Tag Archives: theater

A musical on Yodok?! North Korean prison hits the stage

I was cruising around YouTube for some video clips on North Korea and Ahn Myong Chol, a former prison guard who later defected, for a North Korea story I’m putting together for Gadling. Chol has made his name as a journalist by sneaking back into the country and recording all kinds of footage that would be impossible to secure otherwise. Well, I couldn’t find the videos he shot of an open market where human flesh was (allegedly) being sold, but I did stumble upon something very strange: a video trailer promoting a musical about Yodok, one of the most notorious prison camps in North Korea.

That’s how strange it is to cover North Korea. You really never do know what you’ll encounter. A musical on Yodok? Crazy. Fortunately, I hate musicals.

Theater Critic: LaBute Gives “reasons” to Stay Home

Look, I’m a big fan of playwright Neil LaBute. Fat Pig was excellent, and Some Girl(s) was nothing short of amazing. One of my day-job colleagues described LaBute’s work as funny in a slit-your-wrists sort of way. She’s right, and that sort of humor resonates with me. So, I thought reasons to be pretty would be a sure thing.

The Lucille Lortel Theater is great at packing top-shelf TV and movie stars onto the stage and arming them with great material. LaBute’s latest was no different, with the likes of Piper Perabo, Alison Pill and Thomas Sadoski. A small house really helps the audience feel the action on stage, and I was front row, center section. I was ready.

Unfortunately, I was not ready to be disappointed. This time around, I blame LaBute … which is hard for me to do. Quite simply, reasons to be pretty gave no reasons to be enjoyed. The play opened with a door-slamming, profanity-ridden argument that had no immediate context. I’m no puritan. And, in fact, I bet my co-workers wold say they have to listent o that sort of shit from me on a daily basis. But, I’m not trying to advance a story. If I want to be entertained, I want to see something that’s not me. Otherwise, I’ll yell at the fucking mirror.

What followed were several angry or otherwise uncomfortable exchanges: boyfriend/girlfriend, friend/friend, friend/other friend’s girlfriend, etc. The characters seemed intent on torturing themselves and each other. Nobody actually wanted to be happy. It ended with a predictable soliloquy that lasted for-fucking-ever. There was no resolution. There was no redemption. Everybody got fucked.

Don’t get me wrong; I like dark. The issue with reasons to be pretty was quality. The script was not developed well, and the actors had to fend for themselves in awkward or excessively emotional situations.

Alison Pill, the not-pretty-enough girlfriend, seemed to trip over her lines. It could have worked, though. Her character, with little education, would have struggled with language in the heat of an argument. But, to capture the character’s emotions, the actress was struggling for the next word before her character got the chance to. Had the character done what the actress was doing, it would have been perfect. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Our protagonist, Thomas Sadoski, is a blue-collar guy in a warehouse. But, he reads Jonathan Swift, Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe during his graveyard shift lunch breaks. He makes sure his co-workers know what he is reading, in order to maintain a sense of superiority. As a result, he’s completely unlikeable. Worse, at theend, he blames the central argument with his girlfriend on his inability to communicate– a situation which has been rectified by the college classes he has been taking.

Parebo proved that she’s talented enough for Coyote Ugly and that’s about it.

I’m not giving up on Neil LaBute, but this one, quite frankly, sucked. I don’t mind lots of conflict, but continuous was a bit much. On a positive note, I am going to renew my MCC Theater subscription, and I’m looking forward to LaBute’s next effort this winter.