Mar. 26th, 2017

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20 - The Bashful Man at Court (reading), Shakespeare Theatre Company

Reading done for Spain Arts and Culture, sponsored by the Spanish Embassy. The original draw here was that it's an early work by Tirso de Molina, whom I have adored since Shakespeare did a reading of a new adaptation of Marta the Divine a few years back, and then it turned out Jon Hudson Odom was basically the lead, which hell yes! Bashful Man at Court has a ton in common with Lope da Vega's The Dog in the Manger - young man of "no birth" is taken into a noble household in an upper servant position, lady falls in love with him, everything is ironed out into marriage through a last-minute revelation that he is of noble birth after all. But the complications are different, everybody is "Portuguese" to get around the censors, and there's a lot - a lot - of talk about women's social position but without the subversion that you get in Marta or in some of Lope's work. In some ways, it feels like a foundational piece on which the best of Spanish Golden Age comedy built. Fabulous performances from Jon (of course), Katie Tkel as the older sister who falls for a portrait of herself in boydrag, Biko Eisen-Martin as the bad guy who doesn't even get his comeuppance (he seduced and dumped another character's unseen sister, or possibly actually raped her - the text makes it a little hard to tell because he considers it seduction, the brother considers it rape, and we never see the sister or find out what really happened), and Michael Wood as Jon's buddy who goes along in a servant role and has the worst time with his tight-ass uniform. I had fun, but I don't see this script going on to a full production because it feels like an early work - half baked in places and overdone in others.

23 - Coolatully, Solas Nua

US premiere of a recent piece by Fiona Doyle looking at the post-collapse implications of the Celtic Tiger generation having their expected future ripped out from under them. It comes across in many ways as being a Martin McDonagh village where no one gets the relief of murdering their problems. We've circled back around to emigration as the only economic solution, and the fear and uncertainty that come from that pull me all the way back to the Dubliners, where it's easier to say no and have nothing than to take the chance. In some ways, it's a slight piece - it never quite hit the emotional heft I may have wanted, but there was some very effective staging in Flashpoint's small space (how many more times will I see shows at Flashpoint? *sob*) and excellent lighting design from Marianne Meadows.

24 - Ragtime, Ford's Theatre

It's Kevin McAllister as Coalhouse, which goes exactly as predicted because Kevin is never less than amazing. It is a perfect role for him - charming and heartbreaking in equal measure. the production as a whole is beautiful but with a couple weird choices. I don't mean that the famous personalities are both played by Asian-American actors (Justine Icy Moral is absolutely darling as Evelyn Nesbit). I mean that Peter Flynn did a very weird and stupid thing in the transition between The Night that Goldman Spoke at Union Square and the Lawrence Strike - he deliberately sent Younger Brother as the union organizer that pushes Tateh and the Little Girl onto the train out. This completely undermines the track of his radicalization so that when shit happens to Coalhouse and Sarah after, he's already a radical presence and thus He Wanted to Say isn't him waking to America as the lyrics demand. It simplifies the blocking, probably, but that isn't a good enough thematic reason to do it. It's a big fuck up in that track, but it also doesn't affect the emotional core of the show, so I can kind of let it go. It helps that yes, they did cast Greg Maheu as Younger Brother as is practically required but I feared wouldn't happen, and he is everything I ever thought he would be in the role. He never got to go on at Kennedy Center, and this is kind of a make up for that - Ragtime really was formative for his career. Tracy is also exactly as one expects as Mother. Adore adore adore.

I do find I have some very strict ideas about this show. Nova sings the hell out of Sarah, but I find I really do prefer that the character look like a teen mother because it's basically dumpster baby, and that impulsiveness works better with a teenager. She does sing the hell out of the role, though, and I can't fault the casting, precisely. But nobody is Jennlee Shallow. And Jonathan Atkinson is fine, but he's no Manoel Feliciano. Manoel is my Tateh, always and forever. I was thrilled, though with Rayanne Gonzalez as Emma Goldman. How rare must it be that a dumpy Hispanic woman get cast as someone to take seriously? Really, the adding some multiethnic faces beyond black and white was well done. Chris Mueller is always great, Justine was darling as Evelyn Nesbit, and since the whole company works in as ensemble, it means the immigrant groups include a variety of faces that deliberately draw connections between immigration then and immigration now.

On the whole, this production runs more naturalistically than usual - because of the way Doctorow wrote his novel, and the way McNally's book directly quotes from as well as uses characters addressing the audience in third person self-narrative, the traditional tendency has been to heighten that distance through a certain style of delivery. (This is also why I feel you have to hire Greg for Younger Brother - he tends to do a rather arch or declamatory style really, really well.) Instead, Flynn's direction runs right over that, which allows for more native charisma from Coalhouse, some snappish remarks from Mother upon Father's return, better joke delivery from Grandfather. It's unexpected but effective. It certainly lets Tracy get more of her personality into Mother, which helps drive her transformation more strongly. Even such little things as calling to little Coalhouse in the final scene are more natural and integrated into character - she's frantically looking around and calling for him because where the hell did child number 3 run off to? It's really nice.

So other than that very weird big flaw in the middle, it's a beautiful production with exactly what I wanted from my desired cast members, and some absolutely harrowing staging for Sarah's murder. the weirdest part is that I have such a disconnected reaction to Wheels of a Dream ever since I saw Stokes sing it live at that concert in 2009 - Wheels of a Dream at the beginning of the Obama age was an entirely different song, and nothing will ever live up to that. Instead, we have Sarah's murder by an overreacting police force in the age of Black Lives Matter. The focus is different. So as much as I adore Kevin (and he is one of my favourite actors working in DC musical theatre right now), he cannot bring the same magic as the hope of that concert appearance by Stokes. And that's always there. It is a highlight of my life, so rarely is there such a perfect marriage of material and zeitgeist. But it's a beautiful production and I'll be back a few more times.

25 - What Every Girl Should Know, Forum Theatre

I'm a sucker for period pieces. This one takes place in a Catholic reformatory c. 1914, among four of the young inmates. One of them is there because mom's in jail for distributing obscene material (pamphlets by Margaret Sanger) and she ended up shoving her father's head through a window when he tried to molest her in in her mother's absence. She brought mom's stash, and the girls experience a sort of opening of possibility in their lives once they see someone, even if just in a pamphlet, treating them like people worthy of respect. This mostly works. What doesn't work, for me, is when they half-assedly canonise Margaret Sanger and start praying to her, weird shit happens. The magical realist part seems tacked on, and some of the reactions aren't quite appropriate to the setting of the wider culture of 1912. I see what Monica Byrne is going for - that opening to knowledge of themselves and respect for the female body that no one else in their lives has respected opens the girls to an entire world of possibility and the determination to fight against their captivity (one of the girls is there because she was being sexually molested by her doctor and of course the 12 year old is the evil temptress who must be removed from society, not the creepazoid doctor who still sends her presents). I see the goal, but the script isn't quite getting there.

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Mme Bahorel

May 2017

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