Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Nite Title Bout (April 5)

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.

This title's got name or even brand recognition. It's based on a children's book―note the definite article, which the more famous Disney film cut. I like the The, which makes it sound more like an adventure tale. 101 is shorthand for “a helluva lot,” a tactic used in 1001 Nights, which this title evokes.

A good one but slightly flat (musical titles often are, ironically). It strikes a jaunty everyman tone and hints at the show's musicality. But there's not much else going on, and it's a little generic.

According to Monsieur Internet, the literal translation is The Madwoman's Cage and folles is slang, the Parisian equivalent of “queen” (in the queer sense, not the royal one). In French or English though, this sounds more like a Genet absurdity than a drag musical to me. But The Birdcage (Hollywood's alteration) isn't any clearer; at least here you get the subliminal linkage with both theatrical & human follies.

This would be a banal title for a book; for a play, it's kind of clever. It gets you wondering what the play's about: hoping it's not just a series of shorts, figuring it's about an writer, suspecting it could be meta- in some way.

In the context of theater, Shaw must be the Socialist playwright and not, say, the Hong Kong movie moguls. It appeals to me (and, I hope, to most theatergoers) because engaging with GBS means battling with wits and political ideas. Engaging is a good word too, with many meanings that the show can play with. Plus, it's hard to go wrong with gerunds: they're active.

The only one-word title this week. But it's a good word, clearly alluding to the energy corporation and its financial scandal. You know exactly what story it's going to tell and what theme, although that also means you probably see the show with your opinion already set.

Movie titles describe a period of time more frequently than play titles, which is a shame. It can give the plot structure and help the audience locate the story's arc and pacing. This one also plainly expresses its subject (family, duh). Though it lacks complexity and depth, Family Week preps the audience without trying too hard.

There's a conversational tone to this that I like: it implies an ongoing conversation, getting back on track after a digression. Which could mean it's a dull, talky play except that the subject was roses, a touch that adds imagery and emotional weight. There's a good tension between the two nouns―one abstract and one concrete―which suggests the play will have a strong conflict too.

Writers will focus a work by naming it for the protagonist. But Chekhov's clever. For one thing, Vanya himself is actually kind of peripheral to the play's action, so the title's a bit ironic. And then, Uncle is an honorific, but by using a nickname instead of the more proper Ivan, it's avuncular rather than imposing. And before the play even starts, Chekhov places us in the position of Vanya's niece. Before the show's even started, he's implied two characters, not one―and thus an ensemble drama, not a star vehicle. He's smart, that Chekhov is!

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