Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum Gets the Longest Ovation I've Ever Seen There

I've been working at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles off and on since 1998. I've never seen a standing ovation last until the house lights came up. Last Sunday night, it seemed like they would have gone longer for Gordon Davidson's last directorial effort.

David Hare's Stuff Happens got a great review the next day in the Los Angeles Times the next day by James C. Taylor, and that's good news too, because Center Theater Group could use that kind of press these days. The house has been full everynight, the crowds have been enthusiastic, and the fact that the play attempts, and largely succeeds at being fair to all sides in this HUGE argument, will hopefully fuel the word of mouth that theater apparently depends on to survive these days.

Another good review appeared in the San Francisco Chronical: It tickles and it disturbs. 'Stuff Happens' probes the personalities behind the rush to invade Iraq by Rob Kendt.

Yet another good review can be found at the U-Daily Bulletin:
'Stuff Happens' a political 'mission accomplished,' by Evan Henerson.

Of course, if you're not familiar with Gordon Davidson, you should read this review in the NYT:
Los Angeles Director Bows Out in Timely Fashion by Bernard Weinraub, which has a great photograph of Gordon and David Hare in front of the abalone shell wall in the lower lobby of the Taper.

Arianna Huffington was at the premiere, and had this to say about the play, amoung other things.

As the assistant soundman at the Taper, my only criticisms of the play are technical. The projection that had been designed by Ming Cho Lee and Marc Rosenthal was cut. Originally planned to be a big part of the play, David Hare, who had a lot of control for an author, hated it and had it all cut. So much for the $20,000 reflective material drop that stretches 50 feet across the stage as the backdrop. The White House image, which is actually on the drop and brought up by backlight, is not projection, and is the only feature of the set aside from 5 doors and a lot of tables, chairs, and two podiums.

A quick note on the Presidential Desk: it is an exact replica of the desk in the Oval Office, actually made of Mahogany -- very heavy (which prop guys hate). I'm sure it looked like the real thing before they painted it black.

This minimalistic set built for projection is all black, which creates a depressing setting for a play that is depressing enough already. When something funny happens, like an ironic quote from one of the main characters, I find myself chuckling and thinking, damn, that would be funnier if it weren't true. Sitting in a dark theater, with a dark set, listening to Dick Cheney talk about his 5 student deferments, or Donald Rumsfeld calling the UN a "context," or Colin Powell saying we know Saddam has weapons because we still have the receipts, more blackness is the last thing you want.

But you get it from the lighting. The front lighting is provided almost entirely by a spot light run by my friend Bill Mourner, one of the best in the business. Despite the fact that he has over 100 "pickups" in the play, he manages to keep up with the pace, something many spot-ops would have trouble with. Most of the rest of the lighting is either straight down, or backlight, which makes for a dark, shadowy, well, Bush-Cheney feel. The only thing missing is Darth Vader.

But maybe the effect works differently on people who haven't spent the last five years following every lie, cheat, fake, attack, smirk, malaprop, mischaracterization, scowl, and war this neo-con cabal has hammered through our skull. Maybe I'm just too depressed about what's happened to this country to begin with. Hopefully people who haven't been paying that much attention will be shocked into getting off their ass and voting.

Too bad this play won't wind up anywhere near a swing state.

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