Sunday, March 4, 2012

Guys and Dolls

Last year, the sensei of our dojo auditioned for a spot in Rent, and was chosen to play Benny. This year, they asked him to play Lt. Brannigan in Guys and Dolls, as well as two other minor roles. We were commenting on how he has been typecast*, but it is kind of nice to get called up without auditioning. I get the impression that there are very few black guys studying theater here.

We went to see him last night. It was an interesting experience for me, because I had seen the play before. Years ago, my family went to see it at a community theater. Before watching the play, I only dimly remembered bits of it, but as I watched it, I started to remember a lot more, so that I always knew what was coming next and was comparing the two versions.

Here, the play started with a video montage of Times Square, New York, starting in the modern era and going back in time, with images of cultural icons from each decade it passed through, before stopping in the 1930's. It was a very good way to set the scene. The curtain opened on all the actors standing so uncannily still that they looked like statues, and then they started moving all at once.

In the community theater version, Lt. Brannigan was portrayed as a lovable incompetent oaf. In this one, he was cold and menacing, filling the other characters with fear. A mutual friend mentioned to me at the climbing wall today that sensei would make a very good cop. Considering how he manages the dojo with an air of law and authority, I definitely agree.

But Snesei also played the announcer for the Hot Box Girls, and then he was a totally different person. The dojo ribbed him for being 'black Elvis' and 'Disco Stu'. He also played one of the extras in the nightclub in Hanana. I do not remember a fight in the community theater version, but here there was a giant rumble. Everyone from the dojo complained at how clumsy and off-balanced everyone looked, and commented how it much have been painful for Sensei to fight so badly.

Part of this is the requirement of being a stage actor. Every movement has to be massive and exaggerated, in order to convey emotion to the back row.

Because this was a college production, everything got amped up. The two chorus songs with Adelaide and the Hot Box Girls were almost as racy as an actual seedy 1930's nightclub, stripping down to period underwear for the "Take Back Your Mink" song, and subtly highlighting several double entendres in some of the other songs and acts that I do not remember from the community theater version. Tone of voice can really change what people hear.

The facts that the play changes every time, and that you are often more aware of the people playing the roles, make theater a very different art form than film.

*It is not just the theater people who typecast him as 'the bad guy'. Here's another example of a stage performance featuring him.

No comments: