Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cringeworthy Jenna Sherer

Jenna Sherer publishes her best of 2006 list. The Fringe she engages with regularly only makes an small appearance on this list.

Though she presents herself as genuinely interested in the fringe, I suspect from following her reviews that she is taken with production value as much as the Globe Herald and Phoenix critics are.

While I confess to enjoying her snark now and then, her inexperience and arrogant manner is defeating her attempts at being a young alternative to the other mainstream critics. And these problems are nowhere better encapsulated than in the following line praising The Pillowman at New Rep:

It’s about time Bostonians got a dose of the playwriting coming out of Ireland these days; and there’s no better man to start us off than His Royal Highness of Black Comedy, Martin McDonagh.

This statement is so clueless that it almost defies belief. Though Sugan is on hiatus this season, Boston has been treated to much of the best playwrighting coming out of Ireland in the last few years. McDonagh himself has been represented very well.

I do not believe that critics have an obligation to serve the theatre community, and Ms. Sherer and others should call them as they see them. But please try not to make ignorant statements when making your prescriptions for the theatrical landscape.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Stoic Gets His Comeuppance

For the past three weeks I have been under much pressure trying to close an important contract at my day job. (Finally, it came through!) And, at night, I have been performing in the most original production of Christmas Carol you will see in these parts.

I got a huge cold a few weeks ago, but all of my obligations have just kept me going, and going, and going. But I just couldn't shake the cough and the chills, I felt like absolute crap, and getting up in the morning became a labored, achey chore that seemed to take hours.

I went to the doctor's office hoping that they could give me something to knock out the cold. Well, it took just about one listen of my lungs for my doctor to say, "No wonder you aren't shaking the cold, you have pneumonia."

Chest X-rays confirmed this and I spent the about three days completely wiped out in bed as my body took its revenge on me for having pushed it to the breaking point for weeks.

I notice fellow Bloggers like Terry Teachout are having a hard time shaking colds. My advice is to make sure it isn't something more insidious and get some antibiotics before the holidays.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Onion Cellar reviews coming in.

It looks as if The Onion Cellar, the collaboration between the ART and the Dresden Dolls, is pretty much just what the pre show articles in the Herald, Globe and the Phoenix said it was going to be, a jumbled mess.

Larry Stark, Will Stackman and Terry Byrne have weighed in already. The Globe should be interesting.

An entry on On the Download on the Phoenix webpage pointed out that Amanda Palmer, lead singer of the Dresden Dolls, had left a message on a forum basically saying that all the pre-show hype was just to sell more tickets. However, that entry went on to then say all of the points covered in the articles about the tempestuous creative process.

Whereas the articles in the Herald, Globe and Phoenix wanted very badly to place the problem at the feet of "Artistic Ideologies Clashing," it really sounds to me that it was the process that was flawed.

This quote from Terry Byrne pretty much sums it up:

The piece is such a patchwork it’s hard to imagine any of the creators - which include Dolls songwriter Amanda Palmer, playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman, Stern, Christine Jones, Anthony Martignetti (a writer and psychotherapist) and the cast of “The Onion Cellar” - had a meeting to discuss the collaboration before they were in the midst of rehearsals.

UPDATE: Louise Kennedy of the Globe puts the usual Globe gloss on the proceedings, but pretty much confirms the disaster.

Both at "Wings of Desire" and at this show, I overheard people saying, "That's the best thing I've seen in a long time." I also saw people scurrying out, shaking their heads in confusion and annoyance. Which camp you land in on a given night may depend as much on your own predilections and emotions as on the work itself. This time, I found myself firmly in both camps.

The ART reigns in the publicity department. To their credit they took to the press and explained what was going on very clearly to the public. The result seems to be just what they were saying it would be.

Now I want to be very clear, I support these types of collaborations. It was interesting project and a risk for the ART to reach out and try to create something like this. The problem is that is seems nobody was in charge, which can be the problem when trying to create collaborations between people with big egos.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Just Pointing Something Out...

This movie airs on A&E soon:

Wedding Wars

Love, family, politics and the right to marry intersect in the A&E
Network original movie Wedding Wars.

Shel (Stamos), a gay party planner, agrees to organize the nuptials for straight brother Ben (Dane) to Maggie (Somerville), the Governor of Maine's (Brolin) daughter. After Shel finds out that Ben, a campaign manager for his future father-in-law, is behind the governor's speech against gay marriage, he decides to go on strike for equal rights. Shel's strike picks up steam and eventually spreads nationwide, leaving the impending wedding vows in the hands of a tacky planner and overall, in question.

This, of course, will play during the run of Paul Rudnick's new Play Regrets Only, which revolves around a wedding, family values, anti-gay politics and a strike by gay workers.

Of course, theatre patrons have to pay $65-75.00 to see the wackiness.

Boston Playwrights Making Good!

Two local playwrights are breaking out pretty regularly in other cities.

Melinda Lopez's Sonia Flew is at Steppenwolf in Chicago, after playing engagements in a few other cities. Here is the review from the now infamous Hedy Weiss. And here is the Sun Times PR piece on Melinda and the play.

And Ronan Noone's latest play The Atheist got a nice notice from the Times.

Congratulations to Ms. Lopez and Mr. Noone.

Friday, December 08, 2006

This is Not A Sports Blog

Yesterday, I waxed a little nostalgic about Jack Bicknell's departure from the football team in 1990 and even hazarded a guess that Tom O'Brien would be there for a while.

Well, this bomb dropped:

Amid swirling rumors yesterday Tom O'Brien was asked to clear out his desk and vacate his third-floor corner office at the Yawkey Athletic Center, Boston College's stunned football team found itself in a state of limbo after learning of O'Brien's imminent departure to North Carolina State.

Unlike my experience of the players being the first to know about Cowboy Jack's departure, apparently the team members were among the last to know about Tom O'Brien.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled Theatrical Broadcast.
A Permission-Based Plague Upon You!

Check out Brown University's production of Sartre's The Flies, which will be using....actual flies.

Producers of the Jean-Paul Sartre play "The Flies" at Brown University will subject the audience to 40,000 fruit flies to bring to life the existentialist work about flies sent to plague the city of Argos in ancient Greece.

Theatergoers know what they're getting into. Rutherford said the flies' presence has been heavily advertised, and anyone who reserves a ticket on a Brown online ticketing service is greeted with a disclosure:

"I am aware that there will be 30,000 live drosophila in the audience
area at this production," the message reads, next to a box that must be checked before reserving tickets.

Yeah, baby!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Nicholas Martin Leaving the Huntington

In 1990 I got a message on the aswering machine at my dorm room at Boston College. There was a team meeting to be held at the Conte Forum. It wasn't necessarily out of the ordinary, as the season had just ended, but as we all gathered in the room, one of my friends, a running back, said he bet that it was bad news, "really bad news."

Just before we were able to say anymore, Head Football Coach, Jack Bicknell walked into the room. He had hardly reached the front when he said, very succinctly, "Well, they just fired my ass."

Though it was not entirely shocking, (we had gone through some dismal seasons,) it was hard to believe that the man who had built the football program, marshalled them to national rankings and coached Doug Flutie to a Heisman Trophy was gone.

The replacement was named very soon after: Tom Coughlin. Yes, that Tom Coughlin. Coach Coughlin was coaching in the NFL and was to bring his calculating, winning formulas to the Heights and get us out of our losing seasons and into the next level...permanently. Who could argue with that?

And Coughlin was a natch at the recruiting game. He was phoning key recruits from the locker room of then Superbowl Victorious New York Giants. Coughlin didn't mean much to my life; I was senior and graduating. But his martinet style and his regimented coaching was something that took players a little getting used to after the more laid back coaching of "Cowboy Jack."

Coughlin won football games. And at the end of the day, that is what he was paid to do. But everybody knew that Tom Coughlin was never going to stay in Chestnut Hill, at least not while there was a chance at getting to be a Head NFL job. (Similar to Governor Mitt Romney's political aspirations here in Massachusetts.)

Boston College now has Tom O'Brien settling in as a possible long term situation as an institutional man.

The Globe reported yesterday that Nicholas Martin will leave the Huntington Theatre Company after the 2007-2008 season.

Thomas Garvey at The Hub Review has some thoughts that I share about Martin's tenure, and he has some fears that I share as well.

His accomplishments here were significant for the theatre scene: building a legitimate second stage, opening that second stage with the work of a local playwright, his new plays development program, his attempt to establish Jon Robin Baitz as a resident playwright, and I could go on.

Martin states that he would like to concentrate more on his freelance directing career. This makes sense as Martin always appeared to have one foot in New York City, (or Williamstown.) The life of the successful freelance director is in always keeping irons in the fire, angling for the next job, keeping in contact with the right person. This is in Mr. Martin's blood and it was to the Huntington's benefit that Martin was able to lassoo some of those Big Apple contacts and pull them into our regional orbit, however briefly.

As Thomas Garvey states, we can't underestimate the emphasis Martin put on local talent, even reaching across the Charles river and pulling in some of the actors from the ART. (One of my most indelible theatre memories is Will LeBow's hilarious turn as Anthony Absolute in The Rivals.)

But, the freelance man can have a hard time becoming the institutional man. As much as I admired Mr. Martin's tenure and his talent, many theatre people in Boston always understood, (if only in the back of their minds,) that Martin's was a temporary gig, though he stayed for a good long while.

Like Tom Coughlin, (but without the abrasiveness,) Martin won games. The Huntington is functioning on higher level because of him. I thank him and wish him the very best in his career.

I am interested in who will be found to replace him. The search process should be intriguing, and with the HTC now sporting a second stage the short list could get very exciting.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Of Camels and Collaboration

Collaborative performances and ensemble-created theatrical works can be thrilling and exciting experiences, but at the same time they can often produce mixed results on the whole. I am intimately familiar with this rollercoaster ride after having produced more than a few ensemble-created works through my theatre company.

Perhaps one of my favorite satires on the idea of creating by committee is the little seen film The Pentagon Wars starring Kelsey Grammar and Carey Elwes. It is based on interesting book of the same title and the plot revolves around the Army's attempt to build what eventually became the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Even with military experience under my belt, the jaw-dropping examples of beauracratic ineptitude dramatized in the film shocked me into laughter.

Of course, after many Generals started lobbying for their own modifications, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle ended up being nothing like what the original concept was supposed to be. About midway through the film the Pentagon Brass are being briefed on how the project is coming along, and the officers in charge state the following:

"In summation what you have is a troop transport that can't carry troops, a reconaissance vehicle that's too conspicuous to do recoinassance and a quasi-tank that has less army than a snow blower, but carries enough ammunition to take out half of DC. THIS is what we're building?"

I would point to a couple of recent articles about collaborative creative efforts that are really instructive about how things work in these artistic environments:

The Good: This little article about the way the popular Sci Fi show Battlestar Galactica is put together:

Moore tosses out the idea of doing an episode told from the point of view of two of the killer androids. Then, the whole group tries to figure out the Cylons' deeper motivations via a rapid-fire series of metaphors. The Cylons are Nazis, hell-bent on solving the Human Question. The Cylons are Jews, trying to defend Israel. The Cylons are U.S. troops in Iraq, caught off guard by an uprising. Building in all that symbolism turns out to be complicated—who's representing what changes...I once heard a media-studies professor claim that the best, most adult television shows embrace cognitive dissonance as a storytelling tool.

This story about collaboration by five women playwrights in England:

Shaping the play and rejecting work that wasn't right proved remarkably easy. "We were bizarrely democratic," says Gupta. "As a writer, you're on the receiving end of criticism from script editors or literary managers, and quite often they're really bad at it. So you learn how not to do it yourself." Discussing the play, says Feehily, "was like working in a really good improvisation team. Even if you had an outlandish idea, someone would say, 'Yes - now what if I ... ?'"

The Bad: This contrarian piece about the ensemble creations of Christopher Guest and Company:

Mockumentaries are no more "real" than any other form of movie comedy. For one thing, if what Guest is doing is spontaneous, it's a highly stage-managed form of spontaneity: Guest sifted through 55 hours of footage to come up with the 80 minutes that make up Waiting for Guffman. Second, what's most important about comedy is whether or not it's funny, and I would argue that Guest's method
often begets a kind of dullness. He's content with his actors "jamming," when tireless preparation—the tedious writing and rewriting of scenes and gag lines—would have served him better.

Then, there is the Ugly: The Dresden Dolls are involved creating a a show for the ART called The Onion Cellar to be directed by Marcus Stern. The Boston Globe a brutally honest article about the construction of the piece:

While the Dresden Dolls were on the road, Palmer says, she, Stern, and Jones, who is based in New York, did ‘‘creative battle’’ via conference calls that sometimes lasted for four hours. At various points each took control of the script for a few days or a week, tried to whip it into shape, and returned it to the table only to be rejected by the others. The volleys came faster, the questions mounted and deepened, writers came and went, and the show’s prospects grew more convoluted.

On Nov. 7, when the actors arrived for the first day of rehearsals, they were told that the show was without a script. Palmer and Stern both marvel at the cast’s flexibility and good humor throughout the often grueling process.

The piece in the Globe intrigues me from a P.R. standpoint. It hovers between an homage to tempermental brilliance and veiled apology for what seems to be a disaster. It fluctuates between a pull-the-curtain-back, nuts and bolts expose of how experiemental works are put together and a come-and-see-the-car-crash carnival barker pitch.

By the way, the articles above are categorized by experience in the process, not by the artistic merit of the finished result. For instance, The Onion Cellar could well be far more beautiful than Battlestar Galactica. (And from the Globe article I think could possibly see some Cylons onstage during The Onion Cellar.)