Caliban at the Improv: ‘Underneath’ at The Odyssey

This show will be popular because a good chunk of the theatregoing public will fall for anything delivered in a British or Irish accent. ¬†Delivered in anything else, this 95 minute slog of derivative, contrived, vapid one-man hamfistery with hokey audience participation would be savaged high and low as LA showcase theatre at its worst. ¬† ¬†Check the theatre’s website for details if you’re in the mood for it or the other two productions in repertory from this unclean alliance between the Odyssey and Fishamble of Dublin.

Youtube Channel: The Tom Lehrer Wisdom Channel


  1. An interesting series of posts this week that are leaving me scratching my head..In the subsequent post, ‘sage’ you say? To comfortably use the word ‘sage’ in front of any name other than Aurobindo (in the last two centuries at least) is to belie little knowledge of the word. But, since the titles are meant to be fun and witty, that can be forgiven with ease. To call the lectures however, ‘utterly engrossing’ is a bit misleading to the reader, no? I listened to part of one and promptly felt sleepy. (I am somewhat familiar with mathematics/physics having done EECS in the past) and I am not ‘engrossed’ in any way, shape or form. Perhaps engrossing for a select few would be a more apropos description? To be engrossing, the teacher has got to get you in the palm of his/her hand (whether you want to be there or not) and guide you exactly where they want you to go. Semantics, but language is important. When such exaggeration is encountered, hard to know what to take seriously or not. Which brings me to this particular post.

    I see that you didn’t enjoy this play. What is difficult to overlook, however, is the verbiage used to describe this production at the Odyssey. An ‘unclean alliance’? I practically choked on my dinner as I read that. Don’t you think that if the performers or the staff at the Odyssey came across your review, it could hurt their feelings….necessary to go there? It takes enormous vulnerability to be on stage and if the audience doesn’t like it, that is a risk that a performer agrees to take. But I think the line has to be drawn at hurt feelings. I don’t think there is a need to use language that could be construed as hurtful. It takes no courage to be polite. It does take courage to be honest. And it takes courage and insight to be honest and kind.

    It reminds me of an incident many years ago. I was in med school at the time taking an elective with a professor whom I adored. I accidentally overheard a conversation between the professor and a fellow student (by virtue of being at the wrong place at the right time). Listening to this exchange changed me in profound ways. The student was complaining about the head of the dept and wanted advice about filing a complaint. The professor recommended that while filing the complaint, she never use the word ‘you’. She kindly explained that when we use the word ‘you’, it gets someone’s back up. They feel attacked and have a need to defend themselves, they are no longer in listening mode as they are busy composing a response. If she truly wanted to be heard, she had to use the word ‘I’…i.e. “I felt hurt by…”, ” I understood this to be ….” etc. When we use the word “I”, there is no attack. We are simply describing how we felt. The person listening is likely to continue listening, even empathize and provide a very different response than if the word ‘you’ had been used. It was a profound lesson in realizing that the language we use if of utmost importance. Human beings are afterall….human beings. No one here with a heart of steel. Whatever bluster someone may present to the outer world, the truth is that the heart is fragile, it hurts and feels to whatever depths it is capable of feeling. The more sensitive the heart, the deeper it hurts. No one need mention that the damage words can cause can be more impactful than throwing a bag of rocks at someone. Words have power.

    The word ‘unclean’ doesn’t sound right here, it is unduly harsh, no matter how bad the play.

    A periodic but regular reader

  2. We’ll have to disagree on both counts. Prof. Balakrishnan’s lectures are to me a model of clarity. I’ve tried and failed to understand many of those topics before through university coursework and more recently through several online classes from other talented lecturers. The material is making sense thanks to him.

    The Odyssey has been around for nearly fifty years. I have a passing acquaintance with some of their leaders and they are quite capable of handling squibs tossed at them. They don’t take either the praise or the complaints too seriously. Artists are also a tough, resilient lot. Many have told me that they love praise but prefer a strong negative reaction to a neutral, wishy-washy one.

    1. It is wonderful that you find the lectures that helpful, it is a great compliment to this teacher. However, that was not the point in question. The point I was making was that the lectures can not be described as ‘utterly engrossing’. If I got a hundred people off the street, I would venture that most of the hundred wouldn’t find it riveting. If I took a hundred college students, I would expect similar numbers. Likely the numbers would be higher if we restricted the population to physics/EE grad students. I am not debating that he isn’t a good teacher or that he isn’t doing a good job communicating what he is teaching. But his teaching style can’t be described as ‘utterly engrossing’ – one needs a certain charisma, intelligence, knowledge bank along with a unique ability to communicate that. Very few teachers have the ability to do that, but when you see that, that I think is fair to call ‘utterly engrossing’. Semantics maybe, that is all I was trying to convey. I agree to disagree on that.

      You write, “Many have told me that they love praise but prefer a strong negative reaction to a neutral, wishy-washy one.” So artists have told you this and you buy that? My experience of people in general (I don’t know many artists, in fact I don’t know any – so I should offer that at the outset) – is they prefer the honest truth, whatever it is. But most people appreciate how it is phrased. If the honest truth has to be coated in negativity and venom, most people don’t want that truth, it can be quite hard to hear. And when you write, ‘unclean alliance’, is that what you are doing? Giving a review to the artists? Or are you reviewing the theatre in question? To me, it doesn’t sound like a review at all. It sounds like a personal attack with judgment added in for good measure. Are you expecting that the management at the Odyssey would ever tell you that your comments secretly hurt them when they got home? Why would you expect anyone to share that vulnerability with you when you have just gone after their throat? You expect them to cry in front of you before you get the point? Beg you not to write that? And when you write that “artists are also a tough, resilient lot” – that sounds almost like an excuse to say whatever you want to say. How convenient that must feel. Free reign to hurt anybody you want because you have a pen to write with.

      I remember reading an article about you by a man named Rob Kendt for the LA Times before I ever decided to write to you. I really didn’t like the article. I couldn’t figure out why for a while and then it dawned on me. What I took issue with was that it wasn’t purely objective as an article like that should be. He used that article as a forum to make commentary in ways that felt both personal and vindictive. Perhaps it is men like him that are your heroes. Personally, I don’t care for the likes of him. But I see that what you are doing to the Odyssey in this review is exactly how he treated you in that article. You both are not playing fair, you are using the disguise of a review to make a personal attack. I guess you also are a ‘tough, resilient lot’ and I guess the question I should ask myself is, who cares what I think. Time to go to sleep. No worries, I won’t be writing again.

      Feel free to delete this entire exchange, it doesn’t need to be in a public forum, but feel free to do whatever you wish.

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