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Friday, June 30, 2017

Melinda's Top 5 Theater Picks on/off Broadway this Year

The best plays for 2017 I've seen so far consist of three revivals and two new plays by three remarkable, young American playwrights:  Lynn Nottage & Dominique Morisseau.  The plays are listed in alphabetical order by title:

1.  Building the Wall by Pulitzer & Tony winning playwright Robert Schenkkan.  This had a shortened run off Broadway but will be touring.  See this play people!

2. Little Foxes - A revival of Lillian Hellman's play starring Cynthia Nixon & Lauren Linney who rotate their roles; making worthwhile to see both altering productions.

3.  Jitney - An exceptional revival of August Wilson's play.

4.  Pipeline - Written by Dominique Morisseau (Actually playing at the Mitzi Gaynor Theater at Lincoln Center which is not an official Broadway show).

5. Sweat - Lynn Nottage's Pulitizer Prize winning play (2017) which is about to close on Broadway  - What's wrong with you people?  This is a brilliant & powerful play.

I'm pleased that all the above mentioned shows are by American playwrights.  August Wilson & Lillian Hellman were two of the most important playwrights in the 20th C.  I believe that Robert Schenkkan, Dominique Morisseau and Lynn Nottage will be among the most important playwrights of the 21st C.  Do not miss an opportunity to see anything by all three of these incredibly talented & prescient writers.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Melinda's Top Ten Movie Picks for the Year

My favorite films for 2017 are in alphabetical order by title:

1  Franz - French director Francois Ozon

2  Get Out - American director Jordan Peele

3  Graduation - Romanian director Christian Mungiu

4   Harmonium -Japanese director Koji Fukada

5   Hermie and Helena - Argentinian director Matias Piniero

6   Hidden Figures - American director Theodore Melfi

7   My Cousin Rachel - S African director Roger Michael

8.  Obit documentary- American director Vanessa Gould

9.  Restless Creature documentary - American director Vanessa Gould

10 The Women's Balcony - Israeli director Emil Ben Shimon

11 The Salesman - Iranian director Asghar Farhadi

(okay one extra)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Japanese Film "Harmonium" Builds Intrigue Leaving You Emotionally Wrung Written/Dir by Koji Fukada

"Harmonium" is a tense family drama, wrapped in mystery and wrung with an emotional force I found completely draining.  Dir/writer Koji Fukada (b Japan 1980) has created a disturbing & lugubrious family drama that looks at life in a very unique way.  The film has a lolling pace but mounts to a crescendo that overwhelms with painful poignancy.   It's visually stunning & the 3 lead actors are remarkable.  So too is the young actress who plays Haruko, the daughter of an unhappily married couple.  The husband Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) runs a small manufacturing business from the family's home.  His beautiful, dutiful & Protestant wife Akie (Mark Tsutsi) appears trapped in a joyless marriage except for the happiness  derived from her vivacious daughter.   Toshio is remote with the family.  An atheist, he is set apart from the religious faith of his wife & daughter.  Haruko is a delightful child.  She has a zest for learning & practicing music on the harmonium.  Her inquisitive mind questions the pastor's sermons on the afterlife and lessons from science classes at school.  The innocent conundrums posed early in the film by a young Haruko come back to the haunt & torment the family.  A polite stranger, Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) appears early in the film.  Yasaka & Toshio are familiar with each other but their connection is ambiguous at first.  Toshio knew Yasaka had been imprisoned for 11 years but it's not revealed for what crime.  Toshio offers Yasaka a job & room in his home which he gladly accepts.  Toshio did so without conferring first with his wife.  Akie, the gracious hostess accepts Yasaka into their home but admonishes Toshio for not consulting her.  Yasaka soon makes himself welcomed by Haruko & her mother.  Yasaka confides to Akie of killing a man & being sentenced with prison time when he could have received a death penalty.   Being a woman of religious convictions she chooses to see Yasaka as a lost soul deserving of forgiven and not a dangerous threat to be sent packing.  A polite flirtation turns passionate between the two with dire consequences for entertwining families although the circumstances are shrouded in mystery & intrigue.  The leisurely paced family drama takes a drastic turn.  There is pain & penance to be paid.  Themes of retribution and atonement overshadow the grace & grandeur of the tranquil surroundings.  This film is exquisitely shot, superbly acted & cunningly scripted.  The question remains whether I urge you to see this skillful & trenchant movie.  I do so with a forewarning.  Should you venture to view this riveting film, you will come up gasping for air.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes" Starring Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon Swapping Roles

Lillian Hellman (b Amer 1905-1994) is one of the most acclaimed playwright, author of the 20th C.  "The Little Foxes" first premiered on Broadway in 1939 and has many revivals since but it's hard pressed to think of a more captivating production.  The superb cast starred Laura Linney in the leading role of Regina Giddens & Cynthia Nixon in the supporting role of Birdie Hubbard.  These talented theater & screen actresses switch characters during the run of the play.  The rest of the exceptional ensemble cast included:  Richard Thomas (Horace Giddens, Regina's husband), Michael McKean (Ben Hubbard, Regina's brother) and Darren Goldstein (Oscar Hubbard, Regina's brother & Birdie's brutish husband).  Hellman's play set in the South near the end of the 19th C is timepiece of southern aristocracy with shades of social climbing, racial subjugation, misogyny,  treachery and disillusionment.  Horace is in a loveless marriage with Regina whose only real love is money & social status.  Regina & her 2 brothers share similar cruel, ruthless and devious traits.   Hellman's classical play have timeless themes that resonates today.  Oscar Hubbard is a modern day Bernie Madoff complicit with his son & brother.   The level to which the unscrupulous Hubbard men stoop is fiendishly out maneuvered by Regina's ruthless cunning.  Nixon plays Birdie with heartbreaking flightiness & vulnerabilities.  Addie, the Hubbard's Negro maid is the conscience of the play.  She speaks to the immorality of witnessing evil & doing nothing.  "For every man who lives without freedom, the rest of us must face the guilt." (L Hellman)  The revival of "The Little Foxes" is only running through the 1st two weeks of July.  I recommend seeing this first-rate revival twice.  It's worth seeing the production with Nixon & Linney in rotating roles.    

Monday, June 19, 2017

MAUDIE an Artsy Biopic on Canadian Folk Art Painter Maude Lewis with Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke

MAUDIE directed by Aisling Walsh (b Ireland) is a gorgeous looking biopic film about folk painter Maude Lewis (b Canada 1903-1970).  Maude (Golden Globe Winner Sally Hawkins) became a bit of a celebrity for her cheery, folk art paintings.  Her simplistic paintings were purchased internationally.  Richard Nixon purchased one her paintings.  However, her life was not a bed of roses.  Born with rheumatoid arthritis in a small Nova Scotia town, she was a social outcast with few friends & options.  However, she was an irrepressible spirit who saw the beauty in nature & the world.  She was also pragmatic & self-reliant.  When her louse of a brother sold their family home leaving her nothing she found herself a job with Everett Lewis (4 time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke) a curmudgeonly farmer & fishmonger.   The film's 2 strong leads are able to give a colorful palette to a limited & predictable script.  Everett is harsh & belligerent and doesn't want to offer Maude the job he posted for a housekeeper.  Maude proves she has the mettle to deal with Everett's obdurate & rough ways and stays on as his housekeeper, becoming his wife & proving herself invaluable & resourceful.  She also has an artistic bent for painting.  The movie has its tender moments, "Bittersweet & strange, finding you can change."  Nonetheless, moments overall felt like watching paint dry.  Despite such wonderful performances and scenic beauty the movie is a sleeper.

IN A WORD at the Cherry Lane Theater - How do Parents Cope with Having a Missing Child

The most painful & life changing event for any parent is to lose a child or for a child to go missing.  Lauren Yee (b Amer 1996) is a young & gifted playwright.   In one word I would describe her play as astounding.   Lee's One ACT 3 & only 3 actors play conveys the agony, guilt, resentment & horror of losing one's child.  Fiona (Tyne Rafaeli) is the mother of Trystan whom she & her husband Guy (Jose Perez) adopted at age two having struggled to conceive.  Perez was very compelling as the wearisome husband & indulgent father.  The play begins with a frenetic Fiona searching for something inside her apartment.  Guy returns & asks if she's ready to go to dinner.    Fiona keeps Guy at bay as she has continued to confine herself from engaging with Guy or life since Trystan's disappearance.  The clever construct of the play engrosses us in the couples' lives before Trystan went missing at 8, the calamitous aftermath & its mystery. The skillful playwright reveals how each dealt with their son & how each is faring.  Trystan (Justin Mark; in multiple roles) disappears at age 8, the day school photos were taken.  Right under your nose your child can disappear, a haunting refrain that mounts the tension & intrigue.  Trystan was a difficult, precocious child somewhere on the autistic spectrum.  Fiona frustrations with her son's tantrums & inappropriate behavior are understandable.  She's a teacher & was allowed to keep him in her classroom until it no longer was feasible.  Regardless, Fiona opposes Trystan's placement into a special classroom.  Picture day shit hits the fan.  Fiona is finally forced to take a leave of absence & Trystan home after he soiled himself.  On the drive she stops at a gas station, not for fuel but for a brief respite.  She hears the click of the car but he's gone  when she reaches the car.  Justin Mark plays the detective assigned the case.  He informs Fiona as he hands her the files, the case is now closed.  Mark also portrays the school principal, Guy's best friend & a random man.  Fiona argues with the detective, the school, her husband & son.  She is stuck in a painful purgatory driven by guilt; unable to move forward. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day." (WS)  This is a powerful & moving play, well crafted & cunningly staged.  IN A WORD has been awarded the Will Glickman Playwright Award.   Ms Yee has worked under commission for Lincoln Center & Goodman Theaters.   I recommend seeing IN A WORD and suggest keeping an eye on this brilliant young playwright, Lauren Yee.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Bastard Jones" at the Cell is Packed with a Talented Cast Led by Evan Ruggiero in a Rock Musical Comedy

"Bastard Jones" at the Cell Theater is a rock, musical, comedic adaptation of Henry Fielding's (b UK 1707-1754) novel, Tom Jones. The novel was quite scandalous at the time for its lasciviousness.  It's now considered one of England earliest great literary works. It's a soap opera story of class distinction  classlessness and love & lust.  "Bastard Jones" is performed ingeniously within a restrictive space with clever staging, choreography, live music & with an earnest & engaging cast; most of whom play multiple roles.  The two leads Tom Jones (Evan Ruggiero) & his lovely, love interest Sophia (Elena Wang) both exhibited pleasing singing voices & convincing performances in this farcical, raucous romp.  The plot, meant as a provocative sexual awakening gets blanketed by a convoluted, ramble of love, betrayal & rumbling in the hay.  Marc Acito (Broadway's Allegiance) did the book, lyrics & directing for the play.  He threw everything into the production including campy numbers, slapstick, salacious scenarios, burlesque, loquacious dialogue, rock music, staged fights & the kitchen sink.  The 2 ACT musical allowed the multi-talented ensemble cast each their moments to shine.  Ruggiero, a dancer since childhood was diagnosed with bone cancer while pursuing his degree in musical theater.  The cancer led to an amputation of his right let & a temporary detour from pursuing his musical performing career.  It was clear Ruggiero was somewhat under the weather.  Nevertheless, this didn't cloud his irrepressible talent.  His singing voice wavered by the 2nd Act but not before noting his delightful voice & virtuosity on stage.  Elena Wang also had an exceptional singing voice & was very appealing in her role.  The musical numbers were directed by Matthew Liu with orchestrations by Bob Malone (keyboard player for John Fogerty).  The fine musical score & winsome lyrics never overpowered the performers.  Three standout numbers were "Pursuit of Happiness," "Tingle" and "It's All for You."  There was a lot of oomph and entertainment packed into this brilliantly staged "Bastard Jones."  Less may have been more but the talented cast & orchestration delivered a delightful & entertaining musical.

Human Rights Film "Lindy Lou Juror #2" Lindy Lou is Looney The Death Penalty Gets Buried under Bullshit

The premiere of the documentary "Lindy Lou Juror #2" closed the Human Rights Watch Film Festival last night at the Walter Reade Theater.  It was introduced as, "A film you're really going to enjoy, my favorite film in the Festival." I detested this film. It's an utter debacle. It was a shameless portrait of a self-indulgent Lindy Wells to garner notoriety.  It didn't focus on advocating to end the death penalty.  The film trudges along following Lindy to rehash the trial & sentencing with fellow jurors in an attempt to resolve her regret at the execution of convicted killer, Bobby Wilcher.  Lindy sat on the 1994 jury in MI that found Bobby Wilcher guilty of fatally stabbing two women in 1982.  The jury also unanimously voted Wilcher receive the death penalty.  MI didn't offer life without parole at that time.  Several jurors felt a responsibility to the public to protect them from possible harm by Wilcher should he be released.  Now, more than 2 decades later, Lindy bemoans grappling with playing a part in Wilcher's execution.  The film produced by Florent Vasault (b France 1979)  is a tedious road trip to track down fellow jurors to rehash the case.  Her motivation isn't to condemn capital punishment but to seek solace from those who voted as she did. By her own admission "I knew I really needed to talk to someone about what I'd been through, that I needed comfort."  It was Lindy who contacted Wilcher's attorney to meet him.  She was granted permission & first visited him the day his execution was scheduled in July, 2000.  I thought this perverse.  Lindy, a Southern Baptist claims to have been raised to believe in "an eye for an eye." Wilcher received a stay of execution & she took this as divine intervention, "God has given me time to befriend this guy."  And so, Lindy continued to visit Wilcher & talk by phone weekly.  She shares with us the contents of Wilcher's belongings including a love letter to her & packets of old mayo.   "He said he loved me.  He knew I was married.  I'd say I love you too but I felt like I was lying."  I felt she was disingenuous with Wilcher & throughout this film.  It becomes about a delusional woman fixated on herself. "My love was not a romantic love, it was the love of a friend or for people.  I just didn't have the heart to tell him."  I applaud the jurors who allotted time to talk with her & respect those who wanted privacy.  She was critical of a juror who forgot details from the trial. While driving her car, phoning & getting lost, she proudly presents 2 handguns she's packing.  Lindy Lou is a narcissistic nutcase. This doc. is case study of a deranged, obsessive woman.  She doesn't have the courage of convictions either for or against the death penalty.  As long as she's in the spotlight it's irrelevant as is this major misstep of a supposed human rights film.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Playwright Dominique Morisseau's PIPELINE is a Powerful Play Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize

Dominique Morisseau (The Detroit Project) has written an unforgettable play about a mother's undying love for her teenage son whose inner rage is pushed to its violent breaking point.  Morisseau's searing play harkens to the poignant struggles resonating in works by August Wilson, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison and many other literary giants.  PIPELINE is a contemporary play dealing with the oppressive, systemic racism young people of color are forced to contend with daily.   Violence & injustice has erupted in our city streets & schools and has become a fight for survival in the jungle of society's making.  Omari (Namir Smallwood) is a high school student enrolled in a posh private school with few students of color.  Omari's mother, Nya (Karen Pittman (Broadway: Good People) is a high school English teacher in a public school.  Nya & her ex-husband have tried to provide Omari better opportunities with an elite education.  They want to insulate him from the inherent violence of the local neighborhood & schools. The play is stirring, provocative, engaging & relentless in its potency.  It explodes with the struggle to contain an animalistic rage ready to combust.  Omari's class is discussing "Native Son."  The teacher prods Omari to explain the justification for  Bigger Thomas' murderous act. The teacher's implied racist insinuations released Omari's boiling hostility. When his teacher blocked him from leaving Omari shoved his teacher against a wall; all caught on video.  There's a shared universal theme of the omnipotence of a mother's love for her child.  Unfortunately this relentless force fails to provide a protective shield in the world.  Nya tried everything to reach her son.  She pleaded to understand how to help & was willing to accept all the blame, punishment & even a bullet for her son.  The inner fury & indignation that leads to brutality in PIPELINE is understandable & perhaps inevitable with our perpetual systemic racism.  Other significant issues Morisseau presented were: the 3 strike rule a major factor in mass incarceration, breakdown of the family, disparities in the quality of education & opportunities, social media mania, over medication, & the abhorrent fighting in our schools between students & between students & teachers.  Metal detectors & security staff are standard issues in public high schools.  Morisseau tackles these grave hurdles plaguing our times.  She writes with poetic eloquence, earnestness & humor of utter despondency.  The ensemble cast were all exceptional & the sparse stagings & videos were remarkable. Her visionary writing will win her a Pulitzer & places her on par with Wilson, Wright, Baldwin and Gwendolyn Brooks.  "Art hugs. Art urges voyages."  "We are each other's magnitude & bond."  (G. Brooks)  Get in line to see this astonishing play.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive at MoMA

Frank Lloyd Wright (b Amer 1867-1959) is one of the most prolific & inventive architects of the 20thC.  The MoMA has unleashed their archives of FLW's architectural designs, drawings, models, his TV broadcasts, etc. to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth.  The Guggenheim did a retrospective of his architectural plans a few years ago to honor the 50th annv. of the museum's inaugural.  This exhibit I found too dry, erudite & one dimensional to make for an exciting exhibit.  There numerous architectural renderings becoming a mind numbing blur. The MoMA's show is a plethora of plans, renderings, models & sketches that it does becomes overwhelming.  However, there are reasons to make designs on attending this exhibit.  The first drawing made by FLW in applying for his 1st job is the 1st thing you encounter.  (He got the job.) This historic jewel marks the flagstone of his creative genius in the field of architecture & urban planning. The show contains some of his early residential renderings for the Chicago area. "Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world". (FLW) These drawings reflect his influence by the Japanese aesthetic in both structures & landscape.  After 5 years & branched into plans for commercial as well as residential buildings.  The plans for the Johnson Wax Co. are on view along with the private residential plans for the company's president.  As I went through the exhibit I saw futuristic renderings for public centers in cities I should have recognized.  It's important to realize FLW made over 1,000 architectural designs yet only only 1/2 came to fruition.  His work was way ahead of its time.  The show includes architectural designs for urban, multi-purpose centers with mass transportation in mind.  His "Butterfly Wing Bridge" in San Francisco was modified into what is now the Bart transportation lines.  Some of these drawings show spacecraft vehicles in lieu of cars.  FLW is the pioneer for the skyscrapers in Chicago.  Realizing the exodus to the suburbs FLW had plans for revitalizing city centers which were either greatly modified or rejected.  The construction plans for structures in several cities cantilevered over bodies of water; most of these were never adopted.  It may be that his engineering theories were too complicated.  The designs for the "Falling Water House" was constructed.  It is cantilevered over a waterfall; an engineering & iconic masterpiece built in PA.  I had fun seeing the old TV game show "What's My Line."  FLW coyly answered questions but was swiftly identified.  Perhaps, he was seeking publicity to propel his projects to fruition.  He is pictured on the cover of TIME mag. 1938.  Underneath his image is written:  "His cities would be everywhere & nowhere."  Travel through this exhibit with an appreciation for his ingenious ideas, drawings & engineering feats.  I admired his Meteor Crater design for a building in AZ that was never built. "Space is the breath of art."  (FLW)

The Alvin Ailey Amer Dance Theater Opened at Koch with an Ailey Premier: MASS Absolutely Amazing

The Alvin Ailey Amer Dance Theater opened for its summer run at the Koch Theater last night.  They kicked off with a program that featured Ailey's Artistic Dir, Robert Battle's MASS; a premiere for the company.  This was an astonishing work with innovative & exciting choreography by Mr. Battle.  The music for MASS was performed live on stage by contemporary classical composer John Mackey (b Amer 1973).  The music was remarkable and difficult to pigeon hole.  Its originality & complex musical structure were perfect for the dancers as they portrayed chorale members assembling & disassembling. The exciting, unpredictable choreography gave an effectual feeling of a chorale preparing & performing through their innate footwork, body language & hand gestures.  The fleet miniscule steps & group formations had a spiritual flow.  The robe costumes by Fritz Masten & celestial lighting by Burke Wilmore were vital in providing the work a metaphysical aura.  MASS is an exhilarating new piece for the company that stands on the shoulder of Mr. Ailey's monumental work REVELATIONS.  The Alvin Ailey Amer Dance Theater has the world's most talented & versatile dancers; they are sublime.  They're able to execute the most demanding & versatile choreography with phenomenal power & eloquence.  I would like to see MASS added to their already astounding repertoire.   It would be wonderful to have more live music to accompany one of the world's most outstanding dance companies.

HANSEL & GRETEL- AI WEIWEI, JACQUES HERZOG Emersion Installation at the Armory

HANSEL & GRETEL is a cultural/social collaboration between artist/social activists Ai Weiwei, and Pritzker Prize winning Swiss architects Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron.  The installation is at the Armory on Park Ave.  At the entrance you're instructed to follow the yellow tape on the wall; following the yellow brick road to Oz.  The ominous entry has a sense of foreboding.  A guide informs you of the slant in the floors towards the exit, illuminated by a blue light.  The inside is one cavernous dark space.  The title Hansel & Gretel brings its own connotations of the harrowing fairy tale of 2 children able to escape the wicked witch by retracing their trail of breadcrumbs through the forest.  To the right is an ephemeral webbing that is merely an illusion. Walking through the pitch-black space you realize your footsteps are leaving white imprints on the black floor.  Overhead you hear & see aerial drones continuously hovering.  White blurred self-images appear/disappear in your surroundings.  Random lit floor spaces flash on/off & you can perceive red squares that hone in and graph areas of trafficked space.  I felt sensations of intimidation, surveillance and still found it playful & imaginative.  The staging is in 2 parts.  After leaving the dark warehouse you walk around to the front entrance for the "2nd" part.  There you are asked to stand & pose for a camera.  (I refused - because I didn't want to & you can't make me.)  Of course the facial imagery of those who posed appears on large screens, identifiable yet somewhat vague.  There are iPads that provide further information on data collection & how it's utilized.   The overall experience is mildly intriguing but disappointing being a collaboration of 3 artistic geniuses & political activists: Weiwei, Herzog & De Meuron.  The messaging is obvious and its impact futile.  We are living in an age of constant surveillance which has become a necessary evil for the better good.  Drone warfare is another issue with its own gravitas the general populous feels powerless in preventing.  However, this installation ticketed at $17.50 felt jejune or more like an advanced high school project.

The Broadway Revival of "Marvin's Room" by Playwright & AIDS Activist Scott McPherson

Amer playwright & AIDS activist, Scott McPherson died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 33.  His partner, cartoonist Daniel Sotomayor also died of AIDS the same year.  McPherson's play "Marvin's Room" is not a play about AIDS but it parallels the altruistic caring for a terminally ill loved one.  Bessie (stage & screen actress Lily Taylor) has being the sole care provider for her dying father & doddering elderly aunt for nearly 20 yrs.  She turns to her Dr. to determine the cause of her fatigue & bruising, "Probably just a vitamin deficiency."  The diagnosis is leukemia & she will require a bone marrow transplant.  This brings her sister, Lee (comedic actress Janeane Garofalo) to return home after 17 years with her sons, Hank & Charlie in hopes of being a donor match.  The sister's lukewarm reunion is awkward.  This the first time the sister have been together in nearly 2 decades & the 1st time Bessie meets her nephews.  The awry set changes mirror the plays jumbled mix of weak comedy, stiff drama & disconnected characters.  Lee's older son Hank has serious mental health issues.  The psychiatric double entendre between Lee & Hank's cliched psychiatrist is not amusing.  "What do you think I mean by that?" When Bessie asks how Hank is faring at the mental institution, Lee tells her "It's called a nut house."  The levity to lift the doldrums of Bessie's self-sacrifice & Lee's struggles only leaden the plays' heavy missteps.  Lee's maniacal parenting of Hank is off-putting.  The 2 perpetually butt heads.  Yet Bessie breaks through Hank's hostilities.  Bessie & her sister find a kinder middle ground.  While waiting the results from the bone marrow tests,  the family takes a trip to Disney World.  Bessie faints & a cartoon character calls for her rescue.  Marvin remains behind opaque glass.  We hear his groans but only vaguely observe the continuous care he receives from Bessie.   The admirable self-sacrifice for ailing loved ones is measured against the costs missed out on living one's own life.  I didn't care for this unanchored play.  It was drowned by scrambled scenes & messages.  Its emotional impact was garbled like speaking with a mouthful of dice.    

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

HumanRightsFilmFestival "MUHI-Generally Temporary" Arab Boy Secure but Unsure Living in Israeli Hospital

Muhammad "Muhi" born in Gaza was rushed as an infant across the Israeli/Gaza border for life saving surgery to an Israeli hospital where he received emergency medical care.  But, the hospital that saved Muhammad's life has become the only home he's known for all 7 years of his life.  As a baby Muhi had a life-threatening immune disorder.  The best care & only chance to save his life was in an Israeli hospital an hour away but across a giant divide; 3 major checkpoints with multiple restrictions constraining accessibility across borders.  Muhi's grandfather was in his 50's and permitted to accompany & remain with his grandson.  The surgery necessitated the amputation of Muhi's arms & limbs to save his life.  Since his arrival, Muhi has remained a resident of this hospital along with his grandfather.  The grandfather fervently maintains as do the Israeli Drs. that he would not survive if he returned to his parents' home in Gaza.  His mother & grandmother visits infrequently because of the difficulties in obtaining visas and to care for their families in Gaza.  This doc. gives an intimate glimpse into the  Israeli/Palestinian conflict with its complexities, frustrating perplexities, and identity issues.  Most importantly, this is a doc. highlighting innate humanity with a hopeful message for peace.  Within the confines of the hospital, Muhi is lovingly cared for and his grandfather finds profound fellowship.  He forms an amazing bond of brotherhood with another Israeli man, Buma.  Buma's son was killed as an Israeli soldier.  Nevertheless, Buma dedicates his life to helping Arab families receive care & facilitates their border crossings.  The bond between Muhi, his Muslim grandfather & Israeli Jew is an eternal message of hope for dismayingly borders & hatred between Palestinians & Israelis.  It becomes unthinkable for such hatred between Israelis & Arabs when interacting closely; person to person, knowing the bonds that unite us as humans.  The doc. is an intimate look at the life of an indefatigable boy who gracefully deals with consummate hardships.  His life seems bittersweet but there's no doubt he's beloved.  He's cared for by his Arab family & extended Israeli family.  He is now attending an Arab/Israeli school in Israel.  The seeds for peaceful progress are seen sprouting from this remarkable documentary.  It is enlightening, troubling, complex and overflowing with love, and the miraculous human spirit.    

Art for Justice: Discussion/Performance: Darren Walker, Anna Deavere Smith, Bryan Stevenson, Agnes Gund

Monday night the Ford Fdtn hosted an event at the MoMA:  Art for Justice Fund, an evening of conversation, performance & action.  Darren Walker, Pres. of the Ford Fdtn welcomed everyone and introduced Agnes Gund.  Gund is an avid art collector and philanthropist.  She spoke of the Lichtenstein painting she sold to benefit the Art for Justice Fund focusing on the abhorrent massive incarceration problem in our nation & the racial & economic inequalities that demand to be rectified. Bryan Stevenson, is an author (Just Mercy) & atty representing the poor, the incarcerated & condemned.  He is also Dir of the Equal Justice Initiative.  He spoke eloquently & passionately on our oppressive incarceration & unjust legal presentation.  He's hopeful for positive change forward to "the beat of justice" to rectify the injustices.  Singer/social activist Toshi Reagon performed an original stirring song about a mother coming to get her child from prison.  Anna Deavere Smith recited an interview she had with a female inmate incarcerated for almost 30 years.  It was one of the people she embodies from her moving one woman show "Notes from the Field."  Piper Kerman, author of her memoir "Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison" which has been made into a TV series and Glenn Martin, former inmate & President/found of JustLeadershipUSA were on a panel moderated by Charles Blow, NYTimes columnist & CNN reporter.  The disturbing, informative & hopeful messaging from all those on stage addressed prison reforms aimed at eliminating excessive sentencing, providing proper legal representation, exonerating innocent inmates, ending children being prosecuted as adults, and strengthening human rights initiatives for connecting us a united front in a just & compassionate society.  Much work needs to be done.  There is progress & hope for reforming the present dire situations relating to inequality and our destructive & punitive mass incarceration.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pub Theater's "Julius Ceasar" has Artistic License - Pres Trump's Staff Meeting Servile Scariness

William Shakespeare wrote his play "Julius Cesar" over 400 years ago.  Shakespeare's enduring plays have retained their relevance & reverence for centuries, in part, due to artistic license & creativity that have molded these great works over the years.  The Public Theater's adaptation of "Julius Cesar" currently playing free to the public in Central Park, does not come in praise of togas & wreaths. Rather, the costumes are modern day dress replete with designer gowns & contemporary garb.  Cesar is dressed in navy blue suit, red tie and yellow fluffy pompadour.  Dare we compare Cesar to our President because of this dress?  Hell, yes! And, why the Hell not?  Many have vehemently objected, including 3 major sponsors who've pulled their backing.  The question lies not whether the play incites people to bury Trump, it does not.  Art compels us to be provocative, cause us to reflect, call into question & engage us in discussion.  I was appalled by Kathy Griffin's offensive Trump beheading prop.  That crossed the line of vulgarity into unwarranted, dark territory.  Oskar Eustis, Dir of the Public Theater in an interview regarding the outrage to the stabbing death of Cesar seen as Trump said, "This is about the right wing hate machine.  Those thousands of people who are calling for corporate sponsors to complain about this.  None of them have seen the show.  They haven't read Julius Cesar. {He's probably right} They are being manipulated by Fox & Friends and other news sources which are deliberately, for their own gain, trying to rile people up and turn them against an imagined enemy which we are not."
Yesterday, Pres. Trump held a news conference with members of his staff that was more than just awkward, it was creepy.  Trump asked his staff to go around the table in praise of their leader (him).
"We thank you for the opportunity & blessing to serve your agenda." Chief of Staff Reince Priebus    
"The greatest privilege of my life, to serve as Vice President. to a Pres. who keeps his word to the Amer. people."  Vice Pres. Mike Pence
"You've set the exact right message.  The response is fabulous around the country."  Atty Gen Jeff Sessions
This scenario has shades of off with their heads should you not kowtow & bow to your leader. Turn on the news & watch Atty Gen Sessions sidestep all questions.  We, the American people, can handle the truth.  We can't handle censorship or corrupt leadership.
"Let me have men about me that are fat; Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o'nights. Yon'd Cassius has a lean & hungry look.  He thinks too much; such men are dangerous." (W Shakespeare)

Israeli Film "The Wedding Plan" by Dir Rama Burshtein - Divine Intervention for a Bride

Rama Burshtein (b US 1967) is an Amer/Israeli filmmaker best known for her film "Fill the Void" she wrote & directed.  It provided a rare look inside the ultra-Orthodox sect in Israel.  "The Wedding Plan" is also a Hebrew language film written/directed by Burshtein that brings us inside the lives of  Orthodox Jews in Israel.  However, this is not as revelatory a story about Judaic traditions & lifestyles as it is an ode to love & marriage.  Michal (Rama Burshtein) is crushed unceremoniously when her fiancee harshly says he doesn't love her weeks before their wedding date.  Michal is passionate, volatile, devout, unflappable and completely credible & likable.  She is on a mission (spiritually driven) to proceed with the nuptial plans set for the last night of Hanukkah firmly believing a groom will materialize by her side.  As ludicrous as this storyline seems, the film is so richly layered with fraught & vital human emotions it becomes a miraculous achievement.   The heart & soul of the film rests on the indomitable shoulders of Michal, undeterred in her quest to share her life in matrimony. Michal is an observant Orthodox Jew with resolute faith in "the Divine Creator" but is doing everything humanly possible to find a life partner.  She contacts a kind matchmaker to find her a find. The matchmaker asks Michal to delve into what it is she really wants in life.  After having her face smeared with smelly fish scales, Michal unveils all that her heart desires.  She wants the real deal; commitment, responsibility, stability..."the promise to care, love, respect" the person standing before her and to never take the feelings of joy for granted.  Along the bumpy road of dating there are some outlandish men who cross her path:  one proposes on their 1st date but won't look at her unless she agrees to marry him, a deaf man who brings his interpreter along to translate and a handsome rock star, Yos (Oz Zehavi) drawn to her honest, emotional meltdown.  The women in Michal's life including her best friend Feigi, are steadfast throughout.  They instill their undeterred love regardless of Michal's manic plans to marry.   The miracle of the lights of Hanukah coincide with the miracle to be found in finding that one person to cherish and build a life together.  "The Wedding Plan" is a warm, comedy that eloquently speaks to the wonders of love.

Monday, June 12, 2017

S African Dir Roger Michell's "My Cousin Rachel" Stars Rachel Weisz and Sam Clafin

Roger Michell's (b S. African 1956) film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier (b UK '1907-1989) feels like a sumptuous PBS masterpiece series.  The film captures the rich English landscape & the wealthy aristocracy with their charmed lives & their subservient staff during the early 20th C.   Du Murier's novels combine romance, intrigue and strong female heroines.  Her novel "Rebecca" was made into a signature film noir classic.  The cinematography is intoxicating with candle lit interiors and radiant scenery.   "My Cousin Rachel" is a haunting tale of romance, deception & intrigue.  Phillip (Sam Clafin, the handsome actor in "You Before Me") is adopted by his older cousin, Master Ambrose, as an infant & raised lovingly as his son.  Phillip remains at the country estate when Ambrose travels to Italy to improve his health.  Phillip receives surprising correspondences from Ambrose stating he's fallen in love with a wonderful woman & they have married.   Phillip receives another ominous, encrypted letter from Ambrose complaining of ill health & being constrained by his bride, Rachel (Acad Award winner Rachel Weisz).  The letter asks Phillip to come immediately.   Phillip travels immediately to Florence only to discover his beloved father has died and Rachel is nowhere to be found.  Knowing nothing about his father's widow, he's filled with rage & contempt.  Until she appears at the English manor and her comely appearance & coquettish flirtations soon have him smitten.  Phillip presumes Rachel will become betrothed to him & is so confident of their love he rashly has legal papers drawn turning the entire estate over to Rachel.  The film's romance is captivating.  However, Phillip soon feels himself betrayed & outplayed by Rachel who now holds all the cards.  There's still plenty that leaves one with doubt.  Did she or didn't she?  Whose to say?  This movie will enchant female fans of PBS' series like Downton Abbey.  However, it may feel overly drawn out & tedious for many.  I savored this dark, mysterious & lush time piece.  As Daphne du Maurier herself said, "Women want love to be a novel, men a short story."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"The Cost of Living" at City Center by Polish Playwright Martyna Majok

Martyna Majok's play, "The Cost of Living" is a long One Act play with four characters and one dominating theme:  people need other people.  The play involves one estranged couple, Eddie & Ani.  Ani is disabled, her legs have been amputated and has only limited mobility in one hand.  This is the result of a car accident which occurred after the couple separated.  Eddie earnestly tries to ingratiate himself with his ex by offering to be her care giver although he is currently living with another woman.  The animosity & venom directed at Eddie from Ani is piercing regardless of his sincerity to help.  In a later scene, Eddie is bathing Ani after her nurse canceled.  Intimacy between the two begins to soften.  The other couple, John & Jess, is that of employer/employee.  John is a college professor. He's also wheelchair bound & requires assistance.  He hires Jess who desperately wants the job.  She's already working 2 other bartending jobs.  John is hesitant to hire her but he agrees and their relationship becomes genial.   Jess is responsible for showering, shaving & dressing John.  Their banter is more at ease & John asks Jess if she could come back to his house that evening.  Jess gladly accepts, although she misconstrued the invitation as a date.  John meant for her merely to shower & shave him for a date with a someone else.  The play opens with Eddie in a bar speaking to someone offstage.  He offers to buy this person a drink & offers up his tales of woe & loneliness.  The play harps on the neediness & struggles in people's lives.  There's an overall mood of melancholy, misunderstandings & helplessness.  However, the storylines never connect with emotional impact.  Neither John or Ani empathized or accepted the compassion tendered.  At the end, Eddie finds Jess sleeping in her car outside his apartment.  He coaxes her inside for food & shelter.  Despite desperately needed a place to live, Jess rebuffs Eddie's kindness.  "The Cost of Living" was not compelling.  There was pain & disconnect but very little resonated with emotional force.

Louise Lawler: Why Pictures Now - Why I Found the Show Surprising & Stimulating

Louise Lawler (b Amer 1947) is a photographic artist.  Lawler photographs artworks by other well-known artists and morphs them into inviting and provocative pieces that have their own unique gravitas and levity.  I did come to the exhibit with a chip on my shoulder.  Elaine Sturtevant had a major show at the MoMA "Double Trouble" of her works which are I considered plagiarism.  Sturtevant is lauded for bringing artists work to a larger audience.  I credited her for pirating & profiting off other people's creativity.  Lawler is known for photographing other artists works & museum's exhibits. I was prepared to dismiss her work as merely appropriating other artists' creations.  However, I found Lawler to have a unique flair & intention.  Lawler is considered along with other photographers:  Cindy Sherman & Laurie Simmons as belonging to the Pictures Generation.  What Lawler generated with her innovative lens is a body of works that provide the viewer a more intimate & evocative interaction.  Furthermore, her syntax & titles are uproarious.  The entrance to the exhibit juxtaposes a floor to ceiling photo of a skyscraper skyline alongside an elongated, suspended male figure.  The urban setting is void of life. The male figure's eyes are shut his head bent listlessly resembling a hanging corpse.  Together they evoke isolation, melancholy & dissociation.  Melancholy was a common theme.  "More than Melancholy" is a hazy photo of washed out Agnes Martin paintings hung in a room lit by chandeliers.  For all the golden tones & twinkling lights, there's a feeling of sadness & abandonment.  There's a fascination with the ways in which paintings are hung, mounted & displayed. "Twice untitled" shows the white backs of 2 canvases leaning against a blank wall.  Wiring is attached to the back; waiting to be installed or transported elsewhere.   The oversized images in the galleries have been adjusted to fit the space.  Therefore, Lawler's art is always in a state of flux, re-presentation or adjustment.   The large colorful, distorted photo mural of Murakami's images blends Warhol's & Hirst's images with a Jacqueline Kennedy portrait.  The viewer is drawn into these oversized photos with their dreamlike imagery.  Some other artists Lawler restages in her photos include:  Jasper Johns, Picasso, Degas, Rauschenberg, Richter, Hirst, and Flavin.  There is wisdom & wit in Lawler's work.  There are 2 clear paperweights encased in glass, placed atop white pedestals.  "But doesn't anybody really know anything by comparison?" (Lynne Tillman)  Lawler revisits the artists works in delightful new ways to rediscovery & experience art.  Richter's "Nude on a Staircase" is shot  horizontally & his WWII planes retitled "No Drones."  I felt Lawler's admiration for other artists while feeling a sense of irreverence & dismay at the alchemy of the art as commodity.   "Once there was a little boy & everything turned out all right.  The End."

Temperatures Soaring In NYC and Tolerance for Tourists are Flaring-Valuable Guides for Visitors

New Yorkers move quickly & with intent.  For those who are visiting and strolling leisurely, you're a pain the neck.  Seriously,  enjoying the many things that NYC has to offer should not make the locals suffer.  Get out of the way!  Here are the things Not to do.  What's wrong with you people?

1.  Stop holding hands walking along the sidewalks.  You're blood clots in the flow for others.
2.   Don't walk alongside your friends & family.  This makes it hard for us to get around.
3.  Don't expect others to wait for your photo opts.  You're the ones being inconsiderate.
4.  Don't ask us to take your photos.  How many do you really need?
5.  Stop taking photos of art in the museums.  Everyone can read the symbol for no photos.  Besides, you're in front of the real image.  Enjoy the moment.
4.  Riding the bus, you need a transit card.  Don't play dumb & ask the driver what's the fare.  And don't ask other passengers to pay them for their card usage.  Get it down in the subway stations
5.  When going through the subway turnstiles and you're asked to swipe again, do it slowly. Swiping it fast is what backed everyone else up in the first place. (Did you get hit in the gut?)
6.  When going through the turnstiles, keep moving away; others are behind you.  Don't they have escalators where you people come from?  Why are you stopping at the top.  Move it.
7.  Don't ask, the Dakota & Strawberry Fields are on CPW & 72nd.  CPW = Central Park West you pest.
8.   Don't ask where you can find a cheap restaurant.  How about in your hometown, clown.
9.   When riding escalators, stand to one side so other people can pass.
10.  Basically, you tourists are pains in the ass.  Here's what to do, stay home you people!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Matthew Perry's Play "The End of Longing" A Semi-autobiographic Dark Comedy at the Lucille Lortel Theater

Matthew Perry is well known for his starring comedic roles in TV sitcoms "Friends" and "The Odd Couple."  Perry wrote & stars in this One ACT, 4 character dark comedy.  This is Perry's 1st foray as a playwright.  His character, Jack, appears to mirror his comic persona of a lovable, wisecracking funny guy.  And the audience responded with abundant laughter to his clever bravado.  It should be noted, Perry has been candid about his alcohol addiction.  In "The End of Longing" he confronts the struggles & torments of an alcoholic.  The play is mildly entertaining & utilizes a simple construct of 2 best guy friends hooking up with 2 best girlfriends.  Jack is a boisterous boozer who hits on Stephanie (Jennifer Morrison "Once Upon a Time"); a highly paid hooker.  Stephanie's girlfriend, Stevie, plays the neurotic stereotype of an incessant talker.  She not only consumes anti-depressants regularly, she works for a drug company that manufactures anti-depressants & erectile dysfunction meds.  Stevie meets & sleeps with Jeffrey, Jack's bud and immediately becomes overly obsessive.  Jeffrey is written broadly as a not too bright but sensible good guy.  All the while, Jack obsesses over his next bud, shot, martini or any means of inebriation so he won't have to feel anything at all.  He tells Stephanie he drinks to wash away the pain, despair and nothingness.  Stevie becomes pregnant with Jeffrey.  Their zany relationship leads to the foregone conclusion of love & happiness.  Jack & Stephanie have a much harder road to hoe.  Stephanie gives Jack an ultimatum; choose, either her or booze.  For all the light hearted comedic moments, the play is piteous.  Watching Jack's dipsomania  & hearing his entreaty "Nobody fucking understands!" is painful.  The actors are all appealing within the simple confines of the play.  The rotating stage is divided by a glass block comprised with empty wine bottles.  The levity may make the pain of addiction somewhat more palatable.  Nonetheless, "The End of Longing" is a serious look at the shackles of addiction.  I may not fully understand the behaviors of an alcoholic, but Jack's pleas evoke empathy.  There's no shame in Perry's aim to address the difficult issues of addiction.   Perhaps, for Perry, writing the play was cathartic.  This was an open caption performance to aid accessibility for the deaf & hard of hearing people.  

"Freaks and Geeks" Given only One Season is Reasonably One of the Best Shows - Now on Netflix

The TV show "Freaks and Geeks" aired for only 1 measly season on NBC despite being freakishly brilliant, funny, touching, relatable and a launching pad for many talented stars.  Judd Apatow & Paul Feig were the leading force behind writing, directing and creating this high school comedy/drama that delves much deeper into the psyche from multiple viewpoints of high school students in the 80's than the award winning show "The Wonder Years" (1988-93).   Don't get me wrong, "The Wonder Years" was a wonderful TV sitcom of high school kids in the late '1960s, but don't miss out on this stellar show about a motley mix of student stereotypes.  It's simply the single best show that flew under the radar.  Blame can levied against poor executive decision making at NBC.  But, don't be a jackass, just watch the show now on Netflix.  The writing, acting & overall look of the show is freaskishly superior to the best of TV comedies.  Apatow had the incredible knowhow to spot talent.  Among the soon to be superstars assembled are:  James Franco (Daniel), Seth Rogen (Ken) and Jason Segel (Nick) as "freaks"; the cool kids outside high school conformities.  The central characters are brother & sister, Linda Cardellini (Lindsay Weir) and John Francis Daley (Sam Weir).  Lindsay is a smart student grappling with her identity & where she fits in at school.  Sam is the younger, diminutive brother who has 2 friends, the 3 amigos of "geeks".  Both Cardellini & Daley should have won Emmy's for their outstanding performances.   What makes this such a winning show is not only its wit & astuteness but its bent towards kindness and empathy.  There is the jocks, nerds, smart kids, beauty queens and mean spiritedness.  More importantly, are the wonderful connections made between perceived divisive "classifications" acceptance and inspiration.  This is a poignant show of friendship & self-discovery.  A favorite episode features Bill (Martin Starr) Sam's socially awkward friends & the gym coach.  The humility of always being the last picked for teams was excruciatingly painful to watch as Bill utters "pick me, pick me".  Bill confronts his coach with the unfairness & humility of the situation.  He wants to be given an opportunity to prove himself on the field.  The coach listens to Bill & implements his suggestion.  The next gym class is triumphant.  It leaves you cheering and laughing.  "Freaks and Geeks" being jerked around & canceled by the network after only one season was a gross oversight.  It may have had only one season but it will have an enduring, beloved legacy.

NY Historical Society's Free Screening of "Sgt. York" Marking the 100th Annv. of WWI

The NY Historical Society's current exhibit "WWI: Beyond the Trenches" marks the 100th Annv. of the US military fighting in WWI.  This is an exhibit that is not to be missed for its powerful commemoration of the devastation of war as portrayed through many of America's finest artists at this time.  In conjunction with the exhibit & tied to the 100th Annv. was a free screening of the 1941 film "Sergeant York" (1941) starring Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan.  This was the final film in the museum's free Friday night screenings for the year.  This black/white film directed by Howard Hawks & starring Gary Cooper was the highest grossing film of 1941 & earned Cooper an Oscar.  To introduce the film & put it into historical context was John H. Mauer, Prof. at the Naval War College in RI & author/editor of several leadings books pertaining to the outbreak of WWI.  Mauer mentioned he'd be brief to get to the film we came to see.  His "brief" comments were a full-length debriefing of the themes in the film:  patriotism, religion & the intertwining of the two; "social guidance derived from religion".  I've never seen this film and was interested in learning about military strategies& battle stories from the Great War.  However, I found the movie both dull, dated & religious proselytizing.  The message which rang louder than a bugle call was for those who find religion, there will be divine intervention & humanitarian connections.  The Argonne-Mouse Offensive by the US & the Allied forces  (Sept. 1918-Nov. 1918) where Sgt. York's heroism was heralded, hardly had any screen time.  The film found an appreciative audience in the mostly senior citizens in the theater.  Regardless, I found the film offensive with demeaning stereotypical depiction of simpleton backwoods people as either bar brawling drunkards or religious zealots.   The fighting scenes were undermined by its attempts at humor & incredulous action.  The exhibit: "WWI Beyond the Trenches"  is an unforgettable, not to be missed exhibition.  The film "Sgt. York" which was a winner at the box office in 1941 was not worth the price of admission last evening which was free.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

Mexican Director Miguel Arteta's "Beatriz at Dinner" Stars Salma Hayek & John Lithgow

This is a new age "lah lah" film set in LA about an altruistic healer, Beatriz (Salma Hayek) who is in touch with nature, animals, human suffering and an overblown sense of her self-importance.  Beatriz cares for a goat inside her home which doesn't sit well with her neighbors who hear its constant braying.  She appears to be a kindhearted, free spirit who practices natural healing on cancer patients and provide massages to the wealthy to provide herself a meager living.  We see the tenderness & connection she has for the cancer patients she treats.  Beatriz treated a young female patient who recovered.  She became friendly with the patient's affluent mother, Cathy (Connie Britton).  Cathy is both grateful & now a regular client, although it's a long drive from LA to reach the guarded, wealthy community where Cathy and her husband Grant live in luxury overlooking the ocean.  During her massage, Cathy is most sympathetic to Beatriz's tale of woe; her pet goat was slaughtered by her neighbor.  Nevertheless, Cathy must get ready to host a dinner party that evening and Beatriz needs to leave.  Except, the old clunker won't start.  Beatriz explains to the harried hostess she needs to wait for her friend to come & fix the car but he won't be there for hours.  The classy, Cathy invites Beatriz to stay for the dinner but needs to check with her husband Grant.  Grant makes it clear Beatriz is not wanted at this important business dinner.  He reluctantly grants permission after making clear class distinctions between themselves and the help.  The two other well dressed couples soon arrive.  Doug (John Lithgow) is a wealthy alpha male that mistakes Beatriz for the help.  Alcohol consumption is free throwing and the vegetarian, granola, tree hugging Beatriz imbibes along with the others.  But, nobody puts Beatriz in the corner.  The doe eyed innocent Beatriz is not intimated by these wealthy, well dressed & well traveled people.  The scenes with Beatriz observing the other's obnoxious boastings of their homes & vacations are priceless.  Things start to heat up over drinks & Beatriz is not hesitant to say what she thinks about spirituality & environmental toxins.  The power plays between Beatriz & Doug become the main attraction.   Doug asks if she's here illegally.  When he passes cell photos of his rhino kill on safari, Beatriz whose already overstayed her welcome, throws his phone & calls him disgusting.  The new age film becomes murky.   The peace loving, tree hugging Beatriz shows her more hostile & violent side.  The A list cast does a superb job.  The movie mixes new age, Gatsby gangster era and film noir.  The movie is best when there's a clashing of the social classes but it breaks down from too much self-righteous pontification.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

NY Historical Soc "WWI Beyond the Trenches" American Artists Call to Capture and Respond to War

The exhibit "WWI Beyond the Trenches" coincides with the 100th Anniversary of the ending of WWI (Nov 11 1918).  "The pen is mightier than the sword."*  This befitting gnome speaks to the wisdom & humanity of any form of communication used as a tool of communication other than brutality.  Tragically, an armistice is too often pushed aside for a call to arms.  This astonishing collection of artworks is stupefying.  Its omnipotent in confronting us with the horrors to humanity waged in times of war.  It also serves as a historic chronicle of WWI.   There may not be a singular cause to WWI, but technological & industrial buildup of weaponry had massively accelerated & alliances formed.  The carnage from WWI tolled 10,000,000 military personnel & 7,000,000 civilians.   WWI started July 7,'1914 - Nov 11, 1918.   The US didn't declare war on Germany until April of 1917.   It took until the spring of 1918 before US troops were aligned overseas.  The casualties to US soldiers was 116,000 US & 200,000 wounded.  President Wilson was elected in 1916 based heavily on his assurances the US would remain neutral.  The exhibit includes artifacts of the German sinking of the Lusitania in May,'1915 killing innocent civilians & the intercept of the Zimmerman telegram in early 2017 vowing German support to Mexico should they fight to reclaim TX, NM & AZ.  There are arguments to be made for the US having gotten involved earlier.  Among some of our highly regarded American artists in the exhibit who utilized their talents to indelibly imprint WWI into our conscience are:  John Sargent Singer, Man Ray, Georgia O'Keefe, Brice Marsden, George Bellows and Horace Pippin, Clagget Wilson, and John Curry.  Two of Wilson's paintings "Dance of Death" & "Symphony of Terror" depict bodies entwined in barbed wire in harrowing repose and explosive blasts putting you amongst the terrified wounded.  Bellows' horrifying painting "Teen Militant" is of German soldiers cutting the limbs off a boy & choke-holding a woman.    Pippin's painting of "Harlem Hell Fighters" signifies the segregated barracks for black troops.  A reminder of the men who fought & came back from war to battle racial persecution at home.  Singer known for his beautiful portraits also painted unforgettable scenes from WWI.  His masterpiece "Gassed" is a major driving force to see this momentous exhibit.  The painting is of soldiers writhing on the ground & a group of soldiers blinded by mustard gas, arms on the man in front, being led from the field.  This arresting painting attests to the atrocities of chemical warfare 1st used in WWI.  The color palette is in shades of amber, rust & mustard.  The painting seems to emit a dusty orange mist.  Curry's macabre & ghoulish painting "Allegory" has a parade of marching soldiers.  Their faces are skeletal. This nightmarish painting suggests the perpetual machination of wars.   Imagery imbues the mind & permeates the soul.             * Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

ABT's "Le Corsaire" restaged by Marius Petipa with Additional Scores to Adolphe Adam's Music

The world premier for "Le Corsaire" choreographed by Joseph Mazilier's (b France 1801-1868)  to composer Adolphe Adam (b France 1803-1856) was in1856 at the Paris Opera House.  This would be Adam's last musical score for ballet.  This enduring & beloved classical ballet performed in 3 Acts.  It was entirely re-choreographed in 1899 by Marius Petipa (b France 1818-191).  Petipa was a French & Russian ballet dancer & arguable the most influential classical balletmaster & choreographer.  This full length ballet is regularly performed by major ballet companies throughout the world.  There are several dance sequences for which the ballet is highly acclaimed :  Pas de trois de Odalisques, Le Corsaire pas de deux and Le Jardin, Anime'.  ABT did a luscious staging except for the wimpy pirate ship that sinks at the end (no wonder).  I thought the costuming exquisite (but for contemporary bikini tutus at odds).   The ballet is a swashbuckling pirate adventure which also involves the slave trade of women (romanticized & the pasha made buffoonish).  There's a hearty romance between a handsome pirate & the beautiful & courageous Medora.  She's bought by the bumbling pasha for his harem.  Of course, to be rescued by the dashing pirate.  ACT I the pirate Conrad danced phenomenally with captivating power by Cory Steans.  Birbanto (Gabe Shayer) Conrad's ally & cunning foe, danced with extraordinary skill & flair.  Shayer is not at present a principal dancer.   Ali, Conrad's entrusted slaved (James Whiteside) dancing was sensational.  Hee Seo replaced an injured Veronica Part in the lead role of Medora.  Seo's fortes and fluidity were admirable.  I enjoyed the clever choreography for the ensemble pirate men & women although the clanking of wooden swords grew thin.  This is an old (made new again classical ballet).  It is frothy & at times overstuffed with dancers as in "Jardin Anime'.  However, bringing the next generation of dancers onstage should always to be encouraged.  For me, the piece de resistance from this lush production & inventive  choreography were the 3 Odalisques ballerinas.  They were absolutely breathtaking.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Wonder Woman" No Mystery, this Genre Is not for Me and This Must be as Good as it Gets

The new superhero film features a central female figure, Wonder Woman.  This is my first venture into the action/superhero genre and it didn't generate enough interest to keep me interested.  Although, there were some powerful forces working for the movie.  The role of Wonder Woman played by Gal Gadot (b Israel 1985) a.k.a. Diana Prince should be a huge leap for her to stardom.  Chris Pine as Steve, a British counterspy in WWI & the 1st male Wonder Woman meets, generates some heat as Diana's love interest & as a war hero.  The movie is a mixed bag of mythology, history, theology, action, camaraderie and romance.  For me, the strengths of the film came from the dynamic leads & the supporting secretary & sniper sidekicks.   The Achilles heels were the mythological Amazon nation "mesamera" or something sounding like mascara.   These scenes were supercilious and the theological ramblings about man's inherent nature were shallow.  There was charm to be found in Diana rescuing Steve from the ocean and her fish out of water experiences among mere mortals; in particular male mortals.  I applaud a featured female action hero and a major motion picture directed by a woman; Patty Jenkins.  Jenkins directed "Monster" which earned an Oscar for Charlize Theron.  However, the movie was a bomb for me due to the omnipresent omnipotent fight scenes.   These battles never won me over to becoming a fan of the superhero genre.  Stan Lee, legendary comic book author & co-creator of Spider-Man, X-Men, Thor, etc., is quoted "Comic books to me are fairy tales for grown ups."  Maybe I'm missing out on some magical fascination.  Stan Lee eloquently commented, "Marvel is a cornucopia of fantasy, a wild idea, a swashbuckling attitude, an escape from the humdrum.  It's a serendipitous feast for the mind, the eye, and the imagination, a literate celebration of unbridled creativity coupled with a touch of rebellion and an insolent desire to spit in the eye of the dragon."  Perhaps  I should start clapping and awaken my mind & imagination.  "Nuff said."  (SL)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Israeli Film "The Women's Balcony" is Filled with Tenderness, Joy & Strength

"The Women's Balcony" is a Hebrew film set in the present in Israel.  We're introduced to a close knit community all belonging to an Orthodox synagogue.   The movie begins with a joyous promenade in the streets on the way to a celebration.  The celebration is bar mitzvah at the synagogue.  Inside men & women are seated separately as is the custom in Orthodox Judaism.  The women in the balcony crash to the floor as a large section caves in, decimating the synagogue & seriously injuring the rabbi's wife.  Nonetheless, the movie is mainly about love, tenderness, kindness, respect and tradition.  At the heart of the story is a devoted married couple, Zion & Esther.  The movie has an ironic twist with the film "Fiddler on the Roof."  The members of the Orthodox synagogue consider themselves devout.  The women are fine with the segregated seating.  But, their religious observances are pushed to the edge when a younger, charismatic Rabbi David heroically steps in and provides male congregants to constitute a minyan for prayer.  While the temple's own beloved rabbi is incapacitated following the havoc & his wife's coma from the fall, Rabbi David ingratiates himself.  He steps in to help reconstruct the damaged temple & provide for a new Scroll but flagrantly oversteps his position with his ultra-Orthodox regulations.  His ultra-Orthodox rules subjugate women by placing restraints on their dress & liberties.  Rabbi David also pushes the religious customs of everyone by enforcing stricter religious observances.  It's the women who possess the strength & resolve to push back against the handsome & silver-tongued Rabbi David. "Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen." (Maimonides)  In "Fiddler" the progressive thinker Tevye, maintained an ongoing dialogue with God about tradition.  Zion like Tevya is willing to adapt but not bend so far he'll break or alienate his wife.  The film also has a Lysistrata storyline.  The women align in defiance of their husbands until they permit an appropriate reconstruction of their balcony for which they've raised the funds & hired workers.   There's a tender love story that goes against Rabbi David's misguided directives & illicit dealings.  This delightful & charming film has a surprisingly irreverent view of ultra-religious sects within the Orthodox Jewish community.  "The Women's Balcony" is warm & thoughtful and rich with "the sounds of joy and goodness."  "All the great evils which men cause to each other because of certain intentions, desires, opinions or religious principles, are likewise due to non-existence which is absence of wisdom."  (Maimonides)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Playwright Robert Schenkkan "Building the Wall" Dystopian Hell Fueled by Donald's Hateful Mantras

"Building the Wall" is a brilliantly brutal play by Pulitzer & Tony winning writing & Robert Schenkkan (LBJ All the Way).  The play closed today prior to its July 9th end date due to poor ticket sales.   This is unfortunate because this timely & powerful play has a lot to say about the present & not too distant future dystopian society being construed under Trump's pernicious mantras that have riled a white supremacist, xenophobic population.  The one act, 2 character play is set inside a TX prison in 2019.  White inmate Rick (a wily James Dale) is being interviewed by Gloria, a black history prof. played by Tony winner Tamara Tunie in an unflappable performance.  Here, the paradigm of a prison interview works effectively as we're drawn into Rick's maniacal madness.  Gloria is granted an interview by Rick who is offset to discover she is black.  As she turns to leave he asks her to stay and contends he's not racist.  He wants this interview so the true story will be told.  He didn't testify in court at counsel's advice.  With the innocuous start to the interview, Rick speaks about his childhood, family background and his call to military service after 9/11 that led to a career in the private prison sector.   The prison he's assigned to manage is transformed into an immigration detainee center he leads through the levels of Dante's inferno.  Having gained Rick's trust, Gloria goads him to tell her what weighs on his heart.  Feeling her alliance as an attentive listener, the barrier between the two crumbles.  Rick opens up about his support & admiration for Trump.  He liked that Trump was entertaining & put stuffed shirts in their place.  Rick believes Trump is doing a good job.  He's telling hard truths because "...{Trump} is like him, a white Christian who stands up for us." "Immigrants should not be able to illegally come here and get jobs that pay money." An indignant Rick tells Gloria "It's always the little guy that takes the fall."  The revelation of Rick's orchestrated atrocities are deeply disturbing made all the more heinous because he believes he has justifiable vindication.   The nightmare of Schenkkan's play is mirrored in the rise in hate crimes that give this frightening scenario credibility.  Hopefully, "Building the Wall" will have reincarnations to shake our conscience and break down walls of hatred.  

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"A Doll's House Part 2" on Broadway Stars Laurie Metcal & Chris Cooper - A-1 Production See It

"A Doll's House Part 2" is a new play by American playwright, Lucas Hnath (Red Speedo).  It's a clever & engaging innovation on Ibsen's original play.  "A Doll's House" 1st premiered in Denmark in 1879.  It was a groundbreaking play that dealt with the limited options, opportunities and harsh social conventions restraining women during the Victorian era.  The heroine, Nora, abandons her family at the end of Ibsen's play; an unfathomable, scandalous & condemnable act. "A Doll's House Part 2" picks up 15 years after Nora walked out the door as she comes through the door for the first time since she left.   Nora confronts head-on the consequences of her actions and pontificates passionately on the constraints of marriage & imposed societal norms.  Ibsen's revolutionary play of its time period may seem obsolete in most places (not all) in the 21st C.  Nonetheless, Nora's diatribe on the failings & absurdities of marriage & relationships are exceptionally astute.  "Love is free until married.  Two separate beings swallowed up into something different and bound together."  Nora's feelings of frustrations are universal & relatable.  Her resilience & fortitude are admirable.  Nora (Laurie Metcal, 3 time Emmy winner) gives a tour de force performance.  Nora's estranged husband Torvald (Acad Award winning Chris Cooper) is a perfect foe as a sparring spouse.  To Torvald's credit, he finds empathy for Nora's feelings.  Anne Marie, the faithful housekeeper  is played by the indomitable Broadway veteran & Tony winner, Jayne Houdyshell.  The cast is first rate.  Each character's perspective is cunningly validated.  The minimal staging & commonly used vulgarities of today allows for a flux between the late 19th & 21st C.  Playwright Hnath pays homage to Ibsen's classical play with prescient thoughtfulness, intelligence & humor.  Could Nora & Torvald have reconciled?  I think it's too little too late to even try again but it makes for great theater.

"Whose Afraid of Contemporary Art" 92ndY Talk with curator/art historian Kyung An

Friday's talk with Kyung An at the 92ndY was "Whose Afraid of Contemporary Art," which coincides with the title of her new book.  Kyung An is an art historian, former Tate curator and presently, a curator for the Guggenheim.  She co-authored the book with Jessica Cerasi, a colleague to answer questions they frequently encounter in an entertaining manner & to broaden an appreciation for contemporary art.  Many people are perplexed with contemporary art matters especially pertaining to installation art, the incorporation of technology, performance art and the high cost of contemporary artworks.  Ms An unabashedly promoted her book & illustrated its user friendly index.  She gave a condensed breakdown of the process of purchasing art by major museums which typically begins with the museums' curators presenting their suggestions for works or specific artists to the Board of a museum which gets filtered down or redirected & then these selections are presented to affiliated acquisition committees.   Ms An clarified she is not an art adviser for individuals regarding current artists or works of interest because this influences speculative purchasing; tantamount to insider information.  Ms An then provided us with several interesting examples of contemporary works and proposed questions for consideration when engaging with art:  What is the artist trying to say?  What materials are being used?  Utilize reference points:  when was it made and what was the social climate?  Where was the art made?  Why the artist made their choices? And, think about various interpretations, challenges & intent of the work.  Contemporary art challenges the notion of art being tangible and permanent.  She referred to the work by Piero Manzoni "Artists Shit;  supposedly his excrement in a can.  Manzoni did sell a series of these objects at significant monetary prices.  Ms An proposed thinking of works for their intrigue, vulgarity, social commentary & one's faith in the art.  She only spoke for 1/2 hour before opening the discussion to questions from the audience.  The first question was "Could you please explain what contemporary art is?"  Her arcane & thought provoking response was, "What is life? Art can be anything and you can go down the rabbit's hole with infinite opinions."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

50th Anniv of Anna Halprin's Work "The Paper Dance" That was Put Under Wraps by Cops in 1967

The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College presented RADICAL DANCES last night.  The program included choreography by her early collaborators: Forti, Rainer & Limon.  The piece de resistance was Anna Halprin's  'The Paper Dance' from Parades and Changes first performed 50 years to a packed house in Hunter College Playhouse.  It notoriously was raided & shut downby police during its performance for indecent exposure.  The piece was groundbreaking & shocking in 1967 for having dancers disrobe on stage.  The performance is tame by today's standards.  The uproar his scandalous production caused ripple effects through the world of dance & censorship.  A warrant issued for Ms Haprin's arrest for indecent exposure.  The case went to the NY courts which ruled that freedom of expression is upheld by the constitution and dismissed all charges of indecency.  Ms Halprin is quoted "It was radical when I first did it.  Now nudity in dance is so ordinary.  Sometimes I wish the dancers would put their clothes back on if they don't have a good reason to be naked."  Halprin is credited with being at the center of the postmodern movement.  According to Halprin "It involved for me a new sense of realism and that's when I started using task oriented movement, the movements of everyday life."  Watching the piece for the first time, I found the piece mundane.  I didn't feel any excitement, vitality or register a remarkable artistry to the piece. The rolls of parchment carried onto the stage & shredded by the dancers didn't provide a significant tactile sensation or an urgent auditory appeal.  The disrobing & nude posing by the dancers didn't provide seem an epoch-making artistic proposal.  While its relevance today felt passe, this is greatly owed to Halprin's courageous originality which has rendered a broader appreciation of how dance favorably impacts our lives.   Ms Halprin, now 96, was skyped from her home in CA onstage with a panel featuring several people present at the original performance which caused such a stir:  Jack Anderson, NYTimes critic, choreographer Simone Forti, dancer Charles Reinhart and audience member Alice Teirstein.  "What I hope that I've accomplished in my life time is to redefine what dance can be.  I hope that people will understand that dance is a powerful tool, for healing, for education, for building.  I hope that will be my greatest legacy, not these personal expressions of my own art, but showing how one can live artfully through dance." (AH)