>Here’s another thing I don’t get to do in my day job

>While I am used to growing impatient with plays, movies, and operas halfway through, I think I only left a movie twice: Madness of King George and Shakespeare in Love. (Hmm, is there a pattern?) But I was shocked when Richard, who feels a moral obligation to finish every book he opens, eagerly agreed to go home last night at the intermission of ART’s production of Cabaret.

We might have soldiered on had it not been a school night, but, man, it was grueling. The performances were fine (headlined by Amanda Palmer as Emcee) but the production heavily underlined anything it could to evoke . . . something but I’m not sure what. The decadence (black underwear, Palmer in an uncovered breast-binder and a cock in her pants) made me think of what Cliff, the Christopher Isherwood character, says to Sally Bowles: “Are you trying to shock me?” And the Kit Kat dancers as soulless zombies walking through the audience toward a glaring light reminded me of a production I once saw of Weill’s Mahagonny[no, it was Parsifal] where the director had all the characters line up to drink poisoned Kool-Aid. In Auschwitz.

But still–to miss the second act. I fear I have offended the critical gods and will somehow be punished for this.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. >I'm telling! Oh, wait. You already told.

  2. Monica Edinger says:

    >Oh, I'm sad. Thought it was so cool to have Amanda Palmer play the Emcee. My standard for Cabaret may be the production I saw here in NYC with Alan Cumming as the Emcee and Natasha Richardson. It was in a teeny old vaudeville theater and moved to Studio 54 later on.

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >This theater space is also a club, and scenes took place on all sides. It was difficult to watch everything because the nightclub tables-and-tiny-chairs seating was cramped and hard to shift about. After I got a literal pain in the neck from trying to see what was going on above and behind me to the left, I gave up and tried to infer the action from what I could hear. Maybe I was just too OLD for this production!

  4. >Classic A.R.T.! I saw their “Julius Caesar” a few years ago, in which Brutus’s boy/servant lingered in the corners of the stage for the most of the play, dressed as some sort of superhero in order to signify… or represent… well, never mind. Who could tell? Almost everything I’ve seen there has suffered from some such grad school cleverness, meant to dazzle, that instead drowned whatever narrative or emotional impact a production might have had. They aim for avant-garde, but they usually just hit distraction.

  5. >good for you! we welcome your comments!!

  6. >I'm still getting over the fact that Roger walked out of Shakespeare in Love. And yet sent me to that dreaded "Hero" movie where every footstep echoed…it was Japanese or something…I couldn't leave it fast enough though I forced myself to sit through 20 minutes just in case it got better.

    What is your problem with the great and hilarious Shakespeare in Love, one of my favorite contemporary movies?

  7. >I experience the same friction with Peter Sellars (note spelling) and his direction. Set operas in modern times, ho hum, very clever. Richard Nixon in Egitto – ha ha. But then he will show you just what he's capable of doing, what directors are meant to do – show you a pivotal point, say, the point where Fiodiligi and Ferrando fall in love and it hits the audience (or at least the ones still paying attention) the same way it hits the characters and transmits some powerful connection that pulls you into their dilemma and makes you forget the costumes and the trappings. If the director cannot do that, if the message is overwhelmed by the self-serving search for novelty and the actors are upstaged literally by the stage dressing, then the director has utterly failed and you have done right to vote with your feet.
    And besides, once I had to sit through the movie "Breathless" hoping that my roommate, who walked out on movies all the time, would want to leave. He didn't and I am no better off having seen Richard Gier's "tackle."

  8. >I've never left a play at intermission — except at the ART, where I made a habit of it back in college. Looking back, they were memorable, if not "entertaining," experiences.

  9. Rosanne Parry says:

    >How interesting that the part that probably seemed the most clever to the director fell flat for you.

    I know when I'm working on a first draft, it's very tempting to add literary flourishes and unnecessary complications. Writing is so much slower than reading; I get bored. But when I go back and read the draft I always think, oh shut up! Nobody cares that you went to college. And I never miss those fancy bits once they're gone.

    When my editor is working with me, he often asks me to take a second look at the most emotionally intense parts and back off a little bit–not to change the content of the scene but to make the language simpler and cleaner. I think he's got a good instinct for trusting readers to bring their own empathy to the page.

    Maybe that's the trouble you had with the play. Perhaps the details of the production did not invite you to bring your own empathy, but were too invested in manufacturing an emotional reaction of the director's design–artistic bullying. It's temping. I feel lucky to have people who will call me on it before my work is a public thing.

  10. >Golly, this takes me back…. I believe this take on Cabaret originated in 1993 at London's Donmar Warehouse, when Sam Mendes was its Artistic Director, then moved to Brodaway (with Alan Cumming & Natasha Richardson).

    To me, Sam Mendes seemed to like to intentionally make the audience uncomfortable (his production of the Dempsey/Rowe musical, The Fix, was pretty in-your-face). I've always wondered how I'd feel in the audience of his version of Cabaret. SPOILER: I heard one of the last scenes has The Emcee in concentration camp uniform, and that it was effectively horrifying. I wonder if the version you left, Roger, kept that bit?

  11. janeyolen@aol.com says:

    >You DO know that the production has a children's book connection that you didn't mention.How could you have left it out?

    Amanda Palmer is engaged to Neil Gaiman. Really.

    Jane

  12. Monica Edinger says:

    >Moira, I thought the Mendes production wonderful.

  13. >Monica, my friends in musical theatre fandom (I'm a card-carrying member) agree with you, so I'm sorry I never had a chance to see it.

    Jane: So that's who the young lady is who was with Neil Gaiman at the Golden Globes, and who changed her clothes on the red carpet. http://gofugyourself.celebuzz.com/go_fug_yourself/2010/01/golden_globes_amandapalmer.html

    Why do I know this trivia, and why do I retain it??

  14. Roger Sutton says:

    >Elizabeth, I can't stand Paltrow being feisty. I can still see her faux-cheeky smile as she wields a rapier.

    There was one great shocking moment in the first act (has anyone seen any reviews so I can find out what went on in the second?). The cast has been doing a few magic tricks with participants called to the stage from the audience, and at the end of that Emcee brings a young woman up, holds her from behind, and rips her shirt open. That young woman (clearly a cast member) begins to sing "Tomorrow Belongs to Me." The moment felt authentically gritty but came out of nowhere and went back to the same place, like it had been stickered on, just as Rosanne is suggesting above.

    Part of the problem with making Cabaret shocking is that we are used to that now–while I didn't see the Mendes production, I have seen Emcee in concentration camp dress before (in a suburban community theater production, which should tell us something). The other problem is that Cabaret is still a 1960s Broadway musical, and there's only so much irony you can pour over it without becoming sophomoric or making nonsense of the script. Write your own Nazi musical!

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