Sunday, April 19, 2009

Iolanthe, with Various Digressions

There is no good word for a cousin by marriage--that is, one's cousin's spouse or spouse's cousin--and there really should be. If my brother's wife is my sister-in-law, I guess my cousin's wife is my cousin-in-law, but that doesn't sound right somehow. Well, I'm declaring it a word anyway. So there.

Which is not what this post meant to be about. Here, let me start again:

My cousin-in-law, Delia, has been posting on her livejournal personal reviews of various performances she's seen, and they're wonderful reading, not least because Delia lives in Manhattan and has an array of exciting and buzz-generating shows from which to choose. (Also she is a fantastic writer.) It was on the strength of one of these reviews--and the enthusiastic comments it prompted--that I went to see Next to Normal when I was in New York a couple weeks ago, and was blown away, and look! so was the New York Times, when it opened a few days ago!

But that's not what I started out wanting to write about either, exactly. What I wanted to say was that, inspired by Delia, I thought I'd write about a performance I saw last night, Iolanthe, put on by the North Shore Light Opera Society. Not a review, exactly, or not a formal one; just some stuff about it.

I like Gilbert and Sullivan well enough, but I'm not an obsessive fan, so I'd never seen Iolanthe or even heard most of the songs. I went with RW and MG and RW's mom, and all of us enjoyed ourselves mightily. The fairies were a kick, Iolanthe was suitably dippy, there was lots of very funny mugging and very game dancing, and the story! So excellent! So silly! What's not to like about a show about fairies and politics? It was hard to wrap my mind around the indisputible fact that this show was written over 120 years ago. It seemed so contemporary.

This could have been partly because this production is set in the present, with female Peers as well as males (filched from the cast of fairies, with different costumes) all dressed in suits and looking suitably stuffy. When the young hero, Strephon, becomes a Member of Parliament, he is symbolically awarded a jacket, a tie, and a BlackBerry, and he and his girlfriend (who is all pissed off at him because she saw him hugging and kissing his mother, Iolanthe, who looks like a 17-year-old on account of her being a fairy) immediately commence to frantic texting as the rest of the cast sings the first-act finale.

Another update: Private Willis, a Guard/soldier in the original is, in this production, Brock Willis, a journalist for BBC-TV, and there's some very nice business with a live video feed and a burly bald cameraman. When the Lord High Chancellor sings his patter song about lying awake with a dismal headache (a song I knew already. How did I know it?? No idea), he's standing in front of the plain wooden backdrop that serves as the screen, and the camera, filming him, projects his image and then the projected image and then the image of the projected image, etc. and it's very appropriately surreal and nightmarish.

It was community theater, and RW says the musicians were having some problems with pitch and timing, and even I noticed that sometimes the singers got ahead of the instruments. But all the cast members were charming and funny and excellent singers, and the staging was very clever, and overall, it was swell. Also, we had great seats, right up front. And MG was totally starstruck by the fairies in particular and waited around in the lobby afterward to get a few autographs, which they were happy to provide.

I've been turning it over in my mind, and thinking about the advantages of seeing something Big and new and buzzy like Next to Normal, and something small and charming and local and off the map like this performance. RW used to do sound design for theater companies in Seattle, and I saw a lot of mediocre and even bad performances of local theater there. But I also saw some that knocked my socks off, one or two in particular by a playwright/songwriter named
Chris Jeffries who is a real, true genius, and who I can only imagine decided for reasons of his own to express himself through small local venues rather than taking his brilliance Eastward. Because really, he is that good.

And on the one hand, it's kind of cool and exciting and club-like that his shows "The Glory Booty Club" and "I See London, I See France," will never be reviewed in the New York Times, and most people will never hear of them, and I got to see them; but then, it's also sad. Because they were freaking incredible shows, and live performance lives in the moment. (We actually do have VHS tapes of those two, but it's not the same.) Selfishly, I'd like to see them sometime in revival, when they've been reviewed and produced to death and RW has read the scripts in her drama class in college, and some director who's now in elementary school has the challenge of making them fresh again. But of course that's not going to happen.

Hmm. How did I get here? All I wanted to write about was Iolanthe from last night, and how cute the title character looked in the big dorky glasses she wore to "disguise" herself, and the ingenious use of rubber duckies on the set, and how MG, clever child, figured out even before the second act who Strephon's father was. And just how excellent it is to see live theater, wherever it is, when it's done well and passionately.


Anonymous MonkeyPants said...

Live theater rules!

8:25 PM  
Blogger Arwen said...

I saw the Cloverdale Little Theatre do a production of "Same Time Next Year" that was the single most charismatic and captivating play I'd ever seen - and I've seen (and been in) a fair number. The actors were brilliant, the sets whimsically done with talent but no budget, the lighting and sound not extraordinary, and yet it was magic.

And I felt like we'd been part of something really special.

Actually, having come from a teenage life filled with little theatre, I was disappointed to come to Vancouver and go to an audition at the little theatre and be up against real actors with headshots and the whole nine yards: the professional scene here actually was a drawback, for me, at first.

1:49 PM  

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