Monday, April 13, 2009

Rooms: A Rock Romance

I’ve been trying to write a review of Rooms: A Rock Romance for five days. And I hit a wall – what to say about this show?

To get my creative juices a-flowing, I initiated conversation with my friends who have seen the show. “What did you think of Rooms?” I asked them all. And every single one of them started off with the same critique: “It was okay.”

And I thought, Yes! It was okay. It was just okay. Bottom line: Rooms: A Rock Romance is, by all accounts, OKAY.

Leslie Kritzer (who I totally loved in Legally Blonde and A Catered Affair) is a true talent, that’s for sure. But her downfall here is a cringe-worthy take on the Scottish dialect. (Every time she rolled her “rrr,” I had to resist burying my face in the arm of the man sitting beside me.)

Doug Kreeger, who I hadn’t seen before, did a better job convincing me he had some Scottish blood. And he nailed the brooding musician angle… the only issue is that I’m not really attracted to that, and thus had a hard time imagining why Kritzer’s character would be.

Once their emotional connection was established, I suspended disbelief enough to enjoy the majority of the show. Musical highlights include "Scottish Jewish Princess" (an ode to a young woman at her Bat Mizvah), and the punk rock number "All I Want is Everything" (though it was more like "All I want is Everrrrrything" in Kritzer's botched brogue).

The show was neither a comedy or a drama -- clearly trying, but more-or-less failing, to be both. Some funny moments worked (as in the aforementioned Bat Mitzvah scene); some dark moments were surprising and a bit off-putting, even as they evoked mild emotional reactions in me.

I have exactly no superlatives to declare about this show. It was sort-of funny, sort-of sad, sort-of enjoyable, sort-of annoying, sort-of a waste of my time, sort-of an enjoyable evening out.

It also struck me as "sort-of" unneccesary to have these American actors (Kritzer, I'm looking at you) playing Scottish roles, when there are surely singing-and-dancing Scots around town. I'm not going to suggest re-writing the script so it's set in the USA, because the playwright is Scottish and that's clearly part of his story; but i'm just saying, it would have made just as much sense if the characters had grown up in Dayton, OH.

So, you want to see a show tonight? Go see Billy Elliot or Next to Normal or Jersey Boys.

You've already seen all those? Or someone offered you a free ticket?

Then go see Rooms.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Exclusive: Hal Sparks turned down Spamalot -- and wants to write Rock Opera!

Yes, it’s true –
Back before Spamalot closed on Broadway, Hal Sparks went through a lengthy audition process, and was offered the Lancelot track – he was to play the role in Las Vegas for three weeks, then move into the role on New York City for a year. Hal – an accomplished actor (Queer as Folk), singer (Zero 1), and comedian – ultimately turned down the role for financial reasons. However, Broadway isn’t entirely out of his sights – Hal tells me that he is seriously interested in writing a rock opera based on the music of Queensr├┐che.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Notes on Reasons To Be Pretty

OK, Neil LaBute -- you like the word “fuck”! (The opening scene of Reasons To Be Pretty features it about 35 times.)

First impressions (other than the jolt of the recurring F word): I dug the set (a few simple moving parts that portray at various times a bedroom, a mall, a ballpark, and most often the kitchen/ “lounge” of the warehouse where three of the four characters work). There is little-to-no amplification of the actor’s voices, which I also like (it makes the show feel more organic). And the sound design – short bursts of rock music used to transition between scenes – is well executed.

Compliments on the design now out of the way…
I had a bit of trouble losing myself in the story, especially in the first act. I couldn’t emotionally identify. I wanted to connect with Marin Ireland’s character, Steph (the single, 20-something, romantically-idealed blonde girl); yet from the start, I simply couldn’t get in.

Ireland plays the first scene as singularly angry. She’s reacting to the news that her boyfriend, Greg, has said something not-so-kind behind her back – and her reaction is entirely violent. I wanted to put myself in her place, feel what she was feeling – after all, I’ve had that happen to me before. But I didn’t see any trace of the emotions that I’d expect the character to feel underneath all of the anger. Where was the heartbreak? Where was the betrayal? Where was the self-doubt that his comment no doubt tapped into? ALL I could see from her was rage. And that on its own is pretty boring to watch.

The good news is that Thomas Sadoski, as Greg, is as multi-layered as Ireland is flat. He felt familiar to me, to the point that I found myself wondering if I’d met Sadoski at a party before. But no, it wasn’t the actor I’d encountered in the past – it was the character of Greg. I’ve known so many guys like that: well-intentioned, underappreciated, just trying to do the right thing by everyone. I applaud Sadoski’s presentation of a truly authentic character. I wanted to reach out and shake him and tell him that he deserved so much better than this bitchy Steph who couldn’t let one thing go.

I’d like to say unequivocally that I praise playwright Neil LaBute’s use of language. It’s like Mamet – supremely conversational, full of stops and starts and interruptions and incomplete thoughts. I can imagine that it would be hard to read on a page, might seem confusing as prose; but as dialogue, it works exceedingly well. A kind of poetry in the form of human discourse.

LaBute’s skill with dialogue is particularly highlighted in the scenes featuring Steven Pasquale as Kent. Another sort of one-note character, Kent is just an asshole – but for some reason I could buy that (he’s basically a testosterone-fueled alpha-male who only cares about winning the local league softball trophy and seeing who he can fuck). As the devil-on-Greg’s-shoulder, Kent is an archetypal douchebag. Pasquale nails the role, right down to the sneer on his face as brags about his adulterous ways (against wife Carly, played unremarkably by Piper Perabo.)

I’m pleased to report that at the end of act two, there is one redeeming scene in which Marin Ireland turns it around and shows some depth of character – where she reveals an interior monologue that differs from what she is saying out loud. That is the moment that should have encapsulated the whole play: a carefully calculated interaction between two believable characters, in which they say all of the important things between their actual words. Unfortunately, it comes too late and is too isolated for me to actually care all that much; I could really feel for Greg, but I honestly couldn’t give a damn about this woman Steph.

The bottom line is that I more-or-less enjoyed Reasons To Be Pretty, but I wouldn’t go see it again. I don’t think that it’s Tony-worthy (though I’d be supportive, if also surprised, to see Sadoski get a nod). The writing is excellent (particularly in the second act), so any shortcomings are not the fault of Neil LaBute. I would dare to say that a huge improvement could be made by either redirecting Ireland into some wider emotional breadth – or simply by recasting the role of Steph entirely. In fact, if her understudy is going on any time soon… I might reconsider a repeat performance.