Saturday, June 17, 2006

An open letter to certain members of the audience...

This is hard for me to say, because lord knows I want you to have fun. I want you to stay out late, and laugh loud, and get drunk and rock out at the theatre. I want you to know that "live performance" doesn't mean "fold your hands like good children and shut up." Keep all this in mind when I say to you, honestly, please, JAYsus, just because the show starts at 11pm doesn't mean you get to be total dipthongs.

Let's review:

Cackling with laughter, cheering the actors, being thoroughly engaged in the proceedings= good.
Making your own dumb little drunken jokes during quiet moments of a play= asshattery.*

Is that so hard?

Last night I saw "The Earl," a very cool and neatly done show that should have been both creepy as hell and funny as hell. The play opens with a long, genuinely tense moment of stalking. The lighting, the barely visible actor, the sound... they all worked together for about four seconds to give me a sense of visceral dread. After four seconds, some audience member decided to start audibly making fun of the barely visible actor's hair. Suffice it to say, my viscera checked out.

The show was still fun and bloody, but that idiot did take something away from it. The people at Red Orchid know what they're doing- I could see how that long creepy moment, followed as it was by immediate brutal violence, was meant to affect the rest of the play. For one thing, it would have made it much funnier. Make people scared and uncomfortable first, and they'll laugh their guts out. The move from terror to humor was well planned, and I could SEE it, as an informed technician, but I didn't get to feel it.

News flash, buddy. Nobody came here for you.

Ok, rant over. Go see the Earl, I liked it anyway. Note, it's being marketed as an old school micro-budget late-night shock fest (they've even downgraded the fliers,) but it's not the kind of old-school Chicago late-night splatter shock-fest you have to be drunk to enjoy. It's disciplined, tight and well acted. Sigh. I think the marketing campaign is cool, but I worry that it's giving certain people the wrong impression. I'd appreciate the thoughts of anyone who went to see it on a different night.

Actually, that's a lovely general question for this week. What's the line between being an engaged, responsive audience member and being a jerk? How much noise is too much noise? How much noise isn't enough? If anyone involved with the show happens to read this, what have your audiences been like in general?

Very quickly- last week, I took in "Gaudy Night" at Lifeline. It's one of their adaptations, and it's romantic, if a little stilted at the exposition. It brought back pleasant memories of my own time at Oxford, which is, and always has been, a rarefied, weird and seductive place. It also brought back a less pleasant Oxford memory, which is something of a spoiler and will thus be the second footnote.*

*It may be excusable to crack a joke during a really really really really bad play. Mean as hell, but excusable. And by really bad, I mean "makes you want to throttle yourself with your own tongue."

*Those who have read the book or seen the play will get the connection: On her birthday, the scout for my dorm came to work drunk, with a black eye. To our horror, she defecated all over the washroom and smeared it around. Ah, the scout system. Introducing awkward matters of class to well-meaning undergraduates since the commoners got let into Oxford.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Good thieves, bad busses.

Yesterday I hit "The Good Thief" at Gift Theatre, which has one of those surprise locations. You schedule a review with some vague idea that it's off the blue line, then wake up in the morning and realize it's in Jefferson Park. You all know what that means for a Lincoln Square girl- Lawrence bus to the end of the line, aka the slowest and most depressing bus ride in Chicago.

But you know, it was appropriate, because the main/only character in "The Good Thief" probably has to take some hellish Irish equivalent of the 81 West anytime he has to go anywhere. Poor little ex-thug.

So, nicely done show. The weakest part for me was Conor McPherson's script. I can see why Gift Theatre picked it- it's a funny, sad, short monologue-play that Artistic Director Michael Patrick Thornton, who is recovering from several catastrophic strokes, can do sitting down. And he's fantastic in it. Really engaging, with that honest-bullshit Gaelic twinkle in his eye. So, it's an ideal showcase for a lovely, charismatic actor, but for me there wasn't much special about the crime-gone-haywire with a soupcon of femme fatales story.

But talk about spectator challenge! Two of the most gripping moments were when Thorton dragged himself on and off stage. Now, look, he's an actor who we're supposed to look at, but he's also an extremely young man who needs to use a walker to get around- who you are not supposed to look at. Tension much? This worked beautifully when Thorton entered, but when he exited after his bow, after the applause had died down, we all just sat there and watched him go, feeling pretty certain that the theatre was over, but not quite able to look away. Interesting.

Also, this marks the first off-loop non-musical I have seen featuring original music NOT written by Kevin O'Donnell. The man's total domination is slipping.