Monday, May 10, 2010

Don't Know What You've Got 'til It's Gone?

An acting teacher plays "Celebrities" with his college students and his horror grows:

The first two players “Marsha” and “Donald” joined me at the front of the classroom. I stood between the duo holding a small white bowl for the rejects (i.e. names the clue giver – Marsha in this case – could pass on). Also in my possession was an open Ziploc bag containing the notables. From which each was to be pulled as I watched the clock.

“Ready… set,” I began, “and go!”

Into the bag Marsha thrust her hand. Her force of such that I had to grip tighter onto the plastic. She pulled out one of the small, rectangular slips of paper. I saw the name typed on it; Ben Kingsley.

“Don’t know him,” Marsha said quickly as she tossed into the pass bowl the knighted actor who notably won an Oscar for his portrayal of Gandhi. Her right hand plowed back into the bag for another name. She pulled out several pieces of paper. She looked at the first one. Her eyebrows rose. Her nose crinkled as if smelling something foul.

“Don’t know her.” Marsha quipped. She threw the celebrity into the disposal bowl. I looked at who had been passed upon. Helen Hayes. Oh my God.

Donald was getting worried. He desperately needed the extra credit to get anything resembling a passing grade for the semester. Marsha looked at another of the celebrity slips in her hand.

“Oh God,” she whined, “who are these people?!”

Marsha tossed another name into the bowl-de-pass. Walter Matthau. Several more notable thespians, without try, went flying into the proverbial port-o-potty I was holding. Greta Garbo. Yul Brynner. Bob Hope. Grace Kelley. Moss Hart. George S. Kauffman. Then she hit upon someone she recognized.

“Oh, oh!” she blurted as she began jumping up and down, “I know this one. He’s really, really old. That wrinkly guy from 8 Simple Rules.”

Donald hadn’t a clue about Marsha’s clue. He stared blankly at Marsha who countered back, “You know… he’s ancient. Probably dead.”

He was very much alive and his name is James Garner...

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Secret Agents Hit Boston - One Weekend Only

This weekend check out the inventive and fun duo: They Gotta Be Secret Agents at the Charlestown Working Theatre.

I was quite taken with their acrobatics in Rough and Tumble's Hinterlands a few years back, and was happy to see that they have gone on to win praise on the fringe circuit and have come back to Boston with their show Poste Restante.

One weekend only before they head off to Prague and Dresden!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Enron Aftermath

Critics are jumping over each other to prove themselves the smartest guys in the room when teasing out the Broadway failure of the West End hit Enron. The show shuttered over the weekend after failing to capture a Tony Nomination for Best Play.

To get a feel for the show's critical reception, you may want to start at Isaac Butler's Stagegrade, where you can see links to all of the reviews of the show - Rotten Tomatoes style. What you'll notice is that Ben Brantley of the New York Times seemed to be, pretty much, the most underwhelmed of all the reviewers. (Although Terry Teachout might have hated it more.) This is the starting point for most of the postmortems.

U.K. Guardian critic Michael Billington, a big supporter of the show in its London premiere, hauled off on Brantley and showed a barely concealed contempt for New York theatre in general:

One reason for the attacks is the entrenched American view that visual pyrotechnics and razzle-dazzle are the province of the musical. Plays, on the other hand, are judged by their fidelity to what a critic once called "the visible and audible surfaces of everyday life". It's permissible for Wicked or –Legally Blonde to deploy expressionist –techniques but, on Broadway at least, plays are expected to conform to the realist rules.


I've long said the beating heart of US theatre is in Chicago, from which two terrific new plays, Tracy Letts's August: Osage County and Lynn Nottage's Ruined, recently emerged. In fact, next time an ambitious producer thinks of taking a London hit-play to Broadway, I'd suggest they ask the question that used to adorn posters in wartime: is your journey really necessary?

Isaac Butler responds to Billington:

These bad-faith arguments are also easily reversed. I could simply reply to Billington's claims that American's don't know how to process non-musical spectacle with saying that Brits are too easily wowed by it, and allow assertive directorial hands to woo them, causing them to ignore the total lack of substance or structural rigor in work put on by, say, Shunt, or the fact that Black Watch is just an over-long catalogue of macho pro-war movie cliches with dance sequences that gives its audience a hand job of empathic self-congratulation at the end.

David Cote of TimeOut New York, a fan of the Broadway Enron, agrees with Billington and Butler that the "first cause" of the closing is Ben Brantley's review, but then goes on:

Second cause is easy: No one wants to pay top dollar for a depressing docudrama (however decked out in multimedia flash) about how our economy is built on lies and illusion. Third cause: No stars. Imagine if Sean Hayes and James Spader were headlining Enron; it would pack more box-office clout (and maybe Brantley would have liked it more). Fourth: Creepy pseudo-religious marketing made Enron look less like a play and more like a Scientology recruitment event (which is apt, but it doesn’t sell tickets).

Lastly, Jason Zinoman, writing in Vanity Fair, holds that the play is the thing, as in, Lucy Prebble, the playwright, tried to play it too safe:

The answer reveals much about the relationship between the English and American theater scenes. Americans have a certain inferiority complex about British drama. If you want to get a meaty, challenging play produced on Broadway, put it up on London’s West End first. But we also have certain expectations of these imports, namely that they be serious, smart, and cerebral. Enron seemed perfect, since it dealt with dense subject matter and thorny ethical issues. But instead of embracing complexity, Prebble and her director, Rupert Goold, tried to put on a big show, with music and spectacle and giant video screens. In the context of Broadway, this might have actually been a bigger risk than a sober drama, because when it comes to showmanship, Americans think they know a thing or two. You Brits talk nice, but leave the jazz hands to us.

In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time!

Our 48 Hour Film Project entry this year is "Pie Heist" in which a geriatric picnic-goer is determined to heist a strawberry rhubarb pie. You might not recognize the old man at first, but he is the talented Erik Rodenhiser, (also seen in some of the commercials I post on here.) It screens tonight at the Kendall Square cinema at 7:00PM in Group C.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Salem T Tunnel

Salem T Tunnel, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

I took this photo as I was leaving Salem after our shooting for the 48 Hour Film Project.

A Major Political Candidate and Beckett

Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan, who points to this Guardian column by British Prime Minister Candidate Nick Clegg:

So I am grateful to those writers who have made it easy to go back to them, night after night, year after year. They are the greats, and Samuel Beckett is one of them. My first encounter with Beckett was when I was studying in Minnesota and I acted in a student production of Krapp's Last Tape. Back then I remember images of Beckett making as great an impression on me as his work. He always looked so impressive – that beak-like nose, eyes staring dead into the camera – and he had an austerity to him, even when he was young, that makes it very easy to connect the man to the words.

Since then I must have read Waiting for Godot – of course – a hundred times. Every time I go back to Beckett he seems more subversive, not less; his works make me feel more uncomfortable than they did before. The unsettling idea, most explicit in Godot, that life is habit – that it is all just a series of motions devoid of meaning – never gets any easier.