December theater mini-reviews – A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (Little Angel), Driving Miss Daisy (Wyndham’s) and Judgement Day (Print Room)

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It’s nearly the end of the year and I’m realizing that I haven’t been able to keep up reviewing shows this month at all, an unsurprising consequence of thirteen shows, four dinners with friends, three parties, two full days on the road and two evening classes in a twenty-two day period. My time on trains has been used for napping; and my job has been too busy for me to write at work. What’s left? Why, an eight post extravaganza over the Christmas season. Don’t say you weren’t looking forward to it. Everyone else is doing recaps; hell, I haven’t even discussed the shows in the first place!

Right, so first off is “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” a collaboration between Kneehigh and the Little Angel. As a Marquez fan, I found much to recommend it: the incredible feeling of sadness (despite the chipper, English seaside setting) of both the angel and the underlying Marquez truth that people are perfectly willing to ignore magic in favor of making money; the lovely puppets; and the moments of wonderful … cinematography? (The scenes of the storm over the ocean and of the hosts of angels singing were particularly good.) It took advantage of its format to tell the story in a way that made the magical realism easy to swallow (and which would be nearly impossible to do with actors). Yet I was frustrated by the pointless songs and the occasional dumbing down of the story – both things that helped make the story more palatable for  younger audiences but which I found cluttering. Overall I enjoyed enough lovely moments in this show to find it worth the trip to Islington on a Sunday, but it frustrated me too much to really get behind it as a show. (This review is for a performance that took place on December 11th, 2011: continues through January 29th, 2012.)

Next up was Driving Miss Daisy at the Wyndham’s Theater. I wanted to see this in New York but couldn’t afford it: happily, at the end of the run, 10 quid tickets were available way up in the 2nd balcony – and for that price, I wasn’t going to complain. I mean, Vanessa Redgrave! Darth Vader – er, James Earl Jones! I knew the story generally from seeing the movie, but the undercurrent of the evolution of race relations was stronger than before – the scene where Daisy has her driver leave her at the door so she can attend a Martin Luther King dinner was particularly bitter. I couldn’t help but think of the Cracked magazine article on “Old Timey Prejudices in Movies” and its final assertion, “We Still Don’t Care About History That Doesn’t Involve White People.” This play totally seemed to be drawing from that vein of American popular culture. But still, the other story in this play – the one about aging and independence and friendship – was a joy, and I let myself be completely emotionally manipulated for the entire enjoyable ninety minutes of this show. I didn’t even care that most of the set was cheap projections of the sort that normally piss me off with their obvious cost-cutting; instead, I got into the characters and the story and even got sniffly at the end. Really, it was a perfect after work treat and I’m glad I managed to break away from Christmas programming in time to see this before it closed. (This review is for a performance that took place on December 12th, 2011. The final performance was December 17th.)

Next up was Mike Poulton’s “Judgement Day,” his version of Ibsen’s “When We Dead Awaken.” This was a must-see for me, as I love Ibsen and have never seen this play performed in any version: it got bonus must-see points for being straight through (about 80 minutes I think) and from the latter era of his writing (which I think is stronger) and in a lovely intimate space (the Print Room). However, the play is a bit melodramatic at its heart: an old sculptor (Michael Pennington) has lost his ability to create art anymore, but winds up being tracked down by the muse (Penny Downie) whom he’s convinced stole his artistic soul away – but she thinks he stole hers and is out for revenge. Meanwhile, the sculptor’s wife (Maia, Sara Vickers) is married to someone who doesn’t respect her in the least – a relationship that had me confused as it had very little to do with the central story other than to provide a contrast of a couple who is embracing life (Maia and massive jerk Baron Ulfheim, Philip Correia). The whole thing was so heavily metaphorical that it just didn’t work for me, and while Pennington was perfect, Ms. Downie just didn’t seem to get “crazy.” To be honest, I haven’t seen a crazy person portrayed believably on stage (except by Ben Daniels in Haunted Child) in so long I think maybe actors don’t actually realize how generally sane crazy people are – it’s an important survival tactic if you want to stay out of the loony bin. Anyway, I found myself still getting a bit bored despite what should have been a whip-cracking running time, so I must consider this play to have ultimately been a failure, not helped by the fact that the main characters were just painfully unsympathetic: you shouldn’t be hoping as hard as I was that they’d just fall down a cliff face and be done with it. (This review is for a performance that took place on December 13th, 2011: it closed on December 17th.)

That done, I’ve hit all of the reviews for this year I’m going to write (unless I do a round up of the Suspense Adult Puppetry festival, highly unlikely now that it’s almost two months over): time for the end of the year roundup!

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