October, 21st 2010
Samuel Becket, a post-war absurdist Irish writer, who I have a tendency to love. The whole absurdist movement speaks to me in a way I struggle to capture.
A simplified description is that after the war there was a whole lot of questioning going on, and from all this questioning arose absurdist artists.
So tonight I figured I would go to see the play.
Buying the ticket was a funny experience.
I still don't remember which word for ticket I'm supposed to use for theatre stuff, so I struggled asking for it, after which the man working the ticket booth warned me in spanish 'The plays are all in Castellano' (Which is Spanish for Spanish in Spain)
I was sort of shocked by the metalinguistics of telling me that the play was entirely in spanish, by using a very spanish specific word for spanish.
I responded by saying 'Bueno.' ('Bueno' isn't as aggressive as the word 'Good.' It means okay, yeah, great, right all that sorta stuff.)
He responded with 'Bueno? Bueno.'
Review: (Warning Opinions ahead)
I haven't read Endgame in English (Or any other language for that matter, it was originally written in French, by an Irishman, that is cool just to think about, especially while seeing it in Spanish as an American), but not wanting to go to a play in a foreign (to my mind, not to where it was performed) language without knowing the basics of the story. Particularly a story like one of Becket’s. (Tell me that he doesn't have story, and I'll tell you that you are wrong and why.)
Here are the things I understand from my basic internet research.
1) Clov cannot sit down, Hamm cannot stand up.
2) The world outside is dark, grim, and no-one really knows if the things outside are real anymore.
3) Hamm's Parents live in rubbish bins, and cannot use their legs.
4) Becket hates (ed) when people screw with his stage directions.
5) Endgame in English refers to Chess, but in French it isn't so limited.
6) Facebook is fun.
With five of six relevant facts, or at least ideas, in mind I am about to critique the production.
The waiting area.
The theater (er = Building. re= art, concept) was FAH-HANCY.
Like more FAH-HANCY than fancy pantsy in francey.
I felt like a yankee-doodle walking around looking at all the things, statues, carvings, red velvet, new upholstery, professional ushers who weren't texting, huge posters, the works. Bathrooms like greek baths, and couatl decorations in the chandeliers. Wow.
Scene Design: The First thing the audience sees.
The Scene Design was, for 9/10 parts, was fantastic.
Basic underground room, with heavy stone walls, dissected so the audience could see in, with a big red spray painted square that surrounds the dissection. It was very evocative and very well designed, but there were two things that failed I felt.
1) Liquid Scenery: The windows had liquid scenery behind them, which at first was the perfect use of this technique, non evasive and vibrant. Vibrantly gray. They pulled off vibrantly gray! How amazing!
And then? Then the colors changed throughout the play.
No! Bad-designer! I know liquid scenery has 'so much potential,' but for fuck's sake it's a play not a ride at Disneyland.
Becket's 'world outside' does not strike me as a livid azure dream, or a cottoncandy-sunset.
(Both of these were colors used. Vibrantly as well.)
I somehow doubt Becket wrote in the stage directions 'Outside should become a bright cheery place.'
Even if he did, this was the wrong way to execute it.
We should be filled with doubt, when Clov says that (s)he sees things outside, we should question H(er)im.
Also, on risk of sounding like Uta Hagen, the spectacle of this over powered the other aspects of the play.
2) Magic steam vent: Spectacle is great and all.
No really, I like me some earned spectacle.
Magic Steam vent 3/4 of the way through the show?
Again, could be called for in the blocking. If it is, it wasn't earned or made relevant to the story.
The effect was distraction from what was going on stage in general.
You want magic steam vents? Make them part of the story, make them add, not subtract.
The Costumes worked (for the most part).
That's about all I could say for them.
If I were talking about lighting design I'd say it were a compliment, because the lighting design is a ninja. (See Below)
However costume design, in my mind, is a pirate.
The audience is going to notice the costumes. They just will. They are the clothing of the people talking. We always put on clothing everyday, then figure out what looks good to us and not.
So the audience is going to notice.
With such a spectacular scene design, the costumes cannot simply work.
In a black-box, ‘is it a room or is it not’ sort of world, yes simple costumes are perfect.
In a scene-design that I will never have the money to even conceive? No.
There was one thing, and it was lost on me.
Our Clov was a girl. Maybe that's normal. Maybe it's not.
I'm inclined to think it's not.
She was dressed gender neutral and was just another guy in a room that is crippled by something.
Fine, gender neutral is fine.
Now I wouldn't be surprised if Clov's clothing are supposed to change, but going from baggy pants, beat-to-shit tennies, worn-down P-coat and beanie to a Green hot-date dress was not what the play calls for. I hope.
I really, really, really hope the ending blocking of this play is not 'Clov returns dressed to kill, in 3 inch heels and a smoking green dress.'
- Yes I was complaining about the lack of spectacle in the performance, but for fuck sake, not without reason!
This felt like it could of been 2 things.
Thing 1) Look she's a battered woman! Hamm is the husband and Clov is the wife! Or Girlfriend! She can't leave! This is clearly the meaning of the play so let’s highlight it with a big vibrant green marker! The Audience might not get it! We can't possibly increase are ability to communicate to them, so let’s just shout louder and slower, with this! Hey! She’s a Woman! This is what the play is about right here! Look! LOOKIT! LOOOKATIT!
2) 'I dunno frank, why don't we have her reenter in a dress.' 'Well I don't see why not, it’s not like this play fucking means anything in the first place.'
Both of these are wrong. Oh yes, wrong.
Of course I can see how Clov is the unfortunate lover who cannot leave an abusive partner.
But if you reduce Clov’s role to just that, you lose a healthy portion of what this play is about.
It’s about people, not specific situations.
Hair? The Hair was fan-fuckingtastic. Nothing special, but Nam had the best old-irish man hair I have ever seen! (This fit in well with the ‘Autobiographical’ approach the director wrote in the pamphlet about her vision of the play. And really the only other place that I saw her ‘vision.’)
Philosophy of Pirates as Costumes and Ninjas as Light Design.
Ninjas are stealthy, effective, and to the point.
If a lighting design does its job well 9/10 (or more) the audience never even realizes there was a lighting design. (They are however strongly moved by the subtle subconscious cues dropped like crazy by Light Designers, and by no means do I wish to undermine their job, theirs I believe to be the most subtle part of theatre.) There are, of course, exceptions. Audiences will notice red lights, and sometimes that’s effective. But even so, the audience will hardly ever leave the theatre speaking of the lights.
Costumes are not going to be able to hide, but they can choose to do two things. Slap the audience so hard across the face, they can’t help but accept the costumes. (Good for comedies) or simply blend into the world by looking like everything else. (Good for shows with low budgets and for those with little scenery.) A good costume design fits into the world, and speaks about the characters.
Light Design: Almost Perfect.
One complaint, one comment, and they are both short.
Complaint) The light was a bit strong, made it kind of hard to pick up fine details.
Comment) I noticed an effect, that was meant to be subtle. (A super nit-pick) The redspray paint square got brighter and darker with the action of the play. This was cool to notice, because it's supposed to be a subtle subconscious cue, but I picked up on it. (Then again, I'm a critical analyzer.)
Otherwise, the lighting design did two things, Light the actor's faces, and created a world without letting us know what it did.
Execution: Acting, Blocking, and general non-sense.
Let's go over this quickly, so I can get to the fierce opinions.
The play started perfectly, Clov's inaction at the beginning of the play was filled with intention and inner dialogue. We could see her arguing with herself with every action, and the general feeling of doubt within her.
The pauses at the top were full, and not terribly air filled.
About 30 minutes into the play, this ended.
We began to have pauses like the kind Stephanie Meyer uses.
Blank and stupid. (Really 16 blank pages? Really?)
The actors stopped filling the pauses with anything but 'oh I can't say my line yet, it's a Becket.'
If every line is precious none of them will be.
The play lasted 2 hours. I think it's supposed to be a 90 minute play.
Adding 30 minutes to a Becket is akin to adding 30 minutes to LOTR or a Chekhov.
You don't do it. They are slow enough as it.
(For those of you that watched the extended versions of LOTR and loved it, I somehow doubt it had to do with the quality added by the extra time, and more to do with the loving LOTR. Which I have strong opinions on as well, but those are best saved for another time, one where I particularly want to lose most of my friends.)
Clov sat down. Middle of the play.
Without any focus on it.
She just didn't have any lines, and someone else was talking.
Talk about premature tension relief!
It'd be like the pie-man kissing her in the first episode of Pushing Daises. (Watch that show damnit, it's good for you.)
If one is going to shit on Becket's head like that, maybe there ought to be a half decent reason.
(I'm assuming it wasn't written that Clov should sit down, especially in such a non-focused manner)
Yes the words were all in Spanish, which is hard to grasp at times, but I had a sharpened awareness of intention and pursuit of goals.
Hamm and Clov started full of internal movement, and then slumped off. Maybe they were trying to be boring.
They succeeded, and I don't think in a way they wanted.
But Nam. Oh Nam. This guy had it going on.
Moved to tears by this guy, I knew Nam, I was Nam. He brought me in. He sat me down in his world and told me, 'I live in Rubbish, I hate my Son, I miss the touch of my wife, and she's not five measly fucking feet away from me. I'm desperate, I need. I need!'
Such passions derived from direct attempts to succeed.
This man? This man knew the acting game. I could have watched him do the whole play for hours upon hours.
Okay now for my favorite part, let me get out my soap box...
I've been to a few shows since I've graduated from the U of I, and I've been to a few shows during my studies, and I've found that a lot of shows fail to speak to the audience. The story-teller has stopped trying to reach its listeners.
A lot just seem to focus on other things, spectacle, intricate complex details, obscure 'concepts' (Buddha give us our daily opinions and deliver us from Gangs of New York Othello), and being right.
(Please note, this complaint is not about all of the shows I've seen at the U of I, but rather a few of those and almost every show since.)
Ever See the painting on the Sistine Chapel? (Not the real one obviously, if you have, well...fine then!) God is reaching towards Adam, fully outstretched.
Adam? His hand is waving in God's general direction, an afterthought really.
Theatre? Theatre needs to be God and not Adam, because the audience will only reach out for so long, and that length is getting shorter every day.
What I mean to say?
I mean to say the theatre has stopped trying to reach its audience. To tell them the fucking story.
What? Are we afraid it's not good enough?
Are we afraid that 'if the common man understands the ancient texts he might see the flaws?'
Since when did we translate all the plays into Latin?
Yes, being clever is good.
Yes, being complex is great.
Yes, having nuance is ideal.
Yes, meaning is absurd. (Especially in an Absurdist piece)
BUT, that doesn't mean that meaning is non-existent!
If the audience doesn't laugh at the jokes in an Absurdist play it's not because they aren't refined enough to not get it.
When the audience doesn't 'get' your Shakespeare, it's not the general lack of education in the populace.
When people walk away from a play saying 'I'm glad that's over, I think I've finally scored enough culture points to cover me for that time I farted in the bathtub.' it's not because people don't care about the theatre.
It's because the theatre has stopped caring about the goddamn audience.
Question: How does one tell a story?
Answer: With fucking words.
The Listener's fucking words.
That's why animals speak in English in American movies, that's why aliens all conveniently speak Spanish in Spain.
Funny story, the theatre is a struggling art.
It needs more ticket sales.
Any theatre you go to, except maybe a few, will be desperately trying to sell tickets and complaining about the lack of audience members.
What weird complaint when the theatre is a big-ol'-inside joke bukkake.
I'm so pissed about this.
You might be thinking 'Oh little Kishpike, you're just frustrated because you didn't understand things in another language.'
After seeing Nam's desperate performance, and feeling so moved by it, I may cry just thinking about, even though I couldn't understand a fucking word the poor old man said. (Well actually I understood half of them, but try reading a paragraph of every other word, not so easy, eh?)
I was frustrated about the costume change towards the end of the play which didn't speak to me at all (to be honest I haven't read it, and maybe Clove is supposed to go from hobo to hot date, or something similar.)
What I'm frustrated about is the unearned pauses.
'Oh Kishpike you want to rush Becket.'
I want Becket's unbearable silence to penetrate the audiences desire to be handed the play.
I want the silence between short phrases to be violent, pregnant, and full of action.
I want silence so loud the audience's ears bleed, and they all lean forward in hopes they can hear it better.
This silence was just too quiet for me.
Silence for the sake of script or traditional is bullshit.
I noticed, while walking out of that theatre, that me and maybe five other people had any idea what was going on. Of those four I think two were actors. (Not so great considering there are four characters.)
Not a good sign when the house is at least 3/4 full. (How many people must be going to rack up culture points!)
The Audience: Uninterested. [The Image is from Slings & Arrows]
And The coughing, oh the coughing, followed by the shrill hiss of whispers, the checking of watches, the shifting in seats. This wasn't creative boredom, this wasn't 'Ascribing meaning to things and the way people behave is absurd boredom', this was genuine, 'when will the play end boredom'.
And that my friends, is a failure.
I'm starting to think that Chekhov isn't too far off from Becket. Sure Chekhov plays are a bit more... grounded in what we understand to be 'real,' but fuck, it's goddamn hilarious that Ham wants to be center, exactly, and can't be an inch or so off, and it's equally hilarious when any Checkhov character sets out to do anything.
Yes it's sad.
You ever watch cartoons?
If the Coyote wasn't upset about his failure we wouldn't laugh.
But it's funny! The Coyote fails at every attempt.
I guess I'm really disappointed because the Director seemed to have such a good grasp on the play, and a beautiful idea of what she thought it was about, and what elements were inside the play. The problem is she chose to communicate this in a pamphlet and not on stage. What a waste.
Well I have wine to drink and opinions to yell at other people.