Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bookshot Special: The Play's The Thing

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I couldn't understand why anyone would want to sit through a party like this one. I mean Nick and Honey just stick around and stick around and stick around long past the point of common sense and just when you think it couldn't possibly make any more sense whatsoever, it all comes together in a rush that's like a punch to the gut. I want to see a production of this- my question is mainly centered around speed- in my head, this dialogue went by at Gilmore Girls level speed, but a view YouTube videos later revealed that wasn't true at all.

In contrast to August: Osage County, this particular copy was pretty light on stage setting instructions and stage directions as well. But the dialogue is razor sharp- I'm talking Peter O'Toole vs. Katherine Hepburn in The Lion In Winter type of sharp and I dig that. And the ending...  wow. The ending. Knocked me right off my damn feet.


August: Osage County

I kind of want to go and see a production of this on stage, because the set seems to be the whole damn house and it's... intricate. There were barely any stage instructions in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and this one is chock full of them, all delicately choreographed and laid out. There's also whole scene of multiple characters speaking at the same time which must be harder than shit to pull off on stage because I couldn't imagine trying to concentrate on my lines while like six other people are reading theirs at the same time.

Instead of messed up couples on a bender, this is a masterpiece of family dysfunction that gets really weird and twisted at the end. There's a movie floating around out there somewhere- and I don't know if movie versions of plays are any better or any worse than going to see an actual stage version, but I do want to see it and see what it's like. Some notable lines that jumped out at me:
"You know this country was always pretty much a whorehouse, but at least it used to have some promise. Now it's just a shithole."
and, of course,
"EAT THE FISH, BITCH."
I chuckled at the second one. Messed up families seem like a topic that gets mined a lot- or maybe it's just the plays I picked. We'll see.


Blithe Spirit

A dose of British playwriting does the body good, apparently- because this one by Noel Coward is taut, concise and full of humor as dry as a good martini. (Of which many were drunk in this play.) True story: I'm pretty sure I looked into doing a scene from this as an improv or extemporaneous speaking entry in a debate contest like way way way back in junior high?

Anyway, the TL;DR of this play: dude is writing a book about ghosts, wants to see what it's all about, so brings a medium around to have a seance. Ends up bringing back the ghost of his dead wife, much to the consternation of all concerned, including his current (second wife.) Things get more madcap and slightly darker than I was expecting from there.

The structure of this one differs a little from the first two. August: Osage County is quantam mechanics compared to this, but I also think the basic aspect of the structure is what makes the writing stand out more. I don't know if there's more writing or it just seems like there is more writing, but it stands in contrast to the somewhat dark and twisted (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and dysfunctional family fun (August: Osage County) of the first two plays. I dig it.


Hay Fever

I liked Hay Fever better than Blithe Spirit- it was lighter in touch and tone and moved more quickly though the three acts. It's described as 'A Light Comedy In Three Acts' which fits perfectly. The problem becomes evident immediately: pretty much everyone in the Bliss family has invited a guest down to stay for the weekend and chaos and shenanigans ensue, and you're left wondering whether or not the family is really as messed up as they seem- is this heading into drama territory, when in fact it turns out it's not. (The 'punchline' of the play is perfect, really- when you think about it.)

I don't know how many people have seem Eddie Izzard's riff about British drama, the whole, "Oh." "Oh."  "I think I better go." "Yes, I think you better had." thing- also works for this play. It's very British. Very very very British. Perhaps even excessively British? I mean, it is a Noel Coward play.

Only thing that I find confusing about this play: the title. Maybe I missed it in the hijinks and the weird, overly literary parlor games, but no one seems to have hay fever. There's like a sneeze here or there, but...  sigh. I'm going to have to read this again, aren't it?


Private Lives

The last of the Noel Coward trifecta, Private Lives turned out to be something of a disappointment. It started out with a premise worthy of the greatest of sitcoms- two couples recently married again end up at the same hotel as exes and mayhem ensued. But as with Blithe Spirit, there's a dark twist to this that didn't sit right with me. Basically, Amanda and Elyot (not sure why there's a 'y' in Elliott, but okay) are horrible people and they somehow ditch their respective second spouses (Sibyl and Victor) and decide to runaway and give it another go-round. But unfortunately, they're still horrible people. And while Sibyl and Victor bond it turns out that by the end of the play, they can't stand each other either.

I guess that's sort of the point of the play- that horrible people sort of deserve each other and maybe attract each other as well? I don't know... it's described as 'An Intimate Comedy In Three Acts' which I guess makes sense, but the humor was either too dry or too dark for my liking. Of the three, I think I like this one the least, which is sort of strange because the back of the book describes it as "the only classic English comedy of manners since Oscar Wilde." Well, okay then.

Of the Noel Coward trifecta I liked this one the least. But then again, I haven't really read that many plays- up until now that is. Maybe I'll grab some Oscar Wilde if I do this again and expand my horizons a bit.

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