Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Windy City Times Review by Mary Shen Barnidge

"Arthur Miller's play lends itself to a variety of interpretations: it can be viewed as drama verité, painting a picture of community life amid the Italian population of Red Hook, on the southwestern coast of Brooklyn. Or as a fable of dreams deferred, elders sacrificing so their young may flourish. One can find Freudian overtones in its exploration of blue-collar paternal affection subverted by incestuous impulses stemming from suppressed envy. ( Don't we, today, still see parents resentful of the privileges they shower upon their children? ) And how could the plight of “submarines”—illegal immigrants—seeking economic opportunities in America not resonate with audiences in 2008?

It should come as no surprise that this GreyZelda Theatre Group production does not fit easily into preconceived categories. Where some directors would instruct their actors to delve the possibility of sexual ambiguities in Eddie Carbone's possessive attitude toward his maturing niece and her effeminate ( by 1956 standards, remember ) suitor, Chris Riter never permits his subtext to wallow in sweaty speculation. Likewise, speeches that would, under other guidance, be delivered with operatic majesty are kept well within the vernacular idiom of their milieu.

Indeed, if this rendition of the familiar classroom classic has any prototype, it would be an early television play: the live-action scenes are almost wholly restricted to the Carbone family parlor, with only a suggestion of hall stairway and front stoop, all other exterior scenes being shown in video clips, courtesy of filmmaker Ed French. ( David Lykins' attorney Alfieri never addresses us except before the camera. ) Far from diminishing the story's impact, however, this multimedia approach further intensifies our acquaintance and, thus, our understanding of the social environment that turns fundamentally good men to violence and vengeance.

Opening on a frigid night only three days into the new year, the GreyZelda ensemble couldn't help but fall a bit short of its ambitious goals, emotions kindling too slowly before igniting. But Stage Left's intimate quarters permit the cinematic ambience of the prerecorded sequences to be carried over to the on-site performances—in particular, techniques associated with close-up shots that allow us to see thoughts cross characters' minds unspoken. Ironically, it is just this cozy brand of realism ( as contrasted with the glib repartee of extensively-drilled players confidant of their next words ) that invokes empathy without our being aware of its influence, so that when the inevitable strikes—and we, literally, see it coming—we experience the catharsis due all unnecessary destruction in an imperfect world."

Doesn't Mary write beautifully? I always enjoy her reviews because she's able to spin journalism intelligently and poetically, while still remaining descriptive and accurate.

(*edited 1/17/2007 at 3:49pm* - I've been a long time fan of Mary Shen Barnidge's writing because I think it's good - regardless of whether or not she reviews our shows or not - my comment above was put because I feel the post is well-written and uses really good words and descriptions and quotes that are beautiful to read, to me, from the literary sense. She's got a huge talent and Chicago should be very proud to have such an eloquent writer coming to see their shows. Go read her other reviews - you'll see what I mean.)



Fran said...

...just asking: Would you have praised Shen's ever-eloquent writing were the review in-"accurate" - i.e. negative ?

Dan said...

Curse the fates, Rebecca - it doesn't look like I'll be able to get out to see View after all - best of luck for the rest of the run, and tell Kelly I said hello!

GreyZelda Land said...

Several of Mary's reviews (she's seen every GreyZelda show) have been full of more criticism, but if you read her reviews week to week of all the shows she's reviewed ... she doesn't fall into the trap of lambasting theatre companies, it seems to me, on a general basis. She's definitely a friend of the Storefront community all the way around and I think that she deserves as much recognition for her writing talents as we can give her on this meager blog. She writes really well and uses words that speak to intelligent people, don't you think, Fran?

In fact, I've heard from some that they don't think this is the most positive of reviews, but I think it gives a potential audience a fair insight, in my personal opinion.


GreyZelda Land said...

Thank you, Dan!


Anonymous said...

I agree with your answer to "Fran's" question. It is not a perfectly positive response, but it profound uniqueness is worth the posting.

What it comes off as is an intellectual juxtaposition to most other critics who fail to have their own ideas about things. I secretly see some of them waiting for the first review to come out before they write their own. Many have grown lazy. I don't blame them. I couldn't want to be a critic. It sounds exhausting. I see Mary Shen going home, making a pot of herbal tea, daydreaming, then sleeping on it- for a week or two. She is an existentialist hermit-thinker. She wallows in her dreamy thoughts and seems to enjoy productions that allow her to think about her place as a human being on this planet we call earth. She finds colonies in small things. She is Laura Wingfield. I do not think she would ever react in this way to any tawdry affectations of theater. She's a dreamer, man! She sees things that most artists don't.

In fact, I think she found something in the film as a character that no one has been able to articulate. It is a review that actually makes you think about the idea of film rather than the film itself. She is actually the first critic to praise the film as an affective device rather than critique the quality because let's face it- everyone is a movie critic. She embraces realism, yet she does not try to belittle what has become of contemporary society's attachment to film because that is very real and here to stay. Therefore, she thought the film helped as a "cozy" tool offered to the audience to help invoke the cathartic ending of destruction. This "destruction" reminds me of the atheistic idea of the imperfections of the world being true signs that there is no god and that things evolve over bits of meteorite and bacteria only to be destroyed by the cosmos the earth came from. She was not there to judge the editing or the beats or the set pieces. She was there to think about the purpose of this story being mounted for people today. The purpose of experiencing this right here, right now. If people actually thought about things before they opened their mouths (or typed on their keyboards), we might eventually become a more positive and nurturing community.

What I got from her about the actors is that she thought that they weren't as over the top as they are usually portrayed, which made for slower builds in emotion on the opening night - BUT- that the director wasn't worried about the typical things that come with this production- which I think is an interesting reaction.. (I personally don't agree with this one as I thought the emotional build was right on.) She went to another place that night. She might not have been watching or listening as hard or in the same way as the other critics, but you know how massage therapists take it as a compliment when their clients fall asleep on their table? Well, her ruminations could equal the trip GZ would like all their audience members to go on.