Monday, February 22, 2010


The Wooster Group is an avant-garde theatre group in New York.

"For more than thirty years, The Wooster Group has cultivated new forms and techniques of theatrical expression reflective of and responsive to our evolving culture, while sustaining a consistent ensemble and maintaining a flexible repertory. Wooster Group theatre pieces are constructed as assemblages of juxtaposed elements: radical staging of both modern and classic texts, found materials, films and videos, dance and movement, multi-track scoring, and an architectonic approach to theatre design" (

They perform all around the globe, but call home in a warehouse on Wooster Street in NY called The Performing Garage. They have done such works as HAMLET, VIEUX CARRE, and LA DIDONE. However, some of their most interesting works have grown out of found texts. For instance, the original work, NORTH ATLANTIC by James Strahs in 1982 was made specifically for The Wooster Group. The company has remounted the show in 1984, 1999, and 2009-2010.

NORTH ATLANTIC was presented in Los Angeles Feb. 10th - 21st, 2010. I was fortunate enough to finally be able to see this New York-based company. After having written numerous papers on them (as they are the foremost multimedia theatre company, a particular interest of mine) and ravaging their youtube channel, it was amazing to see them live. The show was at REDCAT theatre which is part of the Disney/CalArts Theatre in downtown LA.

The show had Oscar winner Frances McDormand (FARGO, MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, BURN AFTER READING) leading the ensemble cast. The show's promotional material describes it as taking "a satiric look at the role of the military and the growing influence of technology in American culture during the late Cold War period. Following an international peacekeeping force on an aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic during a top-secret mission, this nostalgia piece brings the analog (pre-digital) 1980s to life through slang, song, and dance."

The nostalgia was totally present in this hip ensemble show. The set was absolutely incredible (designed by Jim Clayburgh). There was a small playing space in the down stage plane of the proscenium stage, and then there was a railing running from stage left to right upstage of the empty plane. Just upstage of this railing was a platform that ran the width of the stage but could only have been a foot or so in width itself. Then just upstage of that was a raked platform on hydraulics. The pitch of this changed during the course of the show. This allowed for a somewhat level playing space along with a steep platform that the characters could either slide down or else climb up with ropes that suddenly appeared from no where. It was so incredibly versatile and exactly what the show required.

I would highly recommend the group to anyone who wants to see some unusual theatre. Bear in mind that their style is not linear. Though it certainly doesn't fit the traditional view on what theatre is and what theatre can be, it is certainly a valid choice.

The show was incredible. Though it is the type of show that leaves you wondering what the hell you've just seen.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Broadway Tours: MARY POPPINS Pops Off The Stage.

Disney's MARY POPPINS comes off New York's Broadway to tour the country. Better bring the umbrella cause boy is it taking the country by storm!

The musical is an adaptation of not only the Disney classic starring the ever endearing Julie Andrews and the comic genius Dick Van Dyke, but also the original book. This is key to note because this musical adaptation is a bit darker and more somber than the 1964 Disney movie.
That being said, there is plenty of lightness and fun to this production. The scenes that stand out the most are Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and the Chimney Sweep scene. Mostly what comes out of all of this is how impressive the dancing and choreography is. Supercal. is incredibly fast to the point of sheer exhaustion (good thing the intermission is directly after!). And the technical ability of the dancers for the Chimney Sweep is really impressive.

I personally know the Asst. Dance Captain for the touring production through my own dance connections. Her name is Kelly Jacobs and she is an incredible dancer, so I knew before walking into the theatre (the Ahmanson in downtown LA) that the dancing would be worth it alone. After the show she gave us a backstage tour, much to my delight.

Kelly Jacobs and I backstage at LA's Ahmanson Theatre.

However, like with all good Disney musicals, the most important aspect is the spectacle. And boy, did it deliver. Not only is the world of the magical Mary Poppins fully complete with the magic carpet bag, moving up staircase banisters, and that mystical umbrella, but Disney took it to a new level. Little effects of making Bert's paintings come to life still stunned the theatre veteran.

But then the mega-effects made it feel like you really were on Broadway, not in LA's downtown district. Two major spectacles completed the show. The first was the end moment when (*Spoiler Alert!*) Mary is flown with her umbrella not just up over the heads of the actors on stage, but over the audience and is flown to be eye level with not just the first balcony, but the SECOND balcony. This is absolutely incredible. I was eye to eye with her only being 5 feet away (on the first balcony). She then exits through the cat walk and RUNS down to make it for the curtain call--but of course, she's last to bow so that gives her enough time.

The second, and perhaps more amazing spectacle occurred during the infamous Chimney Sweep scene. Bert (attached with wires) starts to walk up the wall of the stage left proscenium. He then continues to round the corner until he is directly above center stage with his feet on the proscenium arch and his head downstage. He is completely upside down. Amazing. But, then, he taps. Yes, taps. Upside down, over a hundred feet up in the air. Tapping. And he is not just tapping his toe. No, sir. He is tapping an amazing tap solo that Savion Glover would be proud of. Then after he finishes with a flourish--still upside down, mind you--he starts walking down the stage right proscenium wall. Incredible. I heard it was performed on Conan, but I cannot imagine that it had as great an impact as it did on the stage. Absolutely incredible.
Good Job, Disney.
My recommendation? If you can, go see it. Yes, it is for children. Yes, the children in it are whiny, kinda obnoxious and have fake British accents. Yes, it is Disney. And yes, for those theatre-snobs out there it has a lot of spectacle. But you know what? It's really good spectacle.