September 2008 Archives
Last season, Temple University's theater department scored a major hit with In Conflict, an original production based on former Philadelphia Daily News writer Yvonne Latty's book of the same name. The show and its undergrad cast have since gone on to a stint at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival--where they won the "Fringe First" award--and are now Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theater, where they received an enthusiastic review from the New York Times' Ben Brantley.
Brantley's review picked out several of the same passages that I did when I reviewed the show last year for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Here's my review. Feel free to compare and contrast. I believe the show has changed a bit since the premiere, but we both seemed to share the same impressions:
Here's today's Inquirer review of Villanova Theatre's Long Day's Journey into Night. There are a lot of colleges in Philadelphia turning out a lot of top-shelf productions lately. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of them.
Sarah Palin at Philly's Irish Pub last night doing her version of "Omigod You Guys!" Bailey was so much cuter.
Who nailed it better?
In an effort to stick to a blogging schedule, I'm going to start posting a "Weekly Mack Attack" on Fridays, a shout-out and call-out of whatever got under my skin during the previous seven days. The first entry comes from the realm of political theater, and even though you wanted to leave during intermission (That's what this whole "break" in the campaign was, right?) they can't/won't refund your ticket. At least the second act will be shorter than the first.
This week I'm hating on: John McCain's electioneering. Yeah sure, that's like shooting fish in a barrel, and next week I promise not to go for anything so obvious, and maybe even for something arts related, but come on, already. John McCain: save the drama for your sugar mama. Learn to multi-task. What really worries me is that considering Sarah Palin's recent transformation from Miss Alaska also-ran to Miss South Carolina (such as and, the Iraq), he's just crazy enough to dump her... But just sane enough to wait until after Obama's next significant polling uptick.
This week I'm macking on: The array of Barack Obama goodies on Etsy, a clearinghouse for all things handmade. There are McCain items too, but as we learned this week, conservatives are boring. So is their political paraphernalia. The best they came up with? "Nobama" t-shirts. Obamazons? They're uniters, not dividers. Hip-hop lovers can order "Obama Said Knock You Out" shirts, while metalheads can tear it up in one that screams (but not in a German accent) "Here I Am, Barack You Like a Hurricane." Indie types can smirk in their ironic Andy Warhol-style "Yes We Can" American Apparel tees. Fancy folk can order up a hand-calligraphied "Elitists for Obama" button and lace their election night parties with some Obama portrait cookies. And old-schoolers can "Rock Out with Your Barack Out" on a glossy 3x5 print. So many ways to beg your fellow Americans not to screw this one up.
Below: Electioneering we can enjoy--Easy Star All-Stars' Radiodread version of the Radiohead song.
I'm sort of split on the idea of posting my reviews here, since they're local and you're probably not. But I'm going to do it anyway, because, well, they're online, and so are you. You can feel free to let me know if this exercise adds nothing (or something!) to your Drama Queen experience.
So for anyone interested, here's my review of Gas and Electric Arts' production of Lisa D'Amour's Anna Bella Eema from today's Philadelphia Inquirer.
Below: a video of G&EA's rehearsal process. Fairly pretentious and kind of ridiculous, but then again, rehearsals probably shouldn't be filmed anyway. The show was much better than this would lead you to believe.
...Because it doesn't look like April 1.
So does that mean this is for real? For really real? Is American Psycho really slated to hit Broadway in 2010?
Didn't anyone learn their lesson from The Fly, the opera? I'm all for Grand Guignol revivalism, and even more for Bennington grads making mad money, but seriously? American Psycho, the jukebox musical? Didn't The Wedding Singer satisfy everyone's '80's cravings when it closed after less than a year? Didn't Glory Days satisfy everyone's thirst for blood?
I'll bet anyone a bloody, bloody Andrew Jackson (I'm not one of those Bennington grads making mad money) that Patrick Bateman's catalogue of murders--assuming it ever makes it to the stage--will rival the Moose Murders for the terror it inspires in its investors.
But, um, if everything does work out, who wants to drive up with me to see it?
Below, Bennington grad Justin Theroux in the film based on Bennington grad Bret Easton Ellis' book.
My new favorite blog is Mark Blankenship's The Critical Condition, and not just because he sparked up my Lazy Sunday by posting his distressingly catchy Silence of the Lambs hip-hop track right after a post about Eminem's imminent return. I love it because even though he's often critiquing theater for the New York Times, he's not afraid to simultaneously feed his pop culture jones. And why not? If someone has to check out Celebrity Autobiography or Perez Hilton Saves the Universe, then all the better if they own a copy of Suzanne Somers' "Touch Me," (everyone should) or check in on the pink poseur several times a day anyway.
At this point, Pop culture is so pop that VH1 is already loving up the naughty aughties while we're still waist deep in their muck, and FakeSarahPalin has 4,263 followers on Twitter (Yes, I'm one of them). With troupes like Les Freres Corbusier eliding easily between Schoolhouse Rock and Ibsen, it ain't enough anymore to brush up your Shakespeare. You've gotta watch New York brush up on hers as well. Or not. But still, you never know.
So hallelujah that playwrights like Tom Stoppard are there to worry about the big stuff, to school us on Havel and Housman, and that theater critics are, for the most part, thrilled to have such a deep well from which to draw. But considering the heaping helping of Pink Floyd in his latest work, it seems even Stoppard's been dipping into the shallow end of the waterhole lately.
Though Blankenship--kicking back and mixing up his arts coverage with "Clay is gay" stories--may not save the world, he just might help save informed, professional criticism from extinction by expanding its reach outside the realm of a handful of subscribers and niche enthusiasts. And by "save it," I mean, "make a video for his Silence of the Lambs rap." Hey, whatever works.
Below: the meta-moment of the pop culture year. So far.
The 2008 Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival is over, but my extracurricular work--sorting out what I've seen and divining new ideas, trends and rising stars from the pack--continues. Rather than summarize the whole experience, click on the word cloud below. It's composed of all my festival reviews and is almost as chaotic as the fringing experience itself (who knew "balls," and "blood," would figure so prominently)?
Want more? Here are links to every review in the cloud (bonus: they're attached to reviews from my Philadelphia Inquirer colleagues).
If that's still not enough, well, fine, I'll summarize anyway.
For me, the most exciting moments at this year's Philly Live Arts/Fringe were those that took theater out of the theater. Viennese artists Matsune + Subal opened Store, a social experiment wherein two performance artists set up shop on South Street, a busy, exhaust-choked urban thoroughfare that was once where "all the hippies meet," (it's not nearly as nice as it sounds on this link, but you do get a bit of historical flavor and some Dead Milkmen trivia) and is now home to an array of condom stores, tattoo parlors, bars, and--considering those volatile ingredients--a heavy police presence. So it was nothing short of astonishing to watch as everyone from hoochies to hipsters fell under the Matsune + Subal spell, purchasing ridiculous mini performances from a menu and laughing out loud as the pair ran through traffic with a plastic sheet fluttering behind them a la Christo, or posed as a .75 cent "Cheap Copy" of a grinning Buddha.
England's Rotozaza brought Etiquette, a two-person event, in which you and a friend are the two people, and the table in front of you is the stage. This link shows a video of the project's New York incarnation, but here in Philly, the setting was vastly different. It took place at the Last Drop Cafe, a local java joint that's been cultivating an air of pretentiousness since grunge, and whose grimy interior was perfectly suited to the piece. While a woman's voice (via recorded message, played through a pair of headphones) directed me to perform tasks, a man directed my husband, who sat opposite me at a cafe table filled with tiny props--a ball of clay, piece of chalk, glass of water with an eyedropper perched on its rim. We performed bits from Godard and Ibsen, and though I announced loudly "I am a prostitute," no one around seemed to care. It was a somnambulistic experience, being inside this hyper-dramatic event complete with a thrashing storm, that appeared to have no impact on its surroundings.
Anyway, these, to me were examples of the essence of a perfect Fringe fest, productions that blurred the lines between performer and audience, performance and perception. There were several others equally exciting, but the real point here is that the Fringe is not the time to mount a conventional production of a standard old play. Unless you're adding a radical new spin (Oedipus at FDR's olly-popping skateboarders, for example), save yourself the agony, save it for your regular season and make room for artists whose work expands the form and offers us a reflection of our present and a glimpse into the future.
Jerome Bel says it best:
Finally made it to New York yesterday (first time this season) and saw The 39 Steps. The show, a farcical, campy, reimagining of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 romance/suspense/thriller, won one of the five Tony Awards for which it was nominated (Best Lighting) and was praised effusively by Ben Brantley in the New York Times. I settled into my seat with high expectations and the lingering frisson of excitement that still hits every time I head into the business end of the Lincoln Tunnel.
So all the greater was my disappointment when the production was halfway as good as it could have been, with a set design halfway as creative as several Philly Fringe shows I'd seen, and with a halfway committed cast running on autopilot. At intermission, my companion (and provider of my ticket) St. Paul Pioneer Press theater critic Dominic Papatola, remarked, "Well, this is a strange little show for Broadway."
Strange indeed, and not in a good, gatecrashing, Passing Strange, kind of way. Rather, it was strange that of all the shows in the English-speaking world to choose to pick up and mount on Broadway, why should this bit of West End escapist fluff that seems plucked from the rounds of regional repertory theaters--an Irma Vep with a bigger cast and less ingenuity--be anointed? Mind you, I have nothing against fluff, even if it arrives during an era ripe for meatier fare (witness August: Osage County's success on that front). But this fluff? Really?
Following the show, we indulged in a discussion of Broadway's current impotence and regional theater's growing virility, which is all well and good, considering we're both covering theater in our respective regions. But while it's nice to be smug about your city's healthy theater scene, the power of the regional theater inferiority complex is such that you still wonder if in the face of the Manhattan machine, your hometown triumphs are merely the result of boosterism and provincial pride.
Well, guess not. In this weekend's announcement of the closing of Forbidden Broadway, its founder, Gerard Alessandrini cited plain old boredom as the reason for shuttering his nearly 30-year-old star-skewering satirical institution.
"When Broadway becomes too theme-park-like, it makes it difficult, and it just looks like it's becoming overly commercial the next couple of years," he said.
When it's not even fun to make fun of Broadway anymore, something is terribly wrong. Visiting New York should be like opening a compendium of the best new American plays and musicals instead of walking down memory lane, or even worse, walking straight down the middle of the road to Broadwayland. A revival here and there is fine, but you don't end up getting a Gypsy or All My Sons in the first place by only banking on the tried and true. One look at the 1956 Tony nominations (or even the 1976 nominations), packed with original productions of original ideas and well, compared to this season's lukewarm musicals and revivals of revivals, perhaps it's best to avert your eyes. Or hey, look elsewhere--like to regional producers--for guidance.
So with all the ruckus about Sarah Palin's VP nomination, I haven't seen much about her stand on arts funding (I've also been submerged in a Fringe Fest fog for the past week-and-a-half, so if I missed something on ArtsJournal about the issue, my apologies). If she's truly aligned with her running mate John McCain, she'd be all for eliminating arts funding altogether.
Well, turns out it's not that simple. It seems that under Palin's governorship, the Alaska State Council on the Arts (AKSCA) has increased its funding very slightly--just over 4%--to nonprofit artists and organizations. But while on the surface this appears to be promising news, it comes with the caveat that the council ran out of grant funds by the end of the third quarter of FY2007, and thus, "was only able to receive applications for three of the four normal quarterly grant deadlines." As AKSCA's operating report budget changes the information it includes from year to year, I'm not sure if this is due to more money going to fewer organizations or just plain poor planning. However, it does appear that before Palin's tenure, arts funding was on the decline in her state, and has since seen an incremental increase.
The most significant bump in AKSCA's funding comes in grants to schools for arts education, which last year rose just over 31%. This number doesn't include grants for field trip transportation (there were 68 of those, if you were wondering, though the report doesn't say whether this number increased or decreased). Participation in Alaska's Arts Education Consortium--an art teachers' professional development conference--has also increased under Palin, with the number of teachers rising from 27 in 2005 to 70 in 2008.
Of course, just because Palin accepted money for arts funding and kept Alaska's Council on the Arts open doesn't mean she'll be a friend of the arts once she becomes VP, heaven help us (Hey, it's a blog, not a newspaper. Go read the Inquirer if you want impartiality). Considering her ties to Pat Buchanan and far right sympathies, this widely circulated bit from Time magazine about her tenure as Wasilla's mayor:
Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.
and Artnet's report on her slashing of Wasilla's Dorothy G. Page Museum budget, it's probably safe to say artistic freedom isn't high on Palin's list of national priorities. The Obama/Biden ticket has laid out its Platform in Support of the Arts for all to see, but don't bother searching the word "arts" on the McCain-Palin site, because it's not there. And consider this: if the arts don't even merit a mention on the candidates' website, what will happen to the country's arts and culture economy when they are in office?