There is a type of comedy in which the hero (or heroine) allows a sketchy friend to help him/her make a sketchy choice.
Poor judgement is funny, or at least leads to comic situations. Jason Bateman’s character in Extract, for instance, is lead down this path by Ben Affleck’s Dean, a dodgy fellow if ever there was one. And one guaranteed to make the worst suggestion in any circumstance.
This comic trope lets the main character remain heroic and redeemable. On other occasions, often the funny is in the delusional justifications for bad behavior.
Wrong decisions coupled with an indignant sense of righteousness (as Danny McBride exhibits in Arizona, for example) become hiliarious.
Complications arise from the initial missteps, and are compounded as the errors compound. The set-up builds to additional troubles in an onslaught of the outtrageous.
T and B sit in aisle seats at our “in-house theater” where movies are the entertainment.
Here on our little island home, we let Showtime® or Movies!® or TMC® (among others) regale us with cinema past present and future.
A little tremor passed through me when I picked up the December 3rd issue of The New Yorker to find a reprint of a Nora Ephron piece from 2006. The shudder was the thrill of serendipity.
I had just seen Heartburn and here she was chatting about cooking and food. In the article, Serial Monogamy, she acknowledges that the roman à clef upon which the film is based is a thinly disguised version of her second marriage. The ups and downs and downs of this union are played out by Meryl Streep as Rachel Samstat and Jack Nicholson as her not so faithful husband, Mark Forman.
I never take serendipity lightly or for granted but frequently have no idea what to do with it. This is such a case, a reinforcement as it were of its very randomness.
Ephron’s story stirred another chord of memory for me. My mother had been working on a Meditterean cookbook for some time. Her manuscript sits in my closet and I wonder if I should try some of her recipes.
I wonder, but mostly I feel guilty because I know I won’t make any attempt to replicate her best-loved dishes. Then, perhaps, I should just acknowledge that I am too random a cook to follow anyone’s directions. And that I am better off not messing with her signature.
Leaving a bad taste
There are few scenes of cooking in a Woody Allen feature, notably the hilarious lobster bruhaha in Annie Hall and the feasts whipped up by the title character (portrayed by Mia Farrow) in Hannah and Her Sisters. Allen is a frequent guest in our home–not in person, of course, although I did run into him in the neighborhood once. We generally find his movies interesting, thought-provoking, and brilliant. We have admired his genius.
Unfortunately, Allen has had a substantial helping of problems of late, landing in the fire for alleged sexual misconduct of a heinous variety. His films are suggestive of a guilty verdict.
For instance, I found Play It Again, Sam funny, brilliant and moving upon a recent re-viewing. Then we came to a truly objectionable scene in which Allen and Diane Keaton appear to exalt the virtues of rape. Is there a point, beyond being outrageous to this? How does Keaton react to the impropriety of the script, I wonder?
In Manhattan, Allen’s man-child character is dating an underage, if extremely mature Mariel Hemingway. This has always made me cringe and turned me off this film, despite its many lovely images of the city, and some very smart dialogue.
Hot Water Indeed
Then there’s Hannah and Her Sisters, a wonderful study of love and relationships in their many permutations, marred by the introduction of pedophilia. It’s brought in as a small bit in which Allen’s Mickey, a comedy writer and show runner, is battling his network–and his assistant, played by Julie Kavner–over including a segment in which this taboo is prominent.
Really? The presence of this in this iconic movie has fuelled and given credence to the allegations against Woody Allen.
We are left with a few pictures we can whole-heartedly endorse in the backlist of Allen’s output. Broadway Danny Rose may be his most romantic venture of the earlier works.
It is a critical no-no for a critic to confuse the art with the artist, of course, but the crisis challenging Allen fans looms large. His early oevre seems to feed into the #MeToo-related issues that plague him. Thankfully, the more recent films are here for us to reaffirm his intense dedication to the art of the cinema and his astonishing talent.
Don’t disparage the chance to watch theater or hear music while enjoying a meal. It has the old time charm of the big band era. Thinking of dining while being entertained reminds me of ball gowns and tuxedos– in short it simply sounds elegant. Even the vulgar were properly attired in those days.
In our loosey goosey environs, the chances are that you are decked out in an elegant pair of shorts with a tucked in shirt. You order a burger, rather than prime rib, and beer rather than bubbly.
The show, too, may be less burlesque, drama, lounge act and cabaret than it might be one of those guess- who-dunnits from the murder mystery circuit. Don’t get me wrong, there is room for an amusing evening in which we wonder which of our neighbors stuck a knife in a sidekick’s back while we ate our fries! It just is not as highbrow or as uplifting as theater can sometimes be. The dramatics and dramatization may be broader than on Broadway, too.
As for the dress code for the audience, well, I haven’t worn a gown to a show in a long time, if ever. I look to the costume designer to dress the actors in an inspirational way. I can aspire to high-falutin’, ya know.
Comedy is not a continuum. It is a universe onto itself; that is each comedy is unique. Buster Keaton, for instance, created a character, a type, who functioned according to his own rules. Charlie Chaplin did much the same with his sad little tramp.
At home at the cineplex
I am not a movie-goer, per se, but a movie-stayer. Put it on my tv screen and I will gladly watch. Laurel Canyon, Urban Cowboy, a few minutes of Life, all get my attention. Hidden Figures, A League of Their Own, and The Help grab my heart.
However, it is comedies that keep me most engaged. In fact, what hubby and I love best is a smart and funny film. That’s not to exclude the stupid ones, which we consume in considerable quantities as well; you know movies like Animal House or even Dude, Where’s My Car? The low-brow, like Bad Moms, can be very high on wisdom. Comedy is an escape.
How far can escapism go with comedians like Woody Allen, or Noah Baumbach, or the Coens as your guide? Mel Brooks, a smart and funny movie-maker, can take you further down the silly than these other guys.
There are some parallels we can make between Woody Allen and the Coen Brothers, like the films A Serious Man and Irrational Man, which may have more in common in than just the similarily in title. There is a tone in both films that connects their styles and content, even if the plot lines are independent of each other.
Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale tends to have more of a feel of dark whimsy, like a Wes Anderson production. It is not laugh-out-loud funny like Annie Hall or Broadway Danny Rose. It has none of the robust ridiculousness of High Anxiety, for instance, although it is definitely a tremblingly anxious work.
As always, and as our standard preface for these listings, there’s a lot to do and see. New York City theater can keep a body very busy.
Listings for October-November and maybe even December 2017
How time flies? Is it almost the end of this year? Could Halloween be just a week away?
Women’s Project gave this a go in 2016, and it is being reprised at the Westside Theatre.
The cast in Stuffed, playing through February 18th, has changed, except for creator and star, Lisa Lampanelli, and under the same director, Jackson Gray, but it is still a very relateable comedy. You or someone you know has been on and off the diet wagon for a long time. Everyone of us has a relationship to food– love it or loathe it. Can this lead to funny circumstances? With Lisa Lampanelli giving voice to the issues, you bet it can.
Meanwhile, currently at Women’s Project Theatre, What We’re Up Against, a new dark comedy by Theresa Rebeck, playing from October 28th to November 26th, is directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, and features Skylar Astin, Marg Helgenberger, Jim Parrack, Krysta Rodriguez, and Damian Young.
John Patrick Shanley writes wry comedies based in realism with surreal twists. Examples include Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, as well as Moonstruck, in which Cosmo’s moon overwhelmes the landscape and Cher’s Loretta tells Nicolas Cage’s Ronny Cammareri
that he’s a wolf who chewed off his own hand. His latest, The Portuguese Kid, at MTC at City Center Stage I through December 3rd, stars Jason Alexander as a lawyer beleaguered by family and clients.
Listings are only represent some of the presentations on NYC stages
Matthew Bourne has a new ballet, his first in many years, which is spending five days on the City Center mainstage, from October 26th through November 5th. There’s a rotating cast for The Red Shoes, and a suggestion that children over the age of 8 would enjoy it.
Speaking of the kiddies, take them to Symphony Space on the weekend with Just Kidding, a series of programs dedicated to events for children. This weekend, there is a Halloween fun day planned for Saturday, October 28th at 11am with Joanie Leeds who will lead the musical costume party. Check out the full schedule at the Just Kidding website.
On Saturday, November 4th, the Symphony Space program offers a new way to teach your little ones new languages. Future Hits, a Chicago rock group, brings their irrestible mix of song with learning to the Just Kidding series. One show only at 11a.m.
Zoe Kazan, actress, playwright, has written a new dystopian play, After the Blast, which is at LCT3 in the Claire Tow Theater through November 19th.
Tired of the dystopian world view? Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, about a girls’ soccer squad, is coming to L.C.’s Newhouse Theater beginning November 1st. The team are highly competitive but there is no end-world scenario here. The Wolves had its well-received premiere with Playwrights Realm last year.
John Leguizamo gives us lessons in Latin History for Morons, another Broadway transfer from the Public, to Studio 54 through February 4, 2018. (You may recall that Hamilton went this route….) Leguizamo was inspired by the ignorance of Latino history in his son’s school to create this primer. More information on Latin History for Morons can be found at its official webpage.
This is not what might be described as a utopian moment in history. The arts, including theater, of course, have found the need to protest the political climate. Sometimes, their response has been by providing us with dystopian visions of a world gone awry. 1984, for example, is one such production. The recently closed revival of Fucking A by Suzan-Lori Parks is another.
Arden/Everywhere, at the Baruch Performing Arts Center from October 8th to 28th, based on Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, takes aim at the dangers that face a democracy. Jessica Baumann and her creative team see their work as a “reframing” of the original text. Their story purports to be about exile and banishment and does not want to center on the romance in this pastoral comedy.
In fact, the text for Arden/Everywhere is Shakespeare’s, embellished by references to immigrants and the plight of refugees. To that end, in its opening sequence, every greeting is a parting, and every hug and handshake bodes a separation.
The likeable cast present Shakespeare’s words with great authority and make the plot both clear and easy to follow. The principals, Rosalind (a very charming Helen Cespedes), Orlando (Anthony Cason, Jr.), Oliver (Kambi Gathesha) and Celia (Liba Vayneberg) are outstanding.