Friday afternoon I moseyed over to the table in Tower peopled mostly by Triangle members. (Such a table is guaranteed to exist in Tower by the so-called “pigeonhole principle,” for any math or COS folks who know that that means.)
“I’m reviewing y’all’s show for the Nass and was hoping to get some pithy pre-show remarks. How’re you feeling about tonight?” I asked.
“I’m excited!” replied an excited Triangle member.
“Good, thanks! But maybe a little less pithy… anything else?”
“Hang on, I need to think of a word that starts with “Po-,” said a second.
“I think our show will be very PO-etical,” said the first, triumphantly.
“If I hear another Poe joke I’m going to shoot someone,” said a third.
“Stark Raven Mad, an Edgar Alan Show” premiered this past weekend. It’ll go on tour around the country later this year, but that’s just about it for the show’s stage life at Princeton. Looking at the Wikipedia page for Triangle, one realizes this is the fate of quite a few Triangle shows–there’ve been one or two new productions each year for well over a century. Some basement filing cabinet somewhere certainly stores the Complete Works of Triangle, but it’s doubtful that the same can be said of any living memory.
So, to briefly memorialize the show for now: it’s a play about a play–a construction called, thanks again to ‘kipedia, a “mise en abyme”–about Edgar Alan Poe. The Baltimore Community Theatre of Baltimore is putting on a show about Poe, with Poe himself giving brief introductions to various short stories and poems, which are then presented as musical numbers. The external plot is driven by Eric (Dave Holtz, ‘10), an extremely shy stage hand, who accidentally loses a raven prop right before the (internal) curtain goes up. Since the raven will not be needed until the last scene, Eric sets out to make things right by finding a replacement. He is shortly joined by a friendly taxidermist Claire (Laura Hankin, ‘10) whom he knew from grade school. Together they embark on a life-affirming hero’s journey of self-discovery and misadventure. Of course, they both save the day and also fall in love. (It’s adorable.)
For comedic effect, the cast and crew of the show-within-a-show are chronically incompetent and creepy. As such, it’s sometimes tough to tell whether the actors in the internal play accidentally step out of character or just have a ridiculous script. For example, while the Poe narrator is introducing the Cask of Amontillado, the thought of sweaty Italian men in chains makes him recollect his wedding night and then blush. Perhaps a slip-up, but then again, the piece he introduces is a puppet-led, Avenue Q knock-off, wherein Fortunado goes through a musical version of the five stages of dying. So… maybe European gay bondage jokes aren’t so far off-base after all.
Viewed as a dramatic whole, the show’s strongest points are the internal play’s episodes. They’re well choreographed and well performed, exhibiting the talent of the Triangle cast. I was impressed by Triangle show freshmen year with just how skilled some of my classmates are, and this continues to show through. The music sounds professional–to an untrained ear like mine, at any rate–but it’s all student written. The lyrics are good, the dancing excellent, the singing off the charts. Hankin in particular gives a stunning lead performance, both vocally and dramatically. Many actors are nothing but laughs. Many voices deserve a mention. It’s beyond a doubt a performance unmatched on campus.
The show isn’t flawless, though. Mostly, I was disappointed with the unity of the frame story. A year ago, the show was tied together by little more than the theme of two tour guides on a bus going around New Jersey. Since we all live in Jersey now–not to mention many natives among us–the jokes hit home, and well. This year, the show is set in Baltimore–Poe’s home town–and while I’m sure there’s plenty to make fun of, the regionalism doesn’t fly so well. (If they tour in Baltimore they’ll be a hit…) The only other connecting elements are Eric’s bizarrely prohibitive shyness and an extremely unfortunate series of events that make it damned tough to procure and hold on to a stuffed raven. When you get down to it, these elements lack some authenticity. (If you had to imagine a Cuckoo Clock’s Clan, would you think of a bunch of flamboyant German men? That one went over my head.)
Still, if you can suspend disbelief on the plot itself, there’s plenty to enjoy. The kick-line, at last, left me completely satisfied. (That’s what SHE said!!) You would not believe how much can be crammed into such a small space. (That’s what SHE said!!) The song itself, “Still Ravenous,” is just dripping with… innuendo. (You get the idea.) No joke, it was a good number.
After the curtain call, Triangle President Katie Seaver welcomed the Princeton Area Alumni Association members in attendance, and invited everyone to join the cast in singing Old Nassau. As I looked around at all the graduated faces in the audience I was reminded that Triangle is just as much valued for its role as a community edifice and university tradition as it is for its comedy. From an 118 year-old troupe you can’t expect a smash hit every year, and this year certainly passed muster, even if it didn’t break records. As we reached the “three cheers for old Nassau” line, five or six voices from the stage hit impossibly high notes.
The morning after the last show I polled the cast again.
“So in retrospect how’d it go? Were you pleased?”
Again with the pithiness.
“I thought it was a PO-satively fantastic performance!” Chimed in an expected formula.
“Okay, now I’m going to have to shoot her in the face,” said the same gunslinger from Friday afternoon.
“Can I quote you on that?”
“Yeah, just don’t write mean shit about us. Like you did last time.”