15 October 2007

Hot Box Of Crazy*

Everyone says actors are crazy. Especially people who have dated them. But there's the sort of crazy that drives you to live a life of unstable future, constant rejection, and occasional partial nudity in front of hundreds of strangers, and then there's crazy, total weirdo bizarreness. Only some people, actor or non, are blessed with this particular insanity, of big crazy eyes and truly inspired oddity. And it's this special flavor of crazy (one of my favorites) that conveniently ties together two otherwise entirely different shows I saw recently: Xanadu on Broadway, and Speech and Debate at Roundabout Underground. How convenient. Cause if I wrote about one of them, the other totally wouldn't get written about for a week, or at all, and that would suck. This weekend, before Elizabeth: the Golden Age, which was great if not transcendent, my three best (cue James: "only") friends all gave me crap for not blogging enough. Pardon me for wanting to do my job and find The Next Great American Off-Broadway Play. But it's nice to know I have a few readers who care.


I'm going to write about these chronologically reversed because I just wrote three paragraphs about Xanadu and then got very worried that no one would make it past that for Speech and Debate, and I've got my priorities, so we'll start with what I saw last night, which you might actually be able to afford, and then we'll go back to last Thursday.

[Disclaimer: I know the writer of Speech and Debate from college. I sound board opped a musical he wrote my freshman year. I don't really need to disclaim that part, I just like telling people. On the other hand, I paid for my S&D ticket myself, was not comped in, and everyone seems to think that getting a free ticket is the way people get biased, not by thinking a writer has nice hair or whatever, so this is probably a totally objective review.]

Roundabout Underground is a cleverly spiffed-up basement. There is a lobby and a 65-seat theatre. Industrial chic? Basement of the Laura Pels chic? But still, totally awesome. Because Roundabout Underground is also a new play initiative from the Roundabout Theatre Company. "Roundabout" as in their original mission was revivals. Then they added new plays at their off-Broadway home, the Laura Pels. Those plays are generally good but unadventurous. And now they've built this blackbox theatre devoted to (quoting from the program note here) cultivating "new works by emerging playwright by giving them the opportunity to debut their plays as full-scale productions in [a] nurturing environment." I can't say anyone thought Roundabout would be the people to do this, but rock on, and good for them.

The first play given the Roundabout nurture is Speech and Debate, by Stephen Karam, who co-wrote columbinus and also a musical modernization of Emma that I sound board opped my freshman year of college. I'm just saying. Speech and Debate is the story of three high-school loners brought together by their nascent Speech and Debate club and by sex scandal. It's a wonderful play. I keep wanting to use "sweet," but it's also really sharp, and then I start sounding like I'm describing a wine or fine cheese - sweet but sharp, never cloying, a little oaky. Whatever. I had a great time.

The most important thing is that it is written, directed, and performed by a bunch of crazies. This is a different brand of crazy than Xanadu's (which you'll read about in a moment, because I wrote these out of order). It's more tempered, because it's in service of an actual story. (I also don't know that director Jason Moore is crazy. I shouldn't slander.) These are actual characters, with real hearts and whatnot, but every so often a flicker of weirdness comes through, sometimes more than a flicker, and it's exciting and interesting and fun. It makes you cock your head and open your eyes and furrow your brow and laugh. Sarah Steele is especially inspired, and surprising, and excellent. I don't want to go into details because I really want you to see this show. It's fun and funny and mean and sweet, and I left feeling so good. All tickets are $20. It's general admission. It's selling fast. You should really see it. (Also, everyone who buys a ticket gets a free subscription to Time Out New York. And every Tuesday, TONY sponsors a post-show cocktail party. It's all a little insane, really. A different kind of insane.) But bribery aside, go.

[It also features Susan Blackwell, formerly of [title of show] and paragon of this inspired weirdness that I so love, and that is so hard to explain. If anyone knows what I'm talking about and knows any better way of expressing it than cycling through the same four synonyms for "crazy" over and over again, please do let me know.]

[Also, Boo Killebrew, of CollaborationTown, did the choreography - yeah, there's a bit of that - and it's brilliant and weird and I loved it. I think there was a Spring Awakening reference. Cause Gideon Glick, from Spring Awakening is in the show, and I'm the sort of dork who would see something like that and think that.]

[CollaborationTown also has a show going on right now, that I'm really frustrated I can't get to see, so you should. They're also delightful weirdos, and there are some really cute boys in the company.]

* * *

Someone at Xanadu's publicity office decided that surprise rave reviews were not enough for building buzz, and that they needed to invite some bloggers to see the show. Because the target audience is not the upper middle class suburbanites who live and die by the Times review, but rather the relatively impoverished young arts professionals of the city? Whatever, I will take my free tickets and be glad. Because, since I'm an impoverished young arts professional in this city, it was really the only way I'd get to go.

Which is a shame, but lucky for me, because I kinda loved it. First of all, the Helen Hayes is the teensiest Broadway theatre ever. Second of all, Cheyenne Jackson, Kerry Butler, Mary Testa, and Jackie Hoffman are all INSANE. And that was AWESOME. They're a bunch of weirdos, and brilliant. Cheyenne Jackson's got these crazy eyes, and he's maybe the best actor at playing dumb I've ever seen. Mary Testa is a freak comic genius, and though Jackie Hoffman's part was oddly weighed-down, she was still awesome. And Kerry Butler. Ah, Kerry Butler. The last couple times I've seen her she's been sadly miscast, so it was great to see her get to use all her weirdness to its best effect. She, like everyone else in the show, was hilarious.

The show's not perfect or 100% brilliant, and could have been funnier, but I had a great time. (There was some weirdness with one of the ensemble members - we coined the term "gay face" for the minstrelsy, which the audience LOVED. Like, Oh my God! He's acting like a homosexual! I've seen them on TV! They're FUNNY.) And speaking of the ensemble, in case he ever Googles himself - Curtis Holbrook is a fucking amazing dancer. You're all, oh, he's the tap dancer. And then he puts on his roller skates and your head explodes.

But here's the thing. Do you have $100 to spend on a play? Okay, two people raised their hands. But you don't want any of the seventeen-thousand awesome amazing straight plays coming to Broadway this fall? What's wrong with you? But okay, you want something fun and fluffy, that'll leave you happy and a little high? Well, first, you could buy tickets for yourself and four friends to Speech and Debate, but if you want to be selfish, you could see Xanadu. Or Spelling Bee. Or Avenue Q, or The Drowsy Chaperone. But if someone offers you a free ticket to Xanadu, totally take it.

I feel a little bad that it sounds like I'm telling you not to see this show I very much enjoyed. I was invited to help generate buzz. (Which my major enjoyment of the show should be doing. Bzzz, or whatever.) But I don't understand why - the theatre was almost full. And the audience loved it. And they especially loved when a song would start? And they'd recognize it? Because it's from the movie that the musical's adapted from? And they'd laugh and clap and be so delighted to hear this song that was from the movie that the musical's adapted from. I liked Mary Testa's Les Mis joke, but that's just me. (And really, it was.)

Anyway, you really should be buying a ticket to August: Osage County. And giving it to me.

*Is this a [title of show] reference? I can't even remember any more.


Mike said...

I'm pretty sure that [tos] referred to Betty Buckley as a "hot box of crazy". If I'm remembering correctly (which I think I am).

Jaime said...

Yes! I can hear it now. It was Hunter. Thank you.