Favorite Moment: FUN HOME

Fun Home Public Theater Michael CerverisThere’s a lot to love about Fun Home, the hot new musical down at the Public Theater. It’s got great material, a talented cast, the most beautiful set in town, and—wonder of wonders—very few projections! So, picking a “favorite moment” here is a terrible, Sophie’s Choice kind of conundrum.

And yet… hard decisions have to be made.

But before that, some background: Fun Home tells the true, growing-up story of lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel, and is based on her fantastic graphic memoir of the same name. Both book and musical tell a swirling tale of family, growing up and sexuality. It’s deep, meaningful, fun stuff.

At the Public, three actresses play “Alison,” the narrator and protagonist. The eldest (Beth Malone) looks back at the story of her life by way of elementary- and college-aged versions of herself, played (perfectly) by Sydney Lucas and Alexandra Socha. Adult Alison struggles to reconcile her coming out and life-narrative with those of her father, a difficult, closeted gay man (Michael Cerveris).

The Three Alisons

The Three Alisons

My favorite moment of the show comes early, as adult Alison goes through an old box of heirlooms and, on the other side of the stage, child Alison does the same with her father and their own box. As Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron‘s wonderful musical plays, we gradually realize that the two boxes are, in fact, one and the same, here realized at different times in Alison’s life.

In an unobtrusive moment—one that could only happen in the theater—adult Alison and her father each reach into their respective boxes, and (cue the shivers) each pull out the same, silver coffee pot.

Incarnating this single pot twice, across decades, is a simple, Proustian way of saying everything about time, memory and history that no essay or description ever could. (Clearly, that’s not stopping me from trying!) Instantly, past is both infinitely removed and utterly of-this-moment; the object takes Alison back, but also emphasizes how far away that “back” is. I’m reminded of the wonderful line in The Glass Menagerie: “Time is the longest distance between two places.” Indeed—no more so than two places separated by a few feet of stage and a lifetime of experience.

This moment also illustrates unique power of simultaneous action, a device the theater shares with few other forms. Unlike a film, a play can stage two scenes and versions of the same character in direct physical proximity and have them interact. A few years ago director Michael Mayer spoke to the Times about this phenomenon in reference to his On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, praising it as “the beautiful theatrical gift of simultaneity.” Like Fun Home, Clear Day divided its protagonist between separate actors to (my opinion) brilliant effect, and thus let the audience in on a kind of dramatic irony: We got a perspective—wide, complex, funny—the characters never had, and got to see “self” interact with “self” in an imaginative, otherworldly and theatrical way. Fun Home does much the same, never more so than in this beautiful coffee pot moment.

Interestingly, simultaneity is also a prime feature of graphic novels, Fun Home’s form-of-origin. A caption “happens” alongside a picture; the resultant power can be in repeated emphasis (a picture illustrates what a caption describes), or in dissonance (a picture illustrates the opposite). Either way, the result equals more than the sum of the disparate parts.

In Fun Home’s coffee pot moment, the power is both one of repeated emphasis and one of dissonance: the pot, seen twice, shows how some things never change; Alison, also seen twice, shows how completely other things do.

Cool stuff. Cool stuff, indeed.

photos by Joan Marcus

About these ads

Favorite Moment: All in the Timing

All in the TimingWhere was the last place you witnessed a gigantic baker birthing loaves of bread?

At All in the Timing, that’s where.

What you see above is the G-rated version of what actually goes on in one segment—an Einstein on the Beach satire—of this crazy, whakkadoodle show. Modesty standards prevent me from putting up a picture of the yeasty act of life-making… but suffice it to say that each bread-child comes about thanks to… well… a rolling pin.

Snaps all around for David Ives and Walter Bobbie, who’ve given me the resources to answer every child who asks, “when does bread come from?”

Not the stork, little one, not the stork…

photo by James Leynse

___________________________
CHECK IT OUT…
Tony Awards Dress Rehearsal
The Jake Gyllenhaal Chronicles

Favorite Moment: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”

Sometimes, dead silence is the loudest applause.

Indeed, the best moments in theatergoing—staggering moments, spine-tingling moments—often cast a heavy, suspended quiet, not a clappy rumble. There sits the audience, overwhelmed and totally involved, the noisy slapping of hands the last of its concerns.

Such an earned, weighted silence came towards the end of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the rollicking and sweet and beautiful new comedy now at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, soon to greet New Yorkers at Lincoln Center Theater. Kristine Nielsen, playing the frustrated, underloved Sonia, gets a quietly soaring moment that, at the performance I attended, sucked the wind out of the theater. Having attended a costume party the night before, and having been a smash success as “Maggie Smith,” and having finally—finally!—stepped out of the shadow of her movie star sister (Masha, Sigourney Weaver), Sonia fields a phone call from a man who is asking her out.

That’s never happened before.

Sonia handles the man with her typical self-depricating fatalism: No, no, she can’t see him Saturday, so sorry. She’s busy. Yes, she’s quite busy.

Another door shut.

They keep talking.

But… but…

She pauses, jokes, “rechecks her planner.” Maybe, well, maybe.

No, not maybe, yes.

As handled by Nielsen, the moment is momentous and heartbreaking. A woman is offered a surprise gift, and, fighting habit and comfort, says yes.

And when the phone monologue ends, you don’t clap. No, what you’ve witnessed is too intimate for that.

You just sit.

What could be better?

__________________________
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang
Directed by Nicholas Martin
McCarter Theatre, through October 14

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Pictured: Shalita Grant, Kristine Nielsen and David Hyde Pierce

Favorite Moment: As You Like It

David Furr and Lily Rabe. Photo by Joan Marcus.

There’s plenty to love in the Public’s As You Like It in the Park: the killer cast, the relaxed style, and the lucid storytelling for starters. Director Dan Sullivan’s interpretation puts to focus squarely on the text, so left to pore over the wordy jewels Shakespeare weaves into his story, you’re sure to encounter your own thematic insights.

I, personally, was most struck by the wonderful kindnesses in the play. Over and over, to degrees large and small, people expecting hardship and aggression encounter unexpected generosity.

My favorite of these kindnesses—and my favorite moment of this production—came when banished Orlando storms into the Duke’s forest campsite, momentarily holding the thoughtful Jaques hostage. “I almost die for food,” shouts Orlando, “and let me have it.”

The response of the onlooking Duke? “Sit down and feed and welcome to our table.” This immediate assent disarms Orlando. “Speak you so softly?” he says. “Pardon me I pray you.” Orlando then joins their woodsy meal as a brother, not a threat.

In this and other moments, As You Like It posits charity as the ultimate act of diplomacy. Not only does it diffuse tense moments, it turns enemies into friends, rivals into comrades.

Favorite Moment: Uncle Vanya

Soho Rep

Soho Rep’s star-laden staging of Uncle Vanya is already sold out—sorry, guys—so this edition of “Favorite Moment” will have to take the place of actual theatergoing for you ticketless chumps out there.

Towards the end of the play’s second act, step-relations Yelena (Maria Dizzia) and Sonya (Merritt Weaver) reconnect after years of detachment and mistrust. They share a drink and gossip over the midnight oil, and once they’ve exposed their insecurities and desires, finally come to see each other as sisters in angst. By sharing their hearts, everything feels renewed and possible, and Yelena wants to celebrate with music, even though it’s been years since she’s tickled her piano’s ivories.

So Sonya rushes out in excitement to ask permission of her father (it’s the middle of the night and he isn’t well). Several expectant seconds pass.

But when Sonya reenters the room, all hope deflates: “He said no,” she exhales in sadness.

With that, not only does the possibility of music disappear, all hope of escape, beauty, and redemption evaporates, too. It’s a gorgeously awful moment of heartbreak, and in this Sam Gold production, it’s as devastating as ever.

_____________________________
Uncle Vanya
by Anton Chekhov
at Soho Rep
directed by Sam Gold

Pictured: Maria Dizzia and Michael Shannon. Photo by Sara Krulwich

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 484 other followers

%d bloggers like this: