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Archive for August 20th, 2011

Fringe 2011 Review: The Apartment

Posted by metaphorical on 20 August 2011

The Apartment: A Play With Four Sides

1h 15m
VENUE #1: Teatro SEA
Performance reviewed: Fri 19 @ 8:30
Remaining performances: Mon 22 @ 9:30 Wed 24 @ 2 Sat 27 @ 4:45

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)

The Apartment is a mostly charming collage of four vignettes written separately to a common element—a desireable apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A few additional common elements were added later; the overall effect is seamless.

In the first, a couple comes home to find the A/C doesn’t work. They quickly discover that the entire city has been in a blackout for two hours. He, a lawyer, covets her, but settles for her apartment, which she has been packed up to leave for two years. He writes the lease on the spot.

In the second, a couple sublet from the lawyer, who is traveling; the third is another couple, also subletting, despite the man having to carry the woman and her wheelchair up the walk-up’s stairs. In the fourth, something has happened and the apartment is being cleaned up as violent crime scene by the owner of the small cleanup business and his new employee. This vignette, like the others, takes us through a few ups and down in their romantic relationship.

The third is the weakest (nor does it match the description at fringenyc.org); there’s a surprise in the center that’s fun but can’t sustain a playlet by itself, and the whole piece functions mainly as the backstory to the fourth, which was my favorite and apparently that of the rest of the audience as well. It was the funniest and had several Marty-esque qualities that mostly serve it well, except that movie’s habit of telegraphing its strongest punches.

The acting, especially the various ethnic and regional accents, was strong. The sets were the most elaborate I’ve yet seen in this year’s festival, though a few problems with a doorway and a window evidenced the reason most shows keep it simple.

There were a couple of other small nits to pick. The plot of the first vignette requires both that they arrive at the apartment in the daytime and at night. In the fourth, the cleanup couple wear rather complete and nicely authentic disposable hazmat suits but without the overbooties needed to keep blood and brains from ruining their shoes. These are easily fixed and in any case only minorly detracted from an enjoyable show.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: Virgie

Posted by metaphorical on 20 August 2011


1h 0m
VENUE #13: Bowery Poetry Club
Performance reviewed: Fri 19 @ 6:30
Remaining performances: Wed 24 @ 9:30 Sat 27 @ 2

Rating: 6
(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)

What is it about Australians? Are they disinterested by stories?

Vergie is a reconstruction of the life of “a little-known female actor, Virgie Vivienne, who brought Shakespeare to the desert in the 1890s.” according to a program note. She is, unfortunately, almost as little known to us after the show as before. As the notes continues, the show “tracks her life through Australia and Europe, love, tragedy, and of course, theatre.” As it turns out, that’s an excellent and revealing choice of words.

Renee Newman-Storen has done an admirable job researching Virgie’s life, “sourced,” she says, “from textbooks, literature from the era, newspaper articles, theatre reviews, and oral histories….” Unfortunately most of Virgie’s footprints through the historical record consist of theatrical reviews in Australian newspapers and they make by far the greater part of Newman-Storen’s script. Having Virgie read her own notices with demure pride may help us track Virgie through the desert, but it’s not much as drama goes.

The program note goes on to promise, “…and original writing connecting what we don’t know and who I think Virgie might have been.” There’s far to little of that, and rather than actually connect Virgie’s dots Newman-Storen engages in the interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying, device of representing gaps in the historical record as lapses of Virgie’s memory. We get in fact only three or four scenes, one with a syphilitic gold miner and the others with a brothel madame with the obligatory heart of gold. Though we’re told Vergie is very close to her mother and follows her everywhere, she isn’t represented in scenes nor is she even described except for her age and date of death. Likewise unrepresented are Virgie’s husband as well as a man who she sues for breach of (marital) promise.

Newman-Storen is a terrific physical actor with a charming manner whose repetoire includes a spot-on ability to portray a camel. As a fellow writer I understand her fascination with Virgie and I admire her unwillingness to distort the historical record but I wish she had asked herself if, in the absence of artifice, there’s any story here to tell.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: The Day the Sky Turned Black

Posted by metaphorical on 20 August 2011

The Day the Sky Turned Black

0h 55m
VENUE #10: IATI Theater
Performance seen: Fri 19 @ 3:30
Remaining performances: Wed 24 @ 9:15 Sat 27 @ 2 Sun 28 @ 4:45

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)

When tragedy strikes, we seek news; afterward, we crave narrative. Journalists have been late to the story party, at least compared to playwrights, who have been explaining tragedies with stories at least since Sophocles.

So it’s odd that “The Day the Sky Turned Black” manages to convey almost as much information, but not nearly as much affect, as a newspaper or magazine feature article that would take half the time to read.

“The Day” tries to tell the story of the 2009 Australian “Black Saturday” bushfires through five voices: a 6-year-old boy; a mother whose son was one of several arsonists responsible for the severity of the tragedy, which killed 173 people; an older woman widowed by the fire; a schoolteacher who survived, though her home and neighbors did not; and a journalist.

According to a program note, the representation of the journalist is taken “verbatim” from interviews, while the other characters are fictional. This seems a bit odd as well, because the journalist’s speeches are completely banal, while the others are all reasonably affecting.

The stories are told sequentially in monologue, generally in the order given above, in four rounds: before, during, after, and one year later. Except for the journalist’s, they eventually evoke our interest and concern, but for me this didn’t happen until round 3. Given the show’s structure, the earlier rounds are necessary, but the halfway mark is a long time to wait to start caring. That’s why we have narrative structures—single protagonists around whom we fashion a story, or some other point of connection. (It will turn out that the family of the older woman lives down the street from the 6-year-old boy, but we don’t learn that until round 4 and it has no importance to the play.)

If we’re going to ask ourselves why the playwright chose a structure that sucked half the life out of the 55 minutes she alloted herself, we might as well consider some other uncomfortable questions as well.

Why these five stories? If playwright Ali Kennedy Scott wanted to tell “an inspiring story of courage” why are all the characters in the play survivors? And why are there no firefighting stories, the logical place to look for acts of courage?

Perhaps it’s because rather than focus on stories of courage, much of the Australian media has dwelt on how the authorities fell down on the job on Black Saturday. Six months after the tragedy, for example, the Sydney News Herald reported,

As evidence before the Bushfires Royal Commission has spelt out in excruciating detail, failure was everywhere. Command, control and effective communication are the pillars of any military operation. The Country Fire Authority, with its brigades, captains and lieutenants, fits neatly into that mould. Yet none of it worked.

Scott briefly takes to task Victoria state officials for, of all things, failed to monitor potential arsonists, but she has otherwise chosen to tell us, at least by omission, a children’s tale that’s either poorly researched or deliberately propagandistic.

It takes but a minute’s googling to learn that, but that brings us back to those pesky journalists. If they’ve finally learned how to tell a story, have dramaturges forgotten?

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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