Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Old Flame

As I wrote yesterday, a most unhappy summer left a bad taste in my mouth as far as theatre is concerned. I passed on a friend's play reading, didn't bother seeing anything here or in Philadelphia, and generally gave drama a wide berth. This is was somewhat of a big deal, since most of my free time for the past six years has been devoted to attending or writing or directing or performing in some show or another, whether a reading, a full production, or an improv gig. Losing the theatre love was like attending a seminary only to wake up one morning not believing in God. It was profoundly de-centering.

And thankfully, relatively, short-lived.

My distaste began to recede shortly after I arrived in DC. One of the newspapers had an ad, and a review, for Constellation Theatre's production of the Thomas Middleton's Jacobean revenge piece Women Beware Women. Among the events advertised at Busboys and Poets was Spooky Action Theater's adaptation of Samuel Beckett's The Lost Ones. Some internet research on Women Beware Women led me to discover a nearby Endgame show. I was... excited.

You have to understand: English revenge plays are my favorite genre of drama. They can be contrived as hell, but even then one must appreciate how well they operate with an almost clock-like narrative precision, in which a group of terrible people commit terrible deeds and are killed in terrible ways. I love these works so much I devoted my Honors History thesis to taking this operating moral logic and applying it to Queen Elizabeth's gruesome treatment of traitors to the Crown. Incest, intrigue, and improbable death scenes. I can't imagine a better night's entertainment.

And Beckett! Never had pessimism a better, more articulate standard-bearer. I played Lucky in a community college production of Waiting for Godot that is still one of my favorite shows that I've done. Endgame fascinates me endlessly, and the notoriously uptight Beckett estate allowing an adaptation of one of the man's obscure prose works (The Lost Ones) is a secular miracle. There really wasn't much question in whether I would go.

That's important, as I know people who have gotten burned by something they enjoy (including some theatre folk), who then stay away for a long time. It's very easy for a bit of unpleasantness to poison the well, but it doesn't do any good to let that happen. This was bleeding obvious to everyone except myself, but I suppose everyone has to learn at their own pace.

And I'm very glad I went. The Lost Ones was stunning in its simplicity: a single cloth circle on which stood one man speaking Beckett's words, describing a strange subterranean cylinder populated by 200 beings, played by 60 or so little handcrafted, Giacometti-styled figurines. It wasn't clear if this narrator, played by Carter Jahncke, was one of them or some omniscient presence, but it almost doesn't matter. Beckett is best enjoyed for the language, and Jahncke's intensely delicate diction did the parable well.

I had a harder time with Women Beware Women, at first. It suffered from some of the same problems I find in many Shakespeare stagings: interpolations--basically, goofy sound effects and gestures--to hit the audience over the head with a joke, and an overbearing visual interpretation. In this case, a Tim Burton influence made for some gaudy Hot Topic-like costumes, Isabella's and Livia's in particular. The use of a therimin in the original music made for an obvious "spookiness" I found similarly off-putting.

The actors, particularly Thomas Keegan and Caley Milliken as the leads Leantio and Bianca, were all strong, though, if occasionally misdirected (Felipe Cabezas and David Zimmerman as Ward and Sordido had most of the loud and grating interpolations I mentioned). And the ending! The play's bloody masque banquet has been called a "ridiculous holocaust," to which one can only reply: so? It is ridiculous, it is a holocaust, and gloriously so. The very ending, in which "Cupid" surveyed the dead cast onstage and sang his final lines, drawing his bow and taking aim at the audience, sent me out of the theater with smile biggest smile I've had after such an event in quite some time. It capped what was probably the most redemptive second act I've ever seen.

Which is all to say, I'm in comfortable territory. I still don't know how large a role theatre will play in my life, but I'm glad to have moved beyond petulance and can enjoy myself again. I'm sure I'll do so when I check out Endgame, before it closes this weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Hey man, as one of the actors in the show, I'm glad you like Women Beware Women. It was ambitious and difficult, but thankfully pretty well received overall. The audience reaction to the ending always amazed me. Either they laughed and laughed (disturbing when you are 'dying') or made not a sound (a little too respectful).

    I missed the Beckett, but the reviews (yours included) made it sound awesome...