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Posts Tagged ‘Michael C. Hall’

“The Realistic Joneses” and “The City of Conversation” – New Plays on Broadway

Posted on: May 20th, 2014 by Art Leonard No Comments

I saw two new plays over the past week: “The Realistic Joneses” by Will Eno at the Lyceum Theatre, and “The City of Conversation” by Anthony Giardina at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. I was drawn to the first by the cast — I was eager to see Michael C. Hall and Marisa Tomei — and to the second by the subject matter — the famed female political hostesses of Washington D.C. in the “old days”. While I thought Hall and Tomei were terrific, I didn’t care much for the play they were in. I did care, very much, for The City of Conversations, which I found both entertaining and emotionally strong.

“The Realistic Joneses” has a cast of four. The other two are Toni Collette and Tracy Letts. The plot involves two married couples, portrayed by Collette and Letts (couple No. 1) and Tomei and Hall (couple No. 2). Couple No. 2 has just moved into the neighborhood, “a smallish town not far from some mountains,” and have wandered over to get acquainted with their neighbors. Letts is hostile and taciturn, Collette more welcoming. Over the course of the 100 minute intermission-less play, it develops that both Letts and Hall are suffering from some kind of terminal illness and freaking out about it, each in their different way. The wives are more sane, but wrapped up in coping with their husbands’ psychological problems. I found it intermittently interesting, but at the end I thought “so what was that all about?” and “why should we be interested.” Definitely not high on my list of shows I’ve seen this year.

On the other hand, The City of Conservation seemed very consequential, perhaps because I’ve always been a political junky and the script is strewn with political references. The excellent Jan Maxwell plays Hester Ferris, a notable widowed Washington hostess whose dinner parties play a role in the country’s government, as she brings together people that need to achieve particular results in the private setting of her dining room. She is a firm liberal, as is her widowed sister, Jean Swift (played by Beth Dixon), who she orders around and who seems to gladly take up the burden of doing Hester’s bidding. Their son, Colin (played by Michael Simpson), shows up “a day early” having returned from college overseas at the London School of Economics, with his girlfriend, Anna Fitzgerald (played by Kristen Bush) in tow. It develops over the course of the first scene, set in Hester’s Georgetown living room in September 1979, that Colin and Anna are ardent conservative supports of Gov. Ronald Reagan, soon to contest the presidency with Jimmy Carter. Fireworks develop, and Hester and Anna really don’t get along. They showed up a day early because Colin knew his mother was having a dinner party for a southern senator (a Democrat but no liberal, played by John Aylward) whose vote is needed for some purpose. Hester’s boyfriend is another Senator (played by Kevin O’Rourke) who has enlisted her in his scheme to provide a setting for them to work out some kind of deal, and the arrival of Colin and Anna complicates matters — and things develop from there. The second scene, after a brief intermission, is set in October 1987, during the Reagan presidency, and the final scene in January 2009, as Barack Obama is about to be inaugurated. Actor Michael Simpson shows up again, now playing the son of Colin and Anna, with his — wait for this — African-American boyfriend (played by Phillip James Brannon) in tow…. Anyway, I thought it was terrific. The only remaining cast members to mention — and this gives something away — are Barbara Garrick, who plays the southern senator’s wife, and Luke Niehaus, who plays Colin and Anna’s 6-year-old son for whom Hester is baby-sitting in the second scene. Everybody in the cast is superb, the entire thing is directed with sparkle by Doug Huges, and the set by John Lee Beatty creates a 1970s Georgetown living room to what appears to be perfection. This one is a must-see.

Busy Culture Week: Kill Your Darlings, A Time to Kill, Peoples’ Symphony Concerts (Borromeo Quartet & Richard Stoltzman), Thor

Posted on: November 10th, 2013 by Art Leonard No Comments

A little bit of this, a little bit of that….  I already wrote about the Ned Rorem 90th Birthday Concert that I attended on Tuesday night (Nov. 5), but wanted to mention my other expeditions of the week.

On Monday night, I saw “Kill Your Darlings” at Film Society of Lincoln Center.  I thoroughly enjoyed this tale based on real events.  It focuses on Allen Ginsberg’s first year as a student at Columbia University, and the crowd he fell in with, some of whom went on to become part of his literary circle as “the Beats”.  But the focus of this is the radicalization of Ginsberg, who came from a somewhat sheltered New Jersey suburban childhood and fell in with a “rad” crowd centered around a wild young man enchantingly portrayed by Dane DeHaan, who steals the film right out from under Daniel Radcliffe (who plays Ginsberg).  Also notable are Ben Foster as William Burroughs and Michael C. Hall as a slightly older man who is obsessed with DeHaan’s character and comes to be a rival to Ginsberg for his affections.  A little curious internet snooping after seeing this film confirmed for me that the main lines of the story depicted in the film are accurate, but not all the details by any means.  I’m a sucker for “historical” films, however, and I also loved the score by Nico Muhly (who seems to be everywhere these days).

On Wednesday night I saw a performance of “A Time to Kill,” a Broadway play based on the novel of the same name by John Grisham.  When I read the book, many years ago, I thought it was a fantastic inside look at criminal defense work that should be read by law students.  I was surprised when somebody tried to turn it into a film, which did not turn out particularly well, and even more surprised when I heard somebody was turning it into a play (Rupert Holmes).  I don’t think this material translates well either to screen or stage.  The strength of Grisham’s novel is the inside look it gives at the procedure of putting together a defense of a capital murder charge, and much of the interesting detail goes by the wayside, since a film or play has to focus on characters and plotting.  And although some of the characters are interesting in their own right in the novel, that is mainly because of the back-stories Grisham gives them, much of which perforce is omitted from the dramatizations.  The plot itself is pretty far-out and unconvincing much of the time.  One keeps thinking “that couldn’t really happen, could it”?  On Thursday morning the Times ran the announcement that the play would be closing in two weeks.  If the actors received that announcement before Wednesday’s production, maybe that helps to explain the somewhat listless performance.  I was sitting in the first row of the rear mezzanine, and the overwhelming majority of seats up there were empty.  The closing notice was no surprise.

Thursday night I attended a farewell party at Bar-Tini for Brad Snyder, who has stepped down as Executive Director of the LGBT Law Association to take up a development position at the LGBT Community Center.  Brad has done wonders for LeGaL, professionalizing the office operation in many ways, putting together great annual dinner programs and CLEs, and most importantly in terms of my involvement working a visual transformation on Lesbian/Gay Law Notes and initiating the monthly Law Notes podcasts.  I’ll really miss him, and so will the organization.  His interim replacement while a search is launched for a permanent successor will be Matt Skinner.

Last night I attended Peoples’ Symphony Concert’s program at Washington Irving High School.  The Borromeo String Quartet caused a bit of a stir by performing from laptops instead of sheet music.  As their first violinist explained, this made it possible for them to play from full scores instead of individual parts, which they deemed advantageous.  The laptops were fitted out with foot pedals that they used to effect the “page turns” (actually just advancing a page on the pdf’s that were exhibited on their screens.  In the first half they gave us a suitably serious performance of Beethoven’s “Serioso” String Quartet, Op. 95, and the first NY performance of Lera Auerbach’s String Quartet No. 7, which was written for them.  The Auerbach piece is just modernistic enough to be a little challenging for the audience, but not off-putting to anybody who stays current on new music trends.  She has mastered writing for this combination of instruments, and the finale, in particular, ended with a real haunting repeated melody that kept playing in my head after the piece was over.  I hope they get to record it.  (The concert was taped; I suspect this was to be able to provide Auerbach with a recording of her piece.)  After intermission, Richard Stoltzman joined the quartet for a performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, one of that master’s last works.  As a longtime fan of Stoltzman, I’m sorry to report that unless this concert was an outlier, he is no longer up to performing in concert.  Although he’s only 70 — not a really great age as clarinet players go, as far as I know — the breath control is no longer dependable, the fingers are a bit stiff, and the results are sometimes distressing.  His tone on high notes was shrill and metallic, and there were little hesitations at the start of arpeggios and scales that seemed to me more about technical weakness than interpretation.  These problems were particularly evident when it came to long sustained notes in the sublime adagio movement; he had difficulty sustaining them with any kind of quality.   The third movement – menuet and trio – was the least problematic, but that was partly because Mozart doesn’t use the clarinet during the trio portion.  As an encore, they played a movement from another clarinet quintet that Mozart abandoned; Kitchen announced that musicologist Robert Levin completed the movement from Mozart’s surviving sketches.  It struck me as interesting without being special, and that may explain why Mozart abandoned the project.

Finally, for a little mindless diversion this morning before getting to the office, the newest film in the “Thor” series, with Chris Hemsworth as the title character.  If one had not seen the first film, one would be very puzzled about who these characters are and what is going on.  Even with that, the plotting was minimally comprehensible most of the time, the 3-D effect was minimal, and the screen was filled up with CGI more than people a lot of the time.  Lots of noise on the soundtrack, too.  In other words, I got what I was expecting – some mindless, fast-paced entertainment.  The guy who plays Thor’s evil brother stole all his scenes, Anthony Hopkins was almost unidentifiable as Odin, Thor’s father.   Well, it’s a franchise.  If the film does well, there will be a third Thor….