Yesterday I pointed to Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Demon Lover.” Today continue the ghostly march toward Halloween with Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat,” which can be found in her first collection, Stranger Things Happen, as well as her latest, Pretty Monsters. As before: print & read in a crowded place.
Archives for October 24, 2008
In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review two shows, one on Broadway (Speed-the-Plow) and one in suburban Chicago (Writers’ Theatre’s Picnic). The first is uneven, the second…well, perfect. Here’s a excerpt.
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David Mamet writes funny plays about horrible people. “Speed-the-Plow,” in which a pair of vulturine Hollywood executives wrangle over the shapely carcass of a not-so-innocent secretary, was first seen in 1988 in a production that starred Joe Mantegna, Ron Silver and Madonna, a cast about which New York playgoers are still talking. I wasn’t lucky enough to catch it back then, but the 20th-anniversary revival, which features Broadway star Raúl Esparza and two hot young cable-TV guns, Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men” and Jeremy Piven of “Entourage,” shows that Mr. Mamet’s best play has lost none of its zing in the intervening years–even though Neil Pepe’s well-meaning production isn’t as good as it ought to be.
Like all of Mr. Mamet’s so-called comedies, “Speed-the-Plow” is grimly serious just beneath the surface, a variation on Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” in which the hell where his three ambitious characters reside is not a locked room but a film studio. Mr. Esparza gets the point, and the results are terrifying to behold. As Charlie Fox, the fawning underling who longs to get out from under and sees his main chance going astray, he twists himself into a double knot of aggression and desperation, then rips himself loose in a comic explosion that rocks the theater….
Mr. Piven, who plays Mr. Esparza’s boss, lacks his knockdown punch. In a Mamet play, the dialogue must sound like an Uzi being fired at a big brass bell, and Mr. Piven, despite his extensive stage experience, is a bit too soft around the edges to keep the bell ringing. As for Ms. Moss, she gives an unconvincingly mousy one-note performance…
William Inge wrote four Broadway hits in a row between 1950 and 1957, all of which were turned into hit movies. After that he lost his touch, left New York and committed suicide, but throughout the ’50s his track record was so consistent that suspicious critics came to doubt his seriousness. Last season’s Broadway revival of “Come Back, Little Sheba” persuaded me otherwise, and now Writers’ Theatre, a remarkable little troupe based in suburban Chicago, has mounted a production of “Picnic” that blasts the bull’s-eye out of the target. Directed by David Cromer, it is one of the best performances of anything–and I mean anything, not just plays–that I’ve seen in my life, and it also leaves no possible doubt that Inge was not a mere commercial craftsman but an indisputably major artist, one of this country’s half-dozen greatest playwrights….
Everybody in Writer’s Theatre’s “Picnic,” and everybody involved with it, deserves the highest possible praise. This is a destination show, worth traveling any distance to see.
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Read the whole thing here.
Watch my wsj.com video review of Speed-the-Plow here:
Maestro, BBC-2’s latest venture into reality-TV programming, has yet to be imported to the United States, no doubt because it’s a trifle arty for the average American TV viewer. In the series, which ran throughout August and September, eight semi-celebrities took crash courses in orchestral conducting, then competed for a chance to conduct the BBC Concert Orchestra as part of a televised concert. (The comedian won.) Not altogether surprisingly, Maestro attracted quite a bit of attention in the British press, not all of it favorable. Norman Lebrecht, for instance, called it “a new nadir in arts broadcasting” and “a calculated insult to art.”
It happens that I know a thing or two about conducting–I did a fair amount of it in my college days–and so I decided that Maestro would make a suitable topic for my “Sightings” column in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal. Is it really true, as the producers of Maestro seem to suggest, that you don’t have to be a trained musician in order to successfully lead a symphony orchestra? Or might there possibly be more to the art of conducting than waving a wooden stick? To find out, pick up a copy of Saturday’s Journal and see what I have to say.
UPDATE: Read the whole thing here.
Watch Sue Perkins, the winner of the Maestro competition, conduct the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony here:
“If you rest, you rust.”
Helen Hayes, My Life in Three Acts