Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Next Best

I recently went back to the beginning of Jasper Fforde's smart, witty and laugh-out-loud funny fantasy series featuring intrepid literary detective Thursday Next, who toils to keep great books safe from those out to destroy them (trust me, it makes sense when you read the books), for an interview with the author.

Aside from its fearless, female protagonist, what I love most about this series (which presently totals five books, The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten and Thursday Next: First Among Sequels) is that it celebrates a world in which books are so central to life that kids trade cards featuring authors and fictional characters instead of sports heroes, and zealots go door to door not to preach religion but to try to persuade folks that Francis Bacon actually wrote Shakespeare's plays.

In fact, one of my favorite passages from the book I recently finished, Eyre Affair, involves crimes against Shakespeare:

"He opened the door a crack to reveal two officers in shirtsleeves who were interviewing a man dressed in tights and an embroidered jacket. ...

'Malin and Sole look after all crimes regarding Shakespeare. ... They keep an eye on forgery, illegal dealing and overly free thespian interpretations. The actor in with them was Graham Huxtable. He was putting on a felonious one-man performance of Twelfth Night. Persistent offender. He'll be fined and bound over. His Malvolio is truly frightful.' "

I realize that as a theater journalist I probably should be more supportive of innovative and unique interpretations of the Bard, but having sat through some truly awful and uninspired Shakespearean productions, sometimes I can't help wishing that "overly free thespian interpretations" were an arrestable crime.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Taboos Then and Now

A scene from Taboos.

As I tried to describe the twisted family saga that unfolds in scientist Carl Djerassi's Off-Broadway play Taboos in my Time Out review , memories of the wonderful and hilarious '70s serial sitcom Soap — speaking of shows that deal with taboo subjects — kept flashing through my mind, particularly the recaps that aired at the start of each episode to keep viewers up to date on all the evolving antics. Each one ended with the announcer reassurance: "Confused? You won't be after this episode of Soap."

Taboos may be a fairly lumpy play, but it was nice to see a show about a provocative subject matter — the ethics and emotions of reproductive technology — that wasn't overtly political or drenched in irony.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Plays of the Times

A scene from The Invitation.

Politics and the global impact of American wealth aren't just the headlines of the week; they're also the focus of two plays that I caught last week and reviewed: the biting and bloody The Invitation and There or Here , which examines baby-making outsourcing to India.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sweet Smell for Pittu

Peter Bartlett and David Pittu in What's That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling.

The first time I remember seeing David Pittu in a show he played a waiter in a quirky little musical by Craig Lucas and Craig Carnelia called 3 Postcards produced by the old Circle Rep. That was more than a decade ago, when I was still a junior editor at Back Stage. A couple of years ago he again played a waiter in Celebration, part of a Pinter double bill at the Atlantic.

Perhaps it's because I saw the show on a frigid January afternoon that his character's loneliness and despair, which is strikingly revealed in the play's final moments, was so haunting. Or it just could be that Pittu's a terrifically versatile actor whose been flying under the radar, despite two consecutive Tony nomination, playing a varied array of supporting characters but not really breaking out into leading roles.

Well, he's the star, co-writer and co-director of What's That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling, which I had the chance to talk to him about for this Time Out New York feature. It just started previews yesterday, so I haven't had a chance to see it yet, but with Pittu and Peter Bartlett, who were both hilarious in the too short-lived Never Gonna Dance a few seasons ago, headlining, I expect gut-busting laughter.