Monday, March 16, 2009

"The Age of Dissonance" - Gossip Girl, episode 2.18

We're back! I Twittered tonight's episode to keep it fresh in my mind, and boy am I glad I did since it turned out to maybe be the craziest episode of the season. Shall we begin?

GG is getting all Edith Whartony and meta- tonight.
It's time for the "senior class play" and so Blair, Serena, Dan, and the rest of the gang (except Chuck) are all cast in a stage adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. If you remember the Scorsese film version or are familiar with Wharton at all than you'll know that Wharton's novels aren't exactly made for the stage. (Nevertheless, it seems that a stage version of Innocence ran for 200+ performances on Broadway in 1928-29) They're all about class and the subtlest of social dynamics and much of the plot turns on things going on in the character's interior lives. There are some superficial parallels between Wharton's and GG's characters though, so we find Blair cast as the scandalous Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer in the film), Serena as the innocent but well-meaning May (Winona Ryder), and Dan as the conflicted and frankly a little dull Newland (Daniel Day Lewis)

with a splash of Eyes Wide Shut on the side.

Did I mention Chuck wasn't involved in the play? He's still pining for Elle, the mysterious woman he met in the last episode (which seems like months ago). Played by Kate French, she's the one who accidentally let Chuck into a supersecret orgy with an invitation that was meant for his Dad. At least now we know what the point of all this fuss was; Chuck thinks he's protecting Elle from evil men in high places but it turns out she was just after a payday. "You have a good heart. You should give it to someone who cares," are Elle's parting words. Who cares about Chuck? It's Blair of course, and tonight finds her future threatened again. Blair's invitation to Yale is withdrawn due to an anonymous phone call, and Gossip Girl is sending out email blasts about Serena's past. The two shaky best friends blame each other, but of course the real blame lies somewhere else. It's Rachel, the Dan-seducing teacher,so consumed by the backbiting and clannishness of her prep-school surroundings that she has become what she despised. Are we surprised? This character had her ticket off GG punched almost as soon as she arrived.

Referencing Great Gatsby movie, Vincent Canby, "Coppola's screenplay," and there's a Cyrano thing going on.

The school play is being directed by some Off Broadway wunderkind who has been hired at an outrageous fee. Serena has her eye on him but is a little intimidated by his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of old movies. Vanessa, making a documentary on the play, tries to help by throwing out a few cultural touchstones for Serena to land on and even doing some real-time coaching by cell phone. When the three (with Nate in tow) head for dinner after rehearsal one night, the way the director references Little Foxes and bails on the dinner after Nate leaves should be a clue about his leanings....

Dorota: "You are an actress" - Blair: "I am a seagull."

Beautiful. I think this episode may have been more for the amusement of the people making it than for the audience.

GG is teaching me that "directors push buttons to give performances." I'll keep that in mind.

That should have been "get" performances. That's what the director says to Nate after he's inadvertently riled him up by referencing his family's bankruptcy. Since I'm about to direct my first play I'm looking for as much advice as I can get, but I'm pretty sure directors actually let actors make choices and then put all the elements of the production together.

Everyone is freaking out like it's the last scene of Tootsie.

The play ends early with Nate freaking out and most of the cast breaking character with a variety of complaints. But....

...and Charles Isherwood loves the "postmodern deconstruction of it all" while Serena doesn't realize director is gay.

So, NYT theater critic Charles Isherwood as himself loves what he thinks is the director's postmodern comment on the relationship between the play and the GG characters. I'm pretty sure there are at least three layers of meta- in there.

I'm sure the remainder of the season will be filled with twists and turns and be played with operatic intensity, but tonight's episode was a sterling example of the reason Gossip Girl's attention level will always exceed its audience.

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