Saturday, April 13, 2013

Scifi Theater: Goldor $ Mythyka and Geek!

Goldor $ Mythyka
New Georges at the New Ohio Theater
written by Lynn Cohen
directed by Shana Gold
April 6, 2013

Vampire Cowboys at Incubator Arts Project
written by Crystal Skillman
directed by Robert Ross Parker
April 11, 2013

Actually, this pair of shows aren't quite SF theater. But they're close, since they both take the role of fandom (especially the scifi/fantasy/comics fan) as their subjects.

Goldor (Garrett Neergaard), Mythyka (Jenny Seastone Stern),
and their DJ-commentator (Bobby Moreno)
Photo credit: Jim Baldassare
Basically, Goldor $ Mythyka revisits the Bonnie & Clyde myth. Its title characters are a pair of social misfits who find their ideal selves in role-playing games. Emboldened by their fantasy lives, they stage a heist and become folk heroes. But with a halfling on the way, Mythyka abandons fantasy and Goldor's revolutionary self-aggrandizement. The playwright adds flesh to the conventional arc by reframing the American myth of self-creation in light of the Great Recession. Her smartest twist is to suggest that parenting, in a sense, is a valid mode of self-creation. The play's only flaw is an onstage MC who comments on the drama. Though played by Bobby Moreno with charm and crack timing, the role's only substantive purpose is to exposit subtext that lies under the dialogue. The play's strong enough, with snazzy projections to set the scene and a cast of confident young and not-young actors, to establish its own identity.

Geek!, meanwhile, follows a pair of cosplayers through an actual convention. The two teens revel in the sense of belonging that dressing as manga characters offers them, but find that identity is more complex than pursuing an obsession, adopting a costume, or even abandoning those passions to stand alone. The sentiment that sorority and support is necessary could easily devolve into glib phrasing about belonging to a like-minded community. But Geek! goes beyond that by showing that self-disclosure (in this case, mourning a friend and sibling's suicide) is individualized and intimate. But that theme sounds heavy, which is the opposite of Geek!. Playwright Skillman knows pop subculture and, with director Robert Ross Parker and an exuberant design team, translates it into imaginative theatrics: dayglo hairdos and a steampunk cuirass; DIY YouTube videos that serve as flashbacks; crossdressing and crosscasting; a multiracial cast with a range of body types. It features plenty of stage combat―always a plus―yet it resolves the rivalry between two girls (not over a guy, incidentally) by joining them in friendship. 
The Geek! trio of Emily Williams,
Allison Buck, and Becky Byers

G$M and Geek! are both smart shows. Both have advantages and drawbacks, both succeed on their terms (modest) and Off-Off-B'way budgets (also modest), and both are fun and smart evenings at the theater. More broadly, taken together, Geek! and G$M suggest that American culture has converted everyone into “fans” of one thing or another. Fandom is an aid to self-discovery and the foundation of a community, a path to belonging. But that fact raises a dicey proposition: much of what we're fans of is corporate-owned (in my case, it's Marvel comics and Yankees baseball). So we're required to tithe to the owners (not the comics artists, not the ballplayers, note) to understand ourselves and discover others. Of the two, Geek! is more optimistic, maybe because it's less socially engaged than G$M. It finds a subversive streak in the DIY ethos of cosplay and in geekdom generally. G$M is more of a romance―like late Shakespearean plays, it leaps ahead 17 years to resolve its family triad. But both ultimately claim that eccentric passion strengthens a person only when it's shared with another.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shakespeare notebook: News

Alex Timbers has a fine head of hair.
So does Isaac Butler (not pictured),
& I envy them both.
An old-fashioned web-log today!

Isaac Butler, usually of Parabasis, offers his response on Slate to Alyssa Rosenberg's numbskulled analysis of Romeo & Juliet. Not only does he pull a block quote to show how great even the minor role of Juliet's father is, he makes a broad point about theater:
The actors are, as Rosenberg notes, too old for their roles by at least a decade, but the stage—which requires more engagement of our imaginations than either film or television and lacks close-ups—often cons audiences into leaving their incredulousness at the coat check.

Update: Arch-troll, the Hooded Utilitarian, also responds to Rosenberg in the Atlantic. He makes some good points, though I'd say he's hampered by taking R&J as a text to read rather than to see. But that's an old argument among Shakespeareans.

Also in R&J news, an adaptation called The Last Goodbye will be remounted at the Old Globe in San Diego this fall. The work adapts Shakespeare's story and tricks it out with music by the late Jeff Buckley, a 1990s wunderkind who you might like. Goodbye's directed by Alex Timbers, who'll also be adapting Love's Labor's Lost at the Delacorte this summer. He and collaborator Michael Kimmel premiered Goodbye at Williamstown a few summers ago to sold-out houses.

Speaking of the Delacorte, it'll host a Tempest in the late summer to inaugurate the Public Works Initiative. Lear deBessonet (Good Person of Szechuan) & Ted Almond will create a musical version that casts citizen actors as well as pros. According to the release:
The production is inspired by a 1916 event at City College, which featured professional actors working with 1,500 city residents who united for an adaptation of The Tempest, billed as Caliban by the Yellow Sands.
That City College production sounds interesting! I'll have to look into it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Shakespeare notebook: Romeo & Juliet

A writer on Slate goes trolling today, claiming that Romeo & Juliet "hasn't aged well" and generally trashing Shakespeare's play. Alyssa Rosenberg is motivated by the announcement that Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad will play the tragic lovers on Broadway this fall. In fairness, Rosenberg does applaud the interracial casting. But she complains that the play is "horribly depressing." Putting aside the juvenile quality of that remark, her point is that R&J has an adolescent view of romance, "full of terrible, deeply childish ideas about love."

Rosenberg's criticism might be valid if she executed a stronger reading of the play. To conclude "actors & actresses deserve richer roles than Romeo & Juliet" is to wear ignorance as a badge. Juliet, after all, is one of Shakespeare's richest female roles, maybe his first truly great role period. Romeo may be secondary to her in terms of depth, but he's got a vitality of his own. Mercutio and the Nurse are stupendous. Shakespeare's plotting may get iffy (see below) but his characterization is superlative.

Earlier, she comes off like a vapid producer or a bad dramaturg, complaining "Why are the families fighting? What's the inciting incident?" Her dull-minded complaints suggest that Rosenberg is approaching the play in a literal-minded fashion. She misses the sensibility of the setting. Blood is boiling in Verona. That's why the families are feuding & why the lovers embrace with such tragic haste. She also dismisses the themes rather than grappling with them. If passion has gripped Verona, then R&J's eruption of love is its embodiment. The whole world of the play is young, passionate, hot, sexy. From the beginning, the poetry confuses and conflates sex and death, eros & thanatos. Their suicides, in turn, purge the city of its condition. The tragedy is amplified by the missed chance to heal the city through marriage instead.

Death instead of sex: this is bush-league interpretation, Shakespeare 101, but Rosenberg doesn't even reach that level. Her criticism does have something worth noting, however. She argues that Romeo & Juliet isn't the play for our time. In Rosenberg's view, we live in an era of arrested development. So raising adolescent passion to mythic level, as Shakespeare does, isn't in our culture's best interests. It's the Platonic case against artists: R&J celebrates a bad worldview, so it deserves censure and shouldn't be staged.

The responsethat R&J purges the juvenile from its setting, fictional and realshould be obvious. But Rosenberg also sets her reading up as a claim that audiences find the show "embarrassing and unsettling" because of its mythic passions and adolescent focus. She may have read Shakespeare's play but I suspect she hasn't watched it; her complaints fall apart in the face of the play's poetry, drama, and sheer momentum. R&J is one of Shakespeare's tightest plots; its only real flaw is the contrivance of the "missed letter", which would've informed Romeo that his beloved wasn't actually dead. It's also an extraordinary crowd-pleaseraudiences aren't embarrassed or unsettled, they're engaged and thrilled by Shakespeare's near-perfect dramaturgy. That fact leaves Rosenberg looking like a scold, wagging her finger at an audience for enjoying something they shouldn't.

I love Shakespeare this side of idolatry, so I'm anticipating this high-profile production with excitement. I'll point out a further pleasure: the Off-Broadway CSC's R&J, also in Fall '13. New Yorkers will have the pleasure of comparing approaches, not just as contrasts but as reflections of one another. See you there!