The Unbearable Banishment: :15 second reviews

Friday, November 11, 2011

:15 second reviews

I can't put these off any longer. I'll try be as succinct as possible but you know how I can get.

* * *

I've seen a few of Theresa Rebeck's plays and her new comedy, Seminar, is clearly her best work. There is no thinness to the characters (which was an problem with Mauritius). Rock solid performances from everyone. That damn Alan Rickman knows how to chew up a stage. In the good way. He plays a writer of faded glory who gives private lessons to aspiring authors. He's not a gentle instructor. Here's his teaching philosophy in a nutshell on a poster outside the theater:

Isn't that a great line? The play is loaded with them.

As my pal CB said afterwards, Rickman could read the phone directory in a compelling manner. There are no weak links in the supporting cast. Lily Rabe, who I saw go toe-to-toe with Al Pacino last season in Merchant of Venice, stands her ground in front of another seasoned veteran. Great direction and pacing. Can't wait for the reviews. I'm CERTAIN the critics will agree with me [this time].

* * *
What the hell was I doing at this show? I'm not a fan of Big! Broadway! Musicals! They're too damn cheery. I am NOT the target audience for this sort of thing. Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway is a one-man singing and dancing extravaganza. ( man with a full 18-piece orchestra and six hot, hot back-up singers who have angelic voices and look to have been poured into their little black dresses.

The pre-opening hype has been fierce. The understanding around town is that the run is completely sold out and is, therefore, critic-proof. A sweet spot to be in! I was walking past the Times Square half-price ticket booth on my way home from work and, astonishingly, discount tickets were available. I got caught up in the groundswell of hype and decided to go. The lady in the ticket booth told me Jackman insisted that blocks of tickets be made available at a discount to make it affordable to a wider audience. Nice guy!

It's as good as they say it is. I'm sure the critics are going to fall all over themselves with praise. But I probably would have enjoyed it more if I were a fan of musicals. Did I need to hear Oh, What a Beautiful Morning or songs from Carousel and The Music Man? Not so much. He played clips from his movies and made very funny self-effacing comments about them. He juxtaposed still photos of big, tough, Wolverine with big, gay, Peter Allen, who he played on Broadway a few years ago. A helluva good dancer. He worked his ass off to please the crowd and isn't that where the rubber meets the road?

* * *

How's this for a pedigree: Three one-acts written by Ethan Cohen, Woody Alan and Elaine May. A large cast of seasoned professionals including Julie Kavner, Marlo Thomas and Steven Guttenberg. How can it go wrong?

When it opened a few weeks ago, it received lukewarm reviews. Once again, the critics got it wrong. Lukewarm is being kind. It was one of the worst things I've seen in quite some time. If it were one play, I would have walked out at intermission but because it was three separate pieces, I hung in there hoping the next one would be better. The Woody Alan piece was so filled with negative Jewish stereotypes that if a Gentile had written it, Mossad would assassinate them. The Cohen play unraveled at the end and not only was Elaine May's contribution NOT funny, it actually made me angry. She was the biggest offender. The three of them owe me a refund.

* * *

The Public Theater down in the East Village is NYC's epicenter for Shakespearean productions. It's been around for a long, long time. Currently on the main stage, there's a production of King Lear starring Sam Waterson that got a bunch of mediocre reviews. The production is 3:30 long and it's not cheap! I won't be going to that. But I DID see a spectacular production of Love's Labor's Lost in the tiny, upstairs theater.

Not many props. Sparse costume budget. But there was electricity in the air, which just goes to show you that venue and marquee names count for very little. It's all in the acting, kid. It's one of those productions tucked into a corner that I discovered and want to share with everyone. The tickets were a measly $15 bucks! I've paid more and have gotten a lot less in return (see above). I think Love's Labor's Lost is considered one of Shakespeare's early lightweight plays but I thought parts of it had real gravitas. [Note to Daisyfae: the Princess of France, the lead female role, was played by Renee Elise Goldsberry, who played the upscale wife in Good People. Now, THAT'S range!]

* * *

Poor Hugh Dancy.

Imagine turning out an exhausting, effective performance, but having to share the stage with a firecracker just out of acting school. Such is poor Hugh's plight. In Venus in Fur, he plays a director trying to cast a role. He shares the stage with Nina Arianda, who just recently graduated from the NYU acting program. Graduate from school and go to Broadway! That's like a newly minted lawyer arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court.

It's a two-hander so there's no place for the actors to hide. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. That she's a Goddess dressed in black leather and lace underthings who exudes sexuality throughout much of the show certainly does not help poor Hugh. I think her seductions were directed at me specifically, even though I was in the back of the balcony. I wonder how she was able to sense my presence from so far away? Acting!



Anonymous looby said...

Re LLL, I also like going to very small theatres. I saw Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden in a hotel room once, with no more than about thirty seats. It was grippingly intimate - there were parts where they were literally whispering and you could hear every word.

I'm sure Nina Arianda will be Googling for you right now, possibly via this very page.

November 11, 2011 at 8:09 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

looby: I've been in venues that were so intimate that it was uncomfortable! I hate front row seats. I like a little separation between me and the action. Reality check: Nina Arianda doesn't know I'm alive. Oh. Wait. That was one of your witty sarcasms, wasn't it? Keep 'em coming.

November 11, 2011 at 8:19 AM  
Anonymous daisyfae said...

this post actually had me salivating. real drool. what an extrordinary adventure!

and for what it's worth? i'd watch Mr. Jackman dressing a festering wound for a few hours. he is one damn fine sexy man...

November 11, 2011 at 11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shame about Relatively Speaking. Given the pedigree I would have been champing at the bit for that one

November 12, 2011 at 4:25 AM  
Blogger Here In Franklin said...

I read a review of Seminar last week and it sounds wonderful. I have loved Alan Rickman for years--ever since Sense and Sensibility.

November 12, 2011 at 8:54 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Reading your theatre crits is the next best thing to actually going. If only:(

November 12, 2011 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

daisy: The ladies seemed to be particularly fond of Hugh. Come to think of it, lots of guys in the audience seemed to appreciate his talent too. I'm all about the back up singers.

nurse: They really duped me on that one. I bought tickets before the first preview so I was buying blind. You've got to take a chance on these things.

HIF: Years ago, Mrs. Wife and I saw Rickman in Noel Coward's Private Lives. He was pretty great in that, too. Go back and watch the first Die Hard movie. He's what made that film a hit.

November 12, 2011 at 12:53 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Pat: In the case of Relatively Speaking, you were much better off just reading it.

November 12, 2011 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger Here In Franklin said...

I've made it this far without seeing any Die Hard movies. Think I'll keep it that way! :)

November 12, 2011 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger SJF said...

LOVED "Seminar", couldn't agree with you more. I've been recommending it to everyone. And I agree with you about "Relatively Speaking". What a stinker, a real waste of time and talent. Saw "Bonnie and Clyde" and though it was good, it was definitely missing something. Not sure what it was but...curious to see what the critics have to say about this one.

November 14, 2011 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Kold_Kadavr_flatliner, sub/dude said...

God blessa youse -Fr. Saducci, ol SNL

November 17, 2011 at 6:52 PM  

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