Results tagged “art” from Drama Queen

LaBute.jpgREZAYasmina_000.JPGI was supposed to review Theatre rEvolution's newest production, Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things, this week but unfortunately my space was cut. So in fairness to the kids--and they are kids, all theater students at or recent grads of Philly's University of the Arts--I'm posting yet another philosophical inquiry based on one of their shows. Oh, and if you're wondering, I really did like the production and hope to see Haley McCormick (she played Jenny, LaBute's idea of a nice, normal girl who, naturally, makes out with her boyfriend's best friend) all over Philly's stages next season. 

Last time, Theatre rEv's superb production of Kenneth Lonergan's disaffected This Is Our Youth got me in a comparing way (apologies, but it seems the Inquirer has archived the reviews linked on that entry). This time, it's bitch-slapping LaBute and a playwright whose work bitch-slapped LaBute's at this year's Tony Awards, Yasmina Reza. And no, they are not opposing forces. 

I've heard Reasons to Be Pretty and God of Carnage are departures for both playwrights, and amen to that, but for our purposes, I'm matching their older work, the LaBute with Reza's Art. Why? Well, it's pretty simple: I hated them both for the same reasons. I don't need to literally be told there's a debate about what makes art; I'd like to just go ahead and engage in it, thanks. 

In the LaBute, this debate arises several times; in the Reza, well, it is the play. In both, it's really, really dull. And didactic. And self-conscious. And, as I believe I've mentioned before, kind of a wank.

I get that the great art debate is a metaphor for something larger, but theater is also a metaphor for that same something, and honestly, it would be a lot less boring and pretentious if playwrights would just knock out the middle man and get on with making art, instead of discussing it.

Are you with me or against me?

July 15, 2009 12:09 PM |

You might have noticed that I didn't post a mack attack last week, and honestly, I've got a good excuse: I've been in Chicago for almost a week, enjoying an extended milestone birthday (none of your business) celebration. Of course, that celebration, when it didn't involve drinking or eating, involved lots of theater, most of which I chronicled in condensed form via Twitter, but here's a recap:

Couldn't hit town without partaking in a bit of the Goodman Theatre's "O'Neill in the 21st Century" festival, so I made the difficult decision to forego their heavy-hitter Desire Under the Elms, with Brian Denehy and Carla Gugino, for The Hypocrites' production of Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. Why? I guess I just like rooting for the underdog. And also, while a straightforward production of a straightforward play, with marquee names, has its place, I was really looking for Chicago to bring its A-game and impress the hell out of me with something new. 

Well, it did and it didn't. Props to the Goodman for committing to realizing up-and-comers The Hypocrites' singular vision. And by committing, I don't mean they tossed some money around. Apparently the Goodman tore out permanent fixtures to accommodate director Sean Graney, so good on them. But was it all worthwhile? Since I'm not reviewing the show in any official capacity, I'll just say that while Tom Burch's shipboard set design--reversing the house and staging the action on several tiers of what would normally be audience seating--was pretty ingenious, and Chris Sullivan's Yank gave a powerhouse of a performance, Graney's direction was all over the place, with cadres of disco dancers and cavorting bakers robbing the script and Graney's own ideas of their strength. However, I'm still wondering if bathing Yank in flour and dotting his nose with red icing was just what it looked like--an attempt to make him look like a clown--or a conscious answer to The Wooster Group's blackface Emperor Jones. Or both. Anyone?

Next up was Craig Wright's The Unseen, at the tiny A Red Orchid Theatre, birthplace of Tracy Letts' itchy, twitchy Bug. The play, a parable in which two prisoners at a secret correctional outpost attempt to remain sane after years of torture and isolation, doesn't sound like much of a treat. But I guess that all depends on your perspective. Wright's script and Dado's direction have their surprisingly funny moments; funny, as in, funny ha ha, not funny weird. I'm not saying that it's a riot by any means, or even that you'd have an unfettered chuckle. But still, under the circumstances, any funny at all is a feat. Which is the point, I guess, or one of them, anyway, that humanity somehow survives even under the most suffocating conditions. A fellow critic who loved a recent production of Wright's Orange Flower Water here in Philly attended a staged reading of Unseen and said he thought the writing was iffy. I could see how with the wrong cast that might be the case, but here it wasn't, certainly not in this company's capable, empathic production. 


I hit Second City, for their new mainstage show America: All Better, which, like most sketch comedy, was hit or miss. A cute running gag about mini-badass-hottie Rahm Emmanuel, some relationship skits, a few digs at postracialism, it's all good. But just good, not great.

Finally, I saw Art at Steppenwolf, because, well, I've never been there and felt a certain obligation to pay my respects. So that happened. 

Ok, I could have seen The Seafarer, but since the Arden Theatre is also producing it this season, I don't know, I felt kind of like I wanted to be loyal and give them the benefit of the first impression. So I'm provincial, sue me.

Anyway, I'd somehow never gotten around to seeing Yazmina Reza's three-ham-hander wank about a painting and everyone's feelings. And I know some of you out there must really enjoy it, because like Count Dracula, it refuses to die, and keeps returning to suck anything resembling real emotion out of a room. But I didn't enjoy it, not even with a two-thirds good cast, and a couple of cocktails beforehand to dull my natural edge. (I was off-duty, remember?) Sorry, I guess I'm just a bitch. And I'm not really sorry.

So thanks Chicago, for showing a gal a good time. After all, getting riled up about something I didn't like is still better than no theater at all, and a town that takes its theater as seriously as Chicago does--no sooner had I arrived than the League of Chicago Theatres' Communications Director Ben Thiem started following me on Twitter and offered to take me out--is better than most cities, period.

February 17, 2009 6:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Well, not Hitler exactly, but the Chapman brothers' defacement of his artwork

Those brothers grim, Jake and Dinos, bought a bunch of the Fuhrer's watercolors a while back, causing shivers to run down the spines of horrified citizens everywhere. Turns out they had nothing to fear.

The men's work displays an obsession with organized death--they've had their way with Goya, and created a sculpture called Hell--detailed with other work in the video below--which featured dioramas filled with miniature representations of many, many imaginative torments. Their recent, and similarly-themed (though much-differently executed) show Little Death Machines was dismissively reviewed by Ken Johnson in today's New York Times as a one-note gimmick, but if they're only capable of one note, I'll eagerly listen. At least until I can't stand it anymore. 

Unlike Tom Sachs' ill-conceived consumerism/Holocaust debacle of a few years back (He just missed the green revolution by thismuch. Could've been a visionary with that rationalization!), the Chapmans apply meticulous method to their love affair with madness. 

The Hitler doodles add another note to their oeuvre anyway, one of post-Holocaust glee. The Chapmans don't just dance on his grave, they hold a rave on it. The chemical sunsets and floating hearts surrounding Hitler's pedestrian architectural facades are ominous, but only after you've had a chance to laugh out loud at them. By destroying the watercolors' value as Fuhrer-created art and subverting them into Chapman-based art, the boys have triumphed over evil at least this once. 

Why should Banksy get all the ironic graffitti love? Here's to vandalism with a purpose.

May 30, 2008 1:41 PM | | Comments (1)
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.