Posts Tagged ‘J. Stephen Brantley’

Thomas Hampton Reviews THE JAMB, at the Eclectic Company Theatre

January 28, 2010

Tuffer is pushing forty, and makes a cracked-out blackout phone call for help to his old buddy.   His old friend Roderick rushes to save him, only to find Tuffer holing up with his new boy toy.  In a last chance effort to save Tuffer from his own self-destructive tendencies, Roderick packs some bags and drags everyone off to his Mom’s New Mexico adobe for some sober assessment.

On its way to the desert, THE JAMB gently toys with story theater conventions, allowing characters to call their own sound and light cues…  feel like a monologue?  Ask for the spot.  Need to break a glass?  Cue and call your own “break” effect.

What is generating all of the broken fourth walls?

Self reflexive theater must be all the rage- nearly all of the shows reviewed here include some overt wink at the audience.  Of course, this kind of direct appeal has been around since a storyteller enthralled an audience in front of a fire.  The Greek chorus!  The monologue!  Can you believe it has almost been 90 years since the (initial failure, then) success of the premiere engagements of Pirandello’s Sei Personaggi in Cerca d’ Autore/ Six Characters in Search of an Author?

Some of this must be a reaction of the playwrights.  They want to engage their audience, and will pull out all of the tricks that they can to do so.  And don’t discount technology.  Today’s theater audience is able to “play god” at home in front of the television.  Stop.  Rewind.  Skip Commercial.  Fast Forward…

So a modern character can have that power as well; and J. Stephen Brantley’s do.  He has one character introduce another character’s monologue, even a dialogue, and quickly abridge it for us.  Each of the players takes a turn to “use the remote,” as they thankfully help the audience to avoid undue exposition.

Why?  Are these techniques being used to snare a restless audience used to dvrs and remote controls?  Is it simply the evolution of “popular” theater, as elements from progressive works filter their way in to more mainstream dramas?  Is the local theater scene sensing a need for this?  Is the audience requesting it?

It is probably a mix of all of the above.  But it does make sense that smaller shows are going to break the fourth wall.  When done well, it allows for a direct, intimate connection to the theatergoer.  It is difficult for a black box/ 99 and under to have the “polish” of an opera or post Broadway tour that screams, “Hey, look’it all the money we threw up on stage.  Where we are telling the story.  To you- the audience member- who must be wowed by our use of fly wire and turntables and green makeup and smoke and fire;” or you might be disappointed with the crazy expensive price you paid.

It is a fine line that productions have to walk- toy too much with traditional narrative structure and style and no one will get it.  OR throw up “traditional theatRe” and lose your audience to innovative film and television, or the big houses with big budgets.

In many ways, the questions raised in this macro review remind me of THE JAMB’s protagonists, Tuffer and Roderick; two guys on the cusp middle age.  All they have to hold on to are their own anger and drug fueled escape.  Can they- like today’s small theaters- learn to accept some of their own inherent problems?  Can they change just enough to bring us in to their world and take us along for a ride?

Thematic content includes: Drug Use, Violence, Self Destruction, Love, Humor, Redemption

THE JAMB runs from 1/15 to 2/21.
F, Sa at 8pm Sn at 7pm, $18.
Map of the Eclectic Theatre
Purchase Tickets
Visit the Eclectic’s Website

Production stills of THE JAMB at The Eclectic Company Theatre

January 24, 2010

We went to see THE JAMB at The Eclectic Company Theatre.  A World Premiere engagement by playwright J. Stephen Brantley.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

All photos by Susan Lee (director of this production)

Thematic content includes: Self Destruction, Sex, Love, Violence, Redemption, Humor, Drug Use

The Jamb runs from 1/15 to 2/21.
F,Sa at 8pm Sn at 7pm, $18.
Map of The Ecclectic Company Theatre
Purchase Tickets
Visit the Ecclectic Company Theatre Website