We're sitting in the Opera House,
the Opera House
the Opera House
We're waiting for the curtain to arise
with wonders for our eyes…
A feeling of expectancy,
A certain kind of ecstasy—
Inside or out, proscenium or thrust, cast of many or solo performer, once in a while something really exciting happens at the theater. This month I had the terrific fortune to test this more than once. Lovely Cal Shakes in Orinda at the Amphitheatre is staging Nicholas Nickelby (in two parts) and I had seen only the film version (very short.) I like Dickens, (though I couldn't view Christmas Carol even for a Scrooge friend—sorry, H.D.) Maybe I was primed, I don't know, but the cast of NN began to frisk around the audience and on the swell of a smartly chosen chord, moved as if charmed to take the stage, and a thrill actually whooshed right through me. Of course, the trick at Cal Shakes is that the show always begins with daylight, then dusk creeps in, darkness takes over, and during some of the shows, at an opportune moment somebody flips a switch and the trees in the grove just behind the stage come alive with tiny glittering lights, throwing the scene into stereopticon depth. This time it was when Nicholas and Smike make their escape from the horrid and barbaric Squeers. You'd have to be in a terribly foul mood not to be swept away by that sight. How could the guy next to me take a snooze while I sit riveted? What does that mean? Perhaps he simply already has seen a better version (as my actor friend the aforementioned H.D. thinks, who would have loved to be part of this cast, but then, alas, so would we all.)
Which brings me to the second happy incidence: Berkeley Rep this month presented Mike Daisey in The Ugly American, a monologue of his own creation. Amongst our own Charlie Varon and Josh Kornbluth (who was in the audience opening night—I would have asked him what he thought, but it seemed as though he might want to keep that to himself, given that the two men do similar work) and, alack, poor Spaulding Gray, (whom I feel we probably should cut some slack given he is dead), Mike has stiff competition. I was prepared to worry when I saw pages on the table onstage and the show was long enough to have an intermission. Uh-oh, potential mid-show exodus. But he knew that going in. He told us he had a sort of out-of-body experience coming to the theater to do the opening—heightened senses, acute awareness—but he felt safe in Berkeley. Now that I've seen the show (and actually went back at the end of the run to see a one-shot work-shopping of the re-tooled Monopoly), I've had some thoughts. I had to ask my colleague B. at the office (day-job) whether he'd gone to Ugly A since he has season tickets and he and I often disagree over productions. B said 'nah, didn't look that interesting' and I didn't rub his nose in it (he wouldn't let me anyway), but I said to myself 'hoo, hoo, boy you missed something.'
Now I have to qualify this: was I reacting to the piece or the possibilities? The realization hit me that Mike really was not on script, that the show was as much dependent on his nerve & invention as those guys on Whose Line is It, Anyway? (well, maybe not that loose.) Who amongst us can speak from outline notes for 15 minutes and then just calmly turn the page? Again, I got that surge of excitement which I'm trying to isolate and identify; this time it seemed as though the public exploration of Mike's life contained tacit permission for me to bust out with my own. I'm polite and I applaud because I'm a grownup and I know how to behave, but what I really wanted was to shout, "I can do that! I want to do that!" It seemed to have a deep connection with the buzz I got seeing all those Dickensian characters come to life.
This is opening up a whole can of worms since the much trumpeted Revels consciously tries to do just that; as a theatrical presentation, it's supposed literally to create a community in front of our eyes and delve into our ancient sources for storytelling and fighting off the dark, but it doesn't. Not for me. It never did. The only part of it that ever moved me was the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. Gave me the chills even when the program told me it was next up. That's funny—all I had to do was recall that and I can hear the solitary mournful flute and the click of the antlers as they gently touch.
And I've dropped any pretense of getting my thrills through the filter of someone else's expectations or of mistrusting myself over the exalted 'vision' of an idiot director.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (IMAX Version)
My son and I went to the opening of this remake at the Sony Metreon, which has fallen on hard times, but it was impressive to sit in almost the last row of the huge theater and get the full blast of Johnny Depp and his ten foot nostrils. I really enjoyed the Oompa-loompa (singular) and the children were admirably cast. And they explain Johnny's teeth!
Best going into a very full audience; you'll feel really weird laughing into the void or perhaps, depending on your mood or morals, not laughing at all. No, actually, don't go at all if you can't take a joke.
One of this film's finest attributes (between a literate script and the conspicuous lack of gratuitous extra bafflegab) is the languorous treatment of the scenery. If it were an Iranian film, I would have left, but here it works. This is not a cultural jab; in fact J might take some hits of its own, given the questionable intelligence of some of the Southern characters. No, I just thought it was well paced.
Couldn't get over how these guys could still be alert and talking to us after the punishing activity in which they had just been engaging. I would expect to look down and see stray body parts under foot. Or wheel, I should say.
Two bits from this shall remain classics: Sharon Stone asleep & drooling on Bill Murray, and Frances Conroy watching Bill Murray attempt to bypass chewing a mouthful of carrots & go directly to digesting without moving his face.