Sunday, February 26, 2006

Will somebody PLEASE get the spectacle?

Just got back from a fundraiser held at the Noble Horse- you know, that stable you can see from the brown line near Sedgewick? Lord, I nearly died. Fancy air-filtration they might have, but it's no match for my hair-trigger timothy hay allergy.

Anyway, Noble Horse used to be a barn, but they redid it as a much smaller, ad-hoc version of Medieval Times. Dinner theatre with ponies! As a whole, it was charmingly inept, but spotted with some really jaw dropping acts: circus riders jumping on and off horses at gigantic speeds, somersaulting around, riding backwards and upside down, this fabulous woman with a bullwhip whose horse walked on its hind legs and, and bowed and spun around like it had an orc on its tail. Acts like should be supported-- they COULD be supported-- by excellent non-horse performers, a better thought-out theme, and some nifty costumes and props. I am issuing a CALL to our fine spectacle oriented theatre companies. I know some of you have always wanted to do a show with ponies- there's somebody in the city right now with the right facilities and some of the right performers. All they need are some fine theatrical geniuses to spin sheer gold out of the hay. Just tell me- I'll get you the numbers.

Meanwhile, it was a very cute show, and the children in the audience adored it. Free pony rides for the little ones at the end.

Saturday night I caught "Serpent Woman" at the Side Project. Didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped. See, it was about a man who had to free his magical wife from the clutches of shapeshifting fairies, a premise which I like.* And most of the fairies, especially a pair of super-clown types, were great. But the man and his wife were boringsville, so when they triumphed, I really didn't care. I wanted the fairies to win, as they were more fun. Still, giant puppets!

*Even though the fairies are slacking from their rightful occupation, baby-stealing.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Honestly, WHORES. Or, Reina judges a play without seeing or reading it.

So, a while back there was a show playing at Steppenwolf that I refused to review. I like to go in with an open mind, and this was one of those plays that I thought I would despise based on the plot synopsis. I hate to talk smack about a writer whose work I've never seen, but Adam Rapp? It's like you wrote "Red Light Winter" with the express purpose of making me hate it. I mean, "love triangle between two men and a prostitute." It might as well have been titled "How to convince Reina to skip a play in eight words or less." I skimmed the reviews, and even the positive ones confirmed my suspicions. So, I skipped, and pre-emptively lost respect for Mr. Rapp.

Anyways, I just opened up this week's issue of the New Yorker to find a big review of the New York production of "Red Light Winter." Now, the big review is generally pretty long, and goes into a lot of detail, so you might think some exculpatory nuance would be revealed. Oh, but nay. Every single detail the critic revealed made me hate the play more. And it was a glowing review! An absolute tonguebath! Read it here:
Here's a little sample re: Lisa Joyce as the hooker: "She is a languid, soft-spoken object of desire; in her pliancy, she exudes a sense of lostness. " Gag me. It sounds like the classic hooker relationship plot, plus the guys' relationship from "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" (minus the funny), plus the blog rantings of that weirdo who keeps looking at my friendster profile and thinks that women hate "nice guys."* Can anything possibly be well written and acted enough to win me over after this?

Now, a lot of this is a matter of taste. I'm so over that whole Neil Labute thing about cruel bastards and sad sacks with no personal resources who are only interested in sex and obsessive love. Maybe it seems propulsive, vile and compelling the first time, but then it's just your own personal little fantasia. It's just little. Why would I spend so much time with boring, horrible idiots? Plus, it is about a prostitute, and I've developed a Pavlovian hate reaction to sex worker characters, especially in plays that think they are gritty and real. And, darn it, I need actual women on the stage some of the time. Just occasionally!

So, am I being terribly unfair? Has anyone seen this play? Is anyone else so over this whole aesthetic in drama? What sex worker characters do you find acceptable? (I have a short list, mostly from genre stuff.) And what do you all do when you're pretty sure you'll hate a play before you see it? I like to think that I judge plays on execution rather than subject and content, but this seems to be an exception.

*Please note that many woman like nice guys. Many women hate pathetic misogynists.

p.s. Sorry about the formatting weirdness and the black ads. It'll be fixed when I have time. Meanwhile, enjoy the ease of reading black type on white!

Feather pants! Feather pants! Feather pants!

Last night was the big shiny manly "Swan Lake" at the big shiny Cadillac Palace, a theatre which so wonderfully embodies its name that I don't have to describe it. Swan Lake is a marvellous show because:
a. russian ballet music
b. shirtless men in feathery pants having gay tension all over the place. Swan-studs!

However, it was a bit of a cautionary tale about remembering to eat before shows. The first half of act one filled me with delight, but the second half, the magical swan-communing half, seemed very long. I can't tell if there was some flaw in that part, or if it was just how badly I wanted to get to the snack bar. I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt, because I loved the parts of the show for which I was not starving.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Strong women in cheesy musicals

Saturday night I watched, I kid you not, a musical about Gertrude Stein. The main result was an overall increase in my appreciation for La Stein. She is damn funny! All those locutions and circumlocutions and repetitions have some killer laugh lines stuck in. The woman who played Old Stein, (doing mostly talking, very little singing) had a steely glint-in-the-eye deadpan going on. She seemed clever and almost dry, and as if she was having a very good time. But what she's in, it's such a frickin' musical, you know. (I love musicals, by the way). It just had, especially in the beginning, some of those qualities that people who don't like musicals make fun of them for. You know, like people walking slowly towards each other as they sing.

However, the staging improved vastly once the vaudeville and jazz parodies started up, and the music was lovely from start to finish. Stein's lines set remarkably well! I might have preferred a dryer presentation of the same songs, one that didn't tie them all so explicitly to Stein's life. I also could have done without the presence of Young Stein (a lovely top-notch singer who did a great job, it's not her fault that her role was a bit of cheese). Just...dryer. More cool. More of a martini, so that when the sentiment comes, it knocks you out.

Sunday was another life told through songs- Nina Simone's. I would recommend it for the music, the tight little band, the pleasingly over-the-top performance by the lead, and the seating arrangement. Black Ensemble is a gorgeous mid-sized theatre! Very round, very tiered, and you can walk to your seat without sidling. The stage itself had two levels and a little alcove for the band- it looked good even with the horrible spatter paint job on the floor.*

However, the interstitial material was not much fun. Some dramatic material, certainly, but not much drama. Just very inert. And Nina mimed playing the piano while singing, which I disliked. Not because she didn't mime decently, but because she didn't sing like a person who was playing the piano. Ah well. When she gets out from behind the grand and rips into songs like "Mississippi Goddamn," she's killer.

*Once I was in a play where the directors got high on fumes or something and decided to spatter paint the floor with red. In the morning, it seems, they were horrified. This sort of story is the only explanation I can ever think of for the presence of spatter paint on the floor.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I get reviewed!

In the course of constantly googling myself, I found this:

Anyway, this person is a blogwatcher, a blogexpert, a blog... critic? He has trouble reading my site because of the white type on black background. Now, I get annoyed when theatre companies make their shows hard to watch with stupid stagecraft choices, and then act like those things aren't important, so I think I'd better pay attention. On the other hand... yeargh. I dislike the other blogspot templates, don't have the skills or time to make my own, and don't want to have to set up the links and ads again.

So here's my tipping point. If just one other commenter says the white on black is a bad idea, out it goes. I want to be flexible, but not a reed in the wind.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nifty Theatre Podcast, and a Call to Our Readers

House Theatre studmuffins Nathan Allan and Jake Minton have an interesting podcast up:

It's a bit unwieldy (30 minutes!) but midway through they get into a discussion on one of my favorite topics- the effect venue has on the overall theatre experience. Nate and Jake are very aware of how the grungy, underground warehouse feel of the Viaduct has contributed to most of their shows, and to their brand as a whole. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thinks about/writes about/ gives assignments to her theatre students about this stuff! Your audience's night out starts way before the show does. Every element that you can exert some control over- the lobby, the seating, the neighborhood, even the drive/bike/bus/train over- it all counts.

I think everyone who's seen a House show will agree that the Viaduct is a perfect match. But that's not true for every production! I'd like to challenge the seven or eight regular readers of this blog- which show would you like to see in which venue, and why? This can be a current production, a past production, or an entirely theoretical production, but it ought to be a real venue.

My own pick? I'd like to see "Lulu," now playing at the pleasant but anodyne Theatre Building Chicago, restaged at the Chopin. The Chopin's wedding cake exterior and shabby, decadant Old World interior would be an ideal setting for the Silent Theatre company's dirty, black and white jewel. Show and venue share a morally bankrupt, shell-shocked chic.

What do you think?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Issues of Audience

I saw the Neofuturist's prime-time show, "A Child's History of Bombing" tonight with a friend. As I sat down, I realized that I'd taken a total and complete Russian to a show that was probably about the atomic bomb. AWKWARD.* But actually, the show made the Cold War look like an actual lovers picnic. It was more about your hot wars, your 7,000 degrees at the center of a nuclear explosion wars. That's very hot indeed.

So, a pretty rough show for Valentine's weekend. It was documentary style- I could have dealt with a few more theatrical tricks- but yeah, I cried. Very hard-line, very no war is good war. Well, look, it's true. I do believe that sometimes you have to fight, but bombing is never ok. Don't atomic bomb people. Don't regular bomb them either, or fire-bomb them. Napalm is right out. It's simplistic to say so- and the show is often quite simplistic- but I think they were trying to go right back to the simplest ways of looking at things (hence the "child" in the title) and remember that this sort of thing is terribly wrong. Even when you do it to cities in Nazi Germany.

Other issues of audience: a couple of people brought actual children. I wonder if they were confused by the title, or if they just wanted to get the liberal fires started early.

*You must imagine this said by my Bitchy Gay Roommate, who actually doesn't exist. He's just a persona created by my actual roommate.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Nothing if not critical.

I'm a little worried that all of this criticism is making me jaded. Preventing me from joining an audience in the spirit of wide-eyed wonderment. Causing me to scoff at things I've seen before. Making me a critic at the expense of being a spectactor. I hate to believe such things about myself, but after seeing the current "Short Shakespeare" at Navy Pier, Macbeth, I have to say. Yeah, a little.
This is Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, after all, an entity that demands high expectations- even in a 75 minute matinee show aimed at the kiddies. And so, when they do a ritualistic/tribal Macbeth with symbolic, billowy fabric and transforming witches, of course I'm going to say "old hat." Maybe it was because it curtained at eleven am (!), maybe it was because I detested the costumes, but nothing surprised or delighted me. What am I coming to?

But seriously, the costumes. It looked like the whole cast had shopped at the Alley, or maybe even Hot Topic (except for Lady Macbeth, a dead ringer for Tilda Swinton in the Narnia Movie). Fake tattoo shirts. Lots of black leather. It was like this desperately uncool attempt to make Shakespeare cool. "Look kids- the bard is SO HARDCORE. Check out this ink!" That really was my biggest problem. The slight sense that I was being talked down to, combined with the way they were scared to let Shakespeare do his own work on the little ones.*

I mean, this is Macbeth! If you can't get into an edited version of Macbeth, you might be dead. And I think that's what saved the production. It was decently acted (even though Macbeth himself was too young and had a bit of Shatner going on) and it was this really good play. My mom, who'd never seen Macbeth live before, was entranced. If the teen target audience doesn't revolt at the cool-mongering, this play will get it done.

Still, it made me feel pretty glum about my own cynical, black critic's heart. Luckily, that night I went to see "Lulu" at TBC. Show me something beautiful, show me something new, show me something well done, and I melt into a drooling fangirl. If I hadn't seen 75 plays last year, would I really be able to appreciate the immense difficulty and perfection of what Silent Theatre company did? I think not! It was a lurid, filthy, stylish, hilarious silent film come to life, and for pete's sake, go see it.


*Oh, also, the way they upped the supernatural involvement until the whole question of Mac's culpability resolved into "witches did it."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Me me me me me

If you can get your hands on a copy of the February 5th Sunday Tribune, check out the Tribune Magazine. There's a nifty piece on the Viola Project, complete with cute pictures of me, the other teachers and the kids. The feature is called "Face Time" and the headline is "Drama Queens." You can also read the article online (,1,6174103.story), but there are no cute pictures.