I went to see two enjoyable shows this weekend. The first, "Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky," at Playwrights Horizons, featured a down-on-his-luck singer-songwriter named (surprise) Floyd, living out of his snow-covered Studebaker in Nowheresville, Montana. After the demise of his career, Floyd is pretty much just planning to drink himself to death, but then a teenage girl named Clea who wants to be a singer-songwriter herself discovers him and adopts him as a mentor. She keeps coming back and keeps coming back, despite his general curmudgeonliness, and eventually she breaks through his shell and helps him get up on his feet. In Act II, she leaves to go to Los Angeles, a.k.a. the Pit of Sin and Mouth of Hell for any aspiring ingenue, and while she succeeds in film and music (breaking into the charts with a song Floyd wrote for her), she indeed turns away from the enthusiastic young Clea that Floyd knew to become a cynical drug-using wreck. After they connect through a chance phone call, Floyd convinces her to come out and visit him in his new digs in Austin, Texas, and that fresh Midwestern air and clean Midwestern living restore her to her former bloom. The show ends with the two of them onstage together singing a good knee-thumpin' country song about how they'll never get divorced. George W. Bush would be mighty proud.
I am being sardonic here simply because I was slightly astonished how much the plot smacked of middle-aged-male wish-fulfillment to me: the teenage girl who is devoted to saving you, but then you get to save her in the end, from big bad L.A. and those young men who don't treat her right and, you know, a successful career as a singer and actress . . . And then you get married, despite the thirty-year-difference in your ages, and live happily ever after singing Carter Family country songs. The fact that David Cale not only wrote and directed but stars in the show, opposite a comely twentysomething, rather reinforces my suspicions of male egotism.
But I am not being entirely fair either. It isn't 100% clear that Floyd and Clea have gotten married in the end -- the song lyrics may speak only for their personae in the song -- and the double salvation gave the show a pleasing balance. ("If he can't save her, what do you propose instead?" I can hear Mr. Cale asking me. "They grow away from each other and never talk? Where's the dramatic satisfaction in that, you feminist harpy?" "He can save her, but they could have stayed just friends," I reply firmly, "and he could go to California and support her career.") I would also be remiss not to say that both actors were very strong, especially Mary Faber, who sang her heart out as Clea; the writing was filled with real human moments; and the backing band was a joy, with special shout-outs to the two lead guys on guitar. Altogether I commend the show as an enjoyable evening of theater, particularly if you like quality country-rock music . . . but if you are Gloria Steinem (or the princess of Liechtenstein), it's not for you.
If the first show demonstrated the male ego at its most well-meaning, the second showed feminine wit at its most subtle -- being an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, "Northanger Abbey." Northanger Abbey was Austen's first novel, which she later rewrote, and functions as a parody of the Gothic romances popular at the time, particularly The Mysteries of Udolpho, a book which thrills the heroine (Catherine Morland, the very definition of an ingenue) no end. The playwright Lynn Marie Macy cleverly stages scenes from Udolpho as dream sequences within the action of "Northanger," which not only acquaints modern theatrical audiences with the conventions of Regency Gothics, it points up the multiple parallels between the two works, both structural and comedic. (The show signalled the shifts between Northanger and Udolpho by having the characters turn the pages of a giant onstage book.) Everything about this show was sprightly, swift, and filled with good cheer and Austenesque humor, and I had a great time. I also enjoyed a post-show coffee with Maggie of AustenBlog and Julie, who pretty much convinced me I need to join JASNA at last.
"Northanger Abbey" runs for one more weekend at Theatre Ten Ten on the Upper East Side, and it gets the Brooklyn Arden Squid of Approval:
(Squid graphic courtesy the Squid Page here.)