Archive for September, 2019

Review – Hello Again – The Union Theater

September 8, 2019

I’ll say this for Schnitzler’s “La Ronde” – there are a million different ways to slice it on stage. Michael John La Chiusa has turned it into a musical, following the original’s form of “each scene being about a couple, the next scene featuring one person from the previous scene and one new person,” even going so far as to mirror the cast of characters – the sex worker, the soldier etc., ending with the sex worker … although Schnitzler has taken some liberties, such has making the poet a writer and the count a senator … but really, it is a very close parallel to the original work. This is the show, “Hello Again,” that is currently on stage at the Union Theatre.

Stylistically, though, with this framework in place, the music and settings off each piece are hugely varied, almost as if it were intended to be a sourcebook for examples of many different styles (rather in the way Chicago played on the different sort of vaudeville acts). Together it adds up to a fantastic showcase for the cast (although the changes in times from World War I to the Sixties and the Seventies did leave my head spinning). And the sexual encounters, while not involving nudity, did manage to get some real electricity going on stage – especially fun in the scene with the nurse seducing her (hopeful) charge. The heat on stage even seemed to hit the fire monitoring system, as we were forced to leave due to an unruly alarm mistaking smoke for actual danger.

Of the cast, my favorite for pure musical joy was Ellen O’Grady, who opened and closed the piece with a warm, winning voice that spoke to me of years on the stage. It seemed almost a shame to have so many people in the cast – in that it seemed a waste to only have each of them in two numbers! I mean, come on, we got to the seventies, where was the orgy? At least we got to have some same sex scenes, both in a scene set in the early 20th century and one hitting the drugs-and-disco era.

Overall, though, I didn’t find this show blew me away, in part because the episodic nature of the text made it hard to build dramatic tension, narrative, or character. It’s a problem shared by the original to be sure. Still, as a night of showcase moments, it was pleasant enough and adds a good balance to the hardcore musical or theater goer’s diet.

(This review is for opening night, which took place on Friday, August 20th, 2019. It continues through September 21st.)

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Review – Room Service – Two Right Feet at the Bread and Roses Theater

September 5, 2019

It’s been a good summer for plays about robots in my book – first Space Age Love Songs,
and now this charming tale about data gone wild set in a much nearer future. Well, the days when having a robot that perfectly looks like a human being are probably very far off; but the underlying premise of this play, that of the amount of knowledge available about individuals in the cybersphere and what could be done with it, seems like a story that really is only about two years further off than right now.

Science fiction is often used as a way to examine social issues by looking at potential outcomes from a more distant viewpoint. In this case, Max has been sent to a town not far from where he lives to do a week on site, for reasons nobody cares about; what matters is that when he walks into his hotel room, he is greeted by a service robot, Zahra, who is FAR more knowledgeable about his desires than Max is comfortable with. Is he eating properly? Zahra thinks not, based on CCTV recordings of Max going to MacDonalds and having late night kebabs. Can she be sure? Well, yes, by doing a chemical analysis of his poo. And how does Richard find out this has happened? By discovering that his morning fry up has been replaced with meusli by the oh-so-concerned-for-the-guest Zahra. Some of the easy jokes are gotten out of the way quickly (Zahra talking is overheard by Max’s wife), some of the easier jokes are completely avoided (to my ABSOLUTE joy Max did not try to get fresh with Zahra, constantly seeing her as simply a robot – easily, I think, represented by just a voice but far more compelling for us as an audience to have Emma Stannard, with her glorious glow in the dark pink hair, to watch _being_ a robot), but the set up for simple philosophy gets pushed further and winds up developing into quite a story line.

You see, not trying to hump robots aside, Max is very human in being not particularly logical, and in being impulsive, and in being ruled by chemicals and memories and inadequate data in a way that Zahra is not. This leads to him doing things, in one mere week, that look likely to mess his life up but good. And can Zahra help under her terms and conditions, as signed when Max went onto the webiste?

As a full length yet short show, I found this show both emotionally compelling and an example of damned fine story telling, with the tousle-haired Andrew Mullan believable as a young businessman settling down somewhat awkwardly into fatherhood, and the expressionless (yet fully controlled in a perfectly “I’m a robot way”) Stannard just deliciously smooth and, who would think it, sympathetic as the collection of bits and data that really just wants to make sure that her client is well taken care of. It was a rare and perfect bit of science fiction theater that asked some very timely questions about how we are living today and wrapped it all up in a tight little narrative package that absolutely took us somewhere with feelings – even if robots aren’t meant to have them, we most certainly are, and I did. It’s only on for a few more days, but make the trek down to the Bread and Roses, it’s well worth the effort.

(This review is for the opening night performance, which took place on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. It continues through Saturday September 7.)