And the Band plays on

I had lots of adventures this week. Between that viewing of The Star and a job interview and touring the National Arts Club, I was a busy bee. But perhaps the most exciting thing I did was attending the 1st preview of a Broadway show…a little Atlantic Theater transfer known as The Band’s Visit.

There are very few musicals like The Band’s Visit out there today. Ones that don’t project, don’t spiral, don’t flash…but just ARE.

The show doesn’t even follow a consistent plot arc, really. Each character’s thread- from musical conductor Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub) to the wistful Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor)- is like a vignette comprising the whole. As the opening lines remind us, the events of the story “aren’t very important.” At least, maybe not in the grand scheme of things…but to these characters, they mean the WORLD.

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It might sound like I’m getting philosophical, but you can’t not think about the meaning of The Band’s Visit. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be: simple. Beautifully simple. It cuts through much of the modern musical theatre BS and unearths our shared humanity as only this medium can.

Perhaps that sentiment is best expressed in one of the show’s best numbers, “Omar Sharif,” a haunting solo for Katrina Lenk’s character, Dina. This song is a memory of Dina’s childhood and how music continues to play an important role in her spiritual health. She recaptures that wonderful feeling through her relationship with Tewfiq. Meanwhile, in one of the story’s more comical moments, a charismatic member of the orchestra coaches a young man in the art of talking to girls.

Again- it is all very simple, and yet very real. It reminds me of how an old teacher once described Thornton Wilder’s Our Town: “a celebration of the mundane.” But it is there that we often find the interactions that matter most.

Just by nature of its uniqueness, I hope The Band’s Visit is able to find as much success on Broadway as it did during its run in Chelsea. True, its quietness might not be for every theatergoer…but, in my humble opinion, it is still an important piece of the tapestry called the modern American musical.

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Impressions of THE OLDEST BOY

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On one of my always-magical trips to the Drama Book Shop, I picked up a play that I had always been curious about: Sarah Ruhl’s The Oldest Boy. This curiosity stemmed from two things- one, the original Lincoln Center production artwork (which I thought was gorgeous). Two, the premise of the piece, which explores an American mother and Tibetan father faced with a Hobson choice about their three-year-old son.

As an aside, I really hoped that the cover of the published play would have the original Lincoln Center artwork. It did not. Nevertheless, I plunked down my cash and planned to tackle it after reading the libretto of Heathers the Musical. Got some serious diversity going on, don’t I?!

Having completed The Oldest Boy in one bus ride home, I’m going to share some thoughts about it with you guys. For starters, the parents’ big choice arises when they are visited by a pair of Buddhist monks. The monks are immediately drawn to Mother and Father’s little son…as it turns out, he is a reincarnated Lama, or high-ranking Buddhist teacher. Interestingly, Sarah Ruhl dispels that mystery early on; she has said that the play is not about “if,” but “now what.”

The Mother (portrayed by Celia Keenan-Bolger in the original production) is the central character, facing her own spiritual tugs-of-war while deciding whether or not her child should live in an Asian monastery to fulfill his destiny. It’s a meaty, heart-wrenching role, and one I would love to do someday.

The play’s dialogue was surprisingly breezy and easy-to-read…it could have been very lecture-like but was not. And I still learned quite a bit about the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism (I’ve long had an interest in world religions). Despite the heavy subject matter, Ruhl managed to infuse some humorous moments, too.

The staging requirements for the show were very odd to see on paper. Apparently, there is an optional chorus of Tibetan dancers that appears symbolically at pivotal moments in the story. Furthermore, the role of Tenzin (the son) is actually done by an adult speaking his lines while manipulating a child puppet. It’s a curious dramatic device, and one you don’t see very often. I imagine that when this play is performed by smaller companies, these elements get heavily modified.

I don’t have the resources to properly investigate that, but I can tell you that the original Lincoln Center presentation received mixed reviews. Much of the positivity in these reviews was indeed aimed at the unusual staging and direction by Rebecca Taichman (this year’s Tony winner for Indecent). Knowing such facts, I cannot help but wonder if The Oldest Boy will lose a chunk of its power when done on a smaller scale.

Even while reading it, I pondered how the play could translate as a narrative as opposed to a live piece. Could it be that this work fares better as a novella? I don’t know.

I also did not fully understand the final scene, but that might just be my naïveté. The Mother’s struggles were very moving, and I teared up more than once. These themes- loss, parental attachment, and love- are ones that affect us all. In that regard, which is the purpose of all theatre…I find The Oldest Boy to be a success.

It Ain’t Festivus, but I’m Airing Some Grievances

  1. The Broadway.com Awards are the epitome of why “the public” can’t be allowed to vote for anything in the entertainment industry. Why? Because “the public” voting on their smartphones is mostly comprised of close-minded teenagers who are just getting exposed to the theatrical world. Disclaimer: There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Hell, my first “gateway show” was Wicked. Everyone’s got to start somewhere. But unless voters adequately acquire the breadth of knowledge required to judge performances…awards turn into a popularity contest. Which is fine, but then it should be touted as such. Call the category “Favorite Working Actress” instead of “Best Performance by an Actress,” so that when Idina Menzel or Laura Osnes win for shows that close in less than 6 months, it’ll make sense.
  2. On that note, the notion of “parody” adaptations being protected from copyright suits is starting to bother me. You make a mockery out of someone else’s work, and it’s totally fine. You lovingly adapt someone else’s work because you respect the material and want to see it anew, and suddenly you’re cutting legal red tape. It hardly seems fair…but as a friend pointed out to me, it’s also hardly about the art when dollar bills start falling into people’s laps.

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…So to speak.

Okay, my rant’s over.

On Writers and their Dark Sides

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Recently, I read a forum member’s assessment of the new play being presented by MCC Theater: Yen. Their description was as follows:

It’s a stellar production of a disturbing, twisted, and dark play… there are no physical effects or vampires to be found here. It is a raw, animalistic portrayal of 4 characters who cannot love themselves, and are doomed from the start…recommended, but not for the faint of heart.

As I read such an evaluation, I am reminded of works like The Pillowman or even Desire Under the Elms. These are not mere tragedies…these are dark, sword-of-Damocles stories that go beyond the unspeakable side of life. As a reader, I stay away from this kind of lachrymose literature. As a writer, I marvel (is it a form of admiration?) at these other authors’ guts. Where do they come up with these plot points? How is it that they can reach into the darkest depths of their hearts to tell such grim tales?

Jeez Louise. I can’t help but wonder how some playwrights are able to dig into the darkest parts of their souls to come up with such twisted elements. Hell, I had to write a MODERATELY political ONE-ACT last weekend and could barely stand it. I simply do not have the fortitude to stir the pot in this manner. I’m all for making people think and feel through art. But a part of me truly believes that shock value or “wrist-cutting theatre,” as I’ve heard it called, is not the most effective channel to use.

Yes, I know that Shakespeare and Greek tragedians were among the pioneers of this genre. Their plays were chock full of bloodshed and sometimes graphic monologues on how the bloodshed occurred. Shakespeare’s descendants in writing modified these aspects to reflect an ever-evolving world. And they make for compelling, emotional evenings of theatre. I get it.

But at the same time, I surmise that there is a certain “breaking point” of bleakness that nullifies what these playwrights aim to do with their work. We all want to change the world with our art, but audiences can only be pushed so far. They will go from a place of determination to one of despair. And, in many cases, despair manifests as inaction. You get this feeling of, “What is the point?”

When I write, I’m not afraid to include some death or melancholy- of course. Yet I also try to maintain a balance between that stuff and a sentiment of redemption. After all, before anyone can strive for goodness, they must be reminded that goodness still exists. Am I making sense here…?

Ruminations on the Babes Who Dream

On this Inauguration Day, I reflect on people’s common dreams and the strife with which we strangle one another in the wake of the volatile election. One person breaks ties with a friend over politics, so-and-so cries in the night with fear or anger. And for what? Who lets it get to that point?

Can’t we admit that deep down, we all want the same things out of life? Is the “American Dream” really so out of reach? When will we realize that no man is an island, and even two polar opposites can be interdependent?

But no- right now, what “matters” is that I don’t interpret the world as you do, and so that makes you my adversary. No middle ground in sight.

I have a niece who is about 18 months old. Understandably, everybody loves her. She is a well-behaved child and a cutie. Although she’s too young to vocalize this now, one day she will have dreams and opinions for herself. She’ll learn in school that she can be whatever she wants to be, to believe in herself and have hope. I fear that as she matures, this bright encouragement will stop…as it did, in some regard, for me.

The bottom line: Alexandra, enjoy it while you can. It’s an illusion to some degree. It’s propelling you to that moment in time when you’re not cute anymore and your dreams stop mattering and you become a candidate for unkindness. Where is it that we lose our youthful protection, I wonder? Are we not that same child you wouldn’t dare frown at, once upon a time?

Quoth the lad called Tiny Tim, “God bless us everyone.”

“The Fools Who Love”

by Amanda DeLalla

Here’s to the fools who love.
To the red-nosed reindeer,
And finger-less glove.
To the dandelions called a weed,
Who may get what they want,
But not what they need.
Here’s to the fools who desire.
For a better world, some inner peace,
And more hearts afire.
Those who just want to know what’s true.
I don’t think they’re stupid to try;
Do you?
Here’s to the fools who dream.
Who believe that goodness
Is more alive than it seems.
The ones who trust in some greater plan,
Those who leave a legacy
Because they believe they can.
We reach and cry but will still be kind,
From oceans below to skies above.
All in a quest to simply find
Another one of the fools who loves.

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Daily Prompt: Argument (or, accidental Dear Journal…)

I am, by nature, not a confrontational person. I never talk about politics or religion in public forums (and that includes social media). Why? Well, part of it is because my group of friends is so polarized that anything I say will upset half of them. I like to refer to my stance as “Switzerland.” The only thing I do reveal on a regular basis is my belief in God. But my lips are wholly sealed.

The other half of it is that I simply hate to argue. I don’t like discord; it makes me anxious and upset. I wish everyone could just live harmoniously. Because I know it can be done, if only we all recognized our common humanity. We all, at our cores, want the same things. Does this train of thought make me naive? I don’t know. Maybe. But I prefer to believe that it is a special part of my personality- it’s just another way I filter the world. Unfortunately, such a lens (ironically) sometimes ends up creating strain between my family members and me. They have a very different outlook on things. Of course we fight about it, and of course it’s to no avail. I don’t let it bother me anymore.

On a lighter note, I am really looking forward to Lady Gaga’s new album, Joanne. What I’ve heard from it so far is already better than 3/4 of Artpop. Do you know where this new title comes from? It’s her real name! Gaga has said that this new CD will represent a turning point for her; she’s stripping down the theatrics and gaudiness in favor of a truer self. At least, that’s what I got from her statement. In my opinion, it’s beautiful, and something I occasionally need to be reminded of. Particularly during those moments of argument. As Shakespeare wrote: “To thine own self be true.”

I leave you with this little factoid, my dear readers…the “Azura dance” songs from Fire Emblem Fates have been stuck in my head. Thanks a lot, Nintendo.

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“Renewal”

by Amanda DeLalla

Hello.

It was good to talk again.

‘Cause every now and then,

You’ve gotta let your feelings show.

I hope to see you before long.

When I’m at the end of my rope,

The thought of you makes me strong.

I carry a piece of you with me every day.

And you have a part

Of my fragile heart.

It’ll be even better when you stay.

I’ve felt the fears of 23 years,

But they won’t come back anymore,

All because you walked through my door.

If it’s true that all roads lead to Rome,

And if it is meant to be,

I’m sure that you will come back home- to me.

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A Color: GREY

This is more of a philosophical catharsis than a typical Puccini’s Chronicles entry, my dilettante friends- but I promise, there WILL be some song recommendations at the end of this.

Last week’s color (sorry for being a bit late) is GREY. A mixture of black and white. Mostly associated with rain clouds and less austere funeral garb. A beautiful but not all that cheerful shade.

Today I read a review of the musical performance of someone I really admire- someone whose career has spanned decades but who shows zero hint of being conceited or ungrateful- and her performance at this particular moment was described as “tired,” with the vocals having seen “better days.” The reviewer hastened to add that she would improve as she settled into the piece more, but these mere comments just broke my heart.

As I metaphorically looked into the eyes of this performer I have so loved, I got a taste of her mortality- that a day may (hopefully not) come when she cannot perform with the luminescence which she has had her entire career. I am on the brink of tears just thinking about it. To me, of course, she will always be radiant, she will always be a beacon of talent and grace. But to the world, and maybe even to herself, it might seem as though it’s time to pass the torch. Nobody lives forever; this I know and yet imagining a world without her- or anyone I care about, for that matter- is why I’m feeling artistically GREY.

Relevant Music:
“Fix You” (Coldplay)
“It Will Rain” (Bruno Mars)
“Blown Away” (Carrie Underwood)
“The Moment I Knew” (Taylor Swift)
“Chandelier [Piano Version]” (Sia)
“Young and Beautiful” (Lana del Rey)
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” (Elton John)
“Aerith’s Theme” (FINAL FANTASY VII)
“1000 Words [Orchestra Version]” (FINAL FANTASY X-2)
“Stay” (Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko)

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