Shhhhhhhhhhhh.....listen... the sound you hear is Tennesse Williams spinning in his grave.
I love theater... it makes me happy to be part of it... on the craft side, helping to create a vision, feeling the energy and power from not only the actors, but, from the audience... the space itself. When I attend a play, there is joy in the attending--to see it, to sink into a seat and be carried away by a director's vision of a playwright's world.
I've been looking forward to a few plays... I've got my ticket to 'reasons to be pretty', saw Passing Strange, a great group of one act plays over at the Ensemble Theater Company... and tonight, I saw one of the plays on My List.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Tennessee Williams is one of my favourite playwrights... he creates a world that intersects with my world of Southernness... I grew up with some of his characters. His plays are rich with text and sub text and deep dark wit... laced with astringent lines, morality at times, his dialogue is crisp, harsh, emotional. This is not the soy milk version you may have seen with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman... this is the heavy cream version Williams wrote, complete with the cursing, the homosexuality that is hinted at between Brick and his best friend, Skipper who has recently died.. and with this play, the raw movements of Maggie, who is out to survive and win.
Okay. That's the best part....aside from the fact I bought a ticket from a scalper, and talked him down from $65 to $50 for a 10th row, center of the row, orchestra seat. Added to this was the delight of no one on either side, and the discovery of two women sitting behind me, who chatted away, were funny, joined in my dismay at this production, dissected the play with me on intermissions...and loved to eat at Virgils Bar-B-Que on W. 44th... and who waved good bye when I left early. Yes, I walked away from a romance... not a love story, a romance.
I know, bad form... you have no idea, however, what this was like.
It started well enough... Terrence Howard is seen through a scrim (which is used as the walls of the set)...'showering'. A large sigh went though the audience... we were happy! Yes, indeed.
Maggie enters, with her classic rant about the "...no-neck monsters hit me with a buttered biscuit.... Their fat little heads sit on their fat little bodies without a bit of connection...you can't wring their necks if they got no necks to wring." The lines received laughs, and, well, they are good... She is sleek, she is focused on self preservation, she exudes frantic love for her husband who rejects her.... in slapstick fashion. To sit and watch the sinous lines of Maggie, all sex and drive and ambition... and love... to watch her move across the stage in counterpoint to Brick's jumping around and such... She was wasted there.
Then.... they started. The Bad Things.
1. Even after the house was closed, ushers continued to seat people. In my world of SM work, the house is mine once those doors shut, and I call my first cue. NO ONE is seated after that, much less what appeared to be two tour buses of folk sitting in various places. This went on for most of the first act. Why bother to show up, if you are that late? You've already missed Terrence Howard semi-naked.
2. Terrence Howard's entrance... which brought on cheers and applause. No. No. NO. This is a play, not a variety show... we do NOT applaud as each actor enters... it tends to do things like, oh, I don't know... stop the rhythm of the performance? Applause with all the name actors... when James Earl Jones came on, it was so out of control, so long and involved... I thought about going out for coffee and a bagel... I wouldn't have missed a bit of the play.
3. Cell phones. Multiple cell phones. One with a ring showing it was from the same person, who obviously heard it, had their friend think, "Oh, she's in the shower with Terrance Howard, let me call her again."... and the friend called again... we know this because we heard both calls come through.
4. Terrance Howard. Period. He swallowed a number of his words, had no idea how to take a beat (well, none of them did this) when laughter carried on... so, you lost dialogue there, too. He portrays Brick in the second act, not as a man who is struggling to come to terms with his friend's death, his wife, his father's questions... he come across as a whinny baby... crying all the time. I wanted to say, "Brick, SUCK IT UP!!" Yes, he looked great in that shower... annnnnnnnnnd that was it, pretty much.
5. The fact this was directed as a comedy... compete with Brick doing comic leers at his wife, as she stretches out on the bed... this is where his hidden his need shows, as her head is turned, as she lies lean and there for him, when his dorment desire peeks out... instead, when her head is turned, he looks--nasty. He has prat falls, lines delivered with winks and nods... It wasn't just Brick...there was the issue of an actor who was given prosthetic teeth, creating a speech impediment that gargled the lines she spoke, but, did bring on laughs.
6. Big Daddy made the most vile sexual gesture I've ever seen regarding a woman... Brick was having a hard time controlling his laugh, riding over subtext, over unspoken content... the audience roared, more, I think with the fact the deep voiced, aristocratic looking James Earl Jones was making this, and a following gesture... which also brought about hoots of laughter from the audience, and Brick. It is a part of the play when Big Daddy and Brick are starting to touch on the inner issues of both... and, well... I was open mouthed in shock.
7. Shoddy set work... with a scrim.ish material creating the walls, the huge beam that held up the downstage left wall was viewed though the material, giving it an unfinished look.. I was surprised it was not stained to match the material used. Set decoration was done with those damn Reader's Digest Condensed Books... can ANY set designer in New York City possibly go out and buy real books? I mean, it's not as if you are without multiple cheap sources for said items. They also set the bar improperly, setting shot glasses around a martini shaker, among other things.
8. A few changes were made to the script, with the permission of the Williams family, I understand.. still, it did remain a sometimes dated dialogue. This was offset by semi current costumes and set dressing, where you go "Huh?" as Big Daddy talks of his time in the fields, and walking across the country... yet, it doesn't click with all surrounding the words...the bulk not matching the updates. Lines given, "Give me my crutch, so I can stand up", Brick sounding petulant and lost... sitting on the floor, leaning against a very substantial chair... which he uses a few moments later to get up off said floor. Continuity did not reign supreme here....it barely made the second unit listing.
9. Although the name of the famed Oschner Clinic in New Orleans is used a number of times, no one ever quite pronounced it properly... and no one pronounced it the same way.. this is the job of the stage manager, to advise the actors of the proper pronouncing and even of the history of the place, if they are not aware of what it is, or what it's about. Another minor irritation was when Big Daddy asks for a 'highball'. A highball is usually made with whiskey or bourbon and a mixer. Brick whips one up with whiskey and vodka, and adds cocktail onions instead of cherries. I was too stunned by the continual use of plastic (see 10) to worry about the horrific taste of that when he chugged it back.
10. Cheap ass and bad props. Plastic glasses were used, along with a plastic ice bucket. Plastic glasses. Plastic. You do not get the right sound from plastic, no matter how much you pay for it, or how much it looks like glass. When Brick throws his drink at Maggie, full of anger at her... there is no substance behind the action. Instead of the dark fury of a solid thwack of hard crystal hitting a floor... there was the ineffectual 'meh' of plastic as it bounced around the stage. The same happened when he later clears the bar of all of the items on top, with a sweep of his arm.. angry, defensive.... no cry of rage is heard-- only a murmur of mild irritation, a pathetic whimper...a plink. . To hear celebration done with the 'tic' of plastic champagne glasses instead of the ring of crystal flutes... GARGH!!! To top it off, the 'bourbon' was coke. You never use coke for anything... it's a great colouring agent, but, not as any kind of liquor. A dark tea makes perfect bourbon, green tea is lovely for whiskey, and even when you make 'gin' or 'vodka' or a white wine, you add a drop of coke to give substance to the clearness of the liquid, so it will show in the glass.
I know, I know....I focus on trees instead of the forest. They all come together to make the play, to take me away to that place, to put me somewhere aside from a seat... even if it is a great seat... let me enter that world the playwright birthed... do not put things in my way that will pull me out of the moment.
It's why I am growing to enjoy bare simplicity stage, to allow me to sink into the words, the music, the beauty of the actors who appreciate the language given them to speak... you can interpert the vision of the playwright... always remember, though.. the word is 'wrighter' not writer. They create as much as anyone else... carving out a world on paper that has lived in their head... show it respect, give the lines the balance needed between beauty and depth and that dark wit.. Williams is not a comedian. He was a portrayer of a dark, deep side of nature... which may carry humour... he was not written to be done as a Ealing Studios version of work.
This remount of a classic work was mendacious to the true soul of the play.
reasons to be pretty is next...
Still, if you listen carefully...... you'll hear that spinning sound.