Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Weekend Wrapup: The National, Cheez Doodles, the Beatles, Stew and a Transvestite Comic

My head is still spinning from all the stuff I did this weekend. Thanks to press invites and the such, I did it all for the grand total of $49. Who says New York is expensive?

The National at BAM *** -- I wish I liked them more, but there's no denying this NYC band can build up a head of steam musically. I find them more interesting melodically than lyrically and the lead singer unfortunately reminds me of the guy from Crash Test Dummies. The crowd loved it when he shredded his voice on some ecstatic riff. Intelligent and fun, if not overwhelming. $16 ticket. (I was in the front row of the THIRD level. Never been that high before at BAM but for a rock show it really didn't matter.)

The Strawberry New Play Festival ** 1/2 -- Six one act plays, including one by Jack Slattery, the 16 year old son of friends I met via Yankee Stadium. "Cold April" by Jack's teacher actually won Best Play. Though I found it a bit noble, Erica Lauren as Mosi was solid. "Rodwart's World" was a so-so work about a therapist and her interfering, middle-aged son Rodwart. "An Acute Triangle" was an uninspired tale of two brothers desired by a female vampire who can't choose between them enlivened somewhat by the lead actors. "Marked" was an ambitious, challenging piece about an elderly woman refusing to take her meds who is paranoid and the son trying to help her. Unfortunately, the lead female repeatedly stumbled over her lines, making it impossible to get lost in the story. "What Cheer, Iowa" was my favorite of the fest, a rambunctious comedy about people trapped in a waiting room hoping their cars will pass inspection. The only flaw was a secondary character wildly overacted, for which I blame the director who otherwise did a fine job keeping it moving. "Can Cheese Doodles Do You Harm?" was -- I'm delighted to say -- a close second in my favorite of the plays. (It should be Cheez Doodles, by the way, Jack.) A fun broad comedy about a super fat girl trying to fit into new clothes for the prom but accidentally popping off buttons that killed or wounded passers-by, unlike most of the other plays it actually wanted to entertain and had a game cast making the most of it. I especially liked the surreal touch of the Boy Scout putting a fish into the punch bowl -- now that was a trippy non sequiteur. Lots of fun. I would have felt obliged to vote for it anyway, of course. But I could happily make it one of my two best play votes (you had to vote for two) with a clean conscience. Free tickets.

Mom, How Did You Meet The Beatles? ** 1/2 -- Truly one of the most banal titles for a nice little play by Adrienne Kennedy about how she came up with the idea of turning John Lennon's "In His Own Write" into a play and ended up in London during the Swinging Sixties hobnobbing with Larry Olivier and the rest. A modest, simple show with basically one actress on stage telling her anecdote with the off-screen voice of her son prompting her with questions. Brenda Pressley (who I've admired since ...And The World Goes Round, my first NY show and recently in Seven Guitars) held the stage wonderfully. The story is slight but they might have cut out a few "I'll never forget"'s and added a little more sense of drama. Though the son has just a few lines, they're actually a little interfering and annoying. His voice really isn't that necessary. There is a little drama with Kennedy getting pushed aside from the project. (I was very relieved that John Lennon was clearly not involved in that, I must say.) Without overwhelming the show, it might have been more pointed. However, for a fan of the Beatles like myself, a glimpse of them at the height of their powers was great fun and Kennedy is generous of spirit. And for $13 it was just right.

Eddie Izzard *** -- a peerless stand-up comic, Izzard is working on a new show. The run is sold out but I just showed up and bought a standing room ticket for $20 and had a grand time. I joked before that he would spend half the show muttering "transition, transition, transition" and indeed Izzard did spend quite a bit of time saying, "Where was I? and What was I talking about? and making it seem quite charming. Whenever he did I muttered to my friend "Transition, transition, transition." That led me to think of doing a stand-up act even more pared down than Stephen Wright's one-liners. I'll just do a show of transitions and people will fill in the leaps of logic themselves and giggle over how they connect them. "Mothers...breasts...Mt. Everest...Dalia Lama...prescription drugs...Mothers." Izzard focused quite a bit on the Bible (as always) and he doesn't seem to hold truck with the whole "literal" thing. Also joked about how Latin made it impossible for people to hold angry conversations because everything took so long to say, Noah and the Ark (Try it, he says. It won't work.) and other erudite topics or rather standard topics dealt with eruditely. Doesn't reinvent the wheel but should easily be shaped into a solid show.

Passing Strange ** 1/2 -- A Broadway musical by Stew about "passing," first a young black man trying to "pass" for black at his church when he's an artistic loner alongside the gay choir director who befriends him and gives him pot and then as a black man in Berlin trying to "pass" for ghetto black so he can be seen as authentic by his fellow artists. I really enjoyed the cast and the energy of the show. After the first act, which goes from our hero's childhood to Amsterdam, I was really hopeful. Nice spare set with a bold lighting backdrop, a rock band member in tiny sunken pits at four sides of the stage, virtually no other sets, just a winning cast. The it just repeated itself with the fish out of water story of Amsterdam repeated in Berlin and our hero's mom wishing he would come home but not telling him what we suspect (that she's desperately ill). The two women he falls for are ultimately interchangeable so it means nothing when he rejects them and moves on. Even his mom hasn't made much of an impression so when she dies we're not terribly moved either. Feels like a first draft that could get more specific and become a solid work, but unfortunately it's already on Broadway, so this is the end of its development. Intelligent to a fault, with a rather abstract final moment that doesn't satisfy. Also, Stew is an engaging presence on stage but he could have had a more driving purpose. Instead of keeping the show honest, he more often opened the door to humor that undercut the big scenes. A send-up of European art films is funny (and better than most skits on SNL) but really serves no purpose. Fun, smart and really a terrific cast. But can't quite recommend.

And then I watched the Academy Awards. I'm exhausted just writing about it. And all for $49.

No comments: