Saturday, April 18, 2009

Forced perspective

The cast of Miracle at Naples cavorts on another wonderful set from Alexander Dodge.

You can all stop calling and e-mailing; I'm well aware that Hell has frozen over.

Yes, Louise Kennedy has written a brilliant review of The Miracle at Naples (at the Huntington through May 9). (And for once Jenna Scherer has completely blown it.) In fact, Louise is worth quoting at length:

["The Miracle at Naples"] is intended not to delight but to instruct, not to embrace its audience but to stand apart from it - and just a little above. Its spirit, for all the four-letter words and sex talk, is fundamentally didactic, not comedic. "Look how funny this all is - and think how silly the world is not to be this free-spirited, this frank, this fresh." It is, above all, highly self-conscious from start to finish, and that more than anything distances it from the essential spirit of the form it pretends to adapt to modern mores.

Wow. I couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, I've just deleted the opening paragraph of my first draft. But I'll dare to carry on where Louise left off, with the lines:

It's odd to sit through two hours of profanity-larded, crotch-grabbing, bosom-heaving comedy and come away feeling as if you've been read a sermon. But it's even odder not to know just what the preacher meant to say.

Oh, but it's only too obvious what the preacher meant to say. Yes, playwright David Grimm and director Peter DuBois are dictating directly from (wait for it): THE HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA.

And personally, I blame Obama.

Okay, just kidding. But somebody is to blame, that's for sure. How have we come to this strange pass, when rather than producing the actual great work of our day, university theatres are "developing" second-rate stage fodder that openly promulgates campus politics and "critical thinking"? Actually, scratch that - I know how we've come to this strange pass. It's obvious in retrospect that academic theatre would, inevitably, serve the academy itself rather than the culture at large (note that the author of The Miracle at Naples is a lecturer at Columbia and Yale). And just as the academy has begun to sell itself by turning its attention to pop, so have the Huntington and the ART. Of course it's pop "with a difference" - i.e., a knowing, postmodern condescension that approximates the tone of The Simpsons. And, needless to say, a lefty political bent.

Of course I know I'll face howls of execration from my gay brothers and sisters for turning up my nose at the empowering faggotry of The Miracle at Naples (the show's big "twist" is its interpolation of gay love into the usual antics of commedia). And certainly its fine bromance between two hot Renaissance dudes is sweetly intended and has its genuinely funny moments (and I've already got kind of a thing for hunky Gregory Wooddell, above; woof!) But honestly, if you need support for your sexual identity from the Huntington Theatre, then it's time for some therapy. And to get even a little honester, if The Miracle at Naples were a true piece of commedia dell'arte (as advertised), and if it truly empowered gays, then boy-love would take the same knocks onstage that everything and everybody else does.

But it doesn't. Instead, it gets special P.C. treatment; only its denial is considered worthy of satire. Indeed, all things anal are put forth as just ducky; a virgin even happily takes two dudes up her bum with no problem (and people think Shakespeare is improbable??). Meanwhile, heterosexual love is painted as sadly self-deluding, and ultimately dangerous. (Not that that isn't true; it's more the lack of balance that bothers me.)

And even if we ignore the show's dumbed-down politics, on purely textual terms it's kind of disappointing. After a few workshops and "intense work" with Peter DuBois, playwright David Grimm has managed a smoothly paced (if slightly predictable) plot, with a cute punchline - but he's only come up with enough actual wit for about half a play. The show has a couple of great lines - my favorite was "Who do I have to fuck in this town to fall in love?" (A paraphrase, but a close one.) But there's a whole lot more Z-grade Mel-Brooks-style filler, like "Is that your face or your asshole?" (Again, a paraphrase, but a close one.) Frankly, next to this, even the weakest scene in The Superheroine Monologues plays like Oscar Wilde.

Yet incredibly, the audience generally laughs along - or at least chuckles - thanks to the efforts of a top-notch New York cast, who could probably sell ice cubes to Eskimos. This troupe doesn't really have a weak link, but when I could tear my eyes off of Wooddell's bright-eyed goofball, I particularly enjoyed the performances of Alma Cuervo and Dick Latessa, two old pros who made beautifully nuanced music together, and Alfredo Narciso, who poured out far more passion here than he managed in the ART's Britannicus two years ago. Barely a step behind this talented trio, however, were the ripely gorgeous Christina Pumariega, the spunky Lucy DeVito, and the mournfully wily Pedro Pascal (with Pumariega and Wooddell, at left). And the Huntington did the show up right, as always: Anita Yavich's costumes were gorgeously appropriate, and Alexander Dodge contributed a fantastic forced-perspective set (see top). If only the political and artistic perspectives of the play hadn't been equally forced.

No comments:

Post a Comment