Then She Fell

A few weeks ago I was in New York City for work and I had to spend the night. I decided to go to the theater and I found something called Then She Fell. It’s hard to call it a play, because it is not a play in the traditional sense of the word. There is not a stage and audience seating. The audience members play a part of the production.

The audience is only 15 people and when you enter you are taken to a small room where you are given a drink and invited to explore the space. You quickly learn that you are in a mental hospital and wher seems like Alice Liddell is interred at the hospital.

The story that unfolds is a variation of the Alice in Wonderland story that ebbs in and out of Alice Liddell’s (speculative) biography. For those of you who do not know, Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wornderland as an adult man. Alice Liddell was a 6 year old neighbor girl that he befriended and used her as basis for Alice in his story. Modern scholars speculate that Carroll may have been a pedophile or at least had a romantic infatuation with the child. It is unclear and we may never know, but this performance is a story that floats between the fictional Alice and the speculative aftermath of a post Carroll Alice Liddell.

While the audience is in the room, cast members begin to split the audience apart and we were pulled into different rooms where we see and particpate in different pieces of the performance. You are lead throughout the large 3 floor building for the next 2 hours. I read that an an audience member only sees 75% of everything that is performed, so I will share some of my favorites.

Two juxtaposed Alice scenes  were very powerful. One was an innocent Alice dancing and being held by Carroll and the other was Alice as the Queen of Hearts as an aggressive seductress. Alone, each scene is choreographed well, but next to each other, it really does make you feel like you are watching a mind split. There was a madhatter’s tea party that was lovely and fun. This scene took us back to the hospital setting and it felt like a way to deliver medicine to someone having a break. It was a reminder from the playwright; “Enjoy the story, but remember you’re in a madhouse for good reason.”

Let me talk about my relationship with the other audience members. I went alone and I think that is the best way to do it. Everyone gets split up and I think if I would have went with someone it would have taken me out of the story. I think I would have thought, “Wait, where are they taking Sam?” if we had gone together. I say this because I was with a couple and one of them was split off, leaving me with the the guy together for a few scenes. Later in the performance, he and I found ourselves lying in bed together listening to a story by one of the performers. (Don’t worry it was for the sake of art.)

I am not sure what happened near the end for others, but I found myself alone in a number of amazing scenes. One scene was a small room filled with a 1000 roses and a butcher block. The roses were in different states of decay. It smelled so lovely, and felt almost transcendent. In another scene, I was in a much larger room alone with an actress. The room was staged with student desks thrown asunder. She poured me a drink and stayed very close to me. She definitely invaded my personal space, but that invasion added to the sense of the performance. She would not release eye contact with me and the actress created a feeling of intimacy I was not expecting or prepared for that night.

The final scene took me to a study where I had a cup of tea and read a conclusion about Alice and Lewis. It was a simple way to leave the world they had successfully built over the previous 2 hours. It’s not a cheap ticket, but theater in New York never seems to be. I think it cost me $140. I really liked this play and I highly recommend it. It’s weird and will not be for everyone, but I thought the actors were great. I followed them down a rabbithole and  into a very strange world that they painted beautifully.  I loved it.

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Review: Suspended

I started out the 2014 FringeArts Festival by seeing dicks, abs, and acrobatics with Suspended by Brian Sanders’ JUNK. Sound good, right? I love all three of these things, but melding the three into a single cogent performance may have been an impossible undertaking.

Let’s start with the good. The show starts with 3 very hot and very naked men. And folks, I am talking about real dicks and real abs (though there is a funny bit with fake dicks later in the show.) And for those interested in the feminine physique the women of this permanence will not disappoint. Basically, everyone on that stage is smoking hot.

The performers’ athleticism and memory for choreography was wildly impressive. I found the women to be excellent dancers, and I am sorry not to know their individual names, as some of their performances were great. The choice for using some alternative props was also interesting. An example is that the aerialist used a tube, rather than a rope or silk for his performance.

What didn’t work for me? Nothing actually gelled in this performance. The entire show seemed to be a cross between Gunnar Montana’s choreography and the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, and as amazing as that sounds, it didn’t work. I was never sure if I was in awe of the tube aerialist’s performance or intrigued by the fact that the hanging tube might actually have been his penis (or was he screwing it, I’m not sure.)

Another routine was some pseudo-glass bottom boat action. If you do not know what a GBB is then you need to urban dictionary that immediately. (The more you know.) Thank any god that wants to receive it, that I was not chosen as one of the audience members to lie underneath the table for the chocolate pudding (presumably?) wrestling match that was happening on top of the table.

I didn’t understand why there was a master of ceremony with a Gandolf staff and payots. If he was comedy relief, I didn’t laugh. The problem with the show for me was a feeling of distraction I had during the entire performance. Every time the audience was about to be awed by a feat of dance or acrobatics, we were distracted by something incongruently erotic.

Maybe I am old fashion, but if I want to see 3 guys simulate bottoming for 3 women, don’t add a bungee run element to it. It’s distracting. Too much energy went into this performance trying to be edgy. Is nudity still edgy at a fringe festival, I doubt it. Is simulated scat wrestling edgy? Maybe, but the execution, just had me hoping nothing would get on my pants while seated in the crowd.

While I watched the show, I kept thinking about Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty and that scene with the Marina Abramovic character. I am sure the artists behind this performance will assume I just didn’t get it, but I cannot fathom how any explanation would enlighten me. So maybe I didn’t get it, but if you want my recommendation I would pass on this one.

The $35 ticket included 2 beers; the beers were served slightly cooler than the very hot room. Admittedly, I hadn’t known about the beers, so that was a pleasant surprise. However, the price is high for a show that lasts 45 minutes and the drinks aren’t cold.

Yes, Suspended had elements that alone, entertain me to no end. Yet, they never came together to form a truly great show. I respect attempting to fuse these different art forms together, but it just didn’t work.

Originally posted at: http://phillygaycalendar.com/pages/col.php?id=949

Glass Menagerie at the Booth Theater

I saw the Glass Menagerie at the Booth Theater in NYC on Sunday. I thought it was really great. I have never seen it before, and so I found it to be extremely captivating. My celebrity crush on Zachary Quinto probably made me a little biased toward his performance, but he was incredible. He played it the way I imagine Tennessee Williams was in life. I thought Celia Keenan-Bolger performance as Laura was wonderful. She played a charming, scared, and ultimately sick character that I had so much empathy for that it made me hurt while watching her. She really stole the show for me.

Brian Smith was good, even if his accent fluctuated throughout the performance. It took me about 5 minutes to realize “oh shit, he’s the sex bomb from Stargate Universe!” I had a similar moment when I figured out that Cherry Jones played a President on 24. It’s a wonderful ensemble and I could easily watch the performance again. There is something about that play that is absolutely wrenching. Tennessee Williams writes in way that makes you chuckle about uncared for mental health, manipulation, and abandonment. Then you question your own shallowness half me through the laugh.

If you can, I totally think everyone should see it. I was thinking and processing emotions during and well after, and for me that is a sign of a tremendous job well done.