Patrick Barlow finds rich texture in the holiday classic
From a certain angle, A Christmas Carol is a story about storytelling. After all, the ghosts make Scrooge listen to stories about his own life and the lives of the people around him, and when he finally wakes up on Christmas morning, he’s relieved he can rewrite the tales that upset him most. As a changed man, he wants to create new stories that people can tell about him after he’s gone.
This aspect of the Charles Dickens classic is the driving force behind playwright Patrick Barlow’s new adaptation, which is playing through early January at Theatre at St. Clements. The entire show is performed by five actors, most of whom play multiple roles. Every time they switch characters, we’re reminded that we’re watching a live story unfolding in front of us. Certain characters, like Tiny Tim, are even portrayed by puppets, which only underscores the fact that A Christmas Carol is a fantastical tale, not a slice of life.
Plus, Barlow’s script ends with a revelation that makes Scrooge himself realize he’s in a play. It would be unfair to spoil what happens, but suffice it to say that in this production, it’s actually quite liberating to realize we’re in a theatre and that most of us understand our lives as dramas in which we’re the main characters.
For Barlow, this is familiar ground. His best-known work, a Tony Award-winning adaptation of The 39 Steps, also highlights the nature of the theatre, since it has four actors create an entire world with simple props and various accents. “I use the theatre as a metaphor in nearly every play I write,” he says. “It actually makes me laugh when I see a play that ignores the fact that there’s an audience watching. Why not acknowledge there’s a story? This is my own opinion, of course, but stories are what can guide our lives.” [Read more →]
November 26, 2013 No Comments
Inside the acrobatics of Monkey: Journey to the West
Who knew how difficult it was to find performers who can spin plates? That’s what director Chen Shi-Zheng discovered when he traveled to China to find 23 acrobats adept at traditional Chinese circus techniques. It took him half a year to track them down.
“A lot of people have abandoned training in these classic acts,” explains the New York-based director. That’s why he was so intent on incorporating the art form into Monkey: Journey to the West, the opening production for the 2013 Lincoln Center Festival.
“I wanted to give a spotlight on this dying tradition,” Chen says. “I want the people who are practicing, especially young people, to value what they do. In China, it’s very unappreciated.”
July 10, 2013 No Comments
Talking with the team behind Spring Fling
When you ask six playwrights to write short plays on the theme “the morning after,” what do you get? A stage full of mermaids, Amish teenagers, soccer dads, women’s libbers, dirty dishes, and broken hearts.
I was lucky enough to be included as one of the playwrights in F*It Club’s 3rd annual Spring Fling, a short play festival that runs through Sunday at the Medicine Show on West 52nd Street. Since creating the festival was such a wild ride, I sat down with my collaborators to discuss the challenges and joys of mounting a fast-paced DIY production.
April 9, 2013 No Comments
Nellie McKay adds zip to Bill Irwin’s “Old Hats”
Nellie McKay’s limbs might not be as nimble as those of Bill Irwin and David Shiner. (Whose are?) But her ukulele-strumming and piano-playing fingers, to say nothing of her deceptively barbed tongue, get every bit as much of a workout in the two men’s long-awaited reunion, Old Hats.
Irwin and Shiner shot to tandem fame in Fool Moon, which reached Broadway three separate times in the 1990s. That piece featured the old-timey musical shenanigans of the Red Clay Ramblers, and it is roughly this role that McKay and her four-piece band play in Old Hats, now at the Signature Center. When she’s not providing pastiche support for the two men as they cavort through everything from an inept magic act to a raucous political debate to a beloved Fool Moon routine, she herself takes center stage, singing a variety of wickedly witty ditties that suggest the Great American Songbook with a few shivs tossed in.
March 7, 2013 No Comments
How “Bunnicula” became family-friendly fabulousness
Are you surprised that Charles Busch has adapted the beloved children’s book Bunnicula into a family-friendly musical? That’s okay. He’s a little surprised, too.
Now at the DR2 Theatre in a production from TheatreworksUSA, the show follows Chester and Harold, a cat and dog who believe their human owners have adopted a vampire bunny. After all, something is draining the juice out of the vegetables every night, and Bunnicula was found at a movie theatre showing a vampire flick. Based on this evidence, Chester and Harold decide to save their family from an adorable monster.
February 22, 2013 2 Comments