Sunday, December 25, 2005

So far Off-Loop that I'm actually on the East Coast

Merry Christmas, friends and well-wishers!

This holiday weekend isn't a good one for seeing non-holiday related theatre. That is, if it's up, it's closing, so I've got nothing to review. This makes my fingers itchy. This makes me think that I'll lose my swing.

So, a few quick words about last week, when I visited NYC for a play reading and got re-introduced to the concept of paying for theatre by my stunning editrix friend Liz. Liz is a rare creature, an exquisite long-limbed unicorn, an inveterate audience member in her early twenties who is not herself in the business somehow. She always takes good care of me.

First, we took in "Orson's Shadow," a famous-person drama, you know, very nicely done and acted with flash. The actor playing Laurence Olivier (ha! you poor sap!) was over the top but in an appealing way. Still, now I need to find out if Olivier actually was reminiscent of my old piano teacher.

And a note to playwrights/directors who are using the audience address thing, even sporadically and in a cute way. Please remember that we have seen it before, lots of times, and won't be surprised out of needing it work well for us like any other theatrical device. Ok? And under no circumstances end act one by having your pseudo narrator character look portentously out at the audience and say "intermission." And if you MUST do that, please don't follow it with a big dramatic lights-snapping-off noise. Because I'm going to follow THAT with a derisive snort.

Next, we saw "Apparition," in an elaborate music box style theatre that had been painted a uniform periwinkle blue. (Not the stage, just the molded walls and the fancy proscenium). Odd. I felt middling about the show, which I think would have been much better if it hadn't tried to be about every scary thing ever. Yes, I know you're trying to explore the nature of fear, but you don't have to be so encylopedic about it. Despite a Macbeth-themed throughline, the show fell into that uncomfortable space between revue and big, meaningful play. People think, when I make this criticism, that I'm talking about a mixture of "high" and "low." Forget that! I don't believe in it. I do believe in the difference between a vaudeville presentation, where the pieces don't need to add up, and a cohesive performance, where they'd better. I love vaudeville, and burlesque, but I dislike most shows that try to do what they can't. "Apparition" was like a series of little 'scary story' playlets trying to be an overwhelming statement about fear. It's not impossible to take these little bits and make them add up, but it's hard, and that play didn't do it. Also, wasn't really scared.

The third and final show was by far my favorite: "Bach at Leipzig," just a great piece of pseudo-intellectual, clever-bastard fun. I tripped out of the theatre feeling bubbly, and witty, and very attractive. I went with a little throng of people, and they were all made just as happy as I was. But only I felt compelled to offer the playwright a drink. I forget I have no clout in New York.

Or indeed, in Chicago. Cheers!

At the very last, we took in some burlesque in Liz's Brooklyn neighborhood. Liz has previous expressed a preference for Chicago-style hoochie-coo. I think I can see why. I'm told by burlesque elite that the LA scene is almost stripper-esque, with crotch-front dance moves and a big emphasis on hot bodies. New York is the polar opposite... very arty, very "I'm standing here taking my clothes off and here is my body and you can just cope." Chicago is in between, with a good amount of dancing, a lot of cute gimmicks, a sweet coyness, and natural bodies. The two acts we saw were interesting, but not a patch on the Lav Cab's Siamese Cats number. There was a great non-strip act though: a close quarters trapeze number to "Midnight Radio" from Hedwig. Perfect, triumphant, and uplifting, even if people had to discreetly move their beers to stop the swinger from knocking them off the table.


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