Friday, May 3, 2013

Not a Review: Fly by Night

I caught a preview of the Dallas Theater Center's new musical Fly by Night last night.

[Caution: trying hard not to Spoiler here, but it's tough.]

Some wonderful things onstage!  Wit and stagecraft and strong songs with really great lines.  Beautifully acted and produced.  My impression by intermission was of a fresh, clever, and very theatrical show.

A wee bit too clever?  Conventions like rapid flips from location to location (accommodated by a clever set) and use of a narrator (wonderful!) tend to set the audience at a distance from story and characters.   Framing it this way added style, but made me so aware I was watching it was hard to emotionally  participate.  It took a while to warm to the main characters - a love triangle which, we were told explicitly, were the real story.

Unfortunately, the show - for me - unraveled in Act II.  The broad comedy earlier was largely replaced by broad gestures toward tragedy in Act II.  Shifting gear from the hilarious crystal ball scene, to the touching bath tub scene and then the (I think misfiring) accident-in-the-blackout moment.  Serious or touching moments in the first Act work fine alongside comedy - I think there's a good balance there - the second Act didn't feel well balanced.

That blackout!

Beautiful to look at, it's obvious symbolic importance was played too heavy-handedly.  By this time, the Themes and Big Thoughts of the show were being over-explained and repeated.  (Really? The show-in-the-show is 'The Human Condition'?  That was funny until I realized you meant it.)  Music was repeated too until the clever sandwich song, for instance, grew tiresome.  Pace slowed.  The show began to seem too long.  Too didactic.

Characters?  Loved the main guy with the guitar.  Both sisters were well acted, though the actress sister hardly rounded out from a cliche'.  Strangely, one third of this explicitly-once-more-explained-to-us main three characters did nothing for much of the second half!  Less central characters got too much stage time.  The father is good and well acted, but it was a mistake to let him tell his story; that was stronger imagined.  The deli-man's traffic bit was satisfying; but...!  What that set up?

Hated it.

Partly because I'm on the side of young love etc. etc., mostly because it wimped out on the adult real-drama between the triangle that could have happened.  There was a scene I'd have liked to see!  The show lost me at that moment.  The plot event felt too pat... substituting mechanical tidiness for the messy reality of life.  A cheat.

In retrospect, for all the repartee, there were few real clashes of character.  It's a  solo show for each one.  For all the over-explicit stress on making decisions, decisions were few, solo, dreaded, and long procrastinated.  I realize that was the point.  But when the main character plans to sleep for fifteen hours in the middle of Act II...  dramatic movement is kinda, you know, slowed.

Hard to write an active, engaging show about depression and indecision.  Admitted.  This is a brave and nearly successful attempt.  The Turtle Song tackled it brilliantly!

The big problem (if anyone wants my opinion) is that the two halves of the show just don't match.

Personally, I'd go for the sparkle of Act I throughout.  You can still have, underneath, all the depression, alienation, indecision, and loneliness you want; as Woody Allen's best films prove, it's possible to wrap a bleak message in a sparkling wrapper.  The show already does this with the Turtle Song.

I was impressed with the show as it stands now.  Well worth seeing.  Huge promise.  Another production is planned for next year: go be the best Turtle you can be!

ADDENDUM:  Reading the "real" reviews, it seems that all the critics love the show - which goes to show something-or-other.  I didn't like August: Osage County  when I saw it in Chicago either!

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