Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Theatre Droppings: Basketball, Writers' Block, and the Boys in the Bar

When the closing notice for Broadway's Lysistrata Jones went up, I hurried down to catch their final Wednesday matinee.

The lovely and talented Jessica Hartman, who helped me learn all that tricky hand choreography in Joe's Coat last year, was the show's assistant choreographer, otherwise the show may not have been on my radar. I was very glad to see it, and remain convinced that it could not make a go of it on Broadway because of lousy producing.
It's a delightful show, full of peppy numbers and hilarious quips, and the gang playing it can't be improved upon. The show began in Dallas, I believe, and then had a very successful run in a gymnasium in Manhattan.

The producers moved the show uptown too early, or did not capitalize the move well enough, or something, but there is no excuse for the show to falter so soon, after raves from everybody, including the New York Times.

The ensemble is terrific, with Jason Tam standing out as a geeky booknik, and if somebody doesn't put Lindsay Chambers in a sitcom, the whole world is crazy.

I've heard that a cast album will be recorded, which will give a boost to post-Broadway productions; with its small cast of 20-somethings, the show is sure to have a full life on college campuses. 

I have seen a couple of non-musicals lately, too. Alan Rickman is headlining a new comedy called Seminar, so I booked a seat in the back row, high in the nosebleed section. Here's another piece which will have further life on college campuses, as it concerns a writing seminar attended by four 20-somethings, and a maniacally unhappy instructor with a distinct lack of people skills.

Rickman is the antagonist, and has the least amount of stage time, but the greatest amount of zingers.

I was most impressed with the actors playing the central couple. Lily Rabe made a big splash opposite Al Pacino's Shylock a while back, and she's worth every rave.

I was familiar with Hamish Linklater only through his sitcom work (he played Julia Louis-Dreyfus's brother in her show), and I greatly admire his decision to return to the New York stage after making his television money. He's done Shakespeare and other classics around town, and is making his Broadway debut as the self-deprecating writer who clashes with Rickman in Seminar.

Finally, I took some advice I got from a local online website I visit, DC Theatre Scene.

They carry reviews of all the shows in the DC area, but they also have a NY correspondent, a man named Richard Seff. It was his rave of an off-off Broadway premiere called Accidentally, Like A Martyr which persuaded me to pop down to the lower east side one cold evening. Manhattan is filled to the brim with hole-in-the-wall black box theaters putting on plays, so Seff's recommendation was the only way I would have even heard about this piece.

It was written and directed by a gent called Grant James Varjas, who also wrote himself a dynamite role (and wouldn't you?).
I am sure I have seen this actor before, but I cannot remember where (if you know, please tell me!) Anyway, the play is very well-written and performed, and takes place in a dive bar catering to older gay men. The reviewer described it as a successor to The Boys In The Band, and I won't quibble with that, though it's decidedly better written than that 1960s snarkfest. I was very glad to have taken Mr. Seff's advice and schlepped down to see the show.
You can read Seff's review here, by the way, though you won't see any mention in his rave that he contributed money toward the show's production. That fact would not necessarily have dissuaded me from seeing the show, but I'm frankly surprised that he did not disclose his financial support of the production, even as he raved about its artistry.
Maybe I'm just too old-fashioned to believe that, if a critic is a backer of a show, he really should disclose that information when he delivers an unqualified positive review, particularly one which urges Off-Broadway producers to pick up the show, so that it can have a "long and profitable life." Perhaps those kinds of ethics are gone these days.

I've certainly busted my budget the past few weeks, seeing all these shows, I hope I can figure out a cheaper way to assuage my habit. Maybe a job? Well, I wouldn't go that far...