Saturday, May 10, 2008

Amphibious confusion vehicle at CSC

In reinventing classic theater, how much do you offer the audience member who is seeing the play for the first time and how much do you give to the one who has seen it dozens of times and is mostly sitting in the audience to see what new spin they're taking on it this time? Old Comedy After Aristophanes' Frogs, currently at Classic Stage Company in the East Village, certainly felt like the balance was a bit too skewed to the latter theatergoer, the one we can assume would be more adept at figuring out raw source material from adaptation, and perhaps reveling in the melange. I had never seen the Frogs, and never actually studied it, either, though I know a few lines from Sondheim's adaptation ("Gods of the theater, smile on us"). I was hoping I didn't have to do any homework to appreciate the piece. Turns out that might've helped a lot, as I sit here reading various synopses. Barely 10 minutes into David Greenspan's version, I started to shut down after the appearance of tired, preachy anti-Bush jabber (Our country/city's going to hell and we're going to Hades! Ack!) amid a rather muddled opening and a stream of poorly delivered nonjokes and/or jokes about the lack of jokes in this supposed comedy. I later discover that this is actually part of the original: underlying notes of seriousness added to an otherwise comedic form. Bottom line: I found most of it tedious, but probably would have been on a more even keel if I'd known the story ahead of time. And the stream of consciousness present-day references, both obvious and more obscure, seemed so jammed into the script that I found it confusing. A lot of the audience seemed equally turned off by the enterprise, although I can imagine the play might appeal to someone who a) knows The Frogs and some of the other Greek classics fairly well, b) can't get enough of art bemoaning the state of our leadership today, and c) was ready to laugh at an outpouring of absurdity and frenetic allusions. (For whatever reason, while I'm not opposed to that in general, I was not as readily open to it last night.) If there are enough people that fit that description, then the play may do well.

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