Catching up- Fall Theatre

Long lost blog! How good to see you! You were sacrificed on the alter of schoolwork, but now I have a nice break to engage in general life maintenance (the dentist! hair cuts!), and catch up on some of what I had been meaning to write all semester but never quite got around to.

Having been away for so long makes it tricky to know how to dive back in. It seems there is so much to say, both about school and about a number of the incredible shows I got to see. Today, I’ll start with some of the shows, and perhaps in the next few days I’ll catch up with a few posts from the academic side of things.

Now, discussing the shows is a bit of a challenge, as I have a number of friends—for whom I have tremendous admiration and respect—working in much of what I saw this fall. I want to be sensitive to and appreciative of their work, while at the same time asking questions about the effectiveness of these shows and about what these shows might mean in the larger socio-cultural context.

Looking back on everything I saw this fall, it seems that a number of the shows this season challenged traditional gender roles and representations.

The musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home follows the relationship between a young woman and her father as both struggle to come to terms with their sexual identities. For him it has tragic consequences, while she becomes, as she comically states, a lesbian cartoonist. This was a beautiful show. Moving, and charming and inventive and very well acted and sung. A lot of conversations surrounding the show involved its significance as a queer musical with mainstream appeal and questioned whether it would move to Broadway. To me it seemed very much a chamber piece—driven by relationships and the dynamics between actors more than by its plot. For this reason I’m not sure that a Broadway venue—unless it was a very small one, would be quite right for it, though politically of course that would be a significant and wonderful thing. I did have some questions about the sentimentality of the show as well as some of its cuteness—was this done to acquire broader audience appeal, or was it an accurate presentation of the graphic novel? But these are quibbles—as the show was quite special.

Also at the Public—The Good Person of Szechwan. One of the things that I feel like can get lost in some of Brecht’s didacticism is his capacity for fun. But, as he states in his Short Organum, this sense of fun is theatre’s raison d’etre:

From the first it has been the theatre’s business to entertain people, as it also has of all the other arts. It is this business which always gives it its particular dignity; it needs no other passport than fun, but this it has got to have.

So perhaps I should not have been quite as surprised when I had such a delightful time at this show. Everything was undertaken with such relish, such a sense of play. Ultimately this was effective because it is handled with such a deft sense of fluidity—a fluidity that was most embodied in Taylor Mac’s performance. He gave Shen Te such an easy femininity. While he was often hilarious and did make use of camp, for the most part he played it gracefully and earnestly. And when Shen Te dresses as her male cousin (in an amazing zip up pinstripe suit) it was very “performed” but never forced. You still sensed the femininity within the disguise, which is often very heartbreaking. And seems like a rather virtuosic feat.

Speaking of men dressing as women dressing as men….at first I was wary of Mark Rylance’s Twelfth Night—as I tend to be of all male productions of Shakespeare. Why deprive women of roles when there are already far fewer for them than for men? And beyond Rylance’s stellar performance as Olivia, I’m not sure the case was quite made for it. Rylance was wonderful for many of the same reasons that Mac was…he did not play the gender as much as he played the character. His laughs derived less from he cross dressing, than from his character choices. This was true as well for the actor playing Maria. Some of the other actors were not quite as effective, however—the actor playing Viola always felt a bit as though he was playing the gender more than the character’s struggles, and it was difficult to fully engage with her story. But it did heighten the comedy and make the brother/sister confusion more plausible. Overall the show was wonderful–the verse was clear, the setting gorgeous, and the music a terrific addition.

In addition, I saw Tennessee William’s The Mutilated—which the faculty felt was a wonderful staging of a late Williams—and it was fascinating to see how zany and farcical some of his later writing is, and to see how this mixed with his slightly hysterical expressionism. I was not as impressed by this show as some of the others—it felt strange and over the top and repetitive—but I don’t imagine one will have the opportunity to see much late Williams, so I am glad I was able to see it.

As I’ve been reading the recaps of this year’s theatre season, I am struck by how many tremendous shows I had the opportunity to see, as well as how many wonderful shows I sadly missed–Mr. Burns, Natasha Pierre, The Model Apartment. There is quite a list. Judging from this year, it does not seem that theatre is quite the dying art we sometimes complain it is–especially considering the plethora of new work and exciting reinterpretations onstage in 2013.

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