Friday, August 31, 2007

The Valiant Fool in a Middling Crisis

Barbara Vitello's thoughtful review

Web's support the neos review:

These are the reviews that have most affected me, caused me to think about my creations instead of protect them proudly or outright laugh at the complete misunderstandings.

And why is this? These reviews are middling, their feelings are lukewarm. Why does it bother me when I contrast that with audience and cast comments about its uniqueness, magic, its experimentation asking or even demanding change in neo futurist outlooks?

So on and on again, Why?

To begin with, these reviews, I respect, they actually are thoughtful, they do search, instead of just criticize. They tried to understand what they saw. They didn’t dismiss it. And I thank them for that. But I scratch my head in bewilderment as to why they walk away with statements like: “A pleasant diversion – entertaining diversion”, “excuse to fool around – that has to suffice”, “not as good as…”

Middling, right? Yes middling. A thoughtful middling review.

Why then is the fool ensemble and the neo futurist company so POSITIVE? I’ve been in middling shows before and they’ve never been this positive, this so convinced that what they are doing is “meaningful” and “important.” Why does Anthony get so upset at these misunderstandings attributed to a popular sensibilities inability to separate theater from film or TV? Why does he believe that his studying of the transformation fool allows him in life and in performance to support and both disappears? Why does the show make Ryan think about his relationship to his father and grandfather, in shape, in attitude, why does this kick him into grasping for the spontaneity in the show? Why am I obsessed with the Holy Fool who tries to guide by confusing and being contrary, who is not discovered till he is dead or until he is gone? Why is Chloe’s Fool for love bloody, wet, violent, yet contained, exotic,hopeful and isolated? Why is this experience so damn meaningful?

So again pops into my head, WHY? Why middling?
Lack of director? Maybe. Fragmentation confusing? Sure.

But Not Middling! My sensibility cannot be dismissive of this “middling”, this being “content” perhaps.

So I try to find the statements where I believe these gaps originate. And here is what I find:

“Once I stopped trying to uncover some profound meaning – I had a better time.”
“loosely connected vignettes”
“lacks narrative coherence”
“pleasant diversion.”
“plotless - evocation of the titular archetype”

Now “middling” makes sense. This is a Neo-Futurist production. If you try to enjoy our shows on purely a spectacle or as entertainment, of course it’s going to be middling. We show the strings. We attempt physical acts we are not good at and haven’t been trained to do. We take risks only when there is risk involved. We don’t show risk if there isn’t any to be had. We do things pedestrian – on the cheap. We glory in our low budgets and the necessary levels of lameness in our props, costumes, and less often lighting.
What raises the aforementioned elements to brilliance is: thought, spontaneity, meta-theatrics (the ability to comment and still be engaged), our abilities as diverse intelligent writers, our real emotion – our character/raw selves.

So is our Neo Futurist Fool’s illusions, or magic, middling? YES. Yes, because they are not illusions.

So by dismissing the above, by dismissing meaning, one is dismissing our Foolish show. Is our meaning too inaccessible? Yes and No.

This is what one audience member had to say, that hadn’t seen any rehearsals or previews prior to the opening night. I’ll admit that he is on our office staff, but he is a rough critic, and was definitely not given any inside information:

It had everything ¬ peril, tenderness, idiocy, menace, a scosh
(sp?) of pop culture-skewering, arresting stage pictures, enigmatic (vs.
unclear or confusing) action, dynamic & surprising relationships, crushing
loneliness, spectacle, humility, large-heartedness, generosity of spirit,
and on and on.

One can say he had to say something good. It’s his job. But his word choices are so damn accurate, they are words I had in my head while constructing images and sounds. Could it be inaccessible if someone has come up with the same abstract descriptions that I had while conceiving the piece? I really don’t think so. It may make the experience more individual, more empirical.

Is it History, is that where we went wrong. Is it history? Yes, but not a history lesson. It is not a documentary of Fools; it is not an encyclopedia Britannica paragraph about Holy Fools or the Bindle. It is history itself, put before you in images, sound, actions, misunderstood and simple words layered with weight and oddly appearing dark yet jovial. This is Foolish History.

It is a history of emotions, contrary images, combinations of these images. It is violent interruption. It is asking one to be on the inside and on the outside simultaneously, and it asks in an assaulting manner, “How does that feel? How does it feel to be a living breathing chaotic contradiction in a world of checks and balances, of interruptions of an irony that is humiliating and desensitizing?”
“How does it feel to be a fool?”

Why is there violence one moment and compassion the next. Why is Kurt suspended in the air suffocating with elegance and beauty while tied to a stick being pulled by Dean who is walking in place, skipping and whistling while pulling the wait? Why is this overlapped with Eliza popping out of a bag in a beautiful princess dress while talking about her relations to pop stars and coffee and tears and the unbearable?

These are they whys that gives it meaning. These are the whys that link these images. These are the whys that creates our own fucked up history in our own Crateville. There are no simple answers. There are no simple defenses. A fool doesn’t have answers that are acceptable to any majority. THAT is up to the society in which we create.

It is possible that we failed as performers to give this to you. But please contemplate the meaningfulness of this failure.


Blogger evandebacle said...

My initial reaction when I saw the first few reviews was naturally disappointment. I was saddened that Fools was not more well received, but also that some reviewers were not true to their own taxonomies theater. My problem is not separating theater from TV and movies, but making distinctions within theater itself.

Take the Reader for instance. They distinguish between performance and plays in their own listings. This makes perfect sense. TML does not deserve to be appreciated the same way as Death of a Salesman. It's not fair to either one. I have been careful to tell friends that they need to be prepared for performance and not a neatly arrange three acts. When reviewers make statements that make it sound like they are longing for plot, then they are not being true to the notion of performance. Maybe more than anything that smacks of middling journalism.

As someone who is straddling a line (I am connected with this piece of theater, but I am not particularly theatrical), I can partially sympathize with the middling review. I agree that the show, in many ways, is a series of loosely connected vignettes. And I agree that to spend time during the show searching high and low for bigger meaning is to distract from the fun of the show, the stunning chaos of being a fool in a foolish (and milk-crated) universe. For the ordinary theater-goer used to traditional play structure this is going to be an impossible sell. (They will look for the mainstream plot and dismiss everything else.) My critique for the critic is that to stop there though is to miss the point that the performance as a whole lacks narrative structure because it’s all meta-narrative structure and was never meant to be traditionally laid out.

Anyway. My place is not to give pep talks and I could never defend art as ably as the artists themselves. I can understand the frustration of the performer as well as the audience member. I have to admit that having seen the show run through 3 times, I am pretty sure I will appreciate it even more when I see it a fourth this evening.

Perhaps this will be seen as nothing more than a middling defense of the show. That too would be an oversimplification. I am confident that the people who this is meant for will get it on their own terms. Maybe that’ll be seeing the larger themes or just latching on to one of the fools who they recognize in a sense. If this is true, then the problem that the reviews present is not so much in their lukewarm reception, but more that the ineffective, superficial and incomplete descriptions will never ring true to the show’s natural audience. Or maybe only a fool expects to find reason in a review of folly.

Still, I leave you with the short e-mail I got after opening weekend: “The show was quite awesome in many of my favorite forms of awesomeness. And the milkcrates seemed an endlessly maleable medium. I thought I should give you a virtual thumbs up for all the smartness involved in the production.”

2:25 PM  
Anonymous John, the fool, Pierson said...

thank you Evan. This is a great comment. I shouldn't expect people to take that all in and enjoy simultaneoulsy. And that is why people who have enjoyed it say things like "that image wll stick with me for awhile" They will converse with the images on their own time, and that is even more fine with me. This is the stuff I need to grow. I need to protect, lash out, contemplate, in order not to repeat myself. I should also accept that performance is a taste preference even though it is a way of life for myself.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Shaina said...

I haven't seen the show... yet. And, I think that gives me the perfect excuse to make an unfounded comment. I suppose this is commenting more on the Neo-Futurists, and more specifically, the people involved within the being that is the Neo-Futurists. But, whatever. It's the internet. I have the right to make a fool of myself. ;)

When I see a performance (admittedly, it is usually TML), I have to watch it a certain way. Don't take it too seriously. Laugh when it's natural. Think, but accept. Always be respectful of the moment. I guess that makes sense. I take a performance not with a grain of salt, but with the idea that the performance is what it is. I don't accept it automatically, but I accept the world. I completely believe that this is reality, even if it isn't necessarily real.

What helps me believe the reality? When I read the blogs and meet the performers and see the shows. I see just how important this is to them. I know actors in different places. They don't care nearly as much.

I lost my point, but I'm sure I'll find it again. I guess when I see reviews like this, I can't help but think that they aren't accepting the world. They're on the outside, looking in. Maybe it's that they can't connect, which is possible and regrettable.

A reviewer is there to review. An audience is there to enjoy. My friend saw the show and he tried to explain it to me. Really, it was more like nonsensical ramblings. That's the kind of review that makes me excited to see things.

Did I ever get to the point? Screw it. A show is it's own being. It is what it is and then it grows and learns and becomes a scary beast that eats us alive. What do you expect a review to say about that kind of stuff?

Needless to say, I can't wait. And, really, that's all that matters.

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Shaina said...

One more thing I'd like to add:

A show like this is a heart. And, boy, it's hard to fall in love.

9:58 PM  
Blogger pbsebastian said...

I am surprised by the reviews that the Fool (returns to his chair) has received. I have seen this performance several times and have been on tenterhooks with the rest of the audience throughout every show. Perhaps I should give it up for the sophistication of the audience. They seem to know where they are, that they are in for a performance (not a two act play). They seem to want the unexpected; to revel in absurdity; to enjoy the fun within, and out of, confusion. I was disappointed that the reviews did not reflect this.

I imagine that if you went to see the Fool expecting and searching for some kind of narrative through line you might be disappointed. It is difficult to relate to humility while simultaneously looking for explanation. And while the show is ubiquitous with references there is no grand explanation. Every piece is able to stand on its own and, while its thematically tied to the upcoming piece, it does not necessarily serve to set up the upcoming pieces. I would recommend watching this performance like you would watch a dream. Enjoy every image in the moment that it occurs and then process the meaning of it all during the days that follow.

There is also a lot going on. The umbrella over “the history of Fools” is rather large. Perhaps, I have a hard time describing the Fool because of this. The first time a cast member asked me what I thought of the show I was stricken dumb. There were so many pertinent things that I wanted to comment on. My head was filled with so many vastly different images that I didn’t know where to begin. I think I mustered out something like there was a lot going on. And there is a lot going on. Apart from the images that resonated strongly with me upon my first viewing there are revelations and discoveries that I am making during my third or fourth viewing. Awesome.

9:19 AM  
Blogger David Seeber said...

I've seen the show 4 times. And I want to see it again.

9:38 AM  

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