Wednesday, May 04, 2011

I get a-round

My review of "Circle Mirror Transformation" is in this week's Style. Better late than never, right? Mr. Griset's review of "Art" also appears this week, which is a cool coincidence since I just saw another of Yasmina Reza's works last night. More on that tomorrow.

It's always interesting for me to go back and read a review of mine a couple of weeks after I've written it. There's a way that a show settles into my consciousness: my initial impressions age and mature and don't always end up where they started. Sometimes this process results in a bolstering of my opinion of a show. After I saw "Avenue Q" the first time, my feelings about the show just got more and more positive (enhanced by repeated plays of the soundtrack) to the point that I was actually a little disappointed when I went and saw it a second time.

I wouldn't take back anything I said about "CMT" in my review. I enjoyed this show but it hasn't aged as well in my memory as other shows. Trying to think about it analytically, I suspect it's because this is a show of moments, usually small ones, subtle and simple character turns that are intriguing but also fleeting. At the performance I saw, the audience was older and relatively impatient about the pauses and stretches of silence. In the face of that, I felt a sense of defiance on behalf of the actors. I wanted to turn to the talkers in the crowd and say, 'pay attention -- there's good work going on here!' I also wanted to get pedantic and say, 'theater isn't always about rapid-fire dialogue!' So while I highlighted the pauses in my review, the rest reads to me now like a defense of the actors who utilize the open spaces in the script to fully inhabit the characters they play.

As I think back on it, I would put "CMT" in the category of plays that I appreciate more than I love. The lack of an intermission is a problem experientially. Some of the scenes are pretty indulgent (like the one where people portray the items in Schultz's room) and I'm not sure what they added to the play as a whole. As my colleague Mr. Porter suggests, there is also a fair amount of telling not showing going on thanks to the monologues where each character lays out another character's back story. For a show with less dialogue than many, the proportion of telling to showing seems high in retrospect.

There are other smaller issues that have popped up in my reflections about the show. I have ended up feeling frustrated with the Marti character. There is obviously a lot going on with this character but, more so than with any of the others, I think she gets short-changed by the play. I came away feeling like I wanted to empathize with her, particularly as portrayed by the always-winning Kelly Kennedy. But in the end, I don't think she really earns much empathy, seeming kind of rigid all the way to the end.

My appreciation of certain scenes has increased over the weeks, however. The "telling secrets" scene in particular is kind of stunning. I can pretty clearly remember each character's reaction as each secret was read. This is not a testament to my memory but to each actor's clarity in their almost entirely non-verbal response. Beyond being specifically impressed with Mr. Flannagan's performance, I thought he and Erin Thomas-Foley had a very compelling, very authentic chemistry, both as their relationship was heating up and as it frayed. In fact, every interaction between Theresa and another character had an energy a notch above the others, a reflection of Thomas-Foley's unique skills as an actress.

As I think back now, the scenes that most succinctly reflect how I ended up feeling about the show are the "lying in a circle, counting" scenes. I appreciate their purpose in the context of the play and there were some funny and/or interesting moments in them. But they also tended to go on too long and the pay-offs we're sometimes minimal. I can see how people with an abiding interest in theater and who happen to be fascinated by actors might be particularly enamored with "CMT." However, I can also see why some patrons, like the one who I overheard as I filed down the stairs at the Barksdale, might wonder, "...but what was it about?"

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