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February 6: Henry IV (reading), We Happy Few

We Happy Few are my theatre geek friends. Hannah was back in town on a flying visit to be in attendance for this reading of her cutting of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 into a single, 100-minute adaptation. Cast included company members Kiernan McGowan and Kerry McGee as well as my Faction of Fools buddies Paul Reisman (the new Faction artistic director) and Matthew Pauli. The goal of the evening was to get the cutting on its feet in front of an audience and to preview the upcoming full production of Henry V. Kiernan strikes me as a bit callow for my preferred interp of Hal, but that's personal preference. Great work from everyone and so great to have a chance to sit down with theatre geeks and talk interpretations.

February 9: The Hard Problem, Studio Theatre

The new Stoppard, and fine, but not top drawer. He's still caught up in the consciousness debate in science that he started exploring in Rock 'n' Roll, but this one lacks the emotional core. Whether or not one can build a brain out of beer cans, "That's what I love you with; it's all I have" is so deeply personal and moving and goddamn I adore Max and Eleanor so much. That's what's missing from The Hard Problem. He's trying to do faith and science through the study of consciousness, and there's a cool lesbian couple that I really like, so it isn't like I had a bad evening or didn't like the play or anything, but Stoppard has turned out legitimately heartbreaking works of genius, so he's graded on a curve of his own making now. I think I'd have thought it better than "fine" if it had been by a different playwright, someone who hasn't written at least three of my most favourite things in the world. (also, Spike is an asshole AND annoying, so I really hope the sex is good, otherwise Hillary needs to get over her shit taste in men.)

February 10: King Charles III, Shakespeare Theatre Company

I knew this script was amazing (I picked it up when it was on in the West End) and was just waiting to see that Studio got it because it's the perfect thing for David Muse, so I was a little surprised but also gratified that Shakespeare got it for David instead. It's a Shakespearean history play of a history that has not yet happened: it takes a view of the institution of the monarchy in order to look at modern issues and to speak to a concept of the nation. It's not as if Shakespeare's histories were particularly accurate, so Bartlett has free reign to write a "future history" play that is going to have a weird future: once Elizabeth dies, this speculative history of what sort of king Charles will be will be completely jossed, but in a century after that event, it will no longer matter and the play could come back into currency as a classic look at the British constitution.

It's not only fascinating from that point of view (also that Bartlett wrote it in blank verse with occasional flights into prose for the commoner characters) but also it's really goddamned good. It's interesting and deeply moving with wonderfully drawn characters and this cast is fantastic. So happy to see Michelle Beck again (she was Ophelia the last time they did an absolutely amazing modern dress Hamlet) in the role of Harry's commoner temporary girlfriend. Also wonder if they dared cast a black actress because of his current girlfriend or if it's because it's one of the few places you can right now since the casting has to be evocative of people we see way too much. Still, so very glad to get some diversity in the cast. Adore Ian Merrill Peakes in everything and his Labour PM Evans is so damned perfect and actually moving in his confusion in there being a constitutional crisis at all. Robert Joy doesn't look a damned thing like Prince Charles but who cares when he brings me to tears multiple times and looks so shrunken and diminished when he puts on the uniform of state. Curious if there's an ability in future to do some genderswap casting on the PM and Opposition Leader since they're just politicians with fake names. Can see why one might not want to deliberately evoke Theresa May right now, but might be nice in future productions.

I knew David was the perfect director for this script, and the production surpassed my expectations. Complete and utter adoration.

February 11: Sweeney Todd, Olney Theatre Center

Solid production of one of my favourite things in the world with the first legit multiracial cast I've seen (and other than black Pirelli, it actually aligns perfectly fine with mid-Victorian Britain). Black Anthony, black Toby, black Mrs Lovett. David Benoit in the title role; E. Faye Butler as Mrs. Lovett; Tom Simpson as Judge Turpin (yas!); and the absolute fun of Rachel Zampelli in full Victorian drag king as the Beadle in the best flamboyant plaid suit and fake facial hair. I've seen better, I've seen worse, but this was solid and the interracial casting was so nice.

February 14: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Ford's Theatre

Holly Twyford is a goddess. I mean, the whole cast are individually don't-miss ticket sellers for me - Greg Linington, Danny Gavigan, Maggie Wilder - but goddamn, Holly. HOLLY. Also, I have never known so many people in the audience, because apparently the theatre nerds celebrate Valentine's Day with Virginia Woolf.

February 16: The How and the Why, Theater J

Interesting two-hander nerd play by Sarah Treem focusing on evolutionary biology. The science is key; the relationship that is teased out only makes sense within the science. I still want to be a Val Leonard character when I grow up because her characters are always smart and put together and dominant. She is always a queen.

February 24: The Select (The Sun Also Rises), Elevator Repair Service at Shakespeare Theatre Company

My first ERS show. I have adored The Sun Also Rises since high school because who didn't want to be Lady Brett Ashley (but with less antisemitic hangers-on)? Last time through, though, Jake was driving me up a wall because I was convinced he was actually a self-hating homosexual. ERS's adaptation is verbatim - there's not a word not from Hemingway, and at points where it matters visually what is happening, sometimes the actors just go silent and mime talking to each other because Hemingway never gave them dialogue. It also has lots of fun with sound effects to deliberately humorous effect. Lots of young people turned out for this one, which is interesting. Also a lot of attrition at intermission and partway into the long second act, with at least two notes on the audience engagement board complaining that it was terrible and that was why those people left after act I.

Fuck the people who left after act I. The speech is pure Hemingway, and like anything, not everyone will share your personal interpretation. ERS has a much more gentle interp of Jake than I've had and I actually liked him and felt for him this time around. He's interesting and good humoured. They don't shy away from the casual and malicious antisemitism from Bill and Mike, but I did get the feeling that was papered over with Jake so that we have a sympathetic narrator. (also, I didn't do a re-read in prep for this, so it's been a few years, and it goes to tone where Hemingway is very terse and frequently doesn't describe the way in which his characters spit out their declarations. Antisemitism is sometimes in mentioning that someone is a Jew and sometimes in precisely how one mentions that someone is a Jew. In describing the course of Robert Cohn's life, a later exposure to antisemitism was formative and his secular Jewishness is core to how how can move through the world.) Robert was actually annoyingly fucking useless, Bill was an antisemitic asshole but so much fun as a character to watch, and Mike is probably going to be murdered despite his superficial good humour someday.

The problem is Brett. For Brett to have this life, she is fabulous. There is a backstory and way of being that is just understood even as what we're actually watching is her doing a lot of whinging. Watching her do the whinging is a lot less compelling. Jake explaining on stage while we watch Brett be distracted and sad is less interesting than reading Jake's explaining and seeing her be amazing in our minds.

Also, the costuming was modern evocative and my mental picture of Brett is somehow always in jodhpurs and nothing was ever going to live up to my mental pictures of transgressive decadence. But really, Frances was stealing the show in her drunken indignation and that was wonderful in itself but a problem for the adaptation as a whole for me personally because Frances should not be more interesting than Brett.

Still, screw the people who left bitchy notes when they ditched at intermission. I was interested and engaged and had a good time because I can accept that other interpretations of a work are valid and I appreciate fun. (Also, talk about both cruel and overblown: "Hemingway would kill himself again if he saw what they did to his work" was one of the nasty notes. Fuck that guy.) I am now officially going to shell out full price for all of next season, even though most of next season is not exciting and involves Pinter (I've tried twice; maybe the third time's the charm?) because I will not let those people be the average subscriber.

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Mme Bahorel

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