OK. I’m a bit vexed, peeved, cheesed off,… torqued. My hackles are raised and dander is up. I have a bone to pick with someone. Basically, I’m impassioned about this topic and although it doesn’t fit the profile of this blog, per se, “It’s my bloggie and I’ll cry if I want to… ” Apologies to those whose passions do not include theatre or film and all things attributed thereto. Maybe some of mine will rub off on you?
As you know — or may not know — this is my passion. I make my living working with actors, directors, producers, blah-bitty-blah. I know a little something about this. I’d like to even say I know a lot about it. As with all art, though, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and critiques are subject to broad interpretation. My two cents, however, are trenchantly eating a hole in my pocket and I seriously need to spend them before they burn clear through.
This evening I shelled out a not-so-small pile of well-earned currency to experience a Broadway production, “Peter and the Starcatcher.” As this is “Broadway,” and as I had received a favorable recommendation to “go see this show” from a couple of friends, AND as I saw that Roger Rees and Alex Timbers had co-directed it, I wholly anticipated an evening to remember. After all, this is “Broadway:” the Mecca for the North American Theatre-enthusiast.
The production I actually experienced, however, felt more to me like community theatre I could have easily acquired down the street from where I live for about one-tenth the price and equivalent talent. I do not exaggerate this. Having enjoyed the book, “Peter and the Starcatchers,” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, I expected a “Broadway” production to provide a superior degree of interpretation, performance, presentation and basic directing sense. But this stage adaptation was an empty shell, completely devoid of the rich inner life encompassed in the novel.
It was superficial flim-flam by design. But even with that — even in the theatre burlesque — there are basic principles that draw the line between “the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.” The pacing was horrendous; the characters synthetic; the costuming and sets minimalistic. The casting (as that’s my area of expertise) was merely Battleship: a game of hit-n-miss — mostly miss. The only good thing I have to say about it is that the actors — as always — gave it their all in spite of everything else.
This is my long-standing opinion about the success or failure of an actor in any production, theatre or film. Generally — meaning this is a broad, all-encompassing statement to which there are a few exceptions… Generally speaking, professional actors will do whatever it takes to get the role right. They will work and slave and search and prepare and do all that is in their power to bring a role to life. That’s what actors do… and they actually enjoy it. I’ve always said, “You don’t pay actors to act. They’d do that for free. You pay them to stand around.” Whether the actor succeeds in a role after all that work, is the director’s responsibility. The director guides them into the cohesive creation of the great whole. If an actor fails, it’s the director’s fault. If an actor succeeds, it’s also the director’s “fault,” although the actor usually gets the credit: deservedly so, as they have also done all that other work as well.
For “Peter and the Starcatcher:” This treasure was so completely hidden, I stopped looking for the map.
Now that that part of my rant is over, I’d like to mention a couple of true treasures here as well. In brevity, I will mention the equally costly experience of seeing “Grace.” Although truly, I don’t feel as though it was costly at all. Yes, I laid down money for it — equivalent to that of that other production — but what I received in return was fulfilling in every way: Well worth all those well-earned greenbacks.
“Grace” is beautifully written in waves of true character that flowed across the stage and out into the audience like the tides of the moon. The set, lighting, wardrobe and sound all coalesced like colors on a master artist’s palette. Pacing flowed with effortless ease, elegantly spilling and often overlapping from one scene to the next, carrying the audience deeper and deeper into the lives of these four people. And need I even say it? Exquisite performances perceptively directed by Dexter Bullard. I think I am now a Bullard-aficionado. What an experience! A true treasure, though by all accounts very much in plain sight, and rightly so.
The last production I will mention here is a little off-Broadway play entitled, “Unhealthy.” I was drawn to it through Kickstarter via an Allison Scagliotti tweet. How weirdly random is that? Truly, I didn’t know what to expect. I investigated the writer’s blog and saw that he appeared to be dedicated and prolific in his very young career. The actors, as well, all spoke in behalf of the project as something they were excited to be a part of. I believed them, donated, and bought tickets.
Now THIS is what I mean by “hidden treasure.” The performance space is an intimate black box in the basement of a theatre that touts itself as a venue for “up-n-comin’s” in all forms of art and performance. The theatre is wholly unremarkable and the front counter staff seem almost bored. (Or perhaps that’s merely the “artist’s guise”? No, I think they’re actually bored.) The set, lighting, wardrobe, sound and special FX are all completely fundamental. I would expect this of such a venue, though. So this is not a criticism. All these contribute to the overarching experience in a perfectly balanced way.
That’s the “hidden” part; now for the “treasure.” Mark my words, you will see more from these talented young ones in future days ahead: every one of them. The writer, Darren Caulley, has an insightful, no-nonsense, almost raw view of the world. This guy takes his coffee black, buys his nuts without salt, and rides his motorcycle without a helmet. (No, I don’t know him personally: these are metaphoric images.) His brain must be a fascinating place to live, though. Although the storyline of this play is dark and disturbing, he front-loads it with plenty of dry wit to balance the eventual terror. His characters are believable and balanced, while simultaneously being terrifically unbalanced and “unhealthy” as the title would imply.
But let’s not stop there. As a producer he was also able to employ Brandon Ivie to direct this thing. ‘twould appear that Mr. Ivie has a wonderful sense of timing, cohesive vision, and the leadership to pull it all together. He has embellished Mr. Caulley’s rock-solid foundation with an almost seamless design that lures an audience in. I’m supposing that, with such a fantastic cast, he was able to spend his creative wiles panning for golden nuggets… of which he found aplenty.
Oh, the cast… the cast. This is the perfect storm. I think a portion of heaven must be reserved for “perfect casts” everywhere. It’s situated right next to the “perfect song” neighborhood which is linked in a two-way tesseract to the “bands that never should’ve broken-up” level in hell: Free visitation rights until they install New York toll booths on each side of the portal. Don’t worry: I’m sure there’s an “EZ-pass” for that. It’s more of a rarity than you might think: the “perfect cast.” What a wonder to see a cast so perfectly suited to their roles, and to see actors so dedicated to molding themselves to their role as is so obvious here.
Caitlyn Kinnunen unreservedly shines as the self-deprecating “Celia.” Again, not knowing this actor nor her background, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Her “real life” vlog personality seemed even and reserved, so I had no expectations: as in, I didn’t know what to expect. But what a pleasant surprise! She brought light and life to a fun and fascinating character with great stage presence, comic timing and versatility. She invites the audience in from the get-go and ushers us out at the somber closing. Our investment in all of these characters easily begins and ends with her.
The only actor whose work I was even remotely aware of was Allison Scagliotti, portraying the vampish roommate, “Michelle.” As per usual, Allison brings a depth of character to this role that I don’t know many others could find. It’s like watching an onion being peeled back, layer after layer after layer… and just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s yet another layer! Her stage presence is beautifully understated as she exudes complete vulnerability with the other actors in the scene. “Listening in the moment” looks so effortlessly flowing on her, all the young actors will be wearing one next year.
Josh Breslow does this as well, as the handsome — oh, so handsome — yet conflicted, “Kurt.” This actor is intense; always appearing to be 110% present. His every scene seems to seethe with an undercurrent of ever-available angst. Yet, he doesn’t let it get in the way. It’s simply there; hanging around his head like a malicious ghost, whispering into his ear. You can see the cogs churning away in his brain as he interacts with his fellow characters. While he’s listening intently, he’s visiting about three possible future outcomes, two inner-mind therapists, and a pastor in a pear tree. Did I say, “intense?”
And most definitely not least, Christopher Bellant, playing the deeply disturbed “Maycomb,” is a fascinating beast. This is a role that could so easily have been tipped too far one way or another, but finds the balance of a finely forged sword in Mr. Bellant’s capable hands. It’s something like watching Frankenstein’s monster, really. You fear him and loathe him, yet pity and sorrow for him all at the same time. It’s pathos in the raw, and Chris owns it beautifully. His “stunt” work on stage is likewise admirable. Although next time, Chris, could you get the blood to shoot out in rapid projectile spurts? — Kidding… just kidding.
What this comes down to is what we all should know, but sometimes forget: Never underestimate anyone because they’re young or unproven. The dedication to this production from cast and crew is phenomenal. This is a rare hidden treasure that — too bad it’s so hidden — deserves to be seen by more treasure hunters… if they only knew how and where to find it.
I feel inspired to go digging for more. Except that, for those of you who follow me, you know I’m building my own little treasure trove. So I’ll get to work on that. I can only hope that it will have this kind of dedication behind it. Caution: Grab your sunglasses! The light at the end of the tunnel has just been turned back on.