Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (December 14)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

An adaptation of the classic gothic horror novel. If you're going to name your work after a character, better make him or her memorable! Bram Stoker's antagonist is one of the most enduring fictional characters of the 19th century. FYI, the word means 'dragon' in Romanian, & its uncanny, foreign set of sounds contributes to the appeal.

One of the great titles of all time, largely because the play's content―Wilde's puckish irony & his punning on Ernest/earnest―subverts the title's superficial meaning. The phrase itself suggests a moral parable on a pretty dull subject and it could serve as the message of plenty of lukewarm rom-coms. But imagine the prank on a ticketholder who expects moral rectitude!

'Mummenschanz' is a medieval German phrase with a tortuous derivation. More generally, mummers are European folk performers in the same loose genre as mimes, clowns, jugglers, etc. So who are Mummenschanz? Swiss hippie performers who draw on that folk tradition. The name is untranslatable, so the word pretty much refers directly to the troupe at this point.

A slippery title that seems to point away from itself. What desert city is it talking about that it invokes 'others'? It somehow suggests the isolation that's part of a desert city anyhow. It's not a hugely memorable phrase but it is enigmatic.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (December 7)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

I'm never impressed by playwrights who apply clichés without a twist. Hard to say whether this one is reusing the phrase or implying that its tale will actually show people doing the (seemingly) impossible. And at least it's a grisly bit of imagery.

An adaptation of the Dylan Thomas short story. It's got a nice rhythm: two iambs separated by a X on “Christmas”, which slows the tongue down a bit and thus focuses on the holiday nature of the piece. “A Child's Christmas” treads a nice line between generic & specific, while the location adds further specificity. Despite all that, the title's a little grey & flavorless.

I admit to being impressed that, forty years on, Donny & Marie are still a recognizable draw on first names alone (at least, for an above-30 crowd). Granted that, I guess this is exactly what its utilitarian title implies: an old-fashioned holiday revue.

This title parodies the decade-old Seussical: The Musical, a musical anthology of Dr. Seuss tales with a pretty memorable title of its own. The flawed rhyme of the original (a hard 's' & then a soft one) is improved here, & the sense of silliness is kept. But the allusion's probably recognized only by Broadway die-hards. Doesn't matter though: everyone can guess that this is a silly news revue in musical burlesque format, so the title does its job.

A dull prosey title. Very modernist: it doesn't care if it alienates you. But it does get a concert setting/subject across.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (November 15)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

A marketer's title, as dull as the game it identifies. At least the juxtaposition of quiet, focused sport with extroverted, spectacle-driven theater implies a sense of comic surrealism.

I'll bet including the word 'Christmas' boosts sales of any item. But here it's presented with the excitement of a dictionary. And 'looking' is a dull activity that fails to capture a potential ticket-buyer's interest.

The savvy culturista will recognize the title of one of Germany's greatest movies; obviously, this drama adapts it. Even if you don't recognize it though, from the surname you can guess that it's set among Germans. It's a generic surname, while the given name is uncommonly Catholic. 'Marriage' is almost a state of existence, suggesting a long span and a full arc.

Another film title, a classic of British cinema. Red shoes are almost an archetype, really. The color suggests passion (at least in Western Civ); the accessory may be sexual (think fuck-me heels) but they also ground a person. Red shoes, then, suggest an emotional storm or instability. Adding a definite article almost seems to imply a curse upon the wearer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (October 25)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

Playing on cliché is a easy path to a memorable title, though the cleverness may disguise a lack of substance. This repurposing of “the break of dawn” suggests a pivotal moment at its apogee, a climax. Or is Neil LaBute just alluding to Dylan's “It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)”, which opens “Darkness at the break of noon”?

This title does good work. It suggests that the show is either modernizing a Greek myth or that the myth is a key to the show. It's got a bit of sex in it: the image of a girl in a swimsuit. And the phrase has a good rhythm―especially the vowel sounds, which are short & dull until the sharp 'e' caps it like a stopper.

Like many titles, this one points at a character. He or she probably isn't the protagonist but a catalyst (at least, that's the standard dramatic role for a prophet). A fortune teller's almost a stock character―you probably imagine the same gypsy crone that I do when you hear the phrase. Not very exciting, but okay around Halloween.

Titles, like band names, go through styles and fashions. This one screams post-war Absurdist drama, eg The Homecoming, The Chairs, The Maids, etc. These & The Memorandum strip the drama down to a focal point, ironically a banal one. Incidentally, the original Czech title is Vyrozumeni. No idea whether Czech has direct articles or not (I suppose The Seagull could accurately be called Seagull).

Surprised that Shakespeare doesn't title this play Falstaff? So was Verdi, who knew that the fat fellow would sell more opera tickets. But then, Will didn't title his own plays, someone else did. And in the style of the era, it's a lot longer (see pic). Note that the 1602 quarto gave Sir John top billing. Its the First Folio that called the play Merry Wives, which has a nice rhythm and refocuses attention on the play's clever women.

Like Krusty the Klown's fictional variety hour, The Pee Wee Herman Show winks knowingly at the style of '50s & '60s TV. Think of Ed Sullivan, Laurence Welk, & Bozo the Clown, whose names acted as a brand that let you know what kind of entertainment you'd get. Thankfully, Pee Wee Herman has a name that works in the same way, at least for audiences of a certain age. And that's who this show's aimed at.

Persephone has a classical ring, with its simple declaration that it's treating a Greek myth. If you didn't know better, you might even assume it's a real play by Euripides (it's not). Unless the show springs a twist on you, you know exactly what plot to expect from it.

Ugh. Utilitarian, made for selling a package of tickets. It attempts to brand the company's name, maybe implying (falsely) that it's a bona fide English troupe from that old theater town.

Sarah Palin used this snide phrase as a shot at Obama's 'failure' to change America. I love it―calling a set of ideals a 'thing' somehow demeans them so acutely! I also like the implicit fact that Palin looks down her nose at hope! The playwright likes the phrase too, appropriating it to imply that his or her play will wade into the mud that's getting slung about by our politicians.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Theater: Reviews (October 22)

Most Fridays, I post capsule reviews of my week of theater on Metromix's blog. But since these reviews disappear with the listings, I thought I'd publish them here too. Enjoy!

Public Theater / 3LD
Pulitzer-winner Lawrence Wright reviews the terrible situation between Gaza and Israel, offering an astonishingly balanced point-of-view on a polarizing subject. Wright has the access, acumen, and perspective to go with his New Yorker credentials, but what skills he has as a reporter he lacks as a performer. He's rumpled and fumbling, and occasionally flubs a line. Luckily, he's got Oskar Eustis, head of the Public Theater, to help him shape and vivify the piece. They add texture to the reportage by projecting photos, footage, maps and other journalistic accessories. As for Gaza itself, it's hard to imagine how the situation could be any worse. The Human Scale may sound like a lecture, but it's not exactly. Wright and Eustis trade a lecture (or an article's) authority for the informality and intimacy of theater, reducing a situation of a global complexity to a human scale (aha!) without simplifying it.

Schoenfeld Theater
Stage stalwart Patrick Stewart (forever Captain Picard) shares the stage with TR Knight (House) in David Mamet's diverting but inconsequential Life in the Theatre. Both actors demonstrate great comic timing and indicate deeper, sadder facets to their characters. As the rookie's star rises, the veteran succumbs to professional jealousy and despair. But all that's deep in the subtext. Under Neil Pepe's direction, the darker thread gets only a little attention. His Life simply if hilariously depicts the dangers of live performance (a doorknob comes off; a wig slips; lines get skipped) and the vanity of actors. Contrast the in-show hijinks with the smooth operation of Santo Loquasto's set, whose traveling flats and sliding make-up tables suggest all the nooks of an old, musty theater. Life is good enough—the performers earn genuine laughs—but it's a minor show that you leave behind as soon as you leave the theater.

The Red Room
…is like an evening at a '40s bebop club. As each Pumpkin Pie actor takes centerstage to recite a monologue, the others sit attentively to one side, offering a chuckle at a particularly rich burst of actorly energy. Meanwhile, a sound artist tailors a musical backdrop to each speech on the fly. The audience nods to the words and the rhythm, cackles at the sick ironies of Clay McLeod Chapman's five gothic tales of American life. Four of Amber Alert's monologues approach the themes of youth and sex from deeply disturbing, often hilarious angles. The four pieces pry perversities from the American psyche, with Chapman and Hanna Cheek (Off-Off-Broadway's secret treasure) giving spiky, fearless performances. The odd one out, an odd little tale about a Texas boy who discovers a dead astronaut's diary, offers unironic pleasures. Though it's lovely and well-acted, cutting it from the program would focus the evening's themes.

59 East 59
Poet Sylvia Plath wrote this one-act for BBC Radio in 1962, less than a year before her suicide. British director Robert Shaw felt compelled to stage it, but neither the compulsion or its inspiration are evident onstage. The show's a dully literal set of monologues by three women who've delivered children—one wanted, one unplanned, one stillborn. The three young brunette actors are barely distinguishable from one another, both vocally and visually. And all are directed to speak the poetry in conversational tone, as if the play were confessional prose. The standard white American accent, with its slight lisp and adenoidal vowels, is a poor tool for creating a sonic landscape. The result is painful to listen to—and you need to listen to poetry closely when there's no action or character to accompany it. Sometimes plays are lost for a reason.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (October 18)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

Here's a title that's pregnant with drama. Most revolutions look alike; it's the actions taken later that distinguish one from another. And of course, 'revolution' can be taken metaphorically, as an inciting incident.

Straightforward marketing: Colin Quinn isn't the protagonist, he's the performer. The subtitle is a cliché, maybe a catchphrase. Wouldn't it be nice if Quinn meant it literally though? (In fact, he does: the show's billed as a history of civilization in 75 minutes!)

A conventional metaphor that's often used without thought to its meaning. “Critical mass” is the amount of radioactive material needed for a nuclear reaction. So “to reach critical mass” is to reach the state required for a fundamental change―a great phrase for a drama (even one that's not about physics).

The typeface? What a funny thing to allude to. Presumably, the show's about printing and publishing. But the root-word ('future') smuggles in a forward-looking theme, while the 'a' suffix adds a modernist edge.

Like 'after the revolution' above, 'in the wake' offers a good deal of dramatic potential. And like 'critical mass', it's so conventional you often forget it's a metaphor. It refers to the wake of a ship, of course, but it's also got a touch of the funereal.

As I commented last June, this is one of Shakespeare's strongest titles. A casual reader may misread “Merchant” as referring to Shylock―which would cleverly reverse expectations, titling the show after the antagonist & not the protagonist―but he's not a merchant. Instead, the title points us at a minor character, upsetting expectations all around!

A classical allusion? Penelope was Odysseus' wife who awaited his return for two decades, practicing a stratagem to hold suitors off. In other words, her name's a byword for fidelity. The title itself could be a lost Greek drama―or a modern take on the myth.

I can't imagine a duller title for a musical.

An order you'd give a dog, it works as a play title because it carries the implication of acting. To take it further, it suggests the staging of a death/resurrection, which is a fun trope to employ whether it's real or faked.

Wikipedia lists three-dozen songs entitled “Rain”, along with several movies & novels; I'll bet there are plenty of impressionist paintings too. So it's an odd choice to name your Beatles tribute concert after their psychedelic single. Gives you Beatle cred, I suppose.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 34)

At the lowest pit, Judecca, the damned lie frozen under the ice. And in the darkness, iced up to his chest & still towering overhead, stands Satan. The most grotesque monster in Inferno, he's got three weeping faces above three sets of bat-wings. His chin drools blood because he's eternally chomping on three arch-betrayers: Judas, Brutus & Cassius (aha! a clue to Dante's politics). Dante & Virgil climb down Satan's pelt to the Earth's center (at Satan's groin), flip around, & climb up the shanks! Suddenly, it's morning, not evening! We're out, under a dawning sky—welcome to Purgatory.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 33)

In an oubliette, one man sits atop another, gnawing thru the skull to his brain. The cannibal is Count Ugolino; his victim a Pisan archbishop. The prelate accused Ugolino of treachery (evidently justly, since here the Count is!). But Ugolino focuses on how he was imprisoned with his sons; it's ambiguous but probable that he ate them to survive. Dante slides downward to Ptolomea, resting place of those who murder their guests. Faces upward, their tears freeze in their sockets! Here we learn that, the moment a person betrays, a devil overtakes its body & casts its soul into Hell.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 32)

Silence hangs over the final circle, where the rivers of Hell empty into a frozen lake. Here, the worst sinners are immobilized in icy oubliettes, thousands of heads sticking out with blue faces & clacking teeth. There are four concentric rings of sinners, distinguished only by the position of the heads. In the first, Caina (named for the first murderer & holding sinners who betrayed relatives, naturally), heads face down. In the second, Antenora (betrayers of their homelands, after a Trojan turncoat), eyes look forward. All the while, gravity grows stronger as we near the Earth's center.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 31)

This deep into the Inferno, the murk fouls up Dante's sense of perspective: what he mistakes for towers ringing the edge of the Malebolge are actually giants, 70 feet tall or more, standing just beyond the Malebolge in Tenth Circle! One speaks a barbarous nonsense, the language of Babel; another is straitjacketed in chains; a third, the tallest yet, lowers Dante to the floor of Hell at Virgil's command. Many of them are the titans that attempted to overthrow Jove. Link that to Babel, and you realize that the Tenth Circle holds, among others, those who would depose God Himself!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 30)

Add to the alchemists, counterfeitors and con artists of the tenth Malebolge impersonators (exemplified by Myrra, an Ovidian character who disguised herself to seduce her father) and misrepresentors (especially Potiphar's wife, who failed to seduce Joseph & so accused him of rape in Genesis). Fraud is the overarching sin of the Ninth Ring, and the most damnable fraud is false creation, a lie that impersonates or enacts a fiction and, in a sense, overwrites the truth. That's why Dante is so very careful to proclaim his creative cosmology as divinely ordained: the orthodox might accuse him of this very sin.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 29)

Once again, Dante weeps at the sight of so many damned souls; once again, Virgil chastises him for his too-soft heart & reminds him that all the torture is divinely ordered. This repetition reminds me that Dante's in-poem self is a medieval character, not a modern one: his essence doesn't change. But in this Christian context (& the allegorical style of medieval narrative), Dante's tears & mercy ally him with the Son of God. So, clockwise and down into the final Malebolge, where alchemists, counterfeitors, & other con artists are literally plagued: covered with diseased scabs & festering sores.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 28)

Here's a surprise: Mohammad languishes in the ninth Malebolge among the schismatics, not with the blasphemers in the seventh Ring. Evidently, Dante sees Islam as a (particularly perverse) offshoot of Christianity rather than a religion unto itself. The Prophet and his fellows in this ditch are, fittingly, hacked and severed like men on a battlefield, a concrete symbol of the dissension they fomented among the faithful. Dante begins the canto with a striking description of a battlefield. Here and elsewhere, he alludes to his service in the Battle of Campaldino, a decisive event in Florence's civil wars—another schism, of course!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 27)

The central character of this canto goes unnamed but his actions are supplied in such detail that he must be a Dante's near-contemporary. Like Ulysses, the soul gave shifty advice with a silver tongue. And he counseled a pope who waged war upon his fellow Christians. From what I've read, I'd say Dante's not too enamored of popes, but maybe that's just because I've only read Inferno so far? There's an Italian proto-nationalism that looks back to Rome & Troy and lingers (Virgil-like) over the geography of the peninsula. But Dante's political philosophy is hard to make out.

Theater: Title Bout (September 23)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

The title doesn't allude to La Belle et la Bete (AKA the French fairy tale Beauty & the Beast), but that's an easy mistake to make. But why use the French? It's confusing & pretentious. I'll bet it even drives away potential ticket-buyers. And sadly, I've noticed sites listing this as Le Bete and ignoring the caret over the first 'e' (or, in Metromix's case, unable to find the correct coding). Shoddy titles like La Bete are why I began this column.

I covered this one Off-Broadway in my second Title Bout ever. But to revisit. This biodrama follows the convention of titling itself after its subject. But the doubling of “Bloody” adds a kick & a rhythm, implying the musical genre. It also adds a touch of shame to the president's name/legacy, which is cool.

One-word titles are better with concepts like this than with names & objects. Delusion isn't thrilling but it's got potential, since delusion can be a powerful motivation, a theme treated with complexity, or the implication of an expressionistic style.

As usual, a festival gets an ugly utilitarian title. “Downtown” does imply a certain style of theater―which the fest's content delivers―but it's uninspired. And I'll bet there's no Spring Downtown Festival, which would make the “Fall” necessary. If only it were a pun instead.

I'm of two minds here. This is a clever way to suggest an adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and it avoids the clumsy convention of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. But it's also esoteric: a reference to Jay Gatsby's real name, which only Fitz-o-philes will recognize without prompting. I'll call it a win, just because a title that makes you think is better than one that doesn't.

Not bad: an open phrase implying a theme and a state of being. But not great either: it's pretty generic, too bland to tempt an audience.

It's precise, which is surprisingly rare for a title. You can also infer the subject (linguistics) pretty confidently. The slightly technical sound hints at a hard style & possibly scientific or academic setting. But that's all conjecture; there's an enigma to The Language Archive that works in its favor.

For a wordsmith, Mamet isn't the best at names. Glengarry Glen Ross has euphony, Sexual Perversion in Chicago has sex. But most of his titles are bland, with this one as an especially dull case. At least we know the genre: a backstage drama.

Another biodrama with its subject on the marquee. The fame of NFL's greatest coach has tarnished over the decades, as fame inevitably does (he's due for a mention on Mad Men, isn't he? I guess Super Bowl I is next season). But if you're the audience for Lombardi, you recognize the name.

You could opine that this phrase is insubstantial―that it merely builds theme or atmosphere, not plot or subject. That it's vague, unless the show's about the nature of time (unlike, though I'd like that). But I like it for those reasons. It's slightly abstract and also poetic, albeit a bit cliché. I've got to admit it's not great but I kind of like it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 26)

Into the ninth crevasse of the Malebolge and one of the most highly praised episodes of Dante's Comedy. Here, dissemblers are consumed by fire. One flame contains Ulysses (AKA Odysseus), punished for his diabolical stratagem of the Trojan Horse. Or maybe it's his hubris: Ulysses relates how he urged his sailors beyond Gibraltar. Far to the south, he saw—not Hades, as Homer had it, but the tallest mountain on Earth. It's the Mount of Purgatory, which Dante is heading towards! Dante sees himself in the intrepid warrior, but unlike the dissembler, his exploration will confirm God's truths.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 25)

There's no break in action between the cantos 24 & 25: to punctuate his hatred of good, a thief gives God the fig with both thumbs! His burst of blasphemy prefaces the darkest, most horrific episode of the entire Inferno. A six-legged serpent scurries up to another robber and latches itself to his torso. Then it melds with him, turning him into a hideous monster. A second lizard stabs another person in the belly. The dumbfounded soul and his reptilian torturer mingle essences till they resemble each other: two deformed hybrids scuttle off. Thus does sin deform the soul!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 24)

With the bridges in the Malebolge collapsed, Dante must climb the scree to continue. In a strange twist of medieval physics, Virgil (who is weightless, being a soul without a body) hoists Dante from below. Finally, they reach the eighth ditch, which is filled with snakes! These vipers stab right through the terrorized sinners, who catch fire, turn to ash, and then, in a parody of the Resurrection, are reconstituted. Chilling! Dante recognizes one soul, a Florentine damned for jacking a church. The man prophecies that his party, the Blacks, will triumph over Dante's Whites—and so they would.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 23)

Virgil hustles his charge away from their demonic escort (Dante compares him to a mother rescuing her child from fire), over a berm and into the next crevasse. The Malebolge's sixth ditch holds the hypocrites, clad in lead cloaks. Dante chats with a pair of Florentine officials who sold the city out to the Pope, then he notices Caiaphas, the Pharisee who convinced Pilate to execute Christ. The priest, ironically, is also crucified: nailed to the ground so his fellow hypocrites walk over him. To the poet, then, hypocrisy is a sort of betrayal of political beliefs.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 22)

This comedic canto is straight out of a medieval play. The damned in this ditch arch their backs to ease their cramping and so, dolphin-like, break the surface of the molten pitch. Dante's demonic escort hooks one with a harpoon and starts tearing his flesh. But like his fellows in this area, the poor bastard is a barrator (a lawyer who repeatedly files suits simply to harrass) and he manages to start an argument among the demons! As they fight, they let go of him and then, when they give chase, they tumble into the burning tar. Slapstick!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 21)

Part one of a two-canto arc. At the Malebolge's fifth ditch, winged demons use hooks to snag & torture the unfortunate souls who lift their heads out of burning pitch. It's a folk vision of Hell, especially the runty, farting demons with ugly Italian names like Scarmiglione. Their captain tells Virgil that one of the stone bridges which span the Malebolge collapsed 1266 years ago (that's 34 AD, when the Crucifixion caused an earthquake). A squad of demons are appointed to guide them through. Dante, never a courageous tourist, thinks an escort is a bad idea…

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (September 9)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

This punchy title does a good job of focusing our attention. Viewers know to pay attention to whether the characters earn forgiveness for their transgressions, and whether they deserve it.

The phrase suggests a cultural flashpoint, with the bigoted nativism of modern American politics. But the use of the plural makes the title more abstract, giving it a hint of postmodern philosophy (“liminal blah blah”). That makes me shy away a bit.

I get a kick out of this title, which sounds like it was invented by a local Chamber of Commerce (“Idaho: we're not small potatoes!”). Knowing the rotten state of the economy & the tendency of drama to portray the American West in a cynical twilight, I'll bet the title's ironic.

An adaptation of a Noel Coward drama & its film version by David Lean. Marketers won't love it: it's too generic & doesn't state outright that it's an adaptation. But the title has a repressed tenor—it's not tells us more than it has to about two people meeting—that fits with the show's content.

In this context, 'Sister' suggests a nun. But by calling her 'divine' rather than 'holy', this title gets a little showy and flamboyant. Not bad.

Generally, I lump words like 'there' with pronouns as too vague. This one tests my rule of thumb, since I suspect it's using 'there' in a euphemistic way, as genitals or hell. Or maybe not, maybe it's just a basement. A savvy writer will the ambiguity and refer to all these connotations.

Sounds like a Beckett play, doesn't it? 'Slash' titles feel awfully post-modern & dated in their use of symbols. And Exit/Entrance is also self-conscious about its theater terminology. Still, the writer gets a point for getting the action backwards: this play occurs between the exit and the entrance, not visa-versa.

I always wonder why The New York City International Fringe Festival is abbreviated FringeNYC. Why not NYCFringe? Either way, the compression into one word is only good in a URL. At least 'Encores' has a theatrical connotation that lifts this above the merely functional.

You can't go wrong with Shakespeare or the Bible. Lillian Hellman quotes The Song of Songs: “Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines | For our vines have tender grapes.” Most theologians (mis)interpret this warning as little foxes being casual sins. But in the context of a love poem, the warning's from a frisky gal to her guy. Either way, the meaning's obscure. I'll admit it, I'm not sure what Lil's going for here.

I've always liked the name Orlando, it sounds so exotic. This show adapts Virginia Woolf's novel, not the epic romance or the opera based on it. But I'm glad the producers don't call it “Virginia Woolf's Orlando”, not just cuz that's inaccurate (it's Sarah Ruhl's Orlando) but also cuz that sort of marketing is odious. (See also Brief Encounter, above)

Speaking of romances, this title sounds like a Gothic novel. Why's it so catchy? Check how it's a pair three-syllable feet, stress in the middle. In both, the first syllable's an 'uh' vowel, the middle one's a short 'o'. In the third, 'Prophet' ends in another short vowel, but the long 'o' of 'Monto' caps the phrase. That's poetry.

This sounds to me like a sequel to The Rehearsal (a Restoration comedy), but I doubt most audiences think of that. 'Revival' has a theatrical meaning & a religious one (the American Christian movement, with its tent meetings). The latter also implies a character arc—will the protagonist be reborn?—something for an audience to watch for.

Great title, lots of fun. 'Roadkill' alone is a graphic compound word that's totally American. Then 'Confidential' suggests a true crime exposé (in these cases, it's used ironically). Plus, that enhances the 'kill' in 'roadkill', as if the show's about a killer who uses his car as the murder weapon. Hard to stage, but it sounds awesome!

A little vague. The allusion's clear enough—that Welsh ballad usually translated as “All Through the Night”. Plus this title has the sense of a journey, either literal or figurative. But as I said, it's vague.

An enigmatic phrase, which I simultaneously find mildly compelling & mildly frustrating. I have no idea what this show might be about. But it's also sloppy writing: should we assume the writer forgot a comma? That is, is the phrase an order to tigers, or is it a descriptive phrase about tigers in Black American dialect? The more I look at this one, the less I like it.

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 20)

Another ditch in the Malebolge holds the diviners. They've had their necks twisted so they can only look backwards, a particularly gruesome and fitting punishment for false prophets. Dante is horrified, but once again he's admonished by his guide for his tears. We're to understand that pity for the damned is a form of blasphemy. The Comedy stresses that Christian justice exists, & that it's the guiding principle of the cosmic order. Also, Virgil gives an extended description (20 lines) of the rivers of Italy. Dante glorifies Florence a lot, but he's also got a streak of pan-Italian patriotism.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 19)

The Malebolge is divided into ten ditches; we've come to the third, which houses the simoniacs. They're wedged upside-down into holes; new arrivals get stacked upon the old, crushing them into the rock. FYI, simony is the practice of selling posts in the Church. A century later, Chaucer also sounded off against this type of sin, but I'd say he portrayed their corruption as part of the fallen nature of Man. Dante views them as truly wicked holy men who follow “a god of gold and silver”, putting them into a cosmic perspective, not a human one.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (September 1)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

(Note: August has been a slow month for new shows. Only two opened last week, & none the week before. So I saved them for this week's list. Enjoy!)

Not bad. It's not a cliché, though it's reminiscent of 'end of the world' & 'top of the world'. And it is an allusion―to a Tom Waits song, which only heightens the bluesiness of the image.

Another allusion, this one to the sinister nursery rhyme about falling babies. But it does its job cleverly, eliminating the context and drawing attention away from the famous source. The modal form of 'to rock' (ie “will”) brings a sense of either destiny or threat to the title, flipping the usually quiet action of a cradle on its head. It's one of my favorites, actually.

What a generic string of words! Only the 'must' has any kick to it. Shakespeare can get away with impersonal pronouns (eg As You Like It), but not many others can. (I'm looking at you, Pirandello.)

See previous note. Plus, this grammatical construction of the first-person singular pronoun is a conventional phrase and, in titles, a cliché. I'm not sorry to have the De La Soul track stuck in my head, but it's the best of a dozen songs with the title.

Shaw's one of my favorite playwrights, but he's not great at titles. To give you some context, this is one of his best. It uses his favorite tool, misdirection, in a few ways. It pulls our focus off the protagonist (Vivie Warren) to the antagonist (her mother) and then to the conflict between them. And in 1894 England, Shaw is subverting Victorian prudery by using euphemism to draw attention to a taboo subject (prostitution).

Smooshing all your words together is so '90s, especially if you capitalize the first letter of each word―think of all those websites mid-decade whose ads used that device. Too bad: the phrase itself is okay. It's specific and singular. It has the ominous air of a child's nightmare, yet “underneath” is the grammar of an adult.

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 18)

We're at the volume's halfway point! The Eighth Circle is a massive network of trenches, moats, and earthworks called Malebolge (or “Evil Ditches”). Like the demon Geryon in the previous canto, the Malebolge is entirely Dante's creation, and at 13 cantos, it's the single largest corner of Hell in his Inferno. That adds to the sense that Dante is getting more confident in his writing. His metaphors are more robust and his descriptions are more vivid. Traversing the Malebolge, he recognizes pimps, seducers, and flatterers from Florence, while Virgil points out the mythical Jason.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 17)

Even to a modern imagination, used to seeing unreal creatures rendered through CGI, this episode is a triumph of the fantastic. At the precipice of the Seventh Circle, Virgil hails a massive demon called Geryon. The size of a barge, it's part man, part serpent, and part scorpion. Virgil & Dante mount the beast and ride it off the cliff into the void! Adding to the tension, Dante thinks of Icarus & Phaeton, two mythic flyers who tumbled to their deaths. But Geryon wheels down to the next ring like a falcon, depositing a terrified Dante safely at Ring #8.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 16)

A trio of “sodomites” recognize Dante's Tuscan accent & ask him how the city of Florence fares. Dante must reply that it's riven by political dissent. Sinners like these gay men aren't simply defined by wickedness, even in Hell. They're citizens and partisans, and they reflect some better aspect of Florence than currently (c. 1310) existed, in Dante's opinion. Unlike most poets, he's happy to comment on current events in his work, even though the purpose of his Comedy is to chart an eternal cosmic hierarchy. It makes the book both intimate & relevant to his contemporaries.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 15)

Throughout the Inferno, there's a tension between the justice of God's punishment & Dante's pity for the damned (both in his explicit reactions and implicitly through his humane descriptions). For the modern liberal and for Dante, this comes to a head in Canto 15, where men are punished for homosexuality. Dante won't controvert Christian doctrine, so instead he paints a compassionate portrait of Brunetto Latini, a friend & mentor. Dante deliberately elides Brunetto's sin, cites his service to Florence, commends the man's poetry, and ends, “he looked more the winner than the one who trails the field.” Well finessed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 14)

In a desert raining with brimstone, Dante notes that one man ignores the cinders falling like snowflakes upon the damned. It's Capaneus, one of the kings who beseiged Thebes (see Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes). Capaneus stood against Jove (ie the godhead) & remains blasphemous even in Hades! But back to that desert. Virgil plans to traverse the scorched earth along a stream that connects hell's various rivers. In a flourish of cosmology, Dante explains that the rivers are fed by the wound of a monumental titan beneath Mt. Ida. It's breathtaking how wide the poet's scope & imagination are!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 13)

Ready for a horrific image? Further into the seventh circle, harpies patrol a wilderness of thorns. When Virgil snaps a twig off one, it bleeds and screams in pain! Virgil explains that each bush is a soul; when Judgment Day comes, the resurrected bodies of these suicides will hang from their own branches (an echo of the arch-suicide, Judas). The thornbush weezes its tale through its broken stalk—he belonged to the court of Frederick II—but never gives his name. We're meant to deduce it, but the omission also suggests to me that Hell's punishments simultaneously emphasize and annihilate the self.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 12)

After last canto's disquisition on sin, Canto 12 picks up the action. Sidling past the Minotaur (I love all the monsters!), Dante & Virgil come to a vast, boiling stream of blood: the River Phlegethon. Centaurs ring the strand, firing arrows at bobbing souls of the violent. Virgil enlists one to ford the river with Dante on its back (remember, Virgil is insubstantial & needs no help). How are the violent distinct from the wrathful of Circle #4, swimming in the Styx? It's more than mere degree: here are tyrants like Alexander and Attila along with career criminals.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 11)

Commenting on a ripening stench, Virgil notes they're descending into the seventh circle. The final three rings are a class apart from the first six: here are sins of violence & treachery against others (including God), not merely sins of the mind. The book careful parses the sins in its deepest probe of metaphysics so far. It's hard to comprehend this position from our humanist point-of-view. When Dante shows pity for the hellbound, he's chastized by Virgil. The damned deserve their God-given punishments. But I can't help seeing an ambiguity in Inferno, because it describes them with such humanity.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 10)

Where the last canto clanged with action, this one turns inward. Dante takes a moment to chat with Farinata, a Florentine rival whose sin was stoicism—a blasphemous philosophy. Ironically, Farinata strides from his tomb in an echo of Christ's Resurrection. And he earns a complex respect from Dante, since he was a fierce defender of Florence in Italian politics. Dante also shows sympathy for the family's exile, especially once Farinata foresees Dante's own banishment. The damned, it seems, have a prophetic vision that tethers them to the world. The exchange unsettles our narrator, ending the canto on a pensive note.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 9)

Last canto ended on a cliffhanger, with Dante & Virgil barred from the City of Dis. Now, Virgil reports that reinforcements are on their way. Then he mentions his first trip from Limbo into Hell, back when he was newly late (thus filling in the backstory since his death in 19 BC). His anecdote's interrupted, however, by an attack from the Furies & Medusa (described only via sound—Dante doesn't see her, of course)! Then a heavenly angel appears, scattering the damned & storming the gates. It's thrilling! Inside, Circle #6: a traditional hellscape burns the souls of heretics.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 8)

Dante notices that the Stygian ferry only draws water when he's aboard—a subtle reminder that Virgil's an insubstantial spirit like the rest of the damned. They're represented this canto by an arrogant Florentine, Filippo Argenti, who gets singled out for abuse—first verbally by Dante, who knew the guy personally, and then physically (spiritually?) by the skiff's crew! It docks at Dis, the great city of the Fallen Angels of Hell. From the parapets, they jeer at Dante for risking his still-living spirit and move to bar the gates. For the first time, Virgil seems worried…

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 7)

Another fiend guards the fourth ring: Plutus, Roman God of Wealth. Before him, in a display of pointlessness that reminds me of Sisyphus, a mob of avaricious & prodigal shove heavy casques in circles, some clockwise & some counter-, reversing direction when they collide. Most of the greedy ones are clerics, who've rejected the asceticism of Christ. Virgil (maybe in response to Canto 6's report on Florence?) waxes allegorical on Fortune, who lifts some people & nations while dashing others. And then, at the River Styx, the wrathful wrestle among themselves, holding each other under the brackish water.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 6)

Dante, preoccupied, finds himself in a fetid downpour, facing three-headed Cerberus. FYI, if you encounter Cerberus, toss dirt in its mouth. Now in the third circle, Dante stops to chat with one Ciacco (the nickname means 'pig', the sin is gluttony), who's the first contemporary Florentine he's met. Caccio has some dire prophecies for the city, riven by factionalism that had recently sent Dante into exile. Even more spooked, Dante asks Virgil about the metaphysics of damnation. After the Day of Judgment, punishments will be greater, and so the damned will be closer to perfection.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 5)

At the second circle, we meet Minos, Judge of the Damned. In an echo of confession, the dead recite their sins; Minos coils his tail to signal which ring of the Underworld they belong in. Descending past him, we come upon a vivid sight: the lustful—Cleopatra, Tristan, Dido—are tossed in the air by a black squall, cursing God (and not themselves). One, “Francesca”, floats down to describe her sin: she and her lover were inspired to adultery over an epic romance about Lancelot. She's a powerful character, easy to sympathize with. But note the ironic dangers of reading!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (canto 4)

Canto 4
Into the Abyss! The Inferno's a giant pit with populated rings (“circles”) around the edges. Circle #1 is quiet & still: Limbo. It's Virgil's home turf, with the other pagans unlucky enough to be born before Christ's sacrifice. There's regret in Virgil's voice when he tells us that only once has anyone gone from Limbo to Heaven: the Judaic prophets, paroled by Jesus Himself. Dante & Virgil talk shop with Homer, Horace, & Ovid—Dante's got chutzpah classing himself with them! Then there's a Homeric list of Limbo's denizens, mythic (Hector), historical (Socrates), even a Muslim (Averroes).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno

Canto 3
We pass under the famous archway inscribed “Abandon All Hope…” into Hell—or its vestibule, at least. Before the River Acheron, a mob of 'neutrals' mingle with the angels who took neither side during Satan's Rebellion. Neither dead nor alive, they're ignored by Heaven, Hell, mortals, & even Virgil. Their indeterminate identity even extends to their allegorical emblem: a blank standard. At the river, an old man whose eyes glow like coals snarls at Dante, confused by his living body. It's Charon, the ferryman of Greek myth. Dante faints at the sight, so he's unconscious when he enters Hell itself.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (August 9)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

What a lovely phrase―must be Shakespeare! Yep, it's from Othello & it refers to lunacy. I'm a sucker for allusions to Shakespeare, even the same tired quotes (eg Infinite Jest). Here, an ambiguity: the moon may be the cause of human error, or the moon itself acts against nature. What does the phrase suggest about the show? Madness, mutability, & a writer with a good ear for poetry.

What a lot of utilitarian words. “Fringe Festival” is as inseparable a phrase here as “New York City”, cluing us as to what to expect―fringe theater is almost a genre unto itself. In press materials, the unwieldy title is shortened to FringeNYC, which isn't great but it presents the same info with slightly more flourish.

A smart bit of poetry. The Ps play off each other well, and the seesaw of long & short vowels add swing. There's a ironic whimsy to the phrase, especially since the poorhouse is literally debtor's prison.

Ibsen came up with a bunch of good titles, from Pillars of the Community to When We Dead Awaken. Hedda is one of the few where he follows the convention of naming the play after its protagonist. But (spoiler alert?!) in the play, she's Hedda Tesman; 'Gabler' is her maiden name. It's a subtle twist aimed at the attentive viewer.

A phrase that hangs between boxing idiom and cliché (according to Google, it's a spell in World of Warcraft). Still, “The Punishing Blow” is a good phrase and a good title.

Summer Reading: Inferno

Canto 2
After invoking a muse, Dante describes his first action: a display of cowardice, though couched in humility. He reminds Virgil that he's no Aeneas or Paul, who both harrowed Hell. One founded Rome, the other Christianity; by extension, the Comedy is just as important! Virgil bucks Dante up by telling him that Beatrice appointed him to guide Dante thru the Inferno. Beatrice is luminous, a heavenly emanation fixed in a hierarchy of holy women (Mary Herself sent a virgin martyr to point Dante's crisis out to Bea), too refined to descend into Hell.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno

Canto 1
Dante, 36 years old (my age!), has experienced a life crisis; as a poet, he's compelled to write about his recovery. It takes the narrative form of getting lost in an eerie valley and threatened by wild beasts—a vivid metaphor that rings true to anyone who's struggled with depression. But his description, despite its precision and liveliness, has the tone of a dream, especially the way his hero, the Roman poet Virgil, appears from nowhere to guide him to safety.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (intro)

Why Dante's Inferno? Lady Hotspur & I plan to visit Florence in October. And I enjoy laying a foundation for trips by exploring the literature of my destination. So it seems like the perfect excuse to read the masterpiece, written c. 1305-20, at the dawn of Florence's Renaissance heyday. I'll be reading and reporting on a canto each day for the next month, at about a 100 words per entry. But first, an introduction.

Narrative poems have a push-pull rhythm that combines the momentum of storytelling with the careful parsing of poetry. The rhyme scheme of The Divine Comedy mirrors this rhythm: ABA BCB CDC DED EFE…. Dante introduces a third rhyme then moves back to resolve the second. The content also shifts constantly between realistic observations, vivid metaphors, emotional self-reflection, mythic/historical allusion, Christian allegory, metaphysical inquiry, & Florentine current events. It makes for an incredibly dense epic, but it's also remarkably accessible.

FYI, I'm reading the Hollander translation,  published in 2000 AD. It prints the original Italian on the left leaf & the English translation on the right. I like the option of breaking down Dante's phrasing to compare it with the translation, and my knowledge of Latin languages is just good enough to recognize some word roots. The Hollanders don't bother to rhyme their translation (I approve, as English isn't nearly as good as Italian for rhyming).

What else should you know? Cantos are about 110-150 lines long, the perfect length for one a day. The Hollanders include notes at the end of each canto rather than at the foot of the page. I read the canto then skim the endnotes for the allusions & political references. Inferno has 34 cantos; the subsequent volumes are 33 cantos, making The Comedy an even 100 cantos.

I hope you enjoy playing Dante to my Virgil as I guide you through the Inferno! See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (July 27)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

Generally, you see this sort of overelaborate, comically titillating title at festival shows, especially the Fringe. I admire & commend the impulse to stand out, to communicate the show's tone, and to describe precisely what it delivers―it's the sort of audience consideration that most playwrights ignore (and thus this column!). Maybe one's trying a little too hard, but damn it, it does sound like fun!

Now this is a great title: memorable, descriptive, and specific to the show. “Pied Pipers” has a touch of whimsy & makes you wonder who the pipers are. “Lower East Side” has a specific set of attributes―a cool balance of classic NYC ethnicity & 21st-century gentrification―that suggest a rich backdrop. It's even free verse pentameter!

What sort of trade? It could be plumbing or prostitution, a swap of athletes or stocks. This title doesn't quite tell you enough to be tempting, but the promise of secrets are always good.

A clunky one, with no syncopation. The odd grammatical structure guides the attention away from the named character to an unnamed one & to the status of the marriage itself. It's trying to be clever but not quite succeeding.

Friday, July 23, 2010

TV: Mad Men, season 3

The serial nature of TV can act on a show like wind resistance. Mad Men, like The Sopranos, had a great debut season partly because it could stand alone. The second season, on the other hand, spent so much time rebooting, its open-ended climax—Don's return to Westchester, Betty's pregnancy—felt like further set-up. But the third season sidesteps this issue with a spectacular season finale that revitalizes the show's plot engine. Don's identity, always Mad Men's core, is simultaneously stripped and souped up. He fights to keep his workplace family, but surrenders his home life without a fight. In the final scene, his colleagues literally move into his (hotel) room! Every strand of plot comes into play this final episode, possibly the show's strongest so far.

But even before the finale, season three displays tight writing and a growing integration (pun intended) between the characters' personal lives and the period's social change. The creators realize how superb Christina Hendricks is, adding substantially to her character's arc. Joan's dubious marriage and love of work acts as a foil for Don's while deepening the male/female dichotomy that's another central theme. A fine character is added to the cast (earnest, concise Lane Pryce) and another gets elaborated well (daughter Sally). Okay, #3 isn't perfect: as with season 2, Don's mistress is a wan character who won't be missed.

The bigger misstep is the forfeiture of Pete & Peggy's stature as secondary protagonists to give Betty a larger role. January Jones embarasses herself: there's no gap between the actor's emptiness and the role's. In a few scenes, she's outacted by 10-year-old Kiernen Shipka as Sally! It's especially frustrating since the universe of Mad Men bends around Betty like gravity. Hopefully, the upcoming season will readjust to its new status quo by giving Betty less screentime. The finale cut away much of the larger cast; ideally it'll pursue the intimacy that a newer, leaner firm affords the show!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (July 20)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

Very postmodern and Y2K to mingle Arabic numerals with Roman letters. But the number opens space for a puns on sexual foreplay while suggesting that the show is simply playful (“for play”). I wonder if there are four performers in this juggling extravaganza? Hope so.

Elvis Costello called an album Trust, and Hal Hartley did the same with a movie, and Wikipedia lists plenty of other songs, TV shows, political parties, etc. Even if this play deals ingeniously with a business monopoly, an arrangement of property for a minor, and the concept of confidence in a person or idea, its title implies lazy thinking.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (July 13)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

There's a sense of adventure to the phrase “East to Edinburgh”. The Scottish capital is world-famous for its theater festival, which lends its excitement and quality to this one. And there's an implied definite article: East to [the] Edinburgh Festival. Not bad, though not great.

“Midtown International” sounds like a hotel. It's the sort of corporate-speak that, on analysis, is a stupid paradox (it's local & it's global!). And who goes to midtown for theater? There's no style called “midtown theater”, it's either “downtown” or “uptown” in NYC. An ugly, utilitarian title that kills the celebratory connotation of “festival”.

It's hard to believe but this title is strictly descriptive, no metaphor involved. And aside from the alliteration, it's not very poetic: “penis” isn't the most euphonic Latin word, & its long “e” and sibilant “s” jar against the spritely “puppetry”.

This title's playful imperative and allusion to old US postcards (“See beautiful Niagara Falls!”) makes it work. “Rock City” implies a mythic Jerusalem of rock'n'roll where drugs are cheap, sex is cheaper, pants are tight, and the girls are either skanky or androgynous (or boys!). It makes me want to visit, and to find out what the other destinations are.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (July 6)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

This one-word title is surprisingly okay. The sole context for the word “bachelorette” is, of course, the rave-up thrown for a bride on the eve of her wedding. This writer implies the party by its omission while bringing focus to the protagonist. Clever!

Writers, take note: gerunds add a sense of dynamism. This title spells out the arc of the play: a love story (“falling”, lamely, has no secondary meaning here). The biblical allusion builds the love-object up nicely, suggesting she'll be strong-willed, possibly even an antagonist or at least the instigator of plot complications.

A utilitarian title, pretty dull. The works in the festival do better: the retro style of the Blind Boys of Alabama, the conceptual oddity of A Disappearing Number, the promise of spectacle in The Battle of Stalingrad. Worst title: the postmodern punctuation of Varèse: (R)Evolution.

What does PTP stand for? Knowing that might entice me to catch this festival; not knowing alienates me. Maybe that's deliberate, since the festival includes work like Plevna: Meditations on Hatred (the prickly Howard Barker, natch). The best title in this fest, no contest, is Lovesong of the Electric Bear.

I'm ambivalent here. The “motherhood” gives off a saccharine flavor of Victorian sentimentality, but the repetition of “sweet” suggests that it might be meant ironically.

Of this week's three festivals, this one's got the best name. Okay, so collapsing a phrase into one word is dubious. But I do enjoy the ambiguity: is it “under ground zero” or “underground zero”?

Even if it's not intentionally capitalizing on the popular musical TV show, this title should catch a few more eyeballs―which should be one of a title's goals. Actually, I like With Glee more than Glee, since the preposition implies the tenor of actions rather than a simple emotion.