Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Almost, Maine

Thomas Garvey asks, in his latest post at Hub Review, Why all the hate for Almost, Maine?

He asks the question in reference to Terry Byrne's really harsh review of the light, (very light) comedy currently playing at Speakeasy stage.

Actually, aside from Terry, and the savaging little review on PMP network subtitled "I Almost Left", most reviews are pretty honest about what is on stage at the theatre.

To be fair to Ms. Byrne, I feel her review was more a reaction to the dramaturgy/pre-show publicity for Almost, Maine, which promises pulsations of yearning and sadness and strains of Chekovian insight, or even a window into small town life. (These are things Garvey admits are ridiculous to claim.)

What we get are funny, light comedy skits skillfully and professionally peformed in a polished manner by some of Boston's best actors. All of it played on a simple set that almost stunningly gives space and breath of outdoors to the proceedings. Some skits hit, some skits miss, and almost all could be trimmed. And the production does, in fact, give a nice feeling of a different place. Garvey is right, no need to be a hater.

The problem theatre has got itself into over the last 100 years is that people can get this type of light and breezy fair everywhere, almost literally whenever they want it, and at very low prices. But we can't help ourselves in marketing theatre, we have to tell people that light concoctions like Almost, Maine are somehow more transcendent than a light and sugary major release movie or television series like Northern Exposure and the current Ann Heche show Men In Trees.

Almost, Maine is turning into a regional juggernaut, visit the website for Almost, Maine and you will see it rolling through the country with productions lining up over and over. The ultimate destination is obvious. I can't believe that a television pilot and series is not the goal at this point, and it comes packaged with a great title.

Recently, the indie film Little Miss Sunshine was getting a lot of criticism, most of it brought on by its Oscar nomination. Slate writer Matt Feeney writes a defense of the film from the standpoint of what it is: A Comedy.

The overtness of these gestures raises all sorts of red flags among
critics, who have grown wary of Postmodern tricks in the Tarantino era. But since it's comedy we're talking about, the overriding critical question would seem to be: Is Little Miss Sunshine funny? I found it pretty funny, funnier by a long shot by than the vast majority of mainstream comedies, and, at the indie-plex screening I attended, a lot of people laughed. Little Miss Sunshine may not be a great film. The dad character is saved from being a malicious caricature only by Kinnear's marvelous performance, and the dance-party climax
is pat and saccharine. But why should anyone be so annoyed by a genial comedy that clearly satisfies the genre-requirement that it be funny?

I think this is Garvey's point as well. And well taken.


Novel said...

I saw it on Sunday and thought it quite sweet--a cupcake yes, but a well made one. I will acknowledge that I went to college with the playwright and am friends with one of the actresses, but I actually went in expecting it to be dreadful--not because I disliked the playwright when I knew him, but because I remembered the types of plays Amherst students generally churned out and the types of productions. Remember Robert Brustein is an Amherst alum :) (I know, from a totally different era!). I was instead charmed--but I did think as you did, this is heading towards a show or a movie.

BJ said...

Interesting that you used Little Miss Sunshine as an analogy, as I thought that movie was poorly written and directed. ; )