Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for August, 2015

Fringe Festival 2015 Review: The Wreck of the Spanish Armada

Posted by metaphorical on 18 August 2015

1h 30m
VENUE #14: The White Box at 440 Studios
Performance seen: Sat 15 4:45

There’s a scene in the movie Real Genius where Val Kilmer’s character tries to fly a remote-controlled helicopter around his dorm room. When it crashes, he asks his roommate, “Would you qualify that as a launch problem or a design problem?” When the all-too-well-named The Wreck of the Spanish Armada crashes, it’s clearly a failure of design, though in fact, like Chris Knight’s helicopter, it barely gets off the ground before failing.

When a hotel bellhop, wearing Errol Flynn’s pirate garb from the Sea Hawk, lingers after carrying a woman’s luggage (five perfectly matched Samsonite cases, just to deliver a conference keynote), and then pours her champagne, and then pours some for himself, he’s clearly not a hotel bellhop. Yet she fails to recognize him as her former lover of 30 years ago—even though he has the same unusual name, Drake (as in Sir Francis Drake, of defeating-the-Spanish-Armada fame. Much—way too much—is made of this.)

The coincidences don’t stop there. In the intervening years, her eventual husband became an oil trader on Wall Street, and Drake has become a Somali pirate whose specialty is stealing oil tankers—not for reasons of revenge, because, apparently, the one was a husband and oil trader before the other was a pirate. I say apparently, because it’s impossible to make sense of the story’s timeline, though it’s discussed endlessly. Nor of the character’s motivations, though they too are endlessly discussed.

In fact, the entire play, except its improbable opening minute, and its bookend, an utterly nonsensical final minute, consists of exposition and explanation, much of it of backstory known to both characters.

Except what they conveniently don’t know. Or conveniently mistake or misremember. “Remember when I picked you up at the airport last night?” Drake asks, as if he were an airport redcap, instead of a hotel bellhop, and as if she had arrived at night, instead of in the morning on a redeye flight with a breakfast over Dublin (part of the improbable opening minute). Would that I could misremember, or just plain forget, this entire play.

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Fringe Festival 2015 Review: ReLateAble

Posted by metaphorical on 15 August 2015

1h 15m
VENUE #5: The Celebration of Whimsy
Performance seen: Fri 14 @ 5:00

I saw ReLateAble at its first showing and it felt, inevitably, unrehearsed. The largely excellent dialogue calls for a particular pace, and two of the actors had already mastered it, while the other two had not—one by way of being too frantic, the other not frantic enough. These are good actors, so this a temporary issue.

The bigger problem with ReLateAble will not work itself out with more performances. While individual lines of dialogue sparkle and shine, doubly so in the reflection of laughter and the obvious enjoyment of the audience, the underlying beats repeat themselves endlessly, never increasing through further conflict, never getting an closer to solution.

Ann’s old college friend Fran is come for a visit; her roommate Jon is expecting the imminent arrival of Paul, a potential beau he met just last week. Meanwhile, the entire city’s Internet is inexplicably down. Jon is suffering withdrawal symptoms generally and a specific need to track Paul through every conceivable social networking platform.

Only one story thread resolves; fortunately, it is the most important one, and it does so satisfyingly with a dizzyingly perfect speech near the end. (The play could end there but for one final nice joke.) But the playwright needs to track all the story lines and give them beginnings, middles, and ends—and create one for Fran. Early on, she’s the strongest, most interesting character, but she becomes a plot-needed functionary as a loose cannon, before losing all relevance.

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Fringe Festival 2015 Review: Naked Hamilton

Posted by metaphorical on 15 August 2015

Naked Hamilton
1h 0m
Performance seen: Fri 14 @ 7:30

For better and for worse, we rarely walk into a show without expectations. (So much so that this reviewer has devised, mainly for movies, a four-S rating system: surprisingly not dreadful; surprisingly not bad; surprisingly watchable; surprisingly good.) Fringe shows might be thought to escape the tyranny of expectations—there are no previews, and its small venue and audience sizes generate little word-of-mouth. Still, two expectations mar an otherwise enjoyable Naked Hamilton.

First, the venue, DROM, is set up with a working bar along one wall, and a long stage at right angles to it, with four-tops nestled in the L thereby created. (Fringegoers who saw the hit play “Who Loves You Baby?” a few years ago at the similarly-laid-out Bowery Poetry Club know how ideal this arrangement can be; the conceit of that show was that Telly Savalas had come back from the dead to do a nightclub show.)

The audience at Naked Hamilton, naturally, set itself up to optimally look at the stage. But since the story of is of two alcoholic former lovers rowdily hanging out at their favorite bar, the actors, naturally, played the entire first half of the show, and some of the remainder, at the bar. Many in the audience were facing the wrong way, and a pillar impeded the view for those sitting along the long back wall. An announcement by the venue manager before the show starts, and a minute given over to people reseating themselves, would help immensely.

The second expectation involves the show’s length. Listed in the Fringe guide for one hour, it barely went forty minutes. This subtly changes how one sees the action—for one thing, when watching the final conflict, one expects there to be at least one more to come. (If it seems unreasonable to build subliminal expectations along these lines, think of the experience of the diminishing thickness of the right-hand side of a book as you read it—which is important enough that e-book readers tell you how many e-pages remain.) Again, an addendum to the venue manager’s opening announcements would help.

The show itself embodies a noble idea—that the improvements of gentrification are (to use a word my cousin once invented) deprovements for pre-existing populace, attracted as they are to low rents or down-and-out environs. Tom and Tee’s beloved bar is closing early one night for a photoshoot. Already drunk, they protest, are locked inside, and the cops are called. Besides the imminent threat of arrest, they fear their home-away-from-home will close; almost as bad, or maybe worse, its clientele and character are already changing.

To do this as a two-person play is an interesting, not entirely successful, idea. It relies on an unseen and improbable bar owner, and magnifies the perennial dramatic problem of revealing backstory with two and only two characters, who know each other intimately. That problem is partly overcome by one character revealing a secret that may or may not be true. The veracity question is never answered, though, contributing to the abruptness of the ending.

Finally, while both performances were excellent, they were unevenly so. Sky Gilbert’sScott McCord’s Tom fills the room; he’s brilliantly inebriated and fully formed; it helps he has the stage (/bar) to himself for the first ten minutes. Suzanne Bennett as Tee cannot make herself as large with Tee, an effort not helped by an awkward signature gesture of a double-fisted double-armed rock-star arm raising.

Despite or because it is imperfectly realized, Naked Hamilton is well worth its 40 minutes—and would be even at 60.

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