Archive for June, 2014

Mini-review – River of Fundament – Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler at London Coliseum

June 30, 2014

English National Opera billed River of Fundament as the closing “new work” of its 2014 series, which I think set certain expectations: we were going to see an opera, a sung story, only since Matthew Barney was running the show, we were going to be getting our big music with some utterly wild visuals. Picture me getting all woo about some gesamtkunstwerk about to happen: really, it was crazy to think I would do this when I won’t actually go for the Ring Cycle because I don’t want to sit for that long (and don’t like Wagner). But I like film and I like experimental music and I am all about freaky art and this was an event, and event I tell you, even if I had some niggling fears that I had actually just popped $25 in the art wank piggie bank of doom; in essence, funding Matthew Barney’s fine production of style over substance in the grand tradition of Warhol and Hirst, proving that fame is the actual highest commodity of the art world, because it’s what you need to make your art make you money.

It is, certainly, what you need to get other famous people to work with you (perhaps people who think what you do is “interesting” and maybe want to be more involved with “art” to make themselves feel more like “artists”); or, perhaps, Matthew Barney does just get to rub elbows with the elite of the New York scene, like Elaine Stritch, Salman Rushdie, Maggie Gyllenhal, Fran Lebowitz, et cetera. But their presence or absence is unimportant other than in trying to decide just how, exactly, to see this opus. I believe that with the kind of background I have I ought to be able to enjoy/digest/get meaning out of a thing like this without the medium of artist’s notes; and I think we are given a big clue on how to see this at the very beginning, when a man reaches into a toilet, pulls out what looks to be a piece of poop, and wraps it in gold leaf. Now, you can choose to see this as the gilding of Osiris’ disembodied penis, or you can see it as I did: as a billboard from Matthew Barney to the intelligent viewer saying I AM ABOUT TO SERVE UP A BUNCH OF SHIT BUT I MADE IT LOOK ALL PRETTY because that is what you learn to do when you study art at Yale.

And, well, what follows is lots and lots and lots of poo; rivers of poo, and some real rivers, in both LA and Detroit and New York; appearances by Barney’s fetishistic art materials, such as sulfur, salt, and mercury (no Vaseline this time); implied (and real) human fluids both reproductive, purely sexual, nutritive, and simply expelled (I just get the feeling Barney gets a giggle out of trying to be gross, and I refuse to play along; John Waters beat him to the punch three decades ago); really badly acted scenes that attempted to be mythological (but were utterly destroyed by even a chapter of American Gods); tumescing penii and leaking anii; and a huge variety of music that made me feel homesick for the leviathan that is the American music scene. We had an all-female mariachi band; a bit of flamenco; some marching bands; experimental music ensembles (doing laughs and screams and going “Boop Bip”); freestyle jazz … it was all over the place.

And then there was the car obsession. I stand by what I said earlier, that this entire thing is an homage to the death of the American industrial machine (not to Mailer), as epitomized by the muscle car and embodied by the hood decor of the Trans Am (so as to fit into the whole Egyptian journey of the dead hoo hah) – a subject which I do actually consider well worth exploring as art – but I also stand by my assertion that this lushly filmed and richly visualized movie is, in essence, a giant piece of art wank. The individual performances this movie documents might have been interesting to watch as they happened (although I doubt it as the participants looked bored), but I feel like Barney just got really excited about smashing cars and running a giant metal melting apparatus and making a pristine Trans Am be driven off of a bridge into a river (tragedy, I tell you, way more than that of the pregnant Holstein in act one). The point does not need six hours to be made.

The link/poorly executed parallels to a wanky indulgent failure of writing by a great (and importantly FAMOUS) American writer is another symptom of the whole “golden turd” syndrome of “River of Fundament:” it’s a movie that wants to ennoble itself. And here’s the kicker: IT’S A BAD OPERA. But that is too kind, because it’s not an opera, it is an art film. There is an atmospheric soundtrack, done in the style of modern opera, but it’s just background music. Making a movie is what this was about. Barney has put making a spectacle first and, well, shat on the opera. I think he just wanted to say “River of Fundament” is an opera so he could show his movie in really, really cool places: as if being in a place where art is created would confer on him the status he wants this movie so badly to have. He needs us to gild his poo. And, if we agree to this, he will, as in the movie, shove it in without the benefit of lube.

Ah well, it was only 25 quid, it was entertaining to see ENO jammed full of hipsters of all ages, and it was a rainy June Sunday so I didn’t miss much else. And it wasn’t like I didn’t know what was coming. Anyone for a roast pork sandwich?

(This review is for the screening of “River of Fundament” that took place on Sunday, June 29th, 2014.)

Mini-review – Thriller Live (new cast) – Lyric Theater

June 30, 2014

Given my general aversion to jukebox musicals, I’m sure you’re wondering just what exactly I was doing at Thriller Live at the Lyric Theater last Thursday for “new cast press night.” Well, it’s a bit embarrassing, but I’d been promised it was a cheesy fun time and, for all that I do love my Pinter, I also enjoy some cheesy fun. And I recently realized that songs like “Shake Your Body” actually really get me dancing. So I cast aside my fears of the actually bad era of Michael Jackson and headed in for a night that I hoped would awake the 80s groove within me and get me boogie-ing.

The evening opened with a recap of some of the bigger hits of the Jackson Five, as fronted by a tiny boy who didn’t really seem to be into it and who reminded me that getting a really young child fronting a pop band is actually quite a feat. Fortunately, we had some other singers rescue us from the rather under-energetic lad, including the quite excellent Cleopatra Higgins. However, during an energetic disco number that had all of the girls in short shorts, Cleo inadvertently reminded us of one of the many Jackson moments that were completely glossed over in this show, namely Janet Jackson’s Superbowl peek-a-boobie. The girls next to me were nearly in hysterics as the energetic dancing vigourously attempted to reproduce the titillation of that long-ago faux pas, but through some sort of miracle Cleo managed to keep the girls under harness.

This actually brings me around to one of the real highlights of the show: the backing dancers. Insofar as we were supposed to be getting our groove on, it was the sexy, talented, acrobatic and athletic male and female backing dancers who really got me into the show. Jackson’s music excelled at getting people to boogie, and watching these pros go for it made me want to get on the dance floor. And when the Jackson Five came out in rainbow colored suits and got some late-era disco action going – well, it was like a early Pride celebration settled right down in the Lyric theater.

Unfortunately, both the pacing, the musical choices, and the (non-Cleo) singing talent didn’t work. I realize recapturing even just some elements of Jackson’s zing is an uphill task even with five men and a woman trying, but the net result was so much less than the effort involved. I found myself cringing at most of the singing and relieved when the dancer who did Jackson’s most famous moon walking and zombie action moves settled for lip synching. I was also confused by the uneven chronology: while the show seemed to be going for a historical approach, Jackson’s biggest 80s hits were piled on at the end. That left me struggling to stay motivated (or unmotivated to stay) as songs I’d never heard before and never missed – “Dirty Diana,” “Smooth Criminal” – reminded me of why I switched to alternative music in 1982 and never looked back. And then, well, let’s be honest, can you really examine Michael’s “legacy” and completely leave out chimpanzees, hair a-fire, bizarre adoption schemes, and baby dangling? Those things are forever tangled up in the Michael Jackson story to me and to completely ignore it seems calculatedly dishonest. So when the show finished, with skeletons in a graveyard and a zombie Michael Jackson twitching and jerking his way through Thriller, I thought, given how long it’s been since he died and what kind of black magic they used to “revive” him without any baggage, it’s no surprise the rotting ghost of Michael was all they ultimately managed to summon.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, June 26, 2014.)

Webcowgirl’s guide to surviving Rift’s Macbeth (Balfron Towers)

June 29, 2014

I’ll be publishing a tell-all review soon (since it’s sold out I want to have a good record of the show), but for you who want to preserve the air of mystery yet still need to know how to properly prepare yourself, here’s a few tips.

1. Do show up on time. The DLR runs only about every 10 minutes to the nearest station so allow for the extra wait at Stratford.
2. You’ll be asked to change to Bordurian money tokens, but don’t go wild – four quid per drink is enough, and you won’t want the hassle of changing back when you leave. Bevvies are limited to red/white, water, a few sodas, cheap mixer booze, and two juices.
3. Pee before you go in as the show starts immediately when you are walked into the sub-basement.
4. EAT before you arrive. The late night “feast” of borsht, sliced bread, and grilled peppers is wholly inadequate to normal caloric intake; I’d consider it an atmospheric snack. Any other food will not be forthcoming at any point (not even crisps) until breakfast so EAT BEFORE YOU ARRIVE. And pack a snack bar or two in your bag if you suffer from blood sugar issues. And for God’s sake don’t eat the thin yellow peppers.
5. If in the room with the three couches and the TV, try getting a corner seat facing the door to the hallway. (I’m not sure about the layouts of all of the areas where the show is being performed – there are three casts, I’m told – but I’m guessing the action is probably set up on similar lines.)
6. You may need to pee between scenes but if so go immediately after. I’ll never know just what was in that letter Lady Macbeth got, but she sure got excited about something.
7. In fact, for toliet timing, I suggest the moment immediately after Duncan is offed. The bit after is VERY LONG and does not feature anything in the play itself.
8. Smokers: you might want to secrete some on your body or bring e-cigs as after 5 hours you’ll be dying. There is patio access so you can get a smoke in, though it might be hard to figure out when you can do this without having a scene take place. My advice: the build up to the attack (Birnam Woods marching) is lengthy; it’s a nice time to admire the view even if you don’t smoke.
9. Is it worth spending the night in uncomfortable circumstances? No: the show ends before we go to bed so if you want to cab it home, you genuinely won’t miss anything in the morning. Staff was very accommodating about letting people get their stuff (including our confiscated phones) and leave early.
10. The beds (if you got beds) are actually pretty comfy: I slept like a champ and got in about 6 1/2 hours before we were awakened. However, there was one wash rag and a bathroom that was suffering from an excess of Damned Spots so be advised that the hospitality situation is quite straitened – even getting cups for water required a bit of an effort and you certainly won’t be bathing – just sleeping in a bunk bed.
11. Breakfast is served at about a quarter til nine and consists of tea, coffee, croissants, and fresh fruit. I found this completely adequate and really enjoyed visiting with my fellow hard core theater goers. Final checkout is at ten.

Review – Dial M For Death – Excess All Areas at the Battersea Barge

June 28, 2014

It was with great sadness that I read that Excess All Areas, originators of the deliciously camp panto romp Pilates of the Caribbean, was finishing its time on the Battersea Barge. For me, sitting down and listening to some bawdy jokes told by gleefully overacting cabaret performers … while on a boat … is really just a very fine way to spend an evening. And Paul W Martin recruits performers with excellent singing voices and powerful improv skills … I had to ask, how would they be in a murder mystery? And (very important) … how much wine was appropriate to drink before the show started? I felt confident a full bottle was called for when our initial drinks order was placed and in this I was not wrong.

Dial M … for Death is set in an old house in the middle of … well, rural England, where the two nieces of an elderly aunt are squabbling over their lifestyle choices. One has stayed and been a caretaker for the old lady, while the other has gone to London and found herself a husband … or, at least, a fiance. Auntie is hosting an engagement party for her (with lots of spam-based dishes from the cook), but, to nobody’s great surprise, about two minutes after she has the first bite of the meal, Auntie keels over.

This provides several opportunities: first, for everyone (including the cook) to become suspected of murder; second, for the long-frozen romance between the fiance and the elder sister (Dotty) to flame back on; and, finally, for the actor playing Auntie to come back again and again and die many other gruesome deaths. We get several well-sung numbers, lots of bad innuendo, and flying spam; later, we are treated to an utterly surreal moment when the very fuzzy haired gardener with a shifting accent crawls down the long table in the dining room (as in where WE are seating), rolling around, stealing drinks, and generally hamming it up. It might have needed about 15 minutes of trimming but, as before, people were there to laugh, the cast was improvising their asses off (good as the script was acknowledged to be weak), and everyone on both sides of the fourth wall was having a great time. On a sunny summer night with the clouds hanging in the sky like roses on an arbour, you could ask for no more enjoyable evening of cabaret wickedness than this.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, June 25th, 2014. It closed on June 27th.)

Review – Bathhouse the Musical – Above the Stag Theater

June 26, 2014

As a woman of a certain age (and tastes), it’s probably completely unsurprising that my idea of a brilliant way to start my pre-birthday celebrations was to go to the Above the Stag’s newish home, have several glasses of pink wine and them hope to be deliciously, salaciously, and possibly filthily entertained by a musical … featuring gay men … potentially wearing very little. Yes, people, there is a target audience for Bath House the Musical, and I am it. While I may not share the gender of 95% of the target audience, still, we’re a group of people that know what we want and we’re not shy about going out to get it. SHAKE IT BABY!

In addition, as a theater critic, I was interested in seeing a musical that was, to me, completely new. On the other side, from a sociological perspective, I was actually really curious about what might actually happen in a bathhouse! I’d been to some steam rooms, but I don’t think the frequently gender-segregated Bethnal Green Spa is really about anything other than health and socialization: bathhouses, by contrast, have a serious reputation for being the kind of place where hanky panky happens. And, as a woman, they aren’t exactly the kind of places I can just sneak into and have a poke around. So I went in to Bathhouse with high hopes that I’d be both entertained and educated.

In some ways, the plot was perfect for a newbie like me: sweet young Billy (Ryan Lynch) is going to the bathhouse for the first time, and he doesn’t have the faintest idea what to expect either! So we get a song (“Bathhouse ABCs”) explaining some of the basics of bath house etiquette, all of which was completely new to me (even though I feel confident the bathhouse compere does not go around in a feather boa). We also got an eyefull of the variety of men who were our bathhouse patrons – but instead of casting the show with uniformly young, ripped gents, we had a nice variety: the very ripped and muscular Beckham-like Matthew Harper; extremely boyish Joe Leather (who, despite being young, is the one who is looking for – as the song title says – “Bear”); heavy-set, hairy Tim McArthur; flamboyant Alistair Frederick; and middle-aged, South Asian Royce Ullah, who made the production feel like a real London bathhouse rather than one that was, say, in Miami or Los Angeles. The fellow spend most of the evening wearing just towels, accessorized with wrist-or ankle-bands holding their locker keys … and, while you were perhaps dreaming of (or fearing) full frontal nudity, our brave performers quite modestly only provide the view from behind – although, when the lot of them are in a big clump on the stage with Frederick at the middle, well, not being able to see everything that was implied didn’t make it any less hot. AHEM!

In addition to the cheerful stuff, we hit some other elements during the show, such as the difficulty of trying to navigate your way through internet contact and the fun of being not partnered up for the holidays … although as captured in song, with “Clicking for Dick” and “Christmas at the Baths,” you could see that the authors weren’t wanting to wallow in misery. In fact, the overall effect of the whole show was of cheer and not taking it all too seriously – it’s meant to be a pick-me-up (see what I did there!), and it succeeds at this well. I laughed and leered and giggled and just let myself enjoy the comic air (and handsome performers). As a summer show, you couldn’t ask for a better bit of fun than Bathhouse – and it’s a good thing for the performers because BOY this would be a chilly one to do in December!

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Friday, June 20th, 2014. It continues through July 20th. Pictures to follow!)

Review – Patience – Charles Court Opera at King’s Head Theater

June 24, 2014

I was absolutely willing to pass on seeing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience at the King’s Head Theater, despite it being the one I can sing along to all of the songs, because, well, I just didn’t have much faith in it not being … well, stodgy. I loved the Union theater’s all-male Patience in 2012, but that was just Sasha’s magic at work, right? The last thing I wanted was some historically pure production that sent me off to nap land, no matter how much dragoon guards and aesthetes make me giggle.

But then I heard it was a Goth Patience. And suddenly, it seemed so much more relevant to not just my life but to modernity. The whole “twenty lovesick maidens” who go around being woeful and in love with a total loser poet seemed so absolutely right for this script. And Goth has a lot in common with the aesthetes, especially if you feel like poking a bit of fun at people who take what they wear a bit too seriously. I wasn’t sure how they were going to work in the whole “Patience is a milkmaid” thing but it all seemed very promising and I scooted out and got tickets for my next available free night.

As it turns out, this was a very appropriate adaptation that took the characters of the shallow, fashionable women (and men) and found a perfectly reasonable excuse for them to be among us for, surely, people who value looking a certain way over personal accomplishments are just as present in modern society as they were in Oscar Wilde’s time. It was all set at the Castle pub (a Camden Goth hangout), and Patience herself had changed from a lowly milkmaid to a tan, outdoorsy barmaid … exactly the kind of person Goths would snub. The only clash was the Dragoon guards … I found it hard to believe a bunch of soldiers would ever be the sweethearts of a pack of Goth chicks, but, well, disbelief must be suspended: however, when they came back all in their best version of Goth garb (so to better woo the ladies), the one dressed as a mime had just so clearly got the whole thing wrong that I burst out laughing. Yes, it seems mostly right, just using black and white face paint does not a Goth make.

The singing was very good, with the performers uniformly seeming to have operatically trained voices. However, I got the feeling that maybe Gilbert and Sullivan wasn’t their forte – the songs, to me, would have benefitted from a bit less vibrato and a bit more patter practice. That said, the words were mostly clear, and the “updates” (such as referencing Frank Sinatra, Primark, and Nietzche) made the show even funnier.

Overall this was a very lively evening and well worth the small investment in time (just over two hours with a 7:15 start ensuring I got home at a decent time), especially at the affordable ticket price. Thank you for a fleshly show, of full comedy!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, June 19th, 2014. It continues through June 28th.)

Preview/Review – River of Fundament – Matthew Barney at Haus der Kunst/London Coliseum

June 19, 2014

A few years a go, in a reality far far away…

MATTHEW BARNEY, in his Brooklyn studio. He has been struggling to get his new project up and running and is pacing around a table covered with scraps of paper.

MB: Norman Mailer, Norman Mailer! You gave me that “I’m connected with gen-u-wine real art” cachet that I love, then you died! I loved Ancient Evenings‘s delicious blend of cheesy porn and esoteric Egyptian shit, both of us can ride the Book of the Dead to the top of the pile, baby! But I needed more, I needed you to be in my performances … I need something more! I gotta capture the Zeitgeist, man, and your geist is gone! Aw fuck, I need some coffee.

BARNEY goes to the coffee machine and pours himself a cup, then sits down at the paper and grabs the morning newspaper and puts his feet on the table.

MB: Aw, Jesus, the US economy is going to shit. Not good for the art scene, that’s for sure. Fuck, and now Chrysler! It’s pathetic! I remember the good old days, growing up in Idaho, man, the Trans Am was the car to have. The cops loved Ford, but that was about body, not speed. But the Trans Am, it was so cool, with that big old bird on the hood …

(pause)

Holy shit, I’ve got it! This whole thing can be about the death and transformation of the American muscle car! With all sorts of Egyptian shit on top of it! It’s, like, a parallel for the death of America as an industrial power! And fuck rebirth, it’s just dead, that phoenix isn’t rising. But, oh man, I can do some great stuff with this … I can use cars for each of three segments … fuck, I can do it in Detroit, the fucking beating heart of the American industrial machine, the dead industrial machine, like Osiris, but no golden phallus … I bet I can even get some of those smelters up and running and actually melt down shit! Fuck, this is going to be amazing! I can probably give it some other local ties, to some Motor City artist … and, shit, the Chrysler logo even looks like a religious icon! I’ll stick with the Norman Mailer thing … but I’ll big it up even more and make it an OPERA! Survival Research Laboratories, eat your heart out! I’m riding this baby ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK!

(starts scribbling furiously and picks up his cell phone)

Jenna? You got some opera composers on the short list? I’ve got an idea ….

END SCENE

So two weekends ago I went to Munich, where Matthew Barney has the relics of his latest work, River of Fundament, on display at the Haus der Kunst. In essence, it’s leftovers from the performances that made up River of Fundament, as well as some scraps from the creative process. The various bits didn’t really ring my bell as art, more as items you might find on display at an artistic version of the Hard Rock Cafe. You get his obsession with base metals, with vaseline, with the grottier elements of human anatomy (he just had to love the Osiris/Isis story), but at the same time you could see the underlying thought process tying it together. I’d just seen the excellent Egyptian museum in Munich – all shiny fresh and new – and the elements of the culture and the mythos were all right there in my head, and I couldn’t help but think that both Barney and Mailer were flailing when they tried to incorporate it into their respective works. I suspect both of them were just fascinated like many people are when they learn more about ancient Egypt – but Barney’s nods are very clever and really quite fun (I got a real laugh out of the Boat of Ra).

I can’t imagine, really, why he wanted to do this as an opera, other than to just “jump the shark,” but, you know, if he is able to convince all of these people that he’s doing cool shit and they want to get involved, well, more power to him. It’s a refreshing change from the apologetic patheticness of Tracey Emin and the shallow “I’m really just making shinies for money” of Damien Hirst. Let’s make it big, let’s make it awesome, let’s melt down some cars, roast a pig, and call it an opera. And film it. Because, you know, Matthew Barney, why not. It’s going to be showing at ENO at the end of June and, well, I’ve gone ahead and bought tickets because, you know, even if it isn’t good art, it’s still going to be something worth talking about and, truly, his other movies have created image memories that have stuck with me for years. So I’m giving this a go, and, well, even if its six wasted hours, I’ll be able to say I went.

(This review is for an exhibition at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, and for a film presentation taking place on Sunday, June 29th, and Monday, June 30th. The Sunday show is pretty much sold out but there have been some returns.)

Mini-review – Murder in the Cathedral – Little Spaniel Theater at Saint Bartholomew the Great

June 14, 2014

Kyrie Eleison
This plays seems to go on and on
Why can’t it just end and be done?

Shoot me please but somehow I got to thinking that Murder in the Cathedral was one of those great suspense dramas a la Deathtrap or really any of the Brother Cadfael novels and I only deserved what I got: two hours of overdrawn poetry with a serious lack of attention to building character or even dramatic tension. Full props to Little Spaniel Theater for staging this in the beautiful Saint Bartholemew the Great: I enjoyed the opportunity to experience the architecture at my leisure (they have a cafe in the cloisters, it’s amazing). But sadly my exposure to English history since I moved here means there was absolutely zero mystery involved in this show; pity I didn’t take a class in theater history or I might have been warned off. Sometimes the language was really nice to hear (“Ooh! Good alliteration!”) but, I think, if the text were in front of me, I probably wouldn’t have finished reading it. The use of the “women of Canterbury” as a Greek chorus was grating and, well, so was the fact I was wasting a stunning June Saturday inside and unable to dash out without crossing through the actors. I really like T. S. Elliot but the man just did not have the hang of making a good play.

On the other hand, I shall now fill the gap with Murder – She Wrote – In the Cathedral. It needs to be done. “It was an angry ticketholder, with a hymn book, in the queue for the ladies’ loo!”

(This review is for the final performance that took place on June 14th, 2014. Live and learn, live and learn.)

Review – Rock the Ballet – Bad Boys of Dance at the Peacock Theater

June 13, 2014

I’m a ballet fan, as you know, but I’m also a fan of exciting dance nights that aren’t driven by pointe shoes and violins. And, I’ll admit, I also get a thrill out of going to watch people perform who are, well, yummy. And the idea of watching “Bad Boys of Dance” whip their shirts off and “rock the ballet” sounded very appealing to me. For once, I had no difficulties getting someone to come with me: seeing gorgeous men flinging themselves around on a stage to rock and roll was a very easy sell!

It was great to see people moving to music I enjoy – “Tainted Love,” “My Sharona,” “Sexy and I Know It” – and the audience was really into it (occasionally singing along). A lot of the dancing was forward facing group moves, like 90s music videos, with the various men occasional taking a moment to show off with spins, leaps, or even backflips. (Oddly there was no actual street dancing – a bit of a gap, I think.) The mix was spiced with the addition of a blonde female dancer (Adrienne Canterna) who seemed to me to be one of those hypermobile types, capable of bending in half backwards as well as, er, undoing her arm from its socket (or that’s what it looked like). Canterna did a lot of duets with lead male dancer James Boyd, which, thankfully, managed to stay on the right side of good taste – you saw her as the fun, athletic, smiling girlfriend that everyone could relate to. She pulled off leaps and spins that challenged the men mightily – I actually wanted to see her in toe shoes, just to see if she could keep the speed up. Amongst the men, I found myself keeping an eye on Jace Zeimants, who, while less heavily muscled than the other guys, seemed to feel the music more.

Rock the Ballet

The BAD BOYS OF DANCE in ROCK THE BALLET
Photo Credit: Irina Chira

If I had my druthers, I would have liked to have had some more slow bits, rather than such a generally even rock beat. The dancers just could have done more if there’d been more headspace to not be rushing around all of the time. And I felt the show was done a bit on the cheap – costumes appropriated from the Gap, cut-rate background projections and no set – but the rock music and lively dancing kept the evening rolling along. The second half, in which there were costumes that were much more “phoar” and much less “casual day at the office” was bushels of fun – with Jailhouse Rock giving all the men a chance to show off and “Shot Me Down” (a remix of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang”) being my favorite bits. All of this on a sunny summer day, white white galore and walking out to “Sexy and I Know It” – I haven’t had this much fun since the Buttrock Suites way back in the Seattle days. Nice job, Bad Boys!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, June 12, 2014. It continues through June 28th.)

Review – Hotel – The Shed at the National Theater

June 11, 2014

It’s hard to tell from the descriptions on the National Theater website whether or not you’re going to enjoy a show. Check out this blurb for Hotel:
A tropical thriller, where nothing is quite what it seems, Hotel explores the cost of integrity.

Well, just what does that mean, right? It sounds like a prequel to the horrible kind of drivel Michael Billington gets so excited about, the plays that “ask important questions.” Bah! I can appreciate that playwrights are concerned about the world they live in, but too many times this leads to plays that wind up lecturing rather than creating good theater. I want a play to aim to succeed on the stage first rather than valuing its ability to be a political platform: this requires well written dialogue and a focus on human relationships over speechifying. If I wanted to be speeched at, I’d go to church or a political rally. A playwright breaks his contract with us, the audience, when he takes advantage of us being trapped in our seats to try to enlighten us. And this makes me angry.

Fortunately, Polly Stenham is reading from the same invisible contract I am – but to tell you about it, I’ll have to be careful to follow the rules I have agreed with you, my imaginary reader, and not ruin the experience by telling you too much about the show. I might do a spoiler filled analysis later, but we have an agreement, you and I, that I tell you if you might enjoy a show (and explain why), but I don’t tell you so much that it takes away the fun of the evening. I highly value going to a show and being surprised – it’s why I don’t read scripts and why I won’t read reviews in advance of seeing a play.

What I loved about Polly Stenham’s Hotel is not just its position 100% on the knife edge of the modern world – a world in which a micro scandal ruins a political career, a world in which the terror of social media sends people to court and to their deaths. What I loved was its white-knuckled clench in the guts of how families tick. I can’t tell you how perfect the relationship between teenager Ralph (Tom Rhys Harries) and his younger sister Frankie (Shannon Tarbet) was – the details of them teasing each other, fighting with each other, and standing up for each other left me truly moved. I was completely bought into their genuine existence as siblings (despite the fact Harries was just too yumalicious to possible be seen as anyone’s brother).

Stenham handles less believably the conflict between husband and wife Robert (Tom Beard) and Vivienne (Hermione Gulliford). That doesn’t mean that both of them don’t get a chance to be excellent later, but this area of interaction seems more clunky. But Robert’s relationship with both of his kids is just right, and a scene in which he berates Ralph in a moment of pure fury had me on the edge of my chair, it seemed so close to ending in violence.

Where the play goes, now, that I’ll just not say (it all reminded me a bit of the ending of Don Giovanni in terms of unexpectedness). It’s a wild ninety minutes that ends, to me, at just the right place, with all of the questions left dangling in front of us. I’ll underprepare you a bit with this quote: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” But do make sure to get in that car.

Spoiler alert: this play is not for the squeamish. And take the 15+ guidance seriously.

(This review is for a preview performance that took lace on Wednesday, June fourth. It closes on June 26th.)