Friday, July 29, 2005

Little Did The Mainstream Critics Know...

...That across the gulf of cyberspace, intellects vast and cool regarded their online experiments with envious eyes...

I know bill Marx is not a Luddite.

So why does he sometimes treat his “blog” entries on as if he has never heard of the internet? Or even worse, as if he expects that his readers have not.

His latest Perspectives column War of the Tripods starts off this way- “Judging by their reviews of director Steven Spielberg's movie version of War of the Worlds, most film critics missed the point of the H.G. Wells 1898 novel.”

Fair enough, but there were enough film critics who did mention it, including some who went rather in depth about it. Mr. Marx should at least give them the credit of mentioning them or quoting them.

For instance, The New York Review of Books has a pretty good comparative essay about WOTW this issue, and Jim Emerson the Editor of Roger Ebert’s website talks of HG Well’s book as well. In fact, cyberspace has included many critiques that agree with just what Mr. Marx is suggesting. And they even go a little further. Emerson writes:

The images of armored machines patrolling residential neighborhoods with surveillance equipment and breaking down doors and walls in search of fugitives look like Frontline footage from Baghdad – or the West Bank. (One has to wonder, though: Are the aliens and their equipment limited to the same small visual spectrum as human eyesight? Some of our soldiers in Iraq are, at least, equipped with infrared and night-vision technology, even if they had to buy the stuff themselves…)

Wells the anti-imperialist might well have appreciated these touches; in his novel, he went out of his way to draw an explicit comparison between the behavior of mankind and that of the Martians:

I am re-reading War of the Worlds right now in the new NYRB version with illustrations by Gorey. There is no question, and there is no escaping, that the overall feeling Wells wants us to experience is that arrogance of our military dominance, with our actions such as the Iraq war, should be held onto very lightly. As I read, I am convinced that Speilberg chose the wrong source material for a parable of a terrorist onslaught.

Please Bill, links, links, links. We enjoy reading your musings, but sometimes we want a little more. Don’t be scared of directing people away from your site. You work for a non-profit, I am sure you are not worried about market share…or…..then again…maybe you are.

Apparently the NPR affiliates here in Boston are having some major ground shifting going on lately.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Did You Hear About the Actor Who Ran Off and Joined the Circus?.....

Where has theatre gone?

Nowhere. It is coming back , stupid. As evidenced by the popular Frogz by Imago here in Boston, and the worldwide sensation of Cirque de Soleil. Fast Company magazine even did an article on the success of Cirque last month, so you know that they are raking in the dough.

The circus has come to town, and it is going to save the theatrical world's ass. At least according to the Boston Globe this past weekend in the article A Striking Style.
Hard truths about the state of what most of us think of as theatre are often hard to hear. I was especially struck by the following statement by Andre Serrand which wraps up the article:

Physical theater is an antidote to work that doesn't make the most of the stage itself, proponents say.

''The reason people deserted theater is because it lacked life," says Serrand. ''Any movie by Altman or Fellini is more theatrical than most psychological drama. Most of what's on HBO is better written. And most things are better than watching five people onstage tear each other apart."
The director adds: ''What we are doing with music and masks and comedy and vivid re-creations is bringing theater back to where it began."

Yikes. You have to admit that he's got something there. Television drama has got intensely better as the years have gone on, and I don't think there is a comic playwright out there writing any better satire than Arrested Development, South Park, or Reno 911.

Terry Teachout has said that theatre has basically become an ineffective medium to deliver any type of message. And many critics have proclaimed that theatre should give up the fight and accept that it is going the way of Museums.

But yet this spark of life, this influx of younger audiences at productions like Blue Man, Stomp and Def Poetry Jam. And now there is the Frogz phenomenon.

Mainstream theatre of the psychological drama tries hard to bridge the gap. For instance, take the Huntington Theatre's recent production of 36 Views. Picking some elements of Japanese theatre, they placed them into a very straightforward potboiler script to juice up a little magic. Something always feels a little off about these approaches though, something doesn't quite feel integrated enough. At the end of 36 Views you are not breathless with the culmination of the synthesis of the story and the Noh theatre theatrical elements.

I don't know how many times I have seen a description of a Shakespeare production, or even a new play that says, "incorporating elements of Butoh dance." And then, when I see the production, I am very hard pressed to identify where in the heck the Butoh dance is. Having witnessed the amazing theatrical creations of Dappin'Butoh in Seattle, I am fully aware of the power of this dance form. However, I think what most often happens is that directors, with all the right intentions, are really not interested or aware of the art form beyond the fact that they think it would be cool to implement it.

These elements are a craft, practiced and innovated by experts and dedicated students. What most often ends up on stage in these hybrid productions is mediocre puppetry, dance or movement. I mean let's face it, how is an actor expected to learn lines, blocking, puppetry and dance technique in the now typical 5 week rehearsal process? Should we even try? Is the fight over?

I have more thoughts on this after reading Neil Labute's autobahn on the train yesterday. But more about that later.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Tis the Season (Subscription) to be jolly?

But it is time for theatre’s to get busy renewing their subscriptions. Here in Boston I have the rundown of the Seasons and the basic ballpark cost-per-play that a subscription will get you. I tried to take the cheapest subscription program I could find to arrive at these estimates. (Some theatres, like the Huntington, offer an array of different types of subscriptions.)

The Executive Summary goes like:

Lowest to Highest in order of per play cost for a single subscription:

Trinity Rep (7 Play) 20.00 Per Play
Boston Theatre Works (4 Play) 21.25 Per Play
New Rep (5 Play) 23.60 Per Play
Lyric Stage (7 Play) 25.00 Per Play
American Repertory (7 Play) 29.14 Per Play
Stoneham Theatre (5 Play) 31.00 Per Play
Huntington Theatre (7 Play) 36.80 Per Play

Considering that movies now cost over 10.00 in some places, I am not so sure that prices are way out of wack. And the concessions at these theatres are nowhere near the mindblowing costs of concessions at the local multiplexes.

Of Course, theatre is a community event and one probably would want to regularly attend the theatre with a loved one or friend and so the cost would double what I have listed above.

Be Aware also that some of these prices are early bird offers and could change soon.

Huntington Theatre Company

The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard

Carol Mulroney by Stephen Belber

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Christopher Hampton

The Hopper Collection by Matt Smart

The Road Home – Re-Membering 9/11

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum

Cheapest Subscription: 7 Plays- Previews Night $258.00 (36.80 Per Play.)

They have extremeley flexible ways to subscribe. 5 Plays 4 Plays Six Play etc. But basically they all come out to a per play average of 36-40 dollars for the cheapest subscriptions. Basically, Students win with a great 7 Play subscription averaging about 14.00 per play. (Be Forewarned though, the cheapest subscriptions may have you seated way up in the balcony on the BU Theatre.)

American Repertory Theatre

Carmen by Bizet

The Keening by Humberto Durado

Three Sisters by Anton Checkov

No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Orpheus X by Rinde Echert

Island of Slaves by Miravaux

Cheapest Subscription 204.00 ( Average of 29.14 per play.)

New Repertory Theatre

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

True West by Sam Shepard

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Frozen by Bryony Lavery

Bill W. And Doctor Bob by Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey

Ragtime Book by Terrence McNally; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; Music by Stephen Flaherty

Cheapest Subscription: 5 Play Subscription 118 (23.60 per Play) Three Play Sub (26.30 per Play) 79.00.

Lyric Stage:


The Underpants

The Goat


Kong’s Night Out

They haven’t quite finalized the rest of the season, but they have some interesting lineups.

Cheapest Subscription: $175.00 = $25 a play.

Stoneham Theatre
Pal Joey Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart, Book by John O’Hara

Dracula by Bram Stoker

A Christmas Story

A Prayer for Owen Meaney Based on the book by John Irving · Adapted by Simon Bent

Seven Rabbits on a Pole: By John C. Picardi

Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Story By Clarke Peters and Larrington Walker

Cheapest Subscription 5 Plays: Classic Adults $186 (31.00 per play.)

Trinity Repertory Company

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Rupert Holmes

Suddenly Last Summer Tennessee Williams

Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers by William Yellow Robe Junior (World Premiere)

Hamlet – William Shakespeare

Indoor/Outdoor by Kenny Finkle

Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmund Rondstadt

Untitled: Hinting at a World Premiere

Cheapest Subscription: 7 Plays 140.00 (20.00 per Play.)

Boston Theatre Works

Pulp: A Musical by Patricia Kane

Othello by William Shakespeare

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball by Rebecca Gilman

BTW Unbound: A Festival of New Plays

Cheapest Subscription: 85.00 21.25 Per Play
Brecht and Beckett Waiting for...
George Hunka on his Theatre Blog Superfluities brings up an interesting observation about this coming theatrical season. In the next year, we have the convergence of two milestones:

1. The Hundreth Birthday of Samuel Beckett
2. The Fiftieth Anniversary of Bertolt Brecht's Death

Few will disagree with the statement that these two men are probably the most influential twentieth century dramatists. However, he notes that no major festival or even productions of either man's work seems to be scheduled for New York.

I took a quick perusal of our Boston theatres and their schedules for this coming season and found it to be the same story. Even the ART seems to be passing on both playwrights. Not a criticism, just an observation.

George wrote a whole other post on why Brecht doesn't seem to be attracting the same attention he probably should.

"Brecht's vast achievement and huge body of work (at least 40 plays alone, not to mention a novel, dozens of short stories, and a book of collected poems that runs to 627 pages in my 1976 Methuen edition) provides a twentieth-century parallel to Shakespeare, exemplifying an extraordinary array of forms from ballet to the opera to the musical to spare agitprop to sprawling historical panoramas like Life of Galileo to parables like The Good Person of Setzuan."

A number of articles have been written recently about the resurgence of Shakespeare, and most of them are really questioning as to whether or not we can have "too much Shakespeare!" Does Shakespeare have more to say to us than Brecht and Beckett at this time in our history? Or, is Shakespeare somehow more accessible right now? Or are these types of questions irrelevant and basically interchangeable over time. In other words, fifteen years from now will we be shouting, "enough with Brecht, it's been ages since I've seen a big production of Corialanus!"

Then again, there seems to be a resurgence of Greek tragedy lately, although Ed Seigel chastised the Boston theatre community for not producing enough of it. (I initially thought he was being harsh, but upon checking the record of productions...I think I have to admit he was right about the paucity.)

It may come down to finances. Maybe Beckett and Brecht are just not great draws.

Monday, July 18, 2005

"You're Out of Order! This Whole Damn Trial is Out of Order."

I am still wondering how Pacino pulls off his performance in "...and Justice for All." I happened to see it on On-Demand cable this weekend.

Everything in the movie is pulling apart at the seams. There are enough sub-plots to fill a weekly television show. There are cheesy set-pieces like the helicopter ride, which seems like it should be in another movie. There is a completely underdeveloped plotline regarding his grandfather, (played by Lee Strasberg,) which consists of the same thing over and over again.

However, through it all, Pacino is fascinating to watch, and the final courtroom scene, (which we all know from the catch-line listed above) is mesmerizing. I watched it again and again. Every time I watch it, I am amazed at how I experience it. I find myself asking, "what is he going to do?" Even though I know the big blow up is coming and I know the lines by heart, I am intrigued by the dilemna of Arthur Kirkland a veteran lawyer who sees no way out of his situation.

It reminds of Marlon Brando's performance in On the Waterfront. Both movies would have been forgettable products of their time without the riveting performances at their core.

And, as an Arrested Development fan, it is great to see Jeffrey Tambor.

*As a side note, when did the idea of the rebel and the true believer become cliched?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Independence Day

Heading up to the mountains and the lakes of New Hampshire this weekend!

I am getting a big relief from the stresses of the day job. Landed two contract extension deals which were down to the wire, but it always feels good to get sales closed before a long weekend.

Everything is good though because my wife and I got to relax last night to the great sounds of Maeve live, right at Club Passim around the corner. There is nothing like hearing "In Every Moment" live, or hearing their acoustic "Too Many Troubles."

You don't know who Maeve is? There website informs Maeve is Rollyn, Courtney, and Rachel. They were all great singers on their own, but then they got together and they sound great!

If you want some weekend reading here are articles that are buzzing about the blogoshpere:

Bryan Curtis at Slate tries to reem the idea of Shakespeare in the Park, but ends up proving he doesn't understand much about Shakespeare.

The Guardian talks about a movement called "Monsterism," which claims to be a doctrine to get playwrights to think bigger and better. I think it will probably prove to be only useful in making the first few practitioners of it famous enough to get regular work before they abandon the church they started. Think Dogma 95.

Their Manifesto for the most part lacks vision or creativity, most of it is a rehash of things one would learn from The Art of Playwrighting by Largos Egri.

Jose Rivera wrote a much more daring and inspiring credo for playwrighting in American Theatre a few years back.