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Archive for August 18th, 2011

Fringe 2011 Review: Fourteen Flights

Posted by metaphorical on 18 August 2011

Fourteen Flights

2h 30m
VENUE #3: CSV Kabayitos
Performance seen: Wed 17 @ 8
Remaining performances: Sun 21 @ 4 Mon 22 @ 4:15 Fri 26 @ 8:45 Sat 27 @ 4:45

Rating: 10
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

“Fourteen Flights” is an extraordinary show. The writing, with the rhythms of Aaron Sorkin’s “Sports Night” and the situational intensity of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad,” demands an exceptional level acting and direction. Great architecture demands great engineering; fortunately, the cast and crew here are theatrical engineers of the highest caliber.

The play is at once very simple and very complex. Two airline pilots will have a near-death flight experience (for themselves; thirteen passengers will die) in Act II. Act I consists of their backstories, related more for the audience than through interactions between them; in fact, at times they take a role of interacting with the other on behalf of some character in that person’s life (ex-wife, son, etc.).

Some of these stories are told two three at a time, with the other pilot also relating some story. It’s not hard to follow, but the details often don’t matter so much as the poetry of the words and the shape of the lives that are reconstructed. Scenes rise and fall like waves crashing on the beach.

The two pilots reach the brink of their existences in the first two acts. In the third, one goes over the brink, the other pulls back, as if there were a throttle to his life.

It’s hard to convey just how extraordinary a job Jared Houseman and Matt Macnelly do as the two pilots. (Maurice Williams is also excellent in a small role: two scenes that bookend the play.) One of the reasons I looked forward to “Fourteen Flights” as much as I did was the knowledge that it was the same company as last year’s “Art of Attack,” perhaps my favorite show in the 2010 Fringe. Halfway through watching “Fourteen Flights” I realized I must have confused two plays—something else must be this year’s play by the “Art of Attack” guys, because those actors were nowhere to be seen. In fact, though, that’s just a mark of how deeply Houseman, who last year won himself an Excellence In Performance By An Actor Award, buries himself in his roles. And yet, this year, I liked Macnelly’s performance even better.

As for the story, it would be easy to believe that playwright Ryan Campbell has no overarching message here. If there is one, it’s that life is what we make of it, except when fate intervenes, and success—or even survival—can break a man just as easily as defeat. How many of the people around us leading the life of the golden child have simply never been tested? It’s a question extraordinarily asked and answered in “Fourteen Flights.”

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

Posted in language, playwriting, reviews, the arts, writing | 1 Comment »

Fringe 2011 Review: 22 Stories

Posted by metaphorical on 18 August 2011

22 Stories

0h 45m
VENUE #10: IATI Theater
Performance seen: Fri 12 @ 9:15 Wed 17 @ 5:45
Remaining performances: Fri 19 @ 2 Sun 21 @ noon Fri 26 @ 7 Sun 28 @ 3:15

Rating: 7
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

Earlier this year I interviewed the 14-year-old software programmer whose game hit #1 at the iPhone app store, unseating the enormously popular Angry Birds. His responses were mundane, almost banal (“Was it hard to create an Android version?” “No, there’s a library for that”), but every moment of the interview was colored by the fact that he was only 14.

It would be a mistake to look at “22 Stories” without keeping in mind that it’s written by a 17-year-old, Sofia Johnson, about a pair of 17-year-old fraternal twins, Nicole, the survivor, and Natasha, who has killed herself (we learn this in the first couple of minutes).

There’s a danger of condescension to that, to be sure, so let me say right up front that this is better than a lot of plays, indeed, better than a lot of plays that are in this year’s Fringe.

But some moments, such as a scene in which Nicole’s school principal offers her extra time for her assignments and grief counseling, both of which Nicole angrily rejects, are best seen in light of the playwright’s age: The principal’s words are at once perfectly reasonable and absolutely fatuous and unbearable, and they ring true as exactly how an angry and upset 17-year-old hears and sees the world around her. The same authentic ear for words and emotion is reflected in a couple of the flashback scenes between the two sisters.

The flashback scenes comprise about a third of this 45-minute play, the remainder being a handful of scenes that move forward in Nicole’s life with her mother, her principal, and two of Natasha’s friends, and a number of speeches in which Nicole explains her life to the audience.

The division of the story into almost equal parts monologue and action inevitably results in a lot of exposition. The monologues might have been a good way for a playwright to get into a story, and it’s common in writing anything, whether it’s a play, a novel, or a personal essay, for the early drafts to have a lot of exposition and on-the-nose dialogue; the main job of the subsequent rewrites is to turn as much of it as possible into scenes and subtext.

With more active scenes, perhaps Johnson could have written herself out of another corner her play’s structure paints her into—Nicole ends up striking mostly a single pair of notes, anger and regret, and so it becomes increasingly hard for the conflicts to build as the play progresses. (Along similar lines, the characters of Maddie and Darius could have been more sympathetic—and while I’m at it, I’ll say Darius would make more sense if he were not obviously gay.)

A couple of production notes as well: The cots that well serve the flashback scenes between the sisters ill serve some other scenes, notably those between Nicole and the school principal; and items get thrown onto the floor that are hard to remove, given the absence of breaks between scenes.

I thought Alexandra Jennings did a terrific job as Nicole; my wife preferred the equally terrific Juliette Monaco as Natasha. I thought the difference between the two performances had mostly to do with the fact that though the Natasha role is smaller, it gets to express a wider range of emotion.

These are quibbles, though, in a fundamentally sound and satisfying play, and I hope Johnson feels all the pride she deserves in her achievement. There are plenty of plays written by playwrights twice her age that aren’t half as good.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: Em O’Loughlin

Posted by metaphorical on 18 August 2011

Em O’Loughlin was a BIG FATTY BOOMBAH!

1h 0m
VENUE #16: Players Theatre
Performance seen: Tue 16 @ 6:45
Remaining performances: Thu 18 @ 9:45 Wed 24 @ 3:30 Sat 27 @ 9:45

Rating: 3
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

As an entertainer, Em O’Loughlin is a triple-threat: She wasn’t funny, she wasn’t interesting, and she offered no insights into herself, obesity, or any other aspect of the human condition.

Instead, she skips through her life as a fat person, stopping every five or ten years, noting on a large pad the year and her weight in pounds, kilograms, and stone. No real milestones, but there are stones.

O’Loughlin does have a performer’s heart, a strong stage presence, and a nice singing voice, though the last quality surfaced only through a parody line or three of about seven different songs. And I’ll readily note that there was a fair amount of laughter from the audience.

Toward the end of the show, she remarks that at 40 she had her first boyfriend. I would have been more interested to hear what it was like to try to get stage work as a 300-pound woman, if indeed she did, or what it was like to first try to get stage work at 40, if she didn’t.

What, in other words, was it like for all that raw performing talent—which unfortunately doesn’t translate into writing talent—to be bottled up in a 300-pound jar? It’s a mark of how poorly written this show is that after an hour of insipid and self-indulgent autobiography, we have no idea.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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