Pugilists on the porch

In a week when that war – let’s say it as it is, yet another invasion by Goliath on David, except this David has lots more to his armoury than a measly sling – continued to rage, the atrocities began to mount and over one million people became refugees, I tried to lift my spirits by making a last minute decision to go and review a play about a couple with “issues.” They say that antidotes come in many forms, horses for courses so to speak, and at least one of my friends listens to Leonard Cohen when she is down saying “he sounds more depressed than me so life can’t be that bad.” As I’ve said many time before, gathenas me din bellara dou…and we all have them.
David Mamet’s The Woods (Southwark Playhouse) is about a couple, Nick (Sam Frenchum) and Ruth (Francesca Carpanini) spending a night at a house in the country. They push their relationship to the breaking point in a night of stories and fights, only to rediscover their need for one another in the morning. The perfect recipe for a co-dependent, dysfunctional relationship where dogma and karma are blamed for their vicissitudes. The play takes place on and around the front porch of Nick’s family’s summerhouse in Michigan and has a final twist, a bed-time story coupled with a physical contretemps, that is more horror than sweet fable. These are two messed up folk and if fishbowl therapy is your thing, this is a pretty neat case study.
Mamet is best known for dialogue (“Mamet speak”) that is at the cutting edge of cynicism, edgy and crafted for effect. Here it is direct, simple and naturalistic but seems out of kilter with the two characters. Especially when they digress into existential threats to both themselves and the planet making apparently rational, yet pseudo intellectual comments that are meaningless. If that is Mamet’s point, he hits the nail bang on the head. If not, it becomes dull and inconsequential. Unfortunately as the plot unfolds and they begin to uncouple our empathy for either diminishes rapidly and what should be a short seventy minute jaunt, becomes a trudge landing that denouement in emotional treacle, by then we couldn’t care less.
Frenchum makes a good fist of portraying Nick as the walking dichotomy that he is – when in doubt use the get out clause and blame your parents – while Carpanini, who has a strong stage presence, begins as a picture of demure and flirty but her final tirade is anything but accusing him of all sorts of masculine misdemeanours. His reply is a whimper, as is the play. Returning home the news continued to plumb the depths of violence and obliteration. Listening to Mahalia Jackson was my panacea.
Athasha Lyonais on the other hand is blown away…
New York, 1984. Andy Warhol’s star is falling. Jean-Michel Basquiat is the new wonder-kid taking the art world by storm. When Basquiat agrees to collaborate with Warhol on a new exhibition, it soon becomes the talk of the city. The Collaboration (Young Vic) is a meditative new play focussing on an unlikely friendship between cultural iconoclast Warhol and disruptor Jean Michel Basquiat at the end of the former’s life. The play (written by Anthony McCarten, directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah) is a curious one – it’s often a little ambiguous about just how much of their relationship was romantic, exploitative, sexual or self-destructive, because it would be extremely irresponsible to make any assumptions about these two real people. As a result, the play tries to flesh out both artists as much as it can, and lets you read between the lines of what these two remarkable artists may have meant to each other.
Paul Bettany plays an uncanny facsimile of Warhol, his odd verbal idiosyncrasies masking a deep self-loathing, which sometimes extends outward into a disregard for his friends. Jeremy Pope’s performance as Basquiat is less broad (there’s less material to base it on) but he paints the picture of someone who at first seems astonishingly confident in his own abilities, but as the play goes on you realise just how vulnerable he is. I cannot recommend this play enough…if you can get a ticket!

The Woods – www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
The Collaboration – www.youngvic.org

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