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Better Late Than Never

September 4, 2007

Over the weekend, I caught two shows: San Francisco Mime Troupe's annual mudslinging match, Making a Killing, and Angel Face, Word for Word/Z Space's stage adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's noir thriller.

Making a Killing
held no surprises for me. It was good, old fashioned polemic stuff as usual. The music was the strongest element in the show, with great songs and driving rock music from the cast and band. The theme, about the U.S.'s bungled and misdirected attempts at "rebuilding" Iraq played perfectly to San Francisco's anti-Bush masses. The audience booed enthusiastically at the criminal lineup of Dick Cheney, Condolezza Rice and their cronies. One day I'd like to get around to touring with the company. I think reactions to their shows in other parts of the state might be more interesting than what they get from San Francisco.

Angel Face tells the story of a nightclub dancer who tries to solve a murder for which her brother has been framed before he's sent to the electric chair. The theatre was packed, even on a gorgeous Labor Day weekend matinee, which shows the devotion that San Francisco audiences have for Word for Word. The cast was strong. I enjoyed Thomas Ontiveros' long-shadowed lights and actor Danny Wolohan's garish pin-striped suit. But try as I might, I just don't feel connected to Word for Word's shows. There's something about plunking a story or novella "as is" on stage that doesn't work for me no matter how elaborate the mise-en-scene and sensitive the performances. I always feel distanced from the action. It's an interesting alienation technique I suppose. But I'm not at all certain that the company intends to keep its audiences at a distance.

The above led me to think about my theatre-going experiences over the weekend in more depth. Some people might wonder why a critic would bother seeing these shows so late in their runs. Making a Killing, which has has been playing since early July, is now heading off on its State-wide tour to places like Bakersfield and Davis. And I saw Angel Face in its very last performance.

I obviously would have preferred to see both performances earlier, but scheduling clashes made this difficult. Few editors outside of academic journals would be much interested in what I have to say about the productions at this stage. If no one can see a show because it's over or gone out of town, then what's the point of devoting precious column inches to covering it?

Of course, the lovely thing about the web is you don't have to worry about stuff like space. I also happen to think there is a role for critical writing about shows in the media beyond the narrow realms of telling an audience whether something's worth seeing or not. Although video and podcasting are becoming increasingly popular methods for recording live entertainment for posterity, the written word is still a valuable means of imparting important information about a production. This not only serves academics and journalists doing research into the work of a particularly company, playwright, director or a city's performing arts scene, but helps companies understand how their work is being received and perceived. It also gives audiences an idea of whether they might be interested in catching the work of that company later on down the line.

From my perspective as a critic, it's always better to catch a show, no matter how late in its run, than not catch it at all.


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