02 February 2007

It Always Comes Back to a British Boy in a Dress

I am well-rested (oh beautiful 8 hours last night), well-fed (oh, eggy sandwich), and taking care of the rest with a steaming cup of herbal tea. I'm either 80 years old (or not, because old people need less sleep), or finally ready to write about the theatre I've seen lately. We'll go chronologically, on a winding road from sorta weird to completely the fuck out-there and then back to much more standard fare. (Hell's Kitchen to Williamsburg to Times Square.)

365 Plays/365 Days Week 11 at Ars Nova. I haven't mentioned for a while, so I will again, that my theatre company is producing week 37 (that's late July) of this year-long project. (Suzan-Lori Parks wrote a play a day for a year, from November 2002 to November 2003. Theatres all around the city are producing them all, for a year. In New York, the Public's the hub/curator, and each week a different company produces that week's plays.) Despite my involvement in the project, and my love for it, I haven't seen much of it. Aside from a dress rehearsal for week one (produced by the Public), I actually haven't seen any of it. I had a friend in Ars Nova's presentation, and it's just a good place to see things, so I trekked across many avenues, and went.

Basically, it was great. A pretty straightforward presentation of some not-very-straightforward plays - 7 short pieces, 40 minutes or so in total, lyrical and a little abstract and strange. I, as always, enjoyed Parks' language, and enjoyed seeing one small piece of a larger project, a project - a piece of theatre - that can't be contained in a single space in a single evening.

The highlight of the performance, though, was actually not part of the 365 script. The performance opened with a character "Suzan-Lori Parks," played by a white 20-something guy (S-LP is a black woman), in bathrobe and slippers, saying, "Hi. I'm Suzan-Lori Parks," in the most delicious deadpan. He went on for a minute before another guy entered from the audience and sat at the on-stage piano. This was Daniel Zaitchik, and he proceeded, after a bit of banter with "Suzan-Lori," to sing the most fantastic song, which is probably called something like "Suzan-Lori Parks wrote a lot of plays." I was probably an ideal audience since I'm working on the project, but it was delightful. Zaitchik is also a fantastic singer and song-writer - sort of Susan Wernery (but eep scary new picture on her website) - and I got myself on his email list after the show. I'm sure I recognize him from something - a reading, maybe? - but can't remember. Please help. Google's useless, and, get this, the boy has no myspace page. What kind of musician is that? Anyway, the whole evening was fun and good, and 40 minutes long, so I had plenty of time to go to Washington Heights for John's birthday. Washington Heights is very far away.

Fluke by Radiohole. I can almost entirely blame (thank) David Cote for getting my ass out to Williamsburg to see this avant-garde multimedia spectacular. Cote's writeup of the piece (and the people) for Time Out a few weeks ago was pretty convincing, so I wrangled a couple of weird-theatre-lovers to join me and ventured down to the L.

First, I haven't been to Williamsburg in over a year. I might have to go back, though, because the Vegan Asian Fusion place that Steven and Whitney introduced me to was so damned good. Also, some good theatre happens there. I wouldn't even call Fluke theatre, or at least definitely not a play. It's performance, and it's theatrical, but if you think of it in terms of plays, you're screwed. It's an experience. Now, and I'm going to differ with David Cote here, I hate Richard Foreman. As maybe the most mainstream avant-garde crazy-shit theatre person around, he was a natural comparison for us to make in our subway-ride-home discussion. What makes Radiohole so fantastic, as compared to Foreman (other than production values - Fluke's were fucking awesome, while Foreman's intentional low-techness looks sloppy to me) is that Foreman makes you feel like there's something you're not getting. You feel like he's smarter than you - or everyone says he is - and, even worse, it's hard to watch. Fluke, for all its impenetrability, was incredibly entertaining. Not fluffy-entertaining, but compelling-entertaining. It was also a lot of fun. Most especially brilliant - their use of audio-directing technology, speakers that hit just one spot in the audience, just one person. It's the most peculiar feeling to be sitting in an audience and know that an actor is speaking directly to you, and that no one else can hear. This was amplified by Erin Douglass' particularly evil smile. Am I a little gay for her? Maybe yes. Definitely gay for Radiohole. And know that, even in Williamsburg, if you stop two people on the street, even the hippest of hipsters, and ask them, "Excuse me, do you know where the Collapsible Hole is?" they will look at you like you're completely batshit insane.

Translations, MTC at the Biltmore. Translations was one of the first plays I ever read in college - just a couple of weeks into freshman year, auditions were being held, and I still remember sitting, maybe for the first time, on the couch in the theatre library, and getting a little teary at the end of this play. (I didn't get cast, but I did have a weird audition flashback during a particular act one monologue at the Biltmore.) This is a very lovely, but not groundbreaking, production, of a very lovely, but not earth-shattering, play.

Brian Friel writes with a particular poetry, and his love for words as tactile things is something I share - interesting, seeing this play after now having seen Faith Healer, to see that both feature lists of Celtic place-names as poetry, almost incantations. I don't think the poetry, or story, really kicks in until the second act, but when it does, it's beautiful. The first act drags a little, as does the ending (the thing felt like it was about to finish, great pauses and weighty line readings, for at least twenty minutes), but it's still a very good play, in a very good production. Alan Cox as Owen was especially good. (I need a little help, though - David Costabile was perfectly good as Manus, but isn't Manus supposed to be the same age as Maire? He looked a good fifteen years older.)

Howard Katz at Roundabout. I don't know what Patrick Marber looks like, so this would never have happened, but I had to text message James to diffuse the urge to run up to Marber and say, "Like you but sweeter!" and then run away. James' response: As if he doesn't get that *all* the time. I really hope he does. Because that would be awesome, people running up to you all the time and saying that.

In case that's confusing you, Marber wrote Closer, which was made into a movie a couple of years ago, with Clive Owen and Natalie Portman and a couple of other pretty people. The scene that ends act one is a confrontation between two lovers - Clive Owen and Julia Roberts. Julia Roberts has just (or recently) slept with Jude Law. Clive Owen is cruelly, unrelentingly interrogating Julia Roberts about the sordid details of the affair. (In the movie they're running all around their industrial-chic duplex.) He's screaming at her, "Do you like sucking him off?" "You like his cock?" "You like him coming in your face?" and this whole time she's answering but sort of running away from him, trying to get away, but then he asks, "What does it taste like?" and she turns to him and spits (or yells), "It tastes like you, but sweeter." (Then he says something like, "Thank you for your honesty. Now fuck off and die you fucked up slag." Curtain.) I first encountered this scene in an acting class in college. The girl was okay, but the guy, not even an actor, more a director and multi-purpose pretentious person, scared the shit out of me. It's a fucking brilliant scene. "Like you, but sweeter." Love it.

Anyway. Marber has a new play off-Broadway at Roundabout, Howard Katz. My mad industry hook-ups (I mean that as in connections, not me sleeping my way through off-Broadway) got me into the invited dress last night. It's an interesting play, interesting because it works so well, and maybe shouldn't. In some ways, its effect on me was similar to Closer - although Closer is much more visceral, both have a sort of cold distance that I like. In Closer it amplifies the cold fucked-upedness of the characters. Howard Katz isn't about sex (or fucking, really) - it's basically about a man's life falling apart - so the distancing doesn't have the same sexy tint, but, and I think this is Marber's particular magic, it still manages to be watchable and compelling. I had the distinct feeling of watching the play, rather than experiencing it, but it wasn't a bad feeling. Just interesting. You know where it's going to end (more or less), so it's just a question of seeing how it unfolds. Not the usual build-up, climax, resolution structure here. Just scene, scene, scene...

Alfred Molina deserves notice just for being on the stage for the entire play, and he's good, but Max Baker and Charlotte Parry gave the performances I really loved. (And is Baker American? Damn that accent was good. I know this was the invited dress, but there's a little dialect work still left for some people to do. I think, from her bio, that Charlotte Parry's a Brit.) Of course, Euan Morton was also wonderful, especially as a sweet street thug, but I knew that already - I've loved him ever since he played a gay cross-dressing prostitute in a faux-Restoration verse romance at the Public. God that play was good. This one, too.

What have we learned? The following things are cool: Painting eyes on your eyelids, sound-direction speakers, lists of Celtic place-names, plays without dramatic builds, writing a lot of plays. Also, I should write more often, because when I don't, things pile up and get too long for me to expect anyone to read.

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