Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Kvelertak, Gojira, and Mastodon

No, motherfuckers, I'm not kidding. A show's a show, and I saw this one, so I'm writing it up.

A little background before I explain why I just called you a motherfucker: I've never self-identified as a metalhead, but I've known plenty in my life, and the one I've been closest to for longest is my husband. During the twenty-plus years that we've been together, he has introduced me--either directly or by osmosis due to repeated playings in our various abodes--to music that is far more aggressive than the stuff I typically seek out on my own. Our tastes have always been pretty distinct: as kids, long before we met, I was memorizing every Joni Mitchell album I could get my hands on, while he was feuding with his big sister because she needed an emergency appendectomy and still wouldn't let him have her Iron Maiden ticket.

Because we respect each other's tastes in entertainment enough not to mock one another openly (at least, not regularly), and because we actually dig hanging out together, my husband and I have accompanied one another to plenty of things we otherwise wouldn't have bothered with: he's sat through a lot of rock musicals, for example, and I've been to my share of concerts featuring screaming guitars played by long-haired men (and the occasional woman) who regularly use "motherfucker" as a term of endearment with which to address the audience (Do you understand now.....motherfuckers?). At home, he (usually) tolerates the earnest hippie crap I listen to while I cook dinner, and I (usually) tolerate the squealing, grinding crap he listens to while he does the dishes and makes the kids' school lunches. He has even come to like some of my music, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that over the years I've developed a genuine affection for many songs by bands whose logos include lightning bolts, umlauts, and the occasional bloody fang.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Few people look directly at Violet (Sutton Foster), and those who do tend to react in unsettling, unsubtle ways. Badly scarred as a child by an axehead that flew off its handle, Violet has grown as used to carefully averted eyes as she has to taunts and lightning-fast reactions that reflect pity or disgust. The ugly, jagged scar the accident left on her face matches the emotional scarring she has subsequently sustained. At 25, Violet is sad about or angry at just about everything: at her mother for dying and leaving her and her father (Alexander Gemignani) alone in their poor, rural, southern home; at her doting father, who was using the offending axe and who, like Violet, can't forgive himself; at the people she meets who mock her openly; at the people she meets who attempt to be kind.

After a lifetime of wishing the scar away, Violet is damaged and desperate and, despite her cynicism, prone to magical thinking. Hence her decision to take herself and a lot of money on a Greyhound bus all the way to Tulsa to seek out a televangelist she's convinced herself can heal her. On her pilgrimage, Violet meets two servicemen: Monty (Colin Donnell), a white, womanizing partyboy, and Flick (Joshua Henry), an African-American reform-school survivor who wants to make as much of his adult life as he can. This won't be easy, of course: Violet is set in the deep south in 1964. While no longer relegated to the back of the bus, Flick is nevertheless made endlessly aware of the fact that his future won't be as free or as easy as Monty's. Like Violet, he's grown as used to not being looked at as he has to being looked at but not really seen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Jane the Plain

The characters are familiar high school archetypes. Lexi the Sexy. Scotty the Hotty (quarterback on the football team, natch). Betty the Pretty (head cheerleader, natch). Leeson the Decent. Leonard the Awkward (nerdy but sensitive). And, of course, Jane the Plain. Their situations are also familiar: Scotty is big man on campus, with a love life to prove it. Leonard is the only one who appreciates Jane for who she is, but Jane falls for Scotty. Betty is a scheming blonde. And so on.

At this point, you might feel that you can predict what comes next. However, Jane the Plain is by the amazing August Schulenburg, so, no, you can't. Schulenburg takes these well-known types where no hot girl, quarterback, cheerleader, sidekick, boy nerd, and plain girl have gone before. What a trip it is, full of magic, love, and lessons learned--not to mention pulsars, miracles, and exploding pom poms--all to the soundtrack of the audience's nonstop laughter. And while Jane the Plain is indeed a comedy, it's also edgy, insightful, and even a little profound.

Having now seen Schulenburg's The Lesser Seductions of History, Jacob's House, DEINDEHoney Fist, and Jane the Plain (all productions of the remarkable Flux Theatre Ensemble), I have come to the conclusion that Schulenburg is a writer of extraordinary compassion. Like Walt Whitman, he contains multitudes, and also like Whitman, he loves them all. Add to this his eloquence, intelligence, and unique point of view, and you have a truly original, top-level playwright who's funny as hell.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Red-Eye to Havre de Grace

Red-Eye to Havre de Grace submerges us in the paranoid fever dream of Edgar Allen Poe's last days. Using Poe's poetry and prose, other people's memories (real and fictional), and a prodigious serving of imagination, the show combines music, dance, and rueful humor to evoke the sad unraveling of the drug-addled author.

This is a wonderful show, and I'm reluctant to write more about it, since pretty much anything I could say would be a spoiler. But: If you are interested in Poe, you should see Red-Eye to Havre de Grace. If you are interested in theatre that sneaks into your heart and psyche, you should see Red-Eye to Havre de Grace. If you are interested in dance-as-symbol-and-acting-and-being, you should see Red-Eye to Havre de Grace. If you are interested in the sort of magic that is exclusive to live performance, you should see Red-Eye to Havre de Grace.

The impressive cast is Ean Sheehy, Alessandra L. Larson, David Wilhelm, and Jeremy Wilhelm. The show was created by Thaddeus Phillips, the two Wilhelms, Geoff Sobelle, and Sophie Bortolussi, with Sheehy. The direction and stage design is by Phillips, the choreography is by Bortolussi, the lighting design is by Drew Billiau, the sound design is by Rob Kaplowitz, and the costume design is by Rosemarie McKelvy. The music is by Wilhelm Bros. & Co. Everyone contributes brilliantly.

(7th row on the aisle, press ticket)

Tuesday, May 06, 2014


In Sharr White's Annapurna, a by-the-numbers but diverting two-hander, Emma shows up in ex-husband Ulysses's dilapidated trailer 20 years after she took their son and disappeared while he slept off a major drunk. Now Ulysses is dying, and Emma has just left her (second) husband of 20 years. Why is she there? Does she want to mend fences? Take care of Ulysses? Is she still angry? Does she still love him? These questions, and more, will be answered over the next 95 minutes.
Nick Offerman brings full life to the hurt, puzzled, and gruff semi-hermit and poet Ulysses, a porcupine of a character, full of quills. Ulysses is not quite able to protect his soft underbelly, particularly since it sports a huge post-surgery bandage. He also carries an oxygen tank and is so weak that putting on a shirt is an effort. But his emotional pain is larger, and more important to him, than the physical.

Megan Mullally is not quite Offerman's equal. Her thin voice undercuts her power, and she has a leaning toward whiny. Also, she wears glasses, and they block part of her performance from the audience. She and Offerman also have less chemistry than one might expect, since they are a couple in real life.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Rivals

Decades ago, the brilliant and beloved acting couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were doing a play together. Lunt was surprised and pleased when his line asking for a cup of tea received a large laugh. Over time, however, the laugh disappeared. Lunt asked Fontanne if she had any idea why, and she said, "You've been asking for a laugh. Before you were asking for a cup of tea."

It's possible that this story is apocryphal, but that doesn't matter. Its point is absolutely true. Asking for a laugh is almost never the way to get one. The better choice is to play the character's reality, want what the character wants, do what the character does, and let the laughs take care of themselves
In the Pearl Theatre Company's current production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's classic play, The Rivals, the performers don't ask for laughs--they demand them. And the harder they demand, the less funny and more tedious they become. Since many of the actors have previously given multifaceted, beautifully timed, wonderful performances, I have to assume that it was director Hal Brooks who led (or pushed) them into the vast vats of shtick on display. (Oh, and since it's 2014, I think the Pearl could have done better than to cast only one person of color and then have him play a servant.)

The flaws of this production underline the flaws of the play. The plot is familiar: person A loves person B but doesn't have enough money to suit person B's guardian (person C), but person A is secretly rich, and person C is disguising herself in letters to person D as person B, and so on. Parts of it are wonderful satire, but parts are simply boring, particularly in this production where it is impossible to care about anyone. An even bigger problem is that the silly, neurotic jealousy of 1775 reads nowadays as creepy possessive borderline-stalking. And while Mrs. Malaprop is the Ur word-mangler, we've seen so many of her descendants in so many plays, movies, and TV shows that her humor seems almost cliche.

Of course, there are reasons that The Rivals is still performed in 2014. But this production, far below the Pearl's usual high quality, does it no favors.

(sixth row center; press ticket)

Thursday, May 01, 2014

(Other People's) Musings on The Tony Nominations

It's that time of year again. No, not quite time for the Tony Awards ceremony itself--that won't be broadcast until Sunday, June 8th. Rather, it's the time of year where everyone celebrates the Tony nominees, gets their underpants in a bunch over the shows and performers who got the shaft, and opines on what the hell the annual list of nominations says about the state of Broadway in the broader sense.

Full disclosure, which has nothing at all to do with underpants: I have absolutely no idea what the hell the annual list of nominations might say about the state of Broadway in the broader sense. I used to think I did, but then I realized that (a) every time I came to some grand conclusion about the state of Broadway as it relates to the Tonys, I turned out to be totally wrong, and that, ergo, (b) clearly, I'm sort of a dope, at least when it comes to reading the minds of Tony voters.

So while I am quite sure I'll have plenty of opinions about the Tony broadcast itself, I plan to spend the weeks leading up to it seeing as much theater as I can, entering as many Tony pools as I can (none that requires me to bet big money on the outcome, though, because of item b above), and reading up on what other, smarter people think about what the Tony nominations say about Broadway at present.

Luckily, an awful lot of people are weighing in on the distinctive weirdness of this year's list of nominees, which you can link to here.   And some of the writing has been very interesting, informative, and lively.