Category Archives: Delaware

Opposite Audience Experiences, Equally Satisfying Presentations

I’ve been back to my old tricks this week, seeing two plays in quick succession within a relatively small geographic radius here in Delaware. However, the audience experience of each play was in polar opposition to each other. I went from being the only person in the theatre (er, movie theatre) on Thursday night to part of a sold out house last night.

Show #52 (I thought my count was higher by now but it’s okay ;-\…) became the National Theatre Live screening of Collaborators by John Hodge.  This was the first time that the NT Live series has been “transmitted” (love those British phrases) from their Cottesloe Theatre, the smallest stage of their triplex and one with the most versatility. The Cottesloe was the scene of my first, and last/most recent visits to the NT, and I will always remember the revelatory feel of going there for the first time in 2004, intending to catch a play featuring Charlotte Rampling a few days before it closed – and, after the show, sticking around by the stage door intending to ask Rampling to sign my program, but then feeling satisfied by overhearing her ask “Where are we going?” in a seductive purr of a voice to the group of friends who had waited for her.

This time around, the Cottesloe hosted two notable British theatre actors, Alex Jennings and Simon Russell Beale, working alongside a talented ensemble led by Mark Addy, whom I recalled from his role in The Full Monty and subsequent modest stardom. All of the actors were used to thoughtful and detailed levels, although I might have liked to take more clear notes on the plot and presentation. Writing that reminds me that I particularly felt the absence of the theatrical nuances while watching this broadcast. Jennings’ performance seemed to be especially based on subtleties, with character motivation changes coming as he moved slowly from one viewpoint to another. I noticed several instances of Avengers-style synthesized music that seemed to fit the artistic reality of … a lot of reality and a little fantasy. Beale’s performance was expectedly grand, especially as he paid attention to the walk of Stalin and accentuating a sort of Jekyll and Hyde quality to the character.

I was not pleased to see that I was the only audience member in the cinema watching the broadcast, which created a weird situational irony, sitting in an empty movie theatre watching a sold out performance in the live theatre. I’m inclined to write a letter to the editor (which I have never done before) to the News Journal about the NT Live, because it clearly needs better marketing here in Delaware.

Delaware seems to know all about the “Delaware Rep” aka PTTP aka the University of Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players – why do they have multiple names? The house was sold out when I returned there last night (show #53) for Noises Off by Michael Frayn. This is a play that I ought to be more familiar with, but am not. Until now!

The Rep delivered a satisfying and expertly rehearsed/timed comedic interpretation. I’d go back and see it again if only for the second act, which told multiple stories in a verbal and non verbal humorous, fast paced and upbeat manner. The play doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I appreciated that the play… just ended, without dramatic resolution, which might have seemed overlong and unnecessary in the context. The theatre’s marketing department displayed a similarly witty tone, with actor bios and headshots displayed twice in the program: once for Noises Off and once for the (play within a play) Nothing On, with accompanying fictional names and bios. That touch (does it happen with every version of the show?) may make it some of the most memorable publicity I have seen this year.

And more power to the PTTP! It’s commendable to go from the drama of Little Foxes to the comedy of Noises Off within such a short time frame. I’m honored to have them in my new back yard.


Beauty Queen of New Ark

I made my second visit for theatre in Newark, Delaware, last night. This time, it was to the local community theatre, Chapel Street Players, for show #51: their production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh. This Newark, for some reason, is pronounced “NEW ARK”, not “Nooark” – hence my entry title.

I feel the need to add some non-specific comments about my relationship to community theatre. At some point this year, or maybe even the year before that, I became aware that I was attending shows at mostly Equity/professional companies. As an Equity member myself and with a theatre background, it made sense to me that I’d have high standards. But I also wanted to do more comparing and contrasting of productions. So I set the intention to vary it up more between the regional houses, local professional companies, and community organizations. I’m not sure how successful that has been, but I do intend to make a year end listing of shows, so all will be revealed by that time.

With that in mind, I couldn’t help but reflect on my high standards when seeing this show. It was a serviceable and well focused effort from the quartet of actors, all of whom seemed to have worked with the company before. But the company’s possibly tight budget was revealed awkwardly with some of the props, and a surprising staging choice involving lights at the top of the second act. The accent work (Irish) was extremely detail oriented and well put together throughout the whole show. Most of the play is composed of two person scenes for which the respective actors had clearly put effort and attention into.

However, I didn’t really absorb the black comedy angle that I know McDonagh intended to appear somewhere in the play. It left me wondering about interpretations and challenges of creative material – if McDonagh’s film In Bruges, for instance, was played as a melodrama, would it have the same effect? (I don’t think so.) This version seemed unevenly melodramatic.

Despite my wider mixed impressions of community theatre, there’s no denying the heart and soul that the actors put into their work. In most cases, they want to be there on that stage, not just for the work or for the credit, and that energized feeling nearly always finds its way to the spotlight.