Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Lighter Company at Barrington Stage

Aaron Tveit (right) and the cast of Company at Barrington Stage. (Photo: Daniel Rader)

To say that a production of a Stephen Sondheim musical treats the material like sketch comedy would normally constitute an insult towards that production and its creative team. However, in the case of Barrington Stage’s version of Company (1970), which stars Aaron Tveit as the only single man among his group of married couples, it’s a savvy move that undercuts the over-the-top reverence that threatens to turn this flawed but often enjoyable show into an unbearable slog. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Neglected Gem #105: Made for Each Other (1971)

Joseph Bologna, Renée Taylor, and Paul Sorvino in Made for Each Other (1971).

THEDA: Read Melanie Klein. They say Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis . . . Well, Melanie Klein is the mother.
VITO: And who are you, the cousin?
– Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna, It Had to Be You (1981).
When Joseph Bologna died this week at the age of eighty-two, the obit writers quite reasonably showcased his uproarious performance as King Kaiser, the TV comedy star modeled on Sid Caesar in the 1982 movie My Favorite Year. But though Bologna was a prolific character actor with a long string of credits, much of his energy went toward the writing he did with his wife Renée Taylor for the theatre, movies and TV, beginning with the comedy Lovers and Other Strangers in 1968. That play, a series of sketches on the relationships between women and men, was reconceived as a movie two years later. In the film, the central event around which the action coheres is the wedding of a young couple (Bonnie Bedelia and Michael Brandon) who have, unbeknownst to their traditionalist parents, been living together for more than a year but are now experiencing eleventh-hour trepidation about tying the knot. It’s an entertaining picture with a remarkable cast – Gig Young, Bob Dishy, Richard Castellano, Bea Arthur, Anne Meara, Diane Keaton, Harry Guardino, Cloris Leachman, Marion Hailey and Joseph Hindy play the other characters – and it was the only script Bologna and Taylor produced that garnered much attention. Made for Each Other, about the Loony Tunes courtship of a pair of chronic losers and misfits, which they wrote and starred in the following year, didn’t make it onto many people’s radar in 1971 and it’s been forgotten, but I think it’s amazing – one of the few great comedies of its era. (You can view it complete on YouTube.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Nuclear Waste: Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde.

David Leitch is uncredited as co-director of John Wick, when in fact both he and Chad Stahelski helmed the film. Leitch, a career stunt man with an extremely impressive resume (name an action blockbuster between 1998 and now; he was probably involved), was content to offer his action expertise on the Keanu Reeves sleeper hit while Stahelski – himself a stunt man-cum-filmmaker – handled most of the, you know, filmmaking. Now that I’ve seen Atomic Blonde, which Leitch directed by himself, it’s clear which half of that cinematic partnership provided the storytelling skill that made John Wick such a quality film. Hint: it was the other guy. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Purveyor of Thresholds: Why Scott Walker Is God

"See the man with the stage fright
Just standin' up there to give it all his might.
And he got caught in the spotlight,
But when we get to the end
He wants to start all over again."
                                  – from "Stage Fright" by Robbie Robertson
Author Barney Hoskyns has rightly observed that though The Band’s leader Robbie Robertson wrote this 1970 song ostensibly about Bob Dylan, who had stopped touring live in the late '60s, it could also have been about the shy Robertson himself, who had experienced stage fright the year before during The Band’s first live concert. Naturally it could also be about any emblematic singer who has experienced what Levon Helm called “the terror of performing” or any person who, as William Ruhlmann once put it, has discovered “the pitfalls of fortune and fame.” And as the song itself declared so openly, “Since that day he ain’t been the same,” largely as a result of the personal price he had to pay for being able to “sing like a bird.”

But given the year, 1970, and given Scott Walker’s own notoriously famous stage fright (which was known to be almost paralyzing), I’ve always felt that the song especially captured some the core dilemma eating away at Walker himself. Like Dylan, who rejected both the trappings and the demands of celebrity after flying too high and too fast in the '60s, not to mention mangling his motorcycle, Walker also withdrew from the public eye after his own Icarus-like trauma: the discouragement he felt after his first four post-Walker Brothers solo records failed to meet his own exacting (and probably unattainable) expectations.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Filmmaker Morley Markson (1988)

Former Black Panther Donald Cox in Morley Markson's Growing Up in America (1988).

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to artists from all fields. In 1988, one of those people was Canadian documentary filmmaker Morley Markson.

In 1971, Markson made Breathing Together: Revolution of the Electric Family, a documentary which interviewed prominent counterculture figures and social activists from the '60s, including Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, William Kunstler, and Donald Cox. When I sat down with Markson in 1988, his follow-up film Growing Up in America had just been released.

In Growing Up in America, Markson returns 18 years later to many of those featured in his original film and reflects with them on their impact and the current state of politics and culture in the United States. Considering the dark events of the past few days, it seems timely today to reflect on the larger sweep of American history, through the eyes of some of its most vocal and idealistic figures.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Morley Markson as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1988.


Monday, August 14, 2017

More New Plays at Williamstown: Actually and A Legendary Romance

Joshua Boone and Alexandra Socha in Actually. (Photo: Daniel Rader)

Both these reviews contain spoilers.

The characters in Anna Ziegler’s two-hander Actually on the Nikos Stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival are Princeton first-year students who hook up in the first weeks of the fall semester and wind up sleeping together when both are considerably under the influence. Amber (Alexandra Socha) is a white Jewish girl who has never thought of herself as especially pretty or been especially popular; her high school experimentation with sex was mostly an attempt to avoid the embarrassment of getting to the end of senior year with her virginity intact, and the boy who initiated her, her best friend’s brother, was aggressive and insensitive. Tom (Joshua Boone) is African American, charming and sexually experienced, and hides his own insecurities under a façade of cockiness. When he shows some interest in Amber, she can’t believe her good fortune, and Tom, always eager for sex but not seeking a relationship, is surprised at the tender feelings she generates in him. But when they go to bed her finely tuned radar picks up something off in his behavior, and she finds the sex too rough. What happens then is unclear since their recollections are different. But after the fact she tells her friends that he “practically raped her” and they encourage her to lodge a complaint. Both students end up in front of a faculty board on sexual misconduct. Actually is mostly a set of intercut monologues in which each of the characters presents a self-portrait while narrating the story of their interaction; only in the opening minutes of the play and in the final scene do they talk to each other, aside from a heated moment in their relaying of the events of the night in question, when they quarrel over exactly what happened.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dance of the Dispossessed: Bangarra Dance Theatre's Bennelong

Bangarra Dance Theatre performing Bennelong. (Photo: Vishal Pandey)

Even non-Australians are familiar with Bennelong Point, a former tidal island in New South Wales that since the early 1970s has served as the home of the Sydney Opera House. Architect Jørn Utzon's sculptural design, inspired by a segmented orange but looking more like the white sails of the convict ships that first landed at this very location in 1788, has made Bennelong Point internationally famous as a World Heritage Site. More than eight million international tourists visit the promontory each year, participating in a sort of pilgrimage of high Western culture.

The building is so strikingly innovative that few notice the layers of history lying underfoot in the surrounding stones. Bennelong Point is so named because this is where once stood the brick hut occupied by an Aboriginal man born of the Eora clan in 1764. It had been built for him by the British, who founded a penal colony on his ancestral lands. His name was Woollarawarre Bennelong and, more than 200 years since his death in 1813 in the nearby suburb of Putney, he has returned to the place that bears his name to retell his story.

Directly assisting in his resurrection is Stephen Page, artistic director and chief choreographer of Sydney's Bangarra Dance Theatre, the critically acclaimed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander company which has been seamlessly blending indigenous storytelling traditions with modern dance technique and contemporary movement styles for the past 28 years. Bennelong is Page's latest creation and it dynamically recounts the life story of the first indigenous Australian to forge an alliance with the Europeans.