Posts Tagged ‘sometimes playwrights just like to listen to themselves’

Review – In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel – Charing Cross Theater

April 14, 2016

Tennessee Williams, as the creator of a body of plays, is … interesting. Streetcar, Glass Menagerie and … well. A long tail. He proved his ability to capture the delicate workings of the inner psyche and the unspoken passions, especially of women, in 1950s America … and then continued writing for a very long time afterwards. This play was written (and set) in 1969, and it is from the era when Tennessee Williams was no longer writing hits.

The plot is fairly small: Miriam, the wife (Linda Marlowe) of an American artist (David Whitworth) is hanging around in the bar of a Tokyo hotel where her husband has taken up residence and is creating paintings in his room. They’ve been married for decades, and she seems to loathe him; she talks about wanting to be free from him, plays with the poison pill she carries with her, and fondles the crotch of the barman (Andrew Koji) while addressing the audience about her sexual appetite. The effect is gross and jarring, and compares poorly with the examinations of late-life relationships provided by Strindberg. Miriam is a cartoon, her husband’s artistic focus unbelievable; it all comes off like it’s Williams’ attempts to examine his own sexuality by cloaking it in his characters.

The three dimensionality of the characters is destroyed by both the clunky dialogue and its painful delivery. I found myself wondering to what extent the actors simply hadn’t been given time to rehearse, and to what extent the actors could just not find a damned thing to work with. I cringed at both of the leads’ line delivery: while I understand Miriam has to address the audience (or someone) in some of her ramblings, why in the world Whitworth turned to faced us midpoint in a conversation with Miriam just stumped me. It was like they were reading off of teleprompters – no feelings of actual humans, just a need to get through the words and to the end of the show. I couldn’t help but think they thought the script was as horrible as I did. “Never worry, never fear, one day you’d meet a rich old queer” – why in the hell did Williams think that was worthy of being spoken by one of his characters? It didn’t even make sense in context. It was like he had a lot of unpacking to do about his own life and was making his characters hash it out, but, my God, with the racism and cultural superiority of a 1960s American so fully on display I just wanted to run around the auditorium and apologize to everyone.

Urgh. This show once again reaffirms my belief that the works of Tennessee Williams need not all be taken in, as there are many cuckoos squawking in his literary nest. This particular one should have been tipped over the edge long before it was due to hatch as a favor to us all.

(This review is for the opening night performance at the Charing Cross Theatre, which took place on Monday, April 10th, 2015. It continues through May 14th.)

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Review – Gesthemane – National Theatre

December 2, 2008

Last night by uncle and I took advantage of the 10 pound day seats offer and were squeezed into a performance of David Hare’s new play, Gesthemane. It was quite a challenge to get these days seats, however, as there were already 8 people in line at 8:30 and then another 30 in line when the box office opened an hour later! So I feel my uncle actually worked to get these supposedly cheap tickets, but given that the show is sold out until February, it was the only way to see it at all and both of us were quite interested in checking out the latest by this playwright. (Okay, I admit, I’ve actually never seen anything by him before, but I thought that, given how prolifically he writes and how very many of his shows get produced, there was probably something there worth taking note of.)

The show was billed as being about politics and the “loss of idealism,” but it seemed to be to be a direct blast right at the Labour government that is really hitting the target now that the economy has tanked. “How long can this [incompetence/bullshit] continue?” “As long as the money does,” said two characters, and I had myself quite the laugh in this Last Action Hero – like moment of theatrical prescience. The story is something about a minister (Meredith Guest, played by Tamsin Greig) who is struggling because of the hijinks of her husband (financial) and her teenaged daughter (sexual), along with a parallel story of the party fix-it man, Otto Fallon (played by Stanley Townsend) who fundraises and manages things behind the scenes. In a bid for attention, the daughter Suzette (Jessica Raine, positively brilliant) decides to spill some dirt about Otto to the tabloids, putting her mother’s political career in jeopardy.

While this “story” is of some little interest, the play is more sharply focused on the conflicts between the various characters, many of whom provide Shavian speeches that pepper the ends of scenes. The characters argue about what they value (Minister Guest: more concerned with the party or her family?), who they trust (Prime Minister Beasley: in the pocket of his money man, or focused on his political allies?), and the sanctity of personal life versus fame (journalist Geoff Benzine – he chooses fame and notoriety). As the lights come down, they address us on topics as varied as religion (are political leaders more naturally zealots), keeping state secrets (you must trust that we as politicians are looking out for your best interests – and I do mean trust, blindly!) and proper party fare (my personal favorite – why not to serve neither chicken or salmon sandwiches, ever).

I continually felt during the speeches like I was being addressed by the playwright himself, and, though I mostly found myself agreeing with his points (as also delivered by Nicola Walker as disillusioned school teacher Lori Drysdale), the fact of the matter was that these screeds were already feeling like they were dated by the current economic collapse. They are already talking about the good old days, when the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer, but at least there were some jobs out there. To be honest, I would have preferred to have seen a play that was a bit less topical and a little more long lasting, something that would be a permanent addition to the canon rather than a flash in the pan only interesting as long as the issues it cares about are current. Suzette’s desperate angling for her mother’s attention? Timeless (and brilliantly acted to boot). Meredith’s fight for her career with her former friend, Beasley? Not as razor sharp as David Frost taking on Nixon, but a good depiction of politicians under pressure nonetheless. (This scene was rather sadly held back by Anthony Calf’s performance – he never looked to me like anything but an actor on stage pretending to be a prime minister.) But this wasn’t enough to make up for the rest of the play, which had dramatic tension but not enough drama and certainly not more than two characters that were worth paying attention to. It’s a shame, really, but maybe we’ll get lucky and next time Mr. Hare can get on with a good family feud a la August, Osage County and save the speeches for his personal appearances.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, December 1st, 2008.)