We saw a double bill of live entertainment last night. Part one was a folk music group with a former theatrical partner in crime on lovely lead vocals. Veddy nice, and well worth driving to Charlotte for. I'm no music critic, but tuneful, dulcet guitar picking, sweet vocal harmonies, the occasional burst of skilled violin playing... a joy.
Part two was a performance of Uncle Vanya. I should have known what it would be, because the crew that was doing it had made a name for itself with bootleg theatrical adaptations of nerdcore movies. As a recovered Monty Python and Tarantino reciter, I'd rather have bowel movements in public than subject myself to that kind of unimaginative nerd indulgence, but Uncle Vanya, I figured, just might bring out the ambition in Charlotte's budget theatre scene. The useless theatre opiner of record in this town wrote a typically slippery review of it in which he failed to come out and say that the show was a tedious misfire, so... there we were.
Stunt casting! A duo of brilliant local improv/theatre clowns were in the show, one of them playing Uncle Vanya, both of them providing the only relief. They knew how to suss out what their parts were about and inflect their performances with rocknroll manic brilliance that served, rather than undercut, the dramatic possibilities of the text. Everyone else delivered amateur theatrics in the saddest sense. I don't blame volunteer actors, though; they all seemed to be striving to the best of their abilities for something real, and good directors can get something real out of most anyone. Inept shmuck directors, though, becalm the actors and create the kind of artless phoniness we left at intermission last night. Chekhov's words can be dazzling if the actors discover the words and the meanings as they speak it while remaining focused on what they as the characters desire. This production, though, consisted of actors declaiming with no sense of interiority, waving their arms around, engaging in cheap pratfalls that didn't grow organically from or serve the material. Imitating humanity abominably. It often seemed that the director was conducting an R&D experiment, trying to find new ways for theatre to suck. I'm sure the director would try to pitch the whole mess (in fact he did, in his self-serving program notes) as pomo subversion, or Grotowskiesque, if he'd heard of Grotowski. Bollocks. Injecting jokes and pratfalls only works if it's done with Laurel-and-Hardy virtuosity and some sense of counterpoint; some sense of how the gags can illuminate Chekhov, even if only through artfully considered contrast. It was the worst theatre I've seen in Charlotte, and I've seen a few stink bombs.
As we drove home in the dark, a possum appeared in our headlights. It was neither crossing nor dead. It was writhing on its side, streaked with red wet blood, looking miserable. I swerved to miss it; probably would have been kinder to hit it and let it sleep. If I'd had wishing powers at that moment I would have wished for the possum and the director of that evening's theatrical entertainment to change situations, so the possum would be doing what it wishes in good health and whatever company a possum desires, while the director would be ending in unalloyed terror and agony. Too harsh? Yes. But it's what I would have wished.
Edit: Greetings, friends of the director who have found my blog! Yes, my last paragraph is way too nasty, and no, I don't actively wish suffering or death on the director; that was a description of a passing fancy, not a statement of long-term position. Beyond that, hey, it's a negative review. I've gotten 'em too.