April 4th, 2008

Eternal Quest

SF Lighting

Ever since I read the weekly Time Out "what's on in London" email last week, I've been pondering this: what is science fictional lighting? Perhaps those of you who saw the Henry Moore sculpture installation at Kew can help, for here is the context: "Henry Moore at Kew Gardens: Last chance to see these sprawling sculptures. Go at night and catch them lit-up sci-fi style".
Fishy Circumstances

God of Carnage

One boy hits another boy, breaking two of his teeth. The next day, the parents of the boy who was hit invite the parents of the hitter around to discuss the situation. Over the next two hours of this one act play, opened this week at the Gielgud Theatre on Shafesbury Ave., the situation deteriorates. The strain in marriages, parenting priorities, past histories, and the world at large show up as politeness dissolves in the face of true personalities. The play is all character study, held together with token plot, but is, nonetheless, a satisfying production. Janet McTeer plays a passionate do-gooder; Ken Stott, her husband is a hardware store owner who embraces his inner coarseness; Tamsin Greig is an uptight wealth manager who does what she ought, but doesn't necessarily like it; and Ralph Fiennes her husband, a lawyer who could care less about the whole meeting and spends most of the time glued to his mobile, helping with PR salvage for a dodgy pharmaceutical company.

The script is translated from the original French, and the play still still set in France. Characters address each other as "M'sieur" and "Madame" even though dialog is in English. These touches only occasionally distracted me, more often rooting the play in its location. I liked many of the ongoing themes, including an inspired use of a hamster. The satire was funny - the audience laughed a lot, whether or not the characters on stage had any reason to do so.

The set was dramatic, a cloud of red up into the eaves, a wall of cracks providing a strong diagona, defining the living room in which all the action occurs, and the strong contrast of the white and off-white sofa, chairs, tables, and tulips. The blocking was well done, a visual flow of changing alliances and interactions.

The play was good - satisfying - but not great. And I would have liked it a whole lot better if it had had no vomit; but then that's always true.
Fishy Circumstances

Speed the Plow

The Old Vic has been packing in audiences since the beginning of February when Speed the Plow opened. The line for returns wrapped around the corner of the building when I arrived. A one act, three scene play with a cast of three, it boasts serious star power. Jeff Goldblum plays a newly-promoted head of production at a Hollywood studio. Kevin Spacey plays a would-be producer who has an easy-to-sell offer for the studio, starring a major actor. Laura Michelle Kelly completes the cast, playing the temporary secretary who goes out of her way to seem naive about the whole business.

The script is by David Mamet. I don't know that I've seen any of his other work, but I certainly know of him as one of the world's foremost satirists-in-play-form. Thing is, satirizing business practice in Hollywood is like shooting ducks in a barrel. It's too easy. Because it's too easy, the barrier for achieving insight is far higher than for many other topics, and as a result, the topic never achieved anything sublime for me. It was too pat, too obvious. The sure moneyearner vs. the incomprehensible communing with the nature of the universe plot for a potential movie to promote. Everyone in Hollywood has an agenda.

Kevin Spacey was easily my favorite part of the show - he occupied the character, and has wonderful control of his limbs and twitches. That sounds wrong - he twitched only appropriately, not compulsively. Jeff Goldblum has good comedic timing, but was less interesting as a serious character. I don't know how much of it was Kelly's interpretation and how much the character, but I found her hypersweet earnestness almost sickly. It could have been the satire, but I didn't fully appeciate it. I was also distracted by a heavy-handed by-product of the casting. Goldblum is insanely tall, a good eight to ten inches taller than Spacey. Spacey, in turn, was a good eight to ten inches taller than Kelly. That dramatic height differential mirrored their respective nominal power roles within the play.

It's a fine, competent play and production. Spacey was impressive. I'm glad I've seen it. But I liked last night's play better.