adness reigns here in California; school shootings, state government watching its citizens held hostage by a greedy utility that slowly strips them of their right to basic comforts like warmth & light and on top of everything else, Gladiator is proclaimed Best Picture of the Year. I don’t have much to say about the Oscars, really; you either watch ‘em or not. Steve Martin warmed to his task, however it did seem a ‘task’, which is too bad. Parties wherein one must behave are not as apt to create memorable mayhem, yet David Niven’s reaction to the streaker behind him recalls how debonair the old Hollywood could be.
This month also saw our own Glamour Night: Berkeley Repertory Theatre opened its new proscenium theatre with a production of The Oresteia. Opening night gave us Agamemnon (to be followed in rotation by The Libation Bearers on the same bill with The Eumenides.) The space is quite lovely, sight lines are great, and sound is well engineered with the actors in mind. A couple of interviewed members of the company gratefully lauded the acoustics. This maiden production was a heavy choice, however it only really suffered from lack of a certain connection to our times, which is not to say it is dated—simply ‘antique’. Our ancestors up there playing out ancient stuff, wearing togas, gesturing amongst the pillars, then retreating indoors to do the deeds. Curious, too, that the smaller thrust stage next door would have been more in keeping with staging tradition.
Across town in Alameda at Altarena Theater the folks at this small theatre-in-the-round have taken a new direction. After decades of playing it safe, they’re going for an interesting mix. In between the scheduled 10-week runs, they stage two weekends of daring pieces as fund-raisers. We took in a marvelous production of The Turn of the Screw; all the roles were played by two actors with one chair & not a single prop. Highly effective, engaging & cheap as hell. Next up: Eleemosynary (look it up), by Lee Blessing. A heavy line load is not always good news for an actor. At Next Stage we caught Edward J. Moore’s The Sea Horse, comprised of two characters. They should have called it quits before they started. I could not suspend disbelief for someone whose body type is so thoroughly wrong in the part for the length of a two-act play. I just zoned out, dozed & waited for it to be over. (Remember Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino in Frankie & Johnnie? She had a couple of good moments with stringy hair, but we’ll never know what it would have been like with Kathy Bates, will we? Or with Bill Macy, maybe too young.) Anyway, what was this director thinking with this play? That he could get away with it by sheer force of will? There’s no reason to watch a mediocre performance by a miscast actor; it only begs the question: what would this have been like had the playwright’s intention been followed. In this case we do know since we saw the same play about 16 years ago with Linda Hoy & it was great.
How does mediocre material make it over the hump, as it were—as a Masquers production of Archy & Mehitabel the musical , book by Joe Darion & Mel Brooks, music by Goerge Kleinsinger, lyrics by Joe Darion—and the Oscar goes to: not these guys. Opens for a deadly run through May 12. When the only bright spot in a two hour evening is a minor character who steals the show, it’s time for seppuku.
Sometimes subjectivity is the problem & does take over apparently. We went to a midweek performance of a hot ticket show at American Conservatory Theater based on the raves it was getting. Written and directed by Richard Nelson, Goodnight Children Everywhere appeals to the audience hungry for real stories of WWII experience. These children, once scattered to safe families, are reunited after the war & boom, we got infidelity, spinsterhood, old guy paternity & incestuous longings that don’t stay put. I loved the set, as always; they just do incredible things with detail at A.C.T., but I couldn’t make out about 25% of the dialogue. The dialect coach must also have been on vacation; these folks were supposed to be over in England. To paraphrase our defunct movie critic Joe Bob Briggs: ‘gratuitous onstage naked sex in bathtub’, ‘drawing stocking-lines on legs-fu’, ‘gratuitous off-stage dishwashing & singing of old WWII songs’.
Who would expect Woody Allen to show up in a movie other than his own and actually play a role (within his limitations as an actor)? All the folks in this piece decided to do it for love of independent filmmaking apparently. I found it to be honest in a peculiar way, same as The Big Lebowski. The down side is that Doug McGrath is like those guys who run their own theater companies & take all the leads, except he also co-wrote this. Ouch. It was fun to watch John Turturro and Alan Cumming make something of their bits.
In the Mood for Love
Beautiful sense of claustrophobia & admirable restraint. Also much shorter than Yi Yi, which is TOO LONG. Makes me want to run out and get a cheongsam, however Maggie Cheung said somewhere that the costumes were hard on her—took some will power to hold herself erect & not breathe.
Enemy at the Gates
This was not high on my list, although I do myself the favor of not watching trailers—I just stare at my lap & since I’m not getting the visuals, somehow the movie isn’t there for me. So I knew Ed Harris was the bad guy & Rachel Weisz plays the love interest. I like Joe Fiennes & Jude Law is getting real cute. The shoot must have been a nightmare.
The Widow of St. Pierre
Another shoot that looked tough on the actors, but Juliette Binoche was glowing. We disagree, my partner & I, on the face of Daniel Auteuil; he finds it bland & inscrutable and I am always taken by his delicacy. The guy doesn’t chew scenery—so sue him! There’s just something French there that doesn’t necessarily speak to everybody.
I told my hairdresser I’d been to see this film & he seemed bored by the concept. Must be that if you are really in the business of hair, seeing a staged competition isn’t going to be a revelation. He did laugh at the ballroom filled with all those stations with the light bulbs (in the present energy ‘crisis’ of course we think ‘turn some of those things off!’) And Alan Rickman’s haircut was not at all frowsy, it was quite nice.
I never saw this piece staged so I can avoid the inevitable comparisons; Emma Thompson is among the most fearless in undertaking the extremes of emotion in harrowing closeup. Why then, one asks, was it necessary to cheapen the thing with sentimentality? Shame on HBO.
An indie with the aura of Chuck and Buck clinging to it.
I dragged my partner to see this (I’m not into ‘Survivor’, just watched three episodes of the current one to get a sense of it). What can I say? It reestablishes my faith in the underground. If you’ve lost your sense of humor & want it back, try indies.
© 2001 Claudine Jones ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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