Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A whole mess of reviews

Yikes! I've gotten behind on the reviews something fierce. Fortunately, this collection should reiterate what so many others have already said: This is a darn good season for plays on Broadway.

A Bronx Tale
The first rule of writing a one-man show, of course, is to have a damn good story to tell. Chazz Palminteri's Bronx childhood has that from the start. His autobiographical romp takes us through a witnessed murder, an unlikely bond with a dangerous mobster and a perilous interracial romance. It also gives us the now well-known date test that, thanks to the advance of automatic car door locks, is no longer relevant, but I digress. While I wouldn’t call Palminteri’s characterizations one-note, there’s just not enough differentiation there to propel the basic underlying conflict between the two centers of the show: Palminteri’s working-class hero father and the smooth gangster Sonny. At times, it’s a bit like listening to a book-on-tape, albeit a darn interesting one.

Is He Dead?
Playgoers, be warned. The dusty relic now on display at the Lyceum Theatre is full of stock characters from the ethnic stereotype warehouse, contrived plot devices and groaners that even Fozzie Bear wouldn’t incorporate into his act. Case in point: German Stereotype Character, after causing his companions to recoil in disgust at his hunk of limburger cheese, pulls a sausage out of his trousers, noting “The wurst is yet to come.” So why is this show so darn entertaining? Credit the fine cast, led by Norbert Leo Butz as Jean-Francois Millet (based on the real Millet about as much as the real Sam Walton was represented in "Walmartopia"), a down-on-his-luck artist who, at the urging of his aforementioned stereotype-laden cadre of pals, decides to fake his own death to jack up the value of his paintings and reappear as his own sister to collect on the estate. “Is He Dead?” is slow to get rolling, but in the hands of Butz and a talented ensemble that includes John McMartin, the chameleonic David Pittu and Marylouise Burke—so delightful as a dotty old spinster that I’m finally ready to forgive her for that bizarre performance in the revival of “Into the Woods” a few years ago—you’ll find yourself sheepishly laughing with, not at, this show. Like a fine team of paleontologists, adapter David Ives, director Michael Blakemore and the cast have taken a few ancient bones and given us a clear picture of the original, charming beast.

Had the Internet existed in Shakespeare’s time, I can only imagine the legion of angry Internet nerds pounding out scathing reviews following the premiere of “Cymbeline,” a twisted, confusing show that requires a flowchart even to get through the prologue. And then Jupiter comes down and fixes everything, helped by a step-by-step deathbed confession by one of the chief villains. In other words, a copout akin to “a wizard did it.” Still, like the first time I saw a production of the, to put it mildly, much less optimistic “Titus Andronicus,” I couldn’t help feel a little camp appreciation of this wacky work, particularly in the form of the lush production helmed by Mark Lamos at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre. The costumes, by Jess Goldstein, are gorgeous and are especially dazzling amongst the minimalist set—rows of gold columns to indicate a forest, for example. A lot of the acting is over-the-top, as it should be, but there’s also some very human performances to be found. Michael Cerveris anchors the show as the exiled groom Posthumus, John Pankow brings a quiet dignity to the proceedings as Posthumus' servant and David Furr and Gergory Wooddell. Martha Plimpton also continues her ascension as a go-to stage darling as the royal Imogen, whose verboten romance with Posthumus drives the action. And Phylicia Rashad and Adam Dannheisser are so much pompously hissing fun as the wicked mother-and-daughter team set out to usurp the kingdom that you’ll almost feel bad for laughing as Dannheisser’s disembodied head is dangled around the stage like a prop lantern.

The Seafarer
It’s hardly a spoiler, I suppose, to reveal in the first sentence of this review that the mysterious Mr. Lockhart, played by Ciaran Hinds in the production of Conor McPherson’s latest now playing at the Booth Theatre, is the devil himself. Even Sharky (Robert Morse), the very man whose soul he’s come to claim in a game of cards, doesn’t seem that surprised by it. Such is McPherson’s brilliance, though. He can so delicately weave in the Irish supernatural with his tragically pathetic characters that I’d probably be willing to overlook it if Jupiter popped in to help out with matters. Set appropriately enough on Christmas Eve, however, this devil has come to earth in a wholly human form and melds in with McPherson’s equally florid and conversational dialogue.. His description of hell is one of the finest original speeches to be seen on Broadway in some time. The rest of the cast is superb, too. Morse gurgles with reserved frustration that makes one fearful of the eventual explosive climax. Conleth Hill is tragicomic gold as a hard-luck oaf, and I’ll also prematurely make the call that Jim Norton, as Sharky's carefree yet ailing brother Richard, will be the man to beat in the supporting actor in a play Tony race this year. Do these characters sound familiar? Yes, “The Seafarer” is typical McPherson. Replace the devil character with a young woman, in fact, and one could pretty much perform the show in perfect repertory with “The Weir.” But it’s definitely on the higher plane of typical McPherson, which is not a bad thing in the least.

Cyrano de Bergerac
This isn't so much a review as a cautionary tale. Never forget about 7 p.m. Tuesday curtains! I had just gotten back from Washington and was relaxing at my apartment, thinking I had time for a little rest and a quick bite before the show tonight. At just a little after 6:40, I glanced at my ticket and realized my error. Somehow, I managed to get from Washington Heights to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in about 20 minutes and missed only about a minute of the action. But I hate latecomers -- even when they're me! Oh, OK. Here's a quick, one-sentence review: Kevin Kline is his usual excellence, Jennifer Garner exceeds expectations and finally seeing Daniel Sunjata made me realize just how much I regret not seeing "Take Me Out" when I had the chance.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gay dating in the styx, or lack thereof

In recent months, I’ve been playing around with one of the online matchmaking services. No, I’m not talking about Gay.com or Manhunt. Let’s just call it one of the less fickle dating services, one of those sites that makes you juggle toggle meters and write essays just to gain the right to even correspond with someone. I’ve met some interesting people through it, one even pretty close to what I’m looking for in an LTR, although just not quite enough to get me to give up my confirmed bachelorhood just yet.

My schedule as of late, however, has made me put it all on the back burner. Just last night, someone whom I had been chatting with and who seemed like he might have a little potential suddenly bumped me to the reject pile largely because, I presume, I’m so hard to nail down nowadays. Dropped before the first date even had a chance to happen! As I alluded to in an earlier post, if Mr. Right had come along at any point in mid-November, I would have had a window of maybe two or three days to fit in a single date with him by the end of the year.

As evidence, I’m putting up this very blog post from a hotel in Bethesda, Md., where I just arrived tonight and will be leaving tomorrow following a brief business meeting.

All this made me realize: Do you know when the last time was that I had an actual date? Try around Halloween.

So I’m wondering – is my not dating right now a neglectful act? If it were all work causing this, it would be a no-brainer, but a lot of this hectic schedule is stuff I truly enjoy doing: traveling, seeing shows, visiting family and, of course, the chorus. And those two or three days I had in that dating window I really needed to fuel the introverted side of my personality. It's not as if I feel like I'm missing anything -- until people tell me that I am, that is.

Honestly, I’d rather not try to date if I don’t have the time to properly cultivate a good relationship should it come along. Self-centered? Perhaps. But I never jump into relationships quickly, and I’d rather not waste time spinning my wheels if it means cutting time out of things I enjoy doing. My usual philosophy on dating has been to give anyone a shot or two, even if they don’t seem my type, just to see what happens. But now, consider my bar officially raised. Or at least mounted. I just can’t decide if this is a mature or immature decision at this point.

And besides, that one guy who just sent me his “relationship essentials” is kind of cute.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My peace pipes are getting hoarse!

Things have been so hectic lately that I failed to give my usual shameless plug for the New York City Gay Men Chorus' concert! Alas, this time I missed out the off chance that I might help sell one extra ticket to a lost googler trying to figure out Tyler Hanes' sexuality of find the script to "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking" (seriously -- that's been the most frequent search leading people here as of late). So, I'm left to praise the morning after.

Really, I always hate the day after a performance, especially one for which I truly enjoyed preparing. Such a crash! Our new director, Charles Beale, did a really great job putting this one -- our annual holiday concert at Carnegie Hall -- together. Admittedly, some of the song choices had a lot of us saying "Huh?" at the beginning of the rehearsal process --"You're the Voice"? That Heart song? Really? -- but it really blended into a lovely, coherent program, if I do say so myself. Angels and peace were the motif throughout, and it really spoke to some personal stuff with which I'm dealing right now, not to mention the crap that's going on in the political landscape right now. (I'm ready for my quarantine, Mr. Huckabee!)

I'll especially cherish the memory of working with Kelli O'Hara. She was a real workhorse for this concert, doing four numbers in a row in the first act as well as a surprise appearance in the second. She told us it was a special occasion for her as well, as a friend of hers who has since died had been in the chorus a few years back. She and bari/bass Robert Osborne were stunning on the Gerald Finzi cantata "In Terra Pax." I wish I'd slipped in my voice recorder for a bootleg, but those Carnegie folk are pretty scary about that, and I didn't want to risk getting caught and getting the chorus stuck with a heavy fine. Even if I had, the organ would have been overpowering from where I was standing, anyway.

Beyond that, I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to review my own performance! I will say, however, that there's no feeling like walking out to an applauding, packed house at Carnegie. Last year, my first concert with the chorus, I was really too overwhelmed to appreciate the experience. This year, I savored every moment.

So, since I can't plug the concert, buy our recordings! Even though I only participated in one of those recordings.

OK, enough of that. I'm falling behind, so I have a lot of reviews to get through this week as well as photos from Budapest. And a silly little detail called "work."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Les Kinsolving: The muttering dotard of the White House Press Corps

As fascinating as the World Net Daily rogues gallery of writers is -- Grandpappy Joseph "Uses More Questions Marks Than Periods" Farah, Star "Quarantine All Sodomites" Parker, Ted "'Bee Movie' Promotes Satanism" Baehr, Hal "I Know I Said It Thirty Years Ago, But We're In The Last Days, Really" Lindsey, Pat "Nothing In Quotation Marks Could Come Close To The Real Horror" Buchanan -- nothing compares with the piece of work known as Les Kinsolving.

The name probably doesn't ring a bell, but anyone who's ever watched a White House press briefing in the last several decades has seen him. Or any regular watcher of "The Daily Show," for that matter. He's the old goat who always rattles off some tinfoil hat question that whomever is handling the conference quickly bats away.

For anyone who's ever attended a City Council meeting, think of him as the zany lady who always sits in the front row, reeking of McCormick Gin and cat litter, and has a 15-minute diatribe prepared on the city's coyote problem or some other matter that's conflated to a crisis in her head only. The one to whom the mayor always nods politely to after the speech but would run like hell if he ever saw her on the street.

At any rate, World Net Daily is up in arms because White House spokeswoman Dana Perino brushed off the "questions" about AIDS that Kinsolving had prepared in honor of World AIDS Day. Here's the exchange:

KINSOLVING: "Two domestic questions. The Media Research Center – with the Centers for Disease Control's statistics that HIV/AIDS in the U.S. is still a great deal higher among men who have sex with men �"

PERINO:: "Let's move on to the next question. I'm not even going to dignify�"


PERINO: "I'm not, Les, unless you want to just move on altogether. What's your next question?"

KINSOLVING: "All right. In major cities like Washington, Chicago and San Francisco, there are reports that gay bathhouses facilitate�"

PERINO: "Okay, Keith, go ahead. Les, it's inappropriate�"

KINSOLVING: "Inappropriate?"

KINSOLVING: "AIDS isn't that�"

PERINO: "Just stop it, stop it."

This is actually interesting for what it says about both the actors involved. Kinsolving absolutely hates homos to the point that he'd like to see them in ovens. Meanwhile, Perino is stuck with that White House policy to talk about AIDS without ever, ever mentioning the gays. And World Net Daily spins the whole thing to say that the White House has banned questions about AIDS altogether. No, they just don't want to listen to a senile nut rattle off Brent Bozell's doctored statistics about it. And they don't mention the gays EVER, except in cloaked language about marriage amendments.

Synchronize your bigotry, guys. It's embarrassing when you show up to a party in clashing outfits.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

No touchbacks

Rats. Tagged again. As indicated in the comments in a previous post, I've once again been hit with the "seven weird facts" meme. Thanks a lot, Angela! Now, I'm not going to repost the rules or tag anyone else, even if it means seven years bad luck or that Ronald McDonald won't run across my screen and drop-kick the Taco Bell dog. But, since I've been blog negligent, I'll do it again as penance. Here were my last seven facts, in cast you missed them.

1. When I was four, my sister made me learn her twirling routine as she tried out for the drill team. The music was...gosh, I can't remember the name of the song. It was used in an 80s movie--I can't remember which one--and it had no lyrics. That song used in the SNL sketch about the male synchronized swimmers. Long story short, sis didn't make the team, thus ending my twirling career.

2. I learned to eat beans only a few years ago. For most of the rest of my life, I wouldn't touch them. This included almost every type of bean outside of soy.

3. Although I've been a pretty consistent blond in recent years, I used to dye my hair all sorts of colors. My favorite was red, which I did when I was in "Dancing at Lughnasa."

4. I mentioned this in a blog comment before, but presidential hopeful Ron Paul was my mother's obstetrician and was supposed to deliver me. I was several weeks early, however, so he was out of town when I was born. Paul was also my sister's obstetrician several years later and actually was on hand to deliver my nephew. When I was in the Cub Scouts, I also got to swim in Paul's swimming pool.

5. I can name all the books of the Bible to this day, thanks to an annoying summer church camp ditty from years ago. I have to hum the tune in my head as I do it, though. And I can't name the apocrypha. Not in order, at least.

6. I was supposed to have been a featured extra in the film "Powder," but an unpleasant high school principal blocked me from doing so with nasty threats.

7. My first major writing project was a book I wrote in the second grade about the digestive tract. It was from the point of view of a roast beef sandwich. You should've seen my illustrations, particularly the chyme with the smiley face on it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Didn't Malcolm McDowell kill some lady with this in 'A Clockwork Orange'?

I'm back! More on the travels and such later, but I'd rather get this poor, neglected blog started again with something lewd. What else? I go visit my parents at Thanksgiving to discover this in my mother's kitchen:

Apparently she found it stored away during a cleaning kick and decided to add it to the home decor. OK. So I'm told it's some sort of good luck charm to have a witch in your kitchen. But look at that thing REALLY closely. See if you notice anything unsettling about it.

Good luck indeed. And no, that Special K behind the witch isn't for a rave.