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“David and Katie Get Re-Married” at The PIT

David and Katie are a picture of wedded bliss… if your definition of marriage is, say, Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder sticking together for fifteen more years, getting tattoos of each other’s names and painfully removing them after every fight. David and Katie have invited you and a room full of other complete strangers to witness their re-marriage ceremony (“the second happiest day of their life”), because frankly, no one else would go. Their family and friends have already witnessed this unsuitable union once. They’ve learned their lesson, even if David and Katie have not.

Katie Hartman and David Carl star in “David and Katie Get Re-Married”

That they haven’t learned their lesson is clear from the couple’s first scene together, an awkward and drawn-out dance with both Katie and David in body-hugging black underwear obliviously in love as they make half-attempts at lifts and twirls. The couple have elected a new approach to their re-wedding ceremony. They’ve collected a list of new age practices this time around to solidify their partnership. Of course, nothing goes off quite as planned. There’s a ritual of accepting praise and criticism from your partner as s/he caresses your face with a feather (in the instance of praise) or pokes you with a stick (in the instance of criticism). David and Katie struggle admirably to praise each other, but criticism comes too easily. Then, there’s the Balinese butterfly release which, given that it involves a living, breathing animal, goes horribly wrong.

Both David Carl and Katie Hartman are veterans of the comedy stage. We reviewed Carl’s Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet, a highlight of last year’s Fringe, and Hartman is part of the sketch comedy duo Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting. Carl and Hartman wrote the script and music for this production, which is directed by Michole Biancosino.

Part of what made Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet so exciting was the level of discomfort the audience felt at watching one clearly incapable man work very hard to put together an extraordinary, albeit unusual and darkly comic, feat of theater. Here, in David and Katie Get Re-Married, we’re seeing something similar: two people who are clearly not meant for the task they’ve taken upon themselves (marriage) struggle (and slip) to piece together something special. It’s an inspired concept for a comedy show that celebrates persistence in spite of terribly obvious shortcomings.

David and Katie, however, is not so tight a production as Hamlet, and the laughs of discomfort in the audience were equally at David and Katie’s comedic efforts to renew their love as at the show’s strangely slow pacing. There were times where David and Katie seemed to lose track of the humor and the scene became unnecessarily long without the joke hitting its mark. There was also a third character whose unusual backstory could have been worked into the show in a more fruitful way. My favorite moments of the show were the original songs, which reflected a wide range of styles and topics (both humorous and emotional) and propelled the story elegantly. I look forward to seeing how David and Katie continue to develop this production– Here’s to knowing their future is brighter than that of their stage personas!

“The Cloud” @ HERE Arts Center

In a post-internet world, technology has completely usurped the way we communicate: most people who’ll know what I think of the following play will find out through this blog, Facebook/Twitter, and the occasional text. Only a handful of others will know what I’ve said about the production in person. And if I were to really examine my communication with that handful of people I actually speak to on a regular basis, how much of it has been superseded by laptops and smartphones?

That’s the hook of The Cloud, a short-but-oh-so-sweet comedy from Slant Theatre Project that examines how relationships flourish–and flounder–in this brave new digital world. The couple put to the test: Chris (Teddy Bergman) and Katie (Makela Feely-Lehmann), two New Yorkers who text each other as much as they speak face-to-face. Chris is a set designer who has just gotten a gig teaching at an out-of-town college. Katie is a shrewd app developer whose latest project is a pay-to-play social network where users post their nudes–just so they can see everyone else’s. They converse throughout the opening scene in bursts of both “real dialogue” and text messages, a challenge that director Wes Grantom handles with ease, as the actors still look at each other, and not just their phones. This choice in direction lends a credibility and inner life to their text exchanges. The foils to Chris and Katie are Greg, Katie’s philandering ex-boyfriend and personal trainer to Sandy, a costume designer who teaches at the same school as Chris. Of course, all four characters (and their various mobile devices) collide, with humorous results.

A dramatic rendering of texting your ex.

The Cloud could have easily been a dull rom-com with more techie style than substance. Happily, this was not the case, as Matt Moses’ clever dialogue has real heart behind the punchlines. All four characters have authentic histories, desires, and flaws, no matter the medium they express them. My favorite had to be Greg, who is notorious for his dude-bro womanizing ways, but is an aging Lothario searching for something more significant. The allusion to Shakespeare in The Cloud also lends to its complexity. As Chris and Sandy prepare for a regional production of As You Like It, there is a discussion of whether this production should have realistic, green trees or a darker forest that represents the characters’ difficulties. Instead of a forest, The Cloud has 4G networks and messaging apps that its characters must navigate through. But neither the Forest of Arden nor a messaging app can totally decide our fate. It’s still up to us to figure out how to make that connection.

 

For more information on The Cloud, check out Slant Theatre Project’s website: http://www.slanttheatreproject.org

“The Learned Ladies” @ Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex

Moliere’s play The Learned Ladies a has a decidedly tongue-in-cheek title with regard to its female characters, who study obsessively but learn very little. A new production by The New Ateh Theater Group and Cake Productions takes that conceit one step further, with an all-female cast.

But first, the plot: Chrysale may be the man of the house, but it is his wife Philaminte who wields power over the household. She, along with bookish daughter Armande and eccentric sister-in-law Belise, obsessively follow various academic pursuits. They even have a live-in poet, Trissotin, who charms the women with his less-than-stellar verses. Philaminte is so charmed by Trissotin that she betroths him to her daughter Henriette. The catch? She is already engaged to her love Clitandre, a match that her father had already approved. Requisite misunderstandings follow before good triumphs, evil flounders, and the learned ladies receive a few life lessons of their own.

All-female productions of classic works are nothing new, but ATG/Cake’s production of Learned Ladies is a shining example of how it should be done. All actresses play their characters faithfully, with no caricatures present in their male—or female—counterparts. (Though to be fair, that mistake is something I usually see when men play female roles, usually for laughs. But that is another post for another day.) After the novelty of false mustaches and pinned-back hair wears off, the production quickly immerses the audience into Moliere’s world of parody, witty insight, and broad comedy. The cast delivers on the laughs, with effortless comedic timing (aided by Paul Urcioli’s precise direction) and fully-acted performances. As a result, these Learned Ladies definitely earn top marks.

Rainn Wilson’s Not-a-Memoir Out Next Fall

Entertainment Weekly announced that Rainn Wilson is coming out with a memoir new book with Dutton next fall. Wilson doesn’t want to call it a memoir because he is the
“guy who is best known for playing a paper salesman with a bad haircut, tweeting fart jokes and starting a quirky spirituality website.” While he may not be Desmond Tutu, I’m sure Wilson has something worthwile to say.  In March, he posted a picture he’d taken of the audition sign-in sheet for The Office. That image alone speaks to the awesome professional—and personal—stories he can share.

I want to give all the actors all the jobs.
I want to give all the actors all the jobs.

Why The Heat Deserves More Credit

I’ve gotta say, my expectations for The Heat were not high. In fact, I probably would not have bothered to watch it had it not been my mom’s birthday and The Heat  the only film that was remotely to her tastes. I’m usually not a fan of crime-busting plots (I don’t think I’ve ever sat through an episode of Law & Order in its entirety) and, while re-invigorated by the 21 Jump Street reboot, the buddy-cop genres are often a recipe for predictable jokes and cringey humor. This was more or less confirmed by The Heat’s mediocre reviews, many of which explained how it didn’t live up to its Bridesmaids predecessor. Womp womp.

The previously linked Flavorwire article states in its title that The Heat is heavy on laughs, light on agenda. Ummm… yes and no.Even though Bridesmaids excelled more than The Heat on a comedic (women can be funny) and a dramatic level (all-women casts can make great films), The Heat has more of a feminist agenda than critics give it credit for. The Heat has moved past these ridiculous genre questions like “can women be funny?” and actually begun to show how women are treated by the film industry and society.

The film industry?? But I thought this was about women in the police force.

Yup, and there are some similar factors.

Take, for instance, the forced sexualization of Sandra Bullock’s character, Sarah Ashburne. Ashburne and Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) follow one of the drug dudes into a nightclub with the mission of planting a tracking device on his phone. Ashburne seems immediately out-of-place in her workplace pantsuit and demeanor. Mullins rushes Ashburne to the bathroom and starts to rip her clothes apart to make her look sexier.

At this point, we feminists in the audience might start to groan. We might think things like: Great, here we go again. Bullock needs to be sexualized in order for her to be likeable. Or: Why is Bullock getting the sexy girl treatment and McCarthy isn’t?

But in fact, this scene is a quite awesome reversal of typical female roles. McCarthy, the less attractive, overweight, more masculine character, is giving Bullock, the thinner, more conventionally pretty character, the makeover. When she’s done, Bullock asks McCarthy something along the lines of “Well, what about you? Don’t you need a makeover?” McCarthy replies, “Nah, I don’t need one.” Bullock asks why and McCarthy replies, “I can create sexuality with just the movement of my body. I don’t need the sexy clothes or the messy hair.” Bullock, “So I have to dress up for people to think I’m sexy and you can just stay how you are?” McCarthy, “I know. It isn’t fair.’

Score. A perfect jab at critics’ focus on McCarthy’s weight, including mean-spirited reviews and super feats of air-brushing. McCarthy has truly fought for her sexiness. And honestly, even though she plays a rough, wild, crude, and unfeminine character, I think McCarthy has established that she can be just as sexy as her actress counterparts, simply with her physical comedy (In fact, Mullins encounters several doting exes throughout the movie, including real-life husband Ben Falcon). I had clearly forgotten how amazing Melissa McCarthy can be– her brand of comedy can be both over-the-top and incredibly nuanced. Even as she’s throwing a gigantic watermelon at a drug dealer’s back, or slipping through car windows in order to get out of her parking space, or beating the crap out of Tony Hale, every comedic choice she makes is precise, intuitive, and effective.

Okay, fast forward a bit. Bullock successfully seduces drug man guy dude and plants the tracking device on his phone. Drug man dude whispers sexily to her, “You know, you’re the first woman over 40 who has given me a boner.”

From this point on, Bullock keeps getting targeted by her male counterparts for her age. Twice, drug man dude says, “You look older every time I see you.” Each time he says this, however, little does he know that Bullock’s got the smarts, the gun power, and the humor to combat him. He should really be paying less attention to her looks and more attention to the explosives in her backpack. McCarthy and Bullock are easily the most powerful people in any room they’re in. They’re a great duo, but they are also incredibly talented individually at their own brand of comedy/drama.

As for the plot, yes, it’s superficial. It’s simple and predictable. If you can’t spot the drug lord by the halfway point, you’ve probably been living in a television-less cave.

But like I said before, these crime plots are over-rated. A more complex plot might actually have hindered this film rather than helped it. And as far as the film’s feminist agenda goes, all you need to know is that the bad guy goes down with two shots to the crotch. I think that about says it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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