26 May, 2007

Mrs. Lovett/Mr. Lovett

    Those on the BroadwayWorld.com message boards have recently been discussing the possibility of men playing women’s roles – not in drag, but as men. Most don’t see a problem, calling the idea “interesting,” “fun,” or “a challenge for the actors.” Interest, fun, and experiment are all well and good, but these folks are missing the point entirely:


    At its heart, theatre is telling a story – live and in front of people. Stories can be anywhere from devastatingly bad to unbelievably excellent. The excellent stories – the ones that grip your imagination and won’t let it go, the ones that leave you completely satisfied, yet yearning for more – those are the stories that stay within the vast bounds of truth. Stories with myriads of characters, all archetypes, but all unique. Characters who have their own voice, quirks, pet peeves, obsessions, and joys interacting with characters who have a completely different voice and set of circumstances. Characters who could never swap places with another without drastically changing the story. You wouldn’t dare say that Macbeth and Hamlet are interchangeable, or even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, for that matter.

    These irreplaceable characters, just like us, are shaped by their unique backgrounds, and that includes gender. No matter what the latest postmodern thinker tries to tell you, men and women are inherently different. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” But we need no Biblical declaration or scientific study to tell us what we can easily discern by fifteen minutes of watching children on a playground. Boys and girls think differently, react differently, and grow differently.

    And that is why Mrs. Lovett could never legitimately be a Mr. Lovett. A Mr. Lovett, gay or not, would have a completely different back story and would react to situations in a wildly different way than Mrs. Lovett. Switching genders would change Lovett’s relationship with Toby from a creepy motherly one to God knows what and Lovett’s relationship with Sweeney to some weird gay/straight/straight love triangle. Instead of the exploration of vengeance that the show is, it would become some exploration of political correctness and gay propaganda in a backdrop of horror. And that, needless to say, was not the author’s intention.

    Good writers weave their stories very carefully. Everything becomes intentional, often down to the color of a person’s hair or a well-placed comma. Changing even the littlest thing can change the truth of a story and diminish its excellence. If you want to write some gay love story, be my guest, but don’t ruin the excellent stories of others for your own personal crusade.

25 May, 2007

Spring Awakening Abridged

    Gotta love BroadwayAbridged.com. Here's Mr. Varod slaughtering Spring Awakening with sharp and hilarious satire.

23 May, 2007

I Don't Do Foulness

    You might be wondering why I haven’t followed the theatre world at large in writing a gushing recommendation of Spring Awakening. After all, it did garner 11 Tony nominations (that’s every eligible category but two) and 4 Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical. That’s gotta be good for something, right? Well, that depends on who you ask.

    New York Times theatre critic Charles Isherwood will give you some drivel about adolescent sexual discovery, other critics will drone on about raw teen angst, and message board theatre queens will overwhelm you with effusions about how there’s “finally” a show that “really gets” them. That is, as you may recall, the same thing they said about Hair and RENT in their heydays. And like RENT, Spring Awakening does have some truly catchy songs. “Mama Who Bore Me” captures an insistence and a certain measure of angst that few composers have been able to, including the marvelous dissonances in its reprise. Unfortunately, the lyrics fail to tell us what the characters are insistent about or where their angst is coming from. Oops.

    The other notable song is the regrettably lyriked “The Bitch of Living.” It’s one of the catchiest tunes I’ve heard on Broadway this season, but it falls into the trap of assuming foul language and artistic genius are synonymous.

    It’s this overall foulness that prevents me from recommending it. The taglines alone are enough to warn discerning theatergoers. “A barrier-breaking fusion of morality, sexuality, and rock & roll.” “A story of uncontrollable emotions and undeniable passion, of first love and lasting regrets.” There’s not much redeemable in a story about “sexually repressed” 14-year-olds who get into all sorts of trouble because of their ignorance, including having the sex they’ve been repressing (you get to see it, too!), masturbation (live, and on stage!), pregnancy, botched abortion, and suicide.

    Overall, Spring Awakening is so antithetical to truth, goodness, and beauty that it has become the best argument for theatrical reformation. If you want to see truly great theatre, save yourself the airfare and catch the tour of The Light in the Piazza.

22 May, 2007

N.D. Wilson's Leepike Ridge

    Read this book.

    Even if you're not a kid, you'll thoroughly enjoy it.

Shepherding Boredom

    The Good Shepherd is a really long movie.  For a film about the genesis of the CIA, it has about as much intrigue as a small town farmer's convention.  I was was so bored, I actually shut it off halfway through.  I'll never know what the payoff is (if there is one), but I'm certainly not fretting over it.