There are a few people in RVA whose presence in the audience of a show I'm doing excites me just a bit more. Dave and Liz White, Stacie Rearden Hall, Maura Burroughs, and several other sometime collaborators always guarantee an erudite discussion of the craft of theatre after the show, and the only thing I love as much as creating art is discussing the creation of art. In the same vein, when David Timberline sees a show I've directed I get a little extra-excited to see what he's going to say. His criticism is always intelligent, always fair, and always invites discussion.
Dave saw Joe Jackson's Night and Day
last night. No fair sitting in the front row, by the way (though that
wasn't nearly as distracting as Tim Kaine striking up a conversation
with me ten seconds before my entrance last Sunday. Turns out Tim and
Anne are huge Joe Jackson fans. Who knew?). Dave's take on the show
was published on his blog this afternoon. As is so often the case with
his writing, it got my mind whirling with deep thoughts and
counter-arguments. And that's what this blog is for, friends.
"Concert musical" is the term I've been using to describe JJND
for the past few months, and I've never been entirely happy with it.
Dave's reaction to the show's lack of narrative brought my
dissatisfaction home, and hard. Celia Wren eloquently described the piece in the Times-Dispatch a couple weeks ago thus: "Built around an onstage band, Hamm's production wasn't a play per se.
Rather, he drew out, expanded and interlinked narrative elements in
Jackson's albums, turning the songs into musical scenes and sketches
featuring recurring characters. A principal storyline, concerning a New York-based songwriter
striving to capture the city's energy in a catchy tune, added unity."
Finally this week, words that resonate came to mind: Joe Jackson's Night and Day isn't musical theatre. It's theatrical music.
reason this terminology is so important is evident in Dave's completely
reasonable response to the show's lack of through-lines. In coming from
a theatrical standpoint, he walked into the theatre with storytelling,
character-fulfilling expectations that the material not only doesn't
meet, but doesn't even care about. The comparison with Tommy is telling and, in my humble opinion, quite mistaken; Tommy
is in absolutely no way a "concert musical;" it's an entirely
traditional book musical that just happens to have rock music at its
core. It's full of dialogue songs, storyline, and characters with
beginnings, middles, and ends. Joe Jackson's Night and Day makes no attempt at any of these things.
to have the same aesthetic resonance as a play is like reading a
collection of Chekhov short stories and expecting them to result in a
novel, or like seeing David Mamet's New York Stories and expecting them to result in Glengarry Glen Ross. The best theatrical analogue to JJND that I can think of is Neil Simon's The Good Doctor,
a collection of short plays based on Chekhov stories and linked
together by a Writer character who has several monologues and acts as a
narrator. But even that isn't quite right, because the scenes in The Good Doctor
are all little plays in and of themselves, with traditional
storytelling narrative. A better example would be Randall Kenan's short
story collection Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, which I'm fairly certain no one I know has ever read, making it a moot instance. But trust me, it's good.
are like short fiction or poetry in that they don't have any
requirement to tell story, only to create imagery. I hate hate hate jukebox musicals, and the thing that distinguishes JJND from jukebox musicals is that it very specifically refuses to shoehorn story and character development into the material in order to spoon-feed connective tissue to the audience. JJND is still in development, and has changed a lot in the past 12 years, but it will never ever ever
have an over-arching story, nor will the characters go from point A to
point Z. Instead, we see sketches of lives, point D through J, L through
M, R through V.
We are creating something unique with Joe Jackson's Night and Day,
and it is as much a challenge to the audience as it has been to the
artists. We welcome the challenge, even if it means that the show
occasionally hits audience members bonk on the brain a bit. I'm
glad that the show's critics have had questions and disagreements with
our choices, because they will help us grow the show for October's New
York showcase, as well as future iterations. And I love talking about the craft of theatre!
now, we have two shows left and limited seats. I invite you to let the
show wash over you like songs, not like scenes. Come out to Joe Jackson's Night and Day and see what all the fuss is about.