Thursday, September 23, 2010

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.

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