Hollywood Homicide. Half cop drama, half Bull Durham-esque adult comedy, this wonderfully agreeable Ron Shelton-Harrison Ford-Josh Hartnett film was so hard to pigeonhole that it slipped between the commercial cracks when it was released in 2003, even though two prominent critics praised it. They were right. Ford is at his best as a middle-aged detective lost at sea in the everything-goes culture of postmodern Los Angeles, and the supporting cast (Keith David, Martin Landau, Lena Olin) is solid from top to bottom (TT).
Archives for July 2011
In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I report on two more Shakespeare & Company productions, Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It. Here’s an excerpt.
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Is it possible for a play to be so well known that there’s no longer anything new to do with it or say about it? If so, then “Romeo and Juliet” would fill the bill with room to spare. No Shakespeare play is more widely performed or frequently adapted. It’s been filmed, parodied and turned into operas and ballets. Semi-literate people can reel off its best-known lines without thinking twice. Factor in “West Side Story” and you’ve got a recipe for saturation-level cultural omnipresence, the kind that can set a drama critic’s eyeballs to rolling.
All true–and all blessedly irrelevant to Shakespeare & Company’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a production so unhackneyed and emotionally immediate that you’ll feel as though you’re seeing that most ubiquitous of masterpieces through a first-timer’s eyes. What’s more, Daniela Varon has brought off this miracle without ladling the rancid sauce of cleverness over Shakespeare’s text. Instead she’s given us a trick-free “R & J” devoid of the slightest hint of directorial manipulation, staged with passionate simplicity and performed by a cast whose youthful spark makes it possible to take the familiar plight of the star-crossed lovers at face value….
It’s by no means an original idea to stage “Romeo and Juliet” with exceptionally young-looking players, but Ms. Varon has gone the whole hog: Susannah Millonzi, her Juliet, is tween-slight and sullenly tomboyish, while David Gelles looks as though he’d taken time off from starring in a high-school romcom to play Romeo. Once again, though, there’s nothing tricky about this approach, especially in the case of Ms. Millonzi, who burns at both ends with an intensity hot enough to make you sweat….
A production as good as this one is by definition hard to follow, and even more so when you’re following it with another play that’s almost as familiar. But no apologies need be made for Tony Simotes’ “As You Like It,” a light and lovely romp charged with festive midsummer energy. Mr. Simotes, the company’s artistic director, has chosen to set Shakespeare’s great comedy of mistaken identity and romantic reconciliation in Paris in the Twenties, and Arthur Oliver, the costume designer, takes the ball and gallops down the field, dressing the cast in a riotously colorful medley of outfits that make you wish you could put on one of your own and join in the fun….
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Read the whole thing here.
“Compassion is something individual and voluntary. You cannot compel somebody to be compassionate; nor can you be vicariously compassionate by compelling somebody else. The Good Samaritan would have lost all merit if a Roman soldier were standing by the road with a drawn sword, telling him to get on with it and look after the injured stranger.”
Enoch Powell, Still to Decide
Here’s my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.
• Anything Goes (musical, G/PG-13, mildly adult subject matter that will be unintelligible to children, closes Jan. 8, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
• How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (musical, G/PG-13, perfectly fine for children whose parents aren’t actively prudish, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
• Master Class (drama, G/PG-13, not suitable for children, extended through Sept. 4, most performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
• Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
• The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)
• Million Dollar Quartet (jukebox musical, G, off-Broadway remounting of Broadway production, original run reviewed here)
“All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”
Enoch Powell, Joseph Chamberlain
Flanders & Swann sing “A Song of Patriotic Prejudice,” from At the Drop of Another Hat, as performed on Broadway in 1967:
(This is the latest in a weekly series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Wednesday.)
No–through th’extended globe his feelings run
As broad and general as th’unbounded sun!
No narrow bigot he;–his reason’d view
Thy interests, England, ranks with thine, Peru!
France at our doors, he sees no danger nigh,
But heaves for Turkey’s woes the impartial sigh;
A steady patriot of the world alone,
The friend of every country–but his own.
George Canning, “New Morality”
Now that I’m starting to plan my fall travels in earnest, it’s time for a newly revised repeat performance of this perennial posting. If you’ve seen it before and aren’t interested, my apologies!
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If you read the Friday Wall Street Journal or this blog with any regularity, you probably know that I’m the only drama critic in America who routinely covers theatrical productions from coast to coast. Don’t take my word for it, though. Ask Howard Sherman, formerly of the American Theatre Wing, who blogged as follows earlier this year:
To get a regional show to Broadway, one must find a producer who wants to champion the show and take it on as a major commitment. Unfortunately, producers aren’t flying to theatres around the country constantly checking out every possible new play and revival for their next Broadway success. And unless you’re in a major city and you have a preponderance of positive reviews by long established critics (whose numbers are in decline), your own entreaties aren’t likely to cause anyone to jump on a plane unless you already have a relationship with them.
As for “national press” discovering your work and bringing it to the attention of New York bound producers, your only real option is luring The Wall Street Journal‘s Terry Teachout to see your show (and Terry regularly publishes his guidelines for what he’s likely to be interested in). While The New York Times ventures out of town on occasion (though most frequently to the Berkshires, Chicago or London, it seems), it’s rare even for the country’s largest newspaper, USA Today, to see work outside of New York; attention from television and radio is even rarer.
So what if you run a company I haven’t visited? How might you lure me to come see you for the first time? Now’s the time to start asking that question, because I’m hard at work on my reviewing calendar for the first half of the 2011-12 season. Here, then, are the guidelines that I use for deciding which out-of-town shows to see, along with some suggestions for improving the ways in which you reach out to the press:
• Get your schedule to me as soon as possible. That means well in advance of the public announcement. I’ll keep it to myself.
• Basic requirements. I only review professional companies. I don’t review dinner theater, and it’s very unusual for me to visit children’s theaters. (Sorry, but I have to draw the line somewhere.) I’m more likely to review Equity productions, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and I’m strongly interested in small companies.
• You must produce a minimum of three shows each seasonand two of them have to be serious. I won’t put you on my drop-dead list for milking the occasional cash cow, but if The Santaland Diaries is your idea of a daring new play, I won’t go out of my way to come calling on you, either.
• I have no geographical prejudices. On the contrary, I love to range far afield, particularly to states that I haven’t yet gotten around to visiting in my capacity as America’s drama critic. Alaska and Colorado continue to loom largest, and I’m also way overdue for a repeat visit to Texas, but if you’re doing something exciting in (say) Mississippi or Montana, I’d be more than happy to add you to the list as well.
• Repertory is everything. I won’t visit an out-of-town company that I’ve never seen to review a play by an author of whom I’ve never heard. What I look for on a first visit is an imaginative mix of revivals of major playsincluding comediesand newer works by living playwrights and songwriters whose work I’ve admired. Some names on the latter list: Alan Ayckbourn, Brooke Berman, Nilo Cruz, Liz Flahive, Brian Friel, Athol Fugard, John Guare, Adam Guettel, A.R. Gurney, David Ives, Michael John LaChiusa, Kenneth Lonergan, Lisa Loomer, David Mamet, Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Itamar Moses, Lynn Nottage, Peter Shaffer, Stephen Sondheim, Shelagh Stephenson, and Tom Stoppard.
I also have a select list of older shows I’d like to review that haven’t been revived in New York lately (or ever). If you’re doing The Beauty Part, The Entertainer, Hotel Paradiso, The Iceman Cometh, Loot, Man and Superman, No Time for Comedy, Rhinoceros, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit, or just about anything by Jean Anouilh, Bertolt Brecht, T.S. Eliot, Horton Foote, William Inge, or Terence Rattigan, kindly drop me a line.
Finally, I’m very specifically interested in seeing large-cast plays that no longer get performed in New York for budgetary reasons.
• BTDT. I almost never cover regional productions of new or newish plays that I reviewed in New York in the past season or twoespecially if I panned them. Hence the chances of my coming to see your production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo are well below zero. (Suggestion: if you’re not already reading my Journal column, you might want to start.)
In addition, there are shows that I like but have written about more than once in the past few seasons and thus am not likely to seek out again for the next few seasons. Some cases in point: American Buffalo, Arcadia, Awake and Sing!, Biography, Blithe Spirit, Dividing the Estate, Endgame, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Glass Menagerie, Guys and Dolls, Heartbreak House, Life of Galileo, The Little Foxes, A Little Night Music, A Moon for the Misbegotten, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Our Town, Private Lives, She Loves Me, Speed-the-Plow, Twelve Angry Men, Waiting for Godot, West Side Story, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (I am, however, going to keep on reviewing What the Butler Saw until somebody gets it right!)
• I group my shots. It isn’t cost-effective for me to fly halfway across the country to review a single show. Whenever possible, I like to take in two or three different productions during a four- or five-day trip. (Bear in mind, though, that they don’t all have to be in the same city.) If you’re the publicist of the Upper Nowheresville Repertory Company and you want me to review your revival of Six Degrees of Separation, your best bet is to point out that TheaterNowhere also happens to be doing Lobby Hero that same weekend. Otherwise, I’ll probably go to Chicago instead.
• I don’t travel in the spring. Broadway is usually so busy in March and April that I’m not able to go anywhere else to see anything else. If you’re going to put on a show that you think might catch my eye, consider doing it between September and February.
• Web sites matter. A lot. A clean-looking home page that conveys a maximum of information with a minimum of clutter tells me that you know what you’re doing, thus increasing the likelihood that I’ll come see you. An unprofessional-looking, illogically organized home page suggests the opposite. (If you can’t spell, hire a proofreader.) This doesn’t mean I won’t consider reviewing youI know appearances can be deceivingbut bad design is a needless obstacle to your being taken seriously by other online visitors.
If you want to keep traveling critics happy, make very sure that the front page of your Web site contains the following easy-to-find information and features:
(1) The title of your current production, plus its opening and closing dates.
(2) Your address and main telephone number (not the box office!).
(3) A SEASON or NOW PLAYING button that leads directly to a complete list of the rest of the current and/or upcoming season’s productions. Make sure that this listing includes the press opening date of each production!
(4) A CALENDAR or SCHEDULE button that leads to a month-by-month calendar of all your performances, including curtain times.
(5) A CONTACT US button that leads to an updated directory of staff members (including individual e-mail addresses, starting with the address of your press representative).
(6) A DIRECTIONS or VISIT US button that leads to a page containing directions to your theater and a printable map of the area. Like many people, I rely on my GPS unit when driving, so it is essential that this page also include the street address of the theater where you perform. Failure to conspicuously display this address is a hanging offense. (I also suggest that you include a list of recommended restaurants and hotels that are close to the theater.)
This is an example of a good company with an attractive, well-organized Web site on which most of the above information is easy to find.
• Please omit paper. I strongly prefer to receive press releases via e-mail, and I don’t want to receive routine Joe-Blow-is-now-our-assistant-stage-manager announcements via any means whatsoever.
• Write to me here. Mail sent to me at my Wall Street Journal e-mail address invariably gets lost in the flood of random press releases. As a result, I no longer recommend that anyone write to me there. I get a lot of spam at my “About Last Night” mailbox, too, but not nearly as much as I do at the Journal. Any e-mail sent to me at the Journal that contains attachments will be discarded unread.
(Really smart publicists will know how to find out my personal e-mail address, and will use it instead of writing to me here.)
• Mention this posting. I’ve come to see shows solely because publicists who read my blog wrote to tell me that their companies were doing a specific show that they had good reason to think might interest me. Go thou and do likewise.
“First comes the language of commitment and incitement, then come the corpses.”
David Pryce-Jones, Treason of the Heart: From Thomas Paine to Kim Philby
Debra Bricker Balken, John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury (Yale, $40). The catalogue of the Portland Museum’s superlative exhibition of Marin’s late paintings and watercolors, which runs through Oct. 10, is itself a first-class effort, a penetrating study of a great painter whose work is no longer widely known save to students of American modernism. Might a Marin revival be in the offing? Between this show and the watercolor retrospective now on display at Atlanta’s High Museum, it’s starting to look like a real possibility. Read Balken’s book and find out what you’ve been missing (TT).