Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Door-to-Door Prince!? Seagull and Beast

Why am I just now learning that Prince goes door-to-door to proselytize as a Jehovah's Witness in Minneapolis??? I am getting that Jerome Fellowship application in this year, then! My life could end after 25 minutes of Prince explaining the beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses to me. I really don't have any desires in life beyond that.

On a related note, I saw Kristen Scott Thomas in THE SEAGULL at the Walter Kerr Theatre last Friday. (Why is that a related note, you ask? Shame on you! Didn't we all see this the day it was released in theaters--first showing of the day!--, wear out a VHS tape of the movie, and perform a scene from it for a high school drama camp mimicking KST as exactly as we could- to our everlasting shame?).

KST was absolutely magnifcent in the role of Arkadina. Her scene with Trigorin (an understated and deeply resonant Peter Sarsgaard) in the third (?) act was the highlight of the performance. Zoe Kazan was brilliant as Masha- giving the role a sense of humor and intelligence that it rarely possesses. I wish the production had been a little braver and less traditional and tried her in the role of Nina, actually. Or saved Lisa Joyce from her current blind hooker/battered woman job at NYTW's production of Michael Weller's BEAST and tried her as Nina. The design work on this production is worth the price of admission all on its own. Christopher Hampton's adaptation seemed to abstract and distance me from the play in a way that was not wholly satisfying-- but that may have been because I had a nosebleed seat and felt physically distanced from the action. All in all, it is a lovely to look at and intriguing production. I wished fervently that Arkadina had more stage time, but was very glad to have attended.

Also caught Michael Weller's BEAST at New York Theater Workshop. I really admired the heart of this play and the boldness of it's premise (American soldier comes back from the dead as a disfigured zombie after being killed in Iraq and seeks revenge). And the gorgeousness of the talking Mount Rushmore set in the second act (way to go Blue Demon set designer Eugene Lee!) is not to be missed! That is probably the best set I have ever seen in a theater that size.

I felt the script had a diluted focus at times that detracted a bit. The zombie character, Voychevsky (a fantastic gravelly-voiced Corey Stoll) and his soldier buddy Cato (the affable and extremely engaging Logan Marshall-Green) take a long time to figure out what their aim in life (and after-life) is as they torment arms dealers, engage blind hookers, visit Voychevsky's wife and her new abusive boyfriend, and hitchhike. Most of the play the two men seem to be wandering with little purpose and that works against the tightly constructed and urgent thematic drive of the play. Mid-second act, they decide their goal is to exact revenge for their disfigurements and death, and if Voychevsky had crawled out of his flag-draped coffin at the start of the play with this purpose, I think this would have been a play for the ages.

Weller portrays his female characters, distractingly as victims. Lisa Joyce pulls off an amazingly charming blind southern hooker, and fights admirably to work out a muddily motivated Bonnie Ann (Voychevsky's wife) but, ultimately the male / female dynamic in the play remains strongly unbalanced for no obvious plot or thematic purpose.

I skimmed a couple other reviews and saw that critics are having a strong tendency to relate the play to other works. One critic tries to align the story to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I, for some reason-- I guess triggered by the title-- kept waiting for the story to resemble the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. I think it is admirable that Weller did not make the play a direct adaptation, but nevertheless, the urge is there in the audience to try to make sense of things by relating the story to some archetype- and this functions as another distracting itch to the brain as you are watching.

All in all, despite the things that bothered me, I found this play extremely intriguing, bold, original, and challenging. Not sure that it is in the right theater. The NYTW subscribers seemed a bit perplexed. But it is definitely worth going, experiencing, and discussing extensively.


Adam said...

I'm waiting for him to knock on my door.

Johnna Adams said...

Yes, I am hoping to live vicariously through your conversion to the Jehovah's Witness faith with Prince as your mentor, Adam. Go ahead and set up a hidden video in your living room now, just in case he shows up!!!