The ,”OSCARS,”…AND DRAMATIC REVELATIONS…let’s say it wasn’t about marketing and was about artistic merit … we should be so lucky!
My Choices :
Best Supporting Actress: Sally Field – “Lincoln”
Best Supporting Actor: I have no horse in this race.
Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva – “Amour”
Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis – “Lincoln”
Best Director: Ang Lee – “Life of Pi”
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino – “Django Unchained”
Best Adapted Screenplay: David Magee – “Life of Pi”
Best Documentary: Dov Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky and Estelle Fialon – “The Gatekeepers”
Best Foreign Film: Michael Haneke – “Amour”
This was a hard one. It was also the most interesting categorie as well as the most competitive.
“Amour,” and “A Royal Affair,” a toss up with the edge going to, “Amour.” Not far behind and worth a shout out, “No,” is right up there. All three very good films. Bravo to all, and as long as we are, hailing…, “Life of Pi,” again, loudly, and for all time.
The Dramatic revelation…
Just for a change of pace, I went to the Theater.
STEPHEN SONDHEIM and ETHAN HAWKE
Ethan Hawke in “Clive”
“CLIVE” at The New Group in New York
At The New Group, one of the more adventurous and ambitious of New York’s Theater Companies we have, “Clive.” The New Group do a limited number of plays each season, carefully chosen, well produced, directed and acted. Their standards are very high. Thy are consistently reliable and if they slip occasionally …they do try. The Artistic Director, Scott Elliot, is relentless in trying to bring interesting work to his audiences. Geoff Rich, the Executive Director says that what they try to do is to provide, “a true forum for the present culture.”
“Clive,” is written by Jonathan Marc Sherman and directed by Ethan Hawke. Mr. Hawke also plays the title character of Clive, fills and carries the play.
Watching the play I found myself thinking about actors. I have always thought actors to be the gift of the theater. Acting is not a 9 to 5 job and then you go home and zone out in front of the TV. They are in it come hell or high water and always at war with the beast. The next role, the workshops, classes, readings, rounds, agents, small parts, smaller parts, commercials, the road, waiting on tables, driving cabs, the chatter, the backbiting, who else can you talk to but other actors, the friendships … what I did for love… and always the craft … doing what you love to do with your life’s blood. And don’t try to explain it to anybody. In the words of the film heartthrob of yester-year, Van Johnson, “they’re civilians.” Actors must act and part of their great frustration, is the lack of opportunity. So we see in, “Clive,” Vincent D’Onofrio, a bavura actor. You’ll recognize him from TV’s, “Criminal Intent.” He brings the stage to life. We should see more of him on our stages. The ensemble is terrific. It’s like one big acting class. Young actors trying to shine in their instant choices to realize a moment and then move on. You have to start somewhere.
Ethan Hawke is a film star. “Training Day,” “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead,” among many others. He has also been, “a contender,” on Broadway. Tom Stoppard’s, “The Coast of Utopia,” “Henry 1V,” “The Sea Gull,” all big time stuff. He has paid his dues… made, makes choices of grandeur. Rather than playing it safe, nestling into the star actor’s prerogatives of audience adulation and approval, he has carved out a different path for himself. He wants to not only challenge himself, but also lead a meaningful, artistic and for him, healthy and vigorous life in a very difficult and frustrating cultural environment. He seems to be having a good time. It all comes together in, “Clive.” He is the reason for and the fulfillment of, ” Clive.” I guess he thought it would be easier to do it all himself. He gets an A for effort and a B for getting burned.
Not nearly all his fault. Jonathan Marc Sherman, says that, “Clive” is based on, inspired by, and stolen from the German version of Bertolt Brecht’s “Baal.” Mr. Sherman goes on to say that he used a literal translation to do his adaptation. It might have made a difference if the adapter understood German and breathed the nuance and texture of what meaning lay beneath the words in German so that he could adequately find the English understanding for the adaptation. What did the original play say …what was, “Baal,” all about?
We all steal. The key is to steal from the best and then do your version, wonderfully. Brecht pinched from John Gay’s, “Beggar’s Opera,” for his, “Three Penny Opera.” He took what he wanted and then made magic with it.
“Baal,” was Brecht’s first play, written when he was 20, in 1918. It is an angry young man’s play. A German young man, struggling with the society he was living in. Germany had lost the first World War. The country was in chaos. Brecht was furious with the theater and it’s taste for illusion and theatrical magic. He wanted to shake it up, rip it down, move his audiences with his vision of social conditions as they were. He wanted to provoke change by the challenge of his work on the stage. He was audacious, in your face, no holds bared, society, warts most of all. His was a theater of the despised, the depraved, and the despairing. Theater to run from. It was harsh …brutish … gutteral, like the German language itself. That was his, “Baal.” You can have cake if you are prepared to pay for it. Even if you aren’t. So long as you pay, and he would make his audiences pay. You see the seeds in, “Baal,” of, “The Three Penny Opera.” He’s talking about the same down-trodden underclass, but he had a social concern. I don’t see that social concern transposed to our culture, in, “Clive.” So what is, “Clive,” about?
Of course Mr. Sherman has updated, language, characterizations, locations … all to make it seem new and shiney today. For all of his changes, unless you find the right equivalents, things don’t remain the same, even if you intend them to equate. They just don’t. Mr. Sherman is talented … there are flashes … moments … some insights, crude but they and an honest attempt at relevance. There integrated musical doors with strings hanging from them; sounds nuts, but they are woven into the production design and occasionally plucked by characters scratching out melodic sound (not overdone) to enhance, contribute, to the dramatic moments. Surprised as I was …they work. Another attempt at style is when the characters break to the audience and speak their own stage directions … a devise that added …what? It felt like an affectation of playwriting that was passed off for Brechtian style. And…more important … Mr. Sherman doesn’t have to do the dirty. He doesn’t fulfill the potential of the production. He doesn’t show the ugliness in all of its larger than life frontal assault on our sensibilities. Naming rape, seduction, assault, brutality … death …is really not the same as seeing it up front and personal. We get shadows, whispers of grossness, callousness, the harshness of man’s inhumanity to woman, and man. We see actorly versions of our culture’s underbelly, leaning heavily on sex, drugs and rock and roll for it’s own sake …and then I wrote … So What … or paraphrasing the mantra in, “Clive,” “A rat dies in the gutter … so what …?” Indeed … so what. Who cares. And …we should care … about something or some one. Up there on the stage something must be happening that touches me at some point, for some reason. You can’t just tell me that everything is shit and so what … What does that say about me sitting in the dark nibbling my fear. I go to the theater for nourishment of some kind, not to just take up space and time. Nothing really happens in Clive’s story. He just is … and does l… destructive to himself and everyone, women, men, virgins, babies, anyone near him, anyone who might care for him, and then …, “a rat dies in the gutter … so what,” …and everyone shares the blame … including all of us.
“PASSION” at the Classic Stage Company in New York
I’m not sure that Stephen Sondheim in a somber mood is the musical to see on Valentine’s Day. The Classic Stage Company apparently thought so and as once again brought a perceived, classic, to it’s small open stage, Stephen Sondheim’s, “Passion,” first produced in 1994 on Broadway, The CSC, now in their 45th season, has continuously done outstanding work and has enhanced the cultural life of the New York theater scene. Kudos to Artistic Director Buzz Kulick.
“Passion,” is pure Sondheim, a hailed and justifiably honored artist, an American original …words and music by… musical theater icon in his own lifetime. He is our prize … a gift to one and all … even the few doubters in our midst. I don’t like everything Mr. Sondheim has written. I also admit that I can’t always take Stephen Sondheim straight. His words are great but sometimes his melodies or lack there of …aahh.
Used to be you’d come out of a musical comedy humming a melody or have a show tune stuck in your head like a never ending toothache. I came out of, “Passion,” whistling the scenery …which in this case wasn’t bad. The production design and sets were created by John Doyle who uses the small open stage wonderfully. He also directed, and gives us an intimate, engaging and nuanced, “Passion,” sung as well as acted. With interesting, as well as appropriate costumes by Ann Hould-Ward and an atmospheric and subtle lighting design, by Jane Cox, that guided us dramatically and shifted the mood and action gracefully. The lighting enhanced the overall affect, fitting hand in glove with the elegance of the production. The sound design by Dan Moses Schrier and the orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, musical direction by Rob Berman, make for the overall perfection of this production. I doubt that you will see a better rendering of, “Passion,” anywhere. I think that it is the Director John Doyle who deserves enormous praise for the overall achievement. His work is straight forward, balanced, sure handed and inspired. He guides his ensemble in Sondheim’s passionate romp, seamlessly, dramatically without lingering on the highs or dwelling on the lows. His direction is masterful.
That the production is terrific and worth seeing and that I also think that, “Passion,” is not a great work is not a contradiction. The credits note that the musical is based on the film, “Passione D’Amore,” directed by Ettore Scola. Mr. Scola is one of Italy’s most acclaimed Directors. I’m now curious to see the film to see what was lost in translation. And it’s not all Stephen Sondheim’s fault. James Lapine wrote the book, adapted from the film, set out the story for Mr. Sondheim and shares the responsibility for all of the moans and groans. It feels like a Freudian case study in hysteria set in an atonal monotone. I guess melodies are so out, and emotional logic has been played to the breaking point. We’re supposed to forgive it all because it is a musical.
Playing the more demanding role of Fosca, the gentle soul consumed by passion, Judy Kuhn, no longer a young innocent, displays a dramatic ability necessary to fulfill the difficult persona of a woman, sick in body and even more in spirit, who is consumed with an urgent passion that blinds her to everything else in her life. Ms. Kuhn makes the plight and her passion, believable. No small feat. She sings it as well and…very well indeed. Carrying the burden of all that passion is Giorgo, the Captain, lover of Clara and beloved of Fosca. There’s enough passion for everyone and Ryan Silverman carries it all on his broad shoulders. Mr. Silverman handles the role with ease and a commitment to character that fills the house. An experienced performer, Mr Silverman has starred as Raul in, “Phantom,” and Al in, “Most Happy Fella,” among others. He can sing big time. He’s a keeper who can do it all.
A story about passion … love dressed up and nowhere to go. At the outset we meet the lovers, Clara and Giorgio. They can’t bare to be apart. He has to go to a new posting. She will wait. The pain of parting. At his new posting Giorgio meets Fosca … sick …sickly …sick sick at heart, until she meets Giorgio … and heart beats faster. She falls in love and needs his love to regain her health. Giorgio will be her friend, to help make her better. He is reluctant. She is insistent. He bolts back to the arms of Clara. We then find out that Clara is a married woman and this great love, full of passion, is only passion on the side. Giorgio goes back to the base and Fosca, his Commanding Officer’s cousin, is now sicker and her passion, full blown. Her illness is like the flu and Giorgio catches it only it’s not the flu but some love bug that consumes him. Back to Clara, who, he sees, will not love him without question or give up her comfortable life for him, but if he will wait for five years until her son grows up… He runs back to Fosca and in the great tradition of Opera … he confesses to Fosca that he loves her …they make love … full of passion. Then, big love that he has …he goes off to the new post, after all he is a Captain. Fosca …dies. He reads her last letter and we fade out … end of passion … end of love …end of story. I was underwhelmed. Also, ninety minutes without an intermission.