Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Stage Presence

I make it no secret that I'm no fan of musical theater. You'll rarely, if ever, hear a recommendation from me for a musical. But I do go to musicals often, as a member of the Big Easy Awards nominating committee. Ironically, my bias may lend me some "objectivity". I'm not star-struck by the personalities or enamored of the form.

Little Me. On Preview Night of Little Me at Tulane Summer Lyric, I saw most of the other committee members and a majority of the working stage actors in New Orleans. There were more actors in the audience than on stage, and it's a big cast. The committee members and actors I talked to afterwards RAVED about Little Me. But even factoring in my bias against musical theater, I do think RAVING is excessive. The second act is glacially slow. Ricky Graham's voice grates on my nerves after the first 2 songs. The production values are high (not as high as Sugar Babies at Le Petit), choreography was interesting and occasionally surprising. Aside from one lighting gag, repeated often, I don't remember the lighting other than a continuous wash of white. The ingenue was the true highlight, the true star of the production.

Toy Camp. It's children's theatre, produced by NORD, New Orleans Recreation Department. Since Katrina, NORD has become a summer "charter school" for theatrically inclined children. One boy stood out from the other 20-something young actors. At first I thought he was loud and overbearing, but then only in comparison to the clumsier kids. He had stage PRESENCE, could sing on key, had rhythm, and stayed in character the entire time. The kid with top billing and the shiniest costume had trouble staying in character whenever another actor was talking, and was obviously giving the other kids "notes" on their performances, during the performance. Definitely the highest production values I've ever seen in children's theater. And the kids do an entire run, 12 performances, more than most adult runs in New Orleans, which are usually 9. My hat's off to the kids and director Dennis Monn for rising to the challenge.

The Third Degrees of J.O. Breeze. Not a musical but a play. It's a difficult play, hard to form the phrase "I liked it." I did like it, but "like" is too weak a consideration for this work. What you notice most is the writing. The language is heady, the dialog emotionally contrived, both because of its highly-charged content but also because it challenged believability. To "like" this play, I had to suspend my disbelief, and accept that so-called desperate characters (who frankly, did not seem all that desperate to me) would tolerate verbal abuse from a midget clown and from a rapist. But I commend Michael Martin for taking risk, and for staging challenging, contemporary work. I did appreciate one very fine performance by the only woman in the cast, who was alive on stage, continuously in the moment.

Regarding my own acting career, I'm aching to hear back about my audition for Pillowman at Le Petit. I actually ran into director Dane Rhodes at the theater yesterday (I was meeting my afternoon date, the striking Southern gentleman I met backstage). Dane was still auditioning actors a week later, he said, out of "fairness" to other actors who could not audition on the Monday-during-standard-business-hours that I did. But I hear there's competition over scheduling dates at the theater, and suspect that's more likely the real delay. And in the meantime, Dane's continuing auditions with the hand-selected few he really wants to hear. That makes me nervous. I'm happy with my audition, but curious to know who else read.

Not a word from Actor's Theater of New Orleans about Ordinary People. I was excited about the project, but after I auditioned, less so. I don't see myself as the physical type for the psychologist, the "Judd Hirsch character" in the film. That's OK if I don't get cast. I'm confident I'll work at Actor's Theatre and with director Rene Piazza some day.

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