Tag Archives: theatre review

ACT ONE REACTION: Slaughterhouse Five

 

Sometimes, one leaves a theatrical experience and the foremost thought in one’s mind is, “That’s X hours I’m never getting back.” When attending plays as a reviewer (i.e. with free/comped tickets), I always stay through to the end. However, when I’ve paid for my ticket – as in this case – I no longer feel it necessary to sit through an entire production once I’m convinced it’s not getting any better. Please bear in mind, while reading, that for all I know the production takes a massive upswing in the second act and I missed out on something truly brilliant – though this writeup in The Buffalo News makes me doubt that was the case. Here’s my reaction to the production.

From The Buffalo News: Tim Joyce and John Kennedy star in Subversive Theatre's season-opening production of "Slaughterhouse Five."

From The Buffalo News: Tim Joyce and John Kennedy star in Subversive Theatre’s season-opening production of “Slaughterhouse Five.”

ACT ONE REACTION: SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE BY THE SUBVERSIVE THEATRE COLLECTIVE

Subversize Theatre Collective
Great Arrow Building
Manny Fried Theatre
Directed by Michael Lodick
Adapted by Eric Simonson

Saturday night, I left Slaughterhouse Five, produced by the Subversive Theatre Collective, at intermission. While the presentation was competent, it wasn’t compelling enough to keep me and my parents in our uncomfortable seats — or the overheated auditorium.

If you haven’t read Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, the story of Slaughterhouse Five revolves around a man named Billy Pilgrim, who has become “unstuck” in the space-time continuum. The novel itself is disjointed, offering a broken narrative – the book incorporates parts of Vonnegut’s own time in the service and as a POW. While the script seems faithful to the story, even setting up Vonnegut’s narrator conceit, something about the production meant it never really seemed to offer much spark.

Tim Lane’s set is colorful and visually engaging, and its versatility allowed the players to move seamlessly from scene to scene. The brightest moment of the play’s first act came from Rick Lattimer, whose performance as Elliot Rosewater suddenly came to life during a conversation with Pilgrim (Shane Zimmerman) and his fiancee (Brittany Gabryel as Barbara). Suddenly animated, Rosewater describes the book he’s reading to Pilgrim, ranting about an alternate view of reality. For a few moments, there was a sense of welcome tension from the audience. Then it passed.

As the narrator, Tim Joyce kicked the play off with a one-man scene that set the stage. There were times when some mannerisms began to feel affected, veering more towards Mark Twain than Kurt Vonnegut, and smoothing those moments over would help the audience forget that they’re watching a performance. Generally speaking, there was very little about the performances that was notable.

One of many huge challenges inherent in mounting a production where each scene is only a few minutes long is that it’s difficult for the audience to remain emotionally engaged without a connection to each scene.  After nearly an hour of story, no one in my party felt a strong enough connection to the show to stay and watch the second half.

Fan of Vonnegut looking for new insights/perspective on your favorite author and one of his most famous works? You might very well enjoy this production. Casual theater-goer looking for a thought-provoking experience that also entertains? This might not be the show for you.

THEATRE REVIEW: Why Torture Is Wrong and The People Who Love Them

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Thomas LaChiusa
Subversive Theatre Company

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christoper Durang, has a plot that unfolds – at first – quite neatly. A young woman (Felicity, played by Andrea Andolina) wakes up in bed with a man (Zamir, played by Michael Votta) who she doesn’t know. Who, as far as she can tell, she’s married by accident. As the action develops, it begins to take a strange veer away from reality, heading into an absurd – yet frighteningly possible – world.

Feicity is, throughout the first act, constrained by the barely-restrained violence of combating Alpha males Leonard (her father, played by Victor Morales) and her new husband Zamir. Her mother Luella (Christopher Standart) has disassociated from the world, relying on absent-minded discussion of Broadway hits (Wicked, A Chorus Line) and is at odds with her daughter’s desire to tackle problems in the here and now. Namely, the problem of Zamir. He might be a danger. Or a terrorist. He’s already shown some tendencies toward violence – if not physical, yet, the certainly verbal – and while Felicity wants her parents’ help in getting an annulment, she also doesn’t want Zamir hurt. It’s a pretty morally admirable decision, given Zamir’s actions towards her early on. Still, one cheers a little when he and Leonard stand off. The delicious whiff of mutually-assured destruction is in the air.

The play strikes the same cheery, sick satirical chords as something like Torben Betts’ The Unconquered, or (if I’m giving his an even darker comparison) Sarah Kane’s Blasted (if Blasted were played for laughs without any on-stage violence). Some cultural force has warped our male leads, and one almost hopes the dystopia of the outside world is bad enough to justify the chill that runs through Durang’s script when it comes to his character’s brutality. One suspects that world might be reality, while hoping that isn’t the case.

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them is a funhouse-mirror post-9/11 dark comedy. The metaphors for punishment without trial, racial profiling and next-generation “patriots” (the kind who take selfies flanked by flags and guns and government conspiracy theories) and domestic violence are present. It asks us, as viewers: how does a person cope with all that? Can we, as society, stand our ground and demand the ability to effect change (Felicity’s stance, in the first act), or disassociate into a disengaged enjoyment of our Marxian opiate of choice?

Luella, we see, has chosen the latter. While her husband waxes poetic about “Father Knows Best,” exploring the taste of calling his daughter the pet names from the kids in the classic TV show, Luella wears matching floral house dresses and insists on lighthearted conversation about the Theatre and French Toast. While she develops into an ally for Felicity as the play moves on, one can never be sure of when Luella’s small-chat fog may be sliced open by razor lucidity.

As for Leonard, everything we hear about his contact with the government? We hear it from him, or from one of his co-conspirators. In other words, it’s not hard to imagine that his Shadow world is, just like Luella’s also turtles all the way down. It might as well be self-contained. If Luella has floated away, maybe Leonard and his fellow nutjobs aren’t far behind.

If so, then what can be made of the final movement of the script, where Felicity’s compassion for Zamir – a man who has threatened and intimidated her – allows her to finally wrest away control of the situation’s swiftly deteriorating violence? She takes charge and the axis of Durang’s play starts to twist. A voice that’s been speaking to the audience throughout the play – Becky Globus, who also takes on several other roles – smashes through the 4th wall, and Felicity wills a feat of metatextual narrative timetravel. Her drive to change what’s happened drags the whole cast, including a pornographic priest (James Cichocki) and one of Leonard’s whackadoo comrades (Mike Seitz), back to a point before the play even started: the night Felicity and Zamir meet.

Conjured back to their ground zero, Felicity searches for a way in which the best aspects of herself and Zamir can be together – while also setting clear and entirely reasonable boundaries about what she wants as the end result: a world where things turn out differently. She directs the conversation carefully, laying out boundaries and guidelines, until she’s coached both herself and Zamir to what might be their “best aspect”. Zamir wonders if this even leaves him as the same same person, but Felicity’s insistence carries the day. Have they truly time-traveled, and will they now create a better future? Or has Felicity just experienced just had a disassociative snap, her mind creating a false reality to protect her from the world’s harsh truths? Has Felicity just found her delusional opium?

That I’m left with questions like these (and more) is a testament to the quality of Durang’s script, Thomas LaChiusa’s direction, and the cast’s ability to seamlessly integrate the two. Subversive’s production is tight and focused, an achievement for a show gets farther “out there” than normal. It’s easy for a play that toys so much with fantasy and reality (including metatextually) to drift aimlessly, but Why Torture Is Wrong…keeps its feet on the ground. And that makes a huge amount of difference in its ability to hold the audience over the course of two hours, as well in its ability to spark thought afterwards.

While John Kennedy and Michael Lodick’s set doesn’t quite evoke the luxury the script indicates, it’s unclear if that’s because the wealth isn’t translating physically, or if – like Zamir’s insistence on being somehow Irish – it’s yet another place where character’s perceptions and reality diverge.

Why Torture Is Wrong… is at the Subversive Theatre in Buffalo, New York through April 12, 2015, and I hope you make the time to see it.

Tickets were comped for this production.

Also of interest:

Boeing, Boring: Boeing Boeing at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre, Jamestown, NY

Oh, reviewing pen, it’s been a while. Mostly because I haven’t been able to sit for the length of an entire play for a while, but also because the only play I’ve seen since Cabaret in NYC was a local production of Spamalot. But tonight, I dug my reviewing pen out and headed to Jamestown, NY to see the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown’s presentation of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing.

I’m almost sure I’ve seen this play before, but I’m not sure where – London, Edinburgh, New York, Buffalo – and other than broad strokes (a playboy trying to keep three flight-attendant-fiances in his orbit) I didn’t remember much about the plot. It falls into the strange realm of what I think of as “French living-room plays.” Like Art and Carnage. Which is weird, because neither of those are farces, and they’re both by the same playwright.

Boeing Boeing is a farce, though. It’s a farce set in the 1960s, at the dawn of newer, faster plane technology. One expects the play to have a certain “snap,” so to speak. Noel Coward with more ennui. Then one looks up the play’s running time. Two and a half hours.

Um.

There’s a line in Boeing Boeing that goes, “No panic, no problem.” But this is exactly the problem. While the actresses playing the fiances – Amanda Melquist (Gloria), Carla Kayes (Gabriella) and particularly Holly L.J. Weston (Gretchen, the passionate German) – inject their scene with dimension and energy, both male leads (Vince Liuzzo as the playboy Bernard and his older brother Carl Luizzo as Robert) seem far too comfortable, too lackadaisical. Occasionally, their back-and-forth rises to a fever pitch, but for the most part it’s the women who set the pacing for each scene – which would be fine, if not for the fact that Bernard is the protagonist. There’s a hint of this early on, when Betsy Trusel’s Berthe brings character-acted comic relief as Bernard’s frustrated domestic servant. Slick and charming, Bernard only becomes “real” in contrast to his demanding cook and cooing (but surprisingly steely) fiances. Other than occasional fluster when two of the women might interact, in which cases each Liuzzo takes their character from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, the characters contribute to the show’s biggest problem: pacing.

Often times, I watch plays and wish the writer’s words had been given more room to breathe. In this production, I spent more time wishing someone would deliver CPR to the script. Weston had a lock on the urgency of her character’s lines, and Kayes hit all the right beats with her domineering and frustrated Italian, but more often than not, Luizzo, Luizz and Trusel seemed to linger over lines that would have benefited from a dash of Basil Fawlty.

Costumes and set, both credited to large teams in the program, were spot-on for this naturalistic play. In a moment that took me by complete surprise, Berthe actually lights a real cigarette on stage. (Some history: while I was reviewing in Edinburgh with The British Theatre Guide, laws were passed to ban smoking from the stage – even herbal cigarettes. Thinking back, I don’t recall a single time when I saw a real cigarette being smoked on stage But Berthe’s ciggy was definitely made of real tobacco.)

I wish the production left a more positive impression on me, but its by-the-book approach to a classic text paired with timing that never quite worked up to the pacing necessary to really give me a good chuckle. While much of the audience seemed entertained, laughing on cue, when the interval finally arrived I had to take the state of my back into account, and leave the second half of the show unwatched. I simply didn’t receive enough meaty enjoyment from act one to make the literal pain in my lower back worth staying for act two.

Note: Tickets were purchased for this performance.

 

THEATER REVIEW: “Fairytale” from The Shelter at the 45th Street Theatre

Fairy Tale is collaborative company The Shelter’s set of five short plays inspired by classic fairy tales. Their inspiration spans cultures and languages, tackling both traditional retellings and total re-imaginings. Solidly produced with exceptional production values, the play begins and ends with playful, animal-masked mechanicals, a whimsical turn that sets a magical mood.
Continue reading