Sunday, March 11, 2007

Is the theater really dead?

Photo copyright by Michael Mingo, 2005

A couple of reviews. I should be providing more background on what's happened since October, but it's a list, and I think it would be dull to read. I may post it soon as a list of "comings and goings" and you can skip it if it doesn't seem interesting. Anyway, we've just returned from London, which was a very pleasant respite from winter, and helped my mood immensely. Work has been pretty intense since I've been back, and, of course, as is always the case after travel, we're quite broke.

While in London, we did many fun things, not least of which was enjoy an early Spring - crocus, jonquils, and cherry blossoms all over. The weather was great, and we spent as much time as possible enjoying it, including watching the Chinese New Year celebrations, riding three- and five-storey slides at the Tate Modern, and watching Harry Potter and Mr. Dursley perform in Equus at the Gielgud.

As a night of theater, it was more than okay, though like most of the elder West-End theaters, it becomes quite warm by the interval (Boo suggested that it might have been to help avoid shrinkage for the nude Mr. Potter). Also, the guy sitting in front of me had a head like a cinder block, and would not sit still. So I had to keep shifting around to look around his giant blockhead. Boo was bookended front and back by two tweener American girls, who chattered, as tweeners will do, over his seat while he was in the lav. He soon glared them into submission when he returned, but about halfway through the first act he was disturbed by the sound of repeated grunting next to his right ear. Seems the girl behind him had dropped something on the floor and was trying to retrieve it, and breathing rather heavily next to the back of Boo's seat. Unfortunately, it sounded like she was up to, well, something else.

As far as the production goes, well, the leads (Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe, duh) were excellent, as was the gorgeous Will Kemp as Nugget. We were both much less impressed with Jenny Agutter as the judge. Beyond the cast, however, Equus remains a somewhat frustrating play for me, in that it's marvelously theatrical - some really wonderful roles, staging that complements the content, several crowd-pleasing moments, several thought-provoking moments, and an internal logic that hold together fairly well. It's a great night of theater. Yet...objectively, Shaffer's ideas don't hold up well against the reality of the world - his over-the-top intellectualizing about the role of artists and the mundanity of society is just as annoying here as it is in Amadeus. He's completely up his ass about the workings of psychotherapy. His hero's crisis of faith and identity is built on just as much sham as the patient's ersatz spirituality. Somehow that both works to the detriment of the play and its benefit - the endless parallelisms that Shaffer employs ultimately end up swallowing their own tails, and you end up with something that works so extremely well on its own terms and has so little to carry away outside the theater other than an interesting and entertaining night out. Oh, and to answer your unstated question, Mr. Radcliffe looks fine nude. Clearly has been working out. Has enormous testicles for such a slender lad. Still, give me Will Kemp any day. Today would be fine - I'll await the delivery.

This past week, after returning home, we got to redeem our Christmas present from a couple of friends of ours - we went to see The Glass Menagerie at the new Guthrie on Friday. The new space is beautiful, but a bit awkward to navigate - I can easily imagine patrons becoming lost and wandering endlessly in its multi-level ramps, hidden escalators and stairwells, and "endless bridges". Really lovely to look at though. We were not in the main theater (there are three in the complex), but the proscenium stage, which was quite nice - tricked out in bright red, with lovely sightlines - I was all but unaware of the people in front of us. The legroom was a bit short for my taller friends, but suited me just fine.

The production starred Harriet Harris (Frasier's agent Bebe) as Amanda, and she was quite fabulous. After the show, as we wandered the ramps, stairwells, and bridges, we passed within mere feet of her entering the bar, but as usual I was too tongue-tied to gush, and I never ask for autographs, because I have no idea what to do with them. Far less fabulous was Randy Harrison (mostly famous for getting his salad tossed in the first episode of the US production of Queer As Folk) as Tom - his performance was all over the map, and lacked any coherence. I also hated Tracy Maloney as Laura, for whom shy and fragile mostly translated as weird and abrupt. Jim O'Connor as the gentleman caller mostly redeemed their scenes together, but thankfully Williams's play is so beautifully written than even a couple of dud performances can't really destroy it. Also I didn't love the set design - it needed to be more claustrophobic, and instead it seemed soaring and spacious. A couple of changed angles on the set, and I think it could have been accomplished easily.

Had dinner beforehand at the Cue restaurant (one of two restaurants in the complex) and it was delightful - pricey but well done, and our friends picked up the bill, so I certainly appreciate it.

The theater complex is well worth a visit if you're in the Cities, and while I think that the standard for local theater in Minneapolis has risen far enough that the Guthrie is no longer the "premiere" theater, it's certainly the most well-funded and if you're looking for entertainment (vs challenge and innovation) you can certainly find something to see that will be worthwhile.