Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Nite Title Bout (March 29)

Every week, I write listings for the shows debuting on and off Broadway for Metromix NY. I'm usually disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work: most of them don't sound tempting. Now I'm reviewing them.

Minetta Lane Theater
Building a title around numbers can be interesting―think Catch-22 or The Crying of Lot 49―but if there's one integer that's a dumb cliché, it's 666. It's been decades since the Number of the Beast actually implied “evil.” Whether this show is about actual Satanists, a washed-up hair-metal band, or something else entirely, its title is a miss.

The Kitchen
If this title just name-checked the Roman goddess of war, it would be alright. But the sub-phrase “Destroyer of Cities” adds a Homeric grandeur that gets me excited about the show. See, 666? This is how you strike a tone of heavy metal thunder. And BDoC trumps the title of the novel it's based on, Delany's Dhalgren: nonsense poetry that flips the syllables in the name of Beowulf's enemy.

Ars Nova
It's a hardcore week, isn't it? This one sounds like it could be a power ballad! It's evocative, but what does it evoke? What is a bloodsong, anyway? The words aren't euphonic, so this title isn't as poetic as it wants to be. Not perfect, but maybe it's the sort of title that pegs the show so well, it couldn't be anything else.

The Barrow Group
As one-word titles go, Phoenix offers a lot. It's a mythic allusion that's got built-in imagery (fire & birds) and themes (rebirth). It's also one of the biggest cities in the US, so the title can pull double-duty by establishing the setting.

The Wild Project
Frankly, as titles go, this one sounds a little too self-important. The word "realm" has a medieval connotation that's dangerous―it could just as easily refer to a fantasy MMPORG as anything. Which may be okay, if that's what the show's about. But ultimately, I suspect that The Realm aims to sound epic, but is actually just vague.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Nite Title Bout (March 22)

Every week, I write listings for the shows debuting on and off Broadway for Metromix NY. I'm usually disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work: most of them don't sound very tempting. Now I'm reviewing them.

St. James Theater
This one's actually the title to a rock album, adapted for Broadway. It's a good punk title: you're not just an idiot, you're an American idiot! That helps this show stand out from the benign marquees all over the neighborhood (except for A Behanding in Spokane, I guess).

The Public Theater
It's common to name your show after its protagonist. But this emo musical by Les Freres Corbusier (itself a great name for a troupe) adds that sanguinary doublet to give the sound an extra burst of energy. The repetition may be odd but it helps the rhythm & makes sure the title doesn't sound like a Brit cursing.

59 East 59
Is this a compliment or a command? I hope it's the latter, but I suspect it's the former. As one-word titles go, it's okay but bland.

Theater Row
A full sentence, very rare. It has a definite subject, “I”, which focuses the drama too. INSFMF also gets points for evoking a sentiment, which shows some care and intelligence; that sentiment, however, is elegiac nostalgia, which turns me off the show itself.

The Duke on 42nd Street
Now that's a great title! The connection of love with sin implies an unhappy romance on a number of levels. And the “My” makes it specific by implying a lover & a beloved. Naturally, the phrase is borrowed from Shakespeare, who ranks up with King James' God as the go-to source for writers stuck for a title.

Broadway Theater
Another repetition. Here, it's got the effect of sounding like a dismissal, either wistful or sarcastic. Either way, it renders the promises broken, which is kind of smart. But this one fails to provide basic information about the work―which is a musical adaptation of The Apartment. Why not stick with that―too Pinteresque? I guess we should just be thankful that producers don't call it The Apartment: The Musical.

Ohio Theater
Oh, this one's so common it's almost a cliché. There's the '60s hit by Fontella Bass (no, it's not Aretha) and the dance song by Madonna, plus that TV show about firefighters. So what's this show about? I dunno, but I've got the soul song stuck in my head, which is cool.

New World Stages
What are the 39 steps? It's clever that this title (from John Buchan's novel and then Hitchcock's adaptation) sparks that question in your mind, since the quest for an answer is what drives the story. Ironically, Buchan & Hitch provide different solutions, neither of which is remotely as satisfying or memorable as the thriller itself.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Read Rebeck's Speech on Female Playwrights

Earlier this week, Theresa Rebeck gave the keynote address for ART/New York's vendor awards. And she killed, giving a hard-boiled lecture on female playwrights in American theater. Read it over your morning coffee; it'll tell you more about the state of the art than any feature you'll skim in the weekend Arts & Leisure section of the NYTimes.

Most of her speech is tough-minded and anecdotal. But she backs up her experiences with facts. An excerpt to whet your appetite:
Generally, over the last 25 years the number of plays produced that were written by women seems to have vacillated between 12 and 17 percent.

This is a disastrous statistic, and it is related to another disastrous statistic, which is the number of women writers and directors in Hollywood. This year 6 percent of films were directed by women, and 8 percent of produced screenplays were written by women, or women had a shared credit on them. That means 88 percent of all plays were written by men, 94 percent of all movies were directed by men, and 92 percent of all movies were written by men.

Women playwrights like myself have a lot of anecdotal evidence to support some pretty coherent theories about why this is the case. People in the power structure seem more mystified and often they don’t seem sure that there is a problem. (One of them actually said to me, not to long ago, “But Theresa, where ARE the women playwrights?” Seriously, he looked me in the face and said that.) Several artistic directors have expressed concern at the idea of 'quotas,' they really don’t like the word 'quota.' I don’t like that word either. Another word I don’t like is 'discrimination' and, 'censorship,' and I wish I could get them to dislike those words as much as they dislike 'quotas.' 'Boys club' is another couple of words I could very well live without. But since there is so much murky territory in language, I think this discussion of numbers is very useful.

Earlier in the speech, she points out a hard irony: “Back in 1918, before women had the right to vote, the percentage of new plays in New York written by women was higher. It was higher before we had the vote.”

In the spirit of fairness, Rebeck also notes that the '09/'10 New York season does offer a number of very good plays by women (and incidentally omits a few, like Suzan-Lori Parks' current show at the Public and Sheila Callaghan's upcoming one at the Womens' Project). Her list includes some of the best shows of the season.

Go see them. See the plays that women write, talk about them to your friends (especially those in artistic management!), interview the writers and build features around their work. Pay attention to this speech, circulate it among theater artists and audiences, and work on changing the facts it presents. It's the 21st century; time to act like it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Giving this week's titles the once-over

Every week, I write listings for the shows debuting on and off Broadway for Metromix NY. I'm frequently disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work: most of them don't sound too tempting. This week, I'm reviewing them. (FYI: clink on the titles to read my blurbs.)

Here Arts Center
An allusion to Lewis Carroll―will this Alice be surreal too? Swapping Slasher for Wonder suggests the answer's no. But it does set the audience up for (a) gore; and (b) twists on pop-culture references. That sounds like an accurate description of the show, so good job.

Soho Playhouse
Not bad in a portentous way. The title implies a state-of-Ireland sort of play by a Synge or O'Casey type. If that's what's meant, then it's ironic―the show's about Irish men's reputation for being poorly endowed―but you don't know that without knowing the show. Buyer, beware.

59 East 59
Like the deservedly-mocked title for the movie Precious, BJITOTN suffers from information overload. Who's John Ball? That name doesn't draw audiences in, so cut it. It's especially flawed because In the Heat of the Night is a great title. By adding “in” to a well-worn phrase, it conjures up a mystery: what happened in the night? Is it a crime of passion, committed “in the heat of the moment”? John Ball's presence spoils his own title.

Studio 54
Ugh. This title sounds like a PBS documentary about Stephen Sondheim. It's prosy and dull-witted―the opposite of Sondheim's work. Makes me want to skip the show.

Cherry Lane Theater
Simple, but containing an ambiguity: Stray could involve a person with no home or friends (or dog, I suppose), but it could also be about infidelity or deviation or even randomness (as in “a stray bullet”). Or maybe the show's plot is aimless.

Union Square Theater
This title's oddly imbalanced: you'd expect both sides to have “un-”. Or not to: “stuffed and strung” has a syncopation, but adding the “un” loses the meter. The show's about puppets, which makes sense but isn't immediately obvious. Good idea but try again.

New World Stages
I generally like titles that play on words. But when the pun involves a character's name, I feel somehow cheated. Character names are arbitrary: is the main character called “White” for the sake of the title? Maybe not: a protagonist named “White” can hold a lot of symbolic weight. And this title's already undercutting that value by proclaiming White a liar. I like this one despite my qualms.