Friday, August 22, 2008

Torch Song Trilogy

For a good lesson on the interplay between static and dynamic staging, head on down to the Greenhouse and compare Azusa's Onto Infinity with the first act of Hubris' Torch Song Trilogy. One of Onto Infinity's biggest missteps (and there are some pretty big ones) is its lethargy. Physically, the show moves at a snail's pace if at all. The most active pieces of the productions are the scene changes, which employ the traditional college theatre stealth tactics: lights mostly down, actors shuffling furniture around with eyes on the floor two feet in front of them, somber and modestly-paced movement to ensure that the audience realizes that they've turned off the Acting switch and turned on the Scene Change switch, adjusting legs of furniture after it's been set down to ensure they are properly on the spike marks that have been well-hidden from the audience. And then the lights come up and the acting switches come on, and the Upstairs Studio is aglow with.... sitting. And some talking. If things are getting frisky, one character may stand up and walk to the person they are talking to, but don't worry, they'll be back to their chair before long. And cue scene change! And all of it undermines Joseph E. Gluekert’s abstracted Alice in Numbersland forced perspection set, an interesting foundation with nothing built upon it.

While downstairs, for a little over the first hour of the show, Hubris director Andrew Hobgood has his cast running all over New York City and State using only an oversized central bed, despite the presence of the rest of John Whittington's finely detailed set. The Cali King is, among other things, multiple beds at once, a dinner table and even the interior of a barn, is rarely unoccupied and serves the play terrificly. It's one of many steps the confident Hobgood takes in sharing Harvey Fierstein's tale of Arnold and those near to him. The director knows his space and knows what he can do with it and what he doesn't have to worry about doing. He knows he can light everyone but Arnold and still have him maintain focus. He knows he can have half of his cast speak off stage right to the other half who are standing immediately stage left. And he knows he doesn't need burdensome scene changes when he can stick with distinct location changes.

The second act proceeds much closer to the vein of realism, and is fully carried to the point of engaging and beyond by Ryan Jarosch's Arnold, whose eyes seem to be constantly scouring the room for a solution that he knows isn't there. And, even without Mary Hollis Inboden's lovely light touch as Laurel, the second act seems at least twenty minutes shorter than it is. But there was nothing quite like the first act realization that these characters were going everywhere by staying in one place while elsewhere (and multiple elsewheres, not just upstairs) people are moving all over and not budging an inch.


1 comment:

Ed said...

Well? Did you get in to "People's History?" I saw it Friday and would be interested to know what you thought. I enjoyed it- I'd never seen a Quest show before, and it was definitely an experience of "Oh, so THAT's what this company is about!" And the "that" is pretty awesome. It struck me as one of the most completely populist things I'd ever seen- and I mean that as a real complement. I guess my experience would have been different if they were charging admission- but that they don't, which I consider really awesome, makes them a serious candidate for being the 'People's Theatre of Chicago' that they claim to be. Sure, the production values were at times clunky, but that was kind of the joy of it- the same way you'd enjoy a really enthusiastically done kid's pageant. Rereading that last sentence it sounds like I'm being patronizing, but that's not how I mean it. My only quibble was it was the most deeply physically uncomfortable I've been while sitting in an audience in ages. Look, I'm not a small guy. Those chairs are hard, plastic, and crammed right next to each other, and while the space does have A/C it's not even close to adequate when you have 70-90 audience members crowded into small square footage. Let's just say I knew the people seated around me *Very* well by the end of the evening. And I was drenched in sweat. They'd thoughtfully provided a program with which to fan myself at least. So I'd give the show an 'A minus' but physical comfort level of audience a 'D minus.'