The Sound Inside – 3/5 Stars
Written by Adam Rapp and starring Mary Louise Parker, this play is about a writing professor who had had some very minor success early in her career with a debut novel, and now almost 20 years later finds herself with no second novel, and worse, terminal cancer. In the play she thinks and talks about multiple topics, but the play is shaped around her interactions with a male student, young in the way she was once young, and fragile in a way different from the way she is fragile now. As they talk, there’s clearly some kind of connection being discussed and formed between the two of them. This comes off as possibly sexual at first, and the so the play takes on the shape of something like David Mamet’s Oleanna, but this ends up being the wrong read or things shift rather. He is a huge fan of her first novel and they discuss it, discuss the time in between its publishing and now, discuss his writing, and discuss her present. This leads the two of them to have a frank and honest discussion about an important decision of hers that she faces and his possible role in that.
The play is interesting, but like a lot of Audible Originals it’s not really a play so much as an audioplay. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s a shape different from the the idea of a play. This is two disembodied voices, with no physicality. And this difference makes the who thing, like the title itself, somewhat ethereal.
Men’s Health – 3/5 Stars
A lot of penis references and jokes in this one as Tony Shaloub plays a Hungarian immigrant to the US who is now a urologist/men’s health doctor. Santino Fontana plays his recent patient, a television writer nee failed fiction writer, who has begun coming to the doctor’s office looking for treatment for lumps in his penis. The first test of course is to see if the lumps are cancerous, and they are not. Instead, they are some kind of calcium or plaque deposits from stress and the doctor recommends a course of both physical therapy (and you can just imagine) and medical treatments. The succeeding scenes involve a lot of uncomfortable interactions men the fragility of American straight men’s sexuality and physicality is tested against a freer (and one that often crosses the line) Eastern European sensibility in the doctor. The line crossing avoids (at least within the tone of the play) being exploitative and violating, but should make everyone uncomfortable because there is really doctoring happening here (as we understand it) and were this some other region of the body nothing would seem awry. And of course a friendship or some kind of dynamic develops here and this becomes a pseudo-fatherly or avuncular kind of friendship, that comes to a head (ha!) when the writer borrows from their sessions and conversations material for a story. The writing is solid, the performances great, and the whole thing very uncomfortable.
Have a Nice Day – 2/5
We’re told that this is a a would-be screen play and I guess we’re better off this being an Audible play instead of a movie, because, well, just because. The story here is that a man awakes to a spirit, an envoy of Death, looking at him there to take him to the other side. He bargains, as happens, and begs to have one day to set things right. The spirit agrees and that at one second before midnight he will be back to take his life. The man, by the way, ends up being the president of the United States and putting it right means dealing with a pipeline deal that will create chaos in an Native American reservation and the fallout in his family from his announcing his reelection. In addition, the wandering around in a fit and talking to unseen spirits is leading his advisers to consider the 25th Amendment.
So the story is saccharine and obvious, but there’s a lot of good and effecting performances. The president is played by Kevin Kline, who has some experience here, and the first lady by Annette Bening, who has some experience here, and the spirit by Billy Crystal, who cowrote the script. Nothing exciting or surprising happens and it would be a mess of a movie, but a free audioplay? It’s fine.
Coal Country – 4/5 Stars
A fairly devastating play based on the mine explosion ay Massey’s Energy in West Virginia about 10 or so years back where 38 miners were killed. The implication is that unsafe working conditions, ignored warnings, and other crimes led to the explosion and the deaths. The play is told in the form of confessional interviews but also in a group congregational concert in which songs written by Steve Earle are performed in both choral and individual performances. The play is pretty powerful, probably mainly because the material is powerful, but the performances here are strong and the songs add additional emotion heft to an already hefty subject.
The Vanishing Negative – 3/5
In this play a television/celebrity psychic is recording a confessional podcast amid her recent “cancelling”, and yes there’s some ranting about cancel culture, and no I won’t be going into it here. The podcast is to deal with recent backlash to a tweet where she states that the soul of a recent client of hers is in peace now after dying. The backlash comes from additional footage of her prelearning important details of his life ahead of a televised cold reading, offering advice as if from beyond, and the fallout. Don’t mistake this for a reckoning with the psychic “industry” although it is that in part, because the storytelling side of this is a lot more tricky in its structure. It’s not the most clever play I could think about, but more so than it initially seems.
The Sunset Limited – 4/5 Stars
This is a performance of Cormac McCarthy’s play The Sunset Limited, which is subtitled A Novel in Play form, and I am not sure I buy that, but alas. The play was written and published in his last big creative wave in the mid 2000s along with The Road and No Country for Old Men. I will say that he does have two novels coming out in the next couple of months, so who knows about lasts really. The play has two characters named Black and White, and the implication of course is that it is a Black man and a white man. Before the action of the play the white man tried to jump from a subway platform into an oncoming train, but he is pulled from the ledge by the Black man. Now they are discussing what has happened and what led them to that moment, and what will happen after. The white man is a college professor and Black man a kind of lay preacher, and these contrasts, along with the contrast of their skin color formulate the basis of their discussion. It’s an almost purely metaphysical discussion and should remind us most of something like Archibald MacLeish’s JB, the theater retelling of the Book of Job. It’s a Bible-haunted story, if not an exact parable or story from the bible. I wouldn’t necessarily want to pay a lot for a performance of the play, but it’s an interesting and somewhat dense play for how short and simplistic it is in form.
A Streetcar Named Desire – 5/5 Stars
This is an audio version of the 1970 revival starring Rosemary Harris as Blanche, and while the man playing Stanley is no Marlon Brando, he still brings an oafishness that is perfect. Cast recordings are already a curious thing in the first place, and this is no different, capturing the ambient sounds and faint background noise. It’s not an audience recording so there’s none of that other sound. I went on a little bit of a history of the play and found out that Jessica Tandy originated Blanche, which feels quite perfect. Rosemary Harris, who is a lot more like Jessica Tandy than Vivian Leigh is wonderful in it.
It’s also the first time since I first saw the movie, maybe 25 years ago and read this in college, that I’ve revisited the actual text of the play, and the interactions between Mitch and Blanche are as tender as they feel forced and false. Poor Mitch, so naive. Anyway, it’s also impossible to divorce the play from the intertextuality of A Streetcar Named Marge, and this is especially in the scene where Blanche comes on to the paper boy collecting his due. What’s a paperboy to DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO?