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Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

MR. NOH GOES TO WASHINGTON

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2009 at 7:51 am

read about my trip to D.C. for the Inauguration in the latest GAY CITY NEWS

http://gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=20257397&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=8

I also heartily dis Young Jean Lee’s play, THE SHIPMENT, in the honest belief that we Koreans really can do better…

A highlight of my D.C. trip was seeing my all-time favorite celebrity portrait, hanging in The National Portrait Gallery

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Tallulah Bankhead, Augustus John…this painting was done in 1930, when Tallulah was at the height of her popularity in London. She made John promise to sell her the portrait for $1,000 and kept it hanging in her bedroom. It was donated to the museum by John Hay “Jock” Whitney, the sexy millionaire who was Ambassador to the UK, invested in Technicolor and Selznick Pictures and was Tallulah’s lover. In the recent book, THE LETTERS OF NOEL COWARD, one learns that  Tallulah evidently gave Coward the portrait and then demanded it back, which the Master, peeved, was only to happy to return.

D.C. museums are filled with glorious divas of the past these days. The National Portrait Gallery had a 1936 photo of Janet Gaynor hanging in their new acqusitions gallery and also one purported to be Dolores Del Rio. It was no such thing, and I mentioned to this to a grateful curator. The permanent collection has a section called BRAVO! focusing on composers and entertainers of the 20th century where you can see Isamu Noguchi’s bust of his friend, Ginger Rogers, appropriately executed in pink marble.

There was an exhibit of famous American women, that included portraits of Judy Garland on the set of  A STAR IS BORN, filming the “Somewhere there’s a Someone” number, Anna May Wong, Katharine Hepburn, Lillian Gish and others. Another exhibit, BALLYHOO! POSTERS AS PORTRAITURE , used Amsel’s iconic ’70s image of Bette Midler for its publicity

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There were also advertising images of Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, Ingrid Bergman in NOTORIOUS, and Grace Jones in her punk-y “Eraserhead” period

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watch Grace at her peak, singing “Libertango,” which Karen Kohler brilliantly covered at her recent Zipper Theater (now sadly shuttered)  engagement in NYC.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xed5g_grace-jones-libertango

Like everyone in NYC I was besotted by Jones in the ’70s, living for sightings of her at 54, where on opening night, she took over a major portion of the dance floor spinning in a billowy saffron Issey Miyake robe, surrounded by screaming, moustached gay clones. She showed up once at the unique, truly Fellini-esque G.G. Barnum Room, where you danced under a net stretched overhead which caught the Discobats (Puerto Rican acrobats, some of them transsexual), performing trapeze acts in the rafters. I was at the release party for her first album PORTFOLIO at 12 West, and when legendary DJ Jim Stuard, who perished in the 1977 fire at the Everard Baths (http://bitterqueen.typepad.com/history_of_gay_bars_in_ne/2007/12/the-everard-bat.html), played “La Vie En Rose” for the first time, with Jones gyrating in a ’50s ballgown you were truly in disco nirvana.

I interviewed her shortly after that in the office of her manager, John Carmen. She showed up in a hot pink Kenzo batwing sweater over brown satin Miyake boxing shorts, with a black satin, yellow-lined coat and one of her signature satin military brown envelope caps. We got on like a house afire and she did a perfect Eartha Kitt impersonation for me, calling Kitt a major inspiration. After she left, to my horror, I discovered that my photographer had left his light meter on the sofa which burned a hole in the cushion. We turned the cushion over before we left, but, years later, Carmen rightfully called my shit on it, albeit with total good humor.

CURMUDGEON ALERT

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2009 at 6:28 am

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MICHELLE WILLIAMS IN ‘WENDY AND LUCY,’ A PERFORMANCE FAR SUPERIOR TO

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HEATH LEDGER IN ‘THE DARK KNIGHT

Heath Ledger is a shoo-in to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year for THE DARK KNIGHT, having made the most sure-fire Award-grabbing career move of them all –  dying. Oscar dearly loves tragedy, as witness its traditional Best Picture preference for heavy, often downright lachrymose drama over scintillating comedy. HIS GIRL FRIDAY and THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, two of the most undeniably perfect, enduringly influential cinema classics weren’t even nominated in the year of their release (1940), Cary Grant never won an acting award and Ginger Rogers won hers for, not one of her sparkling working girl farces, but for the sudsy KITTY FOYLE. In Academy terms, comedy is easy…dying is hard (and Oscar-worthy).

The Oscars haven’t had such a juicy opportunity for surefire bathos since Peter Finch died of a heart attack before winning his Best Actor Award for the insanely prescient NETWORK in 1976. His widow, Eletha, a black woman, accepted it tearfully for him and I clearly recall how her utterly real, deeply human, unfashionably garbed presence startlingly cut like a laser through through the evening’s glitz.

When this year’s Best Supporting Actor award is announced, it will be a race in the Kodak Center to see which grandstanding celebrity leaps to their feet first for the inevitable, heartfelt standing ovation. And whoever accepts for Ledger will be properly tearful, proud and slightly abashed, creating the perfect teary-yet-warm-and-fuzzy moment amidst all the ravening egomania, borrowed bling and red carpet madness.

Just one thing – Ledger doesn’t deserve it.

In the best Lon Chaney tradition, he purposely made himself up to look and act as leeringly grotesque as possible, engendering much tongue-clucking over how dangerously intimate was his identification with his Joker character. You can call it Method madness, or whatever you want, just don’t call it good acting. (And that crazy makeup really wasn’t all that original – take a look at THE CROW (1994) some time and the look of Brandon Lee – designed by Lance Anderson – who, like Ledger, tragically died before the film’s release.) After the initial shock value of seeing him in character, his performance was one monotonous repetition of salaciously horrid lip-licking and maniacal vocal tricks.  He emerged as the true muse of Christopher Nolan’s dankly depressing, ridiculously dark, gratuitously violent  imagining of the once-gallant Batman myth, and it says sadly much about the debased taste of moviegoers who lapped this toxic guff up and made it such a b.o. blockbuster.

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THE LATE BRANDON LEE, IN ‘THE CROW’ (1994) – DOES ANYTHING LOOK FAMILIAR?

Did parents really take the little ones to see this, expecting a fun comic book fantasy? Did the climactic scenes with Ledger holding a gun to the skull of a child actor not produce screaming nightmares later at home that night? I, for one, cannot shake off the utterly absurd, over-the-top makeup job on Aaron Eckhardt as Two-Face, a real career killer courtesy of the cosmetician. And what was up with that risibly sepulchral voice Christian Bale felt it necessary to employ? Did Nolan not have a single redeeming mental impulse telling him “This is just too much”?

Obviously not, and his rock-bottom taste level is woefully on a par with that of the modern world at large these days. But he’s laughing all the way to some soon-to-be-shut bank these days and the Academy will, for the second year in a row blow it, Supporting Actor-wise. Javier Bardem’s winning turn in last year’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is in the same “he’s so scary and creepy, he must be acting!” tradition as Ledger. (They made themselves ugly – no greater dedication to their craft, right?) Bardem swept every imaginable award in this category as well, leaving Tom Wilkinson who was really brilliant as a schizophrenic in MICHAEL CLAYTON completely overlooked, proof once more that, aesthetically, the Oscars mean very. very little.

Ironically, Ledger’s ex, Michelle Williams, gave a far superior performance in a much more demanding and difficult performance this year in WENDY AND LUCY. As a homeless slacker trying to make her way across country to the promise of some fishy job in Alaska, accompanied by her dog, she had a wrongheaded purity and emotional transparency which, at times, evoked no less than Maria Falconetti in Carl Dreyer’s masterpiece, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC.  And, in their eternally flubbing way, the Academy ignored her for a nomination, preferring – in the requisite “crazy lady” category of Best Actress – the strained, thin, calculated neuroticism of Anne Hathway (if only her talent was as big as her eyes)  in Jonathan Demme’s smarmily p.c. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. (I especially loathed the beginning of that film, set at an engagement party, for its creepy self-congratulatory flavor and its oh-so carefully cast Benetton-ad ethnic assemblage of guests, intimately cackling away at their private jokes. Sitting in the theater, watching this, felt no different from being an unfamiliar guest at some family shindig, forcing your smile and bonhomie-filled laughter, but really feeling the outsider and rather an asshole. This feeling I don’t need from movies.)

How fickle is the mass media, anyway, with its post-humous glorification of Ledger, aligning him with that other dead-too-soon star, James Dean. Dean “brilliantly” made only three movies, in which his iconoclastic talent sparkled. Ledger made quite a few more, some of them definite clunkers. His bruised macho gruffness was effective in, and the best thing about, the dull BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (the straightest gay movie ever made), and I found him even more affecting as a suicidal young cop in MONSTER’S BALL, but to celebrate him as one of the greatest actors in cinema seems a little much.

By the way, does anybody remember River Phoenix?

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2009 at 12:54 am

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THE GREAT ALLA NAZIMOVA, AS HEDDA GABLER (1907)

AND HOW FAR WE’VE FALLEN:

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MARY LOUISE PARKER AS “HEIDI” GABLER (2009)

(Photo by Sarah Krulwich)

Chekhov once famously exhorted his actors to perform his work as if it were comedy – something the recent revivals of THE SEA GULL and THE CHERRY ORCHARD – take to somewhat extreme results, which only end up being woefully unfunny (and unmoving). I don’t know what Ibsen had to say to his performers, but there is little doubt that the Roundabout’s current production of his searingly tragic HEDDA GABLER is a downright laugh riot, if unintentionally so. 

The chief perpetrator is Mary Louise Parker who, although her Hedda is entirely misconceived as a girlish little brat, is at least more watchable than she usually is. In PROOF, ANGELS IN AMERICA and so much else, she seemed to be aping an observation Pauline Kael once made about Sandy Dennis making an acting style out of a post-nasal drip. From her affectedly adenoidal line delivery to the wide-eyed waif-ishness, stabbingly forthright gesticulation and over-calculated timing, Parker was one busy bundle of mannerisms. Here, she is no less mannered, but absolutely riveting. That she is also giving one helluva bad performance only rather adds to the perverse enjoyment afforded.

Elegantly sporting Ann Roth’s magnificently statuesque gowns (the only sign of real artistry in this production), she carries on like a spoiled birthday girl at Chuck E Cheese suffering a simultaneous sugar attack and desperate need to be put down, nap-wise. It must be said that Christopher Shinn’s smart-ass, anachronistically modern adaptation of Ibsen’s text contributes to the generally infantile atmosphere, yet another example of a great playwright’s work being given a presumptuous and unnecessary makeover by a lesser, contemporary one. I, for, one am heartily sick of these directors and adaptors who condescendingly make all this noise about shaking the dust off the classics and replace it with jarring anachronisms and a battery of other inappropriate, self-indulgent “modern” effects.  Here, Shinn not only cuts out Hedda’s desire for her Lovborg to come back triumphantly to her wreathed in vine leaves but changes the devastating final line, “But people don’t do such things!” to the pallid “Who would do such a thing?” The New York Times’ Ben Brantley expressed total bewilderment that Director Ian Rickson could have directed such a bad revival of HEDDA when he recently did such a good one of  THE SEA GULL There’s really no mystery and Brantley was only half right – they both frankly stank.

 “Excellent!” Parker cries sarcastically, sounding like Keanu Reeves or Mike Meyers, when yet another one of Hedda’s maleficent machinations gets befouled. As the curtain rises, our first view of her is prone, with her derriere gratuitously exposed, as if to noxiously prove right off that this “ain’t your grandma’s HEDDA!”  Later she changes dresses onstage, revealing a trendy, black half-cup brassiere, which surely would have startled any maid in 1890, the year the play takes lace. And her reaction to the devastating news that her would-be lover, the dissolute, doomed poet Ejlert Lovborg has shot himself – not nobly in the head, but vulgarly in the groin – elicits a voluminous, frustrated hiss that had people rolling in the aisles.  

Parker’s co-actors only add to the hapless hilarity.  Peter Stormare effortfully tries and risibly fails to be sepulchrally menacing as Judge Brack, who lusts after unhappy Hedda and will do anything to have her in his thrall. Paul Sparks, looking and acting like an Abercrombie & Finch model as Lovborg makes the perfect SoCal Valley Boy counterpart to this nutty Goth girl who’s really more of a  “Heidi Gabler,”  although the way he pronounces her surname – “Gobbler” – might have you thinking he’s referring to some Norwegian Thanksgiving dinner.  He’s wholly unbelievable as any kind of thwarted genius artist, although you certainly can see him going on a whorehouse bender. Ana Reeder also comes dangerously close to eliciting guffaws as a particularly bovine, cluelessly immature Thea Elvsted, unimaginable as any kind of a romantic rival to even this diminished Hedda. Michael Cerveris manages to emerge with some dignity intact as Hedda’s husband, Jorgen, the most thankless unloved spouse role ever conceived, but brings little detailed interest or redeeming humor to a dull part. Lois Markle is a maid  – sporting a ridiculously huge ethnic headdress and what I surmise is her idea of a Norwegian accent –  right out of some hoary vaudeville routine.

As the play neared its climax, the audience could have been watching an episode of MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, so primed were they to guffaw at that crazy lady on the stage and her wacky antics. Any hard-won empathy one might have felt toward a titular character, stifled by gender and place in society, was simply nonexistent. Hedda, who must be both compellingly charismatic and cruel, is a notoriously difficult role to play, one which somehow completely escaped the actress born to do it – Bette Davis.  Ingrid Bergman was conventionally cold and dull in the role, Glenda Jackson snorted like Ferdinand the Bull on a single, monotonous note of anger when she acted it, Fiona Shaw crazily munched every bit of available onstage bric-a-brac, Kate Burton played it as if she were the maid. A super-elegant Cate Blanchett made a boldly effective attempt at it, filled with black humor, at BAM in 2006, which was nearly undone by the wrackingly obvious direction of Robyn Nevins, replete with those thunderous music effects underlining the end of each act which have become the tiredest modern theatrical cliche of them all.   

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CATE BLANCHETT AS HEDDA (2006) Photo by Steven Siewert 

The best Hedda I’ve ever seen happened in 1954, and you can see it for yourself if you go to The Paley Center (The Museum of  Television & Radio) and request the videotape. Tallulah Bankhead was 52 when she did it for a TV broadcast of the U.S. Steel Hour, but proved that age is wholly irrelevant as she invested it with all the magnetic glamour, laser wit and terrifying malevolence Ibsen surely must have intended.  Hedda Gabler is, like MEDEA, or Blanche DuBois (or HAMLET for men), a role which no amount of theatrical training and personal desire can prepare one for. In short, Bankhead was a truly extraordinary woman, playing  just that:  the perfect, rarest  marriage of personality and part.

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TALLULAH BANKHEAD, THE BEST HEDDA I EVER SAW

(Portrait by Augustus John, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.)

OTHER HEDDAS

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MAGGIE SMITH (1970)

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DIANA RIGG (1981)

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FIONA SHAW, 1993

 

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JANET SUZMAN (WITH JOHN  SHRAPNEL 1977)

 

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EVA LE GALLIENNE (PLAYED IT ON BROADWAY IN 1948)

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INGRID BERGMAN, 1963

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GLENDA JACKSON (1970)

 

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ELIZABETH MARVEL (2004)

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KATINA PAXINOU (PLAYED IT ON BROADWAY IN 1942)

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ASTA NIELSEN, 1925

 

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MRS. PATRICK CAMPBELL (1907)

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PEGGY ASHCROFT, WHO GAVE A MEMORABLY SAVAGE PORTRAYAL IN 1954

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CLAIRE BLOOM PLAYED IT ON BROADWAY IN 1972

 

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JILL BENNETT PLAYED HEDDA IN 1972, FROM AN ADAPTATION BY HER THEN HUSBAND, JOHN OSBORNE

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ISABELLE HUPPERT, 2005

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DELPHINE SEYRIG, 1967

 

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IRENE WORTH, 1970

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NANCE O’NEILL, 1917

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ITALIA ALMIRANTE-MANZINI, 1919

NEPOTISM IN THE ARTS

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2009 at 7:18 am

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Richard Greenberg’s THE AMERICAN PLAN, reworked from its original 1990 presentation, one of his – what? – ten plays produced annually in New York, is a dreary, pretentiously over- and yet under-written “literate” affair with characters you care nothing about, meeting fates which are even less involving. As Eva Adler, an overbearing Jewish mother, Mercedes Ruehl hams it up mightily, relishing an accent reminiscent of some old Danny Kaye Germanic routine. Lightweight Kieran Campion is seriously overparted, playing Nick Lockridge (what a name from a ’30s movie!), a handsome young WASP, who descends upon Eva and her menage who live near a Catskills resort in 1960, charming them all but obviously concealing an agenda. (When he makes entrance, in swim trunks, showing off an impossibly perfect abdominal six-pack which nobody had in 1960, you first think, “Is this a Terrence McNally play?” followed by the hope that the actor has spent as much time working on his part as he has at the gym. Evidently, no.)  Brenda Pressley appears as Eva’s black maid – yes, this is 2009 but liberal white New York playwrights – Greenberg, Tony Kushner (CAROLINE, OR CHANGE),  Horton Foote (DIVIDING THE ESTATE) – still lovingly cling to their African American, oh-so forbearing domestic characters. Political correctness of course must be considered, so here we have Eva, in 1960, dubiously treating her maid as a complete equal and confidante, one who not only brings in the coffee tray but sits down and enjoys it with her. Austin Lysy actually gives the freshest performance, as a man from Nick’s checkered past, just as WASP, but – surprise! – gay in one of Greenberg’s now unsurprising, nigh-predictable efforts to effortfully instill a queer sexuality – who cares if it goes nowhere – as he did in his concurrent adaptation of PAL JOEY.

This insulated little group is full of disdain for the vulgarly bourgeois antics going on at the nearby tourist resort, but, given their arid snobbery and unjustified narcissism, you rather long to go join the fun – however boisterous – that’s happening across the lake.

In the central role of Lili, Eva’s neurotic, chimeric, over-protected daughter, Lily Rabe, despite a lot of sweat and a spectrally doomed voice, fails to make sense of this emptily histrionic writer’s conceit. To work at all, what was needed was an electrifying actress like the young Katharine Hepburn or, ideally, Julie Harris who, in MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, definitively caught quicksilver adolescent angst for all time. Rabe, who’s been working steadily since her Broadway debut in STEEL MAGNOLIAS (2005) happens to be the daughter of playwright David Rabe and actress Jill Clayburgh.

At Brooklyn Academy of Music, Sam Mendes has directed Tom Stoppard’s flat adaptation of Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD in a style that matches Stoppard in its lack of dimension and flavor, as well as misguided attempts at updating the material. (Those crystal-clear, pithy old library edition adaptations of Chekhov and Ibsen work just fine, without any modern impositions.) And is it just me, or is anyone else heartily sick of these Chekhov stagings on bare stages, with a minimum of essential furniture (here dwarfish in size as in a children’s nursery – shallow, distracting gimmickry)? There is not so much as a single cherry blossom to suggest what this tragically impractical Russian family is irrevocably losing, although Mendes, always leaning towards obvious “cinematic” effects, piles on the intrusively moody muzak and the “chilling” sound of  those precious trees being chopped down. There’s a big coup de theatre “dose of reality  when the back wall of the set suddenly rises to reveal a lot of floodlit, disgruntled peasants in the midst of all this aristocratic languor, an effect Mendes already employed in his CABARET, except there they were concentration camp prisoners.  

Cohesive ensemble acting, as so often happens in recent high-priced, major NY classical revivals is nonexistent in this production. (There was nothing here even approaching the jubilant everyone-on-the-same page energy of Red Bull Theater’s recent, magnificently satisfying production of Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean drama WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN, produced for a relative pittance.)  Sinead Cusack makes an initially satisfying, elegant try at the feckless Mme. Ranevskaya, but her performance eventually dissolves into strenuously hollow large effects, doing nothing to erase the effect of Irene Worth in Andrei Serban’s luminous 1997 Lincoln Center production, perhaps the greatest stage performance I ever saw (with Meryl Streep as a slapstick Olive Oyl maid, who kept falling over her own tangled skirts). Indelible forever was that little run Worth made around the stage at the end, to memorize every detail of her beloved, lost home, just as Garbo so lovingly “memorized” that romantic room in QUEEN CHRISTINA.

As the politically idealistic eternal student Trofimov, Ethan Hawke gives the identical, grating, angry frat-boy performance he gave in Stoppard’s numbing, excruciatingly overblown THE COAST OF UTOPIA. As the slyly opportunistic Lopakhin, England’s “greatest actor of his generation” (as he has been described), Simon Russell Beale continues to elude me, performance-wise. I found him narcissistically over-the-top in Mendes’s 2003 presentations of TWELFTH NIGHT AND UNCLE VANYA and just as emptily self-involved here, like Charles Laughton as his self-indulgent worst. During his moment of triumph in which he divulges to Ranevskaya that he has bought her estate, he goes wild onstage, overturning a dozen chairs. It’s a hollowly flamboyant gesture and all I could feel was fear for poor Cusack lest one of them injure her. “I’ll pay for everything!” he announces before he staggers out (but, absurdly, nothing was broken).  One moment said it all – when someone suddenly hits Lopakhin from the rear, Beale did a huge reaction of pain, but the problem was that it came about two seconds too late.  Throw in Richard Easton’s hambone turn as a servant, Paul Jesson’s mistimed flamboyance as Ranevskaya’s pompous brother and Selina Cadell – the only cast member who attempts anything like a Russian accent and therefore seems completely misplaced –  as a governess, who is both a lesbian and amateur magician, and you have one motley bucket of borscht.

The party who struck Beale in that aforementioned moment was Rebecca Hall in the role of the unwilling spinster, Varya. Through most of the play she acted rather robotically but suddenly came furiously to life in her final scenes, shrieking her head off to minimal actual effect. She happens to be the daughter of opera singer Maria Ewing (whom she resembles) and no less than Britain’s most eminent director, Sir Peter Hall. (In 2003, she played Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT at BAM in a production directed by her father, which I left, bored blind, at intermission.)

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REBECCA HALL, IN ‘THE CHERRY ORCHARD’ (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Chekhov, of course, has become a modern-day staple of the repertoire, but what sins have recently been committed in his name! I am one of the very few who was not bowled over by the recent Ian Rickson Broadway production of  THE SEAGULL, with another woefully ham-handed adaptation by that ever-employed hack, Christopher Hampton. Kristen Scott Thomas, who has given me so much onscreen pleasure, was an over-the-top, sheer annoyance as Arkadina, solely playing the surface text for a histrionically stage-hogging grande dame effect, and totally devoid of any alluring womanliness or heart. (Maggie Smith made the same mistake when she did PRIVATE LIVES,  a part one would have thought perfect for her, in 1971.) Mackenzie Crook was wholly unappealing as her tortured son, Konstantin, and looked strangely older than her lover, Trigorin. In that role, Peter Sarsgaard was a disaster, almost laughably lightweight, despite an ostentatious beard grown to give an illusion of weighty depth. As if to fit in with the predominantly British cast, both he and Zoe Kazan, irritatingly abrasive as Masha, wound up absurdly sounding more veddy veddy Anglo than anyone else onstage. Kazan happens to be the granddaughter of that old HUAC informer, Elia, and her father is Nicholas, himself a writer/producer/director, while Mom is Robin Swicord, who also toils in these fields. (I met her last year, when she received a Lucille Lortel nomination for 100 SAINTS YOU SHOULD KNOW. She was chatting away to the press, while I spoke to her rather ignored boyfriend, Paul Dano, a lovely, modest guy who seemed genuinely touched by my admiration for his performance in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. He more than held his own against Daniel Day Lewis’ blood-and-thunder John Huston impersonation, giving a far superior performance. La Kazan noticed this sincerely unintentional “focus-pulling” and quickly snatched him away.)

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ZOE KAZAN AND PAUL DANO (Photo by Walter McBride)

In the just-closed indefatigably unsatisfying Stephen Sondheim musical, ROAD SHOW (memorable for a single, affecting love song, “The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened”), about those flamboyant real estate honchos, the Mizner brothers, there was a casting conundrum. The role of the gay brother, Addison, was played by straight actor Alexander Gemignani, whose solid avuncularity was none too convincing. Michael Cerveris, who has evinced a real androgyny in past work, was cast as the straight brother, Wilson, and emerged as a vaccum.

I’ve enjoyed the handsome, heartily-voiced Gemignani, with his Etruscan eyes,  in character roles such as in Sondheim’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE last year, as the Beadle in Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD (2005), as John Hinckley in Sondheim’s ASSASSINS (2004), and as Stewpot in the 2004 Carnegie Hall production of SOUTH PACIFIC. But when he played Jean Valjean in LES MISERABLES (2006), at age 27, it was eminently obvious that he possessed neither the heft,  range or, possibly, life experience for the role.  A recent cabaret engagement at Birdland also indubitably proved that he is not ready for that particular performance form. Gemignani happens to be the son of musical director Paul Gemignani, Sondheim’s favorite.

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ALEXANDER GEMIGNANI AND MICHAEL CERVERIS IN ‘ROAD SHOW’ (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Do we notice a pattern here, without even mentioning Meryl Streep’s two young actress daughters, Mamie and Grace Gummer, already garnering lots of work? It’s not enough that Mama grabs all the choice middle-aged roles (and you can bet she’s down for the film version of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY): now her two girls will crowd the field for the ingenues. Then there’s Sam Waterston’s girl, Elisabeth (as dull as Dad), who played Hero to his Leonato in the Public Theater’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING in 2004. And, still very much with us, and often cast in whatever Meryl doesn’t feel like doing, is the ever-unexciting pair of Jennifer Ehle (spawn of the great Rosemary Harris) and Kate Burton (Richard’s girl).

Thank God for Martha Plimpton, daughter of actors Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton, who is not only possibly New York’s best young actress, but whose talent is a blessedly rare justification of entitled bloodline these days. After being the only real vibrant human being onstage in both A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM and THE COAST OF UTOPIA, she is now burning up the stage of the Roundabout as the ultimate tough showgirl, Gladys, in PAL JOEY.

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MARTHA PLIMPTON, GIVING THE MOST JOYOUS PERFORMANCE ON BROADWAY IN ‘PAL JOEY’ (Photo by Joan Marcus)

For certain clans, acting is truly a family business, but I think it’s pretty obvious that there are probably more more-than-adequate name-sharing cobblers, dentists or even lawyers than there are truly inspired performers, whoever their forebears may be. I’ve spent so many deadening hours in the theater, itching to make my escape, because of the mediocrity happening on the stage. New York is filled with talent, although most nights on or Off Broadway you wouldn’t know it, because talent without a name – whether it’s a movie star’s or a movie star’s kid  – often does not get the job. The call can be as simple as a producer of even an Off Off Off Broadway show thinking, “Well, she’s not the most gifted by far, but hey, her Mom is so-and-so, and we could get her to come to the opening and publicize the show that way!” And, once more, some  unknown, gifted, hard-working actor, who’s given up everything but her very soul to come to New York and pursue her dream, who assiduously goes to classes and audition, is not given an even break.

Remember, for every Martha Plimpton, Jane Fonda, Josh Brolin, or Bryce Dallas Howard (a much better actress than her Dad, Ron Howard, is a director), there’s a dozen B.D. Davis Hymans. Remember her, Bette’s ungrateful daughter, who made her debut in Mama’s WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, reading her few lines with an amateurishness rich in hilarity? Too bad she had to turn to writing.

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BETTE DAVIS GAVE HER DAUGHTER, B.D., A FILM JOB (AND THIS WEDDING), IN EXCHANGE FOR A NASTY BOOK. HOW SHARPER THAN A SERPENT’S TOOTH….

O JEREMY!

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2009 at 12:46 am

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JEREMY PIVEN WITH HIS FAVORITE DATE: MOM

(photo: Jen Lowery/Startrax)

On my train trip back to NYC from the Inaugural celebrations in D.C., I struck up a conversation with a dot.com’er whose close friend is one of the unhappy Broadway producers of SPEED-THE-PLOW, which Jeremy Piven bolted from, citing mercury issues from too much sushi ingestion. This guy assured me that Piven was full of … “mercury” and that he is very much like the grating Ari Gold character he plays on ENTOURAGE. Piven was kicking around for years (like the enduring pre- GREY’S ANATOMY Patrick Dempsey) before finally getting this successful shot at the bigtime. One wonders if it’s a basic insecurity stemming from all those years on the D-list which has engendered such behavior.

At the Golden Globes, he showed up with his perennial date, his mother, who frankly looked completely over the whole red carpet thing. Sure enough, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards a week later, he showed up stag, sans Mamelah, and had to endure reporter Giuliana Rancic’s probing personal questions. He basically said he keeps his private life private, just wanted to fully enjoy this moment alone and, when that special someone does happen for him, Rancic would be the first to know.

For a minute, I thought I was back in the ’50s with Louella Parsons interrogating Rock Hudson or Liberace, both of whom used to give the exact same responses.

MORE MAMA’S BOYS

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Liberace

 

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Rock Hudson

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Tab Hunter (with Natalie Wood)

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Van Cliburn and his mater

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Tom Cruise

It’s really all just so much

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NEED A SWEET WINTER GETAWAY?

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2009 at 12:04 am

Read about my trip to Provincetown in GAY CITY NEWS

http://www.gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=20247957&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=8

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“I’d never been there before in winter, but wanted it to be the same romantic getaway it was for Joan Crawford in her most intelligent vehicle, Otto Preminger’s “Daisy Kenyon” (1947). And it was! …”

Especially if you stay at wonderful Admiral’s Landing B&B

http://www.admiralslanding.com/

Winter Special
Stay Two Nights and the Third Night is Free — April 30th !

and eat deliciously at Fanizzi’s

http://www.fanizzisrestaurant.com/

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HUNK OF THE WEEK

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2009 at 11:35 pm

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Bad, Bad Boy Bradley Cooper

In Ken Kwapis’ supremely funny and smart HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU (opening Friday), the best American love rondelay comedy since SHAMPOO, Cooper devastatingly plays a type of guy who’ll strike responsive chords in many viewers. Ben is impossibly handsome and, well, just impossible. A golden boy in every sense of the word – especially in terms of his emotional immaturity and unavailability – he lies like hell to his wife (Jennifer Connelly) about everything from kicking cigarettes to his affair with an all-too-willing Scarlett Johanssen (who could blame him?). He’s trouble you can spot a mile away, but what an irresistibly destructive ride, with him in the driver’s seat!

 

See interview with Ken Kwapis in FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL

http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/esearch/e3i4c3f11f84ef6a0b166e52d8007748606

DIVA OF THE WEEK

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2009 at 11:21 pm

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Lois Moran (1909-90), photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1932

In the original screen version of that warhorse soap opera, STELLA DALLAS (1925), which The Film Society of Lincoln Center is screening on February 13, Moran, playing Stella’s daughter, Laurel, actually outshines Belle Bennett’s legendary but really rather overblown performance in the title role. Possessing a fine-boned Irish beauty, she is convincing in the early scenes as a 10-year-old (she was sixteen when she played this) and makes the birthday party scene – when none of her friends show up because of her raffish, overdressed Mom – really heartbreaking, much more wrenching than the way saccharine Anne Shirley did it in the 1937 King Vidor remake.

Moran had a brief Hollywood affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald, who dubbed her “the most beautiful girl in Hollywood” and based the character of starlet Rosemary Hoyt in TENDER IS THE NIGHT on her, driving wife Zelda even more than usually crazy. When she was ten her family moved to Paris where she began dancing at an early age, attracting the attention of artists like Man Ray and film director Marcel l’Herbier who cast her in LA GALERIE DES MONSTRES (1924) when she was 15. Producer Sam Goldwyn discovered her in Paris and cast her in STELLA DALLAS, when a planned ROMEO AND JULIET film did not come off.

She did not make a successful transition to talking films from silents and retired from Hollywood in 1935 when she married Clarence M. Young, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics under President Hoover.  Her lack of success in the sound era is all the more bewildering considering the fact that in 1931, she conquered Broadway by appearing the Gershwin musical OF THEE I SING, following that up with its sequel LET ‘EM EAT CAKE (1933). She made one final film in Germany, ALICE IN DEN STADTEN (1974). She was born in Pittsburgh and died in Sedona, Arizona, which is as illustrative a twentieth century life trajectory as you can get.  

For info about the STELLA DALLAS screening go to http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale/gs_stella_dallas.html

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A BEAUTIFUL FAIRY TALE: The Life of Actress Lois Moran, by Richard Buller, available on Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Fairy-Tale-Actress-Moran/dp/0879103124

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