December 24th, 2011

La Loge

Double Header: Seminar and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever

Yesterday, we had a Theatrical Blow-Out:  Two plays in one day.  Our excuse was that Ellen's Israeli publisher, Rani Graf, is in town and loves theatre and we wanted to get together with ellen_datlow and Betsy Mitchell, (plus a little holiday celebration and relaxation).  And there were TDF tix.  We lunched, all together, at a nice Thai place on 9th Ave and 47th Street whose name escapes me, and then headed off to the Golden Theater for the matinee (since when are there Friday matinees?  she asked curiously) of Seminar.

The experience was a mixed one.  On the one hand, I enjoyed it.  It's a comedy about writers--mainstream writers, New Yorker-type writers, Yaddo and MacDowell Colony-going writers, literary writers.  You know, Real Artists.  And it's as mordant and nasty and gimlet-eyed as all hell.  What's not to like.  Also, it's got a wonderful cast of energetic, focused, extremely accomplished actors.  Lily Rabe plays the central female role, "I'm not a feminist, I'm a writer" Kate, who hosts the writing seminar of the title in her father's huge UWS rent-stabilized apartment, where she seems to live alone with some very nice modernist furniture, a large bar, and not that many books, shelved by color and size.  She plays her with ferocity, with humor, with vulnerability, with verve, and I couldn't keep my eyes off her.  Except, of course, when Alan Rickman was on-stage, because, you know, Alan Rickman.

It's not primarily a Snape thing.  I fell for him when I saw him a million years ago in Liasons Dangereuses in London.  The man's got tremendous range, and he's very good at showing the vulnerable underbelly of even the most powerfully dangerous characters.  He's not afraid of being unlikable, which is a rare thing in an actor, and that's a good thing, since Leonard is very, very, very hard to like--I'd say impossible, if it weren't for the fact that some members of our party did like him, or at least sympathize with him.  I did not.  Which brings me to the mixed part of the experience.

I didn't actually think the play was very good.

Oh, it had excellent moments.  I very much liked the slightly self-conscious wit of the dialogue, ranging from the intellectual pomposity of the well-connected aspiring New Yorker writer Douglas to Lily's acerbity, to Martin's defensive verbal smoke-screen to Leonard's self-aggrandizing foulness.  I got to feel smug about my own genre and colleagues and teaching philosophy while watching everybody on stage clawing at each other like (as Leonard put it) feral cats fighting over a rotten fish head.  I loved Lily's ringing speech about women writers and how they are still treated by the literary establishment, from reviewers to publishers.  But I was not so much with the fact that the sole non-WASP character is a Chinese woman who also flashes her tits and hops into the sack with both Leonard and Martin (the latter for no reason that I could see except that he is the designated Real Artist of the group), and doesn't even bridle when Leonard calls her and her work "exotic" in that very special way.  And I felt that Lily had a personality transplant in the last scene, and not a good or interesting one.  And I HATED that the only characters who get to be Romantic, in the sense of suffering for their art and being super-sensitive because they are Great Artists and Felt Things More than common folk, are both guys.  The women?  Oh, they're talented.  They'll have careers writing sexy short stories and ghostwriting gritty prison memoirs.  But they're not Real Artists.

And this play was written by a woman.  There is no font big enough for the sigh I am heaving.  I'm disappointed in you, Teresa Rebeck, is all I have to say.

Oh, and I don't think it's necessary to reduce a student into a damp puddle to get them to write great prose.  Sheesh.

I'm glad I got that off my chest.

Dinner was a pre-theater special at a wonderful (if middling pricey) Japanese restaurant called Sugiyama.  We feasted on boiled octopus with sweet miso sauce and toban (thin slices of beef cooked on a sizzling hot platter) and a wonderful grapefruit and wine jelly.

And then we went to On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.

You know, I was bored.  Possibly, I was overstimulated and/or had filled my quotient of fluffy silliness with Priscilla and/or was suffering from a Seminar-induced mental hangover.  Certainly the cast was great--Harry Connick, Jr. as the abusive psychiatrist Mark Bruckner, David Turner as his victim patient (also called David), Jessie Mueller as David's former incarnation, Melinda.  Mueller was incandescent.  Turner and Connick, less so--I'm guessing they were under the weather, maybe colds.  The sets were pretty spectacular, the costumes kind of orange.  And the play?  Well, silly.

It always was, Ellen tells me (I never saw it, either as a play or a movie).  And I usually like silly just fine.  I guess my problem here is that my belief never even got off the ground. The argument of the plot is that an unusually suggestible young gay man, afraid of everything (except cancer, apparently), goes to a psychiatrist for help in stopping smoking.  The psychiatrist (who is still mourning the death of his wife 3 years ago) regresses him (by accident) to his former incarnation as a jazz singer in the early 1940's, and falls in love with her.  Wackiness (predictably) ensues.  There is a happy ending, with the young man moving in with his inexplicably devoted boyfriend and the psychiatrist laying aside his wedding ring and finally noticing the foxy Dr. Sharone who has been making googly eyes at him for 2 acts.

I didn't believe a word of it.  I didn't believe that a man could get away with canoodling with another man on the deck of the Circle Line in 1975 without getting arrested.  I didn't believe a straight man would fall in love at first, um, contact, with a woman, however spirited and interesting, who is not only not physically present (that happens all the time over the internet), but in an unequivocally male incarnation.  I didn't believe the Institute doesn't fire his ass in the middle of Act 1.  I didn't believe David's boyfriend isn't suspicious until his roommate spills the beans. Yes, I know it's a piece of fluff, and we're mostly there for the music, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert doesn't make any sense either.  But I loved the one and was mildly irritated by the other.  There's no accounting for taste, I guess.