Saturday, October 15, 2005

Well, Buckle my Swash.

"The Talisman Ring" at Lifeline is yummy. Sort of a regency romance with swordfights and men in breeches/ greatcoats. (WHY did that look ever go out of style?) Plotwise, it was a long game of doublecross between an infinitude of cousins. But mostly it was about romantics and competent people, and how they can really all get along, in the end.

Lifeline, as ever, does a tight, inventive staging. Not a black box in sight.


Theatre Advenure! (You are fighting a Black Box)

I am dauntless, and feckless, and I saw three shows last night. Three! I am the greatest!

First up was "The King's Proposal" at Cornservatory. Totally delightful. Just a late night, shoe-string panto version of a servant comedy, where identity is super-fluid and mistakes are a way of life. It was notable for having two pairs of royally separated lovers, one gay and one straight, and for the sly performance of the evil King (who shows his philanthropy by releasing orphans into the wild). Just a happy, crazy place where you can make a puppet out of your dead best friend, where a dress can change a man into a woman, and a pair of glasses can change him back again. Funny, but about half an hour too long....

Hence, we were 9 minutes late to the next show "Hack/Slash" at the National Pasttime. Yes, it's just a late-night bit of Halloween fluff with spraying blood that you can attend drunk, and NO, it wasn't good enough. The two leads, a Buffy knock-off and her slavic monster sidekick, were fantastic- deep snarky voices, and comic-book good looks. But the majority of the other actors had no idea what they were doing- and didn't even manage to make their performances entertainly bad. Also...

The set changes. Scenes were short... never more than thirty seconds, and often only about five. (I don't think they bothered to change a word from the comic books). True example of a scene change. "We need to talk" (blackout... actors shuffle around in total silence, moving furniture. Lights up. Actors commence talking. No, this was not played for laughs. Wouldn't have been so bad, except every scene change entailed moving several unneeded black boxes, in silence, for a period almost as long as the preceding scene. I wanted to leap on stage, steal the cap gun, and shout "The next actor who even touches a black box will be shot!" This would have improved the play considerably.

And yet, people seemed to like it ok. Perhaps no-one had told them that pop theatre can be just as good and fast moving as pop cinema, if the people who put it on have a clue. Didn't any of you people see "Curse of the Crying Heart?" Sheesh.

So, if you tend to get annoyed by really, really stupid stagecraft, but still want some Halloween happiness, skip Hack/Slash and catch the same company's midnight burlesque show, Vamp, also at the National Pastime. Vampire strippers, zombie MC, and a really very limited use of black-boxes.

The Venues:

Cornservatory: A small stage, but well equipped with levels, and multiple exits. It appears to have been painted by a demented third-grader, which is great for a very specific type of show.

National Pastime: A medium-cavernous black box with all of this white plaster detailing, and, I think, a 20 foot fake fireplace. I sort of love it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

400 Words (and only one of them can be "slight")

"Personal Assistant," a one-woman show in a bar: When I walked in, there were only three other people in the whole place, hopefully there for the show. Panic set in at once, so that when my date for the evening asked if I'd like a drink, I said "Oh god, yes." I normally don't drink at shows, but the prospect of comprising 1/5th of a comedy audience was too much to face sober.

After the scary start, "Personal Assistant" wasn't painful at all (Three more audience members waltzed in at the last second.) It was a series of low key impersonations of various Hollywood types, and the actress got a steady stream of chuckles out of us. But she spent almost no time on her central persona, making her intended story arc less of an arc then an ellipse. Short, but it should have been shorter. Then it could have gone into the middle of a nice one-person show showcase as a sorbet course.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Did they even have crack back then?

"Man of La Mancha" tonight. Nifty! I didn't know it had a framing device (Cervantes telling the Don Quixote story to a bunch of prisoners during the Spanish Inquisition), which means it has at least three layers going at any given time. This played out in lovely ways sometimes... like when a violent type who'd been trying to get a knock in on Cervantes the whole time got to play an opponent of Quixote (who was 'enacted' by Cervantes). Just when it seemed like some real violence might erupt in level one, the thug took a classic underarm stab and died a hammy, hammy death. Rejoicing!

Cervantes/Quixote was less central to the story than you might expect. The whole Sancho Panza relationship, the cornerstone of the books, was eclipsed by the Dulcinea thing. Dulcinea, played by a tavern slut played by a crazy prison slut, is Quixote's main foil here- which makes sense, because the musical has jettisoned all the satire and most of the comedy. She was rather splendidly haggish, shrieking and throwing things at people, and growling in a low, rough voice- very much the Spanish Inquisition corner crack whore. So yeah, it could be a bit much that she gets inevitably redeemed, but once you have your female lead rubbing a "knight's favor" in her armpits out of spite, you've won me over. Also, she got most of the best songs.

So, I could mention how this the musical is fundamentally untrue to the books, but that'd be unfair. And silly. I think the authors knew perfectly well that they were taking a crazy, multi-layered, hetero-explosive* satire and making it into a message play about dreaming the impossible dream against impossible odds. They weren't adapting the book, they were writing a musical about what that crazy old coot does to people. Against their better judgement. The end of the first book, I believe, has Quixote returing to sanity on his deathbed. The public wouldn't accept it, knock-offs sold like hotcakes, and Cervantes wrote a sequel. "That ending is bullcrap! Let him ride again! Let him ride forever! Sancho too!"

*So full of different kinds of things that it's like to bust.