Theater / Performance

A 24-Hour The Bald Soprano (Plays and Players Theater, 24-25 Feb 2012)

CLAY SAYS....

Who doesn’t enjoy watching other people make a spectacle of themselves—isn’t this the basic nature of theater-going?  Anyway, I’m not embarrassed to admit that our primary reason for attending this performance was the attraction of seeing a troupe put themselves through psychological hell.  The advertisements for The Bald Soprano described the show as a series of 24 consecutive, back-to-back, every-hour-on-the-hour showings of the same play.  No breaks, no stopping, no sleeping—just pure performance.  A recipe for a trainwreck or potentially epic show?  We needed to see for ourselves.

We arrived at Plays and Players (a tasteful, aging old theater in CenterCity) around 11 PM on Friday night.  We snuck into the darkened theater just after the ‘beginning’ of the 4th performance.  Unbeknownst to us, there were no formal “breaks” between showings—like a snake eating it’s own tail, the ending of the story is also it’s genesis—some players don’t even leave the stage between finish and start.  So we were neither late, nor early—just present, for a time.

Plays and Players, a cool little old theater located on a quiet Center City sidestreet.

Finding a pair of seats in the back row, it took only a few minutes for me to realize that this play leans more toward Beckett than Chekhov or Shakespeare.  TBS is a one-set show with all action taking place within the confines of a 20th-century British apartment decked out with curiously miniature furniture.  Even odder, both cast and stage were outfitted in only black and white hues.  But the real comparison to Sam Beckett arises from TBS dialog, which shifts, over the course of one hour, from the polite inanities of a married couple to a litany of non sequiturs and disconnected pronouncements.

I often enjoy experimental or poetic experiments, but during the first evening, I found myself having significant trouble following the gist or premise of the show’s direction.  I was already losing interest during an extended scene in which a married couple spends nearly ten minutes “remembering” that they know each other (recalling to mind SNL sketches that drone on beyond their expiration date), and following this lengthy test of audience patience, the plot entirely disintegrates, as though the only guiding principle was that characters could not, or would not, understand what the others were saying.  Personal problems were making it even tougher to stay focused–we’d enjoyed some carb-heavy food and adult beverages (at Monk’s Café) just an hour before—and my eyelids were becoming intolerably heavy.  I was really glad that  there were no other patrons near our seats, and I snoozed through most of the second half.  I was glad whenTara let me pack it in around midnight.

Not the greatest picture, but hey, here it is

We returned the next day, attracted by the (lets be honest) thing everyone wanted to see—actors going crazy with sleeplessness, forgetting their lines, stumbling and flailing on stage.  I mean, imagine this—we’d seen the show, gone home, eaten, slept, done household chores, come back to the theater more than 12 hours later. . .  .and these players were still going.  Just mindblowing when you really step back and consider the kind of demand this would represent on an actor.  Yet, fortunately for the players, and less so for the sadistic audience, I could hardly observe any overt signs of wear/tear in the 2 PM (19th) showing.  Makeup was a bit smeared, there were hints of spaced-out timing and vague weariness, but in general, I was amazed to find that not only were the actors still blasting along, the show’s execution was almost indistinguishable from the previous night’s performance.  It didn’t hurt that the narrative isn’t particularly cohesive—therefore allowing for some flexibility in delivery and affect–but overall, I would have been hard pressed to prove that these performers hadn’t taken a single break for over 18 hours, even trading roles in the meantime.

In the end, the 24-hour The Bald Soprano is more valuable as an experiment in (and statement on) performance and theory than as some captivating piece of theater.  There’s no doubt that a show of this nature would represent an invaluable benchmark for the actors, a kind of grueling boot-camp that must inevitably leave some sort of invaluable impression on the survivors.  I was glad to have been a witness to something so ambitious.

Although i was unfamiliar with the source material, I too was very interested in this crazy undertaking!  Staying awake for 24 hours, but not only staying up but also reciting the same lines over and over with out losing your breath?  Some characters aren’t off-stage for too long-I can’t even imagine how they attended to bathroom needs?

 It wasn’t until we returned for the 19th showing that I started to appreciate some of the more subtle things the cast was doing.  For instance, I became aware of an ominous tone that would sound, causing the actors to respond in a variety of ways.  Also, when we’d only seen one instance of the play, we hadn’t known that the actors would switch roles over the course of the 24-hour run–specifically the two main couples taking over each other’s roles.  Also, there were unusual surprises and random changes-like the fire chief surprising the rest of the cast by wearing a large reindeer head(?!) during an earlier show (this was really confusing since we hadn’t seen the play before).  According to reports, another one of the performances included a surprise appearance by a burlesque fan dance.

I should also note that I liked the setting of the show; the monochromatic black-and-white / shades of grey were visually interesting, and the set’s use of mirroring made a surreal environment.  And what was up with those strangely small chairs?

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