Thursday, February 12, 2015

Stupid Happy Play

I thought I would report back on All Our Happy Days Are Stupid by Sheila Heti and put on by Suburban Beast over at Harbourfront.  It runs through the weekend basically (with an extra evening show) and then moves to New York.  Not sure if any of the cast is making the move, though it appears it will be a complete transfer for a short run at the Kitchen.  Basically, I really didn't like it (and kind of don't trust anyone who does like it).  Not as much as I hated Tartuffe by any means, but I felt that the acting was intentionally flat and unrealistic.  The actors basically intoned various lines without a lot of inflection (almost like how a middle school kid might think a play would go) and frequently looking straight out into the audience and rarely directly interacting with each other while speaking.  There are certainly some exceptions to this -- the twelve year old schoolmates who end up meeting each other in Paris, for example.  And the lecherous Frenchman in the polar bear costume certainly sidled up to the ladies.

I realize this was a stylistic choice, but I do not like things that are intentionally inept.  Theatre is too fricking hard to make it look like some throw-away show that you just happened to stage in your backyard.  The characters acted in peculiar ways that didn't seem believable, and then there were random set-pieces like some prince descending upon a Parisian hotel for no good reason at all.  I suppose this review has two minor SPOILERS, but really the plot was so secondary or rather so superfluous to the play that it hardly counts (and anyone should be able to see the second spoiler a mile away).  Anyway, after their son vanishes in Paris, the mother (Mrs. Sing -- not Singh as I thought) decamps to Cannes in a vain effort to befriend Mrs. Oddi, who has also abandoned her family. 

I disliked the sets (made to look like everything was made from white cardboard).  I wasn't crazy about the costumes, other than the white and black outfits of Mrs. Oddi, which were somewhat chic. I really disliked Suburban Beast's ethos of encouraging people to live-tweet their shows.  I know there are a few companies that think they will reel in the Millennials using this strategy, but I find it rude and counter-productive, and if this in fact is their approach, I won't be going to any more of their productions.  Actually having taking a closer look at their website, I don't think I will ever go back to see another Suburban Beast show.  It's just so not what I am interested in.

I actually came pretty close to leaving at intermission, but there were two moments that were in the second half that were pretty good.  First, there was this old man who talked about how he used to dance when he was happy and yet he didn't like being observed while dancing, so his friends gradually drifted away.  This was truly funny.  I also thought that -- SPOILER -- when the lost boy turns up he has an interesting monologue.  It didn't make up for the overall negative feelings I have about this play, but I guess I might as well focus on the few things that I did find tolerable.  Had I known how it played itself out, I think I would have sat this one out, but at least I gave it a shot.  (I do expect to enjoy The Object Lesson next week much, much more.)

Also, I did appreciate the tea & conversation they had before the show where Matthew Sergi and a couple of other Toronto theatre types discussed the different between mainstream and alternative theatre.  I found it interesting that this Fringe author really felt that the alternative theatre was just too text-bound and that they didn't do enough interdisciplinary work with video or perhaps puppets.  This sounds a lot like the argument from the guy who just took over at Canadian Stage, but I didn't really buy it from him either.  This is a tradition that goes back 2000 years, and we are supposed to ditch it all in favour of flavour-of-the-month quasi-theatre?  I realize this is an exaggeration of the position, but I find it absurd to argue that classically organized, text-based theatre (with actual plots and organically-whole characters with believable dialogue) is somehow pass√©.   I don't accept this premise (and not simply because I write plays that are classically constructed).  But basically I don't particularly want to support companies moving in this direction, though I may see their productions from time to time if they are doing something that catches my attention (and they haven't completely abandoned narrative).  That's probably all I really have to say on this topic.

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