Monday, June 30, 2008

Quote from the spa book

My life right now is filled with words and pages about spas. While editing the chapter on the history of spas and spa cultures, I was inspired by the following quote. I wonder how different our world would look today if we took the same approach to arts and aesthetics.

The general therapeutic assumption made in the art and science of healing in the Asclepieia was that active contemplation and reflection on the beauty and harmony found in masterpieces of architecture, sculpture, and painting brought harmony and health to the individual. Enjoyment of the true, the good, the beautiful, and the divine are all important factors for elevating and enhancing human consciousness.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Love this lead

I'm a little late on much of my reading this week--primarily because I've had my nose buried in textbook writing and editing. So I just got around at lunch today to reading the City Pulse review of The Girls in 509.

I absolutely love the imagery in this lead:
“The Girls in 509,” the latest Summer Circle production from Michigan State University, reminds us how much American satire has changed through the decades. Howard Teichmann’s script, published in 1959, is political and ironic but lacks the sharp teeth to be biting. Teichmann cuts the political tomato with a butter knife, broadly mashing this juicy subject into mass-appealing ketchup instead of slicing to its seedy core.
That's some mighty fine writing. I applaud you, Paul Wozniak.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Theatre Ideas: Resource Review 1: Invitiation to the Party

One of the blogs I subscribe to is Theatre Ideas. The author has some fascinating ideas about building a new theater model based on the ideas of decentralization, localization, sustainability, mutuality, and education.

His current blog reviews a book by Donna Walker-Kuhne called "Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to the arts, culture and community." He brings out some fascinating ideas, primarily her "ten tools for building audiences."

He's convinced me that this is a book I want to read.

Theatre Ideas: Resource Review 1: Invitiation to the Party

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Girls in 509

A Chicago theater critic once said that the most difficult reviews are those of shows that are neither good nor bad but somewhere solidly in between.

It's easy to slam a show and easy to praise a show. What is far more difficult to write about are those shows which have their good points and have their bad points, but aren't all of either. That's pretty much how I would describe the Summer Circle production of "The Girls in 509." There was nothing about the performances that were wrong, but neither were they anything memorable or noteworthy. The play was entertaining, but not particularly thought-provoking or stimulating.

Michelle Meredith and Caitlin Inman both did fine jobs as the eccentric Republican hermits who had locked themselves in a hotel room so that they could isolate themselves from the influences of a Democratic president. Inman's Mumsie was particularly entertaining.

The character of the lawyer had the same problems that the coroner of the week before had. You paid so much attention to the device--in this case a strange voice and vocal manner--that you lost the story that was being told. It became annoying rather than amusing.

The David Lindsey-Abaire shows were, like most of his shows, rather bizarre. He's almost a playwright version of John Irving with the off-kilter ideas he conjures. Certainly they are memorable and vivid when it comes to bizarre. Both were skillfully presented.

Their final shows this week are Number the Stars based on the book by Lois Lowry and additional presentations of the late night shows Medea and Baby Food and The Other Person.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Red Herring

The Red Herring is a delightful opening to this year's Summer Circle season at MSU.

I continue to be impressed that they are able to solicit enough donations to be able to offer free outdoor theater while paying their actors. It's a great thing for both the students and the community.

Theater Professor Rob Roznowski directed The Red Herring, a show described as a comic film noir spoof. Written by Michael Hollinger, the play follows the antics of three couples as they struggle with loving each other. Every scene comes with its own plot twist and actors Kristen Barrett, Phil Ashbrook, Caitlin Inman, Hazen Cuyler Natzmer, Michelle Meredith, and Dave Wendelberger juggle multiple roles. All of them did a superior job.

I especially enjoyed Caitlin Inman as Joe McCarthy's daughter and Michelle Meredith as Mrs. Kravitz and multiple other parts. Inman was spot-on as the sweet Midwestern girl with too many secrets to keep. She was vibrant and handled well the intricacies of a role that required precise confusion (the actress had to be precise while the character was confused). Michelle Meredith had perfect comedic timing in the various roles that she played and each of them were completely different.

The only individual part I didn't care for was that of the coroner. He was too over-the-top in a style that didn't match the other characters.

I was also impressed with the ingeniousness of the set dressing and set piece. A single set piece on casters doubled as a dock, a bed, a couch, an autopsy slab, a boat, and everything else that was needed. It contributed to a quickly paced show and was highly effective. There was also an attractive backdrop painted in black and white with a jigsaw of scenes of varying relevance to the script. It was a very artistic piece of work.

I now look forward to the remaining shows!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A few bullets

  • We returned from Indianapolis where we managed to miss both the storms here at home and the ones they had right before and after our arrival and departure..
  • Richard auditioned for the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre.
  • I met for lunch with the local classical music and theater critic, a colleague of mine from the NEA Arts Journalism Institute.
  • My 30s are now officially over.
  • We went to the Michigan Shakespeare Festival company picnic last night on our way home from the audition. It was great seeing everyone again including several faces familiar to Lansing: Tommy Gomez, Joel King, Jeremy Winchester, Mark Gmazel.
  • The Thespies were published in today's newspaper.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

To like or not to like

It's one of those rare weekends where I won't be going to any show whatsoever. I'll be doing some theater-related stuff on Monday, but that will be as a spouse, not anything in my own right. In the mean time (and while waiting for some more nominees to the post made a few days ago--surely some more of you would like to share what you thought was the best of the season, wouldn't you?), I thought I'd share some ruminations I've had on some plays seen over the past couple months.

Actually, the ruminations are on the approach actors take to their characters. I was struck in two different plays recently how much the actor's feeling about her character affected the final product. I suppose that sounds obvious, but it needn't. An actor can believably and passionately play an evil character without being in sympathy with that character's choices and actions. In the one play I saw, it took me awhile to figure out who the antagonist was. Eventually, by listening to the words of the script and observing the fate of the character, I knew whom the playwright considered the antagonist. It also became apparent that this character wasn't intended to be likeable or sympathetic. However, the way the character was portrayed was in a very sympathetic fashion. It was almost as though the actor had come to like the character so much that she couldn't bear to make her unsympathetic. It wasn't just an act she was putting on to fool the other people on stage, but it seemed as though the actress herself believed that her character was justified in all her actions.

A few weeks later, I saw a situation in reverse. There was a comedic character who was played in such a fashion that it was obvious the actress held little regard or respect for the type of person the character was. The portrayal brought out the humor not by any sort of authentic empathy with the character, but through an exageration of humorous stereotyping.

In both cases, the result was unsatisfying. In the first, it compromised the story and why the plot wound the way that it did. In the second, it seemed a cheap laugh when it could have been a heartfelt one.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

List of shows

Since I invited folks to nominate their favorite shows and performances of the year, I figure the least I can do is give a partial list of performances from the past year. My apologies to any shows I left out. I'll gladly edit the list and add anything that anyone wants to remind me of (I did leave out children's shows and high school productions, but feel free to mention them):

All Night Strut
Mrs. Warren's Profession
Moonlight and Magnolias
Escanaba in Love
All in the Timing

Holt-Dimondale Community Players

Icarus Falling
Love Person
Tempting Fate
Parallel Lives

Lansing Civic Players
Plaza Suite
The Desperate Hours
Social Security Scandals
Boeing Boeing
Flowers for Algernon
Annie Get Your Gun

Lansing Community College
Back to Methuselah
Jane Eyre

Michigan State University
As Bees in Honey Drown
Arts OR Crafts
Six Characters in Search of an author
Babes in Arms
Recent Tragic Events
The Blue Room

Peppermint Creek
I am My Own Wife
A New Brain
Rabbit Hole
Stuff Happens

Riverwalk Theatre
The Ransom of Red Chief
I Hate Hamlet
The Full Monty
The Best Man
Side Man
Miss Evers Boys
The Sugar Bean Sisters
Jungle Book
Maybe Baby It's You
Thunder at Dawn
Night, Mother
The Dresser

Ruhala Performing Arts Center
seen/not seen
Our Love is Here to Stay
Alice in Wonderland

Starlight Dinner Theatre
Amy's Wish
Dearly Beloved
Leading Ladies

Summer Circle
The Nerd
We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!
A Hans Christian Anderson Quartet

Sunsets with Shakespeare
Midsummer Night's Dream
Julius Caesar
My name is Rachel Corrie

The Ledges Playhouse
Scenes from an American Life
The Foreigner

Sunday in the Park with George
Little Women
Guys and Dolls
Seussical, Jr.

Guys on Ice
Every Christmas Story Ever Told
Hate Mail
Maidens, Mothers, and Crones

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Best of...

I just got home from the Thespie meeting (which I am NOT going to blog about). With the 2007-2008 season drawing to a close, it's award time. The Wilde Award nominees were announced last week, the Pulsar nominees are being announced tomorrow and the Thespies have been decided. The local theaters will also be giving out their "best of" awards.

Given that I have a vote in the Thespies, I'm not going to state my favorites. However, I'd love to hear from all of you, my readers. Who are your nominees for the following categories:

  • Best play
  • Best musical
  • Best director
  • Best lead actor
  • Best lead actress
  • Best supporting actor
  • Best supporting actress
  • Best new work
  • Best ensemble
  • Best costumes
  • Best set
  • Best lights
  • Best sound
  • Best choreography
  • Any special awards
And just to keep it sporting, let's say you're not allowed to nominate yourself or a show that you were in.

Depending on how many nominees I get in the comments, I'll create a poll from them that anyone can vote in. It'll be this blog's Reader's Choice awards.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Quotes that amuse me today

I used to think she was quite intelligent, in my stupidity. The reason I did was because she knew quite a lot about the theater and plays and literature and all that stuff. If somebody knows quite a lot about those things, it takes you quite a while to find out whether they're really stupid or not. It took me years to find out. . . .

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Now I am not joining in the hue and cry again the dramatist's picturization or against the arts of our time. This theme [evil] often makes very good theater, but what makes good theater does not necessarily make for a good life. I think Macbeth is great, but I am not eager to be the Macbeths' house guest.

Charles S. Milligan, 1963

It seems to me that the thing that makes the theater worthwhile is the fact that it attracts so many people with ideas who are constantly trying to share them with the public. Real art is illumination. It gives a man an idea he never had before or lights up ideas that were formless or only lurking in the shadows of his mind. It adds stature to life.

Brooks Atkinson (1894-1984)

If you really want to help the American theater, don't be an actress, dahling. Be an audience.

Tallulah Bankhead (1903-1968)

A talent for drama is not a talent for writing, but is an ability to articulate human relations.
Gore Vidal, New York Times, 1956