Now That’s Not Funny

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Last week Friday, before the revival of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” had opened, it was announced that David Cromer’s production of William Inge’s “Picnic” will head to Broadway next fall. “Picnic” was seen last year at Writer’s Theatre in Glencoe, and since Cromer seems to be the wunderkind of theater at the moment, I was very excited for this.

Then, Sunday night, “Brighton Beach Memoirs” opened on Broadway to fairly positive reviews. I was very pleased to see this since I wanted to go see both “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Broadway Bound” when my father and I eventually get around to going to New York since I’ve been a huge fan of Neil Simon’s comedies since I was a preteen and the idea of the plays being directed in a manner that seemed more realistic made me really excited.

But then last night, at intermission for “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety,” I was checking my Blackberry when I saw, on Twitter, that “Brighton Beach Memoirs” had put up a closing notice for Sunday and that “Broadway Bound” was cancelled.

I was deeply saddened and shocked by this news. (To be honest, I had to refrain from yelling “NO!” at the top of my lungs, which was my gut reaction.) For starters, the show had just opened and it had opened to fairly positive reviews. I would like to think that the show might’ve picked up some steam after the reviews–although with the way that everyone talks about the death of the critic’s influence, I’m crazy to be thinking of such a thing.

Still, I’m shocked that this show was not doing well commercially. Neil Simon is not an unknown playwright, David Cromer is not a nobody director, Laurie Metcalf is in the cast. I’d like to think that those might draw in audiences, but evidently they didn’t.

I really can’t say much about the play because I never got to and won’t be able to see it. But, there are other bloggers that have seen the show and have some terrific thoughts on the premature closing of this show. (I highly recommend you read these two posts from Esther at Gratuitous Violins.)

The biggest question that is looming in my mind with this whole matter is what this will do to the planned revival of “Picnic.” I would have to say that William Inge and “Picnic” are not as well known as Neil Simon and “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” so I wonder if that revival is going to go on and whether or not producers will do something like put big stars in it. I hope it does go on and it is successful because…well, I think that it is a production that should happen go to Broadway.

Kabam! Pow! Slam!

Friday night, I went and saw The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety at the Biograph Theatre, which is being done by Victory Gardens Theatre in association with Teatro Vista Theatre. Kristoffer Diaz’s new play, which is directed by Edward Torres, is the only time I will ever enjoy watching men in spandex.

The play focuses primarily on the world of professional wrestling with T.H.E. wrestling, who’s champion is Chad Diety (Kamal Angelo Bolden). Diaz’s play is narrated by Macedonio Guerra (Desmin Borges, who is lively and entertaining onstage), who is known more commonly as “Mace.” Macedonio grew up in the Bronx, watching wrestling with his brothers, and has a personal connection with the “sport.” However, he is a mid-level wrestler and explains to the audience that he is the man that makes Chad Diety look good.

But then, Macedonio’s brothers find a talented Indian man in Brooklyn named Vigneshwar Paduar (Usman Ally), and Mace recruits him to join T.H.E–if you’re curious, the acronym is pronounced the same way as in the word “the.” To make money, Everett K. Olson (James Krag), the man behind T.H.E., decides that Vigneshwar Paduar will be a Middle Eastern terrorist because Olson doesn’t really know the difference between an Indian and a Pakistani. He becomes The Fundamentalist, who’s signature move is first called the Kabbalah Koran Kick before becoming the Sleeper Cell. Mace becomes Che Chavez Castro, a Mexican who comes here for the American dream, only to find he hates it. And the two begin to fight other opponents in the ring such as Billy Heartland and Old Glory (Christian Litke plays both roles) in a metaphor for the American fear of being taken over by terrorists and Mexicans.

Professional wrestling is a topic that I know little about because it is senselessly loud and overly theatrical without having a point. The overt theatrical elements are key in this play; the title itself refers to the entrance of Chad Diety into the ring, which, in the production, involves Bolden walking up and down the aisle to blaring hip-hop music while throwing money in the air. And while Mace liked the more naturalistic, less dramatic wrestling when he was a boy in the Bronx, he is in a profession where he has to run around in a red and yellow sombrerro, even though he himself is Puerto Rican.

The play is filled with stereotypes of all of the characters, which skewers our views of race and provides insight into our views. Olson is the rich white man who has someone to feed steak to his dog; everything to him is a matter of money. Deity makes assumptions about Guerra and Paduar because of their ethnicities and the other two make assumptions about the other characters because of their ethnicities. The show features strong language and the racial views that the characters have are offensive–at least, they were to the couple seated next to me. But by giving a played up version of our views on race, it actually provides a mirror to what we think. It is mentioned in the play that wrestling is a metaphor and in the world of Diaz’s play, this is certainly true.

The play also features some terrific fight scenes, directed by David Woolley, both in and out of the ring. Which helps make the show work very well; a play about professional wrestling wouldn’t be very good if there were poorly done fight scenes.

I really wish I had seen this show earlier in its run, which concludes on Sunday. You don’t find plays that look at race and professional wrestling in such a well done manner that even uptight theatergoers like me leave the theater absolutely excited by what they have seen.

Things That Should Not Exist: Musical Theater Edition

This post could also be entitled, “If any atheists are looking for good arguments as to why there is no supreme being, I have one.”

If you’re not familiar Dan Goggin’s musical “Nunsense,” then I’ll fill you in. The first “Nunsense” musical is about a group of nuns in Hoboken that put on a variety show to be able to raise money to bury their dead sisters. The audience for the musical, as in the audience in the theater, is also the audience for the variety show, and there are also some scenes involving an audience quiz and bingo.

Now, I hope you’ve noticed that I used the word first in that previous sentence when referring to “Nunsense.” That’s because there are multiple sequels to “Nunsense.” There is “Nunsense 2,” “Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree,” “Nuncrackers,” “Meshuggah-Nuns,” “Nunsations: The Nunsense Vegas Revue.” There’s also “Nunsense A-Men,” which is apparently the original show, but the nuns are men in drag. If you would like summaries of the sequels, then I suggest looking at Wikipedia, since it will do a better job of explaining than I will.

Wednesday, Theatermania.com reported that Dan Goggin is going to direct a new “Nunsense” musical at the Fireside Theatre in Minnesota. This will be entitled “Nunset Boulevard: The Nunsense Hollywood Bowl Show.”

I understand that Goggin might want audiences to enjoy in the success of the nuns, but “Nunset Boulevard” will be the sixth show. And just because a show is successful shouldn’t mean that you should make or keep making sequels.

I don’t think that the first musical is really good. The plot is horribly contrived and none of the numbers are memorable. But, evidently, people do think that it is good because the “Nunsense” musicals keep getting done.

But, really, Dan Goggin, could you stop after “Nunset Boulevard”? Please?

“Calls to Blood” is Moving Up

According to Chris Jones at the Tribune, The New Colony’s “Calls to Blood” is transferring to the Royal George Theatre’s cabaret space, which seats a larger number of people because it is selling that well.

This is very nice to hear since I thought that “Calls to Blood” was very good and my only real problem with the play was that it was a bit difficult to see the actors from where I was seated. I wonder how moving to a larger space will affect the play. Maybe I’ll venture to see it after it moves. But this is still very good to hear, especially since The New Colony is in its second season.

The Epic Failure of Borders

I am a bibliophile. I devour books, hundreds of them a year. (Although, a majority of those books are plays.) I have a large stack of books from the Chicago Public Library system that is sitting on top of the bookcase I brought from home to house the fraction of books that I own that I brought with me.

Because of my great enjoyment of reading, one of the first things I did after moving to Chicago was try to find good bookstores. So far, I can say that Seminary Co-Op Bookstore in Hyde Park is a great place for scholarly books and Unabridged Bookstore in East Lakeview has a very nice selection, in addition to carrying a Kurt Vonnegut novel that I haven’t read yet, which is a large feat since I am a huge fan of Vonnegut’s writing.

But sometimes, the nearest Borders will suffice.

For starters, going to Borders is much more convenient for me than going to Seminary Co-Op or Unabridged Bookstore. They have a large selection of magazines, so when I want to pick up the latest issue of American Theatre or Time Out Chicago or The New Republic, I can go there. I also happen to have a Borders reward card, which means that I get weekly discount coupons, in addition to a regular discount with my purchases. This came in handy when I went out and purchased a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook because I ended up paying considerably less for it than the list price is.

But Borders is also an epic failure of a bookstore.

Earlier this summer, Borders decided to start a new marketing scheme for teenagers called Borders Ink. What this means is that there are now gawdy cardboard chandeliers hanging from the ceilings of your friendly neighbourhood Borders. Why would Borders do this? Well, because teenage girls are really into that because of Twilight (*feigned interest*) and so now there’s the advent faux Goth culture. There’s also the fact that from a casual observation, teens are really into fantasy novels.

But this is more than just a teeth gritting marketing strategy. In addition to being able to buying young adult novels in the young adult fiction section, you can now buy Twilight tie-in merchandise and action figures for things I’ve never heard of and Pocky.

Yes, you can buy Japanese food that you can find at Jewel-Osco at a bookstore.

There’s also the inherent fact that Borders does tend to sell items that are not related to books. I’m not referring to the fact that they sell DVDs and CDs; I have no problems with that. I’m referring to the fact that you can buy all sort of stuff like Lego sets at Borders.

Sure, this new marketing strategy may work for Borders, but what about those who want to buy books?

On Wednesday, Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon was doing a reading at the Harold Washington Library Center. I wanted to go to this event and as soon as I got out of classes at 4:20, I dashed towards the Red Line to get to the Loop.

As I was on the train, I remembered that there was going to be a signing afterwards and I decided that with the extra money I had that I would go and buy a copy of Chabon’s latest book, Manhood for Amateurs. I got off at a stop and walked into Borders.

I looked at the table for new releases. I searched the area at the front of the store for the book because it is a new release from a notable author and therefore, reason would dictate that it should be there. I eventually turned to a clerk, who was mildly scared for some reason, and asked her where it would be located.

She looked on the computer and said, “We don’t have it. We might have a shipment coming in.”

I raised my eyebrows and thanked her, but still astonished by what she told me. They might have a shipment coming in. As I waited in line behind people that were waiting to purchase Twilight merchandise. How could a major chain store not carry the latest book by a Pulitzer Prize winning author. It’s not like I was looking for a book by a nobody—and, quite frankly, Chabon is more important than Stephenie Meyer in my book because he can actually write.

But that’s when it hit me. Borders seems to no longer be that much in the business of selling books, even though they are a bookseller. The advent of Borders Ink tells me otherwise, as does the table of Japanese stuff that is crowding the drama section at one Borders. All too often, writing has become more so about making money, getting the movie deal. Not telling a story, be it a true one or a fictional one. And the booksellers have to turn to selling items that are tie-ins with the film versions of books because that what people will probably buy.

(I should point out that I was able to buy a copy of the book in question prior to the reading. And, although I’m not finished with the book, it is very good.)

I’ll still go to Borders to buy magazines or maybe to buy a book to use those nice coupons. But maybe when I really want a book, the trek to Hyde Park or East Lakeview, which isn’t that much of a journey, but it seems like it as the weather gets colder, is worth traveling.

Bloody Hell

Last night, I was looking at the opening night calendar on TheatreinChicago.com There, I noticed that there are two productions of Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” opening in Chicago in the month of November. Not the Chicagoland area, mind you, the actual city. The first production opens on November 6 at the Greenhouse Theatre Center and is done by the Theatre School at DePaul University. The second production opens on November 21, after the Theatre School at DePaul University’s production closes, and is being done by Redtwist Theatre.

Now, I understand that not everyone will go to both productions. For example, I will be attending the production that the Theatre School at DePaul University is doing because I am going back to Iowa for six weeks on November 21. (Also, I don’t have to pay for tickets for the Theatre School at DePaul’s production.) Some people, might not go to that production because it is done by a university. Some people might not even attend either productions.

But what bothers me is that there are two productions of the same play in one month. I actually like “The Pillowman”; I think it is a great play and I would go into why I think it is a great play, but that’s another post. But I think that two productions of that play in one month in the same city is really excessive. I think that two productions of any play in the same month in the same city is excessive. Sure, every director brings a different perspective to the play and so do the actors, but I think that by doing multiple productions of the same play in one month, even three months, you run the risk of fatiguing a script.

And this is not a play that I want to be fatigued.

So, could people please not do multiple productions of the same show in one month?

(By the way, if anyone thought that the title of this post was to imply my views on the play itself, it was more so a play on the fact that “The Pillowman,” along with everything else McDonagh has written, is a very bloody play.)

Some Thoughts on New Leaf Theatre’s “The Man Who Was Thursday”

I don’t think that I’ve seen a play as amusing, witty, clever, intelligent, engaging, moving and intense as New Leaf Theatre’s “The Man Who Was Thursday.” Bilal Dardai’s adaptation of G.K. Chesterton’s novel follows poet-turned-detective Gabriel Syme (the terrific Dan Granata), who infiltrates a group of anarchists that all have the titles of days of the week and are led by the enigmatic Sunday (Sean Patrick Fawcett). However, no one and nothing is what it seems in this play.

I have not read Chesterton’s novel, which is apparently subtitled “A Nightmare,” but I will say that Dardai’s script is filled with clever and well-written lines and terrific points about anarchy without coming off as a lecture. The script, along with Jessica Hutchinson’s direction, allows for the show to walk a fine line between a farce and a thriller, which it does a superb job of doing.

The inventive use of the Lincoln Park Cultural Center, New Leaf Theatre’s home, also has the audience starting off in a room with a bench in it. After being instructed to move into the main performance space, the audience sits on benches, that are also moved around later in the first act in order for the audience to face the stage where the Supreme Anarchists Council meets. The show is has elements that are not time period appropriate, such as the fact that the actors wear Converse Chuck Taylor’s that match their ties or the synthetic music that blares at various points, but in the bizarre world that the play occurs in, these aspects are not at all confusing and the music actually is very appropriate for the moments in which it is used.

The entire cast does a terrific job, especially since many of the actors have to use multiple accents during the course of the show. Granata gives the best performance of the evening with a restrained but emotional performance. My only problem with this production is that Mike Mikula, who plays Lucien Gregory, had an accent that wavered and I don’t that it was supposed to. However, this is a very minor problem since that was only for a small fraction of the play and the rest of the play and the acting is phenomenal.

So, go and see “The Man Who Was Thursday” before it closes on November 21. Tickets are also only $18, $12 for seniors and students, which makes it a pretty good deal to go see it.

Review: “Frankenstein” –The Hypocrites at Museum of Contemporary Art

Matt Kahler as the Daemon in The Hypocrites' "Frankenstein."  Photo by Paul Metreyeon, courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art

The Hypocrites’ production of “Frankenstein,” which opened Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art Stage under the direction of Sean Graney, is a mash-up of not only Graney’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel with the 1931 film, but also a clash of time periods, causing one to not be sure of when it takes place. The play is rife with anachronisms: Elizabeth (Stacy Stoltz) wears Victorian clothing, while her betrothed, Victor Frankenstein (John Byrnes), wears jeans and a T-shirt. A large antiqued cellphone is used at one point, while another character carries an Edison Talking Doll, which sings “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in German. The world in which “Frankenstein” occurs is that of Graney’s own creation; a world where human flesh is more palatable than Cheese Whiz. And this world is one that the audience is thrust into due to the fact that it is staged promenade style, placing the audience onstage with the actors.

But this world, albeit terrifying, has flaws, which causes this production to not be as effective as it could be. While the film is projected onto a screen that hangs above a wall, I found myself paying attention to the film during the brief periods where the audio is on, which is not a very long time. The video is never really incorporated into this production to make it truly work as a part of the play. What is occurring onstage is too engrossing to allow for the audience to look at what is occurring on the screen.

This production also features two original songs by Graney and Kevin O’Donnell. The first song is sung by Frankenstein’s bride, a resurrected prostitute (Jessie Fisher) who must be plugged in in order to be alive. While this song is certainly interesting to the Daemon (Matt Kahler), it slows down the show as it seems to be placed there for no real reason. Yes, the song conveys that she is confused and realizes what she is, but the audience could have gathered that from what occurs earlier. The second song, which is a lament that the Daemon sings, is much more fitting because of the situation in which the song is being sung.

However, this production features good acting from the four actors, notably Stoltz as the frequently jilted bride and Kahler as the grotesque creature. Kahler’s portrayal gives us a creature that is brutal and vicious, but at the core, struggling to be accepted by the world in which he was created. Stoltz, on the other hand, gives us a woman who cares deeply for the man she is engaged to, but is also not revolted by the sight of the Daemon, which could have been the result of her state of mind when she meets the creature.

The use of the MCA stage is also very interesting as benches have been placed onstage for the audience to sit or stand on. There is also a see-saw on stage, along with a bed that is on a bit of an angle, making the awakening of the Daemon a bit more dramatic as the audience can see his body moving a bit better than if the bed was not raised at all. Hanging from the ceiling are bloodied and disembodied dolls and covering the back wall of the theater are pages from Shelly’s text.

While this production is engaging and fascinating, it is only terrifying at some points. While early on in the show I was a bit terrified to be in a darkened theater due to what had already occurred in the show, even by the end when horrific things occur to Victor, the gruesomeness and terror of the show had worn off. While “Frankenstein” is well-acted and interesting, it never gets underneath the skin.

“Frankenstein” continues through November 1. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Sunday performances, 3 p.m. on Sunday, and 10 p.m. on the 30 and 31. Tickets are $20-25 and can be purchased by calling 312-397-4010 or visiting mcachicago.org

Scary Children’s Movies

I was reading about the discussion of scary children’s movies that has been prompted by the release of “Where the Wild Things Are.” I haven’t seen “Where the Wild Things Are” yet because I can use the $11 I could spend on a ticket to see it for money to buy theater tickets.

I don’t see a lot of family movies because many of them come off as being too lame to me. The last family film I saw was “Up” and that was a work of art. To be honest, most of the family films I see are Pixar films because of the quality of film that one can expect, not to mention that their films can appeal to a wide age range.

But it seems to me that most children’s movies are not as dark as they were when I was growing up. I remember being absolutely petrified of Sid in “Toy Story” when my parents took me to see it in theaters because Sid is a really scary character that tortured toys. “The Black Cauldron” scared the crap out of me and still is a very terrifying film to watch for me.

But I grew up watching not only the Disney films that came out in the 90′s, but also the classic Disney films and other animated movies. As I look back on the films that I grew up watching, the films that I enjoyed more were the ones with really ruthless villains that would stop at nothing to get their goal. Although some villains that fit this description were in films that I thought moved slowly.

Friday, I was watching “The Great Mouse Detective,” which I think is an immensely underrated film, and realized how dark it is. Just watching the number “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind,” there’s the discussion of an overthrowing of the government in addition to a minion being thrown to a cat to be killed and the fact that half of the minions are drunk during this song. Oh, and Vincent Price did the voice of the villain, Professor Rattigan. I’m pretty sure that parent groups would throw a hissy fit over the content of just that one scene. (Not too mention other content in the film that would probably not be deemed as suitable for children.)

But “The Great Mouse Detective” is a good film because it is fast-paced, has a logical plot and a terrific sequence that occurs on the gears of Big Ben. And I certainly enjoyed it when I was younger and I enjoy it still.

Another film that I enjoyed when I was little was “The Brave Little Toaster,” which follows a group of appliances as they go off in search of their “Master” who abandoned them. According to Wikipedia, there was controversy surrounding the film because it is dark. I can’t deny that it was a dark film, although it didn’t terrify me that much when I was little.

Take a look at one of the songs from the film, “Worthless”:

Due to the anthropomorphic portrayal of the appliances and the cars, I had a very strong grasp at a young age that they were dying. And it’s interesting in how the cars are drawn as having broken grills or that one car even repeats itself before being lifted by the electromagnet at how down and out they are. That is just one number that is very dark. Then there’s also another number that is fairly dark.

Granted, I didn’t know what a B-movie was until a few years after I first saw “The Brave Little Toaster,” but that number actually carries the tone of the subject of the situation the characters are in very well. There’s also a scene in “The Brave Little Toaster” where an air conditioner goes nuts and explodes. I’m not sure if it’s on YouTube, but I will say that it did scare me a bit when I was young.

And then there are the villains of the Disney films of the 90′s. Ursala in “The Little Mermaid,” Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast,” Jefar in “Aladdin,” Scar in “The Lion King,” Frollo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Shan Yu in “Mulan.” They are all terrific villains because they will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. (To be honest, I don’t know who the villain was in “Pocahontas” was, but I also hated “Pocahontas” when I was little.) And the means that the characters use to try to achieve their goals is terrifying. (Also, if you have time, try to find a clip of the song “Hellfire” from “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Watch it, and then watch it again, but really focus on the lyrics.)

Yet, when you watch many children’s movies, the antagonists are simply bad guys. But they’re not really terrifying; there’s no real danger that the characters are put in. That is what is nice about films like “The Incredibles” and “Up”; the protagonists have to actually overcome something or someone to achieve their goal.

But personally, I doubt that “Where the Wild Things Are” is any scarier than “The Brave Little Toaster.”

What I’m Presently Writing

I’m now writing a fictitious story about the artistic director of a theater that wakes up one morning and realizes that he doesn’t know why he’s working in the theater.

I was also working on a novel I started in July and had gotten fairly far with, however I feel as though it is structurally a mess and I haven’t felt like looking at it and making notes on what needs to be changed.