Monday, April 17, 2017

Review - Oslo

I don't know why I missed the Off-Broadway production of Oslo, the new play on the Oslo Accords.  I generally try to see as many new plays as possible.  I guess I just didn't try hard enough.  I was happy, though, when a Broadway transfer was announced. We always need new American plays on Broadway.  After a nudge from a work project, I finally got a ticket and went last Friday (the day after opening).

I'm very fortunate in that my office publishes a magazine and I get to be involved, at times, in interviewing subjects.  I sat in on a conversation between the playwright of Oslo and another wonderful American playwright a couple of weeks ago.  It was very interesting to get some insights into Oslo the play - what went into the research, the construction of it, and other writer-y things - and see them put into practice while I was watching the show.

Oslo deals with the secret meetings that went on behind-the-scenes before the famous Oslo Accords.  I didn't know any of the history of the meetings or the difficulties getting the two factions to come together, though of course I know the accords didn't really last. For me, and this is a personal thing, any story that deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes me sob.  I just do. The thought of people walking around the streets, carrying automatic rifles, and killing other people, just for who they are, breaks my heart.  It was compelling to me to hear characters from both sides of the conflict clearly and cogently lay out their reasons for conflict.  And I'm always engaged by work that shows that no one person is any one thing.

photo credit: T Charles Erickson
The acting in Oslo is first-rate: Jefferson Mays, long one of my favorites, is terrific as an institute of science director who maybe gets in over his head, but can't stop himself.  He's equal parts egotist and naive optimist, who struggles to keep himself neutral at all times. But my heart raced during the scene when his neutrality was really called into question. Jennifer Ehle, another favorite, was terrific as Mays' wife - a career diplomat who is always behind the scenes, behind men who are neither smart enough or quick enough to get ahead of her, but who get ahead of her nonetheless.  I was also terribly impressed by Michael Aronov, who played an Israeli foreign ministry director, and Anthony Azizi as the PLO finance minister. The layers and levels the two of them had to play was astounding, as was the tightrope they need to walk to make sure their portrayals don't fall into stereotypes or judgments. They were truly fantastic.

But the whole cast was fantastic.  Most of the actors, except for a handful of the leads, played multiple roles and were wonderfully adept at doing so.  The physical production is also terrific - it has the spare quality you would associate with Nordic countries, but it was also very expansive in the large Vivian Beaumont Theater.  The projections were a wonderful touch, adding more of a 'you are there' quality to the 'ripped from the headlines' proceedings.  

You would think that a play dealing with such fraught politics would be heavy and serious all the time, but Oslo is also surprisingly funny throughout.  There were delightful touches that made you laugh at yourself and helped you reset your brain for what would come next. And, as always, I'm so impressed by a play that takes a real subject, on which you know the outcome, and still creates suspense and tension.  That takes real craft.  I recently read that Oslo will become a film.  I don't know - it seems perfect as a play to me.  Big ideas shown in a big way in a big space with a big audience.  I have a feeling that 'opening it up' will actually make it smaller.  Which I guess could work for the piece, making the political personal.  But I have to admit I do love a big play, much more than a big movie.  Maybe that's just me.  But I enjoyed the play Oslo a great deal and highly recommend it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I Got Six (happy blogging anniversary to me!)

Anyone remember Schoolhouse Rock?  I loved it.  I remember sitting in front of my tv on Saturday mornings, hoping against hope that it would be a day with a new segment. Anyway, apropos of nothing, when I thought about blogging for six years, the song from Schoolhouse Rock, "I Got Six," immediately popped into my head. Maybe that's just me. 

Six years have gone by in a flash. When I started the blog, my nephew was in elementary school - now he's going to be a senior in high school.  I never thought I'd worry about him more now than I did when he was little, but hello.  I do.  But I worry about a lot of things more now than I did then.  More on that in a bit.  Blog-wise, the past year has seen a lot of the same old, same old, though I have had quite a few more "big hit" days. I even had a day where I received over 400 hits!  Again, I know this is small potatoes in the scheme of internet things, but to me, the online notice is crazy.  I've had hits from Bahrain, the Ivory Coast and Brunei.  I mean, come on?!  Someone in those countries read something I wrote?!  Oh brave new world...

Or crazy new world.  Just to be off-topic for a bit - I find myself self-editing on my blog all the time.  More than usual, I mean. I've been taking the denial and avoidance that I've referred to before a little bit too far, perhaps. I don't really talk about the fractures in my family. I don't talk about what little I've been doing to resist the crazytown that's going on in this country. If I see a show and don't really enjoy it, most of the time, I won't blog about it. There's so much hate and unhappiness all around me, I'm loath to add to it. I guess I could take the "...with a little TMI thrown in" descriptor off my blog and that would cover the fact that I'm not really sharing everything that's going down in my world. 

But part of me wants to express more.  Maybe it's due to my new therapist.  Maybe it's an extension of the original impulse I had to start this blog: the people in my life are probably tired of hearing me whine, complain and vent, so if I just write it down on the internet, I'll have gotten it out of my system and no one will really read it.  I just don't know.  It's a struggle for me.  Will I really feel better revealing extremely personal insights?  Sharing my fears and anxieties about what's happening around me?  Especially when I see that the country that has the second-most views of my blog is Russia?  How can that not make me nervous?!  Though I'm sure it's the ballet reviews and nothing more nefarious than that... I think as a test, I'll post photos at the end of this post that show where I'm coming from right now.  We'll see what happens from there.

Anyway, to get back to the blog.  In the past six years, I've written 697 posts that have been looked at 44,457 times (if I'm reading the numbers correctly, that means I did 107 blog posts that were viewed over 10,000 times since last year's anniversary).  Crazy, right?  My all-time list of most-read posts has stayed mainly the same as last year, with one interesting new entry (I think the post was linked on another, more popular, blog and that's why it got so many hits):

  • ABT - Sleeping Beauty, 7/7/11, 366 views
  • ABT Fall Season - GUEST BLOGGER ALERT, 11/13/13, 338 views
  • Review - The Healing, 6/17/16, 289 views
  • Review - The Rascals, 5/1/13, 276 views
  • My 22 minutes as a cable tv/game show star, 7/6/13, 185 views

My list of most-read posts since last year's anniversary is also interesting to me; again, I think being linked by other sites has helped me out here.  I guess I need to figure out how to make that happen more often to really boost my stats:

  • Review - The Healing, 6/17/16, 289 views
  • GUEST BLOGGER ALERT - Pumpkinpalooza, 94 views
  • Review - Sunday in the Park with George, 92 views
  • Review - Small Mouth Sounds, 7/13/16, 81 views
  • Review - Good, 7/28/16, 80 views

I could probably share my blog posts more often on social media.  I do get more hits when I tweet or post on Facebook.  But do I really want more hits?  I guess I need to decide if I'm just writing an online journal that a few people I know will read, or I really want to SAY something and I want LOTS of people to read it.  After six years, you'd think I'd know what I want.  But no, not really, not so much...

Brief Thoughts on A Doll's House, Part 2

Hold onto your hats, people, today is going to be a two-post day!  I have an autopost coming up later tonight (you'll see why), but I saw a show last night about which I want to share a few thoughts.  And predispositions.  But mainly thoughts.

My Tony voter boss is graciously taking me to see Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2, a couple of weeks after it opens.  After seeing the grosses from last week, I began to worry that the show may not last that long.  I hope I'm wrong, but...I took myself to a preview last night.  Don't tell my Tony voter boss, please.  The show still has two weeks before it opens, so I won't say much, but I wanted to say...something. So those grosses will go UP!

I say:  please go see A Doll's House, Part 2.  Yes, we all know by now that I'm a big fan of Lucas Hnath. You can read all about it HEREHERE, and HERE.  I'll just quote myself again, because I think this is what my enjoyment boils down to:  I like the way he writes. I like the way his brain works.  I like that he writes smart dialogue that sounds like the character and not just like the playwright.  I like how he lets me decide for myself how to feel about his characters and his situations, without taking sides. I like the wide range of subjects he writes about.  I just like the way he tells a story. 

And last night, for the first time in a long time, I liked one of his characters so much that I actually would want to play her.  It's been many years since I put my acting shoes away, and I rarely miss it, but good heavens, I would love to play Hnath's Nora. She's smart, funny, wry, selfish, short-sighted and totally real.  Loved her.  And I loved the play.

I loved my seat, too.  The stage/set has been set up as a thrust, so the first few rows of the orchestra are angled on either side of the thrust.  I was in the first row of the orchestra behind those angled seats, if that makes sense.  So I was terrifically close to the action, but not too close.

Taking place fifteen years after the final door slam of Ibsen's A Doll's House, this 'sequel' imagines what would happen if Nora came back for a specific reason.  It's 90 minutes of give and take, love and hate, laughter and tears.  Laurie Metcalf is first-rate, as is Jayne Howdyshell (a theatrical treasure), Condola Rashad and Chris Cooper (to be honest, he grew on me over the evening, I wasn't sure I would like his performance style at first).  As far as I could see, the audience was eating the play up; I don't know if it was an especially theater-friendly crowd, but everyone seemed to be on board with what was going on.  The shift from formal to informal, the revelations, the confessions - I heard the audience make lots of audible responses to all of these.  Maybe it was because I was so close, but I felt really engaged with the whole building, as opposed to just the actors on stage.  Again, I'm predisposed to like Lucas' plays, but still.  I would hate that such a smart and interesting play would have a tremendously short run on Broadway.  A play that deals with finding your authentic self and acknowledging that your authentic self may not be best for everyone around you.  I'm struggling with that kind of thing now - many of my sessions with my new therapist are about dealing with living with disappointing people when I stand up for what I believe in.  It's a totally new concept for me.  So to see it acted out, using an old favorite play of mine as a jumping-off point, was exactly what I needed last night.  Again, predisposition.  

But please, even if you don't share my predisposition, go see A Doll's House, Part 2!  Judge for yourself!  Show producers that we want quirky new plays on Broadway - there's room for everything!  Let's get those grosses UP!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review - Amelie

Well, hello there!  Have you missed me?  I know it's been a while - there's a reason.  I was supposed to head to the Humana Festival of New American Plays, where I would be seeing six new plays, alongside panel discussions and a one-act festival.  I figured I needed to stay home a few nights beforehand, to make sure I was in peak play-watching form.  I was REALLY looking forward to going.  And as with all plans I make lately, things went awry. When I got to the airport last Thursday, our flight to Louisville was delayed. It kept getting delayed in half-hour increments, and I kept emailing people in Louisville, to change our dinner plans and other meetings.  The weather kept going from raining to sunny to raining to sunny.  It was a bit crazy.  Suddenly, our flight just disappeared from the electronic board at the gate.  No warning, no announcement.  My work pal and I knew that our flight had finally been canceled (we'd been at the airport for about six hours), so we jumped up to get in the line to talk to a service representative.

At this point, our phones stopped working, as did the internet and the airline's app.  It was nuts. Finally, when we hadn't moved in line at all after standing there for a good while, a representative told us to just go home and try to make new plans from there. Sounded like a plan, since we couldn't use the phones or internet.  We went downstairs to get my work pal's suitcase (he had checked it when he arrived) and, of course, they couldn't find it.  That took another good long while.  We found out that there were massive problems across this particular airline's routes and that there was no way we could even rebook for a later time over the weekend.  Instead of enjoying theater, I spent most of the weekend on hold, trying to get refunds for our hotel and airfare.  It was unfun, to say the least.  Plus, there was a hole in my life about six plays wide...

While I was on hold on my cellphone over the weekend, I got onto my tablet and bought a bunch of tickets through TDF.  I just couldn't resist any longer, I had to see SOMETHING. My next scheduled tickets aren't until May and that was too far away.  The first ticket I purchased was for the new Broadway musical Amelie, which I saw last night.  I'm seeing two other shows this week.  I may live to regret it... : )

I saw the film on which the musical is based a few times, but I certainly haven't seen it for a lot of years, so I went into the musical pretty open-minded.  I vaguely knew that the show didn't get stellar reviews, so maybe my expectations weren't sky-high, but I had a lovely time at Amelie.  I remember the movie as being charming and quirky and romantic and gentle and light.  The musical is all that, with maybe a little bit of rueful resignation. I definitely had a smile on my face throughout most of the evening, and was in tears quite a few times as well.

We all already know about how much I love the work of playwright/librettist Craig Lucas and he works his magic here as well.  I was also quite taken, again, with Nathan Tysen's smart and quirky lyrics (I enjoyed his lyrics in Tuck Everlasting as well).  If I wished the music by Daniel Messe had a little more French verve to it, ok.  Not a deal-breaker for me, but just a little bit would've been nice.  I do look forward to getting the cast album, though, so I can hear the songs again.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
The story of a painfully shy girl who is looking for love, but is too afraid to go after it, is done, like in the film, in a very whimsical way.  In the first few minutes alone, we're treated to a dancing fish, a nun with a dinosaur head, and a big balloon representation of a Belgian tourist.  I guess if your tolerance for quirk and whimsy is low, Amelie might not be the show for you.  I was in the mood for it, apparently, because I actually wanted more.  The first few songs of the show, when Amelie is a child (and that child actress was terrific), I just fell completely in love with the world of the show, with the idea that this kid was so starved for love and life that she made up wacky shit in her head.  The show got less wacky as it went on, which makes total sense as Amelie changes her life, but I found myself missing it.  A bit. But I was also terribly moved in several places, as I frequently am when watching something written by Craig Lucas, by the chasms people put in their own way while trying to find love and acceptance.  

There was one song that I could've done completely without, and there was one song that I didn't understand at all, but mainly, I just let myself go with the gentle charms of Amelie. The audience around me seemed to be having a good time as well, there were chuckles and nods of recognition throughout the show.  I think the audience was also just eating up Phillipa Soo as Amelie.  I hope you'll excuse me when I admit that I haven't seen her on stage before.  I've heard a lot about her, of course, but I had yet to experience her.  She is simply delightful in the show, going headlong into this rather oddball character, but also making her totally lovable and relatable.  The show could easily have gone off the rails and been so twee that no one could stand it, but as far as I'm concerned, that didn't happen.  It was sweet, wistful, and charming.  But it maybe could've been more French. Un peu.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


Yes, I did go a little crazy with getting myself little birthday treats.  Oh well.  You're only 53 once.  Or so I've been told...

The first treat to myself was going to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which I've already told you about.  Last Friday, I accepted a gifted ticket to see one of the final previews of Lynn Nottage's Sweat.  You may recall that I saw, and greatly enjoyed, a preview performance of the Off-Broadway production at the Public Theater last fall (you can see that review HERE).  I was thrilled that the production was picked up for a Broadway run - not only was I thrilled that Lynn Nottage would FINALLY be on Broadway (seriously, why has it taken so long?!  I mean, I think I know why, but I just like to keep asking), but I was also thrilled that I would see people so familiar to me, people not normally depicted on a Broadway stage, front and center.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
I did worry that knowing the plot already would lessen Sweat's impact.  Of course, I needn't have worried.  I was still on the edge of my seat, I was still holding my breath, I was still shocked/saddened/enraged by what happened and how these characters behaved.  Maybe even more so, because these actors have really deepened their performances.  They seemed even more raw, yet more defined.  I think transfer was a complete success, even in the huge Studio 54.  I was in the mezzanine, but never felt too far away from the action.

I was fortunate enough to chat with the playwright at my office and she mentioned that she had been making tweaks and changes to the script before the Broadway opening - I think I noticed two differences, one rather large, and I'm dying to ask her about them.  I think I'll let the excitement of opening die down before I ask.  Anyway, I gave enough of the plot and stuff in that first review linked above, so this time I'll just say I again LOVED Sweat and I highly recommend everyone go see it.

Playwrights Horizons always has a lottery for free tickets to their first preview.  When you don't win (and I never win, so why use 'if'?), you get an email saying you didn't win, but here are dates you can have a discounted ticket for $15. Most times, the dates they offer don't fit in my schedule, but this time, I took them up on the discount and saw the third preview of Zayd Dohrn's The Profane.  I met Zayd a few years ago and was interested to check out his writing.

Again, I saw only the second or third preview, so I'll just offer a few thoughts.  The Profane is about two immigrant families, who don't quite see eye to eye.  Or do they? There are many familiar questions in the play, about family and loyalty and religion, also maybe class and prejudice, but I was also quite surprised, several times, with the direction the play took.  I find being surprised a wonderful thing. I thought the dialogue was smart, witty and true to the characters; I thought the characters were interesting and very well-rounded; I thought the plot was very timely and intriguing.  And the set was fantastic!  So I definitely enjoyed myself at The Profane and may try to go back later in the run.  There was a talkback after the performance, which was also interesting.  This particular audience seemed dissatisfied with the ending and they offered suggestions on how to fix it, which is so.not.helpful at a talkback.  Plus, half of them seemed to have the croup, so that didn't help endear them to me.  Personally, I thought the ending was just right, but I guess you can't discount the opinions of a whole bloc of people. Or can you? I don't know. 

Sunday night, I had dinner with a friend at Blue Dog Cafe, near Worldwide Plaza.  May I just say that the avocado and goat cheese toast was amazing, as was my riff on a tequila sunrise.  For dessert, the server recommended the pistachio cheesecake, which was delicious, and they very sweetly brought it out with a lit birthday candle and they sang happy birthday to me.  It was nice to spend so much quality time with my friend, whom I never see enough, and Blue Dog Cafe was a cozy place to be.  Monday, aka my actual birthday, I went with a handsome work friend to The Stinger Bar, inside the Intercontinental Hotel.  I also find their food and drinks delicious, especially the Killer Bee cocktail, which is potent and my favorite.  They also brought me a dessert with a lit candle (though no singing this time) - I felt very properly feted.

Wednesday night, I went with another work pal to see King Lear at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City.  I considered this another birthday treat because I share the same birthday with the actor who played Lear, Austin Pendleton.  I had never been to this venue before, so it was fun to discover a new theater space.  Again, I saw an early preview, so I'll just share thoughts.  As I understand it, this particular production of Lear is set in an assisted living facility and Lear himself is suffering from dementia.  I found that an interesting-enough concept, though it didn't seem to be utilized consistently through the production.  The acting, on the whole, was very good, though at times some of the acting styles didn't really mesh together.  I did think Austin Pendleton was a terrific Lear - he underplayed the bombast, which made his banishment of Cordelia even more chilling, and his relationship with his Fool seemed very real.  Other actors overplayed greatly, which in such a small space maybe wasn't a good idea.  We were in the front row, and one or two of the fight scenes got uncomfortably close, and, oh, the chairs were most uncomfortable, but on the whole, it was a fun evening with a fun work pal.

Then, last night was the last birthday treat I got for myself.  Oh, I have other theater tickets coming up (a couple of Sondheim revivals, which makes me SO happy!) and ballet season starts really soon, but I think I've celebrated myself long enough.  For my last treat, I went to see Tan Dun (Oscar-winning composer of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) conduct two world premieres of his work: one was called "Symphony of Colors-Terracotta," which he wrote to commemorate the opening of a new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the other piece was a new concerto based on his score for the film Hero.  The concert was in the auditorium of the Met.  Even though I skipped out of work a little early so I could look at the exhibit before the concert, because of the weather, it took me longer to get there than I planned.  So I only had time to check out some Egyptian art and the Temple of Dendur before sitting for the concert.  As for the music, it was terrific.  There were screens on stage that showed pieces of art from the new exhibition and they matched the music beautifully.  The last movement was rather thrilling - as we saw more and more terracotta warriors, the music built as well.  Tan Dun was a generous and exciting conductor; I often found myself watching him instead of the projections on the screen.  The second piece, based on his film score, was GORGEOUS. I totally need to see that movie now.  There were three excellent soloists (a pianist, a cellist and a violinist) and they were terrifically supported by the Juilliard Orchestra.  Really, everything about the evening was first rate and I'm so glad I went.  I should remember to celebrate things more often... :)