Smart Review: NEVERMORE

I recently sat through a musical adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, and if you couldn’t tell by my use of the phrase “sat through,” it didn’t quite thrill me. Here’s my TheatreIsEasy.com review of Catalyst Theatre’s Nevermore, which I sincerely wish I could have titled “Edgar Allan Nope.”

Nevermore

This critic shall sit through an Edgar Allan Poe musical NEVERMORE GET IT

BOTTOM LINE: Although designers may appreciate the elaborate steampunk costumes, this Edgar Allan Poe musical neglects and reduces its subject to a series of basic bullet points.

In last year’s Red Eye to Havre de Grace, New York Theatre Workshop staged Edgar Allan Poe’s last days with innovative theatricality and exquisite dread. It may not seem fair to compare such an achievement to Catalyst Theatre’s Nevermore, now playing at New World Stages, but both productions do in fact share a protagonist, despite vast cosmetic differences. Where one was a haunting meditation on the cost of genius, the other is a musical confection that shrinks, flattens, and buffs our collective image of Poe to a sickly-sweet shine. Indeed, were the man himself to rise from the grave and stalk the theatre’s aisles, he might not even recognize this quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

Nevermore deploys a familiar aesthetic, a kind of glamorous moroseness made popular by everyone from Margaret Keane to Lemony Snicket. Designers take note: Bretta Gerecke’s black and white garments are a marvel of ingenuity. Although at odds with her curiously industrial set of metal bars and sliding doors, the Victorian steampunk vibe allows the designer to hide elaborate delights in her handiwork. As the cartoonish cast of narrators embody the players in Poe’s life, the whole thing looks like an unusually dark children’s TV show meant to educate but mostly dazzle. It’s a Disneyland ride as brought to you by the Addams Family. It’s Tim Burton’s Seussical.

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Your Holiday Gift Guide: Theatre Books

‘Tis the season for gift giving! Not sure what to get your theater geek cousin? Your therapist? That boy you’ve been sort of seeing who says he likes your smile but refuses to have a “check-in” conversation and now you’re just sort of wading through a gray area relationship-wise? Fear no more! Over at TDF Stages, I wrote up a list of 12 theater-related books for the 12 days of Christmas/the postmodern holiday pastiche we’ve been lazily referring to as “Christmas.” It also doubles as my wish list. FYI. Happy Holidays!

Theatre Books

Your Holiday Gift Guide: Theatre Books

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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: Chris Jones on the Changing State of Journalism

  • Whether you’re interested in the rapidly shifting landscape of arts journalism, or curious about my time recently spent at the O’Neill Center’s National Critics Institute, check out Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones’ interview over at Playbill. He digs into the inherent demands of criticism today and spouts little morsels of wisdom, like “the top of any mountaintop, perceived or real, is a very lonely place to be.” This is insightful stuff from one of the most insightful critics of them all.
  • If you’re a Harry Potter fan, drop whatever you’re doing and go read Daniel Dalton’s incredibly hilarious walkthroughs of his first time watching the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Chamber of Secrets, and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They’re full of irreverent tidbits like this:

#finallywatchingHP

Smart Reads: Butts, Bonnets, and BRING ME MY DRAGONS

Butts

  • Butts. Is there anything sillier or more uncomfortable to talk about than butts? New York Magazine’s Maureen O’Connor musters up a helluva lot of courage and curiosity to explore an aspect of modern sexuality that may be approaching, if not mainstream acceptance, than at least a more relaxed attitude among vocal heterosexuals. Her writing is frank and personal and utterly shocking in every way. If, like me, you’re embarrassed about such topics, reading this will be a fantastically visceral experience. I blushed, I squirmed, I absolutely howled with laughter. It’s such an awkward subject, even linking to it makes me fidgety. (Mom? Gramma? Click at your own risk.)
  • Speaking of howling with laughter, Mike Berlin’s recent Standing Ovation column in Backstage is a stop-whatever-you’re-doing must-read. His description of Naomi Watts’ performance in I Heart Huckabees is so good, it’s like watching the movie in literary form. Continue reading

Smart #tbt of the Day: This Freaking Amazing Quote From Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron

“…[I]n case of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind….”

Nora EphronCommencement Address To Wellesley College Class Of 1996

Smart Reads: In Praise of Kathryn Schulz in Praise of George Eliot

George Eliot's Middlemarch

This comes several weeks late and a bit out of left field, but I would like to say a few words about the art of written criticism and the power of eloquent praise. In particular I would like to praise Kathryn Schulz’s praise of George Eliot in a recent issue of New York Magazine. Continue reading