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An Octoroon at CapStage
Sep 12th, 2017 by Dr Karma

An Octoroon won an Obie for Best New Play a couple of years back. It’s now playing in Sacramento, at CapStage.

I love this play and this production.

The Octoroon was an 1859 play/melodrama by Dion Boucicault–it was extremely popular, and was used in the North to further the abolitionist cause. Using the image of the octoroon was common–those who were 1/8ths black could usually pass. Thus, the audience would see a white person being treated like a black one, which hopefully lead them to question such treatment all together. Female educated octoroons were especially sympathetic–and bound for tragedy–no white man was supposed to love them (and laws in some places forbade it), and audiences believed that an almost white woman shouldn’t be with a fully black man.

It’s an old story, one that we don’t tell that much anymore.

That’s not at all to say this new version is dated–it’s completely relevant and terrifyingly familiar.

An Octoroon is a postmodern revision by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins–it’s clever and funny and satiric and heartbreaking. The melodrama–and the octoroon–are still there, but Jacobs-Jenkins gives a voice to the other slaves in peril, asks us to ask why we’re laughing, and thrusts us into contemplative, uncomfortable silence.

The current production (running through October 1st), directed by Judith Moreland, is powerful and has a strong cast (I couldn’t take my eyes off of Alexandra Barthel when she was on stage). The intimacy of this theatre space adds a great deal to the meta aspects of the play. When the actors turn to us, we are only a few feet away. There’s no where to hide–they can see us when we laugh, when we grimace, when we give them their well-deserved applause.

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Review of CapStage’s Stupid F###king Bird
May 29th, 2017 by Dr Karma

CapStage is the home of intimate ground-breaking theatre. They make incredible use of their small space, creating immerse worlds that spill out into the audience.

Stupid Fucking Bird, by Aaron Posner, is playing there until June 4th.

Go see it.

I first encountered Posner’s work when I saw the recording of the Folger Theatre’s Macbeth–Posner directed it, together with Teller (of Penn and Teller). Together, they brought real magic to the stage–the witches disappear, daggers float, blood covers white hands.

Thus, I was excited to see Posner’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. One doesn’t need to know anything about Chekhov or The Seagull to enjoy this play, but you get the old nerd thrill of recognition at some moments if you do.

The play is brilliant, and it’s beautifully directed by Michael Stevenson, who expertly guides his cast in handling a tricky piece of metatheatre, complete with direct addresses and interactions with the audience. Don’t worry–it’s not uncomfortable–you won’t be asked to come on stage or to talk if you don’t want to, but avoid drinking too much on their lovely patio before the show–you don’t want to be the unlucky person who naps–you’re likely to get called out & you’re missing a great show!

This work is about what all of Chekhov’s works are about–relationships (why doesn’t this person love me? what if I’m a disappointment to myself, my lovers, my parents, my children? is it better to be content or to search for happiness? do I get to choose?), but it also asks what theatre’s relationship to these questions are (will audiences watch something new? can theatre truly provoke us to change?).

I fucking love this play.

 

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The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart–review
Feb 3rd, 2013 by Dr Karma

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing a performance by The National Theatre of Scotland–The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. It was staged at our Mondavi Center. The play, when performed in Scotland, is often done in pubs and other common houses. They thus transformed the studio theatre into a pub, complete with a bar and tables. We were greeted with a free shot of Benromach Single Malt Scotch Wiskey and told that all seats were good seats, as the actors would be moving between the tables throughout the performance.

The play incorporated music (each actor could sing, dance, and play at least one instrument) and verse–although it’s uncommon for large portions of contemporary plays to be in verse, it worked somehow here.

The story was simple–Prudencia is a scholar off at a conference. Her methods are traditional–she looks for the stories in old ballads, rather than writing up scholarship on tweets or being a post-post-structuralist like her contemporaries. Her desire to flee from a disastrous roundtable discussion is thwarted by a snow storm. Hours later, her desire to flee from a bacchanalian pub (with strip karaoke) is also thwarted–she is lost in the snow at midnight. She has already been warned that it happens to be the night when the devil may prowl for souls, so she is happy to retreat to a bed and breakfast with its innkeeper, who promises her warmth and use of his large library. The unassuming man also compliments her scholarship . . .

And that’s all it takes for the Devil himself to capture a female scholar.

Prudencia’s current project is actually on hell (including its erotics), so she is disappointed to be trapped for millennia in a bed and breakfast library overlooking a costco parking lot, despite having every book ever written at her disposal. Over the centuries, she comes to know the devil, changing bodily form and all. She is finally able to seduce him, as he does in fact love her. As she escapes, she finds the rip in time that will take her back to the night she was stolen. One of her fellow scholars is out looking for her–although he mocks her work, it is only to cover his own being smitten. She knows enough from the ballads to be able to talk him through the rescue & they return to the bar, where she is able to finally sing her song.

The play was funny, energetic, often satiric, moving, and inventive in its use of traditional myth and current popular culture.

The end, which featured a slow, almost a cappella version of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” sung to the devil in the back of a crowded pub, was one of the most hauntingly beautiful theatrical moments I’ve ever witnessed.

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Rude People 2, Madame Bovary
Mar 8th, 2009 by Dr Karma

I went to the theatre this Friday. Nice little comedy done pretty well by the students here. More fun that the opera, except that the audience was worse (see last week’s blog about the opera audience). At least no one in the opera audience was playing with their phone the whole time (and my position in the theatre would have allowed me to see that).

A girl behind me at the play had her phone on vibrate. And it vibrated every time she got a text. And then she would take it out and answer right away, leading to a new vibration. I could see a bunch of other people texting and/or playing on their iphones during the production. One boy in particular, who attended with his four friends, did not look up at the stage at all. Even during the fight scene.

This was a small theatre. The actors and I could all see who was looking down and who was bathed in the blue glow of a phone screen.

bovary

In other news, have finally got around to reading Madame Bovary. I now understand Margaret Atwood’s line about how Bovary would have been saved by knowledge in double entry bookkeeping. The book exists in cultural imagination as being about adultery. Now, there is adultery. There’s commentary on faith and rural life and what we would now understand as crippling depression. But Madame Bovary is not ruined by her affairs. A loan shark takes advantage of her and her husband–he changes rates and threatens with third party intervention and pretends to be their friend. In the end, she’s dead because she’s bankrupt. If there had never been a money problem, the adultery wouldn’t have been a problem, either.

I have to say, it was much more readable than I anticipated, but I’m glad that I didn’t read it in high school. I hate that “classics” are always given to children, when it takes adults who’ve had money problems and more than one relationship, etc. to really empathize with characters. If I were speaking, I would raise a toast to reading the classics as an adult.

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