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On New Year's Eve, I went with mithras to see Othello at the New York Theatre Workshop, starring David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig. I...don't ever need to see Othello again, I don't think. That was pretty much perfect.

This was a ridiculously hard ticket to get--mithras queued online as soon as the tickets went on sale, and in the course of the five minutes it took her to get to the front of the queue, we watched every single performance sell out, except for New Year's Eve. When we got there, we saw why.

The theater only seats 220 people, and these seats were arrayed on three sides of the stage, in bleachers. The first row was on the level with the stage, such that people on those seats had to keep their feet tucked in lest they trip the actors.

We were in the first row.

Yeah.

To watch such amazing actors from sometimes only a foot away was incredible. You could see thoughts entering their heads as they spoke--the moment when it occurs to Iago to use Cassio's vapid affection, the moment when Othello begins to believe his wife is unfaithful. It takes great actors to make the words of Shakespeare seem like natural thought, and to add layers to them beyond what is obvious on the page. And that's what we got from every member of the cast.

It was staged as a military barracks, with cast members lounging about on sleeping pads in the background of most scenes, playing guitar hero, or bench pressing, or cleaning their guns. The lighting was largely done with handheld lights--cell phones, camp lanterns, headlamps. The entire first scene was in pitch blackness. (And it says something about Daniel Craig, that I spent it thinking we'd gotten the understudy, because I didn't recognize the voice of Iago.)

The casual misogyny and masculinity of this backdrop informed Othello's character, so when you first see him explode at Cassio, you can see the violence he is capable of and will enact at the end of the play.

And it wasn't just Oyelowo and Craig that were brilliant. I've never liked Cassio before, but this actor made him both funny and pitiable. And Roderigo--god, Roderigo stole the show. Every time Iago manipulated him, he had this look on his face of deep skepticism, but like a mouse mesmerized by a snake, not quite able to pull away. Even his line, "Nobody come? Then shall I bleed to death," got a laugh.

What I was most struck by, though, is in the past I watched this play pitying Othello. But this time I watched it silently yelling at Desdemona to run away. Watching a man murder his wife while she's begging for just another hour? God. That's awful to watch. Makes me wonder why people quote "loved not wisely, but too well," out of context, as it is what Othello uses to justify his murder.

So yeah. That was incredible. In a year in which I saw Hamilton, I'm going to have to put this down as the highlight of my theater-going.
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I went to two shows in the past two days, neither of which I had a ticket for before day of, cause sometimes that's what being a New Yorker means.

Kinky Boots - It's facile, it's forgettable, it's fluff, but dear god is it fun. Just, a load of fun. My only objection is to the sound design, because when the rock band came in, I couldn't understand any of the words. This is not a play in which that matters, but it's still annoying. Also, I want ALL THE BOOTS.

How to Be an American - This was a short-run debut musical in concert (ie, with book), based on the life of George Washington Plunckett, one of the members of Tammany Hall. I've actually read the book it's based on, which I think makes me the audience. For this, D and I got rush tickets for $20 about 5 minutes before curtain, and that's about how much it was worth. It was only an hour, which is good, because it had no plot. It was structured as a faux Tammany Hall meeting, as an excuse to deliver bits of Plunckett's actual speeches (for example, the difference between honest graft and dishonest graft, the finer points of repeat voting at the polls, and the definition of an honest man as someone who once bought stays bought). It opened with a historically accurate but nonetheless cringe-inducing faux Native American set piece, where they sing about how "the only tribe of Indians who will never die at all/is Tammany Hall" and just--oh god. Sometimes I forget, with how bad things are today, how much worse they have been in the past.

They gave us little American flags to wave during the "rally," and at the end, we all stood and sang the national anthem. I recognize that there is a protest going on around the national anthem right now, but I felt this was an appropriately satirical context to sing it. First--what a dick song. Really. It's only singable by actual singers. It's impossible for everyone else. Second--after the play, someone tapped me on the shoulder to compliment me on my voice. This is not unexpected; it happens every time I sing in a crowd (for example, any time I go to church). What was unexpected is that she asked me for my business card because she needs to hire someone to sing the national anthem at events. Ooookay. I gave her my spam email, but I am not a professional singer. I just want to know what these "events" are.

Hamilton

Sep. 4th, 2016 01:16 pm
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On Tuesday, I saw Hamilton.

It felt like I spent the evening on a different planet. I bought the ticket a year ago, because I realized if I wanted to see it, I should buy the ticket before the Tony nominations, and I refused to pay more than $100. This meant clicking through every single performance till I found the first one with a single ticket for $100. Since I bought the ticket so long ago, I've had several dreams about seeing it, and I was incredibly anxious I'd forget the date or the time or lose the ticket or they wouldn't let me in or something. Even when I was waiting in line, I didn't believe it until they actually scanned my ticket and let me into the theater.

There was also the anxiety of, I was pretty sure this was my only chance to see the show. Since I'm an accountant, to put it an accountant way, the book value of my ticket, that is the historical cost, was $100. But the replacement value was $400 or $600. So I kept thinking, what if I get a headache? What if I have to pee? What if the people sitting next to me are jerks?

What I'm saying is, I see a lot of live theater, and the little imperfections are just part of it and usually don't bother me much, but because this was HAMILTON, and because I had to wait so long, OMG WHAT IF IT ISN'T PERFECT.

Then I got into theater, and holy crap, I've never seen merch move like this. I mean, it makes sense. If you spend $80 on a theater ticket, no, you're not going to spend another $40 on a sweatshirt. But if you spent $2,000 to take your family to see it? Then hell yes, you're going to buy a $35 T-shirt. At least then you'll have something tangible for what you just spent.

All this meant that people clogged up the lobby; you could barely move. The restrooms were also in the basement. I was sitting in the rear mezzanine, which was three flights up. I ran up and down those stairs three times--twice before the show, because I am an anxious dooby, and once at intermission. The bathroom line for intermission wrapped all the way into the orchestra section and down the aisle. I booked it from my seat as soon as the lights came up and still only made it back just before the second act started.

Then the seats themselves, which were just the minimum size I could wedge myself into. My thigh bone was too long for the distance between the rows, which meant it was one of those where you have to twist your feet to the sides and angle your legs and that's the one position you can sit in. For the next three hours.

The atmosphere was also something else. It was like a rock concert or opening night of a Marvel movie. The lights went down and everyone was like WOOOOOO! Every time a new person came on stage WOOOOO! And I was in the nosebleeds, which is where the true fans are, the ones who are just grateful to be in the theater. It was electric. In all my performances, there have only been one or two times when I could tell the audience was on board like that, and there was energy between them and the stage. And Hamilton gets that electricity every night?

The show then has so many words, you have to watch it with laser-like focus, attention unwavering or you'll miss something. All of this to say, I entered into an alternate physical reality that ran by its own rules.

Then the show itself.

I managed to avoid listening to the score at all (except for snatches of three songs) before watching the show, and that was the right choice for me to experience. Odd to talk about spoilers when it's based on historical fact, but a) I knew the broad strokes of the history, that doesn't mean I knew the granular details, and b) even if I had known all of that, the choices made in presenting the story are their own kind of spoiler.

So the rest of this is going under a spoiler cut )

I realize I am late to the party on this one. It's so weird to suddenly be a newbie in a fandom that I've strenuously avoided so far. So I know it's been discussed to death by everybody already. I'm just going to enjoy getting to know the soundtrack recording, and finally getting to dive into this really awesome thing.

Newsies

Mar. 2nd, 2014 06:17 pm
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This week I went to see Newsies as a sponsored work event for the interns. This meant I got to leave work when it was still light out...but still didn't get home until 11.

I'm a fan of the movie Newsies, which was kind of a bust financially, so was interested to see the stage version, which has been a huge success.

Screen vs. stage )

Overall, a fun time, but I don't think it's quite tight enough to enter the Broadway canon.

Also, though it was free for me to go, it meant I worked about four hours less. Since those were overtime hours, that's an opportunity cost of about $160. No free lunch, eh?
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[profile] mithras03 and I went to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last night. Here is my one word review: Boring.

The aerial stuff with the (nine!) acrobats in Spider-Man costumes was awesome. But there was maybe twenty minutes of that in a two hour and forty minute show. And the rest of the show was just blah. The music was blah. The plot was the Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man story you already know if you've seen or read ANY Spider-Man anything. Followed slavishly. With no surprises. Such that I frequently had the Sam Raimi film playing in my head, by way of comparison. And Turn Off the Dark is the lesser of the two--where the two differ in storyline, Turn Off the Dark chooses to solve story problems in the less interesting way. Peter is not culpable in any way for Uncle Ben's death. I mean, he wasn't there, but he didn't cause it. Uncle Ben also doesn't say, "With great power comes great responsibility," so when Peter says it later, it's a one-off. Peter misses Mary Jane's debut not because he was off being Spider-Man, but because he was ASLEEP. (Having dream sex with a mythical spider, but whatever.)

We were in the cheap seats, ie, one of the top balcony boxes. We had it to ourselves, and the chairs were both comfortable and not attached to the floor, which was nice. This meant we had a perfect view of all the aerial stuff, but it meant we couldn't see down the barrel of the stage. Which meant, since the stage is incredibly deep, the actors looked hilariously dwarfed by the sets. And the sets were surprisingly sparse (Zefferelli this was not), so sometimes they looked like they were in a rehearsal space, there was so much emptiness around them. I suspect this was aggravated by having a skew view, but I think it would have been a problem anyway.

The highlight of the show are, of course, the Spider-Men. Up in the balcony, we could see them when they came out onto two little platforms at the front of the balcony and got hooked up before swooping in. There were a bunch of kids in the balcony that were SO EXCITED by this OMG. So it was more fun to watch Spidey waving at them than whatever was going on on stage.

The costume design was all over the place. Every decade in the twentieth-century! This was only jarring for me because of how sexist the thing was overall. I mean, a chorus of shrill secretaries, preening and typing. Peter wins the science award and MJ wins the drama award (cause she's a girl!). I mean, the story's exactly as sexist as the time when it was written. But to me the only thing that makes the sexism palatable is the time. So if you're going to be talking about Facebook and cell phones and customer service phone menus, then lose the secretaries, huh?

So that happened. I knew it would be bad going in, so I'm not disappointed. It's what I expected. Though I was reading articles on it today and man, I wish I'd seen it before the rewrite. I'd take mind-bendingly awful over bland every day.

Here is how boring this was: In the first act, the chorus sings a chord progression that pinged my memory so hard, I knew I'd heard it in some other musical somewhere, one that I owned, but I didn't know what. In the middle of the second act, as MJ and Peter sang a love song, I finally placed it and leaned over to mithras to say, "Evita! It was Evita!"

Barbicide

Oct. 22nd, 2012 05:20 pm
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On Friday, my cousin invited me along to see Barbicide, a play whose tickets cost $12, drinks included, which tells you something about the drinks. I got one called a Straight Razor, and that's pretty much what it was. Vile, but very alcoholic.

And necessary, as it turns out. The "historic" Players Theatre's seats are narrower than the seats on the 1 train, so the booze was necessary to numb you so you could sit in them for two hours. The theater is also right next to Cafe Wha?, which got hopping around 9:30, just in time for the dramatic silences of the climax of the play. So we got a nice soundtrack of people's conversations through the wall, that you could hear word for word. There also was the most hilarious smoke machine in the world, that would go *FSSSSSSHHHHHH!* every few scenes and put one plume of smoke across the bottom of the stage.

The play was...hmm. It was a version of Sweeney Todd, but set in Queens in 1964, with everyone talking in thickly accented slang. And there were only four actors: one for Johanna (who spent a lot of time sitting and looking at the back of the stage--this was one of those productions where no one ever leaves the stage), one for Mrs. Lovett and the Beggar Woman, one for Antony and Toby, and one for...everybody else. That's right--one guy played Todd, the Judge, Beadle Bailey, and Pirelli. Which is kind of a problem since he has to kill himself several times. He had whole scenes with himself, embodying different characters with the clever use of hats. It worked a little better than this description makes it sound--but not that much better.

It felt to me like an exercise in voice. The author was trying to nail the blue collar speech of this time and place, and for the most part, he did. The problem is that Sweeney Todd is a melodrama. And this is a criticism I've had for Sweeney productions in the past--you can't have dramatic distance in a melodrama. You have to be right up there unironically embracing the over-the-top sentiment or it's just ludicrous.

And in this case, because everyone was playing multiple parts and there was very little staging, the "action" happened in monologue. So the actors are never "in the moment"--they are always relating it to the audience through narration. Which just wrecks the thing. It was like watching somebody riding a bike very slowly, wobbling, and staying upright as long as we were in the middle of a digression in the monologue which explored some part of the setting. But as soon as it came back to the melodrama of Sweeney, boom. Ass over teakettle.

Which brings me to my main criticism of the thing. This was not a reinvention of the Sweeney Todd myth. This was a scene for scene retelling of the musical. One that did not attribute the musical--or Christopher Bond's play, on which the musical is based. It's basically fanfic, of a very specific and often reviled type--the, I'm going to retell this movie almost exactly, using the entire plot and some of the dialogue, but in a new setting.

As such, it shows an incredible arrogance on the part of the playwright to not credit, let alone license, the original work. Sweeney Todd the stock character is public domain, but this plot? It ain't. And you could argue about whether this would stand up in court as a transformative work, but it's clear that nobody involved even thought about that. It hasn't even occurred to them that there's a problem with lifting the entire plot of the musical without attribution.
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Last night [livejournal.com profile] mithras03 and I went to see "Are You There, McPhee?" at the McCarter Theater in Princeton. This meant, for me, rushing to Penn Station and catching a train. I only did this cause a) mithras works in Princeton and could drive me back, b) the play stars Paul Gross, and c) the tickets were really cheap. There's a reason for that. At the intermission, I turned to mithras and said, "This is shit!"

Walt Disney is God's apology for the Holocaust )

The thing with this play--oh, so many things, but the thing with this play is that the production was so expensive and so well done. Elaborate stage with many moving parts, numerous puppets, animated lobster, lighting effects, sound effects.

And the actors were trying so goddamn hard. Gross in particular. He talked pretty much continuously for almost three hours. You could see him using his diaphragm to project. It made me observe to mithras that in order to do that, night after night, and not lose your voice, as he hadn't, you have to have learned serious oratory skills. And he was putting so much ENERGY into it. I mean, he carries the thing. And a lot of it is supposed to be witty, so he'd deliver these lines and pause for effect and like one person would laugh. But a huge portion of his lines were saying things like, "I open the door," "I pour a glass of wine," "I go to the phone." And then there were these chunks of text, quotes from other things, that are repeated MULTIPLE TIMES and I don't care how much energy you put into your performance, NOTHING will animate this. It must be absolutely soul sucking. I mean, at some point in the second act, I started thinking of this as one of the little vignettes from "A Life in the Theater" where they're showing just how bad so much of theater is.

This play was so spectacularly bad--and not in a way that an amateur could write a bad play. This was a bad play only a pro could create. McCarter commissioned it, and mithras and I can only figure that they signed the cast before the script came in (cause how you could read it and agree to do it--I don't know). And they clearly had enough of an investment that it was going up goddammit and they were going to do the best job they could with it. And you've heard of good actors elevating bad text? Not possible here.

What this play was was lots and lots of technique--a lifetime of playwrighting technique. Repetition of things like references to Jaws, "The Internal Structure of Stars," the Holocaust, Walt Disney, as if mere repetition created a theme. It was all this technique internalized, digested, and then shat out. The technique was recognizably there--but it was still shit.

Seminar

Feb. 9th, 2012 10:25 pm
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Went to Seminar this evening with [livejournal.com profile] mithras03. Had a great deal of fun, and not just because of Alan Rickman (though he was brilliant). The play has some flaws (like being populated by stereotypes), but the writing is just so witty and delivered so well you don't care.

At the very end of the play, in the tense silence of the climax, someone's cell phone rang. Rickman and the other actor bravely went on with the scene as the phone kept ringing, getting louder as it was fumbled out of the person's bag. Spoiler for a line at end of play )

Best line of the night (other than the one above): It's perfect, in a whorish way.
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As [livejournal.com profile] chuckro and [livejournal.com profile] jethrien and I walked to the PATH station, past the projects on Ninth Ave, a lone guy walked past us going the other direction. He shouted out, "Did you guys see the naked guy with the ram head?"

We looked at each other. "Yeah!"

"I'm so jealous!"

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