Saturday, January 27, 2007

No-one to blame but ourselves.

Just got back from the Latest Neofuturists show, "You Asked for It," certainly the year's only play based on a survey. Using highly scientific email forwarding techniques, director/creator Greg Allen asked 2200 Americans what they most and least wanted in a play. (You can take the online- survey here, although it won't affect the show.)

This is a stonkingly cool idea, and I was excited to watch it I wasn't disappointed, exactly. The idea remains cool, and I'm glad I went. But out of all the Neofuturist shows I've seen, it was the least fun to watch. This includes the show about the history of aerial bombing.

So, a one-act play containing what 2200 people most want, and another one-act play containing what they least want... are both not so great. You don't need a crystal ball. But you'd be a fool to miss it. Something like this is only going to happen once.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Yay. Puppets.

There's something about highly skilled and successful professional puppeteers that makes them loath to entertain in their off-hours. I don't know- maybe it's all the jumping up and down with brightly covered felt for a living, making children watch and adore and want to cuddle the thing at the end of your arm. Maybe it instills a deep-rooted desire to be boring. All I know is, when I go to see a micro-budgeted puppet act put on by a moonlighting kid's TV stalwart, I always end up watching a couple of solemn sticks make their way across a screen an inch a minute.*

So yeah, went to see some puppets at Links Hall last weekend and it happened again. The first and last bits of the show were, respectively, dull/too long, and somewhat hypnotic/endless. The middle program was almost a winner- a sci-fi fable about a lady-like accordion-thing who gave birth to eggs, and a bellowsy science-thing who grew eyeballs on a tree. It had a great goth-gaslight-punk look. Most impressively, these weird faceless objects became people- weird little people who move in counter-intuitive, funny and distinctive ways. Excellent work by demented imp Jana Zeller. It could be a perfect little bit of grotesquerie if it had an ending. As it is, the piece just stopped.

A different and more raucous puppetry program is playing this coming weekend at Links Hall. I would say- go see it. Because you know you love puppets enough to risk a tingly butt.

*Sample size: three or four shows. Not scientific, but jeeze.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sis. Koom. Bah.

Saturday was "The Sparrow" at the Viaduct by the House Theatre. I actually purchased and paid for a ticket, because after a year or so of reviewing the House's story-driven spectaculars, I got too damn friendly with them. Buying a ticket absolves me from reviewing their shows in any official capacity, so I won't do it here either.

Instead, a lecture. People say that House shows, which are full of grand plots, action, fantasy and science fiction, bring young audiences in by emulating movies. This is crazy talk. The shows work because they're totally rooted in what you can do on stage. Almost every bit of spectacle, whether it's a nuclear explosion or a flying girl, does three things at once. First, it delights the senses in and of itself. Second, it lets you know that something big is happening in the plot. Third, it delights your head by letting you see the bones of the magic trick. And there's always great music.

"The Sparrow" is about a superhero cheerleader, kind of a Carrie smashed into Jean Grey with a sprinkle of Buffy. When a TV show trots out a superhero cheerleader, I roll my eyes. I know it's just an excuse to put actresses in outfits. When I heard about the House's superhero cheerleader, I jumped on my toes, because I knew I was going to see actresses do cheer routines. In outfits. Hollywood will not let you watch a dance sequence in a movie, unless said movie climaxes at a Big Competition, and I'm getting mighty tired of that story. Not that I'm knocking the big and little screens. They do many things well. Theatre just does some other things better.

2006-in-review later today, I promise.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Romance and leather pants

Happy new year, oh my starlings!

I think I'll try to whip up a 2006 retrospective by the end of the week. No promises. I may look back, realize how much amazing theatre, I didn't see, and decide I'm way too much of a poseur to give out jokey awards. I only saw, what 45 plays? 2006 was a year of comparative slacking. Only to be expected. After all, 2005 was a mad, doomed, dash to glory, a demented attempt to see a show in every Chicago Off-Loop venue, a magnificent failure that will be sung through the ages. In 2006, theatre-going became a way of life.

And it's a damn fine way to live.

On to the first show of 2007! The Three Musketeers (1/3, get it?). A balls-to-the-wall attempt at a Very Big Musical, with cast members everywhere and impressively wide costumes for the women. I enjoyed it, because I am great of heart, and there was a lot to watch, but it worried me. The biggest problem- I only actually liked two songs. The music was usually decent, if hook deficient, but the lyrics were unfailingly bland. In fact, the songs were bland on a fundamental level, because the concepts behind them reached heroic heights of bland. There's nothing resonant and sparky in a song called "Paris by Night," or "Who Could Have Dreamed of You." There was nothing to match the sparingly used "All for one, and one for all," nothing with the potential to become a cliche.* All the numbers were tasteful, no doubt, but I'd rather have a little more Disneyesque cheese and a lot more of a good time.

Also, we sat in the front row side corner, which was both an action corner, and a terrible place to sit, as the show was totally oriented to the front. If you want to stage thrust, stage thrust. It means ALL the seats are good, and if there are two people on stage, everybody sees at least one of their faces. If you can't cut it, go back to proscenium. Sheesh.

When I wasn't looking at the actors' shiny satin/leather backs, I was happily terrorized by their swords. The first act had a couple of massive combat set pieces that had me melting into my seat back, and wondering if I could trust a musical theatre actor's point control. This part, of course, I liked. There's nothing better than a front row seat and a fear of serious injury.

Click for show details.

*The eminent feat of writing, of course, is to coin a cliche.