I saw two shows in quick succession last week, and was distracted from writing them up by a family visit. I would have seen a third show a few days later, but had to cancel that plan when my car developed technical problems and I had to stay local within Marin.
Show #21 took me, my mom, and many theatre friends to the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. Nigel Richards, a friend of a friend, recently visited Marin from his home base in London, England. My good friend (and his close friend) Molly Noble produced the event. I’d helped Molly a little bit with the pre-show publicity, and was somewhat uncertain how strongly attended the evening would be. 142 Throckmorton offers a very wide range of performances and subjects (comedy, theatre, music…) on any given week. This performance could have gotten lost in the shuffle, but thankfully, that was not the case.
Nigel brought charisma, intelligence and a sense of fun to his stage presence as he presented his cabaret, “From Blasphemy to Rapture” over the course of an hour+, where he returned to the stage for TWO encores. He seemed to captivate the audience going through a range of familiar and lesser known songs. He didn’t shy away from storytelling in between most of the songs, whether it was about a personal/family memory or something in a broader context. In the latter category, he presented an especially memorable series of one liners based on real excerpts (malapropisms) from a church newsletter.
Nigel clearly thrived on the performer –> audience interaction of his work. I was pleased that the audience members, about 1/2 of whom I knew, were so clearly enthusiastic about his offerings. Part of the joy and excitement may have come from his relative exoticness to us. British performers don’t come through Marin every day, even though there are many theatre companies and ties to history within this area. I know I am often keenly aware of California’s distance from Europe, having grown up in a place where the proximity and cultural evolution is much more apparent. It is possible that for this evening, in a place I like to call “the perfect combination of California, England and Switzerland”, that cultural connection was fully realized.
My mom and I returned to Mill Valley the following evening to catch my 22nd show of the year, Fuddy Meers at the Marin Theatre Company. MTC’s art department seemed to really be having fun with the marketing for this show, evoking a zany funhouse of comedy just through the poster. I later noticed that they constructed a YouTube video for the show with the actors interviewed off stage and in character. The reviews glowed with comedic praise for the cast’s ensemble efforts. But for me, the performance did not connect.
I’m not sure if it was the hyper manic energy of the scenes, a wide tonal difference between interpretation and execution of the plot, or a general uneven storyline… I was not drawn into the show and found it difficult to empathize with an increasingly absurdist plot. It was only in the final scene, when the true humanity of the story is described in broad strokes, that I felt some level of identification and understanding with the protagonist and her family members.
It’s too bad, where the premise sounds like it could be Memento on magic mushrooms. A woman, Claire, wakes up one morning with no memory of her life. Her husband and sullen son quickly arrive on the scene and inform her that this routine happens every day. When the husband steps away from her room, a masked intruder appears and says he is Claire’s brother. The visitor convinces Claire to come with him to their mother’s house. Once there, they reconnect with their speech impaired mother and another seemingly random friend who has a clear manic disorder. Another woman also enters the scenes before everything comes to a head at the mother’s house for the rest of the show.
The set and sound design carried the themes of the show with a high level of panache. I appreciated the SF Playhouse-style unfolding main set, which started the show as a bedroom, and later transmogrified into several other rooms based on unfolding and refolding compartments. The sound design evoked an Amelie-style flair of cheerful whimsicality.
My mixed reaction to this production made me think back to a recent group discussion about excellence and feedback in the theatre world. Who do we go to if we have constructive criticism about a performance? Do the actors and production team expect to be always praised? What happens if and when the praise is mixed in with critique? These are all important components of a well rounded theatrical experience. Though I may not always appreciate or want to recognize the mixed-bag theatrical experiences… I do know that they continue to lead to memorable performances. There is an important and thoughtful sense of vital variety.