Friday, April 23, 2010

Anticipating a New Play

Today reviews of two new shows appeared on the front page of the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times. One is the much talked about "Sondheim on Sondheim" for which we already have tickets and is now showing at the Studio 54 Theater on Broadway. The other is a simple and obscure play by Annie Baker called "The Aliens" which has opened at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in the West Village. Although I am excited about the Sondheim because it's Sondheim and because its creative multi-media approach sounds diverting, with Sondheim himself appearing periodically on video screens, it is "The Aliens" that has especially captured my attention.

This is attributable, in fact, to Annie Baker's reputation for masterfully using ordinary, everyday speech to tell a story. Annie Baker is also the author of "Circle Mirror Transformation," another "small" play that appeared not long ago which totally captivated us. Annie Baker's genius is in her ability to transfer colloquial speech, with all its halting pauses, hesitations, and silences, to the stage and then using this ongoing struggle to communicate with one another to tell a moving and even transforming tale. This is the promise of "The Aliens," which we are scheduled to see next Wednesday, so the jury is still out. Still, we have good reason to have high hopes for "The Aliens." Here is how the usually reliable Charles Isherwood opens his review: "Watching 'The Aliens,' a gentle and extraordinarily beautiful new play by Annie Baker that opened Thursday night at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is a bit like standing in front of an unshowy work by a less-heralded old master. You wouldn't absorb much from a Chardin painting, say, if you sped past it during an hourlong drive-by of art's greatest hits at the Louvre of the Met. Its magic is too subtle for that. But the longer you look, the more you see and the more you feel."

As with "Circle Mirror Transformation," we look forward to being transformed, in the ways that only live theater can accomplish, to another time and place that may look eerily familiar but that in the hands of a master playwright helps us see ourselves and each other in a wholly new light.

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