Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Last Supper, the first night

Opening night has come and gone. I'm exhausted and grateful. Relieved. Happy with how it all went, despite some minor hiccups. And the overwhelmingly positive response from our first audience was incredible. It's been far too long since I've been part of a full-length play run and will probably be far too long again after, but I'm so glad this is the show that occupies the middle.

I want to tell you all about it. Do you have a minute?

Many years ago, probably during one of my many movie-watching binges that helped me through one long, lonely summer when I had just moved to Oklahoma, I happened across a flick called "The Last Supper." Starring a pre-"There's Something About Mary" Cameron Diaz, the always amazing Courtney Vance, and a pre-"Big Love" Bill Paxton (among others), the dark political comedy struck a chord with me from the start.

I'm a great fan of good, dark humor. There's probably a psychological thesis to be written on why that is, but the personal reasons are beside the point at the moment. What's important to note is that, when I found out about a year ago that a stage version of the movie had been created by the original writer, I knew I wanted to find a way to be involved in its production.

Amazingly, the local company Mercury Players Theatre decided to put up "The Last Supper" as part of its season this year. I came out of a self-imposed theatre retirement specifically to audition and, very happily, landed the part of one of the central cast members - Jude, originally played by Diaz (pffft). She is not at all the type of character I am usually cast as, and that's absolutely the kind of challenge I love.

Jude starts the show as a confident, sexy, witty woman and arcs down into serious existential despair. I've spent the last few months getting to know her and having a great time seeing what I could bring to the part. Even better, and perhaps more astounding, is the fact that the entire cast is amazing. They're not just all solid actors, but solid people. We all get along. For an ensemble show this is crucial, but it's still rare. In my experience there's always been that one person in the cast with whom everyone else becomes increasingly more annoyed during the course of the rehearsal and run period. It's almost inevitable. It may even have been me at times.

It's just not the case here. And it's one of my absolute favorite things about doing theatre - meeting wonderful new people, better getting to know others. I think/hope our closeness translates on stage.

Back to the play, though: Playwright Dan Rosen actually updated the script specifically for our production, so this is the first time anywhere ever that this exact version has been performed. Which is, really, kind of awesome. Rosen will also be coming to Madison to see it and participate in talk-backs after the show on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 28 and 29. Nora Dunn, former SNL actress and original Sheriff from the movie version is also making a somewhat surprise visit that weekend to do the talk-backs, so if you're keen on that sort of thing, those are the nights to come see the show.

The play is all about what happens when people let their political ideologies get the best of their morals, and the danger of extremism in any part of the political spectrum. Eerily enough, the show became all the more topical after the shootings in Arizona this month. We worried over and discussed what that might mean for how audiences would react to the production - but decided, rightly I think, that it made what we were doing and what the show was saying all the more important. Not everyone digs dark humor as a way of tackling sticky topics, but I believe it's one of the best ways to civilly approach hard issues, generate some catharsis, and get people to think about things they might otherwise shut out if it were brought up in a more straight-faced, serious manner.

People don't like to be preached at, but present an issue in the light of a somewhat hyper-real, humorous but meaningful narrative and they're more likely to be open to the message. That's been my experience, anyway (this reviewer doesn't seem to agree with me, which is her prerogative, but I think she missed the point a bit - this reviewer, however, appears to have been more on board).

I know I've been made to really think some things through just by being in this show, and deal with the issues it tackles on an almost daily basis since we started rehearsals in December. The process has been difficult at times, but mostly it's both been a welcome reprieve from a series of stressful events in my personal life and somewhat of a catharsis for everything that's gone down nationally over the last couple of years.

If you're in the Madison area through the weekend of Feb. 12 I would love for you to come check it out for yourself (more info about tickets, etc. here).

Monday, January 17, 2011

The most publicity Tasmania will get all year

Amanda Fucking Palmer. Bless your heart.


How do I love this, let me count the ways.

(FYI: This all sprung from an on-the-spot performance when AP was in Tasmania last year)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

We need more "Salt" in our entertainment diet

Apropos of nothing: I sat down with my Fella the other night to watch Salt, the action/thriller starring Angelina Jolie released last year to very mixed reviews. It has a ridiculous plot, she wears one of the most ham-handed outfits I've ever seen in a film (and I've seen a lot of ridiculous in my day), and is not what you'd call a great movie overall.

I loved it.

Why? Because the titular role, Evelyn Salt, is a complete and utter bad-ass. And not the done-to-death hot lady/big boobs/seducin' men/witty comebacks bad-ass but non-threatening female lead that even Jolie has been guilty of playing, either. She's mean. Jolie's portrayal is ovaries-to-the-wall hardcore (she did many of the stunts herself, and to the productions' credit, they used a refreshingly small amount of CG to get it done). The fights are gnarly and believable. It's fun to watch, plain and simple, and the sad fact is that we so rarely get to see a female lead - or even supporting character - like this in movies or television. I could probably list them all on both hands, with room to spare.

And you know why? Because the part of Salt was originally written for a man. When the original lead actor dropped out, Jolie asked to be given the part instead - and since you don't turn down Angelina Fucking Jolie they did just that, simply tweaking the script a little to reflect the different gender pronoun.

It works. It works so, so well. I wish the rest of the plot hadn't been quite so ludicrous because otherwise it's just an incredibly entertaining female-fronted flick with excellently choreographed fights and action sequences,. This is how you do it, folks. Having a strong female lead changes certain aspects of how you write a character and plot, yes, but not nearly as much as I think most of Hollywood has led itself to believe.

This goes for the Schluppy Normal Guy's Life Crisis movies, too. What about women? We're schluppy and layered and flawed and lovable, too, but you wouldn't know it from how we're represented in popular entertainment.

The Bechdel Test should be required reading for all screenwriters:
  1. It has to have at least two women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man
Now there's an idea.

Yes, ultimately a big part of Salt's motivation has to do with a man (her husband) - but she doesn't talk about it the entire time, she's morally ambiguous through most of the movie, and when she fights she fights mean. And, for better or worse, that makes Salt a ground-breaking movie. It shouldn't be, of course - letting women be human beings in movies ought not be such a novel concept.
The Lost Albatross