Sunday, January 14, 2007

Number Three

Third Rail Repertory Theatre
Posted by Frenchglen January 12, 2007; closes February 10, 2007

Full volume madcap portrait of 1950’s military childhood. Third Rail drags a finger across the sadness and sickness that smudge American family’s gleaming countertops. Immaculate details, breakneck pace. Material one notch below cast’s potential. Notable: Scott Coopwood goes beyond the bad guy with his broken, touching cries of “royal blood”.

21 comments:

Dan said...

The actors and design elements were right on flawless as we come to expect from Third Rail, but the material had my companion and I walking out wondering why we were just sitting there for the last two hours. As hilarious as it was, it seemed the material was stale and it offered no knew perspective on the subject matter. Clever, funny, but it's all been done before, not any better, but nonetheless done. Why do we make new plays? What does the playwright really have to add to a discussion of ground long broken? Ebbe, if you're out there, care to share?

A question/observation: What will the future say about theatre in the early 21st century? It seems since the vivid, theatricalist AIDS plays of the 90s, we've seen no new solid direction in American theatre... except that our playwrights have problems writing the end of a play. Of the 50 or so new plays I've seen or read in the last few years, very, very few actually conclude with a firm image of idea that offers something new to the dialogue when the audience takes it home to digest. I wish it was only a fallacy-ridden sweeping generalization I was making just now, but alas, nothing has really come to mind locally or nationally. I'm talking specifically of the new work from new playwrights who will shape the future of our theatre, not the big 20 or so current playwrights that get produced everywhere, everywhere for a reason.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the Third Rail production. Very much looking forward to it. Did see Ebbe's play at JAW/West and, in addition to it being very funny, I thought there was a lot going on below the surface, kind of a personal confession that gave it weight, so it probably comes down to what you're looking for in a play.

As to your other comment, I'm not a playwright, but it sure looks like hard work, really tough to do right, and I'll bet playwrights get really, really tired of hearing folks who don't write plays say stuff like, how come you can't write better. I don't want to sound snotty about it, sorry if it sounds that way, but maybe if you don't like the new plays being written, you ought to give it a try yourself and find out how easy it is to "shape the future of our theatre." I think it'd be hard just to write stuff that sounds like real people talking.

Dan said...

It is extremely difficult, but playwrights have an extremely important responsibility because it is their work in the theatre that will stand the test of time far longer than any production of their plays. The argument you provide about "trying it yourself if you're not happy" has been delivered by actors and directors to production critics for years. Why don't they try doing it themselves if they don't like the way we're doing it. It doesn't work that way. Some people are gifted in all aspects of theatre but it's rare. Production criticism and literary criticism do not even come close to comparing to one another because of the massive amount of exposure works of literature will receive through time versus a single production of that particular work.

The burden of shaping the future of theatre is greatest on playwrights and I think they know that going into the process more so than any other theatre practitioner. With that burden comes more far reaching expectations. They write the future then watch others produce it.

Now there's an entirely different future being shaped at the same time on production styles but they do not endure as much through time as much as a playwright writing in a particular style. Now, granted, visionary directors do come along that shape the look and feel of the way we produce and present theatre, but its far rarer to have that than to have a collective of playwrights defining our direction. But alas, that is only my opinion. I am no playwright, nor do I ever think I could be, but I give them the greatest creedance and ultimately the greatest responsibility in terms of the future of scripted theatre. And right now a good narrative that doesnt rely too heavily on character and style is severely lacking in my humble opnion.

Dan said...

And you don't think actors, directors, and designers are also tired of people saying why don't you do it better? It's criticism, and it's necessary. I'm not just saying hey I don't like your play, do it better. I'm offering a specific criticism of the way in which this and many plays try to say something deeply personal and use character and style to shape their statement but don't successfully say something new about the subject their characters are portraying, or atleast enough to make many audience members feel like it was worth their time. It was entertaining, absolutely, but is that the only reason we go to theatre? I sure hope not.

The Great Pretender said...

Of course entertainment isn't the only reason to go to the theatre, but sometimes it's enough of a reason.

Dan said...

I think the way in which it's marketed then needs to indicate that. But honest marketing opens up a completely different thread.

The Great Pretender said...

So how was this show marketed? "This Play Will Change The World As We Know It"? How was the marketing on it supposed to read? "A New Play That Is Merely Entertaining And Nothing More"?

Dan said...

I didn't think we were referring to this piece specifically. I was speaking generally. But I'm not going to split hairs. My criticism comes from personal taste in wanting some kind of didactic moment in my night of theatre regardless of my desie to be entertained.

Anonymous said...

I hear where you're coming from--everyone in theatre faces criticism and we all have to get used to it. I guess I was just thinking it was kind of like talking about an actor in a play like, "How come no one's better than Olivier anymore?" I don't think the playwright's job or the director's job is more important than the other members of the team. God knows, acting well is demanding. It does seem like playwrights and directors have a lot on their plates, though, to make it all come together.

Anonymous said...

Dan,

I think you’re on to something.

“Number Three” was certainly entertaining, very funny, very well done – but is that all we want? Is this the type of work we want to be pouring our community resources into? Are we shooting for the real thing, or have we gotten caught up in parodies of the parody? Is this the best we can aspire to? Are we making a serious attempt to contribute a new viewpoint, a new voice to our world? Is this real theatre worthy of our attention and critical consideration? What are we really trying to say to the world by putting on this show? If theatre is a way of seeing, what do we see in a show like this? What would those who came before say?

I was struck by the amount of theatre talent on stage and in the audience on opening night. Surely I was not the only one who wondered what the assembled crew could do with a better play.

“Who will shape the future of our theatre?” Great question.

Sure it’s hard. It’s always been hard. Presumably someone is still out there trying to write the big play. It is the responsibility of critical voices to make sure others hear of these efforts. Very few of us have the time to survey the national theatre scene.

As to your question of how our theatre will be remembered, I think you are spot on. Do we want to be remembered as the generation that gave DINNER WITH FRIENDS a Pulitzer Prize? What happened to the idea of real innovation, craft, artistic heft, social engagement? Where is the new, the important, the transforming work?

It's out there somewhere.

Anonymous said...

It's out there somewhere, yes.

A piece of it is in my heart. I promise to bring it out.

Just please bring yours out too.

Deb said...

I did a reading of this play about 2 years ago. Ebbe did more rewrites and brought it to JAW/05 where he made some changes in order to clarify Shreynoo's evolution.
I believe Ebbe mentioned that this play has personal elements. Not exactly an autobiography, but close. He pretty much wrote what he felt about that particular experience.

I haven't seen 3rd Rail's production yet. But I am currently working with Ebbe. I'll mention this comment section to him. I won't be surprised if he doesn't comment.

As far as "it's all been done before"......um.......NOT LIKE THIS. You're going to have cite examples because I can't agree on that point.

Some plays just don't reach everyone. That's fine. Just accept the fact that this one wasn't for you.

Anonymous said...

I liked this show very much. It's always a thrill and a delight to see these actors in action. There's lots of terrific dialogue, some intriguing plotting and set magic (what the HECK was going on outside the window?), and Smith and Coopwood somehow managed to make an ostensibly dislikable and frightening character irresistably fun and compulsively watchable . . . so I'm just not sure why it didn't quite go all the way for me, what could possibly be missing.

I noticed that despite plenty of commercial / entertainment references in the dialogue and sound design, the play took place largely outside of a larger political / economic context. There was a reference to the Bomb early on, but after that it was pretty much just family dynamics (not to belittle that; I think there was something quite new and unique about the play's presentation of power politics and manipulation between children). Not sure whether making the play more "site specific" in that larger context would be a fruitful direction to go in, or limit its appeal further. Just throwing out ideas. . . .

Deb Lund said...

What was going on outside the wind?

Military lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

> Military lifestyle.

Yeah, I asked Mr. True about that and he explained it. Makes sense now, but our first introduction to it was Narmo presenting it to Shreynoo with a flourish, and so I thought it might be just another one of Narmo's head games, since he plays so many others on his brother. But then other folks saw what was out there, too, so I got confused. I heard other audience members puzzling over it at the intermission.

And another question: Where did those boy's names come from? What did they mean?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, "boys' names."

Ben Waterhouse said...

I didn't get the changing scenery when I read the script, and my wife didn't get it when we saw the show. When I spoke with Ebbe before opening, he explained that it had to do with constantly moving as a child, and that the odd names were derived from a game that he had played with his siblings in which they pronounced their names backwards (Ebbe, of course, was left out). Shreynoo and Narmo are names that sound like they're being pronounced backwards, but really aren't.

My wife suggested that there should be changing fort names on signs with the scenery. I think that might have been a bit much, but the staging as it was was a bit obscure.

Deb Lund said...

very weird, my post re: what was going on outside the wind? was cut up somehow.
It should have read:
What was going on outside the window? Military lifestyle.

I guess I'm at a loss to see how so many didn't get that. It was immediately obvious to me when I first read it and Ebbe didn't give it away in the parentheticals. Perhaps, it has to do with one's own experience/knowledge of military brats.

Anonymous said...

Well, as I said, the dramatic flourish with which Narmo introduced the first window scene may have partly misled me. But I've lived on an Army base, too, and visited several others, and I hadn't seen quite such dramatic differences in the view -- mostly, it's just different kinds of barrack housing with a little variety in the distant horizon -- so that's why I didn't catch on here.

Follow Spot said...

Agree with others: superbly clever individual performances across the board with slaps that smart, sting -- but to what collective end? All scene, no change: where does that take us? Is this an issue of script? direction? or just personal taste? Style’s seductive but not new, so what’s the point?

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear Coopwood is leaving town. And just when we were starting to have fun...