Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Boston Roundup

Mike Daisey's Final Weekend of Performing Invincible Summer at the Zero Arrow Space is this weekend.

Also, at the ART Blog check out Lewis D. Wheeler's post about being directed by his father, the great David Wheeler, for the upcoming No Man's Land. (As a side note, David Wheeler was my directing teacher.)

Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House opens at Trinity Rep this weekend and Catherine Foster of the Globe has the hype piece.

The critics are loosed on the World Premiere of Surviving the Nian at the BCA this week and you can see their takes here, here, here, here, and here.

Confessions of a Mormon Boy, which isn't about our ex-Governor's presidential campaign, opens at Boston Theaterworks and gets some preshow ink in the Globe and at the Edge.

Nora Theatre has opened their Buried Child, but I have only seen one review.

Zeitgeist's Valhalla has almost universal positive notices, and I have heard nothing but good things from everybody I have talked to, including my wife, who saw the show opening weekend. My guess is that if you want to take it in, get on the horn now and get tickets. The space is not that big and with the tide behind it I wouldn't wait till the last weekend.

Jenna Scherer of the Weekly Dig has a good time partying with the "affable assholes" who populate the world of Melissa James Gibson's (sic) at the Devanaughn Theatre. And Bay Windows liked the show too.

For the more off-beat, check out The Ego and the Oracle, opening at Jimmy Tingle's this weekend.


This suggestion comes courtesy of NY Blogger George Hunka. If you want to take the drive to Rhode Island, Perishable Theatre is hosting Theatre of a Two Headed Calf and their world premiere production of Drum of the Waves of Horikowa. The performance is described as, "an 18th-Century Kabuki play set in the wilds of 1970's punk rock!"

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Flu Season

But there is one memory of that Lughnasa time that visits me most often; and what fascinates me about that memory is that it owes nothing to fact. In that memory atmosphere is more real than incident and everything is simultaneously actual and illusory.

Brian Friel,
Dancing at Lughnasa

A few weeks ago, I heard these lines delivered by actor Ed Hoopman, playing the reminiscing narrator in the Way Players presentation of Dancing at Lughnasa. So it was pleasantly surprising to see the lights come up at Whistler in the Dark's latest production and see Mr. Hoopman, sans brogue, playing the narrator, or at least one of the narrators, of Will Eno's The Flu Season.

I did say there are two narrators and they are neccessary to guide us through what are basically two stories. One narrator, introduced to us as "Prologue", is there to guide us through the original play that was set out before the playwright when he started writing. The second narrator, the slightly cynical "Epilogue," (Suzanne O'Connor) is there to help us reconcile the original concept with what we are seeing unfold in front of us.

In Eno's tortured little comedy/tragedy we get, not the allusions and poetry of Brian Friel's meditation on memory, but a more clinical examination of how fiction can be created, destroyed and rebirthed before it even reaches an audience.

White wicker chairs with blue cushions move about the dark space to configure many settings in the hospital/rehab center where a Man and Woman, each with obvious and undiagnosed neuroses, enact a bizarre courtship of twisted syntax and quirky observations.

The staff of the hospital dressed in white labcoats and blue shirts, (nicely mirroring the furniture,) isn't much help at all. This Doctor and Nurse echo the bizarre psychaitrists in Durang's Beyond Therapy. But despite their incompetence and vanity, they do grow on us through the comically gifted performances of David LeBahn and Shelley Brown.

The patients, (Nael Nacer and Meghan Nesmith,) have a harder time of it. The structure and thesis of the play is not in their favor, for they are to be thwarted in their connections to both one another and to the audience.

In her play Well, Lisa Kron keeps reminding the spectators that, "this is NOT about my mother," and she tries, with all her might, to avoid the inevitable scene of confrontation and reconciliation with her mother, who happens to dominate one half of the stage. The idea in The Flu Season is that the playwright is trying to avoid the quirky romance of two off-beat rehab patients. The play veers in directions unexpected, unreliable and unbelievable, but don't worry, at every turn the narrators are there to help out.

The real story, Eno would seem to be saying, is found in the mind of the author as his health and his outlook on life changed from the time he began writing this play and the time he finished. By extension, of course, he is suggesting that our larger lives are written with this same unpredictable outline.

Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa fills the stage with a beautiful poetry that has been assembled with an acknowledgement that some wistful elements of these memories cannot possibly be true, but Eno is peeling back the curtain a little further in order to show us the hard mechanics of art and fate.

However, there is a corner into which this deconstructionist approach can find itself painted. While Eno seems to express distrust in story, metaphors, allusions and imagery, he still must rely on words, sometimes solely on words, to accomplish his objective. Words must naturally convey meaning and Eno proves gifted at giving us the very images he is looking to subvert. The Prologue points out that the story starts in spring, which all sorts of traditional associations, but the Epilogue is quick to point out: "Somebody can get cancer on a nice summer evening, and people get married in the middle of winter."

But this particular verbosity doesn't stop at the narrators, or even at the comical doctors. As the play opens, we see the therapists talking far more than their patients, and hopelessness of the situation is palpable. However, once the man and woman also speak in complex sentences with unexpected clauses and funny observations, we start to lose focus. Eno may want to show us people in so much isolation and alienation that they have trouble expressing themselves, but these pained souls are as garrulous and articulate as the gals on Sex and the City.

Having seen Will Eno's Thom Pain, based on nothing in the very same venue last fall, I couldn't help but see this as a rough draft for that more effective piece. Indeed, some of the passages are almost identical, including the imagery of stinging bees.

The advantage of the rough and acerbic protaganist of Thom Pain was his conflict with the audience, and The Flu Season also comes most alive when the Prologue and Epilogue address us directly. These narrators can't conflict with one another because, in a nice twist, Epilogue can see and hear the Prologue, but the Prologue remains oblivious to the Epilogue. So they each have a dialogue with us, and we are forced to pay attention to their language because they are trying to tell us something. However, when the Man and Woman are speaking in Eno's more than clever phrases, we are a little less patient.

The character of Thom Pain appeals to us, "Please, when you go home tonight and people ask you about what you saw, please don't say that you saw something clever." Instead, he asks us to acknowledge that we saw somebody, "trying." In the case of the The Flu Season, I felt just little more of the former.

The Defense of Everything

Dryden, whose warmth of fancy, and haste of composition, very frequently hurried him into inaccuracies, heard himself sometimes exposed to ridicule for having said in one of his tragedies,

"I follow Fate, which does too fast pursue."

That no man could at once follow and be followed was, it may be thought, too plain to be long disputed; and the truth is, that Dryden was apparently betrayed into the blunder by the double meaning of the word Fate, to which in the former part of the verse he had annexed the idea of Fortune, and in the latter that of Death; so that the sense only was, though pursued by Death, I will not resign myself to despair, but will follow Fortune, and do and suffer what is appointed. This, however, was not completely expressed, and Dryden being determined not to give way to his criticks, never confessed that he had been surprised by an ambiguity; but finding luckily in Virgil an account of a man moving in a circle, with this expression, Et se sequiturque fugitque, "Here," says he, "is the passage in imitation of which I wrote the line that my criticks were pleased to condemn as nonsense; not but I may sometimes write nonsense, though they have not the fortune to find it.

Every one sees the folly of such mean doublings to escape the pursuit of criticism; nor is there a single reader of this poet, who would not have paid him greater veneration, had he shewn consciousness enough of his own superiority to set such cavils at defiance, and owned that he sometimes slipped into errours by the tumult of his imagination, and the multitude of his ideas.

It is happy when this temper discovers itself only in little things, which may be right or wrong without any influence on the virtue or happiness of mankind. We may, with very little inquietude, see a man persist in a project which he has found to be impracticable, live in an inconvenient house because it was contrived by himself, or wear a coat of a particular cut, in hopes by perseverance to bring it into fashion. These are indeed follies, but they are only follies, and, however wild or ridiculous, can very little affect

But such pride, once indulged, too frequently operates upon more important objects, and inclines men not only to vindicate their errours, but their vices; to persist in practices which their own hearts condemn, only lest they should seem to feel reproaches, or be made wiser by the advice of others; or to search for sophisms tending to the confusion of all principles, and the evacuation of all duties, that they may not appear to act what they are not able to defend.

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, No 31.

The Last Word on Daisey

Just in case you haven't treaded out into the wider blogosphere.

Mike Daisey has a compelling narrative of his attempts to track down and have a dialogue with the school group, and, most importantly, the man who poured the water on his table.

I just want to remind anybody here in Boston that Mike Daisey is still performing his monologues at the Zero Arrow in Harvard Square for a couple more weeks.

I really enjoyed Invincible Summer, which plays through this Sunday, and so did the majority of critics who reviewed it a few weeks ago. For those with a tight budget, Daisey will be presenting a workshop performance of a brand new monologue, Tounges Will Wag, on May 8th for a discounted price of $20.00.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Norco High School Apologizes

Geoff Edgers sent me an e-mail. He has contacted the High School's principal, and you can read the explanation here at his blog The Exhibitionist.

Basically, the school apologizes for the water pouring, but doesn't apologize for leaving.

My Opinion: That is exactly as it should be.

And it seems all parties, (the ART and Daisey,) are satisfied with that. Although, out of curiosity, I would like to know more about the adult chaperone who dumped the water. Why did he do it? And does he apologize for it? But something tells me we aren't going to get those answers.

As I mentioned on a comment in previous post, somebody on Playgoer's blog brought up the Zero Arrow space and how it kind of exacerbated the situation.

At Invincible Summer, the audience has no choice when leaving, but to go down to the front and cross right in front of Mike Daisey's table. And he does sit very close to the audience. If the audience could have escaped out the back or the side exits, the punk wouldn't have been close enough to pour the water, and the video would not have been half, (or even a quarter,) as compelling.

The principal's account is interesting in that it tells us that the "turn off your cell phone" message was really crass and, based on this, the group thought this might not be the show for them. (I can vouch that the message does included a couple of profanities.)

After the cell phone announcement, the group claims, they asked the house manager if the show could hold up for second and they could leave. The show went on anyway. Theatres should learn, that nothing can keep an audience that really wants to leave.

True Story: I remember attending one show at small theatre here in town and, At intermission, about 8 people started putting on their coats and leaving. The Artistic Director helpfully went up to them to explain that there is a second act.

One of the fleeing patrons said, as he headed for the door, "I know."

Keeping Focus

‘‘If a patron in an art museum objected to a painting and slashed it, we’d be clear that that’s a criminal act,’’ the ART’s artistic director Gideon Lester fumed yesterday.

More at Geoff Edgers Exhibitionist blog.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Rollicking Good Riot!

The new Covent Garden opened on 18 September 1809. The cost of this vast theatre was so high that the management decided to raise the prices: from six shillings to seven shillings for the boxes; from 3 shillings and 6 pence to 4 shillings for the pit; the third tier, usually reserved for the public, was converted into private boxes at the rent of £300 a year.

On the night of the opening, audience and actors stood loyally to sing
the national anthem, but, the moment it was ended, pandemonium broke loose. As Kemble stepped forward proudly on to the stage of this new theatre, he was greeted with a tempest of hissing, shouting and whistling which continued throughout the performance of Macbeth which followed.

Reiterated shouts of ‘Old prices Old prices’ greeted both Kemble
and Mrs. Siddons each time they appeared on stage. The noise was such that 500 soldiers were dispatched to the gallery, but the rioters climbed down to the lower galleries, the sight of the soldiers merely increasing the antagonism of the house.

‘It was a noble sight’ said the Times, ‘to see so much just
indignation in the public mind’. Most of the women in the private boxes left early in the evening. The shouting rioters stood with their backs to the stage, while the actors continued doggedly with their performance of Macbeth. When the programme was over and the audience still refused to leave, Kemble sent for the police (Bow Street being opposite the theatre). This aroused the rioters to even greater protest so that the constables tactfully withdrew. It was not until two in the morning that the audience finally dispersed.

Night after night, week after week, the old price riots continued,
except that after the first night, the rioters only came in at half price time. The inside of the theatre resembled a fairground with its banners and placards painted with slogans. Protests were made nightly against the exorbitant salaries received by the Kembles and ‘the clothes on the backs worth £500’ said the Times.

Magistrates appeared on stage to read the Riot Act while lawyers
addressed the house from the boxes, encouraging the rioters. A coffin was carried in, inscribed ‘here lies the body of new price, who died of the whooping cough 23 September, 1809, aged 6 days. The rioters continued to whoop it up for another 64 days.

Unlike earlier riots, however, no damage was done to the theatre and the whole affair was, in fact, conducted in a spirit of fun, the combatants declaring they would obtain their end by perseverance. After almost 3 months of rioting, Kemble was finally obliged to accept the Old Price terms and to make a public apology from the stage. He was greeted by loud applause. Thus ended the
famous Old Price War.

The Main Event

Garret Eisler at Playgoer has a great update about the Mike Daisey incident. However, I am a little disappointed in the tone of his analysis of it as non-scandal.

Garret seems to want to discuss an event that did not happen. He wants to discuss an event where a group of people, not happy with the content of a show, getting up and leaving the theatre.

That is NOT what happened, which is amazing to me since he has the video posted right on his site.

What happened is this: a group of people, not happy with the content of the show, got up and left, AND one of them VANDALIZED the set, with the performer just inches away.

I wonder if Garret will be as casual, and consider it such a "non-scandal," if a group of the audience at a performance of Rachel Corrie were to walk out then throws water on, or otherwise VANDALIZE the set while making their exit. Hey, we can't do theatre for just the people we like, right.

So...what? We should make sure we start taking out extra insurance on our property, or maybe or limbs? Is water an acceptable form of projectile now that that tomatoes have been discontinued.

Perhaps Garrett will defend me if I sit in one of the boxes at Legally Blonde and pour a gallon of water down on to the set below.

Garret says the following:

People have the right to walk out of a show. God knows we all have. Usually out of boredom. But I bet many of us have out of some sense of "offense" as well. Just turn the tables for a sec and imagine if you found yourself at a solo show by someone you never heard of who turned out to be an Ann Coulter clone. If you find such a worldview offensive, wouldn't you want to walk out? Or even throw something?

The question is.. What would Garret think of anybody if they DID throw something at the Ann Coulter clone?

The next step in the investigation is to call the public school system to which this group belongs and see if there will be appropriate punishment for the student or the faculty member who poured the water.

I agree with Garrett's post in general, and he would be 100% right in his evaluation had not the vandalism taken place. But then, as in his earlier post, ("check out the water bit,") he seems to want to edit the incident to fit his argument.

And, by the way, I am not suggesting that reaction to the incident might not be overblown. I just don't want us to possibly lose sight of the seriousness of it.

I hate terrorism, I hate bullying, and I hate violent acts. People leaving a theatre is fine, people defacing property is a different matter.

Mike Daisey - "Invincible" Civility

During Mike Daisey's monologue, Invincible Summer, he weaves in details about the New York City Subway system, including the details of his discovery of it upon his first moving there, as well as details of its original construction and current plans for expansion.

During a description of what it is like riding the hot, crowded subway, Daisey says the following, (very paraphrased by me, I wish I had the exact quote.)

"Sometimes, your mindframe while riding on the subway is, I want to f***ing shiv somebody. That's what I am thinking while crammed in next to everyone. Shiv. Shiv. Shiv. (Daisey mimes stabbing out among the other passengers.) But I don't do that. Nobody does that. Everybody rides the subway. We allow for space, we give the other space for their existence. And me, that is civilization."

I thought it especially poignant for reasons apparent to anybody reading the blogosphere regarding the walkout and vandalism Daisey experienced last week.

Downtown Comes to Beantown

Last week I posted about a bunch of new and newer plays that were opening. I have seen two of them, and, interestingly enough, they both represent a kind of Manhattan-hipster sensibility, along with a very specific focus on language.

(sic) by Melissa James Gibson, (currently playing at the Devanaughn, my wife is in the cast,) and The Flu Season by Will Eno, (being presented by Whistler in the Dark) are both challenging plays and not exactly straightforward in narrative. In fact, the very concepts of story and composition are openly thwarted at every turn and even explicitly called into question by either the dialogue or the playwright himself, (in the case of The Flu Season,) speaking through a narrator.

Both playwrights are very focused on what is said rather than what happens or doesn't happen, but this is not a simple case of tell versus show. However, there are distinct problems with this hyper verbosity. I hope to post more about this later, but just wanted to let people know that if you are one of those who are always wanting more of the "downtown" sensibility, this is your chance to check it out.

I also checked out Mike Daisey's piece Invincible Summer. Which reminds me, Mike Daisey will be participating with Andy Borowitz in The Moth, at the Calderwood Pavillion tonight.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Daisey Disrupted

Please read this scary account from Mike Daisey at the American Rep Blog:

This is terrifying for an artist.

Friday Boston Roundup

Terry Byrne gives some pre-show hype to Einstein's Dreams, the first full production of Catalyst Collaborative. The show opens today at MIT.

The Huntington's Persephone and Zeitgeist's Valhalla are reviewed in the Phoenix by Carolyn Clay. The Weekly Dig also weighs in on Persephone.

Edge has an interview with Ben Lambert about being an actor in Boston and playing in Melissa James Gibson's (sic) at the Devanaughn.

Coming Up Next Week: Week 24 of Suzan-Lori Parks' 365 Plays will be at the BCA on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:00PM. The plays are a Zeitgeist production and will be in the Black Box.

Small Theatre Closing Weekend:

Image Theatre in Lowell, MA has set their latest, Distant Music in an actual bar. All the reviews have been pretty positive, both about the play and the bar.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Huntington's Season

The Huntington Announced their Season Yesterday. Thankfully, David Rabe's Streamers is still on the schedule.

And, more importantly, I am happy to report that Ronan Noone will finally be getting a Huntington Production. His play Brendan will be at the Calderwood.

Ronan Noone is very talented local playwright, who also has done well off-broadway. His most recent was the well received play The Atheist, which was a part of the Huntington's Breaking Ground last year.

Since his play Lepers of Baile Baiste, I have admired his talent, and I have hoped, since the Sugan is on a hiatus, that we would find another Boston Home for his work.

(Full Disclosure: I have never met, and do not know Ronan Noone.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The State of Affairs

After several e-mails this morning, (along with an inquiry from a co-worker who knows I am a playwright,) asking me if I had read "the plays," it didn't take me long to realize they weren't concerned with the recent Pulitzer Prize contenders.

No, "the plays" refers to two of the posted plays which were written by the killer in the horrible Virgina Tech Massacre.

Judging from the inquiries I have received (and the fact that Opie and Anthony were doing a dramatized reading of Cho's play Richard McBeef this morning on their radio show,) I think it is safe to say that more people in this country will read the script pages of Cho's two plays than will ever read the text of, or even see a production of, Rabbit Hole, (though David Cote points out on Histriomastix that there is a movie in the works.)

Sadder still, it may be the only play they read or see in their adult life.

Richard Nelson's Keynote

Mark Armstrong has the full text of Richard Nelson's keynote.

Worthwhile reading if you are interested in the state of the playwright in this country.

How Bad Is It? Ask Mr. Brustein

Recently, Robert Brustein posted to the Open University blog on the New Republic. His post, about the power of the Times and the paper's declining theatre coverage, centers on the inside story how the producers of Oliver Twist (the same production seen here locally at the ART,) were nearly completely snubbed by the Times.

Playgoer posted about this when it appeared, and I received an e-mail yesterday from a friend about it.

When I read it again, I found a deeper sadness at the state of theatre coverage in the mainstream periodicals.

I consider Bob Brustein one of our country's great critics. I began buying and subscribing to the New Republic in order to read his essays and to support TNR for continuing serious theatre criticism.

This post of his, in the Open University Blog on the New Republic Website, makes me hope that he will start blogging. It would be valuable to have a critic of his erudition and style regularly attacking from the wings.

HOWEVER...always contextualize his occasional attacks on the Times with his entire written and artistic career.

The Times and Robert Brustein have a long standing feud. For an understanding of both sides, read Brustein's collections of essays, (Dumbocracy in America, etc.) and then read Frank Rich's essay "Exit the Critic."

One might use the same terms Brustein uses, "condescending," etc, to describe his dismissals of August Wilson's work. And remember, Brustein notes that he does not have any more than a marginal association with the ART, and he obviously feels no need to pull punches in this essay on the Times. But he didn't write any type of review of this production in his own periodical.

Upon re-reading the post, I found myself drawn to this statement:

Now I love gossip and popular entertainment as well as the next guy, but isn't there a place for serious theatre in this Sunday section any more? References to plays have been relegated to a column or two on page five, unlessthere is a big numbing commercial musical or some media-soaked British import like The Coast of Utopia lumbering towards Broadway.

The ubiquitous coverage of Tom Stoppards's trilogy has been angering theatre folk for months, and Brustein may be right about this. However, it is important to note that Brustein's first New Rebublic review in over a year was a massive essay on....wait for it...The Coast of Utopia! Maybe he felt it hadn't received enough coverage?

As I said, one of the reasons I began subscribing to the New Republic and why I try to buy The New Criterion was to support publications that are continuing to hold a place for serious dramatic criticism.

Brustein's observation about the Times is a point well taken, but also a point well observed for many years. My observation is: Never mind the Times, if The New Republic is no longer the place for serious theatre criticism...then what is left?

Globe Works It Like an IRNE Reviewer

In the past week, Globe Reviewer Sandy MacDonald has been all over the place on the small theatre scene ..

Today she has a review of Zeitgeist's production of Valhalla, and this was preceded by her notice of Up You Mighty Race's 409 Edgecombe Avenue at the BCA. Also, she traveled over the bridge to Chelsea for Theatrezone's Memory House, and then out to Lowell for Image Theatre's barroom production of Distant Music.

I can't remember the last time the Globe was so prolific with coverage of small theatre in such a short time span. However, most of the midsized and large houses are between openings right now. Hopefully the coverage will keep up.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Critical Needs

Boston Globe Film Critic Ty Burr adds to the recent articles about the job and the qualifications of the movie critic...

So what does a critic bring to the table? What the reader needs: Context. I spent my high school and college years and post-college years watching movies, reading about film history, learning about the movie industry (Hollywood and elsewhere), studying film theory, parsing the mysteries of shot language and the grammar of editing. Far from over, the education continues with every new book
on the subject, every new release in theaters, and, really, everything under the sun. A critic who's an expert in his or her field yet knows nothing about life is a particularly useless sort of monk.

There's more.
Pulitzer Goes to....

None of the nominees, just like last year... except this year they actually gave it to somebody, David Lindsey Abaire's Rabbit Hole.

But kudos to Rinde Eckert and the American Repertory Theatre. Orpheus X was a finalist.

Playgoer has some details here.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Turning Around An Old Ship

In the Globe Today, Kevin Cullen talks to Director Mac McConghail about his task of saving and revitalizing the historic Abbey Theatre.

One of his key initiatives is a possible temporary ban on revivals. Another is directly related to development of new work:

Mac Conghail says his predecessors got in trouble by not knowing how or when to say no. He has lengthened the incubation period for new work to two to three years, saying too many productions had gone on too soon. With experience producing on Broadway, and in-laws in Boston, he wants to tour. But he said the company couldn't afford it during his first two years. He said he hopes to bring the Abbey to New York next fall, and to Boston in 2008.

Mac Conghail is also reaching out to Sam Shephard and Conor McPhereson. And, of course, the 33 million from the government doesn't hurt either.

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Unlike most of the songs nowadays being written uptown in Tin Pan Alley--that's where most of the folk songs come from nowadays. This, this is a song . . . this wasn't written up there. This is written somewhere down in the United States."

-Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan's Blues

Friday Boston Roundup:

Noah Haidle's Persephone begins to get reviews: Louise Kennedy's Globe Review and Will Stackman's Quick Take are up. Local Playwright and Actress Melinda Lopez of Sonia Flew fame is receiving kudos for her role as a the statue.

Larry Stark posts an anonymous letter, and comments, about the IRNE awards and fringe theatre. While the Eliot Norton Nominees are released this week.

Thomas Garvey at Hubreview explains his recent delinquence in posting: He is dramaturg for Zeitgeist's production of Paul Rudnick's Valhalla opening this weekend at the BCA.

Surviving the Nian, opening at Theatre Offensive this weekend, gets the full feature treatment from Terry Byrne in the Globe, and Iris Fanger in the Phoenix.

Edge Boston has a feature on the Kiki and Herb press conference.

Bay Windows posts an Invincible Summer Review, with an interesting analysis.

Small Shows Closing this Weekend that you may want to catch:

Conquest of the South Pole at Charlestown Working Theatre has garnered pretty much universal praise. (I haven't and won't get a chance to see it.)

Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa at the BCA is a lovely production of what is considered by some to be one of the finest memory plays ever written. The work of the ensemble is impressive. FULL DISCLOSURE: I know some of the people in the cast and rented space to them during their rehearsal period. (They were one of the disrupted companies during the MIT Crackdown.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

April is a Good Time to See New and Newer Work

For those interested in new work, and the current hot playwrights, get out to a theater some time this month.

The next month looks to provide some local productions of newer or new plays that are of note, (Even three world premieres!) I am going to try, but probably won't make it to all of them. I would be interested as to what people think.

Trinity Rep - The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl (Pulitzer Finalist Play, Ruhl got a MaCarthur Genius Grant.)

Whistler in the The Dark - The Flu Season by Will Eno (Eno wrote Thom Pain, a Pulitzer Finalist.)

Theatre Offensive - Surviving the Nian by Melissa Lee and Abe Rybeck (This play is a World Premiere, that just won the Jonathan Larson Award before it even opened.)

Huntington Theatre Company - Persephone by Noah Haidle. (Haidle is a red hot playwright right now, receiving premieres all over the country. As a side note: local playwright Melinda Lopez is in the cast.)

Devanaughn Theatre - (sic) by Melissa James Gibson. This play was received very well in New York back in 2000 or so, but the playwright, I don't think, has received a production here in Boston yet. (FULL DISCLOSURE - My wife is in the cast.)

Up You Mighty Race - 402 Edgecombe Avenue; The House on Sugar Hill by Katherine Butler Jones. (World Premiere.)

That should keep you busy enough, but I could be missing some.
Louis Kennedy Hearts Daisey, Hates Audience

I had a conversation with Larry Stark of Theatermirror over the weekend. He attended a Boston Playwrights Network reading of Patrick Brennan's play American Rex , in which I was actually reading the small role of a right-wing, loudmouth television host named Pat Riot. (Think Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity all roled into one creature.)

As Larry and I talked about recent shows we had seen, I mentioned one he hadn't been able to attend. He quickly asked me, "What happened?"

It is always an interesting question, and whenever I have the chance to speak to him it comes up. It is so different from the usual questions people throw out to you when you find your critical opinion being sought.

Usually, people will ask, "Was it good?" "How was it?" "Did you like it?"

Larry consistently asks, "What happened?" It is a good question to ask with regards to the immediacy and the ephemeral nature of theatre. What happened the night you saw the show?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in his Divinity School Address gave a famous image:

Whenever the pulpit is usurped by a formalist, then is the worshipper defrauded and disconsolate. We shrink as soon as the prayers begin, which do not uplift, but smite and offend us. We are fain to wrap our cloaks about us, and secure, as best we can, a solitude that hears not. I once heard a preacher who sorely tempted me to say, I would go to church no more. Men go, thought I, where they are wont to go, else had no soul entered the temple in the afternoon. A snow storm was falling around us. The snow storm was real; the preacher merely spectral; and the eye felt the sad contrast in looking at him, and then out of the window behind him, into the beautiful meteor of the snow. He had lived in vain. He had no one word intimating that he had laughed or wept, was married or in love, had been commended, or cheated, or chagrined. If he had ever lived and acted, we were none the wiser for it.

It is rumored that during a performance of Aristophanes' Clouds, the mask maker's skill at caricaturing Socrates, (a character in the play,) was so perfect that the Philospher himself stood up out of the crowd so that people could compare the likeness.

Critics or reviewers can become such formalists that the only time one
can detect that they witnessed the performance with 900 other people is when they feel they must begrudgingly report, to the contrary of their personal experience, the crowd's joyful reaction. And this is only if the reaction seems to be wildly disproportionate to their own.

Louise Kennedy's review of Mike Daisey's new monologue Invincible Summer, puts a new twist on , "The-Audience-Seemed-to-Have-Had-A Great Time." In her review she seems to have not only encountered a sparse and dull audience, but also a dumb one:

It's an exciting, risky way to work, and it's easy to imagine how a packed house of smart and engaged people would feed Daisey the energy he needs to perform at his best. That's the audience I found myself longing for as I watched Daisey's comical-philosophical monologue "Invincible Summer" on a dozy, quiet, ham-sated Easter evening at the Zero Arrow Theatre, where the empty seats were only slightly less responsive than the full ones.

There's more . She keeps going with this, like a comedian who has found a great line of yuks.

This is not a criticism of Kennedy, but it interested me because the review not only let me know what is important about the show, it also let me see Kennedy as a living, breathing audience member and the Zero Arrow Street Space as a real place. Every one of us can know what that felt like to be there at that performance on that day. Although I hope other audience members aren't offended by her crack at their intelligence, even though she did mitigate it by suggesting the possibility of Easter dinner hangovers as soporific accomplices.

Site specific theatre, or non-traditional venues can often shake the cobwebs out of a reviewer's environmental antennae. Actors Shakespeare Project is currently doing Titus Andronicus at an underground garage in Harvard Square. The batch of reviews now out specifically address the effect of surroundings on the audience's experience, with even an extended anecdote about a woman who may have been feeling a bit queasy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

On Reviewing and Free Tickets

There has been quite a consternation over bloggers, ethics and free tickets lately The best summary of the thread of discussion is here at Gothamist.

I thought I would just post something about this blog, my situation, and my thoughts on reviewing/comps.

First, I have a full time job, I teach classes at night, I write plays, I produce plays and I act and direct. This means that my time is extremely limited, but I do try to see as many plays as I possibly can, and that is quite a few.

Second, I am not a critic or a reviewer. I write reviews and critiques occasionally, but mostly I don't have the time. (More on this later.)

Third, I see far more plays than I review or even mention on this site. In the past, people have e-mailed me to ask how it is that I can comment on Boston theatre so much when I really don't see many shows. My favorite e-mail was from somebody asking why I never come to see their shows. The e-mailer didn't realize that I had seen many of their of their shows, and enjoyed them.

Fourth, I know lots of people in the Boston Theatre Community. When I do review something, I disclose fully when my wife or a really good friend is in the production. However, I usually don't do this for acquaintances, or for people in minor parts: "Jane Doe does a great job in the part as the maid. FULL DISCLOSURE: I met Jane a few times while we were working on different short plays in a festival two years ago." This seems a little unneccesary to me, maybe I'm wrong.

Fifth, I rarely paid full price for tickets before I started this blog, and I rarely pay for them now. I get most of my tickets through a massive combination of professional and organizational discount offers, papering efforts, pay-what-you-can nights, friend's comps, free dress rehearsals and volunteer ushering opportunities. Yes, I do still pay for tickets to some shows, as I did this past weekend.

In the past year or so, I have received more offers of comps specifically because of this blog.

Do I take them? Yes.

Do I write reviews for all of them? No.

If you have been a producer of theatre, even of very small theatre, this should not bother you. In my experience as a producer, there have been many times over the years in which a reviewer, (whether they work at a mainstream paper or on-line,) was comped, attended the show and never published a review. Mostly this is because of space issues, or timing issues, etc. Did I offer the comps to my own productions in the hope that they will come and write a stunning review of my show? Of course. Does this mean it is a quid pro quo? No.

How do I handle comp offers I receive here at this blog? Well, I just accept them or pass on them, based mostly on my schedule. (Hint to anybody looking to offer comps to me: Try not to send the offer during the third week of your three week run.)

The first time I was extended an offer of comps solely for my identity as a blogger, I was a little confused about what to do. I sought advice from several on-line reviewers, a working print reviewer, and several bloggers.

Pretty unanimously, their advice was to just accept the comps as long as the offer did not explicitly outline any type of quid pro quo. Most veterans of these things told me, "Of course, the offer of comps always implies an understanding that they are hoping you write something or mention something about the production." But almost every one of my counsels reminded me that comps are given to people for all types of reasons. When a theater gives comps to the Mayor, they are not expecting the Mayor enact legislation that week based upon the performance he has seen and they certainly don't expect him to write a review.

Early on in the theatre blogosphere, I remember Spearbearer Down Left, (Where is he or she anyway?) posted something about how a local theater was offering bloggers comps based on the following criteria: 1. They had an average of over 30 visitors a day. 2. They did not have to review the production, but they had to mention it somewhere on their blog.

At the time this seemed more than fair, although I was only getting maybe 12 hits a day.And it is really the same deal theatre companies give the larger press. The Boston Globe gets offered comps for a show, but they usually give people at least a free listing in the Calendar Section and, if you are lucky, a picture in the Go Section.

There are three types of comps offers that I generally receive:

1. Press Releases Regarding Opening Night with an e-mail to rsvp for complimentary tickets. Usually these come from more established theatre companies, but also from some smaller and younger companies. These are actually very stress-free. I look at these as an invitation, and I know why they are inviting me. But I also know that they are professional enough to have probably perused my blog a bit and they know that I might not write something about the show, or even mention it.

2. Direct E-mail inviting me to see a show that they think I might like. They usually state it almost that plainly too. Then they mention that they can arrange for comps. There is a little more implied intent in this offer. They usually state that they read my blog and they think I will like the show, and I read that as: "We want to offer you these tickets because we want you to write a review." With these offers, I usually respond with an explanation that I appreciate the offer and I cannot gaurantee that I will be able to write anything about the production. This always runs smoothly, but one time, after sending the e-mail, I never heard anything back from them.

3. Direct Request of a Review or Mention. These are starting to come more frequently. The text usually reads: "Hi, we were hoping that you would like to review or mention our next production, let us know if you would like to do that and we can arrange for comps." This is the most uncomfortable of all, and when I send my response about not being able to guarantee a review or mention on the blog, the comp offer is usually rescinded or I don't hear a reply.

4. Direct E-mail that asks me to see the show, but doesn't anywhere mention that there are comps involved. I treat these as a press release about the show, and I value them as they keep me informed. And I have gone to see some of these shows. But I rarely see a need to respond to these e-mails.

These methods of offering comps are not competing with each other in terms of ethics, and I don't blame people for not wanting to give a comp with nothing guaranteed in return. If anything, the third example is the most direct and truthful about the underlying exchange.

(Oh, I also get comp offers for shows that are done way, way, way outside of my geographical area. And one time I got an offer from a Network to pre-view a new television show.)

There is really no science as to what I review and what I do not review. When I started this blog I made a promise to myself that I would only post about things I wanted to. I am way too busy to start feeling obligations to write about every show I see. Mostly, I will write a review if something about my response to seeing the show interests me enough to write about it. Now, this may sound like I am saying that I only write about shows I think are good. Not true. I have seen many shows I think are very good and worthwhile, but I don't feel compelled to write anything about them.

Two examples:

a. I wrote a review of the Huntington's production of Well, not because I thought it was great, but I thought it was interesting that while I was enjoying the show, and having a good-time watching it, I knew that on another night, in another mood, I would have not liked it. I thought I would write about the production in order to see if I could pinpoint how this could happen.

b. When I saw Thom Pain at the New Rep, I was surprised by how moved I was by the production, and how, in reading the text a year earlier, I had missed the big shaggy heart at the center of the play.

Sometimes I will write the "Contra-review," if I feel a production, is being either overpraised or overlooked by other critics.

So, after all this being said, even if you don't want to offer comps, please do send me press releases and news about your shows, seasons, companies, grants you have received, etc. I do read these and, just as I do with reviews, I post when I find something interesting. The e-mail is up in the upper-right hand corner.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The quality of courage, for example, is not intended to
make wealth, but to inspire confidence; neither is this
the aim of the general's or of the physician's art; but the one aims at victory and the other at health. Nevertheless, some men turn every quality or art into a means of getting wealth; this they conceive to be the end, and to the promotion of the end they think all things must contribute.

Aristotle, Politics, Bk I

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Charlestown's Conquest?

It has become apparent over the last few years that one of the more reliable destinations for the more adventurous theatregoer is the Charlestown Working Theatre.

Molasses Tank Theatre is currently receiving great praise for their Conquest of the South Pole. (which I won't be able to see, but desperately want to.) They take their name from the unfortunate disaster in Charlestown which fascinated me when I read about it in an SRA kit in elementary school.

Take a look at their production history here. They really program some interesting work.

Theatre On Fire, turned some heads at the same venue with their recent production of Race.

And Whistler in the Dark Theatre Company has presented the works of such playwrights as Howard Barker and Eric Overymyer there, although they have spread out recently to other venues. Whistler will be presenting Will Eno's The Flu Season at the Black Box at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, which, coincidentally, is where Eno's Thom Pain, had its Boston premiere by New Rep last fall.
Dr. Johnson and Plato

Samuel Johnson is one of those unique writers who inspires with every paragraph, maybe even every sentence. I picked up a Penguin Classics copy of Samuel Johnson's Selected Essays for the train ride home from New York City on Tuesday. I had the intention of underlining passages that struck me as exceptional, but soon realized I could underline every sentence, put an asterisk next to every clause and close in every paragraph with a set of brackets.

To the extent Johnson is known at all in the general collective awareness of the society he is known as a "literary critic." However, on reading The Rambler that notion is immediately dissolved and replaced with the image of a moralist and a sharp-eyed cultural critic.

The experience of reading him close to Plato's Republic has value as it gives the ability to see some of the parallells:

Plato in the The Republic:

Then, although we are admirers of Homer, we do not admire the lying dream which Zeus sends to Agamemnon...

These are the kind of sentiments about the gods which will arouse
our anger; and he who utters them shall be refused a chorus; neither shall we allow teachers to make use of them in the instruction of the young, meaning, as we do, that our guardians, as far as men can be, should be true worshippers of the gods and like them.

Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler 4 Saturday, March 31 1750:

But the fear of not being approved as just copiers of human manners, is not the most important concern that an author of this sort ought to have before him. These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct, and introductions into life. They are the entertainment of minds unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account.

That the highest degree of reverence should be paid to youth, and that nothing indecent should be suffered to approach their eyes or ears, are precepts extorted by sense and virtue from an ancient writer, by no means eminent for chastity of thought.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Healey Rejected At American Repertory Theatre

Mark Armstrong at Mr. Excitement News has been providing indispensable coordination of the news coming out of Florida about the cancellation of My Name Is Rachel Corrie.

Closer to home, Kerry Healey, who lost our last gubernatorial election to Deval Patrick, has been refused admission to the Advisory Board of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge.

The reason, according to the information in the Boston Globe, is that there are Board Members who have a real problem with Healey's television ad her campaign ran last year.

"During the board's 2 1/2-hour meeting last month, members specifically mentioned a controversial television ad aired by the Healey campaign that linked Patrick and Benjamin LaGuer, who has professed his innocence since his 1984 rape conviction and has corresponded with Patrick over the years.

Some called the ad racist because it played upon a stereotype of black men as sexual predators. The ad, in which a woman walked alone in a parking garage, was widely criticized during the campaign, and Healey's running mate, Reed Hillman, distanced himself from the spot."

You can see the famous ad at Youtube here.

Executive Director Bob Orchard seems to be upset.