Monday, October 01, 2007

(Flop) Sweat

"You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying ... in sweat."
Debbie Allen

So, I've been living the dream this past week or so. Seeing shows, hanging out with friends, walking through street fairs, meeting people randomly on the street, eating sushi, going to dance class, rehearsing and I'm tired, people! Also broke.

I think I can take a quick time out here, though, to talk about the snowball effect of agreeing to go to a play for y'all. I saw Janel Moloney's play on Friday. The week before, though, I was telling the Mage I planned to go and she set up a bit of a challenge. She'd seen 100 Saints You Should Know but she'd also seen Scarcity and she deemed Saints "more your sort of thing" and Scarcity "more mine" so I sort of had to see both.

Scarcity is set in western MA in the 70s, I think, or maybe the present, it's unclear since we're in the age of the hipster. It's about a very poor and dysfunctional family trying to get by and a teenage son who is trying to get out. The emotion is raw and the subject matter and action somewhat risque, which are all things I love. I found the writing to be a little raw, too, though. That's not my favorite.

It's a play with a lot of obstacles. The major emotional work of the piece, in my opinion, is for an 11-year-old girl and was played by an age appropriate actress. She did a good job but it's a lot for someone at that level to carry. There's a lot of side plot being flung about, too, so it's like having someone throw a huge bunch of ripped pieces of paper up in the air and your job is to pick out the glittering confetti as it all floats to the ground. We weren't getting a lot of help from the form, is what I'm saying. The night I saw the play they were putting in an understudy in the teenager's role as well so I think it took everyone some time to get rolling. The new kid is good, very watchable and competent but the Mage was sorely disappointed that we'd missed Jesse Eisenberg. Once they did get rolling, however, there's a lot to recommend these performances. Watching Kristen Johnson, of 3rd Rock from the Sun fame is like being in the phone booth when Clark Kent changes. She's gorgeous, I mean, I don't think that can be denied, and then the next second she's a banshee reaching through your mouth for your soul but when you squeeze your eyes shut in fear she's caressing your hair and offering you bon bons. Her performance is, I think, what the whole play might have been. The changes are swift and blind but she makes the path clear and grimly unavoidable which is truly worth seeing.

100 Saints You Should Know is probably more my sort of thing, despite my hating to admit that to the Mage. It is polished and runs smoothly and it makes you laugh and think and then it sneaks up on you with some other things. I mean, the set is anchored by a silver, leafless tree in the center of a turntable which serves up all of the set changes. The crux of it is that one main character is moving away from God (played by Jeremy Shamos, a guy who lived in my dorm in college) and one is moving toward God (played by Moloney). Moloney has a teenage daughter, Shamos has an immigrant mother and a lonely teenager wanders in about midway through Act I.

As character work goes Moloney did solid work in her Off-Broadway debut, Shamos was skilled and both the teenage daughter and elderly mother (played by Lois Smith who you might recognize from many things, including the movie Twister) were gripping. The greatest single character work came from the boy, though. He used rhythm to find an angle on "awkward, confused 16-year-old" and he played the tune impeccably and without the audience being able to connect to him the rest of the actors simply couldn't have done enough to bring the play off.

In terms of form, Saints isn't perfect, either. Shamos has a soliloquy in the first act that stands alone. Entirely alone. In no other part of the play does anyone stand alone and address the audience. The information contained in it is important, it's information without which much of the rest of the play wouldn't make sense, but it also doesn't make a lot of sense for the information to be conveyed that way.

On the train home that night I read the author's notes. If an author feels there must be notes I beg you not to read them before the play, they're supposed to speak to you through the play, how will you know if they've done that if you read the cheat sheet first? This playwright wrote about how plays are supposed to sneak up on you. She did her job. As the second act unfolded some of the imagery touched off memories and thoughts in me that opened a floodgate and I was mortified to be sitting in an audience of cultured theatre goers watching a play that was fine but probably just slightly too simple on some level to be "good" with tears streaming down my neck.

I highly recommend both plays, actually. Sure, you might not love either one but I think you'd get a lot out of either one and the playwrights, both women, are well worth keeping an eye on. Without you guys nudging me to see Janel I wouldn't have seen either show, it seemed such an extravagance ($55 for one and $65 for the other) but once I'd talked to you about it and to the Mage it was an unavoidable one and I'm glad.

Before I sign off, a confession. Appropriate when we're discussing saints, no? I packed my camera on both nights. I was hanging out with the Mage's dad and I waited outside the theatre for Janel and Jeremy but I couldn't quite get up the gumption to be the bloggy girl who asked for a photo. I even scaled it down to just re-introducing myself to Jeremy and complimenting his work but couldn't go there when I saw him being greeted by a group of other people. I was at least able to make polite conversation with Mr. Cox, his wife and Todd Weeks after Scarcity but it doesn't help you guys. I mean, now how will Shamos get Chrome's phone number?


  1. I had no idea about the dorm thing.
    I'm sad I didn't see/won't see either of those schedule at this time does not allow for theatre-going. (Nor does my pocketbook.)


  2. I wish you had time and cash. Will you in Dec? Have you seen this cabaret/comedy/whackjobbery called Cashino? www dot cashinoonline dot com

    I saw it last night for a friend's b'day and it's expensive and not perfect but I feel like you need to see it.

  3. You're making me tired. Slow down.

  4. I know! I'm making ME tired too. Hopefully slowing down a bit this week.

    LOVE your new icon pic btw.

  5. I couldn't get past "I want to live forever. Light up the sky like a flame."
    Now, I have been singing it all day.
    Nuckin futs.