Monday, December 8, 2008

The Thugs/Romeo And Juliet

Goodness me, it's college night at Profiles, and it shows...

Adam Bock's Obie winning The Thugs is running now (soon to be closing) and it's peppered with an office of newly twenty-something temps. Not that age is problem for this production, but experience might be proving to be so. Bock's script is a compilation of verbal spurts -- machine gun repetition, ellipses and interrupting hyphens abound, and nary a finished sentence in the bunch. No one in this script is willing to actually finish a thought, which is plenty all right because no one is willing to let any one else finish a though, either. It's a bit on the gimmick end of the stylistic stick (or at least becomes such when presented in a rapid fire manner, as here), but it's a gimmick that at least holds some interest, when done well.

Unfortunately, it rarely is this time at Profiles. In what I have a strong urge to chalk up to mistakes of the learning variety, the show runs along on half-sentences treated with a period, upward inflection in preparation of being cut off, and very little actual cutting off. The show, revolving around mysterious deaths in an office building (with an entirely superficial domestic violence subplot being tossed thematically on when Bock finds it convenient) loses all its thrill and, what the hell, mystery when the characters seem to have a ten second foresight on all conversation. The chaos and terror in this situation (in most situations, for that matter) is a result of the unexpected and the unbelieved and yet the terribly real. These characters are sympathetic because, like us, they ain't got the foggiest about what's really going on. And in this production, everyone is playing to their next line, or, even worse, to the next time they get to stop talking.

There's a couple of redeemers in the crowd: Bob Pries brings something nearing a lilt to Bock's verbal quickstep that is both odd and surprisingly welcome and Annie Slivinski's Mary, when she finally gets something to do, is charmingly underspoken in a nutjob sorta way. Oh, and the 'working' elevator set piece is a wonderful sort of low-budget magic to lend a little gravitas to the tiny Profiles space. But the nagging question is for director Joe Jahraus. Joe, you're the Artistic Director of a pretty darn respected little storefront that sees dozens of up and comers through its doors each year through the ubiquitous Profiles classes, to be found on resumes from here to eternity. How did you allow the entire young portion of this cast to slide so sloppily through?


Meanwhile, over at the Chopin an old favorite is being done in a... well, it's being done, period, I guess. I wasn't sure exactly what I was expecting from TUTA's Romeo and Juliet, but I know I was expecting something. Between my past experience with the company and the (in hindsight, disjointed) marketing campaign for this show -- the haunting hindered romance Magritte poster, the heavy focus on violence in synopses, the Graney/Shakes copping use of the entire title of the play -- I assumed that I was going to get something unexpected, or at least something with a view askance. Wrong on all accounts.

This Romeo and Juliet is a 95% standard fare edition of the show, which in itself isn't a bad thing. I'm certainly an apologist for the occasional chestnut. But I think at this point in time, especially if we're talking about perhaps the most widely known play in nation and beyond, it should be understood that if you're going to tackle it and tackle it concept free, you better have your shit fucking down. What's on stage at the Chopin isn't awful. It isn't even bad. Heck, it even feels a decent amount shorter than its three hour running time. But it's nothing special, and with a play this well known, nothing special is damnation enough.

As I go into more detail, I feel the need to throw out the disclaimer that Romeo and Juliet is a play very, very close to my heart (it's number seven in The Nine) and that I maintain a unique -- not left field, but unique -- reading of it. Zeljko Djukich's production for TUTA, as with most traditional productions of this show, makes a lot of choices that I very firmly disagree with. I tried my damnedest here, as I was during the show, to isolate and remove those personal complaints from complaints that I think hurt the show as TUTA was trying to portray it. I think I did a pretty good job, but be forewarned.

Martin Andrew's scaffold based semicircle set looks fantastic and, when being climbed all over works fantastic as well, but in the Chopin's mainstage space, which has been deepened about as far as it can go here, the set leaves center stage a gigantic void, sucking away any sense of location. During moments of repeated use, the show gains an open mic feeling, as Friar Laurence or whoever strolls off while Juliet runs in (it always seems to be Juliet running in) to be the next to grab the center spot. Keith Parham's ultra-dim lighting design, easy to reason and, again, effective when not being swallowed by the black hole center, only serves to deaden the mood even further in those moments.

The actors almost uniformly suffer the same 'not bad, it'll do' diagnosis as the rest of the production. Matthew Holzfeind's Romeo and Alice Wedoff's Juliet do having a shining moment or two apiece (all apart from each other, and primarily in the second half, which does pick up some slack), and Dan Cox's hilarious turn as Peter is one big exception, even if his Prince is incredibly ineffective... most likely an interpretive complaint. Even Peter DeFaria, who is a talent to no end, seems to be relatively passing through. I actually thought I was going to have a lot to say about the performances, but looking back, almost all of my major complaints (of which there are quite a few) are complaints in the interpretation. The one that I do think severely hurts this show on TUTAs terms as well is Aaron Holland's tendency to deliver Mercutio's words (especially the Queen Mab speech) more akin to soliloquies than monologues. All of Mercutio's power and influence flies out the window when he is presented as distracted rather than driving, to the point where it's almost a little jarring when he suddenly gains presence as he is dying, as if it's unexpected for him to be at all a real part of this corporeal world.

There is, of course, the much touted silent final scene, which is a bold choice, and a strong one, too. It's one that had my fists clenched in interpretive anger, but it is bold and strong, I won't deny that. It feels a little more intriguing than it actually ends up being, because after two hours and forty something minutes of straight up Shakes, anything new is going to seem otherworldly. That's probably the most disappointing part: that the only strong choice made in the show had to wait until fifteen minutes before the curtain. If Djukich could have taken those moments and found a way to carry that intrigue through the rest of the show, he would have had something special. As is, he's got the same thing we've all known about since our ratty paperback copies of R & J in high school.


This weekend is kicking off on Friday with an ultra super mega turbo DADA [g]nimbus at Soiree DADA. There's not actually going to be anything more ultra, super, mega, or turbo about him than usual, but I thought I might try the Power Ranger approach for once. You should come visit him either way. Saturday is Mary Arrchie's Our Bad Magnet and Sunday is JASC Tsukasa Taiko's Taiko Legacy 5 program. Right now? Right now I'm gearing up for a Butoh workshop tomorrow. Big ol' hecky yeah to that.


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