But imagine having to say exactly what you think. In print. For hundreds of words. That's the predicament faced by critics who befriend artists. To write about the theater created by people living in your community requires a balancing act. You cultivate sources and develop working relationships with folks who share your excitement about the arts, but you have to maintain enough professional distance to write with candor and objectivity.
Theatre in the Square's Keep on the Sunny Side: The Songs and Story of the Carter Family (playing through June 13) presented a sticky situation. The biographical musical of the Depression-era country singers promised to be a likable show, especially since the Carter family found renewed fame with their song "Keep on the Sunny Side" from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
But Phillip DePoy directed the show, and he and his wife, actor/director Lee Nowell, have become close friends with me and my wife. Of course, DePoy, like the majority of theater folks I know, takes reviews in stride. He'd accept praise -- like, say, the naturalism of Sunny Side's three leads -- with the same aplomb that he'd hear criticism, such as how Sunny Side's script has little more drama than the average VH1 "Behind the Music."
I considered recusing myself from writing about the show, but my relationship with DePoy made Sunny Side far more moving, for unexpected reasons. DePoy cast his brother Scott DePoy (also a musician) in the production, and both were midway through the rehearsal process when their mother, Barbara DePoy, died. I never met her, although she worked as Theatrical Outfit's house manager when DePoy was its artistic director in the early 1990s, so I almost certainly spoke to her.
Sunny Side opens with the funeral of A.P. Carter and the haunting performances of two Carter Family signature songs, "Will You Miss Me?" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" For anyone who knows the DePoys, it was like seeing an unplanned yet heartfelt elegy for their own parent.
Plus, under DePoy's musical direction, the songs featured the Appalachian shaped-note singing style popularized in the film Cold Mountain. Scott himself sang on the chorus of Cold Mountain's Oscar-nominated song "Scarlet Tide" and was among the backup singers on the Academy Awards broadcast in February. Sunny Side's opening minutes tie so closely to the DePoy family triumphs and tragedies that the Carter Family's own story couldn't compete. Not for me, at least.
Sunny Side reminded me how non-critics see plays. Ticket buyers usually don't study for comparisons between a show and the rest of a theater's lineup, or other plays with the same theme. They're much more likely to notice whether or not a play speaks to their own experience.
The DePoy Sunny Side reminded me how to watch a play through eyes of an audience. And it's not a bad-looking baby at all.
Brave new works
When I saw the new season announcements for Actor's Express and 7 Stages, I thought, "Great! I've barely heard of these plays!" Some years, Actor's Express' lineup leans too heavily on recent classics (like this season's Burn This and Bent), and this year 7 Stages felt more old guard than avant-garde, with productions of canonical works by Ionesco, Beckett and Fugard.
But for its upcoming 25th season, 7 Stages offers three world premieres: Murray Mednick's Southwestern thriller Skinwalkers; Amy Wheeler's comedy about "curing" homosexuals Wizzer Pizzer; and the Rwandan drama Maria Kizito. The regional premiere of A Number, Caryl Churchill's drama about cloning, promises to be a provocative highlight.
The Express begins its season with the world premiere of Mia McCullough's medical mystery Echoes of Another Man. Regional premieres make up the rest of the slate: the lesbian noir homage Pulp, the darkly comic western Killer Joe, the kaleidoscopic biography The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer and Compleat Female Stage Beauty, a drag period piece set in Restoration England.
The touring show The Puppetry of the Penis arrives at the 14th Street Playhouse June 1-6, and defies belief. The evening consists of two Australian guys, wearing nothing but capes, demonstrating "the ancient art of genital origami," which involves treating their manhoods like balloon animals. Shapes have names like "The Eiffel Tower" and "The Loch Ness Monster."
It sounds like a joke, as if The Vagina Monologues were a ventriloquist act, but it has packed theaters around the world. I'm not sure whether to consider The Puppetry of the Penis as the ideal bachelorette party, a sign of the coming apocalypse or an exercise in tastelessness beyond the dreams of Janet Jackson. I only shudder to think of the people who consider The Puppetry of the Penis to be a legitimate evening at the theater.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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