This week I saw two fascinating plays. One was with my class, the other was on my own. Here’s the breakdown!
ALBION at The Bush Theater
A play centered around a young man who just loves karaoke and wants Britain to be about British. The intimacy of the theater made the single set of a pub space feel quite real. The main character, Jayson, starts off as a genuinely nice guy who tells us how much he loves karaoke before breaking into a soulful rendition of “Hey Ya” by Outkast. But eventually, the play begins to get a bit more sinister. We learn that karaoke night at the pub isn’t just for singing your heart out. It’s a place for the pub’s owner, Paul, to lead Islamophobic speeches and pep rallies. Paul is a figure who represents the equivalent of the English Defense League, an organization that describes itself as “a human rights organization concerned about how non-Muslims are being marginalized as sharia norms become increasingly embedded in our society.” Yes, this is a real thing.
But curiously, the group promotes “diversity.” Paul prides himself on the fact that his younger brother Jayson is homosexual and a supporter of his group, along with Kyle, who is Caribbean. We have to ask ourselves, does this group really care about promoting diversity in order to oppose “extremist Muslims” or do they just need as many sheep they can get?
I would say that the play presented these issues to us in a questionable manner. It was hard to remain patient when characters began bursting out in “karaoke style” song in the middle of an important monologue given such the intriguing political material the play had set up for us. In the end, I found myself loathing nearly all the characters, even the ones we were supposed to feel sympathy for. Despite the poorly staged combat moments and a few karaoke numbers I could have done without, “Albion” was an enjoyable and thought provoking show.
SELFIE at The Ambassador’s Theater.
Advertised as “a radical telling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “Selfie” had tons of potential, but missed the mark in my opinion. Dorian Gray is perhaps one of my favorite works of literature, but I didn’t go in with a closed mind, if anything I was excited to see how it would handle the challenge of bringing the story into a modern context.
The most striking difference was the choice to make Dorian a woman instead of a young man. By doing so, this no longer became a story about a young man discovering and embracing Hedonism, but a woman discovering and lusting fame.
The deterioration of Dorian’s “portrait” was a strong point in the show. What starts out as a beautiful photograph of a profile with natural lighting turns into a head-on camera shot and airbrushed mess. But, rather than leave it at that, they took it a step further, and decided to have Dorian’s youth fade in the photo just like it does in the original story.
There were some questionable choices about costuming and set design. Most of the cast looked like they came straight out of Portlandia’s “Dream of the 1890s” video, even though the play is supposed to be set during “tomorrow.” On top of that, the characters seemed to grow younger, not older, as the play progressed. The mustaches all disappeared, making them look less hipstery and more like normal teenage human beings, but everyone was still making references to Dorian’s eternal youth and beauty.
I did enjoy the inclusion of live music during the scenes at #bar, the nightclub where Dorian first meets Sibyl, an emerging singer with a voice like Amy Winehouse. Other times, the live music felt misplaced. The frequent set changes allowed no time for characters to establish much between each other and just gave me a headache.
Perhaps someday I will be inspired to write my own better adaptation of Wilde’s work. For now, “Selfie” and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful will have to suffice.
That’s all for now! I’ve got a weekend trip in Brussels coming up, so expect to hear all about that soon!