Posts Tagged ‘roz chast’

Culture Vulture: VIOLET, ALL THE WAY, THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN, TOP OF THE LAKE, NORMAL HEART, and Roz Chast

May 22, 2014

THEATER

5.9.14 – VIOLET – I’m a huge fan of Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change, Fun Home), and I’d only heard the original cast recording of the 1998 premiere at Playwrights Horizons of her first musical, Violet. The Broadway revival at the Roundabout Theatre stars Sutton Foster as a woman horribly disfigured by her father in an ax-wielding accident as a child who take a cross-country bus trip to ask a TV preacher to give her a beautiful movie-star face. It’s a thoughtful, detailed short story of a musical (played without intermission) but for me it never really took off, either emotionally or musically. I did enjoy the performances in several small roles by the great character actress Annie Golden (below, with Foster) and Rema Webb as the gospel singer Lula Buffington who almost but not quite raises the roof.

VioletBway06_605x329

5.14.14 – ALL THE WAY – I’d heard Robert Schenkkan’s play about President Lyndon Johnson’s push to pass the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was long and shouty, so I wavered about going until my friend Misha Berson, in town seeing shows for her gig as theater critic for the Seattle Times, generously took me along as her guest. I was happily surprised at how good the play is. It’s very similar to Tony Kushner’s screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln, in that it spends most of its running time focused on the minutiae of Washington politics, how bills work their way through Congress, and the machinations and back-channel dealing that goes on.

All-The-Way_650
I wasn’t so impressed with Mr. Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston’s performance, which was too shticky by half, but the story kept me rapt, if at times appalled to the point of furious tears, hearing the most disgusting racist sentiments delivered as Senate testimony in my lifetime. Ugh. Bill Rauch of Cornerstone Theater did a fine job casting and staging a large company of actors. Some performances I especially enjoyed included Michael McKean as J. Edgar Hoover and Brandon J. Dirden as a dignified yet remote Martin Luther King.

5.15.14 – THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN – I love Martin McDonagh’s plays, and I’d seen this one twice before, its American debut at the Public Theater directed by Jerry Zaks and a spectacularly good revival at the Atlantic Theater Company staged by Gerry Hynes with a largely Irish cast. Andy’s a fan of McDonagh’s hilarious film In Bruges but had never seen his work onstage, and I thought this would be a dandy introduction, an acclaimed London production directed by Michael Grandage and starring Daniel Radcliffe. Ehhhhh, not so much. Radcliffe is an absolute non-starter in the title role, dull and unimaginative even in the way he plays Cripple Billy’s physical disability. None of the other actors met or matched my fond memories of earlier productions, although I did enjoy Sarah Greene as Slippy Helen (below). Which left only the play to enjoy, with its insane deadpan repetition and whiplash plot turns, from high comedy to melodrama and back.

Cripple

TELEVISION

TOP OF THE LAKE – Casting about for something to try out on my new Apple TV device, I remembered that Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker had good things to say about the BBC mini-series conceived and directed by Jane Campion, a filmmaker whose work I’ve admired for its narrative eccentricity and visual boldness if not always loved. There were almost immediately a bunch of things I found highly implausible about the main character played by Elisabeth Moss, a young police detective on a hometown visit to her ailing mum who suddenly takes over the investigation of a missing teenager and starts bossing around the local police force. But damned if I didn’t get hooked on the thing and ended up watching all seven episodes with its relentlessly grim arc about the horrible exploitation and mistreatment of women by slickly corrupt cops and gnarly local violent maniac meth-dealers.

Picture shows: G,J (HOLLY HUNTER)
Mostly I became intrigued by the subplot of an encampment of damaged women presided over by their guru-who-claims-not-to-be-a-guru, an Asperger’s-like savant named GJ played by Holly Hunter with long gray Jane Campion hair and a compelling, brusque affectlessness. The community of women she shepherds are a crazy, individual assortment even more fleetingly and quirkily depicted than the gals on Orange Is the New Black – we learn almost nothing about them, which of course makes each scene with them riveting. It’s sort of Prime Suspect set in the back woods of New Zealand, though Moss’s character is way more flawed and not nearly as great as Helen Mirren’s.

THE NORMAL HEART – I am astonished at how well Ryan Murphy managed to pull off the long-awaited HBO film of Larry Kramer’s incendiary historical play about love, community, and politics in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Having seen the original production and the revival at the Public Theater as well as the Broadway production two seasons ago, I really didn’t know if I had the emotional stamina to revisit those horrendous mid-1980s years of catastrophe, loss, helplessness, and fury. Yet with Murphy’s coaching, Kramer extensively revised and expanded and deepened his play so that it becomes a much more generous portrait of the time and the gay male community in New York, not so much a self-righteous screed about how right he was and how wrong everyone else was.

normal20tvf-1-web

Aside from the fact that (like every other actor who’s played the part) Mark Ruffalo is ten times better-looking than Larry Kramer ever was, his performance is excellent and honest, as are many of the supporting players (including Joe Mantello as Mickey, above with Ruffalo) and Jim Parsons, reprising his Broadway role as Tommy Boatwright). I watched a screener of the HBO show with five friends, we barely breathed while it was playing, and we had a good heartfelt conversation about it afterwards.

BOOKS

CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? is Roz Chast’s brave, hilarious, sad graphic memoir about ushering her parents through the last few years of their lives. I’ve always taken Chast’s cartoons in the New Yorker depicting the neurotic fearfulness of her family as comic exaggeration. But here she documents with unsparing detail her parents’ devotion to each other, their denial about aging and sickness, her father’s monumental anxiety, her mother’s domineering and punishing personality, and her own alternately meek, loving, exasperated, and calculating efforts to please and care for them.

roz chast memoir excerpt

In this week’s New Yorker

April 5, 2014

There’s some fine reporting by Evan Osnos on West Virginia’s environmental crisis, George Packer on recent examples of war literature, and Emily Nussbaum on Norman Lear and his impact on TV. But nothing beats “Elicitation,” John McPhee’s essay on the craft of reporting, specifically of conducting interviews. I associate McPhee exclusively with long and, frankly, boring New Yorker pieces (a three-part series on sand!), but he was a staff writer at Time magazine writing about entertainment in the 1960s, and his reminiscences here include succinct and fascinating portraits of Woody Allen, Jackie Gleason, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Maggie Smith (the last three on the set of The V.I.P.’s), along with a well-placed dig at Truman Capote.

Here’s a choice passage about Taylor: “In comparison with a great many of the actresses I had met in my years of writing about show business, she was not even half full of herself. She seemed curious, sophisticated, and unpretentious, and compared with people I had known in universities she seemed to have been particularly well educated. From childhood forward, she was tutored in the cafeteria at M-G-M.”

And, of course, another great Roz Chast cartoon:

27-year itch cartoon

In this week’s New Yorker

March 5, 2013

new yorker pope coverThe best thing about this week’s New Yorker is Barry Blitt’s cover, titled “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” though I also read with interest Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Larissa MacFarquhar’s post-mortem on the troubled, enigmatic Aaron Swartz. (One of the many benefits of subscribing to The New Yorker Out Loud podcast via iTunes is that I now know how to pronounce Larissa MacFarquhar.)

While I’m at it, let me mention the highlights of last week’s issue, starting with the great Roz Chast cover, “Ad Infinitum”  (below):
rox chast ad infinitum cover
Then there’s “Hands Across America,” David Owen’s piece on the rise of Purell hand sanitizer, a detailed description of how one small company has managed to get rich capitalizing on the weird germ-phobia that has taken over America;

also Ryan Lizza’s piece on Eric Cantor, one of the Republicans most in charge of obstructing any political progress in Washington;

and John Colapinto’s fascinating article, “Giving Voice,” on the surgeon who repaired Adele’s vocal cords (and those of many other famous pop singers).

And the odd cartoon or two….
internet and get scared

Culture Vulture: January 2013

February 18, 2013

1.29.13 –

Theater: Nature Theater of Oklahoma, founded by Pavol Liska and Kelly Cooper, is definitely one of the most compelling downtown theater ensembles these days. I saw their first two productions (a very condensed Three Sisters at CSC and the four-hour No Dice, produced by Soho Rep), and I find their mission statement extremely beguiling. “NTOK has been devoted to making the work we don’t know how to make, putting ourselves in impossible situations, and working from out of our own ignorance and unease. We strive to create an unsettling live situation that demands total presence from everyone in the room. We use the readymade material around us, found space, overheard speech, and observed gesture, and through extreme formal manipulation, and superhuman effort, we affect in our work a shift in the perception of everyday reality that extends beyond the site of performance and into the world in which we live.”

life and times

I knew I didn’t have the stamina for all ten hours of their most recent four-part show, Life and Times, produced at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival in conjunction with Soho Rep, but I thought I could deal with at least the four hours of Episode 1. Alas, I only made it through half. I saw what they were doing – got the Gertrude Steinian continuous present, locating the world in mundane speech (the text is based on a lengthy interview with a woman telling the story of her extremely ordinary life in great excruciating detail); got the Brechtian staging; got the Jan Fabre-like concept of putting performers through a boot-camp-like physical ordeal. But setting the banal text to music – every ah, um, you know – was deadly.

Restaurant: Decamping at intermission provided the occasion to check out Aroma Wine Bar around the corner on East Fourth Street, where I had a delicious bowl of unusual pasta (strascinati with wild mushroom sofritto and spicy lamb sausage) and a glass or two of a rugged Pugliese red wine new to me.

puglia wine
Music: While I was in the neighborhood, I exercised my nostalgia for record stores and stopped into Other Music, still going strong after all these years, and found myself buying the latest album by Toro y Moi (aka Chaz Bundick), Anything in Return. Fun, sonically rich pop tracks with the kind of lovely vocal harmonies that always get labeled Brian Wilson-esque. The lyrics don’t stand up to close scrutiny but I can attest the album supplies an excellent soundtrack for getting stoned and having sex.
AIR_cover1.30.13

Film: The Rubin Museum presented a special screening of Sherwood Hu’s film adaptation of Hamlet, Prince of the Himalayas. I took a special interest because the Rubin’s whip-smart curator Tim McHenry booked the Wooster Group’s Elizabeth LeCompte to have a conversation with the director after the screening. I had the thrill of sitting between Hu and LeCompte (below), who was there with her own Hamlet, Scott Shepherd. The movie was fantastic, provocative and revelatory – Hu drew out interpretations of the story no one else ever has. Most notably: the reason Gertrude married Claudius so quickly after her husband’s death is that they’d been lovers before Gertrude’s marriage, and Claudius killed him because he was abusive to Gertrude. And Ophelia dies in the river (here a lake) giving birth to Hamlet’s son, who turns out to the title character. Set in ancient Tibet and shot on location mostly outdoors, the film is ravishingly beautiful and very well-performed. In the interview afterwards, though, the director came off badly. LeCompte kept asking him excellent questions, and he kept giving generic, bland blah-blah-blah answers; she was very persistent and kept asking him again, to no avail. And of course in her modest but unerring way, she noted that the child might have received a very different reception had it been a girl.

hu and lecompte1.31.13

Restaurant: I had a lovely dinner with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, whom I’ve known since I did a cover story for Soho News about her in 1980. I was happy to turn her on to one of my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood, Radiance Tea House on West 55th Street, with its yummy dumplings, rice bowls, and spectacular menu of Chinese teas.

me and roz

Theater: I’d never seen or heard any version of Fiorello! so was delighted to accept a friend’s invitation to the Encores revival at City Center. Unfortunately, we arrived a little before 8 and the show had started at 7:30, so we missed a few scenes. For all its reputation as Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, I found Jerome Weidman and George Abbott’s book pretty thin and the Bock and Harnick score only medium. Danny Rutigliano made a strong impression as the Little Flower hisself, Kate Baldwin did a lovely rendition of the sweetest ballad (“When Did I Fall in Love?”), and Erin Dilly and Jenn Gambatese stood out among the rest of the ensemble.

In this week’s New Yorker

February 28, 2012


Aside from Roz Chast’s wonderful cover and a handful of funny cartoons (see my favorite, by Emily Flake, below), this issue is noteworthy for William Finnegan’s satisfying report on how Minnesota governor Scott Walker’s anti-union crusade has backfired on him and Nick Paumgarten’s entertaining depiction of the social scene at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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