Thursday, October 23, 2008

Go Wiest

Dianne Wiest is the kind of actress I can't live without. I'd trade all the Angelinas and Charlizes of this world for her. It's so easy to take Wiest for granted, and yet I can't remember her giving a bad performance. And she's had plenty of great ones. She can be seen in two mighty fine roles right now: as the mother in the revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons and in Charlie Kaufman's new movie, Synecdoche, New York (out on Friday).

The film part is typical screen Wiest: It's small but she makes an indelible impression, particularly when she begins playing Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film is uneven and gets stuck in its own loop deloop two thirds of the way in, but it also offers the unique combination of morbidity and romance that characterizes Kaufman for me. Plus it boasts a gallery of fantastic thespianesses (gimme a break, I know the word doesn't exist): Catherine Keener, Hope Davis, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, and even Elizabeth Marvel in a cameo. Plus plus, Kaufman actually makes one of my fantasies come true: at one point Jennifer Jason Leigh pops up with a German accent and Philip Seymour Hoffman, enraged, jumps at her throat—something I myself have often wanted to do to JJL's characters.

As for All My Sons, directed by Simon McBurney, I know it's early in the season but it might be the best surprise of the Broadway year, and Wiest is heartbreaking as a woman who has to come to terms with her delusions.

Of the production as a whole, I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague Adam Feldman's enthusiastic review, and particularly his assessment that "The explicit theatricality of McBurney’s staging minimizes the play’s flaws while deepening its impact." McBurney has done an amazing job and every second reminds us of what we're not getting from the hacks who crowd our local institutions, both for profit and non-. Just one example among many: From my vantage point in the first row of the mezzanine, I could see that the director had built every scene around clear diagonals, aligning the characters and the few elements of the barebone set along invisible—but still powerfully delineating—lines. It gave the production a neat coherence that also suggested the ties binding the characters not only to each other but to their surroundings and even their past. The show is well worth hunting tickets for.

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