Posts Tagged ‘april de angelis’

Review – Tutto bene, mamma? – The Print Room

July 2, 2013

After seeing the brilliant Going Dark at the Young Vic last year, I was all afire for a chance to do another play in which sitting in a REALLY dark room was part of the experience – in the case of Going Dark, the experience of going, and then being, blind. And Tutto bene, mamma? at the Print Room seemed to take it even further, as the play is performed in complete darkness for both actors and audience (I kind of think the actors had infrared goggles on, though, as they were walking around the set). What were we going to experience that required sitting in the dark? What would it mean to “share a world that is in complete darkness” with the actors? How were our heightened (other) senses going to be made use of? What would be learn?

In the case of this play, I think there is no doubt that “they accomplished so little with so much.” The sound design was incredible (nicely capturing the sounds of the city, people having two way conversations on a cell phone, the use of stoves, locking doors, jingling keys, etc.), and there was even an attempt at olfactory creation (I smelled lavender and onions: my husband smelled a burnt cake); but with nothing to see (and a lot being described), it was my ears and my nose that made this play completely unbelievable. First, the person playing the young boy simply sounded too old. I know a child’s voice is not really possible for someone with long vocal cords to do: but with the body, it’s easy to convince an audience that what you’re watching is a ten year old, not an adult. Instead, our actor (actress, I think) characterized a child by using a speech impediment, turning their “S”s into “Th”s. This was grating and made it seem to me like the child was meant to be somehow mentally impaired.

Then, well, there were the smells, or rather, lack of them. In a house as full of rot as this place would have been, you should have been able to really smell the reek and not just hear the flies buzzing around. The smell is mentioned, but nothing is there; and given that other items had nasal enhancement, the lack of engagement on this level for this critical area just … well, left a gap. Sure, the child was talking incessantly about what was going on and building the story in our heads (of the “scene” in front of us), but … um … it just wasn’t believable. And the child wasn’t believable, either: smart enough to understand hibernation but not smart enough to understand death?

At the end, it seemed like I’d sad through a much longer play than the 50 minutes it was advertised at. I’ve decided that 90% of the fault of this play is the script: the child is not written to be believable, and so he was not. And, really, while this may have been based on a “haunting real-life story,” it just didn’t make for a good play; in fact, there was only one moment (a conversation between the boy and his mother near the end of the play) where the darkness really, really worked. Otherwise, it’s only purpose was to let it get by without the budget for the special effects it would have needed to have worked if we could have seen what was happening in front of us, and to hide the horror of an adult playing a child very, very poorly.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Saturday, June 22nd, 2013. Based on the nearly empty house, I think word had already got out about what a stinker this play was. It continues through July 6th.)

Review – Jumpy – Royal Court

November 17, 2011

Although there are only three more days (and four more performances) left for Jumpy at the Royal Court, I would be ashamed to not write up this truly excellent show.

I was a bit disturbed by hearing the play was about “mother daughter relationships” and “turning fifty.” This sounds to me like an excuse for a bunch of self-indulgent navel gazing followed by a treacely group hug. But it was much more about the relationships between the people in the play and the fact that as the people keep changing, the relationships have to change, too. The fact that nothing stays the same seems to be what’s making Hilary (Tamsin Grieg) stress out – it’s bad enough that her skin is sagging, but to have to deal with her nightmarish daughter Tilly (Bel Powley) and then possibly losing her job – it’s no wonder she’s feeling anxious. But her one consolation – her sexless, though not loveless marriage to Mark (Ewan Stewart) – turns out to not be as immutable as she hoped.

This seems like a recipe for a depressing play, and it could have been, but instead, it’s absolutely hilarious. Some of that is due to Hillary’s friend Frances (Doon Mackichan), who in one ten minute scene set a new standard for inappropriate behavior during a play (or, in this case, during a family beach vacation) and burned my eyeballs with the horror of it all. Frances totally adds pizazz to Hilary’s life and keeps her from falling too far down the rabbit hole of self-absorbtion – everyone could use a friend like her. But a lot of laughter is from Hilary’s attempts and failures to navigate the swiftly shifting terms of her relationship with Tilly – it’s clear underneath she loves her, but Tilly is so out of control it seems impossible for Hillary to do anything to keep Tilly’s life from turning into a much bigger wreck than her own. And yet, in a realistic, sympathetic, and almost hopelessy comic way, Hillary keeps trying.

If there’s one lesson to take home from this play, it’s that life keeps on changing no matter how little you want it to, and the best thing you can do is keep on dancing and make an effort to spend time with the people you love (no matter how little they seem to love you, especially if they’re teenagers). It was realistic, and, to my relief, not in the least sentimental. Best of all, it had me crying with laughter, not just because of the situations but because the way the characters talked about what was going on was just so damned funny. Good on you, April De Angelis, for a great play firmly rooted in the here and now that set itself right up for best play and production of 2011. For some of us, who’ve found that life is maybe providing more changes and challenges than we can really handle, it’s the joy of a play like this, and the feeling it gives us that we’re really not alone, that gives us reason and enthusiasm to keep on moving forward past the gravy years and into the great unknown.