone else, it's simply a casualty of space.

A few of the changes between the live version and the film version stood out.  Most notably (in an unpleasant way) was the repeated attempt at comedy.  As I think I've said in a previous review - I'm generally unimpressed by attempts at comedy.  Perhaps it's just because I don't find funny the kinds of things that most people seem to find funny.  But regardless, the laugh lines usually felt like a stretch to me, and seemed contrived and unnecessary.  A more positive change, however, was that the characters of Baruska (Girl's mother) and Da (Guy's father) were more developed in this version than in the film.

There were really no standout performers - even the stars seemed to function more as leading members of the ensemble than as stars - with the possible exception of Will Connolly in the role of Andrej.  He had a very brief solo singing moment, that I prayed would go on and on.  Sadly, it didn't, but I hope to hear more from him soon!

In general, the show is very song-driven and not particularly plot-driven.  The reason to see the show is for the music, and that is certainly reason enough!  Reflecting as I was walking out of the theater, I realized that it's not that I didn't enjoy the show, it was just that it didn't make me feel.  There was lots of great music, but I never found myself lost in the world of the show.

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again?  I probably wouldn't go out of my way to see it again, but sure...  With the right company...  Why not?  I will, however, LOVE listening to the cast recording again and again.
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who?  Perhaps.  I think my brother would enjoy it.  Perhaps a few other select friends and family.  But it's really not for everyone.
  • Twitter review:  Why not?!  It's a Broadway show unlike almost any other.  Check it out.  You'll have seen something unique.
Post-script:  I debated about whether or not to include this, because it really isn't about the show itself, but more about the experience of the show.  The ushers were repeatedly distracting throughout the show.  I was seated near the entrance to the box seating area, and one usher kept walking in and out of the curtain, exposing the bright lights of the hallway to all of us in the area.  Another usher reprimanded an audience member for using electronics at full-voice when the show was fully underway.  Another, still, stood near the end of my row - just feet from me - coughing through most of the second act.  I've chosen to mention this complaint because: 1) it was multiple ushers causing multiple disturbances, and 2) because it wasn't just disturbing me - I overheard some nearby seatmates discussing the same distraction at intermission.  I'll be writing to the management of the Jacobs Theatre to complain about the experience.  It's one thing to be distracted by another member of the audience - perhaps one who isn't very savvy about etiquette in the theater - but the ushers should know better.

FCS: Jesus Christ Superstar

Quick facts:
  • Show: Jesus Christ Superstar
  • Broadway Revival
  • Date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012
  • Time: 2:00 p.m.
  • Closing date: open-ended
  • Venue: Neil Simon Theater
  • Running time: 1:55 (one intermission)
  • My seat: Good.  Orchestra, stage left, under the lip of the balcony, but not enough to obstruct the view
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: Jeremy Kushnier in the role of Judas; Matt Stokes in the role of Priest (usually played by Jeremy Kushnier)
Know someone working the show? No.

Synopsis: The story of the last week in the life of Jesus, and his time with his followers and his adversaries - told as only Andrew Lloyd Webber could!

My thoughts: Remember in my first post how I talked about how much I value creativity in everything, but particularly in the theater?  Well, it pains me to say it, because I really do love Jesus Christ Superstar, and I was genuinely excited to see this production, but the production lacked in genuine creativity.  Overall, it seemed like an attempt to make the film version from 2000 into a new live theater production.  It had the same general set design, lighting palette, and costume styles.

Choreography by Lisa Shriver was by far the worst part of the show.  When it didn't look like untrained, amateur (and goofy) liturgical dance, it reminded me of the show choir choreography that I was doing in high school in the mid '90s.  While the choreography we did then was fine for high school show choir, for a Broadway production in 2012 it was simply stale and silly.

The costume design by Paul Tazewell (and in general, the character portrayal) was a mixed bag.  Interestingly, the disciples' costumes seemed to have been inspired by the recent Occupy Wall Street movement - or at least a kind of "Romanized" version of them.  This lent a tone of much-needed relevance to the production.  The priests were in boring, Matrix-esque costumes, exactly like the 2000 film version of the show.  The Roman soldiers, strangely, seemed to have come to the stage directly from a leather fetish night club.  Jesus looked like a dirty Warner Sallman Head of Christ brought to life.  One really interesting aspect of the costume design was the use of the color blue to set Judas' character apart from the other members of the production.  If the production as a whole had been clever at all, I might have considered that it was meant to represent an allusion to Mary, the mother of Christ - as if to suggest a role for Judas birthing a new reality in his role as betrayer.  It might have been an interesting choice.  But the general lack of creativity elsewhere in the production leaves me skeptical about that being a conscious thought on the part of anyone in the creative team.  But who knows?!

What I would have called Projection Design, the Playbill lists as Video Design by Sean Nieuwenhuis.  Perhaps one of my learned readers and friends can help explain the difference to me - though it certainly seemed mostly projected to me.  Regardless, regarding the video design: one general criticism that might be made of Jesus Christ Superstar as a whole might be that it can be a little too literal in its treatment of the story of Jesus - particularly when its literalism isn't founded entirely on the biblical account.  The heavily text-centered projections make the show even more overtly literal than it might have been otherwise.  It goes so far as to assign days of the week - and even hours of the day! - to various scenes within the show.  Live theater is not - and should not attempt to be - a documentary!  Most of the projected words (days of the week, times of day, site locations, etc.) would have been better left out altogether.  These things could have been more effectively conveyed through lighting, set changes, and a little reliance on popular understandings of the story of Jesus.  I know my level of education and understanding doesn't reflect that of the general population, but still.  Most people at least know some of it.  And if they don't, let the artistry of the theater convey it.  Writing it on the wall is just lazy.

Projections were also employed to expand on the cast a certain points.  For example - in the Palm Sunday scene, white silhouettes of people waving palm branches helped to expand the limitations of the cast and convey a sense of a larger crowd.  It was good story-telling, but it did become quickly overused.  The silhouetted figures were used in several scenes throughout the show, and at various times took on multiple, bright colors.  After a while, I found myself thinking I was looking at an Apple iPod commercial from a few years ago.

The most serious problem that I had in the production was in the temple scene - when Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers.  The story is about money changers - NOT SEXUAL IMMORALITY!  There were scantily clad men and women on stairs on opposite sides of the stage, attempting to dance suggestively throughout the song.  It was an unnecessary, unhelpful, and frankly offensive editorial change that attempted to impose Victorian-era values on an entirely different problem of the first century.  Furthermore, the problem of greed is still very real and relevant!  Why not use the scene to speak to that?  It was a lost opportunity, and the creative team should be ashamed for letting it slip by, and for trying to change the story as they did.

My favorite song in the show, "Could We Start Again Please", was nearly ruined through two serious flaws: first, the disappointing vocal style of Chilina Kennedy in the role of Mary Magdalene.  This is one of the most important roles in the show, and Kennedy seemed not up to the task at this performance.  The second set-back in the song was the lighting design by Howell Binkley.  Several spot lights shone on Jesus downstage center, and the rest of the stage remained fully lit as well.  It was too bright.  It didn't allow space for reflection - the whole point of the song.  The scene should have shifted dramatically through this thought of a song.  Instead, it seemed to remain as a kind of midday aside.

My last area of serious criticism is in the Herod scene.  It was silly.  And not in a creative, playful way, but in an "it's been done exactly that way a dozen times before" way.  Moreover, Herod, played by Bruce Dow, was a vocally weak member of the cast.

Lest I be accused of hating the production entirely, let me move on to some of the bright spots of the production.  The brightest of them all was Jeremy Kushnier in the role of Judas.  Wow.  Though an understudy, he was talented, spot on in his performance, meticulous, and passionate.  I could listen to him sing all night, and I will look for opportunities to see him perform again!  In this production (or at least this performance) it's fascinating to have seen Judas arise as the real star of the show.  And clearly I wasn't the only one to think so - the applause roared the most, loudest, and longest for Mr. Kushnier - more so than even for Paul Nolan (in the role of Jesus).

Another bright spot was Mike Nadajewski in the role of Peter.  Though I didn't get to hear him sing much, he sang beautifully, and I longed for more.  Similarly was Tom Hewitt in the role of Pontius Pilate.  He had a commanding voice, fitting to his role, and was a delight to hear.

The scene around Judas' death was on the verge of clever.  As his guilt overcomes him, he climbs up a ladder out of the audience's view.  Then, moments later, as his song ends, we hear the loud thud of his death and the thirty pieces of silver fall from out of sight above center stage.  If the scene had ended here, the effect would have been made.  Instead, a dummy falls hanging above center stage with his legs dangling.  It would have been sufficient story telling without the dummy.  With the dummy, it crossed the line to overkill.  Literally.

The brightest spot of all, however, was the creative choice made by Des McAnuff (director) in the final scene, John 19:41.  The scene is simply orchestration.  Time.  The crucifixion has happened, and it's up to the director to decide how to move on.  It's been done in many ways, but McAnuff handled it with more subtlety and grace than I've ever seen or imagined it.  *SPOILER ALERT*  The text-heavy projections ALMOST (only almost, mind you) begin to pay off.  As Jesus hangs dead on the cross, a biblical passage begins to scroll across a kind of Times Square-style news ticker ribbon that runs around the set.  Then, projected elsewhere on the set, another passage scrolls.  Then another, and another, and many more until a kind of visualized cacophony of the story of Jesus sprawls in every direction.  Jesus is quietly and mysteriously lowered from the cross, the cast emerges from the darkness, and they all walk downstage in silence.  By the time they've reached the edge, Jesus is clothed as just another person, and the show ends.  It was beautiful and theologically sound.  I was deeply moved.

While my general thoughts and reflections and responses have been pretty critical of this production, I do actually approach the show with the full understanding of how difficult it must be to mount a revival of a show that is so deeply embedded into the fabric of our popular culture.  Because of that reality, standards for this show are incredibly high.  The creative team must decide whether they prefer to approach the production in a new way, or to simply give the people what they expect and (at least think they) want.  Of course, either approach runs the risk of garnering criticism.  Sadly, this production seems to have opted for the safer, more expected approach.  I, for one, find that uninspiring.

On the other hand, the story of Jesus and Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's writing all triumph in the end anyway.  Despite the glaring problems of the production, I was still deeply moved.  I still applauded hard at the end.  And, while I can honestly say that I loved seeing this revival, and that it was an afternoon very well spent, all of that is in spite of some severe limitations on the part of the general design and perspective of the production as a whole.

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again? No.  Once was enough.
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who? Eh...  I don't know.  Probably not.  I'd direct people to the film version from 2000.  It's cheaper, you can watch it again and again, and the performances are stronger.
  • Twitter review: You won't regret seeing it.  You also won't regret missing it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

FCS: Carrie

Quick facts:
  • Show: Carrie
  • Off-Broadway
  • Date: Friday, March 16, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Closing date: April 22, 2012  **update - due to lagging ticket sales, the extension has been cancelled.  The closing date is now April 8, 2012 - so see it soon!**
  • Venue: Lucille Lortel Theater
  • Running time: 2 hours (one intermission)
  • My seat: last row, center.  A true "cheap seats" experience.
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: Anne Tolpegin in the role of Margaret White, Jake Boyd in the role of George
Know someone working the show? No.

Synopsis: The latest musical retelling of the 1976 Stephen King horror film of the same name.  Carrie is an outcast of a high school student who discovers her special powers and uses them to exact revenge on her persecutors the night of the prom.

My thoughts: Carrie is something of a legend in the theater world.  The lavishly expensive original production in 1988 was officially open only three nights.  It wasn't for lack of sales - the show sold out - but it was for the embarrassment lumped upon the production team.  The curtain calls each night were mixed with cheers and boos.

Obviously, I never saw that original production, but I wasn't going to let this latest (and, to date, only)
 revival slip by.  But I understand that some major revisions were made to the show from the last time it was produced.

Even so, it's hard for me to imagine why it was met with such scorn those years ago.  Part of me wonders if it typifies the "ahead of its time" designation.

Carrie is a brilliant show - and despite being a revival, and based on a 36 year old movie, it remains incredibly timely.

Earlier in the day, while making a pastoral visit, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room and watching the guilty verdicts being announced for Dharun Ravi - the former Rutgers University student who gained national attention in his bullying episode that led to the suicide of Tyler Clementi.  Clementi had been harassed and publicly humiliated for being gay.  As a gay man who survived occasional harassment and bullying in high school, I found myself strangely compassionate toward Carrie.  I understood a measure of the pain her character must have felt.

Moreover, we're constantly hearing about the latest "war on women" in our national political life.  Carrie was raised in a hyper-conservative, self-loathing household based on skewed Christian ethics and ideals.  Her mother begged her to pray for her "sinful" status as a woman.  Her life was characterized as a shameful (and shame-filled) iteration of the "curse of Eve".  She was taught that her existence was loathsome and worthy of shame.

So while I understand that the word "Carrie" has become something of a laugh-line - both in the theater world and in wider popular culture as a result of the film - the message today is important.  Our social policies and thinking and teaching have consequences.  Hateful thinking leads to tragedy.  Though it's expressed in supernatural hyperbole in the story of Carrie, the real-life tragedies that grow out of dehumanizing hate remain very real.

The production itself was stellar.  The music is engaging and "hummable".  Though it's not often the case in off-Broadway productions, I do hope a cast recording is produced.  There isn't an official cast recording of the 1988 production (only bootlegs exist), but this production is very different anyway.

Throughout most of the show, Sven Ortel's projection designs were characteristically subtle and effective.  They delicately told the story and nearly went unnoticed throughout the show.  The only major exception to this would be in the final scene when projections were relied on quite heavily to execute the carnage of the prom.  But even in that scene, it was executed only as much as was needed - not overdone at all.  My only criticism would be in a scene where the "cool" high school students are gathered - presumably in one of their bedrooms.  Ortel was attempting to build a high school student's bedroom, and chose to project a collage of posters as might be found in a teenager's room.  For some reason, this collage approach seems to be popular in the world of projection design.  It was used in the "beauty shop" scene of Bonnie & Clyde, and was similarly ineffective there.  It actually comes across as sort of lazy - which Mr. Ortel clearly is not!  Aside from that scene, however, his work was as refined as I've come to expect.

Lighting design, by Kevin Adams, was excellent.  There was consistently clever use of color.  He carried us through the pastels of the surface of high school life, while always reminding us of the darker and sharper underbelly that waits around every corner.  Particularly effective was his use of silhouette and side lighting in a few scenes.  Adams clearly understood the story in a deep way and shared that understanding with each of us through his work.

Another bright spot in the production was the choreography by Matt Williams.  It was angular and kind of an urban vogue style.  It really fit (and helped to establish) the point of view for the production as a whole.

The standout performer was clearly Molly Ranson in the role of Carrie White.  She was magnificent!  As an actor, she brilliantly portrayed Carrie's shy, tormented, and beaten-down personality - but tinged with a secret - a power - that would only later be revealed.  As a singer, she was strong and beautiful.  Throughout the performance I repeatedly found myself thinking that I was seeing something like audiences must have seen when witnessing the young, emerging talent of Sutton Foster.

Mark my words, friends, Molly Ranson is one to watch!

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again? ABSOLUTELY!  Let's go!
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who?  Definitely.  And I have.  And I will again.  With the right mindset, I think Carrie can (and should) have a wider audience than one might go into it expecting.  See my opening paragraph's above...  I think this show is important.
  • Twitter review: Go!  Get there now!  Fortunately, the run has been extended, so there's a little time, but not a lot.  Go see it!

Friday, March 16, 2012

FCS: Days of Wine and Roses

Quick facts:
  • Show: Days of Wine and Roses
  • Regional Theater
  • Date: Thursday, March 15, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Closing date: March 25, 2012
  • Venue: The Schoolhouse Theater
  • Running time: ~1:50 (one intermission)
  • My seat: good - general admission, small house
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: None
Know someone working the show? Yes.  My friend Shawn E. Boyle was the projection designer for the show.  Shawn had shown me some early projection concepts for the show and told me that he was getting into the show - so that's why I went to see it.

Synopsis: It's the tragic love story of two alcoholics.  One who struggles through recovery - one who refuses.

My thoughts: It was an intense and emotional show.  So much so that I kept finding myself having to consciously work through the feelings that I was having.  In the small venue, the huge emotions shared by the principle actors seemed to spill out and fill up every corner of the room we shared.  It was often uncomfortable.  Which, I would say, is a sign of success.  The story is difficult and uncomfortable.  I found myself thinking, from time to time, how difficult it must be for an actor to "play drunk".  And it must be all the more difficult in an intense drama such as this.  An actor might perilously slip into slapstick comedy in acting these parts, but Rich Orlow and Quinn Cassavale (in the leading roles of Joe and Kirsten Clay) masterfully handle this challenge maintaining the rich spectrum of emotions through which their characters lead us.

Weak moments in the performance were hard to find, but not entirely absent.

Early in Act I there were a couple of slow sound cues.  It dragged the pace a bit and stood out - most notably when a single actor was clapping on stage, waiting for the chorus of other clappers to come in through a recorded track.  We all thought they may never come!  But fortunately these cues seemed to be hit a bit more on target as the show continued.

The lighting, while generally acceptable, did have one very peculiar element.  The sides of the set were each lined with three tall columns.  Two columns on either side were outlined in blue lights that were used intermittently in various scenes.  These lights were entirely unnecessary and often distracting.  When in use, they were entirely too bright and pulled the eye away from the action in the center of the stage.  Also, they tended to occasionally flicker and slightly buzz when they were on, and always flickered distractingly when being turned on and off.  While they made sense in one scene in Act I when they were first used - at a party (or bar, perhaps?), their use never really seemed to make sense again.  It was if they were employed to justify the expense of having them.

The rest of the set, designed by Jason Bolen, was one of the highlights of the production.  Despite the confines of a small space, Mr. Bolen made use of multiple levels and three scrim panels to give dimension, flexibility, and variety to the set.  While it was a simple concept, it was, in itself, engaging and made space for elaborate staging and story-telling.  The three scrim panels allowed for occasional staging behind them - giving greater dimension to the various characters and perspectives represented in the story, but also provided a surface for projections - another of the highlights of the production.

While I know the projection designer, and have admired his work for a while now, I feel at least partially unbiased in recognizing that this was among his strongest achievements that I've seen.  The projections helped to add texture and character to the story without becoming the focus (even though I probably focused on them too much because of my friend...).  There were occasional animations and videos, but always tasteful and reserved - never pulling us away from the action, but always drawing us deeper into it.  A few elements that stood out for me particularly: first: the brick and plaster work in the AA meeting.  Perhaps it's because the set had so caught my eye as I was sitting in the house waiting for the show to begin, but it was nearly magical the way these panels seemed to transform into something more.  Similarly, in a later scene at the home of Kirsten's father, the panels became papered in an elegant damask with sconces on the side walls.  The texture and the change was captivating.  As the scene at the house progressed, Joe and Kirsten fell off the wagon, and the walls and the sconces shifted to an angle and took on a bluish tinge from their goldenrod original.  Admittedly, when I first saw this happening, I wondered if it might be overkill,  but it made more sense as the scene progressed.  Kirsten, by this point drunk, interacted with her sober father.  Over her father, the sconce and damask remained in their original color and form, but over the inebriated Kirsten, the tilt and blue prevailed.  So the projections helped to tell the story.  Another point that seemed clever was in the same scene - Joe was out looking for another bottle of alcohol that he'd hidden.  He was walking outside under the light of the moon ringed in clouds.  As he stumbled into his father-in-law's greenhouse, the moon and clouds remained in view, but through the framework of the greenhouse.  Clever!  The final projections aspect that I will mention - though there were many more! - is one that I don't know that I can entirely articulate, but appreciated nonetheless.  As part of the Clay family's descent, they had to move into a cheaper - presumably poorly appointed and dingy apartment.  Part of how Mr. Boyle conveyed this was through the black and white image looking down the shaft of an old, winding staircase.  I noticed, however, that as Joe moved into sobriety, the black and white image became a kind of sepia - clearly brighter and with more dimension, but still the same underlying reality as before.  It shifted again, however, when his wife, still bounded by alcoholism, returns to the apartment.  The sepia faded into its original black and white.  I wouldn't presume to speak for the designer, but this subtle shift did underline, for me, the emotional shifts within the scene.

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again? No.  It was a moving production, but it was almost too hard to watch.  I'm glad to have seen it, but once was enough.
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who?  Sure.  Just don't go expecting a pick-me-up night of light theater.  You'll be disappointed.  But it is a nice, easy drive up out of the city.  Why not have a little one-night adventure?!
  • Twitter review: A rich, beautiful, and highly emotionally evocative production in almost every aspect.