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Which Shows Will You See More Than Once?

Lily Rabe in "Merchant of Venice"

Lily Rabe in  The Merchant of Venice

Welcome to Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get super enthusiastic about things.

This week, Stages editor Mark Blankenship geeks out (via Gchat) with Sarah D. Bunting,  East Coast Editor at Previously.TV.

Today’s Topic: Why do we want to see certain shows more than once?

Mark Blankenship: So Sarah… a few days ago, you made a passing comment about actors that I found really intriguing. Not to put you on the spot, but would you mind flawlessly recreating that thought as though it’s just occurring to you now?

Sarah D. Bunting: No problem whatsoever, Mark! My esteemed spouse was recently in a play, and after opening night, we were discussing the feel of the house on opening night and what it’s like for the company the SECOND night of a production. (In my experience, everyone has an adrenaline dip, and you have the highest incidence of mistakes and missed cues.) We talked about how sometimes a small house with a loud laugher is better than a full house that isn’t sure they’re “with” the play. I’m fascinated by that sort of thing, so I was wishing that we had a literary sub-genre of diaries kept by members of long-running shows, tracking the changes in the house, in the performances, in how outside events/weather seemed to affect the mood of a performance, etc.

I was thinking in particular of Linda Emond, who played Linda Loman in the recent Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Mark: Oh, interesting! What made you think of her as a potential “performance diarist?”

Sarah: It’s her performance that stuck with me from that production. She and Finn Wittrock as Happy both brought something new and riveting to the conceptions of the characters. Plus, Emond is a Law & Order day player of long standing and has been around, so I think she’d have the vocabulary for the project, as well as the experience.

Mark: I love this idea. It’s not unlike the daily stage manager’s report, but filtered through the experience of someone who’s on stage. This sort of thing really fascinates me… the idea of being with a show for weeks and weeks or even years and years.

Sarah: Yes. And the way data would reveal themselves after a certain number of months. And actors are very attuned to this kind of thing.

Mark: I know, for instance, that in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, there’s now an entire spit-take scene that didn’t exist when the show opened. It developed slowly over time.

Sarah: My husband noticed a difference after two performances of his play, just because the curtain moved from 7 to 9. Several years ago, my own play had to be revised because an actor was stuck in traffic. We left the change in; it worked better.

Mark: Haha! Really? Was she late for a rehearsal or a performance?

Sarah: Performance! She was stuck on a bus thanks to an accident in the Lincoln Tunnel. We flipped her monologue with someone else’s and it seemed to flow better, so we left it.

Mark: That’s incredible. And that story speaks to something larger about this idea. What we’re getting at, I think, is something about how alluring the “liveness” of theatre can be. How it’s never going to be the same, even when the script is frozen.

Sarah: Yes! My husband’s fake sneeze got a little too real for the front row the other night, and one guy said, audibly, “Live theatre!”

Mark: He actually sneezed on the guy?

Sarah: There was a blob.

Mark: Hahaha! Gross!

Sarah: And yet: unique! It won’t happen again, because now Dan will be sure not to hit the civilians when he sneezes. [Read more →]

July 28, 2014   1 Comment

Hamlet’s Mother Is a Sexy Beast

Pamela J. Gray & David Barlow

Pamela J. Gray & David Barlow

Potomac Theatre Project embraces the mania in Howard Barker’s play

When you’re standing next to Hamlet, fondling his mother’s underwear, there’s really no point in being restrained. Or at least not according to Richard Romagnoli, who directed that lascivious scene for Potomac Theatre Project’s production of Gertrude — The Cry.

Now at Atlantic Stage 2, Romagnoli’s staging of Howard Barker’s play seethes with sexuality and menace. Cribbing wildly from Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, the script begins with Gertrude convincing Claudius to poison her husband (Hamlet’s father), and from there it follows her sexual and intellectual rampage through her kingdom. Will she continue sleeping with Claudius even after she beds Albert, a visiting duke? Absolutely. But she’ll also grapple with her body and the people who want to control it, whether they’re jealous lovers or her morose son Hamlet, who fixates on punishing her for her supposed sins.

If that sounds morally complicated, well… of course it is. And Barker’s style makes it impossible to simplify his ideas. The second the play seems like a heavy-hearted lament, for instance, he’ll add a bawdy burst of humor about someone’s genitals. “His tones changes with virtually every other line, and that’s one thing I really enjoy about Howard’s work,” Romagnoli says. “He leads you on a certain trail of pathos or comedy, then undercuts it almost instantly. It’s wonderful to have to deal with those things and create realities for them, as opposed to something traditionally ‘realistic.’” [Read more →]

July 25, 2014   No Comments

How Do You Perform a Stephen Adly Guirgis Play?

Stephen McKinley Henderson & Ray Anthony Thomas

Stephen McKinley Henderson & Ray Anthony Thomas

Ray Anthony Thomas tackles the gruff poetry of Between Riverside and Crazy

Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles

There are so many pronouncements and jokes and wild, thundering feelings in Between Riverside and Crazy that you may not think about the poetry until you leave the theatre and catch your breath.

The latest from Stephen Adly Guirgis, now in its world premiere at Atlantic Theater Company, the play follows Pops (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a recently widowed police officer who’s suing the department, trying to motivate his ex-convict son, and nursing a drink any chance he can get. Life hasn’t licked him, though, and eventually, he starts shedding the memories, the people, and the dark private thoughts that have pinned him down.

We especially feel his fire when he speaks. Whether he’s scolding his son Junior (Ray Anthony Thomas), telling cop stories, or just making a salty observation about church ladies who eat too much, he delivers beautifully sculpted speeches. Yes, they’re peppered with curse words and slang, but their artistry is easy to hear.

It’s like that with all the characters. Guirgis, whose earlier plays include The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and The Motherf—er With the Hat, is well known for giving powerful voices to even the most disenfranchised people.

“The characters live in a poetic place, even though they’re not poets,” says Thomas. “The way they express their lives is almost musical, and when we were in rehearsal, all of us were just trying to find that common musical language.” [Read more →]

July 21, 2014   No Comments

The Sweetest Crazy Clown

Jessica Frey

Jessica Frey

The woman behind Clown Bar‘s twisted ingenue

Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles

Considering all the gunfights and sex and dirty jokes in their show, you wouldn’t think anyone in Clown Bar would base their performance on It’s a Wonderful Life. But that’s one reason this raucous play has become such a downtown hit. It never met a vintage reference it couldn’t use.

Written by Adam Szymkowicz and presented by Pipeline Theatre Company, the show is a noir parody about the gangster underworld of professional clowns. Dressed in full makeup, the hardboiled characters gather at their seedy local watering hole, pausing between songs and jokes to make threats, run rackets, and occasionally kill each other. Even Happy, the local cop who’s trying to clean up the scene, is a former gangster clown, and there’s no guarantee that the life, the power, and the dangerous dames won’t pull him back in.

But like any good noir, Clown Bar has an angel among the devils. Or at least, she’s about as angelic as it gets with this twisted show, which plays on Saturday nights at The Box. Her name is Petunia, and even though she’s a prostitute with a foul mouth, she’s still a swell dame.

That’s why actress Jessica Frey’s performance is inspired by It’s a Wonderful Life—specifically Gloria Grahame’s turn as flirty bombshell Violet Bick. “I was trying to use the style of that era as a baseline, and then pump it up,” she says, adding that even though Petunia is a hooker, she’s not a hopeless case. “She’s so sweet, and she’s just trying to do her best by everybody. I think that makes her very endearing. It potentially makes her the audience’s ally in the show.”

Frey adds, “In her mind, this clown bar is nothing seedy. It’s nothing disgusting. She’s trying to spin horrible things that have happened to her into positive things. She makes light of her STDs. She makes light of being a prostitute. She has to remain positive, or the audience won’t root for her as much.”

Not that Frey has always been the good clown. Last year, when the play had its first successful run, she was cast as Popo, a sociopathic enforcer. But when Kelley Rae O’Donnell, the original Petunia, couldn’t return to the role, Frey changed characters. “I have such respect for Kelley, and her performance was intimidating from the beginning,” she says. “I couldn’t get it out of my head, and during the first couple of weeks of rehearsal, I was thinking to myself, ‘I’ve made a horrible mistake!’ [Read more →]

July 8, 2014   No Comments

VIDEO: Meet Pilobolus

From time to time, TDF Stages will highlight exciting Off and Off-Off Broadway theatre companies with exclusive “getting to know you” videos. Today, we’re featuring Pilobolus, a dance-theatre company that strives to do the impossible.

Pilobolus’ summer season at the Joyce will run from July 15 — August 10.

This video features company dancers Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Eriko Jimbo, Jordan Kriston, and Mike Tyus, as well as executive producer Itamar Kubovy and associate artistic director Renee Jaworski.

Meet more theatres!

This video was directed by Mark Blankenship, TDF’s online content editor, and shot and edited by Nicholas Guldner.

July 7, 2014   4 Comments