Thursday, March 27, 2008


It’s taken me a while to write about this. I’m unsure why; I perhaps thought the production would make more sense to me after a time away. Or maybe I thought I would like it more. But no, I just wasn’t as bowled over as I expected to be by the revival of Sweeney Todd directed by John Doyle currently at the Ahmanson. The reasons may have to do with the space, the nature of roadshows, or perhaps just the choices made. Whatever the reason, I was disappointed overall.
The production opens on a Cornell box of a stage—wooden slats lit from beneath and raked for a floor, with a back wall about twice as high. In the center of the back of the stage is a column of detritus—discarded, rusting odds and ends. At the base of this is a piano. Around the stage are chairs with performers. There is a coffin on sawhorses in the middle. Upstage left is a door. The door is frosted, possibly clinical looking. Some of the actors/musicians wear lab coats. Tobias, or the actor playing him, is in a straight jacket. As he starts to sing “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”, attendants come and take off his jacket and hand him a violin.
Immediately, my mind goes to Marat/Sade. Great, I thought, we’ll have this whole extra-textual thing going on, where the inmates of the asylum play all the instruments while they enact out Sweeney Todd for some therapeutic purpose. Perhaps, even more interestingly, it’s all happening in Toby’s mind. Unfortunately for me, none of that seemed to be true. It revealed itself to be a clever and interesting visual trick, but no underlying sense to the world. This is, for some plays, not a really big deal. Godot could be set in space. Hamlet has been staged everywhere from a palace to a truck pull. Sweeney Todd, though, has a fairly specific vernacular, place, and trajectory that set it where it is. And if you move that setting, then I would hope it would be for some reason to illuminate what you have. If not, it’s theatrical, but missing bite. Now I can completely blame this on my being too literal, or wanting something that this revival was not interested in giving, but I do feel if you make a choice that’s this dramatic, why not go all the way? If it is a nightmare that Tobias is having, why is everyone so predictable? And if it is in an asylum, who are these people? Why are they telling this story? As it is, we have a story that references place and time constantly, but set in another. I really have no problem resetting this story, but when you make a strong visual choice it’s frustrating when there seems to be no follow through. Or just haphazard. There were suggestions of asylum, suggestions of nightmare, but everything was left amorphous. In a piece as ferocious as Sweeney Todd, I feel like things should not be a suggestion but an exclamation.
Like I said, perhaps it’s the space. The Ahmanson is large, and I’m still kicking myself I didn’t see this in a more intimate space in London when I had the chance. It could be that some of these choices were made, but I couldn’t see them in the enormity of the space. As it was, the production only raised questions for me. Why were these people in lab coats? Why are they playing instruments? If they are in an asylum, why is Sweeney allowed to have a razor blade? But even with those questions answered, I think the show took an interesting visual idea and went too far, but not far enough. I like the idea of a small, chamber, theatrical Sweeney. But for me, putting instruments in the hands of the actors makes them more than just the characters they play. So I want to know why they are playing the instruments. I want to know how the instruments are relating to each other, and why. And although there are a couple of interesting examples of this—Johanna and Antony both playing the cello; Mrs. Lovett with a tuba—for the most part the choices are more expedient.
It may have been, too, that casting actors who play instruments limits casting choices. The actor playing the judge was so wooden I had to make up his role in my head. He was almost actively bad. I liked Judy Kaye, but was not blown away, and I thought the guy who played Sweeney was fine. No one really captured my imagination. I guess in the end I just felt like there were interesting choices that just made me ask more questions than illuminate what was happening on stage. I spent much of the show thinking “wow, this would have been a great moment to illuminate this”, but seeing nothing there. Like I said, I could have just been too literal. I like my questions answered, and seeing things that surprise and shock me. I know it was bringing a new eye to something we’ve seen before, but it just didn’t quite hold together for me.
There was one wonderful moment, when the music stopped and the sound blood being poured from the bucket signifying one of the last killings was allowed to reverberate through the house. This was probably the most exciting, chilling moment of the show. And it was provided by a bucket.

Conversely, I loved the revival of Company starring Raul Esparza that I saw recently on PBS. Closeups, I admit, may have helped. Here, though, I loved the space, I loved the instruments, and the performances were spot on for me (except the one guy who was the judge in the LA Sweeney, who seems wooden close-up as well).
Company is an odd piece. I always feel like there are 5 or so people I remember—Bobby, Joanne, Amy, April, Marta, and the rest just kind of fade away into a haze. Who are those people again? What are their names? Why can’t I remember any of the other guys?
This production added two elements to solve that problem. The instruments meant that I could track people more, and their relationships continued after there one big scene and the incidentals. He plays a trumpet and she plays a flute? Ah, that makes perfect sense—he’s muting himself, and she’s wants to be heard above everything. She can be kind of shrill. And they’re competitive—you’re not sure if they belong together.
Also, keeping everyone on stage means that we see them in constant relationship to each other. And, best of all, they are constantly around and in Bobby’s life. This is something that I felt was missing from the other productions I’ve seen of this. All the couples went on and off stage. Bobby was on all the time. By having everyone on stage all the time, literally providing accompaniment to his life, we understand why Bobby needs to distance himself at the end. And when he finally is alone, and blows out his candles, we breathe a sigh of relief with him. I had never gotten that before. Adding “Marry Me a Little” to eh end of act one helps, too, which they did in the 95 production. This Company had an emotional arc and cohesiveness that I hadn’t experienced with this piece before. This set, too, and the costumes felt more “New York” to me than any I have seen.
I last saw this with Boyd Gaines, Debra Monk, and Jane Krakowski in ‘95. I liked it, but this production had much more of a cosmopolitan flair. I also just liked the performances more. Barbara Walsh was surprising as Joann, a role that seems to belong to Elaine Stritch. I also was taken by Elizabeth Stanley, whose April was sweet, and much more interesting than she gives herself credit for.
I still think it’s a flawed show—amazing music with an entertaining but thin book—it’s one of those experiments in trying to catch the feeling of living in the city with the structure of the piece—Boris Aronson famously did this with the original set. This was the first time I was emotionally engaged and felt that feeling of closeness and busy-ness without connection—possibly due to Raul Esparza’s tony-winning performance as Bobby. But he was certainly buoyed by the tone of this production, and like I said, it had a cohesiveness I hadn’t seen before. Loved it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Red Shoes

A friend did a great job for a recent blog-a-thon, something like theHey, Internet, Stop being such cynical f-ing douchebags blog-a-thon, which just seems endlessly entertaining. The idea is to write about a movie that just fills you with unbridled joy. I immediately wanted to write something, but then things got busy, and I only had that one day, so I didn't. But it's stuck in my mind. So I'm doing it now.

How many movies fill me with unbridled joy? A lot. Nights of Cabiria, All About my Mother, Beautiful Thing, the list is actually pretty long. But there was one movie that just kept coming up in my mind. I first saw it when I was about 15, and it captured my heart.

Powell & Pressburger's MASTERPIECE (yes, I'm yelling it at you) about a doomed ballerina who is forced to choose between the career she loves and the man she loves. WATCH THE TRAILER!

See, I'm Jewish (Russian/Eastern European) and Irish. Which means that for me to truly, to my very soul, love love love something, there has to be a tinge of melancholy to it. Some kind of sadness, like honey to bring out the flavor of your tea. Not that I don't love complete silliness like the Muppets, or Carol Burnett, but even as I write that I notice there is always some poignancy in their silliness; some humanity that takes the humor and drops it directly into your heart. Does the Red Shoes do that? Not really, but I LOVE IT ANYWAY! I love it for the dancing, the melodrama, the fabulous costumes, the insane dialogue, the dancing, the COLOR! that makes the film look like it's hand tinted. And of course, the timeless story of the girl who danced until her feet were stumps and then died. Love you, Hans.

The story concerns a ballet hopeful, Miss Victoria Page, played brilliantly by Moira Shearer, a fiery redhead who wants to dance so badly that she cannot separate it from her will to live

"Monsieur Lermontov, I am that horror"

Lermontov: Why do you dance?
Vicki: Why do you live?
Lermontov: I don't know why exactly....but I must
Vicki: Well that is my answer, too.

IT'S ON! Meanwhile, we are watching a young composer who is brought on to assist the orchestra after telling Lermontov that his professor stole much of his music for the ballet that Lermontov's company was performing, called "Heart Of Fire". From this scene comes one of my favorite lines, "Remember, it is more disheartening to have to steal, than to be stolen from.....good day. (drop sugar cube in cup and dismiss)

Did I mention that Lermontov is played by Anton Walbrook, an actor I just found out was half-Jewish, gay, and feld the nazis, as well as acted in four languages in his career? Well, it is, and I can honestly say that it's for me one of my favorite performances on screen ever. Ever.

I really love so much about this movie. I love that Ludmilla Tcherina cannot pronounce Julian Kraster, and says "kwastuw" instead. I love that Leonid Massine not only choreographed the whole thing, but also is supporting in it. I love that the supporting male ballet start looks about 50! See him here, as the dancing newspaper:

And can we talk about the costumes? There is one giant blue dress that's particularly insane. There's a 20 minute full ballet right in the middle of the friggin' movie! I LOVE IT! Granted, for some reason I particularly love the ballet docs, and movies, but this one just gets everything right. And since it's 1948 it's done in gorgeous stunning technicolor. Look at these shoes!

I won't get too plot heavy, but Vicki becomes a huge star, after Lermontov sees her dancing to a record in small theater in Stadler Wells:

Check out the red dots!

But she falls in love and leaves the ballet for Julian while they work on a new ballet, the Red Shoes.

Lermontov: The Ballet of The Red Shoes" is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on.

NO ONE ELSE ever dances the ballet of the Red Shoes, and she is brought back on the night of the premiere of Julian's piece to dance. Lermontov convinces her. WITNESS THE DRAMA!

He's tearing her a-pa-ha-ha-hart! Sadness! Melodrama! Maids screaming about curtain times in French! What is there for her to do?! I can't tell you. You'll have to see the movie. But I will tell you that Anton Walbrook's curtain speech is worth the price of admission.

I love this movie. I just love it. There's so much more. I won't bore you. But I will tell you that Martin Scorcese names this film among his most important influences. IT'S THAT GOOD.

"One day when I'm old, I want some lovely young girl to say to me, "Tell me, where in your long life, Mr. Craster, were you most happy?" And I shall say, 'Well, my dear, I never knew the exact place. It was somewhere on the Mediterranean. I was with Victoria Page." "What?" she will say. "Do you mean the famous dancer?" I will nod. "Yes, my dear, I do. Then she was quite young, comparatively unspoiled. We were, I remember, very much in love."

Victoria: Julian?
Julian: Yes, my darling?
Victoria: Take of the red shoes.


Friday, March 21, 2008

My dinner with.....

Stinkylulu tagged me for the truly entertaining My dinner with..." meme. It gave me pause, but then I got a very clear picture of who it would be. And after trying to figure out somebody else, it occured to me it could only be...

My dinner with Harvey Fierstein. After all, if he can do that, and this:

And On Broadway as well, wouldn't you?

So here's the meme

1. Pick a single person, past or present, in the film industry who you'd like to have dinner with, and tell us why you chose this person

I was flirting with the idea of Anton Walbrook, who starred in the Red Shoes, because he not only acted in hour languages but was gay, half Jewish, and left Germany under the Nazis. And then there are there are the usual suspects--Michaelangelo, Jesus, Joan of Arc (were you really inspired or just tres fou?). And of course, I would love to have an audience with Dolly Parton. But other people can have a serious dinner and report back to me. And I was definitely feeling a gay vibe, which was surprising to me. So I picked Harvey because he has made a career in the theatre from a very young age, a career that includes the birth of off-Broadway, playwrighting, Broadway, movies, Tony Awards, and both sides of the gender line. And I'm sure he's got amazing stories. And he seems always a great balance of silly, level headed, smart, saavy, warm, and intelligent. And I love the kind of underground theatre he was involved in that is nowhere near as feasible or available as it once was. Not to mention being one of the first out nationally known actors EVAH! (And I have a sneaking suspicion this is about how I would look in drag):

2. Set the table for your dinner. What would you eat? Would it be in a home or at a restaurant? And what would you wear? Feel free to elaborate on the details.

I was dating a guy in DC once, who came up to NY and wanted to go to his favorite Italian restaurant, Po. It's on Cornelia in the West Village. So I'm there, and I use the restrooom, which is covered with newspaper stories about this exact space being Caffe Cino, on of the birthplaces of Off-Broadway, the place where the careers of Lanford Wilson, Sam Shephard, Robert Patrick, and Harvey Fierstein were launched. I freaked out, basically, much to the confusion of the people I was with. And it's a few blocks away from La Mama, ETC, where he played Jackie Curtis' mother in law and workshopped the individual parts of Torch Song. So it would have to be Po. We would have an entertaining and tasty pasta dinner, followed by a stroll through the village talking about all the theatre and performance that happened down there, from Barbra at the Bon Soir to the Factory girls at La Mama, and what Julius was like when it was the place to go. Hee. There would probably be two other friend as well, but not too large a group. I would love it to be one of those early summer nights where the air is cool and the humidity is low. The moon is full and the air is luscious enough that you just don't want to sleep. The perfect night for strolling and talking. Perhaps Magnolia for cupcakes?

3. List five thoughtful questions you would ask this person during dinner

1. Who most influenced you out of all the amazing people you have had the opportunity to work with?
2. Is there a hat you most enjoying wearing out of all you have--acting, playwrighting, book-writing, activist?
3. You seem to mention shopping a lot in interviews. What do you love so much about it?
4. What's your favorite turkey you've been in?
5. How do you feel the atmosphere for gay performers/writers, etc., has changed during the time you've been involved in theatre and movies (if at all)?
and the optional 6. How do you manage to be so darn inspiring? And tell me about this (and working with Anne Bancroft)....

4. When all is said and done, select six bloggers to pass this Meme along to. Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre, so that people know the mastermind behind this Meme.

Dave E-ticket; Sean Zombietruckstop; matt Mattycub; Patrick of Man.Hat.In; Alonso Moroccomole, and Matt of Aloof Dork

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I really, really, really want to see this, and will be in NY, but my question is: why is Brantley so surprised at how good Anika Noni Rose is? He's seen her on stage and in movies. She was my favorite in Dreamgirls. I'm fascinated that he was more interested in Terrence Howard than in her. Of course, I'm biased, 'cuz I think she's great.

I saw Kathleen Turner do this with Charles Durning and Polly Holliday. Durning was fabulous. Turner was fine, but wierdly earthbound and disappointing to me. Not my favorite Williams. But oh well, nobody's asking me. hee.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Well, I just realized I pretty much never post on this blog, but I do have some fabulous ideas. So I'm writing them here in hopes of expanding.

*Streetcar named Desire--how kazan got it wrong, and the nature of film impacting the way plays are staged in perpetuity. That was really bothering me in my car today.

*The revival of Company--namely how exciting pieces sometimes need exciting productions to remind us how exciting they actually were, and are

*that thing about 8 1/2 and Stardust Memories that I never really wrote on to my satisfaction