April 11, 2010

Lo and behold, this morning I awoke to find the new Actors Theatre season schedule in my inbox. And I have to say, I'm relatively excited about what they've got cooking, compared to some previous years where there was absolutely nothing on the schedule that appealed to me. So, here's the rundown:

The Kite Runner. The press release blurb describes it like this: "Adapted from the international bestselling novel, this sweeping tale of friendship and betrayal between two boys growing up in Afghanistan explores the price of loyalty, the power of storytelling and the possibility of redemption." Hmmm, okay. What it doesn't mention is that this is really a very bleak and grim political story set against the backdrop of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Here's some choice bits from the synopsis of the book on Wikipedia:

"Assef, a notoriously mean and violent older boy with sadistic tendencies, blames Amir for socializing with a Hazara, which is, according to Assef, an inferior race that should only live in Hazarajat. He prepares to attack Amir with his brass knuckles, but Hassan bravely stands up to him, threatening to shoot out Assef's left eye with his slingshot."

"Hassan refuses to give up Amir's kite, so Assef exacts his revenge by raping Hassan. Hassan did not give up the kite because he wanted Amir's respect. Wondering why Hassan is taking so long, Amir searches for Hassan and hides when he hears Assef's voice. He witnesses the rape but is too scared to intervene, and returns home in shame, guilty for not being able to help his best friend in a grave situation. He feels that his cowardice in Hassans's rape would destroy any hopes for Baba's affections, so he let it be."

Alrighty then. I don't think I'll be going to see this one.

The Mystery of Irma Vep. Well, hallelujah. The inclusion of a Charles Ludlam play here bodes well for the future. (Too bad it wasn't something less obvious, but hey, I'll take what I can get.) It's a Dark Shadows-esque farce mixing Victorian melodrama with overt campy horror icons, and also owing a significant chunk of its DNA to Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. The play as Ludlam conceived it was intended to be performed by cross-dressing actors, and in order to insure this, the rights to perform the play have historically included a stipulation that the actors must be of the same sex. I hope this stipulation is still in effect. I will definitely be attending this one, possibly multiple times.

Barefoot in the Park. I am apparently the last man standing who finds, and has always found, Neil Simon's work to be an utter bore. Nevertheless, I realize he is hugely successful and immensely popular, so I can't fault ATL for including this classic 1960s chestnut. The story examines five days in the lives of a hard-working serious attorney and his annoyingly "free-spirited" wife, living in a cramped Greenwich Village apartment, with much arguing, yelling, and alleged hilarity ensuing from their personality differences. If that sounds like a painfully bad sitcom to you, join the club. I won't be there.

It Takes a 'Ville! Huh? Seriously? "The Second City, the world’s best-known comedy troupe, uses its signature talents to create a tailor-made, Louisville-centric revue — complete with riffs on big hats and hot browns, music and bourbon." Will people really spend money to hear a bunch of big-city slickers make duh-obvious jokes about us? Doesn't that occur every day for free?

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Now this shows something! Despite the common man's obsessions with later chanteuses like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and maybe, just maybe, Bessie Smith if they're sufficiently hip, the real "Mother of the Blues" was Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, whose show business career began in 1898. This play, written by August Wilson as part of his ten-play cycle series and the only one in the bunch not set in Pittsburgh, promises to be a gem.

The synopsis as reported on Wikipedia: "In a Chicago based recording studio, Ma Rainey's band players, Cutler, Toledo, Slow Drag, and Levee turn up to record a new album of her songs. As they wait for her to arrive they banter, tell stories, joke, philosophise and argue. As the play unfolds it becomes clear that the tension is between the young hot-headed trumpeter Levee who has dreams of having his own band and veteran players Cutler and Toledo. By the time Ma Rainey does turn up in full regalia and entourage in tow the recording schedule is badly behind, throwing the white producers Sturdyvant and Irvin into more and more irate disarray."

(I hope the bit about recording "a new album" is just some youthful Wikipedian's mistake and not actually referenced in the play, because "albums" did not exist in the 1920s.)

See you there.

Poor Behavior. I don't know what to think about this one. The blurb says: "Spend a weekend in the country with two couples as they stoke the fires of suspicion and seduction. Perceptions twist and relationships are forever altered in Theresa Rebeck’s no-holds-barred, world premiere comedy about goodness and badness, and the dangerously tempting open doors in between." Could be a pip.

Dracula. Please, not again. I beseech you, take my advice from last year and dump this play in favor of some other horror classic. Frankenstein is public domain too, you know.

A Christmas Story. I have no interest in feel-good holiday plays, but I understand a lot of people do. Enjoy. Which brings us to...

A Christmas Carol. Ditto. I never played Tiny Tim, but I always feel like him after sitting through these dreary faux-Dickensian shenanigans.

Contact the author at jshpaint@gmail.com.

Jeffrey Scott Holland is the Artistic Director for Catclaw Theatre Company, author of Weird Kentucky on Sterling Press, and painter whose works have been exhibited worldwide. Visit him on the web at jshla.com.