Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Theater: Title Bout (February 8)

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.

Refitting a phrase for your own ends can be clever, if your work's content adds irony. But the danger is that, on its own, your title will look dull. “Body” gives this writer space to maneuver, offering several readings (even a hint of sex!), while “Politic” slips the  work's subject in.

Gogol's short story, sometimes published without a definite article (Russian doesn't use them). A problem here is that diaries make for poor drama―even worse than letters, which at least imply a pair of characters! Of course, it does promise us a madman! So do you change the title, keep it for the Gogol reference, or change it to Gogol's Madman?

On the face of it, Good People is too gentle to thrill. But something about its flatness suggests a struggle, that its people fall short of being good or that their goodness isn't enough.

A good prepositional phrase extends beyond itself to imply an entire sentence. In this case, the use of the second-person implies even more: a pair of characters. To add more to the puzzle, In Your Image inverts a Biblical allusion, “Let us make Man in our image,” says God(s) in Genesis. It's a bit compelling but also amorphous and a little pompous to boot.

Gotta love that exclamation point! It gives this one-word title an extra kick, turning it into some '50s sci-fi B-movie.

This title stinks of nostalgia. It's pretty clearly a show about a winning sports team. But unlike In Your Image above, the preposition refers to the clause (i.e. it's a demonstrative pronoun), which makes it a little solipsistic. That's where the nostalgia comes from.

Here, the title creates irony by reversing a standard turn-of-phrase. It also cuts the cliché's opening, which makes the reader do a little work. Presumably, the show's about the weaknesses and frustrations of the family bond. But to its credit, the imagery is strong: water, like air, can literally be thin. But by cutting the first half of the cliché & leading with "thinner than", the metaphor of thinness comes as a surprise.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Theater: Title Bout (February 1)

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.

An optimistic title generally gets rendered ironic by a work's content. Hopefully, the arc of disillusion is traced by a character as well as the audience. But while this title covers the basic structural narrative, it doesn't point beyond that to content, themes, etc. It's good journeyman work but generic.

Hey, that's not English! Our polyglot country doesn't extend far into the theater community, which is pretty damned segregated. Here's a good start: a Latinate word that's very similar in English. So a squeamish ticketbuyer might say, “Oh, this show's about a Hispanic barbershop!” and pluck up courage to see the show.

That's a fifty-cent word! This writer's got weighty theories about human behavior and has written a drama to investigate them. Hollywood used Compulsion for a 1950s courtroom drama based on the Leopold & Loeb case, to give you some idea of how heavy the word is. Wonder if this is an adaptation?

Someone, maybe a comedian, observed that hallways aren't actually rooms, they're just the space between rooms. So maybe this title means to be existential. Regardless, a triptych about hallways doesn't sound like a thrill. Each play in the trilogy does have its own one-word title. Though as a group they're cryptic, as distinct titles they're a good collection. There's Rose: a flower freighted with symbolism (both Christian & romantic) & a given name besides. Then Paraffin: a rare, fun word that can refer to a common wax (on candles & crayons) and also to kerosene. Part three is Nursing: a gerund―always good, see next entry―that could be caring for an invalid or feeding a baby.

Gerunds tend to work well in titles because they imply an action in the present moment. But interviewing is rarely a thrilling act. Plus, we could stay home & watch it on TV. Finally, even a hint of participation will break the deal for many potential audience members.

This title's fantastic: very specific and memorable. It sets up two characters in a unique relationship. The first complex clause, “The Man Who Ate” adopts the convention of a case-study. That lulls the reader, so that the cannibalism shocks all the more. And the name “Rockefeller” has baggage of its own, implying the filthiest of rich families in America. By extension, the title promises a sort of comeuppance.

This title also follows a conventional form, though it's closer to memoir than case study. As such, it implies a character, one who would call his or her own life “scandalous”. The tenor of the word suggests a perverse pride, even narcissism, which is reinforced by the “My Life” format. Ironically, by following convention, the title belies its subject's claim to scandal.

Interesting as one-word titles go. The word looks forward and implies momentum. Also, isolated as it is here and without a referent, it has almost a sinister tone that causes us to wonder, “What is next?“

A second foreign language in one week! French for “Old Square”, the phrase is another name for the French Quarter in New Orleans. So the title is presumably the play's setting, and it underscores the exotic quality of the location.

'Wii' being the game console. FYI, I like how the name implies fun (“Wheee!”) and a relationship (“we”). The misspelling is whimsical and probably smart branding. The two lower-case I's look like an abstract pair of kids (the dots representing noggins). So props to Nintendo. This show's title trades on the product, of course―if you don't know what a Wii is, maybe this isn't your show―but it also subtly puns on “play” as both a unit of drama and a verb involving games. Ironically, in this case the console plays the game, not the people!

“Apart” does the heavy lifting here. The title could mean that two characters are alien to each other at some point in the play's arc. Or it could mean that the protagonist sees his or her life collapse. These are broad brushstrokes and somewhat introverted in tone. Though it doesn't seem like much, A World Apart has a story to tell.