EAT

4/29/2010

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I saw another one of Zac’s musicals last night.  It is another musical in the EAT festival.  Man he can really turn them out!  My musical will be the third of his I’ve seen in the past six months!  And he’s going to law school!  I thought I was crazy!  I think the feedback afterwards was very informative and helpful for them, and I agreed with much of it.  The premise of the show held me a little less than his last, Jim Thompson, but I think with a little strengthening it could be really engaging.  It was about a writer and editor team/lovers who split up because she wanted to return to New York and he wanted to remain in Colorado.  He realizes she’s the one and follows her to New York and tries to win her back, all the while writing his next great American novel. 

They bill the show as a rock musical, but because nothing was amped, it felt a little more “unplugged.”  I would really like to hear them rock out on a few of the songs, I think it being so soft, some of the power was lost.  But some of the pieces were really quite beautiful and some of the cast was really talented.  I actually sang with one of the two male leads, so it was good to catch up with him after the show.
 
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I saw a Choral Chameleon concert last week (I'm trying to catch up!)  CC was the choir that I used to be a part of, but my theater life got far too busy and I needed every spare minute I could get.  It was one of the first choir performances I’ve been to in my adult life (with the exception of a few of Tom Blanchard’s I believe…) and it was definitely odd no longer being a part of it. 

The theme, which Artistic Director Vince Peterson always takes very seriously, was “Hymns for the Amusement of Children.”    Of course the music was beautiful.  The second act was an original piece, with music by Jeff Parola and lyrics by my friend Tony Asaro.  Obviously with that theme it is a children’s piece, but there were so many nuances that would only even be noticeable to the trained ear (not necessarily mine).  I would almost say that it was a children’s opera.  The piece itself was very cyclical, and ran about forty-five minutes, which for me made it feel a little protracted, but I think that actually lends itself to the idea that this is for children.  Look at Blue’s Clues!  A half hour of that guy (it’s not Steve anymore…) and that dog repeating themselves.  But nonetheless the music was gorgeous.  Vince asked me afterward if I could see it staged.  Truthfully I don’t know how enjoyable it would be for an adult…unless they had a child with them.  Sort of like Disney on Ice or something.  But I think it would be an interesting experiment.  I really don’t know if children would like it either, but I think children are probably MORE open to new things, so they just might.  And getting children excited about music would be an invaluable reward.
  

 
 
This is a little late, but at least the piece is still running... I saw The Tempest at The Secret Theatre last week.  I did want to focus my blog on a few elements of the production.  The central design piece were silks that hung from the ceiling that the Ariels, who director Kelly Johnston had divided up into four parts, used to hang from themselves.  It was a choice I found to be a bit of a double edged sword.  One the one hand it is definitely one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen in that space.  It is clear that the four had focused quite a bit of time on this.  They looked beautiful.  In concert with some very beautiful lighting, it really made for some gorgeous stage pictures.  They also did quite a bit of nicely synchronized movement on the ground.  It was very clean and visually very engaging.

However, though splitting up Ariel is a neat idea, I have to think that maybe it was just that.  What did it add to the piece thematically?  Because there were four portraying one spirit, I was wondering if each of the four were aspects of the personality of “Ariel.”  Otherwise, why couldn’t they just have been four independent spirits that moved in sync together like ants or bees and perhaps their freedom at the end was partially freedom from each other?  The text doesn’t really support that, but just a thought… So I ask why this choice except to bolster the cast size a little bit? (Which could in fact be the very reason.)  Also, it was such an overwhelming choice, that every time Ariel got up on those silks, that is exactly what I was watching, and not the scene.  It pulled focus quite a bit, and I lost some of the story.  On the other hand, it seemed that many of the scenes where Ariel was not at least one of the central characters seemed to fall flat.  By the end I didn’t really care about anyone BUT Ariel, who I’m sure is not often meant to be the protagonist of this play.  The only exception to that was Miranda, played by Jeni Ahlfeld, who I thought had a remarkable and standout performance.
 
I saw a show at Primary Stages last week under the Inner Voices Program.  Essentially these are short (45 minutes) 1 person musicals.  I have to say that I was so happy to see this.  First of all it affirms the decision to do Before the Flood – it shows that short musicals actually do have a place in commercial theater – something which I was completely unaware of.  But they were actually both great stories, with wonderful music.  There were two in the evening.  The first was about a songwriter who was doing recording a video on her computer for reasons you don’t find out until about halfway through – for her baby.  It is a very sweet twist, which is further heightened by the fact that she is making it because she has cancer and may not make it to her daughter’s adulthood.  It is very well designed with projections behind of what she’s seeing on the screen – though I admit it was a little distracting because I’m watching every time the screen shifts if she’s actually controlling it (she wasn’t) or if the song she was singing along with her itunes actually matched the exact length of the song (it didn’t).  It was simply and wonderfully acted by Heidi Blickenstaff.

The second one was actually the one that really surprised me.  Not necessarily because I liked it more - but that’s not why it piqued my interest.  Entitled “Resurrection Tangle”, it was amazingly performed by Judith Blazer.  It was even more remarkable because she has a voice that is reminiscent of Judy Garland, and not Angel from Rent, who you would think would be the style of an aging Hispanic Queen - Oh, just so you know,she plays a transsexual psychic who is trying to hold on to her dead lover. (who died on the day he became a her – tragedy after a sex-change operation…sound familiar?)

I can truly say I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this, specifically in commercial theater since moving to New York.  Not only is the subject matter a little less smooth going down for the blue haired crowd, the music is little more than one long recit.  (Though I will say neither show had a trunk song that you left the theater singing – but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.)  This recit goes through long periods of borderline shouting amidst atonal underscoring.  Even the “overture” consisted of the pianist making noises and banging on the piano.  It’s very raw, and unlike most musicals I have ever seen.  I actually found it very refreshing.  It is something that is distinctly theatrical (not a rehash of the latest blockbuster), and causes the audience to think and reconsider the rules of the art form.  A beautiful new, and hopefully vital branch of the evolutionary tree of theater, which I’d say is on the whole withering a bit.

The sets were simple, and changed quickly during the intermission, yet they both gave complete versions of the world (minus the walls.)  It was a nice bridge between minimalist and fully realized production values.  They used light configuration to suggest practical fluorescents; and actually used practical lights, both fluorescent and standing lamps.  They used the space so well, even lighting the exits to continue the story as they leave the space.

It was directed by Jonathan Butterell with incredible specificity.  You know how I feel about one-person shows, and it makes me even more happy that the same rules apply for musicals.  It was moment to moment specific, and there were real choices that I could tell came out of the impulse and the text and just landed perfectly.  I wanted to write him a thank-you note/plug for an assisting job but he’s not in the union and I don’t want to just send it to the theater.  Anyone know where I can find him?

 
We had our first sing through for Before the Flood yesterday.  We had it at a music rehearsal space, which was interesting.  A number of colorful individuals, and not in the theatrical way were roaming the halls.  Hey, I went through a brief metal phase believe it or not.  It was just funny that I was walking around in khakis and a bright polo, meanwhile there was a guy with a plug in his nose with a giant parrot behind him checking people in.  Regardless of location, I’m really excited.  The recording I heard really didn’t do the piece justice, there are some things in there that are really beautiful.  And again, I love working with Zack, he is so ready to make changes, and I think working with Sebastian (music) and Mark (MD) is going to be great as well.  Of course, it is always a pleasure working with Ms. Katie Zaffrann, and Chris seems great as well.  Unfortunately Jim was held up and will be joining us next time.  But to officially announce the cast:

Before the Flood

Harold – Chris Gleim
Regina – Katie Zaffrann
Clarence – Jim Farber
 
We had auditions for Before the Flood last night.  We didn’t see to many people (about 6?) but most of the auditions were actually surprisingly good.  We definitely had to have a bit of a discussion, but we narrowed it down and made a final decision.  But what is so fortunate is we have not one but two other people we would be happy with if our first choice does not accept.  I will be calling him today.  I do also want to say that I am excited to be working with such a great group of guys.  I enjoy being in the room with them, (though not necessary the audition room – rehearsal studios when there are auditions really stress me out!) and I look forward to this process.
 
We’ve been having meetings for Variations.  I’m excited about the progress we’ve been making.  I can’t wait to see Shape of Things.  I have heard nothing but great things.  As it is a new company, there have been a few initial stumbling blocks so we’re a bit behind on the publicity, but I think we’re going to get it together nicely.  I have been starting to get some of the outreach ideas together.  The collaboration with the dancing troupe didn’t spark the way either Rich or I thought it would, but we still got some ideas.  We are going to create fractured fairy tales and incorporate dance in that way.  It will be multi-discipline and far more alluring to younger kids.  I have to co-pen the letter of intent, as well as scout out some potential venues.  

I also have been asked to direct one of the one-acts (written by the brother of the writer of Hurt Locker.  I’m excited to read it!) as well as the second slot/benefit for the company -  A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.  Though I think it’s a very real look at how people who take care of differently-abled people, truthfully I question whether or not the selection was in fact a good idea.  The fact that it will be a bitch to cast notwithstanding, (12 year old severely retarded girl, as well as a 65 year old woman, and everyone with English accents) it doesn’t really send a very good message.  They don’t handle the situation well at all.  And though I suppose you could brand this as a “cautionary tale” they don’t really learn anything at the end.  I just worry that the play winds up being very disappointing thematically.  To an everyday audience, I think that there may be ways to fix that problem.  However, if we are looking to do this as a benefit for an organization supporting people in a similar circumstance, then I’m afraid this will come across very badly.  This might be an exaggeration (Rich thought so) but its like doing a minstrel show and then donating the proceeds to the NAACP.  I have decided to do some research to see how other productions have come across to their audiences, maybe I am just not looking at it in the right light.
 
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I saw Clockwork’s production of G.B.S. last night.  I thought it was absolutely fantastic.  First and foremost, it was short! (and the Harrison gave me a discount :P).  But the format was right up my alley.  No real set to speak of – two chairs.  The actors went back and forth between monologue and scene work.  Each actor played a variety of parts.  It harkens to Stones in His Pockets (or Crazy Gary - a little closer to my heart). though not quite that intricate as Stones in terms of multiple characters, and it is a little more narrative.  It really was more like Crazy Gary with two characters - just in terms of style.  The story is simple enough, one brother “runs away” and the other stays to deal with the drudge of life at home.  Nonetheless, the story was completely engaging.  One of the brothers turned out to be gay, but it wasn’t really at all pivotal to the story, a choice that I really respect and hope to see more of as theater continues to evolve.  But the majority of the play deals with their relationship and how the return of the prodigal son to the deathbed of his father affects the family, including that of the grandchild. (A story told many times, yes.  But if it works, it works.  No matter how many times you tell it.  How many stories that follow the path of the Hero's Journey are there?  Yet still they get made!) The majority of the show simply takes place on the car ride home from the airport to the hospital.  I think the story is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity.

It was fantastically acted by Jason Jacoby and Curran Connor and also extremely well directed by Jay Rohloff, one of the company’s co-founders.  It was so specific, something I find so important in one-person shows (which I would consider this for the most part because it is very heavy on the monologue) down to the level of focus and when to really break the 4th wall.  The choices were so natural as well.  I felt it really came from them, it didn't feel forced at all - another danger I've found in monologue shows.  The choices can be too specific so they don't feel spontaneous.  Sometimes a heavy-handed director (occasionally guilty!) is the culprit.  But it was just the right balance of humor and drama.  

G.B.S. is a new play, which always makes me very excited when they turn out so good.  I will say I was a little confused as to where the last few lines led me.  I didn't know exactly how the play ended, but that was a kind of afterward anyway.  The story had been told, I just didn't know what happened afterward.  I can't really explain more without plot synopsis, and who the hell wants that?


The design was also really great.  They were essentially in a room of numbers (which made complete sense after the few opening lines of the play.)  The only thing that took away from it is that once the first specific number was mentioned in the text, my eye was immediately drawn to it on the wall.  So any time they mentioned any other number, I found myself trying to find where they had hidden it on the set, which pulled my attention away from the action.

Again, it was a great show, I’m so glad I went, and I definitely want to get a copy of the script, it would be a great one to work on one day, right up my alley.  If you can this weekend, go see it!

 
 
I had a great meeting with Zac and the writer of the music (Sebastian Fabal) of Before the Flood.  It seems like its going to be a very rewarding (but fast) experience.  They gave me some fantastic imagery (how the piece’s rhythms should match that of a hurricane for example) that I think will really help steer my work in the piece.  It’s a small cast (3), one of whom has already accepted, and another who we’ve offered a role to.  We will have to do auditions for one older actor.  Any ideas?  But I think it will be no more than five rehearsals (its only 18 minutes).  This piece is part of an evening of short musicals – which I’ve learned really only exist in college.  So apparently these will all be pieces by recent grads.  So it will be a good networking opportunity as well.  More press as it arrives!
 
I saw Othello last night at the Secret Theatre.  Working backwards from my normal format, I want to start by discussing the design.  First of all, I will say it is the best set design I've seen so far at the Secret Theatre in terms of the “look” of it.  It was eerie and industrial.  The light design as well looked really ominous, with red and green shining throughout the haze – or should I say fog.  (Richard Mazda loves his fog.  But I think he really should invest in a hazer, so that it doesn’t take so long or get so loud!)  However, I question the practicality of some of the design.  Where did the green light come from?  What was the source?  I won’t deny that it looked cool though.  I have a similar question with the set design.  There was no clear way off stage, (which I know is hard in that space) but people seemed to walk through “walls” and sit in the view of the audience.  I wasn’t sure what that added to the piece conceptually.  Were they in the scene?  Were they placed there to add something? 

From an acting standpoint, I felt that with the exception of Iago and to a point Desdemona, I felt that there was little text mastery.  I couldn’t understand what some of them were saying – sometimes on a word to word basis – it sounded little more than utterly garbled.  That unfortunately was the biggest problem with the epitomes character.  Some actors showed some very nice potential (Emelia comes to mind), but the work didn’t seem to be fleshed out very well.  Even Iago (who by FAR did the best job – he was really so refreshing to watch) I felt could have used a little more molding of the character.  With him I felt at times that when he was playing “honest Iago” he went a little over the top.  Its unfortunate, I think a few more notes would have really made his performance really spectacular.  Some of the supporting roles were very solid too, but it was clear that some people had no idea what they were saying.  Often people actually did things that were completely antithetical to what they were saying.  (Standing up as they say “I beg you on my knees”) Some of the relationships were also weak.  I actually completely forgot that Emelia and Iago were married until way into the play.  I didn’t feel the love between Othello and Desdemona until very late in the play either, and moreover I thought that she was very nasty in the beginning scenes, which made it harder for me to go on the journey with her.  On the other hand, in the post-apocalyptic world he created, Desdemona would definitely be a hard chick.  So the question then becomes – does Othello work in this world?

So… directorially and conceptually I was left with a few questions as well.  I actually thought that the blocking for much of the show was very crisp and smart, but it seemed to crumble a little at the end.  The last scene seemed very flat.  I thought the fight scenes were very low-intensity as well, which actually is very uncharacteristic for one of Richard’s shows.  But my biggest question was without question - why would you choose to have more than one black man in Othello?  And furthermore, why would you choose the person he promotes to be the other black character.??? (Cassio) It then sets up a real racial tension that goes further than one man, it becomes about an entire class. (which only ended up being half-baked in this production anyway)  Is Othello promoting Cassio because he is also black?  But putting the play in a futuristic world would lead me to think that this would either be a complete issue, (major racial tension - think Middle East) or a complete non-issue. (Iago wouldn’t even mention he’s a moor.)  But it really seemed to do neither.  But I admit, either way Iago’s motivations are pretty weak, is he jealous because he’s black?  Because he MIGHT have slept with Emelia? Because Cassio got promoted over him?  I say “so what” to all three.  Is that really grounds to destroy a man?  But that’s Shakespeare and no fault of any production.  It just seems to me that if he’s claiming “black solidarity” (as he may have been in this production) its adding a big layer to the play that I’m not sure is in there.  But if it is, then it needs to be really lifted out of the text to make it clear.

But speaking of text, what struck me the most about this choice: people would often mention “the moor” to Cassio.  So you’re racially slurring the general in front of his Lieutenant, who is also a “moor”?  Not only that, but in the case of Desdamona’s father, who talks about how Othello used black witchcraft to woo his daughter, (so he’s clearly racist) then he goes and stands next to the other black man!  What seemed to be a very powerful choice didn’t really go anywhere, and I didn’t understand even what it was supposed to represent.

 
I will say its great that this play gave me a lot to think about.  I spent a good part of a day writing this blog and really trying to articulate what I felt about this piece.  I do want to say that I was at no point bored or wishing it was over, it got my directorial wheels turning.  So in that regard, I would say Othello was a success and a good night of theater.