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Posts tagged ‘New York’

Jayne Houdyshell Triumphs in Bways’ “The Humans”!

The Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell, an actress I’ve always found astonishing, reaches the peak of her long career in Broadway’s newest and most unlikely hit, “The Humans.” Houdyshell had a two decades long career in regional theater and was “discovered” in mid-life as the mother that couldn’t stop criticizing her lesbian daughter in Lisa Kron’s break-through play “Well” that started at the Public Theater and moved uptown to Broadway. And Broadway has pretty much been her home ever since.

Houdyshell is the kind of actress playwrights dream of and though she has won tons of awards( the Drama Desk gave her a career achievement award a few years back), I can’t remember her having a leading part like the one she has now, and in a hit play to boot. “The Humans” is powered by her powerhouse performance as Deidre Blake, again a mother, but this time an Irish Catholic mother to end all mothers. Deidre is caught between a rock and a hard place as she tries to hold her unwieldy family together as they embark on a tumultuous Thanksgiving gathering in her daughter’s duplex in Chinatown.

It’s one of the best plays of the year. Playwright Stephen Karam has written what all of the American theater has been longing for. A great new American play. Set today, it’s totally current and absolutely vital, and unflinching in its’ detail of the lives we New Yorkers, we humans, live .

With horror film and Internet references galore, Karam and the titanically talented director Joe Mantello ingratiate “The Humans” into your soul and invite you to be a member of this troubled family. They hook you into sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with the at-first-glance very bland Blakes, and there you are experiencing something that you’d never thought you’d be experiencing, a top-level, quality evening in the theater, by some one who’s now going to be considered one of America’s important young playwrights.

What a joy this is to discover so much talent in one place, at one time, doing the thing it should be doing, bringing us the best in theater! Which is what Broadway is supposed to be doing. After all, shouldn’t that be going on all the time on the Great White Way? And so seldom is.”The Humans” is so good, it’s shocking.

And to have the majestic Jayne Houdyshell at the top of the bill, guiding this ship into port, as it were, with a superb ensemble who are all excellently cast and doing what sounds easy, but is really almost impossible, make you believe that they are the Blake family and you’re a friend, who they’ve also invited over for Thanksgiving dinner. But little did you know what you’re in for! Folding chairs, card tables and paper plates and cups. And not a turkey in sight! Only health foods!

Reed Birney is perfect matched as Deidre’s troubled husband Blake. Lauren Klein, is simply amazing and amazingly simple, as Deidre’s wheel-chair bound, dementia-ridden mother “Momo”, Cassie Beck & Sarah Steele as their struggling daughters, one gay and one straight, and Arian Moayed as the genial, still not married, but living together sort-of son-in-law.

Cassie Beck The Humans

Cassie Beck, in particular, (above) as the frazzled lesbian lawyer daughter,Aimee, who is going through a difficult break-up with her lover. And  it is to “The Humans” great credit that the Blake family treat this as something to be compassionate about and otherwise her sexuality is totally accepted in a refreshingly matter of fact way.

And the set! Once again I’ve seen astounding theater set design in one week! First “Hughie”s haunting green-lit majestic, ruined hotel and now David Zinn’s Chinatown duplex that is not as grand as it sounds, and as is just as knock-about and seems about to fall down as the Times Square hotel of the 1920’s in “Hughie.”

You just can FEEL this place shake,as it quavers under the  supersonic,crashing thuds that periodically drop on it from the (un-seen) floor above (sound design by Fitz Patton.) It’s a ground-floor apartment attached to the basement by a spiral stair-case that’s in, as Reed Birney’s father describes it, “A flood zone.”

At one point Birney’s character quips, noting his daughters’ obsession with health foods, “If you’re so miserable, why do you want to live forever?” “The Humans” is so good it will restore your faith in the American theater and make you want to live forever, too, so you can see it over and over and over again. What a joyful surprise this play, Jayne Houdyshell and this production are!

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Trying to Find Affordable Eyeglasses in New York, Good Luck!

Ok, first. I stepped on my glasses, which had slipped on to the floor in the middle of the night from the (admittedly not secure) perch that I had put them on and I broke the frame. Dear Readers, Dear Cineastes all, I’m sure you wear eye-glasses, too. I have had them since I was a child. I always felt defined by them. Not always in a good way.

And now that I’ve been on television for Yonks, as the Cockneys say, being so constantly photographed in them and usually in a close-up. That’s what TV is. A Close-Up. An Endless Close-Up. Like for instance, Sally Jesse Raphael. What do you remember most about her? Her red-framed eye-glasses.

So I put a lot of thought into trying to find, well, glasses that just look like mine in the picture above.^ I’ve had them for eight years, it turns out, and they have served me well. And have worked for the TV viewers, I think, at least to the extent that they photograph well, but not obtrusively.

So I went to my place where I had originally got them, on Lower Broadway, near my old studio, and while they had my name still on file.(I had just had an eye exam and my pupils were dilated, dontcha know.But I need new glasses IMMEDIATELY because these were/are held together with just a wing and a prayer. I mean, I stepped on them in just the right place so that I was able to pop the lens back in and they’ve sort of held together…) The guy in the store, who remembered me, said “You’re taking a big risk, wearing them.” Broken.

But…

Running around the streets of New York, like I do, if they fell apart and the lens shattered…I would be…well…I would be blind…and in trouble.

So the previous Lower Broadway Eye Place(not its’ name) had a BEAUTIFUL pair of frames that they could give me(and this is without the charge of an eye exam, mind you, which I had just had elsewhere) the price tag, and here’s the punch-line was $300!?! Or more! I nearly fainted.

I had to sadly decline. And went to search for another eye-glass place, which was recommended to me that I THOUGHT was in the Puck Building, y’know where “Will and Grace” was set? I had never been in there and come to find out THEY MOVED! Then I was given bad directions by a smirking security guard, but finally after staggering around Soho AS IT BEGAN TO RAIN(and of course, no umbrella) for what seemed like HOURS,  I finally found them on Greene St.

They really were worth the search! The unusual name is Worby Parker. And they’re at 121 Greene Street, and a very nice young gentleman helped me try on pair-after-pair. I felt like a rich, bored woman in a shoe store, trying on heels that NEVER FIT!

But finally there was one that worked with my face, and would look good photographed! And was only $125!?! New Yorkers take note! This is the kind of miracle one is always hoping for in New York, and so rarely happens!

To Be Continued…

Why Marion Cotillard’s Nomination Is So Incredible, Also Important

Marion 2 I find that whenever I post something on Sasha Stone’s wonderful Oscar site http://www.awardsdaily.com, I show a slightly different side of myself as a film critic/Oscar blogger than I do here, even.

Sasha is REALLY pissed off about the way the Oscar nominations came down, and wrote, as she always does, a magnificent piece about her anger and what’s wrong with the Academy.

I countered with the following post ~

Whoa! We all have to hold on a minute and turn once again to the wonderful Marion Cotillard for hope and guidance. Her nomination is a triumph of the human spirit. And of the Actor’s Branch of the Academy, who nominated her. And no, it wasn’t just Europeans nominating her.
I think it was the entire New York membership of said branch. That’s what happened with Marcia Gay Harden, too. Everyone in New York voted as a block. I think. Of course, I can’t prove this statistically, but everywhere I’ve gone in the past several weeks of the voting period, people were talking about Marion Cotillard’s superb, heroic performance in “Two Days, One Night” NO ONE IN NYC were talking about Jennifer Aniston. That was totally a LA thing and a total Lisa Taback-hype thing.
Everyone who has seen Marion’s performance in a French-speaking film, no less, loved it and raved about it, and it was THAT the quality of her performance that got her nominated. MERIT! She got nominated on MERIT. And I’ll tell you something else extraordinary. I don’t think, to my knowledge, that they sent out SCREENERS! That’s right, no screeners. But they did have an abundance of SCREENINGS here in NYC. It was screened almost constantly. And Marion herself said that “We have no money, so there will be no nomination.” Of course, bien sur, she was WRONG! And it’s the best performance of the year and she should win. Et oui, she has an Oscar already, why not have two? She deserves it. And y’know, who also helped her get this nomination, the critics. Specifically the New York film critics. They gave her their Best Actress award and everyone then had to pay attention.
I hope Academy voters get sent screeners now. But just looking at how motivated people were to SEE THIS FILM IN A THEATER(well, all right a screening room) shows that voters CAN do the right thing. Not always, but sometimes. It gives me hope for the Oscars and for the future. She’s surprised before. She could surprise again.

Christmas in New York~Rockefeller Center Tree Goes Up

Christmas 1You know it’s Christmas in New York when you stumble into Rockefeller Center and you see THE TREE going up. I had never seen it in this incarnation before, covered with box-like scaffolding on all sizes. This year’s tree is shorter and squatter I noticed. Wider. Not the usual tall, majestic, overwhelming Spruce of days and years gone by.

I stumbled upon it when I decided to go underground in Rockefeller Center as the day got suddenly colder and winter was indeed comin’ in. Everyone kept giving me directions and of course they were all contradictory and wrong, and I went around and around corners, all marble seemingly, and passed the place where you can see the ice-skaters skating like mad around the Rockefeller Ice rink.

As I tried to find my way out of this  golden marble, Art Deco maze, I was reminded that it was here on “The Howdy Doody Show” at about age 6 that I made my television debut as a member of the Peanut Gallery. I still get chills. So much of my life was inrevocably STAMPED by destiny that day. My little brother John was on the show, too.

And downstairs, in a Schraft’s that is no longer there, after the show, my beloved British grandmother, who lived with us, remonstrated me for trying to eat peas with a knife. I couldn’t very well manage it. They kept falling off! And we could see the skaters skating by outside even then.
Schraft’s is gone, but the skaters go on skating. “The Howdy Doody Show” is gone, but Rockefeller Center remains almost completely unchanged. And I’m still in Show Business. For richer, for poorer (mostly poorer).

My parents did NOT want me to go in to Show Business, but what were they thinking putting me and John on “Howdy Doody” at such an impressionable age. I was in kindergarten and he, a year younger than me, was not even in school yet.

And as I accidentally emerged (I was still looking for the subway), I ran smack-dab into the giant Christmas Tree and all its’ scaffolding. Announcing to all that the holiday season had already begun in New York. The stores were all decked out with their Christmas displays everywhere you looked. And I hadn’t dressed warmly enough.

Just wandering around underground in Rockefeller Center is like time traveling. A New York landmark, encased in the same golden marble it was when I was on “Howdy Doody.”

Did I ever find that elusive subway? No. Since I was above ground and a bus immediately came, I took the bus. Native New Yorkers like myself know you have to KEEP MOVING.

 

 

Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Patience” Delights at Symphony Space

I had a truly magical, joyous experience stumbling in to the Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of the little-seen “Patience” at the Symphony Space in the deadening cold that New York is now experiencing. I didn’t think I could ever laugh or respond, it was such a frigid night. But “Patience” rewarded my patience by having me laugh myself warm and silly at the lyrics’ surprising, sharp, satiric wit. It was the essence of camp, and an utter delight.

The G&S Players are a group of very dedicated Savoyards,as the ardent admirers of Gilbert & Sullivan’s marvelously giddy operettas are called. And these super singers have dedicated large portions of their life to appearing in, and TOURING, these wonderful masterpieces of wit and nonsense.

“Patience” is rarely done and may be the least known of the G&S canon. It was first produced by the  Richard D’Oyly Carte at the Opera Comique in London on April 23, 1881 and on October 10 it transferred to the Savoy Theater which Carte had just built.  Hence, the term Savoyards. “Patience” was also the first production to be entirely lit by electric light. It ran and ran.

I had seen a production of it by the English National Opera in London in the early 70s, but though magnificently sung, it wasn’t funny at all. I don’t think those tres serieux opera singers got the joke. But the Gilbert and Sullivan players sure do. I couldn’t stop laughing.

The character of Bunthorne, “a fleshly poet” was thought to be based on Oscar Wilde himself, and it was a satire of the whole Aesthetic Movement, which was all the rage in England at the time. But Wilde himself took no offense at its’ depiction and joined with D’Oyly Carte to go on a publicity tour to promote “Patience” and the Aesthetic movement all across America, where it hadn’t really ever caught on.

Oscar knew great PR when he saw it, and seized the opportunity, arriving in America and stating famously to customs “I have nothing to but my genius.”

The plot of “Patience” has two rival poets, one Reginald Bunthorne, the other Archibald Grosvenor, who in this production looks like Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s young, notoriously blond and good-looking young lover, sought after by a chorus of “20 Lovesick Maidens We”, who reject the 20 Dragoons they are supposedly engaged to, because of their adulation of Bunthorne. Then in Act II the fickle maidens switch their affections to Grosvenor, played & sung marvelously by David Macaluso. The slim James Mills camped himself dizzy in the role of Bunthorne, not a “fleshly” poet, but an athletically lithe, hilarious one. His “Magnet and the Silver Churn” was terrific fun.

In the reduced scope of this  production on the tiny stage of the Symphony Space on Upper Broadway, I counted only about 14 maidens, and the pit orchestra was also ONSTAGE. Supposedly hidden behind a black-draped panel, which at one point fell down, revealing the suitably embarrassed conductor and musicians. As I said, it was the essence of camp. And the aesthetic of camp allows for this.

Patience is the virginal village milk-maid whose affections, both poets vie for. In this production, however it was the basso profundo contralto actress/singer playing the plain, aging, massive Lady Jane ,Cáitlín Burke,who really knocked my socks off. She has the wonderful Act Two opening aria, accompanying herself on a cello, and lamenting her fate as she ages and “more corpulent grow I,” as she waits for Bunthorne to return her unrequited love.”There will be too much of me  in the by and by.”

We can all relate. I haven’t laughed so much in a theater in years!

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Oscar Isaac ~ Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor Comedy/Musical for “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Meet Oscar Isaac, the breakthrough performance of the year in the Coen Bros. unique, haunting “Inside Llewyn Davis” which is also nominated for Best Film Comedy or Musical and Best Music by T-Bone Burnett. A Juilliard Graduate, he’s had a considerable stage and film career before he got this Big Break  as Llewyn Davis, the loser folksinger who just can’t catch a break.

A.O.Scott of the New York Times named it “The Best Picture of the Year.”

Oscar was named Best Actor by the Toronto Film Critics and “Inside Llewyn Davis” was named Best Picture. Also the Village Voice and Film Comment magazine named “Llewyn” Best Picture. And it won Best Picture at the Gotham Awards and Oscar accepted the Award in a very thrilling acceptance speech on behalf of the Coens who weren’t there.

“American Hustle” by David O. Russel~Hustle & Bustle without much Muscle

As Shakespeare said, “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” That about sums up my reaction to the late-opening “American Hustle” by  David O. Russell, which hustles and bustles without much muscle. It’s ANOTHER Mob movie. ANOTHER one that is trying to out-Scorsese Scorsese, and THANK GOD they’ve got Jennifer Lawrence in this!

In a spectacularly showy Supporting role as one of the dumbest blondes of all time, she absolutely steals the picture. THANK GOODNESS! Or otherwise it would be a very dull sit indeed. It would have been unwatchable, but Jennifer Lawrence makes it a very, funny charming experience. She very much reminded me of that other great dumb blonde Oscar winner Judy Holliday in this.

Lawrence is so appealing as Christian Bale‘s old-fashioned housewife- with-a-kid, who is obsessed with her finger-nail polish. She lights up the screen like a bonfire, never missing one laugh line, or funny moment, and every time she’s absent, you can’t wait for her to come back on again. And writer/director O.Russell uses her sparingly, so you never get tired of her. But you do get tired of the other characters, I’m sorry to say. Real tired.

Having just suffered through “Out of the Furnace” with Bale again in the lead, I was expecting the worst. But at least in this one, he was playing a comic character, a Jewish con-man with pretensions. He owns dry cleaning stores but he wants to own the world. And Lawrence is his trophy wife, who blows up microwaves and enacts her comic role like a poodle in heat.

I didn’t buy Bale’s Yiddish-ness. And he’s pitted against Bradley Cooper who has his hair tightly curled here. Why? To look more Jewish? And  he is seen in curlers A LOT, as are all the leading characters, as a matter of fact, except Bale, who has an elaborate comb-over and who put on quite a bit of  weight of this role. We see a close-up of his bulging stomach, shirtless, just to prove that yes, he’s not in a fat suit. We see him painstakingly creating his comb-over, which takes up the entire first scene of the movie, finishing it off with hair-spray, like he was a super-model…

But to what avail? Con man movies. Mob movies. I just am kind sick of that done-to-death genre, and this involves ABSCAM and a faux-Arab. A FBI plant played stoically by Michael Pena. Robert De Niro pops up, too, as what else? A Mafia chieftain. And Amy Adams, poor thing, who has the female lead, Bale’s con partner and “whore” except next to Jennifer Lawrence, who is just blooming with youth(22) and vital sexuality here, Adams looks old and cold. Worn out. And she should look and seem more alluring than Lawrence. And she doesn’t. She the most miscast she’s ever been. I kept seeing her as the young nun in “Doubt” in my mind.

Mothers or nuns or even intrepid girl reporters like Lois Lane. She was better in the recent  “Superman” re-boot, than she is in this. Sad to say. She deserved better.

But this is what O.Russell hands her.

And I can’t understand the New York Film Critics giving this Best Picture over “12 Years a Slave” It’s criminal. Yes, they did. Unbelievably,. It’s a funny little movie. But Best Picture? New York Film Critics seriously disgraced themselves this year. And Best Screenplay, too??? Seriously??? They gave Best Supporting Actress to Jennifer Lawrence, and I would nominate her for an Oscar, were I voting, but I wouldn’t nominate this semi-funny movie for anything else. Except maybe the zippy ’70s hairstyles. You can skip it and live.

Give me the real thing. Give me Scorsese. Or better yet, “Born Yesterday” with Lawrence as Billie Dawn. Directed by Scorsese.

I can’t wait to see the last opening film of the year “Wolf of Wall Street” by Martin Scorsese.

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