Sunday, April 12, 2009

Theatre Droppings: Ion, Faithkiller, and One Fee Too Many

As I've previously mentioned, I'm spending several weeks here in DC attending a handful of general auditions at various local theatres. In my downtime, I've been trying to catch up with as much of the local theatrical offerings as I can, but I'm a bit stymied by my budget. In a nutshell, I have none.

But I was willing to toss a ten-spot into the till to see scrappy Taffety Punk's new play, The Faithkiller. It looks like an ambitious undertaking, considering the Punks have so little money and the performance space is so tiny, but my buddy Marcus Kyd, who directed the piece, pulls out all the stops anyway. There is even a play-within-the-play, or more accurately, a TV Series-within-the-play, and Marcus took the bull by the horns and actually filmed several scenes. These are the moments when the budgetary restraints seem particularly noticeable, but the cast is up to the challenge of this time-jumping work. In particular, Michael John Casey makes an impression in two smallish roles, as does Theo Hadjimichael as the latest victim of Hollywood-style ethnic cleansing. It was unclear to me from the program whether this is a world premiere, but even if it isn't, the playwright could clip a bit from the proceedings and perhaps sharpen his point.

I was able to catch a much bigger-budgeted show across town at The Shakespeare Theatre Company, which sells the last row of their balcony at the Harman Center for 20 bucks (sadly, they make no such discount at their other home, the Lansburg, which is why I was unable to see their recent production of Dog in the Manger). Ethan McSweeney directed a new adaptation of the Greek tragedy Ion, and it was kind of a hoot. The show was a delight whenever the chorus of women took focus; in Ethan's version, they were a gaggle of giggling tourist gals.

In fact, the whole show had a light-hearted quality to it, and Ethan was able to make the appearances of the gods fun, too (I find I usually lose interest whenever the gods make appearances in Greek tragedies). Aubrey Deeker opens the play with a Puckish performance as Hermes, sliding down from the heavens on a red scarf, while Colleen Delaney delivers the obligatory deus ex machina moment at the show's conclusion with a wry sense of humor.

Keeping to the constraints of my currently limited funds, I tried to catch one more show this week. I was excited to see (thanks, Facebook) that Fords Theatre was offering an Internet discount to its production of The Civil War, about which I have been curious. It's only the second show in the theatre since an expansive redesign (and since the replacement of Fords' infamous cane chairs, which could give the audience rickets), and the production boasts some folks I'd really like to see. My grad school co-hort Elliot Dash is in the cast, and I bet he is providing more proof of the adage that my friends are always the best things in their shows. (Here he is with Frank Wildhorn, who wrote the piece).

In addition to Ell, the show boasts some of the best local musical talent around. I would enjoy seeing Stephen Gregory Smith and Chris Sizemore, who are only acquaintances of mine, but always put on a good show.

Anyway, Fords was offering tickets for 25 bucks if you ordered online, and if you were attending the show in April. I immediately clicked the link, which sent me to Ticketmaster's site. Here is when the service charges started to mount up. (I am frankly astonished that Fords, a major LORT company here in town, is still using Ticketmaster, which has recently been in court on charges of fraud regarding a Springsteen tour. Fords certainly has the resources to provide their own online ticketing.) After choosing a pretty swell seat to see The Civil War, I was assigned an additional $4.95 "service fee" plus a one dollar "facilities fee." This "facilities fee" really rankles me; it's been around for years, and several of the larger theatres in DC tack it on to every ticket sold(Arena Stage is notorious for it). It is obligatory, but is not technically part of the ticket price, so does not have to show up on the books as box office income, and thus does not have to be included in any union negotiations regarding box office profits (actors' minimum salaries are determined by a theatre's potential box office income).

OK, so now this 25 dollar ticket is over 30 bucks. It's still a big discount from the regular price for a musical in DC. But just as I was typing in my credit card number to pay for my ticket, an additional "processing fee" popped up. What exactly is the difference between a "Processing Fee" and a "Service fee," and why do you need both?? This added an additional 3 dollars to my ticket, and I snapped. Sorry, Fords, you went one fee too far. I was willing to pay 30 bucks to see your show, but not 33, only because it is clear you are trying to gouge your audience, as well as hide certain profits from the labor unions. It's not like you are employing dozens of people to man your box office, answering phones and selling tickets; the whole damn system is AUTOMATED, but you still want NINE additional dollars for each ticket sold online.

So it looks like The Civil War will have to be fought without my attendance. I'm sorry to miss the show, but I have a hunch I know how it turns out. Those Yankees always win.