When Are You Seeing Which Way To The Stage?
You have until May 22nd at MCC, though I suspect this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Jeff and Judy.
This piece is somewhat of a review, but mostly it’s non-sponsored promotional content. No explicit spoilers because I’m not a jerk!
Firstly, MCC is modeling the kind of theater community I want to see more often-
- Community nights
- Accessibility and COVID safety
- A range of price points
- Good art
I’m sure there is always room for improvement; G-d is in the details, but I’m highlighting something good.
Now for this show.
Full disclosure, I knew or knew of about 50% of the folks involved before the show was on my radar and have since communicated with most of them because it speaks to me.
People need to see this play because there are conversations within this play that we avoid having above hushed tones in the musical theatre industry. So here are some musings on those topics of discussion:
FANDOM: I'm not fond of the term fan. I especially have a hard time being called one or even calling myself one. I wrote a play during the pandemic called FanDom; it’s a whole thing. So I appreciate that this show, Which Way to the Stage, shows the best and worst of fan culture. If I were to call myself a fan, I’d say I’m a fan of this show and its team. However, where fandom can get murky is diva worship: parasocial ownership over a specific person and their work.
GENDER: Hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity [and the notion of gender as performance] are at the heart of this play. It’s entertaining watching cis people, even straight cis people, sort out their relationship to gender. It’s important to understand that we all have one, and Ana Nogueira gives each character weight and depth in their journey.
LABELS AND TERMS: Musical theatre is a society of boxes, labels, and types beyond real life. Calling them into question is essential. The other aspect of labels and terms is the dialogue about the reclamation and use of particular four to six-letter words. The punching up, down, and laterally discourse surrounding comedy and life as a whole comes into the work in a lovely way, as does the double-edged survival mechanism/privilege of being able to disassociate from labels. The play also sees and subverts a lot of familiar tropes about people.
SCARCITY: Using NYC real estate, the theatre industry, signing autographs, and even personal relationship dynamics, Nogueira explores the scarcity mindset, the idea that there’s no room for everyone keeps us competing and divided and miserable. This topic also relates to punching up/down/laterally because we marginalized people fight amongst ourselves due to scarcity.
There is beautiful work bringing such vital topics and fun banter on Ana Nogueira's part, with Mike Donahue’s direction balancing the fun and profundity of the piece.
Liz Caplan and Paul McGill bring elements from the musical theatre world to a PLAY; I love to see it.
Domino Couture and Enver Chakartash bring the elements of gender performance to each character with their hair/makeup/wig/costume design.
The ambiance and setting were like another performer in this piece, thanks to great scenic work by Adam Rigg, lighting by Jen Schriever and Mextly Couzin, and sound design by Sinan Refik Zafar.
And that pre-show playlist is worth the price of admission alone. Who did that?
Oh, do you want to know how the acting was?
As co-tagonists, Max Jenkins and Sas Goldberg have been with the show for a moment, which is clear. They have such comfort with one another up on that stage, making their conflict all the more painful and natural to watch. I know a million Jeffs, a million Judys, a million “Jeff and Judy”s, and I’ve been on both sides of that relationship/argument. I know; how Joni Mitchell of me!
Goldberg’s wit and humor is coupled with a level of authenticity rarely seen onstage, as is said of her character in the play, “she’s the realest bitch.” Accurate.
In what is clearly a role handcrafted for Jenkins, he is sincere and sly and fierce and fallible. He is easy to identify with while being incredibly in depth with his own idiosyncracies.
Evan Todd performs a role that I don’t think we’ve really seen done as multidimensionally before. His characterization is earnest and trying to be more vulnerable than your typical “bro.”
Michelle Ventimillia is her own play. She plays three roles, all of which have their own look and voice and demeanor, and she steals the show. Her collection of characters say a lot about how women must shapeshift.
I could talk about it for ages, but I promised no spoilers. I’ll be seeing it at least once more. So join me, won’t you?