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Oscar Nominee, 20 yr. old, Lucas Hedges Rocks Off Broadway in”Yen”

yen-2It’s so rare to see an Off-Broadway play explode on every artistic level, as the strangely titled “Yen” does at the Lucille Lortel on Christopher St. Meant as a vehicle for rising star and Oscar nominee ( in Supp. Actor) Lucas Hedges of “Manchester by the Sea,” he surprises and surpasses on every level possible. Main among them the revelatory fact that young ( 20 yr.old ) Lucas Hedges is no flash in the pan. He fulfills every expectation and surpasses them. He is simply on his way to being one of the greatest young actors of his generation.casey-lucasHe’s shaved his mop top of solid red hair and goes completely bald as British skin-head, Hench, in Anna Jordan’s electric new play “Yen.” It is being given a superb American debut production by director Trip Cullman, whose career I have admired and followed for many years now. Cullman has a way of getting career performances out of his actors and he’s done that here with Ari Graynor, Stefania LaVie Owen and Justice Smith.

Yen which is a nick-name of Owen’s character Jen, is no walk in the park, and is not for the faint of heart. It’s a total gut punch. I felt, too, like Hedges’ character does in the play’s bloody climax, as if I was banging my head into a wall over and over and over again. The sense of the characters’ frustrations are contagious, palpable. But in the best sense of the word. It was exhilarating. And enlightening. It was like it was as dangerous as being caught in a lightning storm at sea with columns of lightning bolts shooting all around you. You see them blazing everywhere . At any moment , you might be hit.yen-1 yen-3

It starts with Hedges nude to the waist and barefoot picking his nose and watching pornography with a dead-eyed expression, while his younger brother Bobbie, also shirtless and barefoot, is jumping around the dirty bed-sit stage like a Mexican jumping bean on speed. Or meth. He’s on something. Because he doesn’t stop imitating the sound of their German Shepherd Taliban who is cooped up off-stage (we hear him, but we never see him) growling and snarling and roaring through this play, like a bat or a German Shepherd out of hell.

Juvenile delinquents – to – be, they rob stores in order to eat, and they only own one dirty T- shirt between them. And seem to have had no parenting whatsoever.yen7

Taliban is caged and so are these two teenaged boys. And we soon find out why as they drag their comatose, drug-addicted, passed-out-drunk mother in through the doorway of their rancid council flat. Ari Graynor is magnificence personified as this young actress tackles these multiple addictions and her two equally addicted, pubescent teenage sons, executing just how twisted her under-class life has made her, in a Cockney accent that is totally spot on. As is Hedges’ and is Justice Smith’s. Smith performs the disturbed Bobbie at a decibel and enery-level that is superhuman. You don’t know what dangerous thing he and/or Hench might do that prefigures the violence that occurs as the play progresses.yen-4

But the violence is not telegraphed. It’s just THERE. A part of these lower-class have-nots’ lives.  I’d say this play was a continuation of John Osborne’s Angry Young Man, working class anti-hero from the ’50s. It’s a kitchen sink drama, except these people are so poor they don’t even HAVE a kitchen sink.

As the play spirals downward, the only glimmer of hope is represented by the entrance of Jennifer or Jen. “Yen” to her family. A sweet Welsh girl, who has just moved into the neighborhood, and is clearly attracted to the hunky Hench ( Hedges )who spends most of the play in his underpants. yen-5Stefania LaVie Owen totally nails this difficult accent, too. As well embodying Yen’s warmth and gritty/slutty attraction. She is astonishingly making her stage debut in this difficult role in this difficult play. But they are all orbiting around Lucas Hedges’ miraculous sun. His talent is out-size and blazing, and he more than fulfills the high expectations his complex Oscar-nominated performance as the troubled, recalcitrant nephew in “Manchester by the Sea,” has set. And “Manchester” has set that bar HIGH.

Hench is a much more difficult role. He has to carry the entire, angry play, barefoot and half-naked, and make you hate him, but love him, and fear him and fear FOR him at the same time. It’s astonishing. HE’S astonishing.

Yen” is closing in March, so you better move fast and see it before it vanishes into theatrical lore as Lucas Hedges’ blazing theatrical debut.

#Yen

#Lucas Hedges

#Trip Cullman

#Off Broadway

#Oscar Nominee Best Supporting Actor

#Manchester by the Sea

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!

Elizabeth Williamson, new Associate Artistic Director, Hartford Stage

It is my great pleasure, dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of theatre to introduce you to the very exciting and dynamic Elizabeth Williamson, the newly appointed associate artistic director of the Hartford Stage. Elizabeth has studied in London under Mark Wing-Davey, who is now the Head of NYU’s great Grad Acting program, and also at L’Ecole Jacques le Coq theatre in Paris, as well as being the Dramaturg at the Hartford Stage under the direction of Darko Tresnjak.

Elizabeth was the dramaturg and very involved with the development of Matthew Lopez’ new play “Reverberation” which I liked so much when I saw it in Hartford earlier this year. Her parents were both poets and she has a very bright future in the American Theater in front of her.

“Heidi Chronicles” Closing Sunday is a Crime!

Heidi 1“The Heidi Chronicles” closing on Broadway on Sunday is a crime! I just saw it for the SECOND time last night, and enjoyed it all over again. I RARELY, as you know, dear readers, RETURN to revisit a show, especially in this high Drama Desk season, but I’m so glad I did.

The cast was very relaxed and giving and warm, warm, warm and funny, too, as the late Pulitzer winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein was in real life.

Insightful, witty, observant, and yes, timely, too, I do feel that Wasserstein’s “Heidi” is not dated at all and is as relevant today as it was then when it opened to great critical acclaim in 1989. It won the Pulitzer and also the Tony.

And I saw the original production, but I liked this one much better. The performances of Elizabeth Moss in the title role and the redoubtable Bryce Pinkham as her gay best friend were both awards-worthy, and thankfully Moss has been nominated for a Tony for Best Actress. Pinkham however was not, although he did get an Outer Critics nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play. The Drama Desk ignored it completely.

I wonder if the shows’ unexpected, premature closing had something to do with the unjust lack of awards consideration “Heidi” has gotten.

Elizabeth Moss was simply magnificent last night, shining like a golden  sun and immensely relatable as the hapless heroine Heidi. Moss’ monologue ending with the famous line “I feel stranded” was a bravura tour-de-force of the highest order.

And Pinkham held his own in a 360 degree turn from his usual villainous musical rogues (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” and “Ghost”.) as a very warm, relatable doctor. His Dr. Peter Patrone goes from campy to bitchy to saintly in an arc than every gay man was experienced since the ’60s, ending with yes, a penultimate scene dealing with AIDS in the late ’80s. The  hyper-versatile Pinkham captures every nuance, pulse and throb of pain and joy that Peter undergoes.

The house was packed last night. The audience applauded every scene. That’s something that rarely happens with a straight play.

I urge you to try to see “Heidi” before it closes on Sunday. Maybe there will be enough of a demand to see its’ beautiful life extended.

Timothy Spall Wins Best Actor for “Mr. Turner” from NY Critics!

Timothy Spall 1In a totally surprising move, British actor Timothy Spall has just won Best Actor for “Mr. Turner” at the New York Film Critics Circle!

And I just had the great honor and privilege of interviewing him myself this morning for “The Stephen Holt Show”! I’m thrilled! He’s a great natural story-teller, and we both shared a common Cockney background. He’s a real one. I LIVED in London’s East End for years back in my salad days when I was struggling to be a playwright and an actor, and supporting myself by being a char. (a house-cleaner) No. Really! It’s true. If any one experience in my life made me tough, it was that. Being a house-cleaner in a foreign country for over three years. It was one of the formative phases of my youth.

Other New York Film Critics winners are : Best Cinematography:”The Immigrant” & Best Original Screenplay “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Timothy Spall won Best Actor at Cannes this year. I congratulated him at the start of my interview with him and he said, “Nobody was more surprised than me!”

This historic interview will be on-line shortly.

 

Best Supporting Actress- Pre-Festivals, Pre-TIFF

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 2012 -Pre-TIFF

This category was ceded by many, months ago, to Anne Hathaway’s heartbreaking, shattering performance in the trailer of “Les Miserables.” I have never seen a trailer to have such an impact on the Oscar Race, and so EARLY! Back in June. Or May even…And the film doesn’t come out til Christmas!

“The Dream Lives,” the trailer ends with these titles “This Christmas.” Well, I for one can hardly wait!

Why was Universal releasing this so early?

Well, it was superbly done, brilliantly edited, and plaintively sung by Hathaway. It contains the song “I Dreamed A Dream,” which is arguably one of the most famous songs from “Les Miz” that always pulls heart-strings, if it’s done right.

This is the song that made Susan Boyle an over-night sensation on “Britain’s Got Talent” a few years back. And Musical Comedys are NOT at all a sure-fire, can’t-miss genre these days. No matter how well they may be done. They released this that early to build buzz. And it has succeeded in that respect. And Anne Hathaway also scored as Catwoman in TDKR, too, this year.

Oscar Winner for Best Director for “The King’s Speech” is back again with “Les Miz” and he directs period pieces soooo well…just check out the Multi-Emmy-Award Winning TV series “John Adams.” That was one of the greatest TV series I’ve ever seen, and it could have been as dry as dust, instead it was riveting. And it won its two leads Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney Best Actor and Best Actress Emmys, too. As John and Abigail Adams respectively.

And Laura is back in the Best Actress hunt again this year. Her FOURTH nomination, if she gets one for “Hyde Park on the Hudson” which I already discussed in the previous post just below this one.

Which is to say that Hooper’s actors win awards, see Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech.”

Anne Hathaway’s part in “Les Miz” is the doomed prostitute Fantine, which also won Patti LuPone an Olivier Award, when she played that part in the original London production. So it’s an awards-magnet role. And Hathaway totally aces it in the trailer’s Oscar-y moment par excellence when she, sobbing and dirty, gets all her real hair cut off.  It’s a horrifying, but award-worthy moment. The song is MUCH longer than that,too And there is much more to her role in “Les Miz” although she does die early on.  But who’s to say if they might run her as Best Actress instead of Supporting?

They might. But then again the Academy’s Actor’s Branch voters are the ones who ultimately decide which category an actress, or an actor, is going to be in. The Studios and distributors can campaign all they want…but it’s Hathaway’s peers who will decide where to put her.

The many For Your Consideration ads are run by the Studios as a means of clue-ing the Actor’s Branch especially for who goes where.  They decided for instance that Kate Winslet should be considered for Best Actress for “The Reader” when no less an Oscar personage than Harvey Weinstein was running her as Supporting for that film. Which she did eventually win a Golden Globe for. And also, for Best Actress that year for “Revolutionary Road.” Her “I got TWO!” picture with a Golden Globe in each hand, flashed around the world.

I think this instance shows that the Academy doesn’t ALWAYS do as Harvey tells them.Or suggests to them, I should say.

Opposite Hathaway, it’s looking like Harvey’s main gal this season is going to be Amy Adams for “The Master”, but evidently some already say the part is too small, only three scenes.

Will Qu’venzhane Wallis the 8 year old in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”  get run in Supporting, instead of lead, where she belongs? However, the Academy is notoriously not partial to putting child actors in the lead category. Look what they did with that girl with the braids from “True Grit.” She ended up in Supporting, though she arguably, also had the lead female role in the Coen Bros. western. What was her name anyway? I’ve completely forgotten! Hallie something? That nomination was the beginning and end of her career.

There’s also the great female Brits in the runaway smash of the Indies this year “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” It boasts THREE great performances, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton. Again Dame Judi is the lead here, but again, Fox Searchlight has got her down for Supporting, where she really shouldn’t be. The Academy could put her in lead, if they so deem fit…As I said in the last post, Best Actress is once again Back Up For Grabs this year…

Fox Searchlight has its’ hands full this year! Should Judi Dench go lead? Should Qu’venszhane? Decisions! Decisions!

And then there’s Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Won’t Back Down”, another Indie. But who is lead and who is Supporting? I don’t think that film is even at Toronto. Which says something.

And though after last year’s debacle with Davis predicted to win all over the place, she lost to Meryl Streep. The Academy was again accused of racism. And it is. Although they did give the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Octavia Spenser for the controversial “The Help.” Could they try to make it up to her with ANOTHER nomination? If they did, she would then be the first African-American actress to get the most Oscar nominations ever. A total of three.

Or is “Don’t Back Down” even Oscar worthy? We don’t know yet. But its lack of Festival presence says something, I think.

To go back to “Hyde Park on Hudson” there are two British Olivias in Supporting roles. Olivia Williams as Eleanor Rossevelt and Olivia Coleman as the Queen of England, who is visiting the Roosevelts at Hyde Park, with her husband the stuttering King Edward VII.

AND there’s the Oscar perennial Bridesmaid multiple-timed nominee, Annette Bening playing against type as a gambling-obsessed Mom of Kristen Wiig in “Imogene.”  You can never count Bening out.

But judging by the competition she’s up against, IMHO, this category is Anne Hathaway’s to lose.

Kathleen Turner “High” closes low ~ on Easter Sunday!

Well, blink and you’ve missed her. Kathleen Turner was starring on Bway for a bunch o’ days, but she won’t be after tomorrow late afternoon. Her intermittently interesting starrer “High” is leaving on a season low. Closing on Sunday. Easter no less.

Kathleen Turner, once a great screen beauty, is now, in her later years beginning to resemble Winston Churchill. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, per se. Her force, her magnetic star power is in full blaze in “High” but the rather weak and extremely clichéd play she’s in “High” is the Bway season’s biggest low. And no match for a blazing, charismatic talent like Turner’s. She literally blows it to pieces.

Usually, a play this mediocre does not make it to Broadway these days. Shows used to open and close in one night. Not so anymore when there are millions of dollars at stake . Shows get workshopped to death in places far from the glare of the Great White Way’s white-hot spotlight.Preparation and caution is all.

But how this low “High” ever made it to the Rialto is a mystery. It simply may have been the star’s wanting to do it. And that’s not really enough.

It’s a BIG part for a BIG GAL,a swearing, formerly alcoholic nun. And these days Miss Turner is nothing if not BIG. She hasn’t passed over into the plus sizes, but she’s getting there. And now she’s sporting a neck the size of Texas.

There’s virtually no sets, and not much in the way of costumes. And there’s one extended nude scene for its’ homo druggie, which actually is the play’s best scene. And Bway newcomer Evan Jonigkeit is more than up to the task. He and Ms. Turner have a nude wrestling scene. He’s nude. She isn’t. And she gets him to the floor, from which he and the play barely get up in the second act.

Jonigkeit does manage to REALLY score in the climatic gutter death scene between him and Turner in Act Two. But by then it’s the play’s death rattle you’re hearing. And it’s too little, too late.

All the characters are more or less repulsive and non-relatable. And Bull Dog Turner’s George C. Scott-like attack-style of acting was much better suited onstage as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” which she successfully essayed several seasons back. Here she just sort of endlessly stands there with her basso profundo voice bellowing in the Booth Theater like she was Enrico Caruso with a sore throat.

Supposedly an expose of corruption in the Catholic Church (and guess what overly used plot device vice that means?) playwright Matthew Lombardo really offers nothing new at all on the subject. “Doubt” starring Cherry Jones in the role of Sister Aloyisius that won her a Tony for Best Actress in a play. And won Best Play, too. And a brace of other Tony and awards galore.”Doubt” has covered all this very same ground and did it a lot faster, and better. Memorably so.

Ms. Turner’s Martha lost the Tony to Ms. Jones’ indelible nun that year and here as Sister Jamison Connelly she’s gonna lose, too. Though stranger things have happened on Broadway. Valerie Harper in Mr. Lombardo’s other Bway bomb, er, offering “Looped” (which I actually kind of enjoyed) got Valerie Harper a Tony nod for her boozy bravura Tallulah Bankhead. Turner could pull off that hat trick, too. The critics were kind.

Me? Ms. Turner reminded of Greater Tuna. The fish, not the show.

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