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Real Treat for Hitchcock Fans! 2 Early Films w/Ivor Novello on Criterion

A luscious, real treat for fans of Alfred Hitchock and for those of you who adore the Silent Film star Ivor Novello! “The Lodger” and “Downhill” are both out and in stores on DVD and Blu-Ray, and as usual the Criterion Collection has done a marvelous job of putting together a 2 DVD Special Features Edition.

Ivor Novello was the British/Welsh Rudolph Valentino of his day. A heart-throb, a matinee idol and a silent film star, he was right up there as a composer, too. He wrote most famously “Keep the Home Fires Burning” as a World War I anthem and many, many more songs as well as  full-length musicals. He is even portrayed in Julian Fellowes’ “Gosford Park” by Jeremy Northam. Fellowes has also written a biography of him. He was gay but, of course, closeted, for those times didn’t allow him to say what he was, but he had a male lover Bobbie Andrews, who he lived with for all his life. And he had notorious liasons with Noel Coward, and even Winston Churchhill.

When asked what it was like Churchill supposedly replied, “Musical.”

None of this information of course, is included in the Criterion Collection, but I thought you all dear readers, dear cineastes, would like to know what all the fuss was about in the 1920s.

“The Lodger” was Hitchcock’s break-out movie in 1927 and Novello was its’ star. In audio interviews on the “Supplements” with Francois Truffaut(1962) and Peter Bogdonvich(1963 and ’72), Hitchcock makes no bones about how he felt working with Novello. As the biggest star of the day, Hitchcock, who was unknown at the time, HAD to use him, and use him he did.

Novello gives an uber-creepy portrayal of the lodger, who just might be Jack the Ripper. Because of Novello’s immense popularity at the time, he could not be a villain. So Hitchcock played it right on the knife-edge, where he was so often going to keep his audience for the rest of his career. Was he guilty or was he innocent? You don’t know til the end of the film.

And for those cinephiles who remember the famous opening close-up of Grace Kelly coming in to plant a big, wet, sloppy one on James Stewart in “Rear Window”, we see Novello in the same, intense, swoon-worthy pan into a frame (see above, top) where Novello seems to be about to kiss the audience. That zooming shot made me question if Hitchcock was not gay after all. Well, he certainly never acted it out. But in that shot, and how lovingly he treats Novello, though he was “stuck with him” in order to advance his career, it’s clear that he also had great affection for Novello’s helping making him (Hitchcock) a star-director with “The Lodger.”

And “Downhill,” the other included film, also from 1927, shows that Novello felt strongly enough about what Hitch was doing for HIM, that he let Hitch direct, this second film, which Novello also wrote, about a college boy, who is wrongly accused of a flirtation (or more) with a shop girl, and is expelled from his Eton-like school, and his life goes downhill from there. Included in “Downhill” which is not a thriller or a mystery, there’s a great shot of Novello descending an escalator on the London underground, going down, down, down.

The 2K digital restoration has a marvelous, eerie score by Neil Brand, performed by the Orchestra of St. Paul’s. And an informative interview of the challenges he faced creating the scores for both these silent films, which I’m so grateful to Criterion was presenting us with in this sparkling manner.

#Alfred Hitchcock, #Ivor Novello, #The Lodger, #Downhill, #Silent Film

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“Dunkirk” Lives Up to It’s Oscar Hype! Mark Rylance Will Get His 2nd Oscar nom!

I just LOVED “Dunkirk”! Not a fan of war movies as a rule, the cinemaster Christopher Nolan has re-written the book on this genre as well as re-inventing it with this spectacular achievement . It’s a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat, white knuckle thriller as well as an eye-popping, frightening and ultimately triumphant Best Picture of the Year. Well, so far, anyway.

It’s hard to imagine anything that will top it in terms of its’ size and scope, and story, too. Christopher Nolan is the screen-writer as well as director, and also, a producer.

I found myself moved from the first frames of “Dunkirk,” with its’ magnificent Hans Zimmer score thumping and pounding and shaking the earth, which in the first shots are a picturesque rendering of the French seaside town of Dunkirk as it was then, in June of 1940 .  Nazi leaflets are dropping like autumn leaves on the young British soldiers below, who all are about to be slaughtered outright by the unseen enemies machine gun bullets.

The most unlikely, scrawny, leading young man is newcomer Fionn Whitehead, (See above and at top of page) who we are going to follow through his epic journey of struggling to survive the evacuation of 400,000 British and allied troops, who are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Bullets are ripping, searing and whizzing everywhere as Nazi planes pound the helpless soldiers, exposed, vulnerable and innumerable on the Dunkirk beach. They are just sitting ducks. “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel” one officer proclaims.

How will they EVER get out of there? And that is the drama that director Nolan is portraying so incredibly accurately, and in such a breath-taking and wholly cinematic detail. Nolan’s exacting directorial eye gives verisimilitude a new meaning.Mark Rylance with Oscar 1

Oscar winner Mark Rylance (for Best Supporting Actor for “Bridge of Spies”)  is the truly heroic, mild-mannered, stiff-upper-lipped British captain. owner of his own medium-sized,  pleasure yacht, hardly a warship. It is one of the many civilian small craft that are commandeered by Churchill to set sail across the churning English Channel and rescue all those stranded soldiers. Rylance’s no-nonsense, utterly focused, amateur seaman/citizen is a masterpiece of restraint, understatement and terse John Bull heroism.

Dunkirk 2

And he’s symbolic of one of hundreds of small boats that turned the tide of this terrible war, WWII. They did the impossible, because they had to. How they were called upon and how all they just stepped up to this incredible, daunting challenge  and how in doing so  served their country and saved the free world. Churchill’s thrilling call to arms “We will fight on the beaches!” echoes throughout the film, and as a first generation Brit myself, I was immensely proud of all of them. magnificently depicted here in this their finest John Bull hour of courage.

It’s a David v. Goliath feat, and it’s all true. This really did happen. And Nolan re-creates it down to the smallest, scarifying detail. Not even pop star Harry Styles,who acquits himself quite admirably as the gnarliest of the small group of British soldiers, teenagers, really,  can fall out of line. If you weren’t looking for him, he would blend in totally with the other young, struggling, dirty, frightened, brave soldiers.

“Dunkirk” explodes with many, many understated and marvelously compelling performances. Irish actor Cillian Murphy(below)is totally unrecognizable as a survivor of a downed plane that Rylance and his crew of two lads rescue from the sea. Is he a German? Is he a deserter?

Rylance’s scenes of struggle between him and Murphy will. I’m pretty sure,  net the Oscar winner another nomination. He’s got the biggest part. The Academy likes to nominate those they’ve awarded and nominated before. But Murphy, Whitehead, Styles and Sir Kenneth Branagh (as the British troop leader,who has the most moving single line in the film, which I won’t reveal here) are all  exemplary.


That Harry Styles in his film debut holds his own with these Knights of the Realm is as much a tribute to Nolan’s laconic, terse direction of the actors as well as the many, many ships at sea and the planes in the air. And to shoot this all on water! How did he get those incredible, aquatic shots?

Hoyte Van Hoytena, the superb cinematographer of the awe-inspiring, acrobatic camera work is surely on his way to an Oscar for his astounding work here of filming the unfilmable on land and on sea .There’s not a lot of blood in “Dunkirk” but there is an awful lot of water!  Lee Smith’s phenomenal, fast-paced film editing is going to be acknowledged, too, at awards-time, I’m so sure. “Dunkirk” is incredibly only 90 minutes! And it’s shot on film. Nothing is digital.Tom Hardy Dunkirk 1

A special note most also be taken of previous Oscar nominee Tom Hardy (for Best Supporting Actor for “The Revenant”)’s ability to act throughout the film almost entirely in a pilot’s gas mask, with only his eyes and his voice for expression.(See above) He’s got to carry nearly a third of the film in tight close-up in his fighter pilot’s cockpit. He’s as moving and as effective of those fighting to survive below, who we see in full.Dunkirk 4

This picture was made for Oscar, and it will get nominated all over the place, and deservedly so. It’s a great movie. And a great movie movie. And Number One at the box-office for the past two weeks to boot. Don’t miss “Dunkirk”!

#Dunkirk, #Mark Rylance, #Christopher Nolan, #Harry Styles, #WWII #Tom Hardy, #War Movie, #Oscars, #Best Supporting Actor, #Best Picture

Sam Shepherd Passes;I Debuted as an Actor in His “Melodrama Play” at LaMama

La Mama Ellen Stewart

I made my theatrical debut at La Mama in a Sam Shepherd play called “Melodrama Play.” It’s little known, and I’ve never seen another production of it. The late genius actor/director Seth Allen convinced Ellen Stewart, La Mama herself, to let him have his own company of actors at La Mama, in the heady early ’70s and he called it The Star Car. I was working the box-office at the time and became quite the La Mama fixture for a while.La Mama ext.1

Ellen was a legend even then. She had practically jump-started the Off-Off Broadway movement herself, with her Café La Mama in the ’60s. And Sam Shepherd was a main part of her early success. She adored him. He was one of her “babies.” And Seth Allen was, too.

Sam Shepherd was already a produced star and considered a major American playwright by the time I landed in “Melodrama Play” in 1971. With Seth Allen directing. It was as campy as all hell, and two go-go dancers in cages onstage and in and above the audience added to this outre effect ,and I sure did as Cisco, a hippie with my hair in a huge red-orange ‘fro ( I had hair then ). I was supposed to, per Seth’s direction giggle and laugh all the time. And yes, I was also in hot-pants, cut off jeans, and a skinny T-shirt. There’s a picture of this somewhere and I’ll publish it some day.

 

Young San Shepherd 1

It was the last thing in the world, I think, that Sam expected to see his play done like – this a transgender mini-extravaganza.

Seth had a history with it. He had toured Europe with La Mama E.T.C. in a VAN that was called “the star car” by its inhabitants, and I think Melodrama Play was one of the plays they did, hence Seth’s affection for it.

It was thrilling to do, and I remember meeting the EXTREMELY handsome young playwright at the cast party after opening night, and he looked at me a bit bewildered. He didn’t know what to say, initially. I don’t think he ever thought of this character as gay, but I certainly played it that way, and the audience loved it. It was quite the debut.

And Sam just looked at me with this perplexed expression and after a pause, said, “Good.”

 

 

 

 

Marcel Pagnol’s Incredible “Marseilles Trilogy” now Delicious Boxed Set on Criterion

What a delicious, French, binge-watching treat is ahead for all those Francophiles out there, cineastes all, who may not yet be familiar with one of the seminal works of French cinema! It’s the maestro of maestros Marcel Pagnol’s magnificent “Marseilles Trilogy”. Critierion is now issuing a delicieux boxed set of all three films, “Marius”, “Fanny” and “Cesar,” plus a hefty “Supplementaire” disc and book, so by the end of enjoying this summertime delight, you, too, can feel you really ARE on the French Riviera, albeit in the 1930s and in black and white.

Over the course of the three, two hour-plus films, we become enthralled with the star-crossed love story of Marius and Fanny, as their thwarted tempestuous amour fou echoes down the generations of this vivid-cross-section of French MIDI life.  The MIDI of France is the southern part. And the accents and the behavior of Les Marseilliase are VERY different from the Parisiens up north. Even a character, Monsieur Brun, who is from Lyon, gets the raspberries for being stuck up and too bourgoise for the VERY working class souls who frequent Cesar’s Cafe de la Marin, where much of the action takes place and his dreamer of a son, Marius works for him as a bartender/waiter.

The larger than life Cesar is played to perfection by the legendary Raimu, who Orson Welles described as “the greatest actor of our time.” Coming from the music halls and burlesque world of the MIDI, Pagnol really “discovered” him by making him the central character of the Trilogy, and also giving him one of the greatest roles of his, or anyone’s lifetime. Sort of a French Jackie Gleason, he mesmerizes whether he is shouting at his wayward son Marius (Pierre Fresnay) or trying to placate the confused young Fanny (Orane Demazis). He dominates all he surveys.

The dashing Fresnay ( he pronounced it “Fray-nay”) became quite the huge French movie star after the incredible success of “Marius.” The great Raimu was worried about him, as Marius, though, because he was the only lead actor from “the North.” He was Alsatian. But Fresnay was a total perfectionist and studied the quirky Marseilles accent for months.

When the cast was rehearsing, he was missing for three weeks, says Pagnol, in an interview, chuckling at the memory. Fresnay was working as a waiter at a sea-side bar in Marseilles, just like his romantic character, who is torn between his love for the sea and for his Fanny. His Marius is totally believable and moving in every aspect. “I knew he would be great in the role, and he was!” says Pagnol smiling.

And Fresnay’s accent is perfection. I couldn’t tell. Sir Alec Guiness called him his “Favorite Actor.”Marseilles Post Card

Pagnol was the great pioneer of location shooting, so we become VERY familiar with the grande charme of Marseilles, here depicted as a fishing town that is growing and growing into the thriving seaport it would become. That Pagnol loved his home town and the brilliant actors and technicians all from the South of France is evident in every frame. He is the one who revealed them all to the world for the first time. People were stunned that there were such good actors from “the South” and that not all the talent in France was concentrated in Paris!

I was lucky enough to be in La Belle Marseilles once myself. When in the early ’80s I was actually at the Cannes Film Festival with a movie I was actually IN with Divine.(I was Miss Bronx) It was Andrew Logan’s “Alternative Miss World” and still ranks as my only feature film.

ANYwho- I lost my passport and had to go to the American Embassy in Marseilles which was a delightful train ride along the Riveria. I still remember the beautiful sunshine and the smell of the sea. Marseilles is really the seaport town to end all seaport towns. I remember the subway stop having a fish-tank/aquarium set beautifully right into the blue mosaic-tiled wall of the subway station. I had bouillabaisse for lunch. And I still remember it as being the best bouillabaisse I ever ate! Bien sur! It was in Marseilles!

Though this 4-disc + booklet box of joy is complete in every aspect of Pagnol’s incredible work, and Fresay and Raimu both get more than their due, I thought it odd that the petite jeune fille, Orane Demazis who played the heroine , Fanny, in this tres masculine world, was all but completely ignored. Turns out she was Pagnol’s mistress who actually bore him a child during the making of “Marius” and “Fanny”! How totally French!Marseilles Trilogy 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dina Merrill, Actress, Philanthropist, Passes

Dina MerrillDina Merrill Hartley (born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton; December 29, 1923-May 22, 2017) was an American actress, businesswoman and philanthropist.  She died peacefully at home surrounded by her family.

Merrill was born in New York City on December 29, 1923. She was the only child of Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband, the Wall Street investment broker Edward Francis “E.F.” Hutton.

 She adopted the stage name Dina Merrill, borrowing from Charles E. Merrill, a distant relative and a famous stockbroker like her father. Merrill made her debut on the stage in the play The Mermaid Singing in 1945.  During World War II, she was part of the Moss Hart USO troupe and performed throughout the Pacific Theatre of Operations. Her stage career in regional and Broadway theatre took off after the war and continued through the 1990’s including the1983 Broadway revival of the Rodgers & Hart musical On Your Toes.

 Merrill appeared in more than 25 feature films including Desk Set (1957), Operation Petticoat, The Sundowners (1960),Butterfield 8 (1960), The Young Savages (1961), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father , and Robert Altman’s A Wedding (1978) andThe Player (1992).

 Merrill appeared on more than 100 television shows varying from What’s My Line to The Magnificent Ambersons.

Merrill has been married three times. In 1946 she wed Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr. and had 3 children, including David Rumbough (d. 1973)

In 1966 she married Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, with whom she had Heather Robertson (d. 2007)

 In 1990’s, Merrill and her third husband, Ted Hartley, merged their company, Pavilion Communications, with the famed RKO to form RKO Pictures which made a number of feature films including Mighty Joe Young (with Disney).

 Merrill devoted a great deal of her time to public and charitable service. She was Chairman of the board and Director emeritus with over 50 years of service to the New York City Mission Society. When her son David was diagnosed with diabetes, Dina founded the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, dedicated to diabetic research. She served as the International Ambassador for ORBIS International, the flying eye hospital which teaches advanced eye care and eye surgical techniques all over the world.

 Ms. Merrill was an energetic supporter of the performing arts. She was a founding t of te O’Neill Theater Center and an early director of the Paley Media Center. She served for 12 years as presidential appointee to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was honored by Guild Hall, where she performed on stage for many summers in East Hampton, NY,by the naming of their theater and back theater spaces the Dina Merrill Pavilion.

She was a trustee of the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, DC.

She also served as a board member of the Population Resource Council and the Republican Majority for Choice Committee promoting “choice” for women and was a founding vice chairman of the Pro-Choice Coalition.

As a corporate leader, she served as the Vice Chairman of RKO Pictures and was actively involved in many of its productions and activities. She has served on the Board of Directors of E.F. Hutton Company and the Board of Lehman Brothers.

She is survived by her loving husband Ted Hartley, son Stanley Hutton Rumbough, and ughter Nedenia Rumbough Roosenburg and six grandchildren.

Burial services will be private for the family.  Celebrations of Dina’s life will be scheduled iks to come.

Remembrances of Dina could be sent in her name to:

Orbis International, 520 8th Avenue, 12th Floor, New York, NY, 1001

–        O’Neill Theatre Foundation, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, CT 06385

10037, Attention: Development Office

  Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens, 4155 Linnean Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20008

 Messages of condolence will be gratefully received at dinamerrillremembered@rko.com

Movies That Shouldn’t Be Made into Musicals “Ground Hog Day” & “Amelie”


If you think you’re seeing double, you’ll be seeing triple and quadruple in the current mish-mash that is passing as a hit musical from London, “Ground Hog Day.” I have to say that if you haven’t seen the 1993 Bill Murray movie set in Puxitawney, PA., you’re really out of luck. Because this musical doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.. But, so I’m told,  if you’ve seen the movie, it does. Otherwise, it’s a godawful mess. Or is it? Or is that EXACTLY what it’s supposed to be? Utterly and immensely confusing, like it’s central character, Phil, a TV weather person, played very engagingly by the swaggering Andy Karl.Ground Hog Day 3

But don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Andy Karl, having seen him long ago as one of the five “Altar Boyz” Off Broadway. He was the muscle- bound one and he continued in that vein with the tremendous performance he gave in “Rocky:The Musical” which I just loved. But audiences didn’t. I thought it was a real lollapalooza and Karl gave a knock-out performance as the iconic Rocky Balboa, made famous by Sylvester Stallone. Yes, he sang, danced AND boxed his heart out in “Rocky.”Andy Karl Rocky 1

Then he had the colossal bad luck of dislocating his ACL in previews for “Ground Hog Day,” and now has become something of a Broadway legend and also, believe it or not, a front-runner for the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, because despite performing in a black knee brace, he went on!

They should re-label “Ground Hog  Day” as “Andy Karl MUST GO ON!”

In the great theatrical tradition, nothing could stop him from giving this powerhouse, but utterly confusing performance.” Obviously in pain, he went bravely forward, over and over and over again, as the repetitious “Ground Hog Day”, a science-fiction musical if ever there was one, repeats and repeats and repeats itself. With Karl leading the charge, injured though he is, and with his knee brace clearly showing (he’s in his underwear a lot, as usual. And thank god for those terrific thighs!).

And audiences are going wild.

“Ground Hog Day” will have to run on fans of the movie, and perhaps, garbled and senseless (to me, a non-believer) as it was, that’s what audiences are craving these dark days in our country’s history. A feel-good, only partially funny, gigantic musical that makes no sense whatsoever. The world has gone mad in Puxitawney, Pa, and that’s the plot, such as it is.  Puxitawney is where the famous Puxitawney Phil, the ground hog who if he doesn’t see his shadow when he peaks of his hole in the ground means we’re getting six more weeks of winter. As far as I could tell, he didn’t see it. Thank god, it’s really now spring in NYC!

So, it’s Feb. 2nd and time and Ground Hog Day itself, keep repeating, repeating and repeating  in our beleaguered hero’s brain, while those townsfolk around him make merry and march and re-march and re-march. There is no end to those parading Pennsylvanians!

The music itself is also not much of anything. Tim Minchin who debuted so powerfully a few seasons back with the wonderful “Matilda”, here goes backward in time to really forgettable music and lyrics that seemed to be in a time-warp of their’ own, as if the magical “Matilda” had never happened.

And since this show was generated out of Australia, the small town PA. people are REALLY cartoons of what Pennsylvanians are like. Whatever they are, Pennsylvanians are not singing Australians, with bad American accents. And so the nightmarish cartoon juggernaut that is “Ground Hog Day” continues to roll over and distort and distort and re-distort everything in its’ path.

The Bill Murray movie couldn’t be this non-funny or garish. Oh, yes, and there aren’t any jokes. But there are lots of flying sets, one of which injured Andy Karl and may have won him a Tony. He deserved it for “Rocky,” but not for this mess.

And no, I’m not going to find the movie of “Ground Gog Day” and now watch it just to make sense of this gob-bil-di-gook. It would be just too painful. And I’m sure not funny, after what I’ve just been through with “Ground Hog Day:The Musical.” It’s like a night-mare you want to forget.

And “Amelie”! I hate to say anything negative about “Amelie”. It’s like kicking a kitten. I saw this French language movie, and I didn’t like it ,and can’t remember anything about it, except that Audrey Tautou is endlessly cute, and became a French icon of the ages. And I never could understand why. But there, like the Eifel Tower, she stands. Starring in French films of wildly varying quality. But an American musical?

And not casting a French girl in the lead? New York is NOT Paris, and good as she was in the original Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” off-Broadway in the circus tent, and Tony-nominated for “Hamilton,” as his hapless wife, Eliza, Phillipa Soo never had to utter a single word of dialogue. Both these great early successes for the now 26-year-old Soo were wordless, sung-through pop-operas and boy, can she sing!

She possesses one of the great powerhouse voices, and it’s a pleasure to listen to her over and over and over again on the CDs of “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” But here in “Amelie:The Musical” with REAMS of trite, banalities to make cute, piquant, quixotic and adorable, she’s utterly at sea. She’s at a loss with no script OR music to bolster her as she had both so memorably in “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” I wonder if it will even last until the Awards are handed out in June? Somehow, I doubt it. And I’m a Francophile.

Superb! Superb! Superb!Laura Linney & Cynthia Nixon On Bway in “Little Foxes”

When theater is this good, it’s a joy! And something as good as the current revival of “Little Foxes” on Bway at MTC with two of our absolute best actresses, Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney alternating  roles is an evening to be treasured. And treasured again because you can see it a second time with the parts of the villainous Regina and the flibbertigibbet Birdie played by these two towering woman of the American Theater reversed. The critics were given a choice of who to see in which role first and I chose Nixon as Regina and Linney as Birdie. And I’ve never been happier! I can’t wait to see it again with the roles reversed! It’s a win-win situation. And to my knowledge this is an historic first. Actors have switched roles before, but not actresses.

And how smart of Artistic Director Lynn Meadow to allow this to happen on Bway! This is something we never see! Men have been switching up historically, since as long as I can remember. “Becket” is one example. “Othello” is another.  But women? Never! All the more cause for rejoicing. And with one of America’s great stage directors Daniel Sullivan doing the work of HIS career, too! Why I just want to tear my program up and throw it into the air like confetti! Except I won’t because it’s too precious to me as a memory of a theatrical experience that was just about perfect!Of course, I saw Bette Davis do Regina in the movie, and she was pure evil. And she got ANOTHER Oscar nomination. I saw Elizabeth Taylor, of all people, doing the last revival of “Little Foxes” to be on Bway back, when I was in high school. So I felt I knew what I was going to see when I went in to the Samuel J. Friedman Theater on W.47th. But this “Little Foxes” was a total revelation. Never before have I see Regina played as more than a two-dimensional witch of a woman. Nixon added intelligence. I’d almost say compassion to Regina’s bitchy mix.

She seemed torn, for a second, just a tiny second, as her ailing husband (a very good Richard Thomas) climbed to his death on their staircase, like perhaps she considered going to help him. But of course, she does not. She resolutely stared into the audience as he chillingly dies, crying out for her help. Shivers. It gives me shivers just to write about this.

And never also has the character of Aunt Birdie been played as anything except pathetic and bonkers. When I saw Felicia Montealegre play it opposite Elizabeth Taylor, she was totally mad, and sad. And I thought “What hell it must’ve been for her to be married to Leonard Bernstein,” which in real life,   she was.

Laura Linney has none of that. Birdie is her Hamlet. She’s feigning madness to shield herself from the blows that life and her husband (a frightening oaf, Darren Goldstein) is dealing her. When the hulking Goldstein hits her across the face, you could hear the audience gasp as well as scream. Otherwise, the production was so taut and tense, you could hear a pin drop. This superb “Little Foxes” has preserved playwright Hellman’s original three-act structure, which is kind of refreshing.  Act One and Act Two ending with curtain lines that punch you right in the gut. It’s a well-made play. Remember them?

And it’s an astonishment to see that in Laura Linney’s hands, playwright Lillian Hellman has written not one but TWO famous scenes. Of course, there is the staircase scene where Regina lets her husband die. But there’s also a staggering scene at the beginning of Act Three, where Birdie fiercely charges to her niece Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini)”Don’t be like me!” because she has never had “a happy day, a whole happy day” in her life. Birdie is a symbol of the aristocratic south that is truly gone with the wind. And Regina is its’ frightening, mercenary 20th century future.

And both actresses play these juicy roles with such smartness that we are unavoidably reminded its the repressive, male dominance of their patriarchal society that have driven them to madness(though perhaps feigned here) and murder, for real.

Cynthia Nixon, Laura Linney, director Dan Sullivan are all here to remind us that there is greatness in living theater and that “Little Foxes” is a tremendously underestimated American play. Lillian Hellman would be turning cartwheels were she still with us. Brava, Divas!

I would also lastly like to note that come the Tonys (the nominations are to be announced shortly), Ms. Linney will be considered in the Leading Actress in a Play category for her Regina and Ms. Nixon in Supporting for her Birdie, because that’s how they appeared on Opening Night.

#Little Foxes, #Laura Linney, #Cynthia Nixon, #Lillian Hellman, #Broadway (more…)

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