Today’s Collegian features a review of Gracie Gardner’s production, Manning Manning Manning, that, as its own author would say, “boasted solid [writing] and high energy, but was ultimately perplexing in terms of what themes it was trying to convey.”
The review praised the show while at the same time refusing to like it, commending the actors and, for the most part, Gardner’s use of them in one breath while picking out less-than-crucial elements of the 45-minute play that apparently should have been expanded on in the next. It (rightly) praised the versatility of Phoebe Rotter ’14 and Allie Lembo ’14 in their roles as the Greek chorus, inadvertently pointing out the fact that the two of them conveyed in 45 minutes what it takes most plays ten actors, 90 minutes and seven costumes to pull off, but then complained that the show didn’t take enough time to flesh out the themes it was taking on.
But that was the whole point: Manning was a bare-bones production and intentionally left much between the lines. Having also been at the show this past Sunday, I would agree that it was ambitious, covering a lot of ground in its 45-minute running time. But I also thought that Gardner did an incredible job of saying what she needed to say with dramatic concision, efficiently taking on the male-dominated football culture of the South from a female perspective with seven actors and about sixty square feet of space.
With no seconds and no square inches of stage space to waste, those who wanted the storyline to be drawn out and spoon-fed were setting themselves up for disappointment.
As the author would put it, “The [review], in the end, was muddled and murky. Was it a [careful, nuanced critique of an overall successful production, a stubborn refusal to embrace a creative take on an uncommon theme, a complete misinterpretation of a production not meant for the passive observer] or all of the above?
In the end, what really puzzles me about the Collegian‘s review is that it eventually admits that Manning was actually quite successful in accomplishing what it set out to do. It recognizes the play’s intentional limitations on time and development, but only after wasting numerous paragraphs disparaging them (or missing them altogether, it’s hard to say):
When viewed as the first act of a play, as Gardner intended…Manning stands as a funny and promising segment of a larger work.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.