Monday, November 13, 2006

Circus-Colored Mudpies

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. B and I saw another bad play this weekend. I’m sorry to say it, but the theatre scene in Portland leaves much to be desired. This was a college production, so I tried to cut it as much slack as possible. But there are limits!

A fundamental problem was that they chose to perform what is probably one of Tennessee Williams’s most meandering and self-pitying plays, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969). It would have been difficult for experienced professional actors to do much with this play. It's about this nymphomaniac woman who's married to a tortured artist. She spends most of her time lounging around in the hotel bar, trying to pick up the Japanese bartender by shocking him with tales of her sexual exploits, like the time she asked a young man at a party if he wanted her to “manipulate his genitals.” Who says things like that?

Meanwhile, the tortured artist is upstairs in their hotel room painting. About halfway through the first act, he shows up, staggering exaggeratedly across the stage. One sock on and one sock off, his suit disheveled, with a multicolored splosh of paint in his greasy and unkempt (of course) hair. Each step required monumental effort, which meant that it took about five minutes for the actor to reach his mark. Five very long minutes for the audience, I can assure you. Wouldn’t it have been quicker if he just sailed on in on a big ol’ showboat, clinging to the crow’s nest and crying out, “I’m king of the world”? The net result would have been the same. We get it. You’re going to ham it up for all you’re worth. Ugh.

Let me first just say that I have little patience with tortured artists, fictional or real. All that endless talk about suffering for their art and how noble that is. Bosh. Quit talking about it, and get on with it. Make art or don’t. But do not talk about how you’re not making art. Nothing could be more tedious.

That’s my attitude, so imagine how pleased I was to find out that I was going to have to endure an entire second act of this repugnant character taking himself way too seriously. This is a character who claims to be "terrified" of his canvases. What the freakin' fuck? Also, here's his painting style: he squirts a bunch of pain on the canvases and then rolls around naked on them. He's trying to create a new painting technique and it's just about killing him. Why? What on earth is difficult or taxing about rolling around in paint. Jaysus!

So the character is bad enough, but—and I’m sorry I have to make this criticism—the actor playing him* only made me hate the character even more. There was all the scenery chewing and overemoting, of course, but he resorted to some extremely amateur acting devices as well. For instance, in Act 2, he was supposed to slap the actress playing his wife. His hand didn't get anywhere near her face and he actually stamped his foot as a superlame face-slapping sound effect! C’mon. That’s something you'd see in a play put on by fourth graders. I can’t believe the director let him get away with that.

I soon reached the end of my tether with the play, but it would have looked bad to leave (we were in the front row, right under the actor's noses). When I finally couldn’t take the tortured artist anymore, I scrawled across the top of my program, "I hope he dies soon," and about five minutes later he did. What of, I don't know. Artistique angst, I suppose.

There were a few enjoyable moments in the play. The artist’s nympho wife despised him just as much as I did, and even though she was a fairly despicable character herself, Williams gave her a few fantastic lines. For example, she tells the artist that his paintings are basically “circus-colored mudpies.” Earlier when someone suggests she visit Bangkok, she exclaims ribaldly, “Bang-kok. What a name for a city!” That line was my favorite part of the whole play.

*The actor looked to be about 17, and I suppose he could have been a 17-year-old college freshman (I was once). Anyway, I feel a little bit bad about being so hard on the kid’s overwrought performance, but since he’s so young there’s every reason to hope that he’ll learn to tone himself down…or not.

Today's Random NaBloPoMo blog: The Life and Times of Sarah


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