Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Same RIver Twice: Art Times Essay

My latest Art Times essay is up:
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed that you can never step into the same river twice because the water is ever-flowing—and also you have changed. Nor can great plays be held in place. The recent Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn underlined this fascinating fact. (By the way, this essay assumes a familiarity with Streetcar and therefore contains spoilers.)
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Rosemary Harris as Blanche


Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Tony Awards: 1970 to 1974

Some friends and I are working our way through past Tony Award shows, and it's been a surprising journey in many ways. This past week, we watched 1970 through 1974. The Tony gestalt has changed a lot over the years. (If you want to watch some shows yourself, here's a place to start; also, the Tony website is starting to put up some telecasts).

Glynis Johns in A Little Night Music

The most striking difference is that the telecast was not treated as an extended advertisement for then-current Broadway musicals. In fact, many nominees were not represented by scenes at all: Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Rothschilds, The Me Nobody Knows, Two Gentlement of Verona, Grease, Irene, and Shelter. Yes, some of them had already closed, but many were still running.

In contrast, Applause had numbers on not one, but two Tonys. And the scene from Coco in 1970 included an extensive dialogue scene (with some breathtakingly bad acting by Gale Dixon) and a fashion show and Katharine Hepburn giving her impressive all to singing/massacring "Always Mademoiselle" in a truly unparalleled performance.

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