Posts Tagged ‘St James Theater’

Review – Urinetown – St James Theater

February 26, 2014

It’s tempting for me to write this review using as many tasteless puns as I can fit in. But I think I’ll hold off on that for now. Instead, I’ll share what was going through my mind as I watched Urinetown at the St James Theater …

“Right, so, okay, we’ve got a dystopian future here. Water shortage. Major tragedy as people are being extorted to use toilets as it’s no longer legal to have them at home. Um, but wait … nobody’s heard of a chamber pot? Oh god, this must have been written by Americans, right? Americans who believe in the God-given right to pee into huge quantities of water?

“Oh, look, now they’re ironically/post-modernically addressing the audience, actually talking about how to plot a musical and what they’re going to reveal in the second act. Pity they can’t get anywhere near the levels of irony of Starlight‘s ‘Poppa’s Blues.’ Oh, wait, God, so people are being brutalized by the police, so it’s supposed to be grim and funny and post-ironic? 1984 meets Thoroughly Modern Millie?

“But who would ever have wanted to see this thing? It’s not like it’s got really good songs or anything. Wait, is this actually a modern-day Springtime for Hitler? This show obviously was designed to be a flop! Who would want to pay to see a show that features people pissing on stage! It’s all a big joke!

“But wait, maybe it’s a big joke on me. I’m the one who paid full price for the ticket. On the other hand, I only paid 20 quid to sit here in the back row and I’m not really feeling bothered that I can’t see the heads of the people on the upper half of the set. Man, I can’t believe this was the same price I paid to see Finian’s Rainbow. Now there’s a show with some music.

“Heh, they got the joke about Urine Good Company. Hard not to make that one. But how come they missed making a joke about spending a penny? Oh yeah, American. And I can’t really say the producers pissed their money away because they certainly got in some talent to do this show. Rosanna Hyland, now she’s got some voice, great choice for the heroine. Jenna Russell, wow, I remember her from Merrily We Roll Along, she’s got pipes and is quite an actress, nice to see her again. And Richard Fleeshman? Is there really no reason for his character to take off his shirt? It would probably add another star to this show … Oh wait, interval, I bet there’s going to be a line for the toilets.”

“Right, somehow I made it back. It’s not wretched, right, I just am bored. Oh wait! Finally, a good song! And another one, one right after another! It almost makes up for … well, no it doesn’t. And people are really, really cheering. I guess they were desperate for something to like.

“Oh, god, finally, it’s all over. I guess the writers never read anything about composting toilets, either. Man, considering the way the utility companies screw over the citizens with the government’s blessing – saying they ought to “make less tea” or “share showers” to save energy, like staying warm in your house in the winter isn’t a matter of human rights – you’d think they could have made a really crisp, poignant show about corporate greed and government by the plutocracy. Instead, this show just feels stale and boring. But hey, at least I didn’t spend much on it, and I can get out the door quickly and go home.”

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014. Urinetown continues through May.)

Review – Scenes from a Marriage – St James Theater

October 4, 2013

HI! Did you miss me? I just went for TWO WHOLE WEEKS without seeing any plays. It was like being on a detox program, complete with outdoor activities, good meals, and evenings playing cards. And surgery. But I’ve been champing at the bit and I’m ready to roll! Bring on London and all of her glories!

*AHEM*

So there is NOTHING like coming back from a lovely relaxing holiday and plunging directly into a bloodbath of resentment and backstabbing – but I’m not talking about the office, I’m talking about the stage. Last year it was King Lear; an excellent production, I felt sure, but I was ready to throw the old man in a nursing home long before the interval. What does it mean when you’re sympathizing with Goneril and Regan? I was worried I’d experience the same inability to manage a perspective shift at the St James Theater, where I went to catch a midweek matinee of Scenes from a Marriage. Bergman’s “brutal” examination of the disintegration of a relationship? I couldn’t figure out if I was more likely to laugh, cry, or say KILL THEM BOTH! KILL THEM ALL! But hey, I was ready to see a play (I had been back for a few days already), and I was intrigued by the concept of seeing a show in a theater I’d never been to before. So, yeah, bring it on!

The structure of this play is (unsurprisingly) cinematic, very much as “scenes” (sometimes ending quite abruptly), with intertitles saying how long has passed since the previous scene: a few hours, a day, six months. It follows about six years in the lives of a man and a woman (Johan and Marianne, Mark Bazeley and Olivia Williams) who start the play being interviewed as the “pefect couple.” Can you imagine MORE of a setup for disaster? Seriously, why didn’t they just wave around a gun a la Chekov? Next thing you know, they’ve got their “best friends” over for dinner, who proceed to call each other names, throw wine, threaten violence, and then say, “But you’re our only friends!” I couldn’t wait to see how the emotionally distant lead couple were going to make it through their own inevitable breakdown – it was more of a question of guessing what was going to cause it.

Oddly, while the script had been solidly modernized (cell phones!) and Anglicized (I think I caught references to “shagging,” though I had to ask why didn’t they just call the man Jonathan and give up on the Scandinavian pretense), both the character of Marianne and the ultimate resolution of the play seemed hopelessly lost in another decade. I also felt it was overly seasoned with Bergman’s take on how women think (hysterical, maternal, frigid) and what a happy ending might be (everyone has more sex, people accept each other as they are). A great director he certainly was, but Ibsen and Strindberg leave him completely in the dust when it comes to solid chacter creation.

The intrinsic cinematic structure combined with the heavy approach Williams and Bazely took early on – way too much emotion way too soon HEY GUYS THERE IS NO BALCONY WE’RE RIGHT HERE!!! – kept me from buying into the reality of what they were depicting. And Williams seemed too determinedly one note throughout – where was the depth of her character? Even so, by the time we got to the end of the first act – and indeed, by the climax in act two – I was very much engaged in the play, even though I never lost the sense that I was watching a bunch of actors. It was good fun watching it all unspool, much like a whodunnit. Overall, it wasn’t amazing, but it was still a very good afternoon, and worth abandoning a sunny autumn afternoon for a few hours of grief and strife.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Thursday, October 3rd, 2013. It continues through November 9th.)