Sunday, May 3, 2009

Theatre Droppings: Art, Science, and Rock 'n Roll

I drove back down to North Carolina this week, in time for a mini-family reunion and to catch a couple of swells before their shows closed. But before leaving DC, I popped over to see Studio Theatre's latest Stoppard rant, Rock 'n' Roll. They did a bang-up Invention of Love a long while back, and since then, have become one of the leading interpreters of Stoppard's plays in the area. I was interested to see my young SSMT cohort (that's Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, a stock company where I work on occasion) Atom Pribila, who snagged a role in the show, and has been imported from New York by Studio.

The show is presented in the round. Atom makes a big splash in the first moments of the play, leaping onto a wall and blowing a pipe in a drug-induced vision of one of the major characters. Wouldn't you know, I happened to be sitting in the one section of the theatre to which Atom's back was turned, so I did not get a good look at his brief performance. (Our section DID get a good look at his bum, though; during his crouching on the wall, his pants slipped below the equator. So we got our own treat.)

Otherwise, I had no trouble at all with the circular staging, which brought the story right into our laps. Ted van Griethuysen, playing a die-hard Communist professor, has never made a wrong move in any piece in which I have seen him, and here, he makes every explosive argument logical and clear. Lisa Harrow, whom I just saw emote the pants off Ion's mother at The Shakespeare Theatre, delivers a, pardon the pun, harrowing portrayal of dying wife Eleanor. This performance was so intricately nuanced that I could hardly stand it, having had some personal experience with breast cancer death. Her very specific, unforgettable portrayal of Eleanor gave me trouble in Rock 'n' Roll's second act, in which the actress plays her own daughter as an adult. The problem here was mine, not the actress's; Harrow's scenes with Ted, as husband and wife, were so painfully effective that I had real trouble in Act II, in which the same actors played father and daughter. I'm a bit embarrassed that such a cosmetic aspect of a production would throw me, but it did. Stafford Clark-Price, who is new to me, was quite wonderful in the central role of Jan (he's been getting a bit of flack elsewhere for delivering a non-specific performance, but I had no such trouble.)

Back in Asheville, I caught NC Stage's closing performance of A Number, a densely constructed one-act by Caryl Churchill. This two-hander starred Charlie Flynn-McIver, whom I had previously admired in Stones in His Pockets, and a gent named Graham Smith, who is new to me. Both actors were terrific, as was the production as a whole, all about the possible repercussions of human cloning. The company's playing area was converted so the show could be performed in the round, an unusual configuration for NC Stage, but I thought very effective. This tightly acted piece benefited from being placed so close to the audience. Coincidentally, the onlookers included a handful of folks from my recent experience with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, so I had some fun catching up on everybody's news. That's really the reason we go to the theatre, isn't it? To catch up on everybody's news?

Even more coincidentally, I sat next to an actor I saw just the day before in Art: Scott Treadway, one of the honchos at Flat Rock Playhouse. (Scott was also in that Stones in His Pockets I mentioned earlier; the theatrical community in this area is very close-knit.) I was glad to get the opportunity to let Scott know how hilarious his production of Art had been. I've seen the show more than a few times over the years, as it's frequently produced on regional stages; in fact, I saw the original Broadway production about two years into its run. By then, the headliners were Alan Alda and George Wendt, but Billy Munoz and Damian Duke Domingue, who played the same roles at Flat Rock, were much more entertaining. This was the funniest production of the play I have seen, and also the most clear. The repartee among the guys morphed from discussions about art to the more substantial topics of the meaning, the necessity, and the boundaries of friendship. I understand the three actors, who all work at Flat Rock Playhouse in various other capacities, are great friends, and it showed.

Working with your friends...that's why we do it, isn't it?

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