25 April 2006

don't tell meg

i saw lieutenant of inishmore friday. first, very disappointed that no one in the show pronounces it 'leftenant.' have i been lied to all this time?

while on line for the bathroom at intermission (an intermission that should not be, as i'll get to later), there was a woman making conversation with the other bathroom waiters. (keep in mind that the balcony bathroom at the lyceum is quite possibly the smallest, and crowdedest, bathroom on broadway. it's two stalls in a room about the size of my desk.) at first i thought she knew the person she was talking to, but she then turned her whinging on the rest of us, one by one. in a petulant, negative tone, jersey whine and all: 'do you like it?' when she got down the line to me, i said yes. 'well, i don't.' why not? 'it's too strange.' how is it strange? (by this point we had seen a dead cat thrown around the stage, a tortured man hanging by his feet almost with his nipples cut off, a 16-year-old IRA-wannabe wielding a bb gun...) 'it's just too different.' and she sort of mumbled into the sink as she washed her hands, and slipped out of answering, slipped out of me telling her that people like her are ruining the theatre, and if she didn't like it so much she should just LEAVE!

after intermission i saw that she had moved up into the empty first row of the balcony, chatting to a couple who'd pulled the same maneuver, and you could just tell that they were strangers, and that she was bitching to them about how the show was too weird. cunt.

i'm not calling her a cunt because she broke the unspoken new york rule of Thou Shalt Not Talk To Strangers, Or Really Even Make Eye Contact Unless There Are Martinis Involved Or Maybe If They're Really Really Cute. chatting on the bathroom line is, if a little weird, fine. but i am calling her a cunt because of the way she did it, the way she started it with the negativity. sure, she asked, 'do you like it?' not, 'doesn't it suck ass?' but she was so whiney and negative, 'do you like it,' emphasis on the you, implying the 'cause i sure as hell don't.' and, half-way through my experience of a show, that is the sort of shit i totally don't need. especially because it's too weird for you. go back to jersey. go see mamma mia. okay, done with my closed-minded elitist theatre rant against the garden state. but really, that infringes on my experience of the show, tainting my still-unformed perceptions and opinions with negativity that i might not end up with on my own.

the thing is, though, when she asked me if i liked it at intermission, i was lying when i said yes. (maybe i was a little mad at her for making me do that, for making me have to realize that, at that point, i didn't like it.) which brings me back to how this intermission shouldn't have been there at all.

talking after the show, james came up with this totally bullshit idea that you can't say you liked one of two acts of a show, you can only judge a show in its entirety, as a complete gesture or whatever. which is total crap, because how am i not allowed to say, 'act one was sort of boring, didn't work for me, but act two was much better, more interesting, got going, kicked ass'? the actual problem in this case is that what's in act one doesn't stand on its own. the play hasn't gotten going enough before intermission to withstand the lights up and the chatting and the cunts harassing you in the bathroom line. granted, in this production, some of that, some of my having to lie to say 'yes, i like it,' was due to some really not-so-good acting, which continued in act two, but didn't pull things down as much then. but still, in terms of the play itself, it's really one arc that doesn't divide well into two parts. almost surely an intermission for time concerns alone. alas.

as i said, act two kicks much more ass. and oh how i mean that for reals. everyone knows this show is supposed to be bloody and gory and violent, and it does not disappoint. and the audience reaction was almost magical. sure, there were some walk-outs (though the violence had barely gotten started - i wonder if folks were put off, or just bored?), but the entire remaining house, at least 75% full, was entirely with it. i've seen crazy violent theatre before (god bless heath's trinity studio production of killer joe), but never in a broadway house. and everyone got it. there was none of the smattering of laughter & reaction like in the french scene in history boys. i knew i'd love it, knew i'd be giggling and clapping and squirming with delight at the bloody audacity, but it was delighting and faith-affirming to hear the hundreds of other audience members doing it along with me, all totally game.

that said, i still don't think i can say i loved the play. i had a fucking amazing time, but it felt like 80% roller coaster adrenaline thrills, and 20% quality theatre. when you listened closely, the play was still finely written (and i mean fine like intricate and skilled, not like meh), recognizable as the same writer of the flawless 45-minute two-character scene two of pillowman. but the writerliness was harder to hear. the acting was far from flawless, though some performances were brilliant. and god, some of those accents were off. (the bad accents coincided with the bad acting, which made it all especially hurtsome.) but if this play had gone in some direction other than an all-out exhilarating bloodbath, i don't know if i would have loved it nearly as much, or maybe at all.

after james and i stopped deadlocking about his bullshit theory of dramaturgy, we got to comparing this violence to the way violence is used by tracy letts.* killer joe, a student production in a tiny, dinky studio at trinity, was one of the most amazing theatrical experiences of my life. i cowered, i probably screamed, and i left kinda nauseous. it was amazing and completely exhilarating. bug was along the same lines. a good part of the inishmore rush comes from the sense of 'oh my god they really went there.' but in tracy letts, they have to go there. the violence is invested with so much - kind of like the dramaturgical ninjas in stone cold dead serious. things are so awful that there have to be ninjas. in a tracy letts play, while i'm watching the violence, i'm watching it happening to these characters i've gotten very involved with, i'm watching their lives become even more unbelievably completely fucked. i'm involved in the characters and the story, and the violence comes out of the story. with inishmore it was just a step or two away from a really good family guy episode.** i would have loved to have seen inishmore off-broadway, to have been up close rather than what felt like miles away in the lame-ass steep balcony. but i don't think it would have been entirely different.

james said that this detached, inishmore-style violence upsets him more than the invested tracy letts bloodshed, that the fact that it's fun and divested of character repercussions makes it actually more upsetting, because there's the extra layer of 'whoa, why wasn't that upsetting' which brings in a whole nother level of societal commentary. for me, though the shape is the same, though this looked like guns and blood, it's entirely disconnected from a person actually being shot, from someone actually becoming dead. it's exciting the way acrobatic stunts are exciting, and it just happens to come in this guise. i wasn't entirely detached from the characters, and maybe my disinterest after act one was, as james suggested,*** just because i knew what was coming in act two and just wanted the bloodshed to get going. but i still think that it's harder, and better, when the exhilaration of exceptional stage violence is coming from the play, is connected to the characters, has stakes attached, is emotionally invested, and is more than fireworks. i mean, fireworks are awesome. but as awesome as they were, they could definitely have been something more.

*who, holy shit, is going to be in steppenwolf's pillowman this fall. someone help me find out who he's playing!

**the one where stewie beat the living crap out of brian comes to mind - i think i loved that so much that i actually screamed.

***though he was kinda a contrary douchebag all night, wasn't he.


John said...

James is a douchebag solely on the basis of dramaturgical perspective.

I love my friends.

anna said...

i'm with the contrary douchebag on the violence issue. but you knew that.

pillowman at stephenwolf? my parents must be informed that they are goin.