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Posts Tagged ‘theater’

Three thoughts about the theater

In art, beauty, culture, entertainment on April 9, 2016 at 3:24 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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The Belasco theater, Broadway, NYC

What a feast!

I’ve seen four plays within a month: “Blackbird” on Broadway with Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, Wild Sky at the Irish Arts Center, Hughie on Broadway with Forrest Whittaker and The School for Scandal at the Lucille Lortel, a 200-seat theater on Christopher Street in the West Village.

Thanks to tdf.org, all four shows (single seats, all excellent seating) cost $147, about the cost of one Broadway ticket.

I’m a movie buff and my first entertainment choice, at home or out, is always to choose a film, whether a documentary, foreign film, drama or comedy. (I don’t watch horror films.)

So this theatrical binge was both unusual and instructive.

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I loved Blackbird; here’s my blog post about it.

I didn’t much enjoy Hughie and found it (written in 1942) very dated. But the set and lighting were gorgeous and the acting excellent.

Wild Sky reminded me what a magic act theater really is: three actors, no scenery, a tiny stage and audience. It was about the 1916 uprising that led to Irish independence.

And The School for Scandal — written in 1777 (!) — was funny, fresh and delightful. The costumes were a hoot, (the men wore tremendous wigs, some lime green or purple), the sets inventive and the acting terrific. When you come home imitating specific lines and quoting them verbatim, that’s a great play and performance.

Theater is, by definition, a high wire act, both for the actors and the audience.

 

Here’s a recent interview with playwright Kenneth Lonergan and Timothy Olyphant and WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate. (28 minutes.)

The pair point out that every night, and every audience, is different, as are their reactions — a laugh line met with hilarity one night can be met with frosty or confused silence the next.

That silence can rattle the best actor, unless they realize what a living, breathing thing every performance is.

They’re both eloquent here on this fundamental point.

An audience member might fall ill or have their cellphone ring. A piece of scenery might break or fall, (one show here was notorious for its many injuries, including broken bones and a concussion). Someone might forget their lines.

We all hold our collective breath and, as the house lights dim, embark on that show’s adventure together.

In a mediated screened world, it’s an intimacy hard to duplicate.

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Great writing speaks to us across centuries

 

Most of us know the works of Shakespeare and some of the classics. It’s rare that we get to see a production from the 18th century — The School for Scandal met its first audience the year after the United States declared independence from Britain, in 1777.

Imagine the world then!

No radio, television, Internet, airplanes, penicillin, women’s emancipation.

No cars or computers or endless Presidential election campaigns.

And yet…and yet…the most human urges: to scheme, to gossip, to backbite, to create false rumors, to swindle, to grab an inheritance, to marry someone twice (or half) your age, all of which are addressed in this excellent play with wit and charm.

There’s slapstick, romance, surprise, betrayal. They all cross the centuries quite nicely.

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Sound familiar?!

 

Success is fleeting, elusive and rarely a permanent condition for playwrights, (or many other creative people.)

 

On my way home, an hour’s drive, I listened to the great CBC radio show q which is also played now by some NPR stations in the U.S.

The Pulitzer winning playwright, Ayad Akhtar, discussed his play Disgraced; here’s the interview (13: 26)

I loved his calm demeanor when asked about his fame and fortune after winning the 2013 Pulitzer Prize.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” he replied. “I never internalized my rejections — why would I internalize my success?”

Brilliant.

And, even as we all still watch and savor SFS’s playwright Sheridan’s work — 229 years later — he, of course, died in poverty.

So many of the artists whose work we revere today, which draw audiences and whose paintings now sell to Chinese and Russian billionaires for millions, struggled lifelong to earn an income and support a family and find appreciation for their ideas.

 

A good and powerful reminder, I think.

Broadway, baby! Seeing “Blackbird” and “Hughie”

In art, beauty, culture, entertainment, travel, U.S. on March 27, 2016 at 3:15 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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Living in New York is, too much of the time, really hard and really expensive: rents, transit, gym memberships, groceries.

Unless you’re a 1 percenter, so many of its costly pleasures dangle forever out of reach, but one tremendous luxury within my reach, thanks to the Theater Development Fund, is access to affordable theater and music tickets.

Over the years I’ve lived in New York, it’s allowed me to enjoy excellent seats to popular musicals like Billy Eliot, Carousel and South Pacific and astonishing performances of plays like August: Osage County, Skylight, Awake and Sing! and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, starring Robin Williams, a work that won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

Seeing favorite actors and actresses live has been  a privilege in itself, faces and names we “know” from film or television, like Lauren Ambrose (of HBO’s Six Feet Under) and Edie Falco.

Theater brings a specific and immediate intimacy impossible to achieve through any screen.

 

This week brought me a $36 ticket, (regular price: $138), to see “Blackbird” at the Belasco with Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels reprising his role from 2007. I scored a fantastic seat, third-row aisle, in the mezzanine (first balcony) with terrific sightlines.

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The Belasco, at 111 West 44th street, opened in 1907 and is exquisite, a jewel box in its own right. The walls are painted in deep-toned murals, the coffered ceiling emblazoned with heraldic symbols and its lamps are stained-glass.

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Buying tickets through TDF, or the other discount options (like the TKTS  booths), means grabbing whatever’s on offer and jumping. You need to have read some reviews or have a good idea when you have only a few minutes to decide which ones are worth your time and hard-earned money.

But Blackbird? Hell, yes!

This play, which runs 90 minutes without intermission, is emotionally exhausting — even the playwright’s name is Harrower. Indeed.

 

It’s been performed worldwide, from Milan to Singapore to South Africa to Tokyo. A new film, starring Rooney Mara, (who starred in “Carol” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), is due out this year.

In it, 27-year-old Una returns to confront now 55-year-old Ray, who had sex with her when she was 12 and he was 40. It sounds weird and sordid but unpacks layer after layer of emotion, fear, damage and desire one might imagine possible.

It’s full-throttle theater, with both actors modulating rage and disgust and fear, the still and silent audience along with them.

You wonder where they summon the stamina to tear through it all, while swept up in the intensity. In one scene, they’re on the floor of a messy conference room, both of them throwing piles of trash into the air.

And eight shows a week? No wonder it’s a limited run of 18 weeks, which is still a really long time to grind it out full-throttle in this work.

I love Michelle Williams’ work and her willingness to tackle tough characters. If you’ve never seen the 2008 film “Wendy and Lucy”, it’s a grim portrait of a young homeless woman and her dog, a far cry from her 2011 portrayal of Marilyn Monroe.

As Daniels told Time Out New York:

This is not a safe choice. The tourists who come in are going to get their ears pinned back. As they should. The arts should do this.

Here’s Daniels — one of my favorites from HBO’s series The Newsroom and much other work — on what it was like to return to this role:

As drama, the fateful meeting of Ray and Una was as compelling now as it was then. Unapologetically raw and full of terrible truths, the play confronts the audience from the first page on, never letting up, never letting go, tearing into those watching it as much as it does those of us on stage trying to survive it. Still, I was hesitant. Most roles are been there, done that. What cinched the decision to return was that Ray still terrified me.

Every actor knows you can’t run from the ones that scare you. It’s not the acting of the character nor is it the dark imagination it takes to put yourself through all of his guilt, regret and shame. To truly become someone else, you have to hear him in your head, thinking, justifying, defending, wanting, needing, desiring. The more I looked back at the first production, the more I saw what I hadn’t done, where I hadn’t gone. I’d pulled up short. Found ways around what was necessary. When it came time to truly become Ray, I’d protected myself. He’d hit bottom. I hadn’t.

From the first day of rehearsals for the new production, it was exactly the same and entirely different. Michelle Williams and I had the script all but memorized ahead of time, which was essential, considering the stop-start, off-the-beat rhythm of Harrower’s dialogue. The key to any play, especially a two-hander, is the ebb and flow, the back and forth between the actors. If ever there were a need for that elusive elixir called chemistry, it was now.

 

I saw “Hughie” two nights later, at the Booth Theater, built in 1913. I think it’s not nearly as beautiful as the Belasco.

The show is an odd little play, another two-hander, and only 60 minutes — of which about 50 are Whittaker’s. He was terrific.

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The set and lighting were spectacular but I found it, written in 1942 and set in 1928, a bit too dated for my taste, with endless references to dolls and saps.

Have you been to a Broadway show?

Did you enjoy it?

 

War Horse and the power of imagination

In animals, beauty, culture, design, entertainment on October 21, 2012 at 12:46 am
War Horse (film)

War Horse (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe some of you have been fortunate enough to see the theatrical production of War Horse, (which is on in New York at Lincoln Center until January 6.) Based on a 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo, and made into a film last year, this play won five Tonys, including Best Play for 2011. It’s also playing in Melbourne and Toronto and a German-language version opens in Berlin in 2013.

I finally saw it this week, grateful that we have online access to discount tickets — my front-row balcony seat cost me $43 instead of the usual $125.

It’s hard to know where to start to praise this intense and astonishing piece of work. It’s definitely not for young children; I saw a young girl, maybe seven or eight, clinging to her father’s coat in the lobby afterward and knew exactly how she felt.

It is a play about war, and there’s much violence, and gunfire and exploding bombs and crows feasting on corpses, all staples of conflict but hardly what a young child is eager to see or able to handle.

For those who don’t know the work, it’s the story of Joey, a roan horse bought at a county fair and sold to a military officer.  In WWI 18 million horses were killed — but Joey somehow survives. The scenes where he leaps a barbed wire fence or is confronted by a tank are heart-stoppingly dramatic. By the end, when Joey is finally reunited with the boy who loves him, there isn’t a dry eye in the house and snuffles sound from every seat.

Joey, and all the horses in the show, are played by three men, two inside an astonishing construction of cane and painted nylon mesh and one standing outside, manipulating the head and neck.

The power of imagination, somehow, makes the men invisible, even as they remain on-stage whenever the horses do. The puppets, made by the Handspring Theater of South Africa, become snortingly, ground-pawingly, tail-twitchingly alive and the three men essentially disappear. One of the most moving moments, for me, was the death of one of the horses — as the three men silently and slowly withdraw from its shell, its spirit leaves the stage, and us, behind.

Here’s an 18-minute TED talk about them, with a visit from Joey.

One of the great luxuries of living near New York City is easy access to some of the world’s best plays, musicals and concerts. Thanks to my husband’s job, we can get discount tickets whenever they’re offered, and the seats are usually amazingly good, like fifth or eighth row of the orchestra.

I love the imagination, training, research and talent it takes to create these powerful illusions: lighting, costume, music, actors, writing, staging, direction, sets. I’m incredibly lucky we can, occasionally, affordably and regularly savor such skill only an hour from home. It’s one the reasons I wanted to come to New York, and why I’ve stayed.

What’s the most memorable production you’ve ever seen?

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