Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Month: October 2008 (Page 1 of 5)

Gone Dottie

I invited myself to the opening night of Gone Dottie at UCT’s Arena last night for two reasons. I really wanted to see Emily Child perform and I also remember wanting to be Dorothy Parker for most of my young adult life. There is something deeply appealing about the kind of misery that one makes rhyming poems about. It’s clever, amusing, heartfelt and just so fashionable, especially when it’s accompanied by a bit of a drinking problem.

Emily Child did not disappoint. She is like a strong magnet. I really enjoyed her performance. I thought her characterisation was excellent, her capturing of the style fantastic, her voice and accent really convincing and very possibly Dorothy like. Bravo Emily.

I also need to mention Andrew Laubscher, who plays the many silent men that Dorothy plays off. It’s the third time I’ve seen him and as they say in the programme, "Oh! He’s charming!" And very funny.

So why was I just a leetle (she whispers softly to her friend) bored? I think the text itself is not 100% successful. It is made up of bits and pieces of her writing; stories, poems and a few famous quotations, but it struggled to hang together coherently. Then I also had questions about the direction. Luke Ellenbogen directs, and he manages to create a wonderful style for the piece. The feel and look of it are excellent. I enjoyed the little silent movies and his staging was great. I just think the show was too evenly paced, which made it feel a bit repetitive. At times it felt like it could have been louder, faster, quieter; that the rhythm, even of Dorothy’s speech, could have been more sharply contrasted. It felt like all the pauses were the same length.

I did love the styling of the foyer, and the gorgeous poppies as well as the glamorous catering after the show.

Doing any show based on Dorothy Parker sets up the company for being ‘thrown with Dorothy quotes’. Here is mine. "Every year, back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants."  It’s got nothing to do with anything. I just like it.

Zoo Story

It was a choc-a-bloc night at The Intimate Theatre for the opening of Edward Albee’s Zoo Story directed by Chris Weir and performed by Scott Sparrow and Nicholas Pauling.

I don’t know the play, but I was looking forward to it; I think Scott and Nicholas are super talented. This is the third The Mechanicals production and these guys are developing a relationship with each other and Chris Weare.

The play is a two hander (obviously!) set on a park bench in Central Park, and it’s about the interaction between two strangers that takes a dramatic turn. Albee manages to pose a deeply philosophical issue in the text, but the characters and the action keep the idea alive and prevent the play from becoming boring or talking heads, even though the whole thing is a (pretty one-sided) conversation.

both This is a very good production. Nicholas as the weedy, passive and anal publishing guy was brilliant. He spent long periods silent but he didn’t fall out of being totally present and engaged. He was really convincing and moving. Scott was explosive. OK, so the character lends itself to explosions, but he blew up really well. His performance was dynamic, physical and razor-sharp; and it’s a really difficult part. Chris‘s direction was tight and simple, letting the actors live and breathe their characters, but holding a tight rein on the rhythm of the piece.

There were a few niggly things, the biggest of which was Scott’s flawed American accent, which Big Friendly and I discussed at length after the show. He was like, “If it’s such a big deal then put yourself out there to help with accents.” My whole thing is that there are plenty of actors, voice coaches and even dialogue coaches out there who can help. If you are doing an accent piece, go get big, proper help. I mean, it should be part of your preparation. But I digress. And it wasn’t that bad. Just niggly.

The second thing drove director Chris mad as well as me and Big Friendly (and probably everybody). It was an opening night gremlin that set the park bench in the exact position of it making the most terrible squeak/grunt/shriek every time either actor moved. Big Friendly was like, “It was like a three hander with that bench!” Which I thought was hilarious, but only afterwards.

My favourite part of the evening, however, was when the lights came up on the bench and I was looking at the carvings scratched into the wood and thinking, “How cool it would be if the some of the carving looked older than the rest….” when all of a sudden I noticed, carved deeply into the wood on the right hand side of the bench in a bold but unmistakable upper case, MEG 4 FRED. I loved it. I don’t know whose idea it was (which one of the actors), but it was brilliant. Thanks guys.

PS. How’s this for an interesting titbit? I found it on Wikipedia this morning.

“According to a report on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” on Jan. 19, 2008[2], Albee has expanded his play “Zoo” from one act to two. The first act was first read publicly at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. The move has raised controversy within the theater community because Albee is no longer allowing professional theater companies to mount the original play without the new first act. Non-professional and college theaters are, however, not bound by Albee’s stipulation.

In the NPR interview Albee defended the change and the addition of a female character who is Peter’s wife. Albee also noted the play was his to do as he wanted.”

Site specific at The Slave Lodge

I don’t get to see much of Myer Taub‘s work. It’s mostly site specific, historical/heritage work that isn’t widely publicised. I saw Myer at Wrestlers on Saturday night and he asked me to come along to the Slave Lodge in town for the final performance of the piece he created for Iziko (the SA museum guys), which was yesterday.

I had mixed feelings about going. I wanted to see what Myer and his cast were up to, but I generally find site specific, historical/heritage stuff a huge drag, especially if it is aimed at school kids who are, I am sorry to say, my worst king of theatre audience to be part of. It often feels like you have to make do with extremely un-theatrical conditions, embarrassing interactions with your audience (who also feel like arbitrary spare parts) and relatively dreary historical subject matter.

Which was why yesterday was a bit of a surprise and delight. The piece was commissioned to commemorate the first slave uprising in the Cape in 1808. Although the story was a little convoluted, we got the idea as we were led by the three performers through various spots in the Slave Lodge where we, the audience, would gather to watch the scenes performed by them.

And what was so cool was how the group of school kids started getting into the show and the story. In the beginning I found myself next to two boys who could only take their eyes off actress Bianca (who was playing a sexy washerwoman/narrator at the time) to flick each other’s ears really loudly. I had to use utmost control not to kick their shins. But by the time we had entered the courtyard and the story got more bloody and exciting (and clearer) the kids were following every word. We were joined at that stage by a group of black American tourists who tagged along for the rest of the show and took many photos and answered cell phones. 

What really made this piece of work very exciting for me was the costuming and styling. The actors were dressed in gorgeous, yet simple costumes and all the props and bits of set lifted the whole production into the theatrical realm. It was designed by Angela Nemov who is all over the place at the moment. She was also responsible for the incredible set and design of Dalliances.

I know how hard it is to make this kind of work and to lift it from the squirmy and embarrassing to the successful and powerful. One of the first jobs I did when I had just come back to Cape Town in 1994 was a site specific historical walk about tour for school kids at the V&A Waterfront! So kudos to Myer and his team.

The Slave Lodge is one of those places that everybody knows about and nobody (except tourists) goes to, but it’s an extraordinary space. Check it out.

Post Script

A friend of mine, who lives far away, reads my blog and she had this to say about my thoughts on Wrestlers. "I read your review and think you should let rip and lose the slight apologetic tone and trust in your reviewing instinct. %@#$ those morons, they should be banished from your consciousness."

She is right. My thoughts on Wrestlers, although completely honest, were constrained and formal and (let’s face it) dead boring. Do you have to be a Dorothy Parker bitch to be interesting? I suppose the reality is that I should have been thinking about how "words have effects" as Sharon so clearly put it in Shez Sharon.

But then, the whole point of writing this blog was to call a spade a spade. I have Sharon’s voice in my head. She would have said, "But not everybody wants to be a spade." And that’s the truth. I am going to have to figure out a solution to this conundrum.

In the meantime I am going to try and be braver.

Wrestling with Wrestlers

Wrestlers FDR 05 Last night was the opening night of the second play in Artscape’s New Writing Programme; Wrestlers written and directed by Milton Schorr. And obviously, I’m writing this because I went (although more than one person jokingly asked if I wasn’t a persona-non-grata).

I’m sitting here with many thoughts racing through my mind, mainly whether I should be writing about this at all. To be honest, what’s definitely given me the confidence to sit down and do it is the support that I’ve been shown by many, many individuals involved in the theatre, way exceeding those who left comments here on meganshead. I also remain convinced that even if I am negative about a show my whole point is to give a show publicity, and create awareness about theatre in Cape Town.

I am going to start by repeating myself a bit. Artscape and Roy Sargeant must be celebrated and supported because of this amazing, pro-active, successful campaign that is the New Writing Programme. It gives writers a real chance to get their work out there (including me! I have benefited enormously from it). Where else can you see a whole season of brand new South African plays? Brilliant.

Now to Wrestlers. Milton Schorr has written a weighty, contemporary South African drama about a wheelchair bound man, his wife, drug addict son, imaginary friend and their addictions and dysfunctional relationships. It’s pretty grim stuff. It’s also pretty universal stuff, dealing with the staggeringly devastating effects of drug addiction and alcohol abuse and dependency. The thing that it isn’t is fun.

What is great about this production are the performances. John (or Pa) is captured extremely convincingly and powerfully by Deon Lotz. Even though he is mostly wheelchair bound his performance is enormous, layered and detailed, creating a complicated and human character. He was mindblowingly good. Jason Potgieter, who plays David his son, is definitely a young, up and coming star of the stage. I really enjoy watching him and every time I see him he grows into a stronger, more focused actor. Travis Snyders plays Buddy, the imaginary friend, superbly. It’s a really difficult role; the character is very young, innocent and, because he is a figment of the imagination, completely two dimensional, yet Travis gives him a heart and lightness that is very moving. Deidre Wolhuter has the difficult task of bringing Lily to life. It’s a bitch of a role and she manages really well. I just found her accent a bit inconsistent.

The problems with this play were ones that I am about to face myself. It’s a tough one, but I think that Milton would have done his text more justice if he had given it to somebody else to direct. He was obviously so close to the material and to the details of the performances that the overall rhythm of the piece was lost, making it feel long and relentless. Now (before I get a letter in my Outlook Express) I must make it clear that I thought aspects of Milton’s direction were excellent. His attention to detail and to the ‘needs’ of his characters were amazing. It’s just that the play struggled to find pace and flow.

A thing that bugged me a bit (aside from the technical horror of the ‘not able to ring’ phone! I know that piece-of-shit-phone from past productions) was the timing of stuff. Because the performances and style were realistic it bugged me that people came and went so quickly without a sense that time had passed.

Wrestlers is a perfect example of what needs to be showcased at the Artscape New Writing Programme. It’s a brand new South African text that needs to be worked on, spoken about, explored, debated. It’s a great place for this text to start its life. I am deeply worried about whether there is an audience for this kind of work though. Go on. Go and see it. Talk about it. Prove my theory wrong that SA audiences can only handle bloody Beauty and the Beast.

*above pic taken by Alfred Rietmann during the final dress rehearsal.

Boast fest

I’ve just walked in from doing a teeny TheatreSports show for a group of 13 suits for their year end function. We were a team of four who performed for them. And it was amazing. It seemed hard for us; a bit like playing charades at a family christmas lunch, as the one guy put it. But they loved it! Absolutely loved it. We somehow show people another way of doing things. We show them how to be creative and supportive and to laugh with us. Every time we do a funny little show like this there are the confessions afterwards. There are those that find me to tell me about their school plays, their passions, their first loves before they were forced/suggested into Bcoms, banking, insurance, finance, whatever. Eyes start glazing over, hearts beat fast. We are the gypsies, the travelling minstrels, the storytellers, the outsiders. We present the world of ‘what if?’ And everybody wants to be us for that moment. Ego trip? Only for a bit. These guys earn the big bucks. They have futures, houses, cars, careers. But they are scared. And we aren’t. Amazing.

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