Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Orphans' Home Cycle II

Here's the link to my review of the second installment in Horton Foote's Orphans' Home Cycle.

Sorry for the delay in putting up the link but I was (voluntarily) off the grid back home, enjoying the wild views and bold flavors of my native island. The enhanced security measures on the flight back were a doozy though: We were all frisked before boarding, and all our carry-on bags were thoroughly inspected. It was quite something to see the five-year-old girl in a Hello Kitty jacket in front of me get a full body search.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Welsh overdone bit

Finally! Catherine Zeta-Jones made her Broadway debut last night, in a revival of Sondheim's A Little Night Music. CZJ showed spunk but lacked finesse -- but we'll always have Angela Lansbury. Details here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The minor deity of altercations

What a difference a cast can make. I thoroughly enjoyed Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage when I first saw it back in February, but the show suffers greatly with its new cast. I re-reviewed it in today's paper.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Brief Encounter

Sounds familiar? Yes, it's a show based on the 1945 David Lean movie. There's a lot more to it, though. Brief Encounter is at St. Ann's Warehouse for about a month, and it's no understatement to say it's one of my favorite productions of the year — I gave it top marks in the Post today. Review's here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

So Help Me God!

Kristen Johnston delivers one of the performances of the year as a demented diva in So Help Me God! At last, a vintage screwball comedy done well.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Fantastique!

It is the season of miracles, all right: Fantastic Mr. Fox is the first movie by Wes Anderson I've ever enjoyed. More than enjoyed, in fact: I absolutely loved it.

I was looking forward to seeing the movie again when I'm in France for the holidays because the dub cast for Fantastique Maître Renard has just been announced: Mr. Fox is voiced by Mathieu Amalric and Mrs. Fox is Isabelle Huppert. Alas, the movie won't be out there until February. Drats!

Incidentally, Where the Wild Things Are = Max et les Maximonstres in French.

Don't race to Race

David Mamet's latest, Race, opened last night. Ayee! It's not that it's offensive or provocative — the play's too badly put together for that. Recommended only to die-hard James Spader fans.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Rebecca Gilman's adaptation of Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter left me cold. Cristin Milioti confirms she's one to watch though.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Blanchett's Blanche

Two reviews in today's paper.

First, Cate Blanchett stars in A Streetcar Named Desire at BAM, under the direction of Liv Ullmann. Starry skies in Brooklyn!

Then we have Melissa James Gibson's new This at Playwrights Horizons, with the terribly cute Julianne Nicholson.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More Christmas action

My review of White Christmas--sorry, Irving Berlin's White Christmas--is in today's Post. Lots of holiday cheer and tap action.

What is it with those proprietary titles anyway? It's a safe bet that what's playing at the Marquis is Irving Berlin's White Christmas, as opposed to, I don't know, Lady Gaga's White Christmas. And did anybody see Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire?

By the way, from now on everybody should refer to this blog as Elisabeth Vincentelli's The Determined Dilettante.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Long live the Rockettes

I'm happy to report that the Radio City Christmas Spectacular still kicks butt. And boy, does it kick! If you've never seen the leggy Rockettes, you owe it to yourself to check out these New York icons. I'm dead serious: a greater thrill is hard to find.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fela!

The exclamation mark is in the title, and deservedly so: Bill T. Jones' Fela! is that kind of show. The first act is the single most exciting thing on Broadway right now. Too bad the second one devolves into a mess. I also cannot understand why there's zero references to AIDS — not even in the program note about Fela. Weird.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Horton Foote and Dreamgirls, together at last

It's a double whammy of reviews in today's Post. First I caught the initial installment in Horton Foote's Orphans' Home Cycle, currently at the Signature. Subtitled The Story of a Childhood, the evening is made up of three short plays (they feel more line one-acts actually) and it unfolds with the quiet assurance of a country river. The next two parts will open in December and January, making up a total of nine hours.

Then I took the A train to the Apollo for the revival of Dreamgirls. This may be the first one where Jimmy Early steals the show from the women! Chester Gregory (already spotted in Cry-Baby) is phenomenal. As times I felt as if I was watching Purple Rain with one guy playing Prince and Morris Day.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Girl Crazy

My review of the Encores! production of Girl Crazy is up on the Post's website -- thank you, Interwebs.

A Gershwin musical in November is just what the doctor ordered. Following it up with Dreamgirls at the Apollo tonight is a musical-theater double whammy!

In the Next Room

I'm not being coy in my subject line -- I'm just afraid to get spam comments if I post the full title of Sarah Ruhl's latest: In the Next Room or the vibrator play. I liked it a whole lot, the most of all the Ruhl works I've seen so far, in fact. And that cast! So awesome. It's the best Lincoln Center show in eons, and proves the company should step out of its comfort zone more often.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Wonderful Day

You've got to admire Alan Ayckbourn's fertile mind: He's written over 70 plays and even when they aren't great, they're at least competent. That's the case with his latest, My Wonderful Day, which he also directed. Luckily for us, we get to see the British cast, which includes the amazing Ayesha Antoine. Review thataway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Brother/Sister Plays

Wunderkind Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brother/Sister Plays opened at the Public last night. I was underwhelmed by the poetry of it all, as you can see in my review.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ragtime

It's baaaaaack! Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens and Terrence McNally's adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime (got all that?) returns to Broadway 11 years after it first opened. Of course I'm there too.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Once We Felt

Ann Marie Healy's new play, What Once We Felt, opens at the Duke on 42nd St. in an LCT3 production. Despite my positive bias -- I love dystopian science fiction -- I found it just meh. Review here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Late Christopher Bean

The TACT company revives Sidney Howard's obscure 1932 comedy The Late Christopher Bean. Review in today's Post.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Quartett (redux)

Followers of this blog may dimly remember that I trashed Robert Wilson's Quartett after seeing it in Paris in November 2006. I actually enjoyed the show a little more when I revisited it at BAM last week (review in today's Post).

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Lily's Revenge

Admittedly Taylor Mac's The Lily's Revenge is long — about five hours — but I can assure you it's totally worth your time. I'd even venture to say it's a landmark show for the downtown scene. You can catch it at HERE until November 22. In the meantime, my Post review is out today.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Understudy

Theresa Rebeck's latest, The Understudy, is reviewed in today's Post. I never thought I'd say this, but Julie White got on my nerves.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The crock at the end of the rainbow

Linking to my review of Finian's Rainbow a few days late, as I went away for a few days -- as in, off-the-grid away, with no reception of any kind. My, Death Valley really is "a remote and barren blister of land in the American desert.". The biggest thrill: going to Zabriskie Point, immortalized by Antonioni in 1970.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jeunet on Hollywood

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has been making the rounds in France lately, plugging his latest film, Micmacs à tire-larigot (trailer here). In an interview, which I translated below, he talked about his experience in Hollywood, directing Alien: Resurrection in 1997. A bit of context: Jeunet was hired to work on the fourth installment in the Alien franchise after he directed Delicatessen and City of Lost Children; he went on to make Amélie and A Very Long Engagement (in the interview he also mentioned that Emily Watson was originally cast in the latter movie, only to be replaced by Audrey Tautou).

Interviewer: Was it nice to work in the US?
JPJ: Do you have two or three hours? It was a great adventure. I remember at the time I said it was the hardest day of my life, every day. I had almost total artistic freedom but they constricted me from a financial viewpoint, which is exactly the opposite of what I had expected. I can still hear the producers telling me, Can you do this in one shot instead of three? Can you trim? It was really reductionist. It's a perverse game. On the one hand I had actors like Sigourney Weaver who wanted perfection, on the other hand I had producers who wanted me to go as fast as possible. It was difficult to negotiate. And in Hollywood there's the good ones and the bad ones. I saw the Hollywood myth collapse like the towers on 9/11. Nothing worked. Aside from the aliens themselves, which were amazing, the special effects didn't work — I'm talking about explosions, doors that are supposed to be blasted. Nothing worked. I felt I was in The Dictator when —
Interviewer: — are you serious? I feel like you're talking about Albania.
JPJ: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Albania in 1972.
JPJ: Just a bit below that, Albania in 1967. Maybe I didn't get the best crew… A symbol: my first day of shooting. The first time I'm saying "Action!" — the camera didn't work. It never did, we put it out to pasture. That was a symbol for the entire shoot.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ordinary Days

Adam Gwon's little-musical-that-could, Ordinary Days, opens at the Roundabout Underground. Review in today's Post.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Brighton Beach Memoirs

Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs is back on Broadway, and you can read about it in the Post. Maybe it's the mad skillz of director David Cromer, but I didn't mind it at all. Speaking of Cromer: His staging of Our Town is still playing at the Barrow Street Theatre, and you should really see it if you haven't already — it was one of my top three favorite shows of last year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

After Miss Julie

What kind of an endorsement is it when the best you can come up is, Well, that didn't suck?

Patrick Marber's After Miss Julie (my Post review is here) just opened. Yes, the play is a remake of Strindberg's Miss Julie, and no, Sienna Miller doesn't embarrass herself in the title role. The real treat for me, though, was Marin Ireland as the cook, Christine. And she doesn't even say anything half the time she's on stage.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A summons to Memphis

Color me surprised: I didn't expect to enjoy Memphis -- a new musical by Joe "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" DiPietro and David "Bon Jovi keyboard player" Bryan -- but the show's pretty great. Expectations are there to be proven wrong, aren't they?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Don't mind doing it for the kids

Coincidentally, I had two kids-centric pieces in yesterday's Post.

First, I profiled voice coach Trapper Felides, who specializes in children. I had a lot of extra fun material that didn't make it to the article, so I'll blog about that over at the Post tomorrow.

I also reviewed Hansel and Gretel, a fantastic adaptation of the fairy tale that takes over the entire New Victory Theatre.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Birdie doesn't take flight

How can you make Bye Bye Birdie not fun? Trust the Roundabout to find a way. My review of Robert Longbottom's revival is in today's Post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Oleanna

After strongly disliking David Mamet's Two Unrelated Plays at the Atlantic, I found myself digging Oleanna, which has reached Broadway 17 years after its creation on an off stage. It's far from a comfortable ride, but any show that leaves you arguing for 20 minutes afterwards, standing on a street corner, has got something going for it.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Royal Family

George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's 1927 ode to theater, The Royal Family, gets revived — and reviewed in today's Post.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Countdown to pop ecstasy

Kylie. Hammerstein Ballroom. Three days to go.

Let Me Down Easy

Review of Anna Deavere Smith's Let Me Down Easy in today's Post. My, Second Stage really is on a roll. Among the larger nonprofits, they are the most diverse and the most consistent.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Laying down the Law

More positivity! My review of Hamlet is in today's Post. Considering I've never enjoyed Jude Law on screen (except perhaps in AI -- but then he played a robot), my enjoyment of Michael Grandage's production was far from a predetermined deal.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

All hail Robert Lepage

My review of Robert Lepage's Lipsynch, at BAM until Sunday, is in today's paper. Maximum star rating!

Lepage has a rep as an experimental director (people often conveniently forget he's directed a Cirque du Soleil production in Vegas) but I cannot emphasize enough how purely entertaining the show is. Yes, it lasts eight and a half hours, but this shouldn't pose much of a challenge to anybody who's spent a weekend watching entire TV seasons on DVD.

Monday, October 05, 2009

That ol' Cinnabun hairdo

I love the first Star Wars movies as much as anybody else (the first in the order in which they were made, that is) but there's only so much Carrie Fisher I can take -- see today's review of her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking. I have to admit I was mildly surprised by the amount of love, or at least bemused tolerance, that has met the show. Clearly Fisher has accumulated a healthy amount of good will over the years, and she certainly is an endearing storyteller. Still, $111?

Friday, October 02, 2009

The spell is broken!

Thank Odin for Tracy Letts! I was really starting to wonder how much lower this new theater season could sink. But lo and behold, relief blew in all the way from Chicago with the Steppenwolf's most excellent production of Letts' Superior Donuts. Review thataway. I'm particularly happy he chose a different mode for his follow-up to August: Osage County.

I didn't even loathe Nora and Delia Ephron's Love, Loss, and What I Wore. True, the subject matter -- the role of clothes and accessories in a woman's life -- is just about as alien to me as NASCAR. And true, I find Nora Ephron's body of work completely toxic. But this show is painless and even, thanks to its zesty interpreters, rather funny.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A double helping of very little

Down we continue to go with An Evening of Two Unrelated Plays by David Mamet, currently at the Atlantic main stage. I saw it last Saturday, on a sad, drizzly evening. Fitting, somehow.

Mamet has a revival of Oleanna and the new Race coming down the pike this season, and I can't say that this whetted my appetite.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When stars don't collide

I really do love Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman -- why else would I have put myself through Layer Cake and Van Helsing? And forget all the Wolverine jokes in recent articles about Jackman: It's all about Drover for me!

But oooh boy, these guys have picked a right dud to appear on Broadway together. Review of A Steady Rain thataway.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another day, another pan

You wouldn't know it from the slew of negative reviews I've been writing lately, but Ming the Merciless really isn't my role model.

That said, here's another one, this time for Mahida's Extra Key to Heaven.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Oh no, Othello

Peter Sellars's Othello is a stinker. There's just no way around it. I can't remember the last time I looked at my watch so much at the theater. I distinctly remember a check at 10:04pm, followed by another one after what felt like at least 20 minutes. Alas, I realized with despair that it was only 10:08.

Considering that this is very much a director-led staging — something I'm usually in favor of — and that it comes a few days after Luc Bondy's Tosca being booed at the Met, I was heartbroken at the idea of having to write such a negative review (my lowest star rating so far at the Post). I really don't want to sound like revisionist readings of classics faze me, but in this case there was no alternative: The show is downright inept. I will go into more details on my Post blog later today.

As for Tosca, I'm going tonight and shall judge for myself.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Killers on the loose

I quite liked Lucy Thurber's Killers and Other Family at the Rattlestick, as you can tell from my review. Both the play and the production are problematic, but it's the kind of flawed show that stays with you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Benny and Björn think of Lady Gaga

As I mentioned earlier today, last week I got to meet two of my heroes. Check out my blog at the New York Post to see what Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus think of Lady Gaga. It's the first installment in a series of posts centering on the stuff that won't make it to the print preview about their show at Carnegie Hall. Still to come: Benny talks about the stylistic links between Abba, Chess and Kristina.

Be still my heart

I've done hundreds of interviews over the years, but last week one almost sent me over the edge. Yes, I finally got to talk to Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus -- the men behind Abba and Chess. I have to admit I struggled to keep it together when I saw them enter the rehearsal studio where the media circus was taking place.

They were in town to present a concert version of their 1995 musical Kristina från Duvemåla (simply Kristina in the English version) at Carnegie Hall this Wednesday and Thursday. Look for my preview in the Post, and I will put a lot of extra stuff on my blog over there -- which has a new URL, by the way, so bookmark it stat.

Is life worth living? Don't answer that

I'm a big fan of the Mint Theater and its mission to revive forgotten plays, but this time they kind of wrecked their latest discovery, Lennox Robinson's Is Life Worth Living? More on the misfire in today's Post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

High and low

Ooh boy, this past weekend I experienced quite very different shows, as you can see in my two Post reviews today: from the good (Ivo van Hove's staging of La Voix Humaine) to the inept (Daniel Goldfarb's The Retributionists).

At the latter, there was quite an exodus at intermission, which tells you something — and it's not good. The former took place as part of the Dutch-run New Island Festival, out on Governors Island. I have to admit I'd never been there, and I was enchanted by my little trip.

The location certainly added to my enjoyment of La Voix Humaine, but it's a safe bet to say that no setting, no matter how exotic, could have helped The Retributionists. It's an embarrassment for everybody involved.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hooray for Oohrah!

In today's paper, I review Bekah Brunstetter's Oohrah!, currently running at the Atlantic 2, on W. 16th St. It's a happy surprise, especially considering the play's potentially lethal premise -- Iraq vet comes home to North Carolina, things don't go well, etc.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

News from Ireland

My review of the omnibus show Spinning the Times, made up of five monologues by five playwrights, is up at the Post today.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Pets, not animal companions

My preview of the Pet Shop Boys' New York shows is in today's Post.

It'd be preposterous to introduce the Boys' music at this point — or even focus on their latest album since the tour is more of a career retro — so I decided to zero in on their stagecraft. If a band can bring together pop heads and show-tune queens, it's this one. Appropriately, their current Pandemonium tour is staged by an opera and theater designer and choreographed by someone with two new shows on Broadway this season.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Devil boys from beyond the Fringe

At last, old-school camp at the Fringe Festival! Buddy Thomas' Devil Boys from Beyond (reviewed in today's Post) is a shameless hoot. Bravo!

As a frumpy, horny hausfrau, Everett Quinton is sensational, but the rest of the cast is topnotch. And the cheapest tricks are milked for all they're worth -- I laughed every single time the pink inflatable mattress that serves as a door opened and closed with a whooosh sound effect. This could transfer to a small Off-Broadway house as is.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

His Lameness

Daniel MacIvor's His Greatness at the Cherry Lane Theatre, New York Post, August 26.

Much more fun: The phone rang at 8:20am this morning and what I heard when I picked up was, "Hello, this is Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys." No, I don't know him — I was supposed to interview him for a preview of next week's PSB shows. Still, it's a great way to start the day. More when the piece comes out, obviously.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's Greek to her

My review of The Bacchae is in today's Post. It's pretty amazing to see how director JoAnne Akalaitis could make such a gory story all nice and smooth. Well, except at the end, that is, but nobody could smooth out that end. Still, Anthony Mackie (the next Mr. Vincentelli, though he doesn't know it yet) is wonderful as always.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Uneventful

More Fringe Festival action with John Clancy's The Event, reviewed in today's Post. What's worse: a perfectly adequate but bland show or one that's horrid but perversely entertaining?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Bronx is up and Wall Street's down

My love for film scorer Elmer Bernstein led me to How Now, Dow Jones, the 1967 musical he wrote and that's being redone at the Fringe. Review in today's Post.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spend the summer with Georges Simenon

I've mentioned before that I regularly listen to French public radio via podcast. Of the various units of Radio France, I'm partial to France Inter and to France Culture. The former has particularly good talk shows and political satirists during the year but I'm not so keen on its summer schedule. The latter, on the other hand, can be stuffy during the year but really comes alive in July and August.

Last year, I raved about that the 16 hours France Culture dedicated to François Truffaut. This year, they're doing the same thing to Georges Simenon, with five distinct parts, each one centered around a location important to the writer: Liège, Paris, France, America, Switzerland. The whole thing should run about 17 hours.

Go to this site, which lists all the France Culture podcasts, and scroll down to "Simenon" to subscribe.

And while you're there, you might also check out "Conversation avec Losey" (Positif boss Michel Ciment chats with Joseph Losey in the late ’70s) and "Paroles d'actrices" (hour-long interviews with contemporary French actresses).

Friday, August 07, 2009

It's not alright, da

Fathers and sons duke it out in a double bill of After Luke and When I Was God at the Irish Rep. Review in today's Post, of course.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Slipping away

Daniel Talbott's Slipping at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, New York Post, August 5.

Escort service

Yesterday I strayed from the theater to preview Escort's forthcoming show in Prospect Park. It's tomorrow, and I'll certainly be there as Escort is one of my favorite live bands and it plays rarely. Plus the evening's second half consists of a screening of Prince's Purple Rain, which I haven't seen since it came out 25 years ago. Ayee!!!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Ballroom blitz

I already liked Maksim Chmerkovskiy on Dancing with the Stars, but after seeing him in Burn the Floor on Broadway (reviewed in today's Post), he's graduated to official crush. Still, as much as I like Maks, my head might have exploded if it had been Tony or Mark -- or, er, Lacey -- gyrating a few feet away instead.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Drum & bugle madness

I'm a latecomer to drum & bugle, but boy do I love it! Busby Berkeley-type choreography + marching band = win.

In today's Post, I preview the Music in Motion event that's taking place at Giants Stadium tomorrow, featuring seven top corps. I'll be there, of course. I'm particularly looking forward to the Holy Name Cadets, whose routine is set to a West Side Story medley.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New York's Amoralists

In today's Post, I profile the Amoralists, a newish NY company whose play, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side, returns to PS 122 until August 17. It's very exciting to find a new local voice that balances full-on actor physicality with great social, philosophical and political concerns. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book of the year?

A few days ago I bought Vince Aletti's The Disco Files 1973-78 at St. Marks Bookshop. It's a collection of the columns Aletti (now the photography reviewer at The New Yorker) wrote for Record World magazine in the 1970s.

If you love classic disco, as I do, this is a goldmine. There's no benefit of hindsight here, and Aletti's taste is spot-on — anybody who can gush about Peter Brown's "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me" and Claudja Barry automatically gets my everlasting admiration. I've been spending way too much time tracking down some of the songs I didn't know and that he particularly gushes about, and so far it's been one nugget after another. Undisputed Truth's "You + Me = Love"? Amazing! This is what YouTube was invented for. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Russian-Italian axis

More reviews from the Lincoln Center Festival in today's Post. First we have Lev Dodin's Life and Fate, which I quite liked. Then it's Trilogia della Villeggiatura, about which I was more meh (a technical theater term).

Last night I saw Declan Donnellan's staging of Boris Godunov and tonight I conclude my summer adventures in world theater with a Hungarian Peasant Opera. It's been a pleasant trip overall, and I'll blog about it at more length over at the Post.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Vanities fair

Completing my trifecta of Off-Broadway reviews this week is Vanities at Second Stage.

Any musical that borrows from Burt Bacharach automatically gets a reprieve from me, but seriously: When are we going to see Promises, Promises on Broadway again? The Encores! production was fun but I could see this show a few more times.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sinking to new lows

Lisa Ebersole's hapless Mother gets trashed in today's Post.

Demolishing a small show presented in a nice space like the Wild Project isn't fun, but then neither is Mother.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ragging on the Rag

The dog days are here again... Today, I review the bland Tin Pan Alley Rag (a place-holder at the Laura Pels) in the Post. And there's more fun coming our way, I can tell you that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Shakespeare on the big screen

A preview of the Walter Reade's new film series, "The Bard Goes Global," in today's New York Post. I have to admit, I'm a little Shakespeare'd out right now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Let the Soleil shine in

Ariane Mnouchkine and the Théâtre du Soleil's Les Éphémères at the Park Avenue Armory, New York Post, July 10.

And we're off with this year's Lincoln Center Festival! Tonight I'm catching a Hungarian production of Chekhov's Ivanov at John Jay.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Navel gazing

A bit of wacky fun before diving into Euro high art as I review the new Umbilical Brothers' show, Speedmouse, at the Joyce.

Tonight, I'm heading off to the Park Avenue Armory for the first part of Les Éphémères, Ariane Mnouchkine's latest epic, with the second part tomorrow night. Surely you already have your ticket(s)?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Off we go to the Lincoln Center Festival

Rather than a full preview, today in the Post I offer my highly subjective picks for this year's Lincoln Center Festival, which starts tomorrow.

The kick-off alone should be something to behold: Part 1 of Ariane Mnouchkine and the Théâtre du Soleil's Les Ephémères, to unfurl at the Park Avenue Armory. It's Mnouchkine's first show here since 2005's Le Dernier Caravansérail, and if you happened to see that…well, chances are you already have tickets for the new one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Twelfth Night in the Park

My review of the Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night is in today's New York Post.

Yes, Anne Hathaway is pretty good. Now we can all go back to discussing Michael Jackson.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Netflix reads my mind

Checking my Netflix queue this morning, I noticed they had added suggestions in customized categories based on my "taste preferences." Yikes.

These categories were "Suspenseful independent dramas" (eg Lost Highway), "Critically acclaimed foreign sci-fi and fantasy" (eg Russian Ark), "Dark TV dramas" (eg Tour of Duty and... Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?), "Imaginative movies of the 70s" (eg Performance), "Comedies featuring a strong female lead" (eg Juno) and the best: "Local favorites for Brooklyn, NY." This last category includes The Conformist and Andrei Rublev. I'm very proud of my fellow Brooklynites!

Still, I wonder why there was no sign of "Screwball comedies starring Irene Dunn" and "Endless, occasionally violent cable series set either in ancient Rome or in space."

Anybody got good customized suggestions lately?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Countdown to ecstasy

My preview of tonight's installment of Our Hit Parade is in the New York Post.

Modelled after the old radio and TV show Your Hit Parade, this monthly cavalcade of stars performing current chart-toppers is a real hoot, and usually includes a countdown, games, dances, audience participation (willing or not) and a certain amount of nudity.

In addition to the core trio of Kenny Mellman, Bridget Everett and Neal Medlyn, tonight's guests include the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt and Claudia Gonson, Randy Harrison, Jackie Hoffman and Molly Pope. See you at Joe's Pub!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Riding the carousel ot time

John Kelly's Paved Paradise Redux: The Art of Joni Mitchell at Abrons Arts Center, New York Post, June 22, 2009.

Every time I see John Kelly do his Joni Mitchell tribute, I rush back home afterwards and relisten to Joni's albums. And then I realize I'm not that big a fan--I like Kelly doing Mitchell a lot more. If I'm going to listen to a romantic, tortured singer-songwriter, I much prefer Laura Nyro and the perfect balance of pop, soul and Tin Pan Alley she achieved on her 60s albums.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Wiz and a bang

Double-barrel attack in today's New York Post.

First, I tackled the Encores! revival of The Wiz. I heard through the grapevine that it's one of their most expensive efforts ever. Okaaaay. At least it's a lot better than Sidney Lumet's movie, which I had rented last week for the sake of research.

Then I caught the new LCT3 production, Stunning, at the Duke on 42nd St. David Adjmi's play had been getting a lot of buzz and yes, it's really that good. Plus, direction and cast rival anything on Broadway.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Revisiting Osage County

I've never been a huge fan of Phylicia Rashad, but she brings interesting nuances to Tracy Letts's August: Osage County, which I revisited on Wednesday afternoon. (My re-review hit the Post today.)

I absolutely adored the play when I first saw it a year and a half ago, and found myself sucked into it all over again. It's very easy to get half-price tickets so by all means, get yourself to the Music Box.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Our House

Theresa Rebeck's Our House at Playwrights Horizons, New York Post, June 10, 2009.

Of course, the Post's headline writers went for Madness on this one. I've had the song lodged in my head ever since seeing the show (though it's not used in it).

Monday, June 08, 2009

A lot of Machines

Machines, Machines, Machines, Machines, Machines, Machines, Machines at HERE, New York Post, June 8, 2009.

The first half hour of this show is as perfectly devised and executed as anything you'll see in NY right now. And even when the execution isn't perfect, the problems are part of the premise. A highly recommended way to spend $20.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Coraline

Stephin Merritt and David Greenspan's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, New York Post, June 2.

This is one instance where I felt really frustrated by the lack of space in the paper, as the show is (spoiler warning!) a failure for very interesting reasons. I'm not sure they're interesting enough to warrant a trip to Christopher Street, but still: food for though there.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Snakes eyes

Okay, not quite snake eyes but almost. I have two reviews in today's paper, rating one star and one and a half stars. It's an embarrassment of embarrassments.

Zakiyyah Alexander's 10 Things to Do Before I Die at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, New York Post, June 1

Leslie Ayvazian's Make Me at the Atlantic 2, New York Post, June 1.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The failure of failure

Cynthia Hopkins' The Success of Failure (or, The Failure of Success) at St. Ann's Warehouse, New York Post, May 28, 2009.

I know Hopkins has her fans. Let's just say I'm not one of them.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mayhem in New York

Yesterday Mr. Night After Night and I attended Blackenedfest at Irving Plaza. Let's start with the disappointments. The minor one is that I missed Lair of the Minotaur because they played from 7:30pm to 7:50 and I arrived at something like 7:51. The major one is that Marduk cancelled at the last minute "due to unforeseen circumstances." And I had spent part of the day rehearsing my growlalong to "Panzer Division Marduk"! Seriously, I'd been really looking forward to finally catching the kvlt Swedes live and I was foiled again.

But Mayhem more than made up for it. I admit going mostly out of curiosity because I may have seen Emperor and Immortal, but it's Mayhem that's the alpha and omega of first-wave Norwegian black metal. The book Lords of Chaos? It's about them.

As it turns out, Mayhem was much more than a curio. The main asset was Attila Csihar, who replaced Maniac in 2004 and is a completely magnetic frontman. Clad in black monk-like robes, he emitted a volley of terrifying, barely human sounds that ranged from pig-like grunts to hellish shrieks. He also moved in an odd, stylized manner halfway between Martha Graham and kabuki. Couldn't be a more different vibe from Maniac's, and an improvement it was. Csihar was avant-garde from Hades.

Musically I felt as if I had stuck my head in an oil drum on which people repeatedly stomped. Drummer Hellhammer and bassist Necrobutcher, two original members, got huge applause from the crowd, while it took two tour guitarists, Morfeus and Silmaeth, to replace Blasphemer, who left the band last year. The whole thing was one massive gurgle, part buzzy and part grumbling. It was awesome.

Also awesome: the banners, the shrunken heads on spears, the fog, the strobes. In a word: the show!

Here's a short excerpt from our vantage point at the balcony. (Tip of the hat to Brooklyn Vegan's Paul Birman for the pic of Attila Csihar.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Old Hickory

Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Public Theater, New York Post, May 20, 2009.

At last, the life of President Andrew Jackson has been turned into a musical, and a good one it is!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Out of South Africa

Ian Bruce's Groundswell at the Acorn/Theatre Row, New York Post, May 19, 2009. (Tip of the hat once again to the Post's headline writers. These guys have earned their rep, believe me.)

Let's put Bruce's South Africa-set drama behind us, shall we? The important news is that there's only two days to go before Blackenedfest featuring Mayhem and Marduk! I'm still pondering my corpsepaint design. Suggestions?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Legal debacle

Vern Thiessen's A More Perfect Union at the East 13th Street Theater, New York Post, May 14, 2009.

Two Supreme Court clerks duke it out in the library. Dear god…

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ukraine does it again

If Ukraine doesn't win Eurovision 2009, I'll eat my hat! Seriously, this song has it all: crazy inventive production, banging chorus, delirious lyrics, nutty video (though that won't help at the contest) and babes in skimpy outfits (which I trust will somehow pop up on the Moscow stage).

Added bonus: If Ukraine wins in Moscow, the Russians are going to freak out.

Electro schocks

In today's New York Post, I stray from the theater turf for something that won't surprise readers of this blog: a piece about four women doing the solo electro-thing.

I'm surprised the influence of Peaches on the new generation of women tinkering with Apple Logic hasn't been spelled out more. The likes of Little Boots, thecocknbullkid and VV Brown, whom I talked to for the piece, may not draw from Peaches' lyrical content, but they've sure borrowed a trick or two from her sound (mixed in with much more mainstream pop influences, to be sure).

I'll go see Peaches this Saturday night, when she plays Webster Hall, and on Monday may try to take a break from the Obies to drop by the Little Boots gig at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

Of the four in the article, multi-instrumentalist VV Brown is the least electro. Here's her new single, and oh that chorus!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Offices

Ethan Coen's triptych Offices at the Atlantic, New York Post, May 11, 2009.

After Almost an Evening, Joel's brother is doing the solo thing again. Is it worth the effort, not to mention your hard-earned bucks?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cranked up

I had forgotten how good it feels to feel your innards melt, to get your eardrums pulverized. The rawk, it lives!

At least it did on Friday night, when my friend Mike took me to the Chrome Cranks reunion at Santos Party House. Now even though I followed the East Village/Lower East Side scum-noise scene pretty closely from the moment I moved to the NYC area in 1988, that band completely eluded me: I don't have any of their records and never saw them live. At least I had seen and heard the ferocious rhythm section in various other bands: drummer Bob Bert with Knoxville Girls, Bewitched and Action Swingers (not to mention late Pussy Galore and early Boss Hog, though I never caught him with Sonic Youth), bassist Jerry Teel with KG and Honeymoon Killers.

On Friday the time had come for my first encounter with the Cranks, 12 years after their last local show. As soon as the first song hit, I broke into a huge grin. A loud but sharp PA, a band in complete control of its sound, even a red strobe light: perfection.

As Mike put it elsewhere, there were quite a few bands doing the Chrome Cranks thing in the 90s, but there are close to none these days: intensely focused and controlled aggro rooted in a punk-blues groove.

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of people putting on memorable rock shows these days, from Lightning Bolt to Monotonix, but they tend to go for a more spastic, all-over-the-place energy, whereas Chrome Cranks are rooted in songcraft and the aforementioned groove. They're playing Glasslands on Friday 15, and I may just go back for seconds.

Friday, May 08, 2009

A pound, give or take

The Propeller company's take on The Merchant of Venice at BAM, New York Post, May 8, 2009.

My third Shakespeare by these guys, and while it's not quite as good as The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, from two years ago, it still wham-bam entertainment.

Next stop on the Bard Express: Twelfth Night (africkingain) at the Delacorte in a few weeks.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Benny and Björn are back!

Benny and Björn have a new song! I listened to "Second Best to None" four times in a row after discovering it this morning. Thanks to the Dilettante's Special London Correspondent and the almighty Pop Justice for the tip.

I'm particularly excited because the singers all work at Stockholm's Hotel Rival (owned by Benny), where the Sheila and I had lunch last summer. In fact you can see the vid on the homepage of the hotel's website. It's the best corporate commercial EVER.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On the radio

Sometime after 4pm today, I will discuss the Tony nominations and the New York Drama Critics Circle awards on All Things Considered. You can listen on WNYC (93.9 FM and AM 820) in New York, or on your local NPR affiliate, or on the web. And boy, is there a lot to talk about!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Oh Sherie

At last, Sherie Rene Scott gets a whole show to herself! I just loved Everyday Rapture (review in today's New York Post) and I hope it finds the audience it deserves. Scott is a musical-theater animal but projects a very different vibe than a Kristin Chenoweth, a Donna Murphy or even a Leslie Kritzer. She's well worth discovering if you aren't a fan yet.

Friday, May 01, 2009

It's a wrap

And we finally conclude the 2008-09 Broadway season with two shows: Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Dolly Parton's 9 t0 5. I like to think of them as one entity, Waiting from 9 to 5. Both reviews are in today's New York Post.

But just because Broadway is done for now doesn't mean I can rest: look out for Sherie Rene Scott's Everyday Rapture, Ethan Coen's Offices and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice next week.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Accent grave

A bilingual pun for a title!

Samson Raphaelson's Accent on Youth at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, New York Post, April 30, 2009.

Oooh that one irked me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Philanthropist

Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist at American Airlines Theatre, New York Post, April 27, 2009.

Run, run away from this one!

We had a fantastically sunny weekend here in New York. Not that I saw that much of it as I spent most of it at the theater, going to the theater or coming back from the theater. (That damn F line being all screwed up didn't help.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Norman Conquests

Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests at Circle in the Square, New York Post, April 24.

You can see any of the plays in this trilogy but I really recommend going for the trifecta. And if you can, catch them all in one day -- they do a marathon every Saturday. The first play starts at 11:30am, the second is at 3:30pm and the last at 8pm.

Eurovision coming...again!

Yep, it's almost that time of the year again. The dark horse this year is…the U.K. Don't laugh, it's true! I look at that country's entry over at the New York Post's blog. My fellow Eurofreaks, it's going to be a good vintage, I can just feel it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Gingerbread House

Mark Schultz's The Gingerbread House at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, New York Post, April 21, 2009.

Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson take a break from their TV series, Cupid, to appear in this pretty nifty production. Actually I'm not even sure Cupid is still going on. These two just can't get a break on the small screen. I mean, how many cancelled series has Paulson alone been in? Thank god for theater, eh?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mary quite contrary

Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart at the Broadhurst, New York Post, April 20, 2009.

Janet McTeer + Harriet Walter = ka-BOOM! Plus rain on stage, which never gets old in my book. Well, almost never.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Now blogging!

We've resolved a few kinks and I'm happy to announce I'm now also blogging on the New York Post's site. I'll stick to the stage there, though my definition of the stage is, of course, rather wide... Now go and bookmark that sucker!

Next to Normal

Next to Normal transfers from Second Stage to the Booth Theatre on Broadway, New York Post, April 16, 2009.

A musical bravely tries to explore terrain (mental illness) usually neglected by the genre. I really wish I had liked it more.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rock on

Rock of Ages at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York Post, April 8, 2009. More ’80s songs that you can shake a stick at—and I've played almost all them on Guitar Hero.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Durang Durang

Christopher Durang's Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them at the Public Theater, New York Post, April 7.

The past couple Durang plays were only half-successful, but this one is pretty much on target. Go.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Reasons to Be Pretty

Neil LaBute's Broadway debut, reasons to be pretty, at the Lyceum, New York Post, April 3, 2009.

Very mixed feelings about that one, to say the least. I'm actually supposed to start blogging at the Post very soon and I'm looking forward to developing some points I just didn't have space for in print. I hope they will help further illuminate my assessment of the play.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Long beautiful Hair

The revival of Hair hits the Al Hirshfeld Theatre, New York Post, April 1, 2009.

The show was extraordinary when it was presented at the Delacorte in Central Park last summer, and miraculously it still is on Broadway. And they're going to record it, so more good times ahead!

Director Diane Paulus goes full-on hippie, but I also enjoy more twisted versions of the material. Check out Army of Lovers' Swedish disco take on "Let the Sun Shine In":

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happiness is a lukewarm gun

A new musical, Happiness, opens at Lincoln Center Theater; New York Post, March 31, 2009.

The show has quite the pedigree: book by John Weidman, direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, lyrics and music by Michael Korie and Scott Frankel (the guys who did Grey Gardens, although that's not really a recommendation for me).

Tonight, I'm returning to see Neil LaBute's Reasons to be Pretty, which I'd caught Off Broadway last year.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Unwowed by Irena's Vow

Dan Gordon's Irena's Vow at the Walter Kerr Theatre, New York Post, March 30, 2009.

After Golda's Balcony, Tovah Feldshuh stars in Irena's Vow. Do I feel a trend?

Busy weekend for the Sheila and I, highlighted by our first trip to the (in)famous Burger Joint, where we had a pair of great cheeseburgers. The joint is just that, a joint, but the best part is that it's hidden inside the posh Parker Meridien hotel on W. 56th St. (We went before catching the Encores! version of Finian's Rainbow at City Center on Saturday evening.) Scratch one more item on the list of classic NYC experiences we've done.

Friday, March 27, 2009

There's a new king in town

Eugene Ionesco's Exit the King at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York Post, March 27.

How long has Geoffrey Rush been doing theater in Australia? Why did we have to wait all these decades to see him on stage in New York? Ah well, better late than never.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Unimpressed

Michael Jacobs's Impressionism at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, New York Post, March 25. (My second one-star review in a row. The timing is harsh.)

Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons: How could it suck, right? And yet…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thrilling actors rock Yasmina Reza

Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage at the Bernard P. Jacobs Theatre, New York Post, March 23.

If you want to see well-heeled fur fly, go see this play. Come to think of it, can well-heeled fur fly? No matter: The show is a nasty delight.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Keep cool, daddy-o

West Side Story at the Palace Theatre, New York Post, March 20.

Hard to believe, but it's been almost 30 years since the Jets and the Sharks have duked it out on their home turf. Arthur Laurents's revival of Gypsy last season was a triumph, and now he's tackled another of his books. Did lighting strike twice?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Boosting the Wooster

Okay, it's not a review this time but a preview, as I write about the new Wooster Group show, La Didone, at St. Ann's Warehouse, in the New York Post today.

You have about six weeks to see it down in Dumbo. Make sure to leave some time beforehand for a little nibble at Almondine, which is just down the block.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blitz Spirit

Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York Post, March 16.

Busy weekend it was: I returned to Room for Cream, the live soap opera run at LaMaMa by the Dyke Division of the Theatre of the Two-Headed Calf company; caught the next-to-last performance of Armitage Gone! Dance's Think Punk at the Kitchen; saw Paul Scott Goodman's Rooms at New World Stages.

The latter I'll review in the Post. As for Think Punk, it was uneven but the good parts were really, really good. Highlight: "Drastic Classicism," a 1981 piece set to music by Rhys Chatham. The score was performed at top volume (essential for Chatham) by a drummer and four guitarists, standing in the middle of the dancers. Oh man, what an absolutely visceral thrill!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Eurovision coming!

On Monday, March 16, I'll talk about the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest on WNYC's Soundcheck. I should be on around 2:20pm EST. You can listen on your radio thingamajig or online. Ain't technology grand?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How do you say?

I know that just like me, you've been wondering about this: How do you say “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in Swedish?

Apparently it's “Superkaffiryteflanisötomaxigrafisk” in the production of Mary Poppins currently playing at the Göteborg Opera.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

33 1/3 variations

Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York Post, March 10.

Jane Fonda's comeback vehicle skids to a stop...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The greatest living actress

In these giddy post-Oscar days, it's important to keep things in perspective. Seeing Claude Autant-Lara's rare 1949 film Occupe-toi d'Amélie (left) a few days ago in Paris, for instance, I was reminded once again that Danielle Darrieux—who's turning 92 in May and was just the object of a 100-film retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française—is the greatest living actress.

American readers/viewers familiar with her most likely know Darrieux from her star turns in Max Ophüls's The Earrings of Madame de…, La Ronde and Le Plaisir, all from the 1950s, as well as from her appearance in Jacques Demy's Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, where she played Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac's mother. But she's so much more: She embodies both the very history of French cinema and a certain idea of the country itself—witty, elegant, alternately suggesting wounded melancholy and irrepressible grace. Few actors share her versatility. (Meryl Streep perhaps? Let's check back in 30 years.)

Oh, and Darrieux could sing, too. She started her career in a string of musicals in the 1930s and stayed faithful to the genre with Demy in the 1960s and all the way through François Ozon's 8 Women in 2002. She even made it to Broadway in 1970, when she replaced Katharine Hepburn in Coco.

In this clip from Norman Taurog's 1951 movie Rich, Young and Pretty, Darrieux performs "There's Danger in Your Eyes." (In the film she plays Jane Powell's mother despite being only 34; a few years later, she'd be Richard Burton's mom, even though he was only seven years older than she was.) And here she sings a setting of Aragon's "Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux" in 8 Femmes.

A quick note about Occupe-toi d'Amélie: The film, extremely rare for decades because the Feydeau estate thought it took liberties with the play, is an absolute jewel. Autant-Lara constantly plays off the porous border between stage and life by setting things up as a play within the film—and a play in which the spectators periodically interrupt the action, Purple Rose of Cairo–style. The pace is downright dizzying as well: This is how farce needs to be done, with speed but also absolute precision.

Friday, February 20, 2009

French film follies

A couple more days in Paris. The overcast sky gives the perfect excuse go to the movies and hit the museums. Sticking to localfare, so far I've seen Nicolas Saada's debut, Espion(s), and Danièle Thompson's latest, Le code a changé. Two fine, if very different, examples of quality filmmaking, French-style.

The former is a brooding thriller that's been embraced by the critics here--unsurprisingly, perhaps, as Saada is one of their own (he used to write for Cahiers du Cinéma). The movie's been compared to some of Hitchcock's best and most romantic flicks, like Notorious, but it reminded me more of the British series MI5. And while I liked the slow pace (we're very, very far from spy shenanigans à la Bourne), if you're going to do the classic set piece in which somebody transfers information from a computer onto a USB key while trying not to be caught by a bad guyelse coming up the elevator (cue closeup of screen with "copy" status bar moving maddeningly slowly), you'd better come up with a new twist; alas, Saada doesn't. Still, a lovely performance by Géraldine Pailhas lifts things up.

As for Thompson's movie, it's yet another "choral" on, a style the writer-director particularly loves. I admit going mostly for the splendid cast, which includes two of my favorite comediennes, Marina Fois and Karin Viard--together at last. A scene in which gynecologist Fois gives lawyer Viard an exam was the icing on the religieuse.

Next stop: a reissue of Claude Autant-Lara's cult 1949 adaptation of the Feydeau farce Occuppe-toi d'Amélie, starring the scrumptious Danielle Darrieux, and François Ozon's new Ricky.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Low-cost travels

Going from Paris to Corsica to visit my family, I had my first experience with a Euro low-cost airline, Easy Jet. The flight was almost six hours late but everybody waited in relative calm, a new concept in France. This of course had everything to do with the fact that said flight was more than a third cheaper than the same one on Air France, which until recently had a de facto monopoly on flights from the continent to Corsica. The thing is, it is harder to feel angry when you bought a cheap ticket; the anger was also diffused by the fact that there was nobody from Easy Jet on site, only Charles de Gaulle airport employees assigned to Easy Jet, and they had barely more of a clue than we did. Rage with no specific target is just a waste of time, as we all discovered.

Never mind: I eventually made it to the island, where I discovered snow-capped mountains and a cold wave. All the more reason to stay inside and watch the world championship in slalom, where a Frenchman got silver. Needless to say, Alpine skiing doesn't really shake TV ratings back in the U.S., whereas here it's quite popular.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Where are you from?

The least you can say about snowbirds is that they love to chat, and the first thing they ask is, "Where are you from?" I guess when you're in Florida, or at least this part of Florida, so few people are local that this is a natural question. In two days we've met people from Ontario, Maine, Ohio, Ireland, New York, Michigan and Nebraska. I was seating next to the latter on a boat tour we took in Myakka State Park this afternoon. By the end, the wife was all friendly and invited me to drop by next time I was in Nebraska. "We're in the northeast part of the state, in an Indian reservation." She paused. "It's just horrible there. People don't work, kids drop out of school." Hmmm, okay then. This message not approved by the Nebraska Tourism Board.

Another thought prompted by vacationing in Florida: America really is segregated by age. The Sheila and I are 30 years younger than most people around us, a difference bigger than even at Saturday matinees on Broadway. We don't mind all that much but it can get odd. If you go to most French resorts, it's not rare to see three generations of a family vacationing together. (The past two winters, I went skiing with my mom and aunt, plus my sister and her husband, along with their young kids, and this isn't considered abnormal in the French Alps.) Such is not the case here. A vast generalization, I know, but it's just a little weird to see how this age-based division is implemented in Florida. In your early twenties you go to the party spots and get wasted, preferably before renting a jetski. In your thirties and early forties, you go out as a couple or as a young family. After that forget it: You are assumed to lose all sense of taste, and you're meant to only eat crap while pink becomes an acceptable color option for shorts. (Pink: it works for tween girls and senior citizens.) I wonder what's going to happen when the generation that's grown up on lattes and organic food nears retirement age. Granted, there is a class divide as well as one of age at work here. More on this later, as the lobby of our Venice Beach hotel isn't all that conducive to sociological musings.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Greetings from the Venetian causeway

When the Sheila and I travel, we do it in style. And so we decided to take a few days off in Venice. Not, not Venice, Italy. Not even Venice, California. We're actually in Venice, Florida, which is on something called "the Sun Coast" by the local tourism authority (ie the gulf coast roughly between Tampa and Fort Myers) and happens to be the subject of George Packer's devastating article called "The Ponzi State" in The New Yorker. It's a great if depressing read.

As readers of this blog know, I'm interested in public-transportation issues, especially when I travel. And this bit of Florida is a vivid, terrifying illustration of sprawl gone wild, where cars are necessary for just about everything. And everybody here seems to go for gas-guzzling SUVs, which doesn't help. It took us what felt like forever to drive down from Tampa to Venice on US 41, which looked more scenic than I-75 but turned out to be a traffic nightmare (on a Saturday afternoon) and an uninterrupted parade of strip malls and car dealerships with overflowing lots. This snake is biting its own tail, clearly. The only public transportation we could see consisted of the appealingly named SCAT (Sarasota County Area Transit) buses, which seem to carry only the darker-skinned people trimming hedges and working in drugstores. This all makes Los Angeles look really advanced. Packer quotes some local people who seem to realize the necessity of improving local transportation, including Tampa's mayor, but from here, the task looks positively herculean.

Venice itself is charming and actually quite walkable, so that's what we did today, saving the trip to the Smugglers' Cove Miniature Golf (which the Sheila is dreading, but nothing can keep me away from a putt-putt experience) for tomorrow.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Wave goodbye, say hello

A couple of new pieces in this week's Time Out New York: a review of Yoko Ogawa's middling novel, The Housekeeper and the Professor, and an interview with director James Gray, whose latest film, the rather wonderful Two Lovers, comes out next week. Gray was such a good talker that the web version includes outtakes from the interview. Make sure you catch him at BAM on February 10, when he'll introduce a sneak preview of Two Lovers.

As it turns out, these two articles are my last for Time Out. As some of you may know, I'm going off to the New York Post, where I'll replace Clive Barnes as chief drama critic. Big shoes to fill, I know, I know. My first review will be the revival of Guys and Dolls on March 2.

I'm taking some vacation before starting the new gig. I may do some road reports in the coming two weeks, but mostly I'm planning to catch up on my reading.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Throbbing Gristle hits NYC

A mere minutes after hearing about the gig, I was on ticketweb to buy my way into the Throbbing Gristle gig on April 16. The band is playing the Brooklyn Masonic Hall, its first NYC show since 1981. I just posted a lil announcement on the Time Out New York blog, with basic—very basic—background for those unfamiliar with TG.

While Genesis P-Orridge has had the highest profile of all four ex-TG members, I much prefer both Chris and Cosey and Coil—once the smoke surrounding P-Orridge's personal antics has cleared, the music itself just isn't very inspiring. The 1980s albums of Chris and Cosey, on the other hand, still sound great (The Essential Chris and Cosey Collection gives a good overview), while the apocalyptic visions of Coil's early output, especially 1984's Scatology and 1986's Horse Rotorvator, remain terrifying.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

It's a small world after all

Young Jean Lee's exploration of the white-black dialectic, The Shipment, is the show of the moment in New York, and I'm ready to bank on it returning later this year on a stage bigger than the Kitchen's. How hyped is it? Stephen Sondheim himself braved frigid temperatures to see it Friday night, and he stoically got crushed in the lobby, like everybody else, as we were waiting to be let in. Personally I feel The Shipment is merely pretty good—it's the first seriously overrated show of the season. Hedda Gabler, on the other hand, is getting a bum rap. It's far from being as disastrous as some would have it, and Mary-Louise Parker actually gives an interesting, far from obvious performance.

Neither over- nor underhyped, Room for Cream—a live soap presented weekly by the Dyke Division of the Theatre of a Two-Headed Calf company—is your typical downtown cult hit: It's packing them in (not that La MaMa is that big) yet remains somewhat under the radar. I could see myself becoming somewhat addicted to the show's rough-hewn charms…

Friday, January 30, 2009

And the Pop Club goes on

The latest Pop Club is up on the Time Out New York site. This week, we discuss new songs by U2, Keri Hilson and Kelly Clarkson. Exciting! Still, be prepared for a shock if you click on the link to the cover of Clarkson's single.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Under the spotlight

Every week, Thibaut Estellon's instructive blog, The French Creative Connection, features a Gallic expat working in the NYC arts scene. And now my turn has come. Warning: it's not in English. At least the feline grace with which I sit in an office chair needs no translation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Is The L Word is a Republican show?

There are two kinds of televised black holes, and I was sucked into both of them lately.

The first is when you become addicted to a TV series that's been going on for a while and catch up with it on DVD: You then sink into a black hole in which you compulsively watch episode after episode, wasting entire nights and weekends. Let's just say that the Sheila and I finally discovered the current iteration of Battlestar Galactica this weekend and were sucked into it. Don't even try to ask us for dinner over the next few weeks: when we're not at the theater, we'll be home watching this space opera.

The second kind of black hole is conjured by someone whose talent doesn't match his/her ego, leading to a rather different kind of sucking. Here, let me introduce you to Ilene Chaiken, the brain (I use the term loosely) behind The L Word. I've now watched the first four episodes of the new and last season, and I can only say that Chaiken has got to be one of the most inept writers to ever be put in charge of a TV series. It's not that crazy things can't happen on soaps, but they have to have an internal logic: they couldn't happen in our world, but they can make perfect sense within one specific fictional universe—which is why I can buy Cylons bent on destroying humanity in Battlestar Galactica, but I can't even buy the girls having breakfast together on The L Word, let alone some of the most delusional plot developments (imagine highly ironic quotation marks around the previous two words) cooked up by Chaiken.

But beyond these technical problems, my core issue with the show—and one that hasn't been raised, I believe—is that its value system is screwed up to the nth degree. I would argue that underneath its libertine surface and despite paying lip service to feminist issues, The L Word is a Republican show, and that is why it feels so jarring these days.

First, the entire show feels like a gated community: Let's live among people who are identical to ourselves and shut out all the others. Throwing in a black lesbian or a deaf one doesn't change anything to the suffocating sameness that binds the characters.

Second, the precepts followed by these women—except for Kit, Tasha and Max—include crushing the "little people," lying, cheating, abusing power, consuming conspicuously, worshipping money and appearances.

Take Bette, for instance. She's adored by the fans because Jennifer Beals is hottt and she also manages to make the character more sympathetic than she actually is. But look at Bette's words and actions: In addition to being a serial cheater, she's a rather unappealing snob who treats the people she perceives as inferiors like dirt (witness her recent and repulsive outburst when she called a hospital clerk a maggot) and often abuses her position (the episode with the grad student, and worse, when she tried to fire Jodi out of spite and with no professional grounds).

Or take Tina, Bette's girlfriend. She's had a different personality every season—only Helena had more—but one thing has remained constant: she's a spoiled, judgemental bourgeoise. Just recently, she was acting all superior because Bette has a bad record when it comes to faithfulness. But Tina herself had affairs! And her mild blond exterior only camouflages rather ugly behavior, like the way she treated her lesbian friends when she lived with a man.

And of course there's Jenny. It's fine that she's a total psychopath, every show needs one. But what I find jarring is that the other characters seem to think she's merely a wacky artiste. Jenny should be the series' über-villainess, recognized as such and used as such in terms of storytelling. Instead, the last season's bad girl was club promoter Dawn Denbo—compared to Jenny, a lightweight in the evil department. So yes, I find it completely insane that supposedly sympathetic characters tolerate Jenny in their midst. Kick her out of the holy circle and fight her! That way you'd get actual stories, instead of what passes for plot on The L Word: endless processing about relationships.

Friday, January 23, 2009

United States of Joyce DiDonato

Tonight's concert was quite a festival of darkness: "Anger, scorn, and fury," "I shall die, but avenged," "Within my soul it rises," "Fierce furies"… Except Tristan and I weren't at a black-metal gig (even if that Bathory guide has put me in the mood) but at an all-Handel recital by the French ensemble Les Talens Lyriques and mezzo Joyce DiDonato.

As we waited for the evening to start, Tristan and I were mistily reminiscing about seeing DiDonato in Hercules at BAM three years ago; glancing down at the program, he gasped "Oh my god, she's going to do my favorite aria from Hercules, the one she sang face down in the dirt!"

There was no dirt at Zankel Hall, but no matter: this concert rocked so hard!

Topped by a rather voluminous blonde mane, DiDonato looked like a lioness. Which felt particularly appropriate when she unleashed "Where Shall I Fly?" This aria is just so over the top that listening to it is like going through all the emotions of watching the craziest action movie ever. It was like watching someone who loses her mind then rides a rollercoaster then swims through a river full of piranhas, then stops for a cigarette break, but right away she starts hallucinating and after that she engages in a high-speed chase with a serial killer—except it lasts four minutes and she barely moves.

But then there were the moments when DiDonato was tender and broken-hearted, the ones where she was thoughtful, the ones when she was exuberant (the second encore, "Dopo Notte" from Ariodante, brought tears of happiness to my eyes). She could do it all, sometimes in such quick succession, it was like the classical version of Toni Collette in United States of Tara. I'm pretty sure I forgot to breathe at some point.

By the way, one of the reasons I love baroque is that it combines economy when it comes to lyrics with batty excess when it comes to vocal lines and emotions. Thus you get an aria like "Crude furie," in which four lines are heatedly sung over and over for something like three and a half minutes. The word veleno alone gets stretched to endless seconds each time. (I just saw that there's a CD alluringly titled Evil Arias by G. F. Händel, which once again shows it makes total sense to dig both baroque and metal; the genres also share a taste for highly technical pyrotechnics, even if metal could learn a thing or two from baroque when it comes to lyrical economy.)

This promo video shows DiDonato explaining her approach to Handel and then killing us softly with madness. You get to see the same lovely outfit she wore tonight, plus you hear the endearing accent of dashing Talens Lyriques conductor Christophe Rousset.