Category Archives: theatre

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mould me man?

Every well-read reader has at least one book that they feel that they should have read. Every movie fan has that one movie that they don’t like to admit that they have never seen.

I actually have more than one. In one case, the two are somewhat related. I have never read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I have never seen “the scariest comedy” Young Frankenstein.

Making a spur-of-the-moment decision this evening, my husband and I traveled to the other side of the city to see the National Theatre Live’s production of Frankenstein, the sold out, award-winning, Danny Boyle directed play from last year starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonnie Lee Miller switching roles of The Monster and Dr. Frankenstein nightly. Cumberbatch and Miller won the Olivier Award for best acting for their shared roles.

From the beginning, the play gets your attention showing how lonely and difficult life is for the Monster as he struggles to figure out how to sit, stand, walk and balance. He marvels at the warm sun, the feeling of a rainstorm, the taste and feel of grass. His innocent mind takes in everything, but he learns quickly, including how cruel man can be.

I never realized what difficult themes Frankenstein deals with: science, faith, abandonment, love, individual and cultural cruelty, vengeance and obsession, the responsibility of the creator and the freedom and rights of the created. This play addresses them all but provides no easy answers, just questions. If the movie theatre wasn’t nearly an hour away, I would go see the showing tomorrow (with Cumberbatch and Miller in the opposite roles). This is broadcast in the US through Fathom Events, exclusively on Jun 6 & 7; check for a theatre near you.

Here is a trailer for the play:

I think that I need to read Shelly’s book and correct the error of my ways in not reading it previously. As for the Mel Brooks’ classic, Young Frankenstein, that’s entirely different, but, still, it should be in my Netflix queue, shouldn’t it?

Year’s End – All the cool kids do a wrap up

There are traditions during the last week of the year that are just as certain to occur as those pre-Christmas traditions we’re all familiar with. The calendar turns to 12/26 and you can expect enormous crowds at the mall, long waits if you order a pizza delivery for dinner, kids starting to get restless with nothing to do, parents counting down the days until Winter Break is over. And, everybody seems to do some sort of year-in-review or “best of” list.

The Best of Lists are something that pull me in every year, even though I often claim that they are ridiculous exercises. Best movie? Best play? Best book? Best Travel Destination? Top News Story? Best Restaurant? Best Politician — oh, wait: that would be too short of a list!

Yet, I often find these same lists fascinating because the only criteria for judgement is the calendar. One could just as easily look at the “best of” anything for the last week, or month, or decade, although I would have a hard time remembering much of some categories if I were going back over 10 years. Only the very best would withstand that test of time. And maybe that is both the point, and the foolishness of such lists. Would I only include some items on my “best books” because I read them recently? Is it the last one that always seem the best? If my time period were longer, would I decide that the book I read in October or the play I saw in April were not really that excellent after all?

And how do you winnow such lists when there may be no common characteristics between two works other than the fact that you engaged with both of them over a 12 month period? My husband asked me recently which of two plays that we saw this year was the best. We actually saw more than a dozen plays, so I wondered why he narrowed it to the two. But, I couldn’t decide between those two plays — a revival of Arcadia and Jerusalem. We saw several operas as well — I wouldn’t have been able to narrow that list either. Same goes for movies and books. If I remember them, it is because I either really liked them, or I hated them. It’s like picking one’s favorite child: can’t be done.

That said, here are some of the art/literature/theatre things that I experienced this year. I’d recommend any of these, although some of the theatre performances have long since closed.

Patti Smith’s Just Kids — a wonderful memoir that reminds you, no matter how different your life is from Smith’s that we were all once “just kids” trying to make our way in the world, figuring out our lives and loves. Smith seems to have maintained some of that innocence, without being smarmy. After all, she is Patti Smith.

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I got lost in this novel, and even though the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it could have been, I still cried at the end. I thought that Patchett could have delved into other questions about women extending fertility than she did. I just finished reading this, so it would be interesting see what I think about this next December.

Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. One of those books that could be characterized as a ‘sweeping epic’, covering the lives of twins from birth til death, across countries, continents, love and revolution. There are still scenes from the book that come back to me in entirety seven months after having finished it. This will certainly be a book that I re-read.

Coriolanus — I saw a special screening of this in October & Ralph Fiennes spoke afterwards. (Ralph Fiennes = Squeee!) It’s rough, it’s violent, it’s Shakespeare in a modern setting — things that might put me off. Don’t let it. It IS relevant in it’s modern setting, right down to the occupy-like crowds of protestors. (I saw this two weeks after OWS started, and on the day when I wandered down to Zucotti Park to see what the Occupy movement was about. The irony was not lost on me.) Go see it when it opens in a theatre near you.

Midnight in Paris Made me fall in love with Woody Allen all over again and pushed Hannah and her Sisters from its long-held perch of best Woody Allen film ever.

Moneyball. I don’t like baseball and don’t care much for Brad Pitt. Loved it anyway!

Bill Cunningham, New York. Every time I’m in NYC and anywhere near 57th & 5th, I am always a bit hopeful that I might see Mr. Cunningham riding his bicycle and taking photographs of interesting people. I rarely miss one of his photo essays in the New York Times. The tagline in the movie trailer: “Photographer. Perfectionist. Loner. Maverick. Visionary.” One of the best documentaries I have ever seen. I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to go see it again, immediately after I saw it. It’s now playing on NetFlix. Cunningham may be all about fashion, but the movie is about so much more: it is about one man’s passion that has been his whole life.

The Ring Cycle. The first of the Ring Cycle was aired by the Metropolitan Opera Fall, 2010, but Operas 2 & 3 of the cycle were this year. I swore to my husband when he first coerced me into going to the opera that I would never sit through the entire Ring Cycle. What I would have missed if I had not. Still not sure how happy I would be after attending four long operas in a week’s time, though I’m willing to try. (I have tickets for next Spring at the Met, though it is unlikely now that I can work out the logistics of going — want to buy the tickets? Email me.)

While Wagner’s Ring Cycle is not a freshman outing for the novice, if you are unsure about opera, attending one of the Met’s Live in HD series is a great introduction. And you can have popcorn, too!

Aradia I went home and stayed up all night reading the script. I’ve read it twice since seeing the play during the last week of its run last April. I adore Tom Stoppard. I can’t think of anyone else who could write an amazing play with characters in two different centuries about English gardens, pomposity, infidelity, mathematics, quantum physics, love, obsession, insanity and rice pudding. And, rice pudding is integral to the plot. You can’t stir out the jam!

Jerusalem This play made me think for weeks. Mark Rylance plays a modern-day pied piper living in a trailer at the edge of a forest, giving drugs and booze and a safe haven to disaffected youth. I also saw this during the last week of its run. The entire cast headed back to London to reprise the play there. There are parts of the play that I think are lost on Americans, but it was still something that I’ve thought about and discussed many times since I saw it in August. I still debate whether Rooster was hearing giants or bulldozers at the end.

War Horse I said Neigh! when T first described this play to me. I was wrong. From what I’ve read of the movie, I don’t think that it is at all like the play. I was fascinated not so much by the story of the boy’s devotion to his horse, but the idea of a ‘modern’ war changing how war was waged and how tanks and barbed wire made the cavalry obsolete before the end of the war. The puppets were great, not cheesy as I pictured them beforehand.

Royal Shakespeare Company/Lincoln Center Festival (Romeo & Juliet, As You Like It, Julius Ceaser, The Winter’s Tale) It’s a HUGE committment to see 5 plays in 3 days. I gave my ticket to King Lear to my cousin who gave my husband and I a place to stay for the weekend, and although I would have liked to have seen Lear, I needed a break! I loved every one of the 4 plays that I saw. I don’t think that the RSC has a monopoly on doing Shakespeare, but this ensemble, who has been working together for three years, gave fantastic performances. It’s a toss-up between whether I enjoyed Romeo better than As You Like It, but I don’t have to decide: they were both favorites! I will always remember Jonjo O’Neill as the sexist, most manic Mercutio I’ve ever seen.

More Dance than Theater (if that even makes sense!)

Sleep No More (Finally, something that is still open.) If you’re in NYC, go experience this! Imagine a theatrical dance performed throughout a six-story warehouse, which requires you to walk — no, run! — after the characters as they perform scenes in an order that has no continuity with a plot. You may wander into an apothecary, through a maze, into a graveyard where Macbeth pleads with the stars to hide their fire before a rendezvous in Lady Macbeth’s bedroom, or find yourself at a witches’ rave, or see Macbeth murder Duncan. And then there is the whole other thing happening concurrently: a nod to Hitchcock vibe with a secondary story reminiscent of Rebecca. Part do-it-yourself adventure, part film noir, part dance, part haunted house: all a lot of fun and a memorable experience. This isn’t a “play”, but it is theatre that will immerse all of your senses. I’ve “seen” it twice and would go again if I could. Wear running shoes and contacts instead of glasses; the audience must wear masks.

Who is really the performer if the audience wears a mask?

Septimus and Clarissa Part dance, part play, this was an innovative adaptation of Mrs. Dalloway. Fascinating theatre.

>"Only A Dog Could Sing Such Notes": High Tech, High Def Opera

>”Only a dog could sing such notes, they are so high.” That is what Beverly Sills commented regarding the “mad scene” in Bellini’s I Puritani, currently at the Metropolitan Opera, during last Saturday’s “Live in High Definition” broadcast from The Met stage.

The notes were high and beautiful soprano Anna Netrebko sang wonderfully. How Netrebko can sing such notes — any notes — while lying on the floor, her head hanging over the orchestra pit, is amazing. In the middle of 30 minutes of all-out singing! If you have the opportunity to see I Puritani while Netrebko is singing the lead at the Met, don’t miss it. Eric Cutler, Franco Vassallo, and John Relyea were very good too — but Netrebko was amazing! I now understand why some people rave over Bel Canto opera. Truly Beautiful Singing.

I wasn’t familiar with I Puritani, and frankly, the subject of the opera — good grief the English Civil War? How interesting could that be? — didn’t interest me at all when I first read about it. But, the fact that the Met was broadcasting live to theatres around the globe: that fascinated me. What a great idea – bring great quality opera to people not in the NYC area via live high-def feeds. The Met will be broadcasting a few other operas in the next several weeks. If you’ve never gone to the opera, here is a chance to experience it without the cost, potentially the travel since opera isn’t available in many places, and you can do something that you’d never do in an opera house: Eat popcorn!

Eating popcorn during intermission was okay, but I did feel a little weird when the singing started. In an opera house or a concert hall, you don’t want to rustle a cough drop wrapper less you make a slight sound, much less chew noisily on popcorn! The ridiculously sized ‘small’ bag went immediately under the seat. It’s been a long time since I went to a movie in a mainstream movie theatre (usually it’s an art house/indie type film that I enjoy), but when did a small soda become 32 ounces?

A few thoughts struck me when watching the opera:

– I’d never see, even with theatre glasses, such close-ups of the singers. I was amazed that they weren’t sweating more under the lights.

– I realized how much of an art film direction can be. I had no complaints about the camera shots, but I realized how I might do it differently if I were choosing. I found my self thinking a few times: move the camera to the other singer! Had I been in the house, I could have chosen where to focus my attention. That freedom is eliminated with the broadcast. It made me realize how I take the camera’s role in film for granted; it really does complement the narrative and action but the viewer often doesn’t notice how the camera manipulates what you are seeing.

– The interviews were an interesting feature, although I’m not sure that they knew who the audience would be. Some of the commentary was very good, but people in the audience laughed at some of it. Probably fair to say that many of the people were aficionados and the commentary tended to aim for the novice. Still, seeing the activity backstage between acts was interesting. Definitely not something most would have the opportunity to see in the theatre.

– In opera, the voice is the chief element. Many opera singers are not known for their acting abilities. Sills, in the pre-show talk (makes it sound like a football pre-game show, doesn’t it?), talked about how in some operas, one should just move to center stage and sing. While it wasn’t the case with this opera — all of the principal parts seemed to have a reasonable stage presence — I could see how some singers would be just awful to watch up close.

– In the theatre where we saw the broadcast, it was difficult to read the subtitles because of the seating arrangements. But, I was reminded of the time I saw Rigoletto in Paris. With no supratitles as is common in opera houses in the States, and with the libretto in French, I could only listen to the opera. Reading the synopsis before each act was a help, but I soon realized that I should just let the music wash over me: the emotion in the voice, accompanied by the orchestra sets the feeling and one shouldn’t rely on the English titles to follow along. In some ways, it reminds me of a poetry reading where the work read is new. It isn’t always possible for the reader to get every line, every allusion, but it doesn’t distract from the overall experience. Listening to the opera is a similar experience.

Info on other Live from the Met High-Definition broadcasts can be found here. Consider going to one of them.