Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New York: Awakening

I don’t know if it’s intensified because of having kids and because it’s so rare that my wife and I truly get to leave them behind, but there’s this amazing feeling that overtakes me when I drive away from my house to head off on a trip like I did last Friday. First, there’s the mix of trepidation and foreboding, wondering if there’s a key instruction that we’ve forgotten to communicate to Gramma and whether everyone will behave. Then, all at once, the burden of responsibility lifts off me like a blanket being blown aside by the wind and I realize that, yes, after all those weeks of anticipation, we are truly leaving town.

One of the best things about that feeling is it allows the more petty annoyances of life to fall to the side. Our flight has a one-hour delay? Big deal! I’m in an airport, reading quietly and calmly, and there are no children around. What could be so wrong?

So the first night in New York we are hoping we can sneak in a viewing of Eliza Skinner’s one-woman show, “Eliza Skinner is: Shameless!” before running off to “Spring Awakening.” As luck and logistics would have it, her show is at 7pm, lasts just 30 minutes, and it’s a straight shot up 8th Avenue to the Eugene O’Neill for “Spring.” We have just enough time to check into our hotel, check out our room, call down to get our room switched (twin beds??? Sorry, that’s not going to work), unload our stuff in our new room, and change for the show. We go looking for a quick bite – hoping for Thai food in the neighborhood. As we walk the 15 blocks to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater, our standards fall to “anything ethnic,” and when we finally get to 8th Avenue, we settle for a local Mexican joint that’s actually pretty good. The UCB Theatre is conveniently located underneath the largest grocery store I’ve ever seen in Manhattan which comes in handy when it’s decided we must have M&M’s before the show. The theater is also everything you’d expect from an off-off-B’Way locale – that is, a bit seedy – but we’re excited to see Eliza and sure enough, as soon as she steps out on stage, the surroundings disappear (well, all except for the G*&$^%#& column that obstructs my view occasionally…)

Eliza’s show is a series of short scenes illuminating three very different but all desperate characters: a mom determined to be her daughter’s best pal, a newly 30 suburbanite lusting after a 14 year-old, and a loose party girl whose boyfriend just broke up with her. She absolutely owns these characters: each one is deeply flawed but her performance is polished like a diamond. And the scenes are gut-bustingly hilarious, filled with truly memorable moments. One of my favorites was when she inadvertently slices her hand while preparing a bagel for a friend and, after bleeding profusely a minute, realizes she should go to the emergency room but not before asking, “Did you still want that?” Her party girl could easily be a Saturday night live character, and not one of the stupid ones either, but a good one like the Church Lady or any of Mike Myers ones. In a show that packs a load of laughs into 30 minutes, my only quibble would be an ending that just goes on a little too long.

It was 7:35 but still we hung around for a few minutes hoping to catch a word with Eliza but eventually just had to bolt. We grad a cab going up 8th Avenue that ends up crawling along at about a block a minute. After 10 blocks, we lose the cab and end up trotting the last 10 blocks to the theater. Mezzanine seats, third row center – nice view but OH MY GOD can the people behind us talk ANY LOUDER? It’s like they’re trying to project well enough to be heard on stage. Anyway, the lights come up and it’s “Spring Awakening.”

Wow – what a cool show. The music was awesome, the performances all great, and the staging pretty nifty as well. “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked” made me remember the kinetic feeling of discovery that I had the first time I saw “Rent.” But the last several scenes are awfully predictable and overall, the story left a lot to be desired. Sex is such an amazing, enlightening, blessed thing – it’d be great to find a show that celebrates it without making it tragic. And adolescence is such a fantastic time of discovery, of you know, awakening – couldn’t the kids come out on top somehow at the end?

Anyway, it was still a great show and one of the most uplifting things about it was how many young folks were in the audience. We hung out afterwards and talked to some cast members as they were leaving (ok, Holly did, because she’s braver than I) and they were as nice as could be. We wandered back to toward our hotel, stopping into an all-night deli for a nosh. We were sitting at the counter and, as we were deconstructing both “Shameless” and “Spring,” a very friendly, very hyper guy comes up and joins our conversation. Turns out he’s an actor of sorts – does children’s theater and works as a clown (and a bartender) – and gives us his take on the scene. Says “Young Frankenstein” is the best thing on Broadway right now but the best show in the city is some experiential thing that happens all around you and has circus performers and such. Oh well – too bad we’re going to miss that one. After a quick conversation on his cell phone (in Russian!), he’s off and so are we, to our rooms where we’ll have sweet Broadway dreams…

That’s day one. Day two, coming up…someday…soon?


Andrew Hamm said...

Having performed a bit off-off-Broadway, I can confirm the general seediness of the spaces. That is, of course, most of the charm for both performer and audience.

Yes, Spring Awakening is an amazing score. It skirts the line between being inspired by Rent and derivative, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

The things I love about Spring Awakening...well...I don't think there's enough room here. It's definitely rejuvenating to see something artistically successful being commercially successful on Broadway, especiallywith the incredibly dreamy John Gallagher, Jr. (who I also saw in Rabbit Hole and was incredible in that performance as well). I've been reading the original play...well...a translation anyway, since I don't read's such an incredibly moving experience, that whole...well...experience. I saw it in previews back in the day standing in the cold TKTS line late in the day when it was down to Avenue Q or this new musical Spring Awakening that had transferred from the Atlantic Theatre Company Off-Broadway...and I'm glad I made the choice I did. So, I said there wasn't room, so I should stop myself.
On an opposite note, just saw the atrocity known as Legally Blonde-the Musical on's like someone defecated on a page and they called it a score. Succinct...I'll learn how to be.

Le Synge Bleu said...

the great thing about the seedy ucb theatre is the $3 beer. its actually not a bad space at all, trust me, there are worse! next time veer off 8th ave onto 9th and you'll find a lot more food, including thai. i am defnitely jealous - i didn't get to see any theatre in my 4 days there..between lawyer and deposition crap and catching up with everyone, the whole time was pretty filled up. can't wait to hear what else you saw though. i hear the wooster group's hamlet is the new hot ticket...its supposedly briliant.