Thursday, July 20, 2006

the Drunken Housewife goes to the theatre

I have two friends named Kim in my life: both of them live sadly far away from me, and both of them are strongly interested in the theatre. Kim #1 came to visit for a few days, and our major activity was seeing some shows. Anton and I also share a love of live theatre, but alas our budget does not provide for hiring many babysitters to see many shows. So, leaving Anton at home with the children, we got out to some plays. (Anton was okay with this, because he was sucking up to me so I'd agree to his going to Chicago next month).

On Sunday, we saw "Killer Joe" at the Magic Theatre. I'd been vaguely wanting to go to this play all summer; it enjoyed a sold-out run at the Marin theatre company, and then it moved down to the Magic and was extended there. It was billed as a dark comedy, but as Kim noted at intermission, "I'm seeing a lot of dark, but not much comedy." We did laugh out loud at some point during the second act, but comedy was definitely not the applicable genre.

The first act had quite a lot of female nudity, and Kim said during intermission that she hoped to see a penis to make up for this during act two. Right on order, a penis was exhibited in a display of full-frontal male nudity in Act II, which saved us from finding the play overly sexist or exploitive. We loved the trailer set, with its wealth of details. We loved all the actors save one, and, weird as this may be to say, the play had the best use of stage make-up I have ever seen. Kudos to the make-up crew, who were obviously working hard behind the scenes as the play went on.

I'm being purposefully vague about the plot, so as not to spoil anything for anyone, and I highly recommend seeing this play, with the sole caveat that women who are past victims of sexual assault or molestation may find the play to be triggering and upsetting.

On Tuesday, we saw "Restoration Comedy" at the Cal Shakes festival. I am ashamed that I have lived in the Bay Area for almost twenty years, but never attended the Cal Shakes festival. Anton's attitude ("You are driving to the suburbs to see comedy??") was pretty negative (on Sunday, he asked me, "Which play are you seeing tonight? The good one? Or the one in the suburbs?"). However, the setting was fabulous, an outdoor stage in the beautiful hills. We saw cows grazing behind the stage, and we picnicked beforehand. The only problem was that, as always a picnic overachiever, I packed my picnic basket, with real flatware, champagne flutes, a bottle of sparkling wine, cloth napkins (the mood was slightly marred by my plastic plates with pictures of duckies on them). The picnic basket did not fit under my seat, and I could not leave it in the aisle, as the performers often ran up and down the aisles. I had to sit awkardly with my feet on the basket through the show, and we had to assist the others seated in our row in getting in and out.

"Restoration Comedy" was the anti-"Killer Joe": a comedy of manners in costume, with light, stylized sets (as opposed to "Killer Joe"'s extremely detailed and realistic set), beautifully broadcast harpsichord music (as opposed to "Killer Joe"'s deliberately distorted and fuzzy occasional music), a large chorus ("Joe" had only 5 actors), occasional forays into verse, and the "breaking of the fifth wall" for humorous effect ("Killer Joe" was so intense that I worried about the effect the performance must have on the actors). More trivially, the stage make-up in "Restoration Comedy" was the sort of over-done make-up I hate. But! Never have you seen such luscious, wonderful costumes! I was left longing to go to "Burning Man" this year, so I could sew myself some crazy historical costumes. Men in long, curly wigs and gorgeous purple frock coats, women in corsets and huge skirts, beautiful colors and textures... With some good-looking actors, the stylish sets, and the luxurious costumes, "Restoration Comedy" was true eye candy.

Again, I refuse to spoil the plot, and I do recommend "Restoration Comedy", but maybe not for those who may have struggled with infidelity issues unhappily. The theme of "Restoration Comedy" is that monogamy is a hopeless endeavour. (The Drunken Housewife isn't usually so nitpicky in her recommendations, but these excellent plays could overly affect the previously traumatized).

On the way to the stage, we passed several huge, expensively printed banners proclaiming that Cal Shakes is "for all ages" and a quote from someone about having achieved a lifelong love of Shakespeare and the theatre from attending Cal Shakes as a wee tot. The program guide touted drama classes for ages 4 and up. However, then the performance went on to have quite a lot of sexual content, which made it seem a lot less child-friendly than touted.

Lately there haven't been any movies I've really wanted to see (I'll wait until "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Strangers with Candy" come out on DVD to catch them). Going to the movies is so expensive, especially if one adds in babysitting. The live theatre is a better entertainment choice, in my opinion. Even if you see a bad play, somehow you have more fodder for conversation. The presence of the actors commands more attention. I've never left a play with that left-a-bad-movie feeling where you say, "My God, I'll never get those two hours of my life back." I have left a few plays at intermission (notably the hideous rap version of Moliere which the misguided ACT staged some years ago), but even so, I didn't regret having gone in the first place (okay, maybe I would have regretted the rap Moliere if I'd bought the tickets to it; I went as part of my season subscription). I'm eager to see more plays, and I feel bad that Anton missed "Killer Joe."

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