Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Tumult! The Incredible Life and Music of Tina Turner

“Physical strength in a woman, that’s what I am. If you’re unhappy with anything, get rid of it. When you’re free, your true creativity and true self comes out.”  – Tina Turner, in I Tina, 1986
Here are three things about the notorious and incredibly creepy Ike Turner, and three reasons why he is still important even after living a long life of self-destructive disgrace through drug abuse and domestic violence. One, he recorded an incredibly raucous song, “Rocket 88,” in 1951, long before there was something even remotely identifiable as rock 'n' roll.  His indefinable and prehistoric vibe preceded not only Bill Haley and The Comets but also Chuck Berry and Little Richard, the recognized black co-creators of rock music.  He also long predated Elvis Presley, the white genius who borrowed all their vibes and led us directly into the waiting arms of The Beatles. Ike heard the future coming. And he flagged it down to jump on board.

Two, he was of course a tormented talent on a huge scale himself: musician, bandleader, arranger, songwriter, talent scout and record producer of considerable skill, especially as the commanding leader of The Kings of Rhythm, until meeting a certain young tornado from Tennessee and forming his famed co-named revue. Most notable among his early accomplishments was working with the equally notorious Phil Spector in 1965 to create the masterfully booming “River Deep, Mountain High.”

But we could surmise that it is indeed number three that makes us still utter his name at all today: he invented Tina Turner. While watching his band play one night, the diminutive Anna Mae Bullock approached the stage during an intermission and audaciously asked to sing with them. Then in 1960, Ike used Anna Mae, whom he had re-christened Tina (weirdly named after Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, a character he admired), and her throaty voice for his tune “A Fool in Love,” which launched their careers together.

Monday, July 29, 2019

New Plays: Tell Me I’m Not Crazy and The Hunt

Mark Blum and Jane Kaczmarek in Tell Me I’m Not Crazy. (Photo: Joseph J. O'Malley)

The four characters in Sharyn Rothstein’s new play Tell Me I’m Not Crazy, playing at the Nikos Stage in Williamstown, represent two shaky marriages and two generations of a contemporary Jewish-American family. Sol (Mark Blum) is at loose ends after coming to the end of a career in human resources. His wife Diana (Jane Kaczmarek), an elementary-school teacher, hoped that Sol’s retirement would allow them to spend the kind of quality time together that his job has prevented but is dismayed to discover that they’re more distant than ever – and that their sex life has dwindled to nothing. Their son Nate (Mark Feuerstein), having failed to find his niche in the photography world, has been playing the role of caregiver for his two young children while his wife Alisa (Nicole Villamil) pursues a career in advertising that demands more and more time away from the family. When their three-year-old’s behavioral problems at daycare prompt immediate action, it’s Nate who has to carry the ball. Both marriages threaten to implode when Sol, distressed over some recent home invasions in their nice middle-class neighborhood, purchases a gun. Alisa and Nate stop bringing their kids over to his folks’, Diana throws Sol out of the house, and rather than back-pedal on his vow to take extreme steps to keep his family safe, Sol exacerbates the problem by joining a neighborhood vigilante group.

Rothstein has a talent for funny one-liners, and for the first half-hour or so (the play runs an hour and forty minutes without intermission) you think she’s onto something: a satirical comedy about couples trying to negotiate gender roles in the twenty-first century – as well as racial realities, since Alisa is Hispanic and Sol’s anger and paranoia about the danger to his suburb provokes him to assume that the perpetrators must be illegal immigrants. Rothstein keeps piling on more and more issues and revelations, and the only way the play could possibly support all of them is in the form of a nutty absurdist comedy that keeps threatening to go off the rails, like the ones Christopher Durang is famous for. Instead it gets more and more serious and you stop believing in it at all. I think that happens as soon as Sol comes clean about joining the neighborhood enforcers, a totally implausible development for this character except in an absurdist work. The play is a mess. The dramaturgy falls apart completely in a series of second-act scenes where each of the characters makes an announcement that, we find out five minutes later, is actually a lie. It feels as though Rothstein is making it all up as she goes along.