Archive for the 'Theatre' Category

[title of post]

Whoa, another post?  I thought this blog was dead.

But there’s [title of show] playing at Signature, in the smaller (ARK) space, and it’s another one of those that keeps me going back there even though the large space has become home to mega-spectaculars (and Broadway-bound bombs like Glory Days).

Plus hey, Sam Ludwig!  When was it I saw him in Pippin?  Google says 2006.  Google knows everything!  (And Google is wrong; it has to be 2005.)  Yeah, and none of the girls wanted to kiss him in the orgy scene when they found out he was still in high school.  He was so clearly the standout that Jenna and I knew he was destined for stardom right there.  When he showed up to auditions for Assassins at KAT we were all, “Craig, you have to cast him!  Plus he can play guitar!”  He shoulda been the balladeer, but we had nobody who could play Hinckley, and Hinckley does have that whole play-guitary moment at the beginning of Unworthy of Your Love.  And Sam rocked it.

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Who Farted?

Quoting Samuel Beckett here, don’t look at me like that.  This is serious, serious art.  With themes and symbolism and ambiguity and everything.  Literature, man!

Specifically, Waiting for Godot at Roundabout Theatre (in Studio 54).  It is meant as a comedy, but when you read the script it comes off all literary and…  interesting. Funny, but in a cerebral way.  But put Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin, two of the world’s greatest clowns, in the roles of Estragon and Vladimir, add John Goodman as Pozzo and the unknown (to me) John Glover as Lucky, and then turn them loose, and you end up with side-splitting physical comedy.  Turns out the themes and symbolism and whatnot come through just fine when you do that.  Which I guess is why it’s considered a masterpiece.

Yes, we did wonder when Nathan Lane, rolling around on the floor with Goodman and Irwin, said “Who farted?”, whether that was in the original text.  And yes, it is.

Best part was when Estragon took Pozzo’s whip and “attempted” to use it.  30 seconds of Nathan Lane cavorting around the entire stage flailing an 8 foot bullwhip around everywhere.  Somehow without hurting anyone, including himself.  That took some practice, I guarantee.  It took us another minute to recover from laughing about that.

Kudos to director Anthony Page for playing it for the comedy.  I wondered for a millisecond if that would detract from the serious themes.  Nope.

Worth the drive to NYC!

Things I Hate, Part 3

People who go “mmm” at the theatre every time anything remotely interesting or moving happens on stage. Especially when they take it to the next level and start answering questions one actor asks another. Yes, I’m talking to you, lady who was sitting next to me at columbinus last night. Do you sing along at musicals, too?

Temporality in Memoriality

At 6:48 this morning, a chilly sun rose over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall.  Present were members of some local veterans groups, a group of cadets from the Civil Air Patrol, and one actor and two techies from One Red Flower.  First Saturday of the month, from April through November, the veterans and cadets grab hoses and buckets and wash the wall.  Local vet Bill Gray had invited us to join them when he saw ORF last month.

The most moving part of the Vietnam Wall is its unavoidable presentation of the personal reality of the war:  At any time during the day there are people taking rubbings of names, leaving memorials, and looking up friends in the index books.  These are not just 58,260 names, they are friends and family of people still living.  Most of the docents were there, serving alongside the people represented in marble.

Eventually that will no longer be true.  What will that mean for the meaning of the monument? Continue reading ‘Temporality in Memoriality’

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln

For she so loved her trumpet that she sold it for a cup of Thai iced tea. And to give it a chance to be in show business. After years of being toted from school to school, teaching K-12ers about music, and years more of languishing in the gig bag in a closet, Jenna’s trumpet (with its valves still working, thank you very much) was rescued from obscurity and thrust into the hands of, well, Stephen Gregory Smith, on stage at Ford’s Theatre in Frank Wildhorn’s The Civil War. Because there’s no horn player in the orchestra, and the synthesized trumpet calls they were using made the entire cast cringe and cover their ears. Stephen plays, but his trumpet was lost 5 years ago when his house burned, so he put out a call and J answered. It’s like karmic payback for the bass amp and cabinet I got for free so they would have a good home.

So Stephen has a trumpet again, in recompense of which we were invited to the dress. Sadly, I can’t recommend the show. Most sadly because such a grouping of vocal talent I have never seen on one stage. Everyone in the cast was spectacular, solo and chorally. When they broke into an a capella section with the entire cast spread across the whole stage, and remained in perfect harmonic and rhythmic sync, I knew this was a special group of singers. The orchestra was also excellent. Which makes it all the more frustrating that the sound was a disaster.

Everyone sounded like they were singing from the single array of speakers hung above center stage. Even the people closer to me sounded that way, which means it’s more than just incorrectly tuned delays. There was a presence hump like that on a camel, leaving us with no bass (more the pity since the bass player rocked) and no high end for the consonants. Every single belt song (and many there were), male or female, consisted of an undifferentiated series of unidentifiable vowels. Despite the very expensive-looking (and hideously obtrusive) rock-n-roll style head mics, which ought to at least have helped the sound. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure something somewhere in the system was overloading; the harshness was more than I can put down entirely to bad EQ. This ain’t community theatre, folks. There’s no excuse for 1970’s quality sound.

But how about the lighting, you ask? Well shit, with several hundred fixed instruments and at least a dozen intelligent lights, you’d think it might be really nice. But then you might see the show and ask yourself “what’s the point of beautiful moody backlighting for a sad song if you then blast the person in the face with a white follow spot?” And, if you’re like me, you won’t have an answer. WTF, is it an Equity requirement or something that the lead singer must always be lit by a soft-focus follow spot? And we all have to work together to pretend that it doesn’t spill onto anyone or anything else on the stage? Feh.

And, new rule. Nobody is allowed to use projectors in the theatre ever again, with the single exception of the people who did Sunday in the Park with George up at Studio 54 last year. They got it right. Everyone else, including this one (Aaron Rhyne, apparently), get the PowerPoint disease when given a projector. Guess what guys, we’re here to see the actors, not your projections. So stop it with the motion during quiet solos! And remember, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid.

The show itself is a musical revue, which is fine, but don’t expect it to “bear witness to the struggles of the past, and actively connect those struggles to our lives in the present day,” as the director says. The only parts that were emotionally engaging for me were when they turned on the lights in Lincoln’s box and the cast turned toward it while a narrator read lines from various of Lincoln’s speeches. That worked, but can hardly be considered a stroke of directorial genius. I mean, you’re in Ford’s Theatre speaking lines from Lincoln. What else are you gonna do? And other than that, the show was not emotionally engaging. It was just a group of incredibly talented musicians (most of whom are very talented actors too) singing their hearts out and asses off. If the sound did them justice, it would be a very enjoyable evening.

Best Weekend Evah!

Hey look, a new entry!  I’m not dead after all.

Good times last weekend, atsa fer sure. So much so that it calls for an ordered list!

  1. Special talkback performance of One Red Flower, with author Paris Barclay, Bernard Edelman (who edited the book the play was based on), Robert Santos (the guy who commissioned the book), Debbie Brudno (wife of character Alan Chisolm), and Stephen Gregory Smith, who played the lead in the Signature production a few years ago.  It went great!  Everyone thought it was very well done, and the veterans all approved.  The only thing we did wrong was the way they tied their pants to their boots, and having them wear ponchos in the field in one scene.  Great party afterwards, thanks to the prep help from Y.T. and the setup help from all the not-appearing-in-this-play KAT folk.
  2. Baby gorilla!  Mandara keeps poppin’ ’em out down at the National Zoo, so we went with Y.T. to see the new girl.  Hey, a girl baby!  That’s a first.  Cute as kittens.  Man, I don’t see how anyone can watch any apes for more than 10 minutes without jumping to the assumption of common descent.
  3. Mandara still recognizes Jenna.  Long story, involving an ape teaching a person how to say hello, a long absence, the startling realization that apes do double-takes, an even longer absence, and a slow but certain recognition.  Jenna kinda melted.  And I reiterate what I said above about evolution.
  4. Another good performance of the show, and Mary Ann Redmond at the Harp & Fiddle in Bethesda, with Y.T. again.

I’m not expecting to top all that any time soon.

Road Show Road Trip

Like Dennis really needs any more miles on him, but how could we miss this? Two of our favorite actors (Alex Gemignani and Michael Cerveris) in the latest Sondheim musical, on Jenna’s birthday. Formerly known as Bounce, formerly formerly known as Wise Guys, and now called Road Show (which see for the plot summary). This is the show we saw in Chicago, at which we met the man himself.

Jenna with Steph...  Sondh....!

Jenna and her dad with Steph... Sondh....!

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You Guys Always Bring Me the Very Best Violence

There’s a maxim in comedy, which I’m sure has a proper name, but I just call it the 9-rakes rule, based on the Cape Feare episode of The Simpsons. Stepping on a rake once is funny, the second time is less funny, the third time starts gettting repetetive and boring, but sometime between the 4th and the 9th time it gets funny again. The same principle applies with violence; too much is often better than the right amount. Quentin Tarantino understands this, as does Robert Rodriguez. And so, it turns out, does Martin McDonagh. We saw his dark comedy, his “comedy of terrors” if you will, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, last night at Signature, and it goes so far overboard on the violence that it made me wonder if I was a bad person for giggling uncontrollably at some of the scenes.

McDonagh also wrote The Cripple of Inishmaan, which we saw at Silver Spring Stage in March. Cripple was very dark, and we had heard it was one of his cheerier plays, so weren’t sure what to expect from Lieutenant. Especially considering it was billed as comedy. But it was in the smaller ARK space at Signature, so at least it wasn’t going to involve the Broadwaysturbation that’s becoming more common in the MAX space (notwithstanding the fact that this play was nominated for five Tonys in 2006). We weren’t disappointed.

More, with some spoilers, below the fold.

Continue reading ‘You Guys Always Bring Me the Very Best Violence’

If You Give a Director a Cookie

Or rather, if you give a director a huge budget…

Saw Ace the other night at Signature. It’s advertised as a story about planes and war and WWI flying aces and stuff. About 20 minutes into the show I was thinking, “Either we came to the wrong theatre or this sure is a huge frame they’ve put this story in.” It seemed to be set in the 50s, and didn’t have much to do with flying. Well, except the set, which was all metal and riveted, with two enormous metal contraptions on either side of the stage, all set about with doors and lights and flapdoodles.

Turns out it’s really a story of a boy learning about his past. And said past does have not one, but two flying aces in it. And sure, all that the setup is more or less necessary to build up empathy for the characters, but it musta coulda been done quicker. As the story went on, it got much better. The songs tended somewhat toward the insipid, but the book (with the exception of the part where Ace pulled up and flew up to heaven or something) was really very good. Oddly, the book was written by the lyricist and composer. Perhaps I’m just spoiled; not everyone can be Sondheim when it comes to words. Maybe you have to be Joss Whedon (or a close relation) to do that.

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Der Besuch der Alten Chita

I’m not completely sure I like the new Broadway-themed direction of Signature Theatre in Shirlington, but I did enjoy seeing Chita Rivera on Tuesday night. She was dancing on Broadway before I was born, man. And George Hearn, too. I’ve only ever seen him in the DVD of Sweeney Todd (the stage production, not the movie). He’s got some acting range.

The show was “The Visit”, which I didn’t realize until later was a pretty faithful musical version of Der Besuch der Alten Dame, by Dürenmatt. Which like all good second-year German students I read back in college. Very, uh, German sort of story, which means who knows if I liked it. Hated the lighting design, though. Screw those Broadway designers, just give me Chris Lee.

Best part was when the power went out halfway through Chita’s song about marrying often and widowing well. They just kept on keeping on! Microphones, schmicrophones, it’s a small house and we’ll just project. Coolio!

So, overall, a worthwhile night for sure. Still, I hope Signature doesn’t go too Broadway as time goes on.