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Poirot’s Back! Sophie Hannah Works Her Sly Magic Again in “Mystery of Three Quarters”


Well, “Mille Tonnerres!” As Hercule Poirot is wont to say, “Sacre Bleu!” but Madame Sophie Hannah has worked her sly magic once again in the continuation novel “The Mystery of Three Quarters,” out and at bookstores on August 28th.

Of course, reviewing mystery novels is always a problem for the reviewer because you can not give any of the plot away. “You CAN NOT!” I am again using Hercule Poirot’s unique voice and intonation here.

But I can say that is the literary legerdemain that Ms. Hannah practices so well. And the Christie Estate was so astute in choosing HER as the inheritor and author of now THREE delicious Christie continuation novels. “The Monogram Murders,” “Closed Casket” and now “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

The first quarter of “Three Quarters” is undiluted joy for Christie fans because it is all Poirot, all the time. He is front and center as his usually adept self in handling the perplexing question of who is sending these poison pen letters to various random people and signing his name, accusing them all of the murder of Barnabus Pandy. (LOVE that name!) Hannah is wicked good with her choice of her characters’ names.

The first character to accuse Poirot of this outrageous slander by snail mail (It is set in 1929. No emails here. Can you imagine Poirot sending an email? Or even going online! ) is the aptly named Sylvia Rule. And  a more vivid, angry introduct-ress to a murder mystery you cannot imagine. And Poirot cannot imagine it either!! He, Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective of all time (he calls himself, modestly) accusing others of a crime and signing his name to letters he did not write.”It is an outrage!” he tells the implacable  Sylvia Rule, and the other characters who turn up, in rapid succession, with identical letters. In various stages of discomfiture with Poirot..

This all happens in front of and inside his historic flat in Whitehaven Mansions. Hannah has preserved that from the Christie originals. New is the favorite place of Poirot’s to retire to, and figure out what to do with this perplexing situation with his “little grey cells”(Yes, they are here, too.)And that place is a pleasant café called Pleasant Café and run by Euphemia Spring. Who everyone calls “Fee.” (Once again Hannah’s marvelous choice of character names.) And Fee Spring has a large part to play.

She has graduated from “the waitress with the fly-away hair” in “Monogram Murders” to a full-blown character, the proprietress of the Pleasant Café,now also returning as Poirot’s favorite Hannah-named haunt. George, his always perfect valet is on hand here, too. And of course, Poirot, the ultimate foodie, is always eating. And it is Fee Spring, who  first raises the title of “Three Quarters,” through one of her delectable dishes, a cake that is shaped like a stained glass church window. The church window pane cake plays a major, major role in solving the mystery and the fact that Poirot keeps devouring all of its quarters so quickly made me think of how sweet and delicious this tasty treat must be. Just like this book.

This novel will make you hungry, I’m telling you. That I can reveal. And not just Window Pane Cake.

The Mystery of Three Quarters 4

And I also can tell you that you will not be able to PUT IT DOWN! It will possess you like you’re on a runaway train, maybe The Orient Express. Or a cake you can’t stop eating late at night.   The train metaphors and the food metaphors continue to abound in Hannah’s delicious tale of malice and murder. She’s so expert at this, the seemingly impossible task of recreating Agatha Christie’s unique, rotund Belgian detective with the great moustaches. Poirot is the only fictional character to ever get an Obit on the front page of the New York Times when he passed away in “Curtain.”

I never realized how deeply in love with this character I was until he rose from the dead so brilliantly at Sophie Hannah’s command in “Monogram Murders.” It was like encountering a long-lost friend! And you’ll feel the same way and be able to continue your own rapturous re-union with Hercule Poirot in “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

 

 

 

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Oscars Major Changes, 3 Hr. Running Time, New Category

AMPAS has just announced major changes. The ratings were abysmally low (to the people who make these decisions) “The Shape of Water” winning, a beautiful film that not a lot of people saw with the love interest a monster/fish may be what sunk all this. 

It will be cut down to three hours, which can only help. All those technical awards, Best Short, Best Short Feature, Best Animated Short, Best Doc Short, all will be relegated like the Sound, Hair and Make-Up, Best Cinematography and Best Costumes to a pre-show, like with the Tonys, or during commercial breaks.

Haven’t we ALLLL longed for a shorter show? Four hours plus was always excessive…But adding a new category “Most Popular Film” makes room for action movies, etc. the likes of which I really cringe about seeing these days. That’s an unfortunate dumb-ing down…And moving the date up TOO? To Feb.8???

Well, I guess we can say Oscar season is upon us now that it’s AUGUST. It’s not too early to start prognosticating anymore, Oscar fans, now is it? And what I would like to know is what happened to the two films that are probably going to dominate the awards this year ANY way? Well, in my book…

“Boy Erased” starring Lucas Hedges as a young gay teen forced into conversion therapy by his parents Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. It hasn’t even been announced yet as being in a major festival. Although, yes, it is opening in November. From Focus Features.

And it will be competing with, and being confused with the other “Boy” movie, “Beautiful Boy” starring Timothy Chalamet about a drug addicted teen. 

Both Hedges and Chalamet previous Oscar nominees are bound to be heading back to the Dolby Pavilion again this year. Both films are opening within weeks of each other in the now more-vital-than-ever-month of November. Now that the Awards date has been moved up to early February. Confused?

Imagine how the Academy Members are feeling right now….

The NEW Oscars is not going to be like any Oscars we’ve known before…

And “Black Panther” with its billion dollar box-office is going to be going up against “Mama Mia 2” I am making this prediction already.

It’s Over 100 Degrees in NYC. Perfect Antidote Mhz’s “Antartica:In the Footsteps of the Emperor”


New York is melting in over 100 degree temperatures. It’s brutal out there. So why not stay inside In the air-conditioning and watch the latest from Mhz? “Antarctica: In the Footsteps of the Emporor”

This is a very different offering from Mhz who usually specializes in heavy duty European television crime dramas. A favorite of mine “Maigret,” but their new “Antarctica:In the Footsteps of the Emperor.” is something else entirely. It’s a delightful French documentary on the sub-Artic continent, by Luc Jaquet, who brought us the equally delightful “March of the Penguins” in 2016.

And once again, those penguins steal the show. This documentary focuses on the filmmaker/photographers themselves. An intrepid band of French Antarctic enthusiasts, who just HAVE to  photograph every single aspect of the frozen continent. Their journey is compelling because they feel that climate change has even affected this least approachable of land masses. It’s melting fast. And they show it.

They have found traces of human waste and pollution in the water and also in what the birds and other mammals are eating…And the penguins! How can one not love the most humanoid of birds, who all resemble Alfred Hitchcock? To me any way. And we are engaged in their struggle to survive the brutal arctic conditions. They upstage the filmmakers at every turn, but we form concerns, too, about this intrepid band of Frenchmen, who are so obsessed with Antarctica, they even want to photograph and record what’s BENEATH it. Have you ever seen the UNDERside of an iceberg? Well, you will here in this terrific doc.

Your heart is in your mouth as these daredevil deep-sea divers go  beyond the beyond. To depths of the oceans bottom that were unimaginable heretofore. Laurent Ballest and Vincent Munier and their crew attempt, and succeed where to bravely go where no man has gone before.

“It’s like walking on the moon!” They exclaim, in French, over and over. And you’ll feel like you’ve taken a really cool and cooling escape from the heat of planet earth, when you watch Mhz’s enchanting and thrilling “Antartica:In the Footsteps of the Emperor.” Emperor Penguin, of course. It’s the perfect summertime movie!

Come Ride Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Wonderful, Rousing Revival of “Carousel” on Bway!

 

“Come ride away with me! And I will take you to heights you never dreamed of! ” beckons the plaintive/beautiful “Carousel Waltz” that opens Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “Carousel” now being magnificently revived on Broadway, directed masterfully by Jack O’Brien. It stars, as the star-crossed lovers Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, Jessie Mueller (“Beautiful”) and Joshua Henry(“The Scottsboro Boys”).

And “Carousel” is sounding more blissfully like an opera than ever. with the largest, most opulently orchestrated orchestra (with a harp even!) I’ve ever heard on Broadway! Orchestrations by the great Jonathan Tunick and Musical Supervision by Andy Einhorn.

The legendary lyric soprano Renee Fleming is on hand, too. To make the point even more clearly that Rodgers and Hammerstein meant to break your broken heart even further with a celestial, moving “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

You can’t miss this one! All you musical  theatre romantics out there!. It will make you cry from the first chords of the wordless, long, lush overture that opens with the “Carousel Waltz ” as Santo Loquasto’s glittering cup-cake-like tiara of a shimmering crown descends to represent the top of this dizzying merry-go round, as Tony-winning choreographer, Justin Peck keeps his dancers flying, spinning through the air. You MUST ride their joyous Carousel with all these wonderful artists on it! It’s a joy ride of a revival that surprises and startles and blows you away over and over again. especially musically. Particularly if you think this is an over-familiar chestnut of a  score that has no surprises left to find. You’ll never be able to forget the sounds this magical musical makes..


As perfectly classical as this “Carousel” is in every respect, it is breaking ground thoroughly too with its casting of African-American Joshua Henry, who proves beyond a doubt that he is one of the best great baritones Broadway now has, but that also director Jack O’Brien’s color-blind casting gives this masterpiece even more depth and timeliness that it’s ever had.

Joshua Henry’s reluctant wooing of white Jessie Mueller seems a perfect match, and gives credence to the other small town New Englanders giving vent to their small-town New England prejudicial warnings to Julie Jordan(Mueller). Their constant put-downs of Billy Bigelow(Henry) now seems justified from the 19th century point of view. It reminds us that their admonishments of an inter-racial romance’s “ending will be sad” prove true  as the (spoiler alert) Second Act turns tragic.

Billy never thinks he’s good enough for Julie and events bare him out.

Joshua Henry brings down the house with a rage-full “Soliloquy,” turning it more powerfully dark than I’ve ever remembered it. When he sings he doesn’t want his unborn daughter “to be dragged up in slums with a lot of bums like me,” it is coming from a place of pain that Rodgers and Hammerstein never envisioned.

And Jessie Mueller is a revelation too, singing in a sweet coloratura soprano that we’ve never heard her use before. She’s always been a Broadway belting baby utilizing her killer voice in the lower veiled registers. She now shows that her vocal and emotional range is limitless. She also doesn’t shy away from the passion Julie is feeling that propels her to Billy. “What’s the Use of Wond’ring” which is often just a throw away, here becomes a life lesson. 

It is foreshadowing as she is joined in its sad, resigned tones as Mueller proves to be a true relation of Renee Fleming, who joins her in the song and agrees with her. And then on Billy’s horrifying death, a bloody one this time, when Fleming tells Mueller over Billy’s dying body “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” she shakes the heavens as well as the rafters with the celestial perfection of her legendarily, thrilling voice.

My only disappointment, and it was a big one, was that Tony Winner Lindsey Mendes was out the night I saw it. She was replaced by a very bland, super-white, uptight college girl, which is not what Carrie Pipperidge’s character is supposed to be at all. I disliked her so much I won’t even mention her name.

And SHE won the Tony? In THAT part? Ms. Mendes must’ve been terrific, because the massive achievements of Joshua Henry, Jessie Mueller and Renee Fleming were world-class, unforgettable.

The excited audience applauded everything. The opening carousel appearance, and stopped almost every single number with rounds of applause also, WITHIN the song. I’ve never seen anything like it.

And last but not lost, Method Actress Margaret Colin proves that tasty, tacky, businesswoman/owner of the carousel, Mrs. Mullins demands and commands every single second of her stage time. She makes one wish she had more to do and even makes you think that SHE should have had a rousing song, too. I’ve never seen a “Carousel” with such a strong Mrs.Mullins. In Ann Roth’s flouncy, bouncy costumes, Colin’s virago becomes a diva.

I could see this “Carousel” over and over and over again, and I can’t wait til the next time I do!

There’s Hardly Any Time Left Now! Trying to Save My Early Plays, TV shows


This logo pic was taken in 2009 on the rooftops of Provincetown.Boy, do I miss P-town! I wasn’t able to go again this year because this situation described below with my storage room has been happening and now as the days dwindle down, I grow more and more in despair that my life, well my early life, as a young gay playwright will be lost. I never thought this would happen to me. It’s like being cut-in-two. 

Here’s a link to my GoFundMe page ~ https://www.gofundme.com/save-my-early-plays-amp-tv-shows

I’ve paid all along every month since I had to move into there in 1996 when the rent was considerably lower than the $427 a month that it is now. And I still continue to pay it, but there was always a late fee accrued which they are now demanding and it’s 1500 and they want the whole amount. All my writings and early TV shows(1988 to 1996 are in there.

 

My writing dates back to the ’60’s when I started keeping a diary, which is also in there and my journals from the Warhol years and the many, many tapes I made about Candy Darling. Talking to hundreds of people after she died for a book that still has yet to be written (by me). A chronicle of the Warhol years, my life as a drag queen. Letters from when I acted with Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, then went to try to be an actor and playwright in London for three and a half years. All this will be lost…

Please help.

Happy Fourth of July!


Happy Fourth of July to all my dear readers, dear cineastes and lovers of theatre all! And now donors, too! Thank you! I’m at $575 still nowhere near the $1500 sum needed. Go to GoFundMe. com and type my name in the search box, and it all will com up. Thank you advance!

Sensational, New Agatha Christie Bio by Laura Thompson, Pt.2


But I digress…Nobody EVAH writes about the wonderfully witty Ariadne Oliver character in Agatha Christie’s  oeuvre, so I thought I’d just fill you all in on how I felt. I loved that character. And Poirot and Miss Marple, too! And we’ve never seen a picture of an apple-munching Dame Agatha.

No. By no means is Laura Thompson’s meticulously researched and thoughtful book about  dotty, apple-munching Ariadne Oliver. It is securely focused on the elusive Dame Agatha Christie herself.

No one can explain how she was THAT prolific. She just seemed to never stop writing. And as she got older, she used to DICTATE her books into  a Dictaphone. Writing mysteries was essential to her as breathing. And as seemingly effortless.

Though as a single Mom after her divorce, she was forced to support herself. J. K. Rowling another prolific female British author, she, of the Harry Potter books comes to mind. Though Christie always had servants and was never on welfare as Rowling famously was.

Laura Thompson was allowed access by the Christie family to many notebooks and papers that have never before seen the light of day. It’s a treat for Christie lovers, and a triumph of a biography for Thompson. I can’t imagine anything being more thorough. “Agatha Christie: A mysterious Life” is exhaustively complete. And thoroughly researched, with end notes and footnotes galore.

Thompson interweaves episodes from the very secretive Christie’s life, as they appear, quite baldly in her prose. She never got over the break-up of her first marriage to the very handsome fighter pilot Archie Christie before WWI broke out.

Needing a Crying Wall, Christie seems to have poured her heart out in her Mary Westmacott books. Under a pseudonym, she could tell the truth. But actually I find the Westmacott books inferior reads to her bounty of mysteries. She needed the focus of a murder. She had a mind like a serial killer. And she just couldn’t stop writing. All her books Thompson reveals, are one way or another thinly disguised re-tellings of her break-up with the dashing rogue, Archie. Thompson posits that he is the barely cloaked villain in many, many of the stories. And all the violence she felt towards him, she took out on the page. Much to the delight of millions of readers.

Her difficult relationship with her only daughter Rosalind is gone into in great detail. Christie was an atrocious, absentee mother, and her daughter looked and sounded like her father. She didn’t take after her mother at all. Hard-headed, she became the businesswoman her flighty mother never was. And was in large part,  the  reluctant caretaker of her literary empire.

But it is Thompson’s tendresse and insight that spell-binds. She especially excels by slipping into the first person as Agatha herself recounts her doings during her infamous ten-day disappearance, which ended her first marriage, even though she didn’t want it to.

Hiding out under the guise of a “Mrs. Neale” at a Harrowgate Spa in 1926, the entire U.K. was out searching for the lost, “poor Mrs. Christie,” sure that Archie had done her in. Thompson reveals a never-before mentioned letter that Agatha wrote to Archie’s brother Campbell, telling them all where she was, but the letter seems to have gone astray and caused the ten-day ruckus that made her famous and made every book she subsequently wrote a best-seller.

It also ended her private life. Now forever a controversial public figure, by many who considered it a publicity stunt, Rosalind said “She ruined my father’s life.” The family all the while covered it as amnesia. 

And Thompson feels that this lingering bad taste of her “mysterious” disappearance may account for her lack of respect by many critics, while Thompson considers it a result of “Christie’s simple writing style.”

And a fan looking for a new Poirot or a new Miss Marple (her other great detective, an old lady who knits, no less) are more than going to find them popping up like real life figures as Christie goes through her trials and tribulations. For in Thompson’s skilled tellings, they WERE like real figures to her. And to us, her devoted, beguiled readers. “Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life” is a treasure to be bought and savored.

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