Thursday, May 22, 2014

Theater About Theater: Our Country's Good at the Guthrie

Last night, I saw the first performance of Our Country's Good, an Out of Joint and Octagon Theatre Bolton production showing at the Guthrie. It's an inventive theater piece, performed by a small cast playing multiple roles and manipulating the scenery, kind of like Kneehigh Theater did with their production of Tristan and Yseult a few months ago and Brief Encounter a couple of years back. But where Kneehigh's shows emphasize emotion, this one touched my head more than my heart.

The play follows a group of soldiers and convicts sent from England to found a penal colony in Australia, which would be the first English settlement in Sydney. With the direction of a young officer hoping to be promoted, a group of convicts rehearses a production of George Farquhar's comedy The Recruiting Officer.

As an actor, I found quite a lot to like in the depiction of these hardened, hopeless convicts learning lines and taking direction. There are a number of funny lines and good observations about theater in Timberlake Wertenbaker's script. But the play also touches on issues of crime and punishment, the possibility of rehabilitation, the dehumanizing effects of extreme punishment, and even a bit about the effects of colonization. It's a lot to fit into a play, even at 2 1/2 hours, so it lapses occasionally into preachiness.

The cast of Our Country's Good
Script aside, the acting was wonderful, with the players showing the gradual humanizing effects of their theatrical endeavors. The scenery, while spare, was effective, with a platform representing the ship, the stage, and a number of other objects, and a system of curtains and rigging reminiscent of the ship which brought the prisoners to the colony. The curtains provide the backdrop for beaches, tents, and finally the stage. The story, based on the novel The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally, is based on actual events. It makes me want to learn more about the time. I think I'll start with Out of Joint's Workpack on the play, available on the Guthrie's website.

The show also made me think about other plays about the transformative power of theater. A post for another time, perhaps!

Friday, May 2, 2014

So How LONG Is the Show?

Super awesome Ed Koren image from NYT
Having been (rightfully) accused of having a short attention span, the recent New York Times article Get. Arts. Fast really spoke to me.  Love this:
 "The city that gave the world the New York minute has a need for speed that only cultural sprints can satisfy, short-burst offerings that slip smoothly into even the tightest leisure-hour schedule.  On a prosaic level, short art frees up precious time."

I get a frisson of excitement every time a show is advertised as 90 minutes with no intermission.  I know I'm going to get in, get my theater on, and get out in time to live my life.

So, as a public service, my intention was to list the running times of a few of the shows around town--to assist in theatergoing planning for those of us who may have busy lives, expensive babysitters and/or short attention spans.

Patrick Stewart wants to get to the bar after the show.
I often plan crazily packed NYC theater trips this way.  You know, can we make it from Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet to Don't Quit Your Night Job at 54 Below?  If we go to the matinee of Die Fledermaus at the Met, will we have any time to eat (or breathe) before Pippin?

AND YET ... this information was really surprisingly hard to find!  Apart from the Guthrie Theater, hardly any theater companies list this info on their website.  I scoured the web for this info, trying the theater websites, reviews and even ticketing companies and had very little luck. Here are a few I tried to find:

Mercy Killers at Pillsbury House Theatre - about 70 minutes (but I only know because I saw it)
Passing Strange at Mixed Blood Theatre - ??
Threepenny Opera - Frank Theatre at The Southern - about 3 hours (again, I saw this one)
Rapture, Blister, Burn at 20% Theatre Company - ??
Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Guthrie - Run time: 2 hours 45 minutes including intermission (from their website)
Hamlet at Guthrie - 2 hours 25 minutes plus intermission (from their website)
Shrek at Children's Theatre Company - 2 hours with 15 minutes intermission (from their website)

This is all to say--hey!  Theater companies!  You're awesome and I want to come and enjoy your theater.  But I may be parking at a meter, or getting up early for work, or trying to squeeze two shows in an evening, so help me out!  List your running times!  Thank you!  TheaterLove OUT.