Saturday, December 01, 2007

An Ode to Tony

There’s an old, fairly catty T-line inside joke that centers around the line, “How did you remember all of those lines?” As with most of these things, the charm is in the delivery but, regardless, the joke stems originally from an actor being asked that question by a rather unsophisticated fan. In my experience, people are pretty regularly amazed by the memorization skills of good actors, particularly Shakespeareans who have all those lines and hardly half of them even seem to make sense.

Because I know only sophisticates read this blog, I know that you all know that remembering the lines is really just the beginning for an actor, the barest of foundations upon which they build a performance. But after seeing “A Christmas Story” last night, I couldn’t refrain from a bit of that unsophisticated amazement in regards to Tony Foley’s performance. Stage time for “ACS” is more than 110 minutes and I think Tony probably narrates nearly 100 of them. The sheer volume of verbiage he needs to keep straight in his head is impressive.

But that really is just the beginning for his performance, which is wonderful. Narration is tough. It is all too easy to fall into monotone. There’s little or no interplay between you and another character to help you stay focused or give you cues as to what happens next. You are the engine that drives the production and if you sputter, the whole train falters.

Tony does more than just keep the show chugging along. He infuses his narration with life and wit and animation. He makes his character (Ralph) a real character, not just a removed voice. And it is his performance that makes the show, if you ask me. Everyone else in the cast is excellent but if Tony weren’t extra excellent, the show would not be nearly as good. And just as an additional aside, if the narrator was just some disembodied voice like it is in the movie, the show would have to struggle mightily to be good. The amount of narration in this play is hard to pull off; Tony makes it work.

I have to say that it’s impossible for me to be truly objective about this show since my son is in it. Somewhere in my objective critic brain there's an impression that the show is too long. But every moment that my boy is on stage is pretty transcendent for me so am I going to complain about length? I don’t think so. It’s a good thing others will be reviewing this show. I can imagine some of the criticisms they might have but you won't hear any of them from me. In my analysis, it was pretty darn good. Which is lucky for me since I will have to see it at least 3 more times. Which is also why I’ll probably have more to say about this show before it’s over

It was great to see a whole bunch of theater pals at opening night. I usually bolt shortly after the curtain goes down after most shows. But we T-lines made up for that habit last night by being pretty much the last folks out the door after the cast party. Mr. Miller caught some pictures of both me and my blogmate Mary and posted them on the Barksdale Blog. Check ‘em out if you want to get a look at the faces behind these words.

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