Saturday, December 15, 2012

Golden Boy (NYC)

Hey there!  Look, it’s a very long absent blog writer. … Sorry about that, I got busy, and then I got out of the habit…  You know how it is.  But I will endeavor to do better.  … We’ll see how long that endeavor works.

But today, I want to talk about Golden Boy, currently at the Belsco Theatre in conjunction with Lincoln Center.  And I want to preface this blog with some bio of me.  I will admit to being particularly attached to, and informed of Golden Boy.  It was the first show I ever had a lead in (I was Lorna), and it is the reason that I get to call Lanford Wilson a mentor of mine, bc he saw a scene (the park bench scenes) that I had directed from it and took it upon himself to recruit me into his program.

So, having said all that, I was incredibly excited that I not only got to see it, but that I had front row seats even!  And, believe it or not, I went in wanting to love it!

However, I did not.  And I did not almost from the first moment.  My biggest problem with the production is highlighted by the first few moments, and that’s why it sticks out so much.  One of the hearts of the story, the thing that makes the story progress is the love triangle that emerges between Lorna, Tom, and Joe.  Except I never felt like Lorna loved Tom, and that’s a problem.  Nor did I feel like Tom loved and needed Lorna.  Also a problem.  And pretty disguisable from the first few beats of the play, which are between – you guessed it – Tom and Lorna.  Lacking any kind of chemistry between those two, even in a need way (bc I am the first to admit that I do not believe that Lorna is “in love” with Tom, she does “love” him though – and he needs her – which is a safety she’s never had before) – anyway, without the chemistry between those two characters, a large part of the play becomes problematic.  Like the growing attraction between Lorna and Joe, which, I felt, was entirely one sided in this version.  Joe is clearly puppy dogging Lorna, and she just as clearly never truly loves Joe, again an interpretation that I think leaves much to be desired in the arch of the story.  Yes, Lorna needs to be needed more than she needs to be in love, which is why she doesn’t leave Tom. But, also, yes, she is in love with Joe.  It’s just that, for her, there is something more important that being in love – and she has the self honesty to recognize that – she even tells Joe, even though he doesn’t believe her.   

What attracts Lorna to me as a character are these layers.  Her ability to say: So what, I’m not in love with him, in love isn’t what’s important, in love just gets you kicked around, and then let herself feel love with Joe in small cracks and starts – that her connection with him is so strong she can’t deny it – even as she has to push him away bc there is more at stake than her heart.  What attracts me to Lorna is the relationships she forges with these men, and the way in which she interacts with them and they with her.   And that, I felt, was where this show was most lacking – in the development of the relationships between characters.  While Joe himself was good in a vacuum, (ok, that’s not entirely true, I thought there were some excellent moments with Joe and his dad, and Joe and Tokyo)  theatre isn’t in a vacuum. Shows aren’t about one actors work, but how the actors work together to tell a story through relationships. 

So, for once, I think I am commenting on the directing.  I feel like more time should have been spent working on how these people feel about each other, and how that drives the play forward.  No one in this show is immune.  And not just this show, in life in general. Furthermore, it's a problem I've seen of late in several productions. Individual actors are very good, but the relationship and interactions between the characters is lousy.  

As a whole, I believe theatre is the art of telling a story through relationships.  And I forget how important that is to me sometimes, and then I see a show where the relationship work is ignored (and some where the story telling part is too) and I remember what drew me to this craft in the first place.  Individual arcs are important, but if there were more important than the arcs of the relationships, then why do we bother to have rehearsals with full casts in the first place.  I don't want to get all uppity here, but I do think this is a big distinction between theatre and film.  I think theatre must focus on the relationship of the characters AND how the actors demonstrate it.  Film has the advantage of cutting and pasting those relationships together.  (Before anyone gets mad, I have the utmost respect for people who do film acting well too - I am merely pointing out, for the umpteenth time, that they are different skill sets - one of them being a relationship with a camera vs a relationship with actors that must be displayed live every show - ok, now you can throw tomatoes at will).  

My point being... what was my point?  Or right, character development in a vacuum. It shouldn't happen.  The whens and whys of character development, I think, the playwright (if they've done their job well - as Odets did) lays out clearly for you. And if the playwright has done his/her job well, then that development is done through interaction with other characters - otherwise why are they in the story? It's like Chekhov was fond of saying, people always say the shortest version of whatever they can to get their point across (that is Chekhov as interpreted by me). The point being the same, use what the play gives you - the playwright wrote it for a reason.  Learn what the relationships are and how the relationships change the course of the characters, and how the course of the characters changes the relationships.  I feel like, within that kernel of grey area is where the heart of a good play, and a good story, truly lives.

Also, on a personal note, I didn’t really like Fuslei, though, that, I admit, is totally personal.  I’ve seen him played multiple times, as both explosive and quiet.  And every time there is something infinitely more scary and “in charge” about a quiet gangster than an explosive one.  The man who knows he’s in charge and never has to raise his voice is infinitely more in charge the one who screams to be heard.  

The cast and crew:
Joe Bonaparte Seth Numrich
Mr. Bonaparte Tony Shalhoub
Tokio Danny Burstein
Lorna Moon Yvonne Strahovski
Anna Dagmara Dominczyk
Siggie Michael Aronov
Mr. Carp Jonathan Hadary
Tom Moody Danny Mastrogiorgio
Eddie Fusseli Anthony Crivello
Roxy Gottlieb Ned Eisenberg
Barker Daniel Jenkins

Creative Team

Written by Clifford Odets
Director Bartlett Sher
Set Designer Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer Catherine Zuber
Sound Designer Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg
Lighting Designer Donald Holder