Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday in the Park with George: 01/25/2008

Sunday in the Park with George is not one of my favorite musicals; it always seemed like a good idea rather poorly executed. The Menier Chocolate Factory's production that has just come in to Roundabout's Studio 54 has done nothing to change my overall impression of the piece and a few of their choices have even made matters worse. The show is nicely sung and the small orchestra sounds great. Daniel Evans' act one George is appropriately restrained making for a dramatic shift for his act two George – you hardly believe it is the same actor. Jenna Russell's Dot is sweet and her Marie is lovely. The entire ensemble is fine. This production's big problem for me was it's use of video projections in act one, which undercuts the impact of the new media art that turns up in act two. The second problem I had was with the use of British accents in act one (which is presumably set in France) and the switch to American accents for act two. On the bright side, act two was way more enjoyable then I had remembered it, but when act two outshines act one in this show, that's got to be a sign of trouble! But no doubt the New York critics will eat it up...

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Happy Days: 01/08/2008

I think Samuel Beckett's Happy Days is one of the great works of art of the twentieth century; so simple in premise, so rich in meaning, so beautiful in language. Winnie, the heroine, is buried up to her waist in the earth in the first act and up to her neck in the second act (and there is no third act). Her husband , Willie, is nearby but not in the same physical predicament. There are so many ways to interpret the “meaning” of the play, and for that matter most of Beckett's plays, that his estate's dogged insistence that all productions follow the exact text and stage directions makes sense; for a director to place the play in a more specific setting, for example, is to cancel out the other possible “meanings” thee play suggests and therefore cheats the audience. As subtle as it sounds, the one way directors can sneak a specific meaning into Happy Days is by the size of the “low mound,” the degree to which the grass is “scorched” and the amount of “blazing light” that is present as described in the stage directions. The mound of scorched grass currently at BAM in the National Theatre's production of Happy Days is enormous, stretching the entire length of the Harvey Theatre and out to the feet of the first row of the patrons in the orchestra. The grass, really what there is of it, is scorched to the degree that it is practically sand and the light is so blazing that at one point you can smell it. Not that I am suggesting that Director Deborah Warner has in any way violated the intent of Beckett's stage directions, in fact she has followed them to their extreme conclusion and the production is very well served by it, for against all this we have a very large Winnie in Fiona Shaw. Upbeat and energetic with just the right amount of underlining terror, Shaw seems (of all words!) comfortable as Winnie. This a a great production of a great work.

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