I see most plays that come through Studio Theatre, as I think they are by far the best theater in DC. Every year, usually in the summer, they have a few “second stage” productions that are smaller budget – usually to highlight new playwrights or just do a play that is otherwise experimental. So you get some weird stuff, but most of the time it’s pretty awesome. Their new production of Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love is more like awesomely bad.
First some context on the plot, before I get to the outrageous part: The main characters are a couple in their late twenties who are in a loveless marriage. He plays video games and smokes pot all day. She works 80 hours a week. They both seem very unhappy. Enter the Olsen twins, who become a spirit animal of sorts for the woman, to try to break her out of her rut. It’s unclear throughout the play what is real and what is imagined. But for our purposes, it doesn’t matter. Mary-Kate falls in love with the woman, they run off to New Zealand to start a new life and the play goes on from there (I won’t spoil it for you). That’s all ridiculous, but not my objection to the play. Parts of the plot were actually pretty funny (especially when Ashley has a breakdown when her sisters leaves the country and decides that she wants to be a singer).
If that was all it was, it would be a marginally enjoyable, weird play. But it wasn’t. In between each scene (and there were A LOT of scene breaks for a play that was just over an hour long), five high school girls wearing all white would appear on stage, entering by humming a song that would sound vaguely familiar from the radio (the one they used most often is the slower song with the lyrics “My body is a cage.”). Then one of the girls would do a short monologue about being overextended in high school (have to be pretty, smart, involved in activities, blah blah blah) and sing a few verses of a popular song. WTF. The interspersed monologues would have been bad enough – it was all very heavy handed. The presumed link between the monologues and the plot is that we are raising a generation that is incapable of actual feelings, such as love or being happy, because they are programmed to be over-achieving conformists. But what really killed me were the songs. I had to bit my lip, look at the ground, and avoid eye contact with everyone around me so as not to absolutely lose it laughing. Which would have been bad considering I was in the front row. The closest I came to breaking down was when one of the high schoolers went on an angry rant about her generations poor job prospects because old people had all the jobs (this was pretty close to a South Park “They took our jobs!” rant, minus the comedy) and then all the high schoolers broke out into the Muse chorus of “They shall not control us; We shall be victorious!” It was very loud, very angry, and happened about two feet in front of me. And I can’t imagine what the director thought it added to the play.
I almost want this to become a so-bad-it’s-good cult classic that we can all go to and shout out the lines along with the cast. And drink heavily. Because that probably would have made it better.
I hit up the Big Apple this weekend and caught three Broadway shows. The impetus for my trip was wanting to see Larry David's debut play, Fish in the Dark. He wrote and stars in the play, which is basically a play-length Curb Your Enthusiasm episode (he doesn't play himself, but he totally plays himself, even including the "Pretty, pretty good" catchphrase). As I love Curb and Larry David's humor more broadly, this was clearly amazing. If you are a big Curb fan, get thee to Broadway. You need to see this. It had me in stitches.
You can totally tell it's his first play. Not because of his acting (he seems very comfortable on stage for someone who says he's uncomfortable on stage), but because of the show structure. The play had more scene changes than I've ever seen. It also had a huge, huge cast by modern Broadway standards. You could tell that he basically wrote a television arc to be put on stage rather than writing a play. Luckily David is awesome at writing televisions arcs.
Seth Myers and Alan Alda were in the crowd (gotta love NYC celebrity sightings...people think seeing a *barf* congressman counts as exciting in DC).
Up next was Peter Gallagher and Kristen Chenoweth in the revival of On the 20th Century. I had little interest in the musical per se (and it did prove to be unmemorable from a musical perspective, though the plot was amusing enough). I just wanted to see Chenoweth live (and she turned out to be even more of a firecracker than I expected!). Turns out Sandy Cohen is pretty good on stage as well. Though the old people sitting around me had no idea who he (or The O.C.) was. Worth it to see her. Would never see the show with other actors, as it's not good enough.
Last up was the best theatrical performance (even if I enjoyed Larry David more) of the weekend: Skylight featuring Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan. Both were outstanding in the relationship drama and Nighy gets bonus points for his character being a Chelsea supporter.
On my walk from the theatre to my favorite bakery in NYC (Schmackery's in Hell's Kitchen -- get a funfetti cookie and thank me later) I passed by Wallace Shawn on the street. Some tourist was talking to him: "You look familiar. What were you in? You were in Seinfeld! Weren't you in Seinfeld?" No, you idiot. He was in The Princess Bride. And Clueless. And apparently was the voice of the dinosaur in Toy Story (thank you, IMDB).