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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Caligula Maximus

I saw another play this week, Caligula Maximus, at La Mama. Interesting, enjoyable, hardly life changing. I have very little to say about it, so maybe this entry will be brief for a change.

The play started as homage of sorts to this Caligula: kind of a cross between Rocky Horror's Dr. Frankenfurter and Cabaret's Emcee. As far as I can tell, the action took place in Caligula's kingdom, wherein he ruled as this god-king in a hyper-sexual, unrestrained, orgiastic empire. With lots of slaves. The play examined and (from Caligula's perspective) exalted this unbridled, id-like aspect of the human condition, and then eventually traced Caligula's fall from divinity and transformation into "ordinary person."

The outstanding thing about the show, though, was that it was performed as a carnival act, this super-raunchy 3-ring circus, replete with trapeze artists, belly-dancing, hula-hoops, and gymnastics. From a strictly aesthetic perspective, it was amazing. So detailed, so well-executed, and completely riveting from start to finish.

But beyond that? Meh.

I was at the show supporting someone with whom I had done a previous show, 8 Women, and I went with a group of 8 Women girls who had come as a group to see her. After the show we congregated for drinks and discussion across the street.

Me, I got more on board as the production moved along. In terms of message, theme, symbolism, that kind of thing, it was difficult not to have it pegged from the very beginning, and the play at least moved in a few directions I hadn't anticipated, and did so cleverly.

Jenna, though, was the opposite. She thought the piece started well, but the end, when it "got all meta," it failed. Too heavy-handed, too obvious. She was not a fan of the part when Caligula admitted he lived in Inwood because he couldn't afford to live downtown, which, I have to admit I kind of liked.

"Really?" I said. "You didn't see that ending coming a mile away? How ELSE could it have ended?" She admitted she didn't know, but that didn't mean it couldn't have been better.

Well, maybe that was my problem, I speculated. See, from the minute the curtain went up I found it heavy-handed and obvious, and I saw it heading down the road it did from minute one. I couldn't possibly see how it could end well, and when it ended as it did it actually wasn't as bad as I had been expecting.

"It was kind of like a college production," Jenna said. "Really well-done with great production values, but the kind of weird, abstract experimental crap you'd see in college."

"Yeah, but - " Sarah chimed in, "It WAS really well done, and it's not like it was so 'subtle-like-a-sledghammer' with its message that at any point I was offended, and it was amazing to watch and kept me engaged from start to finish." We had to agree, it WAS really well done. And really engaging. So... how can you fault it that much?

Maybe it wasn't the way the message was conveyed that failed for us, as much as the message itself. Jenna and I both agreed that we had little-to-no interest in the subject matter. All of us being young recent graduates of various college theater arts programs, the subject of sexual debauchery is maybe somewhat passe. So, what really interested all of us was the variety show aspect which, it cannot be stressed enough, was fantastic. I wish I could have AD'd that production, and just observed how so many diverse aesthetic aspects were brought together in such an infinitely detailed and exact way. It seems beyond my comprehension and abilities.

But, the really wonderful part of this evening was not the show but the company. It was fantastic to see these girls again. They are all amazing and talented girls, and I had missed them. And as we sat across the street deconstructing the piece we had just seen over tequila shots and beer, I thought, I love this place, I love this life. It just can't get any better than this.

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