Friday, August 18, 2006

What's marginally better than drowning?

I am become a very damp girl. Seriously. I had to wring out my sundress and then hang it from the chandelier. If I had thought to spray the thing with febreze before leaving the train station, I could consider it laundered.

And this, dear writers, directors, and all other purveyors of theatre, is why you need to make good shows for me to see. Because when I have to swim back home after a Friday night opening, I really want to be able to say it was worth it.

Sorry, "Keep Ishmael," but not so much. This musical kept getting more and more irritating. At first, I was irritated by not being able to hear the words in what I suspected was a snappy, tuneful, opening number. Then I was irritated by a series of !wacky! plot turns, and then by a lot of dumb, flat literary allusions. At no point was there any evidence that anyone involved in the show knew how microphones worked. My customary intermission checking of the program was also irritating, as it revealed that the director had a good amount of experience and thus no excuse.

I'm being a little unfair. I liked the show for a good part of the first act. But the first act closer was an utter, utter train wreck. You know, busy and sluggish at the same time, smugly !wacky!, badly staged, and full of this guy shouting "SHAMU!" over and over again, which, I hate to break it to you, was less like a joke that gets funnier with repetition, and more like something embarrassing that a crazy person keeps repeating on the train. The show never recovered.

The whole thing was such a sitcom, really, completely with a disingenuous moral. "The suburbs aren't so bad." Now, I know and respect people who agree with this statement*, but I don't think the writer believes it. The entire "Naperville" flavor consisted of name-checking chain stores. Please don't have a big closing number about how wonderful Naperville is when you make it look pointless and bland. If what you really want to say is:"Naperville, marginally better than drowning," then at least have the balls to say it. It was condescending, that's what it was.

"Keep Ishmael" is a riff, or something, on Moby Dick. Which I never finished. Lost it on the Montrose bus 1/3 of the way through. But I know enough to fake it, and I know that "Ishmael's" engagement with the text was pointless and facile. There actually is something to be drawn from the original Ishmael's listlessness/restlessness and the mellow plight of over-educated and underemployed modern postgrads, but the show only followed that thread for a minute. Instead, it got wrapped up in this idiotic Shamu plot. Melville's mythical beastie was both a whale, and a symbol, an emotional force and a big honking mammal. The whale in "Keep Ishmael" is neither- it's nothing but a reference.

*Having never lived in a suburb I have no opinion.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Save me! And hover over me with your wings!

Greetings, my pork chitlins. I am totally recovered from the serious dental surgery that turned me into a bitter, autistic hermit for nearly a month. Due warning- I'm still suffering from acute deadline-itis, and will be working under a reduced show schedule.

I suddenly have no IDEA what is happening in Chicago theatre. Ah well. Let's get back into it. But first- one of them rare touring shows.

Today I finally returned to the Cirque de Soleil, an obsession of my childhood. I saw the first show come to Chicago when I was, what, eight? I laughed so hard my lungs hurt. I stared so hard my eyes started to ache. Yeah, the audience experience can be pretty intense when you're tichy.

And also when you're big. When a big budget touring show comes to Chicago, I tend to shrug and say "It was ok, but there are better deals in town." $20 is my upper limit with ticket prices. But Cirque... look... it's a LOT of show. A whole darn lot of show. And even if you respond badly to its artsy fantasia vibe, it will blow your mind. The Cirque won't take offense! Your mind is all it wants to blow.

The current show has a vague storyline, like all of them do: an old clown imagines his funeral procession: jugglers, acrobats and angels. The premise gives rise to some killer moments- something about an angel watching over a tightrope walker is like a bolt to my heart- but the real emotional punch is always within the acts themselves. Defiance! Achievement! Joy! Gravity is for putzes! Cirque acts often pretend to mess up, in order to pump the drama. I don't find this at all dishonest. These people make the impossible look effortless through years of unstinting effort. If they fall once, on purpose, it's only to let us see the falls upon falls that have gone before. Then they leap up, and do it perfectly- and that is real. Thank the angels above them, just out of reach, urging them higher and higher.