“The more I read in the literature of the Good War, the more certain I am that it is in memoirs like Donald R. Burgett’s Currahee! and E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed and the dispatches of such journalists as A.J. Liebling and Ernie Pyle that the very best American wartime writing is to be found–with a single exception. Of the countless novels of World War II written by American vets, the only one to which I return regularly is James Gould Cozzens’s Guard of Honor…”
Archives for October 16, 2009
“The parlors of small-town America are full of novels that made their way onto the bestseller lists once upon a time. Some were dismissed as commercial trash by the critics of their day, but others were taken seriously and written about earnestly. Many were Books of the Month, and a few won Pulitzer Prizes. Now they gather dust in the unused front rooms of homes whose owners have moved the TV to a friendlier part of the house…”
“The O’Connor everyone remembers is Flannery, who wrote herself into the history of American literature by looking at the poor white Protestants of her native Georgia through the X-ray glasses of Roman Catholic dogma. But there was another Catholic novelist named O’Connor at work in the Fifties and Sixties, and for a time he was both better known and vastly more popular…”
Broadway and off-Broadway are roaring to life as the 2009-10 season gets underway. In this week’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review three newly opened shows, Bye Bye Birdie, Oleanna, and Let Me Down Easy. Here’s an excerpt.
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If you’re looking for light entertainment, you can’t get much lighter than “Bye Bye Birdie,” a flyweight farce about the coming of rock and roll to small-town America….
Vast amounts of money and energy have been poured into this production, for the most part to winning effect. Robert Longbottom’s brisk staging and clever choreography flow together seamlessly. The quick-change space-age sets, designed by Andrew Jackness, look as though they’d been swiped from the warehouse of a late-’60s TV variety show. Jonathan Tunick’s new orchestrations evoke Nelson Riddle and Count Basie with smoothly swinging exactitude. The costumes are colorful, the chorus fabulous, the pit band hip.
So what’s the catch? Just this: Only one of the stars can sing….
Not to put too fine a point on it, the Roundabout’s revival of “Bye Bye Birdie” is the worst-sung musical I’ve ever seen on Broadway. If that prospect doesn’t faze you, or if you’re tone-deaf, then go with my blessing…
The Los Angeles revival of David Mamet’s “Oleanna” that I praised in this space in July has now transferred to Broadway. The big difference is that it’s being acted on a proscenium stage in New York, which diminishes the fist-in-the-face impact that Doug Hughes’ production had when I saw it on the thrust stage of the Mark Taper Forum. I think this may explain why the play seems to get off to a slower start: Bill Pullman has to work harder to fill the space of the John Golden Theatre, and in the first scene it feels as though the play is catching up with his twitchy, hyperactive performance as a college professor charged with sexual harassment. Once Mr. Pullman and the script get into sync, though, “Oleanna” flies to the finish line, and Julia Stiles is terrific throughout…
Anna Deavere Smith’s new one-woman show bills itself as being about health care, but the truth is that “Let Me Down Easy” is mostly about the grimmer subject of death and dying. Not only are the results depressing in the extreme, but Ms. Smith’s latest exercise in theatrical journalism, in which she delivers monologues based on interviews with a dozen real-life characters, is stronger on the journalism than the theater. Her flat-textured “impersonations” of such familiar figures as Lance Armstrong and Lauren Hutton run to caricature…
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Read the whole thing here.
Scientists are forever proving what everybody knows, especially when it comes to music. It’s been demonstrated, for instance, that music has the power to influence our perception of human emotions–but how does that process work? Might it possibly be related to the endlessly intriguing question of what, if anything, music means? That’s the subject of my latest “Sightings” column in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.
Could it be that the emotional power of music has something to do with the fact that we don’t know what it means? To find out, pick up a copy of tomorrow’s Journal and see what I have to say.
UPDATE: Read the whole thing here.
“The week in the hospital was a long and exquisitely serialized course of suspense. Nothing in the X ray, nothing in the blood tests, nothing in the other examinations. There remained a report on a throat culture that had had to be sent to the state laboratory. That turned up some streptococcus infection.
“‘So that’s it,’ Dr. Cameron said, greeting me at the elevator. ‘Her temperature’s been normal now for two days, so it’s probably let up. She’s just walked in the hall without any pains. She feels a lot better. Give it another day and you can take her home. But anyhow, we’ve eliminated everything serious.’
“That was the happiest moment of my life. Or the next several days were the happiest days of my life. The fairy would not become a gnome. We could break bread in peace again, my child and I. The greatest experience open to man is the recovery of the commonplace. Coffee in the morning and whiskeys in the evening again without fear. Books to read without that shadow falling across the page. Carol curled up with one in her chair and I in mine. And the bliss of finishing off an evening with a game of rummy and a mug of cocoa together. And how good again to sail into Tony’s midtown bar, with its sparkling glasses, hitherto scarcely noticed, ready to tilt us into evening, the clean knives standing upended in their crocks of cheese at the immaculate stroke of five. My keyed-up senses got everything: the echo of wood smoke in Cheddar, of the seahorse in the human spine (the fairy would not be a gnome!), of the dogwood flower in the blades of an electric fan, or vice versa…But you can multiply for yourself the list of pleasures to be extorted from Simple Things when the world has once again been restored to you.”
Peter De Vries, The Blood of the Lamb