This post is more for me than anything else as I saw the production of Pas de Deux at Studio Theatre on closing night. The performance consists of 2 one act plays that are connected most clearly in their use of movement in telling the story. The first of the two shows was “Skin Tight”, which is the recounting the relationship between Tom and Elizabeth. The show starts with a punch as the two characters first appear on stage in a well choreographed and physical fight and throughout the production it vacillates between fond memories of their relationship and moments that cause angst between them. One of the great problems with the show was it was never really clear exactly when the show was taking place. At the end of the show an aging Tom is seen watching the action, purportedly cueing the audience that it was an aging Tom thinking back upon his relationship with Elizabeth. As the show develops it is clear that Elizabeth is dying and they are recounting their relationship, but what of the aging Tom watching the end of the show? What of the highly charged physical fighting that goes on between Tom and Elizabeth at points in the show? Is Tom recounting various moments of their relationship? It was never truly clear whether the characters were flashing between different periods of time, or their story was being retold on their final afternoon together and the aged Tom is recalling that afternoon. That, in of itself, is a problem. I also didn’t find Elizabeth all that sympathetic a character. You learn during the show that Tom was sent off to war and that he witnessed many horrific moments in the war and that he came back suffering from PTSD and having nightmares. Yet, Tom seemed the character more well-adjusted when dealing with these things he had viewed. While Elizabeth played the victim of having to deal with his nightmares and having to see young men return from the war maimed.
The second show was definitely of the lighter variety, 2-2 Tango recounted the meeting of two gay men at a club and their evening together. The two playing out the evening and their internal monologues as to whether this was merely a one-night stand, or the beginning of a relationship. The show had some funny moments, but it too had a fatal flaw in my mind. The playwright loved to drag on a joke too long. For instance, at one point in the show the characters spot each other and they start spelling out the phrase V-E-R-Y A-T-T-R-A-C-T-I-V-E. They then continue circling the stage dancing repeating the phrase about 15 times. The moment was funny, but it became played out after the fourth or fifth time it was repeated. Similarly, when the two characters were expressing their independence by dancing solo and repeating the phrase “indepen-dance” 15 or so times. Or the recitation of 10 scenarios in which the characters imagined what could go wrong if they actually were in a relationship. It brought to my mind a moment in “An Iliad” where the storyteller begins reciting every war from the Iliad through modern times. We got the point 20 wars in and it was just belaboring a point by hitting me over the head with it. It may have been two minutes on stage, but it felt like 10 minutes. And that is what the extended jokes in 2-2 Tango felt like to me.
This isn’t a long review of “The Wiz”, currently playing at Toby’s Baltimore, because I don’t have much to say about it. I came into the production with little knowledge of the show or the 1970s movie. I knew that it was an adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” and that is just about it. This past fall I was at the same venue for their production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. They both fall into that similar category of fun show that one would enjoy, but is never going to go down as one of the great pieces of theatre ever. And that is exactly what you get. A fun re-telling of The Wizard of Oz, with an all African-American cast. The basic story is the same as the Wizard of Oz with the same cast of characters along the way of Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and the Cowardly Lion. What stood out most with this production was the quality of the cast when compared to the Joseph cast. The capabilities of this cast far outshone that of Joseph in the ability to both sing and dance and it showed. It was a well choreographed show that was an entertaining evening.
My one complaint is something that cropped up with the production of Joseph and was more acute in this production, issues with sound. For a well-established venue to now have had two experiences there where microphones are either at a level where the performers cannot be heard about the band, or in one instance where the supporting cast microphones are completely off is inexcusable. Certain characters, namely Dorothy and the Tinman had their microphones at proper levels that you could hear them all the time, but too often other characters voices were drowned out by the live music, specifically the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion, amongst others. This wasn’t a preview performance, or early in a run that issues like this were cropping up and could not be fixed by a sound engineer. While it hasn’t completely scared me away from Toby’s, it is on my personal watch list going forward. I hope the issues aren’t as severe at their Columbia venue, where I will be checking out their production of Les Miserables later this summer.
And on cue with the Washington Capitals elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs we finally hear from the hockey media to do their annual takedown of the team and more specifically of Alexander Ovechkin. Unfortunately they have zeroed in on the wrong guy. As the lockout began I centered my eyes on Ovechkin and his behavior and decision to go play hockey in Russia during the lockout. I felt that Ovechkin wasn’t going to recapture what he once was in Washington and it was time to move on from him. I was wrong. It took Adam Oates to get Ovechkin back on track and it took some time at the start of the season. It was something Boudreau and Hunter were unable to do. It was something Oates had previously done with Ilya Kovalchuk in New Jersey and to some extent Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay. It wasn’t simply shifting Ovechkin to the right wing, but it was to re-instill a trust in the player that had been bled dry by Boudreau and Hunter. Now comes a one goal, one assist performance in the seemingly annual flameout of the Caps in the playoffs and the sharks smell blood and are out circling again. But what the sharks don’t realize is that anyone that has actually watched this team knows that Alex Ovechkin is not the problem.
The Washington Times beat writer, Stephen Whyno, tweeted the day after the season that the Caps record when Ovechkin scored a goal was 20-3-2 and when he was held off the score sheet the team went 10-19-1. That is the an amazingly underplayed statistic of what truly ails this franchise. More on that in a bit, but first that means Alex Ovechkin scored goals in 45% of the team’s games and that they won 80% of those games and earned a point in 88% of those games. Are we really going to attack a player for ONLY scoring in 45% of a team’s games? Heck, he won the Richard trophy this past season so I am guessing that percentage of games scoring goals is at or near the highest percentage in the league. On the other side of the ledger is a 10-19-1 record when he doesn’t score. They only win 33% of the games they played when Ovechkin is held off the score sheet. It’s easy to look at that number and say that Ovechkin needs to be a bigger contributor, but we’ve already established that he is scoring in almost half of the teams games. What it really points to is a lack of consistent contributors from the rest of the roster.
George McPhee once again sang the praises of the roster and that he feels they can win with what they have and he doesn’t expect any major changes. Of course he does. He put the roster together and has repeated that same line for the past 15 years, there is no need to think his tune would change. Especially when he has an absentee owner like Ted Leonsis…well perhaps he isn’t an absentee owner, but he surely doesn’t understand what it takes to win in sports. That is simply evidenced by the fact that despite his two men’s professional franchises floundering year after year he still allows the general managers to remain on the job. A stunning fact is that Ted Leonsis has never fired or hired a general manager for the Capitals or Wizards. Both were inherited from the Abe Pollin era. But I digress.
Take an honest look at the Caps roster as it is constructed today. How many players on the roster can you ink in for a 30 goal season next year? I only see Alex Ovechkin. So where does his support come from? Well, let’s lighten up that requirement. How many 20 goal scorers can you ink in for the Caps next season? Brouwer? Laich? Chimera? Backstrom? Think about that seriously before you answer. Each one of those players is just as likely to score 25 next season as they are 15. That isn’t first line support. Just look at the top scorers for this past regular season. Out of the top 30 scorers in the league Nicklas Backstrom is the only one not to score 10 goals. Are we really going to hang our hat on Mike Ribeiro being that guy to get 25 to 30 goals…if he is even with the team next year. He hasn’t scored 20 goals in the last 4 years and has only done it three times in his 12 year career, including getting more than 25 once. Troy Brouwer had a career year this past season. I fully expect a guy like Brouwer to put up 19 goals again next season, unfortunately it will be over an 82 game schedule and will be more in line with his career production. Look around the league and the parity between teammates goal scoring and it isn’t a pretty sight for the Capitals. Toews and Kane each had 23 for the Blackhawks; Kunitz, Neal and Dupuis were all over 20 for the Penguins, not counting injury shortened seasons for Crosby and Malkin. The thing is, next year you expect to see those names back up around the same numbers they were producing this year. Who is the Caps player who will do that? Who is the guy that isn’t just having a career year and is just a natural goal scorer? He doesn’t exist on the roster.
So what happens during a 7 game series? A team like the Rangers knows that if they shutdown Ovechkin and keep him off the boards then the Caps will only win 33% of their games. In the last six games of the series, which Ovie was held off the boards, the Caps won…wait for it…33% of those games. A bullseye on the season average. Any coach worth his salt, and John Torterella is certainly that, is well aware of this and game planned for it. Just watching the games you saw the Rangers shift their defense to take away Ovechkin and Green on the power play. They took their chances that the Caps couldn’t beat them with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer. That isn’t an insult to those players, because that isn’t who they are and it isn’t who they should be expected to be. There is a gapping whole in this roster that has existed for years. A top end goal scoring talent that could do it consistently. The doing it consistently requirement is what eliminates Alexander Semin from the discussion. He was too up and down to be a reliable source of goal scoring from a team that has really become a bunch of plumbers being carried by Alexander Ovechkin. And who is responsible for the construction of the roster? George McPhee, general manager for life.
I went into the new production of “Gilgamesh” by Constellation Stage with some trepidation, because in the past few months I have seen productions of ancient poems or texts (“An Iliad” and “Metamorphoses”) and come out less than impressed. This show re-tells the epic poem of Gilgamesh, the half god, half man king who is an oppressive leader and his relationship with the primitive man Enkidu that the gods create as his equal to distract him from his oppressive ways. I was ultimately unsure if the concept of modern re-telling of these stories was just something that didn’t appeal to me as a theatre goer, or was something missing in those previous productions. Gladly, I can say that “Gilgamesh” succeeded where those two productions failed. The easiest example to point too is the representation of water. In Metamorphoses the stage is literally a pool of water and, to me, it felt like a gimmick to bring cohesion to a show that had no story to bring together the tales they were telling. In “Gilgamesh” they had the epic poem of Gilgamesh they were telling and that drove the production forward. There is a moment in the show where Gilgamesh is crossing a river as his boat is ravaged by the wind and water. This was accomplished without a pool of water on stage, but rather through the well choreographed movements of the actors on stage representing the wind and water. It was a more effective device and more engaging than the similarly told story of Alcyone and Ceyx in Metamorphoses, where the actor portraying Poseidon is literally picking up the actor portraying Ceyx and throwing him around the pool of water as his boat is destroyed. And that is where “Gilgamesh” ultimately succeeded, it’s use of movement whether it was the choreographed fights, action sequences, or clothed sex scene. The performance and movement drew you into the action taking place on the stage and told the story just as much as the dialogue did.
This isn’t to say that this production was flawless. That isn’t entirely fair, it wasn’t so much a flaw of the production, but my own trepidation about the source material. The dialogue is from an ancient poem and is not delivered as if it were modern English. There is a haulting quality to the dialogue, along with the use of what appears to be sign language accompanying words like Gilgamesh and king as the story is being told. This dialogue decision is understandable, but makes the show more than simply entertainment. I would equate it to seeing a Shakespeare play without knowing the story going into the production. As an audience member you are forced to really listen and work at figuring out the story and what is said. It can still be an enjoyable theatre going experience, but it isn’t like sitting down and just absorbing the dialogue and action that is taking place on stage. Considering my instincts going into the show with respect to the inherent issues with performing a translated ancient text, Constellation Stage’s production of “Gilgamesh” was a success.
No Rules Theatre Company is premiering their new show “The Personal(s)” at Signature Theatre. Brian Sutow, the artistic director of the theatre company, adapted the play from a film by Stanley Tucci, who in turn adapted his film from a movie by Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. The show is about an estranged couple who are attempting to reconnect by setting up a series of “blind dates” with each other, through the use of personal ads. With each blind date they take on different characters as they explore and delve into the tragedy that pulled them apart and as they attempt to reconcile. Unfortunately, this production hit its high points with a clever set and the lighting. I was curious when I got home if the movie was a beloved art house film that just happened to lose something in the translation to the stage. A quick check of rotten tomatoes found a movie that was generally panned and on more than one occasion was described as tedious. And that was exactly what this show put forth, a 90 minute, no intermission exercise in tedium. When I returned home from the show I opened my twitter account and someone I follow had re-tweeted Mark Harris, a columnist with Entertainment Weekly. Mr. Harris tweeted “I have often gone into a play thinking that the sign ‘90 minutes, no intermission’ was reassuring and come out realizing it was a warning”. I don’t believe he was at the show, but he may as well have been because it encapsulated my entire feelings towards this show. Three audience members got up and left during the show. While I would never engage in such behavior as it is immensely rude. I can also say I wouldn’t have returned if there had been an intermission.
I’ve tried to figure out whether it was the script or the performances that really pulled the production down and the best I can come up with is that it is a combination of both. At no point during the entire show do you actually care about either of the characters and that falls on both the script and the actors. The script fails in the very premise. Both characters are well aware of what drove them apart, but at no point does either one seek out help from a professional. Instead, they engage in this asinine game playing as an attempt to resolve the underlying rift. Beyond that, the eventual reveal as to what caused the rift in this couples relationship comes so far into the show that you are already peaking at your watch waiting for the show to end. At that point the audience was already lost and it was hard to feel any compassion for either character. Moreover, the attempts at humor fell flat and were misplaced. This show plays as a heavy drama, and the attempts at humor were basically slapstick and didn’t muster a chuckle from anyone in the audience. For instance, on one of the “blind dates” the husband is playing a blind man and he comes into the bar ordering a beer facing away from the bartender, using his cane to whack the bartender as if he didn’t know where he was, and repeatedly attempting to grab his wife’s breast as if he was actually going for his beer. The actors don’t escape blame either. While the script wasn’t particularly engaging it felt as if I was watching actors reading lines, as opposed to performing a script.
At one point in the show a gun makes an appearance. I am one that usually loathes the use of blanks during live productions, because no matter how prepared I am for it to be fired I will jump. I sit there with anxiety just waiting for that moment to happen. In this show, I was hoping it would be used just to end the show quicker.
“Other Desert Cities” is the riveting family drama currently playing at Arena Stage. The show takes place around the 2004 Christmas holiday in Palm Springs, California. Brooke, has returned to visit her family for the first time in years and to share with them the manuscript of her upcoming book. The book was her telling of a long-held family secret from her perspective, a story that was never talked about amongst the family. Her parents, Lymen and Polly, are Republican Hollywood stars from back in the day that were part of the Reagan’s inner circle and are doing everything they can to prevent Brooke from trudging up this family story and making it public once again. The cast is rounded out by Brooke’s younger brother Trip, who works in Hollywood producing some schlocky reality tv series, and Silda, Polly’s sister who is a recovering alcoholic. The main crux of the show is playing out the dynamics of the family relationships and the motivations of the various characters and the truth behind that family secret. What is Brooke’s motivation for deciding to re-tell this long dormant family secret? Why are her parents so insistent on keeping the secret quiet so many years later? There are so many more questions that revolve around the central plot point in this exceptional script, but to even reference them would perhaps hint at what is to come. And part of the enjoyment of the show is the revelation of the full story and the characters motivations.
The other part of the enjoyment of the show was the performances by the cast, which was superb from top to bottom with special stand out performances by Helen Carey as Polly and Larry Bryggman as Lymen. Polly was everything you would expect from the domineering mother who was caught in a battle of wills with an equally bullheaded daughter. Lymen masterfully played the retired Hollywood actor who was looking for the peaceful holiday visit and wanted to placate everyone. Emily Donahoe played the depressive daughter Brooke who found light in writing the story of the family secret while seeking answers for questions she always had regarding her family and yet seemed more interested in herself than the effect the revelation of the story would have on those in her family. Scott Drummond, played Trip who was the conscious of the show and the character that seemed to stand in the place for the audience with his funny and yet measured responses to both his sister and his parents. His willingness to be completely upfront with his sister about the positives and negatives about her book generally hit the right tone with only becoming a bit heavy handed at the tail-end of the play. Lastly, was Martha Hackett, as Silda the recovering alcoholic sister of Polly who was more resentful to her sister than appreciative of the assistance she was given during her recovery. The actors interaction with each other, beyond the central plot points made for a truly entertaining performance.
If I was going to be a bit nitpicky about the production and the script I would point to what is essentially an epilogue that takes place approximately 6 years later. In some respects it resolves some of the ambiguity left at the close of that Christmas holiday, but opened other areas of ambiguity regarding the content of Brooke’s book. I don’t mind ambiguity at the end of a show, it raises interesting conversations after the fact. But this epilogue left the people I saw the show with, including myself, with basically the same question I had at the end of the second act. What was in Brooke’s book? It seemed rather unnecessary other than resolving a recurring plot point in the show about the publication date of the book. Lastly, while the show generally handled the production in the round very effectively, with an excellent set design, everyone I saw the show with agreed that the character Brooke seemed to have her back to us more often than other characters. Obviously when something is produced in the round that is going to happen and I can’t say avoid specific seating, because those sitting in other spots in the theatre could have had similar responses regarding other characters. In any event, it wasn’t truly problematic either, just something we all indpendently noted while sitting on the North Side. This should not scare anyone away from this superb show.
Arthur Miller’s “The Price” is currently playing at The Bay Theatre Company in Annapolis and it gets two different reviews. The show itself was a well put on production, unfortunately the theatre facilities make it hard to recommend the show. To start with the positive aspects of my experience we should focus on the show. There is a reason Arthur Miller is one of the great American playwrights. The show takes a bit of time to get going, but by the second act it is a deeply enthralling piece of family drama dealing with the life choices the characters made in dealing with their responsibilities within the family unit. The show takes place in the attic of a Manhattan brownstone in 1968 as Vic, a policeman, is finally selling off the possessions of his long ago deceased parents since the brownstone they were stored in is being torn down. He had attempted to reach his estranged brother regarding the sale, but to no avail. Towards the end of the first act Vic’s brother, a successful doctor, arrives after having not seen each other for 16 years. The second act delves into the reasons for the estrangement and the perceptions of each brother about what led to the estrangement and whether a reconciliation was even possible. The core issue between the brothers was the care of their father after he lost everything during the Great Depression and the choices each brother made in dealing with the situation. Amazingly, for a play that was written in 1968 it still resonates today and felt like it could have been updated to modern times with only minor tweaks to the script. The first act of the show shouldn’t be forgotten either as it centers around Vic’s negotiation with a furniture appraiser, Solomon, he found in the yellow pages that was around 90 years old and had been out of the business for the past 5 years. Solomon may be retired and just getting back into the game, but still had the gift of gab of a salesman and he used it in trying to avoid offering a price on the furniture. The other overarching storyline that intertwined the others was Vic’s wife trying to get him to retire as a policeman as he had promised to do several years earlier and to look for other work that he would enjoy more. The production as quite entertaining, with my biggest complaint being an almost 8 minute opening of the show where Vic is walking around the attic looking at various items that were stored there with no dialogue. Silence can be powerful in a show, but for a show that is heavily dependent on dialogue it dragged on way too long and was unnecessary. My other compliant was the decision to stick to the dialogue in the original script to faithfully. It resulted in characters referring to each other as “kid” and “doll”. It felt hokey and antiquated, especially for the powerfulness of the remainder of the story.
I wish I could stop there and say check out the show, but the seating at The Bay Theatre Company need updating and badly. It was crammed together to get every last person in, but resulted in an uncomfortable experience. The rows of 10 seats across consist of cushioned folding chairs with no arms next to each other with no space between each chair. While your knees weren’t jammed against the chair in front of you, you could easily touch the chair in front of you by merely extending your arm past the length of your knee. And if someone needs to get by you would have to stand up and fold up your chair so there was room for them to get by. On top of that there is an insufficient height difference between each row. I am over six feet tall and I had a gentlemen in front of me that I had to look around for the entire performance.
While the production on stage was excellent I just can’t see myself returning to a venue that takes an hour to get to from my home in the DC metro area that had such an uncomfortable viewing experience. Especially, when there are so many great theatres in the immediate DC area that offer such better viewing experiences. Heck, I’ve been to Fringe Festival performances at makeshift venues that have had more comfortable seating and viewing options.