Archive for the 'Theater' Category

03
Feb
13

Nickel and Dimed

Northwestern dramatized Barbara Enrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed” href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel_and_Dimed” target=”_blank” rel=”wikipedia”>Nickel and Dimed with great success. This three act play follows Enrenreich, a journalist who went undercover in Florida, Maine and Minnesota taking low paying jobs like waiting tables, cleaning houses and working at “Mall Mart.”

The cast was good especially Laura Winters, the star who was a likeable everywoman. Though it was hard to believe Winters was in her 50s, that wasn’t important. I hope to see Winters in more roles after she graduates.

What matters is that a privileged woman finds out how hard it is to get by on minimum wage, to find a decent place to live on meager wages. Enrenreich came to respect and understand her coworkers more than she expected.

The play, like the book, is a compelling look at those exploited by our economy.

<em>Nickel and Dimed</em> will be shown next weekend.

27
Jun
12

Frankenstein

If it weren’t for Theater Mania’s email offering 20% off tickets, I’d have never known that the National Theater Live was broadcasting Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Evanston. What Sherlock fan could pass up the deal?

The acting, sets and costumes were all outstanding. Last night we saw Cumberbatch as the Creature and Miller as Dr. Frankenstein.  I’d caught bits and pieces of old Frankenstein films, which gave me an idea of what to expect. However, I didn’t know the movies departed from Mary Shelley‘s book.

Now I know why.

Despite a stellar performance by Cumberbatch and creative staging, the story fell short of what I’d expected.

Just after birth

The play opened with a scene, a protracted scene, of the Creature’s birth masterfully performed by Cumberbatch, yet the scene dragged. After a while, I was thinking, “We get it, the Creature’s gawky and learning to walk is a clumsy, long process. Can you please move on?” How I wished the director had made that more succinct. I also wondered why Frankenstein hadn’t heard all the banging about his creature was doing. Why did it take him so long to get into the lab to see what the hell was going on? We’re later told that Frankenstein was a workaholic, obsessed with his work. Well, not that night.

Once the creature’s born and walking, Frankenstein discovers him and he freaks out. As a result of Frankenstein’s screaming rejection, the Creature hits the road. Mind you all he’s wearing is a loin cloth and he knows nothing of life. He can barely walk and has no knowledge of language.  He has no concept of geography, what a town or street is, what buying or begging is. Nothing at all. Nada.

After a minor run in with some scamps, the Creature meets an old man who’s blind and thus accepting. The man teaches the Creature to read and think critically. Pretty far fetched since a baby needs to hear language for years before talking let alone reading Paradise Lost passages. Yeah, I don’t blame the B movie directors for departing from this story.

While under the tutelage of the blind man, the Creature hides in the shadows fearing rejection and abuse from anyone who can see him.

Life is fine, though limited till the old man’s son and daughter-in-law panic when they first see the Creature. The man was so set on integrating the Creature into his family, yet didn’t have the sense to prepare them for this meeting. He’d been working with the Creature for a long, long time.

If he thought the Creature was hideous, why didn’t he scrap the project and start anew after taking some sewing and art lessons?

Throughout the play the Creature is a gawky biped with gruesome scars and bruises that never heal. It’s like Frankenstein sewed the Creature with his feet. I never understood how Frankenstein, who designed and made the creature was so repulsed.

The play deals (ineptly, I’d say) with themes of responsibility, connection, alienation, prejudice, but it’s all done with the sophistication of an 19 year old. I’m far less impressed with Shelley’s stature as a novelist if this is indeed the accurate retelling the play claims to be.

Frankenstein was the typical one dimensional scientist who’s anti-social and uncomfortable in society. He’s okay with theory, but horrible with real life. For some reason, his fiance is madly in love with him and keeps trying to get blood from the rock-like heart of this nerd dressed in ruffles.

The cost of Frankenstein’s misuse of science is death, several deaths.

While the play will be performed again in July with Cumberbatch and Miller changing roles, I couldn’t sit through the story again. I’m sure Cumberbatch would do an excellent job as Frankenstein, yet he’s limited by the poor story.

It’s weird to see so much good in a production and yet not be able to whole heartedly recommend it. I’d even give the set designers and actors awards, but I wouldn’t want to sit through this again.

17
Mar
12

Some Favorite Irish Actors

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let me honor my favorite Irish actors and actresses including those of Irish descent.

  1. Gabriel Byrne of In Treatment. I am slowing getting through my DVDs for Season 2 and am loving the intense, intelligent drama
  2. John Mahoney, who’s in season 2 of In Treatment, and is a memberof Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater. I’ve seen him in several plays there including. Mahoney is great on stage, the big screen or the idiot box. A piece of trivia, when I attended an event for the Steppenwolf, Mahoney pulled out the names of raffle winners and as he did this I had this strong feeling that I’d win. I did. So we shook hands when he gave me my prize.
  3. Meg Ryan has always been a favorite. When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail are among the best romantic comedies ever made.
  4. Aidan Quinn. He was great in Legends of the Fall and many other films. He’s also from Steppenwolf, though I’ve never seen him on stage.
  5. Moira Kelly from The West Wing and she was one of the best things on One Tree Hill, a guilty pleasure of mine. She also starred with Martin Sheen in Entertaining Angels, a biopic of Dorothy Day’s Life.
  6. Sean Connery. He’s got the tough, wise man down. Never saw him as James Bond, though I’m sure he did well. (Nothing wrong with that series just haven’t gotten to it. So little time, so many movies.)
  7. Glee’s Jane Lynch, her sarcasm is just delicious and she’s also great in Best in Show one of my favorite comedy films.
  8. The Glee Project’s Damian McGinty exudes “Erin Go Bragh” not that I’m thrilled with the lazy stereotyped role he’s got on Glee. Still glad this Celtic Thunder perfomer won the reality show competition.
  9. Bonnie Hunt, who I so wish was on television at least weekly. She’s both funny and smart and I hope someone gives her lots of money to make whatever film or show she’d like.
  10. Denis Leary plays up his Irish heritage in his humor and in Rescue Me, a show I found compelling, yet too graphic for my tastes. So I recommend it although I just can’t watch it myself.
  11. Martin Sheen‘s role as Jeb Bartlett has forever earned him a place in my heart. The West Wing was such a great show. Many’s the time I wish he was President.
  12. Diane Keaton‘s career from The Godfather to Annie Hall to Something’s Gotta Give her work always carries and imprint of wit and dignity.

As for Irish American actors, the list goes on and on.

23
Feb
12

Funny Girl

Funny Girl (film)

Image via Wikipedia

One of the films I watched on my flight to China was Funny Girl, which I haven’t seen in ages. This story of a talented ugly duckling, Barbara Streisand as Fanny Brice stills entertains. So many great songs – Second Hand Rose (which keeps replaying in my head) People, I’d Rather be Blue Thinking of You, Don’t Rain on My Parade. Barbra sings them all so well.

The movie hits all the right notes  showing a Jewish girl from Henry Street make it big despite not fitting the image of the WASPish beauty most Ziegfeld girls did.  Of course, you wish her chutzpah extended to the wisdom to know that all that glitters isn’t gold and that debonair gambler Nick Arnstein wasn’t all he seemed cracked up to be.  I suppose part of the plot’s momentum is watching the impending wreck we see coming before Fanny does.

As much as I liked Funny Girl  and appreciated the dark theme of “be careful what you wish for, ” I’d like to see a new movie about Fanny Brice, something more realistic that reveals more about the relationship between Fanny and Nick, showing whether Fanny ever saw her insecurity as her Achilles’ heel.

Checking out Wikipedia’s entry on Brice makes for interesting reading. Evidently, she came from a well-off family and Arnstein was her second husband. He was a mooch and not as honorable as the play or film make out. While the truth might not have gone over with a 1964 or ’68 audience, I think contemporary audiences could go for the realism.

Despite the poor food and scandalous baggage fees, I will applaud United Airlines for its improved entertainment selections. Between the recent movies, classics and TV offerings it’s easy to while away the 12+ hours from Chicago to Beijing.

21
Feb
12

Showboat

“Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly . . . .” These Showboat lyrics still linger in my head over a week after seeing the musical. If you’re any where near the Lyric Opera,go see Showboat. Period. End of story. It’s fabulous.

The ads on PBS brought me in. I loved Aida, so why not try Showboat. I had no idea what the story was beyond something about a boat that went up and down the Mississippi with performers on it. I’d heard “Old Man River” plenty of times, but only casually and out of context. Even though I had to go the night before I was leaving for China, I couldn’t pass up this last chance for some culture.

The story was a lot meatier than I expected. Based on Edna Ferber‘s novel about a biracial woman, who passes, married to a white man Showboat offers the audience complexity along with great singing and dancing. I admit I expected fluff, but the story goes down the dark alleys inherent in marrying a guy who doesn’t amount to much. While Ms. Ferber was concerned that too much sugar might be added to her novel, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II transformed the genre, which up till then was light and frivolous. The original New York Times review asserts that

The adaptation of the novel has been intelligently made, and such liberties as the demands of musical comedy necessitate do not twist the tale nor distort its values.

Some critics mark Showboat as a turning point in American musicals.

I recommend going to the pre-performance lecture an hour before the curtain when you’ll learn about the flooding of the Mississippi at the time, Ms. Ferber’s influences, and background information on the creation of the show.

I was disappointed that I had to leave the show early to catch the 10:35 train home. !@#@!$ Metro for not having an 11:35 train. I toyed with the idea of staying for the whole show, but I just couldn’t get home at 1:15 that night. So I am now scouring Jinan for a DVD of the film. No luck so far. Rats!

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10
Feb
12

A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream

I expected a traditional production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, but instead the Chicago Shakespeare Company went Victorian with a tip of the hat to Freud. And while a lot of updates and creative takes don’t work, this one did. I loved the set and the costumes. All the main characters wore various lavender hues, though each had a distinct outfit. The result was beautiful. I wasn’t crazy about the costumes of the forest nymphs, striped pajamas and fantastic headdresses with say 100 butterflies or 100 flowers sticking up. I get that they should be otherworldly, but this choice fell flat for me. Even worse was the kind of the faeries, Oberon, who was decked out in a puffy orange skirt and he had a wig of long black hair that reminded me of Heian era Japan.

While this is one of Shakespeare’s lightest plays, it still has the Bard’s imprint and the language is just wonderful to take in. Yes, it’s a ultra-light, but it’s nice to see Shakespeare can have such fun. It’s a perfect play to show we should all “get over ourselves.

The acting is wonderful and the idea of bring Freud in to this dream was cheeky but not over powerful.

19
Jan
12

Elizabeth Rex

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater‘s Elizabeth Rex is strong, witty and thought-provoking. Written by Timothy Findley, Elizabeth Rex is a hypothetical look at what might have transpired the night before the Earl of Essex‘s execution. Findley plays with the fact that Elizabeth went to see a Shakespearean play the night before the Earl of Essex, who plotted to overthrow the queen, was executed. Findley’s what if’s are:

  • What if the queen and Essex had an affair? According to the Windy City Times review, they didn’t.
  • What if Elizabeth at age 70 had insecurities about her femininity since she had to wield power as a woman in a man’s age?
  • What if she spent the night in the company of Shakespeare’s actor’s who’re cooped up in a barn near the theater due to curfew restrictions? (Couldn’t the queen waive them or get everyone to a more commodious venue?)
  • What if one of the actors was a gay man dying of pox with insight into gender?
The questions are fascinating. The acting was strong; dialog full of repartee; and the costumes gorgeous. From the time the lights went up energy level was full speed ahead and I was transported to Shakespeare’s ribald, trenchant, lively world. The Queen surprises Shakespeare’s troupe with a visit hoping for a diversion from Essex’s impending execution. What she gets is a questioning and prodding from Ned Lowenscroft, an actor who plays strong lead women with great veracity, we’re told. (We just saw him act in one scene and I didn’t find him particularly convincing as a woman. Some kabuki actors are better and I know they’re men too.)
Much of the play’s energy comes from the sparring between Queen Elizabeth and Ned, who spar. Ned feels he can teach the queen how to be a real woman, i.e. forgiving and emotional. The Shakespeare and the actors were secondary figures, entertaining, but not in the lime light, which was fine. The troupe all seemed to feel the Queen should pardon Essex. What I felt was missing was a voice, a genuine voice that sided with the Queen. Essex did try to seize London and lead a rebellion. No one in this troupe  agreed that “off with his head” was a smart move. It seems to me in any gathering of more than 5 people, there’s bound to be a wide range of opinion.
The first act was swift and engaging, except for an interlude with Ned’s pet bear. I’m not sure what the purpose of that was. A stab at comic relief? It didn’t work for me.
The second half lagged slightly as the play didn’t cover new ground. Ned still urges the Queen to forgive her former lover, and he reveals more about his dearest lover who gave him the pox, i.e. syphillis, the story was interesting, but I don’t want the most powerful parts of a drama to be exposition. Some of the most interesting parts of the play were retold rather than dramatized.
All in all, if you’re looking for a lively, well acted play, if you want to consider some Elizabethan hypotheticals, go see the engaging Elizabeth Rex. After seeing the play I did wonder how plausible it was. Would Elizabethans think or speak of gender in these ways? It would be interesting to find some articles on that. I don’t suggest this as a fault but rather a springboard to deeper study.



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