Monthly Archives: March 2012

Blood Knot at Signature Theatre

I hesitated a lot before writing this review. Normally, as you may have noticed, I like to start my posts with some sort of super long and rambly anecdote that is supposed to transport you, reader, on a fascinating but seemingly unrelated literary journey before, with miraculous seamlessness, tying in beautifully to my ultimate point about whatever play I am “reviewing”. (Truth in advertising: I said “supposed to” — I realize that it inevitably goes on way too long and probably doesn’t connect at all as perfectly as I would hope).

However, I had a hard time determining my “ultimate point” with regards to Signature Theatre Company’s revival of Blood Knot, currently in production at their beautiful new theatre complex on west 42nd street, and directed by the esteemed playwright.

I’m not sure exactly what it was about this production that left me so ambivalent. Perhaps it was the subject matter – like all of Mr. Fugard’s plays, Blood Knot (his first) focuses on racial tension and divisions in apartheid stricken South Africa. Not a subject matter I have any personal familiarity with, and one, given its damaging social and political impact and extensive history, that seems to demand tremendous sensitivity from any dumb American (like mineself) who would dare “critique” a work of art about it on any serious level.

I’ll admit that I “checked in” with my “pals” over at the NY Times before formulating this blog post. (And by “checked in” I mean, visited the nytimes website, and by “pals” I mean I went to the same school as Ben Brantley, and once I watched a lecture that he delivered wherein he waxed poetic about the terrible, doomed future of American theater — so we’re basically best friends.) According to this well reasoned review from Charles Isherwood, the acting performances don’t quite do justice to the play’s intricate construction, and fail to create the emotional impact otherwise accessible from this play. As in, this production of Blood Knot didn’t make him feel as devastated as he knew the play is capable of.

Morris and Zach - worlds apart

Unlike Mr. Isherwood, I was unfamiliar with the play before seeing it at Signature, so I had no ideal standard with which to compare it. Instead, the performances of actors Coleman Domingo and Scott Shepherd were to be my first introduction to Blood Knot. A few of my peers, with whom I saw the production, unknowingly echoed Mr. Isherwood’s opinion – they too felt unmoved by the play’s end. The play tells the story of Morris and Zachariah, grown men who share a mother but, since they have different fathers, have very different skin tones, a distinction that made every social difference in South Africa when the play was written in 1961. Although Morris can pass for white (“is” white?), he lives with his brother after spending several years away, caring for him, potentially out of some sort of filial guilt. Like all of Athol Fugard’s plays, Blood Knot is a super slow build, with a first act that has often been criticized as “action-less” and overly expositiony. But, like all of Fugard’s plays, the end is an explosion of emotion, ideally one that has been painstakingly earned over the course of the previous 100 minutes.

Colman Domingo and Scott Shepherd

A ludicrously simplified cliff’s notes version of Blood Knot‘s “explosive ending” would be thus: the two brothers come to realize that incredible social striations of their society are, perhaps, more deeply ingrained than any fraternal love they share. The catalyst for this emotional journey is Zach’s pen pal relationship, started via a newspaper advertisement, with a woman who turns out to be white, and the tension between the brothers when they make this realization. (As a black man, for Zach to be communicating with a white women in such a way poses a great risk). Although this threat is eventually resolved, the issues and anxiety it raises in the brothers winds up taking over.

it's cool guys - see! they're pals in real life

I’ll hand it to Mr. Fugard, who directed the production (and PS — can we talk about how freaking badass it is for a playwright to direct his own production? And at age 79??) — the staging is awesome. The play is staged in Zach’s shack of a home, which is situated on a raised platform and filled with old furniture and random props. Zach and Morris spend most of the play on this platform, “inside”, sleeping, cooking, and going about their routines. However, a sort of “play” is established when, in an attempt to troubleshoot the problem with Zach’s penpal, they explore the idea of Morris posing as Zach and meeting her – as a white man, the social danger would be mitigated for Morris. To explore this plan, they have Morris “practice” acting like a white man, interacting with Zach not as his brother but as a socially recognized superior race. (For those of you cringing while reading this – yup, it was massively cringe-worthy). Eventually, the “game” takes over, and Zach, on some masochistic or perhaps combative impulse, encourages Morris to really practice. Inspired, he begins pitching the contents of his home off the platform – first, he throws kitchen supplies, then knick knacks, household items, and suddenly he’s knocking the furniture and walls right off. They crash to the stage floor, loud as hell, while Zach smiles maniacally, leaving a bare platform for Morris to practice being a bastard on.

It’s a super theatrical moment, entirely unexpected in what has previously been a super realistic play, and it’s impact was extraordinary: terrifying, exhilarating, and left me breathless with frightened anticipation. It’s moments like these, (like ones that I’ve lauded in other performances) that make theater so fucking awesome. It took so little – just seconds of clearing a platform – for the two actors to completely subvert the world they’d created. In the best way.

That was by far my favorite moment of Blood Knot. Looking back, I, like Isherwood and my fellow audience members, must admit that I’m not sure the play’s climax reached the emotional level established by such an incredible physical set up. After that moment, I was legitimately afraid that one of the men was going to kill the other. Spoiler alert: they don’t – but I think the text would suggest that the place the brothers get to is just as devastating. So why did I, like Isherwood, not quite feel that? Perhaps, as some of my peers suggested, it had to do with the characterizations – both Morris and Zach read as caricatures at times, more concerned with mugging to the audience or being comical than hitting emotional levels. But that might be an unfair, surface level critique. I will admit, though, that even after 2 and a half hours, I didn’t feel like I knew either of these men on a fundamental, deep level that one can often get to with characters in a really kick ass play. In fact, there was a lot I didn’t know – and wanted to – about their history; obviously, this is meant to be one of the plays biggest, and most slowly revealed, mysteries, but I guess the reveal didn’t give me enough, in the end. Whether this is the fault of the text or the performance I don’t know, having never seen another production of Blood Knot. All I can say is I would probably commit a capital crime for the opportunity to have seen Blood Knot when it first premiered, starring Fugard as Morris and Zakes Mokae, a crazy-badass South African actor who has killed it in basically every Fugard play since, as Zach. Or, the Off-Broadway premiere in 1964, starring JD Cannon as Morris and James Earl Jones as Zach.

A quick word on Signature, for those of you unfamiliar: they recently finished constructing the previously mentioned theatrical complex on W 42nd street, and it is GORGEOUS. Three theaters, a big bar/cafe, and massive bathrooms, which is worth mentioning for anyone who has ever waited on line to use the bathroom in a theater. (Read as: any woman who’s ever been to the theater). I heard, too, that they designed the theaters so that the actors are forced to exit through the lobby — nothing like forced socialization! — but it means that you often see directors, playwrights, and actors mingling in the common space as the shows get out. I’m not lying, people: this space is like a theater-lovers wet dream. It is VERY MUCH worth seeing a show here just to experience the space. Right now they’re performing Blood Knot, my previously reviewed Lady From Dubuque, and Katori Hall’s Hurt Village.

Staircase in the FRANK GEHRY designed complex. CASUAL.

Interestingly, Signature Theatre Company is known for producing American works – Blood Knot is their first production by a non-American playwright (stole that tidbit from Isherwood’s article – thanks Ish! See, I can call him that because we’re best friends. Just kidding….Please don’t sue me, Ish. I mean, Mr. Isherwood). Anyway, Blood Knot is definitely an interesting pick, especially for their inaugural season.

I won’t lie – I don’t entirely get it.

But you know what? I’m also not complaining.

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The Lady From Dubuque at Signature Theatre Company

The one thing about going to a pretentious liberal arts college (i love you, Swat, but we both know it’s true) is that you’re either gonna nosedive into pretentiousville forever, or else, almost miraculously, you develop a pretty good bullshit detector. I flatter myself to think I fall into the latter category. At least, as I’ve mentioned once or twice before on this blog, I’m pretty damn conscious of the presentation of pretentiousness and/or bullshit in theater. If The Epic Adventure that is a Swarthmore College Seminar Room taught me anything, it’s that nobody likes the asshole in the corner “drawing everyone’s attention” to “levels of hegemony, didacticism, or insert-other-smart-sounding-word-here.”

A particularly formative moment in my theater education occurred during one such seminar: Performance Theory, wherein we were exposed to a whole lot of global theatrical traditions.  One week, my professor screened a documentary about the collaboration between composer Phillip Glass and “Avant Garde” director Robert Wilson on their 1975 opera Einstein On the Beach. I do not remember the name of the documentary, nor do I remember much about it at all. (It may have been this one? No clue)  I do, however, remember getting solidly fed up with what seemed like an elephant’s dose of horseshit. For those of you unfamiliar with Robert Wilson, dude is super avant garde. For those of you unfamiliar with Einstein on the Beach, opera is super avant garde. (And here I, like everyone else on the planet who uses the phrase “avant garde”, am not entirely sure of its precise definition, but am spreading it liberally – er, like butter, or cream cheese, or vegemite, for all my aussie readers – over a blanket amount of theatrical behaviors that I’m not quite sure how else to qualify.)

The Opera is crazy long, upwards of 5 hours, and I remember watching shots of the 1975 performance involving crazily dressed dancers/singers slowly lowering their hands, singing high, random tones over and over, or staring at things while walking sideways, and uhm… that’s about it. The audience was invited to come and go from the theater at will, I guess because the show was super long, and didn’t contain anything even remotely resembling a narrative to hook people or (I conjecture, here), keep them from becoming comatose with boredom.

Wilson was interviewed plenty of times throughout the documentary, and I remember him sounding KINDA like a tool and absolutely brimming with elitist confidence. Now, if I were fair or a legitimate writer, before paraphrasing the following quote, I would actually re-watch the doc, find the declaration in question, and assure you all, dear readers, that what I am about to say was indeed fairly attibuted to the speaker I am about to attribute it to. However, I am neither fair nor a legitimate writer, simply a self-satisfied one, so instead I am going to blunder on and callously recount what I recall of Wilson’s most toolish answer. As I remember it, he said something along the line of “It’s not my job or responsibility to endow meaning in my own work” — that he just MAKES IT, and it’s up to an audience to endow it with meaning.

Uhm.

What.

The.

Fuck.

It was at that moment, in that seminar, that I was “out”, if you will. If there’s one thing that 4 years of college seminars will teach you, it’s that pretentiousness for its own sake is the absolute fucking WORST. Sitting in that seminar room, watching that documentary, I became apoplexic with rage that some random dude had the fucking GALL to waste thousands of peoples’ time on an inaccessibly weird 5 hour opera and then freely admit that he didn’t have any particular intent in mind when creating it. Like, Bro: I will seriously go to see just about anything, and give you just about as much time as you want me to, but you better have a fucking INTENT on what your creating for me. Otherwise it is quite literally a waste of everyone’s time.

Now of course, that rage, and to a certain extent, that opinion, was borne out of collegiate resentment for the most esoteric form of academia. And also, there’s the (extremely probable) fact that I might not even be remembering Mr. Wilson’s quote all that well. Plus, a ton of people really love that nonsense. And are perfectly happy imbuing any performance with meaning even if it’s creator had none in mind during it’s creation. It’s just my weird thing, being a theater-maker myself, and understanding all too well what it is to create something that MEANS something to you…somehow I just don’t go for directors or writers or creators who don’t also consider the audience/artist exchange a sacred one, wherein the artist has intent to communicate something meaningful, at least to him/herself, and in exchange the audience member opens her/himself up to that possibility.

Also, to continue to qualify (let’s call this level-headed maturity, and not cowardly fear of taking a bolder stand), this past fall, I would venture to say I made a certain amount of peace with Mr. Wilson when I attended his creation of Three Penny Opera, as performed by The Berliner Ensemble, at BAM. The show was so unbelievably visually stunning that I refuse to even consider that he didn’t have some sort of underlying emotional resonance/intellectual thrust for his directorial decisions. Check it out, and try not to at least develop a baseline respect for the guy as an incredible visual artist.

Anyway, to the matter at hand: My relationship with playwright Edward Albee is short, but it exists: a few months ago, he appeared as a surprise guest in one of my grad school classes. It was crazy – and one of those moments when you really understand how it can be physically possible to shit your pants from excitement. (I didn’t, I’m just saying I could finally understand how it could be possible). Mr. Albee was brilliant, insightful, and, like so many great talents, healthily pretentious. He lectured at us for a while about writing, about his process, and about Art In General. It was inspiring and intimidating. And I’d be lying if I didn’t get a bit of that Robert Wilson “Figure It Out” vibe from Albee, as well. There’s not a quote I could stamp down that confirmed it, but it felt like, the same way Robert Wilson seemed to sit back, cross him arms, and demand his audience “discover” the meaning he was too (lazy? busy? thoughtful?) to imbue into his own opera, Albee expects his audience to do a fair amount of the legwork, too.

oh Albee, you brilliant bastard.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love doing legwork. I once had a four hour conversation with a friend after seeing the play Arcadia together – man did we try to pull that apart. But underneath that conversation was the implicit understanding, on my part, that Tom Stoppard created Arcadia with a clear blueprint for his insanely intricate text: that he knew what it meant. Or, at the very least, that he was aiming to express an empathy for his audience, to share with them a wonder and confusion over things mutually not understood.

There’s a big difference, for me, between that “I don’t get this either but man am I gonna try and help us all figure it out” impulse behind a play, and what I dislike the most about the play The Lady From Dubuque. The play, revived this season at Signature Theater Company, has been getting spectacular reviews and almost constant extensions for its production. And while I can certainly appreciate a lot of the things critics have been lauding – the performances are strong, the set intricate, and the direction clear – I can’t get over what I find a fundamentally frustrating aspect of the writing.

what does it mean?? people, what does it mean??

The story of The Lady From Dubuque starts at a dinner party, like so many of Albee’s plays. Sam and Jo are hosting their friends, and the conversation, biting at first, ultimately bitter, winds up revealing that Jo is suffering terribly from a terminal illness. After their friends leave, Jo and Sam try to confront the unsurmountable fact of her incredible pain and impending death. She goes to bed, screaming in agony, and Act 1 ends with the sudden unexpected arrival of the mysterious Lady From Dubuque and her equally mysterious friend Oscar.

In Act 2, Elizabeth (the Lady From Dubuque) and Oscar confront Sam, ultimately leading to a complete crisis of identity in him. Elizabeth is ostensibly there to comfort Jo in her dying moments, but questions abound: who ARE Elizabeth and Oscar? Is Elizabeth Jo’s estranged mother? Some sort of Angel of Death? Robbers, thieves, someone else entirely? The questions torture Sam, who basically combusts with the effort of answering them. When Sam asks Elizabeth “Who Are You?” she fires back her own “Who are you??” When it becomes clear that he cannot answer that question, she counters that he can’t possibly be concerned with who she is if he doesn’t even know who he is.

who IS she?! no, really: who the eff is she?

When the play first premiered, critics contended it was a play about death. Albee countered, and always has, that it’s a play about identity. I would submit (and here’s a real revolutionary thought) that it’s definitely about both. In fact, for me, the most compelling bit of this play is the way Sam appears to completely lose any sense of his own identity in the crisis of his wife’s illness. The experience of caring for someone with a terminal disease – of confronting death in such a tangible, certain way – is bound to have a fascinating and devastating effect on one’s identity, and is powerful fodder for a play.  I think Albee’s take on it, and the way he shows Sam descend into complete crisis, is nothing short of brilliant.

However, The Lady From Dubuque pisses me off. The same way Wilson, sitting back in his dumb NYC apartment being interviewed for that dumb documentary pissed me off. To me, they’re two sides of the same coin — Albee has no fucking idea who Elizabeth, the lady from Dubuque, is, and invented her, as far as I’m concerned, purely as a contraption to provoke his audience’s curiosity. But here’s the rub: I don’t like for my curiosity to be provoked if there’s no possible way to have it satisfied. I don’t have a problem if a playwright doesn’t tell me something. I definitely don’t have a problem “answering” questions of a play myself. But I don’t much like being provoked merely for its own sake. I don’t much like having to do work that a playwright hasn’t bothered to do. For me, the subtle but essential distinction is whether or not Albee, the playwright, “decided” for himself who Elizabeth was. If he did, even if he never “told” me in his play, then I’m all in. But if, as I have always suspected was the case in this play, he simply added as many provocative but ultimately ambiguous clues to her identity to ensure that an audience member could NEVER know, then I just feel like I’m being fucked with.

And by god, I don’t like being fucked with at the theater. I don’t like when an artist basically sits back and says “haha, deal with it: you’re never gonna figure this out…but I hope you spend hours and hours worrying about it.” Like, dude: no. I’m not gonna waste a second of my time fixating on a question if I feel like your only purpose in posing it was to pose it. Not to express a mutual frustration with unanswerable questions. Because guess what: Albee could VERY EASILY answer the question of who the lady from Dubuque is. HE MADE HER UP. HE CAN MAKE UP AN ANSWER, without sacrificing any of the best stuff in this play.

There’s no empathy is being deliberately cagey; there’s simply, if you ask me, arrogance. It take a whole lot of balls to write this play, and not the good kind. The obnoxious kind. The egotistical kind. The patronizing kind. There is nothing worse than being talked DOWN to, and the attitude it takes to create deliberately (and POINTLESSLY!) unanswerable questions is distinctly “talk downable”.

Pshew. Got that out of my system. Deep breaths, Jessie.

Listen, for all my ranting, I know that I can probably just go suck an egg. (That’s an expression, right?) People are loving this play, Albee is arguably the most celebrated American playwright of our time, his plays get performed absolutely everywhere, and I write a blog that gets a healthy 10 readers a day. So like, shut up, me. I never said my opinions weren’t subjective. I also never said that Edward Albee wasn’t a genius, and I never said I wasn’t glad to have seen The Lady From Dubuque. I never said I don’t respect him, tremendously, as a writer.

However, I can’t help feeling like, at the end of the day, I like feeling that playwrights are with me, not against me. That they’re on my side. That they, like, me, are completely overwhelmed by This Crazy Thing Called Life, and Its Crazy Cousin Death, and their attempts to write plays are simply that, attempts to get a little bit closer to something that can help us all survive – and thrive – in the human experience. That, rather than make us maddened or confused, they’re on our side.

At the very least, that’s the kind of theater I want to make.

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Look Back in Anger at the Laura Pels Theater (Roundabout Theater Company)

There’s a fantastic (read as: terrible) story in my family of That Time We Went To See A Production Of Twelve Angry Men. It was a while back – at some point when I was old enough to know how much I loved theater but also young enough to be fabulously emotionally immature (as opposed, of course, to my complete emotional maturity now. yikes.)

We were late. Mad late. As anyone who knows me now knows, this is no big surprise, but I promise you – when it comes to theater, I’ll fight as hard as I can against my natural lazy/late impulses to be on time. Because, if you ask me (and I know you did), there is Absolutely Nothing Worse than being late to a theatrical performance.

In the case of Twelve Angry Men, it was one of those ridiculous, emotionally strung out sequences where, running to the theater, all intellectual parts of myself knew that there is no chance of arriving on time, but something about the act of running couldn’t be stopped – logic was abandoned with the first, I’m-Super-Out-Of-Shape pant, until the running became an anxious expression all its own.

We didn’t make it. Sweaty and panting, we arrived at the theater a solid 10 unforgivable minutes into the start of the performance. Frustrated but not beaten, my parents prepared to allow an usher to lead us in. Which, in turn, ushered in the Jessie-Is-Way-Too-Old-To-Have-A-Temper-Tantrum-But-Is-Having-One-Anyway-Just-Go-With-It-Oh-Wait-Don’t-Because-This-Is-A-Preteen-Yes-Preteen-Literally-Having-A-Meltdown-In-The-Lobby-Of-A-Theater. To me, it was inconceivable to enter the theater 10 minutes late. I actually began sobbing at the thought. As far as I’m concerned, it puts me square in the ranks of those jerk theater goers I love to bitch about.  I imagined the shocked, judgmental looks of the hacks who were, at the very least, able to arrive at the show on time; the inconvenient grunts as people shifted resentfully. As my nightmare took over, I saw the actors, on the stage, stopping their performance to boo and jeer at the fools who didn’t even have enough of a modicum of respect to arrive at the scheduled performance time.

Was it rational? Hells to the no. But is it a glimpse into the way my anxiety-ridden, easily guilted brain works? For sure. It was a learning experience for my parents, too — from this point on, they understood my rational need irrational psychosis re: getting to shows on time. It led to a few panicked moments where my mother, stuck in traffic somewhere, recklessly pulled over so that I could jump out of a car and sprint the last couple blocks to a theater.

(**Idea for new exercise program: Constantly be late for shows. Literally the only running I ever do. Might have a permanent damaging effect on my nerves, though)

So, if you take anything from the last 416 words, let it be this: I fucking HATE being late to shows.

As anyone who’s ever lived in New York City knows, subways are fun things on the weekends. On the weekdays, the pressure of thousands (millions? no idea) of commuters tends to force at least a baseline of reliability, but on the weekends all bets are off. No disrespect to the hardworking folks at the MTA, who I’m sure get a lot of good construction done on the weekends, but sometimes it seems like they wait for Saturday and Sunday to just have fun fucking with people. Oh, you wanted to go to Williamsburg? Sorry, the L’s not running. At all. Did we not tell you that? Yeah…also, we’re gonna cut some other trains while we’re at it. Hey people who live in the outer boroughs! Someone told us that you guys like to get into Manhattan sometimes, too!?! Sorry, didn’t even occur to us…

If you’re a smart and dedicated reader, you’re probably starting to get a sense of where this is all going. Somehow, the lack of reliability on weekend NYC subways and my hatred of being late to shows is about to collide, right?!

Right. RIGHT.

Last Saturday, I think my brain checked out for a few hours, because I wound up leaving myself a woefully inadequate amount of time to get from Wall Street to midtown for Roundabout’s performance of Look Back In AngerLet’s call it temporary insanity. All I know is I found myself waiting for the 1 to arrive when the countdown clock (again, I assume just to enjoy toying with me), suddenly displayed the word DELAY instead of a number of minutes before the next train arrived.

Not to overdramatize, but…hang on! It’s my blog. And I’m dramatic! I will most definitely be overdramatizing! It was as though my heart dropped out of its chest sack. (“Chest sack”, that’s a thing, right? Listen. I never said I was in medical school). If anything can send me into an unearned, unnecessary mental spiral, it is something like that. When the (packed) train finally did arrive, and I mentally calculated how fast I was going to have to run from the 42nd street subway station, the shakes, and (god, I’m embarrassing), the tears started, too. It’s just SO. Damn. Disrespectful. To Be Late! And to make matters worse, yours truly had bought the tickets for someone who was waiting at the box office, who, without my ID, couldn’t even pick up the tickets for himself. Not only did my theater-going experience hang in the balance, but so did the theater going experience of an additional innocent. The stakes, my friends, could not have been higher.

Spoiler alert: I’m writing the blog entry about the show. I made it. After 5 blocks of terrible, I-really-should-start-an-actual-exercise-routine-and-not-count-simply-on-being-late-to-shows-once-a-month running, I showed up at the box office and was treated to no more than a few admonishing looks from ushers (although, that might have been the visual shock my pasty, sweaty, panting body, not the late-ness). Seats were taken just a few minutes before curtain, and BOY, WAS I IN THE MENTAL SPACE TO ENJOY A SHOW!

That’s a lie. The actual point of everything I’ve written thus far was that, when I showed up to Look Back In Anger last saturday night, I could not have been in LESS of a mood to see a show. I had cold sweats, I was anxious, I was feeling a lot less relief than I should have (and mostly just residual anxiety) about “just making it”, and of course, I was having flashbacks to an inappropriately-aged preteen crying in the lobby of Twelve Angry Men. One of my best moments.

There’s a point in here, somewhere, and it’s this: it was going to take a hell of a lot for me to be engaged with a show at that point.

So the fact that I now tell you that Look Back in Anger was, by far, one of the greatest productions I’ve seen in recent memory, should mean something.

Within minutes, all thoughts of theater-going lateness were forgotten. I was completely absorbed in what was a fucking fantastic production of John Osborne’s 1956 play. Good on you, Roundabout.

See this play. See it see it see it see it.

Look Back In Anger is one of those plays I’d heard of – I knew Osborne was British, part of the Angry Young Men crew – but never studied or focused on in any major way. It’s a play that most theater folks are aware of, at least peripherally, as being Important and Significant, if not slightly, well, forgettable.

The play is a relationship story, written by a postwar generation that was feeling slightly disillusioned with the state of the world after WWII. Allison and Jimmy are married, but Jimmy’s angsty frustration with his lot in life and Allison’s impassiveness in the face of it make for troubled times between the two. It’s aggravated by the presence of Cliff, a friend of Jimmy’s who Allison enjoys cuddling with and kissing in front of her husband (yeah…). When Allison’s friend Helena shows up, who Jimmy just happens to hate, things get cray-cray. Couples are scrambled up and remade. Angst is angst-ed about. Passion, frustration, boredom and apathy all sort of converge in one emotion filled, shitty apartment just like hundreds of thousands of similar shitty apartments in England in 1956. Or, perhaps, in New York City in 2012.

Adam Driver and Matthew Rhys

It would not be an understatement to say that nearly everything about this play felt like it was speaking directly to “me”, to “my generation”. I think the play’s strength is that I would not be alone in feeling that way — most likely the older members of the audience got a lot out of it, too. But director Sam Gold’s production felt like it was keying in perfectly to something essential in the frustration that, well, all young people, and especially young people inhabiting troubling peripherally “unstable” times feel. This play takes a very, very personal story – there is nothing more personal than a 4 person relationship drama – but uses it to key into an essential, universal frustration of an entire generation…and, subsequently, a generation decades after it.

Matthew Rhys, Adam Driver, and Sarah Goldberg

It must have been thrilling, in the 50s, to go to the theatre and see a play that you felt was speaking directly to you. To hear a playwright, actors, a director, saying “yeah, we get it. Life feels long and boring and purposeless sometimes and you feel immeasurably frustrated to have been born in a generation so close to so much but so passively far from everything.” It must have felt a lot like I felt, last Saturday night, when I went to Roundabout Theater Co’s production of this play, and realized that over 50 years ago John Osborne so perfectly captured such a compelling moment in time that, it turns out, would be hyper relevant so many years down the line.

And oh yeah — the freaking actors freaking killed it. (You can tell when I’m getting passionate about something, by the way, because of how liberally I’ll begin to use the words “freaking” and “fucking”). I don’t flatter myself to assume anyone of importance is reading this blog, but regardless, just for kicks, maybe, I have to give a massive shout out to Adam Driver, Charlotte Parry, Sarah Goldberg, and Matthew Rhys, who made up this phenomenal cast. Sometimes I see a play and I think “well, the person who wrote it was smart, and the director seems smart, and those actors…uhm. are pretty? and good at memorizing lines?” And sometimes, the best times, I see a play and think “Those actors fucking get it.” Like, the way the chicks in this tumblr fucking get it (I love that tumblr). These actors, in case you were wondering, FUCKING GET IT.

oh hey charlotte parry. you killed it.

I have to end this blog on a sad note. Here’s why theater in New York is gut wrenching. I saw what I think is one of the greatest productions in this city of 2012 (IMHO), a production so good, it was able to pull me out of my Late Arrival Mental Breakdown….and the house wasn’t even full. Wasn’t even CLOSE to full. And the average age of the audience was probs like…68. Or 69. I mean, god bless old people, because they freaking GO to theater, but young people! Where are you!? Roundabout, especially, works hard as hell to make their stuff accessible – witness hiptix, their $20 ticket program for people under 30. THEY COULD NOT MAKE THIS ANY EASIER FOR US. Please, if you are reading this, and you are even the slightest bit interested, GO SEE LOOK BACK IN ANGER. It’s awesome. It’s everything that theater should be: present, compelling, provocative, urgent, beautiful and exciting. You literally could ask for nothing more.

Except, perhaps, for reliable weekend subway service in New York City. But now I’m just getting greedy.

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