Summertime, and the bloggin' is slow - Plays

Happy Labor Day, readers! With the end of this weekend comes the unofficial close of summer 2012 and the beginning of fall on Broadway. What better time to close out our theatrical expeditions of the past month? Check out the plays we've seen recently below, and head over to a separate post to read about our musical ventures. (Notes on Ghost's closing night can be found here.)

- For those of you who haven't seen Peter and the Starcatcher yet/since Christian Borle's departure, I shake my fist at you. While I truly do believe that the show itself is strong enough to stand on its own two feet, Matthew Saldivar is doing some great work over at the Brooks Atkinson. His choices as Black Stache are 100% different than Borle's - I wonder if Saldivar ever chose to watch Borle's performance in the show or not - and he is still hilarious. There wasn't a second where I found myself comparing the two actors. The pirate leader is now a bit more macho and cartoon-y, with a little Groucho Marx and Arnold Schwarzenegger thrown in for good measure. It really was fascinating to experience the show without its "star" for the first time, to hear different lines get louder laughs than they had in the past, and to see the audience fall into the world created by Rick Elice, Roger Rees, and Alex Timbers just as they have every time I've returned to the show.

- I feel compelled to mention Bullet for Adolf because of how much I disliked it. The play, running at New World Stages, was written by real-life friends Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman; according to the show's website, its characters are "based on real people, though the events depicted are fiction and the names have been changed." With that, the audience is inevitably supposed to wonder just how autobiographical the story of the play is, although I have to admit that I didn't care much one way or the other. There are some plays where something happens - great! - and some plays where people sit around in a room and talk - also great! In my opinion, Bullet for Adolf fell somewhere between the two, and as a result had absolutely no point whatsoever to make. I didn't identify or sympathize with any of the characters, I didn't find any of the jokes to be particularly funny, and while the inter-scene bursts of 80s music and news footage were the most entertaining parts of the afternoon for me, they were extremely superfluous, even if their purpose was to set the scene. Sorry, Woody...better luck next time.

- Not having known anything at all about Judy Garland's life prior to seeing End of the Rainbow, I'm not sure how I felt about the play itself. I found the writing to be pretty standard, and I'd be curious to know how Garland aficionados, or people who knew her, felt about the show's depiction of the legend. But the real reason to see this play, as I expected, was Tracie Bennett. As with her other British counterparts that I've seen on stage (Mark Rylance and Tom Edden come to mind), her performance was very technical as far as inhabiting and recreating Judy's physicality and mannerisms, but not at the expense of creating a character as well. I thought her most impressive moments were in the vulnerability she displayed in the transitions between being high and sober. What a sad story, and I think that's where my main reservation about the show lies - I wasn't sure if I was supposed to leave the theater feeling somber for a talented woman worn down by show biz, or electric at just having seen a recreation of her last major concert series, "The Talk of the Town" in London.

- Richard III, a production of the Mobile Shakespeare Unit at the Public Theater, was my first exposure to the play. As per usual for Shakespeare that I'm unfamiliar with, I lost track of several characters halfway through the ninety-minute condensed version of the play, although the cuts made to fit the story into an hour and a half may have contributed to that confusion. Other than that, we loved the theater-in-the-round concept, as well as the simple, modern staging and the cheat sheet (literally, a bed sheet) used to help the audience keep track of which royalty had been killed off.

- There are a million and one puns I could make about seeing Cock on a Sunday afternoon. Insert whichever you prefer here. I loved this piece of theater, otherwise known as The Cockfight Play. The idea of being contained in a tiny theater, in-the-round, the audience seated in bleacher-style seating, watching three characters peck at each other while trying to figure out their relationships, was absolutely captivating and REALLY well-written and acted. The premise: John is in a relationship with M (a guy), but when they decide to take a break, John falls in love with W (a gal). In the end, it's not who you love, but why you love, and Mike Bartlett's script, paired with honest and spirited performances from Cory Michael Smith, Jason Butler Harner and Amanda Quaid, did the topic justice.

- One Man, Two Guvnors closes tomorrow, and if you didn't see it, I'm truly sorry. After seeing it pre-Tonys, I knew I had to make a return visit before its run at the Music Box ended. I wasn't sure if I'd find the physical comedy and improv bits as funny the second time around, but to be quite honest, I think I laughed harder this time than I did in June. I read a quote once that talked about it being harder and more exhausting to maintain a comedy night after night at its highest level than it is a drama, and I totally believe that to be true, so extra kudos to the funniest cast on Broadway for making me sweat from laughing so hard. Besides the outrageous comedic performances from, among others, Tom Edden and Daniel Rigby, what impressed me the most this time around was the way leading man James Corden had the audience eating from the palm of his hand. Ben Brantley compared Mr. Corden's mischievous grin to "butter melting in a skillet over a low flame," a metaphor I'm in love with for its accuracy, and amazingly, his connection with the audience translated into the (short-lived) sad moments in the play, when *SPOILER* Stanley and Rachel each think the other has died. The crowd grew so quiet you could've heard a pin drop - until the farce was revealed, and the level of laughter rose up once again.

- Approximately eight years after the rest of the theatrical world, I finally saw War Horse, and spent the show with my jaw on the floor from the brilliant creation and use of puppetry in the production at Lincoln Center Theater. It certainly helped that my seat was in the front row, but watching the puppets and puppeteers at work, bringing Joey and his horse counterparts to life, was something else. I cannot conceive the hours of research and practice that must have gone into creating something so technical and so lifelike. That's pretty much how I felt about the production as a whole as well. Design-wise, it seemed very minimal, but was actually extremely detailed and technical...but because the tech was all executed in service of the story, the complexity evaporated, AS IT SHOULD. I also loved the poetry that wove its way into the staging - the way in which the "young Joey" puppet split apart and fell back as the "grown-up Joey" puppet came charging forward, and the images of red flowers growing on the scrim of the stage during one of the battle scenes, which literally symbolized seeping blood, but also invited reference to the poppies in John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Field."

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