Monday, February 27, 2006


A Trying Play at Ford's Theater; Lovely Trapier "Secret Garden"

Take a fascinating man, Judge Francis Biddle, who oversaw the internment of the Japanese during WWII and served as a judge at the Nuremberg Trials, and pair him a wonderful, energetic young Canadian secretary, and what do you get? A very dull play at Ford's Theater.
What a waste, I thought, as the man's aches and pains, his time at the boy's school of Groton, and the secretary's background in Saskatoon, Canada were explored in greater depth than anything this fascinating man did during his career.

The author was obviously intimidated by her subject and unwilling to probe too deeply into his wartime activities. It was as if a play about Alberto Gonzalez mentioned nothing about Guantanamo except the how hot it was in Cuba. On the other hand, issues in the secretary's life--her lonely marriage, her unplanned pregnancy--were left unresolved.

I have no doubt that this play was faithful to the secretary's memories of her work with Judge Biddle. But a play, to be worth an audience, must be bolder, go beyond mere steneography of what happened, especially with such two fine actors --James Witmore & Karron Graves--on stage.

As usual, much of Ford's audience was composed of young people dragged there to see the theater where Lincoln died. I felt so sorry for them as they sat through this three-hour ordeal. But they were well-behaved on the whole. At intermission, they said they were "Trying" not to fall asleep, and my conversations with them were more entertaining than anything that happened on stage. This play had such wonderful buzz on the Footlights' discussion list--I must find someone who shares my taste!
I also went to see "The Secret Garden" at the Trapier Theater at the St. Albans' School. Perhaps it was low expectations--perhaps it was my memories of how much I loved the book--but I was surprisingly impressed with the production! The students have trained voices and I could hear every word. The musical is deeper than the book, but this production was never as gloomy as I recalled the NY production as being. The acting was solid and the show was quite moving. Washington theater can surprise you. The theater that has everything (Ford), including tour buses and professional actors, can disappoint. A high school can do a great, moving job with a tricky musical. That's theater for you.

I'm feeling particularly bereft of good reviewers (by which I mean people who share my taste). For a while I relied on the City Paper's reviews, but we have parted ways. (Their taste has deteriorated, that is, diverged from mine). Must see "Measure for Measure" at the Folger. A difficult play, and not much buzz about it, but I don't trust buzz anymore. I'll go based on a friend of mine's recommendation. She's an English teacher, and we have the same taste in books, so I will use her now as a guide. It's a tricky world out there. One might almost say "Trying."

Monday, February 06, 2006


Finally, a show worthy of the reviews

I was so happy with the Studio Theater's production of "Fat Pig." Neil LaBute is ordinarily so cruel, and powerfully so, that I dread and look forward to his new plays. This one, as the reviews hinted, was a kinder, gentler play that left you free to imagine that the characters could find happiness--perhaps even with each other. The trim, ambitious man and his obese girlfriend could change! She offered to have her stomach stapled, for Pete's sake! And he--he could learn to commit! It could happen! Pigs can fly! The men I was with were not convinced. Move on, they said. That relationship is doomed. Men are so cruel, I thought, which is exactly what I think after every LaBute play. That, and "I'm hungry," which I guess was an appropriate thought after this performance.

The play was extremely well done, fast moving, wonderfully acted, and staged with great creativity. The scenes move from a pizzeria to an office to a restaurant to a bedroom to a beach picnic and it's so well done that you don't realize how much skill it takes to shift scenes that way.

Rarely has there been such a good discussion after a play. Everyone could bring something to the table (we appropriately discussed the play over dinner).
People discussed intermarriages; interracial marriages; marriages across class; and the role of friends who just want to warn you, for your own good, about what might happen down the line. Such good, good friends.
A wonderful afternoon of theater that I will savor, like the memory of a good meal, for a long time.

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