Archive for October, 2012

The “I think I’m funny” questions for the Life in the UK test

October 30, 2012

I’m being forced to take a test in order to progress to having citizenship in the UK. I think it’s a real waste of time, but I have to do it anyway. I’ve been compiling a list of questions that I think are actually key to understanding what life in the UK is really like, which I’ll keep adding to as they occur to me.

1. Is it embarrassing to be middle class?

2. Who likes Tracy Emin’s art and why?

3. Is it good or great to be average?

4. Is there such a thing as too drunk?

5. Which of the following constitutes being flirted with? 1) Being ignored 2) Being offered money for sex 3) Being asked about the weather 4) Sitting on the Tube, reading a book.

6. What is “coronation chicken?”

6. If you order your tea black, will it be served with milk?

7. Why is “fanny pack” a humorous phrase?

8. How do you say “scone?”

9. How do you get a really well paying job if you don’t have rich parents with connections?

10. Why are trains late?

11. How much personal space do you need to give someone on public transportation?

12. When is queueing not required?

13. Why is it acceptable to invite people to events but not their partners?

14. Is it okay to correct people’s children when they are running around a restaurant screaming? Is it okay to correct their parents?

15. Pronounce “excuse me” in a way that clearly announces the person addressed is in some way at fault.

16. Now say Leicester. Worcester. Berkshire. Bath. HA! Tricked you. Slough. Reading. HA! Tricked you again.

17. Explain why people aren’t legally forced to shovel snow off of their sidewalks in London, and instead the sidewalks become covered in ice, thus causing people to slip and fall and hurt themselves, yet somehow it’s a “health and safety” reason to not shovel said sidewalks.

18. Explain why people don’t turn on the heat until it’s near or below freezing outside.

19. List the known topics for polite small talk.

20. What is the right newspaper to read?

21. Explain the popularity of clearly manipulated pseudo-talent shows.

22. Why do people have duvets on beds when it is roasting hot outside?

23. Why do the national political parties make such a hoo-hah about limiting immigration when most immigrants to the UK are those allowed in by the treaties signed with the EU and thus not limitable?

24. Is there a single political party in the UK you can vote for – if you become a citizen – without feeling dirty, especially if you came here as an immigrant?

25. There are far more people out of work than there are jobs to be had, and yet people on benefits are all lazy and need to have their money taken away. Discuss.

26. Explain why abused animals are more worthy of charity than abused children.

27. Provide two examples of corporate speak for “saving our business money at your expense,” i.e. “going green” and “for your safety and security (we’ve removed the toasters from the lunchroom)”

28. Why is a pudding not a dessert? Why is a Yorkshire pudding not a dessert?

29. Is it safe to eat toad in a hole?

30. True. False. Blue. No, yellow.

31. Perform an interpretive dance that shows what you experience when you feel like no one likes you.

32. You go to a job interview, and they stop and show you a YouTube video of said interpretive dance. How do you recover gracefully?

33. In order to pass a test, you have to choose an option which you know to be wrong, and, in addition, memorize loads of outdated information so that you will be able to regurgitate the preferred answers to various questions. Do you do it?

34. When is the next census? (Hint: it’s a date in the past.) (2nd hint: see question 33.)

35. Finish this phrase: “Pinch, punch …” with appropriate guesture. When is this said? Demonstrate the correct response. Oh, look, you’ve just assaulted a member of Her Majesty’s civil service, we will now have you deported.

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Review – War Horse – National Theater at the New London Theatre

October 25, 2012

Am I the last person in London to see War Horse? Given that it opened in 2007, it seems like the answer is “yes,” but it can’t possibly be true, or it wouldn’t be booking at the New London Theater through October 2013, and people wouldn’t keep coming to my site looking for cheap deals to see it. I’ve been wanting to see it for all of this time, and I’ve carefully kept myself away from spoilers in anticipation of seeing it. I mean, horses! Puppets! Horse puppets! It seemed like the kind of play I could really, really enjoy … but not the kind I could see on a budget. (I’ve only seen offers twice and the show constantly is sold out, so my advice is, if you want to see it for cheap, shop far in advance for the restricted view seats, such as circle A14 and A15, only £10.)

So, we’re looking at a show that, if I was going to see, I was going to need to fork over some serious dough for, since it’s supposed to be spectacular and so I actually wanted to NOT have a restricted view. And here you are, at Life in the Cheap Seats, and I’m telling you there aren’t any deals to be found, and what you’ve got to want to know is, is it worth it? (For the record, my tickets were £65, and they were a birthday present, so they WERE cheap … for me! But I waited all of this time to go because I couldn’t afford anything the year it came out, and I couldn’t convince myself to pay full price, and it never came up at TKTS, and even Graham Roberts of Great Tickets was only ever able to save about £2 a ticket. So I asked for it as a birthday present, and I received.)

Rather disappointingly, I need to report that five years after it opened, War Horse continues to have a strong emotional impact and shows no signs of flagging commitment from the cast. We know it’s about a boy and his horse and World War I, right, so no spoilers there … but I wasn’t expecting such a lyrical look at life in rural Devon before the war, or that so much attention would be spent on making Albert’s family and their struggles on their farm so vibrant. And I had thought it was told through the eyes of the horse … but it’s not. The main horse, Joey, is followed throughout the story, but we simply follow his experiences, which almost always have a human focus and never turn into silly anthropomorphism. There is no horsey thoughts spoken through a narrator (I was SO worried about this), and Joey stays a horse, responding in a horsey way … there is never a moment which I thought to be unsuited to the natural behavior of a (well-loved and trusting) horse. Would he react to gunfire and the realities of battle the way he did? Well, that I can’t say, but what I saw made it all seem quite natural.

A lot has been made of the puppets and, well, if you read me a lot, you’ll note that I write about puppets more than most theater bloggers. The War Horse full sized horse puppets did have a stunning range of movement – I’ll never buy their running motion (and walking wasn’t particularly great), but kicking and most normal horse stuff (like pulling a cart) was quite good, and by the time we got to the climactic first act “bet” scene, I’d become pretty vested in Joey, no longer reading him as a pile of sticks being manipulated by three puppeteers but as a horse (as represented on stage, much like “Albert” was a grown man playing a boy). And the fight scene with him and another horse was really done just extremely well. I was also pleased to see there were many other puppets in the show, from the birds that built atmosphere in the opening scene, to the comic goose, to the tragic one-man horse/human puppets that represented the cavalry and quite dramatically showed that the age of man and horse in war had come to an end just as Joey had been called up to a “higher” duty than pampered farmhorse.

WELL! So where does that leave you? I cried occasionally and without shame during this show, and wept hard enough at the end that I had to wipe my tears on my sleeve. All that and I’d just spent nearly three hours (time flew by, I hadn’t even noticed how long it had been) watching a bunch of sticks making friends with a guy earning a paycheck on stage. Total suspension of disbelief, people, and I loved every minute of it, even the songs, even the German cavalryman. I could tell, though, that there were some _might_ bad seats at the New London, but still, if good story telling and compelling theater is what your looking for, Warhorse really delivers. It may be the last present I ever get from my husband (more sniffling and sadness), but it was a wonderful gift.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 12th, 2012. The show never seems to end. Buy ahead if you want to buy cheap.)

Buying tickets from the Bavarian State Opera

October 22, 2012

I’ve been going to Munich for the Bavarian Opera Festival for the last couple of years, mostly because it’s in the summer and it’s a good excuse to visit my uncle. Now, I want to get tickets for shows there WELL in advance, and you’d think that a German website would be the height of internet wow. However, I’ve got some problems with the data validation on the <a href="Bavarian State Opera website. If tickets are available immediately for purchase, it doesn’t seem to be a problem: but the problems start when they are in pre-purchase mode and you need to fill out a form saying what tickets you might like to buy _if_ any are available (in imitation of mail in pre-purchase requests). While this drives me mad, what makes me even more frustrated (than not knowing if you’re going to get any tickets) is how pig-headed the form is. Yes, yippee hurray, the required fields are marked and it clearly is willing to accept foreign addresses as it asks what country you live in: however, when I was trying to fill it out, the post/zip code and city field kept bombing out. My UK post code, with its mix of letters and numbers, was not being recognized, and the error message said I needed to enter a value into both post code AND city fields, although I clearly had.

Now since I am in software testing, I saw this as a challenge more than anything else, as I was sure this form would not be up there if it didn’t work for most users. After re-entering the number four or five times, I tried switching the city and the zip code fields, with no luck, then fiddling with the post code field (by removing the space). Success was reached by entering 11111 into the post code field (a number that would be valid in the US); I had added a note to the order beforehand stating that my correct post code was BLAH BLAH and could they please use that.

Well, we’ll see if it REALLY works. I have my doubts but now I remember why I failed to get tickets for the first year I wanted to go to the damned festival – the online pre-order form just would not work for me!

Good deal – half price tickets for Opposites Attract and Autumn Celebration – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

October 22, 2012

I haven’t been putting a lot of theater deals on here lately but I had to point this out: the Metro has a half priced deal for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s two programs at Sadler’s Wells this week – “Opposites Attract” and “Autumn Celebration.” “Opposites Attract” is a pure mixed rep with choreography by Jessica Lang, Hans van Manen, and David Bintly (a Dave Brubeck tribute); “Autumn Celebration” has the much awaited Bintley Olympics inspired “Faster” and Ashton’s “The Dream” and a third piece.

Note that while Birmingham Royal Ballet is performing from Tuesday October 23rd through Saturday October 27th, the half priced deal is only good through Thursday the 25th (the first day of the Faster/Dream bill), so if you want to use it you’d better get moving. Either book only with code pcdcelebrate or call the box office and quote the “Celebrate the City” offer. It’s only available on top priced tickets, so from 40 quid to 20 (less for the Weds matinee). Good luck and enjoy!

Mini-review – Call Me Madam – Union Theater

October 19, 2012

I feel like I’ve been living in a bubble for years. I choose to be in one where I don’t hear about the latest TV shows (my cut off being about 1984); but because I grew up in places that were relatively backward compared to London, I had few opportunities (and less money) to see live musicals before I moved across the pond. I realize that lots of people (let’s imagine Man In Chair) managed to catch up with all of the old musicals via their LPs and video tapes; but this has never been me. Old films of musicals didn’t enchant me … I found the larger than life performance styles and bizarre technicolor and lighting made them … unpalatable. Me, really, I am the kind of person who is sold on a musical by actually seeing it. And what with living in Phoenix, Arizona until the mid-nineties and following that up with Seattle, Washington (which has a great fringe theater scene but just a trickle of musicals coming through on tour) … well, you’ll just have to forgive me for the fact that, as of Sunday, October 16th, 2012, I had not only never seen Call Me Madam, I didn’t know a thing about it, not a single song, and not even as much as that it was the work of Mr. Irving Berlin, one of my favorite musicals composers. So cue up a cards party at the home of Mr Andrew Whinger, where suddenly it was hot tip time and yes, I’ll go get myself a ticket immediately to see the production at the Union Theater (which proved a bit of an effort given how many performances had already sold out!).

After all of the hassle to finally go, how did it turn out? The plot was actually paper-thin, in some ways very typical of late-40’s/early 50’s musical product … an American oil heiress, Sally Adams (Lucy Williamson) is given a job as ambassadress to a smallish, imaginary, impoverished European country (“Lichtenburg”), apparently on the basis of her ability to throw great parties. Cue lots of songs about having great parties, and a plot involving two romances, one for Sally and one for her nerdy assistant Kenneth (Leo Miles). The play is as blithely unconcerned about the realities of American foreign policy as Sally herself is, though it does have a BRILLIANT song about American presidential politics (“They Like Ike”) that perfectly captures the horse-race tendencies and what it is that Americans go for when they vote, SO topical this week!

With me being six years out of America, I found this musical both nostalgic for the ignorance of the 50s and rather accurate in its depiction of Americans being all about money and being nice. It was all just a bit too light and fluffy for me, and I wasn’t really distracted enough by the dancing or entertained enough by the songs in act one to consider it something really worth the effort of restaging. But that all changed in act two, when the emotional tension was ratcheted up and Berlin started cranking out amazing songs (I was initially hacked off that the woman behind me was singing along but after being earwormed for three days with “You’re Just in Love” I’m starting to think she may have just been permanently damaged by its catchiness). And, let’s be honest, jammed in the Union-budget party dresses, Lucy Williamson was actually pretty darned amazing, one hundred percent behind her role, unconcerned about acting like a woman of a certain historicity in favor of being a STAR … which was exactly what this show needs. She’s on stage nearly every minute, and she has to have personality in spades … and she delivers. My God, she even tap dances. So while over all, I’d say Call Me Madam isn’t one of the higher stars in the musical pantheon, it is enjoyable, and a good vehicle for an actress with Williamson’s charisma. And at £18 a pop with her practically singing in your lap … well, I can see why the run is selling out. And damned, but aren’t those Berlin songs catchy.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, October 17th, 2012. It continues through Saturday, October 27th.)

Mini-review – “One Day When We Were Young” and “Lungs” – Paines Plough Roundabout Season at Shoreditch Town Hall

October 12, 2012

It’s been almost a week and I’m feeling guilty about not getting up my review of this excellent set of shows currently taking place at Shoreditch Town Hall. There are actually three plays in the Paines Plough Roundabout Season – Nick Payne’s One Day When We Were Young, Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs and Penelope Skinner’s The Sound of Heavy Rain – and I’d bought tickets for all three (they play together on Saturdays and Sundays, and you get a £15 discount off of the series), but the night before I got an email saying that Rain had been cancelled because of a technical problem. Fortunately, this was the first show of the day (rather than the one in the middle), so what it wound up meaning was that I got to have a nice roast on a Sunday before heading over to Old Street – I was a bit irritated about not seeing all three but actually feeling a bit intimidated about being in the theater from 2 to 9PM (as opposed to my initial WAHOO response), so all things considered, I started the day feeling quite good – but must apologize for what I consider to be an incomplete review of the series as I have not been able to fit the show in.

What I did see was two two handers, both of which moved me quite a bit, and quite a bit more than what I was expecting. I came in expecting One Day When We Were Young to be the star in the crown, and it started off deliciously simply – two young lovers getting together for a fun night before the man headed off to war (the Asian theater for World War II), with lots of flirting and fun and positively the most sexual scene I’ve ever seen on a theater – I’m sure the actors both had their underpants on but it was rather a LOT like watching a live sex show and if you were planning on taking a member of the family I would NOT advise it. Otherwise: actually really hot, and with the two virgins trying to talk through just how what they were trying to do was supposed to work, just incredibly charming, a scene that really built a connection and affection to the characters, and something I have never seen handled on the stage before. It was really well done and will NOT be seeing the local high school auditorium any time soon.

As it turns out, this was one scene of three, and I don’t want to ruin any more surprises, but all scenes feature the characters aging and having to deal with each other as their lives and expectations change. At the very end, the woman said something to the man that about broke me … that she needed him for emotional support because there was nobody left. Imagine being eighty years old, with children, and yet having nobody to turn to for support in a crisis. I may have felt put off by the stiffness of the second act, but I felt a universal human quality to the last. It put me in a melancholy state of mind as I headed out the door, clutching the button I’d been given to indicate my random seat allocation. Thank goodness Ian and Paul were there, or I might have gotten into quite a mope. Instead, we went to the pub around the corner, got some pizza and beers and had us a good old visit. Ah, yes.

Ninety minutes later and we went back, changing to some front row seats in the wooden arena (borrowed, I was pretty sure, from <I>Cock</I>, but with an extra row on top – there is NO room for anything underneath your legs so take advantage of the free, serviced cloakroom). We managed to get in shortly before Sir Ian arrived with companion – sadly he would not sit next to us (“I’m not allowed to sit in the first row”) and wound up somewhere near the top. We, however, had a great view of the next play (including being close enough to see Kate O’Flynn squeeze real tears from her eyes – impressive!), which was an intense, ninety minute nearly breathless dialogue between a couple.

Now, I am going to take umbrage at the sad justice done this show by its National Theatre copy, which would have, frankly, in its banality, kept me from seeing the show if I’d bother reading about it beforehand. Instead, read what I have to say.

Lungs is a show about how couples fail to communicate with each other despite being so close you’d think they tie each other’s shoelaces. The two characters could be described as “quirky” if you want to use lazy shorthand but would be better described as “realistic,” “flawed,” and “like a few people I went to school with and no longer invite over for dinner because one half of the couple is so self-righteous I can’t stand her and the guy defeats his own intelligence with his utter lack of backbone.” Despite the fact that, as a couple, they made me want to shout, “NO FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T HAVE A BABY!”, the reality of their relationship was undeniable and became slowly, tricklingly, heartbreaking. Bad things happened, she broke, they failed to cope, and two people who clearly loved each other the way that trees love the sun crumbled into dust like a mummy’s hand. And then I actually felt bad for them, and what a pathetic situation they were in, and how heartbreakingly real it all was.

And then I realized I’d stopped feeling like I was in a play, watching actors mouth words written on a piece of paper. I cared, even though the people were irritating, even though there were some weird things going on (like the way they’d shift scenes by hours or months by just saying, “Hi, how have you been?” as if they’d ever actually stopped talking for a breath). Duncan Macmillan had taken me somewhere.

And at the end, it seemed, the world blew out of the auditorium, the light from the stage expanding out the cupola above me, all of the little sadnesses and disappointments that make up our tiny lives becoming universal, utterly transcending the theater in which we sat on a rainy Sunday night in October in a run down corner of an often unfriendly town. And I walked out into the night and thought about my own sadnesses, and fiddled with my little yellow button.

And it was good.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, October 7th, 2012. The Paines Plough Roundabout Season continues through October 27th, and you’d be a fool to miss it.)

Preview – Love’s Exchange – La Nuova Musica with Jamie Parker at Saint John’s Smith Square

October 11, 2012

While this blog normally covers things theatrical, one of my other enthusiasms is Early Music, as my occasional posts about the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music show. I am excited to hear that for once, my two interests will be meeting, in this case at a concert taking place as a part of St. John’s Smith Square’s autumn festival: Early Music ensemble La Nuova Musica performing with actor Jamie Parker (whom you may have seen this summer at the Globe as Henry V, or, further back in The History Boys during its run at the National) in a performance called “Love’s Exchange.”

So what exactly is going to happen at this concert (performed on period instruments) with the seemingly superfluous actor? In this case, Jamie will be reading from the poems (and prose) of John Donne to add a dramatic arc linking the various madrigals by Monteverdi. The concept is that of a love triangle, between a young rake and two women. I have a feeling things may not go very well for the young man.

Monteverdi’s music (the words of which will be projected above stage) are already extremely emotional works, and I think the marriage of Donne and Monteverdi seems very promising. La Nuova Musica, with their vision of music speaking to the audience as immediately as a good friend, would have been well worth seeing on their own: I am quite enthusiastic that this blended approach will lead to an even better experience. This Sunday, 7:30, Saint John’s Smith Square (just a few minutes from Westminster): be there!

I leave you with a selection from one of the poems that will be read during the show:

LOVE, any devil else but you
Would for a given soul give something too.
At court your fellows every day
Give th’ art of rhyming, huntsmanship, or play,
For them which were their own before ;
Only I have nothing, which gave more,
But am, alas ! by being lowly, lower.

(This review is a preview for a concert that will be taking place at St. John’s on Sunday, October 14th, 2012. Tickets are £20/£14. Thank you to Julian Forbes for taking the time to talk to me about the show.)

Mini-review – Desire Under the Elms – Lyric Hammersmith

October 10, 2012

It’s been nearly a week since I shuffled out of the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Desire Under the Elms and I’ve been having a hard time getting motivated to write a review. The play is impossible to believe at any point: cartoon characters (the two half brothers are right out of Loony Toons, Yosemite Sam and Sandy), laughable dialogue (“Nature … makes ye grow bigger–like a tree,” said while “new ma” Abbie writhes on the ground with her legs open, OH GOD WHAT COULD SHE BE IMPLYING), a plot that seems better suited to a soap opera .. the whole thing was just so overwrought I couldn’t take it seriously, like a bad high school production of a Greek tragedy. I watched the characters with nearly physical pain, wondering just what in the hell Eugene O’Neill thought he was doing – creating characters he couldn’t understand enough to write words for and putting them in a situation he thought would mirror some drama by Sophocles “but in an American setting.” It was all just so horrible after the genius of Long Day’s Journey into Night.

I made it to the interval, checked my clock, and saw that I could make it through to the end with only 45 more minutes, so dragged myself back like a dog waiting for a whuppin’. Fortunately almost 10 minutes was taken up with a comic dance routine, and the end rolled around quite quickly, but not once did I ever feel a bit of sympathy for any of the characters. They were all impossible to believe in and thus impossible to care about.

And then it was over. Hurray. And now I’ve written my review and I can get on to talking about some excellent theater that is much more worth seeing than this farce. Lungs, a part of the Paines’ Plough/National Theater season at Shoreditch Town Hall, blew me out of the room. Do not miss it. It may be a day or two more before I’ve got my review up, but YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED – buy your ticket now.

(This review is for a preview performance seen on October 4th, 2012. It runs through November 10th. Lungs has its last performance on Saturday October 27th and is superior in every way.)

Review – The Hotel Plays (Tennessee Williams’ Green Eyes, The Travelling Companion, Sunburst) – Defibrillator at Grange Holborn Hotel

October 9, 2012

This has been a good year for me and Tennessee Williams … at least, I had a nice time at the revival of Vieux Carre I saw at the King’s Head, which, even though it wasn’t a very good play, was still a good evening and interesting. Seeing that there was going to be a revival of three short Tennessee Williams plays (done together as “The Hotel Plays“), I wondered to what extent it would be an opportunity to revel in an atmosphere of bohemian Southern sleaze, and to what extent it might instead be like the unfortunate evening I spent watching his play Camino Real. Williams clearly had ups and downs during his career, and I was just too aware that a play that had never been produced in the UK could very easily be because it was one of his downs (think Emperor and Galilean).

But, well, there were a couple of other factors at work here. One was that there was three plays in total; another was that the entire evening was billed as 90 minutes long (and starting at staggered times so I could, say, be there at 6:30 and done by 8PM); a third was that it was only £20 (£10 in previews). The real kicker, though, was that the plays were being done in a hotel. Now, I love site specific work, but I had this feeling that doing Tennessee Williams in a tight little hotel room was really going to turn up the pressure and add a lot of extra zip to the plays, even if they were not his best work. Plus, well, with such a small time and money commitment, and three different shows … well, the chances of this being a good evening seemed to me to be very high. And, well, you know, I’d get to see some lesser known works by one of America’s most prominent playwrights. I managed to find a return ticket on the sold out press night, and there I was at a quarter til seven, in the lobby of the Grange Hotel in Holborn, watching the rain fall through the indigo blue light outside and waiting to be collected for the start of my night of plays.

The event started when a young man in a bell boy’s uniform with skin the color of a cafe au lait (I would call him an African American but I have no idea where he came from, though he spoke with a gentle Southern drawl) came and introduced himself – Charlie (Royce Pierreson), our defacto master of ceremonies. He was to be the thread tying the three plays together, although we did not know this at the beginning. He welcomed us, and told us that we needed to hit the toliets now as there’d be no chance during the show. We were then given a few minutes to take care of any necessary business, then followed our escort down the hall and up the stairs to our first play and the first hotel room of the night (they were all stacked on top of each other).

As I walked in the room, I saw a man and woman lying on a bed, both young, both in their underwear. The man (Matt Milne) had red hair and a lotus tattoo on his chest; the woman (Clare Latham) had hair in a kind of poof and smudged, thick eyeliner on – a bit of an Amy Winehouse look. She also had some pretty noticeable bruises and even some tiny scratch marks on her back – I wondered just what she’d been getting up to the night before that had left her so marked up! Based on the vintage of her underwear (though I think a zippered girdle would not have been sleeping wear), I judged this was set in the 60s or so.

As it turned out, the bruises I thought were an accident were key to the story, as they set the man off on a tirade about what the woman had done to earn them. I’ll not say much (although I disagree with the program notes that said this play was about the couple’s sexual fantasies – I think it was all reality based on the anger each of them was manifesting) other than that their relationship was tumultuous and physical in a way that was intimidating in such a small space – not to mention a little draining. Fortunately both of them were just stunningly attractive; but I was having a hard time buying Latham as the small town Cajun chick she was meant to be – her accent seemed choppy and the words malformed. Still, this short play (the star of the evening as this event marks its UK debut) got me nicely warmed up for the rest of the night.

Next up (literally up a floor – and after a ten minute wait in the stairwell) was “The Traveling Companion.” This was another two hander, about a small time hustler (Laurence Dobiesz) and the gentleman author (based on you-know-who – John Guerrasio) who’d paid to have the hustler come with him to a strange town. This initially seemed really clunky – the behavior of the older man just seemed pathetic and unbelievable (not to mention his bizarre Southern meets Brooklyn accent), the Dobiesz seemed to not have the casual cool (laid over finely honed hunting instincts) of a rent boy … but as “Beau” started processing his Quaaludes and “Vieux” started his practiced patter of seduction … the reality of the two characters started peeping up through the actors from somewhere below the script. I feel like Williams himself didn’t understand the inner workings of hustlers, even though he was adept at describing their behavior, because Beau never became three dimensional … but Vieux, with all of his sleaziness, seemed one hundred percent real. Still, this was the weakest point in the evening, though sitting next to the bed on which much of their negotiation happened did make for a very intimate experience.

Our last show (one more floor up) was “Sunburst,” with a very different situation – a person who’s been living in a hotel, retired actress Miss Sylvia Sails (Carol MacReady), is the key persona, not some people who have a transient relationship that has caused them to spend a single night away from home. Miss Sails is actually a character I found hard to buy into – I’ve never met anyone who actually lived in a hotel, and the whole idea seems ludicrous to me. But as a star fallen on hard times, she’s a perfect Tennessee Williams character – blowsy, faded, all of her dreams laid out on her dressing room table, and just a bit of the small town madam about her. Seeing this nearly utterly unconvincing caricature of a real human being laid out for us as if we were supposed to be she was anything we were possibly supposed to be able to relate to much less feel sympathy for … well, it seemed an insurmountable hurdle. Williams had jumped the shark.

And yet, shock of shocks, this turned out to be the very best play of the night, with only one false note toward the end (and some rather unforgivable stereotypes of Italians, shame on you, Tennessee). The tension was incredible as the Misery-like plot unspooled, and I became desperately worried about what might happen to Miss Sails and the few memories (and momentos) she had left. It was absolutely not the kind of overblown fluff I expected upon entering her boudoir and left me feeling rather exhilarated (I’ll say little so it can be a surprise for you). What a good night it had been!

While the quality of the writing of these three plays was mixed, I found The Hotel Plays a very worthy evening that, thanks to its intimate context, became much more vivid than the individual plays ever would have been on paper – meaning this is not just an outing for Williams aficionados but an engaging evening of theater, especially on a value received per investment of time and money. It’s only running for a few weeks and doubtlessly won’t be remounted, so get your tickets while you can.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 5th, 2012. It continues through October 27th.)

Review – Ding Dong the Wicked – Royal Court

October 4, 2012

Who isn’t up for a little bit of structural fun in a play, especially when it’s NEW WRITING and TWENTY MINUTES LONG and by an awesome playwright and TEN QUID? Well, not me, anyway, so when my Italian class got cancelled at the last minute I suddenly found myself with a window of opportunity to run to the Royal Court to see Caryl Churchill’s new playlet, Ding Dong the Wicked. The schedule for it is quite bizarre, with most showings at 6:30, but since you’re done at 7 this means you can fit in another show if you’re quick off the mark (and, say, heading to the National or maybe seeing a 7:45 show).

As a play, the story, such as it exists, is that people are gathering together before sending someone off to war. The country appears to be some nationalistic place; the people against which they are fighting is unspecified. Given some vague hints (in the title), I had this feeling that the Munchkins had invaded and the person being kept prisoner upstairs was the Wicked Witch of the West. But at no point was anything said along these lines; you never know who the protagonists are at war with, or what, if anything, the title is referring to.

What is fun about this play (and makes it well worth a visit) is its structure: as a play, it unspools like a villanelle (here’s a nice example by Auden, this Plath one is also excellent). The two halves of the play seem to nearly entirely reuse all of the dialogue of the first half; but the speakers are changed and even the phrases are broken up, so in one the words of a woman talking about being bullied as a child change to two people’s words, out of sequence, about abusing someone and hating a certain kind of skinny woman. I relished seeing how the meanings of the exact same sentences bent and flowed depending on who said them to whom and in what order – it was really just a lot of fun. Still it was a bit mentally exhausting, and in the end I was glad the play was short enough that I didn’t have to break myself trying to make all of the connections.

Still … for a hardcore theater goer, this was well worth the trip to Royal Court, and made me want to see more of Caryl Churchill … or, perhaps, to read it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012. The play continues through October 13th.)