Visiting the Iniquity of the Father Upon the Audience

Carcass is a play about Jews yelling at each other.  Avrush (David Greenspan) yells at his stepdaughter Reyz’l (Rebekah Levin) for being like her “shrew” mother Brayne (Kathryn Rossetter).  Reyz’l yells at her stepbrother Mend’l (Alvin Keith) for smelling like animal hides.  And Brayne yells at Avrush for being a drunk.  It’s enough to drive Abe Foxman to antisemitism. Continue reading “Visiting the Iniquity of the Father Upon the Audience”

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A Case of Ridiculous Egotism

Christopher Hitchens once quipped, “everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” This sentiment is the thrust of George Kelly’s 1931 comedy Philip Goes Forth, in which the eponymous Philip (Bernardo Cubría), a young man fueled by vanity and a desire to disprove his detractors, has decided to forsake a career in the family business in favor of playwriting. His father’s fury at this plan only convinces Philip of its merits, and despite attempts by his kindly aunt Mrs. Randolph (Christine Toy Johnson) to deflate his swollen ego, Philip decamps to New York. The big city and its bohemian denizens challenge Philip’s ideas of artistic pursuit. Though initially convinced that his inclination towards happy endings is a mark of his audacity, Philip finds that real courage comes from exploiting life’s unhappier moments for the sake of art. Continue reading “A Case of Ridiculous Egotism”

Chasing the Dragon

The Blue Dragon is a melodrama devoid of drama.  Which is odd, since a plot description would suggest otherwise: Claire (Marie Michaud), a French Canadian whose alcoholism has prevented her from adopting in her native country, flies to China in order to buy a baby.  When that fails, she finds hope in an old friend, Pierre (Robert Lepage), an art handler who may have impregnated his local mistress and client Xiao Ling (Tai Wei Foo); a deliberately ambiguous ending in an airport suggests that any combination of these three could walk away the de facto parents of this child.  It’s enough to make Douglas Sirk drool, and yet the action largely consists of characters standing in the rain, unpacking luggage, or performing rather unimpressive dances.  Every moment is imbued with a heaviness that is never earned—this is essentially a parade of quiet but histrionic scenes without any of the context that would clarify or justify their presence in The Blue Dragon.  “If a picture is worth a thousand words,” says Pierre in his embarrassing, introductory monologue, “it can be said in China that a word is worth a thousand pictures.”  And yet I would have been satisfied if playwrights Ms. Michaud and Mr. Lepage had given us even one of these allegedly cornucopian words or pictures. Continue reading “Chasing the Dragon”

A Space Alien with Claws and Teeth and a Dripping Mandible

With the possible exception of David Lynch, Joel and Ethan Coen are the greatest working American filmmakers.  They breathe and sweat cinema.  As a result, their movies bestow upon their audiences a clear and contagious love of the medium, and nobody since Stanley Kubrick has been so successful in combining high and lowbrow.  Which makes it odd that Ethan Coen has pursued an ancillary career in playwriting.  The form of filmmaking is so embedded in him that surely he could not adapt to the stage—that is what makes him so great in the first place: he is the movies, and therefore cannot also be the theater.  True, he has dabbled in other media.  He has written an amusing but forgettable collection of short stories, Gates of Eden, two books of poetry, and a handful of skits.  But nothing comparable to, say, Fargo or A Serious Man. Continue reading “A Space Alien with Claws and Teeth and a Dripping Mandible”

C’est la Vie, Say the Old Folks

George Bernard Shaw is at his best when he doesn’t take his social mission too seriously, when he is upending gender and class norms like a merry prankster instead of a dogmatic moralist.  Thus, a line like, “Women have to unlearn the false good manners of their slavery before they acquire the genuine good manners of their freedom,” reaches much more sympathetic ears in the context of a farce than in that of soapbox realism.  The Pearl Theatre seems to know this well—two years ago, they produced a delightful Philanderer and now they are opening their thirtieth season with an equally delightful You Never Can Tell. Continue reading “C’est la Vie, Say the Old Folks”

Three Actors in Search of a Director

If we’ve learned anything from director Will Detlefsen, it’s that Sarah Kane’s Blasted should be done very, very well or not at all.  This is a play that hits us so many times over the head that we should leave the theater weak kneed and punch drunk.  But when, early on, Ian (Jason de Beer) rapes an unconscious Cate (Marié Botha) while holding a gun to her head, he conspicuously leaves his pants on and unzipped.  And while we should be thinking, “He isn’t really doing that,” we are instead thinking, “He isn’t really doing that.”  Blasted demands a lot from its actors, but more importantly it requires a director who is willing to make those demands.  It lives and dies based on these moments—Cate’s rape is really just a overture to the kind of depravity we will witness—so when they begin in failure the whole work sags.  Even an average production of Blasted, it seems, will play as juvenile if it can’t play as shocking; when we are not frozen in disbelief, Kane’s devastating depiction of humanity seems nasty simply for the purpose of being nasty, like the work of an angry fourteen-year-old who writes about rape simply to offend those who are nervous around the word rape. Continue reading “Three Actors in Search of a Director”