Friday, December 23, 2011

Misterman: Like Nothing I Have Ever Seen Before

Never in my life have I walked out of a theater speechless and utterly breathless, but that is exactly what happened after seeing Misterman last night at St. Ann's Warehouse.  Starring (an understatement) Cillian Murphy and written and directed by Enda Walsh, this 80 minute non-stop cyclone of words, sounds and smells paralyzed me.  The lights came down on the final scene and the audience was frozen.  I couldn't put my hands together to clap.  It no longer felt like theater.  It was too intense and alive for polite applause or the usual New York standing O.  This was an experience that required more than that and yet I could not move.

Frankly I cannot discuss this play without spoilers and I need to talk about this so stop reading if you don't want to know.  Stop now.  Have you stopped. Ok.

The show is centered around Thomas (Murphy), a religiously fervent but dutiful son off to get biscuits for his Mammy.  He narrates his day walking around his town of Innishfree.  Each local he encounters (also performed by Murphy) reminds Thomas of the litany of sins and sinners that surround him and he writes down their transgressions in his little notepad of Catholic judgment (my words, not his). 

Thomas carries a tape recorder with him everywhere he goes.  The production then builds a soundscape from these recordings of voices and atmospheric sounds which escalates into total sensory overload.  My view is that what we are experiencing all along is the mental landscape of Thomas.  As he becomes overwhelmed by his own actions and experiences, so does the soundscape. Thomas is pushed to the brink and his religious fervor, mental illness, and violent tendencies all come to a troubling and explosive conclusion.  It reminded me of Clean, Shaven which is an incredibly intense film about schizophrenia.  It was so intense I had to turn it off and finish watching it another day.  But really getting into the mind of another person and one suffering some sort of mental breakdown is a feat in any medium.  Watching it unfold on stage, from the front row no less, was frightening and chilling.

Because the journey into Thomas's mind is a puzzling and twisted journey I spent most of the show not quite sure where it was going but happily along for the ride.  Murphy's performance is frequently amusing and always riveting even if the narrative trajectory is opaque.  This lack of narrative clarity seems to be intentional and it allows the audience to really be startled by the final scenes.  There was so much energy and concentration to Murphy's performance that it was hard for me to take my eyes off of him.

It was not as if Murphy was acting a variety of roles. It was as if he was physically possessed by a variety of characters that just burst forth from his body.  Each had their own accent and mannerisms.  It was truly unlike anything I have ever seen before on stage.

After leaving the theater I felt emotionally battered in a good way (if one can ever say that).  The play slowly built the intensity.  It was happening without me noticing.  The power and meaning of the show seeped in quietly and unexpectedly for the final reveal to be both stunning but completely within the realm of "reality" for the play.

Misterman was a marriage of an incredibly talented actor with an amazing writer/director.  Theatrical heaven even if it felt a bit like hell. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gospel According to Daniel: Five Reasons to See Daniel Kitson

We are getting perilously close to January 2012 which means Daniel Kitson will soon be in Brooklyn.  #happydance #peeingmyself  #gettingamakeovertomakehimmyboyfriend  #losingcredibility  #stop #breathe

He is doing his show, It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later (IARNUIL) at St. Ann's Warehouse from January 3-29.  You might find me there at least once a week--maybe more. I have a tendency to like very few things but when I do like performers or shows it's usually with my heart and soul and pocketbook.  Kitson is one of those performers and this is one of those shows.  I realize you may be sick of me talking about this, so this is my final, well-reasoned plea to get you to buy tickets.

Here are 5 Reasons and a nudge to see Daniel Kitson do his show It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later:

1) If you like funny, touching things, you will probably like this.

Kitson is a master storyteller.  It's an art form I have to admit I don't see much of despite my avid theater-going. If you are going to dip your toes in the waters of storytelling why not start out with someone who is an expert at it.  He's been taking his storytelling shows to the Edinburgh Fringe for years.  He has just finished a series of shows in London at the National Theatre.  His original booking in October was so popular that the theater arranged for him to return in December and to squeeze in the extension they even scheduled morning shows!  People are skipping work to go see him!

It's a show that quietly and swiftly wraps itself around your heartstrings, tugging ever so gently and reminding you of what it means to be human.  Words that regular people have used to describe the show: "clever," "intelligent," "witty," "observant," "stunning," "poignant," "powerful."

It is pretty much guaranteed you will laugh and/or you will cry.  If you don't, then maybe you are a robot.  If you don't laugh or cry, you should probably get that checked.

But just to be clear, I'm not giving you your money back if you don't like it.  It is only 90 minutes long so if you don't like it, it won't be for long.

2)  You'll feel smug around your friends who did not get tickets and once the Brantley review comes out won't be able to get tickets.

After seeing Daniel Kitson's show, The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church,  last year I was dying to see it again.  But it was sold out through the end of the run.  I was crushed.  I still am in fact.  Like if he could do the two shows in rep I'd be ecstatic.  (Daniel, if you are reading this, I'd settle for you doing the shows in rep like for one night.  I'll let you know when I am there and you could just do it for me. I'll love you forever. Thx.)

Don't miss out on what could be the greatest theatrical experience of your life because you dillydallied on buying tickets.  Yes, I just used the word dillydally.  I am my mother. #killsself

3)  You'll get to say to your grandkids, "I saw Daniel Kitson from 10 feet away once."

I remember seeing Eddie Izzard for the first time at PS 122.  It was a long frickin' time ago.  It was a very different show from the one he played more recently at Madison Square Garden.  Frankly, it was a much better show at PS 122 when he had to work for his audience.  He had only been to New York once before.  I didn't have a clue who he was but Time Out recommended his show (also IARNUIL is currently a Critic's Pick from Time Out), and at the time, I was pretty persuaded by whatever Time Out told me.  I became obsessed.  So obsessed I bought PAL VHS tapes of his shows (yes remember VHS tapes, remember how they didn't work in all countries--well they didn't--so if you wanted to see UK VHS tapes you needed a special VCR...well I bought those special UK only VHS tapes of Izzard and then a special VCR). It was great to see a talented comedian in a small venue without any preconceived notions.

Come to Daniel Kitson as a blank slate (as blank as one can be when you have me shouting at you week after week to buy these tickets).  The space at St. Ann's is really intimate and you won't be far from the man himself.  Sit close.  He speaks fast. 

4) Tickets are only $25

There is a little downside here.  The price is reasonable.  You've bought rush tickets for more than this. You've probably bought a crappy pair of shoes for more than this.  Price cannot be an issue. 

5) If you don't trust me, see what others have had to say

Lyn Gardner of The Guardian

Alice Jones of The Independent

Jonny Ensall of The List

Fiona Mountford of The Evening Standard

Reason 5.5)  Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

I once had a going away party in Brooklyn entitled that.  It's actually the title of a French movie.  Yes, I am that pretentious.  And yes, I once went away from New York on a journey I later dubbed the Trail of Tears.  But I mention it because I would not make people take the train or ferry to Brooklyn without good reason.  I think Daniel Kitson is a pretty damn good reason.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Weekend of Regret: Krapp's Last Tape & Follies Revisited

Somehow I managed to schedule an entire weekend of theater about older people looking back at their younger selves after the passage of 30 years: Krapp's Last Tape from the Gate Theatre starring John Hurt and Follies on Broadway.  Obviously, the shows have very different styles:  Follies being a Sondheim musical about former Follies girls with ghosts of their younger selves dancing around the stage in sequins and Krapp being a 55 minute one man Samuel Beckett play that drifts between delicate clowning and profound sadness.  But both of them will make you want to kill yourself at some point along the way.  Lucky I had some friends to chat with after each show that prevented me from just going home reading my junior high school diary and committing suicide. 

Krapp's Last Tape is an exercise in stillness, silence and minimalism.  John Hurt plays 69 year old Krapp who takes out a reel to reel player to listen to his 39 year old self on the tape discuss his aspirations and love affairs from 30 years ago.  Although the piece begins with a comical turn with a banana and a delightful performance by the best squeaky shoes ever, once he gets down to business about the tape, the tone shifts.  He's angry with his younger self, mocking, frustrated and then utterly saddened and lost in the voice of the past.  Certainly a wonderful opportunity to see John Hurt on stage and ponder one's own reflections on a youthful version of ourselves.

I have reviewed Follies before but I really wanted to see it again now that I finished reading Ted Chapin's great book Everything Was Possible (a must read).  I am happy to report that I liked it even more the third time around.  I was able to see the show from up close and I think it made a big difference.  Being closer I was able to appreciate the subtleties in the performances a lot more.  Bernadette Peters has really stepped up her game in the role of Sally.  Her voice and song performances sounded fantastic.  She plays the role closer to breakdown more throughout the show which helps made clear the level of delusion taking place in her mind.  Ron Raines, again, gives a heart-breaking performance as Ben, the man desperate to feel again.  Jan Maxwell still delivers on every icy line for Phyllis and I appreciated her devastating interactions with young Phyllis this time.  I have grown really fond of Elaine Paige's ditzy little asides and comical bits in the dance sequences.  Her delivery of I'm Still Here is sharp and powerful.  I am completely convinced I don't dislike Danny Burstein; I just dislike his character of Buddy. So that should make a certain @mrtylermartins happier.  The Loveland sequence made more sense to me and I could tolerate it more this time. 

I could not help but think as I was watching Follies that I am profoundly lucky to have seen this production because I am not sure a better one will come along in my lifetime.  I still think the Loveland set is terrible and the flashing Loveland lights do give me epilepsy.  But this production offers up a fantastic cast, doing their utmost to live up to the original work.  I hope it gets the recognition it deserves at Tony time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella: London Fringe Production

I always forget that London has few shows playing on Sundays.  Matilda was hella-sold-out.  The tkts boards were pretty grim (Thriller, Shrek).  But I had read a nice review of the Tabard Theatre's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella in Time Out London.  I decided it was worth checking it out.

This was a situation that could have been disastrous that turned out quite delightful indeed.  The theater is a small black box with the stage practically on your lap.  My high school theater was larger and more grandiose so it was actually quite luxurious to enjoy a musical in such an intimate setting.  Though the costumes were pretty dreadful (and somewhat distracting--I was worried Cinderella's boobs might come flying out of the bustier thing she was wearing at any moment), the terrific cast, whimsical set and lovely foam puppets made up for it. 

Kirsty Mann plays Cinderella with sweetness and the required amount of put-upon-ness.  Her evil stepsisters are broadly played for comic effect by Kate Scott and Lydia Jenkins (who looks uncannily like a young Jackie Hoffman).  Helen Colby sinks her teeth into two characters: first she plays the evil stepmother with whip and bustier, and then the sweet fairy godmother.  Vlach Ashton (a dreamy Robert Sean Leonard-type with giant Disney Princess eyes) plays the Prince. 

All their voices were terrific.  As much as each character is a bit of a caricature, the actors were well-cast for these roles.  I thought the step-sisters comedy was a little too broad for my liking (I think it played better for the kids).  But I enjoyed the stepmother trying to seduce Lionel, the Prince's assistant and the comic bit of one girl trying on the glass slipper in an array of disguises.  The romance between Cinderella and the Prince is sweet and dear.  The songs are enjoyable.  Although this was a low budget production, it still managed to cast the requisite magical spell over the audience.  I happened to like the set and prop pieces such as the crystal chandelier-tree, the Chinese lanterns as glowing pumpkins and the foam puppet birds and mice. 

Although the theater was teeming with a large group of little girls at a birthday party they were all shockingly well-behaved.  They clapped at appropriate times, did not speak throughout the two hour production, and seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves (though several covered their eyes when their was kissing).  

The show is a lite, sweet treat.  For me, after two really dark shows that weekend, it was a lovely, warm diversion on a cold winter day in London.  Although this audience was largely children, I think a more robust production of Cinderella on a larger stage could win over adults.*  There is something about the show's fairy tale magic that works when the original music is so darling. 

*I know that there is a  a "reconceived" version of the original 1957 TV version in the works.  The Tabard production was adapted from the 1997 TV version written by Robert L. Freedman so it is already an updated version of the original work. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Richard II: Maybe I Don't Deserve Nice Things

I managed to get a last minute standing room ticket to Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse.  I had not been to the Donmar since Take Me Out (a long time ago and holy cow that was great).  So I was overdue for a visit and despite the 2 hour 40 minute running time I decided it was worth standing for.   And...of course I did not really like it. 

I know.  I am an ungrateful bitch.  Eddie Redmayne, Donmar, Shakespeare...I should be able to find something nice to say about it.  But I am really trying and I am coming up empty (besides pretty pretty cheekbones and me wondering if the guy in the front row was Jude Law--it might have been, or maybe not).  I really wish someone else saw it with me so I could have discussed it right then and there.  The audience was eating it up.  And I wondered if I was in Book of Mormon again (yeah, I didn't really get why the audience loved BOM so much). 

This is all to say it was not terrible or unwatchable.   It was unimaginative and off the mark and I just expected more considering the cast, director and theater.  Maybe I set my expectations too high.

How about a little background.  I am embarrassed to say I have not studied very many of the history plays of Shakespeare.  I never read Richard II.  I am a Henry V fan (I mean after the Kenneth Branagh film how could you not be) and I have seen student productions of Henry IV (parts one and two).  But it has been a while.  I point this out because in some ways I am always geared up for tragedy or comedy with Shakespeare and when it is anything less than that I am little confused (All's Well That Ends Well anyone?).  So I left Richard II wondering a bit about the dramatic arc, the characters and the dramatic power that felt oddly missing.  I am still trying to point fingers at the right culprit but my conclusion is that mostly the production let me down in those areas.

Without giving it all away (spoiler alert), Richard II is king and then in a bloodless coup gives up the crown to his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV).  He's not a great king and even worse a bit of a sore loser (there is a slightly comedic scene where they wrestle over the crown for a moment).  But the dramatic thrust of the play is about how mortal men can override tradition, duty, and loyalty and back a different horse in the race for king when at the time it was believed succession was a divine right given by God.  The tension between the divinely chosen king versus a good king seem to dominate as Richard is ineffectual, rash and impetuous and Henry builds a consensus among the nobles for his support and he is interested in justice and fairness.

Now I have read some reviews and I wish I saw the play they were talking about: the rapturous love for Michael Grandage in his swan-song production, the accolades for Eddie Redmayne and his nuanced performance. Nope.  Not here folks.  Not at all. 

Something was definitely missing from this production for me.  The struggle between Eddie Redmayne as Richard and Andrew Buchan as Henry did not deliver the dramatic impact I would expect from Shakespeare.  I know it is not a tragedy but there was no emotional or dramatic build (Ok I mean there was it was a little uptick at the end when finally someone ends up dead--What is Shakespeare without a pile of bodies on stage?  It's like a Michael Bay movie without explosions.).

Richard and Henry are not really equal rivals.  Richard is king.  Henry is not, yet.  But Richard is vain, fashionable, and quite delicate going to war in a shiny new gold suit.  Henry comes across as more of a blue collar guy for lack of a better phrase (not so much in performance but in contrast to Richard)--hard working, gets his hands dirty, knows how to fight in his aged but legit armor.  Redmayne is slim and pretty and this physically worked for Richard when he was king but as he starts to lose a grip on his power, Redmayne came across to me as one-note whiny (putting aside the whole Drew Barrymore acting out of one side of his mouth thing he was doing the WHOLE time).  Certainly Richard is whiny at times but I did not feel Redmayne conveyed anything else.  Maybe it was my throbbing calves and the fact that I was in the rafters, but I did not think Redmayne connected to the material when Richard starts to lose control.  It was not clear to me what dramatic choices he was making and why. 

In some ways this play could be a younger man's Lear.  Here is a guy at the start who thinks he knows exactly who he is, exactly what power he has and it turns out it is all fleeting and will be over shortly.  Lear's descent into madness could be paralleled with Richard's loss of power and frantic desperation.  I see the potential of the play and the role.  But I just did not think Redmayne delivered.

Buchan also came up short.  He gave a serviceable by the book performance without verve or color.  Most of the cast did.  But Ron Cook, as the Duke of York, the advisor to Richard who stays loyal to him out of duty gave an incredible performance.  He just took the stage over when he was on it.  He had such a commanding presence.  Michael Hadley as John of Gaunt also had his moments (though weaker when playing the Gardener).  I kept thinking that the older actors were able to deliver their lines and imbue their characters with gravitas and resonance, so why not the younger ones?

Oddly enough I found both Redmayne and Buchan lacking in charisma and presence when on stage.  Redmayne is pretty to look at (no question) and the role in some ways plays against him being a powerful presence but at times he seemed almost inconsequential--like the mere whisp of a man who might just blow away.  If that was the intended effect, it worked but it sucked the drama from the stage.  And if that was the intended effect, than Buchan had lots of room to embody the leader that everyone wanted--but he didn't.

I was a little disappointed in Michael Grandage's direction.  I did like the staging on two levels.  It worked well to convey the two worlds of Richard and Henry.  But overall, I felt as if I was watching a very traditional Shakespearean production staged for an audience of a different era.  I was not expecting Grandage to have updated Richard II so that everyone is a political candidate with some sort of contemporary political message woven in (I don't know Al Gore conceding the election? That would have been terrible).  I think a traditional production can still deliver the meaning of the original work to a contemporary audience if the actors and director want it to. But here, I struggled to find the relevance of this production of Richard II and I don't think it should have to be that much of a struggle.

It was such a letdown after Grandage's amazing staging of King Lear.

In the end, I am glad I saw it.  I would have wondered and lamented missing it otherwise.  Now I might just pick up the play to read and hope I get a chance to see this play again done better.

Haunted Child: London Weekend

Haunted Child is a riveting play by Joe Penhall about feeling lost, resenting the trappings of adulthood, and wanting to connect with what makes you happy.  It is currently playing at the Royal Court Theatre in London.  I missed visiting the Royal Court back in October during my two week London theater extravaganza and I was anxious to check it out.  As a theater wholly focused on new works and the theater that brought Rock 'n' Roll and Jerusalem to life, it seemed like an important theater to visit.

I was glad that last minute tickets to Haunted Child were available and I ended up in the front row of a packed house.  The show stars Sophie Okonedo as Julie and Ben Daniels as Douglas; they are a couple whose union is suddenly thrown into chaos by Douglas's disappearance and subsequent reappearance.

Douglas, it turns out, has joined a group that discusses esoteric philosophy and through this spiritual reawakening has come under the spell of a spiritual leader.  The organization wants him to shed off worldly things like sex, his family, his front teeth and his home and commit to them fully.  If he wants to see the world changed, he must first change himself. 

The play presents this unseen, unnamed group as quite cult-like but there are moments of Douglas's struggle that show what he is seeking out of this life quest might be actually, at times, quite reasonable.  He wants to reconnect to the person he once was: his younger self when he took more chances and was more open to the world.

What he wants from his wife and son is less clear.  He disappears without explanation and when he turns back up he hides in the attic for a few days.  While hiding there his son hears unexplained noises and worries he's hearing ghosts.  The disruption of Douglas's quest wreaks havoc upon his relationships with his wife and son.  He shares far too much about his new lifestyle with his young son who is impressionable (and struggling with issues of his own) and desperate for his father's presence.  He cannot articulate to his wife what life he wants to keep--the one with the spiritual group or the one with her.  The play is mainly focused on this struggle and Douglas's desire not to have to remain an adult forced into making choices he does not want to make.

I was intrigued by the themes explored and enjoyed the hyper-dramatic circumstances which are the catalyst for the story.  It is not really about cults.  But it is about what people are searching for in their lives.  It presents an interesting scenario of how a group offering an empirical and "esoteric philosophy" can be appealing when adulthood has delivered disappointment, loss, and struggle. 

Ben Daniels (who I have not seen on stage before--but he was in Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Roundabout) throws himself into the role with every fiber of his being.  He makes his character sympathetic when Douglas is not really sympathetic at all.  Daniels finds moments to bring the audience close to his point of view.  As a particularly cynical theater-goer, it is a hard task to do when you are basically trying to espouse the tenets of a cult.

Sophie Okonedo has a harder job.  Her role is often foil to Douglas and constant nag.  She ends up spending most of the play parenting her son and her husband.  It's a thankless task.  She has moments where she is able to step out of the role of wife and mother and we see a glimpse of who Julie was...but these are fleeting moments.  I think that is really the point of her role.  She is there to remind us of what adult responsibilities are, how marriage and children change you, and how you can easily lose sight of who you once were.  But I wished there were more moments.  I understood the purpose of the role but struggled to empathize with her character.

The son, Thomas, is played by two different boys.  I missed which one was on the boards the day I saw it and frankly he was not very good.

The direction by Jeremy Herrin was fantastic.  At the end of each scene, there was a kind of freeze frame moment.  Though some were in the script, I think the particular lighting cues and slow fade out really helped cement the "meaning" of each scene.  Although stylized I think it gave me a chance to reflect on the particular dynamic at the end of each scene between the characters based on the pose and staging of the characters.  It was a nice touch.

I could not help but compare this show to Maple and Vine.  They are two very different plays but both seem focused on what people want out of their lives that they are not getting and the extreme lengths some will go to try and heal themselves.  Where Maple and Vine took an almost satiric, dark comedy road, Haunted Child is direct, unflinching and unquestionably a straight up drama. 

It's a nice little production.  I would not expect it to transfer to New York but it is a compelling play and worth seeing if you have the opportunity.  I would definitely want to see Ben Daniels and Sophie Okonedo on stage again.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bonnie & Clyde: That Wasn't Soooo Terrible

If there was a floor to my expectations for theater, this show was hovering below that floor and somewhere around the second circle of Hell.  With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised that this show was not a total disaster.  The book, lyrics and music are not good.  But despite all that, I still found it watchable, mainly because of the terrific performances of the four leads.

Maybe "watchable" is not enough for anyone to plunk down cash for a Broadway musical these days but I was glad to see these performers in these roles and look forward to seeing them in other, better shows.  (Newsies perhaps?)  And I didn't "hate" the show which is saying a lot for me (remember how much I hated War Horse).  Didn't love it either.

They are telling the story of outlaws Bonnie and Clyde but deviating from the movie version of events (which is such an iconic film--they seem to have chosen an uphill battle to erase those powerful images from your mind and try and adopt this newer, softer version).  They have taken very dark material and crafted a Romeo & Juliet style love story.  Bonnie is set up as a star stuck child always hoping she will become a famous actress and Clyde is an outlaw youth fighting the system that has impoverished his parents.   Will audiences like it.  Maybe.  The preview audience really seemed to.  They have opted for a "why did Bonnie and Clyde" go bad approach with awkward backstory that strains credulity.  Does the first Act set-up take way too long?  Yes.  I could cut at least 3-4 songs from it including one that is about driving and where the choreography involves humping a sofa. 

But once the action gets going (in the second Act) I have to say I was swept up a bit with the 4 main characters:  Clyde and Bonnie, Buck Barrow and his wife Blanche.   The best performance hands down is by Melissa Van Der Schyff who plays Blanche.  She's got all the funny lines and delivers them with aplomb.  Every time she is on stage it is like a breath of fresh air.  This is a show that needs comic relief and she delivers it.  She has nice chemistry with Claybourne Elder (who I missed in One Arm and was glad to catch here).  The romance angle works well.  Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes are gorgeous and sexy and create some heat on stage. I will admit to being caught up in the romance in the show.  Laura Osnes has been known to turn in pretty robotic performances but I happened to like her here.  Yes, she's the innocent ingenue (again) and they've chosen a more sympathetic role for her in the crime sprees but it seemed to work within the material.  They have definitely taken a softer angle on her character than say the Faye Dunaway role in the film. The two couples are very different and are played nicely in contrast to each other.  The foursome at the heart of the show is the most successful aspect of the show.

There is nothing good about the lyrics or the utterly forgettable, repetitive songs in this show.  But the voices are great and I think they elevate this material a bit.  I did do some eye-rolling on some songs but like I said I would cut them entirely from the first Act.  They don't move the story along, they aren't interesting, and they are utterly missable.  There are way too many Bible-thumpy numbers for me.  Then they reprise all the bad songs in small parts in Act Two.  Argh!  There are no show stopping numbers here (there is one cute ensemble number in the hair salon).  Limited dance and movement.  It's basically a lot of sad ballads.  I'm kind of a downer musical person so I didn't mind this normally but they are not powerful sad ballads.  One of the more memorable ones is "Dyin' Ain't So Bad"....yeah that's the title. If I had control I'd also cut all the preacher songs and songs of worship.  But maybe the rest of America likes that stuff.

As for the staging, I really liked the use of projections to give the space texture.  The projections also gave a much stronger sense of place than the wood slat set would have otherwise.  In fact I like how the projections worked well with the wooden background creating a seamless but changing canvas. I liked the use of documentary photos to give the story a bit of historic perspective.  The historic perspective was largely lacking in the book or lyrics of the show, so the photo projections injected a bit more seriousness into the material.  As much as they kind of touch upon the era and that Bonnie and Clyde became heroes,  they did not really address the historical context well with the story.  But the visual look to the show is top-notch and is a real pleasure.

So all this to say...this show has some appealing actors/singers and there is something worth seeing here.  I expect the regular run of the mill theater-goer might be fine with what is being served up here if they accept the downer premise.  For the more discerning theater customer, this is a messy business and would be worth it at a discount and if you want to enjoy the leading actors.  And Jeremy Jordan takes off his shirt and Laura Osnes has abs that could crack walnuts.  There is something for everyone. 

Maple and Vine: Imagined Life in 1955

Maple and Vine at Playwrights Horizons offers the audience an interesting premise--why would people today choose to live in a recreated 1955 world.

In this show, Katha and her husband Ryu have suffered the loss of a baby.  In her grief, Katha stumbles upon a community set up to recreate life in 1955.  She talks her husband into moving to this community--a community that is obsessed with "authenticity."  The community will remain in 1955 even as time moves on.  Everything about their life in 1955 will be recreated.  Of course, the original appeal to Katha is a simpler life.  Where men are men and women are women and we aren't trying to have it all.  We are currently drowning in information and freedom, maybe a little structure would do us good.  They are led to the community by Dean and Ellen who are the picture perfect couple of life in 1955 and leaders of the community. 

The show left me wondering a lot about these characters and their motivations.  In particular, why an interracial couple would want to go back to life in 1955.  Ryu is Japanese-American.  In his 1955 life, he is forced to adopt a personal storyline that involves the Japanese internment.  A former plastic surgeon, he goes to work in a 1955 box factory.  He is also subject to outright racism and xenophobia circa 1955.  His wife, strangely, in her quest for authenticity, actually demands more intolerance toward her and her husband in this community. 

It's a fascinating conceit.  Even if totally unbelievable, it asks some compelling questions about why people are struggling in today's society and what they think they could get out of life in another time. I think we all have a period of time where we imagine we'd travel to if we could.  I have always had a weird affinity for the 1930's (Having just drunkenly watched Lost in Austen* with @thecraptacular, @Scamandalous and @PataphysicalSci, one thing we could all agree on is time travel is all well and good BUT it should allow for tampons and toothpaste to come with you no matter what).

The actual performances in Maple and Vine were a mixed bag.  Marin Ireland as Katha (who becomes Kathy in 1955) conveys the depression of a disconnected, modern woman and the transformation into a "happy" 1955 housewife with great veracity.  Trent Dawson plays perpetually smiley Dean, "perfect" leader of the community who is carrying a secret.  He does the salesman pitch very well.  He is given less time to explore the other aspects of his personality which was a little disappointing to me.  Jeanine Serralles was sharp as Ellen, the "perfect" 1955 wife.  When secrets spill out, her fractured facade was very powerful and convincing.  But alas, again she didn't get as much stage time as I would have liked to display her struggle.  Pedro Pascal as Roger was fantastic.  Oh my god.  Put him in everything and maybe also let him be naked.  Seriously, he was an intense character who is a catalyst for change in the 1955 community.  His performance, balanced between creepy, sexy and desperate, was really strong.  Peter Kim as Ryu was the weakest of the bunch, turning in a very one note performance.  His motivations and journey were not clear through the writing and his performance did not clarify that either.

The monologues by Dean and Ellen done in a faux-sales pitch were unnecessary.  I think the show would have been more engaging if we'd just jumped right into the action with a little less of this sales-pitch veneer.  The staging was a little too complicated and it took about 30 minutes for an intermission so they could build a set for the second Act. 

The play left me with more questions than answers.  I found it to be a fascinating subject, but a less fascinating play.  I would have liked them to have spent more time on life in 1955 and less time in the set up for them getting there.  Maybe I wanted to see more of this 1955 world than a play could provide.  I wanted to know more about this "community" but we were limited to the 5 characters in the play.  Although the relationships between these characters are driving the plot, the atmosphere and the world of 1955 re-inactors would have been a fascinating subject matter to explore.  Is it a compliment or a complaint that I want to see this play turned into a movie?

The playwright, Jordan Harrison, definitely caught my attention and presented an intriguing premise, even if the play in the end did not deliver.

*It's a miniseries about a modern woman obsessed with Pride and Prejudice who somehow is able to enter the world of the book through a door in her shower.  And it's not as she imagined it would be at all.  And she really misses toothpaste.   It stars Tom Riley (who we love), Tom Mison (who we love), Elliot Cowan (who we love) and some girls.

**DISCLOSURE:  I received a complimentary ticket to attend this production in previews.