Blogs > The Arts Whisperer

Offering a fresh way of helping you keep up with art and entertainment happenings around the Capital District.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

plaid knows no age

I had a hard time getting a companion for the opening of "Forever Plaid" on Tuesday night. It might have been the wet dreary weather at the near end of a long summer. It might be most of my theater friends have already seen dozens of "Forever Plaids."

There are some who just make snide remarks about my personality making it difficult to get people to go with me to a show. They shall be ignored.

Even my daughter Lisa couldn't go (or found a reason not to go), but she suggested I take her 13-year old daughter Stephanie. The thought hadn't occurred to me.

This is a musical featuring the music of the 1950s. We're talking songs like "Three Coins In a Fountain," "Love is a Many Splendid Thing," "Moments to Remember." A big number is "Cry" made famous by Johnny Ray. Try and explain Johny Ray to a modern 13-year old.

"Forever Plaid" is about a "guys group" who return to earth to be provided with an opportunity to perform a concert that was denied them in life. On their way to a gig their van was hit by a bus filled with girls from a parochial school. The girls were on their way to see the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. Never mind Stephanie had no idea of the Ed Sullivan Show - did she even know about the Beatles?

Her answer was "Yes, I've heard of the Beatles," and sure I'll go with you to the show. I figured that was fair enough since I have NEVER heard of half the bands on her Ipod. I didn't mention the Plaids do a salute to Perry Como. No sense pushing it.

During the show she was listening intently to the music, laughing at the silly behavior of the guys who were supposed to be nervous performing before a large number of people. She didn't sing along with the rest of the audience during "Matilda," but was happily startled when one of the performers approached from the rear and sang in her ear. She laughed like crazy when the performers did a 3 minute 11 second version of the Ed Sullivan Show. She had no idea that it was an accurate spoof, she just thought it was funny.

At the end of the 90-minute show she insisted she "really liked it." How about the music? You won't be seeing the quote in any of Proctors ads but she said without sarcasm - "For old people's music it was really good." Which I think she meant as a compliment.

I understand her feelings. Although I lived through the era I was never a fan of the pop music of the 50s. I found it sappy and sentimental. Even then I was a person who liked music to tell a story and thus preferred Broadway tunes or folk songs. I liked jazz and was just starting to appreciate classical music.

But I too can appreciate the songs in "Forever Plaid." It is music that reflects the mood of a certain more innocent era. The performers in "Forever Plaid" so care about the music you have to share their respect for the songs. And too, the music was handpicked to represent the best of the period. They do not sing Sha-Boom or other lyrically impaired songs. It's mostly songs about lost love and a longing to be happy.

That's something a 13-year old of 2010 can appreciate, as well as can her grandfather who is a little older than that.

Friday, August 20, 2010

12-month theater

It would appear that the summer theater season is coming to a close. There are a couple of shows that open this weekend and a few more openings that straggle into next week, but for all practical purposes summer theater is done by Labor Day.

However, it's getting hard to tell when summer theater really closes as many companies now produce a fall show. Barrington Stage Company, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Shakespeare & Company, Theater Barn and Oldcastle Theatre have shows that run in September and October. The reason is that the tourist season does not end on Labor Day. Come fall, the leaf-peepers arrive.

For many theater organizations the season is 12-months long. Capital Rep always runs a popular summer entertainment, as does Curtain Call Theatre in Latham. Both organizations have September shows getting ready to open.

Proctors is also looking at the summer market. Last year they had a successful week run of "Rent." This summer they brought in "Cats," and "Miss Saigon." Tonight they begin previews for a three-week run of "Forever Plaid."

Indeed, Proctors is so intent on developing a summer season they have taken the risky step of becoming a co-producer of product. Traditionally, Proctors presents other people's product. This is still a risk because they negotiate a price for the run that is usually guaranteed. If the show fails at the box office a loss is incurred.

When Proctors becomes a producer, as they were with "Miss Saigon," the risk can be even more because the expenses are higher. They partnered with Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and a company in Toronto for "Miss Saigon" with Pittsburgh CLO taking the artistic lead in producing the show. Proctors had a financial stake in the production and had strong responsibilities for the technical aspects of the show (lights, sound, orchestra) when it played Schenectady.

Proctors is also a co-producer of "Forever Plaid" which is at the smaller G.E. Theater in the Proctors complex. It plays through September 12 and even though it is in a smaller theater three weeks it's a long run for a familiar show.

Self-producing appears a way to control the flow of product and even though the risk is higher the reward is also greater - if its a success.

It's an example of how area theater is changing - not only by the calendar but by the way productions are mounted.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Madoff errors

I recently wrote a negative review about "Imagining Madoff," a play that is being given it's world premiere at Stageworks in Hudson. (It runs through Saturday).

I recently heard from the playwright. My first assumption that it was a complaint about the negativity of the review. Worse - she wanted corrections made about "factual errors" in the review.

She was right. I assigned the wrong actors to roles. I goofed. When you consider "Imagining Madoff" only has three characters, and I got two wrong, it's a pretty major goof.

There is a tendency to defend such errors particularly in a week when I attended five plays in five days. But there is no denying it is a careless error that should not be condoned.

Actors usually get short shrift in a review to begin with. There is seldom enough space to truly explain all the things they bring to a character, nor is there room to explain the script problems that offer them little help and tend to make them look bad. Though I did not believe the performers were ready on opening night, clearly they understood their characters. This is case where good performers will get much, much better during the run of the play.

I feel especially bad for the actors in "Imagining Madoff" as they are both highly respected professionals who, most likely, are giving up much of their summer to perform in a work they believe in. They aren't in Hudson for the money.

I identified Mark Margolis - who plays Bernie Madoff as playing Solomon Galkin. Galkin was played by Howard Green. I reversed the roles and had him playing Madoff.

Both men are as good as they are experienced. Margolis has appeared in more than 50 plays in NYC and has a full career as a television actor and worked in numerous films. The same is true of Howard Green who has had a long, successful career in theater and film. That two actors of this quality accepted roles in "Imagining Madoff" contributed to the buzz about the show.

I apologize to both men. They deserved to be recognized for their work and their love of theater that brought them to Stageworks.

The playwright has a second complaint about the "factual content" of the review. One of the problems I had with the piece is that the characters did not speak enough to each other in a direct manner. I felt the play depended too much on monologues.

The playwright points out the characters were not delivering monologues. They were talking to characters who were not physically represented on stage. In Madoff's case he spends a lot of his time in his cell giving an interview to someone. We are told that someone is there, but the person is not physically represented by an actor.

At first I was going to debate the issue. I relate it to a case where you are on a bus,train or plane and someone sits next to you and you make the mistake of asking them "What's new?" The rest of the trip is spent listening to that person. Often we refer to that type of one-sided conversation as a monologue.

However, the more I thought about it, the playwright is correct. No matter how one-sided the conversation, or no matter how long or how speech-like the passages - when directed to another person, they are not monologues.

The example I used to convince myself of this is the play "Harvey." When Elwood P. Dowd speaks to his best friend - who happens to be a imaginary 6-foot rabbit - we don't think of him as delivering a monologue. So when Madoff speaks to an imaginary reporter, or a secretary speaks to an imaginary representative of the S.E.C. it shouldn't be be considered a monologue.

In my defense, the only difference is in "Harvey" I usually believe the rabbit exists. In "Imagining Madoff" I was unable to accept the playwright's device and never felt those imaginary characters existed within the life of the play. Thus I felt the performers were directly addressing the audience. Like in a monologue.

I will be more careful in the future.