The Play’s The Thing

The Play’s The Thing

The epitome of storytelling genres is The Theater, where words, objects, persons, art, and music are fashioned into a sense-engulfing parade-display-embodiment of narrative, sign, symbol, and meaning. I find it always a delicious treat. At its most exalted theater is a soul-filling experience, an enrichment, transfiguring and mesmerizing. And of course, the perfect assemblage of all of my favorite pursuits – art and design congruent, coherent with metaphor, philosophy, words, and song.

My favorites (mostly seen on or off Broadway, or here in New Haven) which all opened something new in me:

Mary Martin’s PETER PAN – I saw this on television when just a child, and was completely taken in to the world of Peter and Wendy and Tinkerbelle, the Lost Boys and Tiger Lily. Then I was unaware of the simplicity and minimalism of the set, using it unconsciously to build a most elaborate artifice in my mind that persisted in memory, as fact. I was astonished so many years later as an adult, to see its stripped down, bare bone structure, and to realize how the dialogue and personifications, acting and song witched up a few props and drops into a fantastic otherworld.

PIPPIN (directed by Bob Fosse) – My first Broadway musical experience, which I shared with Bruce. I was gob-smacked, no two ways about it, being a sheltered, inward, naive young woman from the Midwest, unused to the theatrical except for camp skits and middle school productions. This was a story for adults, told by adults, with adult language and memes (even though the word did not exist then). I most remember the spectacle, and the breaking of the fourth wall when the actors, in character, addressed the audience to start the show. Whoever could, would think of such a thing!?! My boundaries pushed so far out into the world, it took my breath away. A de-limiting, freeing-for-all delight. Did I mention Ben Vereen?

Peter Weiss’s MARAT/SADE, performed by the Tagangka Theater in town for New Haven’s Arts and Ideas Festival. OMG, a complex, heady, difficult script delivered in Russian, and nonetheless made intelligible as a circus. I’ll never forget the set, a two-story cage of bars that inmates, dressed in filthied, tattered sanitarium white climbed and swung from, while crushing us with a berating, Bedlam-ic mockery of song. Transcendent and transformational.

SWEENEY TODD Broadway musical revival (based on the play Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Christopher Bond). All I can say here is Sondheim, who beguiled us with rapturous melody and rhythm, a modern Orpheus taking us downward to hell, note by lyrical note. The acting was the best Broadway could offer, and the staging, scene by scene, set by set, distracted from the intrinsic horror until we were too far gone, having tasted the unthinkable. Amazing to have the musicians on stage while the story unfolded around them. Another boundary breaking production.

Mabou Mines’ PETER PAN seen at Yale. The story was performed as a puppet show with puppeteers on stage, requiring an initial suspension of disbelief. Very shortly the self-trickery became unnecessary and irrelevant, as the puppets drew dreamy breath and were realized as Beings, while the puppeteers whisped to smoky background.

ARCADIA, by Tom Stoppard (Yale Rep) – The Independent called it “the greatest play of our age”. A remarkable script that showcases a mind-bending interlace of themes and meanings, all resonant with one another, and all adding up to an encompassing though elusive whole. At first I was put off by the idyllic country manor house set/setting and the stately pace, but as the play unfolded, speech by speech, word by word I was convinced finally, of its propriety, its value, its necessity.

MOBY DICK, at Long Wharf Theater – Melville’s classic was adapted and beautifully performed as a monologue by Conor Lovett of Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland. He was accompanied onstage by a deliberately unpolished fiddler (Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh), who hauntingly evoked the sea and the age.

 

TURN OF THE SCREW, at Madison Lyric Stage – Benjamin Britten’s opera was performed in two rooms of a historic house museum (which the audience moved between!). Musicians and conductor off-stage in a hallway, were just visible to the cast. Single row seating surrounded the actor-singers, and the immediacy of flawless performance intensified the creep of the story and Britten’s score. Luscious costuming, especially the ghosts’.

An exquisite little off off off Broadway play … in the Village – I remember nothing of the plot or even the title, but will never forget the lean six rows of audience seating, my complete immersion into the world of the play, and the ethereal music – voice and guitar – that seamed the play together.

THE MOORS by Jen Silverman @YRT – Wow!, I said after it was all over, having been taken on a journey from such an intensely flat perpetual moor-ish b o r e d o m, that I wanted to scream bloody murder – to, well, bloody murder. Just as the Victorians craved, created, and consumed their Gothic horrors.

 

RACE by David Mamet, seen in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Oh, such a delight to have my attention – my inner jurist – entrained/captured/focused/directed/manipulated by Mamet’s words, flipping guilt and accusation back and forth like tennis volleys. Mamet is a Master Storyteller, and a wordsmith with few equals. Expertly cast, directed, and performed.

 

Honorable Mentions

STONES IN HIS POCKETS (by Marie Jones, at Yale Rep), for its rich, entrancing rapid-fire dialogue.

 

 

HAMLET at the Yale Rep – because, Paul Giamatti

 

 

THESE PAPER BULLETS (Rolin Jones, Billie Joe Armstrong) at the Rep – joyful, clever, infectious

 

 

JULIUS CESEAR at the Yale School of Drama – Graduate students of drama did a wonderful job, bringing Shakespeare’s story into the present with set, scenery, costume, and prop, all the while retaining the moral and rhetorical import bound in Shakespeare’s poetics, with forceful, postured acting.

Baz Luhrman’s LA BOHEME (Puccini), on Broadway – a grand production of a familiar story, made new by film editing and photographic tropes adapted to the stage, notably zoom-out and zoom-in. Fun.

THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, by Thornton Wilder at Yale Rep. Yeah yeah Our Town – this is a much better play, and this production was a visual delight.

 

 

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND – Dostoevsky, adapted by Bill Camp. Heavy, heavy themes and exposition but done well enough that I attended to every minute.

 

 

THE FAIRYTALE LIVES OF RUSSIAN GIRLS by Meg Miroshnik @Yale Repertory Theater – A entrancing presentation of very modern stories about women, told through the veil of ancient Russian folk tales. Wonderful sets. Zhyli, byli …
and, The more things change ….

 

FREEWHEELERS – A Broken Umbrella Theater production, performed at New Haven’s annual Arts and Ideas Festival. A sweet story of New Haven’s past, set in an historic building and told with charming alacrity. An inspired use of space and prop.

 

GLASS GUINOL The Brother and Sister Play, conceived and adapted by Lee Breuer and Maude Mitchell @Wesleyan – Boy, did this play make me think ! I mean really, I worked.

Also worth mentioning, though a film and not on stage – THE WIZARD OF OZ. No explanation needed.

CAMELOT and THE MAN OF LA MANCHA, for the original cast albums alone. The songs tell the story, in both productions.


 

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