Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Nite Title Bout (April 26)

Every week, I compose listings about the week's shows for Metromix NY. I'm usually disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work: most of them don't entice me into the theater. So I'm reviewing the titles.

I think. On its own, “spiel” is a great word: it has the connotation of a juicy story, plus it's German/Yiddish for “play”. Add the image of a classic pratfall and you've got a clever cross-lingual pun that might only work in NYC.

The echoing in this title helps it stick in the mind. And with just a touch of lyricism to “belle”, it re-emphasizes the Irish setting of Belfast and pegs a protagonist for us. Good one.

I have no idea what to make of this title. What's a “burnt-part” and how does it modify “boys”? Maybe it's some sort of club, a nod to other insiders that will get explored in the show. But if you know nothing about the play, this title doesn't help you.

Latin phrases are a flag for pretension―especially when they're legal jargon like de novo.

A rare, truly great title! There's real poetry to “elaborate entrance”, not just in the phrase's assonance but in its rhythm. It also sets up good expectations for a specific event in the show. And “Chad Deity” is a great name, a little satiric or allegorical. Take it all together, the title implies a thrilling deus ex machina.

This show isn't a rock opera of Paul Simon's 1986 Grammy-winner, nor is it set at Elvis's homestead. Nope, it refers to a large cemetery in Chicago―which is okay when you're a Chicago playwright working in your hometown but less so when you get an out-of-town premiere. Why beg the confusion? Maybe because the word promises an actual or metaphoric setting for a transcendent experience.

What works here is the seesaw contrast between the precision, density, and sibilance of “lascivious” and the vague, dull, cloddish-sounding “something”. Though it's a dangerously generic title (“something” don't contain much information), the poetry helps to counter that.

This title sounds like a 1950s sci-fi paperback―which isn't an insult! It creates an atmosphere with only a few words: it takes a whimsical pessimism to address letters to “the end of the world.” And it begs the question of what period we live in, the writer's or the recipient's. Even if “end of the world” is metaphorical, it sounds cool.

The name of an entire genre gets a workout. Passion plays are traditional dramas depicting Christ's martyrdom. But this title also encompasses the modern romantic connotation of “passion”, with a touch of ambiguity: Passion Play could be the punning title to a rom-com (the fun of “play”). Or it could be borrowing sobriety from the medieval genre for a operatic melodrama. Too much? Maybe.

As always, the caveat of the one-word title: not much information. But Restoration isn't dull; it's got a lot of meanings that the play could illuminate. It could allude to art/architecture, to a position of power, to the period of English history. It could (and probably does) refer to the protagonist's arc as well. Not bad, for a one-word title.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Monday Nite Title Bout (April 21)

Every week, I compose listings about the week's shows for Metromix NY. I'm usually disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work: most of them don't entice me into the theater. So I'm reviewing the titles now. And if you want to read my reviews of full shows, click here.

Sorry for the late post this week, but I've been felled by a spring cold. On the upside, Elizabeth Meriwether has retitled her upcoming play Oliver Parker!. Still not a good title, but what misplaced sense of irony told her to entitle the play Oliver! in the first place?

Remember when dotcoms were newfangled and it was cool to smoosh all your words into one long URL-style title sans caps? bobrauschenbergamerica looks dated now, but at least it has the effect of conflating artist and theme in one ungainly word.

This sort of title is what inspired my posts in the first place. “Elephant” is an overworked noun that doesn't entice audiences or define its theme. Is this show an adaptation of Gus Van Sant's film about Columbine HS? a musical based on the White Stripes album? a satire of the Republican Party? a stage documentary?

The only title of the week longer than two words, Empire draws in its a potential audience with its implicit metaphor. The sylvan image undercuts the martial connotation of “empire”. You may not know what the show's about, but you're curious to hear whether the writing meets the expectations that the title sets up.

The concept of the forest is fraught with so many connotations (in Shakespeare, it symbolizes freedom from civilization; in Jung it's fear of the unknown), this title tells us nothing. And if you're staging a masterpiece of Russian drama, consider adding the playwright's name: “Ostrovsky's The Forest”?

The standard “title = protagonist”, but with a twist: the absence of surname adds a touch of anonymity. Hopefully, playwright Moira Buffini picks the name partly as an allusion to the archangel who heralds the Last Judgment.

Another questionable title: this show has nothing to do with the 2008 film that earned eight Oscar nominations. But putting that aside, it tersely sets up theme as well as subject. Milk is a powerful metaphor for sustenance and nourishment as well as maternal love, but it's also shorthand for the dairy industry (the subject of this play).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Nite Title Bout (April 12)

Every week, I compose listings about the week's shows for Metromix NY. I'm usually disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work: most of them don't entice me into the theater. So I'm reviewing the titles now. And if you want to read my reviews of full shows, click here.

Initially, this terse title leads me to expect a sci-fi show (which I wholly approve of). But The Aliens could just as easily involve undocumented immigrants. Misleading sloppiness or artful ambiguity? No way to know without seeing the show.

This one annoys me 'cause I don't know how to pronounce it: does “bass” rhyme with “ace” or “ass”? In either case, it sounds bad, clashing against the not-quite-echo of “Picasso”'s second syllable. Also, name-dropping Picasso gives it a touch of art snobbery.

A good word: redolent of a classic capitalist villain, but with an artful sonic misdirection that turns a usurer into a commendable fellow. And it's plural, so there's plenty of debt to go around.

Like Creditors, this title is actually a translation―the French original lacks the honorific. But I like the doubled “k” & long “o” in “Doctor Knock”; the name really swings. It's also silly, possibly satiric, & adds an echo of “quack”. I enjoy old-fashioned secondary titles separated by “or”: the pompous grandeur of this one reinforces the satiric tone.

A Christian connotation to “rapture” is inescapable these days. But if that's a onetime event, then what's an everyday rapture? It's a nice paradox that gives this title a little depth. And on the surface, it's got a warm, world-loving quality that I appreciate.

A dull one-word title, Fences hits you over the head with the blunt weight of obvious symbolism.

This show appropriates the title of Chaplin's 1921 comedy. But what it lacks in originality, it makes up in terseness: definite article and indefinite noun makes you want to meet this kid. Plus, I like the offhand tone of the slang.

Parents' Evening is terrible: it sounds lachrymose. It should be Parents' Night, shouldn't it? That way, it alludes to parent-teacher conferences, even if that's not what it's about. Of course, if it's about parents having a date away from the kids, then use that phrase (like that Carrell/Fey vehicle does).

Now that's a title! Unique, colloquial, memorable. “The” & “Big” evokes “The Big Sleep” and other pulp titles; “Really” pours gasoline on. The genius, though, is using “Once” as a noun, giving the play's events historical importance but with a subtle meta-story angle.

An adaptation of CS Lewis' novel about a devil and his protege. Aside from announcing that it's an epistolary drama―the worst theatrical format conceivable―it's not a bad title. That crazy “screwtape” is an Industrial Age parody of neo-Gothic fairy names (like, I dunno, “Glitterbottom”).

You'd figure this show adapts F. Scott Fitzgerald's debut novel, whose title is a subtle, slightly cynical allusion to Eden & the Fall. But it doesn't: it's a bio-musical about Scott & Zelda. It may not be false advertising, but it's definitely misleading.

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!