Hi, there :) how are you? :) did you miss me? :) oh :(
That’s unfortunate. I was very excited about sharing my New Year’s resolutions with you in my first blog post of 2018…Wait. You know what? To quote a quote from the greatest show in Cabaret Theatre history, Ordinary Days, directed by David Novis, “Well, screw you!”
Here they are:
1) drink coffee less
2) be on my bullsh*t less
3) hang out with Cabaret Theatre’s producer, Ajit J. Mathews, more
4) go see plays more
To my dismay, I have accomplished none of these things (Ajit, please, hit me up LITERALLY whenever, I am desperate to be your friend). So, imagine my delight when I heard that Cabaret Theatre was putting on a special project titled This is a Play. Had, at least, one of my resolutions been saved? Had I the opportunity to salvage a shred of my dignity? To not be a failure, despite my parents’ suggestions to the contrary? My heart fluttered at such a prospect.
However, upon deeper research, my heart quickly sunk from the place where it once soared. They told me “This is a play,” and yet…and yet I was skeptical.
I reached out to director Oren Merhav for a comment to calm my qualms:
“I understand your confusion,” he reassured me, “but I would like to point out a certain other Cabaret production which contained full-length songs with choreography and a pit orchestra, and which was also classified as a play.”
The allusion (as a Cabaret historian, I am certain) is in reference to Peter and the Starcatcher, which, tbqh, I’m still not completely content with calling a “play” (that Act I closing number was, very clearly, a musical theatre bop). By drawing such a comparison, Oren provoked me to investigate deeper.
First, the show involved Katie Siegel. Katie Siegel, of such Rutgers productions as Major/Minor: A Musical Revue, Anything Goes, Urinetown, Illuminations: A Musical Revue, You Got Older, Role of a Lifetime: A Miscast Concert, bare: A Pop Opera, If I Stay: A Musical Revue, Peter and the Starcatcher, This is a Play. On a purely mathematical basis, prior to This is a Play, 7 out of the 9 productions Katie has been in have been music related, and one of which was the aforementioned Peter and the Starcatcher (they had a larger pit than Ordinary Days, people). Therefore, on statistics, I cannot in all likelihood expect this to truly be a play when Katie’s plays are evidently musicals, musical revues, or musicals in disguise.
“This sounds like gotcha journalism and I will not stand for it,” said Katie, when asked to comment.
Second, John Lerman. Sure, John Lerman has done plenty of productions with the College Avenue Players (shoutsout to him directing Art <3), none of which (to my knowledge) are musicals. YET, his previous Cabaret experience, opposite Katie in, none other than, this season’s Peter and the Starcatcher, which was, again, a musical in disguise (John had the voice of an angel). They say fool me once, shame on you, but I’ll be damned if I’m fooled twice because that time is apparently on me, according to the idiom, and I don’t cope well when I have to admit something is my fault, okay.
I pressed upon John, like Oren and Katie, as to whether or not the show was, in fact, a play or not, and I got something incredibly existential, which I’m including here for full transparency and also because it’s pretty profound, wow:
“First we have to ask ourselves, what is a play? Just a script with some dialogue and scene direction performed on a stage? Well then what is a script? What is a stage? What even is 'dialogue'? This Is A Play seeks to answer these questions, not by sorting elements into narrowly defined boxes, but by transcending artistic expression completely. To put it simply, to understand This Is A Play, you must forget every preconceived notion of theatre and imagine yourself floating in a vacuum in space. Only there, in the silent darkness, will you find an answer.”
Honestly, I’m not even sure what he was getting at, but I suddenly feel empty inside.
Lastly, Grace Alt. Now, like, okay, I actually have nothing here. There is no evidence to suggest she would deceive me, like Katie or John; but, then again, I have no reason not to believe she wouldn’t either 👀👀👀
Also, just, like, look at this quote I got from her:
“This is a Play is a great way to celebrate performance and student theatre in an accessible, laid-back setting,” she said, “It’s quick, funny, simple, and feel-good.”
Like, that sentiment is just so nice and kind, how could I suspect anything other from her? Even when she’s quoted as saying:
“Working with a few people for only a month…makes the theatrical process a lot more flexible and open to interpretation and changes,” she claims, “This is very much our version of This is a Play, which makes the show a lot more special.”
Ordinarily, the use of “open to interpretation and changes” and the emphasis of “our version” would lead to an increased paranoia on my part about the validity of this being a play. If this was Katie, this would’ve been fatal because I, if I haven’t made it clear, do not trust Katie (she gave me (of all people) the position to write the blog, how can she still be trusted?).
However, I’m going to try to be as democratic as possible when I assume Grace is innocent until proven guilty, although I have my eye on her.
So, skepticism diminished, I listened to Katie, who told me, “Life's a mystery, come see This is a Play: A Play.”
And thus, I did my blog duty and attended a tech performance of This is a Play; for once, not as a marketing ploy, but for investigative purposes.
David Novis, P.I.
The show started and the first thing that really stuck with me was the cast’s emphasis on relating to the audience that “the director has a dance background.” In conjunction with this comment, they did quite a bit of interpretive dance-like movements, which were too convincing for me to believe they were purely in jest. Rather, it seemed to be, very clearly, choreography. If this was not a musical, as I assumed, it seemed to me to be, at least, a ballet. Strike one.
I continued to watch the performance and, aside from the prominence of choreography, was finding little to confirm my suspicions of it being anything other than a play. But then, suddenly, the sounds of a violin concerto began to ring through the black box. Based on my understanding: since If I Stay: A Musical Revue, Cabaret is capable of housing a pit, orchestra, band, or the like in their basement for performances. Thus, my logic follows:
1) there was orchestral music that I am refusing to believe was prerecorded (it moved me too much to be so)
2) based on my knowledge of Cabaret history, I am led to believe that this orchestral music was coming from a secret pit being housed in the basement
3) pits are necessary for a musical
4) This is a Musical
Lastly, and most damning, the one cast member I actually trusted in this production proved to be the most deceptive (oh, how cliché). Grace Alt, as the Older Female Actor, SANG. Or, well, she told us that she sang because it’s a “metaplay” (re: musical) where the actors convey to the audience their thoughts and motivations, rather than actually delivering lines (re: lyrics) in the traditional way while they put on a performance (would you look at that, 1083 words in and I finally gave you the plot, thanks for sticking around to this point, this was your reward). So, yes, while Grace Alt didn’t actually sing, she sang in a meta-way, and as a deep admirer of post-modernism, this was just as incriminating. Strike three.
“So yes, it is a lie, but it is also the greatest truth mankind could ever know, but never will” confessed John.
There you have it, folks. This is a Play? More like, This is a SHAM. In this investigator’s subjective opinion, the show was great. He laughed, he cried, but he also danced in his seat to a violin concerto. As a journalist, he cannot shy away from informing the public that if they come see This is a Play, for one night only, this Friday, January 26, at Cabaret Theatre (tickets available at: https://sabo.tix.com/Event.aspx?EventCode=1050834), they will, in fact, be attending not a play.
Or, as the director puts it, “This is a Play is more of a salad than a play, in my opinion.”
I apologize in advance if I have ruined the reputation of all those involved in this exposé, but it is my sworn duty as a blog writer to keep the public properly informed.
Photography by Paolo Arceo