Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Austin's Bridge

I saw Austin's Bridge last Thursday, my third show in two weeks. Reminiscent of when I used to see a show a week; those were the days...

I'll link to my full review as soon as it's posted but as you will find out when you read it, I wasn't totally enthralled with this show (it's posted -- you can read it here). My biggest problem was that I didn't ever care about the main character, Austin, as much as I did about several of the other characters, particularly Ronald, Ruth, and Diane. I didn't find the transition Austin went through in the first act very believable -- his dramatic transition from shallow opportunist to caring guardian just didn't work for me.

I was disappointed because the cast members all had excellent voices and, starting with Robin Harris Jones's first number, I was thinking the songs would carry the show nicely. (Small point, but the program didn't list the name of any of the songs which was a little annoying...) (Other quick aside: I've loved Robin Harris in just about everything I can remember seeing her in. I hope she lands another high profile lead sometime soon.) But somewhere around the end of the first act, they all started running together in my memory. Especially after seeing "Into the Woods" which has so many distinctive songs, I felt more variety in song structure was needed. But that's a hard one to judge after just one listen -- I wish I had a CD of the score to take home to give it another listen.

Just like with "The Tempest," I heard more opinions about this show than I usually do. A couple people absolutely loved it, but I was told second-hand that one person (a retired "critical" person who most local theater vets know...) thought it a bit of a mess. I tried considering the show for a while as a writer's problem: how would I change the structure so that it worked better for me? I guess I would change the focus more to Ronald and Ruth and make Austin a subsidiary character. But that would be hard given that the show is..um...kind of about him. So then I went back to writing my review...

Anyway, feel free to weigh in with your opinion of the show if you saw it. Or even if you didn't. Maybe you like the poster? All opinions accepted.


Robinitaface said...

We have no delusions about what works about the show and what...could use some tweaking? It is, like you said, a work in progress.

When working on a show like, say, "Into the Woods" (while practically perfect in every way) if you find what you think might be a flaw, there's nothing you can do about it (Although, good luck finding a flaw). When working on a new show like this, we actually have the luxury of bringing up points like the ones you mentioned...to the playwright sitting directly in front of us! Some of them could be worked through, some of them could not in the amount of time we had. Hopefully, though, we're proving that we have a show that is worth taking those points and working them through in the future.

One thing you can say for sure...Mr. Davis accomplished his goal of getting his show performed his way, before it possibly starts getting hammered away by the chisels of New York.

Oh, and thank you so much for the kind words about my previous works as well. They meant a lot.

Robin H-J

Dave T said...

Hello, Ms. Harris-Jones! It’s great to hear from you! Also, I like your blog (particularly the link to me… :-> ) Do you mind if I list you on the front page with all the other show folks? And of course, great congratulations on your relatively recent nuptials. I wish you many years of wedded bliss…that is, as long as your beloved has no problem with you doing shows. If he were to stand in the way of that, I’d have to advise you to drop the bum.

To expand on a couple of things:

It sounds like the process of development of Austin’s Bridge at the Firehouse has been a very positive experience, which is great, and I think the show has a great deal of potential. I like the general trajectory of the Austin story – shallow guy finds meaning (and a good woman) while hiding from the law. I also like the dynamics of the home: the Ronald-Ruth story, the backstory of Diane’s boyfriends being sent away, the two-tier structure of residents between the rich kids and state wards. It all makes for a hotbed of conflict, and that’s the stuff of good drama. But it almost feels like two stories – a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” story dealing primarily with the “citizens,” and a coming-of-age tale featuring Austin. That’s why I think it’s a very hard challenge to integrate the two into a satisfying mix. As it is, I think the “citizen” stories get short shrift in the pursuit of the Austin story.

Also, as I say in the review, the show deals in some really dark stuff. Ronald and Ruth seemingly have little hope of a regular life and yet they’ve found this great, abiding, unexpected love. The attempts to keep them separate are cruel and the fact that they’ll never be together in a traditional sense is tragic. But in the context of the show, their story is primarily a vehicle for allowing Austin to see how shallow his life is. As good as those characters are (and they’re just the most prominent of the two – why is Charles so focused on the weather?), they deserve a more complete story and resolution (in my opinion, of course).

Finally, just to fill to be more complete in my positive remarks about you: one thing I particularly like about you is that you are one of those performers who has a powerful, beautiful voice but who never seems to be pushing it. Your costar Mr. Maupin is similar – there’s no strain visible as you two deliver those big booming notes. It’s a trait that many of my favorite performers share (Debra Wagonner, Robyn O’Neill, Larry Cook, etc.) You also look innocent and sweet, regardless of what you are doing or saying on stage. A trait that I think would make you great in a role as a serial killer or something…

Anyway, thanks for the comment and good luck with the rest of your run!

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Thanks first for the compliment about the vocals. We've really had some terrific help from both the composer and our fantastic music director Mark Andquist. (And what Robin and Jeremy and Angie bring to the table here vocally -and otherwise- has scared the crap out of me and sent me clammoring to improve!)

From the completely (and fully admitted) non-objective standpoint of one being in the show, I don't feel as if I'm in a work in progress because it was never introduced to me as a "workshop" but as a "production". (Naive actor I guess.) So it did take me a bit by surprise that the review focused on that aspect of the production.

I do not disagree that the play is more about Ronald/Ruth than about Austin. I do however completely disagree (and this may be my complete non-objectivity) that it is tragic that Ronald and Ruth are not able to be together in a traditional sense. I find it refreshing and (to use a word that has been associated with this show way more than one would like to hear a word:) beautiful that these two people know what they want, attain what they want, and are happy. Or are they? "I wish." (Joke.)
They have the "I will see you after" to pull them through. That is what fulfills their life and now they have it. Maybe they'll be back together someday, maybe not. But they'll always be "married" and that truly is beautiful.

That being said, I do acknowledge that your response as an audience member is much more valid than mine as a performer, since the audience is why we do this.

I greatly appreciate your honest and sound opinions. As disappointing as they might be to hear, it's very good to have a strong critic keeping us on our toes.

Faults in Into the Woods...oh yes...brilliant as Sondheim is(there's no composer I love more) everything has room for improvement, whether major plot shifting (as you think should be the case with Austin's Bridge), or just some tweaking (that whole mysterious man convention...come on now...)

Robinitaface said...

In re-reading my comment, I discover that it may come across with a hint of sour-grapes. If it did, I certainly didn't intend for it to. I guess that's why I'm not a writer. ;-)

I must say, there's not a point that I can, nor would really want to argue in your review. As far as writing interesting characters though, which do you sacrifice? Do you keep ALL of the citizens superficial to make Austin's journey more prevalent? As you point out, they're more than just quaint "special needs" people, just like who said. Which characters go on the chopping block?

What if someone not directly involved with the writing of the play had directed it? That objective third eye can make all the difference for the audience. Perhaps even a different set with "Austin's Bridge" always in view as the impetus for change (be it for Austin or the Village)...not to bash on Bill or Ed in any way. Simple what if's to ponder.

Moving on...

By all means, put me on your links!
Thanks for the blissful wishes! No worries. The New Hubby, Matt, is so supportive of the theatrical career, we're planning a move to NYC in the fall! We'll see what happens!

Finally...thank you again for your compliments. My college voice teacher, Dr. Gene Galvin, thanks you too.