Archive | Theater Matters

A Midsummers Night Magic

Last night I attended the first performance of A Midsummers Night Dream at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, and the whole night was magic, pure magic. I won the tickets in a TodayTix lottery (TodayTix is the best) and it so happened I already had plans in place with Lisa F., my friend who always treats me to theater tickets. Lisa had never seen the play, and as it’s my all-time favorite I was so pleased to share it with her. (Lisalisa power is no joke.)

Midsummers was the first play I ever saw in a theater–it was in the 1980s at Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, and my beautiful, already-ailing grandmother who couldn’t drive put on her best green dress and took the commuter rail down to scarysnobby Cambridge from Lowell, Mass to sit with her kindred spirit grandaughter in the Bard’s bigcity forest magic. Since then, every meaningful relationship of my life has been graced with a Midsummer’s Night Dream story, and midsummer has become my favorite time of year. Also I am abashed to say this was the first time in my 24 years as a NYC denizen that I ever attended Shakespeare in the Park, and it was of course the perfect introduction. Continue Reading →

Come to Fosse

Anyone who really loves show business eventually has a “come to Fosse” moment. You know you’re a real convert to the choreographer and director when you come around on “All That Jazz,” his bombastic meta-movie biography-musical, and you know you’re a real cult member when you come around on his last film, “Star 80,” about slain porn star Dorothy Stratten. (I’ve yet to achieve that status.) But even if you don’t dig Fosse – even if you don’t consciously know Fosse – chances are good you’ve fallen under his influence. Born in 1927 (he would have celebrated his ninetieth birthday last Friday), his signature style didn’t just indelibly stamp the world of dance. It redefined the packaging of sexuality and entertainment, blurring worlds that post-World War II parochialism had strenuously separated.

I first saw “All That Jazz,” Bob Fosse’s signature directorial effort – though not the one for which he won his one Academy Award – in its initial 1979 run, and was singularly unimpressed. (Of course, I was age eight, and more impressed by “The Muppet Movie.”) Years later, I saw what I had missed. Buried in the film’s dance sequences, its half-assembled spangled costumes and bare-bones Broadway backstages and editing rooms, was a winking homage to narcissism and its opposite, true communion. It was, and is, an amazing cacophony. But it is also bloated by his death wish – a courtship of his own demise that he materialized by casting Jessica Lange, one of his many, many girlfriends, in the role of Angelica, a literal angel of death. Continue Reading →

When Denzel Dims His Star: ‘Fences’

I’ve never considered Denzel Washington an actor so much as a star. Stars are performers who project their personality and beauty with such charisma that they render even the most mediocre projects appealing. Actors are performers who disappear into roles so completely that they capture essences that were not even written. Some stars are actors – surprisingly, in her later career, Julia Roberts has turned out to be both – but rarely do the two categories overlap. Washington may be one of the most powerful artists working today, but he’s only got one trick, and that trick is dominance. He plays such hero-martyr-mavericks as Malcolm X (an amazing Malcom X, to be fair) and boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Even when he’s bad, he’s the baddest bad guy, as in “Training Day,” when he portrays a mega-dirty cop, or in “Flight,” when he takes on the part of an alcoholic pilot who miraculously steers a mechanically faulty passenger plane to safety while blotto on cocaine, screwdrivers, and illicit sex. What we never see him play is a schlub, a man who misses more marks than he makes.

So it’s a welcome surprise to see Washington turn that “large and in charge” quality on its head in “Fences,” an adaptation of the 1985 August Wilson play about a working-class family in 1950s Pittsburgh. Perhaps he’s willing to depict a weak, complicated man here because he’s deeply invested in preserving the integrity of this Pulitzer Prize winner. Perhaps it’s because of his level of familiarity with the material, as both he and costar Viola Davis won Tony Awards for the same roles in a 2010 Broadway revival. Perhaps it’s because he’s also behind the lens; he’s still in control no matter how much underbelly he reveals. My guess is D, all of the above, but whatever the reason, the nuanced disappointment he and his cast channel in this film tells one of the richest stories of 2016 cinema. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy