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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

100 Saints You Should Know

I've read all of this and I've read this and I've also read some of these posts.

I also just saw, by way of an invitation from Playwrights Horizons, 100 Saints You Should Know. I accepted free tickets with the understanding that I might write a bit about what I thought of the play. I'll do so.

I've got all sorts of opinions about what's been said thus far about the practice of accepting tickets as a blogger, etc, etc. In the end, I'll simply practice what I preach. I've disclosed the circumstances by which I received my ticket, and I watched the entire performance.

I will say, before I write my thoughts, that I'm a playwright with a blogger account, and I don't draw any sort of income from blogging. (Or, for the most part, playwrighting.) This is all for the love of the game, kids. I'm not a member of the press. So let's all just take a deep breath.

So... what did I think of 100 Saints You Should Know? A few rambling thoughts at... um...2 am.

I enjoyed it. Many of the audience members around me seemed to love it. There were two women sitting behind me who were sobbing and shouting "Bravo" as they applauded the actors that the end of the play. Rumblings in the lobby (always a good indicator) were very positive. There were gasps from the crowd during the reveals, there was laughter on the laugh lines. This is a play that plenty of people will like quite a bit, plainly.

Is 100 Saints You Should Know going to remake the American Theater or challenge the notions of its audience? Nope. It's a play. Moreover, it's a melodrama. It gravitates towards some of the fetishes in which modern playwrights indulge: teens being shockingly articulate, religious doubt, homosexuality, and white-people-ennui. There is an air of cliche that hangs in it. Some of it is also a bit too neat. There is a cadence in lots of well-structured contemporary plays that can almost be anticipated by metronome. Good solid beats, perfectly developed to lose the extraneous and messy and superfluous. Everything adds up. The characters say the right things, or the wrong things, at precisely the right (and wrong) times. It's, in many ways, extremely effective. It's also streamlined in a way only a play can be.

I was following the story and feeling moved and touched and involved as I watched it. By the time I hit 42nd Street, my thoughts pretty immediately turned to getting a bite to eat and flipping on a Podcast.

Which is a long way to say, it's well-done and entertaining and enjoyable. The direction is extremely sound and the design is fantastic. The play itself has some really great scenes. But it didn't punch me in the gut.

Nonetheless, there's some very human stuff in 100 Saints. There are times when artifice can overtake modern playwrights and the strain of the "good writing" is all up on stage. 100 Saints doesn't seem to have that sort of heaviness. Playwright Kate Fodor doesn't seem particularly interested in impressing her audience; she seems interested in her characters.

In service of this... the actors all turn in fine performances. I was particularly struck by Jeremy Shamos as Matthew, whose first moment of being touched in the play (which comes in Act II) is one of the loveliest bits of quiet acting I've seen in quite a while.

Will Rogers was extremely impressive as well. His character, with his ADD-out-the-ass mannerisms... he just seemed like that kid who desperately needs Ritalin. I was reminded (and I mean this in the nicest way) of Billy Bob Thorton on film. The first few minutes of any performance on film by Billy Bob Thorton seems insanely mannered and actor-ly. After a few minutes, he just keeps at it until you get it.

Finally, one of the great pleasures, for me, was being able to watch Lois Smith acting live. When I was younger, and just getting interested in theatre, a teacher gave me a video copy of the Steppenwolf version of The Grapes of Wrath, starring Gary Sinise, and prominently featuring Lois Smith as Ma Joad. She floored me even before I knew, quite, how to put into words why. Of course, she's wonderful in 100 Saints.

1 comment:

Aaron Riccio said...

Agreed, except I think it stayed with me a little more. That moment with the touch really should make a "best onstage moment '07" list somewhere....