Friday, May 20, 2016

Reviews

So the woman who played Daughter in Wedding at Cana is a NY actorine named Jenny Scheffer Stevens. She is a hardworking powerhouse and did so much with Lisa's and my script. Truly impressive. She was just in other play in NY, Animals Out of Paper. It got this incredible two-page spread in the NY Times, with like four pictures of her. She posted on FB that she hoped it was good, she wouldn't be reading it. I messaged her immediately. How can you not read a two page spread in the NY Times about a play you are in, I demanded.

 Good reviews hurt my performance and poor reviews hurt my feelings, she said, and these are dangers.  Wow. So I wrote to my Kerching dramaturg Jason Kuller and he sent me these great Woody Allen quotes arguing brilliantly that reading reviews had no upside, so it was a waste of time.

This inspired me to forgo reading reviews of Bill Clinton Hercules in London on the same theory.  I did not read any reviews until the reviews started coming out. I have zero will power.

The first three were four star and glowing. Then I read a bad review at 6:30 a.m. this morning. The reviewer called the show sappy.

And it is true there are a few real Jimmy Stewart/Elwood Dowd moments in the script: "Jimmy Carter taught me to uphold the Constitution; uphold the rule of law. But all that seems old-fashioned now."

But sappy? What is going on?

My friend the playwright Callie Kimball said that she just didn't take reviews seriously. If you take the good ones seriously, she explained, you have to take the bad ones seriously. So just don't do it.

In truth my faith in reviewers has been shaken - not in reviews of my plays but the fact that I have met them and spoken to them. Given them ibuprofen to ease their crippling hangovers at Chekov or Kane. Inquired if they were old enough to vote at Ravenhill and Greig.

Even so, it is hard to take Callie's advice to heart. Where I come from, all criticism is true and all praise is misguided. So why is it true? Why would it be true that the play was sappy? I suspect the high-mindedness engenders this idea that the play is sappy. The whole play is centered on Seamus Heaney's line from Cure at Troy: History says do not hope this side of the grave. But once in a lifetime the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.

These ideas of hope and justice -  people think they are sappy now. When Occupy was happening, and I tweeted about virtues like hope and justice, I would often be accused of saying things that don't mean anything. Hope and justice - meaningless concepts; non-words.  But those words have exactly as much energy and truth as we give them.  Thinking about how to have hope and how to achieve justice are the most important tasks before us, and it wouldn't hurt to go back to the basics, read what the Greeks and the Irish poets had to say.   I mean really, isn't that what we want to leave our children? Hope and justice? Aren't they just parts of love?

Maybe people who call these ideas sappy are at such a consumerist disconnect from their own best interests that it is like Amazon and Starbucks and Apple own their souls. We live in Kim Kardashian's time. The purely human ideals - whether they come from God or gods or heroes - are somehow beside the point. This is especially true when the point of your life is to amass wealth and attention..  Love, peace, hope, justice and heroes are only beside the point if you are a corporation. Or only serve their interests.

Did you see what I did there? Blame the whole world for the bad review?

I promise I won't read any of them until the next one comes out.







Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Flick by Annie Baker

The Flick doesn't refer to a particular movie, it refers to film in a projector, which is still photographs intercut with dark frames.  From light to dark to light. That is the flick. The theater audience sits facing the house of a cinema. That's the stage. Above the cinema seats is the projection booth. A movie is projected into the theater audience, flickers, changes of light, stirring music.

This play won the Pulitzer, it's at the Dorfman at the National which they have turned into this massive open-air bar. The South Bank was really humming on Friday night as we settled down to the play. A lot has been written about it, but I want to send my own love letter.

This play is a slow burn. The three main characters, the staff of a suburban Massachusetts movie theater are Sam, Avery and Rose. They're drawn so perfectly by Ms Baker and acted so carefully by the actorines (copyright Callie Kimball) that they are still with me, on Wednesday afternoon. The play is mesmerizing. It's more effort to watch than a series of explosions or a car chase or a mutant fly, because the slightest veering of attention means you miss the unfolding of the rich unspoken drama. And it's rich unspoken drama of cleaning up Subway sandwich lettuce from the floor of a movie theatre. Or the way Sam won't make eye contact with Rose. Or the way Avery sits hunched over, speaking to his shrink long distance in what has to be the best monologue in a contemporary play since Jerusalem.

A play about the way we love movies is just the thing right now if you ask me. Avery loves movies - and in an astonishing monologue recounts a dream where entrance to heaven is contingent on finding the one movie that expresses your life and love.  The love for movies somehow crowds out real life though. Sam loves Rose, but Rose points out it has nothing to do with her. He loves this idea of her, he doesn't know her.  His Rose is not real. Just as if she was in a movie. Avery loves film and protests their cinema - The Flick - changing to digital. We see the change at the end. There is no flick anymore, just the cool blue-white light of the pixels, a laser constantly over our heads, a light like a star. It's far less complicated. And far less full of the true dark and light of being a human and therefore of love. Is film more real than digital?

Yesterday was the crappiest day. I was biking around all day in the rain trying to do a million things including shopping for clothes - gah! - for Thursday night when my play is on. I picked up my daughter from school and we rode to the Junction to pick up more flyers. As we approached the Junction, we biked over the cobblestones while singing Bicycle Built For Two really slowly like a dirge. This allows us to hear the vibrations. Our voices being moved by the tires over the cobblestones. It's hilarious. All of a sudden I was really happy, and not at all suffering over how many people will be at the play. I was in a moment with a person and we were enjoying a simple thing together, a small consipracy, a connection. Some fun goddamnit.  Suddenly a joyful triumphant feeling.

In the movie The Flick these three characters commit a very low level crime. Class war decides which one takes the fall. But at the very end, at the last moment, when it seems the play will end dark, it isn't dark. There is a small conspiracy. That small conspiracy, the final forty-five seconds of the play gave me that vast, joyful triumphant feeling.  Was it relief? Truth? True dark and light?