Monday, March 28, 2011

AGENT G First Reviews

Jon and I at it again.
Photo: Jim Baldassare

The play's tone shifts after the battle, when its hero, Hung Tran (a robust and expertly calibrated turn from Paco Tolson) brings The Playwright (played with wryness and a certain sweet nerdiness by William Jackson Harper) to the stage. Hung, an incarnation of Nguyen's cousin, a Vietnamese refugee who survived a horrific journey in the China Sea, demands that Playwright tell his story truthfully, announcing "You're here to help turn this story out correct, playwright."  

I have to give mad props to Andy Propst from Theatermania, the guy has shown me so much critical love in NYC, and I am lucky to have someone so thoughtful in my corner.  

That Sounds Cool
After seeing Agent G, I'm not just a believer again, I'm a thoroughly obsessed fan: Nguyen's latest is not just a tale of Vietnam, filtered through war movies, noir drama, and spy flicks, but the tale of an artist daring to find his voice without compromising his aesthetic. 

Hello, Aaron Riccio.  Aaron reviews everything under the sun and is always on point.
The ensemble of five is superlative. Paco Tolson and Bonnie Sherman are spectacular as, respectively, Hung and three different (and very important) white women; Harper is funny and then moving as the beleaguered Playwright; Amy Kim Waschke breathes life into numerous stereotypes as, among others, a Vietnamese boy and a young Vietnamese woman who works as the housekeeper at a whorehouse. Stealing the show constantly is Jon Hoche, who plays seemingly a zillion different antagonists to Hung and/or The Playwright...

Martin Denton.  A living legend who works tirelessly to legitimaize the work we all do downtown.  Thanks as always, man.

The ensemble matches this litter of intentions each with their own shuffled deck of attitudes and identities, particularly Bonnie Sherman and Amy Kim Waschke, who incarnate an extraordinary library of pop poses and genuine emotional textures, while tenacious comedians Paco Tolson and Jon Hoche screw their incalculable chops to the shticking place.
William Jackson Harper is nervously, exasperatedly masterful as the conflicted-nebbish Playwright who invokes Woody Allen’s and Kevin Smith’s self-referential models to hide behind, but in the last scene there’s nowhere to hide. 
Thanks, Adam McGovern!

Also check out friend of the company Jenn Kim's interview with Qui and I at Pink Ray Gun here.  She came to the show on her birthday.  Amazing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sucker Punch

This is an article/rant about the geek world vs. Zach Snyder and the reaction from fans of comic book material to adaptations/appropriations of it in pop culture.  Fascinating and well written.

Read it here.

AICN interview with Yuen Woo Ping

I liked this interview with fight choreography legend Yuen Woo Ping.  Here's my favorite part, as it's something I've been trying to ariculate for a long time regarding fights in movies these days.  You can read the whole thing here.

I’m not afraid of long takes, because long takes have more visual power. As you said, you can just sit there and watch the whole scene all together and it’s more enjoyable. The second reason is because it’s more realistic. It’s not fake. You can see very movement and every action in the fight through long takes. If it’s filmed with short takes, all you see is just the editing work, not the actual martial arts work. It’s just really important for you to see every movement is not fake. There definitely are a lot of difficulties with filming long takes, because you have to do it in sequence and all together, so the point is the actors must know martial arts. If they don’t know martial arts, I will train them to let them get into it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Provocation and Racial Humor

 Theatre, in the main, deals with provocation.  It uses bodies and words to express thoughts and feelings very immediately.  Because it is dramatic it often deals with controversy and the underbelly of human relationships.  Therefore, to participate in watching it is an act of bravery and courage.  It is not easy to spend time in the underbelly, but that is where we learn the most about ourselves; from the areas we ignore for comfort's sake. 

People always say edgy racial humor has to be looked at from the perspective of the people behind it: what was their intention?  Is the joke coming from a place of love, hate, ignorance, thoughtlessness or keen attention?  Are they using comedy to shine a light or for an easy laugh?  I think Chris Rock is a genius comedian and he is clearly as smart as they come, but the jokes themselves could wound an audience in the wrong hands.

It's not always possible to know the intention of the artist.   So what then?  If you're watching something funny but think it might be offensive, or you think something is racist but is supposed to be can you tell whether or not the artist can get away with it?

What are the signals that let you know can trust the artist enough to allow them to transgress politeness and safety with you?

I don't know, actually.  Probably that the work is somehow a reflection of the artist as a person.  That's the big one.  Every race has an iteration of "I know, right?" comedy that skewers the culture they grew up in.

Another indicator is the emotional subtext.  Are the jokes mean-spirited?  Are the laughs cheap because they are based solely on an accent or underlining what makes X or Y different?  Is it mocking or well-articulated?  Is it a roast or a rant?

With a play, for example, is the joke delivery method being used this way for a reason? A lot of good clowning and comedy is based on creating goofy characters who speak funny, but are the jokes in the service of something more?

There really is no accounting for the feelings of all people, but most racism in comedy is cheap.  Usually you can tell whether the intentions of the creators are enlightened or not. 

Qui Nguyen's play The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G deals with race.  A lot.  It also deals with sex, class, war, and responsibility.  It deals with reconciling who you are with the American dream.  It deals with the collision between your own life and the life you give to your art.  It is hilariously irreverent and will likely ruffle a lot of feathers.  I know the artists and I know their intentions.  Come check it out for yourself.