Mini-review – Wolf from the Door – Royal Court (Jerwood Upstairs)

September 16, 2014 by

For the fan of bargain theater, it’s hard to beat the upstairs space at the Royal Court: with every seat priced at £20, it’s right on the edge of “hey it didn’t cost that much so why not” for me (depending on employment circumstances: otherwise, there is still £10 Mondays). Pretty much everything I’ve seen here has been brand spanking new, so it really gets that theater addict blood pounding: is this going to be the amazing show I talk to my friends about for years? So far this year it’s given me a five star show and that’s more than enough to convince me to buy tickets to Wolf from the Door, which, with an approximately 90 minute running time, pretty much was ticking all of my boxes. Actually, this whole “no plays I’ve seen before” pledge I made this year has been working pretty well – I’m actually seeing shows that I’m excited about!

As this play is new and the description is a bit sparse, here’s a (mostly spoiler free) synopsis: a strange young drifter (Leo – Calvin Demba) connects with a much older woman (Lady Catherine – Anna Chancellor), whose attraction to him seems highly suspicous. (In fact, the scene where they meet seems so wholly divorced from the social contract that I thought he might just bludgeon her to death right there. What does happen is far less believable.) She is a Woman On A Mission, and Leo is an integral part of the world she is trying to bring to life. And, for some reason, he goes along with it.

And now for spoilers. While “the total destruction of society as we know it” seems like an unlikely outcome for nearly anything other than ineradicable disease or war, this play was able to convince that the goals that Lady Catherine was trying to accomplish were possible, in part because the whole production had an aura of surreality (the projected and announced titles and violence; the extremely simplified set; the constant reuse of two other fairly recognizable actors in the many varied roles). But also the regular banality of the discussions kept things feeling fairly here and now: discussions about what to eat; a bank manager helping a client; the interminably long scene in a minicab that had me checking my watch.

However, I found the idea that Lady Catherine would really have roused people to do what she said unbelievable; and the motivations of Leo were nonexistent. He wasn’t supposed to entirely be real, as he was a person who claimed to not need to eat or sleep; but I couldn’t believe he would accept the role Catherine intended for him, or indeed most of the things she wanted him to do, with such utter passivity. She also constantly treated him like a servant, which I found a bit gross but also a point that weakened her character’s believability. So, while, ultimately, I was reasonably engrossed in watching this completely bizarre dystopia build itself in front of my eyes, I simply was unable to believe in it enough to get truly emotionally involved. It was Science Fiction Theater but without the beautiful cinematography or deeper commentary on what makes us tick as people. So while I felt like I got my money out of it and I know some people will enjoy it, I can only recommend it to the really hard core theater fans – or maybe people who like German style theater or dystopian lit. But it did get me out the door at 9:10 and that is always a positive.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, September 11th, 2014. It continues through November 1st. It’s mostly sold out but really that’s no reason to fret.)

Review – The Key Will Keep The Lock – James Play #1 at National Theater

September 12, 2014 by

A month or so ago I was reading the news from the Edinburgh Fringe, and in the midst of all of the lack of coverage of the Scottish Independence vote from the stage (the specific article said that people just became uncomfortable unless it was dealt with as a joke), I saw a mention of the James plays that utterly pulled me in. New theater about Scottish kings? I knew nothing about them, really (always looking to bone up a bit on my history), but then to make it all more attractive I read that these plays were (supposedly) really engaging – even though there were three of them? And there was going to be a transfer to London? I went immediately to the National Theater website and found space in my calendar for all three of the plays (fortunately on the Travelex $15 series). Unsuprisingly the two days when all three plays were being done in rep were all sold out – a taste, I guessed, of the word of mouth effect on these shows. Tickets secured, I did my usual thing of going into a media blackout so I could enjoy the plays as fully as possible.

At last the day of the first show arrived – when I would discover if I’d just made an expensive error of judgment. I had a sweet seat in the center stalls (love those preview prices), but I felt envious when I saw there was a whole bank of seats on the opposite side of the stage – almost the first time I could remember seeing the Olivier being used as a theater in the round. How did those people get to those seats? Were these going to be the great views? (As it turns out, while they had the pleasure/frustration the actors working among them -especially in the scenes involving the throne, which was right in the middle of this set piece – the action was 80% facing the front otherwise and I would not consider these good seats unless they were really cheap, as spending scene after scene craning all the way to the left or right or just watching people’s backs would be very irritating).

And then the show started, sound and fury galore, a four story sword poking symbolically out of the stage (it was generally quite bare except for the occasional table or bed). We were introduced to Henry V (Jamie Sives) and his long term prisoner, James (James McArdle, whom he has kept mostly locked up for some eighteen years. Henry has captured four lesser Scottish nobles – thick accents all around – whom he wants James to make an example of. But James (thicker accent, not sure how he would have kept it being locked up from the age of ten) has other ideas, about the rules of chivalry, which he wants to apply now. Henry instead decides to show James that he still has control over him, and can beat his “rule of law” with the rule of force, because James need to learn what a king must do … and that for him, what he must do is obey.

Thus we nicely have set for us in the very first the themes of this play; of James as a dreamer, of James the king, of James as a man whose psychology might just be a little twisted by the circumstances of his life. But in parallel with this story is not just the extremely human story about his relationship with Joan (Stephanie Hyam), the queen forced on him by Henry, but of the building of the Scottish nation … a historical situation made vibrant and breathing by the current independence vote. The question of Scottish identity and the relationship and difference between Scotland and England is so alive that I could practically see them as other characters in the room, with the audience responding amazingly strongly to the debate on sovereignty happening in front of their eyes, disguised as history, making it clear that the era we are living in is one in which history is being built … on the roots of ancient actions. Wow. I could only imagine what the impact must have been of The Crucible during the McCarthy hearings. It seemed so appropriate, given this, that people spoke this new play in a modern style (complete with swear words), because the words, sentiments, and emotions were those of today. This was not a history play or a history: it was a play about now.

And I loved it. I didn’t read the program notes because I didn’t want to lose any surprises, and I was practically bouncing at intermission waiting for us to get back in and get on with it. I was on the edge of my seat when Queen Joan was being threatened and laughed when her servant Meg (Sarah Higgins) told the courtiers off for bad table manners. This is the kind of modern theater that I love, excellent, confident story telling delivered by note perfect actors with a focus on human interaction and resonance beyond the play itself. I now think the price I paid for the three shows was an incredible deal and I can’t wait for my return next week. Who needs Wolf Hall: the James plays have actually delivered us living, breathing history that makes people care. Thank you, Rona Munro; job well done.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, September 10th, 2014. It runs through October 28th and is already almost booked solid. Get your tickets now!)

Mini-review – Briefs the Second Coming – London Wonderground Southbank

September 11, 2014 by

I’d like to say I was very suspicious and standoffish when a friend of mine described “Briefs: The Second Coming” as “fit Australian transvestites doing Cirque de Soleil type stuff in their underpants,” but more honestly my response was much more along the lines of MY GOD HOW LONG IS IT PLAYING AND WHEN CAN I GET A TICKET? Fortunately they are booked in the Spiegeltent of the London Wonderground for nearly a month and the show is quite affordably priced at £15 quid (a seated ticket, natch), so the fact that I missed the Saturday night show because it was sold out did not mean I was doomed forever to miss this evening of louche entertainment. Instead, I got a group of people together (all men) to join me the next Saturday night and see what all of the excitement before. Was it going to be another show that utterly failed to live up to the billing and spent way too much time spinning out filler for one or two good acts?

Despite going for the cheap seats, we had completely reasonable, unobstructed chairs at the side of the stage (that later turned out to be much safer than the first two rows). I bought some raffle tickets – why not – and we curled up to our large drinks and waited for the fun to begin.

Well! And fun it was! Although there was a bit of a dry spot during a “geek boy solves Rubik’s cube,” we were generally treated to an endless bout of tumbling, juggling, silks/trapeze, and hula hooping (don’t knock it until you see someone do it wearing a sequinned change purse and nothing else) that kept the energy level high and the laughter rolling. Even the Rubik’s cube act was jazzed up (MUSTN’T MAKE BAD OBVIOUS PUN!) with some stripping (I did start paying much more attention!) and despite all of the lovely toned flesh on display, boundaries of taste were generally maintained.

Um, well, generally. And by boundaries I mean no actual penises or bollocks were on display, at least not from my angle (man on my left disagreed), but I need to be clear: a serious breach of taste did occur. This was during the act in which three of the more athletic men performed as if they were the pets of the drag queens holding their leashes, which was decidedly both hot and crossing into a certain level of sexual perversion I’m not used to seeing in the theater. AND THEN IT WENT A BIT FURTHER.

Now, this left the four of us howling with laughter, but as my friend Josh put it, “You really have to work hard to shock a room full of gay men but they judged the audience right.” We were all hysterically laughing. This left the followup acts, with body shots and water being flung everywhere (and a crocheted banana penis cover) unable to get back up to that level, but it didn’t matter. It was a great night and I could absolutely see myself coming again and again.

(This review is for a performance that took place September 6, 2014. It continues through September 28th.)

Review – Return of the Soldier – Jermyn Street Theatre

September 8, 2014 by

This has been the year for theatrical productions with a First World War theme – revivals of old plays (The Silver Tassie), debuts of new (Versailles), and now The Return of the Soldier this strange hybrid of an old story (by Rebecca West) and a new musical presentation (Tim Sanders and Charles Miller) has joined the milieu. Return of the Soldier marries a very modern musical sensibility to a story practically out of the pages of Edith Wharton – a young man from the upper classes (Stewart Clarke) is torn between his commitments to a woman of his class (Zoe Rainey) and his still raging love for a barmaid he fell in love with before the war (Laura Pitt-Pulford).

But piles of additional psychological layers stack up on top of this seemingly cut and dry story. First, there’s his cousin (Charlie Langham), who seems to be in love with Christopher herself. Then there’s the matter of one or two dead babies and some suppressed grief. And then there’s some really strange additional psychological stuff going on that had me wondering just what actually was going to constitute a happy ending and how in the world people of this age ever got by just pretending that they never felt anything. Frankly, Christopher was inconveniencing rather a lot of people by being honest and open: should he just shut up? From the point of view of an author writing in 1918, was the best outcome for the soldier to be a patriot? Did Rebecca West need to support the class system?

While all of these rich options were fighting for supremacy in my head, I got to listen to some very enjoyable Sondheim-esque music. Normally I complain about musicals not being … well … musical enough. I like to walk out of a musical whistling a tune. But in the case of this show, with its rather bleak story, an Irving Berlin-style romp did not seem appropriate. They could have gone for a musical style of the era (music hall tunes) but I think these looser compositions were more appropriate for the very modern considerations the plot brought forward. One notable departure was Dr Anderson (Michael Matos)’s tune “Head Master,” which seemed a very jaunty way to look at the science of trying to get people’s brains to work correctly. I enjoyed it a lot, but at the same time I enjoyed the very modern pieces that had several of the characters working out their contradicting struggles in aural harmony (while, in “real” life, their goals clash).

All in all, in the intimate space (and with the benefit of not knowing the plot or the ending), The Return of the Soldier was an extremely engaging new musical that rates at the top of the First World War shows that I’ve seen this year as well as being one of the rare shows that had me very eager to come back after the interval. It was very enjoyable as a chamber production, but with its deep psychological clashes, I think it may be headed for a larger stage before long.

(This review is for the opening night performance that too place on September 4th, 2014. It continues through September 20th.)

Mini-review – Civil Rogues – Pleasance Theater (London)

September 5, 2014 by

Let’s be honest: Civil Rogues is not Wolf Hall. It’s a comic look at a bitter period in English history where theater was crushed flat and people spent a lot of time killing each other (an obvious choice, yes?). The destruction of the rich theatrical ecology of the Elizabethan period was one of many of Cromwell’s goals: and, actually, it was something I’d not seen on stage before, so it had the interest of novelty. And the whole thing seems done a bit hastily and without a whole lot of effort being made in the historical accuracy vein under what I assume were the pressures of getting this puppy on the road in time for Edinburgh. God knows they skipped making any sort of proper ending!

On the other hand, this bizarre hybrid of Shakespeare in Love and The Play That Goes Wrong shares the raw love of the theater that powers both of those plays, and, combined with the rather powerful acting of most of the cast (the three “skirt” actors were all rather impressive), I found myself feeling forgiving about a certain sloppiness in the script and a lack of discipline in the language. The characters were genuinely engaging, the use of Shakespeare to move the plot forward entirely plausible, and we had to just agree that the plot only existed to create an excuse for the play in general to happen and had no relationship to reality. End result: totally enjoyable theater, affordably priced, with lots of laughs. Yeah, sure, it had a whiff of amateurism/fringeishness to it, but with an 80 minute run time, I found it called for more praise than forgiveness.

(This review is for a show that took place on Friday, September 5, 2014. It only runs through the 7th so get your booty over there.)

Mini-review – My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse

September 5, 2014 by

I’ve now seen three AIDS plays held up as classics: and of them, My Night with Reg is the only one that breaks my heart. As Is is full of rage but has a soap opera soul; Angels in America has lost all of its urgency as 9/11 made it a quaint recollection of a more innocent time. My Night with Reg, currently being revived at the Donmar, stays focused on what really matters in theater – human relationships – and slips in AIDS like a stiletto that slides between your ribs unfelt, taking your breath from you forever.

The plot, such as it is, is trivial; men gather together in a house and talk to each other about each other. Each scene is set in a nearly unchanging house; it’s difficult to tell that any time has past- in fact, the second scene seems like it may be “evening of the same day” after a dinner part, but as the conversations play out, it becomes clear that much time has passed, and while little seems to have changed, hearts are aging and memories are accumulating and the great, sad accretion of life (and death) is taking its toll on all present, no matter how handsome and witty they still seem, scene after scene.

The group of men around whom the play centers are all old college (uni in English parlance) friends, and when the get together – which happens rarely (and never with the invisible Reg) – you can see the exuberance and lust for life of the early twenties zinging out of them as they joke, dance, and sing with each other with the easy camaraderie (and hints of old lusts) that really only happen with friendships of a decade or more. You laugh a little at host Guy (Jonathan Broadbent), so pudgy and nerdy and supportive; admire sexy John (Julian Ovenden) while wondering if he actually has any heart under his perfectly sculpted exterior; and wish you could have Daniel (Geoffrey Streatfeild) over to your party because he really is just that funny and smart. Despite this being a reunion for the men, to me it had that timeless feeling of any friendships that resume right where the left off years ago, while also having an interesting touch of British reserve in the amount of emotional honesty the various characters allowed themselves. It still had the thick lashings of sexual honesty I see (enviously) in gay men’s relationships … but their hearts stayed hidden.

Until, well, scenes two and three. Death rises, sex becomes less a sport than a grief control mechanism, and the happiest songs in the world become paeans to the dreams we’ve all had to give up on and the banal realities that have been left behind. It all became a bit like the Japanese love of cherry blossoms – beauty is so much easier to appreciate in the face of its ephemerality. And when we’re living life, we so often don’t realize that a goodbye really is an ending, that the people you see every day will suddenly just never be there again. And for a brief period of time, those lovely, loving, lovable fonts of life were being mowed down one after another and it seemed like it was never going to stop. In the face of that, all you get is a dance and maybe a singalonga and maybe somebody to keep you warm at night, but mostly what you get is the realization that we all end up alone. Even though I had to remind myself I was just watching actors go through a script, that message was still entirely real, and beautifully conveyed. It was an excellent evening and well worth the many, many time I sat there hitting F5 and hoping someone would change their minds at the last moment and decide not to go: and even at top price it was absolutely worth every pound I paid and every minute of my time.

(This review is for a performance that took place Saturday afternoon, August 30th, 2014. I spent the rest of the week wishing I had time to write it up just in case someone else who’d appreciate this play didn’t know how good it was. It closes September 27th.)

Review – Autobahn – Kings Head Theater

August 31, 2014 by

I’ve been a fan of Neil LaBute for some years now, and when a chance came up to get reviewers comps to see the London debut of his short play cycle Autobahn, I was all over it. New job leaving me too tired to go out? Fie, I say, I will survive!

And yet, even with a 7:15 start time and seven playlets tucked inside its two hours, Autobahn struggled to keep my attention. I struggled especially with the ones that were essentially monologues with an audience: “funny,” a young girl (Zoe Swenson-Graham) talking to her mother (Sharon Maughan) as she drives the girl away from rehab and back to normal life, struggled to become interesting – her own lack of awareness of how much she was monopolizing the conversation and how little she had to say left me empathizing with the mother. Later on, “long division,” which had one man ranting at the other about how incredibly unjust it was that his friend’s ex had kept his video game player, seemed to be struggling for a reason to exist. I couldn’t understand why the silent member of these two parties didn’t just stop the car and get out.

Much more interesting were the skits in which the characters were engaged in conversation. I was quite caught up with the unspoken violence underneath “bench seat,” “road trip,” and “autobahn,” where we were merely given snippets of what had happened to bring the characters to the point we joined them and then plenty of time to watch the story spin out, leaving us wondering when the explosion would happen. (In all cases, we never get to what seems to be the “inevitable” violence – a relief, really.) My favorite, though, was “merge,” in which a man (Henry Everett) and a woman (Maughan again) try to work out just exactly what happened to the woman when some men broke into her hotel. It reminded me of Rashomon – just what version of reality is the real reality?

While the cast was uniformly good at creating substantially different characters without even the benefit of a change of scenery (everything took place in the front seat of an American automobile), I have to give special credit to Zoe Swenson-Graham, who was fully believable as a semi-psychotic small town sweetheart and as a fairly innocent teenager with a violent past (and possibly a violent future) to deal with. It was hard not to get caught up in the stories she was representing, but unfortunately they were whisked away and replaced with less interesting ones. I’m glad I got to catch up with some shorter works by LaBute, but unfortunately I ran out of gas long before it did.

(This review is for the opening night performance, which took place on Friday, August28, 2014. It runs through September 20th.)

Review – The Ring Cycle Plays – Gods and Monsters Theatre at The Scoop

August 25, 2014 by

If there’s one thing I like, it’s a bargain: and The Ring Cycle Plays, performed outside, for free, was really ringing the bells for me. And as a theater-obsessive, I feel a twang of guilt about the fact I’ve never made it through the Ring Cycle. In fact, I haven’t been to even one of the operas, because they’re always sold out and the prices are above Webcowgirl means. But I console myself that I don’t really like the music anyway and besides, the bunch of them are just too long, too much of a commitment, and for that much money I want to be sure I’m going to enjoy myself before I go. So here I got the opportunity to enjoy the story (hey, I like Norse mythology as much as any other … er, mythology nerd), skip the music, and pay not a penny.

Given that this is an outdoor event, I think there might be a need for a bit of a survival guide. First, it starts at 6: given that it’s 4 hours (plus) long, this is a good thing, but since I was coming over from Paddington, it didn’t work in my favor. However, they are perfectly fine with letting you in pretty much whenever you arrive, so it’s not as bad as being late at, well, The Royal Opera House. Second, AHEM it is outside (The Scoop does not get special covers for the event), so bring a few layers and consider water resistance when packing. Third, The Scoop is made of cement. I have to say, it really gave The Globe a run for the money in the bum breaking challenge, but fortunately we’d brought a picnic blanket which folded nicely in fours (and made a good warmer later). Fourth, while they sell food, I highly advise you to bring a picnic; all of those horned helmets just made me want to quaff mead and there’s a lot of comedy to be found in Doom Doom End of the World Doom as watched while eating popcorn.

As I arrived, puppet-tailed Rhinemaidens were floating around the bottom of the Scoop, begging the very round dwarf Alberich to give them back their gold. (I never figured out where they got it from, or how he knew it was there, but this is what you get for being late, I supposed.) Something about the high pitched voices of the women and the sort of “big movement” put me off – I mean, I think they were really trying hard to make some theater magic happen in this scene, but I absolutely wasn’t there with them. It wasn’t the best puppetry (it all looked a bit done on the cheap), and as the actors couldn’t hide most of the time I just felt like I was watching people wearing funny costumes and being silly.

Odin and Fricka then appear (Odin apologizing weakly for being what I’ll call a man-whore), and, while they were supposed to be gods, well, I kind of wasn’t buying it. Again. The scene was being set – Odin needed to sort out a bad bargain he’d made with the giants who were building Valhalla – and we’re introduced to Loki, who, despite wearing a red fright wig, was actually convincing a lesser god dealing with bullying and bad dealing by someone who ought to have been setting a better example – an interesting situation I wish had been more the focus of the play.

Next up was the scene in the dwarves’ lair, where Loki tricks Alberich with the old “ooh if you’re so magical why don’t you transform yourself into something small (so I can trap you)” trick that’s been used a million times. Great fun was had by the audience who are first asked to bang on pans (to create the workshop atmosphere) and subsequently terrorized by whip-weilding Alberich – you can’t wait for him to be taken down a notch! As Odin makes off with the ring (and its curse), I couldn’t help but think, “Oh hey, J.R.R. Tolkein might have had a bit of help when he wrote his little story, didn’t he?”

Unfortunately with the really broad acting and the difficulty in getting interesting characterizations when people are playing gods, for me the whole thing just came off like a summertime panto. This was not helped by Brunhilda, who had the legs of a leading boy and a costume that did its best to divert attention from the action in grand Peter Pan style. Whoa, I’m sorry! Are you feeling genuine grief about your dad casting you out from the gods? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening to you talk!

I certainly got a kick out of things like the Albrecht actor licking his two “children” and the horribly mismatched Valkyries (including, once again, Albrecht, complete with wig), and I’m sure I would have loved the dragon … but I just wasn’t convinced, I was cold and uncomfortable, at at the second interval I bailed. I’d say it is worth seeing for free, if you’re properly prepared and don’t get rained on, but only if you don’t really have anything better to do and you’re not expecting anything particularly serious. Dramatic, yes, but … well, four hours long and camp as hell. It wasn’t for me, but I could see where it could be for a lot of people, and if you’re waffling, well, it’s easy enough to leave at any moment – which in my mind is always a plus.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, August 20th, 2014. It continues through August 31st.)

Review – Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse

August 23, 2014 by

A new musical is always a cause for celebration Chez Webcowgirl. I’m convinced the glories of the “golden age” were due in part to the high volume of new shows being created during that time; without a higher volume, it’s hard for the cream to rise to the top. So I was enthusiastically ready for Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse – a new musical, bring it!

And yet somehow so many years had passed between the movie that is this show’s source material and now that I had pretty much completely forgotten about Dogfight and how revolting I thought its premise was. The thought of a contest to see who could bring the ugliest girl to a party is deeply offensive to me. And as I sat there, realizing what I was about to see, I felt a creeping sense of horror. I’ve avoided seeing Taming of the Shrew for ages because I can’t find comedy in misogyny, and this evening brought that feeling right to the front again. There was a drama going on centered on the young men going to Vietnam – the “Three Bees” – which to me seemed an interesting subject to focus on. Birdlace (Jamie Muscato), Bernstein (Nicholas Corre) and Bolan (Chellen Chugg Jones) are three young Marines having their last hurrah before being shipped out to Vietnam – and it’s clear they don’t have the faintest idea what they’re about to face. They’re not just full of bravado – they are genuinely steeped in ignorance about America’s military might and their own power.

But as the play goes on and I saw how their sense of elitism, entitlement, and arrogance leads them to treat other people as things – to be screwed, screwed over, or shot – I found my ability to empathize with them disappearing. These guys were jerks, from a long line of jerks, and their attitudes are the basis of the rape culture we have today, where raped women have to defend their clothing and pretty much their entire sexual histories if they bring an attacker to trial.

And watching the show, I felt a sense of creeping horror at what it took to create it. What does it mean to hire an actress to be “the ugly one” or “the fat one?” What kind of mentality does it take to put a woman in front of an audience and dress her in a way that deliberately makes her unattractive? To me there seemed to be a meanness pervasive in the whole exercise. It was even more grating to see the very pretty Rose (Laura Jane Matthewson), with her beautiful voice, presented to us as ugly and fat. (And for her to be put in a dress clearly from the 1980s for the big party scene – seriously, Lee Newby, you got so much of this era right, did you have to screw that one up so hard? It ruined my suspension of disbelief. Sew a new one if you couldn’t find a 1964 era dress in maroon.)

The songs were serviceable, the choreography lively, the music sadly forgettable. The whole effort was almost saved by the incredible charisma of Jamie Muscato … almost. But it was brought down by Rose’s characterization – not how she was performed, but how she was written. Rose had to be cut from cardboard for the whole thing to make dramatic sense, because no woman with self respect would ever forgive or want in her life someone who thought picking a stranger out to be an object of ridicule was an acceptable pastime. As a person who sees women as people, I just can’t forgive this show for choosing to take as its premise that they aren’t. I was relieved at its short running time because I felt complicit watching it, much as I did watching Carousel. With luck, my next musical outing will meet with greater success.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 21st, 2014.)

Ten Things I Hate About Balanchine’s Apollo

August 13, 2014 by

It has to be said: I’ve had it with “Apollo!” Of all of the Balanchine or Ballets Russes productions to get revived, this popular number is the golden turd in the swimming pool of ballet. As I sat through yet another performance last Friday (prior to watching the Mariinski perform Balanchine’s Midsummer Night’s Dream), I started listing out the reasons why I hate it so, and given my lack of time to review the actual performances I’ve been seeing, I’ve decided I’m going to share this instead.

1. The props! My God, the props! Has NOBODY ever seen the Brady Bunch episode where Marcia has to do the modern dance WITHOUT the scarf? GET RID OF THE PROPS!
2. The way they get rid of the props! It’s a little funny in The Firebird when the sleeping princesses toss their golden apples off stage, but the sloppy way the props are handled in this piece just makes me want to scream. DON’T GET RID OF THE PROPS!
3. The mime! The horrible horrible mime! HI I AM THE MUSE OF SPOKEN WORD AND I’M GOING TO BE REALLY REALLY OBVIOUS WITH MY HANDS. Olivia Newton John in Xanadu has more subtlety than these muses.
4. The way the women are so utterly and completely trivial in this work. They look beautiful but they’re just window dressing.
5. The way this ballet allows every arrogant ballet dancer to portray himself as LIKE UNTO A GOD with absolutely no sense of irony. Not that Carlos didn’t make it work but mostly I have to roll my eyes.
6. Has anyone noticed how revoltingly the women fawn and coo over Apollo? Does anyone think that maybe, just maybe, there was a little bit of Balanchine in this role? Isn’t it gross? I imagine him handing out bulimia and anorexia to them in exchange for their pathetic props, and feeling smug because it was for their own good.
7. The birth scene! Both ridiculous and inaccurate! How is it someone giving birth could be so COY?
8. It’s almost the only ballet where a woman OPENS HER LEGS toward the audience, and she’s doing it from eight feet above the stage. Ew! I am particularly grossed out by this position as it makes me feel like I’m at a gynecological appointment.
9. The goofy, herky-jerky choreography, almost like Picasso had a hand in figuring out how to move people around. Why don’t people just go around with HELLO IT’S THE TWENTIES stamped on their foreheads?
10. The guitar strumming scene. I love laughing about Apollo as a member of The Who but it’s just too ridiculous to tolerate.

Is that enough? CAN WE KILL THIS BALLET? I would suggest we replace it for all time with either Les Noces or Concerto DSCH, which has the incredible good luck to be new, fun, and generally awesome. NO MORE APOLLO. JUST SAY NO TO APOLLO!


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