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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mac Wellman's The Fez and TheSandalwood Box

"The Fez" and "The Sandalwood Box"are two one act plays running in concert as part of Mac Wellman's Perfect Catastrophes, A Festival of Plays.  "The Fez" begins as "My Fair Lady".  Eliza Doolittle (Rora Brown) is debased as less than human by a fiendish Prof. Higgins (Jimmy Dailey).  She washed her hands she did before coming to Prof. Higgins for voice lessons to elevate her station in life. The startling staging goes haywire in a fez frenzy.  The trajectory projects into a deafening & undecipherable melee that morphs into absurdist theater with logic to its madness.  Hats off to choreographer Jose Rivera, Jr. and scenic designer Frank J. Oliva who manage to orchestrate an interesting intersection of free for all spirit with pizzaz and a medley of music & dance styles.  Actors planted in the audience add an element of immersive theatrics that add to the madcap fusion of fun & theatrics.  "The Sandalwood Box" is a pandora box of bedlam that is ominous, poetic and bizarre.  This surreal production has a nightmarish tilt that sprouts paradoxical poetry with euphemism of woes.  The sandalwood box contains a collection of historic catastrophes foretold by Prof. Mitchell (an ominous Ashley Morton).  Wellman throws out existential questions and questions who possesses the knowledge for determining right from wrong, truth from lies.  Marsha Gates (Dorothea Gloria) lost her voice at the start of the play but finds it at a ferocious decibel sporting a menacing Cheshire Cat grin.  Gloria falls through the looking glass and shatters the avant-garde drama into a daring quandary.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

THE GREAT SOCIETY - Stars Brian Cox as LBJ

"The Great Society" is an ambitious and arduous play about LBJ (Brian Cox) that technically span the years from 1964-74 although the program gives the TIME as 1965-1968.  Therein lies a hidden detail to wag the dog to derail from the copious political characters and social upheavals that ravaged our nation.  The years 1965-1968 are the confluence of domestic civil liberty issues LBJ was contending with as he led our nation into escalating the Viet Nam War.   There's an army of politicians for a feeding frenzy of political pundits.  One might benefit from cliff notes or a cheat sheet.  Cheating being the modus operandi that keeps churning the Presidency and constituencies that parallel with today's bully in the White House.   LBJ sets up his character by offering up a bull story; literally a rodeo bull riding story.  LBJ tells us "Everybody gets thrown.  Sometimes you don't get up."  LBJ uses a lot of animal analogies to drive home his message along with bullying and wheeling and dealing not often done in good faith.   "All the Way"also written by Pulitzer & Tony winning playwright Robert Schenkkan starred Bryan Cranston on Broadway.  "All the Way" was a more cogent play and a more complex character study.  Cox plays LBJ with one pounding dimension until the end when we see vulnerability expressed to Lady Bird and in his defeat declining to run for re-election.  However, this is a crucial & painful epoch in our nation's history.  Schenkkan delivers emotional punches on the pressing social issues that plagued our nation that systemically persist in today's society.  The Voting Rights Act signed into law under LBJ is a major comprehensive civil rights legislation the eliminated obstructions that fettered African 's from exercising their rights to vote.  LBJ's concessions were made with seemingly quid pro quo negotiating.  LBJ felt betrayed by MLK's stand against the Viet Nam War and Stokely Carmichael (Marchant Davis) derailing of peaceful protests made a burning impact.  Why LBJ seemed to submit to McNamara's demands for troops & funding for the Viet Nam War is baffling.  VP Humphrey (Richard Thomas) seemed heroic  on issues in opposition to LBJ until he cowered under pressure in front of the press.  LBJ recognized "racism as becoming respectful" but failed to commit the National Guard to combat the atrocities he knew would be perpetrated on protestors.  There's much to benefit & learn from in "The Great Society."  LBJ intimates to Nixon damning info during the campaign was withheld.  How was it obtained was Nixon's concern. History often repeats itself.  Seeing Trump become the 2nd president to depart office in disgrace should likely take place.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

THE PINK HULK Written/Performed by Valerie David

"The Pink Hulk:  One Woman's Journey to Find the Superhero Within" is Valerie David's one woman show of her personal journey with her bouts with cancer.  Valerie is the writer/performer of this highly charged show sharing her experiences and emotional scars.  Valerie's energy is infectious and uplifting.  Valerie plays more for comic relief than pathos.  Having been cancer free for 14 years post her bout with Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma, Valerie & her bf Belinda are vacationing and celebrating in Aruba.  Valerie unabashedly boast she always scores sex on a beach or campgrounds.  What she finds is a lump that is confirmed by Belinda who urges her to get checked out as soon as they return.  The gall of getting a diagnosis of breast cancer is confounding for Valerie whose bound and determined to get ravaged by a lover before her body is ravaged by cancer treatments.  The marathon search for a hook-up took-up too much time.  While its Valerie's tale to tell,  her pursuit of tail derails from the gravitas of her prognosis.  Valerie has aspirations for being on a Broadway stage and missed out on her big break to be in "Urine Town".  She does find her calling & support in improv.  The play is a defiant depiction of a strong willed woman.  She's filled with humor & rage overflowing onstage in buckets.  Valerie claims her treatments and needs on her own terms.  We sympathize with Valerie's abandonment by her friends (especially Belinda) and her feelings of anxiety and depression.  Surgery, radiation and chemo did exact a heavy toll on Valerie's self-confidence and femininity.  The play is performed not for laughs nor pity.  Any diagnosis of cancer is shitty.  Valerie's approach is lighthearted amidst adversity.  Everyone's experience is unique and complex.  "The Pink Hulk" is a sobering and soothing antidote for feeling alone in struggling with cancer.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Matthew Lopez's THE INHERITANCE - Part I

"The Inheritance" by playwright/screenwriter Mark Lopez is at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in a marathon performance in 2 parts.  Lopez best known for his play "The Whipping Man" which earned an Obie.  "The Inheritance" opened in London and received the Olivier and London Critics Award.  The play is cleverly structured around a group of young men who are budding writers. The play is set in NYC in the near present and tips its poetic license in homage to E M Forster who appears as their friendly professor willing to work with a student claiming writers block or as Forster says "a writer's tool - procrastination."  The young man bemoans narrative today can't compare to that of the epoch in the early 20th C England.  Forster steps in and tells him themes of love and requited love are timeless and persists in prodding his protege into setting up characters and plots.  Toby Darling is selected as the main character and his lover is Eric Glass.  Toby is at a party in the Hamptons surrounded by famous celebrities and calls Eric cajoling him to join him as he continues to consume martinis.  The facade of structuring a story melds into the play unfolding.  Toby is the budding writer and Eric his partner/fiancee.  The live in a spacious rent controlled UWS apartment, for now.  Eric is the unassuming character whose heroic triumphs have yet to be revealed.  Happenstance brings Eric together with the older, Henry Wilcox while both their partners are out of town.  Over dinner & wine, Henry is coaxed into sharing how he and his partner have remained together for nearly 4 decades.  Henry's love story is shrouded during the AIDs epidemic, its horrors and fears.  It seems that fear that was a major factor in sustaining their relationship.  Eric and Toby inhabit an era liberated from AID's fatalities and gay persecution and face seemingly more banal issues that plague all relationships.  Lopez's clever play is staged on a minimal set with engaging actors.  But, the dramatic impacts falters in comparison to "Angels in America" and "The Normal Heart."  The comparisons with these masterful plays and E M Forsters' brilliant writings may be unfair but this is the inheritance "The Inheritance" is built upon.  

"The Owl" by Arthur Sze - MTA Poetry in Motion

Poet Arthur Sze (b 1950 NYC) is a prolific writer of poetry.  His poem collections have earned him numerous honors including an American Book Award and was named Poet Laureate for NM.  Coming across this tranquil and soft poem while riding the subway stirred a serene feeling while amongst my fellow strap holders.  I like this poem for its simple beauty and colorful imagery.  The poster paints a regal owl perched on a branch .  The owl is brazenly & unabashedly scrutinzing you.  This lovely painting has a blazing background awash in golden sunshine & crimson autumn leaves.  It draws consideration of the wondrous colors enveloping us.  Awaiting as we burst forth from underground.

The path was purple in the dusk
I saw an owl, perched
on a branch

And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings I was
Silent then, And felt

the owl quaver.  And at dawn, walking,
the path was green in the
May light

The Owl
Arthur Sze

FOR COLORED Ntozake Shange at Public

The full title of this revival by poet & playwright Ntozake Shange (b Amer. 1948-2016) is "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf".  The play was first performed off-Broadway in 1975 where it earned and Obie and quickly moved to Broadway.  The play is a choreopoem; a pastiche of music, drama, poetry, storytelling and music.  The exceptional cast of women are only referred to by the varying chromatic colors dress.  The outfits all have a motif of a black woman's face. The immersive staging is performed in the round with some seatings on stage.  The Ladies move through the aisles, encouraging participation and making contact with those wishing to dance & move their hands. The Ladies enter the stage from the aisles and commence dancing in an exuberant free for all that resembles a tribal Macarena accentuated with tap mired in jazz.  The 7 Ladies tell us of their lives of hardships, abuse, longings and desperation with raw honesty in an elegiac style.  The Ladies speak in a profoundly poetic style that emphasizes their sufferings, defiances, sorrows & joys.  Music and dance flows continually uplifting and sustaining the women.  The rainbow of colored women adhere together.  The Ladies recognize their combined strengths and experiences creates something much more powerful than themselves.  The rainbow of colors epitomizes a combined energy; a beacon of beauty & sustenance.  The Lady in Blue (Sasha Allen) singing voice was astonishing and the Lady in Brown (Celia Chevalier) was adept at orchestrating the interwoven storytelling.  The play paints a dire portrait of black-men.  But, it's more complicated and magical than a plight of woes. "For Colored Girls" is a theatrical experience that blends poetry that lingers in the air, music & dance that blend the body and spirit.  The Lady in Red's requiem scorches one's soul.  The Ladies tell us "I want for you to love and I don't want to dance with ghosts.  I am not impervious to pain or sensual pleasures."  Shange's masterful play is audacious and alive.

Friday, October 11, 2019

AMERICAN FABLES - 5 Short, Startling Plays by Eric Fallen

"American Fables" is a compilation of 5 short, one act plays that deliver a powerhouse punch.  Playwright Erick Fallen's plays are construed with unrelenting dramatic suspense and contentious interactions between two characters.  The dialogues are fast, furious, ominous and elegiac.  The first play "Prefect Weather" is a seemingly benign, happenstance interaction between a man & a woman seated on a bench in Central Park. The parallels between Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story" resound like a clarion bell.  The innocuous encounter between 2 strangers turns aggressive & antagonistic with menacing undertones of prejudice and distrust.  The ending is ironic & unexpected.  Themes of distrust, discomfort and deceitfulness are all cleverly imbued in Fallen's plays.  "Paradise" is no picnic for a man being sequestered and interrogated.  The interrogator has an accent & appearance that may be Middle Eastern.  The surprising twists to this play are shocking.  The double-talk from both the one in charge and his detainee is humorous and menacing.  The relentless questioning uncovers alternate facts.  "Friendly Fire" is a fierce display of determination from a mother of a fallen solider demanding the army's release the file on her son's death.  The mother's obdurance & convictions surmount the stall tactics of a military officer.  Having fought to obtain the file she's overcome with confusion & pain by what is revealed.  "The Fixer" is the most ominous and poetic of the 5 plays.  Sean, an attorney is beside himself with worry.  Files were just raided from his office along with everything, including the office lights.  The fixer, someone known to Sean comes into the officer wearing rubber gloves and somehow soothes Sean's fear of reprisal.  He quotes from Romeo & Juliet to Sean (and quotes from Trump) "Facts don't matter.  The past diminishes their impact and significance."  Hark, for never was a one act play of more woe!  The final play amongst these brilliant, concise, well-written and superbly acted short plays was "Basic Plumbing."  As in the previous acts, there's a fueled stand-off between 2 people.  A vexing woman demands a book from the librarian.  He tells her the library is closed and she'll have to return tomorrow.  Their combustible dialogue provokes & excites as in all these plays.  The ending is also surprising, but it's a kinder, gentler outcome.  Eric Fallen's "American Fables" playing at HERE  portend a politically savvy & talented playwright.  Fallen's ear for dialogue and flair for ferocious drama place him in the pantheon of playwrights along with Edward Albee.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


The long one act play "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Chad Bekim appropriates its title from Frost's famous poem portending the ephemeral fleeting of beauty.  The opening scene is of a young couple Clay (Michael Richardson) and Jess (Talene Monahon) bantering & laughing.  Jess reads aloud from Clay's high school year book as Clay is packing his satchel.  Clay is headed for college.  Clay's kisses & pleas with Jess to come with him are futile.  Jess is steadfast in staying put but insists Clay attend  and their plan is "to stick to the plan."  Jess asks Clay to leave her with his golden t-shirt.  "...Gold, her {nature's} hardest hue to hold." (RF)  Their idyllic plan diverges soon after Clay starts college.  Jess is working a menial, demeaning job in the town with little to offer.  They Skype each other at the start of the semester but their connection wanes.  Clay's mom Susan (Mary Bacon) has kindly welcomed Jess to live in her home as a haven from her mom's abusive boyfriend.  Clay returns at Thanksgiving and finds Jess hanging out with friends getting high.  He's frustrated and their relationship frays.  Sesame Street has just introduced a new character to educate young people on the opioid/drug addiction crisis.  Bekim's play dissects the downward spiral of addiction and the vortex of pain ensued.  The fragmented scenes lend a frenzied pace. Jess' drug problem becomes all consuming.  Susan kicks Jess out of her home.  Clay becomes ensnared in a spider's web of drug dependence with Jess. People have pain.  For some, drugs are a way to numb the pain.  It's difficult to fully fathom the circumstances & choices that lead people to using narcotics for an induced altered state of consciousness ostensibly destroying all aspects of a normal, productive life - for a passing reprieve from reality.  The impact of Jess & Clay's addiction resonates most powerfully from Clay's mom Susan and Jess' brother Jamie (an excellent Peter Mark Kendall).  Susan's love and compassion for her son and Jamie's for his sister don't suffice to ward off the omnipotent lure of addiction.  "Nothing Gold Can Stay" makes it painfully clear that one of the worst aspects of a self-destructive illness is the toll it summons on those most intimate with the addict.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins on Broadway The Height of the Storm

Sir Jonathan Pryce and Dame Eileen Atkins alight upon the Great White Way in a play by French playwright/novelist Florian Zeller, "The Height of the Storm."   Zeller at age 40  is wise in the creative art of play-writing and the ways of the world.  Zeller tells us as the play begins "We need to know when to let go."  Andre' (Jonathan Pryce) has been married forever to Madeleine (Eileen Atkins).  The couple's 2 daughters are Anne (Amanda Drew) & Elise (Lisa O'Hare).  This family dynamic is never in doubt but the clever & devious structure of the play is nebulous as to whether Andre or Madeleine or perhaps both have died.  We know the family is in mourning but who is grieving and for whom we're uncertain.  Andre, a highly acclaimed write has advanced dementia.   What is a mirage and what is real remains clouded in a stifling mystery.  We're left to drift through the detritus of these people's live to ascertain the truth?  The muddled sequence of events are mired in such cunning fashion the audience experiences vertigo & confusion.  We're not alone in asking what is going on?  These multi-layered manifestations come fast & furious, tender & slow.  Life is short - except for when it's oppressively long.  This brilliant & provocative play examines the burdens of becoming elderly.  It looks at the complex issues that arise when adult children of parents become the generation responsible for caring for their infirm and geriatric parents.  Both Pryce & Atkins give tour-de-force performances and the supporting cast is flawless.  "The Height of the Storm" is a tempest of mounting issues that deal with aging & dying with dignity.   The play examines truths from many pensive perspectives.  One needs to know the truth is oftentimes ugly and too oftentimes not confronted in a timely or diplomatic manner.   "The Height of the Storm" lingers like a cyclone long after the curtain falls.

Monday, October 7, 2019


Teens in a small southern town are consumed with their appearances, their social status and their teen trysts amidst Ku Klux Klan conductivity.  Self-Obsession during high school years is all too common but it's shocking to see youngsters go about their quotidian vapid lives often nonchalantly dressed in their heinous Ku Klux Klan garb.  Their banter flows from current crushes to questions raised about the existence of a heaven or hell and God's plans; should there be any.  Identical dialogues are repeated between different pairings which resonates a repetitive cycle of thinking & behaving. The quality teens consider omnipotent is sincerity.  Sincerity seems to offer a hall pass to these KKK teen members for their adorations as well as blind hatred of others.  There's a lot these teens admit to not knowing including the difference between good art or bad.   But, they've been convinced their sincere Christian beliefs condone their putrid racism and bigotry.  An omnipresent fuss ball or celestial presence seems to permeate all their senses.  The fuss ball appears as a vehement black woman toting a satchel far too heavy for anyone else to bear.  She ends the play with a blazing pontification of disgust for mankind.  The anger being directed at supplicating God's name to uphold hatred.  Playwright Mac Wellman's writing captures teens' angst and curiosity.  Wellman also exposes how being raised entrenched in white supremacist society, the freedom to choose, question and change is laden with perpetrated hatred sincerely viewed as privileged and therefore manifests unchallenged.

BAD PENNY at The FLEA by Marc Wellman

Staged outside under strung lights amongst a parklike venue, BAD PENNY places the audience onstage and into a peripatetic performance of happenstance encounters.  Guests park themselves on blankets and beach chairs while several people are enjoying a game of bean bag toss.  A young woman breaks into a soliloquy pondering celestial mysteries and perceptions of reality.  Her poetic and seemingly rhetorical pontification is rudely interrupted and she's told to shut up by a hostile young man holding a tire. He's focused on crossing through the park to find help fixing his tire. Unperturbed by her brazen interloper & maintaining a cheery disposition she continues her open dialogue saying she expected a bad turning point in her day for having picked up a penny with its face side down portending bad luck.  The man holding his flat tire & blown-up ire when is confronted by a man in orange sunglasses who questions his veracity & sanity for abandoning his valuable,  vintage car to cross the park when there are garages closer to where he's left his car.  A mounting cacophony of varied conversation spring forth from a motley mix of people haphazardly situated in the park.  Three time Obie winning playwright has written a symphonic chorus that challenges the conventions of theology and metaphysics.  BAD PENNY is an immersive thought provoking and provocative play.  It's simultaneously beautiful and gruesome and puzzling.  It's worth every penny.      

Thursday, October 3, 2019

FLEABAG Phoebe Waller-Bridge Nat'l Theater Live Filmed Broadcast

The Brits wan away with this year's Emmy Awards going to the phenomenal Phoebe Waller-Bridge  (PWB) for her writing, acting and best comedy series FLEABAG.  The genesis of the impregnable series FLEABAG airing on the BBC network began as a one woman show written/starring (PWB).  The humble beginnings in 2013 at the Edinburg Fringe Festival as a one woman show gained notoriety for a woman contending with her sobriety, liberated & unsure sexuality, sibling rivalry, relationships and maintaining a flailing guinea pig themed cafe with a mixed bag of irreverence, omnipotence, vulnerability, neediness, independence, humor and guilt.  The taping of a live broadcast from the Nat'l Theatre takes the audience to the skeletal beginnings of Fleabag's character in her original one woman format.  Fleabag splays open a pandora box of contrition, confusion, comedy and pain.  PWB breaks down the 4th wall dousing the audience in a pandemonium of coherent chaos that leaves one agog with repulsion & reverence for her behavior, on-going dialogue within herself and with you.  Fleabag's interview to get a bank loan shows defiance in lieu of her debacle.  Fleabag claims she's unable to read her sister but her insights are cunning and comical.  Fleabag speaks of her best friend who passed with poignancy & longing.  Some characters leave us befuddled but all are memorable.  PWB's alter-ego Fleabag simply can't contain her churning thoughts or snide commentary causing us to chortle with chagrin.  Not that we mind in the least.  Nor is it possible to repress this impregnable force.  Fleabag power to shock, makes us titter and still connects us to her humanness of remorse is staggering.  PWB fabricates a gamut of colorful characters on stage orchestrating a cacophony of lively discord.  PWB's BBC series benefits from an exceptional ensemble cast of talented actors including Andrew Scott and Olivia Colman.  PWB is a blazing artist whose gifts transcends a kaleidoscope of emotions entrenched with laughter and longing.  People make mistakes.  Don't make the mistake of missing the spellbinding broadcast of FLEABAG or its inspired Award winning series.  

Friday, September 27, 2019

Linda Ronstadt Doc. THE SOUND of my VOICE - It's so Good It's so Good, It's So Good

How do you chronicle a talent like Linda Ronstadt? How do you pin her musical contributions down?  It seems an insurmountable task to encapsulate the maverick life and accomplishments Linda Ronstadt (LR) has achieved.  "The Sound of my Voice" is a fluid and coherent doc. that blends footage of LR's performances, artists' interviews and her own words into a fascinating feature that hits all the rights notes.  The immensely talented, fiercely independent and generous human being tells us "We sing for the joy of being alive and to maintain a legacy of our dreams and delights."  The well paced biopic is a cogent exploration of an extraordinary talent and remarkable woman.  The film is bookended with LR in 2019.  LR is living with Parkinson's disease that has thwarted her greatest passion and vocal gifts but not her unflappable joy.  LR's family & personal history is told with warmth, love and augmented by astounding black/white photos.  The footage of LR's performances are phenomenal. We're shown a prodigious talent who broke into the good ole boys club of recording artists fearlessly and harmoniously.  Her love life and love for life are abundant.  The efflusive admiration from her talented peers is heartfelt. Of particular note are the interviews from Bonnie Raitt, Emmy Lou Harris and Dolly Parton.   LR was the confluence of major artists breaking onto the musical scene. The takeaway from this entertaining and endearing biopic is the remarkable essence of a great artist with a generous spirit and iron willed determination.  Never satisfied with being pigeon holed or fettered she sought out major recording talent, producers and arrangers to fulfill her visions.   LR conquered broad musical genres including folk, country, pop, Mexican and opera with her beautiful & expansive vocal range.  She's a groundbreaking artist that collaborated & supported ungrudgingly her peers.  The movie is a well deserved besotted feast to LR.  One can't help loving her so whether singing on Sesame Street or in a Broadway operetta show.  Award winning doc. filmmakers Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman somehow captured a majestic artist and beacon of positive energy.  A thoroughly captivating doc. that is finely orchestrated.

Diana Krall Dazzles with her Piano Virtuosity and Sizzling Vocals at Sonoma State

Diana Krall wearing a long suede coat with tall leather boots and blonde tresses come on stage looking every bit a runway model.  She's a sexy siren with an exceptionally enticing voice and prodigious piano skills.  Her radiant good cheer warmed the audiences. "I love playing here.  I feel back at home." She asked we "Get out of the present and into the present," and broke into "Do I Love You" with her sensual jazz libretto.  The program consisted mainly with standard jazz classics like "Nothing at All" and "Love is All I Can Give to You."  Her artistic interpretations transform the ballads into nothing like you've heard before.  Many of the numbers were bookended by her deep rich vocals bridging the smooth jazz and allowing for blowing changes.  Krall's jazz fusion sound was augmented by a quartet of phenomenal musicians.  The bass player gave a mesmerizing solo simultaneously strumming & plucking the strings combining a cadence of both jazz & classical.  Diana asked for a sing-a-long on "Love is All I Can Give to You" but didn't get fed back from the crowd and picked up with it in good humor.   The numbers were never introduced although most were identifiable classics.  They performed one original composition she wrote with 2 of her bandmates.  I would have liked her to name the song and her favorite Irving Berlin song which was a beautiful love ballad.  Krall is a two time Grammy winner with numerous jazz albums topping the jazz billboard charts.  Krall constantly amazed with blowing changes and her sensual sound that marks her unique style recognizable while transcending any one musical genre.  The roaring standing ovation brought them back on stage for 2 memorable encores:  "Cry Me a River" and "Doing Much Better Now."  Live jazz performances don't get much better than this and was an especially welcomed  respite from today's tumultuous times.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Peanut Butter Falcon - The Movie Soars into Your Heart and Sticks to the Soul

This majestically shot film is much more than an odd couple, buddy road trip.  It tips its sails to Huckleberry Finn.  Directors/screenwriters Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have framed together an odyssey that grapples between good guys and bad guys.  It unveils kindnesses & understanding that puts mankind in the same boat and keeps humanity afloat.  The unlikely heroes of this endearing saga are Zack (Zack Gottsagen) and Tyler (Shia LeBeouf). Both young men are on the run.  Zack (a Down syndrome actor) has escaped the confines of a senior living center where he's been wrongly relegated by the state.  Despite the loving care from the facility's social worker Eleanore (Dakota Johnson) Zack has unfulfilled dreams of a young man.  He feels imprisoned with only "old people".  His roommate (Bruce Dern) empathizes with Zack and assists his escape tho denies any culpability.   The other unlikely anti-hero, Tyler (a stupendous Shia LeBeouf) supports himself by poaching from other fisherman's traps.  The two connect when Zack stows away on Tyler's small motor-craft when Tyler is fleeing the murderous wrath of those he's stolen from.  John Hawkes plays one of the vicious men in ruthless pursuit for revenge.  Tyler reluctantly takes Zack under his wing as they travel together on a harrowing Mark Twain adventure with many dips and surprising curves.  Eleanore is ordered to find Zack and bring him back.  The symbiotic bond between Tyler and Zack swells from a whirlpool into immense solicitude.  Their growing friendship helps heal Tyler's painful ordeal and provides Zack with "life experiences that make for a good story to tell."  The makeshift family formed between Eleanore, Tyler and Zack is touching & tenable.  Not all is smooth sailing but along way they encounter winsome individuals who offer warmth & hospitality  Comparing this film to Twain's masterpiece "Huckleberry Finn" is lofty but defensible.  Jim & Zack were viewed by society as sub-human (not to say Jim's heinous treatment equates to Zack's).  Needless, both were unjustly pegged and constrained.  Huck and Tyler (both outsiders) view Jim & Zack as equals, friends and   deserving of their rightful freedom.  Huck & Tyler help secure their friend's journeys.  The crepuscular scenes aboard the make-shift raft run parallel to "Huck Finn."  "The Peanut Butter Falcon" soars on its stunning cinematography, superb acting and powerful storytelling.  Its superhero strength stems from its expansive heart.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

British Dir Gurinder Chadra's Blinded by the Light - Is so Bad it Should've be Seen

"Blinded by the Light" is so wrong for so many reasons.  The ingredients in this botched film are so  better than the combined cliched, interminable MTV video which ends up going nowhere.  Dir. Chadra (b. Kenya 1960) is a British film director whose film have dealt intelligently with issues pertinent to British women of Indian heritage.  The Pakistani women are delegated to abject, submissive subjects.  Sarfraz Manzoor (b Pakistan 1971) is a British journalist & doc. filmmaker whose semi-autobiographical book "Greetings from Bury Park" the film is based. The premise here is of a young Pakistani boy, Javed (Viveik Kalra) who immigrates to the UK with his family & the father's dreams for a better life doesn't start a fire but offers a spark for an uplifting coming of age story & family saga.  The Javed's father (Kalvinder Ghiri) plays the overbearing patriarch/martyr who forbids Javed & his sister from parties & social norms enjoyed by their peers. The father son uprising is not surprising nor their teary eyed conciliatory reckoning endearing.  The film is one overly long platitude that is cloying and pathetic.  Javed's dreams of becoming a writer which are spurned on by Springstein's music, a prof. who nurtures his potential and an aberrant, elderly neighbor.  The setting is in a banal urban town outside London; it ain't got nothing to offer.  Javed believes his ticket out from the town which ain't going nowhere is through his writing & education.  The film is ambitious in its political messaging.   The epoch of unrest is set in the UK '1986/7 under Thatcher with rising unemployment & racist xenophobia.  The protests & prejudices lack impact.  The father's ongoing quip to associate with the Jews because they're successful is a joke here somewhere.  Springstein's lyrics are plastered on screen ain't got nothing to say that isn't facetious rather than impactful.  Javed's  song & dance number with his girlfriend and on-lookers is gag inducing.  I liked the performance by Kalra although his omnipresence grew tiresome.  His friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) added welcomed relief.  Unfortunately, Javed's dad is a boorish stereotype and becomes a farcical figurehead.  Glory days - let this wearisome film pass you by.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco - Wistful Longing and Lasting Friendships

Joe Talbot's stunning debut film "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" earned him the Best Dir. Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.  Talbot was born & raised in the city by the bay for which this beautiful shot and poignantly acted film pays homage.  This tender and heart rendering film emphasizes the ever changing city.  It casts its light on the rancid water in the bays, homelessness, deterioration of its structures, impoverished populations and gang violence.  This languorous film is seen mostly through the eyes of  Jimmie Fails, a skateboarding squatter who pines for the Victorian home he maintains was built by his grandfather just after WWII.  There's a scattering of colorful characters that add luster to this luminescent landscape.  We find a street preacher, an aspiring artist/playwright and his blind father played by Danny Glover.  There's a colorful & loud neighborhood gang of tough talking thugs with little else to do.  The contained plot of Jimmie's commitment to care for and obtain this beloved home in SF becomes a courageous odyssey through a visually stunning city filled with unforgettable faces.  The acting by Fails and Jonathan Majors as Mont is phenomenal.  Their enduring friendship shores up the others dreams and lifts the film into a profound realm.  There are no individual villains in this film.  Patience, dignity & kindness are oftentimes the traits shown.  The malefactor is the passage of time & apathy rendering too often lives meaningless.  The blind eye of society's deterioration is highlighted into kaleidoscope focus.  Talbot wrote, directed and produced "The Last Black Man in San Francisco".  This will not be the last we see from a budding filmmaker of immense talents.

Friday, August 16, 2019

THE FAREWELL Well Written & Dir. by Chinese/Amer. Filmmaker Lulu Wang

THE FAREWELL "Based on a True Lie" is an affecting film about a Chinese family whose beloved matriarch, Nai Nai (a marvelous Zhao Shuzen) has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer & given a life expectancy of several few weeks.  Nai Nai is the only one out of the loop amongst her family to be informed she's not long for this world.  Her 2 sons & sister believe it's a kind lie and in her best interests.  One son  emigrated to Japan the other America to raise their families.  This beautifully shot and artfully framed movie serves as a paradigm for comparing western/eastern philosophies as well as generational divide perspectives.  Billi (Awkwafina) born in China moves with her Chinese parents to NYC at a young age.  Billi is bi-lingual with a wry sense of  humor, inner strength and tenderness.  She's struggling to make it one her own but it's arduous in the city that never sleeps.  She's close with her mom & pop.  She's home often to do her laundry and bicker with her folks.  Her parents have been known to bicker & battle with boozing.  Still, there's a lot of love to go round in this family dramedy  to keep the film on keel between melancholy & merriment.  The film muses on familial bonds, diasporas/assimilations and cultural differences between east & west.  Many scenes are shot around the dinner table the central hearth & heart of the family unit. The wedding banquet is a bonus of delectable nuggets crammed with whimsy & charm.  Dir/screenwriter/producer, Lulu Wang (b China) is an Amer. filmmaker.  Wang has an astute & artistic eye that captures the beauty in the mundane and momentous moments in life.  What remains constant is change and steadfast connection with the ties that bind.  Expecting an epiphanous ending?  Ha! Ha!  Think again.  No lie, this movie is generous in spirit, not everything is about money.  Life's burdens are lifted when carried by family.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

SF MoMA Chamberlains & Bove - Crushed Crumpled and Tired Sculptures

Amer. born artist John Chamberlain (1927-2011) and Swiss born artist Carol Bove (b. 1971) are both sculptors who share many commonalities.  Both sculptors work with metals and found objects and are highly regarded artists whose arts have been shown in top art museums and installed in outdoor public spaces.  The SF MoMA has a gallery that has combined the works of both artists which draw comparisons and yawns.  Chamberlain is best known for his large, colorful sculptures that incorporate scrap metal, galvanized steel; most stemming from the detritus of crashed or crushed autos.  Chamberlain reassembles the metal scraps which are often painted and colorful into abstract expressionist works that resemble what they are - calamitous debris from discarded cars that resemble heaps of scrap metal; just juxtaposed I suppose to engage the viewer to see destruction as construction - tragedy as ingenuity.  Chamberlain's works over his prolific career have at times drawn me into his formidable shapes that soften what could be seen as harsh metals crushed by happenstance together.  Looking in on the exhibit at SF MoMA, I found the large scale works tired, looking like something pulled from a garbage heap of scrap metal.  Bove, brings a fresher, more whimsical approach with her vivid but limited color palette and fewer combined forms creating a more solid, intentional shape. Still, the use of serendipitously found objects (hmm) and crushed and folded forms also feels outmoded and banal.   Perhaps, the sculptures are best suited to outdoor venues as they seemed musty inside MoMA's gallery.

Monday, August 12, 2019

HBO Doc the Rock Dwayne Johnson "Rock and a Hard Place" Boot Camp Offers Hope

"Rock and a Hard Place" is a doc. film by multiple Acad. Award nominated directors Matthew O'Neill and Jon Albert.  Originally filmed in '17, it's available on HBO.  The film follows 38 young convicts of serious crimes given long time sentences who are given a 2nd chance to turn their lives around. They're enabled to revoke their sentences upon completion of a 16 wk. Boot Camp Corrections and Rehab Program in Dade County, FL.  Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. "the Rock" is the producer.  He appears in the beginning & end of this film.  Johnson had a peripatetic upbringing & was no stranger to getting in trouble with the law.  By the time he was 17 Johnson had been arrested for fighting, theft and check fraud.  Johnson credits finding sports as one of his outlets and motivations for changing his life.  "Rock and a Hard Place" is both a painful movie to watch not just for the arduous & oftentimes harsh treatment of these young men, but for the heart breaking knowledge of what led these teens to commit violent felonies destroying their lives as well.  The 38 youths assigned to Dade County Boot Camp have received a major reprieve by the judges who handled their cases.  We don't know what went into the decision making process.  We do know it's now up to the individuals to take this opportunity & training to turn their lives around by adhering to the rigors, demands & guidance given.  We get to know some very intimately.  The cameras are somehow invisible in this locked down facility which demands extreme obedience & discipline.  Not everyone uses this tough but liberating 2nd chance.  The police/military staff & social workers hew are not the enemy, far from it.  The main drill sergeant is a heroic human being whose objective is to see all in this program succeed.  This 2nd chance may be the first chance to some for hope for their future and a vision for what that entails.  As the officer says "No one says in 10 years I want to be in prison, homeless or poor."  But  without a viable support system or productive alternatives, that is where many end up.  Of the 38 that entered the book camp, 5 did not graduate.  Two who showed promise made the worst decision possible.   Their stunned bunkmates calculate what this will mean in terms of incarceration.  As for recidivism, Dade County Boot Camp has a 10% rate v. 70% on the national level.  This is a must see doc. film that gets up close & personal and in your face.  Programs like this that prove there is a way for young people to know their lives matter and what they do to with their lives matter.  At graduation Johnson says  "Now go out there & do good in the world."

Bob James, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller DOUBLE VISION Redeux - COOL JAZZ in Sonoma

No need to adjust your vision or your hearing, Thursday night at Weil Hall in Santa Rosa, legendary jazz artists Bob James, David Sanborn and Marcus Miller reunited on stage for the first time since recording their Grammy winning album "Double Vision."  James on keyboard, Sanborn on sax & Miller on bass guitar dazzled the packed auditorium & filled the outdoor venue with crowds picnicking & celebrating this fortuitous classical jazz performance.  Miller told a spellbound audience, the 3 had collaborated on this album back in 1986 "back when I was 6".   Joking aside, this landmark recording with the collaboration of these immensely talented artists stands the test of time.  There was plenty of good natured ribbing on stage between the musicians oftentimes at their own expense.  This added an aura of good natured camaraderie, cool jazz listening and dancing.  This concert invited dancing in the aisles, in your seats and on the lawn.  James recalls recalled working on this jazz fusion album in '86 at a time when new age music was becoming more mainstreamed "...and taking away their audience."  Multi-award winning composer, arranger & keyboard artist, James' musical genre includes jazz, smooth jazz & fusion jazz.  The epoch for new age may have had its day but "Double Vision" is the kind that aligns with legendary musical artists that James, Sanborn & Miller have also collaborated with including Sarah Vaughn,  Freddy Hubbard, Grover Washington Stanley Turrentine, Maynard Ferguson & Quincy Jones.  It was Quincy Jones who discovered James in a music competition while he was a college student at MI and quickly signed him.  Sanborn was described by critic Scott Yanow as "the most influential jazz saxophonist on pop, R&B & cross-over of the past 20 years." ('00). Sanborn has earned 6 Grammys, 8 gold albums & 1 Platinum album and  given a hall -pass for the intermittent squeaks that emanated from his sax.  After all, the superstar is pushing 80.  He was very disarming.  He said "I'm not a prolific composer like Bob or Marcus and I haven't been too lucky in love.  But, the few times I've had a girlfriend they'd ask me to write a song for them.  So, there's Bernice, and there's Maude and there went those relationships.  The next time my girlfriend asked me to write a song for her I titled it 'It's You' so you'll know."  He then delighted us with performing "It's You."  Billy Kilson on drums killed it.   Larry Braggs on guest vocals was an added bonus to this jazz bonanza.  Braggs sang "Since I fell for You" written by Miller originally for Al Jarreau.  Braggs, a founding Tower of Power member gave us a fabulous rendition.  "Double Vision is considered by many as one of the most successful & influential albums in the jazz genre.  "Hot funk cool punk, even if it's old junk"* this was one swinging, winning evenings of cool jazz and a lot of fun.
*Billy Joel

Monday, July 29, 2019

Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love - Leonard Cohen doc. with Little Interest but for Him

The verbose, disjointed doc. on the life of Leonard Cohen (b Canada 1934) is structured around the love story of the legendary poet/singer/song writer and his muse Marianne Ihlen (b Norway 1936).  The fractured biopic begins with Cohen living on the Greek Isle Hydra in 1960 where he meets Marianne. She's married with an infant at the time.  Marianne's marriage soon falls apart with her heart falling overboard to Leonard, a struggling, impoverished novelist.  Their love story is highlighted with archival footage of the handsome dark haired Leonard & fair haired beauty smiling, sailing & living a blissful bohemian lifestyle.  Marianne made it possible for Leonard to devout full-time to writing.  The intimate photos & homemade movies hold little interest to an outsider.  The voice overs are from friends & artists living in Hydra.  Marianne modestly claims she never found herself beautiful ,"my face is too round."  I agree with her assessment and puzzle over the circular lissom construct of the film.  Ihlen & Cohen's relationship was solid prior to his fame as and ebbs away with Cohen's rise to celebrity.  Their gossamer connection over the lifetime were only 7 years in the 60s.  Both passes away in 2016.  Although their loose thread acts as the ark for delving into the many fascinating incarnations of Cohen's life.  His battle with depression was omnipresent along with  an insatiable appetite for women &hallucinogens.  Judy Collins is the first to get Cohen onstage to sing one of his songs.  He suffered severe stage fright but achieved an immensely successful career writing, recording & performing his poetic/folksy songs spanning decades.  Acad. Award winning Amer. documentarian, D. A. Pennebaker & BAFTA winning British director Nick Broomfield  needed serious editing with many of the garrulous interviews from people on the periphery of Cohen's life especially the wife of an author friend.   Too much irritating time is allotted her as a self-proclaimed expert on Leonard's love life and the incapability of great artists to maintain stable relationships.  The recollections from band member Ron Cornelius (who sounds like Bill Clinton) are riveting and revealing.  Cohen's evolving genius as a writer & performer and his eccentric inhabitations from living in a monastery and his rise back from poverty & obscurity in his 70s are ample reasons for appreciating this doc.  It's dubious why the film attributes itself an iconic love story.  It serves as a zeitgeist into the 60s and loving tribute to a profound artist.  Cohen is a captivating character whose an amalgamation of Keats, Dylan, Simon, Guthrie and Dustin Hoffman yet an astoundingly talented & unique individual.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" Stars DiCaprio, Pitt and Margot Robbie

"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is written & directed by Quentin Tarantino.  I'll save you time & cut to the chase - the film is ho-hum & lackluster despite an excellent cast & creative re-writing of events surrounding the gruesome Hollywood murders of movie actress Sharon Tate.  Tate was married and pregnant with director Roman Polanski's child.  While 8 months pregnant, Polanski was abroad while Tate was in their Hollywood home.  She was not alone and her guests were also victims of this brutal & scandalous melee included in the zeitgeist of the late 1960s.  Tarantino draws out terrific performances from a cast that probably needs little direction including DiCaprio, Pitt, Margot Robbie, Daniela Pick (Tarantino's wife who plays DiCaprio's wife) and Bruce Durn in a small but unforgettable turn.  The look & sound both on the set and off the TV stage set where Rick Dalton (Leonard DiCaprio) is playing an aging, "useless" western actor shadowed by his unflappable stunt double and hired lackey, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).  Dalton's career is becoming washed up (thanks in part to his heavy boozing).  Booth is clinging to his stunt-man career at the heels of Booth.  Needless, Booth's self-defense skills & wherewithal serve both him & Dalton well.  Dalton lives next door to Sharon Tate & Roman Polanski.  Their neighborly paths are sure to cross.  The buildup to the high noon shootout massacre that occurred at the Tate home on August 8th, 1969 is tedious and dried up.  Quentin adds his fairytale rewriting of history around the Manson clan and Tate mansion murders.  Fans of Quentin's bloody fights will not be disappointed nor will fans of this epoch.  In fact, the fabricated ending is inordinately preferable as was his ingenious ending in "Inglorious Basterds."  However, the events in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" are shallow and unsatisfying in their build-up to the expected twist to historic twisted event.  The film begs to be revered but it's too helter-skelter to feel ignited.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Melinda's Suggested TV Series Viewing You May Want to See - or Not!

If you're looking to binge or do some watching from home this summer, here are my favorite picks in preferential order:

1.  Fleabag (Season 2) - British series written/starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge
2.  Big Little Lies
3.  The End of the F--king World - British series
4.   Pose - Season 1 - Billy Porter is phenomenal and a Reminder of AIDS in the 80s
5.  Killing Eve - (Season 1) British series written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
6.  Dead to Me
7.  Fosse/Verdon
8.  The Baker & The Beauty an Israeli series
9.   Dark - German sci-fi time travel series hard to follow but it draws you in

Here are a few that I just couldn't get through in descending order or interest:

1.   Game of Thrones (I know - most Emmy nominations Ever)
2.   This is Us
3.   Sharp Objects
4.   Russian Doll
5.   Orange is the New Black
6.   Euphoria
7.   Chambers
8.   Stranger Things

Saturday, July 13, 2019

"Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am" An Artful Biopic Flick that Makes You Think and Feel

The biopic doc. on Toni Morrison (TM) is an insightful, immersive and artistic reflection of one of the world's most brilliant writers.  And, in doing so, it's a testimony to the omnipotence of words with their capacity to embody lives & experiences intensely that are outside one's self.  From the onset, the film establishes its flair for meshing creative visual artistry which frame the literary genius of Ms. Morrison.  There's a montage of photographs & images dissected and refigured in a stunning compilation spanning images of TM's life.  TM is the author of her own life on screen.  She is candid, eloquent, direct and delightful in her interviews off-camera along with footages of other recorded interviews.  Legendary literary figures & iconic individuals bring their insightful commentaries about TM, their relationships to her and the impact of her extraordinary work.  Some of the exceptional interviews are from Walter Mosley, Sonia Sanchez, Hilton Als, Farah Griffin, Russel Banks, Angela Davis and Oprah Winfrey.  TM exclaims her writing as focusing on the black experience in America is in a unique clear voice told free from the "white gaze,""without the non-white judgmental eye."  TM's narrative is driven by deep interior pain of the poor, made to feel inferior class of blacks' point of view.  Although TM describes her upbringing in OH as a cordial melting pot.  Her desire to attend college was to expand her horizons and put distance from home.  This artful & absorbing doc. is punctuated by paintings & photographs by mainly African Americans illustrating an epoch of slavery & segregation in our country which TM confronts in her writings.  The film points out literary awards weren't bestowed TM in a timely manner.  TM's laughs off this push for honorary recognition which have been given including the Amer. Nobel Prize & Pulitzer Prize in Literature & the Presidential Medal of Honor.  The artists whose work highlights this film were for the most part overlooked during their lifetime.  In addition to being a prolific and magnificent writer, TM was also an editor,  college professor and single mother of two sons.  The film retains an intimate & ebullient tone throughout.  TM tells us "I'm smart early in the morning."  She's up before sunrise, "the most glorious part of the day" and gets in 3 productive hours of writing.  Feeling overwhelmed TM construed a list of all she was doing and whittled it down to the only 2 that mattered: being a mother to her sons & writing.  There is an earned luminescent hubris engulfing TM.  There's no barriers between TM's narratives and her reader.  TM identifies as a black writer, exploring race, history and the black experience.  Her rapport with the camera instills a fresh directness that feels conversational while stirring controversial dialogue.  This doc. is a must see film.  It's directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.  Toni Morrison's literary prowess is immeasurable.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Top 10 Cultural Picks for the First Half of 2019 from Around the Apple

Here is my list of my favorite cultural happenings that were happening around the Big Apple in alphabetical order:

1.   AILEY II - An all new program

2.   Siah Armajani's Iranian/Amer. Artist - Retrospective at the Met Breuer

3.   Jean-Michel Basquiat's Artworks at the Brandt Fdtn.

4.   INK - by British playwright James Graham

5.   Juilliard Spring Dance Performances

6.   Marcus Miller Electric Miles at Jazz at Lincoln Center

7.   Socrates by playwright/actor Tim Blake Nelson at The Public

8.   The Pink Unicorn a One Woman Show with Alice Ripley

9.   What the Constitution Means to Me written and starring Heidi Shreck

19.  Whitney Biennial

Special mention to the prescient off-Broadway play AFTER about bullying and gun violence

Melinda's Top Ten Movie Picks for the First Half of 2019

Here are my picks for the best films since Jan. 1, 2019 in alphabetical order:

1.   Amazing - A doc. of an Aretha Franklin concert filmed in LA Jan. '72 over 2 days

2.   Arctic - Brazilian dir. Joe Penna's film based on a true story of survival

3.   Booksmart - Written by Emily Halpern & directed by Olivia Wilde.

4.  Fighting with My Family Based on a true story of Prof. Women's Wrestling with Dwayne Johnson

5.   If Beale Street Could Talk - Based on James Baldwin's novel

6.   Late Night - Mindy Kaling writes & co-stars with Emma Thompson

7.   On the Basis of Sex - based on Ruth Bader Ginsburg

8.   The Biggest Little Farm - A doc. written/filmed/starring John Chester; CA organic farming

9.  They Shall Not Grow Old - A WWI doc. with restored original footage

10.  Yesterday - A musical fantasy homage to The Beatles

Special commendation to Spanish dir. Pedro Almodovar's doc. The Silence of Others

HBO - Two doc. films not to be missed

FOSTER - the Foster System in LA

On Tour with Aspergers are US - 4 comics with Aspergers on a road trip

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN' the Musical at the Raven - 'Hark - Forever More'

Many will argue  Mel Brooks' films "The Producer" or "Blazing Saddles" are amongst the funniest films of all times.  Brooks co-wrote & co-starred with Gene Wilder in "Young Frankenstein."  The film opened in 1974 (in Milwaukee where Wilder is from) and Brooks claims this is his best film.  "The Producers" went on to become a major Broadway Musical Hit.  "Young Frankenstein" had a short life-span on Broadway (2007-09) with mixed reviews.  The Raven Performance Theater in the quaint town of Healdsburg, CA, are offering a Halloween treat complete with live music and some surprisingly strong performances from its cast of local playhouse performers.  The hilarious film is a hard act to follow against the comedic geniuses of Wilder, Brooks, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn.  The slapstick, visual humor made fleeting only fleeting glimpses in this production.  Dr. Frankenstein (Troy Thomas Evans) comedic acting flatlined but his singing voice along with that of Inga (Mary Watts Sparks) were both admirable.  Frau Blucher (Tory Rotlisberger) did spark some genuine gleeful comedy.  Igor played by Bill Garcia doesn't compare to the late great Marty Feldman in the role but he stole the show.   Credit the live orchestra with transforming this community theater into a viable "Off Off Broadway" show.  Conductor Kelly Considine lead an excellent score with gusto.  The orchestra alone made it worth the paltry $30 admission price.  Kyle Craft on violin and Ruth Wilson on French Horn were first rate, first chair musicians.  There was budding talent to be found on stage with two young performers.  Cecilia Brenner, just 11 years old was terrific and Emilia Naples, a sophomore at the local high school was a stand-out with her fabulous dancing.  Both were in the ensemble.  SF Ballet look no further than your own backyard for a budding star in Naples and Brenner might bring locals bragging rights for hometown talent.  I recommend the Raven's production of "Young Frankenstein" as and enjoyable romp and a reprieve against today's pressures.  "Humor is just another defense against the universe."  (M Brooks).

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Film "Yesterday" Imagine a World Without Beatles Music if You Can

"Yesterday" is a fantasy (or perhaps horror) film wherein the Beatles were never formed and the multitude of memorable songs that formed the soundtrack to our lives are gone.  Stop and think about it, no uniting of Paul, John, George and Ringo.  Dir/producer Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") romantic musical comedy plays on the premise the Beatles band had never born.  Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a fledgling singer/songwriter getting by with a little drudgery job.  He has 1 unflagging fan, Elie (Lily James "Downton Abbey").  Elie is his manager & long time admirer since their teens.  Not having made it in the music business, Jack tells Elie he's had enough.  Elie tries to convince him to stick with it, he's got talent and miracles can happen.  What happens is the entire planet goes dark (y2k deja vu) for 12 minutes while Jack is on his bike.  He slams into a bus.  It's a miracle he survived.  When he wakes in the hospital, Elie is at his side.  Hey dude, is the premise of the movie based on a dream?  Na-na na, na - let that idea out & let it in, allow the fantasy to begin.  Once out of the hospital, Elie presents him with a new guitar (he sweetly weeps for his demolished guitar).  Elie with a couple friends (one a doppelgänger for Paul McCartney's son) ask him to play.  Jack chooses "Yesterday" to the astonished praise of Elie & friends.  They don't seem to recall the song or the Beatles.  Is this a dream or a joke gone on too long?  Jack attacks the internet.  The only reference to Beatles are - beetles.  He becomes a real nowhere man, not knowing what he's going to do.  He begins to perform Beatle songs to growing adoration from increasing crowds.  Ed Sheeran (playing himself) pops over to his house having heard him play & asks him would he like to open for his band.  Jack agrees immediately (despite his dad running ridiculous interference).  Sheeran is one of the many delightful surprises.  If Sheeran can play out of character, he may have another career acting.  And, Malik has great promise as a singer.  Kate McKinnon's role as the LA ruthless music exec who  tempts Malik with money & fame is a big put off.  Rocky (Joel Frey "Game of Thrones") on the other hand puts in scene stealing performance as the underfoot lackey.  Rocky is only trying to HELP Jack.  Rocky says to Jack "I never not got what you not got in Elie."  The movie strums along with the Jack & Eli love story everyone sees except Jack before it's too late for him to say he's sorry and he's gonna lose that girl.  Patel & James performed together in perfect harmony. "Yesterday" is a charming and entertaining homage to the Beatle's songwriting genius.  the Beatles' music will defy the test of time as in all great art.  The film "Yesterday" is a pleasurable romp into a nightmarish world without the music.  Imagine a world without cigarettes, it isn't hard to do.  You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.  Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The doc. Film "The Biggest Little Farm" is Big on Charm, Wisdom and Nature's Beauty

John and Molly Chester have worked out the recipe for marriage mixed with manure for good measure that's matured into a phenomenal organic farm in CA.  This didn't happen without them getting their hands dirty or spirits dampened.  John is an award winning film and TV writer/director.  His wife Molly, a farm to table organic chef.  They're happily married & living in Santa Monica when they became dog driven to revitalize hundreds of acres of barren farm land into a utopian, self-sustaining organic farm.  This was achieved through "a delicate dance of co-existence" amongst nature, nurture, organisms, animals & people.  Dog driven because after being drawn to rescue dog named Todd.  Their vows now included a permanent home for Todd. Todd was beloved by John & Molly but not their neighbors.  Todd's non-stop howling whenever they were away and got them evicted.  Naturally, John's talent as a filmmaker & Molly's love for cooking organically with added ingredient of needing to relocate landed them in Moorpark, CA; just over an hour N of LA.  With financial backing, inexplicable soil hacking, fundamental understanding of farming lacking (and cameras packing) John & Molly sought mentors, help and 8 unforgettable years later, their dreams  of a productive "traditional" farm using diversity, ingenuity, grit grew into a miraculous reality.  Getting there was a slow journey of disillusionment,  debacles, devastation & determination.  This indefatigable twosome created something profound.  This wondrous cinematographic doc. captures  nature's beauty & brutality. The viewer will discover fragile harmony in our eco-system energized by the impermanence of life.   John is not only the hero of his domain.  He's totally hands on, heart fully committed and discretely behind the camera.  John is the writer, dir. producer and cinematographer of this phenomenal film that gives you an inside look at the complex inter-workings of nature's inherent sustainability and human ingenuity.  "There's more to see than can ever be seen.  More to do than can ever be done."*   John narrates with poetry and sage.  Amy Overbeck's editing is brilliantly dissected & 'thymed' spanning nearly a decade.  "The Biggest Little Farm" is magically unpredictable.  It's a paradox of co-existence and a creative observation on the delicate equilibrium balance; pest or salvation, problem or resolution.   John and Molly unearthed an interconnected beauty of land and nature and discovered a comfortable level of disharmony essential to thrive.  Parents, you may want to take your children to see the "Lion King" but you MUST take them with you to see "The Biggest Little Farm."  "It's the circle of life and it moves us all."*

* (E John)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Late Night Shines with Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson-A Modern Mary Tyler Moore and More

The film "Late Night" is formulaic funny stuff that is riotously clever, politically incorrect and much more than a light fare chick flick.  A behind the scenes TV talk show host & writing staff is not ground breaking material but "Late Night" throws in saucy curves and hard hitting lines.  Molly (Mindy Kaling "The Mindy Project") is the film's screenwriter and co-star who pars with her boss, TV Late Night host Katherine (the inimitable Emma Thompson). Kaling pays unapologetic homage to old TV shows; particularly the beloved "Mary Tyler Moore Show".   Kaling tosses her hat high & laughs rain down amid some well earned tears.  Molly is your perky, irrepressible single working woman looking for her big break in TV.  Katherine is the curmudgeon boss who hates perky.  Katherine has a steely facade covering for a big heart after all.  The Late Night Talk Show with host Katherine Newbury has been flailing for the past several years. It's become stale, dated and worst of all, not funny.  There's blame to go around from its haughty host and its all white stale male writing team for whom Katherine's stifled and been hostile.  The comedy writers type casting is straight from "40 Rock" (as is the locale).  They're a motley mix of talented actors.  Katherine assigns them numbers according to their seats rather than addressing them by name.  A few of the number crew to call out are Hugh Darcy, Reid Scott, Max Casella and Denis O'Hare as Brad her long-time cohort.  Amy Ryan is perfect as the menacing network head who intends to stop the bleeding by cutting Katherine from her show.  Katherine knows she's been negligent, lazy & sexist.  She hates working with other women and orders Brad to hire a woman on the staff.  Molly's happenstance circumstance land her the job despite her feeble qualifications.  But, timid Molly is not.  Mindy as Molly has never been more appealing or subversively clever.  The "Me too Movement" gets a she too slut shaming and there's affirmative action blaming.  Molly remains undaunted.  She refuses to be marginalized by white male privilege or kowtow to a bitchy boss.   This may sound trite but Late Night goes rogue.  It's a pastiche of hubris, humbling humor with earnest emotional tugs & twists.  Kaling's screen-writing is innovative  "cartharcissim" deserving of a standing ovation.  "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." Mindy Kaling is no Yeats, at least not yet.  But, "Late Night" is a sure bet for LOL fun.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Oliver Ranch an Outdoor Sculpture and Art Installation in Sonoma County

The Oliver Ranch located in Sonoma just an hour north of San Francisco is an outdoor art museum with 18 installations on a sprawling 100 acres of rolling landscapes with breathtaking  panoramic views of the surrounding wine countryside.  It's fair but diminutive to compare Oliver Ranch to Storm King an hour north of NYC sitting on 5 times the acreage and 10 times the number of installations.  Of course, this is petty and both outdoor art museums are well worth visiting.  Both have large scale installations that can be appreciated in a relaxed and organic environment.  We were met at the property by Steve Oliver.  Steve and his wife Nancy have partnered with the Community Fdtn Sonoma County to offer tours to organizations benefitting the local community.  Oliver greeted us in jeans & t-shirt & gave a rehearsed, self-deprecating history of his initial interest in contemporary arts which were honed into a driving passion by his wife.  Oliver's background is in engineering & business.  He built & owns the massively successful Oliver Construction Co.  The only restriction placed on the artists' works by Oliver were to be site specific.  The art installations are majestic feats of architectural engineering and complex configurations.  There are 3 derivations from this generalized description.  Two sound installations and the dual figurative sculptures by Terry Allen.  I took exception to the curators' shallow summation of Allen's works as whimsical.  I thought Allen's sculptures of a girl with her head buried in the ground and the headless male torso braced against a tree a powerful political comment on racial injustice with its history of lynching and the continual failure to acknowledge and affirm civil by burying one's head or turning a deaf ear.  The 2 structures I was most taken with were Roger Barry's "Darwin" a large steel cor-ten arch for its graceful form melding into the earth as well as its ingenious functioning as a seasonal sun-dial by its casting shadows.  Robert Stackhouse's "Russian River Bones" is an all white oblong structure resembling a board walk.  The upper boards are braced upon tall saw horses.  As you move alongside the structure the shape undulates and creates the sensation of water ebbing and flowing.  I'm disappointed our tour was limited to 8 artists.  I very much wanted to experience Andy Goldsworthy's  "6 untitled installations."  I hope to have another opportunity to immerse myself into Oliver Ranch.  There are performances held inside Ann Hamilton's gargantuan concrete tower with helix staircases which I'd be thrilled to attend.  

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Congrats to Elaine May for Her Tony Win - As Predicted Back in November

THE WAVERLY GALLERY is the name of a defunct art gallery run for almost 30 years by Gladys Green (the incomparable Elaine May) in Greenwich Village.  She's an eccentric octogenarian teetering on senility.  The play begins with Gladys having lunch with her grandson Daniel (Lucas Hedges "Manchester by the Sea").  Gladys is garrulous, charming and ultimately exasperating.  She talks non-stop about herself and the glamorous social life she led with her previous husband; both deceased.  Gladys asks Daniel questions repeatedly.  His contained vexation with his grandma is admirable & hilarious.  Gladys tells Daniel about his paternal grandma who was, well "nuts" at the end of her life.  ACT I is set in 1989 and Gladys' non-stop prattle is maddening but tolerable by her daughter Ellen (Joan Allen), Ellen's husband Howard (David Cromer) and Ellen's son Daniel.   Gladys' loquaciousness at the family dinner table is a comedic masterpiece.  May began as a comedy duo with Mike Nichols & she's a showbiz legend.  May as well hand her the TONY for this remarkable performance.  Her comedic timing is uncanny & her dramatic turn extremely poignant.  ACT II set 2 years later paints a drastic change in Gladys.  Her dementia has deteriorated to the point where she can no longer manage on her own.  Her mind has been smashed to pieces a blank canvas.  The full-time care required is excruciatingly draining on her family.  Ellen's  anger & frustration is understandable and the situation painful for everyone.  Ellen wishes her mom would have a "peaceful death" and tells Daniel to "just shoot me when I get like this."  The running gag with hearing aids is bittersweet.  Don (Michael Cera) is a pathetic flailing painter who hangs his art & his hat in the vacant Waverly Gallery.  Don keeps insisting the family needs to adjust Gladys' hearing aids.  The owner of the gallery evicts Gladys despite the families pleas for more time.  The owner has his own plans for the space although it remains empty for the next 2 years.  Most people don't have the strength or unwilling to commit to someone whose life is fading.   Kenneth Lonergan's brilliant play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist (2001).  The play is cleverly staged.  The brick wall curtain serves as a screen between scenes showing how things have changed over the years in Greenwich Village from the 1960s to 1980s.  Daniel speaking directly to the audience is very affecting.  Allen & Hedges are excellent in their roles.  May gives a powerhouse performance.  Lonergan's brilliant play is a potent reminder to listen to each other, to remember the details and to fully embrace life.   THE WAVERLY GALLERY is a masterpiece and May is a miraculous force of nature.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Warriors Loss is Shoved aside by Mark Steven's Foul Mouth and Contact with Player

I was at the Warriors game last night where the home team fell to the Toronto Raptors 123 to 109 despite an all time high of 47 points for Steph Curry and celebrity support by Beyonce and Jay-Z. The Raptors now lead the series 2-1.  The NBA Finals are not over yet except for one of its owners, Mark Stevens.  In the 4th quarter Raptors' player Kyle Lowry fell into the stands trying to save a loose ball.  It was apparent Lowry was extremely agitated as he was seen asserting himself with a ref.  Not long afterwards,  two security guards were seen escorting a man from the arena who was seated in the section where Lowry had landed.  The man being led out was Mark Stevens; not merely a fan but part owner of the Warriors.  Security reviewed footage of the incident.  Stevens was seated off to the side and not involved in the collision. Nevertheless, Stevens reached over and put his hands on Lowry and yelled vulgarities at him.  This abhorrent behavior is not to be taken lightly.  Lowry said "He {Stevens} had no reason to touch me.  He had no reason to reach over two seats and then say some vulgar language to me.  There's no place for people like that in our league."  Lowry's absolutely right.  The NBA has banned Stevens from the rest of the series.  But, is this in itself serious enough action?  No, it' not!  I agree with Lowry, "Honestly, I hope he's never allowed to come to an NBA game because he shouldn't have done that.  There's no place for that."  The NBA has come out with the following statement "Mr. Steven's behavior last night did not reflect the high standards that we hope to exemplify as an organization.  We're extremely disappointed in his actions along with Mr. Stevens offer our sincere apology to Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors' organization for this unfortunate misconduct. "  Good for Lowry for speaking to league security and for taking action to remove Stevens.  Still, this doe not even out the score.  Stevens should be forevermore banned from attending any NBA games.  I'm hoping the Warriors will tie up the series and go onto a repeat championship.  There should never be a repeat of this disgraceful behavior by a fan and should it be an owner - they should be banned.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

"Booksmart" A Superbad Senior Breakout Flick with Funny Clever Chicks

Film and TV Actress Olivia Wilde makes her film directing debut with "Booksmart" written by Emmy winner Emily Halpern ("Black-ish").  Wilde brings something new & refreshing to the comedy genre of high school seniors, self-proclaimed losers, seeking to redeem their social status and achieve sexual conquests.  There is something blatantly outdated with "Booksmart."  The inane  casting of 20 somethings in roles as high school students deserves detention.  There has to be teens to fill roles as teens.  The entire h.s. class should've already graduated college by now. But, the 2 leads Amy (Kaitlyn Dever "Beautiful Boy") and Molly (Beanie Feldstein "Ladybird") are a pitch perfect comedic duo that precludes warranting a do over.  Feldstein, a youngish Rebel Wilson is magnetic, hilarious and commandeering as the over achieving student with myopic focus.  Molly put aside fun & socializing albeit for her cohort & bestie Amy (an endearing Dever).  The movie begins the last day of high school; a precipice into the future.  Amy picks up Molly for school but first the two do a pas de deus that is like to die for leaving you wanting more.  The footwork is paved for friends who have each other's back.  Back at school, the two are seen on the outside looking in as the student body is submerged in outlandish celebration for their imminent emancipation.  Molly with Amy in tow, go to see the principal (Jason Sudeikis) whose already clocked-out.  But, we'll see from Sudeikis later in an excruciatingly funny scene.  Molly is unsinkable and unperturbed by the bubble she & Amy have been under for 4 years because they both got into Ivy League schools.  Her bubble bursts big time when enlightened by classmates she perceived foolish & puerile they too got into top notch schools while finding time to enjoy other endeavors.  Molly's indignation ignites a highly motivated plan.  She & Amy will make up for lost time by having the time of their lives on their last night.  The two go on a major bender with hilarious detours.  They're not deterred from achieving maximum levels of  cool fun.  The film splashes into the foray of a "Superbad" genre starring Jonah Hill, Feldstein's sister.  "Booksmart" earns valedictorian honors & goes overboard with clever, laugh-out-loud, unexpected humor.  A scene where the girls try to heist a pizza delivery guy for directions to "the party" is priceless and a lock-up as a comedy classic.  The film doesn't shy away from unabashed sexual grossness but it's done with a gamine flair.  "Booksmart" makes top grades for its LOL ludicrousness.  Its high level of perfection goes to uber drive from the girls' bond of friendship so deep it's uplifting to fathom.   Wilde's two "wild & crazy" principles - don't miss out on all the fun - you don't get do overs.  My seminal advice is don't miss out on "Booksmart."

Monday, June 3, 2019

Healdsburg Jazz Festival Features Pianist Ethan Iverson and Saxophonist Mark Turner

The Healdsburg Jazz Festival which is from May 31 - June 9 at the Raven Theater features a variety of styles from spiritual, blues, bebop, Latin, classical and even a Jazz Night at the Movie with archival footage of rare live footage of some of the greatest artists in jazz history.  Last night was a double bill featuring composer/arranger/pianist and NEA Jazz Master Carla Bley, 82 and the contemporary jazz duo pianist Ethan Iverson and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner.  Iverson on keys did all the bantering with the audience and wrote most of their compositions.  My favorite piece nonetheless was one of Turner's compositions which gelled their sinewy rhythms that enhanced each other's unique sounds.   Iverson's piano playing was somewhat reminiscent of Monk's; unpredictable and perfect.  Iverson's arrangement at times seemed to be working too independently and somewhat at odds with each other.  Af first Turner struggled with the reed to his sax.  It took Turner a while to settle in and present the full rich complexities of his tenor sax reminiscent of Coltrane.  Iverson said they were going to play "esoteric contemporary jazz."  The duo, sans drums or bass was intriguing.  The piano & sax duo sufficed to a driving, rich and complex aesthetic.  Their avant-garde style was innovative and exciting.  The type of jazz that embraces a new & rewarding learning curve.  Iverson referred to his mid-western, WI roots, which accounts for his friendly, outgoing demeanor.  The background for the titles to their compositions were clever, especially "Unclaimed Freight."  He was driving in MN with his family in the middle of nowhere when they came upon a gargantuas warehouse with a sign that read "Unclaimed Freight." "I knew this would be the title for my next composition."  Iverson has recorded with Ron Carter and was the musical director for the Mark Morris Dance Co.  Iverson & Turner's original compositions charter new territories that are well worth taking note.  I'm looking forward to hearing the soul jazz duo with Calvin Keys on guitar & Jeff Chambers on bass.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Steven Dietz's Play "This Random World" is Ho Hum LBT in Santa Rosa

"This Random World" playing at the Luther Burbank Theater in Santa Rosa is a rigorous riff on the "wake up and smell the coffee" trope.  Oftentimes, a carpe diem theme resonates with the poignancy of having lived an unfulfilled life as in Miller's "Death of a Salesman," Chekov's "Uncle Vanya" or Wilder's "Our Town."  Steven Dietz (b Amer. 1958) is a prolific playwright whose many plays are currently been produced throughout the US.  "This Random World" fails to break new ground searching for missed opportunities.  The writing lacks depth and the actors were all shrill.  I won't fault the actors for shouting as they were trying to be overheard by Joe Winkler's sound design of continual sonorous rain.  Set designer Argo Thompson made better use of background inclement visuals and sparse sets that shifted fluidly from scenes in both the US & Japan.  The cast of characters includes 2 sibling sets whose familial connections are loosely tethered.  Both sets of siblings harp on "mother always liked you best."   The brother/sister siblings' quibbling revolves around their hermetically isolated mother, Scottie (Trish DeBaun).  The two have no clue their mom is up at dawn to view each unique, miraculous sunrise accompanied by a less than enthused caretaker, Bernadette (Rose Frater).  Scottie also has a penchant for clandestine travel abroad with Bernadette's help and her vow of secrecy from her adult children.  The families intertwine without connecting although they come close in circumstances that are incredulous.  Beth fails to meet up with her travel groups designated departures leaving her in precarious situations.  Furthermore, Beth's macabre obsession with arranging her own obituary & funeral prove her to be controlling and out of touch with savoring life precious moments.  Gary (Ariel Zuckerman) and Claire (Paige Picard) share the most engaging scene where Gary is ending their relationship much to Claire's bitter chagrin.   The play is neither sentimental or moralistic. But, neither is it savvy or funny.  Its construct grows wearisome and the rainfall of life's bounties prove shallow.  Don't wander far from home in order to see "This Random World."

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Whitney Biennial - Two Works Worth the Tour From Nicole Eisenman and Brendon Fernandes

Brendan Fernandes' "The Master Form" is a large installation of 6 geometric sculptures of identical black coloring on linear, thin edged structures.  The central structure is a large configuration of open squares that remind me of jungle gyms on playgrounds meant for children's innovative climbing and exploration.  Fernandes (b. Kenya 1979 and raised in Canada) was a classically trained ballet dancer. His dancing career was sidelined due to injury.  His creative outlet merged into the visual arts.  "The Master Form" combines the ephemeral art of balletic performance with the sedentary art of sculpture.   Five ballet dancers, 2 women (1 in pointe) and 3 male dancers walk in sync to the gallery of Fernandes' solo work to syncopated snapping of their fingers.  All 5 are attired in black leotards that mesh with the sculptures.  Individualizing the dancers, they adhere to the smaller structures as they mirror or become an extension of the form itself.  There is no other audio and each dancers' movements embrace their inhabited sculpture and create a unique orchestrated measure.  Simultaneously, the dancers enter the "jungle gym" moving in rigid, sharp lines without ever making contact with each other.  This captivating installation brought kinetic energy to innate objects and a heightened sense of strength and composition to movement.
Nicole Eisenman's "Procession" takes up the entire 6th floor terrace, a highly coveted platform for presenting artworks.  Eisenman (b France 1965) is primarily known for her colorful figurative paintings that have an element of exaggeration and humor.  "Procession" is a panorama of massive mixed medium incorporating a video, numerous sculptures of varying sizes and figurations.  Taken collectively, the jaw dropping work is perplexing, engaging, whimsical and political.  The largest sculpture of a male figure on his hands and knees emits steams from his annus sporadically.  There's a  small all white eagle prostate in a too small box with wings folded and eyes shut.  A wooden abstract sculpture on a podium is both seductive and haunting.  There's movement with some of the works such as a fishing pole that bobs with multiple tuna cans.  You're invited to walk amongst the works and a ubiquitous staff member cheerfully "answers" any questions with mainly ambiguous responses.  This work needs no curation other than one's own interpretation but it requires a wandering eye and unflagging engagement.

Pedro Almodovar Presents the Doc. "The Silence of Others" Francos Hold On Spain

"The Silence of Others" is a documentary film, 6 years in the making that reveals what transpired under General Franco's 40 year dictatorship of Spain and the ongoing pain.  Dir/producer Almudena Carracedo's (b. Spain 1972) courageous & eye-opening doc. reveals the Parliamentary Amnesty granted in 1977 for both political prisoners who opposed Franco and government officials in Franco's regime.  Carracedo doesn't delve into the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) nor portray to a large degree   life under Franco's 40 year dictatorship; 1939 until his death in 1975.   The substance of "The Silence of Others" is the orchestrated absence of knowledge of historic events incurred by Spain's "Amnesty Laws".  Both political prisoners opposed to Francos' fascist rule and Nationalist cabinet members empowered under Franco were absolved.  The majority of Nationalist cabinet members retained their political positions posthumously.  Franco rose to power in 1939 abetted by Hitler & Mussolini.  Franco's Nationalist forces overthrew the democratic elected  2nd Republic.  What's mainly equated with Spain's Civil War is Picasso's mural "Guernica" which hangs in Madrid and also speaks to crimes against humanity under Franco.  "Guernica" was momentarily spotted on screen.  Carracedo's award winning doc. is a minuscule history lesson of Spain from 1930s-1970s.  The film serves to enlighten the world on the acquiesced acceptance that disavows the genocide & torture of hundreds of thousands of people opposed to Francos oppressive rule.  Young people in Spain appeared unaware of "Amnesty Law" passed in 1977 or of brutal crimes & mass murders during Franco's rule.  Many felt it better not to speak of the witnessed horrors to their families, schools didn't address Spain's 20th C history and the perpetrators of crimes against humanity enabled themselves pardons.  The purported justification was not to open sore wounds in the best interest of healing & uniting the country.  Certainly, it was in the best interest of the Nationalists guilty of committing atrocities.  The "Pact of Forgetting" or untouchable justice is in fact, no justice.  It's shocking to learn of the infants stolen from their mothers for eugenics plodding taking place through the 80s.  Carracedo's doc. gets buried under the long-drawn-out legal proceedings to invoke justice.   Legal battles have been waged in Argentina for more than 8 years to extradite accused Nationalists who tortured, killed and stole infants since they are immune in Spain. The questions raised about white-washing history are prescient and omnipotent.  The ongoing proceedings to recover remains of loved ones feels remote & of lesser consequence. "The Silence of Others" would benefit from major editing and redirecting its lens on how, why and the implications of dismissing and rewriting history.  

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Tony Winner Alice Ripley stars in THE PINK UNICORN Understanding and Transformation

Alice Ripley won a Tony for her performance in "Next to Normal."  Should "The Pink Unicorn" move to Broadway, she should win another Tony for her heartfelt performance of a mother's journey of love, understanding and support for her daughter's gender neutral identification.  Trisha Lee (Alice Ripley) lives in a small Christian TX town where most people attend Church regularly on Sundays and put out the American flag every 4th of July.  The town isn't known for its diversity or its open mindedness.  Trisha takes us into her confidence and trust sharing her befuddlement when her only child, Joeliene informs her mother she is gender neutral a.k.a. gender queer or pansexual.  She tells her mother she wants to be called Joe and the correct pronoun is they.  Joe tries to explain her to dazed mom that gender neutral means not identifying as either male or female.  Trisha's  acceptance for Joe's penchant for wearing all black and short, multi-colored hair style did not prepare her for the serious talk they had at the dining table over tea when Joe revealed the shame felt in concealing being gender queer.  Her classmate Elijah Breckinridge came out as gay and now Joe felt empowered and compelled to freely express how "they" feel.   Joe tells her mother to look it up which she does while at her housekeeping job at a hospital.  Trisha needs the work after her husband was killed by a drunk driver.  Trisha earnestness to understand & support her daughter are all very real and lead her to an epiphany of inner-strength and compassion.  The local priest, Father Dick "he really is a dick" preached the Episcopal Church's acceptance of gay priests as an abomination and heresy.  Trisha questions the priest's narrow minded religious rhetoric.  Joe & Elijah's attempt to form an LBGTQ and Straight Alliance Club at school but are banned by the blockheaded principal.  Ripley has this magical ripple effect that fills the stage with real characters and emotions spinning a one woman show into a transformative work of art that is quietly powerful and deeply penetrating.  Trisha wonders "if God didn't make people of diversity to make us better people."  Playwright Elise Forier Edie has written a smart, warm, funny and provocative play that mystify the soul inspiring empathy, tolerance and love.  We are us better for having experienced this miraculous production from Out of the Box Theatrics.  Out of the Box Theatrics is committed to hiring diverse actors, playwrights regardless of gender, race, creed, ethnicity, or disability.  

Thursday, May 16, 2019

British Playwright James Graham's INK - Rupert Murdoch's Rising Claim in the Media Game

Stop the presses for the sensational West End import INK, a biopic play about Aussie Rupert Murdoch's initial emergence as an international media mogul.  Playwright James Graham's (b UK 1982) INK received an Olivier & Tony nomination for this exceptional production of an indelible portrayal of a ruthless & brilliant business operator.  The script follows the year 1969-70 in which Murdoch took over the fledgling SUN paper in London and transformed into a best selling tabloid.  Murdoch is mercilessly played by Brit Bertie Carvel nominated for a Tony in this role.  INK is a David v Goliath story in which its anti-hero Murdoch maneuvers to beat down the competition with steadfast cunning and has you rooting for his success.  Already a newspaper king in his homeland, Murdoch aims to get conquer the media game abroad appealing to the everyman by selling them what they want. Murdoch pulls the wool over the eyes of its major competitor the "Mirror" starting by luring away Larry Lamb (Johnny Lee Miller in a pitch perfect performance) as editor for the "Sun".   Murdoch agrees to allow Lamb free range over the paper.  Under Lamb's no holds barred modus operandi, rag tag team  of unconventional journalists & photographers, and Murdoch's omnipresent oversight without overstepping, the paper transforms into a sensationalized tabloid outselling the competitors. Major breakthroughs came with exclusive reporting on Murdoch's Deputy's wife kidnapping for ransom. Lamb ran 1st hand privileged information which may have compromised her rescue.  Lamb was the first to post female nudes and to use the telly to advertise the SUN.  Both moves garnered massive readership.  The entire cast is first rate.  Rana Roy (Stephanie Rahn) is outstanding as the infamous first female nude. The sleek scenic design by Bunny Christy provides the fast paced underpinnings to putting together a paper and keeps the tempo pulsing.  Murdoch explains the 5 W's requisite for writing a news story with a wry take on the WHY.  "Once you give the why - the story is over."  Murdoch's business acumen kept his eye on the ever changing future in media to remain relevant and expanding.   INK makes you think whether the media feeds the people what they want or are we now being dictated by the media what it is we want.   Graham's thrilling writing, Rupert Goold's tight direction and great acting make INK a formidable production that you'll want to see.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Iranian/Amer.Siah Armajani's First Major US Retrospective at Met Breuer: Follow this Line

It's surprising that Siah Armajani (b Tehran 1939) immigrated to the US in the 1960sis only now having his first major retrospective at the Met Breuer given he's numerous large public installations both nationally & internationally including New York's 65' "Lighthouse" at the St. George's Ferry Terminal in Staten Island ('96).  This beacon of community gathering offers the public an incredible view of the NY Harbor.  "Follow this Line" is an extensive retrospective which shows the artist serendipitously blurring the lines between architecture & sculpture.  Many of Armajani's work in this exhibit call out violence towards minorities and censorship.  Armajani is an artist and architect.  I'll focus on his miniature architectural structures in the front gallery that are delightful, surprising, magical, childlike and sophisticated.  The nonsensical "Hogwarth" stairs, off kilter roofs and dollhouse size items that appear in unexpected places defy logic and kindle the imagination.  The inviting large grouping of diminutive houses and facades spill over with jest.  Do watch the video slides highlighting scores of his public installations which include bridges, outdoor & indoor public constructions located in many small US cities and overseas.  A bright orange railroad car sits atop an elongated bridge.  The small houses are constructed mainly of cardboard and the sturdy public structures of metal and wood are intended to draw the individual in and communities together.  Armajani was  transfixed with the gravity defying lunar landing in July '1969.   The NYT's paper of this historic event is splayed out with Armajani's wry wit. He writes as Eve to Adam, "We could fly to the moon if you'd only invent the balloon" and on another page "We broke Newton's law and the world saw with awe - the face of the man on the moon."  This well curated exhibit does expound Armajani's political and philosophical artworks.  There are opposing tensions in the "reading rooms" in the back gallery that invite you to enter and read from the papers and texts provided.  An ominous feeling of captivity pervades compelling some to steer clear.  And, the multitude of pencils embedded into wood evoke the perils of censorship.   Armajani referred to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger who said, "We still by no means think decisively enough about the essence of action." "Follow this Line" a Retrospective of Siah Armajani's structures and art leads the viewer towards concrete pragmatic undertakings and also draws you through the looking glass.

Monday, May 13, 2019

MET's CAMP Notes on Fashion - A Show of Extravagance that Underwhelms

The Fashion Institute's newest exhibit coincides with the MET Gala, "The Oscars of Fashion" is CAMP.   CAMP is a subjective term in style but unambiguous for its flamboyance, exaggeration, artifice, extravagance, whimsy, irreverence, decadence and more rather than less.  I would add an androgynous aesthetic that has also become associated with camp.  Oscar Wilde, one of London's most famous playwrights in the late 19th C was infamous for his effeminate flamboyance.  Wilde received requisite homage in the show.  There were replicas of his "dandy" fashion choices alongside photos of him wearing the reproduced outfits.  In being earnest, this show which should have dazzled, fizzled.  There's such a broad spectrum of fashions and icons to single out I thought I would've been wowed.  There were several problems with the curation.   The writings on the showcases were  illegible.  The pepto bismol pink walls were abysmal.  And, the narrow spacing leading to the finale galley was uncomfortable to maneuver. The loop of Judy Garland singing the phrase "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was irritating.  The last gallery contained 2 levels of fashion showcases that captured some of the excitement and hype from this year's MET Gala.   Billy Porter got it right on the pink carpet with his outlandish & show-stopping get-up at the Gala.  The series POSE starring Billy Porter oozes with camp and is well worth watching.   The audio in the last gallery had a compelling rundown on camp and worth listening to.  The phrase that encapsulates camp best was "Absurdity that becomes desirable."  There were guilty pleasures to be found but note most of the modern fashions with an irreverent wink were by contemporary haute couture fashion houses:  Chanel, Jacobs, Mugler, Moschino, Balenciaga, and Vogue.  Also note these designers are major corporate sponsors of the MET's Costume Institute and benefactors of commercial items sold as you exit.  I did find a few favorite outfits: Moschino's deep purple taffeta dress splayed with vibrant, multi-colored butterflies and Theirry Mugler's "Venus" previously seen on Cardi B at this year's Grammys.  Bob Mackie's dresses were prominent as his style is a prototype of camp fashion.  But there were gross oversights from this show:  Liberace, Elton John and even Madonna in many of her incarnations.  Integral to the oeuvre of camp is the energy & attitude conveyed by the person behind the clothes.  Mannequins lack the capacity to exude the joie de vivre essential to carry off camp.  Pay no attention to this tongue in cheek cynic as a critic.  Go and have fun with "CAMP Notes on Fashion" meant to be savored like rainbow colored cotton candy.  

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Play HURRICANE SLEEP at iati Is a Time ill Spent-An Odd Twist on the Wizard of Oz

"Hurricane Sleep" is a One Act play with an interesting premise. The program portends a "disaster that brings us closer together and true intimacy."  Unfortunately, it delivers only a disaster set in NYC during Hurricane Sandy inside a flooded bodega.  NYC bodegas are polyglots of transitory people. Should strangers be stranded together by happenstance during a disaster, perhaps kismet or Kumbaya connections would flourish.  Sal (Rachel Schmeling) traipses into a  literally leaking shelter with sparse supplies strewn around.  Shedding her water soaked coat Sal begins to ply her bag with items.  Sal is startled by another girl, Ome (Neysa Lozano) whose inside watching her.  Hurricane winds are howling with no place to go so they make the best of matters by making pickle & potato chip sandwiches, playing truth or dare and holding a seance.  Look what the storm drags in - spirits of people from their past.  One ghost played fetchingly by Heaven Stephens appears as a Ome's mother and Sal's shrink/Svengali.  There's also beer pong boy and Señor, an elderly Latin singer.  Both only add more detritus to this soggy mess.   Playwright Andrea Goldman borrows from both "The Wizard of Oz" and the poetry of John Donne but mottles the play meant to be have an ephemeral dreamlike quality and theoretical gravitas.   The writing lacks brains and courage.  The magic word was "kindness" so  I will praise the clever set and props design by Mike Mroch, Heaven Stephens performance and Neysa Lozano singing.  Red Alert: there's no play like this.  It liquifies into a waste of time unless you're attending wasted on peyote or boxed wine,