Monday, May 10, 2010

My Thoughts on "The Twentieth Century Way" at Boston Court Theatre

Back from seeing The Twentieth Century Way at Boston Court Theatre and it was fantastic.

I arrived at the theatre in good time and was greeted by Executive Director Michael Seel. As I've said previously, this theatre is so welcoming and always makes you feel comfortable and that they're glad you're there. I took a seat in their comfortable lobby and waited for them to open the theatre proper.

The programs are this beautiful color of blood red I love the photograph on the front. Somehow, it looks vaguely familiar and I'm thinking it may have been used on an edition of E.M. Forster's Maurice, but I'm not quite sure. After the doors opened, I made a beeline for the front and ended up second row center, which is fast-becoming my favorite spot in the theatre.

View of the stage from my seat

I have struggled with what to say about the play itself all evening and into this morning. The end result is that I really can’t explain it very well and I feel idiotic for not being able to do so. The play’s main themes are about acting and actors themselves, and they really struck me in the gut (and heart) to the extent of being stunned into this semi-stupified silence. I am still processing everything I saw and many of the themes are still being mulled by my dulled brain. Below is a semi-coherent mish-mash if only to try and work out on paper (on screen?) what my thoughts truly are.

This confusion is not to say I didn’t like the play – I loved it, but I can’t fully explain it. You cannot realize the frustration of this, especially to someone who prides themselves on writing at least half-decently a fair amount of the time.

But the words seem stuck between mind and page in this case.

Photo by Ed Krieger

Playwright Tom Jacobson weaves a highly intricate plot that follows two actors, Warren (Robert Mammana) and Brown (Will Bradley) in the 1910s who convince the Long Beach police department that they can catch gay men in “vile” circumstances by posing as homosexuals themselves. But this is only the basic framework for the play as a whole. As in any play, the actors are caught up as "puppets" in the roles created by the playwright, bound to speak whatever he has designated them to say. Jacobson uses this "godlike" power to his advantage, which is both fascinating and mischieviously delicious to watch. Will Bradley’s character, Brown is “forced” to utter the name of the dreaded “Scottish play,” Shakespeare’s Macbeth, not once, but three times during the performance, which is a well-known theatrical curse for actors that is only cured by bizarre and intricate rituals to relieve the bad luck this name brings about. Jacobson almost mocks the stereotypes of an actor, having his actors play a multitude of characters who spout on about different acting techniques and reciting passages from Shakespeare. But the actors are still bound to the page, and the “puppeteer’s” direction, vessels by which the writer's words are conveyed.

Photo by Ed Krieger

The play also explores the parallel of an actor wanting to be seen onstage, possessing that keen “look at me” personality, but we as an audience not really seeing them. We are there to watch their every movement, stare hard at their faces, but it’s not truly the actors themselves we see, but the roles in which they hide. This concept was prominent in Twentieth Century Way, as the two actors juggled at least a half-dozen roles each, which were switched between with such frenzy that we as an audience were never made to feel fully comfortable that we knew any of these characters intimately. This is not a sign of poor acting nor poor writing, but a device that keeps the audience from truly knowing the actors or indeed their roles until the final scene when everything is stripped away - literally and figuratively - to the core, and the two actors play “themselves,” fully naked and revealed to the audience. But then again, although they use their real names, they are still on a stage, acting a persona that may or may not represent a facet of their own personal realities.

Photo by Ed Krieger

I was left with many questions to ponder: Is acting a way to get to the core of one's being and reveal the true person behind the role or is the actor avoiding reality and the fear of truly knowing themselves by escaping into these fictional characters? What of the ones who feel "useless" when they are not acting? Does this mean they possess no life (or possibly feel they don't exist) outside of their fictional arena or are they afraid to explore their own reality outside of the safe confines of the stage/screen? Do we ever really know who actors are outside of the roles they they? Is acting a profession or is it an all-encompassing lifestyle? Are we all trapped in certain inescapable roles ourselves that society or our own lives force upon us? Are we all mere players on some unseen stage acting out the drama of our lives for some higher beings' amusement?

I'm still rolling all of this around in my head.

By the end of this play, oddly enough, I felt like I understood actors just a little bit better – why they choose this strange, albeit fascinating profession, and why perhaps some are most comfortable getting lost in someone else's shoes, if only temporarily.

After the performance, we were treated to a brief Q&A with the actors and director Michael Michetti. Most of the questions from the audience dealt with the history of the events in Long Beach and only one really touched upon the ideas set forth about acting and actors that (I felt) was the main crux of the play. Even though my mind was still reeling from what I had seen, I had a question myself for the group, but dared not ask it, since it sounded so pointless. For the record, I was curious to know how Mr. Bradley felt uttering that aforementioned dreaded Shakespearean title onstage and whether he or Mr. Mammana had any superstitious feelings towards its incorporation into the play. My hesitance will leave me forever curious.

Again, my apologies for my near-incoherence. Perhaps a second viewing of this play will render me more capable of some semblance of intelligent thought. Or perhaps it will raise even more questions that I shall have to ponder for another week...

Photo by Ed Krieger

***Squee Mini-Interlude***

It must be noted that Will Bradley and Robert Mammana were incredible. It was amazing (and rather dizzying!) watching them jump from one role to the next with such ease and fluidity. They played off each other perfectly and had great "chemistry," if that's the right word. I had remembered seeing Will in a production of Camelot earlier this year at the Pasadena Playhouse and I was really struck by his fantastic voice. This is only (I believe) his second play here in L.A. and he already acts like a total pro. (He's also quite the cutie, as many of you who read this lj have already noted. ;)). Ruggedly handsome Robert was well-polished and so agile in his delivery, it was an absolute treat to watch him. I wish both actors much success for their (very bright!) futures.

Check out Robert's website here and I'm ever hopeful Will will have an online home (for me to pimp on!) soon as well. :)

Decide for yourself and let's talk about it. The play runs until June 6th, although I'm almost certain it will be extended. Click here for tickets and info. And if you miss it here in L.A., The Twentieth Century Way will also be part of the upcoming New York Fringe Festival in August, so you really have no excuse to miss this thought-provoking piece.

Read about my second viewing of the play here

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