Friday, July 18, 2008

Lemon Law

Photo by Ernest von Rosen,

One of my dear old mum's favorite phrases is “when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade”.

Yes, it's a cliché, but like a lot of clichés it also contains more than a grain of truth. Turning a sow's ear into a silk purse (there's another one...) is one of humanity's oldest pursuits. Entire industries (public relations and advertising) are based on it. Politicians do it so automatically that they no longer even think of it as lying. It's just “spin”.

I bring all this up because today a local theater company sent out a press release that is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of turning lemons into a tasty summertime beverage that I have ever seen.

The company, The Tin Ceiling, is presenting Sam Shephard's drama True West with a new twist: there's no director. Whether this was done as an experiment or out of necessity is perhaps a moot point. What's really rather clever is the way they handled the fact that, of the three reviews they got, two were positively negative. Here's the full press release:

The Tin Ceiling Theater (The oldest and smallest theater on the South Side) presents for your viewing pleasure, a conundrum, an enigma, a question wrapped in the quizzical look from the guy peeing on the dumpster next to your garage as you pull in.

For the next two weekends, Friday-Sunday, at 8pm, the Tin Ceiling will continue to ask the age old question, "do you really need a director for every play?" The play that will decide this question once and for all for all eternity is our production of Sam Shepard's True West.

We have divided the world into two sides, the Green and the Brown.

The "No, you don't need a director" side is summed up by the opinion of Richard Green. Here's the link to his Talkin' Broadway review:

This contingent includes the cast and crew, the Funboys (Bob and Ken), the Byrd family, my parents (who haven't seen it yet but they'd agree with me) and William Shakespeare.

The "Yes, for the love of god, yes, you need a director" side we have Dennis Brown's review. Here's a link to his RFT capsule:

This side is made up of the nice reviewer for KDHX (her review can be viewed here), Meghan (who hasn't seen the show), anyone at Saturday's performance and Elia Kazan.

So come on down to the Tin Ceiling at 3159 Cherokee and shill out $10 to see the show, and weigh in on this most important of issues.

Feel free to post your opinion on our Myspace page. Don't ask me how you would do that, or even if you can do that. All this Web 2.0 stuff gives me a headache. What was the matter with BBSing? Anyway, here's the link to our Myspace page:

Is this shrewd or what?

That said, I have to say that I've been in my share of shows in which, while there was a director of record, there was, in fact, no direction at all. One or two of them managed to be decent shows because the cast, out of sheer desperation, took turns directing each other, but generally speaking I think a show without direction is going to be a show with no direction.

I agree with Ron Himes' notion of the division of responsibility. The playwright's job is to produce a good script. The director's job is to realize the playwright's vision on stage. The actor's job is to create a character based on the director's interpretation of the playwright's vision. If anybody falls down on his or her job, the end result will suffer.

But what the heck - it's summer. Anybody for a nice lemonade?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

All That Jazz

Over at - a site dedicated to those of us contemplating the “second act” of our lives - my motto is “when you stop learning you stop living”. As a demonstration that (unlike a lot of politicians and media gasbags) I actually practice what I preach, I did something for the very first time today at age 59 that is usually done at a far younger age.

I bought my first pair of jazz shoes.

This wasn't done on a whim, but rather in anticipation of the fact that this Saturday I'll be doing something else for the first time: attending a class on Fosse technique at Leaping Lizards, a local dance studio. “Come dressed in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing”, said the invitation. “Jazz shoes are ideal.”

That class isn't the result of a whim either. It's a result of being cast as King Charles (a.k.a. Charlemagne) in Stray Dog Theatre's production of the Stephen Schwartz musical Pippin. The late Bob Fosse's choreographed the 1972 Broadway original and since then everybody has pretty much followed his lead when it comes to the many dance numbers that help give the show it's unique character. Stray Dog decided to give everyone in the cast - including non-dancers like yours truly - the opportunity to learn some of the key moves.

It's good, as Mel Brooks noted, to be the King - particularly since King Charles isn't expected to do any fancy footwork. I am expected to join the rest of the ensemble in a couple of numbers, however, so my jazz shoes and I will be at the class this Saturday and next.

This isn't quite as crazy as it might sound since I've been taking aerobics classes for nearly thirty years now. Still, it's something new. Hopefully I won't embarrass myself too much or strain something trying.

Just call me a dancin' fool.