04 October 2012

Theatrical Delights: NT The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time review

Theatre has become a definite new interest.  I prefer going to the theatre now than most movies.  So, when another chance had arisen to take advantage of the National Theatre Live at Portland's Third Rail Repertory Theatre, I was there.

The National Theatre's production of The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time is another example of  amazing stage work that is actually taking place in Britian.  Based the on the 2003 novel of the same name by writer Mark Haddon, the piece expertly adapts the first-person point-of-view book to the stage.  I must, unfortunately, admit that I have never read the book, but knowing the past production value of the National Theatre and being familiar with a couple of the actors in the play I guessed that I would not be disappointed. I was not.

Picture from a www.timeout.com review,
 which gives 4 stars to the piece.
The Curious Incident, as I'll refer to the play from now, had a wonderful stage presence and design.  In contrast to the large main stage used in Frankenstein, this production was played out on a decidedly smaller, more intimate stage, which made me feel at bit closer to the main character, Christopher Boone.  The rest of the company not only acted as other characters, but at times a visual representation of Boone's unique perception of the world (played by Luke Treadaway) around him, as he reacted to the bustle of the train station or simply lying on his bed, takes the audience to his physical space and limitations.

The set was simple, yet ornate.  The only objects on the stage where white boxes, but projections and Treadaway's chalk drawings gave a new dimension that I think could rival the most detailed pieces.  A favorite scene of mine took place on the train. Boxes are set up in rows, as if seats on the train with actors sitting on them when all of the sudden they move to an L-shaped position, lying on the floor next to their boxes.  The POV shifts and suddenly they are, once again, sitting in their seats with a projected scenery speeding by.  I don't know how the actual audience viewed it, but viewing it on the screen, with a changed view was quite impressive.  Another scene featured the same technique having Boone (Treadaway) make his way down a projected escalator.  The stage was at could be a train, a station, a neighborhood, or even Boone's home by the change of lighting and projections.

This is the first time I had seen actor Luke Treadaway, but after this performance I am sure he has a great career ahead of him.  His interpretation of Christopher Boone made someone like who had never read the book and come to the play a bit green, leave the theatre feeling like that had met someone genuine and real.  And, it was fun to see my favorite Mrs. Hudson, Una Stubbs, break out from the confines of Baker Street in this play.

After seeing the play, I do want to read the book for myself soon.  For even though Haddon never claims to be commenting on autism or austim-spectrum disorders, it is clear that Christopher lives with one as do many others in our society.  I think that getting a glimpse into their view and experience in life makes the play and book exceptional works.

03 October 2012

Doyle Delights: Less delight, more dull--CBS's Elementary falls short

Last Thursday night, the 27th of September I spent one hour being bored.  Bored. Bored. Bored. But, I had to watch.  It was Sherlock Holmes! One of the most delightful British delights. Yes, I watched the latest reincarnation of the world's most famous detective.

And, boy is he famous! In an earlier blog, I wrote about the resurgence of Holmes via the Downey Jr./Law Warner Brothers movies and the Cumberbatch/Freeman BBC series.  American television has now decided to throw their deductions in the ring with CBS's Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller as the great detective and Lucy Liu, as a female "Joan" Watson.  Good news:  Elementary is not BBC's Sherlock.  Bad News:  Elementary is not that great of a television show.

At its core, Elementary is an American police procedural made for an American audience.  So, my beef is why call the character Sherlock Holmes at all?  The only things Sherlockian about the show is Miller's British accent, a brief mention of beekeeping, and a police captain called Tobias Gregson.  Bringing this Holmes to New York City and "modernizing" him in this way has stripped the character of Sherlock Holmes to an unrecognizable, unimaginable, and uninteresting detective.  Canonical (and well adapted on-screen Holmes') are far different from this warm, humanistic Holmes.  Elements of this Holmes simply seemed off.  Holmes does eventually become a warmer person (over 50+ stories and 4 novels) but it is does not happen until later, and its moments are fleeting.  Holmes would have never said that he hates it when he's right, on the contrary, he loves it!  He does not "spare feelings", he is brutally honest.  I certainly don't consider myself to be a Sherlockian canon purist, but this one strays a bit too far for me.  

Having a Sherlock Holmes, there must be a Watson.  John or, in this case, Joan...it didn't really matter to me. A female Watson works, it's fine; however, once again when an adaptation goes too far from the original source then something isn't right.  Joan Watson is certainly not Dr. John Watson in more than their difference in gender.  One: she is no longer a doctor.  Watson needs to be a doctor, in some capacity.  I just didn't buy the "sober companion".  She has no military background.  Watson needs a military experience, Watson needs to be ready for their adventures, if there are any "adventures" in Elementary.  These two main pieces of Watson's character have been taken away, not to the detriment of the show, but to the detriment of the character.  As with Holmes, when one takes away the essential elements of a character there is no reason to call them those names.

Luckily Elementary's Sherlock Holmes has a British accent.  Then his name might best be Greg House.  Jonny Lee Miller's Holmes is by far the least traditional Holmes I've ever seen on screen.  Un-kept with a five-o-clock shadow certainly doesn't fit my image of the gentleman that is Sherlock Holmes.  It is just the pilot, but Miller didn't quite seem comfortable with fast-paced dialogue and seemed to make odd, erratic movements appear unatural.  There are some actors that can pull off fast-paced dialogue (i.e. David Tennant's and Matt Smith's  Doctors 10 and 11, or even Rathbone's, Brett's, Downey Jrs., and Cumberbatch's Holmes').  Unfortunately, it felt as if Miller was trying too hard.  Liu is the type of actress that could play a Holmes-type character.  I felt she was too limited in the "sidekick" role, and as it turned out made her own interesting deductions.  She is definitely more than a conductor of light and that may prove to be a problem as well.  In the end, Miller and Liu's performance did not convince me of an immediate friendship that Holmes and Watson shared.  It is likely one that will grow over time.

If Elementary brings new readers or brings people back to the canon, then I couldn't be any happier.  But, will the differences be too much?  Will readers wonder why Holmes is in London?  Why Watson is a male and ex-military? Why isn't Gregson in more stories?  Time will only tell.