The Performance Club


This article was written on 26 Feb 2012, and is filed under Claudia's Blog.

You Say Tomato, I Say…. (Thoughts on “Early Plays”)

Kate Valk in "Early Plays" from The Wooster Group and New York City Players. Photo courtesy of The Wooster Group.

(with apologies in advance – working this out as I write, probably not going to edit it much, might make no sense, etc…also it has been a very long day and I am now also occupied with a very big glass of wine.)

Before I saw Early Plays (earlier today) I said something to the effect that it made perfect sense for Rich Maxwell and his New York City Players to be teaming up with Liz LeCompte and The Wooster Group, despite all of the predictable chatter about how crazy-making different these two directors/troupes are. You know, he’s all into “robotic” and “monotone” and “simple,” she’s all about “wild” and “chaotic” and “slice and dice.”  The scare quotes are because the received wisdom around these two companies makes my forehead twitch – yes, yes, they have distinct aesthetics, but the approach, of keeping theater a living, breathing thing, of making us really hear and experience the text, seems to me to be pretty shared and straightforward. There’s a lot of common ground here. And, er, at this point, what’s so experimental? [sorry. soapbox.]

And then for the first few minutes of Early Plays, which is based on O’Neill’s Glencairn Plays, directed by Maxwell and features actors from both groups, I at first thought I hadn’t given those distinct aesthetics nearly enough credit. Perhaps this was going to be a very unhappy marriage after all. Could, for example, Maxwell productively utilize an actor like Ari Fliakos (a ridiculously talented performer who tends to lead an audience through all sorts of subtle ways and means) while maintaining the marvelously neutral space in which his art thrives? Would the cast members’ disparate textures (charismatic Kate Valk, diamond-in-the-rough Alex Delinois) only point out their weaknesses? Could Maxwell’s original songs, meant to serve as a sort of connective tissue, instead fracture the world of O’Neill’s language? Was there going to be some disastrous video interlude?

L-R: Keith Connolly, Bobby McElver (top), Brian Mendes (middle), Andrew Schneider (bottom), Ari Fliakos

Well …. yes and no. To all of these questions (except the video interlude – sorry, Mr. Maxwell, I panicked and forgot you were smart). I said to someone after the show, “That was SO interesting,” and he replied “I’m glad you liked it.” … well, no, I didn’t always like it (though sometimes I loved it – and pretty much everything about the design elements made me happy). But I was always interested, and I think in large part this is because of all these questions floating around my experience of the plays themselves. They, the questions, made me realize that I had gone into a Players/Wooster mashup not knowing what to expect, and what a happy thing that was, given my familiarity with both of these companies. Somehow, perhaps, these iconic (is it too much to use that word here? well, whatever, I want the deliberate echo for emphasis) artists were doing to themselves what LeCompte has long done to iconic texts – repositioning, and adding friction, so that they, and all of their flaws and delights, could be seen anew.

In that way … well, this is a TOTAL LeCompte production. On the surface it feels like a Maxwell, and it is, I don’t mean to diminish his work (You won me over with those songs every time, darn it – I wanted them to not work, it seemed they shouldn’t work, what business did they have there …. and yet and yet and yet, I’m so glad they were). But what’s LeComptian about it is the juxtaposition of materials (she invited Maxwell to do this, remember, to take on a playwright with whom her company is often associated). Only here it’s not opera and sci-fi flicks being positioned against one another. The materials are the companies themselves, Woosters and Players, set against one another to better reveal what they can and cannot do. What fun. What smart, beguiling, frustrating, weird fun. Ummm …. I think. …


One Comment

  1. [...] has very kindly accepted my request to post one of Maxwell’s songs, Fanny Ledoux, from Early Plays, the Players’ collaboration with The Wooster Group. Here [...]

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