Mick Napier's Chicago classic doesn't require any commentary from me, so I'll stick with this:
Fuck you, you cunt or a prick!
Suck my dick!"
You know what I'm talking about. If not, there's one quick way to find out.
You know what I'm seeing this weekend? Nothing! Happy New Year, all; I'll see you on the other side of '09.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Mick Napier's Chicago classic doesn't require any commentary from me, so I'll stick with this:
Posted by Paul Rekk at 12:01 AM
Sunday, December 28, 2008
As I settled down in the warmth of the Indiana Repertory Theatre and got ready for A Christmas Carol on a frigid Sunday night, I realized that I have very little experience with the story. I'd never seen it on stage, I don't know that I've ever actually read it, and my film experience is limited to some late 70s/early 80s animation (After some online research, I think my mind might be creating some odd mash-up memories based on Mickey's Christmas Carol and The Stingiest Man In Town.) and two minutes of Scrooged -- the part where he wants to staple antlers on mice or something like that. Somehow I managed to grow up in rural Americana and still escape much of the media saturation of holiday sentimentality. (Admission of guilt: I've also never seen It's A Wonderful Life and have only seen A Christmas Story once, well over a dozen years ago. I'm telling you, if it wasn't animated, lil' Paul didn't have much to do with it.)
Yet I have managed to pick up the distaste for the idea of A Christmas Carol -- the sickly sweet sound of a crippled boy raining blessings upon every one that seems to peal across stage and screen this time of year. So I was determined, going into my first experience, to at least try to find the lasting appeal beneath the sentimental; this is Dickens, after all, there's gotta be more than just happy sappy life lessons. Turns out I picked a good production to start out that train of thought -- IRT's Christmas Carol, while telling the traditional Dickens tale, does so in a way that emphasizes the theatricality of the production, rather than opting for the good ol' sawhorse of realism. Set on a field of snow, set pieces are wheeled in and out, dropped from the flies, and are pulled up from under the snow or a number of trap doors. It creates a very ensemble heavy show, a virtue that allows the storytelling to take center stage. And Dickens being Dickens, the storytelling is, of course, where the real redemption lies.
I had forgotten that this is a story about a man. Not of life lessons and behavioral 180s and god blessing the top to the bottom (although those things each play their part), but of one man and the very particular reasons that have brought him to the point of detachment that he now embodies. As we look on, Dickens shows us Scrooge not ruing the decisions he has made, but actually acknowledging and taking stock of them -- in many cases seemingly for the first time. At the IRT, this is well served by Charles Goad, who provides a bit of humor to pre-ghost Scrooge. Yes, he's a crabby old man, but he's a crabby old man who we need to feel an attachment for, and Goad's slightly relaxed clip gives us that entry point.
It is A Christmas Carol, which means it is a moneymaker, which means it is an audience piece, so the whole thing played out more or less as expected (within the inventive adaptation, of course), but it was nice to know that I could come out of one of the biggest chestnuts of all without wanting to tear my hair, and it was a good refresher course on the original (who knew that Mickey was leaving bits out -- Ignorance and Want, the whole Sister Fan death thing -- actually, everyone but me probably knew....), a reminder that there's a reason this story has stuck around for a while, no matter what it may have become in some instances.
It was a good thing I had that refresher course, too, because the Neo-Futurists weren't waiting for no stragglers. A Very Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol holds few ties to Dickens original story and those present are frequently tenuous. I suppose that is exactly what I should have expected from the Neo-Futurists, but not having a long history with the story, I was desperately hanging on for even the most fleeting recognition for a while at the beginning. Once I gave up and let go, things got much easier. I still, shame of shames, haven't been to Too Much Light, but this was something that, in my head, looks similar to TML: Holiday Edition. Which is cool and all, there were some great bits: a flour/water/dance Christmas Past piece that had me wavering between joy and tears, some bracingly honest on stage audience Q & A, a send-up of the Christmas goose tradition. But when Bilal Dardai towards the close of the show explains that the real undercurrent is that Scrooge could have learned the lessons he learned at any time during the year, I was on board -- there was the appeal I was looking for. There was the way in to this whole Christmas Carol phenomenon. But things swerved giddily back to overdone and larger than life Christmas immediately after, and by that time I was left wondering what the bother was. Of course, that was the whole point of what the Neos were doing, but that awareness didn't make the gaudiness of contemporary Christmas any less empty.
Here's the rest of the line-up for '08, so's you all know what you got coming to ya. Friday was Annoyance's Co-Ed Prison Sluts (now there's a holiday classic) and Saturday was Remy Bumppo's The Marriage Of Figaro. Next week, I've got Writer's The Maids on Monday and Chicago dell'Arte's A Commedia Christmas Carol on Tuesday. Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! I'll be back before the New Year to spread some more good cheer.
Posted by Paul Rekk at 10:11 PM
Saturday, December 27, 2008
"These damn silences and pauses are all to do with what's going on … and if they don't make any sense, then I always say cut them. I think they've been taken much too far these silences and pauses in my plays. I've really been extremely depressed when I've seen productions in which a silence happens because it says silence or a pause happens because it says pause. And it's totally artificial and meaningless.
When I myself act in my own plays, which I have occasionally, I've cut half of them, actually."
No witty en memoriam "pause" quips from me. Thank you for your words, Mr. Pinter, that's how I'll remember you.
Barman: Not always the last though, is it, though?
Man: No. Oh no. I mean sometimes it's the 'News'. Other times it's one of the others. No way of telling beforehand. Until you've got your last one left, of course. Then you can tell which one it's going to be.
Man: Oh yes.
I think he must have left the area.
- The final lines of "Last To Go"
Rest in peace.
Posted by Paul Rekk at 9:23 AM
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Douglas Maxwell's Our Bad Magnet, running now at Mary Arrchie, ends on a uplifting moment of floral sentimentality. After weaving in and out of three decades with a quartet of young Scottish pals and being hinted everywhere from ghost story to detective tale to sobering domestic abuse fable, Maxwell kicks open the trap door beneath our emotions, dropping us directly in front of the light at the end of the nostalgic tunnel. I left the theatre with a warm feeling that lasted a good hour or so, which was about the point I really started thinking about the play again and notice just how little finality we're given despite the "Everything's Gonna Be Okay" tinged ending.
The story revolves around three friends meeting up at their hometown at the age of 29 largely because of some dealings regarding a odd duck storyteller fourth who they befriended at the age of 9 and who may or may not have killed himself at 19. As scenes from all three ages intermingle, we pick up bits and pieces of the bigger picture: harrowing home lives, deeper connections, intra- and extramarital affairs, shady business dealings. It's a great set up for a cubist exploration of the transition from young to young adult and on again to adult and the building and breaking of relationships that progress necessitates. But Maxwell has his heart on telling a story, dammit, and sets himself across the poles from his storyteller protagonist of sorts by insisting that the story of Our Bad Magnet bow up all nice and pretty at the end.
Of course, it doesn't, or rather shouldn't, and even though the playwright has the perfect bow picked out and placed on top, it only serves to cheapen an otherwise intricately explored world. It also goes to show that honest/earnest performances (as this cast puts in across the board) can only mask disingenuity in writing for so long before the foundation falters.
A Red Orchid's A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant is the type of show begging to fall into half a dozen different pitfalls and yet this production manages to sidestep almost all of them without a second glance. There's no false advertising here; a group of ten youngsters are really going on nightly in a theatre whose usual bill of fare is one of the least likely in Chicago to come under the heading 'child-friendly'. These kids are all at that age of full ripeness -- that junior highish phase where humans learn to lie, cheat, and steal but aren't yet bitter enough to hide their enthusiasm for it -- and through their self-awareness threaten to render every inch of this show another inch for them to grab attention. But co-directors Lance Baker and Steve Wilson perform nothing short of the impossible in herding them to effectivity. Instead of attempting to stifle these kids into the square hole of theatre, Baker and Wilson utilize each individual Look At Me tendency smoothly towards the show's purpose (let the muggers mug, let the straight (wo)men go unfliched, let the girl with the Heelys wheel, etc.).
And as a result, instead of child actor hell in which focus is drawn so many directions it snaps, we get a show that understands that, yes, poking fun at L. Ron Hubbard is a good time, but the success of the evening relies on the fact that, the kids ARE the focus, and lets the jokes serve them rather than the other way around. We all know the punchlines and we all know where this game is headed (although, in the reverse of Our Bad Magnet, Very Merry Scientology adds a last minute turn of emotion that sits very nicely), but we don't know where these little punks are going to go to get us there. It's a lot of fun finding out.
Busy weekend -- Six Degrees of Separation and Soiree DADA are both closing Saturday night, and on Sunday I'm driving to Indianapolis to see my once roommate in Indiana Repertory's A Christmas Carol. Also on the pre-Christmas planner: in celebration of the day of my birth, on Tuesday the 23rd I'm catching closing night of The Neo-Futurists' A Very Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol and then hopping around the block to Konak for a birthday bash with the tiny smattering of folk still in town despite the holiday. Feel free to stop by, I'd love to have you!
Posted by Paul Rekk at 11:39 PM
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Posted by Paul Rekk at 10:18 AM
Monday, December 8, 2008
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.
Posted by Paul Rekk at 10:21 AM
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
A three-way! Today spans a pretty wide range while keeping a foot firmly buried in sound.
It was the last of the three that I saw, but I wanna get this out of the way first, before the ADHD readers get restless: get your ass down to Navy Pier and see A Midsummer Night's Dream before it closes this Sunday. If you're under 35, they've got $20 tickets, which is less than some Storefronts charge, and they're not shoving you in the balcony with those, either. I was on the side of the thrust, but still arm's length from the action.
For those who haven't been paying attention, this production of Midsummer is part of the World's Stage series. Comprised of an Indian and Sri Lankan cast, the show is performed in a weaving of eight languages: English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali, Sanskrit, and Sinhala. It also incorporates elements of dance, aerial gymnastics and martial arts all on a sand-floored stage. Thirdly, it's the most vibrant, heart-warming, absolutely bursting with life production of Midsummer I've ever been partial to. Less a fleeting comedy than a celebration of all facets of love and sex and the mischief in between, there are moments of pure violence and moments of pure sensuality and moments of pure ridiculousness. But it's mainly purely rapturous.
One thing that has become a point of contention with the show for some is Chicago Shakes' decision to produce the show without translation. The production literally weaves the dialogue among languages: performers switch tongues mid-line and perform some entire scenes of dialogue speaking different languages than each other. If you don't know the story and are looking for a straight and informed narrative experience, I suppose I can understand the frustration. But (and maybe this is a little unfair because I am familiar with the play) I couldn't be farther from it. In fact, the few moments that I was a little less than impressed were the moments, particularly during the beginning, where the show remained in English for an extended period of time. It was during those points that it seemed like I was watching just another mostly faithful rendition of Shakespeare, and that's not what anyone in the audience bought their ticket to see. All the same, using that knowledge, I can't fathom the complaint that it was hard to understand what was happening on stage. Doing a show in a foreign language without translation is one of the many ideas I have long been (and currently am) toying with, and what I saw was very encouraging in confirming what I had suspected -- allowing yourself to fall into the fact that you don't know exactly what is being said transforms the theatrical experience from verbal to musical. And theatre shouldn't be a primarily verbal exercise, or at least it shouldn't have to default to a primarily verbal exercise.
Especially when it is as evident as here that the verbal is not always necessary to get the point and purpose across. Some of the most entrancing and effecting moments in Midsummer have no English involved. P R Jijoy as Theseus and Oberon speaks primarily in Malayalam and Sanskrit with the rarest of English and can't help but draw all eyes every time he is on stage. There are a couple of times when a large group breaks out into traditional song (although music is the universal language) that draw one into the community being constantly shared by this cast. And as M Palani's Demetrius declares his love for Helena in front of everyone the morning after -- and in Tamil -- I unexpectedly snapped out of my trance to realize just how fully locked into the show I was. This was mainly because of the second universal language: Archana Ramaswamy, who plays Hippolyta and Titania. Archana is a vision to behold (she's the one in all of the marketing material you've been seeing) and is always and utterly emotionally turned on during the show. She speaks in English throughout her role, but conveys twice as much simply through a glance here or a little eye contact there. Demetrius' ode to Helena is a perfect example. As I'm listening to this speech, normally a nice little "let's tie up these ends" moment, I glanced at Hippolyta to find a tear-streaked face. And not just a dab. Over a smile to make pulses race, tears were openly flowing down her cheeks. I watched tears drip, drip, drip onto her chest during a scene that is otherwise often a little glossed over in a language that I know nothing about and I was smitten. This is a woman that I want to forget everything and fall in love with. It's just one more on a long list of things about this show that go beyond understanding.
Meanwhile, down in Hyde Park, Court's brought in SITI Company's Radio Macbeth, another visiting Shakespeare production that either requires working knowledge of the source play or a willingness to give in to experience over narrative. This Anne Bogart directed piece is as much a concert as it is a theatrical experience. Set on sparsely furnished bare stage with four or five microphones scattered throughout, Bogart has cut Mackers down to ninety minutes and forged those ninety with a firm sense of musical abstraction. While still technically a telling (actually very much literally so) of the story, Radio Macbeth at its finest moments is a physicalization of Shakespeare's musicality. I'm a firm believer in revisionism and the power of new interpretation when it comes to the classics -- as unpopular as the idea may be, I don't know that the Folio and meter are the sacred cattle that they have become. Important to be aware of and only to be ignored with a purpose, perhaps, but certainly to be ignored from time to time. However, even as I look on from that stance, what Bogart has done is an honor to the placement of these words. If you are going to treat Shakespeare as the poetry that it is, this is what it should sound like. The nightmare soundscape of the Act IV witches/apparitions/kings horror and the absolute percussion of Lady Macbeth's insanity are perfect examples -- words and sounds intertwined to the point that you want to close your eyes on occasion, just to appreciate them.
In the lobby afterwards, I heard a student explaining to his family the plot of Macbeth and how the very loose narrative conceit of Radio Macbeth correlates. I felt bad for them; all of the magic was slowly being drained from the piece in an attempt to gain the upper hand on the ephemera of the show through knowledge and detail. Sometimes theatre isn't only about What Happened in the play. Sometimes, and these are some of the times I find most glorious, it's primarily about What Is Happening on stage.
I'm throwing The Unconquered, currently running at Trap Door, on here as well. It's a bit of an oddball in the grouping, but did you expect any less from Trap Door? With The Unconquered, playwright Torben Betts has reached some sort of odd symbiosis between Beckett, Kane, and Seuss. It's a lazy comparison on my part, but the show does defy easy explanation. In a 50s/60s sitcom world in the midst a revolution, Betts, through extensive repetition, uncomfortable imagery, and rapid fire slash overlapping dialogue, has created a work that pounds your skull into submission politically without ever truly giving an innocent to root for. It's a bleak work, offset by the sunshine of its world, where nothing bad really honestly happens, because even when it does, there's always a little canned laughter to save the day. Even the glimpses of the death and destruction waiting outside are provided to us through live vocal (and thus gleefully underdramatic) sound effects as performed by Kevin Lucero Less as Soldier, a performance that initially provides the vigor for the show but slowly crosses the fence from absurdist to self-parodic. It's kind of a running theme. Everything starts fiercely real in an anti-naturalistic setting and then ever so steadily becomes more and more painfully chosen for absurdity rather than allowed to be absurd, to the point where video footage of Soldier as a Max Headroom/Lounge Singer wannabe blares as Mother and Father do the theatrical robot (because they become incorporated into the machine works that are The System, understand?), while god knows what is exactly happening for the sake of the show. And while a vicious moment of stillness at the end begins the way to redemption, Beata Pilch (who pulls double duty as director and Mother) let the unruliness of the piece to often outweigh the reigns she held. When Soldier enters at a mile a minute making ricochet noises all the way, we're in it. When he becomes vaguely Eurotrash and sings, we're not sure, but we'll play along. And by the time he's a dozen different things, none of them identifiable, we don't know what we're supposed to be listening for or looking at and there's far too much of it with too little interest to even sit back and enjoy the ride.
So, I got my O'Neill Festival tickets in the mail yesterday and apparently this means I'm a Goodman Subscriber for 2008/2009? My Subscriber Benefits book (which only served to confuse me more) and Patron cards were included in the envelope, which I find unusual because I've never actually paid any money to the Goodman for a Goodman production -- I only bought tickets for the Festival shows, not Desire Under The Elms. I'm a little uncertain about what this all means (i.e. what perks do I get?), but also in the envelope were a pair of tickets for last Sunday's matinee of A Christmas Carol purchased by some lady from Glen Ellyn (oops!), so I'm not putting too much stock in anything I get from the Goodman. Don't worry, they were shitty and overpriced seats for Christmas Carol, anyway...
As you probably guessed, last night was Chicago Shakes' A Midsummer Night's Dream. Also on the schedule for the week: tonight is Profiles' The Thugs, Thursday I'm working box for Signal's Six Degrees Of Separation (which you should totally come see -- you can get in free on Thursday if you e-mail me for details), Friday is TUTA's Romeo and Juliet (for real this time), Saturday DADA [g]nimbus is coming out to play at Soiree DADA (which you should also totally come see), and Sunday is the side project's Cut To The Quick festival (I'm going for the whole shebang in one day: Static/Cling, Splinters And Shrapnel, and Splayed Verbiage). As Bokonon might say: busy, busy, busy.
Posted by Paul Rekk at 9:35 PM