RAVES FOR THE FISH BUT WHY WAS THE FISH TANK HALF EMPTY?
by Joel Markowitz
Girl in a Goldfish Bowl, Woyzak and Tintypes
I have a bone to pick with all you theatre goers in this area, for it’s hard to scale down my intense disappointment that a beautifully written Canadian play that worked so swimmingly well on a small stage, in an intimate theatre tucked away on North Royal Street in Old Town Alexandria, played to half a tank and barely held its head above water during its run this month.
There have been very few times in my theatre loving lifetime of 49 years when a show comes along that really touches my brain and my heart at the same time, and Girl in The Goldfish Bowl at MetroStage was one of those rare experiences where I needed to return and see it numerous times. Some people suffer from OCD- I suffered this month from OCGD (Obsessive Compulsive Goldfish Disorder).
I loved that fish. I saw it 5 times on porpoise. As they say in the Jewish house I grew up in Buffalo, NY where Gefilte was our main fish, I came back over and over to watch this great cast “gel.”
I tried every trick and PR and marketing ploy to fill that theatre up. I brought 2 large groups of theatre goers with me. I begged everyone I knew – friends, family, people on the subway-people on buses, people on the street, people in aquarium stores, people in seafood markets, people at hockey games, Ushers (http://www.ushers.us/) and Footlights (http://www.footlightsdc.org/) members-everyone I bumped into-to run and buy tickets to this incredible production.
I sent emails in English, French and Hebrew, begging everyone I knew and (those I just met) to see this incredibly talented cast-Susan Lynskey, Kathleen Coons, Bobby Smith, Susan Ross and Michael Russotto. I did something I have never done before – I told people to go and buy the cheaper Ticket Place tickets as long as they filled up the seats at MetroStage. I have always encouraged the theatre going public to purchase full price tickets to help small theatres survive.
My main objective in running my social group has been this – fill up the seats in the theatre, because I believe that no actor or actress deserves to perform to an empty house. I have been known to pull someone off the street-total strangers-and put them in an empty seat. Members of my group rarely miss a performance because they know if they don’t show up, I will find them and tell them how I felt about their absenteeism. The fear of “me” is known throughout the Ushers membership and the theatre community. (99% of the time, though, I’m a real pussycat!)
Who wouldn’t love these reviews?
“The play’s two acts each end awfully well, stepping back for the long view and effortlessly darkening the tone. Henry’s handling of these climaxes is pitch-perfect, the kind that leaves you nodding your head appreciatively and thinking, as the lights go down: nice .”
“Do you remember the exact moment your childhood ended, when you moved from innocence to adult sensibilities? Canadian playwright Morris Panych does, and his play “Girl in the Goldfish Bowl” marks this wistful occasion with eccentric humor and unguarded honesty.”
“As the play draws to close, you hope in vain that it will last a few minutes longer. However, when the inevitable occurs and Iris’s childhood is over, it is handled with grace. Seldom does a life experience such as Iris’s need to be re-lived. MetroStage’s production is the exception.”
“It all makes for an intriguing production that keeps audiences on edge as it tinkers with their emotions and rolls to an unsettling conclusion.”
“The happy news is that while Panych overstuffs his quirky little black comedy with melancholic subplots about domestic desperation and damaged goods-there’s a boozy old spinster, a loveless couple barely bothering to go through the motions, and a mysterious, malfunctioning stranger who can’t quite seem to remember what he’d probably rather forget-Henry’s cast manages to create an honest, even an eloquent set of portraits out of characters who could easily be mere sketches.”
Potomac Stages: (Pick of The Week)
“An extremely careful lighting plot with its occasional under-water ripple as well as some very nice touches in the sound design, including a gurgle here and a bubble there, keep the feeling of fantasy alive even as the storyline takes more dramatic, even somber turns. The cumulative effect is a delight.”
DC THEATRE REVIEWS:
“To say Susan Lynskey who portrays the young Iris is fabulous in this role would be an understatement – she tells Morris Panych’s melancholy story with the bratty humor needed to bring it off without the part seeming overly done. Mr. Russotto is similarly fantastic in his role as the mysterious Mr. Lawrence. His jolting mannerisms and jittery ramblings endear him to the audience immediately.
Which brings me to this question: why did a show which received those reviews flounder at the box office? Was it the location? There are other theatres in the Alexandria, Arlington area that have less parking than MetroStage, and have the same problem of not being any closer to a metro stop (Braddock Street Metro is the closest stop to MetroStage and is a 20 minute walk to the theatre-or there are buses from the King Street Metro that will take you to Montgomery Street-a 2 block walk to MetroStage) Was it the $40 ticket price? Other VA theatres are asking and getting more for their ticket prices.
Sadly, I just don’t have the answer. But I’ll tell you one thing, this incredible cast deserved better, and if you missed it, you floundered. It was one of the most enjoyable 2 hours I’ve spent in the theatre – ever. I hope the Helen Hayes judges and voters remember Susan Lynskey’s brilliant Iris when the nominations are announced and awards handed out next spring.
Maybe it just wasn’t everyone cup of gills.
If you have the answer, please share it with me and our readers in our comments column at the end of this article. FIN of discussion.
Please go see the show this weekend. You’ll have a whale of a time!
To purchase tickets for the final weekend of Girl In The Goldfish Bowl, click on http://www.metrostage.org/
WOYZEK YOU SUPPOSED TO DO TO FILL UP SEATS WHEN YOU ARE IN NYC FOR A FESTIVAL FOR ONLY 3 WEEKS?
How do you fill up the seats before you arrive at St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York City, when you are only there for three weeks and have to return home to England? Daniel Kramer’s rock and roll adaptation of Büchner’s masterpiece, Woyzeck received rave reviews by critics and audiences in London when it played at the Gate Theatre, after an extended run. Mr. Kramer’s award-winning production was named one of the 10 best of 2004 by Time Out London and The Observer. Edward Hogg, who was last seen in the St. Ann’s Warehouse production last year in the Globe Theatre’s Measure for Measure, returns to play Woyzeck.
Who wouldn’t want these reviews?
“Explosively powerful…thrilling, harrowing, stunning… by far the best and most daring account of [Woyzeck] I have ever seen”
-The Sunday Times
“[Hogg is] an unforgettably anguished Woyzeck, so gentle and haunted at the start, so raving and dangerous at the end”
-The Daily Telegraph
-Time Out, Evening Standard, The Times,
The Observer, The Sunday Times
HEY MS. PRODUCER! HOW DO YOU FILL UP THOSE SEATS?
Last night I had the honor of being a guest at a dinner discussion held by The Footlights Theatre Discussion Group, where one of Woyzeck’s producers, Kay Ellen Consolver discussed this very question.
Woyzek is the harrowing journey of one honest man’s downfall and heartbreaking descent into madness. The author, Georg Buchner, died in Paris at age 23, in 1837, before the play was finished. (This is why directors have such liberty in adapting this play to their liking). The draft of the play was discovered in a trunk by the playwright’s brother, with scenes unnumbered and in separate bundles.
Although St. Ann’s Warehouse has subscribers, the producer’s role is not only to raise the money, to produce the show and to pay for administrative and travel costs and salaries, but to find the right people to market and PR the show, to find housing, costumes, to find local technical crews, and before getting to the STATES, to ensure that all the proper paperwork is completed so the actors can get to NYC.
How do you fill up houses in a “strange land” when you have a limited budget? You call the universities, like NYU, and invite their theatre majors and student body to attend the show and you offer a talk-back with the cast as a motivator to get them to buy seats. Most schools and universities require their theatre majors attend a certain number of performances. And then you have to deal with Actors Equity, and you also have to make sure the local media, the critics and the blogs help you in advertising your show. In London, Woyzeck dies in a big fish tank. (I’m about to drown with all these fish tanks around me this month)!
When they priced fish tanks in NYC, they decided to try another line, and Woyzeck is now branching out – dying surrounded by tree trucks. That’s what happens when you are being paid only scale.
No wonder David Merrick never smiled.
And why is this London producer schlepping to The Big Apple to present her production of WOYZECK in a 14,000 square foot performance space that once housed a spice mill in the trendy DUMBO (Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass), when she won’t make a lot of money or return on the short run?
“It’s a challenge when you can’t get a (big) financial return. You have to be passionate and want to help a young artist or director like Daniel Kramer.”
And Daniel Kramer’s adaptation is unique – he uses Elvis and Dolly Parton songs as well as music from several German composers in the production, and a choreographer plays the a cat in a scene where the Doctor tosses the cat away (sounds like a cat-astrophe). Why is Daniel so qualified to direct this work? Kramer, like Woyzeck, felt trapped-different-the outsider-a gay man in a small Ohio town, with a sensitivity to the impact of mental illness and its disastrous consequences. He can relate. For tickets, click on: http://www.artsatstanns.org/Good luck Kay! May the producers’ gods be with you!
BEFORE THERE WAS RAGTIME…. REP STAGE BRINGS AMERICANA TO COLUMBIA
Before there was Ragtime, there was Tintypes. The show was nominated for three Tony Awards in 1981-Best Musical (losing to 42nd Street) and Book (losing to Peter Stone for Woman of The Year), and Lynne Thigpen, who was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical lost to Marilyn Cooper for Woman of The Year. Tintypes was conceived by Mary Kyte, Mel Marvin and Gary Peale. Tintypes is a treasure chest of popular songs from the age of Ragtime, and utilizing historic figures Teddy Roosevelt, Emma Goldman, Anna Held, a black domestic worker, and a Chaplin-esque Russian immigrant . The Broadway cast starred Lynne Thigpen (“An American Daughter”), Jerry Zaks (“House of Blue Leaves”), Caroline Mignini, and Trey Wilson. The songs include Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight, Meet Me In St. Louis, In My Merry Oldsmobile, Wayfaring Stranger, Motherless Child, Wait for the Wagon, America The Beautiful, American Beauty, Teddy La Roose, and You’re A Grand Old Flag.
Now, Rep Stage at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland is presenting a new production of Tintypes in the new Black Box Theatre. The show is directed by Caole Lehan, whose hysterical production of the classic Cole Porter musical Kiss Me Kate is presently gracing the stage of Toby’s-The Dinner Theatre of Columbia. Carole is directing the talented cast of Kate Briante, Evan Cassey, Leo Erickson, Shannon Wollman and Felicia Curry, who I named in past Theatre Schmooze articles as giving 2 of the best 5 musical performance, and also starring in 2 of the best musicals of the last year. http://dctheatrereviews.com/review/category/theatre-schmooze/
Before she left for a fabulous weekend in Jamaica, I asked Felicia to answer a few questions about the production of Tintypes and her role in the show.
1. What is Tintypes about?
Tintypes is a musical that had a very short, but successful life on Broadway in the early 1980s. It is a five-person musical featuring music from the turn of the century. This story follows the life of a young immigrant who comes to America in search of a new life. We represent the fabric of America at that time, and the music allows each of us to tell our story in our own way.
2. What is your role in the show?
I play a young, African-American woman named Susannah. Susannah represents the black, working class woman of the time. But the beauty of this piece is that Susannah is not just one person, she is the essence of the black experience at the turn of the century.
3. What songs do you sing and what do these songs mean to you?
Some might say that this piece is more of a musical review than a traditional musical. With that in mind, the entire cast sings from beginning to end, including American favorites, Yankee Doodle, Grand Ol’ Flag, and America the Beautiful. Susannah has many wonderful solo moments throughout the show, including Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, Nobody, and Bill Bailey. Each song has a very different and important meaning in the evolution of Susannah’s journey. Nobody is her song of redemption, self-awareness and self-importance, while Bill Bailey is the song that allows her to express her sense of fun.
4. Why should people come and see the show?
I believe that the people who make the decision to see this show
will be in for a very special treat. This is the inaugural performance in the new Black Box Theatre located in the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Howard Community College. Rep Stage has put together an incredibly talented ensemble of people lead by Director Carole Lehan and Musical Director Brant Challacombe. The piece keeps an audience interested at all times with a story everyone can relate to and music that will make them laugh and cry. I am honored to be a part of this piece and this ensemble. I look forward to sharing this story with those who choose to come and see it.
To purchase tickets to Tintypes, click on http://www.repstage.org/
See you at Rep Stage., Felicia. Long may your beautiful voice wave.