Living in Oblivion. Mrs. T and I recently treated ourselves to a viewing of Tom DiCillo’s prize-winning low-budget 1995 indie flick about the making of (what else?) a low-budget indie flick. Two decades later, it remains one of the funniest and most knowing screen comedies ever made, with wonderfully well-judged performances by Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener. Whit Stillman loves it, and so will you (TT).
Archives for February 2014
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. I only just got around to reading this Pulitzer-winning 2010 study of the Great Migration, in which Wilkerson talked to and looked at the complicated lives of three of the countless southern blacks who moved north in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s to escape the nightmare of racism in the Deep South. It’s not so much a piece of formal scholarship as an exercise in historically informed storytelling, but on that level it’s a really remarkable piece of work, written with immense sensitivity and packed with a wealth of telling, near-novelistic detail. For once, the subtitle is no exaggeration: this really is an epic story (TT).
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (Walter Kerr, 219 W. 48). A brilliantly effective musical-comedy adaptation of the same 1907 novel by Roy Horniman on which Kind Hearts and Coronets was also based, with Jefferson Mays giving a fabulous performance as the multiple murder victims whom Alec Guinness portrayed in the film (TT).
No doubt you’ve heard more than enough from me about Satchmo at the Waldorf, which is currently in previews at New York’s Westside Theatre and will open there next Tuesday, eight days from now. My excuse, if I need one, is that it’s hard for me to think about anything else. It’s a big deal when a writer’s first play opens off Broadway–for the writer, anyway–and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to keep an even strain as the great day approaches.
Prior to last Friday I couldn’t quite put my finger on the precise nature of the sensations that I’ve been experiencing. Then it hit me: I feel as though a loved one were undergoing surgery while I sit in the waiting room, waiting to find out whether she made it. Yes, John Douglas Thompson and Gordon Edelstein, the star and director of Satchmo at the Waldorf, are the best “doctors” in the world, and I trust them completely–but the fact remains that there’s nothing more for me do. It’s their show now.
I made a couple of minor changes to the text of Satchmo on Wednesday morning. Gordon staged them that same afternoon and John performed them in the evening. The three of us agreed afterward that they should stay in the show…and that’s it for me. The show is now “frozen,” meaning that what you see on stage this week is what you’ll see on opening night. Yes, John continues to refine his performance–he’ll do that throughout the run–but the play itself is now officially finished. All that remains is to read the reviews and see how we do at the box office. I’m still showing up at rehearsals, but only because I can’t bear to be anywhere else.
It helps that I’m not taking time off from my day job. I saw three shows last week and will see two more this week, and I have three pieces to write, two for The Wall Street Journal and one for Commentary, between now and Thursday. Mrs. T returns from Florida on Wednesday, and my brother and sister-in-law are coming to New York this weekend to see a preview. On top of all that, John and I will be taping a Satchmo-related episode of Theater Talk on Friday afternoon.
In short, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy, for which I’m infinitely grateful. But it’s still going to be a long, long week in the waiting room.
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The Clyde Fitch Report, one of New York’s most widely read theater blogs, interviewed me last week as part of its “Critical I” series of conversations with drama critics. The questions were excellent. To find out whether my answers were any good, go here and see for yourself.
Marc Myers of JazzWax asked me five sharp questions about Satchmo at the Waldorf over the weekend. Marc’s questions, and my answers, are here.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Masterworks Broadway, two CDs). A complete performance of Edward Albee’s now-classic 1964 play, performed by the entire original cast: Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, George Grizzard, and Melinda Dillon. Originally produced for Columbia by Goddard Lieberson and taped four months after the Broadway premiere, this astonishing historical document has never been reissued in any format since its original release. Must listening for anyone who cares about American theater (TT).
Matisse as Printmaker (Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, Fla., up through Mar. 16). Sixty-three aquatints, color prints, etchings, linocuts, lithographs, and monotypes by the greatest visual artist of the twentieth century. An exquisite single-gallery show that repays close attention and multiple visits (TT).
A 1970 “Great American Soup” commercial, written by Stan Freberg and starring Ann Miller:
(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)
“I took it for granted, I do not know quite why, that the more agony a play generated in the writing, the better it was likely to emerge as a play. I am inclined to believe now that the very opposite is likely to be true. Agonizing effort has a way somehow of permeating the stage and drifting out across the footlights.”
Moss Hart, Act One
In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review The Bridges of Madison County. Here’s an excerpt.
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The producers of “The Bridges of Madison County” were smart to bill it as “Broadway’s New Romantic Musical.” Full-bore romanticism is in short supply on the musical-comedy stage these days–it almost always comes slathered in just-kidding-folks irony and pastiche–and Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman hold nothing back in their stage version of Robert James Waller’s 1992 novel about an itinerant photographer (Steven Pasquale) who falls for an Italian-born rural housewife (Kelli O’Hara) and spends four days wooing, winning, bedding and losing her in between assignments for the National Geographic. The score is lush, the sentiments starry-eyed, and if you’re the happy owner of one of the 12 million copies of Mr. Waller’s book that are currently in print, this show’s for you.
If, on the other hand, you regard the novel and its Clint Eastwood-directed 1995 screen adaptation as sticky bucketfuls of diabetes bait, there are still reasons to see “Bridges,” the first and best of which is Ms. O’Hara. Her open-hearted performance is as believably acted and immaculately sung as anything she’s ever done….
Up to a point, Mr. Brown’s warm, expansive score is an equally strong selling point for “Bridges.” Parts of it are as musically exciting as anything heard on Broadway since Stephen Sondheim’s glory days….
But Mr. Brown is rather better at writing scenes than songs, and except for “Another Life,” a sweetly folk-flavored ballad sung in a flashback by Robert’s ex-wife (Whitney Bashor), none of the songs in “The Bridges of Madison County” has a clear-cut, boldly shaped melodic profile–or, for that matter, a truly memorable lyric. This would be less of a problem if Mr. Brown and Ms. Norman, who wrote the book, hadn’t decided to open up Mr. Waller’s uneventful plot by packing “Bridges” with short ensemble numbers that illustrate the memories of its two principal characters. The result is a musical that feels dramatically choppy, and in which the songs rarely seem to pay off….
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Read the whole thing here.
“I once made a list of all the things that everyone lies about. Much of it is, alas, unprintable in this savagely Puritan age, but I remember that sandwiched between a reluctance to reveal the fact that one had not read The Bridge of San Luis Rey and that one couldn’t compose away from the piano came the habit of disguising one’s affection for the operas of Puccini.”
Constant Lambert, “Puccini: A Vindication”