Thursday, January 10, 2019

THEATER: "Choir Boy" -- It's The Same Old Song

CHOIR BOY ** 1/2 out of ****

It's been six years since actor Jeremy Jordan enjoyed a rare splash on Broadway: he starred in two new musicals (Bonnie & Clyde and Newsies) within weeks of each other. A star was born. (Ok, it was born the moment he took the stage at the Papermill Playhouse where Newsies debuted. But you get the idea.) Much the same appears to be happening for Jeremy Pope, who stars on Broadway right now in Choir Boy (a play with a lot of singing). And a few weeks from now, he'll be starring in the hotly touted Temptations musical Ain't Too Proud To Beg? Is lightning going to strike twice? And if so, will every parent dreaming of musical theater start naming their sons Jeremy?

It's also the Broadway debut for Oscar-winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. He won the Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay of Moonlight. McCraney also wowed critics with the bold, experimental and moving trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays at the Public Theater.

Prepare to be wowed? Not quite. The strong cast led by Pope and the graceful presentation by director Trip Cullman and his design team is what one would hope for. But Choir Boy proves far more conventional and uninspired than one might expect. It's the same old song given a new but unconvincing arrangement. And if you're eager to point out that's a hit by the Four Tops (and not the Temptations), I'd applaud you and suggest that's precisely the attention to detail that Choir Boy lacks.

Pharus Jonathan Young (Pope) is the golden-voiced member of the choir at an exclusive prep school catering to young men of color. He is very excited about taking a lead role in the ensemble and maybe breaking precedent by taking a solo at his own graduation. Pharus is also very gay. He is out, sort of, because being in is simply not much of an option for him. Pharus is proud and discrete at the same time, a tricky balancing act he manages with humor, defiance and by following the rules of the school both official (hey, no romance!) and unspoken (no ratting out a fellow student).

Most students just shake their heads at Pharus sometimes being a little too open. But Bobby Marrow, the nephew of the headmaster, can't stand Pharus and they butt heads constantly. When Bobby disrupts practice once too often, Pharus calls for a group vote and Bobby is ousted, creating even more tension between the two. Toss in a fellow student who is preparing for a life in ministry and a new (white) teacher who oversees the choir and you've got plenty of material for a drama, all of it pretty obvious. Sadly, Choir Boy follows the old script of a tragic but noble gay character, the repressed religious figure, and a stalwart straight best friend. It never surprises. The cast and presentation elevate the proceedings, but not enough to mask the play's essential flaws.

Beyond the charismatic ensemble, the best part of the show is the music, mostly old spirituals and an original posing as the school's theme song. They are woven into the action with simplicity and ease. Choreographer Camille A. Brown and Cullman keep the 100 minute show moving briskly and seamlessly between story and song. While the connections to the drama aren't always obvious to me, they were clearly chosen with care and feel of a piece with the action.

The highpoint of the show is a locker room scene. Bobby (played gruffly and a little too obviously by J. Quinton Johnson) has been touchy throughout over any mention of his mother. Indeed, when the would-be preacher David (Caleb Eberhardt) references her and Bobby's hackles rise, he immediately apologizes and says he forgot. Dead? A disgrace? It's not quite clear but Bobby's mom is a source of pain for him. In the locker-room David starts singing "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" directly to Bobby. (That answers that question, since now we know Bobby's mom is dead.)

It's an entreaty, a peace-offering and an invitation to grieve and heal all at once. The rest of the cast freeze in tension and empathy. David keeps singing and offering it up to Bobby...and finally Bobby takes the lead. Soon, the rest of the choir are joining in on harmony to support him. It's touching and powerful. And then Pharus steps in and starts show-boating on vocals until Bobby and everyone else stop singing and leave in disgust. Only Pharus' roommate A.J. (John Clay III) stays behind to shake his head and chide him. Everything about this scene is good. It's the best use of a spiritual and music in general. It moves the story forward meaningfully. And it complicates our hero, letting us know however much we sympathize with him, Pharus is human and can be brash and self-centered at times too.

But later in the play, this dramatic peak is undercut when we're supposed to believe Pharus had NO IDEA that Bobby's mom is dead. Since everyone else knows and Bobby is the nephew of the headmaster, his life is already an open book and if his mom weren't there for a school event it would be pretty obvious even to Pharus, that's hard to believe. And if true, it makes the earlier scene pointless: Pharus wasn't interrupting a precious healing moment; as far as he knew. he was just joining in on a song after Bobby and others had their turn.

Other problems abound, including the saintly AJ, a straight dude in high school so comfortable with himself he both straddles his roomie Pharus to tickle him and then swiftly takes in stride the inadvertent arousal that follows. Even more problematic is the new white teacher played by Austin Pendleton. The actor does his best and as usual is appealing and believable on stage. But what should be an unconventional shaking up of the choir (they've been on their own) proves quite beside the point: about the only meaningful step he takes is to assign them an assignment to learn a favorite song of their parents. This character might have created tension, proven a role model for Pharus, brought the two warring students together or a million other things. And yet, he does nothing. Indeed, when the teacher gets upset over a string of slurs voiced by Bobby, it was hard to tell if he was more upset by the N word or the F word. (Given his immediate understanding when the preacher-to-be references wanting to learn more about the Biblical King David, I'd go with the latter.)

It all ends much as one would expect, more's the pity. Despite the constant flow of music, even the setting of a choir seems beside the point. Pharus has one great scene discussing old spirituals. Yet accept for that locker room scene, the real joy of a choir is absent. Most of the music interludes are dropped into the show, not part of it. We don't see the young men working on an arrangement, learning a new song, striving to make their voices blend together. While Pharus yearns to solo at graduation, he might just as well be striving to deliver a speech as the student with the best academic record or strive to win the big game. It's a goal, but a generic one.

Still, the cast makes you believe. Chuck Cooper breathes life into every moment he's on stage as the headmaster. And the students are a strong ensemble, from Nicholas L. Ashe as the bouncy Junior to Johnson's stolid, dependable AJ. But just as Jeremy Jordan's appearance in Bonnie & Clyde was just a precursor of things to come, we can expect both Jeremy Pope and Tarell Alvin McCraney to be back on Broadway in far better style. Hey, the same was true with that Motown act. Their debut was the so-so Meet The Temptations. But with talent like this, the sky's the limit.


Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Monday, January 07, 2019

IRAs -- The Best Of The 1980s (work in progress)


87 and counting 

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension 
All Of Me
Another Country (Tubi w ads)
As Tears Go By
Au Revoir Les Enfants (Kanopy)
Babette’s Feast 
Back To The Future 
Berlin Alexanderplatz
Blade Runner (IMDB w ads)
Blood Simple 
Blue Velvet (Amazon, Epix, Hulu)
Born on the Fourth of July (Hulu)
Broadcast News (Starz) 
Broadway Danny Rose 
Bull Durham (Amazon, Hoopla, Netflix)
Chariots of Fire (Max  Go)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (HBO)
Dangerous Liaisons 
Danton (Kanopy)
Das Boot 
The Dead 
The Decalogue 
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Amazon, Hoopla, Roku)
Distant Voices, Still Lives 
Do the Right Thing (Starz)
Drugstore Cowboy (HBO)
Eight Men Out (Amazon, Hoopla, Roku) 
Empire Of The Sun 
The Empire Strikes Back 
Enemies, A Love Story 
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Max Go) 
Evil Dead II 
The Fabulous Baker Boys 
Fanny and Alexander 
Field of Dreams (Hulu)
A Fish Called Wanda (Roku)
The Fly 
For All Mankind (Kanopy) 
Full Metal Jacket 
Gallipoli (Starz) 
Hannah and Her Sisters 
Henry V 
High Hopes 
Honkytonk Man 
Hope and Glory 
Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring 
The Killing Fields 
Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance 
The Last Emperor 
The Little Mermaid 
Local Hero 
Lost In America 
Modern Romance 
My Brilliant Career 
My Dinner with Andre 
My Favorite Year 
My Left Foot 
My Life As A Dog 
My Neighbor Totoro 
Once Upon a Time in America 
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure 
The Princess Bride 
Prizzi's Honor 
The Purple Rose of Cairo 
Radio Days 
Raging Bull 
Raiders of the Lost Ark 
The Return of Martin Guerre 
The Right Stuff 
Risky Business 
River's Edge 
The Road Warrior 
A Room With A View 
Runaway Train 
sex, lies and videotape 
The Shining 
Smooth Talk 
Something Wild 
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan 
Stop Making Sense 
Swimming To Cambodia 
Tender Mercies 
Terms Of Endearment 
The Thin Blue Line 
Things Change 
This Is Spinal Tap 
Time Bandits 
The Times Of Harvey Milk 
The Unbearable Lightness of Being 
Vernon, Florida 
The War Of The Roses 
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 
Wings of Desire 
Withnail and I 
Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown 
The World According To Garp 

THEATER: "Ink" -- The Art of Calligraphy, Performance and Friendship


Have the performance duo/art experts James & Jerome created  a new form of lecture for museums around the world to adopt? A sort of Ted Talk for tapestries and the like? Not really.  I mean, how many people are out there who can hold a stage, speak authoritatively and entertainingly about art and art  history, weave in personal anecdotes, compose beautiful music, play multiple instruments and dance with insouciance? Heck, I'm not even sure James can dance with insouciance, so it takes two here. With Ink, the combination of their talents has created an engaging piece that surely will be welcome at museums around the world.

Their show is broken into five parts. Jerome Ellis kicks  things off with the story of a sabbatical he took away from his friend and collaborative partner James Harrison Monaco. Inspired by a book, Jerome decides to make his own ink. Before you know it, we're off into the history of ink and calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts, scored by music one or both of them perform throughout and backed by projections of various art pieces.

And it is a story. Jerome has a stutter and explains how early on in their friendship he asked James to introduce Jerome to others, saving him the hurdle of repeating his own name. "James gave me my name back hundreds of times over the last ten years," he says. Just like that, they set a pattern.  A close but playful examination of a signature of Suleiman the Magnificent flows into some hypnotic music which leads to more personal comments (such as how the two bonded by spending endless days at the Met soaking in their favorite works together) back to music (maybe with Jerome soloing on the flute or sax)  and back to art history.

Is it an art lecture? A performance piece? A musical concert? Yes.

Photo copyright by Marcus Middleton

Jerome's stutter adds an element of drama to the show. Once the audience realizes  he is not "performing" but simply working to communicate with them, they are immediately on his side, rooting for his thoughtful comments and compelling voice to come as easily as he wants, while patiently making mental room when it doesn't. (Anyone who has seen the British performance artist and comic Daniel Kitson will recognize this phenomenon.) James becomes a helpful counterpoint, contrasting their styles of storytelling and giving both Jerome and the audience a breather. This only adds to the sense of warmth between them and the people hearing their story.

This is good since Ink would otherwise lack tension and be merely a lecture with modest anecdotes woven in. No natural suspense arises from the stories shared or information presented, however compelling they might be.

Naturally, their comments are illustrated throughout with images of art. (Media Designer Shawn Duan is the third key element of the show, which was directed by Rachel Tavkin and Annie Tippe.) From Part II onward,  each piece of art projected on the screen was spoken about directly or obviously related somehow to the moment. Not so in Part I, where Jerome  set up his story and their friendship while seemingly random objects were displayed behind him. Undoubtedly they have significance, but that remained  obscure at least to me. A similar disconnect seemed to reoccur with the last few images of the show, though that was so minor it just be my fault. The visuals  and music came together perfectly however when Jerome would step in front of the projections while dancing or playing an instrument, literally becoming a part of the art they so love.

Lastly, an unintentional odd note was struck at the finale. Jerome said something akin to, "I think I'd like to finish this alone" and James left the stage. Clearly this was planned. Perhaps they have several options at the end, depending on the mood, their desire to change it up or Jerome's  temperature-taking of how his speech is flowing and whether he wants to tackle one final bit or pass it off? I've no idea but one thing is clear: James wasn't being "dismissed." But the way that transition was voiced added a discordant note; it should be handled differently in the future.

Just as clearly, this piece will indeed have a future at any museum James & Jerome want to visit. The only pity is that those future audience members won't be able to follow the show by immediately heading upstairs at the Met to check out most of the key pieces mentioned in person with a new appreciation.


Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Saturday, January 05, 2019



Well, that worked! The New Saloon theater company came up with a clever stunt of a show: find every English translation of the classic Chekhov play Uncle Vanya (including their own hilariously literal version via Google Translate), mash them up, have multiple actors tackle the same roles (often at the same time) and see what happens. Quite a lot, as it turns out. At just 90 minutes and with a strong dollop of humor, any production of Chekhov that doesn't bore is to be appreciated. Minor Character does quite a bit more.

If you don't know the story, don't worry. Despite the on-stage chaos -- sometimes three versions of various characters like Vanya and Yelena and Sonya jostle for space in a scene -- the basic story comes across quite nicely. The cantankerous, grumpy, irascible professor is visiting the country estate that supplies the funds to keep him living well. At his side is the professor's notably younger and more beautiful wife Yelena.

Servants are underfoot but the estate is overseen with tireless diligence by Sonya (the professor's daughter from his late wife) and the dead woman's brother, Vanya. Also dropping in is the Doctor; he is drawn to Yelena while meek, mild, mouse-like Sonya has worshipped the man from afar. Little happens and little changes (it's Chekhov, after all), but done well the play can be devastating and sad.

Like the actors, those multiple translations bump into one another throughout the show. At times, a single actor might run through two or three variations of a line or phrase. Instead of seeming comical or bizarre, it  creates a unique rhythm for the production, such as this line by Vanya: "I've been made a complete fool," Vanya says, "foolishly betrayed," the second Vanya agrees, "stupidly cheated," the third Vanya clarifies.

A simple but garish set with the same ugly pattern adorning the carpeting, the tablecloth and the drapes along the back wall indicates an off-kilter world, not to mention how the same idea, image, pattern can be repeated over and over (and over) again. And the eight member cast led by a very droll David Greenspan (doing wonders with his delivery of lines) is sterling from top to bottom.

It's lucky enough that this idea worked and better that it didn't lose track of the story being told in the process. The stunt probably shouldn't be duplicated, though the very idea of doing it over and over again with other plays is surely embedded in its very DNA.

Yet it did pay dividends in unexpected ways. When three Sonyas are giggling like schoolgirls over expressing their love and admiration for the Doctor, the text came alive, their voices rising in a chorus of glee. When the Professor makes his desire for Yelena clear, having three Professors surrounding her and touching her made his attention a little creepier and more aggressive than expected. At other times, when a character is talking to themselves, they are literally talking to themselves, with one actor repeating a line or exploring a new avenue of thought followed by another actor in the same role who contradicts them or dully repeats the same idea, revealing how stuck in one way of thinking they truly are.

Suddenly, this approach of multiple actors playing the same roles and multiple translations battling for supremacy illuminated one idea after another: how every production (indeed every performance) brings a play to life in a slightly different way, how diverse casting in gender and race lets us see a person anew or reveal their universal humanity, how every revival is haunted by the past and on and on and on. While simply watching this performance was a solid evening of entertainment (and hence only three stars out of four), I must admit Minor Character is one of those shows that feel more significant the more one thinks about it. And New Saloon is a troupe to keep an eye on, keep tabs on, pay attention to.


And here's my review in Russian.

Ну, это сработало! Театральная компания «Новый Салон» придумала хитрый трюк: найти каждый английский перевод классической чеховской пьесы «Дядя Ваня» (включая их собственную веселую буквально версию с помощью Google Translate), разомкнуть их, заставить нескольких актеров играть одинаковые роли часто одновременно) и посмотрим, что получится. Как оказалось, довольно много. Всего за 90 минут и с сильным приливом юмора любая постановка Чехова, которая не надоедает, должна цениться. Незначительный Персонаж делает немного больше.

Если вы не знаете историю, не волнуйтесь. Несмотря на хаос на сцене - иногда три версии разных персонажей, таких как Ваня, Елена и Соня, борются за место в сцене - основная история довольно симпатична. Странный, сварливый, вспыльчивый профессор посещает загородную усадьбу, которая предоставляет средства для поддержания его хорошей жизни. На его стороне заметно молодая и красивая жена профессора Елена.

Слуги под ногами, но за состоянием усадьбы с неутомимым усердием следят Соня (дочь профессора от его покойной жены) и брат покойной женщины Ваня. Также заглядывает Доктор; его тянет к Елене, в то время как кроткая, мягкая, похожая на мышь Соня поклонялась человеку издалека. Мало что происходит и мало что меняется (в конце концов, это Чехов), но хорошо выполненная игра может быть разрушительной и грустной.

Эти многочисленные переводы также сталкиваются друг с другом на протяжении всего шоу. Иногда один актер может пройти через два или три варианта строки или фразы. Вместо того, чтобы казаться комичным или причудливым, он создает уникальный ритм для постановки, такой как эта линия Ваней: «Я стал полным дураком, - говорит Ваня, - глупо предан, - соглашается Ваня, - глупо обманут». Ваня уточняет.

Простой, но броский набор с тем же уродливым рисунком, украшающим ковровое покрытие, скатерть и занавески вдоль задней стены, указывают на мир, в котором нет места, не говоря уже о том, как одна и та же идея, изображение, рисунок могут повторяться снова и снова ( ) снова. А актерский состав из восьми человек во главе с очень дурацким Дэвидом Гринспеном (творящим чудеса со своей доставкой строк) - сверху вниз.

К счастью, эта идея сработала и лучше, что она не потеряла след истории, рассказанной в процессе. Трюк, вероятно, не должен дублироваться, хотя сама идея делать это снова и снова с другими пьесами, безусловно, заложена в самой ее ДНК.

Тем не менее, он выплачивал дивиденды неожиданным образом. Когда три Сони хихикают, как школьницы, из-за того, что выражают свою любовь и восхищение Доктором, текст оживает, их голоса растут в радостном хоре. Когда Профессор ясно заявляет о своем желании к Елене, окружение ее трех профессоров и прикосновение к ней сделали его внимание немного более жутким и более агрессивным, чем ожидалось. В других случаях, когда персонаж разговаривает сам с собой, он буквально разговаривает сам с собой, когда один актер повторяет линию или исследует новый путь мышления, за которым следует другой актер в той же роли, который противоречит им или тупо повторяет ту же идею, показывая, как они застряли в одном образе мышления.

Внезапно, этот подход нескольких актеров, играющих одинаковые роли, и нескольких переводов, сражающихся за превосходство, высветили одну идею за другой: как каждый спектакль (на самом деле, каждый спектакль) воплощает пьесу в жизнь немного по-другому, насколько разнообразное распределение по полу и расе мы снова видим человека или раскрываем его вселенскую человечность, как каждое пробуждение преследует прошлое и так далее, и так далее. Хотя простой просмотр этого спектакля был насыщенным вечерним развлечением (а значит, только три звезды из четырех), я должен признать, что «Незначительный персонаж» - это одно из тех шоу, которое тем значительнее, чем больше думаешь об этом. А New Saloon - это труппа, за которой нужно следить, следить за ней, обращать на нее внимание.


And French.

Eh bien, cela a fonctionné! La troupe théâtrale New Saloon a imaginé tout un programme: retrouvez toutes les traductions en anglais de la classique pièce de Chekhov, Oncle Vanya (y compris leur propre version littéralement hilarante via Google Translate), écrasez-les, demandez à plusieurs acteurs d'assumer les mêmes rôles ( souvent en même temps) et voir ce qui se passe. Beaucoup, en fin de compte. À seulement 90 minutes et avec une bonne dose d'humour, toute production de Tchekhov qui ne s'ennuie pas est à apprécier. Caractère mineur fait un peu plus.

Si vous ne connaissez pas l'histoire, ne vous inquiétez pas. Malgré le chaos sur scène - parfois trois versions de personnages différents tels que Vanya, Yelena et Sonya se bousculent pour trouver de la place dans une scène - l'histoire de base est assez belle. Le professeur sarcastique, grincheux et irascible se rend dans le domaine rural qui lui fournit les fonds nécessaires à sa survie. À ses côtés se trouve la femme particulièrement jeune et plus belle du professeur, Yelena.

Les serviteurs sont sous les pieds, mais Sonya (la fille du professeur de son défunt épouse) et le frère de la femme décédée, Vanya, surveillent la succession avec une diligence infatigable. Le Docteur fait également son entrée; Il est attiré par Yelena, tandis que Sonya, douce et douce comme une souris, a vénéré cet homme de loin. Peu de choses se passent et peu de changements (c'est Chekhov, après tout), mais bien joué, la pièce peut être dévastatrice et triste.

Ces traductions multiples se croisent également tout au long du spectacle. Parfois, un seul acteur peut parcourir deux ou trois variations d’une ligne ou d’une phrase. Au lieu de paraître comique ou bizarre, cela crée un rythme unique pour la production, tel que cette ligne de Vanya: "Je suis devenu complètement idiot", dit Vanya, "stupidement trahi", reconnaît Vanya, "stupidement trompé". Vanya clarifie.

Un ensemble simple mais criard avec le même motif laid qui orne la moquette, la nappe et les rideaux le long du mur arrière indiquent un monde décalé, sans parler de la façon dont la même idée, image, motif peuvent être répétés encore et encore (et plus encore). ) encore. Et le casting de huit membres dirigé par le très droll David Greenspan (qui fait des merveilles avec ses lignes) est remarquable du début à la fin.

Il est assez chanceux que cette idée fonctionne et mieux qu’elle ne perd pas de vue l’histoire racontée au cours du processus. La cascade ne devrait probablement pas être dupliquée, bien que l’idée même de la répéter encore et encore avec d’autres pièces soit sûrement inscrite dans son ADN même.

Pourtant, il a payé des dividendes de manière inattendue. Quand trois Sonya rigolent comme des écolières pour exprimer leur amour et leur admiration pour le Docteur, le texte s'anima, leurs voix s'élevant dans un choeur de joie. Lorsque le professeur a exprimé clairement son désir pour Yelena, le fait d'avoir trois professeurs l'entourant et la touchant l'a rendu un peu plus effrayant et plus agressif que prévu. D'autres fois, lorsqu'un personnage se parle à lui-même, il se parle littéralement à lui-même, un acteur répétant une phrase ou explorant une nouvelle voie de pensée suivie par un autre acteur du même rôle qui les contredit ou répète la même idée, révélant à quel point ils sont coincés dans une façon de penser.

Soudainement, cette approche de multiples acteurs jouant les mêmes rôles et de multiples traductions en lutte pour la suprématie a éclairé une idée après l’autre: comment chaque production (et même chaque performance) donne vie à une pièce de manière légèrement différente, et à la diversité du casting selon le sexe et la race. nous voyons une personne à nouveau ou révélons son humanité universelle, comment chaque réveil est hanté par le passé et ainsi de suite. Bien que regarder cette performance ait été une solide soirée de divertissement (et donc seulement trois étoiles sur quatre), je dois admettre que Minor Character est l’une de ces émissions qui se sentent plus significatives plus on y pense. Et New Saloon est une troupe à surveiller, à surveiller et à surveiller.


And what the hell, Russian back into English.

Well, it worked! The New Salon theater company came up with a cunning trick: to find every English translation of the classic Chekhov's play “Uncle Vanya” (including their own fun literal version using Google Translate), unlock them, force several actors to play the same roles often at the same time) and see what work out. As it turned out, quite a lot. In just 90 minutes and with a strong tide of humor, any production of Chekhov, which does not bother, should be appreciated. Minor Character does a bit more.

If you do not know the story, do not worry. Despite the chaos on the stage - sometimes three versions of different characters, such as Vanya, Elena and Sonya, fight for a place in the scene - the main story is quite pretty. A strange, grumpy, hot-tempered professor visits a country estate, which provides the means to maintain his good life. On his side, the young and beautiful wife of Professor Elena is noticeable.

The servants are under their feet, but Sonya (the daughter of the professor from his late wife) and the brother of the deceased woman Vanya are following the state of the estate with tireless zeal. The Doctor also looks in; he is drawn to Elena, while the gentle, soft, mouse-like Sonya worshiped a man from afar. Little is happening and little is changing (after all, it is Chekhov), but a well-executed game can be destructive and sad.

These numerous translations also collide with each other throughout the show. Sometimes one actor can go through two or three lines or phrases. Instead of appearing comical or bizarre, he creates a unique rhythm for the production, such as this line Vanya: “I became a complete fool,” Vanya says, “foolishly betrayed,” Vanya agrees, “foolishly deceived.” Vanya clarifies.

A simple but catchy set with the same ugly pattern that adorns the carpet, tablecloth and curtains along the back wall, indicate a world in which there is no place, not to mention how the same idea, image, pattern can be repeated again and again () again. And the cast of eight people, led by the very stupid David Greenspan (doing wonders with his delivery lines) - from top to bottom.

Fortunately, this idea worked better and that it did not lose track of the story told in the process. The trick probably should not be duplicated, although the very idea of ​​doing it again and again with other plays is certainly embedded in her very DNA.

However, he paid dividends in unexpected ways. When three Soni giggle like schoolgirls because they express their love and admiration for the Doctor, the text comes to life, their voices grow in a joyful choir. When the Professor clearly declares his desire for Elena, the environment of her three professors and touching her made his attention a bit more creepy and more aggressive than expected. In other cases, when a character talks to himself, he literally talks to himself when one actor repeats the line or explores a new way of thinking, followed by another actor in the same role that contradicts them or stupidly repeats the same idea, showing as they are stuck in the same way of thinking.

Suddenly, this approach of several actors playing the same roles and several translations fighting for supremacy highlighted one idea after another: how each performance (in fact, each performance) brings the play to life a little differently, how varied the gender distribution and to the race we again see man or reveal his universal humanity, how every revival pursues the past, and so on and so forth. Although the simple viewing of this performance was full of evening entertainment (which means only three stars out of four), I have to admit that “Minor character” is one of those shows that is more significant the more you think about it. And New Saloon is a troupe, for which you need to follow, monitor it, pay attention to it.


Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Friday, January 04, 2019

THEATER: It's Alive! "Frankenstein" at the Public's Under The Radar Festival


It's alive! Mary Shelley's gothic masterpiece Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was published in 1818 but it took this new multi-media work of theater to prompt me to finally read it. (The 1931 movie is better but the differences are fascinating; the book is very different.) Like me, most people are familiar with the story through that first film, the equally great sequel Bride Of Frankenstein from 1935, countless remakes ever since and the creature's omnipresence in popular culture, from Abbott and Costello films to Halloween and Saturday morning cartoons and the Spanish classic film The Spirit of the Beehive and the Mel Brooks comic masterpiece Young Frankenstein and the stage version from the UK in 2011 with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller and on and on and on. Yes, the idea of becoming a god and bestowing life on another is a powerful idea that never dies, anymore than the Creature himself.

The Chicago troupe Manual Cinema has crafted a silent film homage of sorts to that story. But they've expanded the tale in numerous ways. They also draw on the life of Mary Shelley, including the early death of her prematurely born child. And while the narrative mostly sticks to the version in the novel, it also adds some new elements to simplify the tale, along with key scenes from the film and its overall attitude towards the man-made Creature. That's when it's not reminding us that Shelley wrote this story in the first place.

In short, it's a bit of a Frankenstein's monster itself, stitching together all sorts of ideas about the novel, the film, what inspired it, Shelley's life and the creation of art in general. If it's a little ungainly, who would be surprised?

First the good. Manual Cinema works in a style similar to a number of new creative theatrical troupes like Pigpen Theatre. In this case, they combine puppetry, actors, the sound effects of classic live radio and projections to create a visual film right before your eyes. You can see an actor holding up the prop of a door with one hand on stage or you can look at the screen hanging about the cast and musicians to see the effect fully realized. You can watch puppeteers manipulate a tiny Frankenstein's monster on a tiny little set that features waves lapping onto a shore. Or you can look at the screen where the creature looms large and the moment is alive and touching.

That constant tension between observing how an effect is created or simply watching the story unfold is great fun. Very minor slip-ups (a pause before a projection appears, an image slightly askew) only add to the pleasure, reminding you how challenging such a performance can be. It's a refreshing, delightful approach to theater that is both hand-crafted and up to the minute. If you've never seen anything like this before, Frankenstein is a fine introduction.

However, adopting the tropes of silent cinema for this particular show is daunting. All the dialogue and narration appear as text onscreen and creating a 90 minute silent movie is not easy, even with the welcome pleasure of seeing it done right before your eyes. It seems this Frankenstein has been trimmed by 30 minutes from an earlier version they developed and that surely is all for the good.

While they make some wise adjustments to the novel's story within a story within a story structure, they've also tossed in Shelley a bit haphazardly. They clearly show Mary treated with condescension by her husband Percy and Lord Byron early on. So her triumph over them in this contest should be sweeter. But after beginning with her story, the show moves onto the tale of Frankenstein. And it goes on so long before they bring her back, one assumes Mary Shelley's story will be a bookend. Instead she pops back into the narrative rather jarringly.

Worse, she's seen writing out the words detailing a scene that took place ages ago. It would only make sense if we saw her crafting the moment we just saw, describing what comes next or offering some information that relates to the story's creation that was pertinent at that moment. Instead, we're essentially told, "By the way, Mary wrote that scene you saw half an hour ago!" It muddies the moment, makes her presence at that stage feel pointless (surely the last thing they intended) and breaks up the suspenseful story.

Nonetheless, the score is marvelous.  And the varied techniques of puppetry, live radio, theater and cinema are a pleasure to watch in action by this talented troupe. Manual Cinema gives Shelley her due by showing even bold, rule-breaking rebels like Byron and Percy Shelley dismissing her efforts.  Fittingly, Shelley's triumph over men by drawing on the horror of watching her own baby die is yet another reminder of how painful and difficult the act of creation can be.


Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.