11 November 2007

Mad Notes & Squeals

I suppose this ought to begin with a disclaimer that Bad Jazz was developed at my theatre for a lot of years (two? one?), and I was around for many readings of it, and many discussions of it. Obviously, we didn't end up producing it, because I don't work for The Play Company, and I have to say, I'm glad. Not that it isn't an exciting, challenging, funny, weird play, but it would have been completely dead on a proscenium stage in a house full of off-Broadway subscribers. Instead it has a sadly much shorter run on what I assume is a much smaller budget, but it's a beautiful production in a really perfect space, and it's a better and more perfect production than I think it would have gotten with us. We'd have been a step fancier, but the theatre it's in is right.

I said "I ought to disclaim" rather than "I disclaim" because although I have history with Bad Jazz, I never really loved it before I saw it last night. There have always been moments I loved, but I was never sure it worked. In production, though, in this production, the prickly bits are smoothed out and blended in, and the rambunctious energy meets the almost melancholy beauty of the physical space to create something really exciting. The opening moment, a simple arrangement of set and lights, was not only strikingly beautiful, but also set the rules of the production with a really special clarity, and the first few scenes were some of the most exciting theatre I've seen in a very long time. I won't lie - I love a brawl on stage. And this was a fucking brawl. It was awesome.

After a high start of fighting and cursing and really filthy language, the play sort of goes into an exploration of what it is to be an artist, but the artists it shows us are so ridiculous that I'm never sure if they're being mocked, if we're being mocked, or if they're just being loved despite their absurdities. They're not treated gently, that's for sure - this play can never be faulted for not Going All The Way. It's not as dangerous (structurally) as I remember, but I think that's a credit to the production, because the dangerous bits were also the ones that jarred, that I couldn't reconcile, logically or emotionally, and they're still there, but whether it's the direction or just the fact that it's a physical production, they work.

I don't have my playbill with me, so I can't name-drop, but I will say that the design for this production is really fantastic. It's at the Ohio Theater, where I've been before, but never with this configuration - what's usually the lobby, up the small flight of stairs, is all part of the playing area, so it's a big, spacious space. It surrounds the actors, sort of cushioning their painful scenes with theatre, almost making it more okay, protecting these misguided thespians as they go about completely ruining their lives. It's one of those designs where I see something beautiful or clever and I wonder if the set designer thought of it, or the lighting designer, but I can't tell because it's both at once, and maybe it was the director, or who knows. (Or maybe other people know and I'm just design-dumb.)

All that praise for the designers isn't to shortchange the actors, who all give exciting, funny, great performances. And it isn't to shortchange the script, which is smart and funny and fucking goes there. The whole time we were working on this play, I was excited about it, but maybe a little scared. (Don't think that my questioning had anything to do with us not producing this play. I don't know if my questioning got much farther than the inside of my head. This was also when I was pretty new at the job. Now if I don't love a play, we don't even think about producing it. Really. Except not.) I wish that it were having a longer run - it doesn't even play into December - because I'm really excited about this play and this production, and I want people to get the chance to see it. So I do what I can, and write about it on my little blog, and hope for the best.

Bad Jazz plays through November 25 at the Ohio Theater
Bad Jazz contains explicit language and sexual situations, and is not recommended for people under 17."
Bad Jazz is not recommended for your grandma, either.
Get tickets here.

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