Thursday, April 05, 2007

They say the neon lights are bright...

...on Broadway... tarara ta tarara ta-ta.
I was at the Great White Way twice recently. First, with Little Enchiladita and her husband who were in town on vacation and wanted some cultchah at night, after ransacking the stores by day.
We went to see Spring Awakening, a musical that got very good reviews, with music by Duncan Sheik, based on a Franz Wedekind play from the turn of the XIX century. I don't know if it's me, but I was completely disappointed. In fact, I kind of hated it. My brother in law was not impressed either. He said it was like a high school production with sex. He was right. It sucked.
In my view, all the songs sounded exactly the same. They were perfectly nice songs to listen to in your ipod while you're driving, but they seemed to have no dramatic impulse, no real storytelling. There was one song I really liked and the rest, I couldn't tell one from the other. Man, I saw Rent, which is probably the most godawful musical I have ever seen, and this and I'm declaring a moratorium on "rock" musicals. Please. Also, somebody please explain to me why there has to be a ladder going nowhere with people climbing it like monkeys for no apparent reason.
Spring Awakening is supposed to be very risqué because it talks about the budding sexuality of a bunch of repressed German kiddies in the Weimar Republic. Which I think is good considering we are living in the age of an evangelical president and of right wing nutjobs with sexual panic. And it is rather bracing how explicit the show tries to be. But it was pushing the sexuality quite banally just in order to be shocking, while everything else about the play was mired in the most commercial and conventional theater clichés. This made the sexual explicitness quite vulgar, as opposed to eyeopening or moving or even sexy. The kids who perform are all quite talented, and with one glaring exception, likeable. But the play seems half baked and I felt embarrassment. It failed to move me.
So then I got preview tickets to Frost/Nixon.
1. Because Frank Langella is in playing Nixon, and once you see that man on stage, you want to see him again. He is a monster actor. 2. Because the play is by the ubiquitous Peter Morgan, author of the screenplay of The Queen and Last King of Scotland, a smart writer obsessed with the powerful and the media. 3. Michael Sheen, (Tony Blair in The Queen) plays David Frost. Hot ticket.
Well, once more, either I am becoming exceedingly curmodgeonly and hard to please, or I need to get laid. Frost/Nixon is fun and entertaining and you will have a good time, but I expected something darker, less crowdpleasing, more sinister, more satirical. I think the play has been directed with the hope of pleasing all the tourists from Peoria. So instead of sharp and smart, it is just blah. That's a pity, because it has potential.
The production is really ugly, and I don't know if this is on purpose, but it is quite unimaginative.
There is some sort of a chorus that explains either what we are about to see, what we are seeing or what we just saw, and most of these comments, even if nicely rendered by Remi Auberjonois, can be excised and the audience will not miss anything. In fact, the device of the chorus seems to take away suspense instead of adding it.
BUT and this is a big BUT, there is Frank Langella playing Richard Nixon and he ROCKS.
Now, he has made Nixon a rather sympathetic character. This seems to be a trademark of Peter Morgan. His interpretations of historical figures like Elizabeth II or Idi Amin are nuanced and he finds empathy for those in power. Somehow Nixon seems really smart, really articulate, almost likable. He gets the cracking voice and the lumbering graceless movements down pat, but more than anything, he plays a character, not an easy impersonation. He is a wily, cheap loser, a pathetic clownish figure, but Langella finds some grandeur in him still. He has one drunken speech which is worth the price of admission, and his final acknowledgement of error has to be seen, though you are startled with the choice of watching him through a big TV screen, or directly with your eyes.
I was surprised that there was less antagonism between Frost and Nixon than I thought, but one of the points of this play, while anticlimactic, in fact anti-dramatic, is that Frost paid Nixon a lot of moolah for the interview. As is characteristic of the Morgan oeuvre it turns out that both men have much in common. The Morgan thesis being that the media and power are in cohoots with one another. Sad, but true, especially now.
The one thing you think during the entire play, is that we wish we had Nixon and his stupid scandal, instead of the satanic moron we have to endure today. You can see that what he did to disgrace the presidency is still very much alive today: the lack of dignity, the lack of respect for the office, the contempt for democracy and the people, but man, compared to the disaster in chief, at least he was smarter, and much more interesting. Bush somehow will never be a tragic figure because he is incapable of insight or self-examination. He has no hubris. It also makes you pine for the time when the mainstream newsmedia had cojones, and they were not the bunch of smug, kept cocksuckers they are today. Shame on them and their parent whoring companies.
Who could have thought that someone would make one pine for the likes of a Nixon?

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