Sunday, September 30, 2007

The "Weird Romance" of theater

I know I promised books, but I just had a wonderful experience and wanted to share :).

I grew up around theater with a father who loves to act, a little sister who is now part of the management team of an acting troupe, and a mother and older sister who like seeing plays as much as I do.

I recently moved, putting me out of reach of my parents and sisters, and in a whole new climate with no one to introduce me to the theater scene. At $7-$12 a ticket, most community and college theaters are well within my reach, but going to plays on my own is just no fun. My husband does not love plays the way I do, and has a dislike for musicals (or so he says but his love of Les Miserables and some others disputes that ;)).

So last year my oldest started with his high school drama program, which gave me the opening to drag him to some plays with me. I was impressed by the quality of the high school plays, but there weren't enough to satisfy me :D.

And now I have a solution.

I went to Back to School night only to find that the drama teacher and teacher of two of my eldest's classes was absent...for the best of all reasons. I managed to get the information about his play from a small poster on the board in the corridor I don't normally use for the theater (it's the student class entrance not the visitor one) and asked my family who would come with me. Even if they'd all turned me down, I had a knife to twist in my older son because going would count for his drama classes.

The best news of all is that I didn't have to cajole or anything. When I brought it up, he said Freshman Seminar (don't ask) melted his brain so that by the time he got home he forgot to ask if he could go. So now I have my theater buddy, a designation supported by the amazing quality of the two one-act plays we got to see...and I get to be a good mom by helping him with his homework :D.

So thanks to his teacher, Rod Hearn, I have discovered a quality local theater :). I've been to many community and college theaters, as well as Broadway and off Broadway shows. Frankly, the quality of the performances vary significantly, making it hard to push for trying out new theaters. But that we knew someone in the cast? Perfect.

(Note: The last day of this run is today, so I'm not going to worry about spoilers for once :)).

Anyway, the two one-act plays made up a single performance called Weird Romance: The Musical! Oh, and I forgot to mention that they were also speculative fiction, so right up my alley in more ways than expected. My oldest knew about that part, but he didn't pass the info on to me and I'd missed it in the Back to School night rush.

The first play was based on a James Tiptree, Jr. short story and told the tale of corporate planning gone a step too far because of the elimination of advertising. The corporation creates a mindless body that can be controlled through personality transference, if only they can find the perfect candidate who will not reject this body.

That candidate is found in a recently mugged homeless woman whose greatest desire is for a door with a lock, two locks even.

The story progresses through the "mad scientist" falling for the homeless woman in her real form, and the president's son falling for the host form but seeing through to the truth in her eyes. She is unaware of the scientist and torn about the president's son because what he sees as honesty, she knows is a complete lie. When she tries to explain, the president triggers some implants in the host body and ends up killing the homeless woman, but not before his son realizes his love had nothing to do with the form she wore. The scientist learns he has no self esteem because he continues to do the president's bidding despite having fought him over triggering the pain implants that ultimately killed the woman he loved.

His son disowns the president, but that doesn't stop the corporate engine. The host body returns in six months with a new controller and his son goes to see her. The host body retains enough memory to recognize him, but the woman inside has nothing to do with his love, proving his love had told the truth and that it is truly all over.

I walked out of this play (at the intermission) stunned and amazed at the quality of the performances and the singing voices. The actual play bordered on going over the top with sexual and gay imagery, but everything worked as a whole and I wouldn't have removed a single element :). Both women playing the homeless woman and the host had incredible singing voices, the mad scientist, the son, and well, let's just say that not a single one disappointed me. Even the band and sound work was well done, balancing out the volume so that we could hear the lyrics when necessary. I had a minor quibble with the lighting when one of the spots swept the audience instead of the stage and blinded me, but overall there were a lot of fun things done with lights and a spare, functional set design. I thought nothing could top this performance...until the second play.

The second play, based on an original work by the playwright Alan Brennert, was a complete turnaround. Instead of the overblown corporate environment that speculative fiction often warns of, this play focused on an innovative scientist who has lost the pleasure in his work and in his life. His experiment takes an unexpected turn into the paranormal and he wants to shut it down, not willing to let the rigors of science become polluted with the possibility of paranormal activity.

His assistant fights back with a rousing musical plea to the heart of research that had the audience laughing and touched the place inside me that wants to go concoct an experiment and see what I can learn. The scientist himself is reluctantly affected and starts to interview the person who was born and is rapidly growing within his image machine. While his assistant goes searching down any information regarding the young woman who has invaded their machine, the scientist gives up everything to spend each moment trying to understand why this spirit chose to come back, denying his wife all affection and the hope of a child. He's obsessive and comes to wonder if he doesn't love his wife but rather this woman whose life he has re-experienced through her growth process.

His assistant returns in time to see the scientist struggling to help this image through the trauma of a miscarriage. She turns herself off, needing some time on her own and leaving him devastated. The assistant points out that at her current rate of aging, she'll soon be dead anyway, something that harms his boss even more.

The obsession grows to the point that the scientist moves out of his home into the lab, leaving his wife upset and unsure whether he'll ever come back.

The assistant discovers the woman actually died of that miscarriage and that her husband at the time had never recovered.

The spirit reveals herself to the scientist as his wife in a former life. She's come back to him to bring him through his grief so he can learn to live and love again. While he was asleep, she had called his wife and, using his voice, asked her to come. She tells him he has to let go, but he doesn't want to at first, seeing this as a second abandonment now that she's just been restored to him. Instead, she tells him to look to his new love and the child they both want.

The spirit fades in time for the wife to arrive and she and the scientist are reconciled with a much more hopeful future.

This play was humorous in moments, poignant, traumatic, and just wonderful. Again, every single singer and actor gave an excellent performance. This play was more powerful for me because of its emotional content, both in the moment of connection over research and the tears that came to my eyes as the scientist struggles with his love for his current wife and for his past one.

The only element that didn't work for me...and which I deemed unnecessary so it didn't make it into the summary...was the wife's friend who made sexual advances despite them going almost completely unnoticed by the wife. Though the friend was also a woman, that's not my issue. Had it been man instead, still the intrusion on the rest of the tale, possibly for humorous intent, was only an annoyance to me and went against my nature in that if the friend had been a friend, whether or not she felt attracted to the wife, she wouldn't have pushed when the wife was vulnerable.

And again the band, sound, lighting, use of set design, all blended together to make for an excellent performance. The trick to make what appeared to be a holographic projector was fabulous and successful in that the image did seem to be interacting directly with the characters.

In case you hadn't guessed it, I was quite impressed. I'm willing to be forgiving to enjoy the theater I love, but there was so little to forgive in this. Just pure enjoyment.

Anyway, this has gone on much longer than I had planned, a testament to how wonderful these plays really were. Maybe my descriptions will pique your interest and send you to check out your local theaters. This performance was at the Truckee Meadows Community College, put on by the Performing Arts Department though the talent came from many sources as shown by my son's teacher playing leading roles in both plays. While I can't expect every performance to be this wonderful (though who knows :)), I've signed up for their mailing list and you better bet I'm going back.


Deirdre said...

That's fantastic to hear! It is always a pain to find a good theater, that you can afford :-P

Next step is convince their lighting designer that spot lights are the scourge of theaters everywhere and have no real reason to exist...oh wait, that's MY hotbutton!


Margaret said...

LOL, yeah, well, in this case it was appropriate since the scene was a rock concert and the lighting made it very realistic. Just one misfire :D.

Honestly, most smaller theaters are in the same price range so the afford is less of an issue than the potential for a good show.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that you found a good local theater. Even happier to hear that Sean carries on the family tradition. E

Margaret said...

Yep. And that he's old enough to handle it. I'm not sure if it's a boy thing or I was just a weird kid, but these guys get freaked by the slightest things :).