Last weekend was a women's weekend--or at least, it felt that way whenever I stepped into the theater.
It didn't start out that way. On Wednesday, I went to see Escanaba in Love at BoarsHead. The next two shows, though, were flip sides of the same coin. On Friday, I saw Maidens, Mothers, and Crones at Williamston Theatre and on Saturday Parallel Lives at Icarus Falling.
Escanaba in Love
I went into this show with high expectations. The same production with most of the same actors won several Wilde Awards last year and both local reviewers (Len Kluge and Ken Glickman) praised it highly in their reviews. I went in expecting a show that would top off what has been an excellent all-around season for BoarsHead.
I was disappointed. Yes, it was highly entertaining and had a good story. In all, I would rank it as a good, solid, show. I would not, though, call it a great one. It ranks far behind BoarsHead's Doubt, Souvenir, and Moonlight and Magnolias. Nor is Escanaba in Love nearly as good as the original Escanaba in da Moonlight. In fact, it suffers from trying too hard to recreate it.
The opening bit was way too drawn out and self-indulgent. Had it been cut in half, it might have been far more effective. It was also disappointing in a play at this level to have the accents constantly change. Sometimes they were Yooper accents, sometimes they were more Scottish. Wayne David Parker's Salty Jim was so over the top that he became a complete caricature who was impossible to relate to.
I'm still undecided about Big Betty Balou. I liked Charlyn Swarthout's performance and was impressed with her physicality and the commitment she brought to the part. I liked her and I liked Betty. However, I've spoken with several people who have said she just didn't do it for them because she was too petite, pretty, and wholesome to be believable as a woman who'd slept with every sailor who came into port. I can see that argument, but I thought her thinly-disguised vulnerability played well.
There were many touching moments in this play as the Soady men each exhibit their version of true love. It also has much of the ribald, laugh-out-loud humor that makes these plays such a success.
For all the criticisms I'm making, it's still a play worth seeing. Yes, it is flawed, but it's still a good show and a fine love story.
Maidens, Mothers, and Crones
Theater is for the mind, but it is also for the heart and soul. Williamston's Maidens, Mothers, and Crones is one of those shows that has all three. It's also a show that defies you to classify it. It's not a musical, but it has music, singing, and dancing in it. It's not a drama, but it has heartfelt, tear-inducing moments in it. It's not a comedy, but it is uproariously funny. It has no traditionally linear story line, but the "avant garde" label isn't quite right either.
So what is it? It's an experience; a shared experience that is moving because it draws the audience in through sheer recognition and empathy. While it is a new work, audiences can still feel like they know each of the characters because the characters are the women that they live with every day--whether they are mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, friends, or neighbors. I had a constant inner monologue running that would pipe up saying, "Hey! I know that woman!"
It was also a beautifully balanced play in the way it portrayed the diversity of women. There is not a single character who embodies everywoman, because everywoman doesn't exist any more than everyman does. None of the multitude of women portrayed in the show are mere caricatures or stereotypes. They have elements that are, but each person was treated with respect and honored. It made for a moving night at the theater.
Parallel Lives touches on many of the same themes as Maidens, Mothers, and Crones, but takes a different approach. It's a series of comic sketches done Saturday Night Live style. It tackles several serious issues, but it does so in an over-the-top method that relies on stereotypes and caricatures.
Laura Croff and Sara Frank are impressive in their ability to find different accents and voices for each of the many characters that they play throughout the two-act show. Each character has its single dimension that is exploited for laughs in a high-energy fashion. It's only afterward that the impact of what they are saying has a chance to land.
However, what makes this show popular and entertaining isn't any underlying message, it is the constant barrage of one-liners and comedic physicality. It's easy to understand why this is a popular show--everyone needs a night of laughter and it would be impossible to watch this show without laughing.