Thursday, March 10, 2011

33 Variations and stuff

Wow. It’s been a while. Like I’ve documented a little, I’m not sure what I’m doing on this blog, but it’s nice to write things down a bit. I’ve been doing more performing, and though that doesn’t quiet a critical mind, it does make me unsure of what I want to write if I’m wanting to eventually work with people. Not that I’m snarky – that’s not my thing – but still you never know. Mostly my absence was rehearsing and performing a 2 act musical for a benefit for a friend, and now doing a reading of a new musical. Nice to be busy, but finding the time to sit down and write has not been the easiest task.

So – things I’ve seen lately –

33 Variations at the Ahmanson

Lovely performances all around, and a smashing set by Derek McLane. I don’t normally call out the set, but it was one of my favorite parts of the show – ingenious, attractive, and added to the proceedings. Everyone is talking about this for Jane Fonda, who does a great job with the central role of a musicologist obsessed with Beethoven and wanting to finish a monograph on his Diabelli Variations before her eventual death from ALS.

Like I said, the cast was great, my only issue was with the play itself. It felt like a bit of a mashup of Wit, Amadeus, possibly Whose Life Is It Anyway. Wit kept coming up, as I watched this emotionally shut-down central character come to life through her central academic obsessions. The problem is that Wit is a stonger piece of theater. The only emotion I felt was watching Fonda in a hospital bed with ALS, and that was just a reaction to having a father with MS, not from anything that was happening in the play. It’s not a bad play, just not a terrific one. There were a couple of mis-steps, including having the cast sing at one point, which served to push me out emotionally rather than pull me in – it was a contrivance. I suppose that’s what I came away with – the play felt obviously constructed to me. During the talkback one of the actors said in an earlier version the central character had had cancer but that felt too much like Wit so they changed it. That said it for me, I suppose. A friend pointed out that much of the audience was older, and that the central question of Fonda’s character aging and her relationship with her daughter were probably issues they were dealing with. That’s true, but like my reaction to the ALS, that feels extra-textual to me.
That said, it was a great production of a perfectly sound play. I guess we don’t see those that much anymore, since it’s so rare to see new, fully produced plays. It was a fine play. Fonda was great, and I loved that it didn’t feel like a star turn. Her physical work was impressive and didn’t call itself out. She felt like a member of a company, rather than a star surrounded by a bunch of other actors in a different play. It was a good performance, and I’d love to see her onstage again. There is one moment of literal and figurative nakedness that she did beautifully, when the character is being x-rayed – beautiful moment. I did love Greg Keller, who played her daughter’s nurse and eventual boyfriend. He was a bit of comic relief, but also a full character. I liked him a lot. I was disappointed not to see Zach Grenier as Beethoven, but I did see Michael Winther and that was fun – I performed “Songs from and Unmade Bed” here and that was written for him. That was fun to just put a face to the name, and he was a good Beethoven – shades of Amadeus once again, but I think that’s the writing. Samantha Mathis as the central character’s daughter and Susan Kellerman as the German doctor were great as well.

One of the reasons that the play felt a little diffuse and/or familiar may be that Kaufman generates the pieces with his company. During the Q & A, one of the actors mentioned they recieved a copy of the first act, and then only sketches for the second act. That act was generated. Though I did feel the second act was emotionally stronger and more engaging than the first (less obviously "written"), it was at the same time less from one point of view, so the story moved from being about Jane Fonda's character and more about the mystery. That would probably also explain the clumsy (for me) moments of simultaneous speaking and then the singing. Hard to pull off. Glad I saw it though, and alway happy to engage in good theater. If my only criticism is that it wasn't fantastic and life-changing, then that's not a bad thing. I mean, I have opinions about everything.

Adjustment Bureau

I was dragged to see this, and didn’t love it. Started as a thriller and ended up as a metaphysical romance. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are very easy to watch, and support by Terence Stamp and John Slattery helps, but it just didn’t hold for me. Some great shots of New York, but I just didn’t know what this movie wanted to be. It struck me a little like that remake of Wings of Desire – City of Angels. Somehow the ideas it was taking on felt more complex than the treatment they were given. Or in the end they were so simple that it felt overblown – not sure which.

The Red Shoes – Criterion Collection

Criterion had a 50% off sale. I’ve written about this movie before, but to have it on HD in a beautiful restoration – it’s a wonder. I think Anton Walbrook’s performance in it is one of my favorites on film ever. It just continues to astound. Moira Shearer is lovely as ever, and her performance is effortless. The whimsy of the design comes through, making it feel even more like a fairy tale. I cherish this film.

So, keep you posted. Going to see the NT LIVE version of Frankenstein next week – very excited about this.

5 comments:

Elizabeth said...

I've heard the Jane Fonda play is very boring -- your review sort of confirms that?

I need to watch The Red Shoes -- can you believe that I never have? Embarrassing!

I'm glad you're back and hope you'll be here more regularly --

I was hoping you'd review Biutiful.

Criticlasm said...

ah yes - I have a screener of that and winter's bone, but I know both are such downers I've been avoiding. Soon, I hope.

I did see Jane Eyre, which I liked a lot.

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