Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday-After-Thanksgiving Flashback!

Happy, day-after-Thanksgiving!  I hope you had a warm and happy day.  I was looking through old reviews and came upon another play at Playwrights Horizons that featured the amazing Lois Smith.  So, I thought I'd flash back to that review.  Please keep in mind that I just used to do these reviews for a small group of friends, hence the extremely casual quality.  This review also describes a very scary seat neighbor, one who would probably not be out of place at a current climate political rally...

11/27/10:  Hi gang.  I saw a new play last night at Playwrights Horizons, After the Revolution, by Amy Herzog.  It was done in Williamstown over the summer, but this is its New York premiere.

I liked this play a lot.  I think it had some really great things to say about how your identity is tied up into your family, and what do you do when what you’ve believed in turns out to be a lie.  There was a lot of good meaty conversation about something concrete and I enjoyed it.  These characters are all smart and funny, yet dumb about life.  I liked these people.

The acting is all spot on—we’ve got three generations here of leftist political activists, with all their blustery pomp and individual quirks.  Peter Friedman and Mark Blum (an especial favorite of mine) are brothers and sons of a famously blacklisted father.  The great Lois Smith is their tough stepmother who still espouses all the Marxist attitudes of her late husband, and Katherine Powell is the younger generation who just graduated from law school and who is seemingly ready to take this politically active family into the next generation by establishing a foundation in her grandfather’s name.  When it’s revealed that the famous father/grandfather actually wasn’t who he seemed to be, it rocks everyone in the family to their core, all in different ways.  I liked all of the complexity in the plot and in the characters very much.  There’s no who’s right/who’s wrong and I liked that, too.

Mare Winningham is terrific as the milder second wife of Peter Friedman, and I also got a kick out of the other daughter who is just out of rehab and who is suddenly relishing her new status as the ‘good’ daughter.  Friedman and Blum are really grand as well.  I especially felt for Blum’s character—he never really bought into all of the politics, so he brought up his children in a different way and now regrets that choice.  Oh, and David Margulies is wonderful as a donor to the fund and potential suitor to Lois Smith.  His gentle and humorous take on this older gentleman was quite lovely and he has some terrific dialogue.

I was the least sold on Katherine Powell in the pivotal role as the granddaughter.  She was fine, but I thought she made some pretty generic acting choices throughout and I could feel her acting technique all over the place.  I would’ve rather seen a less polished, more real performance, than such a studied one, but she didn’t bother me enough to think she was terrible.  I was just really aware of her ‘acting’ throughout.  But I have to say that most of my friends who saw the show really liked her, so maybe I'm wrong.  Now that I think about it, she does kinda look like someone who was once mean to me.  Yes, I'm just that shallow to take out my grudge on an innocent bystander.  Moving on.

The last scene between the father and daughter is really wonderfully written—one of my favorite scenes in a long time.  I just really felt a part of it and it seemed so real and right.  Thumbs up from me on the whole piece.

I do want to mention my (potentially) terrifying seat neighbor.  Before the play started, the man behind me came in, sat down, looked at the set, and started saying (in his outdoor voice) “Oh god, oh no, is that a Free South Africa sign?  Oh no no no no no, wait, is that a picture of Nelson Mandela?  Oh my god, oh nonononononononononoo.”  I’m thinking, eek.  Obviously, someone hadn’t read the blurb about the play before coming.  Then he read some of the author’s notes in the program talking about Mumia Abu-Jamal, and he started moaning again, “Oh god, oh no no no no no no.”  Sigh.  He was relatively quiet during the first act, thank heavens, but then at intermission, he stood up and said (in his outdoor voice) “Oh my god, SO WHAT?!?!?!”  His friend said, “I think it’s fascinating.”  Pause.  Then Mr. Oh No said, “I need a drink.”  He left, but unfortunately came back for the second act.  During which he was quiet and then I left through a different door so I wouldn’t run into him.  Yikes.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday, with warmth and people you love around you.  As always, I did want to share a few things I'm especially thankful for this year - there are some repeats, of course, but thankfulness has no expiration date... :)

  • the most spectacular nephew in the world (who is growing up way too fast);
  • the most spectacular sister in the world;
  • the most spectacular and generous parents ever;
  • my other family: my GNO + 2 and the Coterie.  I love you all so much;
  • my finally-freshly-painted apartment;
  • my wonderful co-workers, who watch me be crazy but still like me anyway;
  • another year of Roger Federer viewing;
  • being in the audience for Julie Kent's final performance at ABT;
  • following Twitter during award shows on tv;
  • mobile check depositing;
  • the Lilly Awards;
  • Throwback Thursdays on Facebook;
  • TDF;
  • Lenny's Thanksgiving sandwiches;
  • marathons of House Hunters International;
  • pictures on my upgraded iPhone;
  • my beautiful goddaughters;
  • frequent flyer miles;
  • knowing and interacting with so many wonderful writers who work hard every day to make the world a better place;
  • Screaming Banshee e-cards;
  • Restaurant Week;
  • rediscovering Trixie Belden;
  • Boylan's black cherry soda;
  • Turner Classic Movies;
  • the Star Lite deli by my office;
  • Reese’s peanut butter cups;
  • Roger Ebert's book Life Itself;
  • Gain-scented Swiffers;
  • the NY Times crossword puzzle app;
  • Disney World trips with my parents;
  • Instagram;
  • And, having Thanksgiving dinner with wonderful friends, who are beautiful inside and out.  I'm anticipating a lot of laughter and love, which is something to be truly thankful for.



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review - Ripcord

I have to admit, I'm finally exhausted after all my outings and am having a hard time even using my brain just a little to write another review.  Let's see how it goes...

I'm a big fan of David Lindsay-Abaire's, I just think he's such a skilled playwright.  Whether he's writing in his ultra-realistic mode, like in Good People, or his wacky surreal mode, like Fuddy Meers, his characters and dialogue are always grounded in such truth.  I always recognize the people he writes about and find myself immediately engaged in their stories.  I've been wanting to see his new play, Ripcord, for a long time, but it was off TDF for quite a while.  When it opened up for last night, I jumped.  And I'm so glad I did - I had a great time!!

Ripcord is basically the story of two adversarial roommates in an upscale retirement home who make a bet to try to get one or the other out of the room, but that description doesn't really do justice to the nuances and layers in the story.  Yes, one roommate is reserved and private and the other is too chatty and overly-gregarious, but just assuming this is like a geriatric Odd Couple would be selling the play short.  There are themes of loss, forgiveness, acceptance, resilience and love, just to name a few.  I found the play genuinely funny (sometimes downright hysterical) and also genuinely touching.  That's a lovely balance to find.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
You would think that Holland Taylor and Marylouise Burke could play these roles in their sleep, but they don't rely on innate persona, they dig deep to find all the shadings and layers that make these women truly real and full of humanity.  Watching them think up and enjoy the machinations of their 'bet' is a pleasure, but as the pranks and hijinks start to escalate into more and more bitter territory, a fear and dread starts to color their responses.  No one thing is ever about only one thing, and it was so intriguing to me to try to figure out motive versus kneejerk response.  There were definitely a lot of surprises throughout the play and I was always delighted with where it took me.

The show is terrifically acted, not only by Taylor and Burke, but by the rest of the ensemble as well.  Nate Miller was very sweet as the retirement home employee (and his last line is KILLER); Rachel Dratch and Daoud Heidami were great as Burke's daughter and son-in-law, they really seemed to be family and simpatico with Marylouise Burke; and Glenn Fitzgerald, who I would love to see more onstage, was fantastic in several roles, most especially as a surprise visitor in the second act.  He's one of those actors who is just so real and natural, you immediately know the person he's playing.  His scene with Holland Taylor was amazing, so much going on in such a short amount of time.

I'm starting to run out of brain power, but suffice it to say, I really enjoyed myself at Ripcord and have been thinking about it (and giggling over the skydiving scene) since last night.  It runs at Manhattan Theatre Club until December 6, so I highly recommend you get yourself over there to see it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thoughts on Marjorie Prime

Only one more show this week and then it's back to couchsurfing for me!  I've enjoyed seeing so much theater, but I admit to being ready for a break.  My brain is tired.  But, as I've said before, I have a really hard time saying 'no' to a discount.  I registered to win $5 tickets to the first preview performance of Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime at Playwrights Horizons, but didn't win them.  I thought it a clever idea for PH to send me an e-mail, offering $20 tickets to a preview this week.  I'm sure Thanksgiving week can be harder for Off-Broadway, so it was a smart way to fill up their house.  Although, to be honest, there were quite a few empty seats last night, which was disappointing.  I can only imagine the houses will fill as the run progresses.  Since I saw only the third or fourth preview, I'll just offer a few thoughts.

Although this play has had a couple of productions already (and was a finalist for last year's Pulitzer Prize), I'm thinking there are still changes afoot for this particular production because there is a new director and some new actors, except for the two leads, the incomparable Lois Smith and Lisa Emery.  I'm a big fan of them both already, especially Lois Smith, who is just magic onstage.  She's one of those people who just glow from within when they're onstage, I think.  I try to see nearly every play she does.  I was so happy to see a profile on her in the New York Times last week, though I'm bummed it gave a plot point away.  I wish I hadn't known about that plot point before seeing the show - I heard some gasps in the audience and wished I could've experienced that feeling, too.  So, my recommendation is:  see Marjorie Prime, it's terrific, but wait to read the article about Lois Smith in the Times until after you see the show.  I'd also recommend reading the pieces by Tim Sanford and Jordan Harrison on Playwright Horizons' website after you see the show.  I read them both this morning and found them terrifically interesting.

Marjorie Prime tells a touching story about so many things - memory, grief, technology, aging, artificial intelligence, familial love and forgiveness.  I found the piece very thought-provoking, moving and (if I'm being honest) just the tiniest bit confusing.  The confusion didn't lessen my enjoyment, in fact, it only made me want to see the play again to try to piece together what I may have missed.  I did love how the play provided new and valuable information in slow and steady measurements, almost like the way memories are being fed to the characters.  As someone who is always interested in how the vagaries of memory can affect the past, present and future, Marjorie Prime is a new and different example of how to deal with those vagaries.

photo credit: Craig Schwartz (from the LA production)
Even with knowing a key plot point beforehand (Times articles really need to put 'spoiler alert' at the top), there were still some surprises and shocks in the play, surprises and shocks that distressed and moved me deeply.  I certainly have never seen a story like this before and I was engrossed throughout.  Lois Smith is giving yet another amazingly full-faceted performance.  She was sassy and sad, irascible and charming.  You can see why she's been a handful, but you can also completely empathize with her plight.  Lisa Emery was also wonderful as Smith's daughter - they really could be related, they share a lot of the same quirks and vocal qualities.  Emery also shows so many layers to the quirky, tired Tess, and where she ends up was a complete and utter twist, but not unearned or out of the blue, if you pay attention to the clues the playwright lays out for us.

The two gentlemen in the cast were also terrific, in quieter but fully supportive ways.  I was quite taken with Stephen Root, who I mainly know for his comic roles on tv.  He was grand as Emery's empathetic husband, who says he understands what's happening, but he really doesn't until he's confronted with realities he's never expected.  He was such a real and believable person/character to me, especially as peacemaker, since I often play that role in my family.  Noah Bean has a complicated part to play, but he does a great job of reaching out yet holding back.  He could easily be a science fiction caricature, but Bean finds some interesting, yet completely textually accurate, shadings.

I very much enjoyed Marjorie Prime and do want to go back again.  Though, given my "I need to go on the wagon" pronouncement, I'm not sure if I can fit it into my schedule.  We'll just have to see, I guess.  But, in the meantime, I'll enjoy using my memory to think about Jordan Harrison's ruminations on memories.  You should go check it out, too... 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Reviews - Charles Francis Chan Jr's Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery and Fool for Love

I think it's become apparent that I need some sort of twelve-step program to deal with my addiction to theater.  In a ten-day period, I will have seen eight productions (two were readings, but still).  I have lost my mind.  And all sense of budgetary responsibility.  But you tell me, what am I supposed to do when I get an e-mail that says 'you didn't win the $5 ticket lottery, but if you come to one of these performances, your ticket will only be $20'?!  I just can't seem to help myself.  Therefore, I am going to try to go on the theatrical wagon.  Ish.  I do already have two shows booked this week and one next week, but after that, I may try to wait until the New Year.  We'll see if I can do it.

Getting back to the two most recent productions I've enjoyed, last Friday night I went to see Lloyd Suh's new play Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery, produced by NAATCO (National Asian American Theatre Company).  I haven't entirely loved all of his plays, but I'm a big fan of Lloyd's and know him slightly; I'll admit, however, that I may have missed this play if not for the recent contretemps around him and another of his plays.  I stand firmly behind Lloyd and his rights as a playwright, so I figured the best way to show my support was to buy a ticket for his new show.  I wish I would've gone sooner so I could've recommended the show to everyone.  Unfortunately, it closed yesterday.  If social media is to be believed, it closed with multiple sold-out houses.

But I DID have a good time!  Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery was a fast, funny and completely thought-provoking piece on racial inequality and self-discovery.  The title character was a 1960s college student who is beaten down by the politics of the time, especially because he flunked out of school and now has to register for the draft.  Thinking about being an American, yet Asian, man, going to an Asian country and fighting against Asians, was too much for him, especially after living through so much hatred and discrimination here at home.  Frank (which is the name he prefers, given the incendiary quality of the name 'Charlie Chan') rails against the world in very funny and pointed commentary about the world around him.  He seems completely irrational and unhinged, yet, when you listen to what he's actually saying, you understand where he's coming from.  The audience got quite a big laugh out of a huge diatribe of Frank's, where he decides to coin the term 'Asian American' and the best way to get the name out into the world writing a play!

photo credit: Hiroyuki Ito
The action of this play alternates between Frank's struggles and scenes from the play he's writing, which features a white actor in deliberate yellowface playing Charlie Chan.  It's a very complex satire, which gets louder and sillier, yet scarier and more disturbing as the evening goes on.  I thought Lloyd's use of satire was excellent, and his dialogue always rang stingingly true to me.  I thought he had a deft touch with the heavier stuff and the conversations about race were very thoughtful and done well.  The casting of the actors across racial boundaries was also very smart. If maybe the second act wasn't quite as successful as the first act for me, well ok.  The play was extremely well-written, well-directed, well-acted and well-designed.  I laughed a lot, gasped a bit and was a tiny bit horrified (in the best theatrical way).  And boy have I been thinking a lot since I saw it.  So thumbs way up from me and I can't wait to see what Lloyd brings us next.

My other Tony-voter boss invited me to see yesterday's matinee of the revival of Sam Shepard's Fool for Love.  I believe I've made my love for Shepard known already and I especially love the early stuff.  Probably because they were the first plays of Shepard I ever read and they are plays that I've been lucky enough to act in.  I always wanted to play May in Fool for Love and worked on scenes from the play in acting class many years ago (the teacher: 'MissTari, you'll never play May.'  me:  'I KNOW!  That's why I want to do it in class!!!')

Fool for Love is a brutal play, yet rather dreamlike, with its scenes that obviously have taken place before and will take place again.  The inevitability of everything is shattering.  It shows the agony of love and co-dependence.  There's so much sadness, and rage, in the room, both from what they have and what they can never have.  And it's all on display with Shepard's particular brand of poetic yet utterly naked dialogue.  The contrasting monologues of Eddie and May are positively magical in their complete specificity and also complete universality.  Very few playwrights can capture the ugly and the beautiful in the same dialogue - Shepard is a master at it.

photo credit: Robert Altman
This play doesn't work if there isn't an equal amount of genius between the co-stars and this production is blessed with Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell.  I've been a fan of Arianda's since Venus in Fur - she is so real yet unreal at the same time.  She's broken and beaten, yet keeps finding the fire and will inside herself.  She knows how her story will play out, yet you still see the hope inside.  The hope that this time it will all turn out differently.  And Sam Rockwell is cowboy-personified.  But you can still see the neglected teenaged boy, trying to be noticed, inside the brutish man who won't take no for an answer.  The man who wants what he wants when he wants it, until he doesn't want it anymore. They play against each other beautifully.  Gordon Joseph Weiss as the Old Man is also brilliant in his speeches, always injecting the right amount of laconic irony into his worldview.  Tom Pelfrey is terrific as May's boyfriend who has walked in on something he will never be able to comprehend or get away from.  When he comes in, with his air of normality, you're sort of jolted out of the ugly symbiosis that Arianda and Rockwell have created.  Oh, and I would remiss if I didn't mention the amazing things Rockwell can do with his lasso rope...

This was just a blistering, sad and scary 90 minutes and I'm so glad my other Tony-voter boss invited me to join him.  To add to the fun, we sat behind Jennifer Grey and her handsome husband, Clark Gregg, and we sat across the aisle from Kevin Bacon.  So there was handsome handsomeness all around.  Thumbs up for that!!  Before the show, I also did a little holiday shopping and window-viewing, so I'll include some photos at the bottom.  We're in the home stretch, people!  Maybe an intervention won't be necessary...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Happy Belated #LoveTheatreDay!

All the internet holidays crack me up, but I did have to get on board for yesterday's #LoveTheatreDay.  I mean, hello, for me, EVERY day is #LoveTheatreDay!  This has been an especially busy theater week, with a show/reading/event every night, and frankly, I'm exhausted.  But I can hang on.  Yesterday, for the special day, I had a two-show day!  Well, if I'm going to be perfectly honest, it was a one-and-a-half-show day...

My Tony voter boss asked if I'd like to see the new adaptation of Therese Raquin with him yesterday afternoon.  I said, of course!  Even though I'm not the biggest Keira Knightley fan, I thought it would be fun to see that show.  Then, before we left, my Tony voter boss said, 'oops, not Therese Raquin, Dames at Sea.  That's the show I have tickets for - do you want to see that?'  I thought, sure!  A fun, frothy musical with tap dancing?  Of course I want to see that (for free, from Tony seats)!

I should back up a little bit.  Yesterday at work, we released a statement to our press list.  As the morning went on, I was getting replies and questions.  So I was a little distracted.  I thought that seeing a fun, frothy musical with tap dancing was just what the doctor ordered!  It would be a light and mindless afternoon distraction before going back to the office.  Unfortunately, that's not how it turned out.

Maybe I was just too distracted by work, but I could not get into Dames at Sea at all.  And, to be perfectly honest about it, we left at intermission.  As I said yesterday, it takes a lot to get me to leave at intermission, but in this case, I don't really know why.  The cast was quite good, the songs were serviceable, if not very memorable, and the choreography was nice.  I mean, there was tap dancing!  We all know how I love tap dancing!  But I could not get engaged, at all.  First off, for me, the small (but talented) cast just didn't seem to fill the space.  The show was written as a small, spoofy parody of 1930s movie musicals, and it probably should've remained a small show.  Putting it on a Broadway stage, even the small-ish Helen Hayes Theatre stage, just seemed to be a problem from the start.  The show is pretty much wall-to-wall duets, owing to the fact that the original productions were done on miniscule stages so two people were probably all that could fit on stage at any one time.  The show just couldn't fill the space and embrace me in the audience for some reason.

It's never a good sign that whenever a song started I would think, 'ugh, not another song.'  I just looked at the Playbill and see that there were nine songs in the first act.  It seemed like a lot more than that.  Maybe they were all really long.  I don't know.  I'm sad that I didn't respond or didn't enjoy the show.  I'm sure it was nobody's fault but mine, but I can't help thinking that if the show hadn't been trying so HARD, I would've enjoyed it more.  Easy breezy seems to me the way it should've gone.  But it was working HARD.  And sometimes working too hard just turns me off.

My second show of #LoveTheatreDay was one I'd seen several times before, both here and abroad.  Actually, there were two shows that I've seen abroad!  At the International Gay Theatre Festival in Dublin, they always pair two pieces to play in one venue.  When I saw my friend's play The Further Adventures Of..., it was paired with a piece titled Adam and Eva, written by a young pair of actors from the UK.  The Further Adventures of... is written by a dear friend and starring three dear friends, so I can't really be objective about it.  I will say that each time I see the show, I get very emotional in different places.  You'd think that after seeing the show upwards of six times by now, I'd stop getting teary-eyed, but I don't.  I got just as weepy last night as ever.  My friends are just putting their heart and soul into this very soulful play.  For me, it says a lot about coming to terms with yourself and your life.  And Adam and Eva is also quite touching.  The young actors are charming and adorable, yet very real and vulnerable and are doing justice to a true story of friendship and self-discovery.  There are three more performances of the double bill they're calling We Met in Dublin, next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so I think you should go go go.  Make your every day #LoveTheatreDay!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Another Reviewing Dilemma

So, last night I went to my favorite spot, the Signature Theatre, and saw a new American play by a female playwright.  As I am frequently wont to do.  And I found the play's subject matter so distasteful that I wonder if I should even talk about it.  I wonder if I can separate my taste from my feeling that all theater is worthwhile, at least to someone.  I still don't know, but I think I need to get it out of my head...

(Spoilers will abound, because if I'm going to talk about 'distasteful subject matter', I can't be coy and not say what it is.  At least I don't think I should.  So if you're planning on seeing the show, please just close this blog post up right now.)  I've seen three plays by this particular playwright and found all of them intriguing, if not completely satisfying for me.  I love her use of heightened language and big ideas.  I love her telling of stories I know nothing about.  I love her toughness and unwillingness to compromise.  I love that she normally writes about women without power because those are the characters who most need dramatizing.  But I just can't wrap my brain around last night's performance of Night is a Room.  It's still in previews, so I'll just talk about my problems and some of the issues in the play.

After reading the blurb on Signature's website, I bought a $25 ticket, because I love Signature, because I thought the blurb made the play sound intriguing and because I am a big fan of each cast member (I've already shared my intrigue with the playwright).  Here's the blurb:  "Liana and Marcus have a marriage others envy. Dore has grown accustomed to an isolated existence in her modest flat. After a surprise reunion on Marcus’s 40th birthday, their worlds are shattered by an unexpected turn of events. A world premiere production from Residency One playwright Naomi Wallace, Night is a Room is a searing exploration of love’s power to both ruin and remake our lives."

There are, I guess, many reasons why I didn't quite go to the place the play actually went.  In the first scene, we meet two women, one older, one younger.  The women are awkward with each other, indicating this is a first meeting.  We come to realize that the older woman, Dore, is the birth mother of the younger woman's husband.  The younger woman, Liana, is trying to arrange a meeting between her husband and his birth mother, who have not met before.  Liana figures that her husband's 40th birthday is the perfect time to surprise him with this 'gift.' 

So, already, my brain is thinking, hm, I probably won't enjoy this.  There are some stories that are so emotional to me, I can't think about them rationally in a theatrical way.  I can never see Rabbit Hole, Frozen (the play), Pillowman, or any number of plays that have subject matter that takes me out of the play because I respond too strongly emotionally.  And, if I had done more research about Night is a Room, I may have skipped it, too, just based on that first scene.  Of course, as the play continued, it got harder and harder for me to remain onboard.

a poem in the theater lobby
The second scene was in the home of Liana and her husband, Marcus.  They have a relatively graphic sexual scene, after which we discover that Marcus has been visiting his birth mother for about three weeks after that first meeting.  Dore is on her way over to the house for a visit.  Once she arrives, the air is just filled with tension and barely suppressed resentment, when suddenly Dore drops a bombshell: Marcus (who she calls Jonathan, because that's the name she gave him at his birth) will be leaving with her today and never coming back to his home with Liana.  I was confused - why would a grown man want to go live with his mother?  It took me longer than it took the character of Liana to understand that Marcus/Jonathan was going to LIVE with his mother.  That they were involved with each other, sexually, and wanted to be together.  OK.  Now, my brain immediately turned off.  That is just someplace I  This is apparently a real phenomenon that happens sometimes when children meet their biological family after a long time, which I didn't know and didn't need to know.  I think the playwright acknowledges that this is somewhere NO ONE wants to go, so she has tried to make the play a sort of dark comedy, with uncomfortably funny lines to head off the distaste.  There are arguments, ugly things are said, and the act ends with Marcus/Jonathan walking out to his new life with Dore.

When the lights came up, I think we all sat there kind of stunned.  The entire row to my left exited the theater, not to return.  The people behind me thought it was brilliant.  I was just gobsmacked.  I texted a friend who had seen a dress rehearsal and understood why he hadn't told me anything about it beforehand.  I was sitting next to the director and two rows in front of the playwright, so I didn't think I could leave.  I don't leave shows at intermission lightly.  Plus, I'll admit that I thought to myself, wow, I maybe kind of need to see how she makes this turn out!  And there was enough of that heightened language and big idea storytelling, plus, hello, I've never heard THIS story before (yes, I know Oedipus and this was something totally different) that made me hesitate to leave.  So I stayed for the second act.

The second act is much shorter and deals with the aftermath of what happened.  It's only one scene, and it only deals with Liana and Dore.   As repulsive as I found the idea in the first act, that act was more successful dramatically than the second.  For me, anyway.  The payoff (if you can call it that) just was so out in left field that I was left shaking my head.  And some of the staging and action was simply revolting.  So there's that.  But, again, when the play was over, there were people standing, others were quite moved.  Honestly, it's really and truly a thrill to me how different plays can touch everyone differently.  This one surely didn't touch me, unfortunately.  Or fortunately, as the case may be.  In my last two reviews of this playwright's work, I've said that I wasn't quite sure I liked her plays, but I was intrigued enough to keep trying.  I'm thinking that this may be my last one.  I don't think we're simpatico, which is totally on me and not on her.  Just because I find a play distasteful in the extreme doesn't mean it doesn't have craft or worth.  I did see betrayal and forgiveness buried in the play, which could've touched me somewhere, but didn't.  It's not that I don't want to be disturbed in the theater, I find terrifying or horrible or scary to be quite theatrically exciting sometimes.  But a story like this is  And I'm guessing I'll never really be on board with her work again.  Which, again, will probably be my loss and not hers.  At least I'll remember this play for a long time to come...

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Movie Reviews - Spectre and Bolshoi Babylon

I believe I've mentioned in the past that I just don't go to the movies all that often.  And when I do, I generally don't see action movies or Bond movies.  I think I've only seen two Bond movies in an actual theater (and I'm not sure I've ever seen others anyway): License to Kill, with Timothy Dalton (I saw that when I worked in Utah; someday, I'm going to have to do a blog post on that summer and how we'd have run of the movie theater), and GoldenEye, with Pierce Brosnan (I can't remember why I went to see it, but I think it has something to do with having a gentleman friend take me to Sense and Sensibility,, which he loathed, so to punish me, he made me see all sorts of horrible testosterone-filled action flicks).  I remember next to nothing about either movie, though I have a vague memory of enjoying Alan Cumming in a small part in GoldenEye and thinking his James Bond would've been much more interesting.  So, all this is to say that I don't think I'm quite the right audience for a James Bond movie.  : )

Thursday night, my Brit-actor-loving-pal decided she wanted to see Spectre because it stars Brit Daniel Craig.  Since she volunteered to pay and since the movie was showing at the Ziegfeld Theatre, where I love seeing films, I thought, 'why not'?  I settled in, watched the previews and got a thrill watching the preview for the new Star Wars movie.  That's pretty much the only thrill I got that night.

Spectre is a well-constructed, well-shot movie, but it's pretty boring.  At least I thought it was boring.  And much too long.  I told myself before I went that Bond movies are male fantasies and pretty much misogynist nightmares, but even taking that into account, I had thought the movies were done with more of a wink and more good humor, more fun.  There was no fun in Spectre.  Of course, friends have since told me that's the whole idea of this new Daniel Craig reboot of the series - the films are now gritty and serious.  But they still have sexual romps and sexist notions, no matter how 'modern' they say they are.  The opening credits had naked women writhing with octopus tentacles encirlcling their glistening limbs, for heaven's sake!  It's as if they're trying to have it both ways.  So, the tone didn't work for me.  Having said that, I did think the opening stunt sequence in Mexico City was stunning, and there were some gorgeous shots and stage pictures.  I was disappointed in Christoph Waltz's villain - he was just a generic Eurotrash fey baddie who uttered his lines with bemusement.  Waltz can do that in his sleep, so I expected much more from him.  But then I have to admit it was nice to see at least one of the Bond girls be Bond's age, even if she was a villain's widow and she had sex with Bond right after her husband's funeral, which was the first time she set eyes on Bond.  I mean, hey, I think Daniel Craig is hot, too, but still...  I did like Ben Whishaw as Q and while watching Ralph Fiennes as M, I began to wish he were playing Bond.  Not that I thought Daniel Craig did a bad job, he didn't. He's a fine actor and a good-looking man, I just thought Fiennes didn't seem to be 'over it.'  Oh, and even though the screenplay was written by committee, I think I could tell where Jez Butterworth's contributions were.  His stuff (or at least what I imagine was his stuff) was very good.  I actually have a lot more I could write, but I'll just stop and say that Spectre wasn't my cup of tea.  Oh well.

Last night, I went with my Impossibly Handsome Ballet Buddy (IHBB) to see a new documentary about the scandal surrounding the attack of the former director of the Bolshoi Ballet, Bolshoi Babylon.  We saw it at the SVA Theatre as part of DOC NYC, a big documentary film series.  The movie took us backstage of the Bolshoi, which is EXACTLY my cup of tea, and it tried to document the season following the acid attack on the director.  Sergei Fillin hadn't been the director for very long and then he was the victim of an attack when someone threw acid into his face.  The movie has interviews with some dancers in the Bolshoi company, a rabid fan of the Bolshoi (when he said he's seen over 600 performances, I felt much less like a ballet crazy person), board members and the new general manager.

Bolshoi Babylon is fascinating, though maybe a tad unfocused.  It seems as if it's trying to solve a mystery, but it doesn't really.  It asks more questions than it answers.  I got a lot more information from Google this morning.  But it was so interesting to see amazing ballet dancers so close up, and the complete access the filmmakers received made for some shocking scenes - there was one scene with the ballet company, after Fillin had returned, where the general manager and Fillin were posturing and fighting for power and control, it was tense and awkward and amazing to watch.  There was an interview with Fillin where he said all the rumors were untrue.  But we hadn't heard about any rumors before.  That's kind of where it seemed unfocused.  Another dancer from the Bolshoi was convicted of hiring someone to commit the crime, and supposedly half the company was on that dancer's side, but we didn't hear from them.  Another unfocused part.  But I loved watching the movie anyway.  The ballerinas who were also interviewed were honest and compelling, and the new general manager, Vladimir Urin, seemed like a stereotypical Russian baddie from a Bond movie (see, I can tie things together too, lol).  The dynamics were fascinating.  And the cinematography was stunning.  After the movie, the two directors came out for a quick Q & A.  They were quite charming and extremely candid about how they put the movie together.  I'm glad we stayed to listen.  They said the doc would be premiering on cable at the end of the year - I'm looking forward to watching it again.  Maybe I can make more sense of all of the questions...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review - Incident at Vichy

Considering that at least two of Arthur Miller's plays are on my top ten list of all-time-favorite-plays, I think it was a no-brainer that I would buy a ticket to the revival of his Incident at Vichy, currently in previews at my favorite place in town, Signature Theatre.  Factor in that Richard Thomas, one of my all-time-very-favorite actors, would be starring in it, and again, all signs point to yes (anyone else have a Magic 8 Ball when they were growing up??).  Plus, hello, there's just no resisting the $25 ticket price...

I've never seen a live performance of Incident at Vichy, nor have I read the script, but I have seen a DVD version once or twice.  It starred Richard Jordan and Harris Yulin - again, two of my very favorite actors, so I had a positive image in my mind of the play in performance.  The current production is still in previews, so I imagine they're still working; I'll just offer a few comments.  I guess you could say spoilers will follow.

Nearly any play that deals with the Holocaust in any way breaks my heart.  It just does.  I should just throw that out to start.  Needless to say, regardless of flaws, my heart was broken repeatedly last night.  Incident at Vichy takes place in 1942 in Vichy, France, which is supposed to be a 'free zone,' but to the gentlemen who have been rounded up and placed in a holding room, things do not feel so free.  They start comparing how they were brought into the facility, which isn't exactly a police station, but rather maybe an old warehouse that the Germans have converted into a detention room.  The set is very expertly done, giving a feeling of antiseptic dread.

When the lights come up, we see men just sitting, blankly staring, looking lost, and not saying anything or interacting.  Finally, one of the younger men starts to talk, not only to the other men, but to himself.  He sets up the situation very well, with a little bit of humor and a little bit of foreshadowing, that puts you on the edge of your seat.  Eventually, more men are brought into the holding room.  At first, they think they're there to have their papers checked, but they all know, in the back of their minds, that they're there because they're Jewish.  When German officers come in to start 'interrogations,' the dread escalates.  Each man goes to be interrogated - whether or not they come back out is where the dread and tragedy lies.

In my opinion, the play itself is perhaps a tad flawed, in that some of the dialogue is very pointed and didactic, though there is some of Miller's characteristic bold and blunt truths, plus most of the characters are stereotypes.  But, I guess since this is a 90-minute play, perhaps Miller just wanted to get on with things and not bother with shadings.  Even with those flaws, though, I found the play riveting.  Compelling.  Horrible (in the best theatrical way).  And impossible to look away.  The ideas of guilt, terror, complicity, and the struggle to understand oneself and others, were all compellingly acted.  I frequently held my breath and felt my heart stop when another character went into the interrogation room.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
The actors worked together brilliantly and the give and take between them was well-constructed.  Some of the actors' characterizations worked better for me than others, but that's ok.  Maybe some of them are still finding their way.  But by the second half, when most of the conflict is between two or three characters, the tension has ratcheted up to an almost unbearable degree.  Hearing the actor (playing an actor) give a piece of a certain play's dialogue before he goes into the interrogation room, made me gasp.  And the final confrontation between the psychiatrist and the aristocrat was bold and powerful, and oh so moving.  The fact that the aristocrat was played by Richard Thomas made that scene all the more moving.  He does find so many layers and shadings to his character, which doesn't seem to be written with much shading.  Richard Jordan played this part in the DVD I've watched before and his performance is so different, it's astounding.  Both so real, both so different, and both fantastic.  And the very end of the play?  Stunning.  Oh, and I just have to mention that Jonathan Hadary is incredible and he has no dialogue.  None.  Amazing.

Not much to tell seat neighbor-wise, mainly because no one sat next to me!  On either side!  It was very strange.  Everyone in my section was very well-behaved, thankfully.  Of course, I brought the average age of the audience down to about 89, so there's that.  I was excited to see another Signature playwright in the ladies room (I'll be seeing her play next week), and then spying acting genius Lois Smith in the lobby.  Those were exciting sightings before the show. So I went in with a positive attitude - if occasionally, my mind wandered and I thought, hm, that's a bit awkward, well, ok.  On the whole, I loved seeing Incident at Vichy.  It gave me some wonderful acting to enjoy, especially from longtime favorite Richard Thomas, and some lingering thoughts to deal with.  For example, there's a point where an electrician is arguing with the aristocrat.  The electrician talks about being a working man and how the working man will rise up and end the tragedy of the war.  How the working man will not let the rumored killing of Jews happen.  And the aristocrat says, no, actually, the working man loves Hitler, because they think he's just like them and he'll make their lives better.  And I started to get chills about how politics are playing out around here right now, and how people are circling around xenophobic presidential candidates.  And it terrified me.  Again, Arthur Miller has written a play about its time, but still about all time.  What a genius.  I highly recommend your looking for the DVD of Incident at Vichy, and, as always, I highly recommend you head over to the Signature and check out what they're doing.  It's always so worthwhile.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Why Not Flash Back??

November 6 is actually quite an active day in my theater-going life!  I was looking at old reviews and saw quite a few that I could've reprinted.  I almost went with the year I saw two shows in one day, but I disliked one of those plays in the extreme, so...why relive that?  I chose instead to flash back to the show I saw in 2007 - that was a momentous year for me, since it was the year I was on a game show and won a trip to Italy!  Actually, this was the last show I saw before the Italian trip, so it's even more meaningful.  Not to mention it's one of my very favorite plays ever...

11/6/07:  Well, for once, all the hype I’ve heard was justified.  August: Osage County was a TERRIFIC night at the theater.  Not only because I was with two gloriously handsome and fabulous men (who got to move over and sit with me when my entire row of Q didn’t show up!), but also because this play was amazing.  The production was amazing.  The actors were amazing.  Everything.  For once, I don’t have to say, ‘oh, it was a good production but the play itself was so-so.’  What a thrill!

In the vein of Williams, Albee or Foote (though certainly not as gently as Foote), Tracy Letts shows us a family, not unlike our own, with all their charms and horribleness.  This is a scary group of people, yet you know and root for every single one of them.  How Letts keeps all of these balls in the air is really wonderful.  Every character has their own story and then their story bleeds into the play at large in a seamless way.  Yay!  The only other show of Letts’ that I have seen is Killer Joe, which I enjoyed a great deal, but it was SO different from this play, it’s almost like a different writer!  Though, I guess the charming bitterness of the characters is evident in both scripts.

photo credit: Sara Krulwich
I’m sure my handsome friends' reviews will be much better than mine in detailing the success of the writing, so I’ll just say that the actors are all so terrific, I can see lots of awards coming their way.  And this play has Pulitzer written all over it [hey, called that one!].  Amy Morton, as one of the daughters, is giving one of those ‘did you see it?’ performances that people will be talking about for a really long time.  But everyone is giving such detailed and natural performances in this rollicking good story that the three and a half hours just fly by.  Honestly.  Even for me, the gal who goes to bed at 10pm most nights.  DVR was invented for sleepy people like me.

The ONE quibble I have is with this new trend (apparently I am tired of most new trends) of having this sound, kind of like the Law and Order ka-DUNGs, happen at blackouts.  I mean, do they really think blackouts aren’t distinctive enough?  These curtain lines aren’t distinctive enough?  They are, actually, and I didn’t need a ka-DUNG to let me know there’s a ending here.  But that is a minor minor complaint.  And I was just talking to another friend who was there last night (if I had known, he could’ve sat in that empty row Q with us!) and he didn’t even notice them.  But I’ve noticed them more lately—they’re in Farnsworth Invention, they were in The Overwhelming and Frost/Nixon and probably others I can’t think of right now.  But there you have it.  I am not a trendsetter.  You’d think I’d like this one, though, since I love Law and Order!

Show-wise, this might be it for me until I get back from Italy—can that be right?  Ack!  Can I go a month without seeing a show?  We’ll see.  Actually, I may try to fit Cymbeline in the next week, if I can pick up a TDF ticket tomorrow/payday.  We'll just have to see.  In the meantime, arrivederci! 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review - King Charles III

It's becoming apparent I should block TDF from my computer.  I am completely unable to control myself when I see listings for new plays.  And now, because I didn't exercise self-control, I will be eating cocoa pebbles, ramen noodles and 99-cent pizza for the next week.  Not at the same time, of course.  But it was totally worth it!  King Charles III was wonderful!

I honestly didn't really know what to expect.  I just had the barest hint that this was a piece about Prince Charles becoming king, but I didn't really know anything else.  I especially didn't know that the play was written in iambic pentameter!  Or that it was going to be positively Shakespearean.  But adding all those components together truly made for an unforgettable experience.  I just read a really wonderful interview with the playwright, Mike Bartlett, about how he put the play together.  I'm going to link it HERE.

My seat was extreme house right, so I did miss some of the set and staging.  So that was a bit of a drag.  And I was next to a gentleman who smelled of (sorry) musty unlaundered clothes, mothballs, hospital disinfectant and despair.  I kept having to get out my perfume rollerball to try to re-scent the air around me.  He was also very upset there was no synopsis in the program ("How will I know what's happening?!").  Of course, a synopsis probably wouldn't have kept him awake nor kept him from snoring.  Moving on.  Oh, and if you go to the show and you're directed to aisle 4, don't get alarmed at the very long line.  It's where people line up to get their assisted listening devices.  I saw the line and thought, wow, that's a lot of TDF tickets in the same location.  Just move to the right and walk around that line...

photo credit: Joan Marcus
Back to the play.  I've always had an interest in the royal family and their escapades.  I got up and watched almost all of the royal weddings on tv and I enjoy looking at photos of royal babies.  Therefore, I had a pre-existing interest in how this play would handle the idea of Charles finally becoming king.  And my goodness, the way it played out on the stage was so compelling!  The script was so original and thought-provoking, and the acting so completely realistic and human, that now I can hardly imagine things turning out in real life any other way.  The play begins with the death of (current) Queen Elizabeth and suddenly, after 70 years, Charles finally takes the throne.  Tim Pigott-Smith, as Charles, doesn't go for an impersonation, but he does capture the essence of a man who seems to be more of a thinker rather than a doer.  He knows he's waited his whole life for this chance, and has given his whole life to his people, so he wants to get everything just right.  And his first task as king becomes a huge power struggle between the Prime Minister and the palace.  All of the arguments, on both sides of the aisle, were interesting and cogently presented.  You could see that Charles was fighting for principles, but also for his finally-attained-status.  He was so vulnerable and compassionate, but also obstinate and short-sighted.  I think Pigott-Smith is giving a masterful performance, where you can see so much with just the way he stands, moves and speaks.  I felt so sorry for Charles (and I often have pitied him in real life), and was moved to tears several times by the genuine pathos portrayed.  And the decision he makes to end act one was cataclysmic - I didn't see that coming and was quite breathless going into the intermission.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
All of the actors were terrific, though.  I was very taken with Richard Goulding as Prince Harry.  We see him start off as the flighty n'er do well, as he is often portrayed in the press, but the play gives him a beautiful arc that leads him to an unexpected place.  Goulding captured a lot of layers in a young man who is seemingly torn by the life he's expected to live.  The actors playing William and Kate were wonderful, as was the actress playing Camilla.  I also greatly enjoyed Miles Richardson in the relatively small role of the royal press secretary, who always seemed to know more than people gave him credit for.

I barely noticed the play was in verse - only occasionally did the dialogue seem a tad awkward.  It mainly elevated the material in beautiful ways.  There are stunning soliloquies and so much complexity in the language.  There's also a great deal of humor throughout.  I did also notice Shakespearean influences in the staging and the characterizations.  More than once did I compare characters in King Charles III to characters in Shakespeare.  Most often, I was reminded of Richard II, Prince Hal, Lear and Lady Macbeth.  Oh, and maybe a little bit of Hamlet's father's ghost.  Because, yes, there is a ghost.  But I think Bartlett has juggled this story of a dysfunctional family and a fractured nation with such genius.  I was completely engrossed throughout and was surprised, tickled, saddened and entertained the entire evening.  I should also mention there's a gorgeous original score by Jocelyn Pook, played live by two musicians, sitting up in one of the theater's boxes.  It just adds to the richness and the wonderfulness of the evening.  I highly recommend seeing King Charles III - it's a limited run so don't waste any time, even if you have to eat ramen noodles for a week.