Monday, February 27, 2017

Wakey, Wakey

The man in the pajama bottoms, slippers and suit jacket is terribly confused but always polite to the crowd he is somehow suddenly responsible for entertaining. He has snacks and juice stashed in side pouches in his wheelchair, and a large stack of note-cards to fall back on when his memory fails or he loses his train of thought, which is often. He occasionally gets up gingerly to trudge across the stage, which is dotted with moving boxes and piles of unsorted clothing. He sometimes wears the strange grimace of a patient with advanced Parkinson's disease, but otherwise makes no mention of what ails him. He is amicable, calm, attentive, and funny. He is very soon about to die.

Wakey, Wakey, Will Eno's meditation on life and the end of it, is gently, beautifully performed by a cast of two (Michael Emerson is the man in the wheelchair, ambiguously named Guy, and January Lavoy is Lisa, his nurse). The show is brief, at an hour and change, which I suppose fits the concept: life is ephemeral and no matter what, the end always comes too soon. And its short finale, which I won't give away here, is flashy, fleeting, sweet, and (literally) generous.

While in no way a chore, the show itself nevertheless feels a bit half-baked. Wakey, Wakey is given over almost entirely to the celebration of the millions of tiny, seemingly insignificant moments that together make up a long and full life. Certainly, all the little things--standing with dozens of others on a subway platform awaiting a train, the feeling of becoming vaguely irritated by a fire alarm's dying battery, taking pleasure in watching in a funny animal clip on YouTube--matter a great deal in a life, especially as one is so actively contemplating the utter absence of any of it. But Wakey, Wakey never manages to quite transcend such moments; as lovingly as they are described, they just don't build into a play. As a quiet reverie about the final moments in a quiet life, Wakey, Wakey gets the message across, elicits a chuckle or two, and occasionally brushes at the heartstrings. But it never quite blooms into something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Evening at the Talk House

Perhaps it wasn't fair to see Wallace Shawn's mildly compelling dystopian play Evening at the Talk House so soon after seeing Caryl Churchill's wildly compelling dystopian play Escaped Alone, but that's the way it happened and I can't change it now.

Broderick, Shawn
Photo: Monique Carboni
Shawn's characters are theater people at a once-popular club called the Talk House; they are celebrating the 10th anniversary of a play they worked on together, written by Robert (Matthew Broderick), who is now in TV. An unexpected addition is to the party is Dick (Wallace Shawn, showing considerably more vigor than the rest of the cast), a down-and-out actor who knows that his career was badly affected by Robert's dislike of his work. There are also two servers, both of whom the theater people know. And, of course, plenty of liquor.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Escaped Alone

Caryl Churchill's brilliant, bizarre, puzzling, horrifying, and strangely sweet Escaped Alone packs the punch of a major dystopia into its lean 55 minutes. It also allows us to meet, enjoy, and maybe understand four 70-something women sitting and chatting in a cozy, distinctly non-dystopian, backyard.

Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson
Photo: Richard Termine

Part of the play is easily comprehended. Mrs. Jarrett (Linda Bassett) peeks into a backyard through a slightly open door in the fence and ends up spending the afternoon (or perhaps multiple afternoons) with Sally (Deborah Findlay), who suffers from an extreme fear of cats; Lena (Kika Markham), depressed almost into paralysis; and Vi (June Watson), who spent six years behind bars for killing her husband, perhaps accidentally, perhaps in self-defense, perhaps neither. Their conversation is presented as unfinished sentences and half-expressed thoughts that somehow paint fully dimensional portraits. It's verbal pointillism. Each woman also gets a monologue, unheard by the others, in which she expresses some of her deepest emotions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Love For Sale: The History of Sex in Musicals

Hey, have you wanted nothing other than to listen to me, director John Rando, and producer Jack Viertel talk about sex and musicals in a very nice performance space in lower Manhattan? Well, hell, now's your chance, for the low low price of $20!

Click here for the link to buy tickets.

Join us, won't you? The discussion happens on Monday, February 27 at 7.

Rando and Viertel are knowledgable, funny, and smart. I'm sure I'll think of something to say, too.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Art Times: What Is Good Acting?

My latest essay is up at Art Times:
Good acting is a matter of opinion. A performance that you perceive as brilliantly emotional, I might perceive as overacting. A performance that strikes me as subtle might strike you as dull. Many factors affect our opinions, including performers’ talents, looks, and charisma—and whether they resemble someone we used to date.       
Click here to read more. 

Colleen Dewhurst in A Moon for the Misbegotten

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood

The Sherwood Forest in the Flux Theatre Ensemble's delightful production of Adam Szymkowicz's Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood has its full complement of merry men--except most of them aren't actually men. They dress as men and pass as men, because that's the way things are done, but their sexual identities and orientations are considerably more complicated than back in Errol Flynn's day (or, at least, more complicated than people admitted back in Errol Flynn's day). You might think it would be difficult to find love when you don't even know each others' genders--and when you're busy robbing from the rich to give to the poor--but in fact it may be easier. In this Sherwood Forest, sexual ambiguity leads people to fall in love with each other's hearts and souls instead of the bodies they are packaged in.

Illustration: Kristy Caldwell

Love is the underpinning of Marian, but fighting for what's right is its substance. I don't know when Szymkowicz started writing the play, but the timing of this production is perfect. Amidst the madcap goings-on, wonderful duels, and grin-producing theatricality, there is always the serious business at hand: ridding the world of a self-centered, foolish, squeamish, idiot of a king whose life work is robbing from the poor to give to himself.