10 November 2007

Theater review: Dog Sees God

The theater again. Two weeks running. Scary.

I was going to just list the good and bad, but it started to get unruly early on as I started to gush about one of the actors; instead, I'll try for a more traditional post/review.

First, I'd say the Times review I linked to in my earlier post was pretty spot on about the play itself. Here's that link again. Obviously, we didn't have the benefit of the B-list young cast, but I doubt they were able to smooth over the weaknesses in story, characterization, and dialog that are glaring in the script any better than this PHX cast. There are some cute moments, and some schmaltzy, melodramatic moments, but only one or two scenes of real emotion. The parody is cute, that's all.

Quick notes to Bert V. Royal on how to improve the play:

  • Marcy should be the hotter Heather, Tricia the sidekick. Once you've made the decision to change characters' personalities both subtly and broadly for effect, you might as well take it to its logical extent.
  • Great line you've given Beethoven re: how great heaven is. You pretty obviously originally wrote it for Van but realized you had to move it. Well, it doesn't fit Beethoven anymore than it fits your pothead Van. I know you want it. Tough. Toss it.
  • More goddamn Lucy.
I noted earlier that this production wouldn't have Eliza Dushku for eye candy. It didn't. Playing "Van's sister" (Lucy Van Pelt) was Amber Gildersleeve. Hotter and more talented than Eliza. No joke. We'll get back to Gildersleeve in a moment. First, let me go off on a short tangent and bitch some more.
* * *
I acted in three plays while I was in college. Well, I did three plays at UConn and one community theater production. Not bad for a physics major who was on the three-year plan. Anyway, I was in two productions on the main stage for the same director - as a spearcarrier/chorus member in Man of La Mancha and as Rowley in The School for Scandal. In the latter, I got the only bad review of the cast which...well let me tell you this: don't ever read a bad review right before pulling on your tights and stippling up your face. You won't be calm come curtain time. Holy crap, I was much worse that day than on normal, bland days.

Why do I bring this up? To point out that I'm a mediocre actor? No. To point out that I know what it's like to work with a set-oriented director. We had a *ton* of set moves in both those plays, many of them part of our blocking. So much time was spent choreographing the moves that the director didn't focus much on performance. For the MFA candidates comprising the majority of the cast, and the undergrad acting majors the rest, this wasn't a huge problem. For me it proved to be. Restoration Comedy requires a certain light touch and frothiness that I never found on my own.
* * *
There were a lot of set moves in tonight's performance.

Director Marcos D. Voss blocked the play beautifully. The sets were minimalist but clever. The lighting was better than I'd expected considering the little auditorium had utilized some exposed plumbing for part of its light rigging.

He didn't seem to do much with the actors, however.

No one was terrible, though I was pretty disappointed by Eric Zaklukiewicz as CB (Charlie Brown). I don't know if there was a jammin' after-party, or if he'd downed a Big Gulp before the show and needed to pee, but he blew through his lines way too fast. There were a few places where it was appropriate and a few places where he did manage to slow down, but for the most part he rushed.

Beyond that, the biggest problem was that the actors were performing at different levels. Joel Dauten as Van (Linus) was good, but he was way more energetic than everyone else. It was as though he'd dropped in from another play. Similarly, Jannese Davidson and Emily Pelzer as Marcy and Tricia (Peppermint Patty, natch) were in a higher energy orbit than, say, Sam Wilkes as Beethoven (Schroeder).

Part of the problem lies in Royal's sloppy script - exposition-rich and too concerned with cheap laughs and cheap tears than actual characterizations. Most of the problem lies with Voss's direction. It's a director's responsibility to get all his actors performing compatibly. If you're going to let Dauten play the pothead *big* (he reminded me a small bit of Matthew Lillard) you've got to get everyone else over the top as well. Conversely, give him some actual weed to smoke on stage to get really mellow.

To be clear, my problem was with the (lack of) direction and not the actors. It's a very special actor how can modulate her performance appropriate to her co-stars.

A special actress like Amber Gildersleeve.

Here are some highlights from her CV:
  • West Side Story, Maria.
  • Beauty and the Beast, Belle.
  • My Fair Lady, Eliza.
  • Gypsy, Gypsy Rose Lee
  • Proof, Catherine
Do you see the trend? If there's a production in the valley, Gildersleeve gets the lead. Unfortunately I didn't get to hear her sing tonight, but we'll be looking for her plays going forward. This girl's got talent with a capital "T" that rhymes with "G" that stands for "Get out of Phoenix while you can."

The play is running Thursdays through Sundays until November 17. I...recommend it, if only for Amber Gildersleeve.


Bert V. Royal said...

Thank you for your suggestions on "how to improve my play" But I think I'll keep it the way it is. Hey! I have an idea! Why don't you go write your own play! (Insert smiley face right here)

--Bert V. Royal

R.A. Porter said...

Okydoky. I'll jump on that after the three specs in progress are complete.

Bert V. Royal said...

Hey, can I give you one more piece of advice? As a fellow writer...

Decide whether you're a writer or a critic. IF you're a writer, then don't publish your opinions about other's work. Have you heard Glenn Close and Meryl Streep criticizing each other? Did Dali ever call Picasso a hack? Does Stephen King openly hate John Grisham? If you're a writer, BE A WRITER. Don't be a critic.

That's not to say you shouldn't have opinions, but - all this talk about the WGA strike on your blog. This strike (as any strike) is all about solidarity. I'm a proud member of the WGA and I WOULD NEVER blast another writer's work on the internet. It just shouldn't be done.

Just decide: Are you a writer? Or are you a critic? They are two separate things. We have enough critics out there.

Best of luck with your three specs!

R.A. Porter said...

I thank you for your respectful advice (especially as I was not very complimentary of your creation,) and I thank you for coming back by to expound some more, but I certainly don't believe one need choose between being a critic and a writer.

Here's a piece on Tom Wolfe's feud with Mailer, Irving and Updike. Here are Harlan Ellison's pieces of TV criticism from the LA Free Press. Granted, the four-time WGA award winner is a curmudgeon, but so am I.

As for Dali dissing Picasso, I don't know. However Picasso had some very, VERY strong negative opinions of his contemporaries which he happily shared.

marcos d. voss said...

Well, I respect a difference of opinion. I happen to be pretty darn excited about the show. As does the public response. And reviews by The Arizona Republic and KBAQ.

But hey... you have every right to hate what you hate. It does, however, seem that you have a distaste for theatre in general. So I hope you get to a show that changes that opinion. Maybe Altar Boyz at Phoenix Theatre?

R.A. Porter said...

No, no distaste for theater in general. Although I must say coming to your show one week after suffering through the 10-minute plays at Space 55 didn't have me in the right frame of mind.

Thanks for the suggestion on "Altar Boyz". We'll give it a shot. And I'm sure we'll be out the the Stray Cats again, too.