Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Part One: Rated Poorly

Here's some "fun with expectations" to be enjoyed in three parts.

Stuff that turned out worse than was expected:
  • "A Christmas Carol" performed by Trinity Reperatory Company in Providence, RI: Every year, my family buys tickets to see this annually produced show, and Trinity Rep. reliably creates a new perspective or interpretation to keep the many-times/many-ways seen show interesting. However, "interesting" this year bordered on the bizarre. My first indication that this would be the case was a commercial I saw on a local TV channel about the show by the director. The director, "so honored to be able to do Trinity's play," in as few words a possible, convinced me that he apparently thought he had come up with THE new, modern, artsy way to do the show. Therefore, I wasn't so much "shocked" as I was disappointed to have been correct. The guy had a thing for puppets--perhaps wishing to shed some much needed employment upon his rarely spotlighted puppeteering friends--but he didn't quite carry through his ideas. There was one of Scrooge himself, which disappeared about mid-way through the play without ceremony and consequently, with a loss as to audience interpretation of the puppet's meaning. The most "striking" was the Ghost of Christmas Future, which rose out from a curtain on the stage in the form of a Phantom of the Opera mask-like face, accompanied by one "pointing" and one "non-pointing" hand. In other news, the set was "minimalist" to a severe degree--cups and tables in scenes weren't even "real", but were instead cardboard cut outs (unconvincing when they had to be "used" by the cast as if they retained that third dimension they were missing). The background sets, wheeled in and out by stage hands (and this was the first production I actually "saw" the stage people "working" on the stage--other times they were strategically well hidden) could have been sketched by, and were perhaps on loan from, a local third grade class attempting a similar production. Even the cast was minimalist--a chorus of girls between about 8 and 12 years old made up for the lack of "company" in song or in bustling, "busy" street scenes.

The Bottom Line: The reason why this production is being judged rather harshly is because first, Trinity has done amazing versions of this story that have wowed and truly affected its audience. If they couldn't do so, families like my own wouldn't make the yearly pilgrimage to see A Christmas Carol. Since it is such a popular play, enough so that they have to have two casts to perform it, you would think they would take that in hand and mind when they choose an "interpretive style" or perhaps even a director in the future.

  • "The Crimson Petal and the White"--a novel by Michael Faber: When this book came out, I was working at Borders, and Mr. Faber was celebrated as "a twenty-first century Charles Dickens." However, simply setting a novel in the 19th-Century Victorian London, including some less-than-reputable characters and throwing in a slum or two to remind the reader of the "hard times" experienced by the masses does not qualify comparison to a literary paragon. The book is over eight hundred pages long but it does not at any point inspire the reader to the "unable to put the book down" level. In fact, the characters are so poorly developed and two-dimensional that the reader rather doesn't care what happens to them "next" as chapter after chapter passes by. In order to "make" his characters interesting, he gives them some peculiar mannerism--one of the main characters is a "fop" with an "innocent, sickly" wife, and another, a captivating whore. Faber is so preoccupied with preserving his mystique and setting the scene (or one can only suppose those are his motives) that he includes long interactions between characters that even he in the omnipresent "author's voice admits are irrelevant to the story the reader ultimately skips through to get back to some significant action. At first, the reader may be fooled into thinking these scenes and interactions are somehow symbolic; however, after perusing through many of them, it becomes abundantly clear that the reader will never be left in a position where he or she will have to backtrack in the novel to pick up that one piece of information or one detail missed in these scenes. Because of his minutea, one actually comes to expect the sex and the murder, etc., which destroys the surprise at these elements so well woven by far more skilled authors.

The Bottom Line: I think invoking Dickens as a comparison to any unproven author is rather strong. I should have taken the hint when I found the book at a local used book store in hardcover form for about five dollars. Then again, I was told once that any book that is five dollars or less is worth getting. I think this is the only case to which that statement does not apply.


Bridget said...

You've been tagged. Sorry...haha.

booda baby said...

I invoke the reader's rule liberally: The art of reading is judicious skipping. but sometimes, it's just easier to skip the whole book. 800 pages translates into a lot of life-living time

The Stiltwalker said...

glad to see you're still amongst the living. Now what's this about Christmas?

It's Me! said...

I'm disappointed for you in having to see an "interpretational" version of a Christmas Carol. I enjoy new takes and thoughts on classics, but I think there comes a point when the director needs to remove his/her ego from the production and understand that classics don't need to be "improved on". They've become classics because they have enough value to endure on their own.

enoch9 said...

I agree. One must use extreme caution when one reinterprets a classic; often it doesn't work. (But i did like the recent movie remake-update of 'Romeo and Juliet',despite myself).

Gem said...

Urgh, two of the most annoying things in the world - bad experimental theatre and overrated historical novels. You have my sympathy for being unfortunate enough to have experienced both in a short space of time :(.

fairscape said...


The puppets remind me of "Being John Malkovich" which is one of my favorite movies.

Have a Happy New Year!

MaureenE said...

No one is as Dickens at doing what Dickens did. Dickens had the strange characters, the slums, and the setting but he also had that indefinable something in his air, in his characters which made him Dickens. You can't reproduce that. Piffle. :)

Which is all to say that without having read the book, I completely agree.

Meg said...

Hello there,
You commented on my blog and it's not oft that I receive comments from strangers, so I just wanted to let you know that I read YOUR blog and I couldn't agree more with your review of TCPATW; I found it wholly and dreadfully disappointing.

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