The Flick

I thought I was quite lucky when I managed to get two discount tickets for Steppenwolf Theater’s The Flick, an award winning (so hard to believe)  play by Annie Baker. That feeling lasted 10 minutes when my hope that the play would entertain or enlighten at all was starting to vanish.

The Flick is a long, (3 hours, 10 minutes) dull look at two men who sweep and mop up the theater and the female projectionist, who’s a vapid loudmouth. The advertisement called the show “mesmerising” and I can only imagine that’s an agency’s spin on “sleep inducing.” I came expecting humorous banter about the love of film by some theatre employees with quirks and some sort of meaning or at least novel social observations along the lines of the very quotable Clerks film.

Those hopes were dashed rather early one by prolonged stretches of mopping or sweeping interspersed with dull dialogue about stealing from the till, the projectionist’s personality and sexuality, and movie trivia between the new guy, a nerd with high levels of social anxiety who’s little more than a walking IMDB.com. The nerd does realise he doesn’t have much personality his life is going nowhere but his long winded phone conversation with a therapist just bored me.

The play desperately needs 1) a plot, 2) more characters, 3) cut about 90 minutes out of it, 4) somehow find a theme and 5) take the characters you’re stuck with and give them some personality.

Evidently, the play contains humour, but I only know that because the theatre employees who sat behind me laughed. Any laughter in the theatre came from about 10% of the audience whom my friend and I guess were parents of the actors. During the first half of the play, I looked at my watch three times, not a good sign. I was relieved to get to intermission and delighted when my friend asked, “Would you mind leaving?”

Certainly not! Ninety more minutes would be hell.

As I went to collect my coat, my friend asked an employee what happened in the second half. “It’s pretty much more of the same.” That’s what we guessed. If the playwright had any ability or sense, she’d have put something good into the first half of this long, long opus. We overheard some people trying to decide whether to stay or go. My friend shared the employee’s comment. After exchanging some comments about how dreadful this show was and trying to figure out why a high quality theatre like Steppenwolf would choose to do this and how this Annie Baker managed to not only win a Pulitzer but also a Guggenheim so she’s getting a fortune to continue to write dull plays, we all decided to leave. Life is too short.

We weren’t alone either. I figure my $20 was a gift to the arts. We were so sorry that Domesticated with Tom Allen was sold out.

 

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After Ashley

I just read Gina Gianfriddo’s play After Ashley. It’s a witty play with some strong content. It shares the story of Ashley Hammond a very unhappy woman who’s stuck in her marriage and discusses her troubles with Justin her 14 year old son. She doesn’t have a good sense of boundaries and goes to town on her husband to her son, who continually begs her to stop complaining about his dad.

When Aaron Hammond, Ashley’s husband, appears he announces that he’s hired a homeless man to work around the house and Ashley challenges him on this choice. Like Rapture, Blister, Burn, the lead female character is lost, strong and sexually experimental (you don’t see that side, you hear about it) and the male lead is more passive and seeks out a troubled person to come into his home to work against his wife’s wishes.

The play jumps ahead three years and Ashley’s had been raped and murdered by the homeless guy. Of course, that’s hard to take, but Gianfriddo does a better job than most writers with the topic. Readers or audiences see Justin and Aaron struggling to over how to cope with their loss. Justin is certainly critical of Aaron’s decision to cash in and gain fame by hosting a tasteless reality show about victimhood.

The play sounds like it’s so violent and bleak. I can’t recommend it because, while I liked the writing and the playwright presents us with her ideas from a comfortable distance while still making her point, I can see it’s not for everyone. Still, the play is smart and well paced. If you’re not sensitive to the subject matter, I think you’d enjoy After Ashley.

Grand Concourse

theater-Steppenwolf-Grand-Concourse

The Steppenwolf’s Grand Concourse was so promising. Set in a soup kitchen, the play opens with Shelley, a middle=aged nun, who’s been doling out soup probably for decades gives Emma, a 19 year old volunteer, a run down on survival techniques: never give any of the guests money, don’t let the guests — especially Frog — into the kitchen, wash your hands a million times and remember anyone out there in the dining hall could snap at any time. Little does she know that Emma’s the one she should be warning people about. Despite her fragile looks, Emma’s the one who’s more disturbed and more in need than anyone at the soup kitchen. She’s the one not worthy of trust. That’s a lesson, Shelley, Frog and Oscar, a down-to-earth employee take too long to learn. Frog’s looniness is quirky and appealing. Oscar’s dependability and reactions to the other characters make him easy to connect with.

The acting, dialog and set design were top notch, I liked all the characters except Emma, who turns out to be psychotic midway through the show. However. the plot, especially the ending had problems. The young playwright doesn’t seem to understand how people generally change with age so the way Shelley reacts are more in keeping with a 30-something than someone who’s in her 50s. At the end of the play the plot jumps ahead several months, some characters have made big changes in their lives, but it was hard to buy that they really would have changed as they did.

I came away thinking that the writer knew a little about the world of soup kitchens and Catholics, but not all that much. If she’d spent more time investigating these realms, we’d have a better play, a play I could recommend people flock to.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

Chishakuin Temple, Kyoto

Chishakuin Temple, Kyoto

Chicago Theater

Chicago Theater

New Mexico

New Mexico

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts. Add Media photos from each month’s most popular challenge.

Other great photos:

Rapture, Blister, Burn

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Written by Gina Gionfriddo, Rapture, Blister, Burn* takes the audience on a hilarious exploration of modern feminism. When my friend, whose husband didn’t want to see a play, explained it too me she said it was about two women, one a stay at home, married mother and the other a single, successful career woman reunite. I felt nothing new would be offered.

I was wrong.

Rapture, Blister, Burn* does tell the story of two friends who haven’t seen each other since grad school. Catherine became a famous feminist professor who’s on the talk show circuit to discuss terrorism, the Internet and porn, and Gwen, who’s married Catherine’s former boyfriend Don, who’s turned out to be an unambitious academic dean. Don’s the guy who counsels the kids who ditch class, drink too much and maybe take drugs. He demands so little of himself or his students.

Catherine moves to Gwen’s town to care for her mother, who’s had a heart attack. This crisis has made Catherine question her life’s choices and women’s progress. Don, Gwen’s husband, was Catherine’s boyfriend and she now thinks perhaps Don was “the one.” What happens between the trio is the main plot of the play, but what I found most interesting was the interaction between Catherine, Gwen, Catherine’s mother and Avery, Gwen’s rebellious babysitter. Catherine needs something to do in the summer so Don’s able to get her a seminar to teach. Only two students register for Catherine’s feminist studies seminar so she holds it in her mother’s living room. Gwen and Avery turn out to be the two students.

Avery’s an outspoken millennial who got a black eye while shooting a reality show with her boyfriend. Avery has some beliefs that I confess I found shocking — yet intriguing. She argues that you can totally outsource homemaking (not just housework, but giving a home its feel). During the seminar and the cocktail hour that invariably follows, the women discuss Phyllis Schafly, Carol Clover, and other feminists. Their discussions were funny and enlightening, which surprised me as I thought the topic one I knew all about. Gionfriddo’s characters have open minds and do wrestle with ideas that you’d expect them to immediately reject. I’d never heard of feminist ideas surrounding horror movies or Clover’s concept of the “final girl.” Catherine, her mother, Gwen and Avery debate and argue without sounding pedantic. The humor reminds me of a modern day, feminist Socratic discussion, one where the participants all have a lot riding on the ideas.

Rapture, Blister, Burn has played in London and L.A. and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. While, like me, you probably won’t walk out of the theater envious or any character or ready to espouse their beliefs, you will play with the ideas discussed and just might find yourself tracking down Phyllis Schafley’s books at the library. I never thought I would, but this play is full of surprises.

(*The title is from some lyrics to a Courtney Love song.)

Vanya on 42nd St.

julianne moore Vanya on 42nd Street

André Gregory, who starred in My Dinner with André, is certainly unique and directs like no other director. Vanya on 42nd Street is such a unique play or project and finally a film. He assembled a wonderful cast including Wallace Shawn and Juliette Moore to get together and rehearse Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for years. Several times a week the actors would perform this play — for 4 years. It wasn’t till the third year that they started to invite a handful of guests to watch them. Eventually, Louis Malle agreed to direct a film version of their play.

The story involves an extended family, who like the family in The Cherry Orchard, have money problems. On top of that several men in the story are smitten by Yelena, a beautiful young woman who’s married to an old scholar. There’s lots of conflict in the family revolving around personal grievances and what to do about their money problems. Because the actors performed this play so many times over a long period and thus became intimate with their cast members they reported that this story was like no other to them thus there’s a depth to this performance that’s palpable and like no other performance. The actors perform in a gorgeous abandoned theater in ruins, which resonates with the play’s theme. Both the play, translated by David Mamet, and the Criterion Collection interviews are engrossing.The interviews made me appreciate the meticulous acting this process afforded.  I’d definitely watch this again and again for the story and fine acting.

Anonymous

Anonymous speculates that William Shakespeare didn’t write his plays and offers a theory that the 17th Earl of Oxford did. Though I don’t buy this idea because I do think genius springs up in all classes, I do love historical and even speculative historical fiction enough to enjoy a film that has an interesting theory.

For a couple hours it was worth it to put aside my beliefs and enjoy rich costumes, romantic landscapes of yore, even the muddy ones and bold dialog (though it wasn’t as Shakespearean as Elizabeth Rex‘s dialog). The thesis put forth is that the Earl of Oxford had the education and background that William Shakespeare lacked and he wrote plays to influence Elizabeth as she ruled the British empire. The implication is that a woman wouldn’t have been wise enough to rule as successful on her own. Well, I don’t buy that, but I did find it interesting to see what this screenwriter believed as the story takes a lot of interesting twists.

I will quibble with the portrayal of William Shakespeare. Here he’s a buffoon and one that’s a far cry from say the jester in King Lear. In fact, we’re told that although he can read, he can’t write. Poppycock. Writing isn’t hard and in a week Asian students have the alphabet down. We know Shakespeare went to grammar school and unless his hand was injured during that entire period, someone would have taught him how to actually write letter.

The film proposes that the 17th Earl of Oxford was the real Bard. In the film this earl was very stately, but for the life of me I can’t recall a line of dialog he said. Now if a film wants to depict the real Shakespeare, shouldn’t that character be eloquent, someone who’s conversation is memorable? That’s why the film failed. I wasn’t convinced that because this man was well dressed and was given a good education, that he was a genius. Genius isn’t that well hidden.

The political intrigue gets complicated, but not impossible to follow. But then I’d seen Elizabeth Rex recently so I knew about the intrigue and the Earl of Essex‘s execution. I do wish someone, perhaps a woman, would write a play about Elizabeth that isn’t so skeptical of her ability to lead.