Monday, November 22, 2010

THEATRE: NICHOLAS NICKELBY vs VENGEANCE IS THE LORD'S


Not even close. NICHOLAS NICKELBY is the clear champ, springing from 19th century England by way of Dickens, into 21st century New England by way of adapter David Edgar and artistic director Spiro Veloudos. This Lyric Stage Company production is a regional premiere of a work seldom performed because of its size and scope; "The Life and Adventures of"our eponymous hero require no fewer than 25 of Boston's finest thespians playing 150+ characters, in and out of some 1600 costumes, in the course of six hours. I saw the whole thing in one glorious marathon sitting- matinee, dinner, evening performance. I emerged exhilarated, satisfied, like I'd been far away and much better for it. In a roiling sea of first-rate performances many floated to the top: Nigel Gore as the scurrilous Wackford Squeers and the smarmy Sir Mulberry Hawk; Will Lyman as Nicholas'cold and stingy Uncle Ralph; Jason Powers exquisitely touching as Smike, an abused orphan adopted by Nick. The whole thing ticks along like a well-oiled 19th century machine on a logistically inventive set; the view from backstage must be equally entertaining. It's on til December 19 at THE LYRIC STAGE

As for VENGEANCE IS THE LORD'S, the world premiere by Bob Glaudini, directed by Peter DuBois over at The Huntington, I hesitate to pronounce; if vengeance is the lord's, I wish it would happen sooner rather than later.
This is a foul-mouthed, Arthur Miller rehash about familial guilt. But there is no tragic fall; this family can't get much lower on the moral and ethical food chain: the family business involves stolen auto parts and faulty repairs, murder,regular brawling and drinking, the foulest language, all of it happening over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. On top of it, mom's a lousy cook. There's one son who seems to have wandered in from another family; he keeps asking questions like "What about the truth?" The plot pivots on this moral dilemma: should they support parole for the guy who brutally murdered their daughter. HUH? Is that a trick question? We're not talking about whether or not they should forgive him--we're asked to believe that THIS family would actually agonize over whether the man serving 3 concurrent life sentences for a violent murder of a member of their family should be out walking the streets. Is that even possible under the law? Where did all their scruples suddenly come from? The whole thing is so trumped up, I could barely keep from screaming. The whole cast seemed stiff and under-rehearsed. Oh, and there is no Act II. Nice set. Thank goodness. Vengeance may be the audience's. Now through Dec 12.

Friday, November 19, 2010

MOVIE: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS


HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I is a shocking surprise. It is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and the decision to turn the final book into two movies turns out to have been brilliant. What I at first thought was merely a greedy ploy to prolong the life expectancy of this cash cow of a movie franchise, and thus lead to no good, has resulted in a carefully told, beautifully shot and edited work of some subtlety, words I haven't applied to a Potter film, ever.

The film is one of sustained tension, as Harry,Ron,and Hermione take off in search of Horcruxes (pieces of Lord Voldemort's soul)in order to destroy them-- and him. There is a palpable eeriness and melancholy, a quiet, broody atmosphere that has insinuated itself into every frame, every sound, like the fascist tentacles of the Dark Lord that now have a stranglehold on the Ministry of Magic. The original music by Alexandre Desplats is haunting and the special effects staggeringly beautiful-- not to mention scary to the bone. Director David Yates and cinematographer Eduardo Serra have framed our young, weary wizards in shots that resonate with the expressive beauty of still life paintings. The film takes its time and doesn't get bogged down with exposition. There's time to re-absorb these characters, now older and more complicated; Emma Watson in particular has grown considerably as an actress. There's time for a little dance here, a tender moment there, so when the action sequences come, they are explosive and frightening, and again, thrillngly beautiful.

I saw it with one of the world's premiere acousticians, with a sound system of his design: Theatre 6 at THE AMC FRAMINGHAM. He had not read the books, but could follow the plot easily. Moreover, the sound was superb; we could hear the faint tinkle of bells, a whisper of wind just before the calamitous whoosh of death eaters trailing smoky plumes across the sky. And sometimes we heard nothing-- like the collective holding of breath just before the next jolt.

Jolly good time. Can't wait for HP7 Part 2!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

MOVIE: "Morning Glory"


I couldn't wait to see MORNING GLORY which promised a charming cast in a sweetly comic plot-- or so I thought. There's Rachel McAdams as the sprightly young morning TV show producer chock full of earnestness who has been hired to breathe life into a dead dog of a morning newscast. The warring anchors are a prima donna (Diane Keaton), and a really "hard" newsman (Harrison Ford) who's out of work but nonetheless looks down his long row of Peabody Awards in disgust at the shallow depths in which morning news regularly wallows. In one awkward cameo appearance by Morley Safer, Bob Schieffer,and Chris Matthews, it's clear he only lunches with the big guys. And now I'm starting to get the picture: we're supposed to think he's the BAD guy, turning up his nose at cooking demonstrations and cute little animal segments, while our GOOD girl producer is simply trying to get him to lower his standards and loosen up for goodness sake. The climactic moment comes when he, to win her over, spontaneously makes a fritatta on live TV. I had a tear in my eye.
I think I'm going to be sick. Remember BROADCAST NEWS when the roles were reversed and we were cheering for Holly Hunter as the spunky executive producer, holding the line against the encroaching blandishments of infotainment in the form of a pretty boy anchorman (William Hurt)? At least we knew what and whom to root for, even if it was hard. Those characters were complicated.

Here Harrison Ford's overacting makes him and all those silly journalistic principles he represents--seriousness, relevance-- seem stodgy and inhuman, as though only a bloated egotist could have such standards. The film throws him a bone at the end in the form of a breaking news story that he sniffs out--when and how we never know-- so I wasn't buying it. And how are we supposed to root for a heroine who repeatedly insists that her anchorman comport himself like an idiot on camera? And she never recognizes the importance of the news story he breaks until after it gets headlines, and then, only because it's good for the ratings.

And what of the glorious Diane Keaton? She's left howling and ranting and preening. What a waste. And McAdams' love interest, the attractive Patrick Wilson? He's merely a prop for her to run from, usually in her underwear.

MORNING GLORY is a clueless ode to fallen standards everywhere; there is no glory, and it left me in mourning.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

THEATRE: THE SHIRLEY, VT PLAYS FESTIVAL


Never heard of Shirley, Vermont? It's a figment of playwright Annie Baker's imagination and is the setting for a trilogy of plays that have recently found a home in our town: CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION, BODY AWARENESS, and THE ALIENS. I finally saw all of them beginning with "CIRCLE" presented by THE HUNTINGTON about the interpersonal dynamics of an acting class. It's barely a play; it was "survivable," in the damning words of my mother who raced to see it with me one night. It's over.

No matter; the next two were better and there's still time to see them through November 20: BODY AWARENESS presented by SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY features Paula Plum and Adrianne Krstansky as Joyce and Phyllis, a lesbian couple who host an artist in their home during "Body Awareness Week" on the college campus where Phyllis is a professor. They also have a son who may have Aspergers. The artist in their residence turns out to be a male photographer who specializes in female nudes. With the introduction of this additional testosterone, the family dynamics go kaflooey. Well-acted and nimbly directed by Paul Daigneault, with quietly hilarious observations about small-town college life and the politics of sex, the play is charming, if slight.

"The Aliens" presented by COMPANY ONE

But I've buried the lead. By FAR the best of the plays is THE ALIENS presented by COMPANY ONE. It's a minor masterpiece that put me in some kind of pre-verbal trance; I laughed myself silly till I cried, and remembered things I had long buried. The play involves two hippie-like dropouts, hanging out with the garbage behind an old coffee shop, drinking, smoking, playing music, and philosophizing: lost girlfriends, Bukowski, novels, poetry-- all in a haze of sustained torpor. They discover an acolyte in the person of a mumbly, unformed 16 year-old boy who comes to regard their trippy ramblings as genius. It's all about loneliness, and connection, and longing... they are latter day Beckett hobos on drugs... the play has more silence than most theater-goers are used to-- and most playwrights can bear. Director Shawn LaCount lets this work breathe its beautiful rhythms. There's at least one towering performance: Alex Pollock as"KJ," a space cadet of the first order who calls himself "a martian masterpiece...a triple dimensional superstar." No I'm not on anything; just see THE ALIENS at Company One through November 20.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

MOVIE ROUND UP

I have not dropped off the face of the earth. I have been so swamped--just closed down mom's house in Connecticut and moved her up here. But have managed to see a bunch of things in recent days, and can share them briefly.

MOVIES: THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST the third film adaptation of the best-selling Swedish author Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy. The compelling Noomi Rapace is back as Lisbeth Salander but she spends most of the movie in a hospital bed, while all the loose ends are tied up. The third installment reveals just how trite the books actually are; it's two and a half hours of diminishing returns, culminating in one of the oldest tricks in the genre (see CARRIE).

Then there's CONVICTION-a true story based on a Mass.case of wrongful conviction. Hilary Swank plays the sister who bails out her brother (Sam Rockwell in a dull performance that people will mistake for brilliance) after decades of wrongful incarceration, and yes, the title also refers to her conviction. I am sick of Swank in these earnest do or die, against all odds parts. It's time she played an upper class twit with a heart of stone. In any case, the film is two dimensional and fails to even tear jerk me to the ending. Ultimately boring.

A FILM UNFINISHED: This is an extraordinary holocaust documentary by Israeli director Yael Hersonski who has unearthed and recontextualized a heretofore buried Nazi propaganda film about the Warsaw ghetto. The film contains never before seen footage of the heartless conditions, and reveals how the Nazis warped that horrific reality into one even more gruesome. Starving and brutalized inhabitants were forced to act for the camera in staged scenes, designed to show how good life was there, and how the wealthy Jews turned a blind eye to corpses in the street. We see the retakes, with real dead bodies, and the "extras" who were forced to continually step over them "unmoved." The filmmakers have found survivors--now elderly, who lived in the ghetto as children. We watch with them as they recognize loved ones, and neighbors. In this, they and we are the ultimate witnesses, and ironically the film is finished as the truth behind these misleading images is reflected in the eyes of those who were there.

See this when it's released on DVD, and watch for it at Oscar time.

More soon!
Good night and good morning!