(Digital) Theater Digest - December 13, 2020

Hello theater lovers!

We’re almost to the holiday break! The demarcation between work and rest doesn’t exist this year in the same way it used to, but I’m still looking forward to having time to rest, recharge, and cook & bake delicious food! I hope you have a lovely and safe brief respite before the new year.

As a rule, I won't be talking about any Disney/Fox shows. Since this newsletter is geared towards people in the entertainment industry, there's a good chance I won't like a show that you or someone you know was involved in. I'm sure that you/your friend put a lot of effort into your/their work! I've been in a few shows, I know how much work goes into putting on a show. But just as you're entitled to dislike TV shows your friends worked on, I'm allowed to dislike theater you/your friends may have worked on. I try not to be vindictive, but I also do make it clear when I don't think a show is worth the price of a ticket or the time spent watching it. 

I won't be writing much/any synopsis in these blurbs, but feel free to check out other reviews for synopses! Or just check out other reviews in general! Keep theater journalism alive & well! 

Each week, I'll remove everything that’s closed, and put ** next to anything that’s new!

Worth Seeing:

**The Future via the Geffen Playhouse. I’ll be honest, my expectations going into this were not super high, as I wasn’t blown away by the last show I saw by magician Helder Guimarães, summer 2019’s Invisible Tango. (I didn’t have the opportunity to see Helder’s previous Zoom show, The Present, earlier this year.) But this show really blew my socks off! As much as I love magic, my brain is always trying to figure out how the magician pulls off their tricks, and my favorite magicians (like Siegfried Tieber) acknowledge that the audience is trying to poke holes in their arguments and explain what they’re doing, yet still astonish. Helder does remarkable work here, which is all the more impressive given the literal distance involved. Since we obviously can’t all share the same space right now, Guimarães guides the audience through illusions that we do in our own homes, with as much agency as that implies. Each of us at home is, presumably, not a magician, and is making choices without Guimarães’ interference, and yet each trick happens seamlessly. The show is expensive, but the ticket price ($95) is per computer, so depending on how many people who live with you (and how much they like magic), it’s a very fun—and different—way to spend an evening.
Closes Mar. 14.

Good Grief on AudibleFull disclosure, this is a recording of a play and while I have not listened to the recording, it’s a recording of the Vineyard Theatre production of the show, which I saw two years ago in New York. This is one of my all-time favorite plays, and it was a fantastic production, so I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re an audiobook type of person! It is sad (as one would expect from the title), and while I don’t usually like sad stories, the playwright, Ngozi Anyanwu, writes so beautifully and balances tone so well that I don’t mind.
Download here.

A Mixed Bag:

Citizen Detective via the Geffen Playhouse. This is the Zoom version of a murder mystery party, but more professional; at a murder mystery party, the attendees’ commitment to their roles might flag as the night progresses, but since this show is set up where everyone in the audience has specific tasks to carry out over the show’s trim 85 minutes, and the event is very smoothly stage managed by the Geffen’s digital team, there’s no opportunity for anyone’s attention to wander. The experience of participating in the show is fun for people who enjoy demonstrating how clever they are (a group I’m admittedly part of), or true crime aficionados. Despite a fun cameo, the show’s ending is ultimately unsatisfying, though that won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s seen the musical Mack and Mabel.
Closes Feb. 7

American Utopia on HBO/HBO Max. I’ll be honest, I didn’t care for this one at all, I’m definitely not the target demographic for a David Byrne concert/spoken word show, but some of the musical performances are fun, and I’m sure this is a blast for Talking Heads fans. Spike Lee did a great job of capturing the energy of a live performance, and I found myself missing feeling safe enough to walk into a theater with a bunch of strangers and watch something that I didn’t ~get~ and then discuss all the oddities of the show with a friend on the way home. The barrier to entry for this one is pretty low for HBO subscribers, so why not check it out and see if you dig it?
Included with HBO/HBO Max subscriptions. Find it through your TV or their streaming app.

Not worth it:

The Journey at various theater companies. I caught this mentalist (magic) show via the Broad Stage in late October, and I can’t say I loved it. Perhaps it’s my aversion to mentalism as a form of magic in general (whenever the magician asks someone in the audience a question, my skeptical brain scoffs “of course you were going to answer that, that’s the obvious answer!”), but I didn’t find this offering to be particularly impressive, especially because the storytelling thread of the show hinges on a trick that, at least at the performance I attended, was an exceedingly obvious sleight of hand. A good magician will know that the audience is trying to figure how they’re doing the magic, so it was disappointing to be able to see exactly how this magician was manipulating us.
Through Jan. 10 via the Virginia Arts Festival; a UK run follows in April.

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