Saturday, March 4, 2017

Local theatre updates (March 2017)

I mentioned this already, but Seven Siblings is doing a staged reading of Marisol.  It is tonight at 10 pm.  If they decide to do a full production next year, I'll see it.  I think this is a pretty incredible play, but I've seen it enough times (3) that I don't need to see a staged reading.  But I would encourage anyone interested to check it out.  More info here (and you can click through for tickets).

I see that in May, Seven Siblings will be doing Albee's The Play About the Baby.  While I still have my reservations about the play (seeing it as a recycling of themes from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf), I think I'll go this time around.

I saw A Streetcar Named Desire (I guess at the tail end of Feb.) in The Box.  At first, I thought it was in the same space where I saw Pinter's Old Times, but it is actually around the corner and in the back.

This is truly indy theatre in its raw form.  I don't even know how people found out about the show (most seats were full) other than knowing the actors.  I only knew because I heard the actor playing Mitch pitch the show at Sing-for-Your-Supper.  I thought they did a fine job, though it is always hard to escape the shadow of the movie.  (I'm not sure why this is the case (for me) with Streetcar and not Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  They also had knockout casts for Night of the Iguana and Sweet Bird of Youth, but I have to admit I haven't seen those films.)  I thought the ultra-intimate space made it possible for the actor playing Mitch to do a really restrained performance - his voice often not much above a whisper as he struggled with his desire for Blanche and his belief that she was unclean.  Usually when I go to these plays, I think, maybe I could put on this show or that show, but in this case, I didn't much care for The Box.  It felt so cramped that I don't really think I'll go back.  Never say never though.

I will also report back on Posner's Stupid F*cking Bird, which is heavily inspired by (or rather reworks) Chekhov's The Seagull.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I will say that Posner's particular mix of homage and parody works a bit better in his follow-up effort, Life Sucks, which does the same thing to Uncle Vanya.  I thought I had blogged about Life Sucks, but apparently not, perhaps because I saw it in the last week or two it ran at Lookingglass in Chicago.  In any case, Stupid F*cking Bird runs through March 19, so there is still quite a bit of time to catch it.

As upsetting as it is that the Storefront Theatre closed, perhaps for this particular play, this pop-up setting works better.  The play starts at the back of a closed golf store, and the audience sits in office chairs on astroturf and the walls are painted to look like a bucolic golf course, which is almost the perfect setting for the first part of play where Konstantin (here named Conrad) is putting on an experimental play on the outdoor stage that his mother (a famous actress) had built on her estate.  She doesn't like it naturally, which leads to his big outburst.

Then we moved our chairs to a side room for a round of intimate character studies in the kitchen.  (I don't know if this will be an issue every night, but there was a party of some sort on the floor above and the music leaked in.  It was a bit distracting, but not fatal, given the postmodern nature of the play.)  Finally, we moved the chairs one last time to the front of the store for the big finale.

Because this is an update of Chekhov's plays, Posner basically can cut to the chase with characters just saying upfront that they are unhappy about their entanglements and then sort of talk about what is subtext (in Chekhov) directly.  That allows more time to explore whether everyone is unhappy in the same way, or for the doctor to say that most of the time he doesn't "feel" anything but acts a certain way because it is expected.  The younger generation act much like younger Millennials are expected to (though only Nina spends much time on her phone).  There is a particularly amusing part where Posner takes Conrad chasing after Nina (who runs off after getting a text, probably from Trigorin) but then running away from Masha (who keeps scooting next to him).  Masha is in turn pursued by Medvedenko (here just called Dev).  They run through this physical comedy two or even three times, completely silently.  This was a really clever deconstruction of the original.  Another major highlight was just how well Masha could sing her songs about pain (one of the lines ran something like "Life is an apple, rotten down to the core."), but she just kept doing this hand-check thing and saying "Don't judge," trying to forestall any criticism (essentially having it both ways as some Millennials try to do). She was practically channeling Aubrey Plaza's Parks and Recreation character at this point.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, this is a modern update with Posner being very upfront about the artifice of the theatre, and several times Conrad riffs on the fact that we are just seeing a play (in a pop-up space no less), and that he wants a new form of theatre that will be life-changing, since the theatre as it exists today mostly serves seniors and homosexual men and a handful of people who were in a college play (harsh but true!).  There is some breaking of the fourth wall, particularly the bit where the actor playing Conrad asks the audience what he should do to win back Nina's heart (and the play won't go on until there is some feedback and his improvised response).  He was particularly amusing when someone said he needed to get a hat just like Trigorin's and Conrad said, yes, it made him look like he was so smart his brains were coming out the back of his head.  I contributed "tattoo" (like get a tattoo of her name or her face), and he liked that suggestion and played with it for a while.  The issue is that when the audience gets too comfortable with breaking the fourth wall, then it is hard to rein this back.  Interestingly, this was one of the few times that they really broke that wall, whereas there were several times it happened during Life Sucks.*  I do wonder if that may limit the appeal, since this is very much a play aimed at people who are deeply immersed in theatre.  So I think it works very well in Chicago and Toronto and New York and a few other places.  On the other hand, a lot of theatres are going to be doing Stupid F*cking Bird this season and next and a handful will be doing Life Sucks, so maybe Posner is really onto something.  I'm glad I managed to see it, and I think anyone who has sat through one too many productions of The Seagull will want to check it out.

I have to sit down and order a few more tickets for this month.  In addition to the Posner play, Wolf Manor is doing a somewhat experimental version of Three Sisters.  There is also Radiant Vermin (in Kensington Market), The Orange Dot (at Crow's Theatre), Morris Panych's 7 Stories (at Hart House) and Proof at Red Sandcastle.  (I also should try to squeeze in The Millennial Malcontent at Tarragon, though it does stretch into early April.)  What a great month for theatre in Toronto!

* I wonder if I wrote it in my journal, but Life Sucks ends with the Sonya character saying that she is so unhappy (because the doctor won't love her or really even consider her someone he would date) and then she asks the audience if Life Sucks.  Most people, particularly the seniors in the front row, say no, and she asked why.  The last answer was something like You go on, and there is always tomorrow with all its possibilities.  It was more poetic and moving than that though.  They ended the play right there, and I can't imagine anything more radical than giving an audience member the last word.  That really takes nerve.

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