(This is the latest in a series of arts- and history-related videos that appear in this space each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)
Archives for October 2018
I confess to having been more stirred by the words of an actress I know whom I encountered in a theater lobby a couple of months ago. She introduced me to her boyfriend as follows: “Terry isn’t just a writer and a critic–he’s an artist, too. He’s writing an opera!”
This is a distinction whose significance I unhesitatingly admit. As far as I’m concerned, critics aren’t artists. In my capacity as a critic and biographer, I think of myself as an artisan–a craftsman. One of the reasons why I believe this to be so is because I used to be an artist back in the days when I was a professional musician. That fact has conditioned my approach to criticism….
Read the whole thing here.
The twenty-first episode of Three on the Aisle, the twice-monthly podcast in which Peter Marks, Elisabeth Vincentelli, and I talk about theater in America, is now available on line for listening or downloading.
Here’s an excerpt from American Theatre’s “official” summary of the proceedings:
This week, the critics answer a question from a reader about whether critical standards should be different in reviews of community theatre versus Broadway theatre.
Then they turn the tables on each other! The critics ask each other questions, such as, “Which Shakespeare play would you be happy never to see again?” and “What classic musical or play do you find irredeemably bad?”…
To listen, download the latest episode, read more about it, or subscribe to Three on the Aisle, go here.
In case you missed any previous episodes, you’ll find them all here.
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Broadway has caught up with Kenneth Lonergan, America’s greatest living dramatist, who has now had three of his six full-length plays produced there in the past four seasons, all of them masterly and all satisfyingly well-mounted. “The Waverly Gallery,” first performed in 1999, is an autobiographical memory play narrated by a young man whose grandmother suffers from dementia. It is a harrowingly honest group portrait of the havoc wrought by that disease, not only on those who have it but on those who love them, and this revival, directed with uncommon grace by Lila Neugebauer, is a close-to-ideal enactment of what might just be Mr. Lonergan’s most gripping stage play to date—which is saying something.
The family portrayed in “The Waverly Gallery” is a gaggle of what one of its members tartly describes as “liberal Upper West Side atheistic Jewish intellectuals.” Gladys (Elaine May), the matriarch, runs an art gallery that went to seed when her memory started to crumble. By now she is keeping it open just to have something to do all day, with her daughter (Joan Allen), son-in-law (David Cromer) and grandson (Lucas Hedges) doing all that they can to look after her, a task well on the way to becoming impossible…
Ms. May is not, of course, a stage actor—my guess is that she’s being miked—but her lack of experience in that specialized capacity doesn’t stop her from giving a performance that blends bewilderment with courage in a way that is beautifully, heartbreakingly right….
“The Ferryman,” Jez Butterworth’s new play, which has transferred to Broadway after a successful London run, is a kind of Irish counterpart of “August: Osage County,” a three-and-a-quarter-hour study of a close-knit rural family that is being pulled apart, in this case by the poisonous effects of political fanaticism. Largely devoid of the self-regarding pretentiousness that made his previous plays unwatchable, it builds to an explosively potent surprise ending whose force is diminished by the fact that it takes Mr. Butterworth most of the garrulous first act to finally get down to dramatic business….
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To read my review of The Waverly Gallery, go here.
To read my review of The Ferryman, go here.
Scenes from the original 2000 off-Broadway production of The Waverly Gallery, starring Eileen Heckart and directed by Scott Ellis:
Scenes from the Broadway transfer of The Ferryman:
In this week’s “Sightings” column I reflect on the renewed relevance of one of the most popular Hollywood films of the Forties. Here’s an excerpt.
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In the wake of the battle over the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court’s new associate justice, boiling vats of printer’s ink are still being spilled over the problem—if it is a problem—of cultural and political polarization in America. Is such polarization on the rise, or is it merely an optical illusion fostered by aggressive social-media trolling?
This question, unlikely as it may sound, came to my mind when Turner Classic Movies recently aired one of the biggest hit movies of 1946. “The Best Years of Our Lives,” in which William Wyler portrayed three vets who had just come home from serving in World War II, won nine Academy Awards and was praised by pretty much everybody who saw it when it first came out. Even the waspish Billy Wilder called it “the best-directed picture I’ve seen in my life.” “The Best Years of Our Lives” declined noticeably in popularity and prestige after 1960, partly because of its length (nearly three hours) and partly because younger critics, among them Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, dismissed it as a middlebrow weeper. But the film’s reputation has rebounded in recent years, in part because Mark Harris wrote about it so well in “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” (2014). Today, few months go by without its being screened on cable TV…
So what does “The Best Years of Our Lives” have to do with the latter-day polarization of America? Simple: It’s a portrait of a time when American men of all kinds were thrown together to fight for a common cause. You couldn’t buy your way out of the wartime draft, nor could you avoid it by staying in school. Unless you had bonafide health issues, you were normally expected to serve in the military if you were under the age of 45, and many older men volunteered anyway. No matter who you were or where you came from, you lived, worked and fought alongside men of every class and background (except, of course, for blacks, who were still subject to the shameful injustice of racial segregation). Even if you didn’t like them, you had to trust them—at times with your life….
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Read the whole thing here.
A scene from The Best Years of Our Lives: