Sunday, May 31, 2009

Good Night, Desdemona

As I was going through some old book reviews, I found a review I wrote of the script, Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning, Juliet.

It might be of interest to those of you thinking about going to see the play when Riverwalk does it this summer. Here's the link.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What did I think of the show?

Ask a theater reviewer, and you'll find there are few questions he or she hates getting asked in the lobby more than that one. You'd think we'd enjoy it given that what we do is to write about the show. I think there are a couple reasons we hate that question--or since I shouldn't speak for all my colleagues, reasons why I hate that question:

Politeness. It may seem like some of us relish in making people feel awful, but really, we are quite human. Most of us do still believe in the social contract and the need to abide by it. We're also aware that our words are sometimes given more weight than those of the casual audience member--or at least that they are more likely to be picked apart.

Alan Alda wrote in one of his memoirs that the only proper thing to say to a performer immediately after a show is, "You were wonderful." You could extend that to anyone involved in the show (director, producer, crew member, etc.): "The show was wonderful."

As critics, we're supposed to be held to a certain standard of honesty, else there is no point in doing what we do. So to have to give the polite response sets up an immediate trap.

Time. Perhaps an even bigger reason for me has to do with how I watch shows. When I first started reviewing, I would immediately start critiquing the show, trying to figure out what I was going to say and trying to interpret things immediately as I watched it. Too often, though, that meant that I was working my way through a thought or a metaphor while there were still things going on on stage.

I had to learn to sit back and experience the show, fully aware and fully focused, without trying to think about it until it was over. While I am in the theater, my goal is to be open to what the actors, playwright(s), director, and technicians are trying to show me. I try to develop an attitude of receptiveness.

It is only after the show is over that I start to think about. I analyze what made me sit forward in my chair or at what points my attention wandered. I think about the story arc and whether the choices made on stage contributed to the story or detracted from it. I consider how the skills of the performers succeeded or were lacking.

However, if you catch me in the lobby, I haven't had time to do that thinking yet. I could tell you what I feel about the show, but not what I think. I need the time after the show--and sometimes with the person that I saw the show with so that we can both talk about what our responses were--to think, evaluate, and ponder.

To give an opinion in the lobby right after a show is over is to short-change the show by committing too early. It is unfair to those who put all the work into creating the production to make a summary judgment two minutes after seeing it.

It's one of the reasons I like going out after a show--because I do enjoy the discussions that engage specifics in the show without the pressure of having to give it a thumbs up/thumbs down or a number of stars.

So please, if you see me in the lobby and do ask that dreaded question, forgive me if I change the subject and don't jump to the conclusion it was because I didn't like the show.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rothschilds: The pursuit of wealth

There is a beautiful number in the first act of The Rothschilds between Mayer and Gutele before they are married. Gutele sings about how she needs very little and Mayer insists that she will have more than a little.

Gutele talks about how all she really wants is a single room--a place to be with him and a few other items. She then says, "It sounds like so little. It's not." It's a sentiment that is easy for me to relate to. It comes down to what is important in life. It isn't the accumulation of goods or the creation of wealth that matters. It is spending life with those you love and being a part of a community.

Given my empathy with Gutele, it surprised me that I was equally touched by why Mayer replied that it wasn't enough. His response:

"I've seen our neighbors' wives, how quickly they grow old when the children coe. In one room, a dozen hungry mouths and not enough to fill even one of htem. To settle for little, for most wives, that's fine. I cannot accept it for mine. My wife will never have to see apologetic looks in her husband's eyes. My wife will have as good a life as my will and my bran can devise."

Later in the play, the accumulation of wealth becomes the means by which they plan to knock down the ghetto walls and end the mistreatment of their people.

Perhaps the key factor is that wealth becomes a means to end, not an end in itself. In this musical, wealth is sought for the sake of making better the lives of those whom they love--which also means sacrificing everything if it is necessary to get to the real end.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One other note...

Has anyone else noticed that the area seems to cycle through playwrights? For awhile everyone was doing George Bernard Shaw. Now the playwright appears to be Lanford Wilson.

Catching up

I've been absent too long--and I thank those kind folks who wrote to inquire after my health.

Given the economic times we are in, I am not going to complain about an abundance of work. Rather, I'll just say that it is that abundance which has kept me from here. I'm doing a lot of writing these days and have spent what little free time I've had with family.

But a couple of random theater things I would have loved to work up into full blog entries (and maybe still will--but no promises):
  • My favorite number in Fiddler on the Roof remains "Do You Love Me?". While the plot seems to revolve around the daughters and their marriages, it is the love story of Golde and Tevye that has always struck me as the central story. Perhaps it is because there are relatively few musicals that focus on longstanding, solid marriages. When I was in high school, someone asked me to define what I thought marital love would be. I referred to the song "Do You Love Me?" My friend took that to mean that I thought doing dishes and housework for someone was true love (in which case Richard would have reason to worry!). But that wasn't it. To me, the song captured the ideal that a couple doesn't "feel" in love, they choose to learn to love. Then they stick with it for the rest of their lives, experiencing the ups and downs together regardless of how they might feel at any given moment. When you choose to love, the next step is choosing to be happy. Both are an incredibly freeing thing--to realize that you have the choice and it isn't simply happenstance or coincidence.
  • Seeing "The Glass Menagerie" on Mother's Day was a real treat. I loved the subtleties in this production.
  • Dominic is in "The Rothschilds" at Riverwalk. It's not a musical I'd heard of before this year, but I've been having fun singing the songs with Dom at home. They're really quite catchy. I've also been impressed with Jane Falion and her ability to stay calm while surrounded by a huge cast.
  • I can't wait to see "Goodnight Desdemona, Good morning Juliet" again--this time from the audience. It is one of my favorite scripts of all time.
  • I had some fun interviews over the past week with three women who were from Lansing but who are now all three performing in various Broadway shows in New York. I'll post a link to that article when it runs.
  • For those who have asked--yes, there will be Thespie Awards this year. We're waiting until after everything in the regular season has opened.
See you at the theater!