Friday, February 23, 2007

Standing on the beach...

Just returned from "The Strangerer," which was fairly frickin' brilliant. Like "The Hunchback Variations," (another Mickle Maher Theatre Oobleck thing) it's that long slow intellectual burn kind of hilarious. Again, like "Hunchback," it's a series of attempts to get at an unreachable moment of meaning and/or truth, except this time, the artistic agent is President Bush, and the medium is the 2004 foreign policy debate. Bush has been conflated with the lead character of Camus's "The Stranger,"* and has decided, for reasons that he is immable to enticulate, that he must kill Jim Lehrer in as entertaining a fashion as possible.

(At this point, Reina goes to read a wiki summary of "The Stranger" and is unenlightened. Where is your sterling liberal education now, fraulein?)

Even if, like me, you are totally ignorant of Camus, this is a lot of fun, and throws a properly absurdist penumbra around President Bush and his mission in Iraq. Plus, Colm O'Reilly!**

*Remember when Bush said he read that? Snicker.

**Disclaimer: At the time of posting, your correspondent is half-way through her badly delayed best of 2006 awards. As Colm O'Reilly has been a planned recipient of one award for some months now, we had really intended to get that out before seeing "The Strangerer." We would not want any hint of impropriety to smudge the Loopies, up to and including the notion that any shows seen in 2007 could influence awards for 2006. Sorry. You're going to have to take my word on this.

Way Off Loop's Best of 2006- Now Posted Sometime Before 2008!

Ladies and gentlemen, small children, interested squirrels, the Loopies are back. After one year, still the leading Chicago theatre award in total arbitrariness and number of sexiest male lead divisions. Let's begin!

Sexiest Male Lead: Terrifying division: Colm O'Reilly (everything)
This big-headed gentleman confuses me in a primal way. He's brutally still. He plays monsters. He makes me forget the concept of informed consent. "Is being kidnapped and taken to a subterranean lair ok, or not ok? I have a strong opinion about this, but I don't know what it is." This marks O'Reilly's second appearance on the list (2005, SML: Portable Division, voice of Cesare), making him the Loopies' first and only two-timer. (Nathan Allen will be furious.)

Sexiest Female Lead: Actually Being Awarded this Year Division: Kyla Louise Webb for Lulu (Lulu).
Freeow! This polymorphously irresistible vixen could corrupt a nun (and come to think of it, what a picture.) Speaking only body language, her avid mouth smeared with black lipstick, Lulu had this award in the bag back in February.

Sexiest Male Ensemble: International Division, The Cast of 12th Night
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre imported a full complement of brilliant, gorgeous Russian movie stars for an all-male take on one of my favorite comedies. I'm serious. It was like being in heaven.

Sexiest Male Lead: Not Actually Sexy Division: Shawn Pfaustch for Billy Argo (The Boy Detective Fails.)

I really don't know what this guy is doing in this category, as he gave me more of a warm, back-to-childhood feeling. I would never want to corrupt such earnestness. Instead, I'd like to invite him and his blazer over to discuss cases and sing songs- he could change into a nice comfy cardigan and tell me that I'm special and... oh. That explains a lot. Never mind.

Christmas Spirit Award for Drastically Changing My Mood: 500 Clown Sings Christmas Carols.
Before I saw this show, I was a sick grinch, ready to go bunk with my folks in order to avoid a party taking place at my own apartment. After the show, I was a giddy yuletide monkey, full of cheer and surprisingly effective fake champagne, pumped to stay up till down. (Also wins an ancillary award for Show I Most Regretted in the Morning.)

The So-Called Life Award for Taking Me Back to High School: Dead City (Dog and Pony Theatre.)
Tells you a lot about my high school that a gender-switched gloss on Joyce's Ulysses made me feel more nostalgic than, say, any actual show set in high school. We salute you, Mr. Baker!

Googlemonkey Award for Following Your Own Damn Press: Peter Sagal (Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!)
My post on this charming show won me a charming email from the host, who found it even though I misspelled his name. Hi Pete! I know you're reading this.

Best Weather: Mary-Arrchie for Buried Child
Warm, humid rain on a minuscule budget. This mildewy set's simple panel window (with real water!) made me feel damply depressed from the moment I sat down.

Most Mysterious venue: Angel Island
735 West on a North/South street? Don't speak to me of doglegs, this is something God never intended, something the human mind cannot compass. It is of the devil, and above a Starbucks. Fear it, shun it, give yourself maybe 15 extra minutes to go there the first time.

Best bad dress: Valentine Victorious
It's one thing to misplace a crucial prop, or to have a total lighting malfunction during a climactic song, or to miss a crucial sound cue, forcing one actor to kill another by shouting "Bang" loudly at his back. It's quite another to do all that and more, in front of a packed house and the first-string critics, and still deliver a roaring night of entertainment.

Worst Audience: The Earl
These drunkards scuttled the opening, creepy moments of a first-rate brutal/hilarious late-night show by snickering and talking out loud. I hated them. It was nice of the actors not to hit them in the head with a tire iron, but one can take restraint too far, don't you agree?

The Barnum Award for Slickest Sucker Punchers: Leaving Iowa
This corn-pone show pushed my buttons like a champion accordion player. I knew I was being manipulated, but I couldn't stop myself from laughing, sniffling, and getting wistful on cue.

Best Kids Show not Billed for Kids: Old Curiosity Shoppe
Hands down, 2006's best way to remind your little Snicket fan that Dickens did it first. "It" being "abusing orphans for the amusement of the public."

Feminist Brain Porn Award: Gaudy Night
Because the world isn't really full of diffident, witty, dashing English lords who would rather lose you than compromise your individuality. Sigh.

Best Re-imagining of a Shakespeare Character: Edmund in King Lear as a Daily Show Correspondent
Newsman's suit, field reporter's trench, reptilian teeth. I kept expecting this delicious villian to toss it back to Jon Stewart. And yet, unlike many other aspects of the show, it worked.

Well, my starlings, that's about it for this edition. Stay tuned for the 2007 Loopies, which will no doubt be posted around 7/4/2008. Let's go outside and play!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Piano Tuner

Saw it last week at Lifeline, but didn't have a chance to blog. Filed the review at Centerstage, also last week, sincerely should be up any day now.

Short story, it's lovely and you should go see it.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Those are the breaks.

Just got back from "Landscape of the Body," or, more accurately, from that play's reception, which closed down the restaurant that we'd been intending to have post-show snacks at anyways. So I went, and shoveled down croquettes in an aloof manner, trying to ignore any idea of the journalistic ethics I'm not entitled to. Real critics don't have to deal with this problem- they are rushing home to make their deadlines.

Still, I see the problem. The people were so nice to me that I now feel guilty for disliking the show! I'll throw most of the blame at John Guare's script, which just irritated me. The man set forth, decades ago, to buck kitchen sink realism, so much so that his characters rarely have actual conversations. I rather prefer it when people on stage are not talking endlessly past each other, not because it's unrealistic, but because I find the spectacle of actors affecting each other to be more aesthetically pleasing. I also got sick of the long poetically elaborate philosophical monologues, again, not because they were unrealistic, but because they were unnecessary. In my favorite plays, the action has a rightness that doesn't always sink to inevitably (a total surprise can seem perfectly right.) The plot twists and added characters in this show just seemed arbitrary, and again, unnecessary.

It was well staged, and beautifully lit. It's hard to say what I would have felt about the acting if I didn't find the script so problematic. Bah! After two years, and after hearing a lot of great things about the company, I had to come see this for my first show at Artistic Home. I'd also heard good things about John Guare, though not about this specific play. How did I get so unlucky?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Fire up the shrink ray

Redmoon keeps getting smaller and smaller. After the success of their ode to tichyness, “The Cabinet,” they’ve moved on to toy theatres about the size of a high-end flatscreen, where the bitsy action is filmed live and projected on a wall. I expect that the challenge of constant reduction will excite them, as in this charming neo-Borgesian story, and look forward to the day when Redmoon shows will involve solemn single viewing, and microscopes.

So, last night, I saw “Once upon a time, or the Secret Language of Birds.” The puppets and the set and the tiny little props were entrancing, and Redmoon continues to be generous to its viewers. Their stories do tend to flag, but there is always Something Else to look at. This particular story- about a little girl and a wrestler gone to seed who rescue all the birds of the world from a malevolent thief, was nicely paced, but too sweet by two halves. The plot was all right, but the heroine was downright treacly. Emily, a little girl of infinite cuteness and equal wisdom who saves the day through the thin bright power of her extra-pure heart. It didn’t help that the actress who narrated made Emily’s voice sound like Baby June’s.

And of course, she taught the adults in the story an important lesson, a common symptom of fiction in the young. Actual children don’t know more than we do. They know less. They know fewer bad things, though, which might be the source of confusion. Most of us will probably learn something from a child some day, but it will be the sort of thing no child could understand, or articulate. Storybook prophets like Emily, on the other hand, teach via lecture.

And yes, I get that Redmoon was trying to tell a fairy-tale children’s story here. It’s no excuse. Please witness (from recent years) Lilo, of “Lilo and Stitch,” Coraline, of “Coraline.” Going back further, the Pensevie children, and even Alice. Just because you’re a small girl and you don't exist doesn’t mean you’re not a person.