Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Patient A, Profile Theater (One Night Stand Reading)

Writer: Lee Blessing
Director: Bruce Hostetler
Kimberly  .....  Amy Newman
Lee   .....   Todd Hermanson
Matthew   .....   Matthew Sa

sez says:  Given Blessing's large body of work I am not sure why this play was picked for a reading. It is dated and it does not work to make universal the problems that are brought to the surface when people are frightened.  This was written early in the early days of the AIDS Epidemic.  It is about a young woman who was infected with the AIDS virus by her dentist.  The story could have lifted itself up if it had dealt with humans as fragile and easily frightened --and capable of cruelty when kindness is called for.  But it somehow never gets to a place past dealing with AIDS specific issues.
Possibly the whole problem was not with the play but with the reading instead, The play presents a poem that is read in parts --while the story is being told.  Todd Hermanson was the reader of the part / he is playing a writer/ who is drawing on the poem to understand the situation..but he read it so quietly we could not hear much of it.  So...not knowing what was in the poem / or only hearing part of it / made the poem burdensome to the reading.
Meanwhile Amy Newman and Matthew Sa did a fine job holding up their ends.  Generally we like Hermanson, and he would have seemed a likely candidate for this character, but he was weak here.  We all have bad nights. 

MJC Says: made in 1984, missed the potential exploration of the interconnectedness of humans --unless it was in the poem I couldn't hear.

Hearting Beatings, CoHo Production (Grade B)

Book, Lyrics and Music by Mark LaPierre
Director, Diane Englert
Music Driector Matt Isley
Cast:  Andrew Bray;  Chrissy Kelly-Pettit;  JP Latchaw;  Leah Yorkston (each playing multiple parts)

sez says: this is series of musical vignettes having to do with things of The Heart.  They have a fabulous logo/graphic done by Mark Fearing--of a heat in a boxing ring looking a pretty done-in but not out cold:  Kudos for that.  The various piece varied in appeal-- par for the course.  None were bad--all made it to better than good and none quite made it to exceptional. The performers were fine--and, like the music none bad, all generally good, but no one excelled.  One problem was the venue did NOT have good acoustics, so voices drifted and just were not big and powerful enough for the space. An pleasant evening's entertainment --but not art and not exceptional.

MJC Says:  Fun romp through some contemporary stories set to music.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chesapeake, Profile Theatre, (Grade A)

Written By: Lee Blessing
Director: Scott Yarbrough
Todd Van Voris  .....  Kerr

sez says: BRAVO.... this was great entertainment--and based on Blessings definition of ART.. a piece with an artistic flare too.*  If you are a bi-sexual performance artist from a southern state where a nationally prominent homophobe and an all around right-wing scoundrel what do you do?  Move to NY of course.  But even in NY you can't escape being uses and abused by the aforementioned scoundrel when he wants to run for Senator.  You are angry and you decide to kidnap his dog (a creature used by the scoundrel in advertisements as an icon of his own classic American values --a man and his dog, etc).  The kidnapping goes wrong and the next thing you have become the bad-guy Senator's DOG!  But you can type--so you communicate with the Senator, who thinks you are a messenger from God.  That sounds pretty wacky now doesn't it.  But is works.  And there is plenty left out in my short replay--and Van Voris is on the mark here.  He is perfectly cast and he reads this piece well.  It is fun--it is funny--and it is dead serious.  (Grade A)

mjc says:  we saw this performed at Second Stage in NYC in 1999 with Mark Linn-Baker.  It holds up fine. But then it is my cup of tea.  I want to believe that even the most retrograde politician can brought to see the light and if there is a way to do that a dog is the way.

* Blessing defines art as follows: (paraphrased) art only exists if it contains controversy. If there is no controversy than what you are engaging is entertainment--not art.  There is nothing wrong with entertainment--but don't confuse it with art.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Disappearing Number, National Theatre Live, Presented by Third Rail in Porrtland Oregon (Grade A)

Conceived and Directed by Simon McBurney
Devised by The Cast
The Cast:
G H Hardy    .....    David Annen
Al Cooper   .....    Firdous Bamji
Aninda Rao  .....   Paul Bhattacharjee
Tabla Player  .....  Hiren Chate
Mother/University Cleaner/Dancer ..... Divya Kasturi
Surita Bhogaita / Barbara Jones ..... Saskia Reeves
Ruth Minnen  .....  Saskia Reeves
Srinivasa Ramanuhan / Dancer .....  Shane Shambhu

sez says: these NTL productions are first rate. Everything about every one we have seen has been brilliant.  This is a story about numbers--and mathematics--and how in both math and in art we are striving for beauty. Math is about patterns and has a world and a reality of it own.  Some people are born with access to mathematical reality (ie Srinivasa Ramanujan and maybe G H Hardy) --they see what most of us can't--that is the beauty and pattens that numbers possess and that numbers can provide.  Numbers/mathematics also might well be the path to finding the physical laws of the universe, demonstrating the magnificence of all creation and ultimately solving the mystery of life and the mystery of existence itself. (ie: like String Theory--and it multitude of realities) 
Meanwhile this play has parallel and overlapping stories of love and exile and racism and death, class privilege and the ravages of war and it takes up the gifts and difficulties that accompany cultural diversity. And it wonders about death and what math can tell us: Is there really such a thing as infinity? If all things are connected --past to future with no end ever -- then can there be such a thing as an end at the point of death?  And as we the audience engage in imagining the play is real -- which is required in order to create the possibility of understanding what it is trying to convey, we are also reminded that, that is what mathematical imagining is also doing--trying to convey meaning and understanding.

Imagination is the underpinning and a requirement to understand both the complex elements of the play and to conjure up the relational patterns of numbers. What fun to encounter so much content and so much talent in one place.  It even ends quotng one of my favorite writers; John Berger. Grade A

Dead Man's Cell Phone, Theatre Vertigo (Grade B)

Writer Sarah Ruhl
Director  Buck Skelton
Jean  .....  Kerry Ryan
Gordon  .....  Mario Calcagno
Mother  .....  Jane Fellows
Dwight  .....  Joel Harmon
Hermenia  .....  Heather Lundy Kahl
Gordon's Lover  .....  Jenn Hunter
Ensemble   .....  Clara-Liis Hillier & Nico Marquez

 story outline: woman (Jean) sitting in cafe discovers a man at next table (Gordon) is dead.  She takes over his cell phone and decides--for no particular reason--that she loves the dead guy.  She takes charge of his cell phone and begins to tell anyone who calls lies about how he felt about the caller.  Her lies are meant to make people happy and to think well of Gordon.  The callers include business associates, lovers, his mother etc.  She does this to keep him alive and to make him the good person that she wants to believe he is.  

But he (Gordon) was not such a nice guy. He got rich selling body parts on the international market. He explains his work as a form of helping people.  Meanwhile Jean meets Gordon's brother, Dwight, and they fall in love.  They speculate about love and where do all the contents of cell phone calls go--off into the infinity of the either, etc.  Jean decides to try and help one last customer of Gordon's by delivering a body part to South Africa--and insisting the body parts be given away for love and not sold for $$.  She is dealing with some very shady characters--she get knocked out and has a near death experience--where she meets-up with Gordon on a far away planet.  Luckily she isn't really dead but she returns from this experience to warn other about loving the wrong person.

sez says...there is just the right bit of camp in this production. And what a great play this is. We saw it in Ashland a few years back and while they had a bigger venue and more $$ to spend on props and costumes and staging, Vertigo did a better overall job telling this story. They built up a "Tim Burton type" atmosphere, not dark and morbid but quirky-dark with a touch of vamp-satire.  There are many themes running around it this loony story. The whole thing is played straight but with a cartoon-esq, flat edge. And as we go along we are asks profound and inane questions:  Are Jean's lies better than Gordon's lies?  What are the unimagined and unknowable impact of communications becoming increasingly electronic?   How many kinds of love are there? Who owns the cell phone?

While the production as a whole was on the mark--there were some disappointing aspects.  Most distressing is that the acting was uneven.  Fellows and Ryan held up their ends but esp Calcagno fell off his sharp edge more than once. That is really too bad.  We have seen him do ever so much better and here, in this play, he was cast to type to a T.   He could have done so much more with Gordon.  Maybe Calcagno needs to take a trip to New Jersey and meet a real-life witness protection guy. The kind of fellow who wears Gucci Loafers and gold chains and who is overly aggressive in his presentation of slimy business propositions -- (these guys do exist but they are not so very common in Portland) Such an example might have suggested where he could take this character.  And Kahl was great one moment--and then would drop away and seemed to repeat her lines as if she were still working on memorizing them.  I can only guess that a little more work all around would have lifted this performance onto a substantially higher plane --but even as it, it is fun and worth seeing.  

Bloodyvox, Body Vox, (Grade C)

Co-Directors Jamey Hampton & Ashley Roland

Performers: Jamey Hampton;  Matt Hope;  Heather Jackson;  Daniel Kirk;  Ashley Roland;  Eric Skinner;  Zachary Caroll;  Jonathan Krebs

sez says:  hummm, this was a real mixed bag which I guess can be expected from a show that is made up of many short pieces..but overall this was a disappointment. It felt like too many of the pieces were more circus acts than dance. (ie George & George) I know, I know we don't what to limit what falls into the definition of dance--and I love Body Vox for that--even their name (Body Voice) conveys that notion. The body can and does talk...etc etc. But, when I go to a dance show I expect certain things..and again (this is at least the 2nd time I felt this way after a Body Vox show) I felt that some of the dances where not well enough rehearsed.  There was too much choppiness and off kilter action from the dancers. 
Not so in all cases.  For instance Little Miss Tough It  was masterfully choreographed and performed. It required precision and the job was done to a tea.  But what could have been a lovely piece, The BloodyVox Ball was a mess of people not handling their costumes correctly (lots of cloth needed to be integrated into the dance and it was slipping and having to be grabbed up and in general not handled well by the dancers) which suggests not enough rehearsal time.  It is frustrating to watch this sort of thing -- you can see there is a beautiful dance possible but it isn't happening.
I do have to say that again I was totally impressed with the costumes. Ashely Roland does most of the designs and she shines: out doing her self again and again. The designs, the cloth, the colors all work to make each dance something special. 

MJC says: fun innovative not necessarily dancing...