Rock & Roll

February 21, 2007

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Okay, I have to be honest here.  I came late to Rock & Roll, and I was a little lost.  This is Tom Stoppard‘s latest cold-war-era piece about the fall of Eastern Bloc (in this case, using bootlegged American records to capture the mood of the era, hence the title).  I knew the gist going in, but between all the accents, flipping back and forth through time, the revolving sets, the obtuse pop-culture references… well, I was a little lost.  And, I never fully recovered.

I feel a little ashamed.  I feel ashamed for stepping on all those people’s feet as I dashed across them to my empty centre seat, panicky about getting there before the end of the scene change.  But, mostly I feel ashamed about not enjoying a Tom Stoppard play.  I love Tom Stoppard.  I was really looking forward to this play.  So, I felt a little disappointed that I didn’t love Rock & Roll.  And, worse, I’ll never know if it was the play’s fault or mine.

So, I’m going to give Tom Stoppard the benefit of my doubt (because I know he’s reading this right now), and go with every critic in London who says this play should earn him the Pulitzer Prize (or whatever the British equivalent is).  Personally, I don’t think it’s that brilliant.  It’s good, but like all Stoppard plays, it does tend to drag on in bits.  Dominic West was great, as always.  People talk about stage presence, and he certainly has it, even when finding his way through page eight of an uninterrupted speech about life in Czechoslovakia (at least that’s how I remember it).

I also felt a little ashamed that I didn’t know more about the history behind the play.  Although, in fairness, I was in grade school when most of the historical action was taking place.  I have to be honest: I thought the Velvet Revolution was a band.  So, really, is it any wonder that after getting lost on my way to the theater, I remained lost in the audience?  I wasn’t just late to the play; I was late to the history.  And for that, I’m truly ashamed.

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Love Song

February 8, 2007

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All four of the actors in Love Song were at the top of their game.  In fact, they were all far better than the play they were performing in.  In brief, Love Song is basically an existential comedy about a mildly insane struggling artist-type (Cillian Murphy), his constantly bickering parents (Kristen Johnston and Michael McKean) and the girl of his dreams (Neve Campbell) who may or may not exist only in his dreams.  That’s really about it.

There’s no “plot” per se (except for the story arc of Murphy’s character trying to live more in reality), but it doesn’t matter.  Seeing these four actors on the stage was a thrill.  And, as much as I’d love to give Cillian Murphy and Neve Campbell their due (and they both deserve it), I can’t help but heap the bulk of my praise on Kristen Johnston and Michael McKean.

It may seem totally obvious to say that these two should have their own sitcom (seeing as Johnston is best known for Third Rock from the Sunand McKean for Laverne and Shirley), but they really should.  They’re written as a comedy-without-the-tragedy version of George and Martha, but they take that idea and run with it as far as they can go.  While Murphy is brooding and intense, and Campbell is mysterious and ethereal, Johnston and McKean are, well, just plain fun to watch.  Somehow, they make their scripted roles look like improv comedy, and even better, they hold back a little, keeping things a little dark, because they know what play they’re in.  After all, this isn’t Saturday Night Live.

 I hope they do get a hit sitcom.  And, I hope Cillian Murphy keeps getting great film roles, like Breakfast on Pluto and The Wind that Shakes the Barley.  And, I really hope Neve Campbell gets to be in something that makes people forget about the Scream movies.  After seeing them live on stage, I know that they all deserve it.