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It's Like A Movie, Except I Could Kick The Actor If I Were So Inclined

Live theater. At least three times the price of admission to Saw V, there's no popcorn and/or Sno Caps, and you never know if you should dress up or not. Minneapolis is a vibrant scene for this sort of nonsense, and I, who has only seen Avenue Q in the past year (and only Doubt the year before that), somehow found myself in the front row for two different theatrical presentations in the city in the past week. The two experiences could not have been less alike and while neither was positively spellbinding to me, both convinced me to possibly maybe sorta kinda look into some more theater stuffs in the future. I got to thinking about a couple questions, specifically regarding my entrancement to the cinema vs. my inability to become as emotionally absorbed by the theater, and the connections this musical and play in particular may have to the world of film and how that influenced me to have a sudden surge of (maybe sorta kinda) interest in pursuing theater henceforth.

Bright Lights, Big City @ The Illusion Theater: Based on a 1984 novel by Jay McInerney, which was shortly thereafter made into a 1988 flop of a film starring three of the decade's heavyweights (Michael J. Fox, Phoebe Cates, and Kiefer Sutherland), this locally produced version of the 1999 musical still takes place in the NYC Reagan era, which is responsible for both much of its success and much of its questionableness. Definitely the most DIY musical production I've ever seen (outside of a high school drama department), it was mildly exciting to be able to see complex choreographed dance sequences up front for the first time in my life. Unfortunately the songs themselves sounded like a Rent-ified batch of The Who rip-offs (I swear I heard "Baba O'Riley" in at least three different tunes) and many of the otherwise capable actors had trouble enunciating in their headset microphones, mostly taking away from any effect the fancy slow-motion nightclub scenes or the on-wheels fashion runway climax might have had.
Centered on a coke 'n booze-addled writer (stuck in a dead-end office job, keeping him from writing "the great American novel" of course) going through his agonizingly overwrought quarterlife crisis in The Big Apple, obviously there's not much to expect from this story-wise. However, I was still very awkwardly put off by the musical's romantic subplot, which in many Freudian ways implied our great protagonist was only searching for a woman that could replace the role he lost in his mother, recently deceased. Very creepy. However, even though it was totally saccharine, I felt a little bit of ye olde heartstrings tightening like I so often feel during a heartbreaking movie when the play underscored (which wasn't often enough) the straining relationship between our "hero" and his neglected brother. Films It Reminded Me Of: American Psycho's meditation on 80s aimlessness, St. Elmo's Fire's satisfyingly melodramatic quarterlife relationship struggles, The Royal Tenenbaums' perfectly scripted manchild sons banding together (but always at a distance) to face the city, the future, and dying family

The Caretaker @ The Guthrie Theater's Dowling Studio: I had not yet seen a production at what is probably Minneapolis's number one live theater landmark since it was rebuilt in 2006 with an uber-modern design overlooking the Mississippi and containing the very trendy and Hollywood bar-looking Target Lounge (okay, so it's trendy until you find out what its name is) , so I felt it was a good excuse to finally do so when my mom visited the Twin Cities this weekend. It was a choice between the main stage's elaborate production of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge and the smaller studio's one-set presentation of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker. After reading both synopses and corresponding prices, I settled on the latter. I knew Pinter won a recent Nobel Prize in literature and had heard one of my favorite screenwriters as being called "Pinter-esque" (that would be Mr. Paul Thomas Anderson), so it was a fairly easy decision, though I have fond memories of reading Miller's more notable Death Of A Salesman in high school. Despite (or maybe because of) The Guthrie and everyone that was involved in The Caretaker reeking of an odd combination of pretention and commercialized mass appeal, this experience was largely more enjoyable than the aforementioned.

With only three characters and little plot set-up (a meek Brit brings in a cantankerous homeless man to his flat for shelter and potential work as the building's caretaker unbeknownst to his roommate brother), it was surprising at first glance at the program that there would be two intermissions (Bright Lights, Big City had zero), but as soon as the characters were let loose, I soon became exhausted by listening and craved a break after the first act. Reading up on Pinter beforehand and paying close attention revealed some very distinct connections between the three main personas here and those in Anderson's films (see below). First I read that language being used as a method of evasion was trademark Pinter, which while sounding like theater mumbo jumbo at first, made total sense the second the story began. Three men, all of whom desire to be noticed and "get fixed up" in life, become deathly afraid of progress when the opportunity presents itself in the form of a new or old friend. While an overused setting metaphor, the claustrophobic and junk-filled English flat was perfect for producing the tension, as there were no filmic musical cues or soft zoom-ins. That's not to say I felt film's presence throughout - I was especially moved by a neat and subtle lighting trick used to close out the play's second act by making the stage darker and darker, as well as a brief snapshot of a scene that kickstarted the whole play, as if a sudden vignette shown before a film's opening credits. In fact, there's a 1964 film version starring Donald Pleasance (of Halloween fame!) that I will definitely need to check out. Highly recommended if you're fan of any of the following...

Films It Reminded Me Of:
Aston, the shy anti-social with a dark secret, reminded me instantly of Adam Sandler's troubled romantic in Punch Drunk Love, while Davies, the homeless man he welcomes to his apartment, implanted images of the unforgettable interview between Tom Cruise's infamously evasive interview during Magnolia (except Davies' prejudice he falls back on when confronted is "the blacks" next door instead of Cruise's obsession over female domination). Finally, Aston's devilishly antagonizing and Alpha brother Mick, who yearned for more stage time and was very much my favorite of the three, held so much ego and secret desperation that I could not but recall There Will Be Blood's justifiably instantly famous Daniel Plainview.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 9:18 AM |  

    Hooray for the (non-movie) theater!! I always forget when I spend like $10 on a theater ticket and see real live actual people vs. spending $8 on Joshua Jackson creepily taking pictures of ghosts that my life is much better off spending the $10 on real actual people. I love the Illusion theater and the many other much more reasonably priced theaters around the Twin Cities. And, for the most part, they avoid the blatant commercialism of the beautifully constructed yet mostly theatrically lame Guthrie.

  2. Blogger Brigitte | 10:42 AM |  

    Lady Amy and I saw A View from the Bridge and I really, really liked it. But you can't really go wrong with Pinter...I love the thee-ater.

  3. Blogger Sean | 12:45 PM |  

    god, i haven't gone to a play since college. i used to go to the student-written play festivals.. man, those were filled with real crap...

    one stands out. it was a period piece set in the 20s (or 40s, i couldn't tell from the sloppy slang usage). it was a so-called drama-comedy that featured murder, suicide, heroin use, smoking, abortions, and spousal abuse. it was not funny.

  4. Blogger Brigitte | 12:46 PM |  

    hmm...it sounds funny. maybe you just didn't get it.

  5. Blogger Sean | 12:49 PM |  

    shoot, no wait, it WASN'T a comedy.
    it was a drama only, but there was this comic relief character of a girl playing a drunk who'd always say stupid things. but then at the end of the play she switched tones and told the protagonist about how she lost her baby to doing too much heroin.

  6. Blogger Brigitte | 12:51 PM |  

    it sounds like she was playing the role of Shakespeare's fool. the more you describe this play the more brilliant it sounds.

    also, drunk people are always funny. they don't know what they're saying?

    ...or do they?

  7. Blogger Sean | 12:52 PM |  

    shakespeare didn't write no fool. what are you talking about?

  8. Blogger Brigitte | 12:55 PM |  

    there were always fool comic reliefs in shakespeare plays. hello! the gravedigger in Hamlet, Feste in twelfth night...come on lady amy, you're taking a shakespeare class...

  9. Blogger Lady Amy | 1:18 PM |  

    I only know that Mr. T would say that he pities Shakespeare's fool - that is, if he messes up on T.

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