12 September 2011

Off Broadway

We are in New York, and for many people that says Broadway rather than jazz, so we had to attend at least a few theatrical performances. There’s a mass of them here, but the choice was not as difficult as you might think. We chose Freud’s last session as an intellectual drama outing and Avenue Q as a quirky musical. No pics allowed of either, so this is a dry article. In fact, I took a pre-production pic of the stage setting of the play and was required to delete it. And also surprising in this land-of-the-free, there’s a law against using a cell phone in a theatre in NYC. I can understand the annoyance, but was surprised anyone bothered to make a law about it, but then theatre is big business here.

Freud’s last stand (by Mark St. Germain) is a recreation of a possible, but unconfirmed) meeting between Freud and CS Lewis on 3 September 1939. The setting is Freud’s study in London at the context is Chamberlain announcing the start of hostilities in WW2, but the concern is the existence of God. Freud is an atheist; CS Lewis is a converted Christian of 12 years. The script rehashes the arguments for the existence of God (36 arguments for the existence of God by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is well summarized on the Edge http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/goldstein09/goldstein09_index.html complete with philosophical definitions and names and flaws). Freud is also dying with throat cancer, so it’s no surprise that he was flummoxed by Pascal’s wager at the end (essentially, it’s a better option to believe in God because if you’re wrong and s/he exists, you’re in trouble). I thought the script leaned a bit to the side of God with some theatrical conventions thrown in for drama and comedy. The play was performed in Marjorie Deane’s Little Theater which turned out to the in the West Side YMCA, an intriguing building of itself, so the play was earnest and the audience was too. I’ve considered the arguments before so made up my mind, so I left thinking over other themes. This play was written in the USA in 2009. What the likelihood that a play on the existence of God would be written anywhere else these days? Also, the CS Lewis character was pretty wooden. It could have been because the actor was a substitute, but alternatively, does this suggest something about comparative understanding of UK by Australia and the USA? I’m not likely to find an answer to either question, but they were interesting diversions.

The musical was Avenue Q. Avenue Q is actually a street in Brooklyn and is part of this enlightenment mania with naming roads over here (it works and I like it). This is a musical with puppets that visits a range of issues of modern life: love, sex, rejection, porn, racism, poverty, homelessness, purpose. Obviously, the puppets are take-offs of sesame Street, but it works a treat. The actors are on stage, carrying their puppets, singing and speaking their parts; and there are a few human roles. You soon adjust to the life of the puppets and their alter-ego humans as merged characters. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable show, very well sung and presented, intelligent and good-natured. Nothing too heavy, but its heart is in the right place. Committed types would find it wishy-washy and too accepting of diversity. I really enjoyed it, came out with a song in my heart and a smile on my face (as they say). On the way, we asked directions to the theatre, and one wily senior New Yorker described it as cute. It’s also described as Sesame Street meets South Park, but it’s more sly and sassy than black. Very much enjoyed and very well done.

Avenue Q pic borrowed from the Net, but it's promotional so I'm guessing that's OK. No pics allowed at the performance, of course

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