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Friday, March 31, 2017

Whitney Biennial 2017 - What Struck Me the Most

The Whitney Biennial is the art event that highlights recent works over the last 2 years from an assortment of international artists.  I noticed a prepondance of figurative and colorful paintings.  Some of the artists' works which shared a neon-color palette and seemed interchangeable.  Artists works that felt particularily similar were from Aliza Nisenbaum, Susan Cianciole, Dana Schultz and Jo Baer.  All were large scale figurative works.  Perhaps, Kerry James Marshall (KJM) (not represented in the show) but had a recent, brilliant retrospective at the Met Breuer may be credited with an insurgence of figurative paintings.  Artist Henry Taylor (b Amer 58) & Celeste Dupuy-Spencer both had several large paintings, seemed to be disciples of KJM and are artists to watch for in the future.  Tala Madoni's paintings were visually striking both for the light emanating from her paintings and from orifices the light stemmed in the paintings.  Madoni is American-Iranian b. 1981.  I was amused by the life-size figure sculptures heavily encrusted with beading & adornments by Raul de Nieves (b Mexico 1983.)  These tribal sculptures were fanciful and exotic.  They were positioned in front of a glass stained wall that bore the words peace and love giving both a glorious effect.  I was also intrigued by the photos taken by John Divola (b Amer 1949) which housed a painted portrait inside, vacant decrepit structures.  These images evoked isolation and destruction.  The majority of artists included in the show, regardless of their country of origin, seem to be residing in Brooklyn.   The Whitney Biennial contained works with social commentaries, highlighted contemporary artists that struck my fancy and had me scratching my head.  Whether you make it often to the Whitney, the Biennial exhibit is always worthwhile.

Age of Empires: Chinese Art of Qin & Han Dynasties (221 B.C.-A.D. 220) at The MET

I excitedly anticipated The Metropolitan Museum of ART exhibition of ancient art of China from 221 B.C. - A.D. 220.  Actual antiquities that have been sustained for thousands of years is incredible and deserving of admiration.  Nonetheless, this presentation of rare & precious relics from the Qin & Han Dynasties was a disappointing travesty of deliberate manipulation to make the viewer believe that everything on display were real and not merely replicas.  The entrance to the exhibit was a bit of a tip-off with two 1/2 life size representations of horse drawn chariots and "replica" of a cross-bow.  The exhibition is not without its imperious wonders.  It's remarkable to see their accounting systems for standarized weights & developed and adopted.  There were authentic stone tablets with carved figures depicted daily life, terra-cotta warriors and female figures representing dancers & musicians were that elegant.  I was amazed at the collection of bells in gradating sizes seemingly in perfect condition behind glass displays.  We're informed that the thousands of warrior figures were entombed with the rulers of the dynasties and the tomb served to perseve these rare & precious relics.  I was puzzled by the intact bodysuit perfectly intact, stitched together with wire.  Was this the actual, ancient burial garment or a representation.  There were ancient columns and statues that were unprotected and "models' of structures kept under glass.  Would the actual items excavated be exposed to the elements (including human contact) while manmade replicas encased?  I'm not sure what items were on loan from dozens of Chinese museums and what were recently made representations.  The problem for me was that I felt the mislead by representations of the actual items v. items actually excavated in China from 1970-2000 from 221 B.C. - A.D. 220.)  Why would I want to come to the MET to see replicas?  Of course, I don't understand why so many visitors are bent on taking photos rather than experiencing the artworks directly?  And, if these rare, ancient objects are fragile, why is flash photography permitted?  Confuscious say:  You can fool some of the people some of the time and most don't really care.  (Okay, I said that - but I'm coming to the MET expecting the real thing.)  Ain't nothing like the real thing baby.  (Marving Gaye said that and I agree)

MTA Poetry in Motion "A Map of the World" by Ted Booser

I had forgotten about reading new poems in the NYC subways when I discovered this treasure of a poem by American poet Ted Booser:

One of the ancient maps of the world
is hand shaped, carefully drawn
and once washed with bright colors,
though the colors have faded
as you might expect feelings to fade
from a fragile old heart, the brown map
of a life.  But feeling is indelible,
and longing infinite, a starburst compass
pointing in  all directions
to lovers might go, a fresh breeze
swelling their sails, and future uncharged,
still far from the edge
where the sea pours into the stars.

Booser (b 1939) has received the Pulitzer Prize and named a US Poet Laureate.  This quiet poem with clear metahpors speaks directly to the spirit of love in a straightforward manner that is refreshing & deeply stirring.  I couldn't help but feel touched that regardless of age, love's memories are etched forever and are always open to the infinite possibilities for rediscovery.  This poem with its simple eloquence, roused feelings of tenderness.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Terence Davies' Picture "A Quiet Passion" an Emily DIckinson Biopic Is a Pathetic Portrayal of the Poetess

A screening of Terence Davies' "A Quiet Passion" was held at the Morgan Library in tandem with an exhibit of Emily Dickison's writings & artifacts.   British dir. Terence Davies ("The Deep Blue Sea" 2011) was there to introduce the film.  His pompous self-promotion & declaration of Dickinson as "America's greatest poet of the 19th C," portended a picture destined to be fawning.  The film starring Cynthia Nixon as the elder Emily Dickison had me yawning.  The film begins with a younger depiction of Dickinson as a rebellious, strong minded student while at Mt Holyoke.   The lyrical transition to the mature, poetess was as comical as Simba's.  This poorly directed film felt forced and disjointed.  Where Davies strove to demonstrate the unflappable determination of Dickinson to write and her steadfast beliefs within a rigid, religious & sexist society, the end result was an unflattering, churlish & unworldly personification.   The  coquettish & bumptious antics didn't serve to delve into an intellectual, creative mind or the momentous issues of slavery & repressive, societal conventions. The always exceptional actress Jennifer Ehle was wasted as Dickinson's younger sister (as the elder Lavinia) with little do but bash her eyelashes.  I wasted my time on this sophomoric historic snore.  I was out the door early as I had already overstayed my decorum.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Marsden Hartley's Maine at Met Breuer - Beautiful & Painful Tribute to Artists Home State

The incredible collection of Marsden Hartley's (b Amer 1877-1943) paintings pay tribute to the beautiful inland & ocean landscapes of his Maine homestate.  The expansive exhibition of Hartley's oil paintings span his career.  Several of these important works have never been shown outside of Maine.  The earlier paintings have layered, vibrant colors that oscillate and shimmer.  These paintings have a pointillism aesthetic that lend a visceral response to a rippling breeze or blazing sunlight. Note "The Silence of the High Mountains."  It's hard not to feel the billowing in the trees and sense the warmth of golden light on the hills.  Hartley is a regarded poet.  He mentions various poets & artists who influenced him such as Walt Whitman, composer Edvard Grieg and painter Paul Cezanne.  Hartley's body of work resound with an imposing cadence of their own.  Harley maintained a lasting friendship with Alfred Stieglitz with whom he corresponded.  Amongst the effervescent works are darker more somber paintings.  He revealed to Stieglitz in a letter the dark & lonely days he spent in ME after his mother's death & his family moved leaving him behind to work.  There are a collection of very ominous, dark paintings referred to by Hartley in a letter as "…sad recollection{s that} rushed into my very flesh like sharpened knives."  His poetic tendencies are predominately expressed in vibrant colors, lush countryside scenes & foaming waves along the shores.  Hartley pays homage to Winslow Homer with paintings that make you feel & hear the sounds of the crashing ocean.   In addition to his landscape paintings, Hartley captures heroic portraits of Maine's fishermen & hunters.  Many of the handsome & robust figures are portrayed with blonde hair & blue eyes.  The curator states Harley as having "…an Aryan bias that he harbored thoughout his life."  Yet, next to a painting of a trio of fair haired men is a painting of a dark skinned prize fighter.  Harlety wrote to Steiglitz regarding this model, "…the model is a wonder and we are quite friends now."  While Hartley's heart remained in Maine, he detested tourists and their penchant for seeking out Maine's landmarks & lighthouses.  There is a startling painting of a lighthouse that appears violently tossing amongst the rocky shores.  The painting that captivated me most was in the last gallery, "Mount Sainte-Victore (1927) done while living in France.  It's exquisite with its radiating jewel tones. Near the end of his career, Hartley returned to mountainous landscapes which reflect a feeling of remoteness and isolation.  MARSDEN HARTLEY'S MAINE is an exhibit that emblazons the natural wonder of the artist's homestate.  See this enthralling body of work before it leaves New York's Met Breuer Museum.

The Film "A Woman, A Part" Stars Maggie Stiff as a Self-Absorbed TV Sitcom Star

Dir/writer Elisabeth Surbirns film "A Woman, A Part" mirrors the filmmaker's life with a trio of Brooklyn/Bronx born actors starting out together.  The simple joys of youth in the theater give way to real life drama of maintaining relationships, rent payment and one's sanity.  Anna (Maggie Stiff "Mad Men" & "Billions") is a successful TV sitcom star who is both vain & self-destructive.  Anna is a drama queen on & off the set.  Her bought with fame & a health crisis leave her wadding in a pool of scripts  & self-pity.  Meanwhile, Isaac (John Ortiz, actor & co-founder of the Labyrinth Theater) and Kate (British actress Cara Seymour) have idled in the Bronx. The renovation taking place in the Bronx is a ubiquitous metaphor for change.  Anna has a minor meltdown, replete with prescribed anti-depressants and illicitly gotten amphetamines.  This comes at a hiatus in her work schedule allowing her time for herself; if only she knew what to do with herself.  The break coincides with Cara's birthday celebration which Isaac has invited Anna, unbeknowst to Cara.  The awkward & unexpected reunion is not without its underpinnings of shared histories.  While Anna is adrift, Isaac is scrambling to save his marriage and get his new play produced.  Cara is struggling with for sobriety.  All three actors give convincing performances of dissatisfaction & resilience.  This smart & convincing film questions whether having achieved one's aspirations, does one find contentment.  A lovely ingenue saddles up to Anna at the party to ask her advice on becoming an actress.  Anna's neediness cracks through her veneer of confidence.  "A Woman, A Part" is an engaging film about negotiating & reinventing ourselves.

"Grand Theft Auto" An Overly Ambitious Adaption of Platinum Taps that Putters Out

Theater for the New City's presentation of "Grand Theft Musical" was a broad, bawdy musical that offered a lot of bang for the buck although less would have been more in this pastiche of "Guys & Dolls" and "The Producers."  However, there were too many ingredients in this flambe that prevented it from rising above the fray.  That's not to say the audience didn't seem to enjoy this raucous romp with original music by John Taylor Thomas and plenty of tap and dance choreography.  The 2 act musical featured 12 numbers in both acts with a score of actors; many playing multiple roles.  A solo pianist accompanied the singers/dancers and provided a transitional key for several scenarios.  Standout numbers were a duet "The Loverlys Declare Their Love" which was charming and "Born to Dance" which featured hoofer Gino Raftino.  There were talented performers to be found in this overly ambitious staging were Bevin Bell Hall with a lovely singing voice and Taylor Brandon with comedic timing.  Both pumped some air into this laden production.   The plot intertwined love triangles, goofy gangsters, self-absorbed entertainers and the fraudulent staging of a show to raise dough.  It beats me to all heck, but the full house enjoyed the show more than a bushel and a peck.

"Beauty and the Beast" Non-Animated Animated with an Animal to Woo You

The Disney classic "Beauty & the Beast" animated film (1991) earned a lot of major firsts.  The first animated movie to receive an Acad Award Nom for Best Picture.  The movie went on to receive Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.  Sadly, lyricist Howard Ashman died of Aids prior to the release of this groundbreaking film.  Composer Alan Menken has gone onto to compose numerous other Disney classics ("Mermaid.")  Menken & Howard Ashman, his longtime writing partner have collaborated to add additional musical numbers.  While the original score is as amazing as before, there is something added that wasn't there before.  Belle (a perfectly cast Emma Watson) does an admirable job singing and turns in an Oscar worthy performance as a woman of substance causing her to stand apart from the rest.  Bell can tell she's perceived as odd by the villagers & doesn't just have her head stuck in a book.  The growing affection & respect between Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens "Downton Abbey") is a joy to behold.  The Beast's compassionate character escapes from his clear blue eyes, certain as the sun, rising in the east. The beacon, piece de resistance, is Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) with a golden voice and irresistable charm.  One of the new songs "Evermore" expands our empathy for the adorable animated figurines doomed as objects for eternity.  The picture's glorious cinematography is breathtaking & haunting.  Wait, there's more, including the always fabulous Audra McDonald and Emma Thompson (Mrs Potts.)  The male cast bring an irresistable je ne sais quoi to the flambé:  Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Luke Evans as a fiendishly captivating Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou.  LeFou is a 1st gay individual introduced into a Disney family feature.  LeFou is a funny foil to Gaston's narcissistic nastiness.  "Beauty & the Beast" is never 2nd best.  Ever just as sure, this tale will stand the test of time.

Monday, March 27, 2017

X: or Betty Shabazz v. the Nation-the NY Premier at the New Victory Theater

The Acting Co.'s GAESAP X was an powerful staging of Malcom X's life from 1963 to his assassination on Feb. 21, 1965.  The biopic play, determined "to pour history into us," is set in a fictitious court room.  Testimony is presented by Malcom's widow, Betty Shabazz acting as a prosecuting atty.  Witnesses called to testify included Louis Farrkhan (the defendant,) Louix X, nat'l rep. of the Nation of Islam (NOI,) Dlijah Muhammad, former head of NOI and others.  The staging is in stark shades of black/white and only black/white clothing for the actors is a mock courtroom replete with bleachers.  The judge, an Islamic woman, is positioned at the pinnacle of the steps and the cast comes down the steps to testify or to act out various scenarios. Audience members are seated on stage as jurors.  Malcom's history is not sugar coated.  His time in prison for drug trafficking are factual as are the salacious allegations of Elijah Muhammad sexual assaults.  The scenes between Betty & Malcom carried a tenderness that stoked fire in Betty when levying charges at Malcom's accused killers.  The acting by the entire cast, many of whom played double roles, was sensational. Surprisingly, the singing & dancing worked credibly to frame historic events.  The "buried truth of Malcom X's death" and "climate of hate in our country" were testimonials that rang out in this thought provoking & insightful production.  Truth has a way of engraving itself in time.  The play, meant as an eulogy to Malcom X proved inconsequential compared to the guilt of corruption born of power within any organized cult, religion or government institution.  "It is said that power corrupts, but actually it'smore true that power attracts the corruptible."  (D Brin)

Julliard Dances Repetory-Spanish Choreographer Nacho Duato's "Por Vos Muero" Stood Out

Julliard Dances Repetory performed 3 works on Saturday afternoon by choreographers Richard Alston, Mark Morris & Nacho Duato.  The orchestration was provided by fellow Julliard students who were exemplary in all 3 compositions.  British choreographer Alston's piece "Sheer Bravado" (2006) to Shostakovich's Concerto #1 was disappointing.  The dancers were out of sync in a work that demanded  precision of the ensemble.  Mason Manning give a strong solo performamce.  American choreographer Mark Morris' "V" (2001) was banal and uninspiring.  The best to be said for the piece was the androgenous costumes in flowing cobalt blue and form fitting pale green against a vibrant emerald screen.  It was a welcomed technicolor color change.  The dance by Spanish choreographer, Nacho Duato, "Por Vos Muero" (1996) was the dynamic piece on the program with exceptional dancing & clever staging.  The  dimly lit, smoky set with draped velvet curtains enhanced the proficient dancers & captured the various styles & spirit of the 15th/16th C Renaissance era.  The music was by Spanish composer Jordi Savall with the stirring reading of a poem by Italian poet Garcilaso de la Vega (1501-1536.)   The piece was bookended with pale colored, monochromatic bodysuits.  These dancers moved rigidly & turgidly, reminding us an ancient antiquities.  In between the movements, the dancers  portrayed ritualistic, formal court dancing, the buffoonery of court jesters & the unrestrained, joyous dancing of peasants.   The period costumes were evocative of the 16th C with a modern edge.  The dancers, which included 4 robed monks swinging incense (in unison) transported me back in time with solemnity, grace and ebullience.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Gators Take a Big Bite out of Bucky's Butt Beating WI 84-83 in Overtime at MSG

The NCAA sweet 16 turned sour with the last 4 seconds on the buzzer in overtime at MSG.   The WI Badgers dominated most of the 1st half having held an 11 point lead.  But the Gators came clawing back pulling ahead by 1 at the half.  The 2nd half the lead changed several times before the Gators gained on the scoreboard for what felt a sure win for the crocks.  But the WI team garnered steam ending regulation play tied for a 5 minute overtime with momentum moving in the Badger's direction.  The Badgers burrowed for the lead during the first 4 minutes of overtime.  Team leader Nigel Hayes (who dished on NYC - will no doubt depart with no love loss for the big Apple) missed several free throws that would have given the Badgers some safety points.  Still, WI was up by 2 points with 4 seconds on the gameclock with FL bringing the ball in play from beneath the WI bucket.  Fouling was not an option but the usually dominate WI defense gave the Gators an opening for a 3 pt field goal at the buzzer.  A review ruled the shot beat the clock and the Gators snapped a 1 pt victory to move into the elite eight sending the Badgers into hibernation until next year.  The team is going back to Madtown - not happy. The garden was awash in red with WI fans, including Aaron Rogers, shaking their heads & drying their eyes.  And those were not crocodile tears I assure you.  Still, March Madness is collegiate competition at its most exhilarating;  surprises, upsets, victories and good sportsmanship reigned the courts in every division.  Congratulations to all those who made it to the dance.  Sadly, no team from the Big 10 whittled down to the elite 8.

Jazz Trumpeter Lee Morgan's Murder Resurrects His Music Legacy in the Doc. "I Called Him Morgan"

Lee Morgan was a musical prodigy (b Philadelphia 1938.)   As a teen, he gained the notice of Dizzy Gillespie and became a featured trumpet player & composer for Art Blakey's band.  This compelling doc "I Called Him Morgan" is an intriguing biopic of a gifted & tormented jazz musician who was fatally shot at the age of 33 by his common law wife, Helen Morgan.  This is not a notorious crime picture.  It's a cool, jazzy & beautifully shot film which features a montage of arresting black & white photos of Lee performing or collaboring with other artists.  Credit photographer C Ron St Clair for capturing Lee & other great jazz musicians in sharp black/white photos that come to life on screen.  (St Clair's startled photo of a camera shy Helen is a deer caught in headlights.)  This engrossing & artful film is more a virtuoso tutorial in jazz with its generous score & interviews by Morgan's colleagues than a titilating riff counting up to Helen's fatal shooting Lee in a NYC nightclub.  Dir Kasper Collin (b Sweden 1972) cunningly spreads the storyline of Morgans life by beginning with a partially taped interview Helen agreed to do a month before her death in 1996.  Helen's gravelly voice retains a steely quality chronicling her bio prior to meeting Lee, their loving duet and the discord ending in tragedy.  The reminiscences of Lee's colleagues including Wayne Shorter, Paul West & Jymie Merrit passionately expound on jazz history.  They talk of admiration & anger at Helen.  Collin wisely gives these interviews free range lending the film its intelligence, credibility and resonance.  Helen was credited for bringing Lee "back from the gutter" with his heroin addiction.  Helen, 15 years Lee's senior (with a son the same age) became Lee's ubiquitous manager.  Helen's son and Lee's contemporaries were in agreement that they had a loving relationship.  Helen says in her interview "I Called Him Morgan because I didn't like the name Lee."  There's little doubt Helen was a domineering force in Lee's life.  One hook is trying to unravel where things went wrong.   The brilliant recordings of Lee's music and the cinematography captures the look of NYC in the 1950's-60's along with its vivid still photos.  "I Called Him Morgan" is a jazz ballad and a stirring tribute of a talented trumpet player gunned down in a crime of passion.  The mysteries remain why it took an ambulance more than an hour to arrive which might have kept Lee alive.  And, how is it Helen's prison time was so fleeting?   There's no doubt Collin's documentary hits all the right notes that give rise to the breath of life & music with their range of tonalities.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

French Dir Francois Ozon's "Frantz" WWI Survivors Forgiving and Moving Forward in France and Germany

"Frantz" is a German/French language film set in the months just after WWI has ended.  Wounds are still healing for those returning from the battle fronts and bereavement for lost loved ones is omnipresent.   Frantz is the name of a fallen German soldier, beloved by his fiancé Anna (an unforgettable Paula Beer) and mourned by his parents Dr & Mrs Hoffmeister.  Anna, the beautiful German actress, Beer (b 1995) gives a powerfully nuanced performance of sorrow and stirring passions.  She is tending the empty grave of her fallen fiancé when she discovers a stranger paying his respects.  The unknown French foreigner, Adriene Rivoire (Pierre Niney) fought in WWI and claims to have been a friend of Frantz in Paris before the war.  This is what he first tells Anna and the Hoffmeisters.  Adriene was brusquely disbanded from the Hoffmeister's home when he first visited.  Dr Hoffmeister, along with many Germans, considered the French as the murderers of their sons.  This masterpiece of filmmaking shifts gracefully between French & German and stealthily from solemn black/white to scenes of luminescent color.  French dir/screenwriter Francois Ozon balances raw emotional pain & resentment with resilience and compassion.  A budding love story between Anna & Adriene smolders amidst the malice & embers of ruin of two warring nations.  Secrets are kept and revealed under the intention of kindness, "What does truth bring but more pain & tears."  "Frantz" portrays the will to live in the face of death.  Ozon's exemplary film takes us through history's darkest chapters & offers a visceral response of the strengths demanded to move forward in life.  I highly recommend this artistic achievement in movie making.  "As kids, the French and Germans were taught each others language. Then they grew to kill each other."

Julliard Jazz Ensemble Perform Their Original Compositions

The program on Tuesday for the Julliard Jazz Ensemble was remarkable.  The talented musicians played a program of pieces they wrote.  These gifted musicians can also compose and arrange.  They   totally disarmed me with their insights and charm.  Everyone in the ensemble contributed a composition  encompassing all the instrumentations.  The ensemble consisted of 2 bass players, 2 trumpet players, a tenor sax and drummer.  Dave Douglas, 2 time Grammy nominee served as guest coach.  Before each number was played, the composer of the piece spoke to the audience sharing their thoughts at the time of writing the piece & what they were trying to achieve.  I found this fascinating & extremely enlightening for them to share their compositional inspirations.  Douglas Marriner on drums had poetic leanings for his composition "Carousel."  "I was imagining tunes that would be played by the music box on a neglected children's carousel.  I tried to capture some of the bittersweet loneliness and hope from the perspective of long-forgotten animals that used to serenade and entertain the children."  Eloquently stated but my interpretation was of innocence & youthful joy.  Daniel Chmielinski on bass contribued a very complex & superlative work.  Chmielinski named his piece "Aboulomania" a disorder where the individual is incapable of making decisions.  Chmielinski said he found himself struggling to make decisions but he didn't have the disorder.  "Aboulomani" had differing styles, tempos, meandering melodies and highlighted solos for all the instruments.  I thought the piece enveloped the varying styles with pizzaz and was a well constructed composition.  The evening of jazz was incredibly enjoyable.  It was filled with fun & surprises.  Of all the Ensemble performances, the student's works is my favorite.

Kevin Kline in "Present Laughter"-No Great Gift with Few Laughs

Noel Coward (b UK 1899-1973) is regarded as one of the most elite playwrights pre-WWII.  After WWII, Coward became better known for his acting/directing/screenwriting & songwriting; a man of many talents and honors.  Sir Noel Coward was Knighted in 1919 and inducted into the Royal Society of Literature.  In the US, Coward won an Academy for Best Picture for "Calvacade at Danbury," (1933) & received a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement (1972.)  "Present Laughter" is in revival on B'wy starring American acting royalty, Kevin Kline (b 1947) and veteran Welsh-American thespian Kate Burton (b Switzerland 1957.)  Kline has received an Acad Award & 2 Tony Awards.  Burton, the daughter of legendary actor Richard Burton, has earned several Tony nominations & is formidable figure on the B'wy stage.   Both actors do admirable work in their roles as estranged but attached spouses in this frivilous romantic, slap-stick comedy.  Garry Essendine (a debonair Kevin Kline) plays a self-absorbed actor who looks dapper in dozens of silk dressing robes.  Liz Essendine (a triumphant Kate Burton) is his wife.  Separated, but not divorced, the couple can't separate themselves from being emeshed in each other's life.  There are several ingenues that flit in & out of Garry's place.  (It seems they've accidentally locked themselves out of their own apartments.)  Added to the mix is a dour, cigarette smoking housekeeper, an unflappable secretary and a random, bizarre male admirer who can't extracate himself from Garry.  This broad comedy which includes the omnipresent hidden characters behind closed doors.  Simply put, I was bored.  "Present Laughter" is a light fluff of cotton candy. Kline makes an excellent dandy. Burton & Kline pair perfectly.  Still, I just didn't care for this stale, dated production.   Coward would abhor to think his play a bore.  "Consider the public.  Coax it, charm it, stimulate it, shock it now and then if you must.  Make it laugh, make it cry, but above all never, never bore the living hell out of it." (N Coward)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Billie Jean King Display at NY Historic Society

Billie Jean King, formerly rated the world's #1 tennis player (and arguably the greatest women's player of all time) donated one of her Wilson (wood) racquets, white, lace tennis dress and an Essex Bowl (1951.)   The silver Essex Bowl has the names Athlea Gibson and Maria Beuno engraved along with BJK.  The smart showcase has a lifesize photo of BJK; an American hero & icon.  Her competitive edge & love for the game & irrepressible spirit are innate characteristics of this legendary athlete & activist.  Her numerous titles, honors and accolades are impressive achievements.  Miss King is owed a debt of gratitude from all girls in the generations that followed for paving the way to make women's participation in every sport seem passe.  And, indeed today's generation of girls have gained access into every avenue in the sports arena and male dominated venues.  BJK reigns supreme in the world of sports & is a major figure in the advancement of opportunities for women.  Upstairs is a large exhibit of photos and art of sports legend Muhamad Ali.  BJK's showcase should be aligned next to the exhibit honoring Ali.

"Saving Washington" at NYHistoric Soc-Dolley Madison was no Saving Grace

A brand new gallery (the paint is still wet) opened on the 4th flr of the NY Historic Soc.  Its 1st exhibit is entitled "Saving Washington" which sheds light on one of America's most influential women, First Lady Dolley Madison.  It's dismaying, but enlightening (I had no idea) that Dolley maintained slaves in the White House.  Dolley is famously credited with saving the iconic portrait of George Washington from being destroyed during the War of 1812 when the British overran the White House.  A grand gesture indeed but Dolley should also be notoriously known for owning slaves while her husband served as President.  She absconded prisoners from the local gales and sold them into slavery for personal financial gains.   The NY Historic Soc allowed for the slavery relevations but meant to mitigate her resounding onus behaviors by claiming her as "...a bold force of empowerment, activism, and leadership at a time when women were excluded from affairs of state."  True, women were not given the right to vote but that hardly compares the rights of men, women & children to have been oppressed by slavery.  There is mention of the US governement's eradication of Native Americans in a minor subtext during the industrial expansion after the War of 1812.  The exhibit contains some interesting artifacts from the early 18th C - early 19th C.  There is a resplendent Union uniform replete with sword.  And, there are more than 100 artifacts from weaponery to culinary utensils that are fascinating.  Nonetheless, history still seems to repress the fact that our War of Independence did not result in liberties for all.  The Constitutional Convention in 1787 was more concerned with state v federal power.  George Washington is quoted "I do not expect the Constitution to last more than 20 years."  Washington released his slaves upon his death and little is made of his owning slaves.  Alexander Hamilton asked and answered his own perplexing posturing, "Why has government been instituted at all?  Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint."  Perhaps, our historical institutions need to reflect events without restraint.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Film "The Sense of an Ending" Based on Julian Barnes Novel Stars Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling

Julian Barnes (b UK 1946) is gifted and highly distinguished writer of fiction & non-fiction.  His novel "The Sense of an Ending" won the Man Booker Prize ('11) & Barnes was named Commandeur of L'Ordre des Ate et des Letters ('04.)   This exceptionally stirring & insightful novel tells the story of Tony Webster from his insouciant years as a 1960's British prep-student flushed with lust for a strikingly beautiful girl to the present as a 70 something, solitary "curmudgeon."  Barnes brilliant writing scrutinizes youth, aging & memory; simply put, life.  Life is complex, filled with joy, sorrow and entanglements.   Eschewing what life  has wrought diminishes the emotional journey that testifies to ones history.  Tony's closest classmate & girlfriend, Veronica, betray him by becoming a couple.  This hurtful betrayal sparked Tony to send them a vitriolic letter.  Years later, the consequences of his letter & events unbeknownst come to light.  Tony (a superb Jim Broadbent) is a retired divorcee with a daughter (Michelle Dockery "Dowtown") about to give birth.  The senior Tony reflects "I had wanted life not to bother me too much, an had succeeded, and how pitiful that was."  Tony's turns to his ex-wife Margaret (an excellent Harriet Walker) to recall the unfolding events as a student after he receives an unexpected inheritance from the mother of his first love.  The entire casting for both young & old characters is exceptional.  Charlotte Rampling plays Veronica and her young doppleganger is sensational.  The same is true for the youthful Tony.   The sumptuous cinematography captures the look & feel of 60's hip London and rain sodden London town today.  There is plenty to admire & consider in the leisurely paced storytelling which at times is too choppy with past/present.  "The Sense of an Ending" magnificiently captures the essence of Barnes' novel.  The question remains, whether without having read the book, will the film engage an admiring audience?  "What you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed."    

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Women's Dance "The Ashley Bouder Project" with Works by Liz Gherring and Susan Stroman

Saturday, at Symphony Space on the UWS, The Ashley Bouder Project premiered choreography by Ashley Bouder "In Pursuit of" and Liz Gherring's "Duet."  Jazz maestro Miho Hazama (b Japan) and recipient of the Charlie Parker Composition Prize ('15) conducted the jazz orchestra on stage.  Susan Stroman, 4 time Tony winner for choreography & Tony winner for Best Director of a Musical ("The Producers,") piece "Blossom Got Kissed" ended the evening of fabulous jazz, ballet & contemporary dance.  Ashley Bouder is a soloist for NYCB and co-founder of the Ashley Bouder Proj ('14) aimed at promoting women in the arts.  The evening's program began with the world premiere of Bouder's "In Pursuit Of" with original music by Miho Hazama.  The ballet featured 3 female & 3 male dancers in varying shades of autumnal colors.  The sprightly pairing of energetic & elegaic dancers was delightful.  The storytelling in 4 segments was ambiguous which was not an issue.  However, some of the choreography was out of step with Hazama's composition.  Gherring's world premiere "Duet" paired Ashley Bouder & fellow NYCB soloist Sara Mearns.  The dynamic choreography set to music by Anna Webber was the highlight of the program.  Gherring's sharp lines and fast/slow, unpredictable movements made time & space feel tangible.  Both Mearns & Bouder demonstrated exceptional skills at contemporary dance.  Their ability to sustain tension gave the piece a formidable force.   The evening wrapped with Stroman's "Blossom Got Kissed;" a soft, comedic send off with a whimsical & theatrical likeness to Jerome Robbins.  At this evening of dance, the women took the lead.

Arthur Miller's "The Price" Stars Tony Sholub, Mark Ruffalo & Danny DeVito-Still Don't Go

Prolific, Pulitizer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller doesn't always get it right.  "The Price" is on Broadway with an amazing cast which also includes Tony winner Jessica Hect.  But this combined star power cannot revitalize this blast from the past.  Miller's play 1st premiered on B'wy in 1968.  This production marks its 4th revival.   "The Price" was twice nominated for Tony Awards but this is a slice & dice mess of family drama and dated comedic schtick.  Credit Danny DeVito with delivering disarming charm in his B'wy debut.  Fellow castmates:  Sholub, Ruffalo & Hecht are worth their weight in gold.  The mishmash of a humorous Act I & melodramatic, convuluted Act II lead to a confusing mess.  Gregory Solomon (an appealing Danny DeVito) plays an estate appraiser.  He is contacted by Victor Franz (an earnest Mark Ruffalo) to estimate the value for the detritus covered in dust in the attic of the Franz family home.  The family's patriarch is deceased & it's left to Victor to deal with what remains.  Victor has been the moral pillar and mainstay in caring for his elderly father.  He's a longtime cop married to Esther (Jessica Hecht who corners the character market on the whiny wife.)   It seems Victor had more lofty dreams and his wife - well, money that's what she wants.  But you can't put a price on morality, responsibility and sacrifice.  The play is set entirely in the attic amidst the flotsam & jetsam & ghosts of yesteryear.  Try as he may, Victor cannot elicit a price from Solomon who is cagey and garrulous.  The bartering banter begins to wear thin.  Thanks to Ruffalo's breaking from character & laughing at DeVitto the audience received a light respite.  Ultimately, Solomon comes up with a "good price for all this outdated furniture that won't fit into modern apartments," and starts doling out the cash to Victor just as his brother Walter (the incomprable Tony Sholub) appears at the top of the stairs.  Act II begins exactly where Act I ended as if only a moment passed.  However, it's been almost 3 decades since the brothers have been together.  Walter left home to become a successful surgeon and Victor stayed behind to be the family caregiver.  Miller's familial themes of sibling rivalries, unachieved aspirations and guilt are tinged throughout but the juxtaposition of humor to Victor's haplessness & Walter's hubris dismantle the play.  Walter's version of the family's history & his departure do not go uncontested by Victor emerging with fierceness.  The squabbling and supplicating between Walter & Victor are virtuosic performances.   Victor continues to hold the partial cash payment once offered from Solomon in hand throughout the play.  "The Price" is not  preferred by me.  Still, there is partial value to be gained in seeing luminescent stars on stage.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Get Out" Jordan Peele Peals Opens Social Commentary & Suspense

Jodan Peele (b Amer 1979) is arguably one of our most talented comic writers with a racial agenda that causes chagrin.  As part of the comedy duo Key and Peele, the two took comedy sketches to a playing field that resonates with courage like Jackie Robinson first playing in the National League.  So, despite having our 1st black President, why do so many racial hurdles and taboos prevail?  The fact that Peele, an actor, screenwriter & director has lambasted racial stereotyping and bigotry with laughter is cause for celebration & alarm.  "Get Out" is a gelling of several memorable movies & genres:  "Guess Whose Coming to Dinner," "The Stepford Wives" "The Body Snatchers" and "Abbott & Costello."  What Peele has amazingly accomplished is to tackle bigotry while combining intense sci-fi fright with a little levity to create a monster of a hit that delivers on every pitch.  Rose (a convincing Allison Williams) is gaga over her boyfriend, Chris (British actor Daniel Kaluuya whose incredible in the role) whom she's taking for a weekend visit to the parents for the first time.  Did I mention Chris is black?  Even, Chris wants to know if her parents "know I'm black?"  You'll never guess, but Rose's parents Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) seem non-plussed although something is slightly awry including Rose's lout of a brother and motley household staff.  There's something amiss with both the black housemaid and groundskeeper.  Chris finds himself in an affluent suburban setting of segregation & suspense.  The suspense & eerieness manages a hypnotic chill that will keep you on edge.  There's an intelligence buried within this film that might pass you by like lightening.  Take note of the Jessie Owens/Hitler anecdote.  The cast is all first rate as is the mix of mostly wealthy, weird white dudes trying to be cool.  Chris' best friend lends the comic relief, if only he'd listen and "Get the Hell out of there."  I'd bolt to see this masterful film with its major jolt to the senses & the conscience.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Will Eno's "Wakey Wakey" at Signature Theater-I Needed a Shakey Shakey zzzzzz

Will Eno (b Amer 1965) is an award winning playwright.  He received an Obie Award for "The Open House" ('14) and his play "Thom Pain" ('05) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  "Wakey Wakey," a 1 Act, 2 character play was a snooze.  Granted, Eno's brilliance shined through much of this sluggish "wake up & smell the coffee" trope play.  I'd have benefited from a strong brew instead of the free snacks, drinks & give-aways that came at the end of this interminably long 80 minutes: "tick-tock, tick-tock."  Eno possess a powerful way with words.  However, this felt like a drill riffing on Thomas Paine's poem "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night."  "Thom Pain" may have been worthy of a Pulitzer Prize nod but in "Wakey Wakey" it was me nodding off…  Guy (Michael Emerson, ABC' "Lost") is an elderly man in a wheelchair, although, amazingly he can walk, albeit it at a snail's pace.  Guy (which could be any guy got it?) has the stage to himself for the majority of the clock.  He entertains & cajoles by reading from note cards, showing a video presentation & requesting off-stage assistance for  music that never materialized.  (However, the pre-show audio was Ravel's "Bolero.")  The just of Guy's presentation was an elegy of his life bemoaning how quickly time passes "It is now I thought I had more time."  The play not sombre, rather it was a celebration of life and all those special moments that sparkle & resonate in retrospect.  Lisa (January Lavoy,  "Two Trains Running") played Guy's nurse providing care & comfort in his waning days.  "Wakey Wakey" will not be winning any accolades.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Bull in a China Shop" at LCT3 Inspired by Letters between Mary Woolley and Jeanette Marks

The play "Bull in a China Shop" is a bumptious title for a play with the presumption of self-importance & revelation.  Admittedly, I learned Mary Woolley was the first female president of a major American University.  The Univ she held forth at the helm for almost 4 decades was Mt Holyoke, in MA.  Mt Holyoke originated as a seminary school for women intended to instruct them in religious rigors as well as being a finishing school.   Strong homemaking skills & prepatory stages for marriage was the school's mission when Woolley became it's president.  Bravo to Ms Woolley for her radical & revolutionary changes which included dismissing lessons in linen care and housekeeping and reducing mandatory chapel attendance.  Surprising to learn of her reluctance to support women's suffragate.  Her not so clandestined love interest, Jeanette Marks, was allotted a teaching position at the Univ by Woolley.  Their lesbian love affair is at the heart of this disjointed drama about the meaning of love and the biopic legend of the maverick, Mary Woolley.  The empowerment of women is overshadowed by the histrionic whaling of love & betrayal.  And as much as it was taboo for women to be openly gay, it didn't seem to register much of a ripple amongst the ongoing ministrations of the University.  This production was a missed opportunity to explore the impact & inroads Woolley achieved, a clearer sense of life for women in this era and the pontification of prose gleaned from these literary women who left a legacy in the art of letter writing.  The play laid bare "the unbearable contents of my {Woolley's}heart," frankly, I didn't care.

Doc. "The Last Laugh" Humor with the Holacaust at What Cost? Humanity with Hilarity Triumph

Is there a line you don't cross when it comes to comedy is one of the questions posed to a whose who (of mainly Jews)  comedian extraordinaire.  It's an interesting & intelligent question that gets tossed around & tossled with - with humor, compassion & a deep understanding of humanities' greatest strength; the ability to find laughter particularly from disaster.  I laughed out loud numerous times at "The Last Laugh" which is written & directed by Ferne Pearlstein ("Imelda" & "Sumo East & West.")  Pearlstein's skillful touch illicits profound insights as to what constitutes comedy and when, if ever, comedy crosses sacrosanct borders of distaste.  Humor is subjective.  Professional comical geniuses  were given the opportunity to share their insights, wisdom and humor.  Naming of few of the comics talking on the topic were:  Carl & Rob Reiner, Mel Brooks ("The Producers,") Sarah Silverman & Susie Essman.  Holacaust survivors were also given air time to share their sorrows, joys and opinions on what is or isn't funny with regard to Holacaust humor.  An oxymoron of biblical proportations to be sure - "Holacaust humor."  But, what about "Spring Time for Hitler in Germany," what about Hogan's Heroes, the Marx Bros & there's Sarah Silverman's satirical and shocking absurdist comedy that makes many uncomfortable?  Silverman sees the silver lining in "casting lightness on darkness."  Silverman argues sagaciously for survivor's humor, an omnipotent weapon against horror or taboo subjects.  Robert Clary, an actor/comedian and concentration camp survivor credits humor for making the unbearable, bearable with dignity and strength.  Clary noshes a little while talking with Renee Firestone, also a Holacaust survivor.  Renee, a woman of indomitable spirit, tells us of her life before, during and after the Holacaust.  Now a widow (having married a fellow survivor) she lives in LA.  Her daughter Klara navigates the internet for her mom to view & then comment on what she finds funny or not pertaining to jokes on the Holacaust.  Renee goes to Las Vegas for a survivors' reunion.  She & a female friend are seen taking a gondola ride.  Renee finds joy & pleasure in life but her companion is not capable of getting past all the pain, suffering & loss.  Renee advises her "not to live in the shadows."  Her friend said, "I don't live in the shadow but there is shadow constantly following me."  On a lighter note, Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner are reasons enough to see this (dare I say?)  hilarious, touching & intelligent documentary.  Sarah Silverman & Susie Essman are both sharp, sassy & commanding. Abe Foxman, Nat'l Dir ADL Emeritus, adds his prospectives.    Revenge through ridicule, comedy is tragedy + time and authority is pompous arrogance positioned to be made fun of are some of the profound idioms.  Essman said "I won't tell a joke about child abuse.  There is nothing at all funny about it." Cut to Louis C.K. telling a joke about child abusers as the host of SNL.   If you're only seeing one movie this year - this is more than enough to last.  Laughter - it's the best medicine.

Steven Levenson's "If I Forget" Haunting Issues for American Jews

Steven Levenson has 2 concurrent plays running on Broadway:  "Dear Evan Hansen" (a contemporary musical with a male high school protagonist) and "If I Forget" which is a serious, comedy/drama with a middle-aged male protagonist.  Both shows are intelligent, entertaining and provocative. Many probbing & uncomfortable issues are covered.  "Evan Hansen" deals with mental illness, anxiety, and social disconnect in a high-tech, social media world.  This musical has a first-rate cast & an excellent musical score that made macabre material palatable yet thought provoking.  "If I Forget" is a 2 Act play set in Washington D.C.: Act 1 is July of 2000.  Act II takes place 6 months later in Feb. of 2001.  The play takes place in the patriarchal home of Lou Fischer; recently widowed and father of the main character Michael (an excellent Jeremy Shamos, B'wy "Clybourne Park") and daughters Sharon & Holly (Kate Walsh, ABC's "Private Practice.")  Michael is an author & college prof about to be granted tenure.  There are multiple contentious topics bravely tackled by Levenson's smart writing.  Michael just published a non-fiction book that argues Jews continually capitalize on the Holacaust and at the same time, ignore socially relevant causes in the world such as present day genocides & social injustice in the US.  Michael's book  is not a hit with his dysfunctionally funny Jewish (regardless of their secular, atheist views) family.  The Univ revokes tenure and ask he render his resignation.  Lou tells his family of his experiences liberating the Jews from dachau at the end of WWII.  Lou's home is the central staging where secrets are shared and family affairs aired.  Michael & his gentile wife have a daughter, Abbe traveling in Israel with Birthright.  Abbe, although never seen onstage, her well being is pervasive as her mental well-being is a constant worry.  The loving but constantly warring factions in the family also include Holly's filandering husband and their son Joey harshly maligned by his mom.  Joey has a small part but a pivotal one.  He has a kind heart & speaks to Michael of caring for his only cousin, Abbe.  The takeaway, and there is quite a lot to take in and digest, are the fault lines around Jewish identity, familial responsibility & love and the legacy left by an individual and the enduring legacies of anti-Semitism and world-wide traumas that reverberate today.  "If I Forget" to mention that Levenson's play is humorous and relatable I would be doing a major injustice.  This is a memorable play, well-written, engaging, with a superb cast and it cleverly sitrs up conversations.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Armory Art Fair at Piers 92 & 94 Worth Checking Out at $50 - Kids12 & under Free

The costly, $50 gen. admission for the Armory Art Fair gives you a lot of bang for the buck. (There is a 4 day pass @ $80 but that will now only last through Sunday.)  The Art Fair is spread across 2 large industrial buildings (Piers 92 & 94) which overlook the Hudson.  The show extends uptown to THE Armory on Park Avenue, also - (always a bit confusing.)  For those with children 12 & under, this is a fantastic way to engage your enthusiastic youngsters who have their own unique methods of expressing themselves.  I noticed a large demographic of prepubescent set present looking at the art with adults. The Fair offers the special opportunity to view international artists altogether.  Some of the galleries represented were from Cape Town, Dem. Republic of Congo, Paris, Portugal, Paris, Tokyo Vienna as well as London, LA & NYC.  There were large commissioned artistic projects especially fascinating for young & old alike:  Ai Wei Wei's large rooster sculpture suspended from the rafters and Yayoi Kusama's "Guidepost to the World" featuring large cherry-red morphed figured with big white dots  was a cheery, fantasy land.  The diverse countries represented in the artworld meshed with the motley mix of affluent art collectors & museum members on acquistion committee competing for some pricey treasures.  There were lovely Alma Thomas' oil paintings for those willing to pay well over a $1,00,000 as well as a Wei Wei's wood sculpture.  I find Mel Bochner's colorful, text paintings fun, but once seen - been there done that scene.  On the high end were works by Cy Twombly, Hans Hoffman, Helen Frankenthaler & Robert Rauschenberg.  The crowds seemed manageable today except for traffic jams on the one staircase that connects the piers (guards are on hand to direct traffic flow.)  Another artist worth noting is Melike Kara (b Germany - of Turkish heritage.)  This was her first showing in the US.  Her large oil painting with a gentle color palette of powder blue, white & black juxtoposed strikingly  with the abstract figures donning ominous masks.  In front of this large scale painting is her unglazed sculpture of a figure morphing into a plant; again beautiful but haunting.  There are reduced prices for students & seniors ($25 -$35) but the parking rates are exorbitant.  Still, there is a lot to thrill all ages.  And, they're passing out as you enter, Kind healthy/tasty grain bars - but buttering up the guy handing them out doesn't earn you an extra one.  I urge everyone to go & have fun.

Friday, March 3, 2017

"Before I Fall" A Teen Stuck In Purgatory Until She Get's Her Story Straight

"Before I Fall" is a young adult melodrama with echoes of "Groundhog Day"  (Bill Murray & Toni McDowell 1993) and "If I Stay" starring the charming Chloe Grace Moretz (2014.)  Before making this offshoot comparison,  this is not a comedy like "Groundhog Day" and it doesn't have the emotional impact "If Stay" delivers from a teenage girl in a coma combing over her life.  However, it does have some good messaging, albeit pounded into your brain, again & again.  The movie is directed by Ry Russ-Young (b Amer 1981) and has a cast of likeable stars despite the fact the bloom is off the rose for the leads playing teen ingenues (all are in their 20's.)  Our appealing heroine, Samantha "Sam" (Zoey Deutch) is a pretty, popular girl whose grown-up "from a girl with a big heart" according to her mom (played by Jennifer Beals) to a mean girl with a big ego and little backbone.  But, hey, she is one of the fantastic four girls whose loving friendship and beauty queen looks earn them the lions' share of roses for Cupids Day at high school.  The affluent & lush setting is in the pacific northwest which is the haven for teen screen dramas.  All is fairly rosy & cozy as the 4 score their fair share of adoration and a ride together in Lindsay's car.  Lindsay (Halson Sage, "Paper Town") is a more convincing mean girl than Rachel McAdams to Lindsay Lohan in "Mean Girls," (2004.)  The movie's messages are commendable if not carpe diem cliche:  "What you do today matters."  Still, there's something to be said for telling your loved ones their loved & why.  The typecast, good-looking jock gets knocked a peg and pushed over a barrel for the kindhearted super good guy, Kent (Logan Miller.)  The teen outsiders gain empathy from Sam as she is trapped being Sam I am reduex no matter what she does until she does do some things right.  "Maybe things can change - maybe I can change them."  The eerie, vexing ambience turns annoying after too much repetition.  "Before I Fall" doesn't give competition to "Groundhog Day" or "It's a Wonderful Life,"  but it is a diverting, contemporary Sisyphus story with an appealing sage; Samantha played by the lovely Zoey Deutch.