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.

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