Tuesday, May 25, 2010

City of Angels

Performance Date: 05.16.10
The Gallery Players

This is killing me.  I’ve had this blog post half-written for about a week now but had to scrap the whole thing because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to finish it.  And I had some lines in there I really liked.  Like how I’m not really a connoisseur of musical theater, and how that statement will come as a surprise to my boyfriend.  And how I love singing, in general, and singing in unison especially, and singing with FEELING molto especially, but that makes me a fan not a connoisseur. (I particularly liked the “molto especially.”)  And even though I’m cleverly getting those lines in here in this new post, it’s not the same. Context is everything.

This is not a case of me floundering for something to write because I didn’t actually like the show.  That has happened before, but not this time.  I really liked City of Angels.  It’s a smart musical about a writer in 1940’s Los Angeles who is trying to adapt his detective novel into a screenplay.  While he struggles with how much to compromise his artistic integrity on the road to fame and fortune, we also watch the plot of his film noir, narrating-gumshoe story unfold before us.  While both these narratives progress pretty much the way you think they would, the interplay between them – how his real life affects his adaptation and vice versa – creates a suspense that keeps you engaged throughout.  Add to that a pretty much flawless cast and a complex, jazz-inspired score, and I was thoroughly charmed.

No, I floundered on my earlier draft because I was trying to write about “smart writing” and I wrote myself into a corner, which wasn't very smart.  Basically, I had no choice but to define what constitutes “smart writing” and connect City of Angels to AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and the Pulitzer Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

All I really wanted to point out is that it is so satisfying to encounter good, smart writing these days.  It’s almost vindicating: Yes! Thank you! Thank you, [insert author of well-written work]. Thank you for being out there fighting the good fight.  Because there is so much bad writing out there.  Or perhaps more accurately, there is just so much writing out there period – movies, TV, news editorials, niche-cable shows, faux-reality series, magazines, webisodes, blogs, blog aggregators, tweets, vampire young adult fiction with poor female role models – and the law of averages makes the majority of it, well, average.  Dutiful consumer that I am, I absorb a ton of this mediocrity on a daily basis (the diet starts tomorrow), so when I encounter a morsel that is well-crafted and considered, or that takes risks and trusts its audience, it makes me want to dunk a basketball and hang from the rim or something.  Tackle a teammate and pound his helmet into the ground.  Rip my jersey off and let loose a primal scream in my sports bra.  That kind of thing.

City of Angels gave me a bit of that feeling.  Not at first, when we were just setting up the two worlds and alternating back and forth, but a little later, when the storylines began to twist into their double-helix.  That’s when I started sitting up in my chair, leaning forward and watching closely.  Like my dog Gabby used to when I’d hide in the pantry with the dog treats and she knew a biscuit would shortly come sliding out from under the door.  That’s when I started to marvel at a film noir musical that could satisfy every last genre expectation but still manage to keep its audience guessing.  It’s not easy to do that.  It takes effort.  And smarts.  Just as it takes effort and smarts to write a television show that has never once backed away from the dares it sets itself on a weekly basis (“Breaking Bad”), or a novel with a narrative voice so unapologetically specific it must have made some weak-hearted publishing exec quake with the fear of leaving audiences behind (Oscar Wao).

These are the folks that are fighting the good fight out there, be they battles large or small.  You know of many others who are doing the same.  Tell me about them.  And I’ll tell my friends.  And then we can all bum rush the field and pour Gatorade on each other and weep with the relief of having endured a very long season of proliferating mediocrity in popular culture.  Sigh.  Like I said, the diet starts tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sad that I missed this at the Gallery Players--I haven't been able to make it out there for a show in such a long time. Glad to hear it was well done. As if almost anything there could not be.

    As for good writers fighting the good fight, I reviewed it myself a while back, but Barbara Kingsolver's "The Lacuna" is amaaaaaazzzzzing. I haven't been able to stop raving about that book for like 5 months now. It gave me that feeling, too, except that I was so stunned at the good writing that I just couldn't move. The reviewers who called it her most mediocre book just didn't get it.