Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Happy New Year!

Pictured: Mikhail Baryshnikov in a scene from Beckett Shorts (photo © Joan Marcus)

At some point, I will write the essay, “How I Spent My Christmas Vacation” and detail my recent trip to Little Valley, NY (Just outside Buffalo) and the four fabulous days in NYC. But since most people might equate the idea of reading that essay as similar to watching a slide show of someone’s family vacation pictures, I’ll spare the details and focus on the highlights.

The trip was a wonderful and welcome break, other than the hellish nightmare of getting from Seattle to Little Valley (a 21 hour trek that ended up costing us $400 more than previously planned…thank you so much, Delta, and can you use Vaseline the next time you F**K us up the @#s! By the way, if you’re reading this and you work for Delta you are either a) the devil or b) his minion and you should either a) quit and join the Peace Corps as penance or b) kill yourself now and do us all a favor…do I sound a little angry?)

But I digress...Here are a few of my favorite memories...

The wood stove at my in-laws…it was like Xmas in the Bahamas…
Hot cocoa by the tree (which also included tequila and kahlua, yummy!)
Gram’s pancakes (the best in the world)
Opening presents with the in-laws
NY Bagels…god, I missed them…
NY Pizza in Queens…not once, but twice!
Walking through Central Park and seeing the ice skaters at Wollman Rink
Quickly walking through the Met Museum and seeing the Ghiberti panels
Having a pint at The White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village
Seeing Julianne Moore and her family outside the White Horse Tavern
Dinner at Pontevecchio, this great Italian place in the village
Browsing through The Strand bookstore
Sharing dinner and drinks with friends…too many to mention

And, of course, the three brilliant shows we saw.

I’m not one of those people who throw that word around willy-nilly. (I don’t actually bandy about the word “willy-nilly” either, but for some reason, I just did…curious.)

But the three shows I saw were brilliant!

Brilliant scripts. Brilliant directing. Brilliant actors.

And they should keep me satisfied for a long, long time. They’ll have to because they are three shows that no one would be ambitious enough or brave enough to stage here.

(Pinter. Beckett. Marlow. Puh-lease…I wish…)

First up, we saw THE HOMECOMING by Harold Pinter, starring Ian McShane (from Deadwood fame), Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, SNL, Spinal Tap and more), Raul Esparza and Eve Best. Knockout performances by all, especially Ms. Best, and tight, well-paced directing.

The show was memorable that evening, not just for the brilliant and disturbing script, but also in that in the first act a woman almost choked to death and they had to stop the show. It was during a slow, quiet time when Raul was lighting a cigarette and the sound of a woman gasping for air filled the huge auditorium. Someone in the audience cried, “There’s an emergency!” and the house lights went up and ushers and whatnot rushed to help. As the audience waiting to find out the outcome, Raul asked, “Any questions so far?”

Once we found it the lady was fine and didn’t need any other medical attention, the house lights dimmed and Raul asked, “Where were we?”.

To which the SM over the PA said, “You were lighting a cigarette.”

He looked up and said, “Mom?”

I guess you had to be there.

The next phenomenal show we saw was Joanne Akalaitis directing four short Samuel Beckett pieces, all starring Mikhail Baryshnikov. Plays on the bill included ACT WITHOUT WORDS I, ACT WITHOUT WORDS II, ROUGH FOR THEATRE, and EH JOE. I was familiar with all of them, but had never actually seen them staged. What’s really fantastic is that Akalaitis is getting this other chance at Beckett after being so wrongfully scorned for the ENDGAME fiasco at A.R.T. many years ago. Here she directs with a solid simplicity, using the language of the body and the voice to illuminate the painful and comic existence that creeps in and without all of Beckett’s work.

Baryshnikov’s performance in the first play is amazing--it's a mime play set amongst a stage of sand and surrounded by Venetian blinds, where he at first tries to escape, then reaches for a pitcher of water which can never be grasped. Having never seen him perform live before, I was hypnotized by the grace and charisma of his minimalist physicalization. He only speaks in one of them, ROUGH FOR THEATRE, and he is slightly overshadowed by the other actor, a well-skilled Beckett veteran (who plays with language and vocal patterns magnificently...and had us saying, "Eh, Billy!" over and over...) And everything in all four plays was so exact, so rife with meaning, that after we left the theater that evening (running time of only 70 minutes with no intermission) our minds and souls were full.

On Saturday of our visit we went to the matinee performance of EDWARD II by Christopher Marlowe, as staged by the Red Bull Theater.

We saw their last production of THE REVENGERS TRAGEDY years ago and loved the audacity and electricity of the production. I have to say that EDWARD II was even better. Needless to say, the actors and directing were all top-notch, and the production was low-budget but didn’t feel low-budget. It was an exciting show and it made me wish I could see more Elizabethan theatre staged with that kind of energy. And the great thing was our tickets only cost $10. (You can’t get that kind of deal here for theatre half as good…)

Most memorable image from that show was the final one, where the young prince now king, holds up an AK-47, with the hanging bodies of his mother and her lover behind him. (Also, the young boy happened to be Raum Aron, the actor in my show BURNING BOTTICELLI in the NY Fringe years ago, talk about a small world...)

Needless to say, we had a renewed sense of vigor and were slightly inspired. That's what good theater can do. Sometimes you forget the power of theater until you see someone who knows how to use that power. For a curmudgeon like me, it made me realize that yes, there are people out there doing brilliant work...its just few and far between...

The next show I’ll see will be one that I’m helping to write, so I do have that to look forward to. That'll be the 14/48 festival.

More on that to come in the next few days.

So, since it’s the new year, I’ve decided on a few things—not necessarily resolutions, but more like general guidelines and things to work on...

1) I will dress better (and wear black more often, just like Bono or Johnny Cash).
2) I will be more positive about the weather in Seattle.
3) I will spend more time writing (not merely concerned with quantity but with quality).
4) I will work out at least four days a week.
5) I will read more plays (last night I read SPINNING INTO BUTTER by Rebecca Gilman and LANDSCAPE WITH WEAPON by Joe Penhall. Last week I read THE OVERWHELMING by J.T. Rogers—all very good plays which renew me hope in theater)
6) I will be funnier, and less sarcastic…ah, who am I kidding?
7) I will not feel guilty if I don’t honor any of these silly resolutions

In other news…I got my new headshots back…they look good! I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices. Perhaps tomorrow I shall post the winner.

Stay tuned!

1 comment:

happyday said...

The most curious and interesting review I have ever read. Maybe you should be a critic because you love the arts but not the airlines. Funny.