Wednesday, August 25, 2010

FringeNYC: Picking Palin, Lenny's Dead, and The Hyperbolist

It’s August 22, 2010 and I have finally finished my Year of Plays.  Fifty-two plays in three hundred and sixty five days and I feel fantastic.  I was always confident I would pull it off – making myself accountable to you all pretty much sealed my fate on that score – but it was a big undertaking and I’m very proud to have finished.  It feels momentous.  Of course I’m not truly done, as there is still the matter of writing about these last three shows.  Perhaps you’d like to count down with me, 3-2-1?


Picking Palin
Performance Date: 08.18.10
FringeNYC Venue #2: Connelly Theater

Ever find yourself wondering, How the hell did Sarah Palin come into my life?  I know I have.  The woman is just so very special.  Thankfully for those of us needing an answer, Picking Palin goes a long way toward providing one.  The play takes place during the last week of August 2008, with Barack Obama poised to finally accept his party’s nomination in Denver, and the McCain camp scrambling to decide what worthy candidate will round out the Republican ticket.  Under the mounting pressure of night after successful night over at the DNC – recall the huge stadium, Hillary’s unifying address, Barack reaching the apex of his political stardom – McCain’s top-level strategists duke it out in a hotel room over how best to play the election’s endgame, and who best to usher their side to victory. 

I love political process stories – both real life and fictional – so I enjoyed tracking the compelling arguments that were ostensibly aired (hopefully aired? regrettably aired?) within the McCain camp before asking Palin to join the ticket.  What sticks with me now, however, is the strange effect of watching a play about highly charged events that happened only two years ago.  At times, it felt like reading a book with my face too close to the page – not enough distance to have a clear perspective.  At other times, I felt I was walking with dinosaurs – so much has happened in our country since then that the events of the play seemed downright, even quaintly, sepia-toned.  And yet it was just two years ago.  The combined effect made me feel a little queasy, like walking through a funhouse hall of mirrors.

‘Queasy’ sounds like a criticism but I don’t mean it to be.  In fact I find that reaction rather telling.  Queasy is how I feel, for example, when I wake up the morning after a party and worry about what I said in a tipsy moment.  I remember the details clearly enough to know it’s not that big a deal, but the sense of having been just a little out of control, just off-center enough to be unsure of my behavior – that makes me feel queasy.  Picking Palin reveals that the last election is an analogous experience for me.  I was awash in emotion during that time – the unbearable, swelling optimism that Obama inspired in me, the vitriolic scorn I felt for Palin, the disappointment that was McCain.   I remember the details enough to know I wouldn’t take back anything I said or did in those days, and (in case you were wondering) I’ve been happy with the job our President has done so far.  But I can also admit to that having that same sense of off-centeredness, of having been just a little bit out of control – and it was not until Picking Palin that I had occasion to notice it. 

That’s a useful observation for me.  I add it to my evolving perspective on politics and the media.  I add it to my growing awareness that when I decide to listen to and care about the arguments presented in the political/cable news arena, I am deciding to enter a meme-war.  And in meme-wars, the participants are all conscripted to serve as soldiers for one side or the other.  If we have enough presence of mind – as I feel I did in 2008 – we can ensure the memes we solider for align with our values.  But even when that’s the case, we’re still following orders handed down from up on high, from somewhere other than ourselves.  Our words and actions are not entirely under our control.  We are off our centers.  And even if we don't want to change that exactly, it’s still a good thing to keep that in mind.


Lenny’s Dead
Performance Date: 08.18.10
FringeNYC Venue #3: The Kraine Theater

This play has got me thinking about writing as catharsis.  Writing as a way to purge oneself of something stuck inside.  Writing as the exorcism of a story from one’s soul.  It’s no wonder the play has led me here.  Lenny’s Dead begins and ends with a man needing to just that – exorcise a story from his soul. 

The man in question is Hank, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and the story is what really happened to his friend Lenny, killed by enemy fire thirty-nine years ago.  To aid Hank in his catharsis is Lenny himself – appearing to us and to Hank as a ghost, or perhaps the embodied memory of the man.  Lenny insists Hank has been hiding from the truth for far too long and he is determined to see the whole story finally come out.

Augmenting this writing as exorcism idea is the knowledge that Hank is performed in this production by the playwright himself, and that Lenny’s Dead is the gentleman’s first play.  This suggests to me the possibility that the story of Hank must be, in some fashion, rooted in the facts of the playwright’s life.  It must be his story that we are exorcising here.  Of course I could be wrong; it could all be utterly fictional.  But there was a certain innocence about the production, a guilelessness that makes me suspect I’m right.

It doesn’t matter either way.  What I like is the thought of someone carrying around a bit of shadow inside him, a knowledge within himself that he doesn’t particularly want to see.  And perhaps it doesn’t bother him all that much, or maybe it does, but he always knows that its there.  And then, one day, rather than continuing to carry that shadow around – which is completely within his right to do – he decides instead to take a deeper look at it.  To examine that place inside himself.  To shine some light into that hidden space and see just what it is he finds. 

What I like even more is using the act of writing to aid in that examination.  I think writing is one of the best tools we humans have for self-discovery.  And the more we use it for that purpose, the better we get at it.  The better we get at precisely defining our thoughts, feelings, and ideas.  The better we get at noticing when we have a stone left unturned within us.  The more dissatisfied we are to leave those shadows there unchecked.

If you’ve never picked up a pen to sweep out those darker places inside you, I suggest you do it.  It feels incredible, as I suppose all catharsis does when it is over.  You don’t have to know where you’re going when you start.  In fact, you don’t have to know anything at all.  Just begin.  You will discover what you need to along the way.  And you just might surprise yourself and end up with a play.


The Hyperbolist
Performance Date: 08.22.10
FringeNYC Venue #18: HERE Arts Center, Dorothy B. Williams Theater

I couldn’t have asked for a better show with which to end my Year of Plays.  It was such a delightful experience.  It had all my favorite things in it.  Wit and whimsy.  Words -- such words -- and wiggly eyebrows.  Tradition and innovation.  Craft and inspiration.  Physicality, philosophy, and film.  Puppets.  Can’t forget the puppets.  And of course at its center, the absolutely essential element for all utterly Anna-approved works of art, a great big beating heart.  Love!  That was the theme of the day in this collection of works by Joe Mazza.  And not just any love, but pure love, fundamental love.  The kind that makes you blush when you witness it in the physical intimacies of Dante and Florence, your pair of trained circus fleas.

I don’t want to share too much about this show because there are two shows left and I think you should just see it.  But I will say that Joe Mazza strikes me as the kind of artist I admire most – the kind who makes whatever art is in his heart, in whatever form, for whatever reason.  The kind who follows his own fun without bothering to wonder if others will come along.  The kind who gets satisfaction in the doing of art, rather than in doing art “right.”  Because the art he does is right, just by virtue of him doing it.  He is incredibly talented -- in his writing, his puppeteering, his Keaton-esque clowning on film, his command over his body and face, his music -- and he also just seemed like a really nice guy.  Greeting each of us as we sat in the theater waiting for the show to began, Mazza created an atmosphere of creative conspiracy that was warm and welcoming.  He was casual, gracious and charming, with a comedic flair somewhere in the vicinity of a refined Robin Williams with a vocabulary the size of the OED.  Apocape.  I learned that word within four seconds of me sitting down and I knew immediately I was in for a treat.

The Hyperbolist is an entertaining little gem in the Fringe and I'm glad I found it.  And I'm glad it is the production that puts the period on my playgoing project.  You should check it out and maybe start a playgoing project of your own.


So that’s it folks.  That’s the official end of A Year of Plays.  It’s truly been a pleasure writing these posts, and I hope you have enjoyed reading them.  I highly recommend embarking on some similar adventure for yourself.  There is nothing like immersion to teach you something new about a subject.

As for the future, my immediate plans are to go to Burning Man.  Seriously.  I leave on Saturday.  But when I return, the blog will resume.  Come on, you didn't think you could get rid of me that easily, did you?  Especially not when I enjoy writing the sound of my voice so much.  So meet me back here in mid-September.  It will still be called A Year of Plays, but I'm relieving myself of the play-a-week structure.  I do plan on keeping up the regular attendance in the theater though and I also hope to keep writing about art without reviewing it.  What will change is my scope of inquiry, so to speak.  I plan on loosening up on what "counts" as theater and am really looking forward to considering more unconventional forms.  Burning Man of course is at the top of the list for new subjects.  So you have that to look forward to.

In the meantime, please check out my upcoming appearance on the New York Innovative Theater blog -- should be up some time today.  NYIT guest blogger Neal J. Freeman, a good friend and longtime collaborator of mine, interviews me about the conclusion of this year long project and about writing without reviewing it.  It was a fun interview and hopefully will be an interesting read.

Until later, my friends.  Thank you once again for all your support.  It has meant the world to me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

FringeNYC: Running, Get Rich Cheating, and Tiny Geniuses

Performance Date: 08.13.10
FringeNYC Venue #14: The Cherry Pit

Get Rich Cheating 
Performance Date: 08.15.10
FringeNYC Venue #16: The Soho Playhouse

Tiny Geniuses 
Performance Date: 08.15.10
FringeNYC Venue #17: Here Arts Center Mainstage

Welcome to the last two (official) weeks of A Year of Plays.  Thankfully, these weeks coincide with the New York International Fringe Festival, when the city has plays coming out its ears every moment of the day.  If I’m a woman of my word, and I mean to be, I’ve got six shows to see before August 23rd.  Thus I am pleased as punch that this past weekend I saw three of them.

I should warn you though that I am currently in a fog of psychosomatic illness.  I decided last night to take a sick day today because I was starting to feel run down.  I imagined I would spend it as a productive mental health day – sleep late, wake up refreshed, tidy the house, work out, catch up on the To Do list.  Instead, my brain heard “sick day” and figured it needed to actually make my body sick.  Funny little brain.  So now I feel sort of thick-tonsilled and fuzzy-headed which is making it difficult to weave a cohesive thesis out of my Fringe experience thus far.

All the same, I do feel that these three shows – as far-ranging as they are in style – each made me alight near the topic of naturalism.  I’m not sure that’s the right word, so I’ll also throw in the adjectives real, believable, and authentic.  I fear I’m in danger of making you fuzzy-headed too, so let me dive in, tackling each show on its own.


This play is essentially a long conversation between a man and a woman over the course of a single night.  It’s performed by two veteran actors whose ease on stage is apparent the moment they make their entrance together, mid-dialogue.  This ease was so great that, at moments, their performances were nearly indistinguishable from real life, as if the audience were listening in on two people’s actual interaction.  It was very finely acted – I was particularly enamored of the male actor’s subtle specificity – and yet I wasn’t sure how to feel about the eavesdropping nature of my experience.  Not because I felt I was intruding on a private moment, but because historically I’ve considered vérité a liability in theater.

It has been my unchecked belief that theater is not meant to be actual-life-sized.  That theater is not meant to replicate life, but to translate it somehow.  Make it bigger, make it smaller.  Distill it, decorate it, distort it.  Shove it through a new lens, like Play-Doh through the Fuzzy Pumper, and extrude it into a new shape.  Even when the chosen style of a piece is naturalism (or realism or whatever the proper dramaturgical term is), I’ve always believed it must not be exactly like “real life.”  Indeed, the very nature of theater – that there are performers, an audience, a tacit agreement about why we’re there – prevents it from being exactly like real life.  (Except when “real life” is going to or performing in a play, but we’ve already covered that postmodern ground together.)  When actors seem to ignore this fact, the result feels too private and indulgent for me, as if the performer couldn’t care less that I was there at all.  And I guess I take that personally.  So I’ve always preferred that performances and productions embrace their not-realness, and that actors lift their energy, even slightly, to include me.

However, this actor in Running – I don’t think I can say his energy on stage was any higher than it would be for a man having a late night conversation with a woman in his apartment.  And yet as I said, I was enamored of his performance all the same.  I did not find it too private or indulgent. I felt included in his awareness.  So I’m a bit at a loss—still confused.  Are my tastes for “life-sized” theater changing?  Or was this piece of theater, and this man’s performance, not actually life-sized?  I think maybe both.  I’m just not sure in what proportions.

Get Rich Cheating 

Get Rich Cheating is my friend Jeff Kreisler’s one man show, billed as a Tony Robbins-type wealth-building seminar that promises to make your greedy little dreams come true through some good old fashioned cheating.  Rife with examples of real-life cheating “heroes” such as Bernie Madoff, AIG, and A-Rod, the show is a flat out satire – but of a surprisingly natural kind.

Jeff has a formidable intelligence, a robust moral center, and a wicked sense of humor.  These combine perfectly to create the ironic social commentary that blazes, nearly undisguised, behind his character’s cherubic grin.  Yet at the same time, Get Rich Cheating as a seminar feels disturbingly believable, as if it’s just a hair away from being an actual self-help phenomenon that could be sweeping our helpless nation tomorrow.  In fact, if you took the glint of intellect from Jeff’s eyes and replaced it with a vacuous sincerity, I would not be surprised to find this show on TV in the wee hours, right between the DebtBuster infomercial and the Shake Weights for Men ad. It’s a bizarre duality.  A show that is clearly not what it says it is, and yet is this close to being so.  I attribute that to shrewd observance on the part of the show's creative team as well as to the bleak reality of our current culture.

Thinking about that “life-sized” idea again, here is a show that takes a real life truth and translates it through satire, character, and humor.  There is nothing actual-life-sized about it.  Except, except… I do think it’s worth noting that a few of my favorite moments were when Jeff was playing off-the-cuff with members of the audience, and engaging in some real-time, real-life interaction. Jeff remained in character and therefore within the parody, so perhaps those moments can’t be called “actual-life-sized.”  But they did have an authenticity – an actualness – that deeply appealed to me.

By the way, actualness?  Who do I think I am?  Stephen “Truthiness” Colbert?

Tiny Geniuses 

Gosh I just really liked this show.  It was just super duper delicious and fun.  For starters, everyone in it looked so shiny and new and impossibly young, which is sort of unsettling because I could have sworn I was too young to think any adult person was impossibly young.   But they had more going for them than their youth. They were terrific actors, all of them.  They displayed playful comedic chops, open emotional access, and authentic moment-to-moment interaction. They were grounded and aware. They handled the absurdist aspects of the play with confidence, balancing exuberance in some moments with restraint in others.  Their ensemble connection was undeniable.  They were authentic. They were having fun.  And despite this embarrassment of riches, there seemed to be nothing smug about them.  They just seemed to be doing what they enjoyed to do.  Though perhaps if they catch wind of all this effusive praise I’m throwing their way, maybe some smugness will come upon them.

Tiny Geniuses is a comedy about an elementary school for the gifted that has been corrupted by the insecure, narcissistic, and down right batty adults that run the little brainiacs' lives.  Nearly all the characters in this play might be classified as over-the-top whack jobs if it weren’t for the fact that they’re so delightfully human.  There’s the insecure Principal Pineapple who is so pathologically lonely she conducts a romance with her companion teddy bear.  There’s the wealthy Mommy and Daddy who sling their venomous banter just slightly over their young daughter’s head.  And there’s the combined innocence and cruelty of the Gateway School’s children, played believably yet with clownish skill by the adult cast.  And then at the center of this stylized maelstrom is the charming Finola Applebaum, a teacher with a heart of gold and our relatable straight-man in this sea of insanity. 

I find the juxtaposition of outsized abusrdism and relatable naturalism really intriguing in this show.  I feel it is handled very well.  Ms. Applebaum's character – as "real-life" as she seems – always remains within the absurd world of the show.  Her character never comments on the wackiness around her, but deals with it authentically, as it were all just a part of her ordinary life.  A similar juxtaposition can be found within each character portrayal as well.  In one moment, you gape at the playground tyrant as she viciously blackmails Ms. Pineapple by threatening to withold the principal's regular cootie shot, and in the next moment, you witness the child's genuine hurt at her self-involved mother's neglect.  It's a delightful little magic trick to watch the style change so seamlessly moment to moment.

So there we have it.  Three shows down and three to go.  This whole life sized/real life/naturalistic/authentic thread is a bit of a tangled mess, but there are some good strands in there to keep tugging on.  Particularly the bias against "life-sized" theater.  I'm pretty sure there are a couple different concepts I currently have confused and need to separate within that argument.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In God's Hat

Performance Date: 08.04.10
Apothecary Theater Company, The Peter Jay Sharp Theater

When I think about Apothecary Theater Company's recent production, In God's Hat, I get that street-wise mug on my face that says... Respect.  You know, eyebrows up, pursed mouth with the corners turned down, nodding head slowly.  Usually this look is reserved for appraising the impressive work of a rival peer, but to consider these artists my peers, let alone my rivals, is perhaps a mite ambitious.  Having mounted this show in an Off-Broadway house, Apothecary seems to have been around the block a few times.  My theater company has a total of zero productions to it's name.  In fact my theater company only has a name.  And some interested parties.  And big dreams.  But you can understand why I see my dreams mirrored in this company; they are a group of alums from a respected theater program finding power in their collective talents, which is what my company would look like.  So I see Apothecary and think, There is no reason I can't be doing this too.  I guess in reality I feel like a good JV player watching the Varsity team bring home another victory.  Happy that they'd won, impressed by their feat, but wishing I'd been out there.  So what is it about these guys that has me so green eyed?  And what can I learn from them that will get me off the bench?

For starters, they picked a really good play.  Really good.  A tense, character-driven thriller set in an Oklahoma motel room where two estranged brothers (one a freshly paroled pedophile) have stopped for the night.  It brought to mind a Coen brothers film by way of Sam Shepard - filled with suspense, pathos, clear but complex relationships, and a dark sense of humor.  The dialogue, which was entertaining and tight, seemed to grow organically just from having these men in a room together, and yet it simultaneously revealed the evolution of an enticing plot.  Not only do you wonder what is going to happen in this play, you care about what happens too.  A new play with all of this going for it amounts to an enormous leg up for an emergent theater company.  New York is teeming with young companies and one excellent way to set yourself apart is to have a brilliant new play to help garner attention.  Finding worthy new plays takes time, which is hard when the impulse is to get out there and just do something already, but Apothecary appears to have demonstrated patience.  They found this play through their Development Series, where it received a staged reading last year.  Duly noted.

Next up - and it's kinda crass for me to talk about this in my oh so sophisticated let's contribute to the public discourse about arts blog - but Apothecary looked like they had money.  And I was impressed.  I'm sorry, but it's true.  And what is also true, no matter how much it sucks, is that if you look like you have money in this world, people will treat you better.  Theater is no exception.  If your show looks expensive, audiences and critics will take you more seriously.  Of course, looking expensive is no substitute for substance, and killer performances and direction will stand out no matter how poor the surroundings.  But if you can demonstrate substance and look good doing it?  That's a much better recipe for success.

So how'd they do it?  And can you replicate that look without money?  Well let's see.  The first spendy item on display was their venue - a beautiful 128 seat house on Theater Row.  Venue rental is usually the largest expense on a production budget and it's kind of hard to land a great venue at a cheap price.  But a good deal is possible, especially if you have connections or are simply a great negotiator.  The second high-price indicator was set design.  Here there is definitely room to fake it.  My brother, who is a sickly talented scenic designer, spent most of his early career making shows look phenomenal on absolutely zero budget.  In Apothecary's case, it seems that smart allocation of funds was also part of their strategy.  From the looks of it, most of their design dollars went wisely into a believable replication of the run-down motel room where the majority of the action takes place.  This left the remaining scenes to fare for themselves downstage in front of a closed curtain with audience imagination filling in the rest, but that didn't detract from the impression the other set left.  Third and lastly, cool graphic design put an extra polish on Apothecary's moneyed impression.  Their professionally designed playbill cover made them look particularly hip and together.  Sounds small, but it's the little details that make a difference.

Finally, I have to talk about Apothecary's ensemble.  These actors had the unmistakeable connection that comes from a long history of working closely together.  I'm not envious of that in itself because I have the same thing going with my own graduate school cohorts.  But what I am envious of is the satisfaction Apothecary must feel in the fact that they are doing it.  Actor dreams usually come in two stripes - fame and fortune a la Oscars and Tonys, or making your own success in a tight, ensemble company a la Steppenwolf or Wooster or the Group.  Over the past five years, I've worked toward both dreams, but I suspect true happiness lies in the latter.  There is something special about the relationships one forms in graduate school - or I suppose any place where artists gather to study intensely and at length - and as you venture forth to seek your success, sometimes it's watching your friends struggle that hurts the most.  Why?  Because you know, without a doubt, how insanely talented they all are.  And you know without a doubt, that when you get on a stage with them, something special happens.  So to do what Apothecary has done - to go from dream to reality, to form a company that allows you and your talented friends to work, to organize and fundraise effectively enough to persist over time, and to gain recognition together, as Apothecary has with In God's Hat - whew!  I can only imagine how good that must feel. 

Only imagine, that is, until I take action and do it too.

Update and addendum:  After publishing this post, I took a closer look into Apothecary's website, thinking I should get in touch with these fine folks and see if I can pick somebody's brain.  In so doing I found the following quote, as if in answer to my last line above:

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision raising in one’s favour all manner of unforseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamt would have come their way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

— Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

American Idiot

Performance Date: 07.21.10
St. James Theatre

I tried to make this post on Green Day’s American Idiot about narrative, but it didn’t work. I was probably over-reaching or maybe I was just tired, but either way, I came off sounding like a first year grad student talking out her ass to her Freshman Lit students. Making up all kinds of definitions, generalizing based on hunches gleaned from personal experience, blathering about narratives of plot, personal narratives, and cultural narratives. It was all pomp and no circumstance, and before I got too far my Yada Yada Yada ref threw a yellow card and I had to toss the whole thing out. So Instead, I will tell you this:

In 1994 and 1995, I listened to Green Day’s breakthrough album “Dookie” on a constant loop. I was a sophomore in college. The album made me feel punk when I was decidedly suburban, which I think is an exact reflection of Green Day’s place in the cultural landscape at that time. I knew that Green Day was about as lightweight as you could get in the punk universe without completely ejecting from it, but that didn’t matter in the slightest. “Dookie” made me feel rebellious, alienated, and edgy, and that was exactly what this nineteen-year-old Dean’s List student from Palo Alto needed. Listening to Green Day made me feel that there was more to me than met the eye.

In 1998, my friend Sally took me and twenty of our coworkers to see the musical Rent in Reno. She had been a devoted fan since the first national tour kicked off in her college town and had already seen the musical some 15 times. By the time our caravan of twenty-somethings left that fair city, I was similarly hooked. The central anthem of the musical, “No Day But Today,” twanged a chord in me that I still find hard to describe. Top notes plucking the exuberant yearning of my inner infatuation-addicted teenagerRoger loves Mimi but he’s afraid! – and bottom notes thrumming more philosophically to themes of choosing innocence in the face of cynicism, and optimism in the face of pain. Over the next few years, I too saw the musical nearly 15 times.

In 2001, September 11th happened and so began many years of me struggling to comprehend what the f*ck was going on in the world. In the immediate aftermath, I could not saturate myself deeply enough with the images and stories from the attack. I watched the news obsessively, thirsty for and yet horrified by each new video that captured another perspective on the explosions, the billowing plumes of smoke, the people falling, the streets below. In those few days, the television felt like a tribal elder passing on a history that I was duty-bound to remember. But that quickly changed. I soon learned that the TV was not to be trusted, even as my dependence on it deepened, and that nobody on TV was to be trusted either.

This post is about narrative after all. These three narratives from my life explain perfectly why American Idiot resonated so successfully with me, despite the musical lacking a strong theatrical narrative to tie Green Day’s songs together. Traditional narrative (the story of what happens) isn’t the only way to engage an audience. Reflecting an audience member’s personal narrative (the story of me) or a cultural narrative to which she feels attached (the story of us) can work just as well. Hearing the tight harmonies and driving percussion of Green Day’s music blaring from the stage connected me to that nineteen-year-old trying a new identity on for size. Appreciating the rocking-out performance style and multi-level scaffolding set that American Idiot shares with its predecessor Rent connected me to the exhilaration of that long dormant rock musical addiction. Seeing a wall of television screens replay the imagery of this past decade’s media history, hearing the lyrics of political dissent and social unrest, and watching a projection of a skyscaper's worth of loose leaf paper blowing in the air – these experiences clearly connected me with our country’s journey in the years since 9/11. None of these elements from American Idiot tell the story of what happens to the characters on stage, but for this individual, they do tell in part the story of me and the story of us. And that kept me engaged.