Tag Archives: theater

Arguendo – Bringing the Supreme Court to Life

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Just back from NYC where I saw 16 performances in 10 days, the entire Prototype Festival of new opera, co presented by HERE Art Center and Beth Morrison Projects, and large chunks of the Under the Radar festival at the Public Theater.

That’s a lot of theater. And much of it was fantastic. When asked which productions have left the most pronounced impression, I quickly respond with Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Life and Times, Parts 1-4, and Elevator Repair Service‘s Arguendo as a close second. Both works deal with a similar approach to text, taking natural speech and transforming it through a theatrical process.

Elevator Repair Service, best known for their monumental Gatz, which consists of a theatrical reading of the entire text of The Great Gatsby, turns to the Supreme Court. They take the literal transcriptions of the oral arguments of a 1991 case regarding the constitutionality of a state ban on nude dancing and distribute the text between three performers, two of them taking on the roles of each of the justices, and one of them taking the role of both attorneys arguing the case. The delivery is slightly heightened, the “errs”, “aahs”, throat clearings and coughs are slightly more deliberate and exaggerated than they would be in natural speech. The demeanor of the individual judges are clearly delineated, it’s was delightful to watch Susie Sokol switch from the prim Sandra Day O’Conner to the scrappy Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Scalia’s bullying intellect is well rendered, but such details are likely to be noticed only by folks who pay close attention to the supreme court. Similarly, it’s unclear how well most audience members would follow the legal aspects of the arguments, with a fairly complex web of citations to previous cases. In an adapted text, an author would likely streamline and provide expository context for each citation, but no such leeway is given and as a result, large chunks of the text descend into legal babble. This is in no way a criticism, it is simply a byproduct of the process, and part of the charm of the performance.

Countering the babble are the surreal and often very funny scenarios the justices regularly hypothesize to test the extreme boundaries of the arguments, as well as the naughtiness of the subject at hand juxtaposed against the formality of the proceedings. In addition there is a large projection of a microfiche filled with citations and legal text that is manipulated by the participants to highlight the area of the law that they’re currently discussing. The piece works itself into a frenzy of absurdity as papers are strewn over the floor, justices push themselves across the room on their wheeled chairs, and the attorney shouts their final arguments regarding nudity, expression, and the first amendment.

The piece is still considered “in progress”, although it felt in fine shape to me. Granted, as something of a supreme court fan and law junkie, I’ma pretty ideal audience member. The oral arguments of the supreme court are inherently theater, although of a very different sort than what is usually presented at the Public. Arguments are less about a working out of the legal issues at hand and more about justices signaling to the other justices what legal issues are occupying their minds, preparing for the deliberations that will happen behind closed doors. But for the public, the oral arguments and the final decisions are often the only insights into the court’s thinking. In transforming this text into a live performance, Elevator Repair Service has provided a vital and entertaining exploration of the issue of expression and censorship as well as the workings of the supreme court.

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Theater worth fighting for

In last week’s talk about theater, Tim Crouch lamented what he saw as theater’s betrayal of its own strengths, its own theatricality. Most pieces, as well as most audience’s expectations, rely heavily on naturalism, costumes, sets, and dialogue that create the illusion that some other part of of the world was surgically cut out ofContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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Tim Crouch on “How Not To Act”

One of the nice perks of working at Pixar (did I mention I work at Pixar? I don’t usually bring it up, since it rarely has anything to do with my blog) is a constant stream of classes, speakers, and first run movies that are available to employees at no cost. Last week, hosted byContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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The real reason I’m in theater…

It’s not the applause. It’s not the artistic satisfaction. And it’s certainly not the payday. It’s the facial hair. More importantly, it’s the “get out of shaving that ridiculous beard off despite your wife’s desperate protestations free” card that I get with each show. Honestly, the directors don’t even ask me to grow facial hair.Continue Reading

3 Responses to The real reason I’m in theater…

  1. Todd Schurk says:

    I couldn’t agree more!

  2. That last picture is actually Koloth from “The Trouble with Tribbles”, 1967.

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Tweaking a masterpiece: Assassins

Few, if any, musicals mine darker creative ore than Assassins. By humanizing a group of disenfranchised, semi-stable malcontents, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman tell a story of the American Nightmare, a haze of anger, frustration, and humiliation that can, apparently, only be relieved by killing the President of the United States. It’s long been inContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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Kushner, Communism, Serialism, and Obsolescence

Tony Kushner’s epic play The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures (currently playing at the Public Theater) is a hyper intellectualized allegory disguised as a family drama about a clan of hyper-intellectuals. The action centers around the patriarch, Gus, a lifetime communist who has lived long enough toContinue ReadingContinue Reading

2 Responses to Kushner, Communism, Serialism, and Obsolescence

  1. I too feel more alienated from popular culture with each passing day. Maybe I’m getting old. In any case, there’s plenty of unpopular culture out there. More of it every day, in fact. I already have enough CDs to last a lifetime, and new ones are being released faster than anybody could listen to them. As the world changes, some people lose out. I mostly think, though, that people who really like classical music aren’t among them.

    • Brian Rosen says:

      Agreed. But people who like to compose serial music and then have their pieces performed by large ensembles may be. Maybe.

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A Tale Of Two Spaces (em and Z) Review: Companion Piece and A Hand in Desire

I’ve been heard to complain about the lack of experimental theater in the Bay Area, but this week has paid off quite nicely with two pieces that make me feel quite a bit more optimistic about San Francisco’s willingness to take chances with non-narrative theater. On Tuesday I saw a very early preview of ZContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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Review: Jerry Springer – The Opera

Jerry Springer The Opera is the best piece of theater I’ve seen in San Francisco this year. Irreverent, blasphemous, profane, sure. That’s a given. What’s surprising is how effective this immensely challenging work is, how well suited this subject is to a full operatic treatment. And there should be no doubt about it, this isContinue ReadingContinue Reading

2 Responses to Review: Jerry Springer – The Opera

  1. Drove past the venue, sadly, and didn’t have time to see it last week. Now, I’m extra disappointed. Great review, Brian!

  2. David Rodwin says:

    Glad to hear it was good, but I’ll never forgive JS: The Opera from stealing my thunder at Edinburgh in 2002. I was premiering my opera “Monks & Sluts (and Statesmen, oh my!) and on title alone most of my potential crowd was siphoned away. So I never saw the damn thing. Simultaneously, A Bombity of Errors had it’s UK premiere at that fringe. A friend of mine was in it (Joe Kolski) and it was the best hip hop theatrical venture I’ve ever seen. They even transferred to the West end for a 6 month run.

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Review: Lovesong of the Electric Bear

Lovesong of the Electric Bear by Snoo Wilson dir Cheryl Faraone July 13-August 1 Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W 16th St http://www.potomactheatreproject.org/ Performance reviewed 7/11/2010 (preview) Regular readers of this blog know that I have a taste for the surreal and irrational in theater.  What they may not know is that I happen to haveContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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Tobias Picker starts foodie trend in New York

Apparently, when Tobias Picker eats, broadway listens.  Mere weeks after Mr. Picker was spotted at a Petaluma Applebee’s, broadway heart-throb Hunter Ryan Herdlicka told Playbill magazine that Applebee’s was the perfect spot to catch a post-show snack.  He even singled out the spinach and artichoke dip! Maybe the New York Times will send a critic to TasteContinue Reading

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