Theater In the X 2016

Nan is a cis white-ish actor/maker, an intersectional feminist, queer, and a major dweeb. She was going to include a more specific bit about her ethnicity or race but it got complicated.

Becca is a Native-Philadelphian-Egyptian-American-Queer-Intersectional maker, poet, and actor. Further ethnicity details also complicated.

Puka is a New England native Black(Kriola) director, playwright and dramaturg.  

Becca: Always a great first question- What did you have in your pockets going in?

 

Nan: I recently met LaNeshe Miller-White, who runs it and was in the show, and I’ve worked with Walter DeShields before– this was my first Theatre in the X experience

 

Becca: This was also my first Theatre in the X experience.

 

Puka:  I work with LaNeshe. And I saw Othello last year.

 

Becca: I work with Richard Bradford. I don’t know about y’all, but I felt at home, with family, the second I got there. The smell of food, the people, the costumes, even the torrential downpour outside. It was just the most Philly thing.

 

Puka:  It was so homey!  And Christina May, the MC was everyone’s fun cousin at the family reunion. She’s was a great palate cleanser between the weighty pieces.

 

Nan: It was an incredibly generous crowd for sure. I loved the real feeling of camaraderie and community, and the park setting that brought it all together. The rain was an amazing setting for that experience. It was like an additional set/sound piece through the first two pieces.

 

Puka: Yeah, I was totally terrified about the electrics, but that’s outdoor theatre for you.

Nan: Yeah, the rain could have really destroyed the experience but it ended up providing a really amazing backdrop by literally bringing everyone closer in together.

 

Puka: And the silence of our surroundings

 

Nan: It made for a really intimate experience.

 

Becca: I LOVE watching strangers stop and peer in. And the sound of kids playing in the background. Just a constant natural reminder of the importance of this company. Let’s talk about the first piece: Suzan Lori-Parks’ The New Black Math. I didn’t even know it was a play for like the first 5 minutes. Wow. Way to bring us in. Based actually off of an essay, I hear?

 

Nan: Was it an essay? That’s really interesting. I was thinking about the way it felt more like a piece of text that they brought to life dramatically in a majorly successful way, which was a challenge because it isn’t conversational prose as much as it is poetry. But director Andre G Brown energized it in a really exciting way from the first line.

 

Becca: And the physicality was so recognizable from growing up in Philly.

 

Puka: It was a great opener. It was fresh and relatable but readied our ears for the meatiness to follow.

 

Nan: It really did. I thought the order of the pieces was really great.

 

Puka: The second piece was an excerpt from The Meeting, by Jeff Stetson.

 

Puka: That was great.

 

Becca: It was insane.

 

Nan: I’m not sure how to start talking about it! Carlo Campbell’s performance as Malcolm X was ridiculously good. As was Walter DeShields’ Martin Luther King. What amazing performances.

 

Becca: Even Rich Bradford, who played the bodyguard, carried that weight.  I think I held my breath.

 

Nan: They had the audience in the palms of their hands.

 

Becca: That text is so complex and yet there was a real unity in the room in the end. It got a standing ovation.

 

Nan: It was the only of the three pieces that didn’t break the fourth wall, but the audience was so vocal that it was like a conversation.

 

Puka: It was so refreshing to see Carlo Campbell have to focus himself in a character that we are familiar with. I felt like he’s always allowed to be explosively Carlo and this had so much restraint. I couldn’t breathe.

 

Nan: I’ve never seen Carlo’s work before but I could tell he was being very restrained, and that power kept everyone on the edges of their chairs.

 

Nan: And the two performers’ chemistry and dynamic was just tremendous.

 

Puka: But Costume note. After the 1st time they arm wrestle and the suit jackets come off, they should’ve stayed off until the exit. The putting back on and buttoning was distracting and felt forced. It should’ve only happened again for the last moment. It would have shown the progression of them warming up to each other. That’s my only critique. I thought it was fabulous, but as a director I wanted them to stop fussing with their clothes.

Nan: I do appreciate the effort put into the accuracy of the costumes, but it was distracting. I think it would have been less noticeable if we weren’t in the heat in the rain, though.

 

Becca: Yes, the costumes were beautiful.

 

Nan: I was curious if they were meant to be very evenly matched, because it seemed so clear to me that Malcolm X was “winning” until the very end. I think in retrospect it may have been commentary on how the argument for “violence” (which isn’t exactly what he was calling for but I’ll label the argument that way for the sake of discussion) is sometimes the more audible choice in that discussion. But I was curious about whether the audience was meant to be more won over by him than MLK, because our audience was so on his side. He also had some really great zinger lines in that direction.

 

Becca: Yes, but I think Martin has this ethereal energy: a godly man with peace on his side. As soon as he spoke- I didn’t feel like they were arguing or that Malcolm was winning. Just that they were two sides of the same coin.

 

Nan: You’re right, calling it winning is oversimplification. I guess I was curious about the intentions of the playwright/director/actors in terms of the audience’s journey.

 

Becca: I think the desire to be on the side of violence is just so powerful because we are all so angry! And then Martin comes in and shows this pure love, even the love of a child, and your heart drops and the whole wrestle starts over.

 

Nan: Yeah, absolutely. By the end of the play we aren’t meant to be on either side, I think. I wasn’t. But it was hard not to respond very strongly to what Malcolm was saying

 

Becca: Agreed. But I think that says more about where we are as a people than the script or even the direction.

 

Nan: Yeah. It was amazing how it brought out such a vocal response in the audience! The third piece was Love Queens, by Jamila Capitman and Heather Thomas.

 

Becca: We got the abridged version on the night we saw it because of the rain.

 

Puka: I wanted more. I found myself engaged with some of them and lost with others.

 

Becca: It’s a series of monologues so I think that they cut a bunch. There was supposed to be some other climax that was missing in this version. It ended up having multiple mini climaxes but no pinnacle. Some were so full and some were too short or too vague.

 

Nan: I’m really curious about how the piece came to be. It felt like a series of monologues that could have been written by the performers.

 

Becca: I agree! But it only credits 2 writers. But it does say curated!

Nan: I would have loved a little bit in the program that talks about the piece.

 

Becca: But overall, for an abridged piece it has a lot of meat! I’m excited how it unpacks. We need a black girl magic show please!

 

Puka: Black girl magic show happens every time I fluff out my afro.

 

Becca: You are a black girl magic show!

 

Becca: One last thing about Theatre in the X. There was a mentally handicapped man in the audience. I have seen other theatre companies react badly to loud responses, and comments from audience members and I was very moved by the welcoming in of this man by both the members of the company and the audience. That deserves notice. I would also like to recognize the encouragement of audience response on an overall level by Theatre in the X, which is a huge cultural barrier that prevents poc from entering theatres,under the guise of Theatre Etiquette/ Respectability Politics.

 

Puka: They are a necessity. They make theatre accessible. Period. They need to be uplifted encouraged and funded to bring theatre to all major parks in the city

 

Nan: Absolutely! It was so cool to see professional level theater in a park and with all the stuffy “theatre rules” stripped away.

 

Puka: The guy I bought with me to the show said he was shocked at the caliber of the actors. I picked his brain (audience development style) because he’s literally everyone’s dream target demographic non-artist working millennial. He said he would’ve easily paid up to $25

 

Becca: Free theatre is so important and I was so moved!
Nan: Agreed for sure. Here’s to Theatre in the X!

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Satisfaction- Philadelphia Women’s Theater Festival

Annie is white and a feminist but tries not to be a ‘white feminist’; she is also a dramaturg.

Nora is also white and a feminist, and is a dramaturg, writer, and actress

 

Annie

So let’s empty our pockets! I think first of all we have to make clear that we saw a reading, not a full production.

Nora

Yes, important distinction between a piece in development and a full production.

Annie

I also know one of the actors and the director, Cat Ramirez, and I like Cat’s work generally.

Nora

 Cat is a long-time friend of mine and she’s directed me in a piece before.

Annie

And finally I think I need to put out there that I have a complicated relationship with the Women’s Theater Festival as an institution. I think that the festival has a serious problem with intersectionality. All of the women who run it are white, and the work presented is largely by white women, as well. A quick scan through this season reveals almost all white artists, mostly in their 20’s/30’s with  a small number of exceptions– including this collaboration with Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists. I don’t know how they looked at the image on their season guide with all of those headshots, saw so few faces of color and didn’t reflect that there is a serious lack of inclusivity in this festival.

Nora

Very interesting! I don’t really have a relationship with the festival, but I did go to the same university as the creators and have friends participating in the festival in other works.

Annie

I want to be supportive of this endeavor, because I think part of being a good feminist is not tearing down other women. At at the same time, I’m really bothered by the limited female experience that the festival presents.

Nora

I think reaching out to PAPA was an attempt to broaden the presentation of female experience.

Annie

I was happy to see them reach out to PAPA. And I was hoping that it would help change my feeling about the festival. So I was disappointed that I had a lot of problems with this script. Both in structure, and content.

Nora

I agree. Let’s tackle one first and then move to the next. My issue with the structure was its predictability. Expectation inevitably leads to boredom, because we get ahead of it, so to speak. It was always “scene with two women, sex scene with man, scene with two women, sex scene with man.”

Annie

That’s a good point. And part of that boredom came from the fact that there wasn’t any real conflict.

Nora

It was a rom com without conflict. Just women existing sexually is not enough to make a dynamic night of theatre.

Annie

I was also frustrated by the fact that none of the characters changed or grew.  Which is a shame, because if this script  has something redeemable, it’s that there are quite a few interesting ideas in there. Teddy is a potentially very interesting character. She’s quite cruel. What causes her to behave that way? Why does Sammy want to be friends with her? I’m bothered that Teddy is a really abusive friend, but she doesn’t ever have to answer for it. The script absolves her.

Nora

Nothing says “good friend” like talking to your lady boo while she vomits from anxiety in the bathroom.

Annie

And nothing says ‘go to therapy’ like a friend who constantly ridicules your choices and ignores what you want.

Nora

I don’t always need a resolution in my plays (and sometimes I prefer no resolutions), but there was never a “come to Jesus” moment. Teddy needed to be challenged.

Annie

Yeah, I think that’s what I mean.

Nora

A play examining Teddy and Sammy’s relationship as they try to navigate the complicated world of sex would be something to go on, but this was a very surface-level piece, never any diving deeper. Maybe the play is attempting to tackle too much? It’s very disjointed.

Annie

How do you mean?

Nora

We have Teddy and her mentee, Teddy’s sexual hangups, Sammy’s inability to connect with a lasting relationship, Alex’s issues with her husband….it’s a lot, and we never get to explore any one issue fully. Nothing gets to breathe.

Annie

I think you just hit on why this play offends my feminist sensibilities. It seems to think that all of those things are one thing: dissatisfaction of women at the hands of men in romantic relationships. And it posits men and romance as the appropriate source of satisfaction.

Nora

…because only a man can satisfy a woman fully. #girlbye

Annie

The ending is particularly infuriating because it presents women as exactly what men accuse us of being: incredibly needy but with no clearly articulated need. We just want it to be ‘about us’ whatever that means. Where it = heterosexual relationships.

Nora

Don’t get me wrong, I love that these women are articulating their desires. But it’s all wrapped up in clichés.

Annie

I feel that ‘an orgasm’ is the only clearly articulated desire– but in all the sex scenes, the women are uncommunicative.

They stare at the ceiling while their partners fail to give them what they want and need, then they complain to their girlfriends about it.

Nora

Most of those sex scenes seemed like they were there for the easy laugh. Sex is still very taboo in this country, so there were some missed opportunities to unpack that.

Annie

I also want to point out that the play is a little homophobic. Jokes about how guys who take care of their bodies are gay are outdated, and those jokes feed into the kind of double standard the play purports to criticize.

Nora

Yikes, I didn’t even think of that! But now we’re coming into another big issue: what is this piece saying about diversity?

Annie

Yes, I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

Nora

In the blurb, it claims to be about “four straight women of a certain race.”

Annie

It’s very complicated. Because on the one hand, it’s great to see this very powerful and sexually confident Asian woman in Teddy. Maybe it’s great that these are four Asian women and they rarely talk about Asianness. But part of me wonders what this has to say about the straight Asian female experience that it doesn’t say about the female experience. Ultimately, I shouldn’t be the person to comment on that. I’m not going to tell an Asian writer that her play isn’t Asian enough.

Nora

Here’s the thing though. If you want to write a play that explores the Asian female experience with sex and relationships, then do that. But this piece just felt like the general female experience with sex and relationships.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but then why state that the piece is speaking to Asianness as well?

Annie

Maybe she just wanted to make sure Asian women got a chance to be part of that general conversation?

Nora

I could see that. But then make this play their story. I would hate it if some jackass decided to cast this as an all white production. And unfortunately, the writing doesn’t help against that.

Annie

I hope AAPI women will come in and comment on this. I’d be very curious to hear what they have to say about it

Nora

I’m really torn about it, honestly.

Annie

Me, too.

Nora

Because you’re absolutely right. A play shouldn’t have to telegraph Asianness. Asian women should be allowed to talk about their experiences without someone from the outside labeling it as specifically Asian.

Annie

If you were asked to dramaturg this script, what advice would you give to Nandita Shenoy?

Nora

Oof that’s a tough one. I would want to begin with asking Shenoy what her major dramatic question is. Right now, the point she is trying to make is unclear to me. What big question about the universe is she trying to explore?

A play should be in service of diving into that question. Shenoy needs to narrow things down. When she streamlines, a lot of things will naturally fall into place.

Annie

My major complaint about this play is that it doesn’t seem aware of what people are saying about these issues right now. There are a lot of conversations in the public sphere about women and sex, and not at least availing yourself of that information makes the play seem out of touch. 

Nora

Sex is a constantly evolving landscape; it’s difficult to stay ahead of it.

Annie

I think I’m annoyed because women obsessing about romantic relationships all the time is not true to my experience of life or of female friendships. This play had four female characters and it still didn’t pass the Bechdel test. Women talk about men at work, at yoga, in a conversation that’s supposed to be about mentorship. No wonder no one wants to date these women, they’re boring. Literally all they ever talk about is men.  There is ONE POINT where two characters start talking about something else, and then the other says “enough about that, how’s your man? That’s where the play lost me completely.

Nora

And “I like what he does for your dancing?” CRINGE. I physically balked at that.

Annie

But then, maybe that IS some women experience.  Everything doesn’t have to be for me.

Nora

I don’t think it’s just you. I was pretty frustrated as well. Even women who DO have that kind of life should be given more credit. There are other things underlying those romantic and sexual needs that deserve to be voiced.

Annie

I think that’s what I’m getting at. That if you explore something as an artist,  you have a responsibility to dig deeper.

Nora

If Shenoy cuts some of the fat from the script, she’ll be able to dig deeper. It’s all about the streamlining and specificity.

Annie

I agree wholeheartedly. We should talk about this staged reading, because it was great!

Nora

Absolutely! And I want to give a special shout out to Noah Breymeier. He had the least to hold onto because he just played a stream of interchangeable men. But he was committed to every role. There wasn’t a lot to distinguish the men from each other, but Breymeier gave just enough for me to recognize the differences.

Annie

He did a fantastic job. He was so game, and so endearing. I also think that Twoey Truong was great as Teddy. She showed some vulnerability in a very tough character.  Her pacing (with credit to director Cat Ramirez here as well) was great.

Nora

She was very “Gilmore Girls,” which I personally appreciated. She breezed through the dialogue with a great attention to rhythm (credit to Cat again for facilitating this).

Annie

And I think that Stephanie Walters was equally endearing as Sammy.

Nora

She was sunshine in yoga pants.

Annie

God bless those poor actresses stuck playing Cecily and Alex. There was nothing to work with there, and they brought it.

Nora

Exactly. Mina Kawahara and Ru Pujara were both quite charming, so it was such a disservice for them to not have a chance to bite into something more meaty for the long haul. In future revisions, I hope their characters are given more time to develop.

Annie

Or cut.

Nora

Or that. As it stands, they could be cut without much fuss.

Annie

We’ve shouted out to Cat Ramirez a couple of times, but I want to say that I’m really impressed with her treatment of the script. She managed to keep the performance dynamic, despite the fact that the script wasn’t. She created levels, even with music stands. She was very mindful about what to stage and what not to. The pace was very good.

Nora

She guided things in such a way that it helped me visualize what a full production of this play might look like. That’s not always an easy feat with a staged reading.

Annie

I think the yoga stuff was very successful. And created a visual conflict in the scene. So great work all around.

Nora

So, how do you feel about PWTF after seeing “Satisfaction?” I hope they continue these kinds of partnerships with other similar organizations in the future.

Annie

I hope so too, but I feel like some deeper soul searching is needed. Reaching out to PAPA was a good first step and it’s an evolving festival

Nora

Exactly. This is only their second year. Inclusivity certainly seems like a goal for them. Maybe next year they’ll expand on that.

 

Boeing Boeing- Hedgerow Theater


Sally is a feminist android of color who is attempting to discover what it means to be human, kind of like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation but for Philadelphia theatre reviews.

Tracker is a man who is naturally biased against the experiential knowledge of anyone who isn’t a cisgender man.

 

Tracker: So, what was in your pockets for this show?

Sally: Before attending this play, I read that Boeing Boeing is a 1960 French farce by Marc Camoletti about a man who has 3 air stewardess fiancées that meet by accident when a new faster Boeing jet brings them all together. Ugh.

Tracker: What I knew about the play was that it was a farce and it was probably going to be pretty sexist. Also, we were provided comp tickets by Hedgerow Theatre Company to review this show.

Sally: Oh yeah, and that. Also I was somewhat familiar with the history of Hedgerow Theatre and the work of the director Damon Bonetti.

Tracker: I myself had only seen one production at Hedgerow before: their production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. That might have also affected my experiencing this play.

Sally: While we did attend a Sunday matinee, it became apparent that we were among the youngest members of the audience.

Tracker:  By a lot. I don’t think more than two other people in the audience were within 15 years of us in age. Also we were literally the only people of color on the audience that I could see.

Sally: Yep. Which set up an uncomfortable first impression compounded only still by the sentiments from the curtain speech by Hedgerow company member Zoran Kovcic, along the lines of “you think you know how this will end, but you don’t.” Well, I was almost certain this play would be aggravating, and to that end my expectations were met.

Tracker:  I actually took that line from the curtain speech as a personal challenge. But then told my man-self to calm down and see what was to happen. Even though in the end, I knew how everything would go and how it would turn out: regrettably.

Sally: Yes. Men engaging in the deception, manipulation, and gaslighting of women, and with no real consequences. Everyone is happy at the end! Don’t we all just need a comedy, a little fun?

Tracker: That’s worth questioning: if what we need right now is comedy for comfort, who is it that Hedgerow was trying to comfort by telling this story? This idea of “What we need right now is some simple comedy!” is pervasive in these current trying times. But where are we reaching to for that comfort?

Sally: And how? It makes me shudder to remember the lothario main character Bernard divulging his clever ruse to his seemingly innocent and wholesome friend Robert, and how charmed the audience appeared to be. Ha! Oh but what an endearing rascal he is!

Tracker: And when Robert showed his particularly predatory side, demanding a second kiss from Gretchen after she kissed him, mistaking the brunette white man for her brunette white Bernard. Oh, how the audience roared with approval for his sexual predation and demands!

Sally: And for an audience that had some really strong vocal opinions about sexuality–but you know, only women’s expressions of brazen sexuality–they sure didn’t seem to mind that this guy shares a bedroom with three different women.

Tracker:  In the first scene between Bernard and Robert, Robert makes some mealy-mouth sounds towards Bernard’s behavior being “immoral” before he himself (as a proxy of the audience) gets on board with Bernard’s escapades.

Sally:And got real rapey real quickly.

Tracker: The men in the play, by the text itself, are blatantly abusive, selfish, manipulative scum. Nothing is really redeemable about them. And to make the excuse that “it’s just a joke”, or “they’re broad caricatures because farce” doesn’t really soften the apparent message, especially when none of them face any real consequence for their actions. I was also curious as to why Berthe, Bernard’s live-in maid, wants to aid Bernard’s behavior in any way, considering how much ostensible disdain she shows for him in the text.

Sally: And what a contrast she is to the overt femininity of the 3 fiancées. Sexless. She has no real relationships with anyone in the play. I think when two of the fiancées meet and begin to get along I was pleased only because the female relationships until that point were the minimal interactions between Berthe and any given fiancée, which was only clear in the beginning of the play when Berthe and Gloria the American fiancée don’t get on. The rest of the play, Berthe’s relationships with the women were a wash of “I’m complicit in this guy’s scheme for no good reason.” Also, let’s pause on the idea that Berthe somehow came with the apartment and Bernard “inherited” her with the property.

Tracker: And in his words, “let her stay”.

Sally: How compassionate of Bernard.

Tracker: In another horrific turn, Gretchen’s sudden turn to “falling in love” with Robert was also as gross as it was nonsensical. This, after Robert’s obscene sexual harassment of Gretchen.

Sally: Oh Jesus at one point he ran into the bedroom and I thought, “A sexual assault is about to happen and this audience is going to love it.”

Tracker: By grace or by negligence, it didn’t happen.

Sally: I really wanted these men to suffer more. And other than their stiffy staged moments of panicked fits as they try to keep their stories straight and avoid detection, they suffered nothing. The stakes never seemed that high to me. At the very worst, all of the fiancees would have discovered the deception and dumped him, only for him to find new victims for his scheme.

Tracker: Right. For a farce, the stakes never really felt absurdly elevated. Just absurdly aggravating.

Sally: Speaking of those fits of panic, oof, Andrew Parcell as Bernard picking up that awful beanbag chair and holding it over his head, what was that?

Tracker: It was… a lazzo? Or just a bad choice. So yes, we had been talking about the script. Let’s talk about the production.

Sally: I really enjoyed Hanna Gaffney’s Gabriella. Strongest of the women in the ensemble to me. Great Italian dialect work. Great energy. Specificity.

Tracker: I agree as well. She really wrung a lot of character out of the cardboard cutout that was written for her. For Robert Lambert, Mark Swift had done very competent physical work and was evident in the way he controlled himself onstage.

Sally: Consistent Wisconsin dialect, too.

Tracker: I thought Trice Baldwin had decent stage presence for her Berthe as well. Her vocal work I would’ve wanted to be more consistent. Sometimes I thought she was German.

Sally: I think she was most competent in that French dialect during scenes with Allison Bloechl’s competing German dialect as Gretchen, but individually I had difficulty understanding them. French and German are difficult dialects for the stage altogether; the more authentic they are, the less intelligible. So it’s challenging to find a middle ground.

Tracker: I’m wondering if Bloechl was having an off show on Sunday. Her bio lists her as a registered actor-combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors, and I know from personal experience how much training and testing that takes for that status. But her physical work on Sunday’s show was uneven and noticeably uncontrolled.

Sally: Yes, I saw her fall into/miss that chair a bit, and she wobbled on her heels in her first scene and I was worried she would fall over. I think she bounced back once she could take the lead in her scenes with Swift as Robert, though.

Meredith Beck as Gloria was very physical, she sort of jumped all around the furniture like a gymnast. I was annoyed that her take on female empowerment, albeit reinforcing gender roles, was played for laughs.

Tracker: The way she spoke about American gender roles in marriage emerging in 1960s New York could have been a screed taken straight out of a men’s rights activist blog post. I felt like the script intentionally made her that way to be regressive in tone.

Sally: Arguably she has the happiest ending of the play. She leaves Bernard for a Mexican millionaire. Although all three women deserved better than Bernard.

Tracker: In that moment I was honestly glad for her. I just wish it also hurt Bernard in any way. Personal preference.

Sally: Dude was barely inconvenienced at any point in this play.

Tracker: Let’s also talk about Andrew Parcell’s performance of Bernard. To me, it felt like Parcell didn’t recognize his role as the straight man in this comedy, which made for a very uneven, inconsistent performance—or if he recognized that role, he struggled against it.

Sally: Yes. It was a strange dynamic between his Bernard and Swift’s Robert.

Like that moment where he sort of awkwardly scuttles under that shelf in one of his fits of panic? Wasn’t earned. Swift did it a few minutes later and it was funnier, but weird that they both did it.

Tracker: Right. There was an odd lack of commitment to it, which makes it look like he wasn’t committed to the straight-man role. For an ensemble-focused theatre and an ensemble-necessary play, I often felt like he was outside of the play.

Sally: I saw moments like that in a few performances. Could’ve been a matinee, but I saw some dead-eyed, wait-until-the-end-of-your-line-so-I-can-say-mine acting. Could’ve also been the physical demands of the scene taking precedence. If the play needs me to like Bernard, I didn’t and I don’t think he earned it.

Tracker: Agreed. The script itself is bad, in both messaging and dramaturgy, and the production was somewhere around competent.

Sally: Thoughts on the production design?

Tracker: The set was okay. It had doors that met the needs of the action of the play. The color scheme kind of confused me. I think it was supposed to evoke the 1960s, but it didn’t feel unified or intentional enough. It was pastels that kind of sat together in a room without talking to each other.

Sally: Did it feel unfinished to you? It did to me.

Tracker: There were definitely finish work errors I could see in the set. Maybe there was supposed to be an actual paint treatment or texture instead of flat color? None of the doors were painted with enough coats, either.

The set dressing was also, well, bad. You mentioned the bean bag chair. The art on the walls also made no sense, almost looked 70s.

Sally:  I just really want to say I hate that beanbag chair so much. So ugly and out-of-place. The ladies should have dumped Bernard for his terrible taste in decor alone, a grown man with a beanbag chair in the living room.

It seemed like the lighting came to a point and then just … stopped.

Tracker: Yes. The lighting was both flat and poorly focused. While usually actors’ faces were lit, sometimes they seemed to stumble into odd dark spots.

A farce could have used more color choices in the lighting. I think there were two, which were basically color-correction and not fun choices for a broad comedy, to help the audience reach a heightened place. Oh, I remember they used a window gobo. Once. In the opening scene. No other gobo or texture was used ever again.

Sally: The lighting capabilities were really limited, not sure if it’s by design or the space.

Tracker: It could be either, true. Significantly, there is no credited lighting designer in the program.

Sally: The lighting also highlighted inconsistencies, like how all of Gloria’s costume palette was mismatched reds.

Tracker: The sound design was there. It made the phone ring. It wasn’t intrusive but it also wasn’t particularly interesting.

Sally: But let’s not forget the choices in music. “Come Fly With Me” at the top of the show. Oh I get it, because the women are air stewardesses. A non-English rendition of “My Girl” to start the second act. Because this dude has 3 fiancées, two of which don’t speak English as a first language!

Tracker: Oh, right. Actually yeah those selections made me kind of mad. Like I was being condescended to.

Sally:For just the whole play, really.

Tracker: So for me, I’m left asking Hedgerow: why do this play? Why tell this story? If it’s “just a dumb comedy,” why couldn’t they have found another comedy that had a better script and a better message? Without rewarding misogyny and sexual harassment?

Sally: I just don’t think this play was justified or enjoyable, except perhaps to the specific audience Hedgerow has cultivated. If farce is desirable to an audience because as Damon Bonetti says in the program we “watch something go bad and be happy it’s not happening to us,” then wow I could watch the news if I want schadenfreude that badly.
Tracker: And none of us want it that badly.

Two Gentlemen of Verona- Shakespeare in Clark Park

Melissa is a white cis woman, a new play enthusiast, a feminist. She craves theatre that connects urgent ideas to human stories. She’s wary of hopeful things.

Christine is a director and a Shakespeare enthusiast who is maybe easily charmed.

Christine

So what’s in your pockets?

Melissa

Well I don’t have a ton of experience with Shakespeare, and am often wary of the comedies. I tend to think Shakespeare’s humor is hard to communicate because so much of it hinges on antiquated wordplay and allusions. I also went the day after the show was rained out so I was initially worried about the ground.  (I came alone from work so I didn’t have a blanket) You?

Christine

Almost the total opposite! I have a fair amount of Shakespeare experience, which I think makes me a little picky about certain aspects of staging his work. I definitely have specific things I look for in productions. Very much agree that a lot of his humor can be really inaccessible. I had no experience at all with Two Gents, so I was interested to see how clear the action and the humor would be to me encountering it for the first time.

Melissa

Same, I have no experience with Two Gents

Christine

Having seen it, I think I can say the play itself is definitely not one of my favorites, although there are some really interesting things about it. I was actually really surprised by the way Proteus became such a villain after having been established as a romantic lead. What were your thoughts about the story?

Melissa

Yeah I agree, Proteus became pretty despicable, which is not something I anticipated based on the early characterization of his relationship to Valentine. I thought the writing for their camaraderie was convincing, and I thought Kittson O’Neil and KC MacMillan, who cut the script, did a great job of paring it down to the essentials. I thought there was a concrete sequence of events that I was able to track, which is so important when you’re outside

Christine

Agreed on both counts. I thought the Valentine/Proteus relationship was played really convincingly in this production as well. And the show felt like it drove at a really great pace, partially due to the cuts, I think.

Melissa

But I didn’t understand the role of Launce (Brock Vickers) –I knew who he was but I couldn’t tell you anything he contributed besides the obstacle of his presence–or the clown with the dog. Julia’s servant and Valentine’s servant had influence on the plot in a way that character didn’t.

Christine

Yeah, I did find myself wondering if there was more in the original text for the Launce character in particular. The scene with that character and Valentine’s servant seemed to be going somewhere but it didn’t really have any resolution. It reminded me a little bit of the Porter in Macbeth–just a long series of jokes with not much consequence for the action of the show.

Melissa

I totally agree. It felt like that character was kept just for the dog

Christine

And, I mean, the dog was really adorable. I was not mad about it.

Melissa

And so well behaved. The night I was there, a little girl followed the dog onstage

Christine

Oh my god. That’s adorable.

Apart from a few moments, I felt that KC MacMillan and the cast presented this show with a ton of clarity. One thing I always look for in Shakespeare productions is a sense that the company is really reaching out to try to engage the audience, rather than kind of leaning back and “letting the text speak for itself.” Even in instances when I felt like a joke didn’t land for me, or I was missing something, I felt the intention of telling the story to everyone, trying to get everyone on board.

Melissa

I think that was evident in the acting, particularly during Proteus’ soliloquies. Jake Blouch did a great job of laying things out clearly to us. He was really engaging; people close to the front interacted with him a little. That’s so so valuable for outdoor theatre, especially with complicated language. Were there any performances that stood out to you?

Christine

Definitely Jake Blouch–I thought he played the turns of that character pretty expertly and even as Proteus behaved worse and worse, he managed to keep me engaged. I thought Trevor William Fayle was truly hilarious in all of his parts, but particularly as the scout leader. I found out afterwards that that character is a knight in Shakespeare’s text, and I thought that characterization was a genius choice. K.O. DelMarcelle was also really charming and bright.

Also, jumping off on your point about Proteus’s soliloquies–the night that I attended, the audience was vocally reacting to a lot of his scheming and his attempted seduction of Sylvia. It got to the point where someone yelled–“He sucks!” It was kind of awesome. The audience was so disgusted by that character’s behavior that there was a real hesitation before applause started at the end of the show.

Melissa

Yeah I thought that last vignette between Proteus and Julia was super interesting because of that. I thought it was a nice way for KC MacMillan to build Julia’s agency

Christine

I think you’re right. And the fact that they don’t get a full resolution felt right to me. I think it’s just a frustrating ending, but this production handled it about the best I could have hoped for.

What were your overall feelings about the direction and design of the show?

Melissa

I really liked how the women were directed. Julia and Sylvia were really full characters, which I sometimes find lacking in Shakespeare.

Christine

Agreed! I found their scene together really moving.

Melissa

I thought the band was used well. I liked when their musical stings punctuated scenes, like the sad trombone.

Christine

Me too. There were a couple nice drum hits too to punctuate jokes. I also thought that Proteus’s song and dance with the Lindy and Blues ensemble for Sylvia was done really nicely too–it was so goofy that it helped me feel like Proteus was partially just a clueless dude rather than a total malevolent asshole.

Melissa

I  didn’t understand what the context of that scene was though, unlike the party at the beginning. Was it a ball?

Christine

My impression was that it was just Proteus’s attempt to woo her. So he hired all these dancers and singers to come and put on this show under her window. I’d have to look at the script, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in the text it’s just Proteus singing at her window.

Melissa

But then why was Brock Vickers’ character there? Was it a deception, like “Let’s pretend I’m doing this on your behalf?”

Christine

Oh! Yes. I think that’s what it was. I totally forgot that Launce  was there. But I think you’re right.

Melissa

I think part of my confusion came from just being outside. The configuration of the playing space, with the basketball court and playground directly behind the stage, meant for me that there were more distractions than usual with theater in the park. 

Christine

Yeah–this was my first Shakespeare in Clark Park experience but I had heard from other people that the space was arranged differently than it had been in previous years. I actually didn’t mind having a lot going on around the playing space–I think I probably got distracted a little, but I liked watching people move around the park and get curious about the show.

I also think I come into outdoor shows with somewhat more of an open mind and a little more generosity than I do with other shows. I felt really open to the experience of hearing and seeing this show. I laughed really loud and a lot. I don’t know–something about the whole experience really put me at ease.

Melissa

Yeah,  one of the things I appreciate about Shakespeare in Clark Park is the communal love

What did you think of the set?

Christine

I thought it was nice–I liked the hanging windows, and I loved the use of signs to help orient us. I found the “Bon Voyage Valentine” sign at the top and the directional signs to indicate what city we were in really really helpful. Also, not really a set piece, but I was a huge fan of the ladder play between Valentine and the Duke.

Melissa

Yeah that was great, that whole scene was super clear and funny. I really liked the chandeliers suspended from the trees. They were elegant and kind of magical.

Christine

Agreed. I felt the same way about the purple-ish lights on the trees towards the end. And I thought the costumes from Natalia de la Torre were bright and fun. I loved the outlaws especially. And Peanut the dog with the little bandana.

Melissa

I loved the costumes, they also helped delineate space. Especially with Lindsay Smiling and Brock Vickers in matching outfits.

Christine

Yeah, that was really smart. Overall, I felt that this was a really tight, clear, very funny production of a play with a lot of problems and a ton of challenges for actors and a director. I was really impressed with what they pulled off, and with how much joy they put into it.

Melissa

I agree. In spite of the distractions from the environment, I thought it was a super clear production that did a great job of engaging the audience