Thursday, July 8, 2010

Before It Hits Home

I've still not been in the bloggiest of moods (it happens), but here are a few things of interest from the past week.

--This past Saturday, July 3rd, was Audra McDonald's 40th birthday. (As she was born in 1970, that means she won four Tonys before her 34th birthday. You may commence hating.) She's a truly stunning performer. Not only does she have a surpassingly beautiful voice, but she acts both songs and scenes with complete commitment and honesty. I have yet to be disappointed by her work--or indeed, be anything other than stunned. So if you have one of her discs, listen to it and wish her a happy belated birthday. If not, order a few, and watch her on youtube until they arrive. Also, hope that Private Practice, her TV show, ends soon, so that she can get back on Broadway and in the recording studio. You'll thank me.

--And this past Sunday was July 4th. A day later, I managed to get to my annual tradition for the day: listening to the original cast album of 1776. What a great play. Tuneful songs, a raft of fantastic performances (I believe that William Daniels' John Adams, which can be heard on the album and seen in the surprisingly good film adaptation, is among the greatest musical theatre performances ever.), and a stunningly crafted book, which somehow leaves the audience in nail-biting suspense as to whether the Declaration of Independence will be signed. It's a show I utterly love, and it may even be in my personal top 10 musicals list. So if you're not familiar with the show, go track it down immediately. If you are, listen to it again.

--The Hypocrites have announced their 2010-2011 season, and it looks facinating (and bizarre).Greg Allen of the Neo-Futurists is directing his own adaptation of Kafka's The Trial, called K. Based on the reputations of both Kafka and Allen, it's sure to be a brain-bender. Sean Graney, the company's artistic director (whose work I've usually loved in the past) will direct his own version of Georg Buchner's Woyzeck, a seminal, legendariy weird, 19th-century play which has been hugely influential and which I have never gotten around to seeing or reading. (It will be running concurrently with other adaptations of the work at About Face and Collaboraction next season.) Both of those, while ambitious works, sit relatively comfortably within The Hypocrites' aesthetic. The shock in the announcement is the third production: Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Yes, the surpassingly silly and slyly satirical British operetta, filled with patter songs, soaring melodies, and ridiculous plot twists. Graney will direct, and whether or not it works, it's sure to infuriate Gilbert and Sullivan purists and be unlike anything else playing in Chicago. I'll be there.

--And finally, a poll question. The AV Club has a discussion question every Friday, which is answered by the staff members and then discussed in the comments section. This past Friday, the question was:

When have you felt like a work hit close to home for you, or almost like something was made just for you?

The staff members responded with a variety of movies, albums, and books. None of them mentioned a play. (This doesn't particularly surprise me.) So I figured I'd open the question up for you guys. What theatrical work, either seen on stage, read as a script, or listened to as a cast album, really hit home for you?

I'll start.

For me it would have to be the character of Posner in Alan Bennett's The History Boys. Few plays I've ever seen have been so accurate in their portrayal of how being an adolescent really feels, and few characters have ever felt as much like me as Posner. He's gay, Jewish, and short, he's wracked with desire for an unattainable man, and he never feels truly accepted by the people around him. Now people could argue, quite accurately, that there are significant differences between me and him: I'm not as socially awkward, able to make my way through the world reasonably well, and much more fortunate in love. But that doesn't mean that there still aren't moments--or weeks--when I feel just like him. To see a character with whom I identify so strongly onstage is spooky and moving. To learn that his life turns out badly is devastating.

How about you?


Kerry said...

I think it might have been the first time I saw Sonya's last speech in "Uncle Vanya." This was a production in 1990 or thereabouts at the Goodman, directed by Michael Maggio (RIP), and starring John Mahoney as Vanya. But it was Linda Emond's Sonya who just wrecked me.

Drew said...

The first and second times I saw ROAD. First, original production at Royal Court in London during college and then Remains production (I think) at the old Organic space (or warehouse, more accurately) the summer after college. Both great productions and fabulous young-director mind-blowing combination of solid stories with totally untraditional form. Then there was JC Superstar when I was a little kid... that's the original coke that got me hooked. Hey Zev - so why aren't you pitching 1776 for SLT? It's way past time for another musical!!!!

Mr. K said...

For me, I'd have to say most recently it was LUCINDA'S BED by Mia McCullough, at Chicago Dramatists, which definitely managed to push a lot of my buttons re: fidelity & monogamy, but addressed them in a complex way, sympathizing with the adulterer while examining in depth the plight of the cuckolded party and the way it can devour someone. And this was at a time when I was still trying to piece myself back together after a couple of spectacular relationship flame-outs.

It helped that one of the characters was the sort of nice guy that I've often been and more often feel like, but sketched with more complexity and depth than LaBute is with similar characters.

So yeah, definitely the most personally affecting theatre experience I've had in the last year or so.

Monica Reida said...

I'd have to say The Year of Magical Thinking at the Court Theatre, which just was done in January. I had been moved by a play before, but that was the first time that a play really affected me emotionally and mentally because of the portrayal of loss and grieving, which I went through at an early age. I read the book after I saw the play and it didn't have the same effect because of how the play was staged and the performance that Mary Beth Fisher gave.

On another note, Audra McDonald is that old? I thought she was younger.

Bob said...

I can't believe Audra is 40! I remember seeing her perform in Ann Arbor when she was 28, and the "Hot New Thing."

As always, love your blog.