Amélie: A New Musical
While slurping down some pre-show boba milk tea in the Geffen Playhouse lobby with my stage managing friend Mercedes (there serving as a production assistant Donald Margulies’s The Model Apartment at the smaller Geffen Space, the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre), her first comment to me was that I had certainly dressed the part for the show I was about to see. I looked down: tan cashmere blend sweater, chunky J.Crew be-jeweled collar, purple glasses, suede Madewell pumps...If anything this was one of my more casual theatre looks, I was wearing (premium) denim after all. I asked her what she meant. “You’ll see.”
Icebergs by Yale graduate Alena Smith gives us an honest, humorous, yet insightful look into the trials and victories of the mid-thirties/pushing-forty creative professional. Set in the very present day, Calder, a young, successful Indie filmmaker and his aspiring actress girlfriend Abigail own a styled, well-furnished home in the hip, rolling hills of Silverlake. Calder’s old buddy from Missouri, Reed, comes to stay a few nights with the couple while he attends a scientific convention at UCLA. He confides in Calder that he has been dying to get away from his young daughter and expecting wife just to be by himself for once and hopes he and Calder can partake in as many parties, drugs and drinking excursions as possible on this Day of the Dead weekend. Calder laughs and agrees that they will try their best before confiding in Reed that he and Abigail have been trying to have a baby of their own. Soon Abigail's childhood friend Molly, a newlywed lesbian lawyer rumored to be a witch, as well as Nicky, Calder’s suave, yet dense agent, turn up for the evening. Instead of heading out to a friend’s costume party, with everyone’s relationship and existence baggage out on the table, they decide to stay in for the evening and create their own, because, “it’s a weird fact about LA. Nobody likes to leave their house.” Add a little alcohol and some premium weed; before you know it, even more conflict and potential resolution bubbles to the surface.
When I re-met with Mercedes after the performance, she asked me if I had liked the show. I hesitated, then eventually said yes. I had to think about why I liked it. And then why I had to think before making a definite statement.
The play felt like the pilot episode of a new series, introducing us to the characters while leaving room at the end for their relationships, conflicts and goals to continue in later episodes. Through her dialogue, Smith’s commentary on this age/lifestyle are on point and part of what makes this show so funny. Boys turned men by societal necessity, nearly ripping off their button-down shirts to return to the comfort of their jeans and screen-printed tees, the idolatry of pet cats, selfies, panic attacks, the naming of plants, the popularity of improv, industry pressure vs. creative integrity, actually liking songs we love to hate, and obsessing over “meaninglessness” in our culture, literature and media: these are things I find myself faced with every week in LA. Part of that is disturbing, part of it is beautiful and part of it is hilarious. Smith has collected all of these little quirks (and then some) and artfully spun them into the characters we meet in Icebergs. And if you’ve lived in LA long enough, you may have even dated someone like each of these characters. It’s not a surprise that Smith is getting recognized for her writing talents on shows like The Newsroom and The Affair.
The acting is...good. Molly and Nicky I felt were the best written and acted characters, also excellent opposing styles of comic relief. They both have a generous share of belly-laugh lines. The actress playing Abigail was asked to come on two days before preview performances began when Thora Birch dropped out of the show for undisclosed reasons. She did well, but with only days to prepare, probably didn’t get the full prep she needed to fully develop her character. Could also be the writing, not totally sure, these are special circumstances.
While driving from Westwood to West Hollywood for a drink, Mercedes and I discussed how frustrated, sometimes infuriated we were by the characters. Indecisiveness, privilege, flippancy, and possibly co-dependence were scattered throughout the characters and it pissed us off. But, maybe that is also because we know so many real-life characters like this that already frustrate us. We also felt that the ending of the show was a bit abrupt, especially after a “first act” that kept us guessing when exactly the conflict would arise, for...kind of a long time.
What did this show make we want to change about myself? I’m not 100% sure right off the bat, which I think was the source of my hesitation when asked whether I liked the show as a whole. Looking back it makes me want to stray from the stereotypical behavior the characters are calling out in the play, but by attempting to deviate from the norm, I’m upholding the very mission of hipsterism. So I can’t win this battle. But maybe that is the point.
I recommend this show, for its cultural relevance, some excellent, hilarious characters and what it set out to do. I don’t know if this is the best play you will see at the Geffen this season, but it’s worth the ninety minutes and will cause you to think...about something. This is a good date night show for people in their 30s, for sure. Definitely something to discuss over cocktails after. The show runs through December 18th at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, CA.
The Beauty queen of lenanne
Anyone who knows me knows that the Mark Taper Forum is my favorite theatre venue in California. The morning of opening night of The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh, I went to get a haircut and learned from my hairdresser that that it was also his favorite. An old actress girlfriend of his (I wonder who?!) had performed there a number of times and he informed me that it was modeled after the Gutherie Theatre in Minnesota. “Not a bad seat in the house,” he told me. I couldn’t agree more. Plus, there is something magical about the Taper, that based on the set design, gives it the ability to feel very up-close and intimate, or very expansive and spread out.
This show was up close and personal, in both senses of the phrase. We spend approximately two hours in what is more or less a sparse, deteriorating home in the tiny village of Leenane (Lee-NAN) in the county of Gallway, Ireland. The Irish charm and crassness of the play brought me back to my days studying abroad there, and made me miss it more. We are introduced to the mundane (almost so much so that it’s painful) lifestyle of seventy-year-old Mag Folan and her literal 40-year-old-virgin daughter Maureen. Their love/hate, nearly Stockholm syndrome relationship is complex, yet one I think many can connect to on some level. Maureen feels obligated to take care of her crotchety, ailing, devious mother while her sisters refuse to have have anything to do with the women. She has been caring for Maf for about the past twenty-five years. The audience can see that Maureen is dying inside, as she begrudgingly waits on Mag’s every beck and call. So when Pato Dooley, an old flame of Maureen’s, returns to Leenane from London for a local send-off party, we’re wishing just about as much as her that their reunion will blossom into a love that she, at this stage, just about needs to survive.
After a number of somewhat hit-or-miss seasons at the Taper, I cannot urge you enough to see this play. Do not judge a play by its poster. Fortune cookie review: incredible writing, astounding acting. This could be the greatest dark comedy I have ever seen performed. McDonagh’s script will have you laughing hysterically one minute and cringing, stomach churning the next. His exploration of these women and their relationships is as equally moving as it is haunting. So it’s no wonder that Mari Mullen returns to this script, now in the role of Mag after winning the Tony award for best leading actress in a play, playing the role of Maureen, eighteen years ago in the original Broadway production. The script stands strong, but no one in the cast falls slightly short of delivering their character’s spirit, prerogative and humor truthfully to their audience. With the cast imported straight out of Ireland’s renowned Druid Theatre, it’s refreshing, if not awakening to see such a fully realized, developed, powerful play on the Taper stage, void of LA celebrity cameo’s, limited rehearsal time and workshop level scripts. This, is theatre.
Whenever I leave a show, I always ask myself, what does this make me want to change? This production spoke to my element of change on a personal level (vs. a global, community or political level, ect.). I would watch Maureen interacting with Pato and cringe at her choice of words and behavior, probably because I have also said/done some similar things around men, just not all in the same horrifying scene. So the play makes me want to watch my behavior involving romantic situations with men. The play also makes me want to pick my battles and be kinder to those around me. Because astonishingly, that is not always the case. We have some extreme characters in this play representing the worst of these poor qualities, but through them, we can easily see it broken down into our own lives. Well, for me at least.
The play brought me from probably zero interest in reading Martin McDonagh’s work, to like, one hundred. This could be one of the darkest, funniest dark comedies I have ever seen and his melding of the two are incredibly impressive. I’m very interested in reading more work like this or seeing how his body of work varies from this style. I had forgotten that he is also the author of The Pillowman, which I may also need to revisit. Also, love that Irish-ness. Can’t help it I guess; it’s in me blood.
I highly recommend this production. The show runs November 9 through December 18 at the Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles. It will continue on its US tour to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in January 2017 before heading to Pittsburgh and Ann Arbor.