Wednesday, January 31, 2007

CD: Outkast, "Idlewild"

Only half of the new Outkast title Idlewild is correct -- the group's ever-developing sound is certainly wild, but it's far from idle. This particular album, designed as an stand-alone accompaniment to Outkast's musical film of the same name, isn't content to stand in one place and be labeled as mere hip-hop. Aside from the tracks attached to the movie (which is set in the '30s and fused to samples and styles from that era accordingly), the songs jump all over the place, from Big Boi's domestic dispute on "Peaches" to Andre 3000's catchy blues on "Idlewild Blues" and jazz of "When I Look In Your Eyes." No sooner have you settled into the straight-laced raps of "Mighty O" or "N2U," than the album splits to the marching-band rhythm of "Morris Brown."

This is akin to the members of Outkast themselves, who have taken to recording separate tracks even as they claim to remain together. Whatever they want to call it, group album or solo effort, movie soundtrack or companion piece, Idlewild is, simply put, an excellent album. There's an abundance of creativity and daring: for instance, when was the last time you heard two hip-hop artists ride the undercurrent of an electric-guitar for six minutes before coming in for some distorted rapping at the end ("A Bad Note")?

Big Boi winds up dominating the album, with solid and largely orchestrated hits like "The Train," "Buggface," and "Call The Law" holding down the fort as Dre splits off in a dozen different eccentric directions, from the powerful "Life is like a Musical" to the hit-or-miss "Chronomentrophobia" and the enjoyable but silly "Makes No Sense At All." The few contributions to the album by both personalities are rich, especially "Hollywood Divorce" (which also features Snoop Dogg and Lil' Wayne), but the overall production is so fine that the album works just as well as an anthology of different artists, from featured performers (like Sleepy Brown & Scar and Janelle Monae) to Outkast itself. When you throw this much talent into a room, at worst you get an unfocused collection of songs. At best, as is the case with Idlewild, you get a rich tapestry of sound and an addictive album.

[First posted on Silent Uproar, 1/29]

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

CD: Barenaked Ladies, "Barenaked Ladies Are Me"

Barenaked Ladies are certainly not me, even if their latest record, Barenaked Lades Are Me, claims to be. But from their universal (yet personal) lovesick struggles, I wouldn't mind if they were. Besides, the Canadians can actually write music, and they can play it too. Though one line says "I'm a tired old metaphor," their lines are slick: their "villainous imagination" leads to rhymes like "I need to love you like a secret list/I need to love you until you don't exist." A bunch of songs are about vanishing within (or because of) love, but Barenaked Ladies hasn't faded at all over the years. They've just shifted their emphasis, mellowed out, and decided to take things easier. To the fans looking for comic gems, those lines are few and far between ("I can't believe that you'd believe that I would fake it/wait--unless you count the things I said when we were naked"), and the few jokey songs like "Bank Job" (about a heist gone badly) don't have the punchy rhythms of previous hits. The only issue is that while the group seems to have deepened their sound with tracks like "Maybe You're Right," they've also produced a bunch of humdrum material, like "Vanishing," which lives up to its name but not the promising metaphor of magic ("With a wave of a wand/he'll pull your heartstrings").

The same thing happens to a bunch of songs with good lyrics, too. "Rule the World with Love" gets caught in the leaden beat, and even a medley of strings can't save it. The same doesn't go for "Sound of Your Voice," which avoids a similar fate by riffing on voice and guitar: this is a rock group that can sing really well. And their words are really entertaining: from the simple sweetness of the sleeper hit, "Adrift" ("The onion rings, the phone makes me cry/something isn't right/like the Deep Blue without the Great White") to the quick-stepping strength of the best song, "Wind It Up," which sums up the modern classicism of the group: "Throw your sticks and stones/throw your mobile phone." Also, somewhere in there, perhaps with the trick combinations of instruments (like mandolin and double bass), they've managed to evoke the warm feelings of home, as on "Home."

The banjo has influenced this newest album a lot, from actual tracks to acoustic rhythms in others (like "Easy"). The mellow sound of Coldplay shows up in the background of tracks like "Maybe You're Right" and "Take It Back," but BNL are less about crooning and more about a direct playfulness. The album's subtle and the music's effusive: this slow, easy-to-listen-to rock is suddenly under your skin. And you know what? If a group still does that after fifteen years, they are me (or at least for me).

[First posted to Silent Uproar on 1/27]

Monday, January 29, 2007

FILM: '06 In Review

Just to make this list more balanced, based on my woefully inadequate attendance of films in 2006, I've placed a qualifying set of films at the end that I still need to see from last year. Come on HBO, Aaron needs a new pair of shoes!

The Best of 2006:
10. Mission Impossible 3 - Action films are supposed to excite. This one did. Casino Royale is far more realistic and gritty, so it makes the upper tier of my list, but J. J. Abrams nailed the "spy" portion of this film and made the much maligned Tom Cruise look good.

9. Down in the Valley - Tragedy is what you make it, and this bleak film about modernity, love, and acceptance was Norton's chance to take on Taxi Driver. It's not stylized enough to do so, but it certainly has its moments, and the acting is top-notch.

8. A Scanner Darkly - Linklater's application of Waking Life to a trippy Philip K. Dick novel (I know, that's repetitive) works so well because the cast is outstanding. The film actually comes off as a comedy before it spirals into a bad trip, and Woody Harrelson and Robert Downy Jr. wholly steal this film (not that it's hard) from Keanu Reeves.

7. The Prestige - Christopher Nolan knows how to make a thriller: Memento and Insomnia, even Batman Begins, they've all led him to the perfectly paced period piece that is The Prestige. Though some may disagree with the third act of this film, there are few who can argue it isn't exquisitely performed by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman.

6. Lady Vengeance - Not nearly as good as Oldboy or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, but Park-woo makes better films than Americans while sleeping. The past scenes, set in a favor-driven jail, are filled with humor and cheer; the present revenge plot is dark and violent. The execution of both is well-done.

5. Manderlay - Where were you when Dogtown came out? Manderlay, a self-contained sequel, is a wonderful period-piece done with only the essentials of scene-work, is like a staging of Our Town, minimal, but rich and deep. Exploring class issues, revenge theory, and the slave mentality, Lars von Trier draws so many parallels to today's culture than his film is almost required viewing, although it's granted that his chalk-outlined sets will seem a bit too artsy for those who don't understand that it only makes the storytelling more focused and the acting more intense.

4. Babel - Though it's certainly been overhyped, that doesn't mean that it deserves backlash. Inarritu's latest might not be better than Amores Perros, but it's a step up from 21 Grams, and it's a rare film that isn't just relevant but is also just a little bit timeless, too. The film manipulates emotion too much, but the festival scene, the desert exodus, and other spectacular scenes justify all of the off-kilter segments in Japan.

3. Casino Royale - Gritty. Violent. Pulse-pounding. Exciting. For a film that spends most of its time sitting around a poker table, Martin's managed to cram a lot of thrills into this latest James Bond flick, and his choice of leading man, Daniel Craig is a bold bet that beats all the odds. The film meanders toward the end, and there's too much pleasure taken in unimportant details, but the strangling grip of tension, bustling through the plot, keeps us paying rapt attention.

2. Children of Men - Speaking of tension, Cuaron has made one of the most atmospheric parables of all time. His film, which uses long, unbroken, shaky camera work to force us deeper into this great escape, doesn't have a dull moment in it. That's because he's brought surprise back to the theater and refused to yield to the easily optimistic ending. Very similar to 28 Days Later in scope, but more realistic, sans zombies. Well worth your time.

1. Pan's Labyrinth - Whether or not fantasy's your thing, Pan's Labyrinth is the film to see in 2006. It's the best-looking thing out there, the most elegant parallel for the unsubtle brutality of the world, and a fantastic (and epic) through-the-looking-glass adventure. Vibrant, excellently paced, even better acted, and horrifying blunt for a film that is built on escapism, Guillermo del Toro is an example of why movies like Blade 2 are such wastes of time.

Biggest Disappointment of 2006:
The Fountain - Darren Aronofsky took six years after the perfect Requiem for a Dream to make this much-cut and compromised film. The idea is epic, but the tangled story doesn't live up to it, and for all the lush visuals and good acting, the pacing is too slow for me to care.

Most Overhyped of 2006:
Brick - If you don't like noir, this modern translation will miss every mark it sets. It's a beguiling indie film that doesn't have much going for it beyond its gimmick, and the parallels don't work nearly as well as in the cinematographic violence of Sin City. The cartoon quality made the blood more realistic there; here, it's just callous and empty.

Aaron's Disclaimer (Noteworthy Films Missed in 2006):
Blood Diamond, Borat, Clerks II, Flags of Our Father, The Good German, The Last King of Scotland, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, Rocky Balboa, The Science of Sleep, Shortbus, Volver.

[First posted to Film Monthly on 1/29/07]

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

PLAY: "Silence"

The best part about Silence is that nobody ever shuts up. Whether speaking in a scene or narrating a series of compressed events, the show hurtles forward, filled with a melange of amusing topics and a series of surprising twists. Playwright Moira Buffini writes and "mans" a tight ship (that's a joke on the gender reversals of the play), the only trouble is that by the third act, she's strangled most of the comedy from this play, leaving us dangling in the Dark Ages without a light. But up until that point, you can think of this as an erudite and medieval Road Trip: a cast of five entertaining characters, each with their own secret baggage, flee Christian Canterbury for heathen Cumbria, crossing the open road to do so. A sixth character, a comic and childish tyrant king (like Richard Lewis in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, only darker) pursues them, intent on reclaiming what they have stolen from him.

I'm sorry. The best part about Silence are these characters, without whom there would hardly be a need to shut up. There's an agoraphobic priest, torn between his fears of a godless sky and his growing love for a stern but kind maid, servant to a blessed woman who is cursed with fits of madness, and who shows respect and compassion only to the young boy she is wed to, a boy who is not so much a man as something else entirely, and who has fallen in love with their barbarian escort, a man who has taken enough magic mushrooms to believe he can mindspeak with his companions. Phew! One can hardly shut up about them.

Director Suzanne Agins has managed to compress all this far more succinctly than I, although to be fair, she's got two hours, and Moira Buffini's script is far from complicated. When she uses poetic expressions, they are often debated or appear as confessional narratives, ala The Real World, devoid of subtext or secrecy. To wit, the two manage to build suspense even with the whole second act confined to a wagon (a marvelous feat of physicality), and an unexpected dream sequence and surprisingly dramatic "mushroom" scene keep the pacing from being predictable.

The show continues to build, and the climax is as striking as the plot (though not as satisfying). Because of all this action, the jolting transitions between our travelers and their pursuing king aren't so bad, and though the musical selections clash with the show, they do manage to elicit chuckles from the crowd. Silence isn't golden, but it's a clever play that's worth talking about.

[KELLY HUTCHINSON and MAKELA SPIELMAN in "Silence." Photo credit: Jim Baldassare.]

Monday, January 22, 2007

PLAY: Gutenberg! The Musical!

If you get to Carnegie Hall with practice, you get to Broadway with lasers, a million drunks, and the Holocaust (a show must have gravitas). Gutenberg! The Musical! isn't quite there yet; you see, Bud Davenport and Doug Simon (Christopher Fitzgerald and Jeremy Shamos) have this really exciting musical in their heads, but until a Broadway producer (perhaps the person sitting next to you) picks up their show, they'll have to do it all themselves. That's okay! Bud and Doug have a secret weapon: miles and miles of heart. And if you come to see their "staged reading," you'll marvel at how two talented actors can take on thirty characters, three big chorus numbers, and a fabulous kickline. Forget a shoestring budget: these two are going barefoot for the love of theater, and if you love watching the industry get slammed or want to see a musical dissected, this is absolutely the show for you.

For everybody else: seriously, what's not to love about two good-natured guys singing charm songs as vague and irrelevant as "Biscuits," songs as campy as "Haunted German Wood," or ballads as ridiculous as "Tomorrow is Today"? Fitzgerald and Shamos approach the work with such earnestness, from the bulging eyes of astonishment to the giddy squeals of excitement, that it would take a man far colder than the villainous (and eponymous) Monk to hate this show. Plus, the script was written (and originally performed) by two members of Upright Citizen's Bridgade (Scott Brown and Anthony King), so not a moment goes by that isn't fresh with humor. The music is clever and endearing, and the book is filled with hysterical truisms: "A metaphor is when you say one thing and mean another, but you're not lying" and "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

If characters are your thing, Fitzgerald and Shamos have that covered too. Fitzgerald takes on characters as diverse as the ingenue Helvetica or the sinister Monk, along with all the random characters in between (like Drunk #2 or the Anti-Semitic Flower Girl). Shamos, as the shameless self-promoter Gutenberg, is also all over the place, taking on the roles of Young Monk and Old Black Narrator, just to name a few. They do all this while still playing the overarching roles of Bud and Doug, and it's as smooth as a Dead Child's bum.

There may not be a single true thing said about Gutenberg, but Gutenberg! The Musical! can do no wrong. Like stage adaptations of Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Cannibal! The Musical! or the recent, bloody funny Evil Dead: The Musical, this is a show that doesn't just earn its two exclamation points: it exclaims them, too. Be amused, be very amused.

[First posted to New Theater Corps, 1/21]

Sunday, January 21, 2007

PLAY: "A Beautiful View"

Crickets chirp. Lights come up slow to reveal a stereo. A woman enters in a blue windbreaker. She leaves. Another woman enters in a red windbreaker. She leaves. The stage palpitates with unspoken possibilities. The crickets chirp. The two come back on stage with chairs. "They're going to think you don't like me," says one of the two, calling the other out on the way she's shifted her chair so that it faces away from her. The fragile illusion breaks, and one of the two presses the stop button on the stereo. The crickets stop. The play has already begun.

Daniel MacIvor is a brilliant playwright in this regard: his plays blur the line between performance and scene, and his direction of A Beautiful View simplifies matters even more by reducing the set to a series of props: a stereo, a plastic tree, a tent, and two folding chairs. Nothing happens on that set that isn't important or essential, and in fact whole years--two lifetimes--are compressed into an eighty minute work. The plot is rich in text and subtext too, especially with the actors disagreeing on the narration of the story, or with the way phrases recur and loop around in both the foreground of the show and the meaty scenes. But the reason I highlight the opening of the play is that it creates a mise en scene that drives everything else: by the end of this show, these two fabulous actors, Tracy Wright and Caroline Gillis, are left with nothing to hide behind.

The story resembles that of Brokeback Mountain, in that there are two people who fall in love, only to repress it for thirty years, meeting occasionally and fighting with themselves and each other to accept what is, for better or worse, a better self. The pacing is steady, but by jumping into the key scenes, it seems a lot faster than it is. The natural performances also belie the amount of ground covered: they speak so well that watching the show is like sitting at a bar with two of your friends as they just chat. All of this is a gross simplification for the dozens of complex minutiae that MacIvor pulls off with lighting cues and specific blocking, but that's fine: that's how the show looks, too.

How appropriate that one of the main topics of their conversation is the statement "Nothing is enough." There's the positive meaning, which is that nothing suffices, and there's the negative one, which is that you can never be satisfied. But then there's also the theatrical one, which MacIvor has perfected (drawing from both the positive and negative): A Beautiful View is nothing but what's necessary, and everything else within that.

[First posted on New Theater Corps, 1/21]

Saturday, January 20, 2007

PLAY: "Famous Puppet Death Scenes"

"The Ballad of Edward Grue," in which we learn what happens to little boys who dress up as deer, will shoot you in the funny bone. "Ice Age," in which a cryogenetically frozen man is allowed to die so that the immortal Johnny Depp-lookalike aliens can remember what death means, will warm your insides. "The Swede of Donnylargan," in which suicide is shown to be much like a row of falling dominoes, will make you tumble with glee. But while these Famous Puppet Death Scenes will amuse--with their movable sets, puppet dances, and fragile gunshots--it's "The Last Whale" that will haunt you: the image of a great eye, sunken into a greater gray mass, slowly giving in to the gravity of an unstoppable eyelid. Has there ever been such a tragic, beautiful, poetic (puppet) death on stage before?

The only warning I can give the audience of Famous Puppet Death Scenes is to show up early and sit near the front, as the majority of the work is small and subtle. The exceptions, like a butterfly transformed into a giant bloodsucking monster under the gaze of a magnifying glass (in "La Nature au Naturel") or a scene of domestic violence hidden within the pages of a pop-up book ("Never Say It Again"), are perfect expressions of theatricality, and the Old Trout Puppet Workshop has done a fantastic job of transforming a classic art form into a hip and surprisingly powerful show.

The wide variety of miniature death scenes, tied together by the narration of the Einstein-tufted Nathanial Tweak, range from mocking children's morality plays ("Das Bipsy und Mumu Puppenspiel," in which a triangle-shaped puppet learns the difference between "ja" and "nein") to playing with stark Modernist styles ("The Modern Age [Part 3]") and Gothic horror ("The Beast of Muggditch Lane"). I promise: at least one puppet will die in every scene, and, when appropriate, you will laugh.

The final collection is like watching a live animated-shorts festival (there's even a Bill Plympton-like recurring skit, "The Feverish Heart"). Famous Puppet Death Scenes is a series of vivid visual styles, and with only a few of the 20-plus deaths missing the mark ("The Cruel Sea" and "My Stupid Dad"), you can't go wrong with this hour-long show. And believe me, the Grim Reaper's grand finale is not to be missed: you'll leave the theater feeling glad to be alive.

[First posted to New Theater Corps on 1/20]

Friday, January 19, 2007

PLAY: The Polish Play

"By my green syphilitic penis!" roars Pere Ubu between massive tremolos of flatulence. This foolish, rotund slob, played to the hilt by Jordan Gelber, is from Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, but the play he's appearing in at the moment seems to be Macbeth. In fact, it is: here come the three Weird Sisters, cackling from atop a cauldron, setting his fate and Banquo's in stone. His wife may go by the name Mere Ubu (a clucking Dana Smith-Croll), but she's really the vicious Lady Macbeth, out-damn-spot and all. Instead of Duncan, they scheme to kill good king Wenceslas (and with a shitter hook, not a knife), and when Macduff comes for his just revenge, our "hero" bangs once on his toilet-seat armor, again on his pot-lid helmet, and then flees to France. It's a mash-up, designed to present Macbeth as a comedy, and as a means to give the adapter, Henry Wishcamper, free license to mess around with the theater, too.

Sound effects are provided by our friendly neighborhood Foley Artist (James Bentley), just off to stage left, and props, costumes, set pieces, and technical instructions for the many scene changes litter the walls. The Walkerspace stage has been hollowed to reveal every device being used, and the cast takes pleasure in mocking their own bad accents or flubbed cues. There are, of course, puppets, both of the slaughtered and performing variety, and the Tetris-like assembly of the set does as much for the play's constant physical comedy as do the shit-flinging sight-gags. (Literally.) The cast is in good form too, with gender-reversed actors like Eunice Wong and Jeff Biehl (Bougrelas and Queen Rosamond, respectively) serving up equal parts of ham and cheese.

At the preview performance I attended (1/14), there were still some rough spots, but not enough to detract from the overwhelming good humor of the piece. Though most of the musical numbers fall flat (including an homage to Rocky), there's enough variety to compensate for it (save for a slump after intermission), and though Mr. Gelber wears a fat suit, he's fit as a fiddle for comedy.

Beware the shitter hook or laugh at it, but if you're looking for a wacky riff on Macbeth, go see The Polish Play.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

BOOK: "Only Revolutions," by Mark Z. Danielewski

First, a warning to all potential readers of this book. I could not finish it. Next, a warning to those who claim to enjoy experimental fiction, or want to soldier on because they loved Danielewski's last book, the magnificent House of Leaves. Only Revolutions quickly exhausts its originality. Reading eight pages on one side, then flipping the book over to read eight pages of the other side is physically tiring, and the gradually shrinking font size is a strain on the eyes. And that's ignoring the "liner notes" -- a thin strip of spoken word sound-bites extending from 11/22/1863 to 6/19/2063. (These unconnected, streaming pieces of text are vivid and exciting when they trigger memories, but if you're unfamiliar with Kiko Kawashima, the Zagreb soccer riot, Starfire-1, or Checkpoint Charlie, then the entry for 4/22/1990 will do little for you.) Sure, Only Revolutions is hip and cool, what with the Burgessian creation of a new teenage language, and yes, the idea of an adult Dr. Seuss doing free-verse rhymes with their "epic" journey is neat, and sure, the very idea of making a Joycean epic out of two timeless, archetypal teens is pretty sweet. But does it all work? Not as a sustained (or sustaining) read. As a pick-up and put-down book, a Finnegan's Wake for the new day, it's more tolerable. But who cares that names are WRITTEN IN CAPS or that US is always capitalized (as in the two of them), or that Them is always used (even in place of they), or that the letter "o" is always printed in green or gold (the color of their respective eyes)? These are tricks of language (or of design), and they have little to do with emotion. They are simply commotion. Provocotion, as Danielewski might put it.

Or not put it at all. For Only Revolutions is an exercise in Derrida's new language, too, a deconstructing stab at the idea that we need name things to understand them. Not only do our symmetric narrators, Hailey and Sam, contradict each other in their parallel stories, but they consistently change the reference points in their own descriptions. Early on, Sam encounters TWO BOYS, who suddenly become FIVE TENDERFOOTS, and who are then labeled as NINE EXPLORERS, and subsequently appear as EIGHTEEN TRAPPERS, TWENTY RANCHERS, THIRTYSIX [sic] PROSPECTORS, and NINETY HARD ROCK FARMERS, all in the breadth of two pages. Is it hyperbole, an overactive imagination, or the author's belief that content doesn't matter as much as context; that the story isn't as important as the telling of it? I'm a fan of aesthetic writing; I swear by the polysyllabic sprees of David Foster Wallace. And there is something to Danielewski's invented style, a certain heft to his made-up words:

Except I'm somenowsomehow
changed. Snagged perhaps. At least
deferrent. Even when, by these
encompassing centuries,
catchgrabbing my wonder,
pullulating over ridge, peak, and crest,
and across, Mangy Angry Naked
Urges rampage toward me.
Every last one of Them.
The conflation of terms and the jumbling of meaning makes for a whole new sensory experience, but it requires the reader to have a certain sort of genius already, as well as a tolerance for half-imagined double entendres and abundances of possible subtexts. Literary theorists will have a ball with this new work, but I'm not convinced anyone else will. The story is too slapdash, presented serially in form, with little episodes of wacky adventures on the road: a fictitious, futuristic Kerouac. However, it's far too stylized to be stream-of-conscious (though that's what the prose reads as), which leads to a disconnect between the novel and the author's ratcheting grip.
Further erumpenting: --Splendid!
But here's a surprise: midchuck for
another murkgeyser thublunk I actually
commence celebrating her panache.
My hands repeated clapping.
You've got neologisms clashing for attention with onomatopoeia, not to mention alliteration and rhyme. It's hard to say whether or not there's reason to this rhyme too, but I doubt that's the point. This is as transporting as fiction is liable to get, but it lacks the ability to capture our attention, so there are only glimpses of this New World or New Language that Danielewski is trying to show us. It's also incredibly bound up in its own gimmick, leaving little room for philosophy or thinking that extends beyond the shallowness of mere belletrism. Only Revolutions is a cult book, and it will have a fierce and loyal following to rival that of David Lynch, but it isn't a very good book. It is just the necessary step toward writing something supposedly greater than the sum of its sentences.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

PLAY: "The Little Dog Laughed"

Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed is far from a children's nursery rhyme. Its one liners are wicked and the subject material has to do with self-deceit and self-loathing, the fleeting pursuit of happiness, and homosexuality in Hollywood. The show is driven by Julie White's masterful performance as a jaded but brutally savvy agent who is working to fend off her client's ambiguous sexuality long enough for him to become The Next Big Thing. The supporting cast lives up to the jaunty pace that Scott Ellis keeps them at, but they're simply not as delightfully vicious as Ms. White.

For a show that's so harshly satirical of the industry, it uses that sickening "three-act" formula to build the show to a feverish pitch, a hail of introspective monologues that works despite its own conventions. The finale is surprisingly depressing (or upbeat for the soulless) after so many dismissively punchy one-liners, and the night is a jolt of fun theater. For all that, it is still pretty shallow, and the show doesn't develop so much as indulge itself. But when indulging produces lines like "You're asking for my word? You're asking a whore for her cherry!" I tend to look the other way (on account of laughing too much).

I am surprised this, of all plays, managed a transfer to Broadway, and I'm not surprised to see it ending its run. The set is a lackluster demonstration of modern furniture (the set is recessed behind the wall and hidden windows open up to show alcoved side scenes) and the show is theatrically flat. But it's energetic, and it's sharp, and it was good while it lasted.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

PLAY: "The Monument"

Lights up on an electric chair. The man strapped to it is a soldier, or a murdering rapist, or both. Above all, Stetko (Jay Rohloff) is a man who only knows how to take orders, a man who has become impotent, and a man who now faces final judgment. When a mysterious woman named Mejra (Ramona Floyd) shows up, offering him his life in return for obeying her every whim, it is only natural for him to accept. The real mystery would then lie in what Mejra wants, but it is fairly obvious she is the mother of one of Stetko's twenty-seven victims. Therefore, for all playwright Colleen Wagner's clever lines and the way she's built her two characters up to represent the military and civilian sides, The Monument rests on its actors. That heavy weight--dead children, mass graves, and suffering--is perhaps too much for them; for the majority of the play, they approach the themes so broadly, and so one-dimensionally, that it's hard to digest the language.

It's a shame, for director Beverly Brumm has tried her hardest to give the actors things to work off of. The set is covered in a thick and dying soil, the backdrop is a stark blue sky, and the chains are real (even if the violence is choreographed). Mejra, when she is not chopping off Stetko's ears or yoking him to a giant till, is busy struggling to comprehend her prisoner, and Stetko is often laboring to carry heavy rocks or endure his mistress' harsh treatment of him. For all that action, the lines come out dusty as the stage's arid soil: Rohloff is unflinching even when told that his girlfriend has been killed and then raped. The closest he comes to emotion is in his full-bodied monologue while strapped to the chair, and later, when he tries to protect a rabbit he has befriended. As for Floyd, she is full of emotion, but suppresses too much of it. She is too harsh, too icy toward her prisoner--rather than leading him on with hope, there is little doubt in our minds that she plans to kill Stetko, and her constant imperatives are monotonous.

When the actor's habits happen to coincide with the message of the play, the show works most effectively: the opening is a real tightrope walk, and the excavation of the corpses is a high moment for off-Broadway theater. The text also features a glut of clever circumstances, like when Stetko is told that if he drops the boulder he is carrying anywhere but on his foot, she will bury him alive. His bitter defiance, even after he shatters his toes, is clever writing by any standard. The Monument may not stand tall in this production, but any ode to the victims of war--innocent and guilty alike--is better than none.

Monday, January 15, 2007

CD: Now It's Overhead, "Dark Light Daybreak"

You know what’s often found overhead? The ceiling. Now It’s Overhead’s new record, Dark Light Daybreak certainly seems to have a ceiling in the way. Slick and synthesized and almost entirely sung in a beaming tone, this is rock that’s not soft enough to be New Age, but too self-hating to be classified as anything modern. It’s just wimpy music that’s being accompanied by leftover lyrics from better songs, and the majority of the tracks sound as if the band gave up halfway through, finishing each on autopilot with the same whiny chorus, over and over again. After the first two tedious songs, “Walls” at least has a few cute lines, but that’s also a literal statement: it’s only got a few cute lines. “You broke the walls that block your way/hey kid you’re in over your head/you broke the walls that block your way.”

Do you really want to listen to an album where the only thing to look forward to is a song that somewhat relieves the tension by not sucking as much? You’d be better off just downloading the rare good song here and there – “Type A” is a slower form of the urban rock that We Are Scientists have perfected, and “Dark Light Daybreak” might be mistaken as a light passage from an Evanescence B-side. If you’re looking for patterns, “Meaning to Say” has the 70s cadence, but slower, really savoring its cute electric chords and jolly hymn-like choruses. “Let Up” belies the band’s true calling, which is as a modern folk-rock/country hybrid, because at least then their high-pitched melancholy fits.

This is a pared-down, less melodic riff on what R.E.M. put their seal on years ago, and it’s annoying to have to sit through toy songs like “Night Vision” long enough to even write this commentary on it for you. That the makers of this album haven’t been hammered with lightning from God is proof enough for me that nothing’s overhead.

[First posted at Silent Uproar on 1/10]

Saturday, January 13, 2007

PLAY: Macbeth: A Walking Shadow

Soldiers turn into witches, dead men creep around, and Macbeth is trapped onstage, caught in a series of flashbacks e'en as he fights that epic battle with Macduff: this isn't your parents' Shakespeare. It's better. That's not knocking the elongated prose of the bard, but Andrew Frank and Doug Silver's new adaptation of Macbeth (here subtitled "A Walking Shadow"), has managed to emphasize the magnificent language by cutting out the majority of it. The scenes glide smoothly from one key moment to the next, whirling around a horrified Macbeth (the excellent Ato Essandoh), and showing, more than ever, how a heroic man becomes a despot. Politically resonant, emotionally relevant, and theatrically elegant, this new production of Macbeth needs to be seen. And at seventy-five minutes and only $18.00, you can even see it again and again.

Director Andrew Frank uses the intimate space of Manhattan Theater Source to mount an epic production, and succeeds, placing all the action on a narrow slab of stage between two rows of the audience. The action, long and narrow across that black strip, makes every scene into a fierce showdown, none stronger than the pivotal moment when the tempestuous Lady Macbeth (Celia Schaefer) convinces her husband to murder the fair King Duncan (Chuck Bunting). Schaefer's compelling performance is quiet at first, not manic, which gives her opportunity to build to a murderous pitch by her climactic "spot" speech. Better still, because Macbeth is condemned to remain on stage, seeing all that has led him to his bitter end, we can watch Essandoh's marvelous reaction to moments he would never actually witness in a more orthodox Shakespearean production.

But this is far from the Essandoh and Schaefer show, fabulous as both are. The cast is engaging and outstandingly clear, so much so that almost every line becomes quotable. Everything is so focused, so intense, that we cannot look away. And why would we want to? From Malcom's mournful anger (Michael Baldwin) to Banquo's loyal demeanor (Len Childers), there are plenty of nuanced performances to enjoy. James Edward Becton, cast in a melange of small roles (witch, soldier, and doctor), was the most captivating performer of the night, a man truly living his part.

T'would be a shame to miss this excellent production, nay, an unforgivable sin. I hope Frank and Silver will consider cutting some other Shakespearean plays: what they've created here is not only a flattering adaptation, but a short and sweet Macbeth that is as perfect for schools as it is for even the most grown-up, jaded audience.

Friday, January 12, 2007

PLAY: Israel Horovitz's "New Shorts"

Take the metaphor of "The Race" (one of the nine new playlets in Israel Horovitz's New Shorts) as a means of expressing this evening of theater. Nine actors, each running for their own reason (well, okay, one is just standing there) but united for a common cause. One's a twelve-year-old girl, exuberant but unpolished (like "Audition Play"), and one's a two-time champion, trying to outrun her own age. The pieces don't mesh together, nor should they: as is, they show the wry, comic sensibilities of their writer, Mr. Horovitz, and his range. "Affection in Time" could be Beckett, "Inconsolable" is stylized poetry, and "The Hotel Play" is classic Horovitz. Save for the wholly uneven "The Fat Guy Gets The Girl" and "The Bridal Dance," both of which try to hard to have a punchline, this is a theatrical anthology of one playwright's love of characters. Best of all, because the shows are swift, there's no room for exposition, and the plays are as distilled (though not as refined) as Line. There's a certain sort of thrill in seeing nine plays run by in one evening, each jockeying for your attention.

The cast is filled out by members of the Barefoot Theater Company and some other talented actors (like Lynn Cohen); the direction is deftly handled both by the writer and by Michael LoPorto. There's a potpourri of elements to each scene, but what's interesting is Horovitz flexing his comic impulses, even while burdened with the tragic. "Cat Lady" is the best of the pack, for while it is filled with double-takes and bad puns, the monologist is a person first, lonely and depressed. "The Hotel Play," which gets laughs from awkward misinterpretations, is ultimately about the same thing: two people, this time, each lost, but perhaps able to connect if they can let go of their masks.

The most relevant play, however, is the political piece, "Beirut Rocks," which begins as a conversation between two American students who meet during the evacuation of their overseas overseas school. These moments juxtapose the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, just outside, with the live feed Benjy (Christopher Whalen) is getting of Tiger Woods, a world away. It's the reverse of their normally sheltered American life, and what's more, their illusions are being shelled by US weapons. Before long, two more evacuees join them, including an Arab-American who, in living up to the antisemitic stereotype, surprises us with her fiery denouement.

That Horovitz, after so many plays, can still seem fresh, young, and fierce is not surprising. But it is refreshingly satisfying to see, much like this collection of short plays.

[First posted to New Theater Corps 1/11]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

FILM: "Pan's Labyrinth"

A brilliant and seamless juxtaposition of dark fantasy with harsh reality, Guillermo del Toro’s El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) is his best film yet. Beautifully chilling and enchantingly heartbreaking, Guillermo shows us that escapism doesn’t always let you escape and that monsters are more frightening in the real world than through the rabbit hole. And, because it’s a foreign film, not beholden to any lobby, these characters suffer real consequences for their actions (and seem more and more like real people for it).

The film takes place just after the end of the Spanish civil war, in an entrenched forest community of soldiers out to exterminate the last of the rebels who oppose them. These forces are led by a sadistic Capitán Vidal (played by Sergi López), a man as meticulous about his violence as he is about his daily shaving, the kind of man who not only shoots first and asks later, but enjoys doing so more. Into this dark kingdom comes our ray of hope, the innocent young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who accompanies her mother (who is pregnant with the Capitán’s heir). Ofelia is Alice with a back story – she even wears a similar outfit – but the main difference is that Ofelia doesn’t get lost down a rabbit hole: she tries to escape down one.

In the middle of the night, where it is still possible to dismiss the film’s fantasy as the feverish dreams of a helpless girl, Ofelia is visited by a fairy and is led to the center of a nearby labyrinth. It is here that she encounters the suspicious looking faun, Pan, a creature who moves with belabored grace and speaks with gentle poetry, but who bears the savages of time, blinking at her with a dead, milky white eye. According to Pan, Ofelia is actually a princess, trapped in mortal form, and if she can fulfill Pan’s three tasks (each a moral lesson, as fairy tales ought to be), she can reclaim her throne. What’s appealing about Pan’s Labyrinth is that even the purportedly good magical creatures still seem sinister: Pan’s spiral eyebrows and rotten sneer make him seem sinister and Ofelia’s fairy companion begins as a flying nightcrawler that scares her in the middle of the night. Del Toro doesn’t separate the two worlds with different palettes or beautiful people – if anything, the fantasy world is harsher than the real one.

Of course, del Toro doesn’t make the real world appealing either: in the rebel’s camp, we have to watch an un-anesthetized amputation and back in the “safety” of the Capitán’s base, we have to watch Ofelia’s mother bleed out from her turbulent pregnancy. There are good characters, like the maternal housekeeper, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) and the pain-relieving Dr. Ferreiro (Álex Angulo). It isn’t hard to imagine their fates in del Toro’s harsh world – a world he started building back in 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone.

Visually, the closest comparison is Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a self-taught French director who brought us the dystopic fantasies of Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. But those films were dark comedies, meant to serve as parables and parallels to reality, whereas Guillermo del Toro’s vision wants to show us that fantasy is no different from reality. Compare Ofelia’s sludge through the belly of a slime-covered tree with the trudge of the rebel forces through the mud-encrusted slopes of Spain. In the film, Ofelia uses a magical piece of chalk to draw her way into a child-eating demon’s realm; she must stealthily creep by him in order to retrieve one of the three artifacts she needs. We’ll see the same scene again when Ofelia draws her way into the Capitán’s private quarters, where she must hide from him long enough to save her baby brother and make her escape. Granted, the demon has eyes in the palms of his hands and takes wobbling, uncertain steps, but how different is he from the barbarous Capitán?

Pan’s Labyrinth is an easily accessible film, as uncomplicated in plot as they come, and yet it is rich in metaphor and subtext. For all the similarities in harsh tones and hues that it shares with Children of Men, del Toro has made the more beautiful film: a lush and utterly transporting fiction that is impossible to resist. And although the maze may be straightforward, it is a labyrinth you will not want to leave.

[First posted to Film Monthly on 1/7]

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

PLAY: "The Germans in Paris"

Jonathan Leaf's play, The Germans in Paris, has two duels, three revolutionaries, and an adulterous love affair. For all that, it comes across more as a comedy than a serious play, and on top of that, as more of an intelligent play than a rip-roarer. The lines are clever, but often come across as dry or artificial, and the plot's distracted narrative never picks up enough speed for a climax or a denouement. There is much to admire in Leaf's play, for the performances are still sincere and full-bodied and their costumes are as rich as the play wishes to be, but his vision of 1840's France is strikingly out of focus.

First off, the story revolves around Heinrich Heine, who may be a poet in real life, but is here portrayed as a smug, pinched, and pared aristocrat (even though he is written as a womanizing socialite). Jon Krupp is engaging in the role, but far from poetic in his language or carriage. Rather, he makes Heine sullen and untouchable: when he gets into a duel with the bellicose Solomon Strauss he seems almost apathetic; after being shot, he laughs and fires his own gun into the air. It's the way we would expect the more lively character, Karl Marx, to act; instead, Marx comes off as an arrogant, self-serving man, filled so much with revolutionary fervor that he scarcely knows how to care for his own family, let alone fight his own duels. Leaf's script makes the likable Ross Beschler portray Marx as a villain and the reserved Krupp's Heine into a hero, and The Germans in Paris, like its title, works best as a fine display of paradox.

What Leaf has done, and what I fear director James Milton only emphasizes, is to wrap this paradox not in a riddle or an enigma, but in the cloying, bumbling presence of Richard Wagner, a role hammed up by Brian Wallace. Wagner has little to offer the play in terms of ideas -- the character is an egotist, and spends most of his time talking about his struggles trying to publish music. Alone, Wagner's pitiable existence might make for an enjoyable farce, coupled with two other characters screaming for attention, his plight means little and, in fact, gets little attention from the writer or director. The only plot followed through on is that of Heine's affair with Mme. Morisot (a charming Angelica Torn); even his marriage to Mathilde (Kathryn Elisabeth Lawson) comes across as no more than dramatic effect.

It takes Tom Stoppard nine hours and three plays to tell the story of his Russian intellectuals in The Coast of Utopia, and while we can all aspire to do better than that, two hours is perhaps not enough time to do anything of great weight or import in The Germans in Paris.

[First posted to the New Theater Corps on 1/9]

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

PLAY: "The Country Wife"

Restoration comedy is a moniker that might chase away some audiences, conjuring up images of Shakespearian prose and dainty outfits rather than bawdy plots and hilarious farce. So let's call a fop a fop and cut to the chase of this excellent production by the HoNkBarK! Theater company: The Country Wife is a sex comedy, complete with bold double entendre, like a scene in which the supposed eunuch Horner (just faking it so that men will trust him with their wives) pounds Lady Fidget's “china” while her husband, the aged Sir Jasper Fidget, and Old Lady Squeamish laugh unknowingly to themselves.

Whether it's the outstanding cast, the fantastic portrait-gallery set, or their delightfully colored velvet robes, stockings, and beribboned shoes (and that's just the men!), this 1675 play hasn't aged a day, and actually has the added humor of watching a historical sexcapade from our modern perspective. John Ficarra, who keeps the pace brisk for this three-hour show, has worked in plenty of physical comedy too, playing with the tropes of caricature in the oblivious Sparkish (a fantastic Brian Linden) and the signature repetitions of the (rightfully) jealous Mr. Pinchwife and his innocent country wife, Mrs. Margery Pinchwife.

The play steals from Moliere, but more in the traditional homage of the time than a plagiarist's intent, and I'd love to see the exceedingly talented Ray Rodriguez and Kristin Price go on to star in A School for Wives. That's a specific example, but the whole cast knows how to keep classical theater alive: their lines are more baroque than our modern argot, but their actions are direct and to the point. Take for example one of the three plots: Harcourt (Steve Kuhel) finds that the best way to seduce Sparkish's wife-to-be, Alithea, is to let the fool help him. Alithea's misplaced honesty to her fiancee forces Harcourt to be as quick with his tongue as he is on his feet, and there's not a twisted line of logic from his mouth that can't be followed by the audience.

The bottom line is that The Country Wife is filled with men of wit and women of fancy, and as the show builds to a satisfying collision of plotlines, you can't help being giddy with the delight of being swept off your feet. Not many Off-Off-Broadway productions feature such high production values, casting standards, and entertaining scripts: I advise you to rush to the country before it's too late.

[First posted on New Theater Corps on 1/7]

Monday, January 08, 2007

PLAY: "The Rapture Project"

I dare you to tell me that watching puppets fight isn't the funniest thing you've ever seen (puppets do). Great Small Works's The Rapture Project goes one further than mere puppet action, though, when Susan Sontag gets the s#!t beat out of her by the devil. I'd say that it's just one of those plays, and chalk it up as a hip urban experience, but The Rapture Project tries too hard to also be a political play about Islamic fundamentalists and Christian zealots, not to mention a series of unsubtle vignettes on American corruption and global culture shock. Plots run as rampant as puppet strings, and there is little attempt made to blend things together. If anything, the ever-changing musical styles of the interludes just make things more divisive.

Now, chaos can be fun, as with a mass puppet melee set to excited shrieks of "Armageddon." And there are scenes of ephemeral beauty, as when a security-guard puppet flies off-stage, only for the roof's curtain to pull away to reveal him being transported through a black-and-white wonderland by four naked puppeteer "gods" as the rest of the cast hums a crescendoing series of notes. But the show is erratic and, like a jigsaw with missing pieces, starts to become more of an annoyance than an amusement. Luckily, the performance isn't much more than an hour, and it ends on a good-enough note that the work isn't soured by the rougher patches.

The concept, to revive the old Italian tradition of Orlando Furioso plays that brought Christian and Muslim violence to a head, is a good one, and very relevant today. But it's going to take more than the promising presence and premise of the female punk-rock militant Islamist, Rebeah, to break through to any audiences. The work needs to be developed, and the cuts between scenes need to do more than play with ethnic beats and post-hip spoken word to draw things together. At one point, pigeons fall from the sky, but we've only got blind faith (and a narrator) telling us that it's a sign of the apocalypse and the ensuing Rapture. The biblical flowchart surrounding the "stage" doesn't help much either -- it's Greek (or Latin) to me.

It's not that there's too much noise--the troupe's musical segments are polished blends of saxophone, tambourine, oboe, drum, and accordion--it's that there's no blending of those elements in the show itself. There's just a bunch of individual pieces that caterwaul their way to a decidedly unresolved finale. There are plenty of sight gags to make the play palatable, and there are those rare, truly enjoyable moments of total cohesion, but you won't leave the theater full of ideas, just with the image of puppets swinging their futile arms at one another.

[First posted for New Theater Corps - 1/8]

Friday, January 05, 2007

OP-ED: No, Seriously, I Will Kill You.

It's bad enough I have to listen to your phone ringing, worse still that you might actually answer it, but I swear, if you start eating popcorn in the seat next to me, I will kill you. Cara Joy David reports today, on behalf of The New York Times, that Broadway theaters, in order to help their bottom line, are allowing audiences to bring their food back to their seats--to eat, one would assume, during the show. Dinner theater's one thing, but this is ridiculous, and only further proof that the industry, already catering more to spectacle-bound tourists than New Yorkers, is simply all about the "cheddar."

You can't treat theater like it's film. First off, it's not as loud. Theater, no matter how full of spectacle, will always come down to the subtlety of the actors. Whether it's the way they caress a note or lead with their chin, the show can be only as captivating as it is presented, and when your attention is constantly split between the stage and your slovenly neighbors, that's not too much. Hollywood films are explosive and turbocharged: their orchestral scores drown out popcorn crunches, and their screen is all-absorbing.

Oh, and by the way, theater's live. There's a reason Patti LuPone is perturbed by popcorn rustlers adding a crinkling accompaniment to Sweeny Todd. Helena Bonham Carter might not be distracted by you noshing along in harmony to her rendition of "Have a Little Priest," but do you think Tim Burton would let you sit there during the filming with a bag of Crunch 'n' Munch?

It comes at an odd time, too. Broadway just raised ticket prices. It just had a large holiday boom. It just got the hang of this luxury seating business. Why is the bottom line still hurting? Maybe Broadway needs to try balancing the books with a good show, and not just a two-ton house or a movie star. Also, if going to see
Tarzan depends upon being able to drink wine in a $12 spill-proof plastic cup during the show, you've got a problem.

According to Cara Joy David's article, Jim Boese, vice-president for the Nederlander Organization, allows guests to snack in their seats "to enhance the audience experience." Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman for the Schubert Organization, claims that it "annoys many patrons." Clearly, somebody is lying, and unless popcorn enhances your experience of Shakespeare, I think we know who.

[N.B. Ironically, back in the days of Shakespeare, theater was more visceral, and the poor, standing in the audience, were loud and rowdy. I'll still kill you if you open that bag of potato chips during the show, but I still can't really tell you why.]

Thursday, January 04, 2007

BOOK: Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"

The Road is a goose-stepping novel: militarily precise, stiff, and—for a long time—a story that simply goes up and then right back again. This is a deliberate move on the part of Cormac McCarthy, who sets his novel in a post-apocalyptic near-future not because he wants to write a science-fiction novel, but because the bleak, lonely setting lets him focus his already pared language on two archetypal characters: the man and the boy. For extra emphasis, the two are father and son, and both are starving. McCarthy takes everything away from these characters, up to and including the clothes on their backs, so that he can distill the essence of a relationship, to study it under the pretense of a genre-thriller (think Stephen King’s The Gunslinger). But The Road is no more a tale of horror than his previous novel, No Country for Old Men, was a Western: it traffics in some truly disturbing and gruesome scenes, but it always returns, with the forceful restraint of the goose-step, to the elder and the younger.

For the first half, the plot is entirely caught up in the brisk, clipped narrative. The sentences are short, the scenes just as short, and the dialogue intensely pithy.

Is it okay for us to take it?
Yes. It is. They would want us to. Just like we would want them to.
They were the good guys?
Yes. They were.
Like us.
Like us. Yes.
So it’s okay.
Yes. It’s okay.
It’s like reading a combination of James Ellroy and David Mamet, the end result of which is a book that’s near impossible to put down. The better comparison might be the television show Lost, in that there is so much action taking place right off the bat that having questions answered or characters developed is a moot point. It is enough to quickly establish their existence as man and child and to inform us that the days are getting shorter and colder, and that unless they keep moving south, they will starve, freeze, or be raped and cannibalized, perhaps all at once, by the “bad guys.”

Every so often, McCarthy offers up a fragment of the past, but they worm their way so naturally to the surface that they are swallowed up in the fervor of the pacing. It doesn’t hurt that McCarthy is an old salt at description: he has found the perfect balance between the classicist’s droning paragraphs and the deconstructionalist’s strained sequences. We see things in flashes, and always in a mood-altering light, from “the ribbed steel stairs of an escalator” that has been humanized and ravaged at the same time to “[t]he chary dawn, the cold illucid world.” No object is ever aimlessly placed or without action: snow stands “in razor kerfs atop the fencewires” and the silence is “breathless.” After years of experience, the harsh world comes easily to McCarthy and even dawn is “the grudging light that passed for day.” What is perhaps most remarkable about McCarthy’s writing is that he finds, in all this desolation, hope: “The boy was so thin…. Taut face and hollow eyes. A strange beauty.” Emaciation has never sounded so literary, and McCarthy succeeds with fragments alone where other writers might go on for pages.

It’s this verbal economy that brings us back to the goose step. Because of how sparingly words are used, we’re alert to the repetition: the unfaltering ups and downs are almost Moebius in their progression. Our heroes shiver in the night, hide from the bad guys, and, when all hope is lost, find some food. That food runs out, or is stolen, or one of the two grows ill, and they shiver in the night, hide from the bad guys, and then find hope again. Of course, McCarthy is double-layering this loop with an ominous foreshadowing—a worsening cough, a hastening chill—and the question is whether either character will survive the inevitable break. At the same time, he is also battering down the idea of this child’s innocence: they leave behind a boy, an old man, a thief, and even work their way up to killing others. It’s very savage, very Lord of the Flies, but all so deftly written that you fall for it anyway.

“The frailty of everything revealed at last,” runs another thread. “Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night. The last instance of a thing takes the class with it. Turns out the light and is gone. Look around you. Ever is a long time. But the boy knew what he knew. That ever is no time at all.” After he has exhausted the father/son dynamic, after he has corrupted the child and hardened the father, there’s still time for McCarthy to riddle the pages with observations on death. Not that there’s any danger of him running out of space: in the breadth of 241 tightly packed pages, there are thrilling chases, philosophical observations, realistic conversations, and an evocative mood that most books would sell their first three chapters for.

The Road is as entertaining as it is interesting, not to mention thought-provoking, too. Little truisms pop up out of the corner of every paragraph—“If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it”—and the end result is a book that’s so dense it’s impossible to skim. And why would you want to? Bleak as this near-future is, it’s a world that you’ll find yourself leaving all too soon.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2006 Theater Review

Honorable Mention: COAST OF UTOPIA and COMPANY. Stoppard's massive trilogy is a bit too unbalanced to judge without seeing Salvage, and Company has the incredibly talented Raul Esparza going for it, but little else. For shows given so much money and attention, they don't impress me as much as the underdogs. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all, and while the visual and intellectual depth of Utopia is a real marvel, these next ten shows were just the ticket, too.

There aren't many literary plays out there, so the fact that one modeled after Kafka, The Great Conjurer, is not only comprehensive and intelligible but entertaining to boot, filled with clever direction and believable acting, makes it worth seeing.

The creepiest drama ever set in an office, Adam Bock's The Thugs is memorable not just for its brilliant characters, tight plotting, and evasive scenes, but also for its too-real set.

An "electric" production about the birth of the X-ray, full of Gothic vaudeville and fanciful staging, Bone Portraits was a thrilling exhibition of theatrical technique.

Admittedly goofy, but this campy off-Broadway musical was the most fun I'd had at a musical since Avenue Q, and I would bleed--literally bleed--for this surprisingly slick and diverse soundtrack.

A jolting breath of fresh air, Love, a Tragic Etude, was a frightening reminder of how visceral theater can be, and how even the most absolutely madcap happenings can make for a terrific evening.

Eugene O'Neill doesn't make me laugh, but Waterwell's musical adaptation of his lesser-known play, Marco Million$ was not just a quirky assault on capitalism, but a triumphant ode to those often-overlooked arts: slapstick, vaudeville, and cabaret.

Why did one of the best-produced, most innovative, snarkily witty, madcap shows remain ignored by the masses? Well, perhaps the sucker-punch of the drama under all that meta-comedy confused 'em. I still think Lisa Kron's Well is an all-too rare show: i.e., excellent.

There are few things more depressing than watching clowns being tortured by an oppressive government. Succeeding not just as parable, but as physical tragedy, Not Clown was eerily entertaining.

Lisa D'Amour proved herself to be a tight playwright in The Cataract, a period piece that broached the Brokeback topic through serious metaphor and deftly executed blocking. Then she came back to write and direct her brother in a one-man show, Stanley (2006), using voice, body, and camera work to tell a fragmented tale of loss. Stunning works.

A true gem of theater, written by the infinitely talented and poetic Sheila Callaghan, this show was not only the first to fully utilize the multimedia offerings of the 3LD performance space, but it was the most well-rounded show of the season, from cast to script to direction.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2007 Update

Welcome back to another 'kül year. Last year, for fun, I covered over two hundred odd bits of entertainment. Some were freelance assignments. Some were for personal portfolio development. Any way you slice it, it was a good year. This year, there will be more posts than ever. There have to be. I'm competing against Patrick Lee and David Bell in a race to see the most theater in '07 over at the Show Showdown. I'll also be editing for Theater Talk's New Theater Corps, and I hope to once again cover the TriBeCa Film Festival for Film Monthly later on in April.

I'm also in the process of transitioning the blog from the old form of Blogger to the new Blogger-out-of-beta platform, which requires the use of new code, new tags, and a lot of other confusing technical stuff. If you're looking for my observations from '06, the whole thing is archived here: 'kül '06. Those of you looking for a less direct route or more aesthetically positioned one can find the link in the upper-right of the blog, under 2006 Archive.

Without further preamble, welcome to my mania. I hope you'll indulge and enjoy my observations on the kitsch of today and the ephemera of tomorrow.


Monday, January 01, 2007

2007 Archive

100 Saints You Should Know | 4.4/5.0 | 9.03.07
1001 | 3.2/5.0 | 11.03.07
110 in the Shade | 2.2/5.0 | 4.15.07
27 Heaven | 0.2/5.0 | 6.20.07
33 To Nothing | 3.4/5.0 | 7.25.07
365 Days/365 Plays: Week #18 | 1.2/5.0 | 3.18.07
365 Days/365 Plays: Weeks #39-43 | 3.0/5.0 | 9.09.07
The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide | 3.5/5.0 | 11.22.07
6969 | 2.9/5.0 | 2.11.07
The7 Battles The Best | 4.3/5.0 | 8.19.07
Accomplice: New York | 4.4/5.0 | 5.01.07
Alcestis | 0.5/5.0 | 4.20.07
All That I Will Ever Be | 3.8/5.0 | 2.11.07
An Age of Angels | 1.1/5.0 | 7.20.07
AMERICA LOVESEXDEATH | 2.5/5.0 | 9.11.07
Antigravity: 2007 Tour | 3.9/5.0 | 7.02.07
The Australia Project (Week 1) | 3.4/5.0 | 9.14.07
The Australia Project (Week 2) | 3.6/5.0 | 9.26.07
Apocalypse Neo | 3.4/5.0 | 2.03.07
Apostasy | 2.3/5.0 | 4.10.07
Archipelago | 2.4/5.0 | 11.12.07
Atomic Farmgirl | 3.1/5.0 | 11.30.07
August: Osage County | 4.6/5.0 | 12.05.07
Baby With the Bathwater | 3.3/5.0 | 11.16.07
Bad Jazz | 4.1/5.0 | 11.20.07
Be | 3.1/5.0 | 3.14.07
A Beautiful View | 4.7/5.0 | 1.21.07
Beckett Shorts | 4.3/5.0 | 12.17.07
Bed | 2.3/5.0 | 4.19.07
BFF | 4.0/5.0 | 2.24.07
Bill W. and Dr. Bob | 2.6/5.0 | 3.06.07
Bingo with the Indians | 1.3/5.0 | 11.09.07
Bird Eye Blue Print | 4.6/5.0 | 5.19.07
Blackbird | 4.6/5.0 | 5.13.07
The Black Eyed | 4.6/5.0 | 8.01.07
Blind Mouth Singing | 3.1/5.0 | 9.27.07
Bloody Lies | 0.4/5.0 | 7.22.07
*Bombs in Your Mouth | 4.5/5.0 | 9.17.07
The Brothers Size | 4.7/5.0 | 10.28.07
*The Box | 2.9/5.0 | 8.28.07
Box Americana (Reading) | 4.4/5.0 | 12.10.07
The Brig | NR | 8.03.07
The Broken Jump | 3.1/5.0 | 7.29/07
Bukowsical | 4.2/5.0 | 8.20.07
Chekhov's Chicks | 3.0/5.0 | 12.07.07
The Children of Vonderly | 4.6/5.0 | 10.05.07
The Chronological Secrets of Tim | 2.0/5.0 | 5.25.07

The Coast of Utopia: Salvage | 4.9/5.0 | 2.17.07
Commedia Dell' Artimisia | 4.3/5.0 | 7.27.07
*The Commission | 2.7/5.0 | 8.16.07
Committed | 3.0/5.0 | 4.13.07
The Country Wife |4.8/5.0 | 1.09.07
Coram Boy | 4.2/5.0 | 5.06.07
Crime and Punishment | 4.0/5.0 | 11.11.07
The Curse of the Mystic Renaldo The | --/5.0 | 2.23.07
Cycle | 4.2/5.0 | 2.18.07
Daguerreotype | 2.8/5.0 | 8.05.07
Dai (enough) | 3.6/5.0 | 11.26.07
The Dark at the Top of the Stairs | 2.5/5.0 | 4.02.07
Defender of the Faith | 3.9/5.0 | 3.13.07
Departures | 3.8/5.0 | 10.10.07
The Devil on All Sides | 3.4/5.0 | 6.15.07
The Devil's Disciple | 3.8/5.0 | 12.13.07
The Director | 3.6/5.0 | 3.16.07
Don Giovanni | 3.0/5.0 | 9.07.07
Don Juan in Chicago | 4.2/5.0 | 6.03.07
Doppelganger | 0.4/5.0 | 6.26.07
Doris to Darlene: a cautionary valentine | 3.3/5.0 | 12.04.07
Doublethink | 4.6/5.0 | 3.30.07
*...Double Vision | 4.0/5.0 | 8.23.07
Dream of a Common Language | 2.5/5.0 | 3.21.07
Dying City | 1.9/5.0 |3.05.07
The Eaten Heart | 4.9/5.0 | 5.27.07
Edward the Second | 3.9/5.0 | 12.16.07
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues | 1.9/5.0 | 12.01.07
Elephant Girls | 1.5/5.0 | 2.11.07
Elephant in the Room | 1.8/5.0 | 8.25.07
Essential Self-Defense | 2.7/5.0 | 4.15.07
Fair Game | 3.6/5.0 | 8.21.07
Famous Puppet Death Scenes | 4.5/5.0 | 1.20.07
The Farnsworth Invention | 4.3/5.0 | 12.19.07
A Feminine Ending | 0.9/5.0 | 10.13.07
The Fever | 4.4/5.0 | 2.10.07
Five in the Morning | 4.0/5.0 | 4.07.07
Fuerzabruta | 2.2/5.0 | 10.31.07
Fugue | 2.8/5.0 | 3.13.07
The Germans in Paris | 2.5/5.0 | 1.10.07
The Girl Detective | 1.7/5.0 | 2.26.07
Girls Just Wanna Have Fund$ | 3.6/5.0 | 5.19.07
The Glorious Ones | 4.7/5.0 | 11.04.07
Go | 3.3/5.0 | 8.02.07
God's Ear | 4.5/5.0 | 5.08.07
Goodbye April, Hello May | 1.0/5.0 | 7.06.07
A Good Farmer | 3.9/5.0 | 10.08.07
Good Heif | 2.6/5.0 | 10.11.07
The Good Thief | 1.3/5.0 | 5.06.07
Gutenberg! The Musical! | 4.6/5.0 | 1.22.07
A Guy Adrift in the Universe | 3.5/5.0 | 4.15.07
Gypsy | 3.5/5.0 | 7.30.07
Hail Satan | 4.3/5.0 | 8.26.07
The Hand and the Hen | 2.4/5.0 | 7.29.07
Harm's Way | 1.9/5.0 | 10.09.07
Have You Seen Steve Steven? | 3.7/5.0 | 9.19.07
*Helmet | 1.0/5.0 | 8.14.07
Hillary Agonistes | 1.3/5.0 | 9.15.07
The Homecoming | 2.1/5.0 | 12.11.07
Hoodoo Love | 2.4/5.0 | 11.01.07
Horizon | 4.4/5.0 | 6.05.07

Hotel Oracle | 1.3/5.0 | 3.10.07
Howard Katz | 2.3/5.0 | 2.13.07
Humans Anonymous | 3.8/5.0 | 11.07.07
*I Dig Doug | 1.7/5.0 | 9.01.07
I.E., In Other Words | 3.8/5.0 | 6.01.07
In a Dark Dark House | 4.3/5.0 | 6.07.07
Inside Private Lives | 3.7/5.0 | 7.22.07
An Interview With The Author | 3.9/5.0 | 6.15.07
Iphigenia 2.0 | 4.3/5.0 | 9.27.07
it is said the men are over in The Steel Tower | 1.9/5.0 | 3.07.07
Is He Dead? | 4.5/5.0 | 12.19.07
Israel Horovitz's New Shorts | 3.4/5.0 | 1.12.07
I Used to Write on Walls | 3.6/5.0 | 10.14.07
The Jaded Assassin | 3.9/5.0 | 3.02.07
Jack Goes Boating | 4.1/5.0 | 3.11.07
*Jamaica Farewell | 2.1/5.0 | 9.13.07
Janyl | 0.2/5.0 | 3.18.07
Journey's End | 5.0/5.0 | 2.25.07
Kinderspiel | 4.0/5.0 | 10.05.07
The/King/Operetta | 3.4/5.0 | 6.30.07
La Femme Est Morte | 4.0/5.0 | 7.26.07
The Last One Left | 3.0/5.0 | 8.07.07
A Lie of the Mind | 4.3/5.0 | 4.04.07
*Lights Rise on Grace | 4.3/5.0 | 9.02.07
The Little Dog Laughed | 3.6/5.0 | 1.17.07
Lipstick on a Pig | 1.5/5.0 | 5.26.07
Local Story | 1.0/5.0 | 11.29.07
Long Distance | 3.4/5.0 | 8.24.07
Los Angeles | 2.8/5.0 | 3.08.07
Losing Something | 2.7/5.0 | 4.24.07
Love, Death, and Vengeance: A Comedy | 3.1/5.0 | 12.15.07
Macbeth: A Walking Shadow | 4.8/5.0 | 1.13.07
The Magic of Mrs. Crowling | 4.3/5.0 | 7.24.07
Magpie | 3.0/5.0 | 3.17.07
Man is Man | 1.4/5.0 | 12.11.07
Mauritius | 4.5/5.0 | 10.12.07
A Midsummer Night's Dream | 4.6/5.0 | 9.07.07
Measure for Measure: Bring Your Own Block and Axe | 2.2/5.0 | 8.10.07
MedEia | 2.8/5.0 | 9.30.07
Me, Myself, I and the Others | 2.5/5.0 | 10.18.07
Men of Steel | 4.0/5.0 | 3.18.07
Milk 'n' Honey | 3.3/5.0 | 11.02.07
The Misanthrope | 5.0/5.0 | 9.24.07
The Monument | 2.2/5.0 | 1.16.07
Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays | 4.1/5.0 | 7.07.07
Neglect | 4.8/5.0 |2.22.07
Nelson | 3.6/5.0 | 2.11.07
New Amsterdames | 0.6/5.0 | 12.03.07
The Nina Variations | 1.6/5.0 | 7.26.07
No Dice | 4.9/5.0 | 12.09.07
No End of Blame | 4.5/5.0 | 6.29.07
*Not From Canada | 2.0/5.0 | 8.13.07
The Number 14 | 2.2/5.0 | 4.08.07
An Octopus Love Story | 3.1/5.0 | 5.12.07
OEDIrx | 4.3/5.0 | 3.23.07
Off Stage: East Village Fragments | 4.4/5.0 | 6.17.07
Oh, The Humanity (and other exclamations) | 2.8/5.0 | 12.06.07
Orestes 2.0 | 1.8/5.0 | 4.06.07
The Overwhelming | 4.3/5.0 | 10.26.07
Passing Strange | 4.1/5.0 | 6.13.07
*PB&J | 2.3/5.0 | 8.22.07
Peasant | 2.7/5.0 | 5.20.07
Penetrator | 3.7/5.0 | 6.02.07
The People vs. Mona | 3.9/5.0 | 7.17.07
Peter and Jerry | 3.5/5.0 | 11.25.07
Philoktetes | 1.7/5.0 | 10.27.07
The Piano Teacher | 4.4/5.0 | 12.02.07
Picasso at the Lapin Agile | 3.8/5.0 | 4.08.07
*PN1923.45 LS01 (The Book Play) | 3.4/5.0 | 8.28.07
Politics of Passion: Plays of Anthony Minghella | 2.8/5.0 | 6.30.07
Prometheus Bound | 1.4/5.0 | 4.07.07
The Polish Play | 3.8/5.0 | 1.19.07
Pulp | 3.6/5.0 | 10.19.07
The Puppetmaster of Lodz | 4.1/5.0 | 12.16.07
Pygmalion | 3.4/5.0 | 10.25.07
The Quantum Eye | 0.4/5.0 | 7.27.07
Queens Boulevard (the musical) | 2.1/5.0 | 12.06.07
The Rapture Project | 2.0/5.0 | 1.08.07
*Reader | 2.3/5.0 | 8.15.07
Real Danger | 1.2/5.0 | 2.06.07
The Receipt | 4.0/5.0 | 5.07.07
The Receptionist | 4.8/5.0 | 12.02.07
*Riding the Bull | 4.4/5.0 | 8.18.07
The Ritz | 4.1/5.0 | 10.12.07
Riverdale to Riverhead | 0.0/5.0 | 6.21.07
The Runner Stumbles | 2.8/5.0 | 11.05.07
Saint Joan of the Stockyards | 4.5/5.0 | 6.20.07
The Santaland Diaries | 1.8/5.0 | 12.14.07
Scapin | 2.6/5.0 | 12.19.07
The Seafarer | 4.5/5.0 | 12.12.07
The Second Tosca | 4.1/5.0 | 6.14.07
The Secret of Mme. Bonnard's Bath | 3.5/5.0 | 2.08.07
Secret Order | 3.4/5.0 | 11.13.07
The Secret War | 3.0/5.0 | 5.15.07
Serendib | 4.4/5.0 | 3.29.07
Silence | 3.8/5.0 | 1.24.07
The Silent Concerto | 0.7/5.0 | 2.02.07
Sister Cities | 3.9/5.0 | 11.18.07
Six Degrees of Separation | 3.0/5.0 | 9.23.07
Sive | 4.0/5.0 | 11.21.07
The Shattering of the Golden Pane | 2.1/5.0 | 8.19.07
Spain | 0.6/5.0 | 10.20.07
Speech and Debate | 4.4/5.0 | 10.30.07
Start Up (GTA's Road Trip) | 3.1/5.0 | 10.13.07
*The Sunshine Play | 3.7/5.0 | 8.28.07
Surface to Air | 0.5/5.0 | 7.19.07
*Susan Gets Some Play | 4.1/5.0 | 8.28.08
Tender | 0.3/5.0 | 7.26.07
Theft of Imagination |
3.1/5.0 | 11.17.07
A Thought About Raya | 4.3/5.0 | 11.10.07
Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer | 3.7/5.0 | 7.31.07
Topsy Turvy Mouse | 2.0/5.0 | 4.12.07
Townville! | 0.2/5.0 | 10.14.07
*Tragedy: A Musical Comedy | 0.0/5.0 | 8.21.07
transFigures | 4.6/5.0 | 4.16.07
True Genius | 1.4/5.0 | 10.02.07
The Turn of the Screw | 0.6/5.0 | 11.03.07
Two Thirds Home | 3.4/5.0 | 8.02.07
Seating Arrangements | 4.4/5.0 | 10.22.07
Spring Awakening | 4.7/5.0 | 2.25.07
Suburban Peepshow | 3.3/5.0 | 4.07.07
Talk Radio | 3.9/5.0 | 3.22.07
Tall Grass | 0.3/5.0 | 3.11.07
Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (February 3) | 5.0/5.0 | 2.04.07
Trumpery | 1.8/5.0 | 12.08.07
Twelfe Night | 2.0/5.0 | 4.22.07

Top Ten Shows of 2006 | N/A | 1.03.07
The View From K Street Steak | 2.0/5.0 | 4.15.07
Universal Robots | 4.5/5.0 | 7.15.07
A Very Nosedive Christmas | 3.6/5.0 | 12.15.07
Vital Signs: New Works Festival Week 2 | 3.4/5.0 | 12.10.07
Vital Signs: New Works Festival Week 3 | 3.8/5.0 | 12.16.07
volume of smoke | 4.8/5.0 | 3.25.07
Washing Machine | 4.7/5.0 | 7.07.07
West Bank, U.K | 3.1/5.0 | 12.02.07
When the Messenger is Hot | 3.0/5.0 | 10.07.07
Will Durst: The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing | 4.1/5.0 | 8.17.07
Wonderland: Free Fall | 3.0/5.0 | 6.08.07
Wonderland: Roller Coaster | 3.4/5.0 | 5.30.07
Xanadu | 2.8/5.0 | 10.17.07
Yank | 4.1/5.0 | 10.21.07
You Can't Take It With You | 3.6/5.0 | 6.12.07
Young Frankenstein | 2.1/5.0 | 11.17.07
You People | 3.2/5.0 | 12.08.07

*Part of the '07 Fringe Festival

'06 in Review | N/A | 1.29.07
'07 Tribeca Film Festival | N/A | Day [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]
300 | 4.3/5.0 | 3.12.07
Brand Upon The Brain! | 4.0/5.0 | 5.14.07
Chalk | 4.1/5.0 | 5.29.07
Grindhouse | 4.7/5.0 | 4.09.07
The Host | 4.5/5.0 | 3.19.07
The Last King of Scotland | 4.8/5.0 | 2.15.07
Live Free or Die Hard | 4.0/5.0 | 7.1.07
The Lookout | 4.3/5.0 | 4.14.07
Meatball Machine | 0.1/5.0 | 7.18.07
The Messengers | 0.5/5.0 | 2.07.07
Pan's Labyrinth | 5.0/5.0 | 1.11.07
Reno 911!: Miami | 3.9/5.0 | 3.06.07
Saw IV | 3.5/5.0 | 10.31.07
Seraphim Falls | 2.3/5.0 | 2.01.07
Sunshine | 4.2/5.0 | 7.23.07
Volver| 3.2/5.0 | 2.20.07
The Wind That Shakes the Barley | 4.9/5.0 | 3.26.07

Adverbs, by Daniel Handler | 3.0/5.0 | 3.24.07
The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly | 2.5/5.0 | 3.15.07
Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black a k a John Banville | 3.5/5.0 | 5.11.07
Only Revolutions, by Mark Z. Danielewski | 2.1/5.0 | 1.18.07
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy | 4.5/5.0 | 1.04.07
The Terror, by Dan Simmons | 4.2/5.0 | 3.01.07
What is the What, by Dave Eggers | 4.8/5.0 | 2.05.07
The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon | 4.6/5.0 | 6.09.07

Albert Hammond Jr., Yours To Keep | 4.8/5.0 | 3.20.07
Barenaked Ladies, Barenaked Ladies Are Me | 3.6/5.0 | 1.30.07
Breaks Co-op, The Sound Inside | 3.3/5.0 | 2.28.07
The Broken West, I Can't Go On I'll Go On | 3.3/5.0 | 3.10.07
The Curtains, Calamity | 3.6/5.0 | 3.09.07
The Good, The Bad & The Queen | 3.9/5.0 | 2.08.07
The Feeling, Twelve Stop and Home | 4.3/5.0 | 6.27.07
Now It's Overhead, Dark Light Daybreak | 1.1/5.0 | 1.15.07
Outkast, Idlewild | 4.6/5.0 | 1.31.07
Pagoda, Pagoda | 3.5/5.0 | 6.23.07
Portastatic, Who Loves the Sun | 1.0/5.0 | 2.21.07
This Is Me Smiling, This Is Me Smiling | 3.4/5.0 | 7.17.07
Wax on Radio, Exposition | 2.3/5.0 | 2.27.07
Weird Al Yankovic, Straight Outta Lynwood | 4.9/5.0 | 2.14.07