Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Small Mouth Sounds and Men on Boats

Small Mouth Sounds, a play by Bess Wohl currently being restaged at the Signature Theater after an initial run at Ars Nova last year, is sweet and diverting, if not as deft or probing as it seems to want to be. Still, it's fun, and very well-performed. The general thrust: six people, only two of whom know one another, attend a weeklong silent yoga retreat (a seventh cast member, not seen until the curtain call, is the group's instructor, who frequently addresses the retreaters over a particularly unyogic PA system). Despite their silence, which is only occasionally broken over the course of the week, the various participants nevertheless get to know one another (or think they do), make meaningful connections (or fail to), and do their level best to get away from what ails them.

Small Mouth Sounds has been getting raves, and I hate to poison the well, even a little--especially since the cast is so winning and the production so warm. Still, I didn't fall completely in love with the play, the overarching narrative of which sometimes felt a little too easy in some places, and a little forced in others. Don't get me wrong--this isn't a pan, it's more like a 7 out of 10. The play does fine with its depictions: humans are messy and interesting and quirky, and the characters all deliver the goods on that front. Also, one of the play's greatest strengths is how brilliantly it nails contemporary American yoga culture. As a longtime practitioner of yoga (if not of silence), I was frequently tickled by everything from the instructor's softly-intoned, inspirational fables to the outfits Rodney (Babak Tafti) wore--and by his name, even, which was surely a reference to Rodney Yee.

And yet I was a little underwhelmed by some of the play's plot points and thematic conceits. Yes, right, sometimes the most devoted and seemingly spiritually connected people end up having major flaws, and can even turn out to be less enlightened or enlightenable than those who initially seem ridiculously out of place at a spiritual retreat. Yes, sometimes, whether we talk too much or not at all, we can fail to truly hear or understand one another. And yes, conversely, sometimes connections between two people happen instantly and deeply, as if by magic, also regardless of whether words are exchanged at all. Is that all there is?

As an extended acting exercise that has been placed in the hands of a very, very good ensemble, Small Mouth Sounds is better than good. I'm just not sure that the characters' stories, whether spoken or not, fully add up to the sum of their parts.

Sara Krulwich

Monday, July 18, 2016

When Less is More: The 90-Minute Play

My latest essay is up at Art Times:
What accounts for the rise of the intermissionless 90-minute play? A prevalent theory points to the shrinking attention spans of a population inundated 24/7 with news, information, entertainment, and gossip. 


I think this theory relies on knee-jerk conventional wisdom and ignores the huge success of, oh, Hamilton, which runs 2:45; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which also runs 2:45; and 2014’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, The Flick, which runs a quiet and plotless three hours; all three have intermissions.
[read more

Wendy Caster


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Privacy

It's almost impossible to discuss James Graham's new play Privacy without saying too much. So here's what I will say:


  • Privacy is a frequently entertaining, sometimes horrifying examination of (the lack of) privacy in today's world, as seen from the point of view of someone new to the world of online dating.
  • Daniel Radcliffe's charm and sheer likability carry the play through some dull parts.
  • Privacy would be much improved with 20 minutes or so carved away.
  • The rest of the cast is also pretty wonderful: De'Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian, Michael Countryman, Rachel Dratch, and Reg Rogers.
  • Josie Rourke's direction is well-paced and creative.
All in all, Privacy is a well-disguised lecture that I'm glad I saw.

Wendy Caster
member ticket; 10th row

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Hadestown

Have you ever not completely connected with a show when you first sat through it, only to fall head over heels in love with it in retrospect? It's happened to me on only a few occasions that I can recall. I was amused and entertained by Passing Strange, for example, but not so passionately that I was even remotely prepared to wake up the following morning with the almost physical urge to listen to the cast recording over and over again, thereby cementing my embrace of a show I'd been unsure about in the first place.

I'm back there with Hadestown, a gorgeous, strange theatrical rendering of the 2010 concept album of the same name by Anais Mitchell. The production, running through the end of the month at New York Theatre Workshop, boasts a terrific cast, whose voices are haunting and appropriately weird. The visual aspects of the production are gorgeously rendered, thanks in part to Rachel Chavkin, an innovative director whose current hot status is well-deserved. The backing band is jumping, the music is catchy, and the set and lighting deceptively simple. The numbers alternate between deeply affecting ("Flowers"), amusingly jaunty ("Our Lady of the Underground"), and bone-chillingly prescient ("Why We Built the Wall", which is one of the catchiest songs on the album, and also the ickiest given the current political climate). Still, while I found myself loving the show's many parts, the finished product initially left me cold, since it doesn't try too hard to fill in all the narrative gaps left by the original album.

Joan Marcus

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Why Do Spoilers Suck? Because Art Is Always New

My latest essay is up at Art Times. Here's a taste.
A recent cover of Entertainment Weekly achieved a new low in spoilers. It blared out a big, juicy piece of information about a popular TV show. Yes, the episode had already aired, but nowadays, many people watch shows days, weeks, or months later. By waiting, do they waive the right to experience surprise and astonishment?

I get it that EW likes splashy covers; I get it that TV shows like free publicity. But couldn’t EW have announced, “Big, juicy spoilers inside,” instead? Yes, they could have. But, no, they didn’t care to, showing disrespect to the viewers, writers, and performers of this show.  READ MORE

Aladdin and Long Day's Journey Into Night: A Comparison

It's not atypical for me to see more than one play or musical over the course of the week, but it is rare that I see two shows back-to-back that are as different as Long Day's Journey Into Night and Aladdin, both of which I caught two weeks ago.

Or......ARE they so different after all?

Maybe I have too much time on my hands. Maybe I'm procrastinating, just a little, in the week leading up to a much-needed family vacation. Or maybe I've just got too much time on my hands and no real desire to fill it up by thinking about the news of the world. But for whatever reason, the more I think about these productions, the more they end up having more in common than one might assume. Both, for example, have actors and are performed before an audience on a stage in a theater. But wait! There's more!

Long Day has closed, so in lieu of a formal review, I offer you instead a brief comparison of these two Broadway gems:


Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

1) Both shows are incredibly strenuous.
I read an interview with Jessica Lange recently during which she noted that she needed an exceptional amount of rest in order to perform the role of Mary Tyrone. No surprise, there: Mary is a meaty, challenging character who is onstage for most of a meaty, challenging (and very long) play, and Broadway shows typically run eight times a week.

The production of Aladdin is half as long, if that, but that doesn't mean it's a walk in the fucking park. Sure, Lange worked hard, but did she even once have to spin up from beneath the stage in a magical, whimsical poof of Disney smoke? Did she have to do cartwheels? No, she did not. You know who does, all the damn time? Tony Award© winner James Monroe Iglehart, who, as the Genie, has been doing that shit nearly every damn day, sometimes twice in a row, for the last two-plus yearsDon't get me started on the wacky dancing he does, or the way he whips up the crowd. Lange is luminous and wonderful and knows how to work a crowd, too, but she would never have been able to pull off what Iglehart does--especially after her second or third trip up to the Tyrones' infamous spare bedroom.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How'd We Do? Show Showdown Tony Predictions Wrap-Up 2016

Our correct predictions are highlighted.


Wendy
Sandra
Cameron
Liz
Best play: The Humans
The Humans
The Humans
The Humans
King Charles III
Best musical: Hamilton
Hamilton
Hamilton
Hamilton
Hamilton
Best revival of a play: A View From the Bridge
A View from the Bridge
A View from the Bridge
A View from the Bridge
The Crucible
Best revival of a musical: The Color Purple
The Color Purple
Fiddler on the Roof
The Color Purple
The Color Purple
Best book of a musical:  Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Hamilton
Hamilton
Hamilton
Hamilton
Best original score: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Hamilton
Hamilton
Hamilton
Hamilton
Leading actor in a play: Frank Langella, The Father
Mark Strong, A View from the Bridge
Mark Strong, A View from the Bridge
Frank Langella, The Father
Mark Strong or Frank Langella
(Liz gets ½ point here, since she guessed two.)
Leading actress in a play: Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey into Night
Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Sophie Okonedo,   
The Crucible
Leading actor in a musical: Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton
Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton
Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton
Leading actress in a musical: Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Cynthia Errivo, The Color Purple
Philippa Soo,
Hamilton
Cynthia Errivo, The Color Purple
Cynthia Errivo, The Color Purple
Featured actor in a play: Reed Birney, The Humans
Reed Birney, The Humans
Reed Birney, The Humans
Reed Birney, The Humans
Reed Birney, The Humans
Featured actress in a play: Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans
Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans
Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans
Megan Hilty, Noises Off
Megan Hilty, Noises Off
Featured actor in a musical: Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Daveed Diggs,        Hamilton
Daveed Diggs,   Hamilton
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton
Daveed Diggs, or Christopher Jackson (Liz gets ½ point here, since she guessed two.)
Featured actress in a musical: Renee Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Scenic design, play: David Zinn, The Humans
Jan Versweyveld A View from the Bridge
Jan Versweyveld A View from the Bridge
Christopher Oram,
Hughie
David Zinn, The Humans
Scenic design, musical: David Rockwell, She Loves Me
David Korins,
Hamilton
David Korins,
Hamilton
David Korins,
Hamilton
David Korins,
Hamilton
Costume design, play: Clint Ramos, Eclipsed
Michael Krass, Noises Off
Jane Greenwood, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Jane Greenwood, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Clint Ramos, Eclipsed
Costume design, musical: Paul Tazewell, Hamiltom
Paul Tazewell, Hamilton
Paul Tazewell, Hamilton
Paul Tazewell, Hamilton
Paul Tazewell, Hamilton
Lighting, play: Natasha Katz, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Natasha Katz, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Jan Versweyveld, The Crucible
Jan Versweyveld, A View From the Bridge
Jan Versweyveld, The Crucible
Lighting, musical: Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Direction, play: Ivo Van Hove, A View From the Bridge
Ivo Van Hove, A View From the Bridge
Ivo Van Hove, A View From the Bridge
Ivo Van Hove, A View From the Bridge
Ivo Van Hove, A View From the Bridge
Direction, musical: Thomas Kail, Hamilton
Thomas Kail, Hamilton
Thomas Kail, Hamilton
Thomas Kail, Hamilton
Thomas Kail, Hamilton
Choreograpy: Andy Blanken-buehler, Hamilton
Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Orchestrations: Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Total correct
20/24 (83%)
16/24 (67%)
18/24 (75%)
17/24 (71%)