A Love of the (Neo) Classics


After Easter they suffered a huge nor'easter.

I'm really digging the rain these past couple of days, actually. Sometimes one is simply in the mood to have their city look like something out of a noir flick, all sheeting greys and visible light beams. I'm prowling about in my grey trench coat . . . but with an umbrella. Which is not terribly noir, but I had to concede defeat years ago on the umbrella issue. In the right hands, umbrellas are a force for good, and for a lack of mildew-y smells.

The weekend was a strange blend of circumstance for yours truly, overlapping past and present, business and pleasure. My sister and her boyfriend Adam finally saw A Lie of the Mind Friday night, and it didn't scare Adam too badly, which I consider an accomplishment. Chris Kipiniak, of Torture Project and Spider-Man fame (see 3/8/07) attended the same night, which was especially rewarding to me, having the respect I do for his work and knowing how busy he keeps his schedule. Saturday night Friend Kira made it all the way out from New Jersey, though she couldn't hang around afterwards owing to bus schedules. Perhaps the most surprising appearance, however, involved the return of Friend Christina and her fella' J.C. I reunited with Christina at Rachel's wedding (see 3/21/07), and they both attended the opening weekend of ALotM. This weekend past they brought friends and family with them, and one other.

As I took my final bow Saturday night, I glimpsed a face in the crowd smiling with satisfaction, one that I recognized. I immediately, however, thought to myself, "Dang. I'm so Method. Frankie's delirium is bleeding over into the curtain call." Sure enough, though, when I had scrubbed my face and removed my bullet holes, I ventured out into the lobby and was ambushed by none other than Mrs. Rachel Lee herself. Which was the weirdest thing that has happened to me in years. She was up seeing friends, and Christina invited her along to see my show. A group of eight, we all went out afterwards, first to La Lanterna, then Puck Faire, and I had the opportunity to actually catch up with Rachel a bit, something that was impossible at the wedding and which in actuality we hadn't done in years. Mostly I was curious how things were for a person who came to the city with as ardent a passion as I for professional achievement, and who had since returned home and, shall we say, modified her own personal The Third Life(r). It sounds like she misses the more unique aspects of city living, but not the struggle to achieve. It sounds like she's very happy with her life now, which it was good to have confirmed. Most of all, it's wonderful to see in person that she's on her good path, and that I'm on mine. An unexpected fortune.

The next day I was up and out to attend the closing of Friend Nat's appearance in Moliere's The Learned Ladies, at The Gallery Players, just thirteen short blocks from my apartment. Acquaintance Alisha Spielmann was also in the production, whom I know from Nat's readings of The Exiled. Nat does quite a bit of classical work; I think I can say with some safety that it is his forte. He's tall, with a wiry, energetic frame and a deep voice, and he put it all to wonderful use in TLL. He played the villain of the piece, and I'm here to tell you: Nat does a delicious villain, especially when its one that can be as flamboyant as Trissotin. I met him on a show in which he was playing an undercover demon. His enthusiasm for mischief would make the role of Trissotin type cast, were it not that Nat is genuinely intelligent where Trissotin is merely conniving.

This is the second production of Moliere I've seen in the past few months (see 12/25/06), and the prior experience was in a theatre of very similar dimensions and budget (apart from paying Manhattan rent, that is). I took issue with certain of the aspects of The Gallery Players production, the which may be a result of too close a comparison with the show I saw in the winter. There were little choices (among them, the decision to incorporate contemporary clothing into relatively period costumes to varying degrees--the young hero [played admirable by Marc Halsey] wore a belt on his jeans whose buckle distracted) that I can be free of with a little time to forget, but my biggest gripe was how the actors seemed to have, at certain points, been instructed to make choices of delivery that emphasized the rhyme scheme. It's hard to say if such a thing is the fault of a director, or a failing of certain actors, but in my opinion it is a big no-no. Moliere wrote specific ending couplets when he wanted the rhyme to take precedence, and his commedia dell'arte inspired characters deserve to spew their dialogue with more ease. In balance, and to the credit of Neal J. Freeman and actress Candice Goodman, her Martine--the only consistent servant character in this particular show--spoke with a great candor befitting her character and an amusing translation of her dialogue.

My overall favorite moment of the show, however, was a very naughty one, theatrically speaking. It should serve to take my criticism down a peg or two. At one point in the show, Trissotin and Henriette (played by Alisha) are left to their own devices whilst the other characters in scene wax poetic about Trissotin's, er, poetics. For this sequence, the two characters actually took seats at opposite corners of the stage (I have to imagine that in most productions this time is used to further illustrate Trissotin's intentions toward Henriette), she utterly bored and he arrogantly unlistening to his own praise. What ensued was a kind of ridiculous silent war of entertaining gesture. Nat had developed some business involving inspecting his teeth and snorting snuff, and Alisha was reaching new heights of boredom which led her to sprawling against the wall and vacantly inflating spit bubbles, all the while the three scholarly women energetically stroked one another's egos, oblivious to the unspoken commentary. It was hysterical, if possibly gratuitous. But in my world, what gets the laugh stays in the comedy.

I've written here before about the effects of past lives on the present, and it's a theme in my theatrical work. I seem to constantly be finding myself in memory plays, and Zuppa del Giorno is itself a tradition of finding the ancient roots of contemporary entertainment. Our next show, Prohibitive Standards (the which I also set up the collaboration 'blog for this weekend), is to be set in prohibition-era Scranton, and is likely to be influenced by characters from that era and centuries earlier. Perhaps it's a theme in theatre in general, as classic characters like Richard III or Trissotin continue to inform us about choices we're making on a daily basis. Part of the key to living and creating effectively is in learning from the past, honoring it as it deserves, but also being realistic about it and recognizing it is, indeed, passed. Similar to being alive in the moment on stage, one can't always base his or her decisions on what he or she has done (or regretted doing) before.

Sometimes the only answer is to improvise.
 
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