Distant Voices Saw Where Mistakes Were Made
I rounded up shows #47 and #48 over the past week, with #49 (August: Osage County at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia) waiting in the wings subject to ticket availability.
Last Friday night (why does Katy Perry have to pop into my head as I write that??!!) brought the staged reading of “September Echoes” by a regional troupe called Distant Voices. I see they maintain a website, however it has not been recently updated. Director Danny Peak explained that the piece had come together in spurts over the past ten years, with multiple revisions. I later asked a question if the coincidence of the Iraq War troop withdrawal (that day) would affect the script, and he confirmed that it would. His wife Julie Nishimura provided musical accompaniment, with Peak and two additional actors, Steve Gleich and Michelle Stradley, interpreting the text.
I was most taken with how the performance seemed to define provocative – not in a racy way, but in the sense that the words provoked the memories. Simple language gave way to clear descriptions, and suddenly I remembered. That clear September day. The seemingly mono-maniacal push to war. The massive anti-war demonstrations in February, 2003 (and my own backing out of the Hampshire charter to go to NYC). The sudden invasion of Iraq in March, 2003. The misleading statement of “Mission: Accomplished” in May of that year. And so on.
The piece could be a thoughtful sibling to Stuff Happens by David Hare, with its similar thematic material. I happily recall the curiosity and integrity of seeing that play in its world premiere in 2004. It was exciting to work with an original ensemble member of that show in 2007 and later know that Porchlight produced the Northern California premiere the following summer… but I digress.
My point in reflecting here is that the subtlety of this piece is its most effective asset. The audience member doesn’t need to see visual excerpts of 9/11 again or a clip of George W. Bush talking to the nation. They can be guided to remember their own impressions, recollections and interpretations of that era, and make their own conclusions. On a related note, it is startling to realize the reality of 10 years passing. In a post-show Q&A, Peak described taking the show into schools where some students have no memory of 9/11/01 and were born after the date – and that is a reality I had personally not acknowledged.
Monday night brought my first show within Philadelphia: Mistakes were Made at 1812 Productions. I’m sorry to say that this may end up in my bottom five shows for the year. However, part of that may be self-inflicted, where my very occasional theatrical narcolepsy struck during the performance. (It’s interesting to see that “theatrical narcolepsy” is an actual defined term on the Web.)
I see that I wrote briefly about this narcoleptic state when it last struck me, back in February in Mill Valley:
I’ll reflect briefly on that odd, trance-like state that sometimes envelops me, and possibly other audience members, if a play doesn’t hold my focus. Where does it come from? Is it something about the low lighting? The time of day? The things I’ve done that day? It never seems to happen to me anywhere else.
Back to this show: I was drawn to it for two reasons.
1) Familiarity with Craig Wright’s work, having ASMed his play Grace at the Chester Theatre Company in 2007.
2) Curiosity with this particular play, which was originally scheduled to premiere at the Magic Theatre in 2009, but postponed (and not rescheduled) following that company’s then-pressing economic difficulties.
Unfortunately (or not), I have to look at the Philadelphia Inquirer review of the show to refresh my memory.
I think what happened here is that the left-field surprise of the end of the play colored my impression of the whole show. I recall this happening cinematically with the sudden ending of The Adjustment Bureau earlier this year.
It could be that I don’t care much for comedy, theatrical or otherwise. Recent moves have made me notice the sparcity of comedies in my DVD collection, and I’m sure that if I went back through a list of plays seen, comedic forays would also be sparse.