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Theater Monday: Outside Mullingar

Last year, around Easter time, I took a trip to New York city, mainly to go see Wicked. It was an organized trip, and so a lot of my time was regimented. I’m going back this year, and I’m going to do the things I want to do, and I includes seeing more shows.

I thought it might be nice, while I was there, to see a straight play. Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love musicals, but I also really like to see plays, when I get the chance. I did some research, and I found this show: Outside Mullingar, by John Patrick Shanley. The title grabbed my attention, mostly because it reminded me of one of my favorite songs.

Here is the description from the official website:

Tony winner Brían F. O’Byrne (FrozenDoubtMillion Dollar Baby) and Emmy® winner Debra Messing (“Will & Grace,” “Smash,” Collected Stories) play Anthony and Rosemary, two introverted misfits straddling 40. Anthony has spent his entire life on a cattle farm in rural Ireland, a state of affairs that—due to his painful shyness—suits him well. Rosemary lives right next door, determined to have him, watching the years slip away. With Anthony’s father threatening to disinherit him and a land feud simmering between their families, Rosemary has every reason to fear romantic catastrophe. But then, in this very Irish story with a surprising depth of poetic passion, these yearning, eccentric souls fight their way towards solid ground and some kind of happiness. Their journey is heartbreaking, funny as hell, and ultimately deeply moving.

It sounded right up my alley. I got really excited about seeing this play.

It closed yesterday. I’m not going to New York for another month.

So of course, what could I do but buy an e-version of the play and get even more frustrated at what I was missing? I really, really liked the script, it’s very clever, even if it does go on some weird tangents the way modern theater tends to. I’ve seen weirder. And how much of a bummer is it that I won’t get to see the play, to see professional actors reading the lines on a stage? Reading a play is not the same as watching one, I should know, I’ve done plenty of both.

ps: would anyone believe me if I said that, when I planned and drafted and scheduled this post, I didn’t realize that  it would get published on St-Patrick’s day? Because that’s just an amazing coincidence. I’m thinking about making all my posts this week Irish themed, in celebration.

pps: here is the song I was talking about.

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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Theater Monday: L’hiver de force

This play was a source of a particular experience in my life, one that still affects how I think about theater and actors to this day.

I was 17 years old, it was my last year of high school, and I had chosen theater as one of my electives. One of the great advantages of that class was that we were given group passes for the French theater season of the National Arts Center. We were going to see four shows over the course of the school year. L’hiver de force was the last of these plays. Based on a novel by Réjean Ducharme, it starred Marie Tifo, who’s kind of a Big Deal actress in Québec. Every one was excited to go.

And then, on the day of the expedition, the teacher tells the class that the performance is cancelled because Marie Tifo is sick. No exchange. (There may have been a refund, we weren’t told, so I guess I’ll never know.)

Most of the students had very similar reactions: “That’s not fair! We’re getting robbed!” “They can’t just cancel like that, because one person is sick. That’s unprofessional. It’s irresponsible.” “Who does she think she is, not even getting an understudy? What a diva!”

Me from the present realizes that the last one is a rather unfair assessment. If anybody is to blame, it is the director: he (or she, I can’t remember nor look it up) should have made sure that there was an understudy. I don’t blame Ms Tifo for getting sick, of course, but you have to have a contingency plan.

To take the most extreme example I can think of, in the first week of January, this year, 12 people in the Matilda the Musical cast were down with the flu. That’s just under half of the cast. That would have been a decent reason to cancel the show. And yet they didn’t. They called the understudies, they called the swings, actors were playing multiple parts (one actor even played five different parts in the same scene), and the show went on.

And yeah, I’m comparing a musical with a straight play and maybe it’s like comparing apples and oranges and I shouldn’t do it, but you know what? If that is the case, then it’s one more reason for me to prefer musicals to plays. At least I’m going to get what I paid for.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Theater Monday: Don Juan

Don Juan is a very popular literary character; the rich, cynical, hedonistic young man who makes a point to flaunt his lack of respect for the rules of religion and society. and his myth has been told and retold at least a hundred times since the 14th century.

The most famous version of the character, in the french-speaking world at least, is most likely the play by Molière: Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre. (Don’t ask me why he spells it with an M.) That was the version I knew best until about a decade ago, and I didn’t know it that well, really. Only the great lines: Don Juan was a libertine, he killed the father of a girl he seduced and then he had dinner with the father’s statue for some reason, and the statue dragged him into hell.

So when I heard that singer-songwriter Félix Gray was adapting Don Juan as a musical, and I began to hear the singles playing on the radio (which was about ten years ago), I wasn’t exactly pumped. I liked the songs, they were good, but I didn’t want to see the show. But I went anyway, because my grandmother got two tickets and invited me to go with her, and I couldn’t think of a way to say no. I’m really glad I did, though. By the end of the show I was crying. I don’t cry easily, so when I do, you know that you’ve done something right.

The Don-Juan-repentant theme of the musical would not have gone over well with the writers of the 15th, 16th and 17th century, but that’s all right. The Don-Juan-deserves-to-burn-in-hell-for-defying-authority-and-enjoying-a-good-time theme that they exploited is a lot harder to fly in this era. I believe that the myth stayed strong, the archetype is still so well-known today because it evolved with the time. There’s always room for re-invention.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Theater Monday: Zone

I figured I would begin Theater Monday chronologically, with my oldest memory. The first play I can remember that really left an impression on me was Zone, by Marcel Dubé. We studied the play in my second-to-last year of high school French class.

(Just a quick note to say that my French teacher that year was genuinely awesome. When he returned our first assignments of the year, he said to the class: “I was looking for the proper word to express my feelings towards these assignments. I asked myself What is worse then mediocrity? And then it came to me: pathetic.” I’m not sure I agree that pathetic is worse then mediocre, but I know that in later assignments, when he complimented my work, I felt special.)

Zone is a 1953 play in three acts about a gang of young adults (between 16 and 21 years old) who smuggle contraband cigarettes from the US into Canada. I don’t remember the exact details of the play (and damn it! I don’t own the book anymore and it’s out of print!) but both the second act and the ending stuck to my mind especially.

At the end of the first act, the gang is arrested (because the leader killed a border agent during his last run). During act two, they are interrogated by the police. The beginning of the act, I remember being hilarious, because of the way the teenagers would frustrate the policemen without meaning to. They all have peculiar nicknames – Tarzan, Passe-Partout (Master Key), Ciboulette (Chive), Moineau (Sparrow), Tit-Noir (Blackie) – and when the policemen ask for their names, they answer with the nicknames at first. It’s especially funny when it’s Moineau’s turn, because he’s so sweet and a little simpleminded, and no-one’s ever called him anything but Moineau, so the policemen cannot get an actual name out of him, nor much of anything else.

But act two takes a turn for the dramatic after Passe-Partout has his turn, and spills his guts to the police, betraying Tarzan, the leader, in the process. The police take a (second?) turn at Tarzan, and a much more brutal one. They use Ciboulette, the youngest, the only girl in the group, against him. They pretend that they are about to arrest her, and he confesses to keep her safe. As he’s dragged away, he yells at Ciboulette not to speak, to stay strong. It’s been clear up to that point that Ciboulette has feelings for Tarzan, and this scene is the first clue that Tarzan feels something back. The second clue came from act three, when Tarzan escapes from jail, reunites with the gang, is shot by the police and dies in Ciboulette’s arms. At least, that’s how I remember it. (I shipped those two before I knew what shipping was.)

I probably missed a lot of the important stuff about this play when I first read it, and it’s been years, and I really need to re-read it, and probably to see it as well because that it a completely different experience, but there was one important lesson learned here: give people a ship and they’ll remember you forever.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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