The Play That Goes Wrong

Upstaged

Another day, another night at the Rep. This time we were upstairs in the main stage theater, to see the season finale, The Play That Goes Wrong. This farce of a play skewers the classic British murder mystery, with pratfalls galore. The action begins before you know it, as actors pretending to be stage hands attempt to make last minute corrections, alas in vain. The action also continues through intermission, with actors mingling with the crowd out in the atrium. Its humor with the ineptness of a hapless acting troupe is part of a genre of theater that pokes fun at itself. A close cousin of this show is the play, Noises Off, which this one owes some debt of gratitude. Another example is the comedy Play On! Dave played Lord Dudley in it in high school, “Yes, dear.” The results are the same though, a thespian Waterloo. In this play the actors are all bumbling fools, but it is the set that is the real culprit. Literally falling down in front of you. Is there a set dresser in the house? Hopefully one who knows how to do the job. Since Dan is now doing set dressing for a living, I wonder what he would think of this show. I hope that he would not feel insulted. In the end there is not much that one can do about any of this, except to sit back and laugh.

Frida

Mexican Dancers

We caught the Rep’s final Ignite reading of the festival, Frida. This play is a biographical retelling of the life and career of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. She painted portraits, self-portraits and many other works inspired by Mexico.

Ignite has been occurring for eight years now. Billed as “new scripts out loud,” plays are read by equity actors, without costume, lighting or staging. At least that’s the plan.

In recent years, this model has undergone some scope creep. With Frida some of the actors were in costume, probably of their own making. There was some staging, usually with reading lectern in hand. Most importantly, since Frida is a musical, there was piano accompaniment. A long way from a full production, but also more than just a script reading. This recitation occurred in the Rep’s Studio Theater, a basement black box that was packed to standing room only. 

Frida is portrayed as a fighter. As another audience member described this play, in the following Q&A, it is about “strong women and weak men.” It is also about the pain that she endured. Physically, she suffered from polio and a tragic collision between a street car and the bus that she was riding. “Six people died, four on the trolley and two on the bus.” Most of her pain was spiritual though. There was the death of her mother, her miscarriage, but most of all it was the philandering of her husband, the artist Diego Rivera.

He was older and the more famous artist. There was love, but she initially responded to his condescension and overbearance with her nickname for him, “the Toad.” After his unfaithfulness this morphed to simply “Fatso.” For a long time her art was dismissed. She was viewed as only the wife, but a tour of the United States or as it is called in song, “Gringolandia,” jumpstarted her career. Her return to Mexico City propelled her to full recognition.

As a reading, at three-and-a-half hours with intermission, Frida is a long play. Performing it would be even longer. As with any Ignite product, it is still a work in progress. Edits were being made right up to its reading. It will be interesting to see if Frida goes forward. It has a large cast, which at thirteen is large for a Studio production and might be envisioned going upstairs to the main stage.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Share a Laugh

 

Oslo

Oslo Program Cover

In 1993, the Oslo Accords were adopted. This was the last success in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Culminating in an iconic photo-op, where Bill Clinton presides over, while Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands, on the Whitehouse lawn. Rabin and Arafat later shared the Nobel peace prize, but the origin of this diplomatic win began much more prosaically, with a quiet Norwegian couple.

Husband and wife, Terje Rød-Larsen and Mona Juul, facilitated the negotiations that eventually led to the Oslo Accord. In 2017, J.T. Rodgers adopted their story to the stage, with his Tony award-winning Broadway play, Oslo. Performed at the Rep, this is artistic director Steven Woolf’s final directorial production in his illustrious thirty-year career with the Saint Louis Repertory Theater.  

In the opening scene, Terje describes meeting Rabin, who at first comes across as a sputtering clown. “Six months later, Rabin is prime minister, and I am a fool,” says Terje. “Why? Because I saw one side of this man and assumed this meant I knew all of him.” Chance encounters lead to secret meetings. Through Rodgers, we witness not these meetings themselves, but the intervals in-between them. Set in the anteroom adjoining the negotiating room, we witness the down time between principles. Jokes are made and stories are told, lightening this three-hour history of a peace process that had some measure of success.

Juxtaposition this story, with last week’s debacle in Vietnam. Terje emphasized personal relationships in those negotiations, but he also had a plan, a strategy that he called gradualism, a policy of gradual reform rather than sudden change. Contrast this with Trump and Kim’s mano o mano quest for a deal, where so little preparation was done that the two sides can’t even now agree on what they disagreed about. It is a sad commentary on this summit that the world first held its breath and then let out a collective sigh, when no deal was reached. Fear of a bad deal being struck, just for a win, was that great. 

Alabama Story

Alabama Story Program Cover

Date night, with dinner and a show, at Cyrano’s and the Rep. The evening’s entertainment was a play called Alabama Story. Set in 1950s Montgomery, it is in part based upon historical events. A children’s book, The Rabbits’ Wedding, caught the eye and ire of segregationists, because it told the story of two rabbits, a black male rabbit and a white female rabbit who fell in love with each other and married. Racists claimed that the book promoted miscegenation.

The historical half of this story centers on the conflict between Alabama’s head librarian, Emily Wheelock Reed and state representative E. O. Eddins. Eddins claimed that Reed “put stock in racial incorporation” and demanded that “This book and many others should be taken off the shelves and burned.” As a result, the library system banned the book from all libraries in Alabama. Reed, enjoyed the book, but complied to the extent that she moved it from general circulation and put it on reserve, available upon request. This made the book still accessible and thus was not a complete ban of the book. She explained, “We have had difficulty with the book, but we have not lost our integrity.” Before the year was over Eddins again found fault with Reed, who had distributed a reading list that included various controversial titles including a Martin Luther King, Jr. book.

Parallel to these historical events and mirroring the underlying children’s book, the play also tells the story of two fictional characters, a black man and a white woman. Their conversations, in chance encounters on Montgomery’s streets, recounts their shared childhood history. Playmates, while their mothers worked together in the kitchen of “the big house”, their friendship ended one day, when she innocently kissed her friend. He and his family were forced to move away. They meet again in Montgomery, because she is in town to care for her dying father, while he is in town as a civil rights worker. Through their conversations, their childhood friendship is rekindled. 

Brothers of the Deer

Brothers of the Deer, Michael Coleman, 1986

According to the artist Michael Coleman, “Brothers of the deer refers to the ravens in the painting. The ravens were in many cases spotted on the horizon, preceding the migration of the great herds of caribou, and called brothers of the deer by northern tribes,” in referring to this painted scene on Vancouver Island.

I called my dad, because I was worried about my Aunt Betsy, his sister. She lives in Wilmington, NC and had decided to shelter in place during Flo. I first asked him how things were going, to which he answered, “Not so good.” My heart sank, but as it turned out, it was nothing. His Internet was out and he was missing it. It had been out for a few days and AT&T’s past promises of fixing the problem had already come and gone. It has been diagnosed as part of a sporadic outage that is affecting the area and has nothing to do with the equipment at his end. It sounded like a first world problem. As it turned out, he had called Betsy after the storm and she was fine. There was no damage to her home, but she had lost power. Consequently, she didn’t want to talk very long, for fear of losing the charge on her cellphone.

Anne and I went to The Rep last night, kicking off our theater season. I had to switch our regular tickets for this show and a number of others, in order to accommodate our future travel schedule. I did pretty well, except for a show in January (Sorry Joanie) and last night’s show, which I had to re-reschedule.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” was the show.  This historical musical about Eva Peron of Argentina was one of Webber’s early shows. As it turns out, next week we have tickets for “Love Never Dies”, Webber’s sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera” and one of his latest shows. It will be interesting to compare and contrast these two works. I noticed many similarities between this show’s music and its predecessor “Jesus Christ Superstar”. It will be interesting to look for similar comparisons between “Phantom” and “Love Never Dies”. 

Nonsense and Beauty

Covent Garden

Nonsense and beauty have close connections. – E. M. Forster

Another day means another play. On Saturday, we attended the Ignite! reading of the new Scott C. Sickles play, “Nonsense and Beauty”. Here is it’s synopsis:

In 1930, the writer E.M. Forster met and fell in love with a policeman 23 years his junior. Their relationship, very risky for its time, evolved into a 40-year love triangle that was both turbulent and unique. Based on a true story, Nonsense and Beauty captures the wit and wisdom of one of the last century’s great writers.

We’ve been attending Ignite! since its beginning six years ago. Each year The Rep produces three of these readings, making for a total of eighteen so far. We have attended most of these performances. “Nonsense and Beauty” is by far and away the best written play of the lot and the most mature one too. By which I mean, for many of these readings, the script is being revised right up to the moment of presentation. This often results in a still rough around the edges product. This is a natural artifact of the play writing process and as such is excusable. But when such a finely tuned vehicle like “Nonsense and Beauty” comes along it puts the others to shame. Typically, The Rep chooses one of each Ignite! season’s offerings to produce as a play. I pray that they choose this one.