Monday, July 19, 2010

I Write Lots of Things

Here are two posts I wrote for other sites:

The first is "My Cherrywood Nights or David Cromer Stole My Childhood," a short essay on my experiences in the cast of Cherrywood that I wrote for Eric Roach and Anderson Lawfer's very funny "Cherrywatch" blog.
I've also got a new review up, of Bruised Orange Theatre's Daddy Long Legs. It's a one act noirish comic thriller performed at the on the lakefront in Rogers Park. It doesn't always work (the ending falls flat) but there's a lot of fun to be had in sitting on the beach and watching the proceedings.

Here's the Cherrywood piece:

Many of you, reading the various articles about Cherrywood (some of which are even based on fact, and interviews which actually took place) might have gotten the impression that David Cromer’s production is the Chicago premiere of Kirk Lynn’s 2004 Austin-set mindfuck. But it is not so. Shade Murray directed it as his first year directing project while getting his MFA at Northwestern. This is the production that Cromer saw, which got him interested in the script in the first place. Cromer then worked on it in a student production at Act One Studios, and now here it is at Mary-Arrchie, the Greatest Chicago Theatre Event In History.

But who remembers the previous productions? I do. I was in Shade Murray’s Cherrywood (and who hasn’t wanted to get in Shade Murray’s Cherrywood?), and I can tell the tale. Cromer used my experiences, from when I was a tender lad of 21, to create his play, and I feel used. And sort of exhilarated.

Shade chose twelve of the best and brightest—or at least twelve of the hardest to embarrass and least likely to ask “what’s the point of this?”—to be his intrepid cast. We viewpointed, we created unscripted moments, we did sun salutations, we didn’t know how the show was ending until about three nights before we opened. It was a little bit of a cult.

We had no budget for tech and no stage manager, so there were no light cues, the set was mostly made of cardboard boxes, the costumes were pulled from storage, and the sound cues came from Shade running his iPod from the booth, with speakers sitting on the back of the stage.

And it was pretty awesome. Yes, twelve people doesn’t make a realistic party, and yes, the script can get a little bogged down and/or weird. But I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same kind of ownership over a play again. We built that damn show with our bare hands. We had three performances in a hundred-some seat theatre and were done. (And it was the last show I did before my graduation the next month.)

But then Cromer saw it, and suddenly we weren’t so special any more. He just had to do it with a greater degree of difficulty: four times the cast size, an actual set, a reconfigured theatre, critics, and on and on. And of course he’s David Cromer, so he’s watched like a hawk by everyone, and doing something like this…well, that’s newsworthy.

So I’m torn between being happy that more people will get to know this show and being jealous that Cromer’s version has gotten way more attention. I’m no longer special for having in Cherrywood—in fact, theatre people in Chicago who haven’t are harder to find these days. And doubtless Cromer took some stuff from our production, or made some changes that feel wrong, or generally messed with my memories of the show. Things will doubtless drive my crazy about the production.

But fuck it. I’m still going.

And here's the review of Daddy Long Legs:

As far as set designs go, it's hard to compete with Lake Michigan. Daddy Long Legs sets up a few rows of chairs on Leone Beach in Rogers Park, overlooking the water, and unfolds a tasty little gangster story for 50 minutes. The setting sometimes bolsters the story and sometimes distracts, but even when interest flags, it's easy to enjoy an early-evening hour on the beach.

For those with a taste for noirish tales, the show's a lot of fun. It's 1929, shortly after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Bobby Widdle (Clint Sheffer, who also wrote the play) is meeting Mars Streznick (John Arthur Lewis) on the beach. Streznick arrives hauling a burlap sack filled with body parts — the remains of a hit. Bobby wants to find his wife, and Mars seems to know where she is. But he's not saying much, trying to convince Bobby to leave town while he can.

Sheffer does a good job teasing the audience with each morsel of information, keeping us hooked into the twisty plot. The script balances funny and suspenseful moments, while offering up some delightfully stylized dialogue and razor-sharp wordplay. He and Lewis each create compelling portraits of the feckless hoods: They are tough and dangerous, with something to hide, but aren't quite as smart or hard boiled as they think they are. Both are greatly helped by Anne Sonneville's costumes and Wes Clark's fight choreography. Unfortunately, the last 10 minutes, when the answers are revealed, manage to be both predictable and confusing. It's a disappointing end to an otherwise fun show.

And then there's the setting. The panorama is huge, and we could see everything from bright skies to dark clouds spewing lightning was visible at once. It was gorgeous and dramatic — and at its best moments, so was the play.

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