Tag Archives: analysis

“That Said…” #2: The Parent Trap

Just about this time last year, Matthew Lyons took a look at the redemptive qualities of Spice World, the Spice Girls movie. This year, he’s decided to focus his attention on Lindsay Lohan’s remake of The Parent Trap. I’ll admit, I’ve never been a big Lohan fan, but by the time I finished reading this I wanted to give the remake a try. It’s streaming on Netflix, at the moment, if you find yourself similarly inclined.

 

 

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THAT SAID #2 // TWO LOHANS ARE (QUESTIONABLY) BETTER (WOULD WE SAY “BETTER” HERE?) THAN ONE (EXCEPT ONE MIGHT STEAL LESS STUFF AND DO LESS DRUGS)

The Parent Trap, 1998

In the words of the prophet Method Man (also known as Mister Mef & Tical, praise be unto him): Konichiwa, bitches.

I’m back.

Ain’t I just.

You know, I’ve seen a lot of shitty movies over the past ten months, and I have to say, I’ve loved a whole lot of them.  But one recent viewing stands out as something that I just can’t get over: The Parent Trap ’98.

Now, this one holds a special and strange place in the hall of shame, because I wasn’t the one that picked it out.  No, this was the selection of my otherwise lovely and tasteful wife.  It was on Netflix, it was easy, fine, whatever.  I thought it was going to be a bit of fluff while we ate dinner, but you know what?

When we got to minute forty-five, I was fucking hooked.

And, look, it would be easy to lament Lindsay Lohan’s career trajectory, her battles with the law and with sobriety, all that.  Pretty much everyone in the world has snarked and snarked about that until they could snark no more.  I’m not going to do that… any more than I already did in my headline.  (What do you want from me, I get one good one, I’m done now, promise).  The fact of the matter is that, for as shitty and sarcastic and holier-than-thou as we all like to act about her (yes, even you, don’t lie to me, I can read your goddamn mind), everyone actually laments Lindsay Lohan’s fall from grace largely due to the fact that there was real grace there to begin with.

But (much, much) more on that later.

Let’s get our facts straight before diving into the reasons you should love this movie as much as I love this movie, shall we?

This is an objectively bad movie. It’s a shameless cash-in on a movie that was done forty (forty? Something like that. Going to run a fact check on this… or maybe not. See if I remember to put it in the side notes.) years before, and had, in the interim, lodged itself securely in the hearts and minds of the Disney-watching public. It may be one of the first remakes that everyone loves to lament now.  It may have been the first.

They use the word “actually” like most action movies use the word “Fuck.”  I’m going to go through and count how many times.  See if I don’t.

Parts of it feel cheap and shoehorned, it has like five or six logical endpoints before the actual finale of the movie, and the whole thing is just… it’s just fucking riddled with the in-your face sensibility of “EH? EH? YOUR PARENTS LOVED THIS SHIT WHEN HALEY MILLS DID IT, SO HOW BOUT WE ALL PLASTER ON A BIG OLE SMILE FOR DIRTY UNCLE WALT AND SUCK IT DOWN AGAIN, HUH?  NOW SAY THANK YOU”.

…ahem.

They did this a few years later with Freaky Friday, which I might do at some point in the future.  Lindsay Lohan’s in that one, too, now that I think of it.

And, yes, it is filled with the kind of nudge-nudge-wink-wink that at least acknowledges that it’s a remake.  But it doesn’t make you feel cleverer for it.  It doesn’t make you feel in on the joke, it just feels like the movie’s waving its ego in your face.

Also, and this is just a shitty nitpicky little thing, but instead of British Haley Mills doing a passable American accent, Lindsay Lohan’s British accent is remarkably bad.  I mean, downright terrible. YES, I GET IT, SHE WAS ELEVEN YEARS OLD AT THE TIME, SHUT UP. THEY PUT IT IN THE MOVIE, IT’S FAIR GAME. READ THE MANIFESTO.

Like I said.  Objectively bad movie.

But aside from the accent, you know something?

Lindsay Lohan kills it in this movie.

it’s easy to forget that, beneath the trainwreck of a human being that she’s become in the past ten years, there is an actress there who got to where she is (was?) by being sharp, bright-eyed, energetic, enthusiastic, smart as a whip, and not entirely a terrible actor.

She murders it in this movie.  She makes the movie.  Not even kidding.  Her acting is actually acting.  When was the last time you could say that about an eleven year old?  For example:

She takes the time to differentiate the twins, Hallie and Annie, not just in accent, but in mannerisms, facial expressions, and general posturing and bearing.  She’s good enough in this movie to make us forget that this is one little girl playing two little girls, and not twins playing, well, twins.  For anyone, that’s not nothing.  For an eleven year old, that’s fucking remarkable.

She’s precocious, she’s identifiable, she’s emotional, she’s not cheap about any of it, she doesn’t mug at the camera, and she ultimately comes off like she always gives a shit, which is hard to do when you’re in basically every last scene in the movie.  She gives a shit about not just doing a good job, but acting the best that she can.  Which in turn makes we the audience give a shit.  She develops and fosters emotional investment here.  Again, not easy.

But the real nuance in her dual performances comes when the twins switch so they can each meet their respective long-lost parent.  Because then not only do you have Hallie and Annie, but you have Hallie-as-Annie and Annie-as-Hallie.  You have one little girl playing two little girls who are subsequently playing each other.

The levels of that are remarkable.  It’s worth paying attention to, because she flips those little mannerisms, those little touches for each twin, and spins them.  They’re there, but you can actually see her trying to suppress them as her respective characters. It’s fascinating.  She does such a wonderful job in this movie, and you didn’t even notice, did you?  You were too busy getting shitty and snarky and you totally missed the great thing that was happening on your screen.

I feel sorry for you.

That’s not to say that the rest of the cast are slouches or slumps or slackers, though.  No, fact is, I’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this movie who phoned it in.  (Maybe the guy who played Grandfather, but at this point, I’m starting to think they just pulled an old British man off the street and told him to say wizened, doofy old British man things at the cute little redhead while they filmed it.  Could have gone terribly, terribly wrong, in retrospect.)

Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson, Lisa Ann Walter, Elaine Hendrix, Simon Kunz, holy shit, all of you.  Everybody in this movie put so much into their roles, and for what?  For a remake of a mediocre kids’ movie from the early sixties?

EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIE IS A TRUE BELIEVER AND I NEED YOU TO APPRECIATE THAT.

Dennis Quaid: how the hell charming is this guy?  And, worse, he knows it, too.  He’s so intensely aware of his own charm and that is exactly what makes him more charming.  He’s earnest, he’s loving, and even a little rambunctious.  He’s just doing the best job that he can, and it might not be perfect all the time, but holy hell it’s good.

Natasha Richardson: Come on, now.  You can’t watch this movie and tell me that there’s not a single part of this woman’s performance that doesn’t remind you of your own mother (or, barring that, the idealized mental version of “Mother” that you’ve got in your head).  She’s the platonic ideal here – smart, beautiful, kind, loving, understanding, but vulnerable.

Also, seeing these two acting together, I actually buy that they were a couple who got divorced after a whirlwind romance and birth of twins and haven’t seen each other since.  They’re awkward but affectionate, they’re friendly but standoffish.  They make it real.

Lisa Ann Walter:  I have to admit, I fell a little bit in love with Chessy while I watched this again.  I mean, I was thirteen when this came out, and I refuse to believe that this had zero influence on my taste in women later in life: smart, brassy, clever, quick-witted brunettes who know how to cook.

And, for the record, my falling a bit for Lisa Ann Walter should not at all mean that my wife has anything to be jealous about.

Just kidding, she totally does.

Elaine Hendrix: Okay, talk about Platonic Ideals.  Whoof.  I gather from Ms. Hendrix’s twitter feed that she’s actually a super kind of thoughtful woman, but holy fuck does she play a huuuuuuge bitch in this movie.  She’s the worst.  The absolute worst.  And I suppose that’s kind of the point.  She absolutely owns every scene she’s in as the Wicked Future Stepmother.  She dominates, but she gives everyone else room to be funny and heartfelt, too.

Simon Kunz: Come on, Martin was charming, wasn’t he?  Identifiably sweet, and hey now, butler got moves.  I’m not entirely convinced of the romance between he and Chessy there at the end, but whatever.  That was just for flavor, anyway.  The real point of him was the friendship between he and Annie, and I believed the hell outta that.

A quick note, here at the almost-end, about the music – the music in this movie is actually really good.  I mean, sure, a lot of it is boilerplate family movie stuff (Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, etc), but every now and then it’ll pull a Linda Ronstadt or Bob Geldof or Dusty Springfield into the scene and it just pulls the whole thing together.  Astounding.

One last thing before I’m done:

In the past few years, I’ve been paying attention to the use of color in costuming choices to signify unspoken connections (or lack thereof) between characters, and this movie just kills on that angle.  Blame Mad Men.  Seriously, it’s a huge element in that show, and while not so incredibly pronounced in this movie, it is verifiably there.  Whoever costumed this movie (hold on, I’ll look… Penny Rose.  She’s done the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, that Lone Ranger thing, and… really?  She costumed Pink Floyd The Wall?  Shit, okay.  She’s pretty good at this stuff.)

I don’t want to spoil it, so instead I’ll say go watch the movie and keep your damn eyes open.  I’ll even give you a hint: pay attention to the use of colors in different characters’ wardrobes in any given scene.  Especially pay attention to blues, greens and yellows – really, pastels in general.  They’re there – often subtle, but they’re definitely there.  The harmony exists, even when you don’t think it’s there.  It draws them together, it drives them apart, and it tells the story well enough that you could maybe watch the movie with the sound off and still get it.

Look, I’m aware of the ridiculousness of this situation.  A nearly 30-year-old man telling you to spend your evening watching Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap?  Come on now.  But I’m serious.  This is one of those movies, that if you go into it with an open mind (and, who am I kidding, an open heart, too), it’s going to surprise you.  Lindsay Lohan nails it, the supporting cast is phenomenal, the music takes you by surprise, and the costuming is just ace.

I know it’s ridiculous, but:

Go watch The Parent Trap ’98, right now.  Go.  It’s on Netflix, what are you waiting for?

You’re welcome.

Side notes:

– 1961 for the original, 1998 for the remake. 37 years interim. RESEARCH, DAMMIT.

– My wife disagrees, but I thought that when Dennis Quaid smiles and so easily says “Them.” at the conclusion of the camping trip was just so fucking perfect.  Like, of course he’s gonna choose his daughters over your skinny ass, you daffy, greedy broad.  He’s Dennis Quaid.  He’s the best.

– Wait, what happened to Meredith’s assistant?  I think his name was Gareth.  He was in that one scene where Meredith openly villain-monologues, in front of Dennis Quaid and Lindsay, how much she hates Linsday, and they both share an evil laugh together.  He wasn’t in the movie before or after that.  Where the fuck did that guy go?

– Apparently the final “actually” count is 23. 23! Jesus hell.

– Look, I know it was probably just two little people in masks wearing red wigs, but the choreography on that fencing match was thrilling. You know I’m right.

– Every grandpa in the world should smell like peppermint and pipe tobacco.

Matthew Lyons is a writer living in New York City with his wife, where he works in corporate advertising to support his pathologically unsafe spending and drinking habits. Most recently, his mad, whiskey-fueled ramblings have appeared in Maudlin House and Bastion Science Fiction Magazine. He is unquestionably a danger to himself, others, and his marriage, and he must be stopped at all costs. Join in the fight against this monster at twitter.com/goddamnlyons

Versatile Blogger Awards (Part 1: Blog Recommendations)

IMG_20131017_213750On Saturday, I found out that Christina Zarrella had awarded me a Versatile Blogger Award! Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyways), I’m so flattered that she thought of me when selecting her nominees! Christina’s blog, Turbulence in the Veins, talks about her journey from homeless teen to Yale grad, offering some incredible insight into the struggles she faced and overcame on the way and talking about issues faced by those in similar situations to hers. To be honored by such a blogger was immensely flattering, and I hope you’ll all check out her writing. She has a memoir, of the same title, on the way. Thank you so much, Christina, for your kind words about I Wrote This:

Rachel Lynn Brody’s blog is always informative – whether on tech/blogging/writing topics and tips: http://rlbrody.com

Part one of winning a Versatile Blogger award is nominating another 15 blogs – so here are my nominations (in no particular order)!

  1. Sare Liz Gordy (Inspiration, One Day At A Time) www.sareliz.com – Sare and I have known each other for years; her blog, which she updates with regularity, is always a window into her attempts to view her world with clarity and self-knowledge. Whether she’s posting about migraines, Feng Shui or finding enlightenment, her blogs are always a focused reflection of the world around her.
  2. Tony Noland (Landless) http://www.tonynoland.com/ – A Twitter acquaintance who I’ve known for a while now, Tony’s blog is a combination of his self-publishing exploits, flash fiction and the occasional DIY project. His sense of humor is always evident in his takes on everyday life.
  3. Jamie Broadnax (Black Girl Nerds) http://blackgirlnerds.com/ – Jamie and I have been chatting on Twitter for some time now, and her blog is a phenomenal resource for all things nerdy. She runs a weekly podcast of the same name, and both outlets dig into comics, culture and more. Through Black Girl Nerds, she’s built a phenomenal community that’s well worth checking out.
  4. C.D. Reimer http://www.cdreimer.com/ – This is actually a combination of three blogs, where C.D. posts about writing, Silicon Valley and poetry. His writing blog is incredibly informative and often offers helpful insights into the process of self-publishing.
  5. Johann Thorsson (On Books & Writing) http://jthorsson.com/blog/ – Icelandic author Johann Thorsson writes short stories and novels (mostly in English). His blog is a collection of book reviews, photographs and excerpts from his essays for megasite Book Riot. As an added bonus, those who follow him on Twitter often get to see, via photo, how jealous we should all be that we don’t live in Iceland.
  6. JC Rosen (Girl Meets Words) http://jessrosen.wordpress.com/ – Jess runs a few different book- and writing-related discussions on Twitter. She’s always supportive of writers and willing to chat about their work, and always able to give an encouraging word. Her blog includes flash fiction on diverse topics and write-ups of the different things she’s reading.
  7. Emily Suess (Suess’ Pieces) http://emilysuess.wordpress.com/ – One of my first Twitter acquaintances, Emily also runs a copywriting business – and when I met her, had taken on the beheamouth of online vanity publishing services to try and help new writers avoid unethical treatment. Seuss’ Pieces has been retired and archived to this URL, but still contains plenty of advice for beginning writers.
  8. Melanie Ardentdelirium (Lovely Like Beestings) http://lovelylikebeestings.wordpress.com – Mels is a Twitter acquaintance whose blog tackles issues of both mental health and Roller Derby. Her topics cover everything from broken bones to sick cats, all with a frank edge that gives you a real taste of her personality.
  9. Jo Clifford (Teatro do Mundo) http://www.teatrodomundo.com/  – Jo, my former MFA supervisor, is also a well-regarded, talented and prolific playwright in Scotland. Her blog is both a resource for understanding what it means to be a playwright in today’s world as well as a rich collection of ruminations on personal experience.
  10. Sarah Hartley (StoryGirlSarah.com) http://storygirlsarah.com/ – Sarah is a New York fashionista in the truest sense of the word, with her signature mod/vintage look stamped across her fashion and design work. (Did I mention she’s responsible for the cover of Hot Mess?) Follow her blog and on Instagram to get the full impact of her creative and clear-headed style.
  11. E.M. Thurmond (Count My Stars) http://countmystars.wordpress.com/ – While it hasn’t been updated in some time, E.M. Thurmond’s blog tells the story of an aspiring TV writer in Hollywood. From interviews with women writers to accounts of her own experiences developing her career, it’s a place where readers can find insight in the crazy maze of trying to make it as a screenwriter while staying true to your goals and ideals.
  12. Vossbrink and Kukurovaca (Hairy Beast) http://hairybeast.net/ – These two twitter acquaintances are quick-witted on Twitter, and the depth of analysis on this blog dealing with photography and culture will change the way you look at pictures. Well worth checking it out, but carve out enough time to really immerse yourself in the subject matter. You won’t regret it.
  13. Debbie Vega (Moon in Gemini) http://debravega.wordpress.com/ – Another blogger I found through #MondayBlogs, Debbie covers writing and pop culture. She participates in a lot of themed blog events, like “The Great Villain Blogathon,” and offers anything from advice on how writers can improve their craft to her perspective on popular films.
  14. NYPinTA (Talking to the Moon) http://www.nypinta.com/blog/ – Film, music, theater, travel and television all get their chance in the spotlight on NYPinTA’s blog. Her clear and direct writing style lets you enjoy her experiences as if you’d been there.
  15. Hugh C. Howey http://www.hughhowey.com/ – I read Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga last year, and was blown away by his intriguing dystopian vision. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with him once or twice on Twitter, and the thing I love about his blog is how generous he is with his advice for aspiring indie authors. As someone whose self-published stories went from blog entries to Kindle novels to being picked up by a major publisher, he’s walked the road many indie writers want to follow on, and he offers a lot of insight along the way.

Honorable Mention:

Maybe it’s cheating to bring up a blog I help contribute to, but this list wouldn’t be complete without including Calming Brits & Irishmen. My friend @aboleyn started this Tumblr as a way to cheer me up after my back injury, and since then it’s gained nearly 4,000 followers and turned into a sort of Post Secret for Anglophiles. In addition to the meme-like photographs with calming sayings that we started out posting, we now answer anywhere between 3-15 “asks” a day – many anonymous – from followers dealing with upsetting issues from studying for exams to dealing with breakups, mental health issues and the deaths of family and friends — all through the medium of animated gifs of some of our favorite British and Irish personalities. Apparently the brings a smile to many peoples’ days, and if you’re looking for versatility, the topics it covers run the gamut of human experience.

There’s a second part of the Versatile Blogger Awards – sharing seven things about yourself – but as this blog is already topping 1000+ words, I’ll save that for a second part. Stay tuned tomorrow to learn more about me.

I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more. 

Homework Takeaway: There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza…

I finished reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, a week or so ago, and meant to post about that with some summary thoughts. Instead, I reached the end the week of the discovery of the Higgs-Boson, and suddenly the last few pages were no longer conjecture, they were likely fact.

It’s amazing how easy it is to take something seriously once it’s been proven.

At the beginning of the year, I joked on Twitter that if The Elegant Universe was my homework, well, I was an Honors Student and I’d be doing some extra credit, as well. So I’ve started reading The Fabric of the Cosmos.

Already, I’m struck by the change in Greene’s tone – or the change in the tone of the tenor of my reading of it, perhaps? The writing has a deep narrative quality. Greene wrote this before the discovery of the Higgs-Boson, so maybe the tone is due to the increasingly advanced matter of its subject? Past a point, science and art follow many of the same intuitions.

I’m glad to have read The Elegant Universe, as frustrating as I found some of its metaphors, because I’m now confident with how Greene may intend to lay out this new story. Having ended The Elegant Universe with discussion of of temperature transference theory at the time of the Big Bang, Greene is now talking about basic physics experiments again.

Issac Newton’s bucket. Concave and convex surfaces.

Which has brought the song behind the lyrics of this post’s title to mind.

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza; a hole. 

Conflicting Emotobooks?

Somebody get me an emotobook, stat. I need to figure these things out.

There’s been a steady background buzz/chatter, via the usual social network suspects, regarding emotobooks for about a week now. I looked into them about a minute ago.

Near as I can tell, an emotobook is a book created for consumption on digital platforms, with a text injected with pieces of abstract visual art. That art is meant to evoke a certain mood or feeling being experienced by the characters, thereby bringing a new level of emotional involvement to its readers.

Color me socked in the stomach. Is this a new evolution of the book, a new bridge in the gap between unillustrated texts and graphic novels? Is the writing/illustration a collaborative effort? What is the quality of the writing and is it possible for writers to create a piece that doesn’t wind up leaning on the ability of painting/artwork to provoke emotions? What does this mean for the commercial future of painting as an art form? Is using abstract art to evoke emotion in the service of the written word a new thing, or is this just an updating of the classical idea of illustration? Knowing how some authors have had negative reactions to having their works illustrated, what is the level of interaction between author and artist, here, and what will it become if emotobooks take hold as more than as passing fad? If an editor feels a writer needs “help” pulling an emotional reaction from their audience, will the decision be to make the writing more resilient and communicative, or to throw in a graphic that “nudges” the reader in the right direction?

Anticipating the answer to that last question makes me a little nervous, particularly in light of my feelings on the quality of writing in some recent bestsellers. At the same time…it’s an exciting idea, if executed well, and potentially opens reading up to much larger audiences. While my gut frets, “What about the ghettoization of unillustrated fiction?!” my mind replies, “Don’t be an idiot, art is not a zero-sum game.” So for now, I’m going to tell my gut to shut its big mouth, and see where emotobooks take us.

On the reader’s side, I’ve only heard good things about the experience of reading in this form, and I’m glad of that. Mostly, people are talking about the emotobooks making it possible for them to connect with what they’re reading to a degree they hadn’t quite understood before. A new way to open up the classics? I’m in.

Think about it: haven’t you ever had the experience of watching a movie, and that making it easier to get through a classic work of literature? I wouldn’t have been able to make my way through Jane Austen (who I grew to adore) if I hadn’t had the six-part BBC miniseries to help me learn how to read them to hand. But some writers don’t lend themselves (in my experience) to quite the same kind of graphic dissection. I’ve got about a hundred pounds’ worth of books by Russian writers, and as many times as I try, I can’t get into them.

Maybe I’m reading crap translations. But maybe having some emotionally evocative visual art inserted into “Crime and Punishment” would help me – and other readers – follow along.

The Buying Habits of the Paying Readers of Self-Published Authors

A week or so ago, I had a conversation with a friend who reads a lot of e-books. While though her preferred genre – supernatural YA fiction – isn’t one where I’ve yet published, it was still great to hear her opinion on what worked and what had changed in the field since she had started reading e-books, particularly the self-published ones.

She’s noticed a couple of different trends:

– Where books used to be 400-600 pages, now they usually topped out around 250.

– Prices went up as series built their readership – and while she found this frustrating, she also acknowledged that it was a self-perpetuating system.

She also told me that every week, she gets a selection of free books, and those are the ones she reads – before she reads anything else. Which brought to mind something I had seen discussed a week or two ago, about how Kindle Select and its and free loans might be degrading the market for paying fiction readers. What my friend was telling me was exactly the opposite: the writers finding financial success were the ones whose stories were of a quality compelling enough to make people keep reading them. While the first book might be free, the second, third or fourth could rise as much as a dollar per volume in cost.

A while ago, I talked about why I wasn’t feeling particularly gung-ho about Kindle Select; for authors in specific genres, such as coming-of-age YA fiction, though, I suddenly understand where the impetus could come in to offer a short sample of work – but a whole novel?

My friend said that one of her frustrations with the indie market was a lack of well-edited work. By this, she was talking not just about proofreading, but about actual editing: someone who has gotten down in the trenches with the writer and helped them make their story as strong as possible.

I can understand why a reader might want to go on a short trip with an author, a setting, and a group of characters before setting out on a longer journey. But isn’t that what sample chapters are for? Is free, Kindle-Select-Accessible material a requirement for self-published authors who want to make an impact? If so, how might that impact writing trends overall? Is it just a YA thing? Just a genre thing? What about in literary fiction; what’s going on in those self-publishing circles? Is the tendency to read free books first part of why Smashwords and B&N sales are abysmal, because their platforms don’t provide options for free sampels?

HOT MESS: speculative fiction about climate change, is available for Kindle, Nook, on Smashwords and in print.. Cover design by Sarah Hartley.

Now, some of this is navel-gazing – after all, Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change is still selling steadily, and we neither used Kindle Select nor did I have other offerings for sale when the book was published.

But I do have other work in the pipeline. Haiku Of The Living Dead, for example, which is a Zombie Haiku compilation I’m putting together with Miranda Doerfler, which will likely not be eligible for Kindle Select because we’re allowing submissions to be made in public forums (including in the comments to this blog entry) accepting submissions throughout the week

So many questions. Clearly I have some reading up to do. But if any of my readers want to talk about their self-published-fiction-buying habits in the comments, your perspective would be appreciated.

Theatre Review: DRAMATIS PERSONAE at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre #theatre #review #nyc

Gonzalo Rodriguez Risco’s DRAMATIS PERSONAE opened at the Cherry Lane Sudio Theatre last week. A narrative that explores ideas of authorship and the construction of a work of fiction, the play tells the tale of a smash hit first novelist and his writing group – consisting of a best friend and a hanger-on – and their process of creating stories from their own lives. Arguing that every work of fiction is actual well-concealed fact, and positing that all writing (or at least, all the pieces it demonstrates, all the fiction of Risco’s world offers us) is actually an expression of therapy for the writer’s soul.

The play is set against the backdrop of Peru’s political coup in the early nineties, which brings up an interesting question about how the demons of this experience might exorcise themselves in the writers’ worlds. As we discover that the novelist’s trick has been burying and re-burying his long-dead brother, rising high in the esteem of his literarily-minded countrymen, we also watch a group of people with individual, damaging secrets try to overcome their demons through the act of creating stories.

The concepts behind the play are more compelling than Risco’s execution of his idea, and director Erik Pearson’s decision to opt for a hyper-realistic set (designed by Michael Locher) makes the transitions from Risco’s reality into the stories of his characters seem jarring and forced, particularly before one grows used to the device of having the characters in each tale-within-the-tale act out the three friends’ narratives in the same guise, over and over.

There was a lack of notable chemistry in the cast, which included by Felix Solis, Liza Fernandez, Gerardo Rodriguez, Bobby Moreno, and Laura Esposito, but each individual performer was competent and earnest. Risco has a gift for telling short narratives that provoke a defined emotional response, but the overall arc of the story was less than satisfying. As someone without a deep familiarity with Peru’s military coup, parallels to that narrative were not readily apparent, but perhaps  a person who had an emotional connection to that event would find the overall arc of the play cathartic – a case where the moving and poignant building blocks that make up Risco’s play could be strung together to make a more compelling, and narratively consistent, tale that made the time and place absolutely critical to the tale, and not just in allowing the best-selling author to devise a theme and plot for his second novel.

One hardly feels like the characters are at risk, except in the moments where they literally under fire from the dissidents across the street, and one wishes this had been heightened. Somehow, while the building blocks of his narrative are individually quite poignant, when strung together they fall short of an overwhelming or lasting effect.

More information on the production can be found at www.playwrightsrealm.org.