Friday, March 30, 2007

Brush up your Shakespeare

I have now seen both of Propeller's current offerings at BAM, and I am excited to be able to discuss them side by side. But the ensemble is only in town through tomorrow, so before you read on, go buy your tickets! I'll wait.

It's hard to overstate the value of a true ensemble approach to performing Shakespeare. As I said before, I saw and was enchanted by the 1998 Nicholas Hytner production of Twelfth Night at Lincoln Center. But I remember it most vividly as a collection of individual performances, ranging from great (Helen Hunt, Philip Bosco, Brian Murray, Max Wright) to good (Paul Rudd) to poor (Kyra Sedgwick). As performed by Edward Hall's excellent company, Twelfth Night has no "star" except the text, and what a deep and rich text it is. There are more themes and plotlines and characters in Twelfth Night than most directors know what to do with; in fact, the same could probably be said of any of Shakespeare's plays. In most productions (and especially film adaptations) of Shakespeare I've seen, the director decides to emphasize one particular plot or theme and shapes everything else to that end; e.g., this version of A Midsummer Night's Dream will focus all its attention on Bottom, or this will be a blatantly patriotic Henry V. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but even when it works well, there is nearly always something Shakespeare wrote -- some scene, some soliloquy, some joke -- that (as Malvolio would say) "suffers under probation," or works against the director's pet interpretation, and must therefore be excised or shortchanged to minimize damage to the overall project. Shakespeare's complexity may be a gift to academics, but it can be a stumbling block to directors and audiences.

In Propeller's production of Twelfth Night, no such "interpretation" is imposed on the play; the text seems to dictate every decision. Because men play all the parts, the romance plots don't automatically take center stage, as they did in the Nick Hytner production (I can still feel the palpable sexual tension generated by a frequently shirtless Paul Rudd and a remarkably androgynous Helen Hunt... Yowza). In this production I experienced the Viola/Orsino/Olivia triangle on a more cerebral level, since I had to keep reminding myself who believed what about whom at any given time (e.g., Here Olivia, who is actually a woman, is talking to a woman that she thinks is a man). Meanwhile, the Malvolio/Toby Belch/Andrew Aguecheek/Maria subplot seems uncomfortably prominent, not because the company favors it, but because it is uncomfortably prominent. Watching this production, you realize just how much of the play is devoted to the victimization of Malvolio, and how disproportionate his punishment is relative to his crime.

Seeing Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew in repertory this way made me aware of a relationship I'd never before noticed, a relationship that I am now (almost) convinced is the key to understanding both plays. In each case, we are presented with a character who, based on what we see and what we are told, deserves to have the piss taken out of him or her (as Shakespeare might have put it). But the other characters' plot to "tame" the troublemaker takes on a life of its own, with much darker and crueler consequences than anyone seems to have intended. In fact, the only one in Twelfth Night who doesn't regret the outcome of the Malvolio prank is Feste, the so-called "clown," who dodges remorse with a heartlessly casual, "...but that's all one."

As difficult as it can be to make the various elements of Twelfth Night come together as "one," an even more confounding disunity colors the text of The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare's own attitude toward the play's events is impossible to determine: if he intends it purely as broad comedy, why does Katherine so often, and so effectively, appeal to our sympathies? And if he intends to critique the misogynistic social order, why is Katherine's final speech ("I am ashamed that women are so simple..." and all the rest) so long, and so sincere?

The trap laid for Malvolio depends on his "self-love," and the sequence where he reads the love letter supposedly penned by Olivia and says, "If I could make that resemble something in me!" is often cited (somewhat ironically) by scholars as warning against overinterpretation. Propeller's production of Twelfth Night certainly takes that warning to heart; the text is never "crushed," not even a little, to make it "bow" to an external idea of what it ought to be about. Shrew is less stable in its written form, and so it requires more aggressive interpreting, and there were moments here and there when I noticed a disparity between the way I prefer to read a certain scene or exchange and the way this production played it. This Petruchio is a total yob, drunken and thoroughly abusive, and neither he nor anyone else delights much in his gift for comic wordplay (which is the reason I have such affection for this frustrating play on the page). But if that is underemphasized, the cruelty with which he (and everyone else) treats Katherine is made that much more plain, and the fact that the female characters differ only in costume from the males makes the struggle to "tame" Kate seem especially arbitrary. Throughout the play, the ensemble's decisions, even at their most surprising or unorthodox, always serve the text, and they add up to a remarkably consistent whole. Watching both shows, I had the sense that no other interpretation, no other approach, could possibly work as well as the one I was seeing onstage. Which is not to say I'm finished thinking about the puzzles in Twelfth Night and Shrew -- on the contrary, leaving BAM after each show, I had the urge to go straight to my Norton Shakespeare and reread both plays, and as I flip through the pages now, every line feels more alive than ever with possible meanings... which is only appropriate, since Shakespeare's alternate title for Twelfth Night is What You Will.

I'll spare you any more of my amateur Shakespearean scholarship, but I do want to add that both productions are extremely well acted and a joy to watch, very funny and physical and always clear. The company generates a spontaneous energy that nearly disguises the metronome-precise timing of both productions. And the incidental music in both shows, performed and produced entirely by the actors (eat your heart out, John Doyle), is richer and more sophisticated than the scores of most contemporary musicals.

Two more notes on the experience, while we're at it: I love most things about BAM's Harvey Theater, but the cafe area needs more seating, and the auditorium needs more legroom between rows (and at least one of those situations is easy to fix). And also, since I attended both of these performances with my fiance, I owe it to him to point out that he was only joking when he swore off Shakespeare some weeks back. But even if he had been serious, these productions could make a believer out of anybody, and I think they are as fine an introduction to Shakespeare as you're likely to come across. On the other hand, if, like me, you've read and reread these two texts, you may find it a bit of a challenge to strip away whatever conclusions you've reached and experience them fresh. But the rewards, I think, will be greater for your efforts. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kiss and tell

The conceit of Craig Lucas's Prelude to a Kiss -- an old man and a young bride switch bodies -- is really pretty dumb; it seems like reviewers are contractually obligated to describe it as a (fractured/urban/modern/adult) "fairy tale," but anybody who goes to see this play with that description in mind is bound to be disappointed, because the magic-kiss conceit isn't really the point. It's more of an excuse for Lucas to spin a delicate comedy out of heavy thematic threads: the everyday magic of romantic love, the joys and perils of being embodied, the dangers of commitment, the lessons the young and old can learn from each other and the generational gulfs that prevent us from learning those lessons, etc.

The current Roundabout Broadway production of Prelude doesn't quite manage to find the enchantment in the ordinary romance that begins the show, and so it gets off to a too-slow start. But once they get comfortable together, Alan Tudyk and Annie Parisse are both pretty darn adorable, and Parisse builds the character of Rita just solidly enough before the big kiss to make everything that comes afterward pay off. She and John Mahoney turn in fine performances in Act Two, closely observed and admirably restrained, amusing but never reaching for laughs at the expense of the play. That, after all, is where the real magic comes in -- not in the thin conceit or its equally thin resolution, but in the way the actors allow the switch to illuminate their performances. The supporting cast is also solid, especially Robin Bartlett (Debbie from Mad About You!) as Rita's mom, Mrs. Boyle, and the sets and lighting are fine and unobtrusive (except for a few noisy moving pieces). If Lucas really wanted it to be set in "the present," he could and should have done a better job updating the discussions of Peter's work for the digital age. But overall, if I wasn't completely swept away, I was certainly charmed.

I don't think I'll be going back to the movie after all, because I can guess now why I hated it so much the first time around (besides the unctuous presence of Alec Baldwin). Zany body-swapping screwball comedies are a dime a dozen, but Prelude is something much more delicate than that, and its magic has everything to do with the magic of theatre. If you're smart, though, you'll avoid seeing the Wednesday matinee, when the magic of live theatre may be somewhat obscured by the makeup of the audience. Below me, in the orchestra: old people there primarily to see John Mahoney, a.k.a. The Dad from Frasier. Did they applaud when he first crossed the stage? Oh yes, they did. Were they confused to discover that he wasn't really in the first half of the play? Most likely they were; happily I was in the cheap seats, so I can't confirm. Did they bother to silence their cell phones? What do you think? Meanwhile, behind me in the mezzanine: school groups of teenagers, maybe 8th- or 9th-graders, who tittered every time anybody looked like they might kiss. I don't know who thought the show would be a good match for them -- it's not exactly inappropriate, content-wise, but it's certainly over their heads, maturity-wise, and they (or at least a few of the boys) proved it by responding as though they were watching an episode of Moesha. Perhaps their teacher -- who, I noticed, addressed them before the show as though they were mentally challenged 6-year-olds, which didn't make me optimistic about how well they would behave -- was fooled by the "fairy tale" bill of sale, but I think they would have been happier, or at least less disruptive, at a matinee of Beauty and the Beast.

On the other hand, I'd rather see a group of kids attend a good show than a lousy one, and at least a few seemed to get something out of it. As I was leaving (and glaring, along with most of the other adults in the mezz, in the direction of these kids and their dippy teacher), I overheard a conversation between a couple of old ladies and a couple of teenage girls. "How did you enjoy the show?" the old ladies asked. "I loved it!" said one of the girls. "Oh, really? Then maybe you can explain it to us! I don't think I got it," one of the ladies admitted cheerfully. I rolled my eyes at this -- lady, it's not Beckett -- and didn't stay to hear what the teenagers thought it was all about, but I was happy to see that this play in particular had inspired intergenerational discussion. The old ladies didn't think they "got it," but I suspect maybe they did.

Since I complained at length about the lousy job the Roundabout did in renovating Studio 54, I should here note that they've done far better with the mezzanine of the lyrically named American Airlines Theatre. There are no bad sightlines, from what I could tell, and the seats are numbered right on the actual seat, as opposed to on the armrest (which is just asking for trouble). They are also reasonably wide, with plenty of leg room. That turns out to be vital, because there is no center aisle, so you're guaranteed to have people climbing over you to get to their seats. Still, not a bad experience, as mezz seats go.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Radio static

The Broadway revival of Talk Radio has everything going for it -- great cast, great set, great lighting, costumes and sound design -- everything except a great script.

If you've read any reviews, or any press materials, or if you've seen the poster, you know the main attraction here is Liev Schreiber's performance as nighttime radio host Bary Champlain. And he is pretty terrific. But he's not the only reason to see the show. Sebastian Stan's turn as punky prank-caller Kent is not to be missed, and even if you're not a faithful SVU fan, you'll admire Stephanie March's and Peter Hermann's work, especially since they spend nearly the entire play onstage. The voice actors in the cast, who spend most of the play offstage, are also wonderful -- much better than their material. In fact, everyone in the cast is better than the material, which means the play works really well for the first hour or so and then runs out of steam.

Bogosian's script develops the characters only up to a certain point, and then they just spin their wheels, and all that's left to keep you interested is the social satire, which isn't especially sharp or insightful. I wondered, as the play (and the real-time radio show that is its subject) began, how a real drama could be built within the confines of the set and structure. Unfortunately, the script doesn't rise to the challenge it sets for itself; instead of allowing us to learn about the characters through their interactions with each other, Bogosian has the supporting characters stop the action periodically with monologues that tell us little we don't already know, and made me, at least, roll my eyes and think, "Oh, this is going to be one of those plays where characters talk to the audience for no reason." Stephanie March does particularly well under the circumstances; she's built a lot of solid character work into her moments alone onstage, but the script gives her very little to work with when it comes to building a believable character. (I know, stop the presses: Eric Bogosian doesn't write well for women!)

I read at least one review/article that wondered whether Talk Radio would seem dated, 20 years after its initial production. I didn't see that initial production, obviously, but I'd say the play is only helped by its status as a period piece. The fact that it takes place in 1987, and how that informs details like radio equipment and technology, costuming and makeup, pop culture references and political discussion topics, sustained my interest after the play itself was serving up surprises. I was in the front row, for a change, and so I was able to appreciate every tiny detail of the background, which was useful in those moments when the talk in the foreground wasn't quite doing it for me. Still, Talk Radio's most exciting moment, at least in my experience, comes much too early in the evening, and by the time the play reached its scripted climax I was feeling restless and curiously unmoved by the intense performance unfolding just a few feet away from where I sat. The brightest part of the second half turns out to be Sebastian Stan's performance; I was sorry when he left the stage, because I realized I wasn't at all invested in Barry or in what might happen to him.

It's still a really interesting idea for a play, and watching it come to life onstage is fascinating in spite of the script's shortcomings. Some time ago I linked to a "backstage tour" led by Stephanie March, and it's really quite interesting, so here it is again. Also enjoy the marketing department's attempt to build a free speech controversy around their radio ads. (For what it's worth, I think I'd rather not hear the phrase "your pet's orgasms" out of context on the radio, and I also think the ad would be better without it. So I'm afraid I'm siding with the "censors" here... Nice try, though.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Come for the drama, stay for the TV

When I read (and reread) the plays of Christopher Shinn, I was disappointed. The plots weren't interesting to me; I didn't care about the characters or their relationships; the universal dysfunctionality where sex is concerned (I would say "sexual dysfunction," but you might mistake my meaning) grew monotonous after a while. But I knew there must be some spark I wasn't getting from the page, because Shinn is highly thought of; that's the only reason I was reading the plays in the first place. So I was excited to have the chance to see Dying City at Lincoln Center.

I liked Dying City more than I expected, and certainly better than any of the plays by Shinn that I've read. However, that could mean I'd like the others a lot more if I saw them onstage, or that I would have liked this less if I had only read it alongside the others. But whatever it means, I'm pretty satisfied that I'm just not cut out to be a Christopher Shinn fan. ("Shinn fan" sounds like some sort of Irish nationalist group. Kind of makes me wish I were an admirer.) Dying City certainly helps me understand why Shinn is as highly regarded as he is, but it still falls just short of where I would like it to be. The characters, though developed in much detail, aren't quite vivid enough to make me care; the dialogue and delivery strives for naturalism, but isn't quite naturalistic enough to make me believe it; the plot does some neat tricks with chronology, but it still isn't quite exciting enough to hold my attention. Things finally start to get interesting in the last half-hour, but by then it was a bit too late for me to become invested; I'd spent too much time all, "More like Boring City."

For me the play was upstaged throughout by the directorial touches and tricks, delicate though they are, and that's not to say I fault the director (James Macdonald). I love the revolving stage (although I'm sure it would make me motion-sick, were I to stand on it for 90 minutes), and what it adds to the play, but there were too many times when I was more interested in trying to catch it moving than in what was happening on it. I found the performances, at first, awkward and stagy, in that too-loud, too-self-conscious "I am delivering naturalistic. Dialogue. On a stage" kind of way (directors of the world, can you not hear that?), but even after the performances settled down (or I adjusted), I found myself thinking things like, "Why are they both still standing, when there's a large couch right there that any normal person would be sitting on by now?" The answer to that, I assume, is that they were blocked in deference to the theatre-in-the-round setup. But I shouldn't be thinking about the way the stage is set up, or the director's attempts to accomodate that setup, when there's a play happening on that stage, mere feet from me. When Pablo Schreiber bounds onstage to begin a scene, I should be more focused on what's about to happen than I am on his costumes and the logistics of accomplishing his quick changes. And when he throws a can of Red Bull offstage in a fit of anger, I shouldn't be thinking about the sticky-sweet smell spreading throughout the theatre. I should be thinking about the play, and whatever it was that made him so angry. The fact that I so often wasn't focused on the play can't be blamed on the direction or the actors—again, the revolving stage was a great idea, and the performances (by Rebecca Brooksher and the aforementioned Schreiber) are quite good. But the play just didn't touch me, intellectually or emotionally or artistically, in any sustained way.

The revolving set has a working television on it, and the screen was pointed toward me when I took my seat before the play began. Shortly after I sat down, the TV came to life with a "chung chung!" I said to myself, "Cool, SVU is on!" And I half-watched the episode (it was a recent one, with the landlord who gasses his tenants) while the rest of the audience filled in. I liked the way the sound of the television was gradually drowned out by the noise of the crowd, and I loved how it became suddenly audible again when the play started (for that matter, I loved the abruptness with which the play started). I loved how the next "chung chung!" ringing out in the now-silent theatre elicited a chuckle of recognition from the audience, particularly the people who were sitting behind the set and hadn't realized it was on. It seemed like we were off to a great start, but the play wasn't ever as interesting as the trappings. The TV was turned off eventually, of course, but not before I found myself thinking, "Yeah, that episode was silly, but at least I cared a little about what happened to Detective Benson."

I wasn't the only one not fully engaged by the drama of Dying City. At the very end of the play, that television—facing me once more, after a full revolution—was turned on again, and for a minute or two everyone could hear the opening of an old episode of The Daily Show. Before the lights went down, the audience got a few chuckles out of Jon Stewart's jokes about Iraq. That's a nice tribute to The Daily Show's writers, but given the supposed emotional impact of the play we'd just seen, shouldn't we have been too numb to laugh? Or, failing that, shouldn't we at least have felt guilty about laughing at these "Mess-o-potamia" jokes, given the play's discussion of how The Daily Show and its ilk are inadequate responses to the administration and the war? Most of all, I thought, in these final moments, shouldn't we be so invested in the life and welfare of the character onstage that the noise coming from the TV is just that, background noise? Under the circumstances, it almost felt like a cheap move, ending the show by getting laughs from somebody else's material. But I don't think that is the intent of the Daily Show clip, just the outcome. And that outcome proved, to me, that the audience was still there, listening and receptive, ready to be engaged.

A word on that audience, while we're at it. David Cote had some not-very-positive things to say ("cheap shots," he admits) about Lincoln Center and its typical audience members in his review. He observes that, during a performance of Dying City, "You hear stillness between lines in the Mitzi E. Newhouse—save perhaps for the confused muttering of an aged subscriber or two." I have as little patience for the confused mutterings of aged subscribers as anyone else, and I wasn't sure how wise it was to see this play at a Wednesday matinee for that reason. I clenched my fists when I got stuck on the stairs going down to the theatre behind a woman who was moving at the exact pace that the set revolves. I held my breath each time a cell phone rang, then grew optimistic after the first few were false alarms (the ringing phones belonged to characters in the play!), then went back to my usual grumpy state when, finally, an audience member's phone did ring during (of course!) one of the play's most tense moments. (The Newhouse is underground! Who even gets reception there?!) I rolled my eyes at the people around me who asked the usher, before the show started, if they could move to another section, because they assumed that since they were facing the back of the onstage couch, they'd spend the whole play looking at the backs of the actors heads. (It's called theatre in the round. I think the director knows you're over here. Morons.) But I have to say, I liked seeing this play with this audience. I liked knowing that the people around me were responding honestly -- most hadn't arrived knowing much about Christopher Shinn, or able to tell their Pablos from their Lievs. But they were there to see a play, and they were for the most part respectful and interested, and the only time I heard any confused muttering was when the play was actually confusing. So I'm glad LCT's patrons are getting more varied fare, but if they're not taken with this particular play, I'm not ready to write off their mutterings entirely. In fact, I think I'd like to hear what they have to say about Dying City. Do you think any of them have blogs?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Who says New Yorkers aren't friendly?

I took the subway to Lincoln Center the other day, and followed the underground tunnels to the little-used exit that led to my destination. The MTA, in its infinite wisdom, had set this exit up so that it could not be used as an entrance: there were turnstiles, but a large, locked gate on the "entrance" side prevented passengers from being able to swipe in. There was no such gate on the subway side of the bank of turnstiles, so you could, if you wanted to, walk through in that direction, but then you'd be face-to-face with the aforementioned gate, so the only real exit options were two "high exit turnstiles" -- you know, those floor-to-ceiling spinning gates that people hate to use. Normally I wouldn't have bothered to take note of all this, but it turned out to be the set for an exciting pre-theatre event.

As I said, there wasn't much traffic at the time, but as I approached the exit I noticed a man standing on the other side of the gate, looking concerned. And then I noticed the cause of his concern: a blind woman, led by a guide dog, was heading for one of the gated-off turnstiles. The drama was already in progress, and I missed whatever happened in Act One, but by the time I got there the man was clearly trying to talk the blind woman out of exiting through the turnstile, and she was clearly not heeding his advice -- in fact, she seemed to resent the intrusion, or so I gathered from the way she was snarling at him. And so he watched helplessly as she and her dog exited through the turnstile and found themselves imprisoned by the gate on the other side. At which point the woman said, sheepishly, "Gosh, I guess I should have listened to you, sir. I'm sorry to have to ask, but do you think you could help me get out?"

Just kidding! What actually happened was, the woman spluttered angrily, "Now what am I supposed to do?!" as if the man were the cause of her being stuck. He didn't really have an answer for her, and I didn't, either; her only options were to duck under or climb over the turnstile that had locked behind her, and she didn't look nimble enough to manage either maneuver, even under the best of circumstances (i.e., sighted and with no dog to worry about). So the man just said sadly, "I tried to tell you not to go through..." And she responded with more incoherent biliousness, finally accusing him, "I asked you a question and you didn't answer me." Although I missed the first part of the exchange, I'm going to go out on a limb here, based on what I saw of this woman's receptivity to assistance, and say that's not actually true.

Ordinarily, my hat is off to anyone with impaired vision who has the courage to navigate the subway system. I find it difficult enough with all of my senses intact. And the MTA probably should do more to prevent something like this from happening. But I don't care what your personal burdens might be, or how much you are inconvenienced by the mismanagement of the subway system -- when a well-meaning stranger goes out of his way to help you, I think you ought to respond with something other than unbridled abuse. Call me old-fashioned.

So now the woman was well and truly stuck, more dependent than ever on the kindness of strangers, and more abusive than ever to the few strangers who were trying to help. I can understand that she was probably feeling a bit humiliated by this point, but she wasn't about to learn any lessons from that! Another woman who'd been looking on came to the defense of the man, saying as gently as possible, "He did try to tell you not to go through there..." And the blind woman snapped back, "Oh, shut up!" Um, lady, I thought, at this moment you are completely at the mercy of strangers. Perhaps you could tone down the bile just a bit. Perhaps informing passersby of their shortcomings should not be your very highest priority at this moment.

Seeing that my help wouldn't exactly be welcomed -- even if I could think of a way to help -- and feeling bad about standing there gawking, I walked on. But I would love to know how the situation resolved itself. I was sort of rooting for the man to just walk away and leave her there; he'd absorbed more than his fair share of hostility already, and perhaps, by the time another helpful stranger came along, the woman might have been humbled into a more grateful state of mind. I'm pretty sure he felt obliged to see it through, though, God bless him. I'm also pretty sure that woman never thanked him for his concern, or apologized for her behavior. And I'm certain the guy will think twice the next time he's tempted to help somebody out (what is it they say about no good deed?). As for me, I think there may be a parable in all this, but I'm not sure I want to know what the lesson is.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Four bells today in the tower of Bray

Sony BMG has good news for Sondheim fans: they've released remastered versions of four original cast recordings. (Read about it here or here -- scroll down to "For the Record.") Of course, I'm not entirely thrilled about this, because I already own three of the four albums. Can I justify replacing them? Maybe I could give my old copies to a home for underprivileged musical theatre fans?

The remastered discs -- with bonus tracks! -- are Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods. I've been waiting for the Sweeney rerelease for years, ever since the dubbed cassette I'd been overplaying died on me. I keep checking to see if it's available yet, and they keep offering me the recent Broadway revival recording instead. I've heard just enough of that to decide that the John Doyle version of the score was best experienced live, or not at all. And then there's the overpriced Philharmonic recording, which I already have and never listen to, because if I wanted to hear Mrs. Lovett's and Toby's material sung completely off-key, I would do it myself and save on electricity. So this OCR remastering and rerelease is happy news indeed, as the Beadle would say.

It turns out the "bonus tracks" are mostly cuts from the terrific Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall recording, which I also already own. And which is apparently out of print now -- I'd recommend that you buy it used, but as soon as you do they'll probably rerelease that, too. The Into the Woods bonus tracks sound interesting, though: according to, they are "Giants in the Sky," performed by John Cameron Mitchell; "Back to the Palace," performed by Kim Crosby; and "Boom Crunch," performed by Maureen Moore.

We could have a whole other conversation about the video and DVD versions of these shows... and perhaps we will! I've seen the raggedy yet compelling video of the original Sweeney Todd, but never the Philharmonic one. However, I did enjoy this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I don't like the sound of these 'ere 'boncentration bamps.'

The fiance and I watched Judgment at Nuremberg miniseries-style, over three separate nights. That isn't a completely inappropriate way to take in this movie, since it does have that required-viewing historical drama flavor to it, but I recommend setting aside the time to watch the whole thing at once, if you can. According to IMDb, the tagline promised, "More than a motion picture... It is an overwhelming experience in human emotion you will never forget!" But it also happens to be a very good motion picture.

It must have been a daunting challenge to make a courtroom drama about war crimes that is exciting without being gimmicky, but screenwriter Abby Mann and director Stanley Kramer succeeded admirably with Nuremberg. The reason I recommend watching all three hours in a sitting is that you'll get a sense of how well structured the screenplay is. Take, for example, the moment when Col. Lawson introduces the footage from the liberation of the camps, as part of the prosecution's case. It comes at exactly the right point in the film; had the film invoked the specific horrors of the Nazi genocide any earlier, it would have risked inducing a kind of Holocaust-fatigue. Instead, the script gets you thinking about the characters in this particular story, and the conflicted emotions of Germany's people, and the legal and political questions of responsibility and diplomacy... and then the prosecution introduces the filmstrip, as if to say, you must always remember that the fictionalized motion picture you're watching exists only because of what you see in this real-life film. The footage from the camps, so horrifying and so unflinching, is a dose of perspective exactly when the story needs it.

The screenplay, at least during the courtroom scenes, is necessarily structured as one long speech after another, which is what allows for the virtuoso performances from Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland (who looks horrible, by the way), Burt Lancaster and, of course, Maximilian Schell. But it could also have been dull and static, so Kramer compensates by keeping the camera moving. Ernest Laszlo's Oscar-nominated black-and-white cinematography is terrific, and the camera nearly always finds the angle and the shot that will give you the most information possible. When a witness is testifying, we don't just see the witness box; we're likely to see the defendants in the foreground, listening, or to watch from behind the attorney's podium. This must have made for a long shoot -- I felt particularly bad for the actors who played courtroom guards, standing stock-still in the background of every shot -- but it pays off; it allows for the inclusion of subtle details, like Janning's growing participation in the trial (watch him transition from refusal to acknowledge the proceedings, to impassive listening, to active involvement in the testimony), or the occasional glimpse of the translators to remind you that some of these people are supposedly speaking German. And because the camera isn't constantly cutting back and forth from attorney to judge to witness, as it might during an episode of Law & Order, to accomodate the actors' shooting schedules, you feel like you're eavesdropping on an actual trial. At least, that's how you feel until Kramer decides to use his zoom lens, which he does with lamentable frequency. Is Spencer Tracy about to say something important? Quick, zoom in on his face! And I do mean "quick" -- the camera swoops in for a closeup so fast, and so jerkily, that it makes me giggle every time, which I assume is not the effect Kramer was going for. It looks like the guy with the boom mike bumped the "zoom" button with his elbow. Oh, and speaking of things that make me giggle inappropriately: William Shatner, ladies and gentlemen! He's actually pretty good and not at all scenery-chewing or mannered in his small role in this film, but if you can see him, so young and handsome and serious, and not smile a little, you must not have seen a Priceline Negotiator ad lately.

For me, the movie's weakest scenes are the ones that take place outside the courtroom. Marlene Dietrich, her legendary beauty now bordering on the grotesque (is she sucking in her cheeks, or is she actually starving herself?), is a compelling stand-in for the resentful and conflicted German people, but I confess to being slightly impatient with her chaste and drawn-out courtship of Judge Haywood. I understand the function of the scenes, but after a while I get distracted by Dietrich's painted-on eyebrows. And the brilliance with which the language-obstacle issue is handled inside the courtroom is tarnished a bit by the way it is ignored outside the courtroom -- Why doesn't Col. Lawson need an interpreter when he goes to talk to the Wallners? Why no interpreter when Judge Haywood talks to the German prosecutor, or to Ernst Janning, at the end of the film? If, as it seems, everyone in Germany (or at least, everyone related to the trial) speaks such excellent English, why not just conduct the trial in English and spare the translators the trouble? Nitpicks, I guess, but they remind me that I'm just watching a Hollywood movie, and from there it's a short leap to "Gosh, this movie is long."

I realized, during the last hour of the movie, how little I actually know about what happened after the war, in Germany and everywhere else. (I might have been the only student at Yale who didn't take that Gaddis class on the Cold War.) Looks like I have some reading to do. And on a theatre-related note, Leonard Maltin's movie guide notes that Nuremberg was "later a Broadway play," and I assumed that adaptation occurred some time in the mid-to-late 1960s, in the aftermath of the film's success. But no, apparently it was produced very recently, in 2001. Why do I not remember this? Somehow I can't imagine this material would be as effective onstage. The footage of the camps and their victims, so metacinematic within the film, couldn't retain its impact in a Broadway theatre -- it would feel like a slide show, wouldn't it? And would the events of the trial seem so immediate, and so important, without the present-day context of the Cold War as a frame? But obviously I missed my chance to see the play, so if you saw it, please fill me in. How did it work? Was the casting of Maximilian Schell as Ernst Janning a distracting stunt, or did he steal the show in that role too?

ETA: I figured out why I don't remember the Broadway run of Nuremberg - it happened during my semester in London. That strikes me as funny, because the following Broadway season was full of things I'd seen and heard about on the West End!

Monday, March 19, 2007

In delay there lies no plenty

The capstone of my weekend of (sober) Irish revelry was a trip to Brooklyn to see Twelfth Night, as conceived and performed by the all-male British company Propeller. Full disclosure: we had dinner before and drinks afterward with a member of the company, so I admit I'm not the most objective reviewer ever. But by the same token, if I didn't think the show was great, I probably wouldn't mention it at all. Twelfth Night is my very favorite Shakespeare play, and I am very emotionally attached to the production I saw at Lincoln Center years ago, so I was afraid I might have trouble warming up to a new approach with a "modern physical aesthetic." But Propeller's approach feels very pure, to me; the play is allowed to do its weird magic. I am very much hoping to get back there this week to see Taming of the Shrew, running in rep with Twelfth Night, and so I will put off writing a full review until I can talk about both. In the meantime, take my advice and get thyself to BAM!

After the show last night, we were discussing other coming attractions in New York theatre scene. It's weird and a bit humbling to have that discussion with Brits, because you realize that most of the stuff we're excited about is old news in the West End. What can I recommend to someone visiting from London? Journey's End is great, yeah yeah, tell me something I don't know. I end up getting recommendations instead of giving them: You should really try to see Moon for the Misbegotten; try not to miss Frost/Nixon; get your tickets for Coram Boy. So on my way home I was assembling my personal to-see list.

At the very top is Spring Awakening. I've been resisting spending money on this, because it just doesn't look or sound like something I would enjoy. At all. But I never like to miss anything that's big in the world of new musicals, and lots of people have recommended it to me, so I really am going to see it. Any day now!

Then there's Talk Radio (the websites for these 2 shows are weirdly similar), another show I don't really want to see but feel like I'd be foolish to miss. And I feel almost morally deficient for not having seen any of The Coast of Utopia (or, as I tend to call it, "All that Stoppard at Lincoln Center"). I think I'm too intimidated. I would also like to catch Our Leading Lady, because I was a Lincoln buff in childhood, and I still get excited when I recall my first trip to Ford's Theatre. I am also entertaining the idea of seeing the Keen Company's Tea and Sympathy, reviewed favorably in the NYT this weekend. I wouldn't say I trust the Times's third-string reviewers implicitly, but I was intrigued by what she says about the script's explicitness as compared to the film version, since I saw the movie last year and found it an exercise in frustratingly pointless angst. It would be a treat to see the uncompromised original script.

In the coming attractions category, I'm kind of psyched for Inherit the Wind, because I love me some Christopher Plummer. And Jeff Daniels strikes me as one of those happy few film actors who might be equally effective onstage, so I'm hoping to see him in MTC's Blackbird.

What am I missing? And do you have any comps to give away? A girl could go broke trying to feed this habit...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Proud of all the Irish blood that's in me

Happy St. Patrick's Day! It seems March 17 always catches me with too little green in my wardrobe, but at least I can dress the blog up for the occasion.

Thanks to the "wintry mix" that fell all day yesterday, the sidewalks (especially the intersections) are all but unnavigable today, and I think the last thing I'd want to do is try to watch a parade. So I'm planning on staying indoors, at least till tonight, when I'll be joining my very Irish fiance and his very Irish family for dinner at a pub with a very Irish name. Wish us luck!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Oh, I know! I forget 'and'!

Last night I was reading a wedding-planning guide, trying to get a handle on this whole project I have ahead of me. At the end of a chapter about music, the author devotes a couple paragraphs to the couple's first dance. See if you can spot the trouble with this advice:
One image is of the couple gliding out onto the dance floor, waltzing gracefully with the bride's gown billowing like Anna's dress in the famous waltz scene in The King and I. If that's your fantasy, it's sure to take some work to pull off. Some words of warning: Not every ballad is a waltz.
I may not know much about planning a wedding reception. I may know very little about dancing. But I do know my showtunes. It is certainly true that "Not every ballad is a waltz," and guess what? Neither is "Shall We Dance." It's a polka. (Right now I'm hearing Constance Towers in my head: "Oh, it's really veddy simple, the polker, it goes 'one-two-three-and one-two-three-and one-two-three-and one!")

Anyway, I would never aspire to anything so grand. I think we'll be doing the Laendler instead.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I'm mad about good books, can't get my fill

Some weeks ago I mentioned that I was working my way through Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies, Ted Chapin's backstage account of that show's original production. I didn't get past chapter 2, as it turned out. I really wanted to, because I think there are some interesting bits of information about the artistic process buried in here somewhere, but the writing is so bad that reading to the end of each paragraph requires genuine effort. I don't need that kind of stress.

I've been disappointed before by under-edited products from the Applause Theatre & Cinema Books imprint, but I've also had enough experience with good artists who are bad writers to know that the published manuscript may be a vast improvement on what was originally submitted. Regardless, I won't hold it against Applause, because they also published the marvelous book I've been reading lately, A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration. Have I mentioned yet that ASIB '54 is my favorite movie? It is, and this account of its creation and redemption is (so far) every bit as absorbing as I hoped it would be. As a writer, Ronald Haver is as deft as Chapin is artless; he skips from topic to topic just enough to avoid getting bogged down in any one thing, but still manages to cover everything that could possibly be related to the story of this film -- from 1950s pop culture to the stars' career trajectories to the state of the cinema and the studio system -- in great detail and depth.

The chapters are quite long, so once I pick it up (usually at bedtime, intending to read for just a few minutes) I end up reading on and on. But I haven't even gotten to the actual filming, much less the restoration process, which means this probably isn't my last post on the subject. I've just finished reading about how James Mason ended up with the role of Norman Maine, which came perilously close to being filled by Cary Grant instead. I may be the only person on earth who feels this way, but to me that would have been an absolute tragedy, because I really, really don't dig Cary Grant. He leaves me completely cold in every role, from Bringing Up Baby to The Philadelphia Story to North By Northwest to (shudder) Charade -- when I'm watching Cary Grant I always feel like I'm watching some production assistant standing in for the star during a tech rehearsal. As far as I'm concerned the best thing I can say for him is that he had the good taste (though it likely didn't look like good taste at the time) to marry Dyan Cannon, whom I love. But I seem to have digressed from my original point, which is that James Mason is so capital-G Great in A Star Is Born that the idea of anyone else in the part strikes me as faintly horrifying. Reading about the role being offered to any other actor, but especially one as unappealing (to me) as Cary Grant, is like reading one of those sci-fi stories where someone goes back in time and steps on a butterfly or whatever, and then they go back to the future (TM) and everything is strange and different.

Please, nobody go back in time and talk Cary Grant into taking this role, because if he did, I'd have to find a different favorite movie. The casting is perfect the way it is, because James Mason, like Shirley MacLaine (though unlike her in so many other ways), is good in everything. Just to bring this whole post full-circle, he's good opposite Cary Grant in North By Northwest, and alongside Dyan Cannon in The Last of Sheila. He's even good in Yellowbeard, for heaven's sake. And, as we all know, he serves as the voice of God in many Eddie Izzard routines, which is reason enough to love him right there. But this book makes me realize how much of his work I haven't seen, and when I sign back up for Netflix I'll be adding The Seventh Veil, Odd Man Out and others to my queue for sure.

Speaking of Eddie Izzard: it's too soon to be certain, but The Riches might become appointment TV for me. I tuned in with some doubts, because while I love both Eddie and Minnie Driver, it's hard for me to imagine why you'd cast them together in anything and not also cast their native accents. I stopped worrying about it, though, around the time they found that impaled car-crash victim. I loved the attention to detail, the general lack of melodrama, the way the show kept making me laugh and gasp at the same time. I suppose that kind of emotional confusion/interrupted airflow could have some negative long-term effects if experienced on a weekly basis, and I might get tired of watching chunks of the show through my splayed fingers (because: ew!), but I'm pretty sure I'll be back for a few more episodes at least. Did you watch? Will you watch again?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Prime time in the daytime

Yesterday I found myself perusing's "Opening Night"
photos from the new Broadway production of Prelude to a Kiss, not because I'm interested in the show, but because I have an irrational affection for Annie Parisse stemming from her 1-season stint as Jack McCoy's assistant on Law & Order. (I thought she was very likeable, didn't you? Shame about that whole being-stuffed-in-a-trunk thing.) As far as the show goes... well, I remember haaating the movie, but to be fair, I was 12 when I saw it, and maybe too young to appreciate its subtle charms. (Have you seen it more recently? Am I correct in assuming that it has subtle charms?) Alec Baldwin is definitely on my list of "actors whose brilliance is entirely invisible to me" -- I was thinking that just the other night, while I was washing the dishes and half-watching the PBS broadcast of that Stokes/Reba South Pacific concert, in which Baldwin plays Luther Billis, and really couldn't be worse. So there's a good chance I'd still hate the movie. The play is probably a different story. [ETA: I did finally see it - my review is here.]

Speaking of fondly remembered former ADAs, yesterday I was reading Ben Brantley's review of Talk Radio and I got to page 2 and he mentioned Stephanie March and I said, "Hold up! Stephanie March is in this?" I think I actually said that out loud, although I was alone at the time. Because seriously, Stephanie March! Known to SVU fans (and all those afflicted with "March Madness") as Alex Cabot, the greatest ADA the L&O-iverse has ever known! And if that's not enough SVU excitement for you, Peter Hermann is also in the cast. (...And his SVU character once went on a date with Cabot! This is too exciting.) Once again, I'm not really that interested in the play -- I know I should be, because Liev Schrieber is apparently awesome, but all the Bogosian I've read bores me. However, I'm sure it's better than this season of SVU. And if it's as entertaining as this backstage tour, count me in! [ETA: My review here.]

As it turned out, yesterday was full of surprise encounters with Law & Order cast members. I did at least a triple-take when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Fred (Dalton) Thompson on a television in the office where I was working. "Ooh, Law & Order is on! Oh, no, that's CNN... Why is Arthur Branch on a news station?... Oh, no, it's just some politician... Wait a minute, Branch is played by a real politician... who's considering running for president?!"

I feel weird about this, and it's not the usual actor-running-for-office kind of weird. With Schwarzenegger, the question was, How can anyone take this man seriously (that's assuming one ought to take government leaders seriously) considering his many ridiculous movie roles? Whereas with Freddy D, my question is, will I take him too seriously as a potential leader, because I find him so confidence-inspiring on TV? I kind of love Branch, in spite of his frequent lapses into cornpone philosophizing. ("You can't milk a cow wearing boxing gloves, Serena. All you get is an angry cow.") He's no-nonsense like Schiff, but much more avuncular, and his occasionally referenced conservatism somehow comes across as ironic and wry, rather than defensive and naive. According to Wikipedia, he's a Yale man. And on the receiving end of that infamous line -- "Is this because I'm a lesbian?" -- he looked as baffled as I was. If Branch were running for office, I might consider voting for him.

I think Thompson knows it, too. Check it out -- he even talks like he's in character:
"I wanted to see how my colleagues who are on the campaign trail do now, what they say, what they emphasize, what they're addressing, and how successful they are in doing that, and whether or not they can carry the ball in next November."
A sports metaphor! Drink! I wonder, as his hypothetical campaign goes forward, will he be "doing an end run around" anything? Or perhaps going on "a fishing expedition"?

Have you seen either of the abovementioned plays? Think I should be ashamed for admitting that peripheral connections to L&O are the only reasons I'm interested in either? Agree with me that, if Freddy D runs as a Republican, the only rational course of action is for the Democrats to nominate Sam Waterston to oppose him? Share your thoughts.

Monday, March 12, 2007

This was my dream...

I went to a play on Saturday afternoon, expecting to blog about it today, but it was so thoroughly tedious that just recalling the experience now is enough to make me want to stop typing and go read some other blog instead. And it was so thoroughly amateur that I'd feel mean even naming it. It's unlikely that anybody who doesn't owe the playwright a favor will bother going to see it -- besides me, but I'm a sucker for a free ticket, what can I say? -- and if those involved don't know how bad it is, telling them won't help anybody. So I'll just offer two general thoughts: first, if you think your play runs 85 minutes and can therefore be performed with no intermission, do me a favor and time a run-through, will you? Because this one actually ran 105 minutes, and those last 20 minutes make a big difference, especially when (as in this case) I'm looking to escape after the first 20 minutes. And second, did you ever go to a play and think, Several of these actors are not playing the characters as written; I wonder why the director didn't notice that... And then realize, Wait a minute, the director also wrote the script? You know you're in really competent hands when that happens.

That night I had a dream that almost made up for the wasted matinee time in the afternoon. (Normally I think hearing about other people's dreams is boring, but believe me, it's more interesting than hearing about that play.) I was in my hometown, and I went out into the backyard one morning to find an odd bird -- a literal odd bird, some sort of crow-like animal -- sitting there. Then it flew away and joined a group of similar birds, and they all took to the air. At first I thought something awful was about to happen, what with the dark cloud of scary-looking birds swarming overhead, but then they dispersed, and I saw that the sky was full of musical-theatre performers, who proceeded to do a lengthy and complex production number in the airspace above my yard. (I'm not sure whether the birds turned into the performers, or whether they just summoned them with their birdly powers. I also don't know how the performers were able to remain suspended in the air. Or where the orchestra was hiding. Ah, the magic of theatre!)

I watched this performance, and as the day went on I tried to describe it to everyone I saw. Nobody else seemed to have witnessed it, but I realized as I was describing it that it was actually an adaptation of the second-act opening number of a show I had recently seen on Broadway. And that show, as described by me in my dream, turned out to be a lot like Ain't Misbehavin', in that it was a revue of songs by a popular African-American songwriter who may or may not have been Fats Waller. (Did he write or perform any songs not included in Ain't Misbehavin'? Perhaps it was a sequel. Still Not Misbehavin'!) But it had a larger cast (which included Audra McDonald and, I believe, Kristin Chenoweth, both of whom were very good sports to do this whole sky-dancing thing), and the second act apparently opened with a spectacular tap-dance number -- sort of like the opening of 42nd Street, but with cooler music and more black people -- which is what I had seen in the sky. Although it was modified for sky performance, of course, since there's nothing to tap on up there. Anyway, I gathered that this must be some sort of promotional stunt -- Broadway publicists, take note! -- and I also somehow surmised that the performance would be repeated that night, so as evening fell I waited in my yard for an encore. Just then the (real-life) phone rang and woke me up, but I was so eager to see the number again that I went back to sleep, and didn't get up till it was over. It was the best theatre experience I had all week. Sorry you missed it! (Unless you dreamed it, too. That would really freak me out.)

Friday, March 9, 2007

I washed my face and hands before I come, I did!

I've just been reading Charles Isherwood's review of the Philharmonic concert staging of My Fair Lady, and I feel I must take issue with an aspect of it that seems less than fair. Ish makes much of the fact that, in his mind, the stars (save Kelli O'Hara) seem to be playing against type, and by "against type" I really mean "against their accustomed medium." He writes, "The visitors from Sitcom City are Kelsey Grammer, formerly of Frasier, who plays the high-handed phonetician Henry Higgins, and Charles Kimbrough, of Murphy Brown, as his upper-crust sidekick, Colonel Pickering."

This struck me as an awkward, and oddly beside-the-point, way to open a review of a concert staging of a musical. Ish moved on for a few paragraphs, only to take up the same old theme, beginning a paragraph about Grammer's performance by saying, "Broadway purists inclined to raise an eyebrow at the presence of a sitcom star in the celebrated role of Henry Higgins..."

This is the point at which I feel obliged to speak up: Hasn't Kelsey Grammer done a fair amount of theatre? Including musicals? I'm not the head of the KG fan club or anything, but it seems profoundly unfair to me to talk about him like he's Ashton Kutcher. And to insist on discussing his performance in that context. Especially since -- and I'm sorry if this comes as a shock, Mr. Isherwood -- Frasier has been off the air for years. Although not as many years as Murphy Brown, and I realize you needed someone else to make your point about "sitcom stars," but if you really care about musicals and casting and such, you don't think "Oh, the guy from Murphy Brown" when you hear "Charles Kimbrough."

Now, if he'd mentioned Kelsey G's appearances on The Simpsons, I wouldn't object. Because I think I might giggle a little bit at a Henry Higgins who sounded like Sideshow Bob.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

I do not think it means what you think it means

This has been a low-volume week for theatre, arts and culture in my life, and thus a low-volume week for blogging. I know you don't want to hear about my boring work, or my various ailments (apparently there's some sort of mild but pernicious stomach virus making the rounds in NYC), or my wedding planning, or any of the things I've been doing this week besides patronizing the arts.

Maybe you do want to hear some behind-the-scenes dirt on the star-crossed MTC production of Rose's Dilemma, and if so, I direct you to Jason Robert Brown's latest blog entry. His account squares with everything I heard about that show at the time, but adds some intriguing details -- and, most importantly, some lovely music! Plainly, had it been used, his incidental music would have been the best thing about the show. I am looking forward to seeing JRB at Birdland in April, as an end-of-Lent treat. (Given that the Birdland engagement coincides with the Easter Triduum, there's only one show I can make it to, so if you're hoping to run into me, Wednesday at 11 is the way to go!)

I did try to watch The Good German the other night, as I was laid up with the aforementioned stomach bug, but I couldn't stay interested. If Cate Blanchett had been in every scene, instead of every third scene, that might have made the difference, but when she wasn't onscreen I just kept thinking how little I was enjoying Tobey Maguire's performance, and how much the whole project looked like one of those "old movie" sketches on Saturday Night Live. Did you see it? Like it? Get it confused with The Good Shepherd? If someone made a mashup of the two films and called it The German Shepherd, would you want to see that?

And now, a language note: you might have noticed that I used the term "star-crossed" above to describe that famous Broadway disaster, Rose's Dilemma. I've noticed (especially now that I'm spending some time in the stickily "romantic" world of the wedding industry) that a lot of people seem to think that "star-crossed" has something to do with romance and/or romantic destiny, when actually, it means something like "doomed to failure." (My Norton Shakespeare glosses it as "thwarted by the adverse influence of the stars appearing at the time of their birth, which controlled their destinies.") Yes, it comes from Romeo and Juliet -- but recall that the complete phrase is "...a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life." In other words, the crossing of stars is not something that you want to reference on your wedding invitation. (I would suggest that the deep, abiding love of Mickey and Minnie Mouse is also something you don't want to reference on your wedding invitation, but your mileage may vary, as they say.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Not that kind of "restricted"

I forgot, yesterday, to include the one other frequent search that leads people here. But it popped up on my results again today:

nude pictures of Johnny Galecki

Call me naive, but I didn't think "nude pictures of Celebrity X" was something that people actually searched for; I think of it as something most people struggle to avoid as they go about their business online. But let the record show that there are people, or perhaps just one person, determined to find the abovementioned images, and somehow they keep ending up here at Restricted View. (I'm sure this post will only exacerbate that problem.) To those people (or that one very determined person), I offer my apologies; you will find no nude pictures of Mr. Galecki, or anyone else, here. But I don't feel sorry for you, because if you really wanted to see Johnny Galecki naked, you had plenty of opportunities during the run of The Little Dog Laughed, which featured (as the content warnings put it) "brief homosexual nudity." And it's not like tickets were hard to come by. Perhaps the Broadway producers should have retitled the show -- would you have bought a ticket to see Brief Homosexual Nudity?

Coincidentally, I was just thinking about Johnny Galecki yesterday. I was doing a rather mindless data-entry job, and I turned on the TV to occupy my brain. Did you know that Roseanne is on pretty much nonstop all afternoon on Oxygen? I was never a fan during its run, but it's a perfect show for half-watching. I caught two-and-a-half episodes from the era when "David," Galecki's character, was living with the Conners, and although he was not naked at any time, I almost wished he were, because: what was with those cardigans? Who decided that grandpa-sweaters should be that character's signature thing? He looks ridiculous, and that's saying a lot considering he's on Roseanne, a show where everybody looks bad all the time. That sitcom is like a festival of bad hair.

Let me make this post nominally about theatre by soliciting your comments. Nudity onstage: gimmicky, distracting, courageous? What have your experiences been like?

Monday, March 5, 2007

May you find what you need

Thanks to, I can tell who's visiting Restricted View and how they got here. Each day, I have a pretty steady number of regular visitors -- hello and thanks for reading! -- and an equal number of newbies, who find me in all sorts of ways. Some come through blogrolls and referrals: if you're linking to me, thanks, and if you've followed a link, I sincerely hope you'll come again. But most interesting are those who end up here as the result of an internet search. (Let's be honest: a Google search.) Through the magic of, I can see the search terms that led such people to my blog, and the list is always entertaining. Some Google searches that led to me this week:

lawrence welk show removed without warning

I'm sorry I have no information on that topic, but allow me to offer my most sincere condolences on your loss.

talking captain feather sword

As you know, I am always up for talking Captain Feathersword! But if it's a doll you're looking for, I can't help you.

shirley maclaine dance routines

Again, sorry. But let me know if you find anything good!

At least once a week, somebody lands here in their search for the lyrics to and/or a clip of Jennifer Hudson singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." Of course, they usually don't get the title right (yesterday somebody was looking for jennier hudson singing your gonna love me). But half the fun of that song is not getting the title right. I recently overheard someone talking about a contestant on American Idol who performed "that song Jennifer Hudson does in Dreamgirls, you know, 'I'm Not Going Away' or whatever it's called."

I also get frequent visitors from the UK who I assume are looking for information/advice about purchasing "restricted view" seats. Many include The Sound of Music in their search -- are there lots of bad sightlines in the Palladium? I don't know, but my advice, as someone who has occupied many a lousy seat, is only make the purchase if the tickets are heavily discounted.

My favorite search-engine hits are names of (not-very-famous) actors I've mentioned. I imagine that they are conducting these searches themselves, or else I'm playing host to their proud parents. Either way, I'm happy about that, because that's why I mention them by name in the first place. I like you, nonfamous actors, for what it's worth! This week, someone ended up here after googling Steven Sutcliffe Actor 2007. Was it Younger Brother himself? Or a fellow member of his small but discerning fan club? Regardless, I hope s/he will return. In fact, I hope all of you wayward searchers will find me worth bookmarking, even if I can't supply the information you need.

I worked briefly as a fact-checker for a columnist who did not realize that you can put quotation marks around a search term for more efficient Googling. I was surprised that this could be news to anyone who had ever used a search engine, and then I was kind of sorry I told him, because I think he was much more impressed with my accomplishments before he learned about that trick. Anyway, if some of you people used quotation marks in your searches, you'd find what you want a lot faster. But then you wouldn't end up here. So regardless of how you got here, welcome, and don't be a stranger! And, again, sorry about the Lawrence Welk situation. I can only imagine what you must be going through.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

I say, old chap, good show!

After I took my seat -- and an excellent seat it was, for a change! -- for Journey's End, I tried to recall everything I knew about World War I, in preparation for what I was about to see. And I realized to my dismay that my knowledge of that period amounts to very little indeed. I know about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, and I was able to come up with the Treaty of Versailles, but I'm very fuzzy on what happened in between. Of course, by the time I was studying history in high school, we were learning about the first World War primarily as a preface to/contributing factor to/failure to prevent the second. One of the great strengths of R.C. Sherriff's play Journey's End is that it was written in 1928, when WWI was still The Great War, the War to End All Wars. (Coincidentally, I believe it was around that same time that the Belasco, where Journey's End is currently playing on Broadway, was last renovated.) So the play doesn't depend on historical irony for its impact, and it all feels surprisingly immediate. War is war, it seems.

If, like me, you find yourself struggling to come up with solid facts about the Great War, you will be glad to know that very little historical background is necessary to appreciate Journey's End. The play is a sort of Red Badge of Courage of WWI; the war is its backdrop, but the experience of individual men is its true subject. That's not to say that Sherriff's script is light on period detail, and it is a credit to the actors and director (David Grindley) that I was able to take these characters seriously in spite of their tendency to say things like "right-o!" and "frightfully" and "ra-ther." I kept expecting somebody to burst into the dugout (where the entire play takes place) and shout, "Bunch of monkeys on the ceiling, sir! Grab your egg and fours and let's get the bacon delivered!" ("Sorry, old man, we don't understand your banter.") But the quality of the performances was such that the actors were able to get away with using "topping" as an adjective (as in, "I say, isn't she a simply topping girl?") with nary a titter from the audience.

Sherriff's script is not quite as subtle as it might be -- he leans especially heavily on one character's alcoholism, as though we might forget it if he didn't mention it constantly. But overall it's very solid. The play is long, and the first half is relatively unspectacular, but a little patience will pay off in the second half, I promise. Journey's End is a true evening (or, in my case, afternoon) in the theatre, of the sort they just don't write anymore.

The actors are all very good, but Boyd Gaines is by far the best. I'm used to thinking of him as a song-and-dance man, and not a soldier type, but he is completely convincing as Lt. Osborne, right down to the droopy mustache, and he boasts the best nonnative British accent onstage. His performance, quiet, confident and never showy, holds all the others together, just as his character stabilizes the company of soldiers in the play. Hugh Dancy seems as comfortable onstage as he is onscreen, and he certainly doesn't rest on his pretty-boy laurels; his performance is committed and intense, although his characterization could use a bit more depth. He plays the aforementioned alcoholic, Captain Stanhope, in a near-constant state of hysteria, and the play would benefit if there were a few lows to go with the character's emotional highs. Stark Sands is adorable, and ultimately very affecting, as the callow Lt. Raleigh; his performance comes closest to tipping over into parody, but I realized at intermission that my impression may have been influenced by the memory of his performance in Die, Mommie, Die! As for Jefferson Mays, his role is hardly as central as his above-the-title billing would suggest -- in fact, I think he's bringing more nuance to the character than the script intends -- but he's quite good, and quite funny.

If the play had ended a scene earlier than it did, I'd have said, good play, good performances, a bit long... but I was taken completely by surprise by the final scene -- in fact, the final image -- which was so exceptionally powerful and so deeply moving that I can't find words to explain it without giving it away. And I am loath to do that, because I want you to see it for yourself. There is a kind of catharsis that you can still only get in the theatre, and right now you can get it at Journey's End, thanks to a great cast and a truly excellent staging (I want to see Tony nominations for Boyd Gaines, director David Grindley and sound designer Gregory Clarke*, at the very least). I know you may be thinking, "Why -- aside from the prettiness of Hugh Dancy and Stark Sands -- would I want to see a long play about British soldiers during WWI?" And I'm telling you, just take my word for it. This is not to be missed. It's a simply topping play.

*ETA: I have just learned that there is no Tony Award for sound design. I say. Clarke did win the Drama Desk Award, though.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

File under "Things nobody has ever said":

"Awesome, this website has an elaborate flash intro!"

Today I'm working on a project that has me visiting lots of institutional websites in search of contact information, and after clicking "skip intro" for the umpteenth time, I would like to propose this change: from now on, "skip intro" will be the default for all websites. Then I can get to what I need, and anybody who actually wants to sit through a brief animation of your company's logo can click a little button that says "watch intro." Everybody wins!

Who's with me?