Posts Tagged ‘THE JAMB’

Thomas Hampton Reviews THE EVENT -Needtheater at Son of Semele

March 25, 2010

When I saw THE JAMB back in early ’10, I got in a huff about the fourth wall, and self reflexive theater.  The goals productions are attempting to achieve are now much clearer to me, after seeing this stunningly executed one act, THE EVENT.

This production of John Clancy’s short one man show, directed by Ian Forester, is certainly written for a crowd that has already fallen in love with the theater.  Paul Dillon narrates our communal experience, slowly unraveling the artifice of the performance, the relevance of the crew, and the unspoken contract between the audience, actor, and critic.

Dillon’s brash, no nonsense attack on Clancy’s words is the perfect fit.  None of the simple, yet effective, theatrical tricks up their sleeves are forced.  And the result is incredibly effective.

THE EVENT attempts to preempt and silence the thoughts in your head, muffling your inner dialogue.  And then it steers you towards the understanding that the event itself is the simple act of communication.  And the only way to truly communicate is face to face; live and in person.  A give and take including physicality as well as emotion, information, personality, disorder, and discomfort.

Thus the question; what are we in danger of losing as we avoid true communication through technological complication? Or perhaps, have we passed the tipping point, and our loss, quite simply, has not yet been understood?

Thematic content includes:  Highbrow, Humor, Singing

THE EVENT runs from 3/2 to 3/25 $15
EXTENDED 3/26 &3/27
T,W,Th,F,Sa 8pm
Map of Son of Semele
Buy Tickets
Visit the Son of Semele website
Visit the Needtheater website

*THE EVENT runs in conjunction with THE INTERVIEW (which follows an intermission.)


Thomas Hampton Reviews WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM -The Blank Theatre Company

February 12, 2010

“Daddy just takes some getting used to.”

Wise words, spoken early, in WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM, Christopher Durang’s new comedy.  All of us at Thomas Hampton Reviews were very excited about the show last year, when we read the review in the New York Times.  So a big thanks goes out to The Blank Theatre Company, for bringing us the West Coast premiere.

The “Daddy” in question is a suburban New Jersey patriarch, now retired.  He spends his days isolated from his family in his Butterfly Room, studying his, um… “butterflies.”

All the while, his wife spends her days changing her clothes to fit her moods- but only the color.  She bought the same dress through the rainbow to match the way she feels.

And our “baby” has spent the night relieving herself of the burdens of life in New York and her dead end job by drinking profusely at Hooters.  And thus, the show opens with her awakening to her morning after.  Oh, did I mention that she wakes up with her new husband… who might just be a (gasp) terrorist?

So, thank you, Mr. Durang, for once again setting up a lovely, kooky premise to play around with our ideas of self, and the realities that lay buried underneath.

Just like Dad’s Butterfly Room, which is omnipresent within the set, but only visible when the lights allow us to see through the scrim; WHY TORTURE… plays with the thin veil that separates the facade that we allow the world to see, and the lies, fear, violence, and never ending preparations for war that consume our reptilian brains.

And how better to begin a frank exploration of said lizard brain than an over consumption of drugs and alcohol at a Hooters?  Rest assured- if you think a re-examination of the torture memos, snipe hunt for WMD, and the 8 years of Bush are just so… last year- where Durang really fires the afterburners is in a show stopping third act, brought to you by the miracle of a broken, nay, demolished fourth wall, and utterly modern desire to use self-help to fix the wrongs of the world (and the people who live in it.)

There really is no escape for the audience if you have grown tired of the broken fourth wall (please see my review of THE JAMB) but in the right hands, these bent conventions allow for a character, or entire show, to open itself up to the audience in revelatory ways.

Instead of having to balance a character’s good and bad, we can take a break and focus only on the good.  Just like a mother who cannot believe that her Johnny ever could have killed a fly (let alone the girl he had been stalking…) Durang allows us to see the best of an ex dope dealer turned porn producing reverend, who lets us know that, “…making porno is a better thing to do for people than selling heroin.”  Hear, hear!

Unfortunately, it takes a “comedy” to get us inside the head of an evildoer, and understand what drives a bad actor (not performer “actor” mind you,) to act bad and perpetrate evil.  Or does it?  If I remember correctly, well baked clams and meat pies can do it too.  Anyone see Carousel as it just rode through town (is Westwood a town?)  Or Sweeny Todd at Musical Theatre West?

WHY TORTURE… wants us to take a good look in the mirror, and realize that it is our present that creates our future.  So lets be careful!

Thematic content includes:  Love, Adultery, Rape, Violence, Drug Use, Singing, Humor, Highbrow.

Th,F,Sa at 8pm, Sn at 2pm, $22-$28
Map of the Stella Adler Theater
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The Blank Theatre Company Website

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
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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