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unexpected theatrical pleasures

there was the play i was dying to see.

and the play that, frankly, i was dreading seeing.

we saw “deuce on friday night, and had plans to see “our town” on saturday night.

yes, that old warhorse. staple of dinner theater and high school gyms everywhere. we had a friend playing the stage manager, and he was reprising the role for another theatrical company. we’d seen him play the role before, in a production where kirk was both professor willard and his understudy who went on as stage manager once.

this other production of our town was less than a year ago, and i saw it twice then–once to see kirk as professor willard and once to see him as stage manager. i’m supportive that way.

so you can imagine how anxious i was to see the three-act-two-intermission-long-and-heavy-themed “our town”. and i told you how anxious i was to see angela lansbury on stage again after 25-odd years off it.

well, that just goes to show you not to settle your opinions and expectations too early.

deuce, frankly, was a major disappointment. oh, angela lansbury was fine. and marian seldes was outstanding, and frankly outdid lansbury by a mile, i think.

but the play was pretty tedious. it’s about this superannuated (typecasting, i know) doubles tennis team who sit in the stands at a u.s. open tennis match, and discuss their career together.

it’s mildly entertaining, and you get to hear jessica fletcher (if that’s your angela lansbury reference point) utter a few choice swear words that seem to put there, well, just for the sake of hearing cute old ladies say “fuck” and “cunt”.

but the problem is that there’s absolutely no conflict. none whatsoever. it’s the stage equivalent of “forrest gump”, my least-favorite supposedly classic movie. something happens, something happens, something happens, play over. not adding up to much.

the lack of conflict has a point–to highlight the difference between the genteel play and lives of older tennis stars, as compared to the endorsement-filled, slash-and-burn play of the new generation of tennis stars.

but that doesn’t make for much dramatic interest. at the end, i felt like i had attended the angela lansbury lifetime achievement awards, complete with the last line of the play, a gentleman fan sweeping his hand toward the standing pair of actresses and intoning “you will never see their likes again” or some such overwrought nonsense.

yeah i get it. goodbye angela lansbury or whatever. i’ll just have to close my eyes and imagine her as mrs. lovett in sweeney todd–something i can listen to on cd but never see for myself.

and then, last night, came the dreaded obligatory visit to “our town” to see a friend in a role i’d seen him play before, in a play i’d seen twice recently and read innumerable times.

bo-ring, right?

wrong.

they had done some judicious trimming, splitting the play into halves with the second act beginning with george and emily’s flashback of how they fell in love, which moved then right to the wedding.

they consolidated some parts (out professor willard, with his lines read by wally webb as a school report, which makes good sense), changed others (rebecca webb as a very young child, which also makes sense when you hear her lines coming from a six year old, and would have been much more effective if played by a child that wasn’t completely annoying and a terrible actress), and beefed up others (simon stimson makes several added strategic appearances, with his drunken stumbling underlining the lines of others in the play).

the church choir was more omnipresent as well, and although i wouldn’t have had them sing “you lift me up” or “you raise me up”–i can’t remember which, but it’s that horrible schmaltzy “wind beneath my wings”-sounding gospel-y song that i’ve heard on the commercial for some late-night time-life cd compliation–it worked for them to sing under the lines and action as mood music. and there was canned mood music as well–sometimes worked, sometimes a bit cheesy and too much.

but i digress. overall, very, very well done, with all nearly all the actors giving spot-on excellent performances. they definitely breathed new life into an old chestnut.

angela lansbury would have been much better served had she been downtown playing mrs. gibbs.

p.s.–dinner at i trulli magnificent as always. i had warm mozzarella in a tapenade of vegetables, followed by loin of rabbit with mozzarella tomatoes and capers, with heavenly polenta and broccoli rabe; cheese for dessert. kirk had cantaloupe soup with proscuitto followed by pheasant with wild mushrooms and the aforementioned broccoli rabe; sheep’s milk ricotta and berries for dessert. food delicious, service perfect, atmosphere lovely.

update: ben brantley’s ny times review is kinder than i am to angela lansbury, but he hates the play.

One Comment

  1. This is nice!..
    I like theater, but in my city there are only a couple of poor plays once in a while, so I only can go ot theater when I travel to Buenos Aires (but I don’t go since a year).

    Posted on 06-May-07 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

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