Sunday, August 02, 2009

You Wish To Go To The Festival?

I'll be honest. Theater festivals overwhelm me. I'm terrible at making decisions and the thought of all those shows to choose from can be daunting (take something like the Fringe which has about 200 offerings). The Summer Play Festival (SPF) seemed like the perfect festival for someone like me, only eight shows to choose from at the bargain price of $10 each, conveniently located at the Public Theater.

As it was my first time attending the festival, I bought tickets in advance to three shows, thinking if I loved them I could try to get tickets for others. I don't know if I picked the wrong three, but I was slightly disappointed. Though the shows were entertaining and the acting particularly strong, I felt the stories dealt with fairly conventional themes. Out of the hundreds of submissions, I'm left wondering why these were chosen. Still, kudos to Arielle Tepper Madover for starting a festival that not only encourages new writers, but also successfully gets young audiences to the theater. Overall, my impressions of the festival are positive. I love the environment at the Public. The staff is friendly and free concerts were available in the lounge most nights after the last show. I will be back next year, but I hope the productions will be more daring. I've broken down each of the productions and concerts I attended and why they did or did not work for me.

The Sharp Things at SPF Lounge: This was billed as a reading of an indie-rock musical about the "Facebook generation." It wasn't a complete reading, just a few songs from the show, so it's a little difficult to tell whether it has potential. The songs were amusing, but I had trouble seeing how they would connect as a complete show.

The Sacrifices by Alena Smith: I chose this one because it was about a family on a Caribbean cruise, which is something I can relate to. I particularly enjoyed the details in the set, right down to the towel animals on the bed. The relationships between the baby-boomer parents and their spoiled children rang true. I also liked that the characters weren't stereotypes. The art school graduate son (played by a scene-stealing Gabriel Ebert) with his bling and rapper speak read more like a high school student. I never quite understood why he acted like that, but at least it was a change from what you would expect. At the same time, the twists in the plot were very predictable and some of the conversations became too talky. I don't know if there is much life for the play beyond the festival, but I do think Smith has potential.

Ryan Scott Oliver at SPF Lounge: I saw Rated RSO, a revue of his music, at Joe's Pub earlier this year and I'm hooked. This evening was shorter, but it was a pleasure to hear Ryan Scott Oliver's music again, especially a funny and surprisingly sweet new song about long distance relationships called "Halfway." The evening closed with a rollicking "Song of the Dead Fairy" from Darling. I hope to see a full production of one of his musicals soon. Mrs. Sharp just had an industry reading, so there's hope.

The Happy Sad by Ken Urban: I was not planning on seeing this show. The description made it sound like another story about New Yorkers looking for love, something I've seen way too often to be of interest. However, once the cast list was announced, I decided to buy a ticket anyway, bumping The Chimes from my list (which in retrospect might have been a better option). In particular, I wanted to see Maulik Pancholy (Weeds), Ari Graynor (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist), and Christopher Abbott (who I've seen in a few off-Broadway shows). The three of them did not disappoint, and neither did anybody in the cast, but it was still another show about New Yorkers looking for love with the extra-annoying interconnecting of all the seemingly disconnected plots. The sexual freedom of some of the characters and the quirky songs in this non-musical may have added a modern spin, but ultimately, it still felt conventional. Abbott was the stand out, and he always rises above the material in anything I've seen him in, but I'd like to see him in a play that lets him live up to his potential.

Composer Exposure 2009: Hosted by Time Out New York's Adam Feldman, this evening was billed as an "inside look at the future of musical theatre," so I was expecting more of a conversation, but it was really just several composers presenting their work. It was a nice way to see a sampling of work of new composers that I wasn't familiar with--I only wish they had more of a chance to speak. But who am I to complain about a free night of music with free alcohol and candy?

Departure Lounge by Dougal Irvine: Overhearing conversations after the show, many seemed to think that this musical about four young Brits coming back from vacation the summer before college was the highlight of the festival. But again, I couldn't help feeling like I've seen it before. A coming-of-age story about four friends. One of them has a secret (one guess as to what it is). Actually, it reminded me a little bit of Glory Days, written by Nick Blaemire, who starred in this show. Irvine's music ran the gamut from rap to ballads. The lyrics were very clever, especially in a song about why they use the word "gay" in a negative context, but the most enjoyable number was the lovely and introspective "Left Spain."

Dougal Irvine at SPF Lounge: After Departure Lounge, anybody could stay and hear more of Irvine's music performed by himself, confirming my belief that he is an excellent songwriter but maybe next time he writes a musical he can have somebody else write the book.

All photos in this post are from the SPF Web site.

1 comment:

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