Turning an Elevator into an Entire World

Check out my TDF Stages article on Lift, a full-length play over at 59E59 that takes place entirely in an elevator! You might even feel uplifted reading it!!

LIFT

The cast of Walter Mosley’s “Lift”

Two days into rehearsals for Lift at 59E59, director John Marshall III got stuck in an elevator. Most people entombed in a metal box might feel alarmed, claustrophobic, or at the very least, concerned. Instead, Marshall was thrilled. “I think the people running the building probably thought I was crazy,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Don’t hurry, it’s ok! It’s great!’”

See, Lift is a full-length play by Walter Mosley in which a man and a woman are trapped in a broken elevator. This means two actors are confined to the same square of space for almost two hours: a challenge for any theatre director. “The elevator was essentially a third character in the play,” says Marshall, who last year mounted a production of the show at New Jersey’s Crossroads Theatre, where he serves as artistic director. Unable to rehearse on the set during its construction, actors stood on platforms and cubes, using any and every opportunity to simulate the feeling of entrapment. That’s why Marshall was so excited to have firsthand experience. “I was texting the actors,” he says of his elevator mishap. “I was on the bottom floor, and it wasn’t rocking. I don’t know if my confidence would’ve been quite the same if I had been twenty floors up in the air. But I was really having fun.”

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Smart Pick of the Day: T-Pain’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert

Wow.

I have long been a fan of the great T-Pain, king of auto-tune and creator of the best song no one’s ever heard of. But for some reason it never occurred to me that the guy could actually sing:

Yeah. All the hairs on my arm are sticking straight up too.

I guess I assumed – I’m sorry, T-Pain, truly I am – that the use of auto-tune has always been a bit of a crux. Now it seems auto-tune was just the guy’s thing, a branding method. This performance at NPR Music’s tiniest of desks was, from what I understand, completely unplanned. So T-Pain has accidentally set the internet on fire with the grand epiphany of his gorgeous, soulful voice, and must now face the question: why not try getting rid of the auto-tune altogether? What if T-Pain were to re-brand?? He could fill the hole in the pop music industry that douchebag Cee-Lo left behind!

Smart Pick of the Day: Paloma Faith’s ‘A Perfect Contradiction’

I don’t know what this world is comin’ to!

The fact that Paloma Faith has never been featured on this blog – which professes to love all things fabulous, divalicious and, well, British – is sacrilege! Released in March but soon to be presented as a repackaged version, A Perfect Contradiction is Faith’s newest album and the strongest declaration of her specific brand of pop artistry. Before now her sound has always resonated on a nostalgic level, drawing from the smoky jazz lounges of the 50s and irresistible Motown beats. “Upside Down” has been a longtime favorite of mine because it takes that vintage sound and, in its music video, gift-wraps it in the kind of candy-colored cheekiness I so adore.

A Perfect Contradiction firmly plants Faith in darker, weirder territory: Amy Winehouse’s trauma mixed with a Gaga-esque attention to striking imagery. Fabulous and haunting, the album echoes Faith’s greatest musical influences, retranslating those styles through her astonishingly capable voice. “Take Me” is pure Earth, Wind & Fire , while “Impossible Heart” channels Diana Ross and Cher. “Mouth to Mouth” is straight out of the 80s too – is that a cowbell I hear? And “Taste My Own Tears” is my second favorite (after “Can’t Rely On You,” of course) because it quasi-samples Sam Cooke and is just plain fun. But it doesn’t get much better than Faith’s emphasis-on-the-power power ballad, “Only Love Can Hurt Like This,” written by the great Dianne Warren. Treat yo self this lazy weekend to the song and video that is surely Miss Paloma at her peak:

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Smart Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

I reviewed Broadway’s newest hit! And I liked it. Check it out below or over at TheatreIsEasy.com!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Helen Carey, Mercedes Herrero, Jocelyn Bioh, Alex Sharp, Richard Hollis, David Manis, and Ben Horner in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo by Joan Marcus.

BOTTOM LINE: Powerful visual language turns an idiosyncratic perspective into a stirring and imaginative theatrical adaptation.

Christopher, the 15-year old narrator of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, does not see the world the way most people see it. The book’s first-person perspective allows readers an intimate glimpse into the mind of someone who would in diagnostic terms be dubbed a high-functioning autistic teenager. How lucky — and how extraordinary — that the stage can transport an entire audience into that visceral, chaotic, and incredibly distinct mindset, and challenge not only our awareness of such disorders, but also the limits of theater itself.

Most responsible for the power of Curious Incident’s stage adaptation, opening October 5th in a Broadway transfer from London’s National Theatre, are surely its designers. Paule Constable’s lighting and Finn Ross’ video design in particular offer proof that theater and visual technology can together elevate a story to dazzling heights. Three towering walls depicting a mathematician’s grid double as a kind of LED grid on steroids, projecting the multitudinous contents of Christopher’s brain everywhere; constellations, diagrams, and maps materialize above and around the actors. For those of us accustomed to high-concept designs involving little more than an impeccably detailed set or elaborate costumes, this show’s breathtaking effects never get old. This is particularly true during Christopher’s harrowing journey on the London Underground. You may never carelessly step into a subway car again.

Playwright Simon Stephens includes most of the elements from Haddon’s book, which, other than said Underground journey and the garden fork-skewered pooch referenced in the title, offer little in the way of plot. Christopher (Alex Sharp, in a staggering Broadway debut) spends the first act trying to solve the mystery of Wellington the dog’s murder, and the second enmeshed in domestic disputes he can’t comprehend. As someone who decries metaphor (“I think it should be called a lie, because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards”), and who cannot process stimuli in a cursory, big-picture manner, our hero is aware of — but not fully attuned to — the grown-up issues and secrets surrounding him. Continue reading

Smart Reads: Jack Smart Edition #2

As is probably obvious, I’m still trying to figure out this blog’s relationship with my current job which involves taking breaks from writing about theater, film, and TV to write about theater, film, and TV, with a side of writing about theater, film, and TV. There’s a lot of really great material over at Backstage, as well as some fun stuff of mine and other writers I admire on my Twitter. Here are some highlights from the last few weeks!

Robin Williams

Robin Williams on ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’