Posted in based on a novel, based on a play, cheating, cinema, comedy, comedy-drama, committment, couples, film

Isle (sic) Seats

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.

Serendipitous

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.

Cooking

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.

Posted in acceptance, adultery, aspiration, comedy-drama, committment, couples, dalliance, dramedy, infedility, love, love story, loyalty, premieres, romance, serious comedy, The Mint Theatre

Monogamy

Is it really cheating if your spouse approves your infidelity?

Creatives    Directing Jonathan Bank     Sets Carolyn Mraz     Costumes Hunter Kaczorowski     Lights Xavier Pierce     Original Music & Sound Jane Shaw     Projections Katherine Freer     Props Joshua Yocom     Casting Stephanie Klapper, CSA     Product
Max von Essen and Elisabeth Gray in Yours Unfaithfully by Miles Malleson. Photo © Richard Termine.

Exploring the conventions of marriage and the humbug of monogamy, Miles Malleson wrote and published Yours Unfaithfully in 1933. Mint Theater Company is giving this charming and disarming comedy/drama a premiere showing through February 18th, under the direction of Jonathon Bank. For this discovery, we owe them a great thanks.

Creatives    Directing Jonathan Bank     Sets Carolyn Mraz     Costumes Hunter Kaczorowski     Lights Xavier Pierce     Original Music & Sound Jane Shaw     Projections Katherine Freer     Props Joshua Yocom     Casting Stephanie Klapper, CSA     Product
Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in Yours Unfaithfully by Miles Malleson. Photo © Richard Termine

 

 

Stephen Meredith (Max von Essen) is blissfully enjoying his wife’s beneficence. Anne (Elisabeth Gray) has given her blessing for him to “get into some mischief” with Diana Streathfield (Mikaela Izquierdo) in the hope that an affair would rejuvenate Stephen and end his writer’s block.

Neither she nor Stephen imagine any other consequence. They are acting on their convictions that a strong marriage can withstand other and lesser alliances, just as Stephen’s father, the Rev. Meredith (Stephen Schnetzer) acts on his principles when he is shocked to learn of Stephen and Diana’s dalliance. Anne’s confidant and the Merediths’ friend, Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris) preaches the counterbalance of the head to the heart.

The brilliantly deft production of Yours Unfaithfully is a welcome addition to the Mint archive. As is customary in a Mint production, sets and costumes have a panache as well. The scenic (by Carolyn Mraz) and costume (by Hunter Kaczorowski) design are admirable. The top-notch ensemble brings Malleson’s smart vision to life with an easy flair. It’s a tribute to all involved that one can’t peg Yours Unfaithfully as  drama, or drawing-room comedy; it transcends labels and stands on its own.

For more information and tickets, please visit the Mint website.

 

Posted in comedy, couples, Dan LeFranc, new work, Playwrights Horizons

A quiet California suburb

You probably count amongst your acquaintances someone who always over-reacts.

At Rancho Viejo, Dan LeFranc’s Southern California community, it’s Pete (the flawless Mark Blum) who fills the role.

Rancho Viejo, playing at Playwrights Horizons through December 23rd, has a feel like home, but an uneasy home.

Pete is not very imaginative, but he latches onto even the flimsiest of theories that others espouse and runs with them.

His wife, Mary (impeccably played by Mare Winningham) puzzles over his existential questions and keeps a stiff upper-lip.

Have you heard about Ritchie and Lana?

Pete and Mary are clearly misfits at Rancho Viejo, over-eager to fit in with their cooler, hipper neighbors.

These neighbors tirelessly invite them to parties, at which they remain outsiders. Pete attempts to engage, taking their travails very personally. Mary is looking for a close friendship with shared interests. Hers are the art-fair, and she repeatedly asks everyone to join her.

Neighborly

After 2 full acts in which a generic house (in an expansive design by Dane Laffrey) doubles and triples as Mary and Pete’s livingroom, then Jack and Kelly’s, then Leon (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) and Suzanne’s (Lusia Strus) and Patti  (Julia Duffy) and Gary’s (Mark Zeisler). the scene changes. We are in the eerie outdoors as Peter wanders the hills and the beach searching for Mochi (Marti.)

Pete’s quest is heroic; like a knight of yore, he seeks to save his neighbors’ dog (more on Marti in the coda to this review.) Along the way he encounters the mysterious “Taters” (“long for Tate,” (Ethan Dubin)) a kid with an old and spooky soul, Pete had met at one of the many neighborhood gatherings. (Lighting designer, Matt Frey meets the challenge of our not being kept in the dark as Pete and Tate ramble about the darkened stage.)

Anita (Ruth Aguilar) and Mike (Bill Buell), who translates her rapid-fire Spanish stories and jokes for the group, also hang out with the gang. Anita’s tales entertain even if they
are incomprehensible to the non-native speaker, while Mike’s translations into Spanish seem only marginally more fluent than Gary’s faux Spanish.

Reality and its discontents

Dan LeFranc has created a comedy of modern manners, and alienations, in a place filled with average folk, folks like us, perhaps. Director Daniel Aukin has found the best tempo for the inhabitants of Rancho Viejo to interact, and share their moments.

In an ensemble that works the hyper-realism of the play to splendid effect, Julia Duffy’s arch Patti and Mark Zeisler’s flirty Gary are outstanding. As everyone in this little group of friends looks to be the center of attention and glory,  Lusia Strus’ Suzanne makes a wonderful drama queen.

Let’s go by the Burt Beck rule: If you feel as if you are living their lives, the play has succeeded at suspending disbelief and you have been pulled into its reality.

For information about the Playwrights Horizons season and tickets to upcoming productions as well as for Rancho Viejo, please visit their home site.

I promised you a coda

I am often star-struck, no so much by movie star encounters but most often when I meet stage performers. It was thus a rare privilege to run into Marti getting a between performances walk after the matinee curtain for Rancho Viejo. He is a professional, of course, but also a  friendly dog and as lively off-stage as on, and very gracious to his fans.

The day we went was also the annual Santa Bar Crawl, so seeing all the young men dressed in their red nightware with Santa hats atop their heads was also a bit surreal. One young woman was talking on the way out of the theater about having spotted a flock of skinny Santas on a neighboring roof that morning before she left for Playwrights Horizons. As I said, strange doings in our very own real world.

 

 

Posted in black child, couples, Crystal A. Dickinson, Eisa Davis, Kelly AuCoin, Kerry Butler, lesbian marrieds, parenthood, Tanya Barfield, white parents

Waiting for "The Call"

Kelly AuCoin, as Peter, Kerry Butler as Annie with Eisa Davis as Rebecca and Crystal A. Dickinson as Drea in  Tanya Barfield’s “The Call” at Playwrights Horizons. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Couples desperate to be parents often use hope and sometimes each other in their efforts to conceive.

In Tanya Barfield’s new drama, “The Call,” in a joint Playwrights Horizons and Primary Stages production at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater extended to May 26th, the struggle to adopt just prolongs the agonies of a young married pair.

Annie (Kerry Butler) and Peter (Kelly AuCoin) suffer mightily for the want of a child. One can see the yearning in Peter’s eyes as they assemble a crib in their spare room.

Kerry Butler as Annie, Kelly AuCoin as Peter, Russell G. Jones as Alemu, Crystal A. Dickinson as Drea and Eisa Davis as Rebecca in Tanya Barfield’s “The Call.” Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Over dinner with a couple, Drea (Crystal A. Dickinson) and Rebecca (Eisa Davis) who have just returned from Africa where they got married, share their expectations of a private adoption. When the birth mother backs out, Peter and Annie are unmoored. Peter presses Annie into seeking help from an agency. The fact that the child they hope to parent will come from Africa stirs up concerns from them and their friends and a neighbor.

Kelly AuCoin as Peter with Eisa Davis as Rebecca, Crystal A. Dickinson (standing) as Drea and Kerry Butler as Annie in “The Call.”  Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

“The Call,” directed by Leigh Silverman moves a bit slowly through the first act, but is grippingly transcendent in the second. The actors acquit themselves splendidly, with Russell G. Jones, as Alemu, an odd African neighbor of Peter and Annie’s, adding a poignant humor to the story. Crystal A. Dickinson stands out in the fine ensemble as Drea, the truth-talking girlfriend of Peter and Annie’s old friend Rebecca.

At its heart, “The Call” is a parlor drama, exploring relationships, race and responsibility in a well-written, intelligent play that is also thought-provoking and  likeable.

For more information on the joint production of “The Call,” visit www.PlaywrightsHorizons.org and www.PrimaryStages.org.

Posted in couples, friendship, three-hander, threesome

Seeing the future in "In The Summer Pavilion"

Photo by Gerry Goodstein: Ryan Barry in Paul David Young’s “In The Summer Pavilion” at 59E59 Theaters.


The future lies before you like a summer sky when you’re fresh out of college. There are endless possibilities for you and your closest friends.

In “In The Summer Pavilion,” at 59E59 Theaters through November 3rd, those endless possibilities play out as alternate realities. 

Photo by Gerry Goodstein: Meena Dimian and Rachel Mewbron in Paul David Young’s “In The Summer Pavilion.”

Ben (Ryan Barry), Clarissa (Rachel Mewbron) and Nabile (Meena Dimian), friends just graduated from Princeton, come together like a sexy stew as “In The Summer Pavilion” begins their journey.

“Mr. Premonition here thinks he can see the future,” Nabile says. Ben is wary. “You two, you’re dangerous,” he tells them.  Nabile answers him a little cryptically, “Take off your mask of sorrow and let the comedy play.”  

Barry Ryan as Ben, Rachel Mewbron as Clarissa, and Meena Dimian as Nabile in “In The Summer Pavilion.” Photo by  Gerry Goodstein.

In each scenario, Ben, Clarissa and Nabile pair off differently, as the play unfolds going forward seven years. There is a promise, unkept, of secrets being revealed. “A night full of adventure. Doors opening. Desires fulfilled. Secrets revealed,” Nabile says. Alas, they are not, but several likely outcomes are. “Do you sometimes have the feeling that we’ve been here before?”  

Paul David Young’s play is rich in imagery; it teases with snippets of poetic philosophizing, and offers a satisfying amount of adventure.     

“No, be a jerk. Say the uncomfortable thing. I’m ready for it now.” Ben says. “I am young/ Unripened hope.”

“In The Summer Pavilion” is an intriguing work. The acting under Kathy Gail MacGowan’s direction is charming and natural. Everything– sexuality, career paths, partners– is up for grabs. All of it is an a wild ride. We should probably take Nabile’ s advice and get out the Ouija board.

Bonus points for having the playwright, Paul David Young, in the audience. Young adapted  and 
directed his screenplay for  “In The Summer Pavilion,” which is due to be released in 2013.

For more information about  “In The Summer Pavilion,” visit  www.59e59.org.

Posted in couples, dark comedy drama, David Schwimmer, Detroit, funny-sad, John Cullum, Lisa D'Amour, neighbors

Just Being Neighborly in "Detroit"

Neighbors used to be more than just the folks who live next door. They were the people with whom we shared a community, a way of life, a neighborhood.

As Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit,” at Playwrights Horizons through October 28th, begins, the welcome mat is extended in that old-fashioned neighborly way.

John Cullum in “Detroit” in a photo by Jeremy Daniel. 

Ben (David Schwimmer) and Mary (Amy Ryan) invite the young couple who’ve moved in next door for a barbeque. Thanks to the friendship they develop with Ken (Darren Pettie) and Sharon (Sarah Sokolovic), their lives seem a little less lonely. Suburbia is an isolating environment, and the one we visit in “Detroit,” thanks to the inspired set designs by Louisa Thompson, is nearly desolate.

Sarah Sokolovic, Darren Pettie, Amy Ryan  & David Schwimmer in a scene from “Detroit.” Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Ken and Sharon are open about their lives and their addictions.  Ben, recently laid off, is building a website for the business he wants to start. Sharon works in a call center. The couples engage with each other, sharing their life stories as neighbors do, over the next several months.

But there is a dark side to each of them. Darren Pettie is especially creepy showing off his while Amy Ryan’s Mary is so fragile that she can barely open the sliding door to the porch.  John Cullum’s Frank comes in like a “deus ex machina” to tie up the loose ends for us, but by then, the damage has been done.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel.  Darren Pettie, Amy Ryan, David Schwimmer & Sarah Sokolovic.

The writing in “Detroit” is natural. The acting is uniformly excellent. Bring some chips, and join the party.

For more information about “Detroit,” visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/now_playing.html.