Monday, September 26, 2011

MY NEW WEBSITE: JoycesChoices!!!

BREAKING NEWS*** BREAKING NEWS*** BREAKING NEWS!!!

I am plunging ever deeper into cyberspace and this is for all my faithful blog followers! There is now a NEW and BETTER way to follow my postings, musings, rants & raves! Check out my NEW WEBSITE: JoycesChoices.com!!

Subscribe for regular e-mail updates of my latest movie and theater reviews and more!
Here's the link: http://www.joyceschoices.com

You can also still "Like me" on Facebook, and "Follow me" on Twitter @Joycekulhawik.

I will leave this blog up to redirect people to my new site--I am still tweaking, but check it out!

And as always MANY THANKS FOR STICKING WITH ME-- I'm having a blast!

See you shortly! Now subscribe-- and tell your friends...!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

WEEKEND 9/16-18L MOVIES, THEATER, ART, MUSIC!

There is SO much happening this weekend, I think my head might explode!

First, there's my birthday. I've noticed there are many Virgos floating around-- I guess many people find themselves "in the mood" around the December holidays. I'm September 18. Me and Greta Garbo. But if you DON'T want to be alone this weekend, there is SO MUCH TO DO. See here:

****THE 27th ANNUAL BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL! SEPTEMBER 16-22!! Six world premiere movies and one U.S. premiere in this year’s lineup at the Stuart Street Playhouse in Boston! www.bostonfilm.festival.com or call 617-523-8388.

**** FREE 24 HOUR CELEBRATION at MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS!! The opening of THE LINDE FAMILY WING for CONTEMPORARY ART! September 17 – 18 7 pm – 7 pm!!!

****SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY'S 21st Season kicks off Friday Sept. 16th with the New England premiere of the hit Broadway play NEXT FALL. Meet Playwright Geoffrey Nauffts at the theater! Sunday September 18 following the 3pm performance!

**** 8th ANNUAL REVELS RIVER SING! SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 18!! Join thousands of voices in song on the banks of the Charles River! 5PM by the Weeks footbridge in Cambridge! FREE!

****25th ANNUAL SOUTH END OPEN STUDIOS!! SEPTEMBER 18-19 11-6PM! The Event Showcases the works of more than 200 established and emerging artists! Among the participants: BCA artists in the Artists Studio Building! ERIC ANTONIOU PHOTO EXHIBIT! And Check out the groovy handbags at 59 Wareham Street ( 3rd Floor)!

**** WORLD PREMIERE of GORILLA OPERA'S LOOSE, WET, PERFORATED-- a morality play by Nicholas Vines! SEPTEMBER 16-25! Cambridge.

**** RARE VIEWING of HENRI MATISSE'S most ambitious work – JAZZ! Galerie d’Orsay, 33 Newbury Street, will feature this important and historic suite in their latest exhibition running through October 2nd!

****VOICES OF HOPE! Symphony Hall! Fundraising Gala September 17! Song, dance, and testimonials to benefit DANA-FARBER CANCER INSTITUTE!

****All the Journeying Ways A rare chance to see these two critically acclaimed performances in repertory-- two weeks only:
THE ODYSSEY & THE BACCHAE --CWT and Whistler in the Dark!
September 14 - 25!

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11


I was there. Right in the middle of what up until now remains the defining moment of 21st century America. We had just taken off from Logan airport, 15 minutes ahead of the terrorists, some of whom had spent the night at the Days Inn-- right next door to WBZ-TV. They were probably there the night before when we left the building after wrapping the 11 o'clock news. Our anchorwoman Lisa Hughes and I were flying out together on an uncharacteristically "fun" assignment on that crystal clear Tuesday morning: we were headed to the big apple for an "official" fashion consultation.

We landed at Laguardia at just about 8:30 AM, and took a limo into the city because the taxi line was so long. As we sat in the backseat, me nursing a cup of coffee and feeling a bit sluggish--I am not, nor will I ever be, a morning person--Lisa, characteristically alert and with it, looked up and said, "Looks like there's a fire in the World Trade Center." I immediately looked out the windshield to see dark smoke billowing from one of the Towers. The two of us thought, "This looks like it might be a big story..." Lisa immediately dialed the assignment desk back in Boston and the reports were that a small plane had crashed into the building. This really was going to be a big story. We were on hold waiting for instructions to see whether Lisa would be diverted to cover; it wouldn't involve me, since as the arts and entertainment reporter, the only emergencies in progress I ever covered were those that happened onstage when an actor bombed at the theater. Suddenly, the assignment editor got back on the phone and started yelling--"another plane"-- while we were sitting there-- "hit the other tower!" We looked up-- both towers were engulfed. Lisa and I looked at each other and knew what everyone knew in that instant: this was no accident. This was terrorism. What we didn't know was that the course of Lisa's life was forever changed in those moments, as was the life of the man she had yet to meet, but would eventually marry. A man whose wife was on one of those planes .

We immediately instructed the driver to head for CBS; we were among the last few hundred cars to make it over the bridge before they shut the city down. The streets were almost instantly gridlocked. Phones were starting to jam. We got as far as Park Ave when we abandoned our vehicle-- it wasn't moving, and ran to the nearest hotel to get to a landline. While I was on the phone trying to make arrangements to stay-- we knew we were there for the duration-- our Boston assignment editor screamed, "They've hit the pentagon.... the pentagon has been hit!..."

I remember feeling almost dizzy. I looked out to see chaos in the streets, everyone in a state of shock and wondering what kind of an attack, from whom, and how big? There were now reports of other hi-jackings. Was it all going to end like this? Lisa and I ran out into the street and kept running until we arrived at the network, out of breath and not knowing the scope of what was engulfing us. We got to the CBS newsroom and dazed producers there said,"Thank god you're here-- we need all the help we can get." And then, there was little we could do. No communications, no transmissions, no one allowed near the site, network anchors narrating what they could figure out helter skelter; all we could do was tear wire copy, keep notes, watch feeds, and stand by for... for... what?

At 9:58 AM we watched the newsroom monitors as the first tower collapsed. There was a collective gasp; none of this could be real. When the second tower went down, I was almost numb. By this time I hadn't yet been able to reach my family-- no one knew where I was, or how I was. We made contact later in the day, and that night Lisa and I stood outside atop CBS, and filed our first live reports from NY to Boston. I will never forget New York City that night. It was dead quiet. Not a sound. No traffic, no wind, no birds. Nothing. The city was lit up behind us, but no one was visible on the streets below or anywhere. It looked like a painted set. And all the people were gone.

The next day Lisa and I along with a phalanx of stunned reporters made our way down West Street to report from the scene. We were given masks to wear and I would be on duty after all; I was a reporter, and there, and ready to tell what I saw. We were within a mile of ground zero. There was debris, and white dust everywhere, and lines of rescue workers, and medical trucks, and police, and food trucks streaming in; and doctors who had volunteered from all over the country, and made their way to the disaster; people applauded them in as they made their way down the highway. We heard that Robert Deniro was delivering food from his restaurant to relieve the fire fighters and rescue workers. And there were hundreds of people roaming the streets crying, holding pictures of loved ones, asking if we had seen them. We interviewed many of these people on camera, in the hopes that someone might recognize someone, and the lost would be found. One of the saddest things was the sickening realization that despite the thousands of people standing by ready to help, there would be very few people to rescue. For the most part, you either made it out, or you didn't.

Ten years to the day, it all came flooding back to me. I have been low all day. It is still there, several layers down. Though I have told the story many times, I have never written it down. I think of Lisa Hughes and her husband Mike Casey and their newly adopted baby boy and I am encouraged. I will call her, and thank God that we are still here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

MOVIE: CONTAGION


CONTAGION begins with a mounting sense of dis-ease, which spreads like a virus through the all-star, "Oscar" infused cast as each one plays his or her part in what is about to become a pandemic! The tension mounts-- we see the whole globe engaged as the action proceeds smartly along on many levels. Director Steven Soderbergh balances simultaneous story lines the way jugglers spin plates at the end of poles; he gets them all going -- and then they just slow down and stop. The movie is smart, and informative, but is a lets us down dramatically.

It all begins with Gwyneth Paltrow's character who doesn't feel at all well-- and before it's over we see more of her than we could have imagined possible. It ain't pretty. Then there's her husband played by Matt Damon, looking puffy-- but somehow immune to the epidemic. These two are the lynchpins of the whole story -- and this story has a lot to do with THE ORIGINAL story, as in "Genesis," as in the first book of the bible. I took exception.

Soderbergh gradually introduces the members of the worldwide medical community hot on the trail of a cure before this virus kills millions of people around the globe. Enter Kate Winslet as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer. And Laurence Fishburne, her boss and government official, and Jude Law a cynical maverick journalist who's pandering to paranoiac conspiracy theorists. He's rotten to the core and has the teeth to prove it. And Marion Cotillard is tracing the spread of the disease from Hong Kong to Chicago to London and Japan, from remote villages to the guy next door.

In typical Soderbergh fashion, the action is metastatic-- there are story lines upon story lines: The World Health Organization and the CDC--giant bureacracy unable to move quick enough, cynical media preying on people's fears, scientific method-- we learn that the virus is "philogencially pathonomonic" or something like that. We see the details of transmission and learn that we touch our faces 3 to 5 times every hour? every minute? The sense of "contagion" was so effectively communicated that when someone in the theater coughed--we all gasped!

I wish CONTAGION had figured out how to keep the drama alive--it's a smart film, but my final diagnosis? Operation a success, but the patient died.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

MOVIE: THE DEBT


THE DEBT opens with an intriguing bang, and closes with an fatiguing clang. But its two leading ladies had me at hello: Dame Helen Mirren queen of the movies, and Jessica Chastain the Meryl Streep of her generation– with 3 big movies out this summer (THE TREE OF LIFE, THE HELP), and at least as many accents. The two of them do their best to keep this chronologically challenged script from flying out of control, and slipping into incredulity. The first two thirds of the film succeed; the last bit takes a turn for the ludicrous.

The action begins in the past as three Israeli secret agents (Chastain, Sam Worthington, Martin Csokas) attempt to abduct a Nazi war criminal and bring him to trial. Jessica Chastain plays the beautiful young agent Rachel Singer, while Helen Mirren plays Rachel the elder, haunted by the secrets of the past. Jesper Christensen plays Dieter Vogel, the so-called Nazi “Surgeon of Birkenau,” and he deserves a special Oscar for fleshcrawling creepiness. I was with this film as it flashed forward and back in time, suspense building, a love triangle simmering; it all makes sense, the characters cook up a terrific heat and tension….the whole thing building to a present day moral and logistical conundrum,then…

… one twist too many– and it all collapses. Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds do their best to hold up the back end of the film as the elder versions of their studly former selves. But it’s the script that lets us down into a farfetched maze of coincidences, contrivances, and close encounters of the slasher movie kind.
Unfortunately, though much of the film earns our attention, THE DEBT doesn’t quite pay off.



Friday, September 2, 2011

THEATER: THE GERSHWINS' PORGY AND BESS

There will always be a few nights at the theater that I will remember my whole life, when I was swept up in something truly thrilling and sublimely beautiful. Last night was one of those nights. I sat transfixed at the A.R.T. as Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis sang us to Nirvana in the new adaptation of PORGY AND BESS, a once-daring new opera that put the largest entirely black cast on the American stage for the first time--Boston's Colonial Theater to be exact--in 1935. The work has been "in progress" ever since, and now a talented triumvirate -- Pulitzer Prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks, Obie winning composer Dierdre L. Murray, and A.R.T. artistic director Diane Paulus-- have reinvigorated it yet again. They have given us a physically stripped down, but dramatically punched up powerhouse of a rendition which allows George and Ira Gershwin's and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward's groundbreaking masterpiece to breathe in a new way. The result is a production at once epic and intimate, modern and urgent, perfectly cast and beautifully lit and choreographed.

THE GERSHWIN'S PORGY AND BESS begins with the soaring,indolent lullaby SUMMERTIME sung alone onstage by Clara to her baby. And it's a REAL living breathing baby; yes--this production is alive in every sense of the word. The opening scene finds its apotheosis in the production's Pirandellian final image: Porgy heading out alone, upstage, into the darkness, the set falling away, as he seeks a new beginning with the elusive Bess. In between, lies the desperate love story of the beautiful, lonely, tormented Bess victimized by a jealous and murderous lover, Crown; she seeks refuge in the arms of the physically crippled but emotionally complete Porgy, who only wants his Bess, and wants her to be happy. In duet, their voices, curl achingly around each other-- she wrapt by his radiant goodness, he by her ardent sensuality, and even deeper longing for what only he can give her: a home. McDonald's Bess is perfection; she is a tremendously expressive actress and a wondrous singer, with flawless technique, every note and musical phrase shaped to express the nuances of Bess's yearning, fear, joy, and sexual hunger. As Porgy, Norm Lewis may be a less formally accomplished singer, but his purity of tone and emotional directness will stop you in your tracks; the transcendent humanity of this extraordinarily decent character brought the house down.  When Lewis sings "I Got Plenty of Nothing,'"  it blooms fresh onstage; he's the incarnation of the sheer joy of being alive. By contrast Phillip Boykin brings a threatening coarseness to his resounding baritone as the brutish Crown.  The dramatic tension embodied vocally by each character in this explosive triangle is part of what makes this production feel so rich and alive.

Gershwin's score introduced rough and ready jazz and blues to classic operatic form and the result was pure exhilaration. This production builds on that musical premise, further adapting its form to the musical stage. Some of it is spoken, some is sung, and the result is pulse-pounding immediacy. The versatile and cohesive ensemble--equally dazzling in quartet and trio--brings everything it's got to every number. "Leaving For The Promised Land" lifts them up in a jubilant prayer song culminating in the blinding white light of redemption. "It Ain't Necessarily So"  led by David Alan Grier's dazzling  Sporting Life is infused with broad, wry humor and rollicking choreography. The sparely naturalistic set further liberates the drama and keeps our focus on the internal momentum of these characters, as does the lighting which the actors themselves seem to emit.

I could go on. And on. And so did last night's audience-- on its feet and after 4 curtain calls, still cheering for more. I was elated, having been moved all night to tears and goosebumps. I am going again, and bringing my family. I urge you to do the same before the tickets run out and it heads to Broadway. The run ends Oct 2!
And if anyone's wondering if it's wrong to tamper with a masterpiece--it ain't necessarily so.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

MOVIE: ONE DAY


This beautiful afternoon which I spent indoors, at the movies, seeing ONE DAY–was one day well-spent. Though flawed,the film based on the best-seller stars a charismatic twosome: the multitalented Anne Hathaway who here does a serviceable English accent, and the already English and mightily talented Jim Sturgess (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE). ONE DAY calls on them to age over the course of some 20 years in a series of “one days.” It’s a little bit “Same time Next Year,” a little bit– well, I won’t give that away.

The last day of college marks the commencement of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew’s relationship. They’re drunk on graduation day, flop into bed with each other and things promptly fall apart. He’s a handsome rich kid who expects life to be a breeze. She’s a gangly girl with a pessimistic streak, but an incisively funny quip for every occasion. Because we know what Hathaway can look like, her attempt at dowdiness barely squeaks by. I overlooked this because she delivers the wisecracks with dry aplomb.

I will venture to say that the trajectory of Emma and Dexter’s relationship is tumultuous and surprising. Her character makes less sense than his– why she’s stalled working in a Mexican restaurant and settles for a boring but well-meaning schlub is hard to comprehend. I also overlooked this. Why? Because it’s always clear her soul mate and ultimate destiny is the charming but lost DEXTER, and I couldn’t wait for them to get together; that pulled me along. While she functions as more of a muse, Dexter is a more fully developed character. The film shows us the ways in which he is lost, the ways he disappoints his family, and the ripple effect on all his relationships. In other words, the movie dares to show in a fairly nuanced way how a basically good guy can behave badly. Sturgess is utterly sympathetic and believeable in the part.

ONE DAY is not perfect, but it’s worth seeing for part of a day– maybe a rainy one.

Monday, August 22, 2011

MOVIE: SARAH'S KEY


Who could make up a tale like this? Who ever heard of a locked door that no one was curious enough to open? Who ever heard of a man on his deathbed suddenly leaping out of that bed and producing a document that clears up all the family mysteries? Who ever heard of creating an incidental character--a child not directly connected to the central story--solely for the purpose of killing her off ? These and other obscene contrivances are the stuff of "Sarah's Key," based on the best-seller about a little known chapter in WWII involving the round up of French Jews in the middle of Paris: the Vel d'Hiv roundup of 1942.

This tale needs to be told-- but not like this. There are parts of the movie that are effective, especially when the action moves to the death camps. But even the talented Kristin Scott Thomas seems ill at ease in this badly acted, mechanically written, melodramatically conceived excuse for jerking even more tears out of the holocaust. The worst scene? Two actors slow dancing with a sultry vocal in the background, crooning something about a lock and key!!! I think it may be the only time I have ever laughed out loud--in horror.

SARAH'S KEY! Lose it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

MOVIE:THE HELP!


I loved the book. Couldn't wait to see the movie. The trailer gave me pause--nothing subtle here and that proved to be true. It's more pat and somehow smaller than Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel, but it's an engaging, if candy-coated take on the social milieu of a very American group of characters on the cusp of the civil rights movement in the deep south-- the white women of an upscale Mississippi neighborhood and the "colored" women who work for them: THE HELP.

The first sound we hear is the voice of a black maid named Aibileen (Viola Davis) and the first image we see is the hand of Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a rebellious young white woman writing Aibileen's words on white lined paper. The emphasis is correct, because THE HELP is also, but not ultimately about civil rights; it's about the power of narrative itself: the stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and how those stories can trap or liberate us. (It's notable that the most crucial thing Aibileen may have done for the little neglected white girl in her charge may have been telling her repeatedly: "You is smart, you is kind, you is important.") Aibileen (and eventually many of her friends) dares to tell and Skeeter dares to write her first book about the embedded racism, cruelty, heartbreak, resentment and resignation intertwined in the complex relationships between the black maids and the privileged white families they care for. The book liberates them both.

Skeeter has a particular affinity for this material since she too is an outsider with hopes and dreams beyond her station: she's a smart, assertive, curly haired white girl who wants a career more than she wants a husband-- incomprehensible to the society of ninnies who spend their days throwing charity balls for the poor black Africans on the other side of the globe, even as they yank the chains of the help in their own back yards.

Emma Stone is a vibrant young screen presence, just right as the rebellious Skeeter. Viola Davis is a shining stoic presence as the kindly Aibileen who bears a painful history with quiet courage. Olivia Spencer is feisty and funny as Minnie who serves up a diabolically delicious revenge on her snarling boss Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard). Jessica Chastain gains our sympathy as the voluptuous Daisy Mae-like Celia Foote who is spurned by Hilly and company. Celia's big scene at the charity ball is, however, awkwardly directed. But Sissy Spacek steals every scene she's in as Hilly's hilariously dotty mother who still has enough wits to get in the last word. And Cicely Tyson is a heartbreaker whenever she's on screen. Allison Janney is sympathetic as Skeeter's cancer-ridden mother who just wants to see her daughter settle down.

But none of these performances is particularly nuanced. All of these characters veer dangerously close to stereotype. And that is the crux of the problem with the film. I wish the movie had retained some of the darkness subtly evoked by the novel: Minnie's abusive husband, or the real life and death risks these women were taking by speaking up in the Jim Crow south.

But THE HELP is worth seeing-- and I will never tire of what it is trying to say, however conventionally.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

THEATER: ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL!

ALL'S WELL (It certainly is.)THAT ENDS WELL (It certainly does.) I'm referring to this summer's FREE offering on Boston Common by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company! Artistic Director Steve Maler has served up one of Shakespeare's most infrequently performed comedies, studded it with some of Boston's brightest theatrical talents, and set it shimmering under the night sky like a dark star!

It opens with a funeral and a whirling casket; characters cloaked in 19th century black, backs to the audience. It's an arresting opening tableau-- somewhere between Edward Gorey and Tim Burton. Then Karen MacDonald opens her mouth and begins to work her magic as the Countess of Rossillion mourning her dead husband; a few scenes later, she'll have us in stitches with a mere shift of an eyebrow and perfect comic timing.

Her son Bertram is the conundrum here. He's off to Paris to attend the ailing King of France (Wonderful Will LeBow). There, he rejects the love of a good woman--the lovely and talented young Helena. The conundrum? Bertram is a superficial cad who proceeds to lie, cheat, and slither his way through the rest of this play; he's one of Shakespeare's shadiest "heros." Why Helena pines for him is a mystery, and a hurdle this production doesn't completely scale. Much of the problem is the flat and awkwardly enunciated performance by Nick Dillenburg.

Nevertheless, what Shakespeare has to say about real value, and pretense vs. true worth is conveyed through many compelling performances, among them-- Kersti Bryan as the delicate yet vibrant Helena, the hilarious but never over the top Fred Sullivan, Jr. as the aptly named braggart Parolles, McCaela Donovan as the feisty and beautiful Diana, Remo Airaldi as the snippy old LaFew. The action flows easily between heartbreak and hilarity. Maler's direction invokes everything from the Keystone Cops to "The Bachelorette" to keep things moving, and never loses control of the tone; the time flies.

I loved this production of ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL-- and you will too, right through August 14. Did I mention-- it's FREE? It doesn't get better than this.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

MOVIE: CRAZY STUPID LOVE


SEE ABSORB LOVE. The film is a triumph of chaos and delight-- I had NO idea where this was headed --which I love!!! It begins with a perfectly calibrated scene in a restaurant between Steve Carell and Julianne Moore, their characters married for 20 plus years-- when he orders creme brulee and she orders a divorce. This is not a spoiler. It's the first scene. Then there are characters coming and going, different story lines developing, no obvious overlap except the pratfalls of love stopped and started, and we're on a convoluted ride. I started to think the writer was nuts. Then I realized there was a method to his madness, and I was definitely along for the ride.

Suddenly I start thinking of Shakespeare. Mismatched lovers, chasing each other around and around, and as I'm having this thought Steve Carell starts shouting the word "cuckold,"aloud, over and over at a bar. I think I'm on to something. Ryan Gosling enters the picture, immediately making every scene he's in more interesting by virtue of his truly distinctive line readings and his extraordinarily sexual presence. He takes Carell under his wing--if not just to shut him up but also to help him out as a member of the species. He turns him into a version of himself- a ladies man for the ages, who has bedded and not wedded hundreds of all too willing modern females, because he knows exactly what deeply wired buttons to push. And it's wonderfully cast-- Marisa Tomei? Hilarious. Emma Stone? Smart, screwy, endearing. Kevin Bacon? Just right-- as always.


At a certain point all the nuttiness coalesces and bubbles over into one climactic, enlightening, and explosively entertaining scene. No kidding. I was screaming laughing. The writer Dan Fogelman has made good on the promise of the title, has a good grasp of these characters and what makes them believably tick, and an appreciation for emotional complexity. The result is a magical comedy that redeems all of these mixed up characters, their intentions, their foibles, their vulnerabilities, and leaves us wondering upon a star about CRAZY STUPID LOVE and where can we get some more.


DON'T MISS THIS!!




Sunday, July 31, 2011

Restaurant Review: LAMBERT'S COVE INN

We've found it at last. A Vineyard restaurant that is beautiful, with a menu based on fresh local ingredients, simply but deliciously and artfully prepared by someone with natural talent, who neither skimped on portions, nor over-priced the menu. The wait staff was friendly and professional, the lighting was lovely, and we could actually hear ourselves talk in the dining room: LAMBERT'S COVE INN & RESTAURANT!

There's a new executive chef-- who had previously been the sous chef--the self-taught, warmly down to earth, 27 year-old Max Eagan who started out cooking with his mother in the kitchen. He has now brought his unique style to his own kitchen and is living the dream, doing what he loves best: traveling the world, absorbing new tastes and ingredients and making them his own. The guy radiates joy-- and so does his cooking.

He has a resident forager who searches the island for whatever's in season. Right now, there are wineberries-- something I've never had before, and Max has recreated something right out of my childhood--jello with whipped cream. But this is a delicate wineberry gelee topped with a silky vanilla panna cotta. It's light and cool, tangy and sweet, and utterly refreshing. I'm starting with dessert because I have a major sweet tooth.

Our main courses were perfect- cod two ways-- poached and brandade, light and fresh, delicately seasoned. A culotte--steak perfectly rare--juicy, grilled and tender; Statler chicken--moist white meat of breast with drumette attached in fragrant herbed pan juices over creamy mashed and the green of broccoli rabe as a bitter accent; braised beef shortrib melting off the bone. Even my caesar salad starter was crisp and delicious with red and green romaine.

I could go on, but you should just go. The driveway is long and mysterious, the inn is a charming shingled cottage full of antiques and candlelight in a forest clearing. Eat in the library if you can-- I think it's the prettiest room.
LAMBERT'S COVE INN & RESTAURANT
90 Manaquayak RD
Vineyard Haven
508-693-2298
www.Lambertscoveinn.com

BOMBS & BASS CHEEKS


I know I'm on vacation when I find lobster in my hair. And so it begins...Last night my husband Andrew Cohen is flying in from Spain to meet me on the Vineyard. He stops off at Logan for a connecting flight--when suddenly airport security yanks him and his luggage out of line. They hustle him into a back room and immediately start questioning him about the suspicious looking bundle they've picked up on x-ray in his baggage: a rectangular box, a watch below, and wires coiled nearby.

"What is this?" they ask.

"A gift for my wife."

(Yes we have an explosive relationship, but this is ridiculous.)

Huh? They silently eye him. They commence opening.

Inside, they uncover a pair of headphones, an ordinary wristwatch, and a twine-wrapped wooden box filled with--TA DAH: quince jam. It's clear my husband came not to destroy --but to preserve.

"We had a moment of excitement there," said the TSA officer as they slowly re-assembled the package and headed off, hot on the trail of a dangerous looking elderly woman with what might be --a pant load of trouble.

***

The next adventure was awaiting my husband at home--a delicious seafood dinner prepared by Neil Cohen my bro-in-law and graduate of Cornell's famous Hotel School. The centerpiece of the meal was something so delicious, but which had never crossed our palates before, despite years of culinary escapades the world over. Neil had spotted these in the case at John's Fish Market in Vineyard Haven, and Sandra the owner behind the counter said, "We don't have these very often; they're a pain in the neck to clean."

Bass cheeks.

Neil hesitated; the woman behind him in line had her eye on them too. He bit, brought them home, brushed them with a little lemon juice and butter, salt, pepper, and paprika, then threw them on the charcoal grill. He served them with a little caper butter and white wine sauce, and they were the lightest, freshest, sweetest cheeks I've ever tasted. No kidding. Check out the cheeks.

PS: My husband's the bomb.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

AT ODDS: MATT & BEN, 1001, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS



I've found myself at odds with the prevailing winds. But as always, I'm blowing my own way. Here's what I thought of:

- Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS--it's slight but funny with a romantic spirit and an appealing performance by Woody's alter ego Owen Wilson as a writer enthralled with Paris in the 20's. By some mysterious twist of fate and time, he meets his glamorous idols-- F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and an "ultra earnest" Hemingway-- and we enjoy the creme de la creme of cameos: Adrien Brody as a surreally revvedup Dali!! Kathy Bates as a motherly Gertrude Stein! Watch for French first lady Carla Bruni, and the ever-devastating Marion Cotillard! Frothy fun about the illusory romance of the past...

--COMPANY ONE'S production of "1001." Hated it. It is NOT sexy. It is not inventive. It is badly acted, badly directed, badly written, ill-conceived, and inaudible. Framed like a time traveling version of Scheherezade, it strands Gustave Flaubert, Osama Bin Laden, and a raft of other unfortunate souls on a sea of claptrap about the power of narrative-- "change the narrative-- change the world." It plays like one of those pretentious late night conversations in a college dorm room after much marijuana. Maybe that's what was missing.

-- MATT & BEN over at Central Square. Actresses do pointless impersonations of MATT & BEN and how they made it. Matt is annoying, Ben is a lunk, and the GOOD WILL HUNTING script dropped out of nowhere. The 70 minutes it took for this not very funny skit to peter out-- felt like 170. It's been extended through 8/14.

Onscreen, I have also already seen CRAZY STUPID LOVE and SARAH'S KEY -- will review when they officially open in Boston.

That's all for now, folks!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

MOVIE: FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS!


Snap! Crackle! Pop-- that's how the dialogue goes in this fresh, funny, up to the minute romantic comedy starring Justin "hotter than hot right now" Timberlake and Mila Kunis! Trading quips like a modern day Cary Grant and Ros Russell, they light each other's fuses and crack us up! He's the sleek, laid back, genius L.A. art director; she's the wisecracking street smart Noo Yawk head hunter. She signs him up for a job with GQ, they become fast friends-- and soon both sign up for the mutual benefits package: sex with no complications. We know this is not possible and right from the beginning we suspect they know this is not possible. But things start simmering in scene after spicy scene-- lots of naked, funny, blunt, and sweetly sassy sex scenes. Before they know it, they're cooked. Throw into the mix hilarious turns by Patricia Clarkson as Mila's libidinous hippie dippie drop-out mom, and Woody Harrelson as Justin's vivaciously narcissistic gay colleague-- and we're cooked.

Timberlake is a natural-- so much fun to watch: relaxed, charismatic, with perfect comic timing, physicalizing every scene like the gifted dancer/musician he is. Kunis is his perfect partner-- big-eyed and gutsy, parrying his jibes with her sensual, funny irreverence. The summer has finally started for those among us looking for explosions of a different kind, and these two sparkle; with the help of a script that keeps it light but real-- they make magic on a midsummer night's screen.

Don't miss FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"WOODY" IT WERE SO...

I found the following so delightfully funny that I had to share. Here it is: Life According To Woody:

"In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people's home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You finish off as an orgasm!"
— Woody Allen

Monday, July 18, 2011

MIND BLOWING THEATER: PSY


It's the coolest thing in town right now-- and it's only here until July 24! They call themselves:
PSY: MIND BLOWING CIRCUS.

You may think the performers doth toot their own horns too much. Methinks you would be wrong. I was mesmerized and tickled and left gasping by this astonishing amalgam of acrobatics, juggling, acting, mime-- all grafted onto, or springing out of-- scenarios which accumulate meaning beyond the stunts. Picture this: A man on a couch in his psychiatrist's office; before long he's fraught with tension juggling his memories (and some bowling pins) and we understand the stress of trying to keep all the pins in the air as he balances the vicissitudes of life in a constantly shifting universe. And that's just the beginning. Some of this is just plain physically astonishing.

Presented by Arts Emerson--See it at the Cutler Majestic through July 24.
Bring some smelling salts.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

MOVIE: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2


I saw it 4 nights ago, and as I emerged from the theater I heard a sniffling 17 year old girl in Potter garb exclaim through her tears, "My childhood is over and nobody cares." That sums up the fantastically successful Harry Potter series for a generation of fans who came of age along with Harry, Hermione, and Ron as they struggled with their identities, the dark forces within-- but mostly without in the form of Lord Voldemort. In that sense, the last installment is more than a movie; it's a rite of passage for millions who won't care so much if the final chapter is visually murky and dramatically tepid. I also read all the books-- but as an adult who has several rites of passage behind her. And I'm a movie critic, and so will evaluate according to more specific criteria.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 is a dutiful, dark, somewhat disappointing film. The movie held my interest without stirring my soul, or even tugging at my heart. Technically, the 3D version washed over me like a damp cloud-- not the vibrant emotional and physical extravaganza I'd hoped for--perhaps too much? 3 D should have packed more of a wallop considering much of it is spent on a long-awaited battle between the intrepid three hot on the trail of horcruxes and The Dark Lord, not to mention every character left at Hogwarts and their enemies, from Minerva McGonagall and Neville Longbottom, to Bellatrix Lestrange and Draco Malfoy. The film is also the culmination of the romantic longings of our young protagonists, which director David Yates attempts to play off against the mounting danger and tension. The results are underwhelming. A soggy kiss here, an awkward hand holding there.

There are some powerful and remarkable moments-- Snape's gruesome and poignant demise, McGonagall's prim courage just when it was needed, Voldemorte's spectacular disintegration. But Ron's part is so underwritten he practically disappears. Hagrid suddenly comes out of nowhere and we have to recall where we left him off-- which pulls us out of the movie. Ditto for Tonks and Lupin, Mrs. Weasley's standoff with Bellatrix, and the death of one of the Weasley twins. More time needed to be spent bringing these moments to life, rather than ticking them off like a to-do list. The film surely needed more dramatic detail, less spectacle.

And then there's Harry. He's always seemed a bit muted onscreen to me-- and here once again he performs appropriately, but not stirringly. Hermione remains the most expressive of the three actors, but the final chapter is not her moment. I was, however, very glad the movie includes the epilogue-- so lovely in the book and a chance to see our aging heroes launch another generation of witches and wizards into a magical future that someone has yet to imagine.

Monday, July 11, 2011

GASTRONOMES' DELIGHT!

Halibut with brown and white rice risotto.

I LOVE TO EAT. I love seeking out a new restaurant and settling into a delicious meal with hours to spare over great food, wine, and conversation. I especially love doing this with my dear friend Cindy; our high school friendship was cemented late one night when we were 15 and we polished off a pound of pasta with butter and parmesan which Cindy had prepared to perfection. She remains a great cook; I retain a great appetite. Once a year we seek out the most delectable food we can find in whatever city we meet and sit and savor and analyze (we are both virgos, after all), and eat and eat and eat.
Smoked trout tartlet appetizer.

A few years ago we met up in Brattleboro VT and asked to be directed to the best restaurant in town. Someone suggested this "little place up the street." T.J. BUCKLEY'S. We strolled over in our high heels and soon found ourselves in a deserted neighborhood. No restaurant. The only place that had a door that fronted on the street and looked like a possibility, also looked like an old abandoned dining car. Crack den--or restaurant? We wondered. What the heck. We opened the door -- and it was like a portal to another world. Suddenly we were on the Orient Express! Before us lay a long, narrow, candlelit room--all dark wood, white linen, and crystal. Beyond that awaited one of the most delectable meals we've ever had.
Salad.

Years go by. And then, two days ago my producer and good friend Marji--to whom I have never mentioned this restaurant-- was taken to this very establishment by friends, and was so struck by it, that she e-mailed me photos. Trust me. She and I never send each other pictures of food. A shock of rocognition and I was sent hurtling back to that intoxicating evening so many years ago.
White cake with chocolate chunks dessert.

Apparently T.J. BUCKLEY'S has been in operation for 27 years under the same chef and owner. The food still tastes as good as it looks. Feast your eyes. Then venture a trip: 132 Elliot Street, Brattleboro VT. (802) 257-4922. You can even get there by train.



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

WHAT CAN ONE SAY?

By now, everyone has heard about the terrible murder of a young Wayland HS graduate, and the ex-boyfriend accused of her murder. The pall of this tragedy is suffocating. I cannot escape it for a moment. It was with me from the minute my daughter-- a junior at Wayland High School told me that a classmate-- Lauren Astley-- was missing; it crept into my bones and stayed there. As the awful details emerged, I felt helpless, and shocked, and scared, and frustrated and witheringly sad. How? Why? What could anyone have done? Are some things just not preventable? As I made my way around town yesterday, the story hung in the air. I passed the news trucks at the police station, knowing that former colleagues of mine were outside, telling a terrible story that was now about someone known to us. It was strange to see this very personal human tragedy filtered through impersonal phrases; this time, the "18 year old woman found dead" was someone many in town knew from the time she was a little girl. I heard someone saying they remembered the young man accused of the crime-- as a very sweet third grader.

I know that within the last six weeks Wayland High School had spent time on the subject of violent teen relationships. There were classes, and discussions; my daughter told me and we talked about it. No doubt Lauren and Nate had participated as well. What were they thinking? Did they or anyone have an inkling that such a horrible thing was festering among them? And even if they had, could it have been prevented?

I know that the world is a dangerous place. I know that terrible things happen to good people. I know that no one gets out of here alive. I know that we must stay close to our children and sometimes intrude even when they push us away. But how much to push, and when to give space, and what are the warning signs? I know that people are complicated and mysterious-- even to themselves.
I don't know how those parents will get through this, though they must. My friend Steve knows; he says: talk to our daughters. I know this is right. I know there is love, and faith, and hope in the face of despair. I know there is some consolation in trying to learn and be better. I wish the lessons of living on this earth didn't come at so high a price. I am for the moment unable to do more than write this. My heart is aching for everyone.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

GIANTS & GENTS: DJOKOVIC AND NADAL

Djokovic just beat Nadal to win at Wimbledon! And if there's a professional athlete out there in need of a primer on how to behave--win or lose, just watch the trophy ceremony on the field post match. After playing their hearts out, these world CLASS athletes graciously received their awards, shook hands, and sincerely and publicly expressed respect for their competitors. There was never a moment of braggadocio. No silly victory dances in the end zone. No rabid fan hatred spewing onto the court. Their decorum certainly won them the respect of the crowd and no doubt the millions of viewers watching around the world.

It is clear these sentiments were not merely false show on the spur of the moment, but rather the result of longstanding relationships cultivated on the road among a group of athletes traveling the world together; certainly they do not all like each other, but it's clear they have at least cultivated professional relationships that allow them to behave like gentlemen in the context of the sport. It's clearly "not cool" for them to behave otherwise, and raises the level of the game for everyone, competitor and spectator alike.

It's called "sportsmanship."

Friday, July 1, 2011

MOVIE: LARRY CROWNE


The studios have spat out another summer comedy with two big stars: Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in LARRY CROWNE. The stars can't steer this sappy, poorly executed, and ill-conceived hunk of nonsense-- penned by Hanks and Nia (MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING) Vardalos-- away from the fate it deserves: oblivion.

Hanks cheerfully condescends to his character Larry Crowne, proud manager of a Walmart-esque big box store; Hanks plays him like John Wayne-- roaming the shelves, corralling the carts, herding the help--until he's suddenly fired just because he doesn't have a college degree. Divorced and unable to pay his mortgage, Larry enrolls in the local community college where he meets a beautiful sourpuss of a teacher in the form of Julia Roberts. Dripping with cynicism, Roberts "Miss Tainot" displaces her frustration at her bad marriage and sneers at her students daily. And she's supposed to be a GOOD teacher. After all, she teaches Shakespeare and speech-making and thus hates all modern technology like cell phones, computers and their evil spawn: Facebook and Twitter; it doesn't help that her husband (BREAKING BAD'S Bryan Cranston) is addicted to internet porn. She's ripe for the old-fashioned Larry who shows up all smiles in her classroom, and is now driving a scooter to save money on gas.

What happens next boggles the mind. Hanks is immediately and without explanation adopted by a cute coed and her rag tag band of moped-ites who apparently wheel around campus saving square middle-aged men from making bad fashion choices. They decide Larry is "way cooler" than he appears, and proceed to toss Larry's polo shirts, re-decorate his house, and tweak his romantic life. He lets them. We know not who they are-- or why. Nor do we know why Roberts ever married her deadbeat husband in the first place. Or why she keeps a job she hates. Or why she gets drunk enough to attack Hanks in what is supposed to be a giddy funny kiss, but just looks awkward and out of nowhere. And apparently this has happened before-- with a delivery man. She seems psychotic. They both barely exist as characters. Cedric the Entertainer is Hanks "wacky" neighbor with the gloriously talented Taraji P. Henson wasted as his wife of five lines. There's George Takei as an eccentrically cheerful economics prof-- who also hates cell-phones. If his part were omitted, nothing would be missing except some relief from the annoying and cloying Hanks/Roberts coupling in progress.

The film looks dingy, lacks drama, and makes no sense. Let's call it MY BIG BLAND MIDDLE-AGED BEDDING.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

MOVIES: "BAD TEACHER"


ALERT!!! Disregard the GLOBE's review. BAD TEACHER is GOOD! Cameron Diaz gives a go-for-broke performance in the role she was born to play: Ms. Elizabeth Halsey a smokin' hot middle school teacher whose one goal in life is to marry a rich man who'll support her penchant for weed, hot cars, and high-heeled designer ankle boots. The quickest way to snag the right guy? Boob job--and she'll stop at nothing to raise the cash to get one. The 7th grade car wash turns into a soft-core porn video with Ms. Halsey in high heels, short shorts, and suds. The story she invents about why she broke off her engagement plays like an increasingly obscene and hysterically funny leitmotif; it seems Ms. Halsey's imagination is as purple as her vocabulary.

The rest of the cast is equally hysterical-- Lucy Punch literally so, as Ms. Squirrel the goody-two-shoes teacher across the hall who's wound a little too tight, and who competes with Ms. Halsey for the cute, rich, but dweeby new sub ironically played by Justin Timberlake (Diaz's real life ex!). Watching Timberlake sing and dance like a dork, not to mention his orchestration of one mindblowingly funny, fully-clothed sex scene, gave me new respect for the performer's comedy chops. Phyllis Smith ("The Office") plays Halsey's dowdy colleague/wannabe girlfriend with goofy ardor, while the coolest guy at school is the overweight gym teacher--played by Jason Segel who's got Ms. Halsey's number--even though she won't give it to him.

It's downright refreshing to see a female character acting like an shallow, foul-mouthed moron-- and because the script is so funny, and Diaz plays with such abandon, I laughed my head off! Ultimately, she and the film have their hearts in the right place-- It's just silly summer funny! BAD TEACHER has really BAD LANGUAGE (the above trailer is cleaned up.) So leave the kids to their computers.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

WORDS.

Just tonight, having concluded several intense rounds of my favorite word game BOGGLE, I flipped on the TV and started clicking through the channels when I landed on Leno and heard comedian Louis CK say he was so hooked on Percocet that if he dropped some on the ground and someone picked it up, he'd "suck (that person's) d**k to get it back." The censors barely bleeped the offending word and Leno reeled backward in mock shock; the show went on.

I however, reeled back in time to a Friday evening some 30 years ago when I was doing my nightly entertainment report on the 11 O'Clock news. I had raced back from covering popular young local comedian Jay Leno who was doing his stand up act at a comedy club in Boston. In our rush to make the deadline and get the story on the air, the editor and I accidentally let one of Jay's jokes go on too long, and Jay's use of the expression "pissed off" ended up on TV. When the tape ended and the camera came back to me live on the news set, I wrapped up quickly, and anchorman Jack Williams, stricken, concluded the newscast. There was genuine shock in the air. Before I could make my way off the set and back to my desk, the newsroom phones started ringing off the hook; Freddy the guard started getting swamped with angry calls at the front desk, while BZ radio's switchboard lit up with outraged viewers calling in to complain about the offensive language they had heard on the air.

I remember feeling dizzy, as though it were all surreal, and thinking, "This is it. I'm finished. I'll never work again. " In a state of near apoplexy I stumbled toward the phone when they said my news director was on the line. He was livid, asked how I could have done such a thing, and told me to go home. I don't remember driving there. I do know that I arrived, took to my bed, and didn't leave for two days. On Sunday night, the news director called me at home and told me to report to work on Monday, that it would all blow over, but that hundreds of callers had complained, some threatening to never watch again. I vowed to be scrupulously careful, and felt as though I'd been spared a horrible death.

So tonight I found myself recoiling at the crudeness of this comedian, whose words were surely a low on a show once hosted by the witty Johnny Carson. But it was all tossed off with a laugh. I thought about how much has changed, how people go to the theater like they're dressed for a car wash, how jokes about oral sex casually appear on prime time sitcoms.

Maybe none of this really matters. But I'll keep playing BOGGLE-- and continue to choose my words carefully.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

THEATER: "WEST SIDE STORY"


It doesn't get any better than Bernstein's jazzy, expressive music and Sondheim's endlessly inventive lyrics. In "West Side Story," a latter day Romeo and Juliet fall in love as Tony and Maria; the Montagues and Capulets have become the Jets and the Sharks-- rival American and Puerto Rican gangs on the streets of New York. In this Broadway revival now playing at Boston's Colonial Theatre, the spark is pretty much there, with a few updates and despite some less than stellar performances.
First the updates-- Some lyrics are translated into Spanish: "I Feel Pretty" ("Me Siento Hermosa"), but I missed the snap-crackle-pop of Sondheim's perfect lyrics. And while it makes literal sense to have the Sharks speak Spanish to each other, it cheats the audience in several ways. One, by suspending disbelief, we understand the Puerto Ricans are of course speaking Spanish as easily as we are hearing them, and thus everyone-- non-Spanish speakers included, can understand exactly what's being said. And two, we're robbed of the experience of these warring factions sharing the same universal "emotional" language after all, which is the point of the show; in a sense, a whole symbolic layer is lost. The production also means to be grittier than the original, but the sets and lighting looked too cartoony and clean.

As for the performances? Tony and Maria have great chemistry; together their voices are combustible, the sound curling up to the rafters, especially ignited by Maria's (Ali Ewoldt) smokin' soprano. Michelle Aravena underplays the firey Anita until she's ready to explode-- and then she does in "America" and "A Boy Like That." Would that Riff had more anger, and the Jets seemed more dangerous.

Finally after all the supercharged choreography, opera sized emotion, and passion-fueled songs and embraces, the last scene wrapped up too quickly and fell oddly flat.

But there's plenty here to love, moments of real exhilaration, and the experience of a groundbreaking American classic that still feels painfully real today. See WEST SIDE STORY at the Colonial Theatre thru July 9!

Monday, June 20, 2011

MOVIE: THE TREE OF LIFE


THE TREE OF LIFE is a visually stunning Christian allegory that seeks to answer the ultimate question: "What is the meaning of life?" Terrence Malick has a history with heaven; he wrote and directed the exquisite 1978 DAYS OF HEAVEN. The images from that film have never left me and neither will THE TREE OF LIFE which won this year's Cannes Film Festival Palme D'or.

The film attempts to describe the beginning of time and life, through the lens of the old and new testaments, creation, evolution, birth and death, good and evil, redemption, and the afterlife. The film pivots on one archetypal family and these scenes are viscerally powerful, disturbing, transportingly beautiful -- and extraordinarily well-acted. We meet this family at a crossroads--they have just learned of the death of their son. Brad Pitt is especially good as the stern Father ultimately chastened and humanized by his son's death; Jessica Chastain is the sensual but dutiful Mother through whom the Son came; Sean Penn is one of the three sons looking back at his life in this family, he especially among his brothers, questioning the father's authority, wondering why they should be good if he is not. And then he moves forward after the sacrifice of his brother to a new realization. A final voice-over is an invocation of love; without love our lives merely flash by.

Malick has found a visual rhythm and rhetoric so inevitable, we feel as though these images spring from our deepest selves; we absorb them through our ears and eyes and psyches and souls. Wind blowing through a lace curtain on a spring day; a glimpse of sunlight through a mother's hair, the restless feeling of being a child, the mystery of our parents--as Malick says, always warring within us ... I can hardly articulate the power of what is conveyed here about who we are, the loneliness of life, and mortality. James Agee's "Knoxville Summer of 1915" comes close.

Ultimately THE TREE OF LIFE leans on an explicitly religious agenda to give meaning to the question of our existence. It diminishes the scope of what is otherwise, and surely--a cinematic masterpiece.

You must see it and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

CALDWELL TITCOMB 1926-2011

August 16,1926-July 12,2011

Our dear President of the Elliot Norton Awards, Caldwell Titcomb, died early this past Monday morning from leukemia. His sister Camilla said he died peacefully, and was sure he had just watched the Tony Awards that night.

That was Caldwell-- or "Caldy" as some of us liked to call him! He adored theater and his last public appearance was last month at the "Norties"-- Boston's version of the Tony's, where he on behalf of the Boston Theater Critics Association presented the big prize of the evening. He took the stage with his walker, and delivered his presentation in the dignified, understated, and articulate way he always had. A learned man, kind and genteel, Caldwell received three degrees from Harvard including his Ph.D. He was a professor emeritus at Brandeis, and a composer of music for theater. I remember getting postcards from him in London when he'd fly over every summer and see 10 or 15 productions at a clip and send back encapsulated reviews penned in his tiny, elegant script.

What I will always admire most about Caldwell was his even temper, good humor, and strength of character. Though he'd been battling the disease for some time, he exercised daily, kept up with correspondence, edited text from his computer, and attended as many theater critics' meetings and productions as possible. He'd invite us to his birthday celebrations, but never wanted a fuss and would be truly upset if anyone crossed his threshold with a gift.

The last time I saw Caldwell was last week when I picked him up for our theater critics' meeting in town. He was waiting punctually at the appointed hour, outside, in a jacket and collared shirt, with his walker; as I pulled up, and made my way out of the car, he had already folded up his walker, put it in the back seat, and was halfway in the passenger side before I could even get to him to offer help. He never complained. He just got on with it.

Now we must get on without him, but his strength and sweetness will always inspire me.
We love you, Caldy.

Monday, June 13, 2011

TIP--According to FLAVIN



(courtesy Paul SZEP)
Just saw my old pal Emmy award-winning TV commentator and political observer Dick Flavin in a new role yesterday: he took the stage as the inimitable Boston Pol and, by the way, Speaker of the House--Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill. The one-speaker show is called ACCORDING TO TIP and had its last incarnation onstage here in Boston when the burly, bulbous-nosed Ken Howard took on the role a few seasons back. Dick is slighter in stature, but conveys the heft of the man's character and "man of the people" warmth and good humor. The script immediately draws you in, despite it's lack of salacious tidbits that pass for memoir these days. This is NOT an expose, but rather a charming look at a kinder gentler era when political enemies would put aside their differences and pal around after hours over cards and a few drinks.

Flavin fully inhabits the Irish character from his humble Cambridge beginnings to his rise through the ranks of the democratic party rubbing shoulders with everyone from JFK to Reagan. TIP does save a few harsh words for Newt Gingrich and Bobby Kennedy, and a few funny quips about Sophia Loren and Warren Beatty. Flavin is believeable in the role, with a natural born raconteur's charm and ease as he dispenses TIP's ("Tom" to his friends) hard-won political wisdom: always ask for a vote, be honest if you take a controversial stand, and the classic: All politics is local.


Dick holds the stage alone for two hours with intermission; I was in awe of the number of words this 74 year old-- and recent throat-cancer survivor (!) commanded; but then, he wrote them, too!
Congrats Dick! See ACCORDING TO TIP June 9-July 3 at the Lyric Stage Co. of Boston!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"THE HELP" is on the way!!

THE HELP is one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read -- deceptively simple, very moving, about the power of narrative to release the truth and the tension of lives deeply divided and deeply connected in the deep south on the cusp of the civil rights movement.

THE HELP the movie is due out this summer-- August 12! But here's a little build-up to the event with Mary J. Blige giving splendid voice to the story which found the words to say what needed to be said.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

MOVIE: THE HANGOVER PART II


Let me make this clear. I loved THE HANGOVER-- the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. "Part II" however is an act of comic desperation; I shall recap as a cautionary tale.

In the beginning "The Wolfpack" gathers at a diner, foul-mouthed and frantic for their dentist pal Stu to have yet another raunchy bachelor party before marriage number two; Bradley Cooper's baby looks on as his daddy swears at everyone within earshot. Soon they're off to Thailand-- repeatedly called "thigh-land" --in case we missed the joke. Oh and Zach Galifianakis' character is no longer fully human; he seems to have been genetically altered since the first film and now plays his chromosomally-challenged character with leaden gusto.

The "pack" awakens in a putrid room in Bangkok where they find Mr. Chow-- again hairy and naked, a cigarette smoking monkey, and an amputated finger-- later discovered to belong to the bride's little brother--a gifted 16 year old cellist and aspiring surgeon who thinks this mutilation is so funny he almost laughs his head off too! After the monkey is shot and the guys are splattered by pig blood, they continue to try to recap the hi-jinks of the night before which apparently involved anal sex with a transgendered hooker. Along the way, they stop for lunch, cocktails, play guitar on a boat, and eventually make their way back to the wedding where the bride is thrilled that her pack-man has returned, tattooed and greasy within minutes of the ceremony.

As an extra bonus, the outtakes feature a recreation of the iconic photo taken during the Viet Nam war of a man being executed in the street at point blank range. Pretty hilarious, huh?

I have never laughed so little, felt so bad, and prayed so hard that it would soon be over. I pray too, that this film is never shown on an airplane; people will still be tempted to walk out.
In any case, see it at your own risk.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A WORD ABOUT OPRAH


I am sad she has left her daily show, though I know we'll be seeing a lot of her. I know millions of people love her, I love her, and many can't stand her. Narcissist they say. Self-important. Phony. If that's true, all I can say is-- she's made the best use of narcissism I've ever seen. For 25 years the woman has literally helped millions of people in countless ways: she's shed light on tough, controversial subjects from drug addiction, sexual abuse, animal abuse, domestic violence, suicide, homosexuality, prejudice of all stripes. She's championed education by sending tens of thousands of people to college, built a school for young women in Africa, gotten people reading, shared her wealth and targeted the most under-served for her generosity; she has fostered a culture of philanthropy by seeking out the most giving among us, and encouraging everyone she's helped to pass it on. She's also given us loads of fun and entertainment. She's confronted her own demons publicly, faced her mistakes and controversy head on, has never been tainted by corruption or scandal, and did this on her own steam, coming up from virtually nothing as a poor, black, sexually abused female from a broken home in the rural south.

Excuse me, but what do you want from a person, Alex Beam?Grow up.

If Oprah wants to celebrate for 3 days or 3 weeks or 3 years, it's OK with me. She's earned it. A phony? No phony could do that much good in the world. I wanted her to celebrate-- because I felt like WE were celebrating-- all of us. She has used herself like a mirror; in her, many people found themselves, literally. Through her enormous intelligence, energy, resilience, flaws, and talent, through her relentless seeking and then finding the power to do whatever needed to be done, viewers have been reminded of their own power.

So when Alex Beam begins an article (Boston Globe May 24 "Say Goodnight, Oprah") about Oprah's farewell by actually calling her names in the first paragraph, he invalidates himself as a serious thinker and journalist. Oprah may be off-putting to some, but to ignore her monumental achievements and pack such vitriol into an irrational, juvenile diatribe smacks of the kind of ego-driven sensationalism Mr. Beam has accused Ms Winfrey of.

Oprah needs no defense, but Alex does. He's lost his head; not to panic-- he'll find it at his next colonoscopy.

Sorry Oprah, I know you wouldn't have said that, but I feel much better.
See you on OWN!!

Friday, May 27, 2011

THEATRE DOUBLE BILL: "DROWSY" & "PANSY"!!

Want to laugh your ass off this weekend? Forgive the frisky opening line, but be careful sitting down after you see the two shows I'm about to recommend--THE DROWSY CHAPERONE over at The SpeakEasy, and The Gold Dust Orphans' PETER PANSY over at the Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts, or Machine!

DROWSY is the Tony Award-winning musical which has just been extended until June 19 and stars the brightest lights in Boston: Karen MacDonald, Tom Derrah, Will McGarrahan, Kerry Dowling who will be replaced by Leigh Barrett for the extension, and Alison McCartan who will take over from McCaela Donovan. Deliriously delightful, one and all-- especially McGarrahan, impishly funny as a closeted musical theater buff who's home alone with a turntable of musicals that spring to life in his living room. McGarrahan has never been better, seducing us with a wacky gleam in his eye, and the loony logic of a 1920's musical. It's a breezy 1 hour 40, no intermission, and you can grab a bite after at a nearby outdoor cafe on Tremont!
See THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at SpeakEasy Stage Company through June 19!

****AND****

You only have two more chances (Sat 5/28 at 8PM, Sun. 5/29 at 5PM) to see PETER PANSY before it moves to P-Town's Crown and Anchor next week: Ryan Landry's latest hysterical riff on the adventures of a gay young lad and his lost boys on the island of Provincetonia! The show takes off like a shot and never lets up! Landry's extravaganzas seem to have picked up speed and ingenuity over the years-- and this is one of his funniest and most deftly directed. Fairy dust is snorted, Tink (Olive Another) is a bitch, Wendy(Liza Lott) is a deep-voiced fag hag, and hot for the screamingly charismatic Peter: he won't grow up-- and he won't go straight either. The exuberantly adorable Michael Wood plays the part at full throttle, while this multi-talented cast sashays in and out of outrageous musical numbers staged on all sides: there's a bath with Captain Hook (a suggestively clad Ryan Landry), a sumptuously tailed singing mermaid, a giant and terrifying "vagisaurus," tiny little puppets, "Indians" who swing both ways, AND Ryan's dog Rhoda in a dual role as "nana" and the "Cock-O-Dial." (This dog has a killer deadpan.) The theater can barely contain the action, let alone Landry's imagination. I thought the place would explode-- maybe that was just me, laughing.
See PETER PANSY here at Machine--this weekend, or there -- this summer at the Crown & Anchor!

Have a GREAT MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND! It's going to be a BEAUTY!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

LOVE LOVE LOVE "THE NORTIES"!!

Last night I emceed the 29th Annual Elliot Norton Awards at the Paramount and it reconfirmed how magnificent our theater community is and how much I love them. Such consistent and varied and unusual talent in a close-knit, thriving against-all-odds "let's-put-on-a-show" kind of way --that's who the greater Boston Theater Community is. The critics handed out 23 awards and one citation in categories large, medium, small, and fringe, visiting and local, from acting and directing, to writing and choreography.

Some of my favorite moments: presenter Karen MacDonald spontaneously pantomiming the list of nominees when the video crashed; sweet Alex Pollock humbly speechless and hugging everyone onstage after winning Outstanding Actor, Small Fringe for a sublimely freaked-out performance in Company One's THE ALIENS; Johnny Lee Davenport --Outstanding Actor in The Lyric Stage's BROKE-OLOGY-- riffing a heartfelt acceptance while the relentlessly talented Barry Rocklin improvised on piano...

Next year is our 30th Anniversary and we hope to really blow it out... so in the meantime, GET TO THE THEATER-- check out my calendar for where I'll be this week and I'll see you there!! And check out the complete list of awardees at http://www.nortonawardsboston.com.

Monday, May 16, 2011

MOVIE: BRIDESMAIDS


BRIDESMAIDS is so funny, so refreshing, so groundbreaking, I want to jump up on a table and warble like a coloratura. It absolutely takes us where we've never been before-- on an outrageously funny romp through the pre-nuptial rituals of a wedding, from the maid of honor's point of view. It's been called the female version of THE HANGOVER. I loved that movie.This is equally hilarious. And the good news is, it's not women doing "man" jokes -- it's women in comic situations that mine women's relationships for explosive laughs-- and this movie kills. The women have "empathy" wars: who is the nicest, the most thoughtful, who is closest to The Bride. (There is one wildly funny scene in a pristine, upscale bridal salon that will leave you howling. Producer Judd Apatow was apparently behind it—and it comes close to crossing the gender divide—but it absolutely works here.)


BRIDESMAIDS assembles a gaggle of disparate maids--some friends of the bride Lillian (Maya Rudolph), and some newcomers who spice up the mix-- like the groom's boss's too beautiful, too perfect trophy wife (Rose Byrne), and her polar opposite the groom's coarse, overweight and hysterically blunt sister (Melissa McCarthy-Jenny's cousin!). At the heart of it all is the bride's best friend and maid of honor Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig). Wiig (who co-wrote the screenplay)and Rudolph have palpable comedy chemistry that made me want to pajama party with them. They also create believable and endearing characters whom we immediately understand.


Like any good comedy that's based in reality, this one has universal appeal; my husband of 32 years and I laughed equally loud and hard at each handily crafted comic gem of a scene. We were totally in sync with the hapless Annie as she stumbled through the wreckage of her screwy life-- the failed cake business, the nutty British roommates, the stinkers she sleeps with. You gotta love a comedy about women that makes short work of the gorgeous Jon Hamm-- and he still looked happy to be there.


One sweet-sad note-- this was the late Jill Clayburgh's last movie, made while she was dying of leukemia. She plays Annie's bawdy and resilient mother. Clayburgh appears older but herself in some scenes, withered and barely recognizable in others, but absolutely funny and uniquely charming in all of them. No matter the lack of continuity in her physical appearance; the filmmakers clearly felt that if Ms. Clayburgh was game enough to play these scenes, they would show them. I embrace her and this film for that act of grace.


DON'T MISS BRIDESMAIDS! YOU'LL LAUGH YOURSELF SILLY! I'm going to see it again.



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

MOVIE: THOR


If I had a hammer, I'd hammer out a better script. This less than marvelous Marvel comic take on the Norse god of thunder, actually put me to sleep--somewhere between a dull piece of exposition and a lackluster bit of action. This is yet another (yawn) superhero romp through the cinematic cosmos and director Kenneth Branagh has failed to beef up an already beefy cast: the blond and brawny Chris Hemsworth as Thor, with a voice as thick as his thighs, and Natalie Portman fresh off her Oscar winning tip toes as Jane Foster, girl-scientist who of course falls for the out-of-this world hammer-wielding hunk. They generate no heat, let alone thunder and lightning. Then there's Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, and Rene Russo who barely exist as characters.

Neither epic nor intimate, THOR mimics the now over-familiar tropes and spare parts of the genre to tepid effect: the loud action set pieces, robots and amorphous monsters, incredulous screaming onlookers evading falling debris, the hero strutting about shirtless while quirky secondary characters crack wise. (Who are those guys in the suits anyway??) But the jokes have no zing because there's no tension to release here. The scenes on earth are oddly empty, so stagey as to seem unreal --like a set that's just there to be knocked down.

Branagh known for bringing Shakespeare to life on the big screen, tries to dredge up the deep primordial drama of fathers and competing sons, but instead renders something that feels more like a family feud that got out of hand. NONE of this, I repeat, NONE of this feels urgent, or involving. When it all ends, a sequel suggests itself dimly on the horizon;maybe they could call it:
THNOR-R-R-R.

Monday, May 9, 2011

REBEL WITH A CAUSE

Photo by Carla Osberg

I am suddenly militant, at age 58, at the state of women in the world. I am just becoming fully aware that women in THE YEAR 2011 remain UNDERSERVED, UNDERREPRESENTED, and UNDERPAID. This is absurd. Irritating. Enraging. Women remain largely absent from the upper echelons of power, even in professions where their numbers dominate. I thought we had pretty much arrived; we haven't.

My budding consciousness burst into full bloom this Spring, at the Simmons Leadership Conference widely recognized as the world's premiere conference for women. I found myself hanging out with Donna Karan-- world famous fashion designer and philanthropist who, in addition to running her worldwide fashion empire (half my closet is Donna Karan), is working on everything from pediatric aids, to ovarian cancer research, to an Urban Zen initiative now focused on Haiti to enhance wellness, preserve culture, and empower children. Donna is among the female powerful elite; she has a personality as magically enveloping as her clothes and was instantly accessible to the throngs who approached her after her closing address. She felt like my long lost girlfriend; I wanted to have her over for a pajama party and wear her clothes to bed. She assures me she's actually done this.

Then there was Judith Jamison, the awe-inspiring Alvin Ailey dancer, muse, choreographer, and now retiring artistic director of that world-renowned company-- which alas is not coming to Boston this year for the first time in 39 years. She lifted us all up, past her sky- high frame and flew us around the auditorium on her soaring spirit. A powerhouse of positive energy, Judith mesmerized the crowd with tales of her extraordinarily loving family, a formidable work ethic, and a talent for molding a company of highly-trained, dynamic individuals into a cohesive artistic unit: the extraordinary Alvin Ailey dancers who thrill audiences with their vitality and beauty. We hugged; I felt sanctified.

Finally I was lucky enough to interview Pat Mitchell the president and CEO of the Paley Center for Media, and previously the first woman president and CEO of PBS. Before that Pat was president of CNN. Pat also occupied the slot I did at WBZ-TV from 1971-77; she too majored in English Lit and taught same. Then, our two roads diverged -- and Pat took the one less traveled by women. We had not met until 20 minutes before her eloquent and shocking remarks on the state of women in media. After her remarks I interviewed her onstage before a rapt audience, then claimed her as my mentor. She has very kindly obliged.

I am thinking back to being a college student at Simmons in the '70's and hearing about "Women's Lib" for the first time and thinking, "Why do we need that? I can do anything I want already. Can't any woman?" I eventually discovered that not all women had working mothers and grandmothers to inspire them as I did, or fathers who were proud of same mothers. I never thought that in 2011 there would be such a disparity in power. Many women around the world remain prisoners in their own homes and homelands. Some women are forbidden to read, to even be seen; some are bartered like so many goods. It's seems clear that the barometer of a culture is the status of its women.
Yes. We have not arrived. I am recalibrating my itinerary and will keep you posted along the way.

Monday, May 2, 2011

SPRING HAS SPRUNG!!

It's been a long time coming, but Spring has sprung with a bang!

Obama got Osama! Looks like the President finished what the cowboy couldn't, and he did so with extraordinary care, precision, no American losses, no civilian casualties, photographic and DNA confirmation of the terrorist's identity, and burial at sea within 24 hours in deference to Islamic law. Everyone who needed to be in the loop was discreetly notified BEFORE it was released to the press, and the Pakistanis have been hoist with their own duplicitous petar-- and forced to smile through it. Finally, the spontaneous rallying of Americans from DC to Ground Zero to the Hub was a much needed release from the tension of increasingly acrid partisan bickering.

Kate and Will got married! This has signaled what I hope is a sea change in style, a refreshing break from the current penchant for the pornographic bare-all emotionalism we call "reality." They were so composed and true, so dignified yet relaxed; they didn't feel the need to make some big narcissistic statement about doing it their way; they just did, and honored everyone else too, and did it on time, and with perfect aplomb, like adults, and even so their youth and freshness came shining through. What could be more modern than being honest and appropriate? It was all there in the details: the gown-- absolutely classic and lovely; the ceremony-- grand, yet simple and heartfelt; the hats--sartorial flights of fancy in delightful contrast to British reserve and the dignity and seriousness of the occasion. The kisses --discreet and brief; it was to the newlyweds' credit that they refused to act like zoo animals on display. The exception and perhaps only blight on an otherwise flawless day-- Fergie's two daughters who looked like they'd flown in on an ill wind. In their gaudy party dresses, too thick eyeliner, and hideously over-the-top toppers, they looked in desperate need of guidance.

Finally today, this scene from my window: house finches continued building nests in my awnings, a big brown bunny sat still under the weeping cherry, a fat gray squirrel attempted a raid on the bird feeder, while my cats eyed them all from the tall grass. Then I remembered--the Taliban had just launched its Spring Offensive. Eleven people died-- including one 12 year old boy sent to the slaughter as a suicide bomber. They must be so proud.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

ROYAL IDIOT/ROYAL WEDDING



Let's begin with the royal idiot, shall we? That could only be Donald Trump who has trumped even Charlie Sheen in playing The Court Jester: Trump is now officially the village idiot. When I first heard he might actually be contemplating a run at the White House, I admit I thought (as one who is never afraid to think outside the box) that's SO crazy it just might work!!! Well, a nano-second later, it turns out--it was just crazy.

By insisting that the president produce evidence of his birthplace, Trump confirmed his own citizenship in the land of Kookville. And now Trump wants to take a closer look at the paperwork!!??? The man is clearly inscrutable. Maybe Trump flunked geography and history. Or perhaps he's cynically courting the wacko fringe element that still thinks the world is as flat as the hair on his own head...in which case, he's alienating everybody else, but-- along with H.L. Mencken and P.T. Barnum-- believes the numbers are on his side. Maybe no one ever did go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, and perhaps there is a sucker born every minute, but don't we want a president who at least thinks those are open-ended questions? Obama nailed it when he indirectly lumped Trump in with "carnival barkers"; in fact that is Trump's forum: the circus. And we all know how I feel about circuses. (see my last blog)

Onto The Royal Wedding!! I will be setting my alarm for 4 o'clock in the morning and watching in my pajamas as Kate Middleton takes that 4-minute walk down the aisle of Westminster Abbey with the eyes of half a billion people on her. I remember watching Diana's wedding -- in a hotel room while vacationing in France. None of our accommodations up to that point included TV's, but that night in the little Alsatian town of Colmar, the room didn't have much, but it did have one giant television, and I was glued all morning!! I will be watching ABC, with Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer-- history and beauty-- as my guides. OK. I know... I'm nuts. But I'm not running for president. Pimm's anyone?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

MOVIE: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS



I've always hated circuses. Wouldn't cover them on TV for 25 years. It's not just the confined and lonely animals, it's whatever darkness and sadness is under all that makeup... BUT I really enjoyed WATER FOR ELEPHANTS--maybe because it didn't hide the darkness, and somehow still captured the magic that circuses promise: exotic beauty and fantastical feats, romance and escape.

Robert Pattinson is no vampire here---he's very moving as Jacob Jankowski a lonely young veterinary student fresh from a family tragedy who is left searching for a life. He is instantly drawn to the luminous Marlena played by the porcelain-skinned Reese Witherspoon, sad beneath her radiance and imprisoned by a brutish husband played by the threatening Christoph Waltz. Jacob and Marlena meet over a wounded animal and it connects them as they tenderly begin to yearn for one another. Every shot of them in this illusory world is bathed in golden light-- the kind saved for flashbacks. I'm sorry to say I felt the hot flashback coming on within the first five minutes and I wish it hadn't felt so trite. And the plot strains-- why would a young man quit Cornell, denying himself the fruits of an Ivy League education and run off to join a circus in the middle of the depression-- especially when his parents gave everything they had so he could go to college? Finally the ending rushes too quickly toward conclusion-- or maybe I just didn't want it to end.

But the middle, the glorious middle, takes its time as these two lovely creatures slowly unfold to one another. Pattinson and Witherspoon generate real romantic heat and catch you up in their dream. Best of all, they discover an elephant who understands Polish! I loved this. I'm Polish and tomorrow is Easter and I just finished decorating and coloring eggs with hot wax and the head of a pin, just the way my babcia did over a 1oo years ago, and her grandmother, and so on. I guess I'm having a bit of a flashback myself, and dreaming of chocolate for bunnies...
--not to mention WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. See this!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

THEATER: SONS OF THE PROPHET

SONS OF THE PROPHET is set in Lebanon, Egypt, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jordan--not too far from the Poconos. That's right--it's Pennsylvania!-- where the playwright grew up, and the mess of characters and circumstances here seem no less tangled and painful than the conundrum in the middle east. Oh, and it's a comedy. Sort of.

This world premiere right in our own backyard is written by the witty Stephen Karam who gave us the hilarious and frenetic SPEECH AND DEBATE which circumscribed some of the vicissitudes of teen life. Here he serves up a roiling cauldron of wounded souls: the action begins with an accident, and keeps on careening. The injured man's two gay sons- one suffering from a mysterious illness, the other congenitally missing an ear, are taking care of their elderly ailing uncle and they're all related to Kahlil Gibran, author of THE PROPHET. There's a pushy depressive book publisher, a callow but sexy TV reporter, and a football player from a foster home. They're all seeking stability in a turbulent world, searching for meaning and connection to soothe the sting of the random cruelties this flesh is heir to.

The play tackles identity, mortality, prejudice, history, and death, not to mention the way the human drama is currently being packaged and commodified in a culture whose links to the past seem ever more vestigial. I worked hard to connect the dots. All the characters were annoying, and none of their issues seemed weighty enough to support the gravitas Karam was going for. A stronger cast might have helped. Joanna Gleason stands out for an unusually kooky performance as her character becomes increasingly unhinged. The rest of the cast seemed a bit stiff--many of the jokes didn't land. Nor was I really moved. But I recommend you see it; Karam is onto plenty-- he just hasn't wrestled it all to the ground yet.
SONS OF THE PROPHET presented by the Huntington Theatre Company through May 1.