25 January - 2 February '05
25 jan [ A JOURNEY TO KREISAU Blue pumpkin Productions reading BPT ]
27 jan THE GLASS MENAGERIE Lyric Stage of Boston 6
28 jan 103 Within The Veil COMPANY ONE Boston Playwrights' Theatre 7
29 jan THE MOONLIGHT ROOM SpeakEasy Stage Company BCA 8
25 jan [ A JOURNEY TO KREISAU Blue Pumpkin Productions (reading) BPT ]
This was a script-in-hand reading of a new play Marc P. Smith had been researching and writing for four months, and it had had a reading-plus-TalkBack in Worcester and was going to have another somewhere out on the Left Coast of Massachusetts like Andover. Marc said more than once he wanted history itself to be the antagonist against his protagonists Helmuth and Freya von Moltke --- two free-thinking Germans who tried to mitigate the excesses of the Nazis as lawyers, Helmuth from inside the Justice Department. More of the script consisted of lectures on the rise of Hitler and the progress of the Second World War than was lavished on quotes from the von Moltkes' correspondance, and I waited, bored, in vain for anything of real substance to happen. People who knew more of German history, some of them at first-hand, or who were friends of Freya, found it a profoundly moving experience, one calling it the modern equivalent of a Greek tragedy.
I was only one of four raising our hands when asked "Who was bored?" but I suspect that those who had similar reactions simply left before the talk-back began. But I've been wrong before.
I have already written full reviews of "The Glass Menagerie" and "103 Within The Veil" and "The Moonlight Room" --- but, though I got to most of them late in their runs and, waiting a day or two wrote of them all in a two-day rush, they are all what I call Reviews. That is, they strive to be descriptive of what happened on stage, allowing the Reader's judgement to draw conclusions.
But here I have an opportunity to Think about these plays, to relate them to a Bigger Picture both of theater history, and of styles of writing and making plays. This is Not a familiar stance for me, so you be the judge of how well I do at it, okay?
First of all, these three plays are indicative of the variety of theatrical fare available here. (And let me point out that using the "Search This Page" thingie on the PLAYS UP AND RUNNING page I found not three but fourteen possibilities.):
We have here a classic American "warhorse", the Boston premier of a highly praised New York triumph, and a world premier of a new play commissioned by the company. Elsewhere this week there are "Family" shows, improv-groups, a classic musical, two never-to-close Boston classics, and two Broadway blockbusters --- and that's just here in Boston! No wonder a theater maniac like me must apologize for having seen "only" 126 plays in 2004. There's so MUCH to see here!
Then I must say that, though these three companies are all very different one from the other, the difference is not at all in the quality of the acting nor the "finish" of the overall productions. The all-Equity cast at The Lyric, the non-Equity crew at Company One, and the mixture working at SpeakEasy all turned in solid, sensitive, expressive performances for three insightful local directors.
But of course, in theme and style, these plays are totally different from one another. Williams' "Menagerie" is "a memory play", dimly lit and skipping through time, stitching scenes together with narrations dripping with poetry; Greenidge's "103" is a teaching-play, an explosion of disparate scenes breathing speculative life into portrait-photographs from early in the 1900's; while Skyler's "Moonlight" is as reality-based as a contemporary family-conflict situation can be.
Oddly enough each of these plays featured African-American actors: one of the characters in "The Moonlight Room" is a Black father, and all of the faces in those 103 photo-portraits "in The veil" are Black. The fact that Vincent Ernest Siders plays Tom in "The Glass Menagerie" doesn't really make the Wingfields a mixed-race family; it's just that the best actor for that part happens not to be White.
Finally. I want to take off from this sentence in Carl A Rossi's review of "The Moonlight Room":
" If I begin by praising Ms. McFarland’s set, I do so because it signaled at once that THE MOONLIGHT ROOM would be a return to the Well-Made Play, bowing to the Unities of time, place and action and proving that the cinematic influences swamping so much of today’s playwriting need not be the only way to reach out to today’s audiences. "
First, I disagree. The sudden full-black blackouts separating scenes in this play are "cuts" as cinematic as those in a stage-play can possibly be! They represent a time-shift (and never a flashback) to be sure, but when the lights that went Bang-Down come Bang-Up again, positions have changed or characters have disappeared or new characters appear, while each of these new scenes starts up and running in real-time, just as though the black-out were a quick-cut from one time to the next.
I suspect this is why, elsewhere in his review, Rossi complains of seeing actors or stage-hands changing props: these shadow-figures reminded him that he was, indeed, at a play rather than allowing him the illusion of a cinema cut. (This is, after all, the first Stage-play of a writer of films and a film and television actress.)
But then, "103 in The Veil" is Totally "cinematic" in form, jump-cutting from idea to tableau to dialogue to harrangue and from present to past and back almost willy-nilly --- with only an off-stage "Whump!" of early photography's flash-powder separating scenes. And the bare-bones set and Eric C. Engel's precise blocking of "Menagerie" do, on the Lyric Stage, exactly those cinematic things Rossi yawningly dismisses as current cliche.
End of Sermon.
How'd I do?