Friday, April 26, 2019

Dialectics False and True: Captive State and A. I. Rising

John Goodman and Ashton Sanders in Captive State (2019).

Look, some films are just garbage; that’s just a fact. But sometimes when you go dumpster diving you find something that, when looked at from just the right angle, isn’t so much garbage after all.

Captive State (2019) is ambitious and has no lack of “the vision thing.” Writers Rupert Wyatt (who directed) and Erica Beeney attempt to portray a Chicago succumbed to alien colonization by telling the story of Gabriel (Ashton Sanders) and the morally murky father figure he doesn’t want at all, collaborationist Detective William Mulligan (John Goodman), embedding them within a larger plot about an insurgent cell bent on hitting the aliens where it hurts. But – here’s the thing – the audience identification is whipped around from Gabriel, who’s the actual non-collaborationist here, to Mulligan, who’s the hinge of both plots, and back, once Mulligan starts to shake down Gabriel’s apartment building to look for him.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Sound and Fury: King Lear

Jayne Houdyshell and Glenda Jackson in King Lear. (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Of the thirteen or fourteen professional productions of King Lear I’ve sat through, the current Broadway revival, directed by Sam Gold and starring Glenda Jackson, repeating her London comeback performance in the title role, is the worst. It grinds on for a grueling three hours and thirty minutes without, as far as I could tell, any concept to unify it. Gold has given it a contemporary setting. The handsome set (by the gifted British designer Miriam Buether, whose recent credits include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Jungle and Three Tall Women) is black and gold, with a long banquet table midway up the stage that is meant to evoke the regal elegance of the various castles – Lear’s, Albany’s, Gloucester’s – where much of the play takes place, especially in the first half. Much of the time the actors, including those who are not called on for the scene at hand, sit at the table or, more often, on chairs around the periphery of the stage; this is certainly the most static Lear of my theatergoing experience. Gold hasn’t shown much talent for staging in the past, and with twenty actors on the stage he’s truly at sea. He lets them meander or shoves them into corners of the stage; in the opening scene, where almost everyone in the ensemble gathers to witness Lear’s division of his kingdom among his three daughters, the presence of a signer (Michael Arden) cues us that one of the actors is deaf but because he has almost no lines in the scene and he’s been placed in the middle of a clump of actors, I couldn’t tell which one until several scenes later. (It turns out to be Russell Harvard, playing the Duke of Cornwall.) When Lear wanders out into the storm, an abstract gold backdrop flies in. Since there are exterior scenes in the latter half of the play, after the backdrop has flown back out again, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for the shift beyond framing the heath and hovel scenes – and since, confusingly, this section of the play includes one exchange that takes place inside Gloucester’s castle, even that idea isn’t followed through.