Lookback: a hot day in August

LOOKBACKFrom 2005:

You have to live in Manhattan to know how hot it gets here in the middle of August. The only film I can think of that conveys the sheer awfulness of the kind of heat wave that now has us in a tight, slimy stranglehold is Rear Window, whose noirish subject matter puts me in mind of one of my favorite Raymond Chandler quotes: “It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” Alas, there was nothing dry about the heat in New York this weekend. No sooner did you step outside than it smacked you in the face like a steamy towel wielded by a sadistic barber. (See? Heat waves make everyone Chandleresque, or at least me.)….

Read the whole thing here.

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Almanac: Edward G. Robinson on critics

INK BOTTLE“I try not to pay attention to notices, reviews. I try not to read them. But I have no discipline. I try to be cool about the good ones; the bad ones kill me.”

Edward G. Robinson (with Leonard Spigelgass), All My Yesterdays

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Just because: Liberace plays the Liszt A Major Piano Concerto

TV CAMERALiberace plays an excerpt from Liszt’s A Major Piano Concerto on an undated episode of The Liberace Show filmed in the Fifties. He had previously performed the entire concerto with Hans Lange and the Chicago Symphony in 1940, when he was twenty years old. The cello solo is by Ennio Bolognini:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

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Almanac: Wolcott Gibbs on editing a play

INK BOTTLE“Cut any sentence in the play that needs a comma. A semi-colon is disastrous. In fact, the best play has no punctuation whatsoever.”

Wolcott Gibbs (quoted in Marjory Adams, “Principals of ‘Season in the Sun’ Eat Well Before Premiere Verdict, Boston Globe, Nov. 12, 1950)

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Black, brown, and blue

In today’s Wall Street Journal I review two new plays, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Annie Baker’s John off Broadway. Here’s an excerpt.

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Reading, the Pennsylvania city whose name has become a byword for Rust Belt poverty, is the subject of not one but two new plays this year, Douglas Carter Beane’s “Shows for Days” and Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat.” But while Mr. Beane gave us a frothy farce about how he fell in love with theater by joining a local drama troupe, Ms. Nottage has chosen instead to take a searching look at the workers who lost their jobs when the factories of Reading started shutting down.

It is Ms. Nottage’s special gift—I’m tempted to call it, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, her genius—to bring politically charged themes to dramatic life by embodying them in characters whom she portrays not as spokesmen for a cause but as ordinary people living ordinary lives. You can see how she does it in “Sweat,” whose theme is the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on America’s unionized working class. The play is set in a blue-collar bar, and its principal characters are a racially diverse group of men and women whose well-paying jobs (“I plan on retiring from the plant when I’m like 50 with a killer pension and money to burn”) are in the process of migrating to Mexico. What is at stake, it soon emerges, is not just their ability to pay the rent but the very meaning of their lives….

2015_Sweat_1_jg_0088-h_yqkojfNo, Ms. Nottage doesn’t have all the answers, or any of them. Her play is a one-sided shriek of pain, not a coolly reasoned position paper on macroeconomics, and some will doubtless dismiss it for that reason alone. They shouldn’t: “Sweat” is fully and illuminatingly alive to the moral complexities of the situation that it depicts. Among other things, Ms. Nottage doesn’t let us forget that the union now fighting for the jobs of its members once fought to keep blacks and Latinos out of the factories of Reading…

Annie Baker has followed the critical and commercial success of “The Flick,” her Pulitzer-winning dark comedy about a trio of lonely losers, with “John,” in which she approaches the same subject from a different angle. This time around we meet Elias and Jenny (Christopher Abbott and Hong Chau), an unhappy couple who seek to salvage their shaky relationship by paying a Christmastime visit to a too-quaint-for-words Gettysburg B&B. Their host (Georgia Engel, who seems not to have changed at all since she played Georgette in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) is a mousy older woman whose insipid manner masks an intense devotional life of which we see only suggestive flashes…

An exceedingly promising setup, in other words, and “John” is full of poetic, handsomely wrought scenes that ought to add up to more than they do. The problem, once again, is that Ms. Baker has drowned them in a sea of portentous pauses and protracted silences…

* * *

To read my review of Sweat, go here.

To read my review of John, go here.

The trailer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Sweat:

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Replay: Henri Matisse at work in 1946

TV CAMERA“Henri Matisse,” the German-language version of a 1946 documentary directed by François Campaux in which Matisse is shown at work in his studio:

To read about the film and its contents, go here.

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.)

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Almanac: Henri Matisse on the secret of staying young

INK BOTTLE“‘Every day,’ he said, ‘I’ve got to get hold of something by the throat and strangle it. And that keeps me young.’”

Henri Matisse, in conversation with Edward G. Robinson (quoted in All My Yesterdays: An Autobiography, by Edward G. Robinson with Leonard Spigelgass)

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So you want to see a show?

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.

BROADWAY:
An American in Paris (musical, G, too complex for small children, some performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Fun Home (serious musical, PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, some performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Hamilton (musical, PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Hand to God (black comedy, X, absolutely not for children or prudish adults, reviewed here)
The King and I (musical, G, perfect for children with well-developed attention spans, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, some performances sold out last week, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (comedy, G, ideal for bright children, remounting of Broadway production, original production reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)
The Flick (serious comedy, PG-13, too long for young people with limited attention spans, reviewed here)

IN NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONTARIO:
Sweet Charity (musical, PG-13, closes Oct. 31, reviewed here)
You Never Can Tell (Shaw, PG-13, closes Oct. 25, reviewed here)

IN SPRING GREEN, WIS.:
An Iliad (drama, PG-13, closes Oct. 18, reviewed here)
The Island (drama, PG-13, closes Sept. 26, reviewed here)
The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare, PG-13, closes Oct. 4, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON IN SPRING GREEN, WIS.:
A Streetcar Named Desire (drama, PG-13, closes Sept. 5, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON OFF BROADWAY:
The Weir (drama, PG-13, remounting of original off-Broadway production, closes Sept. 6, original production reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON ON BROADWAY:
On the Town (musical, G, contains double entendres that will not be intelligible to children, closing Sept. 6, reviewed here)

shaxco-mothermaidCLOSING SOON IN LENOX, MASS.:
Mother of the Maid (drama, PG-13, closing Sept. 6, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON IN NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONTARIO:
The Twelve-Pound Look (one-act comedy, G, not suitable for children, closes Sept. 12, reviewed here)

CLOSING NEXT WEEK IN GARRISON, N.Y.:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare, PG-13, closes Aug. 28, reviewed here)
The Winter’s Tale (Shakespeare, PG-13, closes Aug. 29, reviewed here)

CLOSING SUNDAY OFF BROADWAY:
Cymbeline (Shakespeare, PG-13, reviewed here)
Shows for Days (comedy, PG-13, sexual situations, reviewed here)

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Almanac: Marcel Proust on choosing a lover

INK BOTTLE“Like everybody who is not in love, he imagined that one chose the person whom one loved after endless deliberations and on the strength of various qualities and advantages.”

Marcel Proust, Sodome et Gomorrhe

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