Saturday, May 30, 2009

Could the pope be Catholic? Film at eleven

The news has been more ludicrous than usual lately, and at times I have found myself wondering whether it's all a big practical joke. You know how, on or around April 1, newspapers sometimes put out an "April Fool's Edition" with one or more hoax stories? I think we're in the middle of a monthlong version of that.

Surely serious news outlets didn't fall for the AEI's PR trap and frame Cheney and Obama's nearly simultaneous but not-at-all equivalent speeches as a "debate" or a "competition"... did they? Professional journalists wouldn't really repeat Cheney's bald-faced lies and self-contradictions as though they were legitimate criticisms... would they? The notion that the word "empathy" is some kind of sinister "code" wouldn't be repeated with a straight face in the national news... would it? The accusation that Sonia Sotomayor is a "reverse-racist" would be beneath the dignity of all but the most raving lunatics... wouldn't it? The Associated Press would never run a "news analysis" piece this hacky and laughable, right? And so on and so on.

The moment I figured out that this was all a cosmic joke came a few days ago, when I heard a television news reader announce, very seriously, that some relatives of the infamous "Jon & Kate" are concerned that the couple "may be exploiting their children."

That made me laugh out loud. Of course they're exploiting their children! They star in a reality show about how they have a lot of small kids. That's the whole show. That's what they're famous for: they let cameras follow them around when they're with their kids. The only reason the show isn't called Jon & Kate Exploit Their Eight Children is that it doesn't rhyme (and also gives away too much of the "plot").

Are you seriously just figuring this out now, concerned relatives? Because if I were a news analyst, I would be pitching another story. Here's the headline: "Concerned Relatives of Jon & Kate Exploiting the Increased Attention Being Paid to Jon & Kate as a Consequence of Their Having Spent the Last Five Years Exploiting Their Children." I mean, come ON.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I loved you in Monsters Inc.

My latest celebrity-on-the-street sighting: John Goodman, on his way (presumably) to Studio 54. Which reminded me: Waiting for Godot got really enthusiastic reviews. And this in a season when Roundabout has been the not-for-profit everyone loves to hate. I guess that means I have to see it.

Have you been to the TKTS booth since it reopened in Duffy Square? It's cute and everything -- I like those stairs, and I like that you can see the boards while you're standing in line. But: why did they leave so little room between the ticket windows and the curb? It's still so cramped. Isn't that the sort of thing a redesign should fix? Not only is it really difficult to walk away from the window once you've bought your tickets; when you do manage to free yourself, you're standing in the path of people trying to cross the street. It's not ideal.

When I was last at the booth, buying not-discounted-enough tickets for God of Carnage (only 30% off, and $83 should be full price for orchestra seats at a 90-minute play, if you ask me), I got in a line that looked short but, of course, wasn't, because the people in front of me took forever to complete their transaction. I gathered that this was due to their knowing very little English. I could only hear the TKTS guy's side of the exchange, because he was speaking into a microphone. And it went like this: "Hairspray? Hairspray is closed. Do you mean Hair? [Tourists confer briefly, then say something in broken English, ending with "...Hairspray."] I'm tryna TELL you, Hairspray is CLOSED. DO YOU MEAN HAIR?!" And so it went, back and forth, until finally (I think) they ended up with tickets for Mary Poppins. Meanwhile, the people at the window next to us were asking, in equally uncertain English, "Do you have Wy-ked?" It's a regular United Nations down there in Duffy Square, I'm telling you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bad Idea Bears

I'm not sure whether I've been doing a really bad job keeping up with theatre news, or whether I heard this one a while ago and simply blocked it from my memory. Probably both. But did you know Phylicia Rashad is taking over the role of Violet Weston in August: Osage County in less than two weeks? It's true! And no, they're not turning the Weston family black (or mixed-race) to accomodate this casting. In fact, original cast member Amy Morton is coming back on the same date. All of which strikes me as...odd. (And not just me, obviously -- everyone else filed their confusion/dismay two months ago.) But wait, this is the good part. Here's how I found out -- I went to the official website for the show and saw the button that says, "Learn more about Phylicia and Jenny Craig. See our latest offer."

I saw Deanna Dunagan -- awesome -- and I saw Estelle Parsons -- also awesome -- but I probably won't rush out to see Phylicia. Who knows, maybe she'll be a better fit for the part than I'm imagining, but the fact that she was cast without any significant plausibility adjustments in the cast around her makes me suspect the production in general has jumped the shark. However, since they've updated the homepage to reference Rashad's weight-loss spokesperson gig, I'm wondering whether the script will get some tweaks, too. Like, maybe, instead of cancer, Violet can just have a weight problem. And she can turn to Jenny Craig to help kick her diet-pill addiction! A happy ending!

You might have noticed I haven't commented at all on the Tony nominations. This is partly because I'm busy, but mostly because I'm completely unexcited about this year's Tonys. Oh, I have a few thoughts here and there... But I can't remember when I've been so un-invested in who got nominated and who will win, especially in the musicals categories. It's all meh. And now, this headline on
Neil Patrick Harris to Host 63rd Annual Tony Awards
They really don't want me to watch this year, do they?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Irena's Vow, reviewed

I mentioned a while back that I had been to see Irena's Vow. The takeaway, in four words: Great story, lousy play. If you'd like more details, my review is in the May 8 issue of Commonweal -- and available to nonsubscribers online.
Playwright Dan Gordon focuses narrowly on Opdyke’s plan to save Jewish lives, cramming the events of several years into a bumpy ninety minutes. The result is a hurried exercise in Holocaust-drama shorthand: swastika armbands, yellow stars, uneven German accents. So many factual details have been removed, for expediency, that the plot feels less than credible. And though Tovah Feldshuh gives a commanding performance as Irena (Opdyke’s Polish name), she is constantly in motion, rushing from one plot point to the next. Irena addresses the audience almost constantly, but she never seems to stand still long enough for anyone to get to know her.
Opdyke's story is so remarkable it beggars belief -- and that's if you tell it accurately. The version in the play is particularly difficult to swallow because, as it turns out, it's playing fast and loose with the facts. (For example: How did they manage to hide a newborn baby without its cries being heard? The play never explains...probably because, in reality, they didn't. The Jews left the cellar where they were hiding before the baby was born.) Adam Feldman's review in Time Out New York, which I've just read, makes a good argument for why such fabrications are particularly troubling in a play that appropriates the solemn duty of Holocaust remembrance. My objections to the playwright's departing from the facts were less ethical than practical -- if you're going to change things, your changes should at least have some sort of dramatic advantage. Don't take out details that would make the story better, for heaven's sake. Anyway, historical inaccuracies aren't the only problem the play has: it's also hampered by a (mostly) weak cast, clunky dialogue, and (as Charles Isherwood rightly noted) an awkward sense of humor. Tovah Feldshuh's performance is quite good -- better than it has any right to be, considering she's nearing 60 and her character is around 20 -- but the play is otherwise a disappointment. The best thing about it, for me, was that it moved me to look for Opdyke's memoir, In My Hands, which is a much more thorough and rewarding telling of her story. I recommend the book, but skip the play.

P.S. Restricted View readers have a special fondness for writers getting defensive and embarrassing themselves on the Internet. In that spirit, I direct you to this post of Adam Feldman's on the TONY blog... with comments from Dan Gordon, responding to Feldman's (completely fair) criticisms. That's... no way to demonstrate your talent as a writer, Mr. Gordon.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Oh, lordy

Let's see, what have I not been blogging about lately? Celebrity sightings, for one: Swoosie Kurtz, in the audience at MTC's Ruined! Brian d'Arcy James, on his way to the Broadway to get into his Shrek makeup!

And then there are all the shows I've seen and not told you about. Let's start with a relatively recent one: Lincoln Center's revival of Joe Turner's Come and Gone, directed by Bartlett Sher. Like everything Sher directs, this production has a cool set and is lovely to look at. And, of course, that's not quite enough. Sher seems to have focused all his attention on making the comic parts come across. The play gets plenty of laughs -- at least, it did when I saw it -- but after a while the approach feels condescending and inappropriate. The production isn't taking the characters seriously. By the second act, the audience was whooping so loudly at every hint of romance, I felt like I was in the studio audience for a taping of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And, as you can imagine, that meant when the the play turned serious, the audience was left behind. There's a scene, late in the play, when Herald Loomis is slain by the spirit. He falls to the ground, writhing and babbling, and the people in the audience cackled and hooted, because they thought the whole thing was a comedy routine. Oh, those turn-of-the-century black people and their ridiculous spiritual practices!

In that atmosphere, the ending falls totally flat. I left thinking, "I'm still not sure what this play means, but I'm sure it's not whatever Bartlett Sher thinks it means." For enlightenment I turned to my man Michael Feingold at the Village Voice, brilliant as usual: