I Have a Blog No One Reads, Too — And I Know How to Use It

So. . . it’s been awhile. Turns out when you give birth to twins, your ability to sit still for lengthy periods of time seriously dwindles. I did pull off the all-female production of 1776, which was nominated for five local BroadwayWorld Awards and won for Best Costumes (YESSSS!). I was nominated as Best Actress in a Musical and as Person to Watch, which was very flattering and exciting, even if I didn’t win. I also performed in two other productions (Into the Woods and a world premiere play called My Dear Miss Chancellor, which was about a secret society of sword fighting lesbians set in Jane Austen era London and yes it was as bad ass as that sounds).

I’ve been busy. Happy. Exhausted. Busy. And not very full of writing, I am sorry to say!

So what, dear reader, has brought me out of hibernation?

Why, self-righteous rage, of course!

A preamble (you know how I love these):

Before moving to the Pacific Northwest, I worked as a publicist in a theatrical PR agency in the Bay Area. My job primarily involved working with media and because most of our clients were theatre clients, this meant working with many newspapers and theatre critics/writers. For the most part, these were Old School Journalists. The theatre writer for one of the major dailies served as a judge on the Pulitzer Prize committee three times and was also nominated. Damn good writers. My job was to get to know them, know their beats, know their interests and deadlines, help them find stories. It was a reciprocal love/hate relationship. We both needed and rolled our eyes at each other.

When I moved to Seattle, I wanted to get to know the theatre scene here so I became a theatre blogger for Examiner.com. I must say it was helpful knowing how NOT to act toward publicists and marketing folk. Given my background in creative writing, I’d like to think that my reviews were well-written and well-thought out. If I didn’t care for a show, I diplomatically summarized the plot — “A show happened at Theatre X. It sure did.”

You could argue that that was wrong. Who is the theatre critic serving, after all? Is the theatre critic serving her readers? If so, then she is obligated to post negative reviews to warn people not to spend their hard earned money on dribble. Is the critic serving the theatre companies? If so, then maybe diplomacy is a best tact so as not to scare off customers in a tough economy. Is the critic serving the artists? Then shouldn’t she be honest about what she saw? Perhaps some constructive criticism is in order.

I’ll be frank. I knew I wanted to work at these theatre houses, I knew I was going to be an actor — I didn’t want to make enemies, so if I didn’t like something and if I paid for the ticket, I didn’t write about it. If I was offered a press comp, I was vague. Shitty? Maybe.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that I am well acquainted with the world of reviews, what reviews mean for a theatre company or a production, how it is for a blogger vs. a newspaper writer who is working on a deadline. I’ve worked with people who were nominated for Pulitzers and people who wrote for blogs like Examiner.com (whose only requirement is a pulse) and people who made up their own blogs just so they could fanboy/girl. I get it.

Side note: You know what all of these people have in common?

A by-line.

They put their name on it. It may have been a pen name. But it was an accountable name.

Keep that in mind.

Last summer, a friend of mine was in a show and told me that she was bummed about a bad review. We commiserated. But then I found out that this reviewer didn’t just dislike the show, this reviewer decided to bash the cast. I asked who this person was. I was told that this person wrote an anonymous theatre blog. I looked her up. I scanned her other reviews to see if this particular show just really stuck in her craw and maybe she just was having a bad day and-

No. No, this person just likes to anonymously shit on people. Did I mention anonymous? Because that’s really what pisses me off. This person’s inability to form a cohesive narrative, the misspellings, the bad grammar — I could let that go, I’m kinda used to that on the internet. It annoys me, but, you know, I’ve accepted those of us who know how to write aren’t the only ones with access to a keyboard.

I’ve dealt with crotchety reviewers before, too. I’ve known reviewers who just don’t seem to like ANYTHING and you wonder why on earth they even went into this business. I actually had a reviewer spend the better part of his word count talking about how much better the movie White Christmas was rather than talking about the actual performance. Yeah. Sorry the Community Players of Nowhereton didn’t do as good a job as Bing Crosby.

So I get it, not everyone likes everything. But you know what? The White Christmas guy didn’t bad mouth the cast and his name was Pat Craig. You know how I know? BECAUSE HE PUT HIS FUCKING NAME ON IT.

Maybe I have a higher standard because I worked professionally with these people. Maybe I’m sensitive to bullying because I was a fat kid and I was hurt for my friend. Maybe I just have an overactive JUSTICE! gene. After seeing her stupid blog pop up a few more times on my facebook feed rather than disappear into obscurity as it deserves, I wrote a little post about it:

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 9.33.20 PM

Maybe not a big grandstand, but I want it on record that I did have objections to this idiot before she came for me.

/preamble

So as you may have surmised, I’m currently in a show that was reviewed by this creep. So is this sour grapes? Maybe, but you know what? I ALSO KNOW HOW TO USE WORDPRESS.

This is also where I’d like to point out that the title of my blog is ironic and I don’t care if this is petty.

Rather than rant about how her review is mostly poppycock, I’m going to pay it forward and do what she desperately needs: I’m going to edit her review. I’m not going to rewrite her opinion, just, you know, make it fucking readable.

This is how word nerds get revenge.

My comments will be bolded. I didn’t include all the times I deleted her second space after a period.

BEGIN TRANSMISSION! (Also, I think it will help if you imagine she sounds like Courtney from Bob’s Burgers.)

courtney

Ok, so we all know I love me some STAGEright goodness, because they the company (theatre companies are singular) always brings either a new twist on a classic show like with their its Gregory Awardwinning Into the Woods Into the Woods or a new crazy show I’ve never heard of before like Are You There God? It’s me, Karen Carpenter. So whenever a new show is on the horizon at this fun and whimsical theatre company, I am excited to attend and see what they have STAGEright has in store for me this time. And for this go round, they brought Weird Romance Weird Romance.

This is story I’ve never heard of before, I had never heard of this particular show before, which boasts a book by Alan Brenner andmusic by Alan Menken.  Yes, you read that right, Alan friggin Menken!!!! (I have nothing against having a personal voice and since this is a blog, I’ll allow the fake cursing and the multiple exclamation points) And with the music at the hands of my favorite Music Director, Josh Zimmerman, leading the band, I was seriously stoked to see what this show was all about, (Girl, you don’t need a comma before “because.”) because if nothing else, I knew the band would be rockin’!

Ok, so as with the Romeo et Juliette review, for those of you planning to see this show and wanting to be surprised by every little element, well, stop reading, buy a ticket, and go see it. However, I feel I must divulge details for my readers who want to be in the know about the ups and downs of this very interesting show. (okay, I wasn’t going to write commentary, but this last sentence is stupid. This is what it sounds like when a seventh grader tries to sound refined. But in keeping with her trope of a “lady” writing to pleebs, I rewrote the sentence.) However, it would be imprudent of me to keep my humble opinions to myself, so for you, faithful readers, hungry for my every word, I will divulge my secrets.

The program calls refers to this show as ‘Two oneact musicals of speculative fiction’ and that is a fantastic description, although the show starts long before the lights go down and the music starts.  Upon entry, you are told to select your seat, leave your coat, and walk through the curtain to the Act 1 area where you are only to sit in certain spots around the stage, and after quickly doing the math, only about 10 people or so could sit, which means the rest of the audience were to just stand around and be part of the show. (Holy run-ons, Batman!) Upon entry, you are instructed to leave your personal items on a seat in the audience and then walk through the curtain to a circular play space. A quick scan of the area shows very few places to sit, which means the rest of the audience is supposed to stand and be a part of the show. Ugh, I haaaaaaaate interactive theatre!

I do, I really hate it, and this production shows exactly why: I can’t fully immerse in the watching of the story when I’m being pushed around the acting space by the snarky characters.  When special lights are showing right above you, blinding you and melting the non-actor makeup down my face, it distracts from seeing what is happening with this story. Which is sad, cuz it’s actually a really interesting story, which I’ll get to in a moment. (Or at the end of the review. Like you do.) Also, even those who sit, don’t get to stay in their seats, because actors force you to move to the other side of the room, demand that you ‘get out of the way’ every time you turn around, and often you’re in the dark so you end up stepping on your fellow audience members. (How about: “Also, even if you’re fortunate enough to snag a seat, actors force you to move to the other side of the room, rudely at times. In the dark, it’s almost impossible not to step on a fellow audience member.”)  It felt like STAGEright was trying to recreate their own version of ArtsWest’s American Idiot experience (because last September’s production of American Idiot invented immersive theatre and anyone else who tries it is copying. Did you know that?), but it didn’t work for me. Most of the audience seemed distracted and that’s not what you want at a show. Immersion is a privilege, not a right, and I didn’t get anything special from standing the entire time, often in the way of an actor, and my +1 guest felt the same way. (I will rewrite the last two sentences so that they sound like analysis instead of self-righteous whining.) Unfortunately, this particular production’s attempt at audience immersion was not effective storytelling and, for the most part, hindered the enjoyment of the performances.

That being said, when I wasn’t being distracted by getting out of the way of an actor entering or exiting having to move for an actor’s entrance or exit, I saw some absolutely amazing performances.  Let’s start with my favorite: Noah Duffy! This bitch, and by bitch I mean the character he played in Act I titled The Girl Who Was Plugged In. The character was called Zanth, and holy motherfucking hell!  This bitch! And by “bitch,” I’m referring to Duffy’s amazing portrayal of his Act I character “Zanth.” Holy motherfucking hell! And apologies for the vulgarity, but there are no other words for how absolutely brilliantly this character was played. Over the top, working a pair of platform boots and sparkled thong codpiece like he wears one every damn day blew my mind!  Completely in every single moment, I was not ready for this level of acting, but Mr. Duffy is a genius! His voice was on point, his dancing was epic (the high kicks on this boy!), and his acting was flawless Sporting platform boots and a sparkling codpiece and thong with the ease of one who was born with it on, Mr. Duffy struts, prances, sings, and high kicks his way into my heart. His acting was flawless. Yes people, I said flawless!  His performance of Zanth alone should have you running to Brown Paper Tickets to purchase your seats for this experience.  He was almost good enough to make me forget about how irritated I was at having to stand for 90mins for the first act, that’s how unbelievably good he was! (Logic: He was “almost good enough,” but also “unbelievably good.” So did he make you forget or not? I’m on the side of diplomatic and/or constructive critiquing, so I will choose for you: “Mr. Duffy was so transcendent, he actually made me forget my aching feet.”)

And then Act II rolls around titled Her Pilgrim Soul where he switches gears to be Dan, a computer scientist/assistant to a doctor where he strips down to a modest button down shirt and pants (how does one strip down to a modest anything, one wonders?), the makeup and glitter gone, and transitions seamlessly into the happy, curious, amazing character of Dan. (Sorry. . . this entire sentence turned off my brain. How about: “In Act II, entitled Her Pilgrim Soul, Mr. Duffy switches gears to portray Dan, a computer scientist/assistant — seemingly plain compared to his glittery Zanth. Despite the modest clothes, Mr. Duffy transitions seamlessly into the happy, curious, and amazing second act character.”)  A He is a chameleon in our midst, showing even larger range of voice and acting than I was ready for, so yeah, I’m an instant fan of this amazing artist.  Thank you, Mr. Duffy, for the performances you gave in this show. You’re absolutely phenomenal. Bravo! (Side note: Yeah, Noah is pretty freaking awesome in this show. Bitch got that right.)

The perfect chameleon counterpart to Mr. Duffy’s performance was is (switching tense) one of my all time favs doing what she does best, which is 100% committing to whatever outrageous character anyone throws at her and killing it every time!  I’m talking, of course, about the incomparable, brilliant, fucking amazing Olivia Lee! You’ll remember my raving about her in shows like Hair, Into the Woods, and Are You There, God? It’s me, Karen Carpenter. She is so good, people, I can’t even with how good she is! In Act I, Her Act I character, an epic diva named Shannara, is draped in crimson goddess Gaga-esque fabrics, she’s all sparkles and lashes, and belting voice., and embodying some epic diva known as Shannara.  And I adored her as always!  She steals my focus whenever she is on stage with that ridiculously amazing voice and stage presence of hers, and the chemistry between Ms. Lee and Mr. Duffy was off the effing charts!  Boom!  Go see them in this show!  Just don’t wear your heels, cuz you won’t wear them as well as Ms. Lee, mmmmkay!?!?!? (This is also true. Olivia is epic in this role and also looks better in heels than you.)

Now, on to Act 2 where, just like Mr. Duffy, In Act II, Ms. Lee strips steps out of her fabulous getup down into a the dowdy, make-up less (yes, you read that right!  No make up on her gorgeous face!) (. . . weird to mention?) snack-loving Rebecca,. Here is where I finally got my fix of Ms. Lee’s brilliant comedic timing. I’ve said before, Ms. Lee must be the love child of Cher and Cherie Oteri, because damn can this chick crack me up! And why? Because she’s so committed to her characters. A true actor, who Ms. Lee fully develops a character and bravely brings her out for the audience to enjoy. As much as I adored Shannara, Rebecca is what I left thinking about because Ms. Lee is superb in this role. Even when singing with a mouth full of cookies, the performance simultaneously took my breath away and brought me to happy tears because I was laughing so hard. caused me to weep from laughter. Thank you, Ms. Lee for your consummate professionalism and commitment to the art of acting. J’adore you! Brava, Diva!

Other actors in the show had some decent elements. (Thanks.) Let’s talk about the women first. (This is so weird to me.) I enjoyed Linnea Ingalls in both acts, but more for her acting than anything else. (“I liked this actor’s acting more than anything else.” As opposed to her discus throwing?) She really is a stellar actress, was absolutely delightful in Act 2, especially, but her voice was just so-so for me throughout the show.  I also really enjoyed Tiffany Chancey in both acts both vocally and acting wise.  And Jasmine Joshua and Varsha Raghavan play the same character, well sort of (I’ll get to that in a moment), and together they really were one perfect performer. Ms. Joshua’s acting chops were outstanding, but her voice wasn’t quite on pitch a lot of the time,

whereas Ms. Raghavan had a lovely voice, but her acting felt very one note through both roles from Act 1 to Act 2.  They weren’t bad notes, mind you, but would like to have seen a bit more range from her given the characters she was playing.

As for the men in the ensemble, Samuel Jarius Pettit gave a sweet performance in Act 1, and did well in the very minor part he had in Act 2.  Andrew Murray has a nice voice, but lacked chemistry with Ms. Raghavan in Act 1, as he played Ms. Raghavan’s love interest.  I didn’t buy that relationship at all.  However, in Act 2, he’s quite delicious as a seductive lounge singer splitting his attention between an angel played by Ms. Joshua and the devis devil played by Ms. Raghavan.  The strength of his voice came through in this act, and I finally saw a fully developed character!  The sultry lounge singer definitely sits better on his abilities than the sweet boss’s son fawning after a pop star (I know you’re prob confused, just hang with me).

(I will rewrite the previous two paragraphs so that they’re not mean and more economical.)

Linnea Ingalls, who plays Nola in the second act, and Jasmine Joshua, who plays P. Burke in the first act, had some lovely acting moments. Ms. Ingalls is stellar as Nola and Ms. Joshua’s acting chops were outstanding, though neither are strong vocalists. Varsha Raghavan has a lovely voice, though she didn’t seem to sink into her role as much as I would have liked. Tiffany Chancey’s performance in both acts was supremely enjoyable.

Samuel Jarius Pettit gave a sweet performance in his meatier first act role and was enjoyable in his minor Act II roles. Andrew Murray has a nice voice, especially as the sultry lounge singer in the second act — he’s quite delicious as he splits his attention between two dancers. Mr. Murray also plays the love interest in the first act, but I found his chemistry with Mr. Raghavan lacking.

(The next two paragraphs are so fucking mean. You’re not Uta Hagen. Don’t like someone’s performance? NO NEED TO MENTION IT. A throwaway mention is perfectly sufficient. Trust me, the lack of description says more than pissing on another human being.)

And along with the ups also come a few downs.  Dan Posluns seriously disappointed in Act 1 Act I with a voice rarely on pitch, and a very one-dimensional, dry acting performance.  However, in Act 2, his Jewish business man character (Haha, sorry, this description makes me laugh. Jewish business man character? Is that how it was billed in the program?) was rather well done and likable, so no idea why there was such an inconsistency in performance from one act to the other. (Instead of being a bitch, how about simply: “Dan Posluns shone in the second act with his portrayal of a Jewish business man character.” Hahaha, sorry, that description is too good, I’m keeping it.)

And finally, Matthew Lang, who you’ll remember I previously reviewed in Sweeney Todd, had the same problems in this show that he’s had in every other show I’ve seen him in, only this one was worse as in addition to another one-dimensional performance where I saw him trying  so hard to ‘play’ the various roles he was cast in, he stumbled over line after line, and I’m not sure if it was nerves or lack of knowing his lines, but man he couldn’t get a sentence out smoothly to save his life. (RUN ON SENTENCE GOD WHY) His voice was weak throughout the entire show, more noticeable in Act 1 than Act 2.  Mr. Lang has more of a voice for classical musicals (. . . what the hell is a classical musical? Do you mean he’s classically trained? Or do you mean he has a better voice for musicals written by Mozart?), so rock opera style just doesn’t sound good when he sings it.  And for all the honest, amazing performances going on around him from Mr. Duffy and Ms. Ingalls, both of whom gave him buckets of amazing stuff to work with, the light shone very brightly on how weak and flat Mr. Lang’s performance was as he awkwardly stumbles through this show.  Once again, I didn’t see one real moment from him, and he left me very disappointed. (Dude. She took Matt’s performance VERY personally. How would I professionally describe an actor’s performance I didn’t care for? “Matthew Lang’s voice is better suited for classic musicals and, despite his best efforts, rock opera doesn’t suit him. He seemed flustered in his performance as Kevin, the distracted scientist, and it was hard to connect with his character.” Note: I don’t agree with this, but in the spirit of the exercise, I’m offering an alternative to being a petty monster.)

Now, what do all these performances combine to make? (This review is written backward. Why not describe what the hell you’re talking about before talking about it?) Well, Act 1 tells the tale of a world (huh?) where advertising is against the law, and a creepy business man and sweet scientist have created a way for one average person to inhabit the robotic body of a superstar. This is tested on homeless people, and this story focuses on a homeless woman named P. Burke who allows the sweet scientist to send her mind, heart and soul to transport into a stunning beauty named Delphi where she can have the world at her feet. The goal is these robots wear a body lift bracelet that will entice consumers to want one and create profit for the company without actually advertising.  The boss’s son falls in love with the robot Delphi, and she falls in love back and tells him the truth and the entire secret robot embodiment/Avatar business is brought to a very ugly head. (This is a wordy and badly phrased description, but, honestly, I don’t feel like entirely rewriting it. So I’m not.) For all the standing around of the audience, and all the running around of the cast, I felt that Despite my misgivings about the interactive part of the production, director Brendan Mack, assisted by Josh Moore, pulled off an interesting concept, creative design, and fantastic casting (except for the off-key lady, that one who can’t act, the egregious Matt Lang, and that Semetic-looking fellow).  The costumes by Cherelle Ashby and Jonelle Cornwell were amazing!  The choreography left me a bit bored, but the dancing was minimal, so I wasn’t so worried about it. Taylor Davis choreographed.

Act 2 switches gears and tells the story of Kevin, a doctor working with his assistant Dan on a virtual reality machine, where when suddenly a baby they didn’t create appears on the screen., and This baby grows into a young girl named Nola who can see and interact with Kevin and Dan.  She’s virtual, but can see, talk, and eventually touch them.  She ages by the hour and we follow Nola’s memories from young girl to teenager to young collegiate to wife and mother, to eventually learn she dies in a very painful childbirth (UM, SPOILERS). As she grows, Kevin bonds on a deeper and deeper level with her, so much so that he begins neglecting his wife, Carol, in order to spend more time with Nola.  There’s a twist in this story where it turns our out that Kevin in the reincarnated husband of Nola, and she’s come back from the afterlife to help him see that he needs to live his life more fully.  He needs to have children, cherish Carol, and be happy.  It’s a very lovely, touching story, and man, Ms. Ingalls is amazing as Nola.

(I notice this in a lot of novice theatre bloggers’ writing. You don’t have to tell EVERYTHING that happens in the play. This isn’t a book report.)

My main complaint about this act is that randomly, suddenly, when Nola is a collegiate girl, Kevin is able to touch her.  He’s able to physically touch a hologram, and I don’t understand this choice. (Have you never heard of the holodeck? The Doctor from Voyager?) I asked director Brendan Mack if that was part of the script (I’m certain accosting the director in the lobby so you could grill him on his vision wasn’t awkward at all), and he said no, it was a choice they made to allow the actors to fully interact.  Personally, it bugged me, because I think it would have been so much more impactful if, as the connection between Kevin and Nola deepens, the fact that they can’t touch would have increased the tension and raised the stakes.  And, given how good Ms. Ingalls was at depicting a few of her memories, if Mr. Lang wasn’t able to touch her, his strange reactions to her wouldn’t have muddied up the scene so much because he wouldn’t have been allowed to infiltrate her hauntingly beautiful moments with his mediocrity.

(Paragraph redo)

The most distracting thing about the second act was the director’s choice to allow Kevin and Nola, even though she is a hologram, to physically interact. Their ability to touch each other ruined what could have been an excellent opportunity to raise the stakes and increase the romantic tension between the two characters.

Other than that element though, this act Despite this, Her Pilgrim Soul was  is wonderful overall — both The story is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.  It had the feel of Menken (well, yeah, I mean, he wrote it), with a Disney-esque happy ending after a few obstacles, and a few toe-tapping songs that make you smile. In classic Menken style, you’re gifted a happy ending after some adversity, peppered with some toe-tapping numbers that brought a smile to my face.

Overall, this was a really fun night of theatre, and I highly encourage you all to go see it for yourself. If you enjoy a bit of interactive theatre and don’t mind sort of being part of the show, because the stories are really interesting and the music is really good.

I give this a solid applause with a note to self to bust out my Ben Nye makeup for any
future STAGEright performances just in case I find myself part of the show!

Weird Romance plays through Feb 20 at the Hugo House on Capital Hill. Capitol Hill. Tickets and showtimes can be found on STAGEright’s website.

Ciao for now,

Lady M

Overall notes: So. . . it sounds like you liked it, which, ultimately, is what people want to know — whether you liked it or not. Why bury the lede? Also, I would also suggest putting the description of the plot at the top of your review so that people who don’t know anything about the show can actually read about the show before reading your (and I use the term loosely) “analysis.” That will also give context for the performances that you bash/extol.

Also? PUT. YOUR. FUCKING. NAME. ON. IT.

Also also? Off key? Pitch, please.

You’re welcome,

JASMINE JOSHUA

 

PS: That was cathartic as hell.

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