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.)

ALICE IN SLASHERLAND
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.

THE IRISH CURSE
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.

JOHN BALL'S IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
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.

SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM
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.

STRAY
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.

STUFFED AND UNSTRUNG
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.

WHITE'S LIES
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.
 

2 comments:

dramadaily said...

Good to know I'm not alone in poring over play titles in mixed wonder and dismay. Every time I peruse the NYTimes theatre listings I think about writing one super long sentence or short story constructed solely out of titles.

Hotspur said...

I'd love to read that short story!