Sunday, July 20, 2008

The old curmudgeon of Broadway

Passing Strange passed today. I was there to see it off.

I had missed it at the Public (to my chagrin--I had a chance at free tickets). I had missed it during its run, thus far. And I was tempted to wait for the taped version--but it seemed like the sort of musical that should be seen in person.

Which it was.

It was enjoyable. But it wasn't...transcendent.

And so I was disappointed.

It is an unfair standard, I know. Perhaps it's the amount of money involved (I went through TKTS, still an expensive proposition). But I do not go to theater, any theater, to see something acceptable. I go to be awed.

And I have been awed. I know it's possible. It's happened on Broadway. It's happened Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway. It even happened once in a junior high school cafeteria, where an amateur group performed The Bald Sopranno.

But usually, it doesn't happen.

My criticism of Passing Strange (not that it matters so much, after the fact), is that everything onstage, the music, the story, the artistry, was all...a little pedestrian. The rock music was decent, but not exciting. The story was at time interesting, but often meandering. The performances...the performances were good.

But not transcendent.

I also seem to be one of the few who was not overly excited by August: Ocean County. It was a decently made play. Strong enough characters, a dysfunctional family setting that rang familiar, and a lot of bickering. Tragedies, plot twists...though the sort of plot twists and tragedies that could be seen in any soap opera.

Not to put down Tracy Lets. He's a decent writer.

Just not transcendent. To me.

At Passing Strange, I was sitting next to a woman who had already seen the show three times. And in blogs and reviews I read such praise of those shows that I expected them to be more. What is it that transported the woman next to me while I remained on the ground. What inspired the flowing praise for August: Ocean County? Even the blogs were full of nothing but praise.

I feel like the old curmudgeon of Broadway.

But I do want to say--really? Is that enough? Explain it to me, please explain it to me. Because I want to believe. I walk in the theater, each time, hoping to see greatness.

There are actually a good number of shows that have, over the years, fit that criteria, but sometimes I have to recite some of them to myself to remind myself I am not just a curmudgeon:

Caroline or Change
I am My Own Wife
The Far Side of the Moon (Robert Lepage)
The Trojan Women (Andrei Serban)
Peter and Wendy (Mabou Mines)
A Doll's House (Mabou Mines again)
The Green Bird (Julie Taymor)
The Chairs (Simon McBurney)

Just what happens to pop into my head right now...I almost wrote Sunday in the Park with George or Richard Eyre's Macbeth, but I had to remind myself that I had only seen those on video.

There are others, as I said. And there will be more. I hope.

But not Passing Strange. And not August: Ocean County.


Anonymous said...

You're clearly the old curmudgeon of Broadway!

RLewis said...

Personally, I prefer "August: Sausage County". lol. "Ocean County" seems a lil' too salty. Needs more fishermen. lol.

But your post reminds me of what a powerful role Expectation plays in the stortelling arts. I know folks aren't nearly as moved by Rent as others were a decade ago. The cat's out of the bag now. I wonder if you'd feel differently had you seen either PS or A:OC in previews - before you had read so much about them. I didn't know what to Expect from either going in, and both had elements and moments that took me by surprise. No transcedence; it's only theater after all, but I was moved before all the hoopla go out. Edward - stop waiting 'till closing week, my man.

Theater of Ideas said...

It's true that expectations may play a part, though there have been times I have expected a lot and seen a lot. I went to see August: Ocean County during previews, by the way, I'm just reflecting on it now in the wake of Passing Strange. Not that I hadn't read a lot already, from the show in Chicago. I tend to either see things in previews or at the end, because previews are the times I most often scam free tickets, while the ones I don't scam and really want to see I wait till the end for (just in case a free ticket pops up).

And "no transcendence, it's just theater"? Perhaps your expectations start lower than mine, because transcendence is exactly what I hope for every time--and even occasionally have found.