Monday, February 26, 2007

GRACE: Notes from the set designer

First day of GRACE rehearsal. Table reading of the script, designer presentations. Steve Waldschmidt is our set designer (you saw his design work in A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR and THE QUARREL), and won't be joining us from Alberta until Saturday, so he sent some notes on the drawings and model he'd sent on ahead.

I think they give a fascinating glimpse into the world of our next mainstage show, so Steve's let me share some excerpts with you.
First of all, I am thrilled to work with this group of people, and I am thrilled to be working on this particular script. It's the first play I've ever read that made my feet sweat—a real page-turner, but filled with a desperation and with timely questions and critique about North American culture and a distorted version of Christianity that make my... well, that make my feet sweat.

What most struck me about the story is the impersonal superficiality of their lives. The woman in the rental office—Peggy, Patsy, Pamby? No one knows her and it doesn’t matter. Like the apartments, people are all seen as the same and not worth really knowing. Sarah first, and then Sam, begin to resist that pressure of anonymity. And the impermanence of their lives in Florida is huge. Have either of these neighbours even finished unpacking?

And then there’s the get rich quick scheme, set in the sunshine state. I’m in the middle of a book called ‘The Orchid Thief’ (Ron's note: Susan Orlean's unadaptable book was adapted into the remarkable film, ADAPTATION) and this quote describes the world of GRACE so well it’s worth repeating here:

“The state of Florida does incite people. It gives them big ideas. They don’t exactly drift here: They come on purpose—and Florida seems like the kind of place where you can try anything, the kind of place that for centuries has made entrepreneurs’ mouths water. It is moldable, reinventable. It has been added to, subtracted from, drained, ditched, paved, dredged, irrigated, cultivated, wrestled from the wild, restored to the wild, flooded, platted, set on fire. Things are always being taken out of Florida or smuggled in. The flow in and out is so constant that what exactly the state consists of is different from day to day… Sometimes I think I’ve figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida, swamped by incongruity and paradox, and I have to start all over again.”

So this renovation business, this flipping of real estate. Cosmetic upgrades to raise an appraisal value. It sure fits with the ‘health & wealth gospel’—a perversion of Christianity that is strangely only popular in North America. Relationship with God is reduced to a formula or ‘spiritual principles’ and you can control the universe if you do just the right things in just the right order—financial prosperity and happiness guaranteed by God. (Sound more like superstition or black magic than Christianity, actually.) A religion made for suburbia and the culture of consumerism.

And then there’s the overlapping, identical apartments. furnished rental apartments. Kitschy, tacky, stereotypical and candy-coated in the so-called ‘Florida-style.’ An address on Ocean Drive, miles from the water with a picture-window view of the concrete warehouse next door. Constant vigilance to prevent termites and bugs filling the walls and replacing the building's actual structure. Seeing past the glossy surface to the cheap, insubstantial interior.

There's a fifth un-named character in the play — time.... Space and time are fluid in the world of the play—but there’s a naturalism as well. Cause and effect. How can we get a sense of time itself to be visible on the set? Clocks? No. What else? What about layers of paint and wallpaper? Good idea, Angela!

That’s all for now—see you Saturday!

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Life Of Brian" takes the stage: Toronto, June

This in Variety...
'Messiah' in Idle hands
'Spamalot' creator announces next project

And now for something not so completely different.

Following on the heels of "Monty Python's Spamalot," Eric Idle has announced his next project will be "Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)," a comic oratorio set to have its world premiere in Toronto in June as part of the city's inaugural Luminato Festival of the Arts.

Just as Tony-winning tuner "Spamalot" was based on the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," Idle's new work is loosely adapted from the iconic British troupe's 1979 pic "Life of Brian." "Spamalot" co-composer John Du Prez again will collaborate with Idle.

The piece has been commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, whose music director, Peter Oundjian, is also Idle's cousin -- although the comedian insists that had nothing to do with his decision.

"Who would want to work with their relatives, anyway?" Idle said. "They're usually unpleasant, dishonest and slow to pick up the check."

The 63-year-old comic did allow that Oundjian may be an exception to the rule because "he's got a bit of class, which is something my family has always desperately needed."

Idle was unwilling to disclose details about the work other than to say, "I promise it will be funnier than Handel, although probably not as good."

One question, though, is whether it will include "Brian's" best-known tune: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," already part of "Spamalot."

Luminato is a new 90-event multidisciplinary arts fest scheduled to run throughout Toronto June 1-10. CEO is Janice Price, who ankled her job at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia to take over the fledging Canadian event.

Other high-profile names whose participation was announced Tuesday include Philip Glass, Leonard Cohen, Atom Egoyan and Isabel Bayrakdarian.

Organizers anticipate half a million people will attend the largely free events of this C$15 million ($13 million) festival, conceived to boost Toronto tourism.

"Spamalot" opened in March 2005 on Broadway, where it recently crossed the $100 million mark in grosses. The show has since spawned a national tour and a production in London's West End. A sit-down run in Las Vegas will start previews March 8 for a March 31 opening.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Defiance, by John Patrick Shanley

Doesn't this look interesting?...

John Patrick Shanley

5 men, 1 woman

“Spellbinding. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but John Patrick Shanley has followed up Doubt, the best play of 2004–05, with a play of identical quality.” —Wall Street Journal. “As thoughtful and probing as Doubt. An arresting, ambitious tale of race relations and the military mindset, filled with the provocative questions and bristling with dialogue for which John Patrick Shanley, a fierce moral sage, is known.” —NY Times. “Thrilling. A lean, powerful fist of a play. With rare compassion, rigor and craft, Shanley again makes a frontal attack on a subject we think we know too well, and proves otherwise.” —NY Newsday. “Riveting. Shanley once again poses aptly thorny questions about faith and loyalty.” —Time Out. “Shanley delivers yet another gripping drama that pushes viewers to the edge of their seats and keeps them thinking long after the show is over.” —Star-Ledger. “An absorbing, thoughtful, intelligent work.” —Variety. “Complicated, exciting and briskly compelling.” —USA Today.

THE STORY: DEFIANCE is set on a United States Marine Corps base in North Carolina in 1971. Two officers, one black and one white, are on a collision course over race, women and the high cost of doing the right thing. This riveting, surprising new work is about power, love and responsibility—who has it, who wants it and who deserves it.