Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Shows

Yay!  I'm back at a normal keyboard.  Much better.   Now that I can type with two hands, here's a run-down of the shows this weekend.

Thursday Night: Sleep No More

From Wikipedia: Sleep No More is an immersive theatre installation created by British theatre company Punchdrunk. It tells the story of Macbeth through a film noir lens. The production “leads its audience on a merry, macabre chase up and down stairs, and through minimally illuminated, furniture-cluttered rooms and corridors.” The masked audience moves freely at their own pace, choosing where to go and what to see, and everyone’s journey is unique.

As I mentioned, I was both excited and nervous about this show. Between my distaste for haunted houses, the anxiety I get in situations when I'm not sure what I am supposed to do, and the fact that Brian loves the show so very much (he being an enormous fan of all things horror), I was concerned that it would just be overwhelmingly scary, especially since I would be attending alone.

On the other hand, from all I've read about it, it is one of the most innovative shows in modern theater and I was eager to see for myself how you go about constructing an immersive piece of theater.  Plus, Shakespeare!

Per Brian's advice, I arrived early and was one of the first in the line outside. Once they opened the doors, I was immediately ushered up to the coat check window. No bags or purses are allowed inside, and they recommend checking coats as well because it gets quite warm in there. Knowing that in advance, I had only a jacket with my essential purse items in the pockets, so I stepped past and into the hallway beyond.

By this point the interior was almost completely dark. There were sparse dim red lights, but I could barely make out my hand in front of my face. I walked up the stairs and through a twisting dark hallway, feeling my way through by trailing my fingers along the wall to my right.

Finally, the lighting brightened a little and I found myself in the "hotel" lobby. I "checked in" and received my "room key" - an ace of diamonds playing card. A man in a 1930's bell-hop-style uniform punched my room key and ushered me into the smokey, red and gold bar. I refused the offer of champagne from a perky waitress also in period dress in favor of a glass of water and sat at a small table to people-watch.

Soon a vampy woman in a slinky sequined black dress called for our attention in her most seductive voice. "Darlings," she said. "If you have an ace, please come find me over here. We are about to begin.  I will be waiting for you."

I joined about a dozen other people in her corner. She handed each of us one of the white audience masks (which I'll admit was another reason I was excited for the show, geek that I am) and gave us the rules - always wear the mask, do not talk, and the curious will be rewarded. We were then ushered into an elevator, then released into a long brown hallway.

And at this point, I'm going to speak much more vaguely. Here's what I will say:

1) I am amazed at the different settings they packed into the warehouses. From a hospital wing, to a photography studio, to a nursery, to a deserted series of shops on the platform of a train station, to a forest-maze of white birch trees, to a cemetery with a dirt floor, to a two-story ballroom filled with fir trees... and more besides. It's a marvel of design.

2) As is so often the case in theater, most of the atmosphere came down to good music, lighting, and fabric.

3) While there was a persistent ominous feeling, I wasn't really scared. I dislike the jump-out-and-yell-at-you kind of horror, and this was the opposite. Even though the actors could and did touch you, it was usually prefaced with intense and thorough eye contact, then such slow movement that you were being invited to let them interact with you. The actors were very much in character, but the movements were so slow and so controlled that even the most frantic moments, such as the witches' prophecies, felt safe.

4) Speaking of the witches' prophecies scene... I so, so, so want to bring my students there, to show them this kind of theater. They would love it. But there is just no permission slip in the world that would cover two women stripping off their dresses to breastfeed a baby doll after pouring a goblet of syrupy blood down the chest of a man wearing nothing but a Minotaur mask (and I do mean nothing - talk about educational!).  I understand it from an artistic perspective, but I'm annoyed that it's just too much for these 16, 17, 18-year-olds.

5) My director's brain was in high gear most of the night, too. I could make a show like this. I know how. I would just need the space and the money. But, oh, how fun it would be to create!

6) Once effect I loved was how, in addition to the forced anonymity, the audience masks created a chorus of ghosts silently witnessing everything in the story. It's a wonderful allusion to a Greek chorus, but a chorus bound to silence. The device also works so well because the accumulation of people over the time of the play echos the accumulation of murders. As the Macbeths unravel, there are more and more spirits haunting them at every step, watching their actions with unwavering stares and swooping in to pick up and examine whatever they touch or drop or leave behind. Everyone, everyone, becomes a part of the show you're watching.

7) This was the best fight dance choreography I've ever seen.

8) I loved it, and I would love to see it again. It's a very, very cool piece of theater, and if you have the chance, go.

Friday Night: The Hunger Games

I don't want to spend too much time reviewing the movies we saw, mostly because they're not as interesting as the plays. The movie was fine, I love Stanly Tucci in everything he does, and I think Jason missed a wonderful possibility in his shaving experiments last summer.

Ooh! In searching for a link for that paragraph, I discovered this Slate article! Here, give me a few seconds with Pixlr...

And... done! Now you can see for yourself what sartorial goodness Jason missed:

I think we've got a real possibility here, am I right ladies?

Okay, back to the plays.

Saturday Matinee: L'Elisir d'Amore

The original motivation for the trip, this was just an ethereal delight.  Happily (for me at least), one of the other members of the group Jason bought his ticket through did not come.  Jason called me moments before curtain to say I could take the empty seat.  I dashed down from my place in the rafters with the other groundlings (oxymoron!) and talked my way in past the ticket-desiring ushers to join the wealthy class in the seats left of orchestra center.  Nice!

While I did not like the color scheme of the set design at all (it feels dated and clashed horribly with the profusion of Italian flags at the end), the performances were wonderful.  The story is classic Commedia, down to a braggart Capitano who strutted about in a Tarantarrah manner and a Columbina-Innamorata.  I didn't think I would know any of the songs, but was delighted to find that I recognized this lovely piece for the tenor from Act II. Here's Juan Diego Florez singing it at the Teatro Cuyas in Spain:

Actually, that led to one of my favorite moments of the trip.  Mr. Florez, who is just all kinds of charming on stage between his singing and his Running Man dance moves, sang it beautifully in a serene night forest scene.  When he finished, the audience responded in applause with as much passion as he gave us in song.  He held his pose, facing off stage left, suitcase and army jacket in hand with his head bowed dejectedly.  But the applause kept going and going.  A man from the balcony called out, "Encore!"  Mr. Florez held just for a moment longer, then turned towards the audience and nodded at the conductor.

The audience literally gasped, and Jason whispered, "An encore!" with a look of such pure delight and excitement that I am pretty sure I know what 5-year-old Jason looked like on Christmas morning.  Mr. Florez, the lights, and the orchestra reset themselves smoothly for the top of the song, and the quiet notes began again.  The audience collectively held its breath through his flourishes at the end, and burst out with even wilder applause than before.

Mr. Florez held his end pose again, then turned back towards the audience.  The applause, which had finally begun to wane, surged back to full force again.  Mr. Florez turned back to his hold looking off stage left.  The applause began to fade, he turned back towards us, and it surged yet again.  After the third time I wondered whether he was just playing with us, but then he stepped forward, obviously dropping character.  "This is not why I was waiting there," he said with his Peruvian accent.  He hit his mark one more time, turned towards the audience, and said, "Eccola!" - the next line of the opera.  It dawned on the audience that his blocking called for him to wait for the applause, then turn towards the audience.  He had not been playing for the attention, he had been trying to continue the scene as he was blocked to do.

The audience enjoyed the unintentional joke, then the pleasure of the whole scene was amplified by the beauty of the next song.  Their duet was just lovely, and Diana Damarau sang Adina's song of love with such passion that when Nemorino turned away from her at the end declaring that she obviously doesn't love him, it took me a moment to recall that none of the lines of her song had actually declared her love for him - she had cried out love so convincingly from every part of her except her words, I couldn't believe the other character had missed it.  Bah! Men! :)

It was a fun, light opera; the performances were as outstanding as we had hoped; and I am so pleased we got to see an encore and experience that moment between an audience and a master.

Saturday Night: Tribes

From Tribes follows Billy, a deaf man raised inside the fiercely idiosyncratic and unrepentantly politically incorrect cocoon of his home of his parents' house. He has adapted brilliantly to his hearing family’s unconventional ways, but they’ve never bothered to return the favor. It’s not until he meets Sylvia, a young woman on the brink of deafness, that he finally understands what it means to be understood.

The Barrow Street Theater is a small, blackbox stage down in the Village.  Both the setting and the play itself provided a wonderful contrast to the other two productions of the weekend.  Despite how despicable most of the characters were, the play was gripping and I was riveted by the relationships and explorations of communities.  The actress who played Sylvia was outstanding.  There was one moment where she was translating Billy's signing for his family, interrupting him mid-speech to defend herself.  She both seamlessly and abruptly changed her voice, so clearly switching from talking for Billy to talking for herself.  It was as impressive a demonstration of skill as we saw from the opera singers earlier.  Billy's passion in that scene was powerful, but the most heart-wrenching moment came at the end when we see so clearly how much Billy's independence has shattered his brother, Dan.  All three of those actors provided outstanding work.

It's a moving, thought-provoking production in the best sense of those words, enough so that it took both of us a while afterwards to begin discussing it.  Even still I don't feel like I have words enough to express all I'm thinking about it, which is precisely one of the points made by the author, Nina Raine.

Later Saturday Night: Mirror, Mirror

Very, very pretty looking.  Horrible besides.  And that's all I want to say about that.

And that's the weekend!  It was, as is so often the case, a splendid weekend in New York.

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