Thursday, January 31, 2008

Review roundup

The Little Mermaid
Consider the reviews this show racked up--take a look at the filleting Ben Brantley gave it--I was expecting something along the lines of Shamu's Super High-Kicking Spectacular at Sea World. After seeing it, I'll just say: Leave the guppy alone. OK, no more fish references. But really, I didn't see anything so egregiously awful to warrant the thrashing the show received. No, there's nothing visually stunning like "The Lion King," the songs added to the production are dull to cloying, the scenery is bit garish -- oh dear, I'm doing it, too. OK, it's really NOT a great show, I'm afraid. Charming nostalgia, yes, and fun actors in broad parts, yet nothing to elevate it above a really good theme park production. But I had fun, the same way I have fun whenever I catch "King Ralph" on basic cable. And the tourists lapped it up. Having never seen "Beauty and the Beast," I had never seen the inside of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre until seeing this show. I have a feeling the theatre is going to be uncharted waters, er, territory for a lot of New Yorkers for several years now, too.

August: Osage County
A tonic to crabs in every way. Reviewers, friends and amateur critics had talked up this new work by Tracy Letts up so much that I was afraid I couldn't help but be disappointed. Well, I wasn't. It's a brilliant dark comedy, wonderfully constructed from beginning to end acted by what is sure to be the finest ensemble onstage this season -- and that's high praise, considering my thoughts on "The Seafarer" and "The Homecoming." The insane fire from Deanna Dunagan and Amy Morton (a killer Nurse Ratched earlier this century) as a drug-addled battle ax and her mini-me-in-training fuel this three-and-a-half-hour marathon without a single sputter. Francis Guinan, playing Uncle Charlie, the most normal and grounded member of the clan, turns a rambling recitation of grace into a hilarious monologue. And I swear that I went to church with Rondi Reed's Aunt Mattie Fae growing up. If I had any quibble with this show, it's that Letts made it fit just a little too perfectly. It's OK to have a superfluous character or two. Just ask anyone who's ever played the brother in "A Moon for the Misbegotten."

Jerry Springer: The Opera
Oh, Linda Balgord. You may have turned Queen Elizabeth into Cruella de Vil last season, but all is forgiven after hearing your wonderfully shrill soprano shreik out every vulgarity thinkable onstage at Carnegie Hall. There's something oddly thrilling about seeing the lowest form of entertainment melded into some sort of Orff-ian masterwork--complete with a Klansmen chorus line, something to be topped only if someone invented a NASCAR engine that roared Prokofiev. Well, thrilling for the first two hours at least, after which the conceit started to wear a bit thin and the allegory began to bloat. But that's what concert stagings are for, yes? Here's hoping a leaner version of this finds a permanent home in New York at some point in time. A note about the Catholic protestors outside: I had intended to give a little freedom of expression blast here, but honestly, the withered showing the protesters had was so sad, I don't have the heart. Besides, one of them was even kind of cute.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A brighter week

Many thanks to those of you who left the kind thoughts in comments or elsewhere. Since I broached it, the full story is that my father had his bladder and prostate removed (my oldest sister keeps calling it a prostrate, but I've given up trying to correct her) after they found and removed and orange-sized tumor off of the bladder late last year. Not to get too graphic, but they had to remove the tumor through the penis bit by bit, which, well, I've probably lost all male readers at this point.

At any rate, he made it through the surgery fine last week, but as Sophia Petrillo said, "No one looks good after surgery." Like many older patients after surgery, there were some delusion problems, which is a difficult thing to see. At one point in time, he was convinced he was in Louisiana at an LSU game. When I called to check in last night, however, I got the good news that he was passing gas. Yes, that's good news, because it means the intestines are active again and that he can eat again. And with food back in him, he's doing much, much better, and with the morphine cut down, the delusional spells are pretty much gone. And he might be able to go home sometime this week. So things are looking good at this point.

Honestly, though, I've been in so many conversations about bodily functions in the past few weeks that I feel like I'm in a Rob Schneider film. My three sisters and I were in the Best Western near St. Luke's in Houston, eating breakfast and talking loudly about urostomy bags and all sorts of other unseemly things that we barely even noticed the lone, horrified other woman trying to eat in the breakfast room. Hope she enjoyed her biscuits and gravy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Photo distraction

I just got back from Texas yet again this week. I was there for some fairly major surgery that my father had to undergo. The recovery process is going as well as could be expected, considering that he's in his 80s, but of course, it's going to be slow. And it's all left me a little drained and tongue-tied for now. So, without much to say at the present, here instead are some photos from my trip to Budapest late last year, which I realize I never posted.

Click for the full image, of course. These were taken in and around the city's lovely Castle District, right on the Danube (crossed by the Chain Bridge). Oh, and doesn't the Hungarian parliament look a lot like that Thames Productions logo?

Friday, January 18, 2008

If only there were a Lyman cameo

I've been told my sense of humor is a even I'm starting to believe that now, because I've just spent the last 10 minutes laughing my ass off at this site.

Basically, it's a bunch of videos of Garfield strips--including some from as far back as the strip's early days in the late 1970s, which I used to read constantly in those anthologies when I was about 8 or 9--acted out in the most divinely cheesiest way possible followed by an even more purposefully cheesy video. The first one, which inexplicably turns Garfield and the cast into Final Fantasy VI characters...well, that just won these guys a fan for life.

I think it's the last time I've laughed at Garfield since I grew pubic hair.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Self-abuse made easy

I have, on several occasions, written about the off-the-wall columnists on display at WorldNetDaily. Honestly, I could do an entire blog on nothing but that if I had a stronger stomach. Here's a nice little sampling of the wisdom set forth in the past several days:

  • RingmasterJoseph Farah asserts that one of the presidential candidates is mentally ill, namely suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. It's an exclusive! (for anyone who hasn't already read the Mayo Clinic page on the disorder). Now, he doesn't want to say which one she is...I mean he or she is. Her...I mean, his or her rhymes with Billary Hinton, but he's not going to be so classless as to name who he's talking about. Farah then proves his point by listing the symptoms of the disorder, which applies to pretty much anyone who has ever sought public office higher than state railroad commissioner. Oh, and he ends the column with a record 16 questions in a row. That's called nagging personality disorder.
  • Political science mastermind Chuck Norris implores everyone to vote for Mike Huckabee because preventing gay marriage is one of the most important issues facing our country. I assume that because it's mentioned four times in the column. It turns out he's trying to push the gay rights movement back to the 70s because that was the last time his moustache was in style. Chuck Norris doesn't write bland columns. He opens the dictionary and the words assemble into them out of fear.
  • The beyond adjectives Ann Coulter mourns her father as anyone would: by bashing liberals. Because, you know, politicizing a death is tacky only if the guy's last name was Wellstone.
  • The homo-obsessed dotard Les Kinsolving regurgitates a Wikipedia entry on the Episcopal Church in Colonial times to complain about sodomy.

And so on. And this is the top tier. Some other guy challenged Huckabee to a fist fight, but I can't even remember his name now. It's pretty scary when the most coherent columnist on a site is Pat Buchanan.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Weekend review roundup

Come Back, Little Sheba
The Biltmore Theatre is hosting two long overdue homecomings to Broadway. First is William Inge's ahead-of-its-time drama itself, more than half a century absent from the Broadway stage. The second is S. Epatha Merkerson, taking a break from what seems like nearly the same amount of time on "Law & Order" to play against type as Inge's frumpy, isolated housewife, Lola. Gone is any of Merkerson's trademark strength as Merkerson putters around the claustrophobic set, starving for whatever human interaction she can find: a buff milkman, a nosy neighbor, even a wrong number. As her recovering, resentful alcoholic husband Doc, Kevin Anderson is wound so tight that when he finally snaps, one almost feels like rushing the stage to protect poor Lola. It's a tense, terrifying moment, all adding up to the most affecting show I've seen since last season's "Journey's End," even though director Michael Pressman's work overall is nowhere near the master level of David Grindley's production of the World War I drama. Much of the ensemble work comes nowhere near the realm of the two leads, grinding some crucial scenes, such as Doc's dramatic second act exit, to a halt. Worse, some, particularly Zoe Kazan as boarder Marie, were having projection problems the night I saw it. Still, said ensemble also gets bonus points for surprise eye candy of the season: Brian Smith as hunky track star Turk.

Yes, I finally got around to seeing this. Thank heavens for $30 standing room seats. Let's just say that, considering this show was cast from a reality show, Laura Osnes was a pleasant find as everyone's favorite prude, Sandy. And Kirsten Wyatt is head and shoulders above all as drippy beauty school dropout Frenchy. And, uh, let's just leave it at that.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A case for vandalism

Today was one of those mornings when the alarm clock seemed to be speaking a different language. You see, I had a nice two- or three-hour break in sleep thanks to an extremely courteous neighbor letting his car alarm go off all night.

First of all: Did you know that if you call the non-emergency hotline to report an annoying car alarm, they'll automatically transfer you to 911? Not that it makes the police come any faster, but it's an interesting point. It probably has something to do with reports of a terrorist plot involving car alarms.

I had no earplugs, just my noise-canceling headphones, which I can't sleep in because of my inability to sleep on my back or my stomach for any extended period of time. If the police ever came, I had finally dozed off to dreams of revenge. After a few hours, I actually get used to the noise.

But at least I'm not suffering alone. I had no idea how much bandwidth has been dedicated to these nuisances.
Like here.
Or here.
Or here.
And here.
And the best one.

My favorite part of those is the stories of people retaliating against the offending car. The thought crossed my mind last night. In fact, I even stood at the window for a moment with an old jar of satay sauce from the refrigerator, contemplating hurling it down six stories through the windshield. I thought better of it, mostly because I didn't trust my aim at 4 a.m., but also because I didn't particularly want something with my fingerprints on it in the car should my aim have actually worked and should the police have ever arrived.

I'll be ready next time, though. I'm still trying to decide which would be best. Dumping a jar of molasses on the hood and windshield? A dozen or so eggs? Or just an old-fashioned keying? Ooh, I smell a future blog poll question!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Review roundup -- absurd and absurder

Pardon this turkey. David Mamet’s latest, a surreal tale of a desperate and unpopular president in the final days of his bankrupt campaign, is fast-paced, witty and funny, but it wears out its welcome before grinding to its hackneyed ending. Kind of like one of those Saturday Night Live sketches that would have been great if they didn’t go on for a few minutes too long. As the Nixon-Bush-Harding lovechild that never was Charles Smith, Nathan Lane is giving one of his career-best performances, handily dispatching the ranting Mametisms. And it’s delightful to have Laurie Metcalf onstage as Smith’s speechwriter. Word has it that rewrites are still going on in previews, so here’s hoping they get it right by opening. Mamet almost seems apologetic in explaining some of the contrived moments, such as blaming a missing Secret Service on how some questionable characters have such unfettered access to the Oval Office. Maybe by opening, he’ll have done the same for some of my burning questions. Like why are we still talking about the bird flu? How does a turkey-raising association have such easy access to the same amount as the cost of the Iraq War? And why would such a moron have been elected president in the first…uh, scratch that last part.

The Homecoming
It’s taken a while for the Harold Pinter time bomb to go off inside of me, but I’ve come to the conclusion: this revival of the playwright’s 40-year-old work, directed by Daniel Sullivan, is a damn fine production. Yet when I walked out of the Cort Theatre on Sunday, I was somewhat ambivalent toward it. Pinter is never an easy meal, with his usual stock of nasty characters reacting to nasty situations as no human ever would. Like a freshly made soup, though, I guess it took a few days for the fine flavors of Pinter’s motley, bipolar family—papa Max (Ian McShane); eldest son Teddy (James Frain); his wife, who the family never knew existed for nine years, Ruth (Eve Best); the dim boxer Joey (Gareth Saxe); the vicious pimp, Lenny (Raul Esparza); and pathetic chauffeur Uncle Sam (Michael McKean)—to settle in my mind. Esparza’s a bit uneven at first but delivers when it counts, as Lenny turns more sinister, in the second act, and McShane is winningly horrid. Still, it’s the more subtle performers who really make the show worthwhile. Best and McKean can say more sitting silently in a chair than some actors can express in a soliloquy. Those purposeful silences are wonderfully uncomfortable, the best feeling to have when watching the cancerous but not so unreal family gathering.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

And my theme for 2008 is...

..."Beautiful," by Jessica Molaskey. Not bad, considering it took me--well, my iPod, actually--until March to make up its mind last year. At any rate, I'm happy enough, because I adore Molaskey and can't wait to see her in "Sunday in the Park with George" in a few months. I actually downloaded the whole Pentimento album by accident, meaning to get only one song but hitting the "buy album" button by accident. Serendipity, actually, though.

So I'll be waiting for those sounds of the rude world to lull away with the moonlight, thank you very much.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Farewell, independence

I forgot to mention yesterday that I'm now officially a New Yorker. And also officially a Democrat.

Yes, just before leaving for the holidays, I finally got around to getting my New York driver's license, simultaneously registering to vote. Apparently, to vote in the primaries here, you have to be registered in a particular party. And there's no way I'm going to allow an R by my name.

I haven't made up my mind yet about my choice, though. I'm watching Barack Obama give his victory speech in Iowa as I type this, and he's still probably my top choice. Yeah, there was that whole ex-gay Gospel singer thing, but--as I apparently never blogged on my thoughts about that--my end feeling about the situation is that it was the singer who was compromising, not Obama. John Edwards just creeps me out sometimes with that Joel Osteen vibe. Hillary Clinton could still change my mind again, and I'd love to see those Clinton-hating veins pop out of the Limbaugh et al foreheads over the next four to eight years. The rest would just be a wasted vote. This is coming from someone who voted for Bill Bradley in the 2000 Democratic primary in Texas.

As for Mike Huckabee? Well, he turns my stomach a lot less than Mitt Romney. I'll give him that. Considering he once called for the quarantine of AIDS patients, this says a lot more about Romney than it does about Huckabee. Plus, Limbaugh and Ann Coulter hate him, so there's a plus.

I guess there could be one silver lining to a Huckabee presidency. It's a lining about the width of a cell wall, but a lining, still. Finally there would have been a U.S. president who shared my name. You know, since that homophobic, doltish dwarf from Massachusetts blew his chance back in 1988.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy new year!

Things are finally back to normal. No more long trips, no more leaving the country, no more business conferences -- nada. At least not for a few months. So consider my new year's resolution to get this blog up and running again.

That and the gym. I realized today that, with all that's going on, I hadn't had a good workout in about a month. Fortunately, this is the best time of year to go to the gym. For once, it's not all the toned people who make me feel bad. All those other resolution people are there, too, and their weight-lifting choices are just as puny as mine. Keep at it, guys. Pretty soon, we'll be the ones who control the assisted chin-up machine. Until about mid-February, at least.