Thursday, November 30, 2006
It's kind of fascinating, this pulling of quotes from reviews for ads. Maybe Judi C. will post something someday about what goes into it. Are specific adjectives important (in the "OTRATTW" ad, "remarkable" is pulled from my review)? Are there marketing angles that are being highlighted (e.g., Mr. Creasy's mention of the play being "in the spirit of the season")? It usually doesn't occur to me until long after I've written my review that it might be excerpted for an ad. And the few times I've written something and thought, "hey, that'd be a perfect quote for an ad," that particularly clever turn of phrase has gone completely unnoticed every single time. So it goes.
The best anecdote along these lines that I have is one year when the Firehouse put out a season schedule flyer that had two quotes from me on it. However, at the time, I was writing for Style as D.L. Hintz and for 64 Magazine under my real name so they could use me twice without appearing to pull from the same source. Pretty tricky!
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
In perusing the weeklies we get at the T house, I saw this article on Tom Stoppard’s “The Coast of Utopia” and there’s a neat little piece on the design of Mary Poppins’ house for the Broadway production. This last one isn’t the same without the picture – grab the magazine next time you’re at Barnes and Nobles and check it out.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
I say “appropriate” because Mystery Dinner Theater more than anything else seems like a great business model. It’s been interesting to see the company succeed and continue to expand. It also brings out a bit of a conflict in me and perhaps in other people, as well. There’s a bit of a snob in me that thinks that the MDT shows should not even be considered in the same ballpark as “artistic” shows like the ones the Barksdale, the Firehouse, etc. put on. When I think of MDT, I think in business terms: they have a fairly generic “product” that they repackage regularly to keep people interested. And clearly people like the product and continue to buy it.
That might sound a little cynical or condescending. But then I reflect on it a little and realize that it’s really what every theater does. You can look at the Barksdale’s move back into Hanover Tavern, for instance, and see that the product they’ve decided to sell out there is family-friendly classics. And clearly, that product is selling. Theatre IV sells kids shows, plain and simple. And they do a great job and the crowds come in and have a good time. So why, I wonder, am I just a touch disdainful about MDT? Am I holding on to this vague and highbrow notion that “art” shouldn’t be about commerce? Does a production have to big words or complicated themes or pretty sets to count as ‘theater’ in my narrow version of what theater is? Do I need to come down off my high horse of critical distance and mingle with the people a little? Regardless of how ‘important’ a show is, if nobody sees it, does it still make a sound?
I've added Mystery Dinner Theater to my "Producers" list to the left there in an effort to get over myself.
Friday, November 24, 2006
I don't mean to make this blog a continuing rant on any specific subject but Mr. Neman at the T-D just continues to get my goat. In the past few days, there have been sterling examples of what annoys me about him. First, there's the lazy use of 'we' that I've mentioned before. In his review of 'Bobby,' there's this:
"There is simply nothing intrinsically compelling about any of them, so we find ourselves bored and checking our watches with increasing frequency."
No, Dan, YOU checked your watch. We, who are reading, most likely haven't even seen the movie and so our watches weren't even close to the theater.
Then, there's the pseudo-cleverness that ends up just being kind of dumb, like in his appreciation of Robert Altman which ends like this:
"But no one quite made movies like Altman. To honor him best, we should stand around at a party talking about him, and let his microphone pick out the conversations he thinks are best."
OK, I get the idea -- sort of -- but it's expressed so badly that it ends up not really making sense.
Why does this annoy me so much? Because this is what Richmond readers are being trained to think is real criticism. But what they are getting, in fact, is lazy, bad writing. It also drives thinking people away from the T-D to read real film critics at The New Yorker or the Washington Post or really anywhere else.
Of course, there are people who would say, well, he's annoying you but you are still reading him. In fact, maybe by annoying you, he's actually making you a more fervent reader of the T-D. Actually, the exact opposite is true. I used to read the T-D Arts or Style sections cover to cover (as it were). Now, half of the time I skip over the movie reviews and -- though I like Ms. Ruggieri's writing style -- I only read the music articles if they are about an artist I have heard of (a diminishing pool, unfortunately). And theater reviews -- well, sometimes I can't find them to read them so I miss them oftentimes now too.
So, I guess in keeping with the spirit of the holiday, maybe what I should say is that I'm thankful for the website RottenTomatoes which gives me easy access to a whole host of movie reviewers who give me more insightful and clearly stated opinions on movies than what I can find in my daily paper.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
And here’s the my review of “Over the River…” for your consideration.
But for our December trip, it’s going to be “A Chorus Line” and “Wicked.” All of “the girls” wanted to see “ACL” and, through some tremendous good fortune and some most welcome generosity, we got killer seats for “Wicked,” so can’t argue with that. I’m still intrigued by “Spring Awakening” and would like a chance to see either “History Boys” or “A Drowsy Chaperone” before they disappear.
And finally, here’s a bit of cool news: Kevin Spacey will be playing on Broadway next spring in “A Moon for the Misbegotten.” I’d love to see that.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Having said that, this is the season that being able to see shows because you want to is much preferable to seeing them because you have to. And with all of the productions around, there will still be plenty to talk about in this little corner of cyber-space.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
What I respect about Ms. Haubenstock in this review, however, is the line "...they say marginally funny things that repeatedly amused the opening-night audience, but left me cold." For one thing, it acknowledges that the audience was having a good time which I think is important, particularly if you weren't. And for another, it describes pretty succinctly an experience I've had before where I'm sitting amongst people laughing riotously and I'm wondering what it was they smoked or drank before curtain to make them so impossibly giddy. On one level, I think there is a sort of fundamental difference between a regular theater-goer and a critic in that, since the average person has paid money, they really want to have a good time (particularly if the ticket price is exceedingly high). On another, humor works in different ways for different people on different nights. My sister can sit through a Monty Python movie without cracking a smile while I dissolve into a giggling, sputtering puddle on the floor.
Anyway, this is one of those times when I disagree with -- yet respect -- the critic in question. There are plenty of times (like when reading a Daniel Neman review, for instance), when neither agreement nor respect is part of the equation.
I also spoke to several people on Sunday who are either in or involved with "Mame" and they said opening night went off well, though the last week before opening was a bit hectic (like 98% of productions, I expect). I also got the news that "Snowflake's" star wrenched his back and so Theatre IV is going to be hastily putting together a replacement production. Man, T4/Barksdale just seems to be getting hit with these kinds of curveballs lately (last minute cast changes, leaky roofs, etc.) While these are the times that try men's (and women's) souls, I expect the highly functional crew at T4 will come out of this just fine (knock wood). "Snowflake" was a bit of a tough sell anyway -- a silent clown for the holidays? I'm sure he's as magical as they say, but still, I was hemming and hawing on going and there were probably lotsa other folks in the same boat.
Finally, I had this totally surreal interlude at Lowe's on Saturday where a complete stranger walked up to me saying very emphatically "You should really..." just as I was answering a call on my cell phone from my lovely wife. So, I had to very upruptly shush this stranger while I completed a 5 minute phone call involving the very intricate and confusing details of which light switch plates I should buy. I expected this strange man to simply walk away since clearly I did not work at Lowe's (or was their most clueless employee) and was not going to be available to talk with him anytime soon. He stuck it out, however, and when I hung up he completed his sentence: "You should really take your boys..." -- I had my two youngest with me -- "...to see 'Amahl and the Night Visitors.' It's a great show and your boys would love it and I don't know why they don't do more to advertise it but I'm telling everyone because it is simply a great show and the boy who's in it this year -- sometimes it's a black boy but this year it's a white boy -- he is just fantastic..." at which point I had to stop him to tell him that I knew perfectly well that it was a great show, that I had seen it before, but please do go on and spread the word to as many other people as possible because gosh darn it, word of mouth is the best advertizing there is, even if it is some strange man who walks up to you at Lowe's.
When he walked away I couldn't help but wonder, do I just look like someone who wants to hear about theater?
Friday, November 17, 2006
1. “Patrick Dennis” was one of several pseudonyms for the man born Edward Everett Tanner III.
2. Dennis published his first four novels under the name "Virginia Rowans".
3. In 1956, with Auntie Mame, The Loving Couple: His (and Her) Story, and Guestward, Ho!, Dennis became the only writer ever to have three books on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.
4. In Dennis's later years he left writing to become a butler, a job that his friends report that he enjoyed. At one time, he worked for Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's. Although he was at long last using his real name, he was in essence working yet again under a pseudonym; his employers had no inkling that their butler, Tanner, was the world-famous author Patrick Dennis.
Also, my little ole blog got a little slice of love from the "South of the James" blog as part of a piece on the Richmond Marquee magazine. I guess I've been a little sheltered in my little corner of the blogosphere. I'll have to branch out and see what other Richmond area blogs are out there, when I get some of that elusive treasure: free time! Thinking I'll ask for some for Christmas...2012.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I’m curious what ever happened to Dipietro’s “Memphis” that was getting some try-outs a couple of years ago. Did he kick that to the curb so he could focus on “All Shook Up,” a high-concept musical (all Elvis songs) that just seemed like a bad idea to me. Though the New York Times said that, compared to other so-called ‘juke box’ musicals, ASU “actually rates as slicker and more skillful than most,” the show was generally damned by similarly faint praise. For instance, the NYT review went on to say “Were it staged in a pint-size theater with cardboard scenery and a campy young cast, "All Shook Up" might be a moderate hoot. But inflated to the proportions demanded by a glamour barn like the Palace, it becomes a mind-numbing holler.”
“All Shook Up” is currently touring nationwide, though nowhere really close to Richmond. A show that might be worth a trip out of town though is the regional tour of “Doubt,” which will feature Cherry Jones in the cast. That tour is coming to DC, Baltimore, and Charlotte, NC. I’m thinking I’ll be heading north to check it out come springtime.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Also, be sure to pick up next week’s Style that will feature a theater-related cover story. Is your curiosity peaked?
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
And I must add that I have trouble thinking of Joan Crawford and Triangle Players together without a vision of Robert Throckmorton sneaking in. Where for art thou, Robert?
Smoke on the Mountain: Feb. 23 – Apr. 29
The Odd Couple: May 18 – Aug. 5
Deathtrap: Sept. 7 – Oct. 21
Dames at Sea: Nov. 16 – Jan 20, 2008
My initial impressions: a) excited about "Smoke." I haven’t seen a production of it since the Mill’s triumphant production years ago (yes, I’m biased!), 2) wary of "The Odd Couple." My recollection is that this is not a play that has aged so well. The recent Broadway production with Broderick and Lane did not get very favorable reviews, if I remember correctly. III) Think both "Deathtrap" and "Dames" could be great, totally depending on the casts. I don’t have a particular affection for either of the scripts but the right people involved – like with most shows – can make for some excellent fun.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Clearly, Ms. Haubenstock at the T-D was fond of your performances as well. Here’s hoping for full houses for you all through the holidays!
Friday, November 10, 2006
I won't get a chance to see the production but I did run into a friend who left the show at intermission. Not exactly an endorsement. But please go see it yourself and let me know what you think.
I’m adding a link to Andrew Hamm’s blog below in the “No People Like Show People” section. Based on what I’ve read, Mr. Hamm writes at length about many interesting topics, not just theater. I’ve enjoyed reading his take on the political scene over these past weeks; not necessarily agreed with his take, but enjoyed reading it just the same. He also gets a lot more comments than I do so is a more enjoyable and provocative writer, has more friends than I do, or most likely, both. My impression is that a debate between Mr. Hamm and Mr. Wichmann would prove verrrrry interesting...
Thursday, November 09, 2006
In his comment, the director Andrew Hamm, largely captured my sentiments (and was way too nicely complimentary to me). I’d only add two things:
1) There’s a bit of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation when it comes to mentioning race in some contexts. For instance, Richmond Shakespeare had Foster Solomon, a black man, playing Hamlet several years back. In my review, I didn’t mention his race at all, calling him “tall, bald and impassioned” but never calling him African-American. Why? Because I didn’t think it mattered in terms of either the production or his performance. A couple of weeks ago, Amy Beigelsen wrote a review of “Steel Magnolias” where she mentions race explicitly. Why? Because race matters in that production; for instance, it prompted some changes to the script to make the cultural references more appropriate. In both of these cases, I think the reviewers did the right thing.
2) In my review, I said the director did not call undue attention to the play’s racial overtones. Something NOT done is hard to describe, so let me do the reverse to illustrate what I mean. In Rick St. Peter’s production of “Taming of the Shrew” at the Barksdale several years ago, Rick blocked one of the fights between Kate and Petruchio as a boxing match, complete with a ring and gloves. That was calling heaps of attention to the play’s “battle of the sexes” overtones.
Finally, one last point (or maybe more exactly, plea for leniency), when you read any review, mine or anybody else’s, remember the writer usually has a relatively tiny amount of space (300 to 500 words) to capture plot, overall impression of the production, specifics on individual performances, and technical merits. For some perspective on how little that is, this post up to right here is about 400 words. Not much space.
If you happen to be planning to go to Las Vegas or Los Angeles in the next couple of days, you could consider trying out for the new reality TV show looking for the leads for “Grease.” Who knows? You could be the next Carrie Underwood! Meaning that, at the next Tony Awards, maybe you’ll get dissed by someone like Patti LuPone when you win best actress the way Faith Hill dissed Carrie.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
My boss asked me for a recommendation; he was looking to take his 7th grade daughter to a play. She is taking her first drama class and was encouraged to go see a professional production since she had never seen one before. (This last bit is of course a little astonishing to me given that my kids were generally IN shows before their first birthday, let alone attending them…) One of the recommendations I gave was CAT’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” I was a little hesitant because, as I remember it, the play has some pretty sophisticated humor in it amongst the silliness, and also over the years I have seen the occasional marginal production at CAT.
Well, apparently, his daughter was enchanted by the play and sat rapt in attention throughout, laughing frequently. Now she is totally psyched about theater and, just today, my boss came and asked for yet another recommendation (watch out, Plaids!) Anyway, I guess my point is that, even when you are toiling away in a show and you are deep into the run and the house isn’t very big and you frankly would rather be at home sipping hot chocolate, you might consider that your audience might include an impressionable youngster experiencing her first show. And your performance may make the difference between that youngster becoming a new and excited theater lover or just another teenage videogame slacker.
And thanks, by the way, all you good folks at CAT for helping me gain points with the boss. I appreciate it.
My preview piece on “Medea” is up on the Style website. For your enjoyment…
As a Webb supporter, I’m psyched to see that it is looking like he will pull out a victory, though there probably won’t be any certainty to it for weeks or months even.
But in a piece of election news that I found both sublime and ridiculous, I was amused to read that Britney has filed for divorce from K-Fed. Looks like the Brit-ster was voting for a change on election day just like the rest of America.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Bravo to 'Brick' by the way for pretty consistently including theater in its coverage. And when I was out trying to find Brick's website, I came across this site for another Brick magazine that is pretty fascinating as well. Just what we all need, another fascinating way to lose a couple of hours of sleep!
Monday, November 06, 2006
I also screwed up by insinuating that Scott Wichman would be playing just one character in “Mme. Bonnard’s Bath.” As pointed out in Ms. Haubenstock’s not-too-enthusiastic review, Scott plays five characters, relative child’s play compared to the 14 thousand or so he did in “I Am My Own Wife.”
Last week, I was able to squeeze in an interview with Heather Davies and Mary Vreeland, director and star respectively, of “Medea” which starts at TheatreVCU this Thursday. It was one of those interviews that makes this theater writing gig worthwhile as both women were extremely intelligent and engaging and knowledgeable and just plain nice, too. We talked for more than an hour, even though the finished article will only be 300 words long. I easily could have written an 800-word lead story on them, they had so many good things to say. It was also one of those interviews that makes me glad that I married such a lovely and talented woman years ago. Otherwise, I would currently be struggling with a school-boy crush on Ms. Davies which would be bad for at least two reasons: 1) school-boy crushes are much less dignified when you are over 40 and 2) she is undoubtedly flying back to England within a week or two. Ms. Davies reminded me both in resemblance and general demeanor very much of Kate Winslet, who would be my supreme school-boy crush, if of course I wasn’t over 40 and above all that. So instead of staring into space and writing “Heather” with hearts instead of the “e”s all over my English composition notebook, perhaps I’ll buy my lovely wife some flowers on the way home from work today…
Friday, November 03, 2006
What I would hope with “Miserables” is that Clay MacLeod Chapman, who is an amazing writer, shows growth as a dramatist. As I said in this review of his “Volume of Smoke” at the Firehouse a while back, Clay does individual scenes very well. But connecting them together in a trajectory of some sort and establishing characters whose relationships grow and change is still something I haven’t seen a lot of in his work. Some of his most intriguing characters in his “Pumpkin Pie Show” stories have been outsiders, misfits or otherwise estranged. For someone so good at capturing estrangement, developing connections dramatically seems to have proven a challenge. I say this with the caviat that I haven’t read most of his stories or his novel and with a reiteration that I have found some of his individual scenes, vignettes and images absolutely stunning.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Nudity. Obviously, this play's going to have some of that. Plays that I've seen that had nudity in them always stick out in my memory. Sometimes because the use of it has been organic and particularly effective (like the Barksdale's "Misfits" about 5 years ago), sometimes because it was jarring and out of place (a play called "Big Love" I saw at the Humana Festival many years ago started out with a woman emerging from a bath tub for no apparent reason). And in one unusual case, it's been because of both.
Maybe about 6 years ago, Triangle Players did a production of "The Judas Kiss," that starts out with a passionate interlude between a couple of servants. The RTP production had Stephanie Kelley playing one of the servants and the scene was blocked so that she stood up in the bed so her bedmate could "pleasure her orally" as one might say. Well, it was an effective way to get an audience's attention, that's for sure, and that scene has stuck in my mind ever since. The only problem was that the rest of the play was a moderately boring talk-fest and never matched the visceral intensity of those first few minutes.
I guess I think that in the best situations, nudity is just a natural aspect of a play, just like it is a natural aspect of life (I've got 4 kids; not many days go by when one of them isn't running around naked at some point...) From what I remember, "Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune" has a couple of scenes like that, where people are naked because it's a situation where they would be naked in real life, you know? I guess Americans are so repressed about the whole nudity thing it's hard to just take it at face value. For instance, remember the big hullabaloo when Nicole Kidman appeared naked in a scene in "The Blue Room" on Broadway?
I don't have a specific point here, just some ramblings. Hope "The Secret" turns out well. I'm looking forward to seeing Scott as just one character for a change, instead of 6 dozen...
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
I was happy to get a "no hard feelings" kind of response from Mr. Schmidt, one of the subjects of my "People Hate Critics" rant (scroll to bottom). I do certainly hope we have a chance to share a laugh (and maybe a beer) someday and talk about "Caesar" and onstage flubs and politics and pals who get your back. I'll buy. Do you know where I can find a good babysitter?
I hope you caught Ms. Biegelsen’s review of “Steel Magnolias” in today’s Style. There’s a possibility that yet another Style reviewer will be covering “Mme. Bonnard’s Bath.” If all goes well, this town will be positively infected with theater critics!
And while I’m on the subject of the Firehouse, I’d like to throw something out there that might stir the soup a little. The Firehouse has had an on-going relationship with Israel Horovitz for many years now. If I remember right, it was initiated back when Director Bill Patton was doing shows more regularly at there. I’m sure there are many interesting and exciting things that come out of this collaboration. But I also wonder how much it ultimately benefits the Firehouse. Here’s why I wonder that:
--- There are not many people outside of the already somewhat insular world of theater that know who Israel Horovitz is. Even within the theater world, people may not be familiar with “Line” or “The Indian Wants the Bronx” or the other big shows that launched the playwright’s career. So I guess I wonder whether his name is bringing more or different people to the Firehouse. More stuff by younger, hipper writers might be more effective (like Clay MacLoed Chapman’s “Volume of Smoke” which they did a while back).
--- This may just be my impression, but some of the plays by Mr. Horovitz that have been produced by the Firehouse have seemed not quite polished. The last they did, for instance, “Compromise,” had many intriguing elements that might have ultimately gelled into something truly compelling. But, in my mind, it still seemed a work in progress. (I should say that at least two of my friends whose opinions I respect a great deal really enjoyed “Compromise.” So maybe it’s just me…)
--- Lastly, not since “Lebensraum” has one of his shows really grabbed me. And much of the impact of that one was that it was such an interesting idea. The novelty of the premise carried it through some of the rough spots. Nothing since has struck me as particularly good.
I guess my ultimate question is: In a world full of exciting plays and only a limited number of spots on a season schedule, is the Firehouse hampering itself by so closely aligning itself with Mr. Horovitz?
And to be fair, part of this rant may spring from my frustration that there aren’t more places that new and challenging and even bizarre works can be seen in Richmond. I appreciate what Yellow House and RTP have done occasionally, and what Sycamore Rogue looks like it’s trying to do, but I have to say, I still really miss Theatre Gym.