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Monday, December 8, 2014

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dokumenty

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

What keeps Assassins alive?

ABC Reiew The talented cast of Assassins at the New Rep. Photos: Andrew Brilliant.Before I knew it, the New Rep's Assassins had closed, and I had never given it full consideration while it was still on the boards. Of course Hub Review regulars know that I usually dawdle when I'm torn about something - and I was certainly of two minds about Assassins.For I've never been much of a fan of this late Sondheim show (and three exposures to it have done little to change my opinion).  Indeed, to me it marks the moment when Steve jumped the shark; but many of the master's fans feel otherwise - the New Rep's Jim Petosa is clearly enamored with it, and to be honest, I had little argument with his production. It amounted to a kind of refinement of the version he mounted at BU a year or two ago; that was strong, but this was stronger still.But the production still wasn't strong enough to put over the musical's book, which is a botch no matter which way you read it - because author John Weidman's concept is simply unconvincing. Weidman wants to find a common rubric linking America's many actual and would-be assassins - and he seems to think he has found it in our national obsession with identity and celebrity, and the way they're now tied together in a kind of pop-psychological noose. Basically Weidman's assassins all pull the trigger to escape being a nobody, to actualize themselves on the public stage.Which may be an absolutely accurate analysis of the American public - but not, oddly, of its assassins. Indeed, the first successful American assassin - and a central player in Weidman's script - all but refutes his thesis: John Wilkes Booth was a matinee idol (one newspaper dubbed him "the handsomest man in America") well before he gunned down President Lincoln in 1865.  So it wasn't a need for celebrity that drove him to do the deed - it was his obsessive sympathy with the Southern cause (and no doubt his racism).At the other end of the celebrity spectrum is Lee Harvey Oswald, who serves as a kind of bookend to Wilkes in the show (and floats through other vignettes like an alien troubadour), but who is even less convincing as an avatar of Weidman's concept.  Whatever you think happened in Dallas on that fateful day in 1963, Oswald was clearly some sort of spook embedded in various hidden political and criminal networks. So it's impossible to buy him as the weird-but-innocent victim of the cosmic conspiracy Weidman conjures here. Indeed, the entire closing scene of Assassins is flat-out idiotic - and only a historical and political illiterate could buy it.Which, of course, is exactly what Sondheim and Weidman are banking on. The effects of political and economic oppression contributed heavily to the mindsets of many, if not most, of our assassins (like Giuseppe Zangara, who shot at FDR but killed Chicago's mayor instead), and sometimes directly motivated their murderous impulses (as in the case of Leon Czologosz, an anarchist whose assassination of President McKinley was basically a copycat killing). But Weidman never really ponders the differing political contexts that drove his characters to murder; his is a Broadway baby's view of American history - and of course that's his audience's view, too.  And to be fair, his show-biz tunnel vision works fairly well for a few of his killers, such as the vicious but inept "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, for whom Weidman devises blackly comic vignettes that play like a nasty sitcom-on-acid.  But elsewhere we can feel the author simply grinding his wheels, because he has no real purchase on the historical record.The astral-assassin plane reaches out to Lee Harvey Oswald in Assassins.It's even hard to argue that an obsession with celebrity is driving current threats against our President (racism, disguised or admitted, is just too obviously a factor here). But Weidman's concept does resonate in a different way - it would probably be perfect for a show about the many mass murderers of the millennium. You know, the Columbine wannabes - the men (they're always men, and usually white ones) who after stockpiling weapons for years, suddenly spray a matinee of Batman with round after round from an Uzi - and who more often than not, after the climactic scene of the demented movie they're directing in their heads, turn their guns on themselves.This is actually why Assassins won't die - not because it's an artistic success on its own terms, but because it indirectly taps our fears about this parallel American phenomenon: the lone gunman who might be waiting for any of us at the mall or the movies. And the New Rep production was most gripping when it resonated with that unspoken context - as when Benjamin Evett, as the musical's "Proprietor" (here styled as Uncle Sam by way of Kander & Ebb) began handing out pistols to the damaged and deranged like so much Halloween candy.And thankfully throughout the production there were performances skillful enough to distract us from the gaps in the material itself.  Evett handled himself well (although vocally he was more stretched by Sondheim's demands than he was by those of Camelot), and Mark Linehan made a convincingly stentorian madman of John Wilkes Booth; there were also compelling cameos from Harrison Bryan and Peter S. Adams as Giuseppe Zangara and Samuel Byck (would-be killers of FDR and Nixon, respectively), and Brad Daniel Peloquin as an insanely fey Charles Guiteau (the assassin of President Garfield). Even more intriguing was newcomer Evan Gambardella's spooky turn as Lee Harvey Oswald - this young performer was able to hold us through the worst of Weidman's hooey. But I was perhaps most taken with Paula Langton's Sara Jane Moore and McCaela Donovan's "Squeaky" Fromme.  Langton gave Moore the right scarily ditzy spin, but Donovan dug deeper - her "Squeaky" came from a truly desolate place, and her duet with John Hinckley (the effective Patrick Varner) was probably the high point of the show (partly because "Unworthy of Your Love" is Sondheim's strongest contribution to one of his lesser scores).I also can't fault the evocative design, costumes and lighting.  I only wish I could have recommended the show itself!  Sigh.  I'm afraid in the end Assassins only makes me long for the day when our theatre can directly address the pressing issues of the moment. And I admit I'm also afraid that day may never come.  So something tells me another production of Assassins can't be far off . . .The Hub Review, the guide to everything that matters in Boston and elsewhere.

What keeps Assassins alive?

ABC Reiew The talented cast of Assassins at the New Rep. Photos: Andrew Brilliant.Before I knew it, the New Rep's Assassins had closed, and I had never given it full consideration while it was still on the boards. Of course Hub Review regulars know that I usually dawdle when I'm torn about something - and I was certainly of two minds about Assassins.For I've never been much of a fan of this late Sondheim show (and three exposures to it have done little to change my opinion).  Indeed, to me it marks the moment when Steve jumped the shark; but many of the master's fans feel otherwise - the New Rep's Jim Petosa is clearly enamored with it, and to be honest, I had little argument with his production. It amounted to a kind of refinement of the version he mounted at BU a year or two ago; that was strong, but this was stronger still.But the production still wasn't strong enough to put over the musical's book, which is a botch no matter which way you read it - because author John Weidman's concept is simply unconvincing. Weidman wants to find a common rubric linking America's many actual and would-be assassins - and he seems to think he has found it in our national obsession with identity and celebrity, and the way they're now tied together in a kind of pop-psychological noose. Basically Weidman's assassins all pull the trigger to escape being a nobody, to actualize themselves on the public stage.Which may be an absolutely accurate analysis of the American public - but not, oddly, of its assassins. Indeed, the first successful American assassin - and a central player in Weidman's script - all but refutes his thesis: John Wilkes Booth was a matinee idol (one newspaper dubbed him "the handsomest man in America") well before he gunned down President Lincoln in 1865.  So it wasn't a need for celebrity that drove him to do the deed - it was his obsessive sympathy with the Southern cause (and no doubt his racism).At the other end of the celebrity spectrum is Lee Harvey Oswald, who serves as a kind of bookend to Wilkes in the show (and floats through other vignettes like an alien troubadour), but who is even less convincing as an avatar of Weidman's concept.  Whatever you think happened in Dallas on that fateful day in 1963, Oswald was clearly some sort of spook embedded in various hidden political and criminal networks. So it's impossible to buy him as the weird-but-innocent victim of the cosmic conspiracy Weidman conjures here. Indeed, the entire closing scene of Assassins is flat-out idiotic - and only a historical and political illiterate could buy it.Which, of course, is exactly what Sondheim and Weidman are banking on. The effects of political and economic oppression contributed heavily to the mindsets of many, if not most, of our assassins (like Giuseppe Zangara, who shot at FDR but killed Chicago's mayor instead), and sometimes directly motivated their murderous impulses (as in the case of Leon Czologosz, an anarchist whose assassination of President McKinley was basically a copycat killing). But Weidman never really ponders the differing political contexts that drove his characters to murder; his is a Broadway baby's view of American history - and of course that's his audience's view, too.  And to be fair, his show-biz tunnel vision works fairly well for a few of his killers, such as the vicious but inept "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, for whom Weidman devises blackly comic vignettes that play like a nasty sitcom-on-acid.  But elsewhere we can feel the author simply grinding his wheels, because he has no real purchase on the historical record.The astral-assassin plane reaches out to Lee Harvey Oswald in Assassins.It's even hard to argue that an obsession with celebrity is driving current threats against our President (racism, disguised or admitted, is just too obviously a factor here). But Weidman's concept does resonate in a different way - it would probably be perfect for a show about the many mass murderers of the millennium. You know, the Columbine wannabes - the men (they're always men, and usually white ones) who after stockpiling weapons for years, suddenly spray a matinee of Batman with round after round from an Uzi - and who more often than not, after the climactic scene of the demented movie they're directing in their heads, turn their guns on themselves.This is actually why Assassins won't die - not because it's an artistic success on its own terms, but because it indirectly taps our fears about this parallel American phenomenon: the lone gunman who might be waiting for any of us at the mall or the movies. And the New Rep production was most gripping when it resonated with that unspoken context - as when Benjamin Evett, as the musical's "Proprietor" (here styled as Uncle Sam by way of Kander & Ebb) began handing out pistols to the damaged and deranged like so much Halloween candy.And thankfully throughout the production there were performances skillful enough to distract us from the gaps in the material itself.  Evett handled himself well (although vocally he was more stretched by Sondheim's demands than he was by those of Camelot), and Mark Linehan made a convincingly stentorian madman of John Wilkes Booth; there were also compelling cameos from Harrison Bryan and Peter S. Adams as Giuseppe Zangara and Samuel Byck (would-be killers of FDR and Nixon, respectively), and Brad Daniel Peloquin as an insanely fey Charles Guiteau (the assassin of President Garfield). Even more intriguing was newcomer Evan Gambardella's spooky turn as Lee Harvey Oswald - this young performer was able to hold us through the worst of Weidman's hooey. But I was perhaps most taken with Paula Langton's Sara Jane Moore and McCaela Donovan's "Squeaky" Fromme.  Langton gave Moore the right scarily ditzy spin, but Donovan dug deeper - her "Squeaky" came from a truly desolate place, and her duet with John Hinckley (the effective Patrick Varner) was probably the high point of the show (partly because "Unworthy of Your Love" is Sondheim's strongest contribution to one of his lesser scores).I also can't fault the evocative design, costumes and lighting.  I only wish I could have recommended the show itself!  Sigh.  I'm afraid in the end Assassins only makes me long for the day when our theatre can directly address the pressing issues of the moment. And I admit I'm also afraid that day may never come.  So something tells me another production of Assassins can't be far off . . .The Hub Review, the guide to everything that matters in Boston and elsewhere.

Poems by post, and love at a distance

ABC Reiew I can't decide who's cuter, can you?Audiences seem to like the Lyric Stage's Dear Elizabeth, the love letter from Sarah Ruhl to Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell - perhaps because Ruhl's script is based entirely on these great American poets' own letters to each other (some of which were literally love letters themselves).And honestly, I can't really blame folks for falling for this rather bad play (it's by Sarah Ruhl, after all) - because at least it's a nice bad play. The dialogue is witty and disarmingly civilized, for instance, because it's all by Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, and they were indeed great writers (even of prose). And the situations hinted at, dodged, or warily declared in their exchanges are all poignantly adult. So who wouldn't want to spend an hour or two with these two, as they swap war stories, dish on other literary greats, and every so often bare their broken hearts?So does it really matter if it's a bad play, if it's also (by default) a literate and beguiling one?  Well, maybe not - until you ponder how Ruhl has squandered a truly golden opportunity.  I mean the correspondence between Bishop and Lowell lasted thirty years - and ran to over eight hundred pages! They were often in near-constant touch, and considered in their conversation more than one turning point in American letters. In short, their epistles are a treasure trove of material.But Ruhl isn't really interested in any of that.  She's only interested in what she's always interested in - how cute can she possibly make her pen pals, and the poignant distance between them?  How often can she make us say, "Awww . . .", or blink back a tear? I know, I know, winsome distance is her brand, so again - can you really blame her?  I mean that MacArthur prize money won't last forever!But it's fair to note, I think, that we get a pantload of winsome shit in Dear Elizabeth.  Little lanterns on strings, and origami boats, and long-distance toasts - Ruhl seems to be drawing little hearts and stars all over this virtual poetry journal in her patented daydreaming-college-girl style.  Of course if you're the type that can't wait to clap for Tinkerbell in Peter Pan, you'll adore all this. And to be fair, Ruhl sometimes did make even me heave a heavy sigh. There's one particularly sweet image, for instance, in which Lowell and Bishop conjure a memory of a past seaside sojourn by opening up a little suitcase - and there's a miniature model of the Maine coast inside! Isn't that adorable?? (All together now: "Awwwww . . . .")So I suppose Ruhl's mise-en-scène never quite cloys, but when you ponder all the stuff the playwright has left out of her epistolary opus, you begin to yearn for something more than sentimental grace notes.  For despite all the emotional meat on the bones of these missives, Dear Elizabeth is almost skeletal - indeed, if you don't know the back story of these two, you might be slightly lost throughout the play.  Of course not all that much of their mutually difficult lives is directly stated in their letters - but isn't that the theatrical challenge of a piece like this, to suggest the context behind all the gingerly orchestrated semaphore?By the sea with Bob and Liz.  Photos: Mark S. Howard.And to be blunt - where is the poetry? Much of the correspondence between these two was about their work, but we only get a small sample of Bishop's greatest hits ("The Fish," "One Art," "North Haven") and really nothing from Lowell at all (probably because the broken ruin evident in his voice would have overturned Ruhl's fangirl conceits). There is one sudden tirade from Bishop over Lowell's distortions in his confessional poem "The Dolphin" that's dramatically exciting - but it's torn from any and all context, as Ruhl has never managed to explore why the confessional style was so fraught for both poets.It may not help that A. Nora Long's diverting but superficial production punches up the whimsy of the script and generally deep-sixes the letters' buried pain. Bishop was an alcoholic; Lowell was an alcoholic and a manic depressive. Bishop was elusive, prickly, and difficult; Lowell was often, to put it simply, an untrustworthy cad. Thus although their letters constantly bemoan the miles between them, it's not hard to divine why they might have kept their distance - much less why Bishop, a closeted lesbian for much of her life (yeah, sorry, that's what she was) kept the needy Lowell at arm's length, given his many sodden declarations of infatuation.Yet despite all this, the talented Laura Latreille manages to get somewhere as Bishop - her work is vague (it almost has to be) but at least you can feel her trying to get at the life beneath the letters.  But alas, as Lowell, Ed Hoopman seems content to coast on his sonorous voice and cordial charm; indeed, when one of his epistles suddenly discusses psychiatric treatment at McLean's, we can't believe he was ever there. Oh, well! At least Latreille could count on the support of some fine production design.  Shelly Barish's versatile set did charm, and Garrett Herzig's projections were always evocative. Ruhl may have kicked the poetry out of her play - for whatever reason - but often these designers seemed determined to sneak it back in.The Hub Review, the guide to everything that matters in Boston and elsewhere.

Poems by post, and love at a distance

ABC Reiew I can't decide who's cuter, can you?Audiences seem to like the Lyric Stage's Dear Elizabeth, the love letter from Sarah Ruhl to Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell - perhaps because Ruhl's script is based entirely on these great American poets' own letters to each other (some of which were literally love letters themselves).And honestly, I can't really blame folks for falling for this rather bad play (it's by Sarah Ruhl, after all) - because at least it's a nice bad play. The dialogue is witty and disarmingly civilized, for instance, because it's all by Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, and they were indeed great writers (even of prose). And the situations hinted at, dodged, or warily declared in their exchanges are all poignantly adult. So who wouldn't want to spend an hour or two with these two, as they swap war stories, dish on other literary greats, and every so often bare their broken hearts?So does it really matter if it's a bad play, if it's also (by default) a literate and beguiling one?  Well, maybe not - until you ponder how Ruhl has squandered a truly golden opportunity.  I mean the correspondence between Bishop and Lowell lasted thirty years - and ran to over eight hundred pages! They were often in near-constant touch, and considered in their conversation more than one turning point in American letters. In short, their epistles are a treasure trove of material.But Ruhl isn't really interested in any of that.  She's only interested in what she's always interested in - how cute can she possibly make her pen pals, and the poignant distance between them?  How often can she make us say, "Awww . . .", or blink back a tear? I know, I know, winsome distance is her brand, so again - can you really blame her?  I mean that MacArthur prize money won't last forever!But it's fair to note, I think, that we get a pantload of winsome shit in Dear Elizabeth.  Little lanterns on strings, and origami boats, and long-distance toasts - Ruhl seems to be drawing little hearts and stars all over this virtual poetry journal in her patented daydreaming-college-girl style.  Of course if you're the type that can't wait to clap for Tinkerbell in Peter Pan, you'll adore all this. And to be fair, Ruhl sometimes did make even me heave a heavy sigh. There's one particularly sweet image, for instance, in which Lowell and Bishop conjure a memory of a past seaside sojourn by opening up a little suitcase - and there's a miniature model of the Maine coast inside! Isn't that adorable?? (All together now: "Awwwww . . . .")So I suppose Ruhl's mise-en-scène never quite cloys, but when you ponder all the stuff the playwright has left out of her epistolary opus, you begin to yearn for something more than sentimental grace notes.  For despite all the emotional meat on the bones of these missives, Dear Elizabeth is almost skeletal - indeed, if you don't know the back story of these two, you might be slightly lost throughout the play.  Of course not all that much of their mutually difficult lives is directly stated in their letters - but isn't that the theatrical challenge of a piece like this, to suggest the context behind all the gingerly orchestrated semaphore?By the sea with Bob and Liz.  Photos: Mark S. Howard.And to be blunt - where is the poetry? Much of the correspondence between these two was about their work, but we only get a small sample of Bishop's greatest hits ("The Fish," "One Art," "North Haven") and really nothing from Lowell at all (probably because the broken ruin evident in his voice would have overturned Ruhl's fangirl conceits). There is one sudden tirade from Bishop over Lowell's distortions in his confessional poem "The Dolphin" that's dramatically exciting - but it's torn from any and all context, as Ruhl has never managed to explore why the confessional style was so fraught for both poets.It may not help that A. Nora Long's diverting but superficial production punches up the whimsy of the script and generally deep-sixes the letters' buried pain. Bishop was an alcoholic; Lowell was an alcoholic and a manic depressive. Bishop was elusive, prickly, and difficult; Lowell was often, to put it simply, an untrustworthy cad. Thus although their letters constantly bemoan the miles between them, it's not hard to divine why they might have kept their distance - much less why Bishop, a closeted lesbian for much of her life (yeah, sorry, that's what she was) kept the needy Lowell at arm's length, given his many sodden declarations of infatuation.Yet despite all this, the talented Laura Latreille manages to get somewhere as Bishop - her work is vague (it almost has to be) but at least you can feel her trying to get at the life beneath the letters.  But alas, as Lowell, Ed Hoopman seems content to coast on his sonorous voice and cordial charm; indeed, when one of his epistles suddenly discusses psychiatric treatment at McLean's, we can't believe he was ever there. Oh, well! At least Latreille could count on the support of some fine production design.  Shelly Barish's versatile set did charm, and Garrett Herzig's projections were always evocative. Ruhl may have kicked the poetry out of her play - for whatever reason - but often these designers seemed determined to sneak it back in.The Hub Review, the guide to everything that matters in Boston and elsewhere.