Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hitchcock goes Slapstick

The 39 Steps. La Jolla Playhouse. 8/30/09.

The 39 Steps is a delightful comic romp through the plot of a Hitchcock thriller. It's an infinitely entertaining example of suburb comic timing and high quality clowning. I found the play incredibly enjoyable and I highly recommend it. The production exhibited wonderful theatricality in its execution of a whole film's worth of characters, scenes, and stunts with a minimalist set and a cast of four. Ted Deasy playing the male lead ran and leapt and chased and sweated across the stage for the length of the play without much of a break besides intermission and did it all with an air of self-possessed English charm. Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson played every other male character (and some of the women). Their physical comedy, including quick swapping between character and carrying on conversations with themselves kept the play running at a breakneck pace and continually surprised and delighted me. I laughed through the whole show and enjoyed every minute of it.

What The 39 Steps isn't, however, is a theater version of Hitchcock. What got lost in all of the postmodern self-referential slapstick was the thrill of the thriller. Even though the production recreated every scene in the film, the idea of a spy thriller got lost entirely. So I left the play wondering if it mattered? This play is wonderful, but why is it The 39 Steps? Would it be receiving as much attention if it were just a spoof of the spy thriller genre? Why tie it to Hitchcock? What does it have to say about our relationship to film history? I don't have any answers, just questions, but I really did enjoy the play and I do highly recommend it.

CTG just announced that the touring production of The 39 Steps will come to the Ahmanson next spring and will be included in the Taper season. It's a solid, fun show and I expect anyone who sees it will enjoy it, but I'm not necessarily in a hurry to see it again.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Season Tickets

I just bought season tickets to the Geffen Playhouse. The funny thing about this is that I was thinking about getting tickets for the Kirk Douglas season since they (for once) managed to program two plays by women, and I will definitely have to see "A New Play By Lisa Kron." I let myself be talked into tickets to the Geffen instead because I knew I wanted to see Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas with some friends (it sounds delightfully silly) and Nightmare Alley could be fabulous, or at least intellectually interesting as a film adaptation. So I allowed myself to be convinced that even though I think Female of the Species might be horribly anti-feminist, it's probably worth seeing to find out, or to see what Annette Bening does with the wacky feminist role. The funny thing is, I've seen several truly awful, boring plays at both the Geffen and the Douglas, and yet I keep letting myself be lured back. I very much like having season tickets, but I wish I could be more proud of the theaters to which I'm subscribing. I should be supporting a season of risky, feminist or queer, not entirely narrative work, not grasping at straws whenever one of the major companies manages to program one or two plays by women. I'd love to get season tickets to the UCLA Live International Theater Festival, but the prices are nowhere near affordable for me. I might consider picking up a subscription to the Boston Court when they announce their new season (I probably would have liked their current season). Even though I usually scoff at the Geffen, or the Taper, or the Douglas, I find myself the eternal optimist when a new season is announced. I wish I could subscribe to everything. I love having theater on my calendar, knowing that I have to go because I've already bought the tickets, and challenging myself to see things that I might not have picked if I were buying single tickets. So, what would you subscribe to if you could? What do you recommend for me?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

CTG and Experimental Theater

The LA Times reports today that CTG just received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to develop "experimental" theater by LA-based artists. I wonder if this is at least partially an expansion of the "Douglas Plus" program that was so poorly executed at the last minute last year.

They claim they intend to devote the grant to LA-based artists, and yet the only project they're ready to discuss is bringing in Phil Soltanoff from mad dog experimental theatre company to work with LA actors. While I think it would be great to have more experimental NY artists coming out to LA to do their work or show it, I definitely don't think CTG has the creative vision for this, and once again they're giving lip service to local artists while really fetishizing New York and pretending toward diversity while really only supporting (usually straight, white) men.

While this grant could be an amazing opportunity to see and develop exciting new work, I fear that it will only be another poor excuse to produce work by the same old people, but now with fewer words and more flashy projections and "technology." I would much rather have actually seen the production of Heddatron that they promised and cancelled this year than have this vague promise of new work in the future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Outdoor Shakespeare

Twelfth Night. Classical Theatre Lab. Kings Road Park, West Hollywood. 8/9/09.

Summer wouldn't be complete without some good, old-fashioned outdoor Shakespeare. While New Yorkers could see a star-studded Twelfth Night in Central Park earlier this season, we here in West Hollywood have our own modest version of the same play. It's a solid production with good spirit and a few really strong performances.

Most notably, the production maintained quite good pacing, managing to keep my attention without feeling rushed and always making sense out of the language. The actors were combatting airplanes and street noise, and occasional bits of dialogue were lost entirely, and yet I didn't ever feel as if I'd missed anything.

Particularly notable in this production were the comic characters, led by Will Badgett as Feste and Michael Matthys as Sir Toby Belch. They were a lot of fun onstage and made more sense out of the comic bits than I generally experience, and I found myself wishing for more songs.

While this production was far from perfect, it's a good, fun outdoor Shakespeare performance, and not bad for the free show down the street from my house. Director Armin Shimerman did a good job forging a solid, faithful production of a fun play in a lovely outdoor setting.

My favorite Twelfth Night is still the 1998 Lincoln Center/PBS version I saw in high school starring Helen Hunt and Kyra Sedgwick (I really wish this were available on DVD!), but this was a nice pleasant afternoon of theater.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I just began restoring the links that vanished when I changed the design of this blog many months ago, so please take a look at the side column and let me know what's missing. If you read or link to me and would like to be listed, or if you have any recommendations for blogs I should be reading or linking (particularly those at any intersection of theater, academics, Los Angeles, and gender), I would be quite grateful for any suggestions.

Crushable Women

Julie and Julia. The Grove. 8/10/09.

I saw Julie and Julia last night, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but this post is really just as much inspired by this Daily Beast article and the Jezebel response to it that I just happened upon. Mostly, I want to point out that these articles are appropriating terms of romance to describe professional relationships and envy, which are strange usages of terms like "lust" and "crush." Female-female relationships can slip between homosexuality and homosociality, but it seems to me that both of these articles de-eroticize the "girl crush" in really unfortunate ways. For me at least, there is a difference between the women I admire because I want to be like them and the women I admire and might want to sleep with, even if that difference might occasionally be slippery, too. Both of these articles make me wonder if and where attraction might be in the relationships and whether the use of terms like "crush" might have something to say about the paucity of models for female friendship and mentorship.

Which brings me to Julie and Julia. I'm only talking about the film here, not the book or the blog, and certainly not the person, but one thing that I found particularly striking about the film was its portrayal of female relationships. At one point (and this isn't an exact quote), Julie asks, 'aren't you supposed to like your friends'? Julie's relationships in the film with other people, particularly other women, were distant, strained, impoverished. There were those three condescending women she had lunch with, whose relationship was never even explained. I guess they were supposed to be friends, but they didn't seem to even like each other.

In contrast, there was Julie's relationship with Julia Child, which bordered on the obsessive. Was this a "girl crush?" Probably not in the way Doree Shafrir describes it and probably not in a romantic way, and yet the relationship in Julie's head was the only well-defined female-female relationship in Julie's part of the movie. She had some dinner guests, a mother in the form of answering machine voice, and a woman she occasionally high-fived across cubicle walls. There were occasional scenes with friend to whom she vented, but there wasn't much a sense of friendship or support. Julia had female collaborators, a pen-pal, a sister, even a female nemesis of sorts and all of those characters felt much more rich than any of the women in Julie's life.

This might be a reflection of contemporary life, in which we've lost a sense of the possibilities of female friendships that aren't superficial, obligatory, or competitive, or it might just be a part of the failure of the film to develop the character of Julie Powell with the depth and complexity and vibrancy that Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child had, both of which I believe are problems.

Let me be clear that I really did enjoy the film Julie and Julia, but I also felt that it suffered from a generation gap. Amy Adams' Powell seems as so much less interesting than Julia Child, but that is at least partially because I don't think writer/director Nora Ephron really understood (or liked) the character. Powell is given long, boring scenes about what a blog is and how to start one that may be necessary if your intended audience is over sixty, but that seem incredibly simplistic and alienating to an audience of Julie's contemporaries. I find this LA Times article particularly illuminating in its discussion toward the end of the article about how Ephron had trouble "creating tension within Powell's narrative"; that failure is apparent onscreen in the difficulty I had liking or identifying with the character. I feel that there must be a way to have made Julie's quirkiness and affectations endearing, but the film portrayed her as self-centered and helpless instead. Again, I wonder if this is a reflection on the images and possibilities for contemporary women, or just a slight misstep. Any thoughts or insight would be welcome.

Either way, I very much recommend the film, but with the caveat that the portrayals of Julie Powell or contemporary female relationships are not why I recommend it. Go for the food, the cooking, and Meryl as Julia. Go for the fact that it's a movie about women, for once. I definitely enjoyed the film, and left the theater discussing dessert recipes with friends, and that in itself is a wonderful thing. Perhaps, even if this isn't a film that portrays non-competitive contemporary female relationships, it can be a film that helps build some.