What a fascinating, innovative, different type of play experience. Of course, I’d expect no less from an Ivo van Hove production. The Flemish director often revisits New York Theatre Workshop to reinvent plays as we’ve come to know them. When I saw Hedda Gabler starring Elizabeth Marvel in 2004, it completely changed my view of theatre. He’s also directed A Streetcar Named Desire, The Misanthrope, and The Little Foxes there. Ivo strips plays down to the characters’ most primitive instincts and then heightens them all over again, leaving you with a very different approach than the original you had come to expect. Scenes From a Marriage is his newest project, based on the 1973 Ingmar Bergman TV mini-series.
As the title hints, we bear witness to different scenes from the same marriage. During Act I, the stage is split into three separate sections. When you arrive for the show, you’re given a colored wristband determining which room you enter first. Within the three rooms are three different sets of actors playing the same couple, Johan and Marianne, at different stages of their marriage, from its more promising beginnings to later struggles. In the first room, timeline-wise, are Alex Hurt and Susannah Flood, 10 years into their marriage. A half hour later you move into the next room to see Dallas Roberts and Roslyn Ruff playing the same couple later on, and lastly are Arliss Howard and Tina Benko working through the remains at the end. Meanwhile, the scene(s) you already watched are replaying beyond the thin walls. You can hear the fights, ones you’re familiar with and ones you have yet to hear – the echoes of past and future battles that resonate throughout the story.
The majority of the second act is absolutely thrilling. The theatre is transformed into one large open space, and as the six actors enter (together this time), the audience begins to prep itself for the roller coaster ride they expect is coming. The scene begins as the characters alternate lines, and soon the three pairs begin doing the same scene at once, overlapping and moving about the entire space. Three different interpretations, three different deliveries, all happening at the same time. It requires active listening from both the audience and the actors. I sat on the edge of my seat, eyes darting back and forth, catching key phrases here and there, and latching on for dear life. Hearing the same scene layered on top of itself made the words more vibrant and charged.
Despite this intense engagement, I did struggle with the latter half of Act II as my attention wavered (there were dips in Act I as well). I should note here that the play is three and a half hours long (including a 30-minute intermission). It doesn’t feel that long, but certain scenes weren’t as engrossing for me. Although this may have been because they were such a stark contrast to the times when there was so much going on. It was an odd thing bouncing back and forth between being overly engaged to not totally present. The play is well acted, but I was most partial to Susannah Flood’s performance as Marianne 1. She is moving, spontaneous, and a joy to watch.
To sum up, if you’re interested in seeing a piece of theatre that will challenge you to listen and work your brain, I do recommend Scenes From a Marriage. If nothing else, it’s always a good idea to be introduced to Ivo van Hove’s approach to theatre.
Scenes From a Marriage
Written by Ingmar Bergman, English Version by Emily Mann, Directed by Ivo van Hove
New York Theatre Workshop, Closing October 26th
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Tina Benko, Dallas Roberts, Roslyn Ruff, Alex Hurt, Arliss Howard, and Susannah Flood
Here’s something I’ve learned about myself after watching years and years of theatre: I need narrative. I crave it. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a linear narrative (LOST anyone?). But if anything, I need to be able to make connections within the piece, whether it’s through plot points, characters, clues, something more specific than thematic. It’s how I personally connect and relate. That’s what gives a story purpose for me.
Love and Information is Caryl Churchill’s new play currently being produced by New York Theatre Workshop and performed at Minetta Lane Theatre. It’s just under two hours and a collection of vignettes – moving, hilarious, and thought-provoking. Each “scene” ranges from a few minutes to a few seconds – a full conversation or perhaps a single phrase, and then it’s gone in the blink of an eye as the set swiftly changes to the next set of circumstances. These pieces are lovely to say the least – beautifully entertaining, some very funny, others heartbreaking. Plus the fantastic design (lights, set, and sound) only adds to the setting. With this style of theatre, you as an audience member have to constantly adapt to new situations and figure out what’s going on. I like having to work in that way. But then, that was it. After 45 minutes, I started to check out once I realized there wasn’t going to be a “story” in the typical sense. Not that I didn’t enjoy the rest of the scenes! If the second half had happened first, I would have appreciated those just as much. It was simply the nature of the piece as a whole that I had difficulty with. It’s hard for me to stay engaged that long to watch brief moments in time. Others may not need the narrative as much as I do. The themes and issues brought up from scene to scene may be enough to get their gears turning.
I do think it’s exciting to note that the script itself is pretty much bare-bones, not specifying place, gender, character, situation, etc. From basic dialogue on a page, the ensemble created this piece and all of the beautiful details. I love when theatre does that. I simply left craving a greater common denominator linking these vignettes other than topics of “love” and “information.”
Love and Information
Written by Caryl Churchill, Directed by James Macdonald
Minetta Lane Theatre, closing April 6th
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured:Noah Galvin and Adante Power
I’m so mad at myself for waiting so long to see this show. Mostly because it means I wasn’t able to tell you about it until now. And time is short, folks. This piece, after receiving multiple extensions, is closing this coming Sunday at New York Theatre Workshop. Get to it. There are still a few days left to check out this stellar Bacharach concert.
Yup, it’s a concert. Do not expect a story or book! This is simply wonderful song after wonderful song presented in a unique, engrossing way. I imagine people could be disappointed if they expected plot, but in my mind, it’s all about feeling the music.
Kyle Riabko, who is 26 and so talented, has taken the work of Burt Bacharach and arranged it for modern audiences. He has extracted these songs from the 50s and 60s, added his own style, and managed to do so without harming the essence of the music. Listen to him sing a few tunes here. Burt Bacharach is one of those artists where you don’t actually realize how many songs of his you know. When you listen to the canon, like in this show, you’re constantly thinking, “Oh yeah, I know this. This is Burt Bacharach, too?” All of his major hits are covered in this production plus songs I’d never heard before and loved just as much.
The music is performed by an incredibly gifted group of musicians and vocalists. These seven jump around playing multiple instruments and singing their hearts out. There is a sense of comfort and clarity in the room as they jam together, and their relationships with one another emanate out into the house. Plus they sound amazing. New York Theatre Workshop, you’re going to do a cast recording, right? I mean, I’m not really giving you a choice. You must release an album. I will help you promote it. Call me.
I’m also in love with not just the sound of the show but the design. The stage picture is beautiful. The entire theatre has been transformed, covered wall to wall in carpets, and lamps scattered across the stage. I know, carpets don’t sound super fancy, but I walked in and caught my breath at the beauty of the space. There’s also a mini-tower of instruments upstage center, à la this guy at the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum, that the performers climb on, occasionally grabbing a new guitar to play. The lighting design is stunning. The choreography is simple and not overdone. Oh, and there is also some awesome limited onstage seating on super comfy couches. It was like chilling in someone’s living room. But that someone is super, super cool. And they have a band.
What’s great about this show is it knows exactly what it is and what it wants to accomplish. It’s not pretending to be anything else. No one is pushing or showing off. It’s simply a chance for you to experience 90 minutes packed with familiar songs shared in a new way and look around to see everyone else bobbing their heads and tapping their feet right alongside you. That may just be what it’s all about, Alfie.
What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined
Music by Burt Bacharach, Lyrics by Hal David, Arranged by Kyle Riabko, Directed by Steven Hoggett
New York Theatre Workshop through February 16th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Kyle Riabko
I really wish this type of theatre was my style. I continue to go back hoping I’ll change my mind, but I just don’t connect in the way I want. This does not mean I don’t respect the form and the effort to put something unique on stage; quite the opposite in fact. I love the work produced at New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW), even when it doesn’t resonate with me. I can always count on the productions there to be daring and different from everything else going up in the city. Don’t recognize the name NYTW? You have fallen in love with shows that began there like ONCE, Peter and the Starcatcher, and a little piece called RENT.
This particular production is a one-woman show based on the writings of Susan Sontag, adapted and performed by Moe Angelos. When the play begins, all we are able to make out on stage is an outline of a projection. As it comes into focus, we see a worn, tired woman smoking cigarette after cigarette. She begins to share words with us written years before, and together we observe her younger self (played by Moe live). As we witness this brilliant young woman mature, we simultaneously watch the older Sontag judge and try to reshape her past. The relationship between her and her younger self drives the majority of the storytelling. A note from the program: “A fascinating aspect of [Sontag’s] journals revealed that Sontag would re-read her early journals, often annotating passages and leaving margin notes. Sontag’s act of revisiting her former self served as a springboard for this production in which older and younger versions of Susan intermingle, creating a portrait of this prismatic and elegant mind.”
The show is technically impressive as the projection design is seamlessly intertwined with Moe’s action onstage. The timing is key and must be exact in order for her to engage with a video of herself. If she trips up on her words, things can quickly unravel as she only has a certain amount of time to get her lines in before her pre-recorded self speaks.
Moe is wonderful and I tried to be invested in Susan’s journey, but I wish there had been more of an arc within the piece. There wasn’t a shift in the relationship to her older self. I left wanting more of a revelation.
Nonetheless, it is clear from the first few lines that Sontag had a way with words. If my diary sounded the least bit like hers did at age 15…I would have started blogging a lot earlier, let me tell you. It’s effective to hear her words and notes on different topics as she grows up, attends school, discovers her sexuality, and moves through her romantic struggles. I appreciate that an attempt was made to take this beautiful material and try it out on stage. If you are a Sontag fan, definitely see it. It just didn’t strike a chord with me. Perhaps it will with you.
Based on the books by Susan Sontag, Adapted by Moe Angelos, Directed by Marianne Weems
New York Theatre Workshop
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Moe Angelos