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French Oscar Contender “BPM”Blistering, Powerful AIDS Drama About Act-UP

French Oscar Contender Blistering, Magnificent AIDS Drama”BPM” Scorches the Screen @NYFF
The blistering, magnificent “BPM” or Beats Per Minute is like enduring a two and half hour atomic blast. It’s a movie that blew my head off and shook me to my core, and evidently had the same impact at Cannes where it was given the prestigious Grand Prix and was officially named as the French Oscar Entry for Best Foreign Film.  An angry, militant look at the early 1990s ACT-UP in France, it was shocking to me on so many levels. That it is almost a documentary, but it’s not. It’s a scripted firebrand of a drama. And it’s almost an exact replica of what we were all going through in the United States. Except for the language, French, its’ the same frightening story.

Of government and corporate indifference to the plight of people who were sick and dying of this disease that nearly wiped out my entire generation of gay men. Almost everyone I knew is gone. I wrote the first full-length play about AIDS in Sept.1984, when people didn’t believe that this sickness even existed.  People thought it was some temporary illness that the gays were blowing out of proportion.It was difficult at the time to get actors to play the roles of people with AIDS. It was called “Fever of Unknown Origin” and nobody wanted to hear about it. I was one of the first “Buddies” who were trained to help the sick and dying. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis consisted then of folding chairs in an empty room. My friends were dying all around me, as in a war.BPM 2

“BPM” brought all the anger and revolutionary fervor back to me with a shock. In 1990s Paris ten years later, when the fiery, superb “BPM” is set, the world knows by then that it was a world wide epidemic, but it was still falling to the militant homosexuals, in this case the members Parisian ACT-UP to keep fighting and picketing and yes, dying, to get the word out, and change things. The indifference of the French drug companies were equivalent to the lack of interest of the Koch administration in NYC. They throw false blood into board rooms and disrupt in any and every way they can. Pamphlets, fog horns, picketing, parading and screaming at the top of the lungs that “Silence=Death.”

In Robin Campillo’s “BPM,” the scene keeps shifting between the turbulent ACT-UP meetings, held in a college class room, and the tender love affair that develops between the angriest little queen you’ve ever seen Argentinean actor  Nanuel  Perez Biscayart and a newcomer to the movement handsome, studly, sensitive Arnaud Valois. Their relationship is between someone who is dying of AIDS right before our eyes(Biscayart) and a HIV-Negative political innocent Valois, who comes to love and care for the diminutive Biscayart, no matter what stage of the disease is ravaging his tiny body.

There are multiple and plenty of gay sex scenes, even as Biscayart lies dying in the hospital. Valois inserts his hand into his lovers pajama pants and brings him to orgasm in a scene that you’ll never forget.

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Campillo shies away from nothing in “BPM.” When Biscayart’s character inevitably passes, he wishes his ashes to be thrown into the faces of the suits of the drug company that has neglected getting him the proper medication. “BPM” is shattering as that is exactly what his angry ACT-UP compatriots do as they disrupt a swanky banquet in the last scene of the movie.

“BPM” reminds us that AIDS is still very much with us. It has not gone away. While there is better medication, there is still no cure. You must see “BPM.” It’s a tribute to those who fought and died and those still fighting.

 

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“Sweat” a Pulitzer Prize- Winning Play That Lives Up to Its’ Title

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Sweat” is this year’s Pulitzer-prize winning play. It more than earns that great accolade, as well as its daring title. “Sweat” dares you to take into account the sweat of most of its main characters’ smaller-than-life lives. Sweat could be a synonym here for “work,” and that is what most of its squashed denizens of Reading, Pennsylvania, actually do. It’s more like slavery. They are slaves to the steel mill, so much so that the entire town’s economy, and the citizens’ lives, are attached at the hip to the Mill.

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It’s morning, noon and night, until they die. It’s brutal. It’s tough stuff. Now two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage is no stranger to horror. Witness her other, superb, previous Pulitzer-winner “Ruined” about the unspeakable terrors of African warfare and its ruinous effect on women.

Sweat” tackles horrors you can speak of. Over-work and under-pay, being the two main topics of nearly every conversation, its hard-scrabble characters carry on at the local bar, which is almost womb-like in its superb setting by John Lee Beatty. It is so familial and familiar, you feel like you’ve been hanging out there for years, as the plays’ bedraggled characters have.

If this bar, and its Christ-like bartender (a superb James Colby) seem right out of “The Iceman Cometh,” you’re not far wrong. Nottage is really plowing Eugene O’Neill’s lower depths, as well as her own. And like O’Neill, they are all being crushed and cursed by alcohol. Being that it’s 2017, other addictions apply. They pile up on the beleaguered characters of “Sweat,” as the actions to close down the Mill roll over all their lives in a relentless juggernaut of corporate greed and union-busting that leads, of course, to catastrophe.

Sweat” is terrifyingly prescient. This is the first play I’ve seen that explains why “You Know Who,” to quote Whoopi Goldberg of “The View,” got elected. This is a Rust-Belt play with all the Rust in full view.

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Sweat” begins its road to hell-in-a-hand-basket with two matched monologues of two young men, barely out of their teens, childhood friends’ it turns out, one black, one white, who have been imprisoned there for some unspeakable, violent act. We don’t find out just what, until the frightening ending, but suffice it to say, that Khris and Jacob’s predicament hangs over the play like the doomed fog that has shrouded all these characters’ lives, white and black. Eugene O’Neill’s characters have gone from Pipe Dreams to Rust.

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The cast is uniformly excellent but I do have to single out the German descent White-Supremicist-in-the-making of Will Pullen, who has totally nailed the seemingly sweet, but really brutal Jason, a totally exact product of rural Pennsylvania and his factory working Mom, the Tony nominated Johanna Day.

The two of them enact a scene of horror that rivals any horror film, when he finally gets out of jail and comes home to borrow $5 from her, only to find that she is now completely unemployed and a hopeless pill-head. Without that pollution-spilling Steel Mill, they’re both reduced to hopeless addicts, and their lives and hopes destroyed.

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No, “Sweat” isn’t for the faint-of-heart, but it’s god-damned powerful. And Lynn Nottage capturing their pain and frustration so winningly is a compelling sign of hope.


#Lynn Nottage #Pulitzer Prize, #Sweat, #Broadway, #Will Pullen # Johanna Day, #Reading Pennsylvania # Stell MillsSweat 4

Casey Affleck Wins Best Actor!!! Isabelle Huppert Wins Best Actress!!! Another Upset!

capturemanchester-art-directionCasey Affleck, as expected just won Best Actor Drama, from the Golden Globes tonight, for “Manchester by the Sea”. So happy. So richly deserved. He gave a nice speech and thanked filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan. “This film is all him. I love you, man.” Thanked his wife and children. Perfectly acceptable speech on the road to the Oscars. “Michelle Williams, you’re just perfect.”

Then Upset of Upsets Isabelle Huppert wins Best Actress for “Elle”!!! She was REALLY shocked!

Then “Moonlight” wins Best Picture in another Upset! It didn’t win anything else all night. And there it is an all African-American cast winning Best Picture Drama. This year it’s definitely NOT #Oscarssowhite  any more! And it’s a totally gay film! I can’t believe it! I never thought I’d ever live to see this.

What does this all mean? All these surprises!

Well, this means that Isabelle Huppert will probably definitely get an Oscar nomination. I doubt she’ll win up against Emma Stone. And this is really bad for Natalie Portman for “Jackie.” She was supposed to win this. She needed to win this. But the Hollywood FOREIGN Press does sometimes loves its’ own, in this case, the French language film “Elle” and French icon Isabelle Huppert.

This also seals Emma Stone’s Best Actress Oscar. Her speech was lovely, but she better get a better dress.  Casey was touching and he thanked everyone he could in the little time he had, but I don’t think he thanked his big brother, Ben. But he did take time to thank Matt Damon, one of the producer, who stepped away from this role of lonely, alcoholic janitor Lee, and told them to use Casey. And it turns out to be the role that is making Casey’s career. But he did profusely thank him. He said it in an understated, comic way that made the audience laugh. Casey shook his head over and over like he couldn’t believe it. And also he gave an extended thanks go Denzel Washington, who was his main competition.

manchester-by-the-sea-7This evening clarifies Best Actress which will be Emma Stone, Best Actor which will be Casey Affleck, and Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress. If she stays in that category….. The Academy puts actors where they FEEL like putting them. In lead, if they feel they don’t belong in Supporting. Remember Kate Winslet?

“La La Land”s  7 awards sweep will probably mean it will do the same at the Oscars, I’m betting. I really don’t see the homophobic Academy giving an All Gay All the Way film, “Moonlight” Best Picture. They probably feel it’s throwing its’ main award away if it doesn’t give it to something heterosexual.

But this is Casey’s Big Night, and Emma’s, and of course, Meryl Streep’s and Viola Davis’s.

Denzel looked REALLY depressed when they cut to him during Casey Affleck’s speech. He already has two Oscars.

What a night! But who’s going to win Best Supporting Actor? I doubt the Academy is going to honor Aaron Taylor-Johnson for “Nocturnal Animals.”

I do think this is one of the best Golden Globes ever, and Fallon wisely got out of the way, and just let it happen.

#Manchester by the Sea

#Casey Affleck

#Best Actor Drama

# Isabelle Huppert

#French

#Elle

 

#Matt Damon

# Kenneth Lonergan

 

 

 

 

Debbie Reynolds Dies One Day After Carrie Fisher “Brights Lights” both

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Hollywood’s heart is surely broken forever with the devastating news of Legend Debbie Reynolds death the day after her beloved daughter Carrie Fisher’s death. I’m sad. I’m reeling. I just saw them featured quite marvelously in “Bright Lights” a doc on their tangled lives at the NYFF. And the thing that struck me so much about “Bright Lights” by Fisher Stevens, was how much they loved each other. How much fun they had and what a joy and a treat this documentary was.

It’s supposed to air on HBO, now probably sooner rather than later, but don’t miss it. It now has an air of tragedy hanging about it, that both Fisher and Reynolds dispel completely by their constantly being “On.” And entertaining us mightily and forever. It’s a fitting tribute to them, as they always say.

And they don’t hold back. It’s like they just couldn’t. But they loved each other and clearly couldn’t live without each other as events have sadly born out.

When I heard Carrie had died, I just KNEW in my heart that her death would kill Debbie, too, and it did. Their houses adjoined each other more or less “up a steep hill” as Carrie put it in Hollywood. They collected endless memorabilia from the Golden Days, and now Debbie herself, one of the biggest symbols of Hollywood’s hey day that there ever was is gone.

I can scarcely stand it. Debbie Reynolds played such a large role in my life, always the smiling, dancing teenager from “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Tammy” that song that never leaves your mind. And she was even nominated for an Oscar once for “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

Carrie had “Star Wars” a bigger hit financially than any of her mother’s films ever were. And her now iconic Princess Leia never really bowled me over. But her millions of fans disagree.

I loved her acerbic wit, which the film “Bright Lights” capitalizes on by starting with Carrie calling Debbie “tsu-Mommy,” but not to her face. When she enters the room with Debbie in it, it’s always “Mommy.” And the sweetness is not faked for the cameras.

With all her addictions and bipolar disorders, I always thought of Carrie as crashingly normal despite her upbringing and her surroundings. And so did she.

Debbie once said of Carrie “She’s genuine.” And she was. They both were.

We, the fans, are with them forever and are happy that they are together again in Hollywood Heaven. And we do have this great upcoming doc “Bright Lights” to watch over and over again as soon as it starts airing.

No Mommie Dearest relationship here. They truly loved each other. Don’t miss “Bright Lights.” Their bright lights will never go out.

#Debbie Reynolds Death

# Bright Lights doc

# Carrie Fisher Death

Will Drama Desk Winners Repeat at the TONYs?

Jessica & Cynthia 1Will Drama Desk Winners repeat their triumphs at the TONYS? Probably. This year, especially. I think so. Above are pictured the two Best Actress winners. Jessica Lange for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and British newcomer Cynthia Erivo who is starring in “The Color People.” Lange won for Best Actress in a play and Erivo won for Best Actress in a Musical. I think these two ladies are Won and Done. At the Tonys.

Also poised to repeat at the TONYs are their two male counterparts in Drama Desk triumph Danny Burstein in “Fiddler on the Roof” and Frank Langella in the French play about an Alzheimer’s victim “The Father.”

I think all four of these powerhouse thespians can rest assured the Tony Voters will like them, really like them,too. The Tony Voters  do look increasingly to the Drama Desk winners to narrow their playing field, as it were.

This year, though, the theatrical phenom “Hamilton” is nominated for more TONYs than any other production in Broadway history. But in these four leading categories I don’t think it will register as it is likely to do in others. “Hamilton” won nearly every award in the book LAST year when it was eligible for the Drama Desks(and also the Outer Critics Circle and the Obies) because it played Off Broadway first at its’ historic run at the Public that launched it to Broadway.

And although two of its’ leading men author/actor Lin Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odon are both nominated for Best Actor in a Musical, I think they will cancel each other out, leaving the way for the popular veteran Danny Burstein to triumph for his joyous Tevye in “Fiddler.”

In other news, I think juggernaut “Hamilton” may find itself stopped at the TONYS. Although it was nominated for a historic 16 awards, I think it’s going to register much, much less than that.

The only acting award I think is a surefire win for “Hamilton” is the charming young African-American actress Renee Elise Goldsberry, who won the Drama Desk last year for Best Featured(or Supporting) Actress in a Musical.Renee Rlise Goldsberry 1

And on the Drama side, the powerful performance of veteran Jayne Howdeyshell from the Best Play Drama Desk winner “The Humans” could score in Supporting, which is where the TONYS put her and co-star Reed Birney, although they are both leads. “The Humans” also won for Best Ensemble at the Drama Desks, a special category that the DDs always give, but the TONYs do not.Jayne Houdyshell Humans 1

“Hamilton” will win Best Musical for sure. But the TONY voters are notorious for spreading the wealth around, and I think they will do that this year, too, in spite of “Hamilton” perceived dominance.

#Drama Desk Awards, # Hamilton, # Tonys, #Jessica Lange, #Cynthia Arivo, #A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, #Color Purple, #Best Actress in a Leading Role, #Danny Burstein, #Frank Langella, #Fiddler on the Roof, #The Father, #Lyn-Manuel Miranda, #Renee Elise Goldsberry,#Jayne HowdyShell #The Humans

Complete List of Drama Desk Winners

Sunday night at Town Hall, the Drama Desk Awards were handed out to a bunch of very happy winners. The Drama Desks are the only theatrical organization that hands out awards to productions and performances from Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway equally, and is composed entirely of members of the press. Including yours truly.

Here is a complete list of the winners:

Outstanding Play
The Humans, Roundabout Theatre Company

Outstanding Musical
Shuffle Along

Outstanding Revival of a Play
A View from the Bridge

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
She Loves Me, Roundabout Theatre Company

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Frank Langella, The Father, Manhattan Theatre Club

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Michael Shannon, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed, Public Theater

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

Outstanding Director of a Play
Ivo van Hove, A View from the Bridge

Outstanding Director of a Musical
(tie)
John Doyle, The Color Purple
Bartlett Sher, Fiddler on the Roof

Outstanding Choreography
Savion Glover, Shuffle Along

Outstanding Music
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Bright Star

Outstanding Lyrics
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen

Outstanding Book of a Musical
John Caird, Daddy Long Legs

Outstanding Orchestrations
Larry Hochman, She Loves Me, Roundabout Theatre Company

Outstanding Music in a Play
Philip Glass, The Crucible

Outstanding Set Design for a Play
Christopher Oram, Hughie

Outstanding Set Design for a Musical
David Rockwell, She Loves Me

Outstanding Costume Design for a Play
Anita Yavich, The Legend of Georgia McBride

Outstanding Costume Design for a Musical
Ann Roth, Shuffle Along

Outstanding Lighting Design for a Play
Justin Townsend, The Humans

Outstanding Lighting Design for a Musical
Justin Townsend, American Psycho

Outstanding Projection Design
Finn Ross, American Psycho

Outstanding Sound Design for a Play
Fitz Patton, The Humans

Outstanding Sound Design for a Musical
Dan Moses Schreier, American Psycho

Outstanding Wig and Hair Design
Mia M. Neal, Shuffle Along

Outstanding Solo Performance
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Fully Committed

Unique Theatrical Experience
That Physics Show

Special Awards

The Humans – Special Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble
Cassie Beck, Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed, and Sarah Steele spend a very special Thanksgiving Day together in Stephen Karam’s play, reminding us that home is indeed where The Humans are.

The Royale – Special Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble
The heavyweight cast of McKinley Belcher III, Khris Davis, Montego Glover, John Lavelle, and Clarke Peters gels as a unit in bringing Marco Ramirez’s story, inspired by Jack Johnson, to unforgettable life, offering a trenchant statement on racism in America.

Sheldon Harnick – Special Drama Desk Award
New productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Rothschild and Sons, and She Loves Me this season remind us that this veteran lyricist’s takes on faith, family and community are as resonant as ever.

Camp Broadway – Special Drama Desk Award
For more than 20 years, this indispensable organization has introduced young people to the magic of theater. Camp Broadway plays a crucial role in creating tomorrow’s audiences.

Danai Gurira – Sam Norkin Award
Whether writing about women in wartime Liberia in Eclipsed or about an affluent immigrant family from Zimbabwe struggling with assimilation in Familiar, Danai Gurira demonstrates great insight, range, and depth, bringing a fresh new voice to American theater.

#Drama Desk AwardsJessica Lange  1

Extraordinary “Follies of God, Tennessee Williams & the Women of the Fog”!

Follies of God 1Every now & then a book comes along that is so extraordinary that you just have to drop everything & run to it! Such a book is “Follies of God, Tennessee Williams & the Women of the Fog” by James Grissom. Just when you thought you’d heard everything that there was to hear about the late, great, multiply-awarded as well as multiply-addicted playwright Tennessee Williams, along comes “Follies of God” and blows nearly everything else that’s been written about “Tenn” out of the water.

It’s an absolute must-have, must-read for anyone who loves the theater, as I do, and loves great actresses, as I do, and loves to write great roles for great actresses, as well, I try to do.You can’t put it down! It’s an absolute page turner. And the story behind “Follies of God” is as amazing as any plot Williams ever concocted for his great heroines.

You see, a year and half before his death, he summoned a young fan who had written him a letter, and that young man was James Grissom. Williams dubbed him “Dixie” (They were both in Louisiana at the time) and unbeknownst to the 20-year-old aspiring actor/writer, Williams concocted an epic plan of the book, a pseudo-memoir, he would endow Dixie with the task of writing sometime in the future when he was long gone. And 30 years or more later, he did.

He had Dixie write down nearly every word he said in little blue note books. And Dixie(Grissom)like Boswell, with Samuel Johnson, wrote down EVERYTHING. And Williams gave him MORE. Shopping bags full of fragments of unfinished plays and poems,”leaves of his mind” Williams said.

And most importantly, he gave him introductions to the greatest actresses of the past 50 years, the greats of the American Theater, and he tasked Dixie with writing down what THEY thought of him. And he wrote lyrical elegies to them all, and sent mementos, which inevitably reduced all of them to tears. They, to a one, had no idea how he felt about them.Follies of God 2

Williams knew instinctively that he had the right person for this incredibly daunting task, and he did. But it’s taken nearly a lifetime for Dixie, who turned into a wonderful adult writer, James Grissom to bring this book into print. But the work and the wait were well worth it.

Focusing ONLY on the relationships of these great stage actresses to the iconic roles in his plays, it’s a fascinating, breath-taking read. As Dixie encounters saints (Marian Seldes, Maureen Stapleton),sinners(Kim Stanley, Jo Van Fleet) and stars (Geraldine Page, Katharine Hepburn) who all burst into tears on reading what Williams wrote about them.

And wait! There’s more!

Grissom reveals, for perhaps the first time, that Williams and William Inge were life-long lovers, as well as sometimes haters. That on-again, off-again tempestuous romance fueled both writers and in turn endowed the theater(and the films) of mid-Twentieth century America with some of its’ greatest writing. And the greatest parts for actresses, bar none.

Some are missing. Elizabeth Taylor, for instance. But most are there.Jo Van Fleet 1

The worst of them was evidently Jo Van Fleet, the Oscar-winning mother of James Dean in “East of Eden” who became so penurious & eccentric in her sad later years that she would carry her “mottled” Oscar with her in a tote bag and plunk it down whenever she couldn’t cash a check or pay a bill.”THIS is who I am!” she would angrily declare. Frightening all who heard her.Jo Van Fleet 2

Why “Women of the Fog”? The fog was what Tennessee would always declare his great female characters came to him out of, as it rolled across the proscenium stage of his mind.

Gossipy, gilded and glorious, it’s all  here in James Grissom’s wonderful “Follies of  God, Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog.” It’s now out in paperback, too. By all that is holy, you must read this great book!

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