I went to see Tom Stoppard's Arcadia Thursday evening. I know I saw the 1995 NY production, also with Bill Crudup but didn't remember much of it.

We were in the "gods," so I (at least) had trouble hearing some of the dialog--luckily I brought my opera glasses so I could see the whole thing).

Read more... )
ellen_datlow: (Default)
( Mar. 23rd, 2011 11:30 pm)
This evening I went to see War Horse at Lincoln Center. I first heard about it when it played in London in 2007 but I didn't get to see it there. Then Mary Robinette Kowal began to talk about it and I looked up the video trailer back in December and immediately bought tickets.

It lived up to all my expectations. Basically, it's about an English farm boy and his horse --they're separated when the horse is taken overseas for the cavalry in France. It's also about the horrors of war (it begins a couple of years before the outbreak of WWI)and its toll on everyone involved.

The puppetry is of course brilliant. The two main horses have distinct body movements (one is a thoroughbred, one 1/2 thoroughbred/half hunter) and personalities and the performances must be grueling. I've been told that the people working the horses had to learn to breathe together so that the movements and breathing of the horses matched up. Incredible artistry. A backdrop is used to augment the stage area, sometimes showing pastoral scenery, sometimes views of war, sometimes explosions which also occur on stage. It's surprisingly realistic and forces the experiences of WWI onto the audience.

The live music played and sung throughout is exquisite and melancholy.

It's moving and heartrending.

The play is based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo.
If I could afford it and had the time, I think I'd go see it again.
ellen_datlow: (Default)
( Feb. 27th, 2011 11:27 am)
I went to Play Dead, a modern spook show created by Teller and Todd Robbins on Thursday. Based on the midnight spook shows that played throughout the US from the 1930s to the 1970s.
From the program: The shows all followed the same business plan and performance pattern. A magician would book a movie theater after the last feature on a Saturday night. He'd stick skulls all over his magic props, dress his assistants as sexy vampires, and give creepy themes to all his "patter." In the finale, somebody dressed as a mummy or werewolf would dash into the audience as all the light went out."

Todd Robbins is a charming, convincing magician-host. He tells stories about real people, he re-enacts horrific events, and as a mentalist he "brings to life" dead friends and relatives to some audience members. I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil it but I loved it and thank Neil Gaiman for reccing it on his blog.
If you're interested, don't read about it beforehand. I knew nothing about it and that's the way to go.

I watched The Uninvited Friday night with Shawna and I really hated it. I hadn't realized it was based on the Korean movie A Tale of Two Sisters, which I've read about. Maybe I'll check out the original. A young teenager is institutionalized for 10 months after trying to commit suicide upon the death by fire of her sickly mother. She returns home to discover her mother's nurse is now her dad's lover. The girl and her older sister come to suspect that the nurse was responsible for the mother's death and gather evidence.

I found the story preposterous and the always wide-eyed main character annoying. So sue me. ;-)

Last night I watched The Social Network, which ultimately made me want to quit FB because I found the character of Mark Zuckerberg such a loathsome human being. I know I'm supposed to feel sorry for him by the end, but I didn't. For anyone living under a rock, it's about the founding of facebook. Good movie, not a particularly great one. The problem is that the way Zuckerberg is portrayed, he's so lacking of empathy that you (or I anyway) couldn't give a damned about him, only about the people all around him that he betrayed.

Waltz With Bashir is a soul-searching animated documentary (mixed with dreams and visions) about Israeli writer/director Ari Folman's attempts to reconstruct--20 years later-- what he can't remember from his military reserve service in the 1982 Lebanon war.

He begins having nightmares related to that period of his life, and, after speaking with a psychologist friend, tracks down friends and acquaintances with whom he served plus the Israeli journalist who broke the news of the massacre in two Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila. Excellent and highly recommended.
ellen_datlow: (Default)
( Dec. 7th, 2010 01:05 am)
I just bought two tickets to the forthcoming US production of War Horse, which will be at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center come March. I've first heard about the show from Mary Robinette Kowal who was trying out for a role in it when they were auditioning in NYC a few months ago.
Trailer here

I think that and the revival by Mabou Mines of Peter and Wendy, which I'll be seeing for the third time, will be the highlights of 2011 theater.

Coincidentally (I hadn't realized), they both involve complex puppetry.
Catching up. I went to see Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts (author of August: Osage County) last week. Not at all bad, but as with his earlier play, the beginning is slow and annoying and it takes awhile to adjust to the slow pacing.

Older middle-aged widower (Michael McKean, who is terrific) owns a dying donut shop in Chicago that was opened by his father decades earlier. The play opens with two cops who frequent the shop there before it's open because it's been vandalized. Ambitious next-door neighbor wants to buy him out and expand his electronics biz. Young African American kid comes looking for a job and brings trouble. Female cop flirts with the owner, thugs threaten the kid, the owner is all angsty over being a draft dodger during Vietnam. I enjoyed it, although as my theater companions pointed out, a fight scene was utterly unconvincing and unnecessary. Definitely worth seeing before it closes in a few weeks.

Last weekend and this weekend I started watching the Buffy spinoff, Angel, with David Boreanaz. First disc with four episodes left me doubted I'd continue (jeez, I loathe Cordelia). But...since I had the second disc home I figured I'd give it one more chance, as I remember that Cordelia grew on me during Buffy. And yes, the next four episodes hooked me, especially with Buffy playing a prominent (and very moving) role in the 8th episode. Tears fell. ;-).

Last week I also watched the french film I've Loved you So Long, which features a brilliant performance by Kristin Scott Thomas that should have won her an Oscar, yet didn't even get her a damned nomination. Woman (Thomas) gets out of prison after serving 15 years for murder, and moves in temporarily with her sister and the sister's family. It's utterly riveting and moving as the viewer sees Thomas's character slowly move back into the world. Highly recommended.

Last night watched Sunshine Cleaning about two sisters who in desperation to earn a living, open a biohazard removal/cleaning service-ie. they clean up after violent and non-violent but messy deaths. I enjoyed watching Amy Adams and Emily Blunt and appreciate that the story is about the working poor trying to make a go of it (rather than the usual middle and upper middle classes) but it's only ok, not great. Worth a look.

And I finally saw Juno, which I liked quite a bit. It really is a smart, sassy little movie, just like its heroine. Good acting.

During the two movies, my DVD player started going weird. Power shut off and I had to replay fast forward to get to where I was--at first I thought it was the DVD but nope, it happened with both discs...and then the damned thing turned itself back on...uh oh. A DVD gremlin. I managed to watch both movies, with the interruptions but have just ordered a new DVD player. The old one lasted 6 1/2 years, which isn't too bad.
Loved it--I know I've seen it at least once in the mid-70s, danced by a friend's troupe, but cannot remember if I've seen it as a play.

All four actors were wonderful: Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin (see him in Rachel Getting Married), John Goodman, and John Glover. A comedy--has it always been acted as comedy? I don't know. What surprised me was the pronunciation of "Godot" with the accent on the first syllable rather than the second, which I'd never hear before.

Just now I looked this up and found this explanation by director Anthony Page:

Erik Piepenburg: The actors in this revival of “Waiting for Godot” pronounce the title character’s name as GOD-dough, with the accent on the first syllable. In this country, at least, I’ve heard it pronounced Go-DOUGH, with the accent on the second syllable.

Anthony Page: Well GOD-dough is what Samuel Beckett said. Also, the word has to echo Pozzo. That’s the right pronunciation. Go-DOUGH is an Americanism, which isn’t what the play intended.

and back in 2004 there's this:

Media and performing arts professor Karla Knudsen wants to get one thing straight: “Waiting for Godot” is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable of “Godot” (as in GOD-oh) as opposed to the typical emphasis on the second syllable (as in go-DOH).

Knudsen, who is directing the Savannah College of Art and Design’s upcoming production, said this is correct according to various sources, including playwright Samuel Beckett himself. She pointed to interviews with Beckett, who died in 1989, where he accused Americans of pronouncing it wrong.

“Somebody in America pronounced it wrong and it just took off,” she said. The correct pronunciation was confirmed when the SCAD cast met Walter Asmus, Beckett’s right-hand man, at 7 Stages in Atlanta when that theater company performed the play March 4 - April 4. Asmus first met Beckett in 1974 when he assisted the playwright on his directorial debut of the play at the Schiller Theatre in Berlin."

Ok. I guess I give in. But it's going to be really difficult for me to rewire my brain into the correct pronunciation, dammit.
Last night I saw O'Neill's Desire under the Elms, with which I was not familiar. Even not having seen an earlier production, I could tell that this one was most likely unusual, as the set was filled with boulders and rocks--rocks hanging from the above, rocks all around, and two brothers hauling rocks as if they were animals. The house is held up by ropes above the stage and occasionally lowered onto the ground. This is not a hospitable land. It's meant to be New England in the mid nineteenth century. The music, when used, is dissonant and portentous and very effective. The overall feeling is grim.

Two older brothers (portrayed as dolts) and a younger brother by a different mother are waiting on the farm for their father to return. He left two months earlier on a mysterious mission....to bring back a woman, which he does.

The father is hard and seemingly heartless. He's played by Brian Dennehy, who is very good. He brings back Abbie, about whom we know little but that she wants to belong and she wants the farm (for what it's worth). So does Eben, the youngest son--dad doesn't want to give it up to anyone and claims he'll live till he's 100. (he's around 70). Abbie is played by the remarkable Carlo Gugino, who was excellent in the Marilyn Monroe role in the revival of Arthur Miller's After the Fall a couple of years ago. Eben is played by Pablo Schreiber (brother to Liev--Rick Bowes told me this, but I hadn't believed him at the time) and is pretty good.

It's no spoiler to reveal that Abbie and Eben fall for each other with an intensity that is thrilling to behold, and what ensues is both horrible and inevitable. I was left feeling sorry for Eben and Abbie but not the father, and I'm wondering if that's intentional. He created monsters by his inattention, his uncaring, his hardness.

It's fascinating to read what some critics have to say--that it's all about greed. I don't see the greediness but I see need in the characters. The need to own something--Eben and his brothers (and their mothers who have been worked to death) are like slaves to Ephraim, their father, who seems happiest among his cows in the barn. He needs no humans other than to keep the farm running.

I'm now curious to see another production of the play (I could read it of course, but nah--while I used to read plays a lot in high school during study hall-which took place in the school library I haven't felt compelled to since then).
ellen_datlow: (Default)
( Apr. 28th, 2009 11:54 pm)
My my. I went to see this musical this evening because of Delia Sherman's raves about it. And she was sooo right.

I'm going to be intentionally vague here: It's about a woman who likely had a predilection towards mental illness who is driven completely off the rails by a trauma. Although she tries over the years to cope-- with talk therapy and drug therapy--her extreme dysfunction badly affects her family. This is such an unlikely topic and theme for a musical but it works. The play treats mental illness with a refreshing unsentimentality. The acting is excellent all around, particularly Alice Ripley as the mentally ill woman. If you can, go see it.
Last night I saw the revival of August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone--a rich and moving play that deals with several aspects of the African American experience in the north in 1911.

The play takes place in a boarding house run by a perfectly matched middle aged couple--the husband works the night shift --I'm not clear what he actually does--but what he lovingly does in his spare time is make pots and pans out of sheet metal and sell his work to people in town and to an itinerant (white) salesman. The salesman who is welcomed when he comes every Saturday and does a side business of "finding people" reveals in one scene that he used to capture runaway slaves and return them to their owners. (although he doesn't seem old enough to have done so).

One of the boarders is Bynum, an elderly "root man"--who practices, not exactly voodoo but some version of it HooDoo and claims he can "bind" people to each other.

Another boarder is a young man who does road work --he's kind of a hot head, very young and outraged at his treatment by the police (who arrest him for drinking in public). He's also a flirt and is interested in any woman that crosses his path.

A mysterious man and his young daughter come to town looking for the man's wife and stay in the house as well. I don't want to provide spoilers so I'm going to be careful from here on. The man--always in black --wears a long black duster, is quick to anger and take offense and is not very good company through most of the play. We find out why in the second act.

A young woman pines for the man who left her because he believes her cursed--after both babies she has dies at only a month or two. She visits Bynum in the hopes she can help her get back her husband and bumps into the young man who lives at the boarding house.

Last into the mix comes a sexy, flirtatious good time gal just looking for a man to hang around with but who obviously wants nothing more serious than that.

I've seen other plays by Wilson: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Radio Golf--I don't believe I've seen the others. I know that each one covers a different decade in the African American experience. For me, this is the best by far (of the three above). Radio Golf while good and also interesting, was "thin" compared to Joe Turner.... I think it's the historical period Wilson covers in the play that makes it so powerful--it takes place less than fifty years after slavery was abolished-- the migration of many southern blacks north to a "better" place; the continuing harassment, taking advantage of, little and big cruelties of some whites towards blacks, etc.

The production is excellent--great sets and lighting (the storm scenes shown by changing the light on the backdrop are breathtaking). The acting wonderful.

If you can, go see it.
ellen_datlow: (Default)
( Mar. 5th, 2009 11:57 am)
Great Poe review from
The Green Man Review

I've seen a couple of plays in the last week--first I went to see Mabou Mines' version of Ibsen's The Doll House. I had high hopes for this as I usually love Mabou Mines (even though they gave an awful rendition of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said about 20 years ago) and I read that there were puppets --something they use very well in their productions. However, the production was a major disappointment. Once you got past the initial shock of all the men being played by dwarfs or midgets and Nora being played as a whingy, obnoxious child who is almost six feet tall. The set is a doll house through whose small door everyone (male and female)must pass to get onto the set. Symbolically this works very nicely but once you get the symbolism there's not anything else in the production that says anything new....Btw, the puppets only appear at the end are not used very interestingly (so Mary, don't rush to see the show just for them). I left the theater being more than a little pissed off.

Last night I finally saw August: Osage County, the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tracy Letts. It currently has a cast including Elizabeth Ashley, John Cullum, and Estelle Parsons. I had my doubts when it first began but within fifteen minutes I was mesmerized. The play's about an elderly couple--the husband's a big boozer, the wife a pill freak (with cancer of the mouth--a nice symbol of her viciousness). They have three grown daughters: two have moved away, the middle one remains in town. The mother's sister and brother-in-law are also in the picture. And a native American caregiver is hired to take care of the household and the mother.

The husband (John Cullum) disappears and the family comes together and ...interacts (badly). The characters are very nice drawn and the acting is fine. More complex relationships/problems emerge. The mother is a monster and Parsons plays her perfectly. As Rick Bowes says, it's a soap opera but a very good one. It's very long (over three hours) but totally absorbing.
ellen_datlow: (Default)
( Jan. 18th, 2009 09:22 pm)
I saw the play on Broadway and enjoyed it very much. However, the movie is 20 times better. From the play only Frost and Nixon as characters made an impression. I have no idea if anyone else was in the play --I just do not remember. (and sure I can look it up, but that's irrelevant). The movie provides context ...for everything.

The secondary actors are uniformly excellent, from Kevin Bacon's Jack Brennan, the utterly loyal aide to Nixon and Toby Jones as Swifty Lazar (major player Hollywood agent of the time for those who don't recall)and Oliver Platt as producer Bob Zelnick and Sam Rockwell as James Reston, Jr.
Patty McCormick(remember The Bad Seed? ) plays Pat Nixon and Rebecca Hall plays Caroline Cushing, Frost's girlfriend at the time.

Michael Sheen does a very good job as David Frost (as he did in the play) and Frank Langella--what can I say? He's brilliant. Only a movie could capture the important facial expressions that make his Nixon come alive (and even, at the very end, sympathetic). I haven't yet seen The Wrestler (seeing it tomorrow) but I'll bet anyone that Langella and of Sean Penn will most definitely be competing for the Oscar.

The movie is, I think, more nuanced than the play because you see everything that went into setting up the interviews, the panic on Frost's side when things are going really badly. Also, the whole watching a movie watching tv brings something to the viewing experience that a play cannot.

I've always had this mixed relationship with regard to live theater vs the movies. I always feel more enveloped by movies than plays, although I do enjoy theater and attend it often. I know that many people embrace the immediacy of live theater and say there's nothing like it and in that I agree. The two experiences are almost incomparable. However, (as I've mentioned in an earlier post) as much as I loved the movie Doubt, I'm sorry I missed the live performances of it with Brian O'Byrne and Cherry Jones.
ellen_datlow: (Default)
( Oct. 23rd, 2008 12:30 am)
This evening I and a bunch of friends attended Robert Lloyd Parry's marvelous performance of two M.R. James's stories: Oh, Whistle... if you're living in or New York City and are in town over the next few weeks I urge you to see it. The setting is intimate--a 30 person theater on the upper west side. You feel as if you're in James's living room on a wintry night. Highly recommended.

Tim Lieder gave The Del Rey Book of SF& Fantasy a very nice review at The Pedestal
This evening (very early, 5:15), Rick Bowes, Jim Patrick Kelly, Mary Robinette Kowal, and I attended a performance of three one acts: Stanislaw Lem's How the World Was Saved, translated by Michael Kandel, who was coincidentally also in the audience with his charming wife Margie; On the Nature of Time by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg; and There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury.

The first play--with puppets--was wonderful (even though I'm not all that fond of Lem). It's about a scientist who builds a robot that can create anything that starts with the letter "n" and the fellow scientist whose challenge causes the robot to deconstruct the world. The puppets, music, robot (played by a human), and set --made up with many light bulbs were all very fine.

The second play was a perfectly realized time travel story about a man who recounts how, as a boy, he dreamed of discovering his difficult father murdered in his study. The special effects with a scrim and holographic--seeming lighting worked very well. I hope Barry has had a chance to see the performance. I'd think he would have enjoyed it.

The third, from a classic Bradbury story that really upset me when I first read it years ago, is about a completely mechanized house that continues to do all it's been programmed to do, despite the fact that the family who lived there -and everything else in the area--has been obliterated by a nuclear bomb. Three young women carry large white squares that represented the walls of the house. Rain is created by pouring water from a basin into a bucket and at times, letting it roll over the squares. The set was minimal, the overall effect powerful.

Afterward, we discovered that Liz Gorinsky of Tor was also in the audience. All of us but Liz (she had another engagement) went to dinner at Paris Commune after.

The last performance is at 151 Bank street in the west village on Saturday 7:30. If you're in the NYC area and can make it, I highly recommend it.
Info on there will be soft rains
In the busyness of the past few days, I neglected to mention that Rick Bowes and I went to see Laurie Anderson's new show Homeland at the Rose Theater, Tuesday night.

Rick and I haven't talked about it so I don't know if he liked it but I always love whatever she does--I just wish she did more of it more often. I believe I've seen most of her works including the epic United States. She did a benefit right after 9/1l and it's possible that the most recent performance was The End of the Moon in 2004, inspired while she was the first artist-in residence at NASA.

For those who aren't familiar with her work, she's a "performance/multimedia artist," although her work has used fewer props over the past decade. It's always political and to me always entertaining. She sings in her own voice and speaks sometimes in her own voice and sometimes in an artificially created male voice. She plays an electric violin. She tells stories. Stories about America and its place in the world. During this 1 1/2 hour (no intermission) performance she had two female back up singers and four musicians, all excellent. The music ranges from electronic to middle eastern infused, smooth as silk or scratchy strings, eclectic percussion and keyboard. Also an accordion, although I didn't hear it separate from the rest of the music.

Lou Reed joined her and the band for one piece and although he seemed a little uncomfortable, it was nice to see them working together.

C'mon Laurie--I want to see more!
I forgot to mention that I saw The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice, produced as a musical last week at the Minetta Lane Theater--a small venue in Greenwich Village. I'd never read or seen the play before and knew very little about it but that a friend of mine who had seen it a few months ago hated it. But because it won some awards and it was cheap (through TDF) I decided to take a chance. I enjoyed it. It's dated, but as a snapshot of boring, numbing, bookkeeping work in the 20s it was interesting, and I liked the production. Middle aged guy with horrible screeching, complaining wife goes to work daily and does numbers with a woman helper who obviously is interested in him. Boss fires him, guy murders boss and ends up on death row. Dies and instead of the Hell he expects he ends up in what seems like Heaven, a place he can do whatever he wants. Freedom. Plus, the co-worker (who he was interested in) kills herself because with him gone she has nothing to live for--and she ends up where he is. They CAN live happily ever after, but he freaks out and would rather go back to being a cog in the machine...

Today I went to a matinée performance of Clifford Odets' The Country Girl, with Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand, and Peter Gallagher. Directed by Mike Nichols. I thought I remembered the play getting mixed reviews --I'll have to check--but it was brilliant. Great performances (some of you might have seen it as a movie with Grace Kelly --who I'd think would have been totally miscast--, William Holden, and Bing Crosby. I've never seen the movie). Once good actor who has been a lush for at least ten years is given a chance by a producer to star in a new play. The actor's wife, the "country girl" of the title, is either a support or hindrance, depending on who you believe.

The last two episodes of the first season of Deadwood--and yes, it keeps getting better and better; I Can't Sleep, a thought-provoking French film by Claire Denis about several "outsiders" in Paris whose lives connect interestingly--told against the background of a series of murders of old ladies based on real murders in the early 1990s.

And Swimming With Sharks, with a vicious Kevin Spacey as a movie executive, Frank Whalley, as his green put upon assistant, and Michelle Forbes (who I'd never seen before but has apparently been on a lot of tv series including "Lost" and "In Treatment") as a producer who is trying to get a deal for her script. Nasty nasty film.
ellen_datlow: (Default)
( Jun. 22nd, 2008 10:43 pm)
This evening I went to see Frequency Hopping, a play about George Antheil (composer) and Hedy Lamarr (film star), who co-invented --by using music--an early form of spread spectrum encoding, a key to modern wireless communication--which is called "frequency hopping. It's an interesting mixed media production that's a teeny bit too long (it's billed as a work in progress so there may be further work on it) but highly recommended. The actress who plays Lamarr looks uncannily like her --both she, Erica Newhouse, and Joseph Urla, who plays Antheil, are very good.

As a special treat afterwards, Ballet Mecanique was performed by robotic orchestra with film accompaniment. The music was written by Antheil in 1924 and created to accompany a film by artist/filmmaker Fernand Leger but it never quite worked out, partly because it was meant to be performed with sixteen synchronized player pianos. The piece was finally restored and played with the film in 2001 at the Film Anthology archives in NYC. It's not performed live very often--there was a siren, xylophones, bass drums, what sounds like a school bell, and eight player pianos that were doubled up. (don't ask me what that means). Anyway, a truly unique performance that will be on until the end of this month. Go get tix...and hear why NYC was outraged by Antheil's work back in the 20s. It's still pretty outrageous.
Mary Robinette Kowal took Matt Kressel and me to opening night of the one-man show about Theodore Roosevelt. Matt talks about it below and says everything I would have said...Go see it!
Matt Kressel on The Bully Pulpit
This evening I attended a new play about what is supposed to be the most expensive postage stamp
in history --scroll down to the second two stamps on the page:
Mauritius stamps

The play, by Theresa Rebeck is about half sisters who are fighting over possession of a valuable family stamp collection.
F. Murray Abraham is funny and scary and very very effective, Alison Pill (who was in The Lieutenant of Innishmore --which I loved)is fine, Bobby Canavale (in Hurley Burley in a kind of similar role) might be a one trick pony, although I've only seen him in the two roles, and Dylan Baker (who was excellent in the movie Happiness) is very good. However, I despised the character of the older sister from the first few minutes she appeared, and I'm still not sure if it's the writing, the directing or the acting of the role that turned me off. She's played by Kate Finneran, who I (apparently) saw in Pig Farm and I honestly don't remember her at all in it.

In any case, I recommend the play. It's nicely produced (except for Finneran--now I have to go read reviews of it).


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