Monday, June 22, 2009

New thoughts on an old classic

Performance: Shakespeare's R & J
Theater: 1st Stage Spring Hill, 1524 Spring HIll Rd. McLean, VA 22102
Metro stops: none, which is too bad. It's by Tyson's Corner
Genre: Shakespeare Adaptation
Cost: Tickets are $15 for students and $25 for adults.
Dates: Through July 12
Rating: 4/5 Starving Artists

Adaptations of Shakespeare can be a little silly. I once saw a production of The Comedy of Errors set in Malibu. As best I can tell, the only reason they had for setting it in Malibu was that someone had suggested that the production be called "The Comedy of Errors on Rollerblades". I think some people feel like they must adapt Shakespeare just because it seems so dull these days to actually set Romeo and Juliet in Verona, or Hamlet in Denmark. That said, we find from time to time an adaptation of Shakespeare that adds something to the play: one that teaches us something new about the work. I think this mostly the case with 1st Stage’s production of Joe Calarco’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which he calls Shakespeare’s R & J.

His device is an intriguing one. Four prep school boys ditch class to go hang out in the woods and perform Shakespeare for each other. (I’d find this point hard to believe if it had not been so thoroughly explored in Dead Poets Society. In fact, this play alludes to that film so often that I think perhaps Calarco hasn’t seen it, for if he had, he might have avoided the comparison altogether.) But with this twist, we are put in the interesting situation of being able to watch these boys perform the play for each other. We feel almost voyeuristic as we watch them express their angst, excitement, and confusion though their roles. Calarco and director Mark Kirkstan bring some interesting realism to the story, which makes it less about two star crossed lovers and more about to lovelorn teens. 1st Stage’s mission is to produce work using actors who are making their debut as professionals or who are new to this kind of work. The four young men in the production are occasionally rough, but often captivating. I’d like to give props Alex Mandell, Jacob Yeh, Jonathan Elliott, and Aeneas Hemphill for taking on the material and bringing all their passion to the work.

My strongest complaint with the production was its length (2.5 hours). My feeling is, if you are going to do an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, then you don’t have to do the whole thing, especially since we all know how it ends. This also made the premise harder to buy, and I have a difficult time believing that they would not just have done their favorite scenes, instead of nearly the entire play.

I found the production to be fresh and engaging. The set was wonderful, and quite well used. The bamboo structure they had built created a sense of wildness that was both fitting for a forest and reflective of the mood, and the boys were able to swing from it, and climb on it in very intriguing ways. The show has something fresh to say, and a unique voice to say it with, and if you find yourself out in VA, it’s worth trying to catch a performance.

Rock o'n'!

Performance: Rock 'n' Roll
Theater: Studio Theatre. 1501 14th St, NW
Metro stops: Dupont Circle -Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line
Genre: History
Cost: Tickets are $30. There is a $5 dollar student discount too. They may also have half price rush tickets 30 min before the show or you can usher (more here). Also, Goldstar has $22 tickets for those of you who are not students.
Dates: Through June 28
Rating: 3/5 Starving Artists

I guess I know very little about Czechoslovakian history during the 60's, 70's and 90's. This has never been a problem before, but it would have come in handy the night we saw Rock and Roll at the Studio Theatre. I enjoyed the play, but I frequently felt a little lost. I will say that I learned a lot, though I’m not sure if that is really the main reason I go the theater. The show was mostly well acted, with a few standout performances, notably Ted Van Griethuysen as Max and Lisa Harrow as Eleanor/. Ultimately, though, I think the play should come with a required reading list.

Rock and Roll has a number of intriguing storylines (too many, in fact). It has a bunch of romances and a few unrequited loves. It has a subplot exploring freedom of musical expression as an indicator of political freedom. It has a lot to say about the merits of communism in theory, and the problems with communism in practice. It speaks of ideals and hopes, of pragmatism and reality. You can say lot of things about Rock and Roll, but you cannot say that it doesn’t have a lot on its mind. It’s a play that makes you think, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then I think you’ll be quite happy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Quick hit: Rock and Roll

Performance: Rock and Roll
Theater: Studio Theatre. 1501 14th St, NW
Metro stops: Dupont Circle -Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line
Genre: Dramady?
Cost: Tickets are $30. There is a $5 dollar student discount too. They may also have half price rush tickets 30 min before the show or you can usher (more here). Also, Goldstar may have discount tix.
Dates: Through June 28
We are going: 6/17

They say: Sophisticated, funny and electrifying, Stoppard’s latest play spans decades and dynasties with the spin of a record player. The master playwright takes a tender, imaginary journey through the life he might have led if he had returned to his native Czechoslovakia.

Featuring David Agranov, Caroline Bootle, Stafford Clark-Price, Veronica del Cerro,
Davis Handler Chasty, Ted van Griethuysen, Lisa Harrow, Katie Henney, Adam Pribila,
Richard Price, Lawrence Redmond, Sarah Strasser, Jay Sullivan, Emily Townley, Alex Vernon and Alex Zavistovich

Getting geared up for Fringe.

I went to a happy hour tonight sponsored by the Fringe Festival. Man am I excited. Mark your calendars. July 9-26 is DC’s annual alternative theater festive. It is a GREAT way to see cheap shows that are unique, out of the box, and often wonderful. I’ll be writing in the next week or two with a very special fringe announcement, but for now, I just want to tell you to mark the days so that you can’t tell me you didn’t know. My hope is that all of you will go to at least one fringe show. I promise, you won't regret it.

Of comedy and kitch

Performance: Fever Dream
: Woolly Mammoth Theater, 641 D St, NW
: Gallery Place-green/red or Archives/Navy Memorial-Green. Directions here.
: Comedy
: from $15 for people under 25. $15 rush seats sold 2 hours before curtain.
: Through June 28
: 4/5 Starving Artists

Some days, I’m just looking for a simple meal. An appetizer or two, or a fun salad will do. Other days I’m looking for something with a little more meat on the bones. I’ll need a steak or a burger to fill me up. But if I’m craving that salad, then that salad can be amazing. Fever Dream is a salad, but it’s a delicious one. It’s not very heavy, it doesn’t have many calories or anything, but I left the theater feeling full and happy. And if that’s how you should leave a ‘meal’, then Woolly has done it again. Fever Dream is kitchy and silly, and at times over the top, but always with intentionality and grace. It took me a few minutes to adjust, because I usually expect something a little deeper from Woolly, but once I accepted my salad, I was thrilled with the result. The show is a lot of fun, and what else does it need to be?

The play is an update of the 17th century masterpiece Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. While much energy is spent (perhaps too much) updating the Calderón’s contemporary, William Shakespare, the work of the Spanish golden age is too often left in cobwebs. But why not set this story of hidden princes and Kings (essentially prince and pauper story) in corporate America. Why not take the main character out of his dungeon and chain him in customer service. Why not make the foolish, arrogant king into a CEO (it would certainly be believable). These changes seemed relatively minor, and made for a fun bit of fancy.

Do the messages hold up? That’s hard to say. Wikipedia describes Life is a Dream as a philosophical allegory. The Woolly didn’t feel so much philosophical or allegorical. But it seems that the production team didn’t see a need in being burdened by hitting us over the head with meaning. Instead they focused on comedy, of which there is lots. We see slapstick and parody, innuendo and irony. The production has a playful simplicity to it, featuring intentionally cheap set pieces and over the top choreography. It is a modern morality play, its simplicity seems intentional. If you’re in the mood for the theater equivalent of a cup of ice cream with sprinkles, see this play. If you’re looking for a fillet, see something else.

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