This is the most exciting program I've seen in several years, at least as far as theatre and dance go. Yes, I love the Gate Theatre, but their productions here are somehow never as good as they are in Dublin, and I'm in complete agreement that Spoleto has been overdoing the circus-themed performances lately.
Seeing that Taylor Mac is coming was the first good news I saw in the program. (He's actually been here twice before.) This performance is part of his epic 24 Decades of Popular Music project and I can't wait to see it. The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre is also a sight to behold. Their Spoleto visit is part of a rare U.S. tour for this form. It will be interesting to see how the show differs from the company's regular venue in Saigon.
Lil Buck will be a hit with Spoleto audiences, I predict, and don't forget Shen Wei and Trisha Brown, both of which should stretch most audience members' conceptions of dance.
And I'm thrilled to see that Nigel Redden continues his fascination with Chinese opera. The Western opera/Chinese opera hybrids that Spoleto has brought in have been the most memorable performances of the last decade or so, and I'm sure Paradise Interrupted won't disappoint.
Good job, Spoleto! Whether it's because of the delay of the Gaillard or because of it, this looks to be a great festival. (And kudos on choosing Woolfe Street Playhouse as a venue this year. It's small, and doesn't replace what was lost from the much larger Gaillard, but it's the most attractive theatre in town and will contribute greatly to the Festival atmosphere.)
Their website says this event is only on December 6th. Can anyone clear this up?
Fun playlist and really funny Andrea love note!
Just some unedited thoughts after Taylor Mac's glorious, uplifting show:
Taylor Mac makes my heart expand. His kindness is so genuine, and his love for everyone, including himself, and his absolute intolerance of the meanness of humankind makes me want to be as positive as he is. His last show here (The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac, in 2008), as wonderful as it was, felt a tad apologetic, but he's comfortable with "the oligarchy" now and willing to love them too. This show started with much more of a bang than that one, and although he's doing covers, he's not hiding at all, despite the glitter.
This is about the end of the world, and about David Bowie and Tiny Tim. The end of the world is nigh, so we should all deal with our issues. One of Taylor's issues is that comparison is violence. It's a minor issue or this would be a play (he has written a five-hour play, after all), but it's not a play, it's a cabaret. He starts with Armageddon songs by Bowie and Tiny Tim, but really most of the songs in the show are Armageddon songs. He takes a tangent into how many people have a tendency to compare their current lover to their last lover, but it felt a bit tacked on. He picked two couples from the audience and had them switch partners for the evening. This whole bit – at the beginning and at the end – felt tacked on, like maybe it was supposed to be tied closely in to his themes, but he got a bit lost tonight. It's largely off-the-cuff, so that's certainly not surprising. The brilliant thing about that is it enables Mac to make full use of his considerable wit and extroverted nature.
One surprising discovery in the show – to me, anyway, was that Taylor Mac has really got a fabulous voice. A big, grand musical theatre voice that can be soft and pretty or big and operatic. He says he's a traditionalist – he traces, both early and later, when he's giving credit where credit is due – back to the Greeks, and he's got a point. Realism is the weird shit, he says. I couldn't agree more. Ultimately, beyond the drag and the ethical challenges he poses, it's his voice that steals the show. It's a joy to listen to.
Mac spends a good bit of time talking about his own comparisons, which of course he doesn't like, because it belittles the person being compared, takes their personal agency away, in a sense. I found myself wondering how frequently I do that myself and vowing to watch carefully. Mac doesn't really like being compared to Lady Gaga because he did it first, but he does like being compared to Lady Chatterley, and he reads a bit from the book. "Ours is a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. . . We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen." Mac cleverly ties all this back to the end of the world.
Mac claims he wants to either kill the comparison (between himself and Bowie and Tiny Tim) or emerge at the end of the show as a David Bowie/Tiny Tim butterfly. As beautiful as that image is, it doesn't happen. He's all him, and he's Taylor Mac doing their songs and making them completely his, not channeling Bowie and Tiny Tim at all (although he does do some nice vocal imitation work very briefly). Turns out, Mac can also do a good William Shakespeare sonnet. He's got some acting chops.
We dream the culture forward, he says. I feel like I'm stealing all his best lines, but there are many of them, and none of them feel like cliches or easy platitudes. He makes you want to be his friend. He makes my heart expand.
It's difficult to describe Kneehigh Theatre's The Red Shoes. It's certainly not realism (later in the evening I would enthusiastically agree with Taylor Mac when he said there's too much realism in theatre), and it defies description. You can describe the story – it's their version of the fairy tale about a girl who becomes obsessed with a pair of red shoes that nearly kill her – but that does nothing to describe the show. They've been to Spoleto before – Don John and Tristan and Yseult were both big hits – but I think this may be my favorite of the three. Several of the cast members are returning to Charleston, and they retain the same hypnotic style that so intrigued audiences the first time around.
Company designer Bill Mitchell's spare set is familiar to those who've seen their previous shows, although this one was tighter and sparer. There is just a diagonal stage with a small arch of scaffolding at the back for MC Lady Lydia, and a spiral stair on one side. Folding doors beneath open out and close and were apparently designed to take a great deal of physical abuse. Doors set up as a screen in the rear of the space provide a sparely-used changing space. Mostly the actors remained onstage.
The audience sees the actors before the show begins, in the lobby playing music in their underwear. Then they walked the audience as if trying to figure out what space they suddenly found themselves in. The performance began with the actors washing their feet in washbasins on the edge of the stage. They immediately reminded me of Blue Man Group, with their openness, innocence and interest in their world and the effect they are having on the audience, and a gentle eagerness to please. They display an open willingness to participate in this world they don't quite understand, and eagerly compete to be chosen by Lady Lydia to play the various roles in the fairy tale.
Lady Lydia (Giles King) seems to be channeling Frank N. Furter, only without quite as much cynicism. He too seems quizzical about the events he witnesses, but presses on to tell the story nonetheless. As things get more and more out of control, Lady Lydia tries harder and harder to please the audience, including inserting a couple of magic tricks that confused me as to their dramaturgical purpose.
The Girl's (Patrycja Kujawska) willingness to follow the shoes makes sense in this world. She is pulled from one enticement to another, but always back to the shoes she loves so much. It is critical to the performance that her shoes are not pretty, feminine, dainty shoes, but clogs – shiny, to be sure, but shoes with heft and power, and capable of making a big noise in the world.
It is the performance style that makes this company work. All the actors evince an exquisite self-control. Spare, specific movements that nevertheless seem quite natural. Guileless. The chorus members don't speak until they are given characters, and the Girl never speaks at all except to scream while dancing, or when she is a singing chorus member. Her face throughout the show is a mixture of confusion and despair and triumph and joy, all without pushing too far. Her dance was a marvel to behold – arms and legs flailing gracefully, the shoes adding stomp and fear to what might otherwise be a joyful dance celebrating life.
As always with Kneehigh Theatre, there is an ingenious manipulation of the space and elements of their world. The red shoes on fishing poles, the brooms as crutches, the circle of felt that becomes six hats, all are testaments to the power of live theatre to spur imagination. The costumes are merely illustrative, a piece here and there to identify each character. I wondered why the soldier the girl falls in love with was the most realistic of them all, with a full soldier's uniform. Was it because he almost brought the girl a real happiness? I never satisfactorily answered that question for myself, but regardless, the Girl left him for the shoes anyway.
It's hard to take your eyes off Kujawska. She's so compelling. Like the shoes, she made me want to dance, which is part of the power of the show. You understand her pull to the shoes – an obsession, and the desire to dance despite the consequences, because they make you feel that pull yourself. You want to dance with abandon. I felt myself mirroring their willingness to participate, even though, or perhaps because, I was in the front row. I wondered if they would ask me to dance and was surprisingly willing to do so. I wanted to have time to absorb the show, but had to rush up the street for the 10:00 performance of Taylor Mac. What a fantastic evening!
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