Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Want to Write? Go See Shows!

You want to be a writer, go see shows.

See the end result of what writers do. Sketch comedy writers should stop watching SNL and start checking out the plethora of sketch comedy shows in Chicago. But what I also recommend you do, is go see plays. Go see what the small theaters are doing and go see what the Chicago behemoths are doing. You'll see characters diving into relationships and you'll see how great stories unfold. You'll see people doing things and taking risks that will inspire you to try things you hadn't considered.

And if you see something bad, you learn a lot about what NOT to do.

I recently saw The Goodman Theatre's Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O'Neill. I learned a lot about what NOT to do.

First off, if you check with what I say against major critics in the city, you'll think I'm crazy. I'm not. This production is a bloated whore that lays there like a turtle on its back. Why aren't critics raking this production over the coals? They drank the kool-aide. This town gets a boner for the combo of director Robert Falls and actor Brian Dennehey.

Lessons I learned...

1) Too much money can kill a play. Falls went out of his way to give the audience their money's worth in the set. It kills a very simple play. There's a huge house that takes up a third of the stage and it rises up and down, half the stage is built on a slope of boulders, there's a bed and kitchen table and a working stove that rise and sink through the floor like we're in some mad scientists castle. People "ooh" and "ahh" so much that you'd think they were seeing Wicked instead of O'Neill.

2) Shouting isn't acting. There's a lot of shouting in this play.

3) Don't pad the play. This production starts with a long, silent scene of two guys moving rocks and gutting a pig while another guy cooks bacon. It goes one forever. Worse, is a five minute scene set to a Bob Dylan tune, the whole tune, while all that happens on stage is a guy takes a bath and a woman hangs laundry.

4) Your play's two hours long straight through? Better give me a good reason why you don't have an intermission or go ahead and let me pee off the balcony.

5) If your play is titled Desire Under the Elms and characters make reference to elms, you might want to consider spending some money on some fucking ELMS! Yep. No elms in Desire Under the Elms. This was Desire Under the Levitating House.

6) If you're going to have an actor come out and play fiddle in the background for a long scene, go ahead and spring for a real fiddle player. This guy looked like he was playing "air fiddle" to a Charlie Daniels tune while drunk.

There is some good stuff happening at the Goodman during the O'Neill festival. This weekend is the last weekend for the Sea Plays presented by a Brazilian company. Good stuff with innovative staging.


Chris Othic said...

I agree with you on too much money killing a play. A lot of time having the money handy only leads to the easiest solution. I like to see people try to pull things off with a degree of difficulty.

Go check out Nat's review of Macbeth at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre if you haven't. It's a good compliment to this post.

Nat Topping said...

Yeah I was about to say I had a somewhat similar experience with Macbeth. I really don't mind all of the crazy special effects. I actually kind of like a play with that sort of spectacle - mostly because it justifies the crazy ticket prices for some of these big theatre companies - but it can't come at the expense of or as a replacement for a good story and the quality of the performances.

Mike Bauman said...

Ernest Borgnine taught me that shouting means you're acting harder and better. I defy you to find a finer performance in the history of acting than his lead role in "A Grandpa for Christmas."