Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Around the Critical Horn...

Thomas Garvey on Speakeasy's production of Terrence McNally's Some Men:

"Only connect," of course, is another gay mantra, by another gay writer (E.M. Forster), and it's interesting to consider the connections gay life has actually afforded despite its constant backbeat of casual sex. McNally's achievement in Some Men is to give a sense of how those connections gradually amounted - like his many vignettes - to something like a revolution, even if he sidesteps such main events as Stonewall (again, that slight distance). Instead, he lightly sketches what amounts to a Proustian timeline (I know, stop me before I go too far): over the course of Some Men, sandwiched in between the hustlers and the backroom sex inheritance and a home change hands, and one straight family collapses, only to be reconstituted as a new, gay one; at the finale, we suddenly realize that, like Proust's Gilberte, gay men are now wandering around the halls of the heterosexual ancien régime, where we were once officially excluded. Of course what all this means for gay identity remains a tantalizingly open question, which McNally never really attempts to answer.

Bill Marx on Avenue Q:

The show’s advertisement sums up the adolescent approach: “60% adult material, 40% rubber foam.” Not too adult, of course: overgrown cookie monsters and other puppet retreads from Sesame Street and human residents sing about how much they adore porn, pay robust homage to the Internet and masturbation, and warble tunes with ‘shocking’ titles such as “It Sucks to be Me” and “Everyone is a Little Bit Racist.”

The gimmick, worked with sadistic relentlessness over two hours, is to make showbiz hay with the silly hilarity generated by the sight of marionettes saying nasty things and making mad whoopee. The device wears thin because Avenue Q’s creators thump the same dumb punch lines without, a la South Park, moving to inspired extremes or making a discomforting point; they don’t use the imaginative freedom offered by puppets to venture into fresher, friskier territory than jokes about beating off and Canadian pussy.

The result is that Avenue Q is not 60% adult but 90% addled adolescent: a slick puppet show ground out by an unimaginative child who has an eye on the mainstream market.

Brian Jewell in Bay Windows on Metamorphoses:

Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, adapted from Ovid’s anthology of Greek and Roman myths, was a surprise hit Off-Broadway a few years ago and was eventually transformed into a Broadway success. The production had a marvelously graceful cast and a beautiful central image: the stage was dominated by a shallow pool of
water, its shifting surface a metaphor for the stories of lovers turning into birds or literally dissolving in tears. Or perhaps it represented the origins of life, or the unconscious, or ... come to think of it, the concept was a little vague. But it was beautiful and that was enough. There is no such potent imagery in the humble Black Box Theater at The Boston Center for the Arts, where Boston Actor’s Theater is staging the play’s local professional debut, and the lack of theatrical fireworks makes it easier to spot a strange diffidence in the script.


The play’s first act takes for granted the relevance of these fables, but that straightforwardness gives way to a strange self-consciousness in the second act, as Zimmerman sets up a winking lecture from a psychiatrist about the Freudian underpinnings of mythology and enacts the story of Cupid and Psyche in dumb show while a narrator tells us that myths totally matter, dude. Ironically, this distances us from the material.

Larry Stark on Julius Caesar at the ART:

The biggest, clearest, boldest word on my ticket to "Julius Caesar" last night at the Loeb Drama Center was this one:


That made sense when I noticed it after enduring this chilly abstraction to the bitter End. At that point in this turgid monotone, visiting director Arthur Nauzyciel asked the entire fifteen-member A.R.T. cast to line up across the cavernous stage, back to the audience, and thus bow toward designer Riccardo Hernandez's drop-curtain representation of an enormous Cow Palace of empty seats. That gesture, making serious actors all show their asses to the paying public, is the perfect symbol of the A.R.T.'s "Mission" here in Cambridge --- their utter contempt for the people gullible enough to pay money and take these self-indulgences seriously.

A late, rushed insert to the program has a footnote in which Director Nauzyciel tried to justify his flat, pause-heavy, stultifying and ridiculously over-long reading of the play. Forced to remember the show, I found none of his assertions obvious on the stage. But then, any performance that needs a Footnote to become comprehensible is not worth the money nor the time wasted in seeing it.

I'm told I dozed occasionally in Act One. I could have slept better at home...

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