Tuesday, March 28, 2017

March '17 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 
In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni went to swinging London to make his first English-language film, a rare instance of the cultural zeitgeist being recorded, aside from its cinematic brilliance as a mystery and investigation into the power and truth of images. The Criterion Collection gives this historically important filmic time capsule the hi-def release it deserves: there’s a ridiculously good-looking Blu-ray transfer, and extras include archival interviews with Antonioni and actor David Hemmings, featurettes and a new making-of documentary, Blow Up of Blow-Up; and new interviews with actresses Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Birkin.

Cinema Paradiso
(Arrow Academy)
1989’s Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film, Giuseppe Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical reminiscence is perfectly—and honestly—sentimental, its story of a young boy who befriends the local movie projectionist and who leaves his small Sicilian village to become a world-famous director encapsulated in the yearning violin figures of Ennio Morricone’s most romantic score. The nearly three-hour director’s cut is repetitious but essential for understanding what Tornatore is after: despite its soap opera leanings, resistance is ultimately futile while viewing, especially when the irresistible Brigitte Fossey shows up near the end to steal the film. Fine hi-def transfers of the two-hour released cut and 173-minute director’s cut are included; extras include a Tornatore commentary, A Dream of Sicily documentary and featurettes.

The Creeping Garden 
(Arrow Academy)
This odd but compelling documentary by directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp is a straight-faced exploration of strands of mold that multiply on their own, and those scientists and several artists who study and use such creeping masses of matter in their fields. Needless to say, the interviews and glimpses of the actual molds are fascinating throughout. The film looks fine on Blu; extras include directors’ commentary, Grabham short, featurettes and soundtrack CD.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
(Warner Bros)
J.K. Rowling returns with a sort of Harry Potter spinoff based on her book about a British wizard, Newt Scamander, who arrives in 1926 Manhattan with magical creatures in his suitcase only to spend most of the movie trying to recapture them after they escape. Of course it’s silly and overlong, but there is a sense of tongue-in-cheek fun that permeates the film, especially when the strangely compelling creatures dominate its second hour. The film looks dazzling on Blu; extras are featurettes and deleted scenes.

Patriots Day 
This forceful dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath is another skillful recreation of a real-life tragedy from the suddenly formidable team of star Mark Wahlberg—a convincing everyman—and director Peter Berg, collaborators on the true-life oil-rig thriller Deepwater Horizon who balance the larger canvas with humanizing personal stories. There’s also marvelous support from John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons and Alex Wolff, who plays the younger Tsarnaev brother with truly frightening intensity. The Blu-ray image is first-rate; extras comprise an hour of interviews and on-set featurettes that give a voice to the real people who were affected by that day and the performers who played them.

DVD of the Week
Just a Sigh
(Icarus/Distrib US)
Jerome Bonnell’s intimate character study of a French actress and a lonely Englishman who meet in Paris while both are in emotional distress has moments of ringing authenticity, but there’s little onscreen resonance despite the flavorful performances by two reliable actors, Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne. The talented pair makes the most of the contrived scenario, providing some laughs, occasional tears and even the odd sighting of a real emotion that go beyond what’s called for in Bonnell’s slight script.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Broadway Review—New Musical “Come from Away”

Come from Away
Music, lyrics & book by Irene Sankoff and David Hein; directed by Christopher Ashley
Opened March 12, 2017
Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street

The cast of Come from Away (photo: Matthew Murphy)

What happened on September 11 still haunts New Yorkers. Now, more than 15 years later, comes the soothing tale of people in a small Canadian town becoming known around the globe in the days following the horrific terrorist attacks, musicalized as Come from Away.

When U.S. airspace was closed after the attacks, international flights already in the air and headed to the States had to be diverted, and dozens ended up landing at the large former airport near the town of Gander, where passengers and crew were sequestered for several days until they were able to resume their flights. By all accounts, despite fraying nerves on both sides—hundreds of newcomers, none of them able to contact their loved ones in a timely manner, and locals not used to an influx of so many visitors—those days went by remarkably smoothly, providing some good will during some very dark days.

It’s a fascinating and important story, but “Broadway musical” doesn’t scream out as the obvious way to tell it as much as a non-fiction book, movie dramatization or documentary. But Toronto-based creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein soldiered on, playing off the cliché that Canadians are so likable and nice by showing the locals interacting with the people from the planes—Americans, Europeans, Africans, even (in a few brief moments of tension) Middle Easterners—and interspersing those scenes with in-jokes about Tim Hortons, Shoppers Drug Mart and the local custom of kissing a codfish.

The show runs 100 intermission-less minutes, its interchangeable songs comprising lonely laments about absent loved ones and power ballads about understanding others despite differences, most rhythmically-heavy tunes with vague folk- or Celtic-based arrangements. Beowulf Boritt’s mostly bare set includes a revolving turntable that allows greater freedom of movement for the performers (Christopher Ashley is credited as director, with Kelly Devine given a “Musical Staging” credit).

The talented cast of 12 energetically plays dozens of characters, both locals and visitors. And Jenn Colella, always a gripping presence whenever she’s onstage, gets the best musical moments as she belts her way through the show’s most emotional tune, “Me and the Sky,” as an American Airlines pilot who mourns that planes have been turned into lethal weapons by terrorists.

The audience loved the performance I attended, laughing, crying, applauding and jumping immediately to its collective feet at the end. They didn’t mind being manipulated; on Broadway, Come from Away hits close to home, and succeeds despite its limitations.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review—Marisa Tomei in “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage”

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage
Written by Sarah Ruhl; directed by Rebecca Taichman
Performances through May 7, 2017
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, 150 West 65th Street, New York, NY

Marisa Tomei in How to Transcend a Happy Marriage (photo: Kyle Froman)
Marisa Tomei has come a long way. Sure, she won the 1992 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for My Cousin Vinny, but her next few movie (and Shakespeare in the Park) appearances made her seem a one-trick pony regurgitating variations on Mona Lisa Vito to diminishing returns. However, she persevered and has turned into one of our best actresses, both onscreen (Oscar nominations for In the Bedroom and The Wrestler) and onstage, where she is giving a delectable and ultimately moving performance in Sarah Ruhl’s new tease of a play, How to Transcend a Happy Marriage.

With their opaque plots, absurdist situations and flowery language, Ruhl’s plays hint at significance but—with the glorious exception of her lone Broadway outing, the focus and superb In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play—always come up short. At least Marriage begins tantalizingly, with a tart exploration of how two happily married, middle-aged couples from New Jersey perceive sexuality and its taboos after falling under the spell of Pip, a polyamorous woman who is blissfully living with (and loving) two men.

Tomei plays George, our narrator and spirit guide, who is most transformed by Pip’s appearance at a New Year’s Eve party; she becomes obsessed with Pip to the point that she even misremembers what happened at the orgy that ended their debaucherous evening. One day, George—short for Georgia, her nickname a sly Ruhl move that further confuses the issues of sexuality and identity—goes bow hunting with Pip to shoot deer (Pip kills and eats her own food, apparently another symptom of polyamory), only to shoot a dog by mistake and end up in jail.

As a character, George may not have true inner logic—another unfortunate Ruhl staple—but, like Mary Louise Parker and Laura Benanti before her, Tomei delivers a sparkling display of comic energy and touching vulnerability, even putting across George’s clunky closing monologue—which heavy-handedly equates the joys of polyamory with music-making—so charmingly and committedly that it nearly sounds meaningful.

But Ruhl falters, as she often does, by confusing absurdism with absurdity. The first act has intelligent, amusing dialogue among the incredulous foursome and Pip and her men. But after the orgy, Ruhl spins her wheels until simply letting the play trail off without a dramatically or psychologically coherent resolution. That a real bird suddenly shows up late in the play is a clear sign of desperation: by concentrating on its sudden appearance, the audience might notice that leaden dramaturgy has taken over.

Rebecca Taichman’s skillful production corrals an expert cast to play these people as individuals, not freaks or parodies: Lena Hall is perfectly cast as the blue-haired, tattooed and universally alluring Pip, while Robin Wiegert has a lovely and understated presence as George’s close friend Jane. Credit also goes to David Zinn’s stylish set, Susan Hilferty’s spot-on costumes and Peter Kaczorowski’s astute lighting. But head and shoulders above all is Marisa Tomei’s George, guiding us in for a relatively safe landing after an exceedingly bumpy ride.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March '17 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
Collateral Beauty
(Warner Bros)
Will Smith’s least memorable movies are always far too heavy on the sanctimony: like the execrable Seven Pounds, his new movie piles it on until there’s nothing left for the viewer except to laugh at the ridiculous self-importance. Also, an incredible supporting cast is pretty much wasted: there’s Ed Norton, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Naomie Harris and Michael Pena, if you please. That there are several nicely-photographed New York locations is about the most one can say in favor of this overwrought, treacly drama. The Blu-ray image is sharp; lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Demon Seed
The Valley of Gwangi 
(Warner Archive)
In Donald Cammell’s tepid sci-fi shocker about a murderous and sexually assaultive computer, 1977’s Demon Seed, Julie Christie totally outclasses her material as the wife of a computer scientist who finds herself at the mercy of their home computer—which wants a baby with her. Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects are the attraction of 1969’s Valley of Gwangi, an often risible fantasy that combines Westerns and dinosaurs: a Jurassic Wild West, if you will. A wooden cast is outclassed by Harryhausen’s miniature creatures, especially a dazzling (and destructive) allosaurus. Both films have decent hi-def transfers; Gwangi extras include vintage featurettes.
                                                                                                                                                      Finian’s Rainbow 
(Warner Archive) 
Burton Lane’s tunefully whimsical 1947 musical was belatedly turned into a movie in 1968 by an up-and-coming director named Francis Ford Coppola, who only rarely balances whimsy with realism, and the result is a fitfully entertaining pastiche that could have been so much more. Fred Astaire is too old for Finian, while Petula Clark is enchanting as his daughter Sharon; the musical numbers are serviceably done, and Philip H. Lathrop’s color photography is, if not inspired, more than competent. On Blu-ray, the film’s colors are eye-poppingly gorgeous; extras are Coppola’s commentary/intro and a vintage “world premiere” featurette.

(Opus Arte)
American composer Lowell Liebermann’s full-length ballet based on Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel is a dramatic delight, with atmospheric music that heightens the intensity of the whole monstrous saga. The dancing—notably by Steven McRae’s creature—is pretty spectacular and exquisitely shows off Liam Scarlett’s inventive choreography. The entire performance is a happy case of something that seemed iffy but ended up top-notch. Hi-def image and sound are excellent; extras include several backstage featurettes.

A Kind of Murder 
Though based on a Patricia Highsmith mystery novel, this drama about a husband hoping to rid himself of a neurotic wife is mostly bland and uninteresting, despite its accurate mise-en-scene and accomplished performances by Patrick Wilson (husband), Jessica Biel (wife), Haley Bennett (other woman) and Eddie Marsan (killer). Despite the relatively short running time, this 96-minute would-be thriller moves like molasses. The Blu-ray looks good; extras comprise three featurettes.

Live by Night 
(Warner Bros)
Based on a Dennis Lehane novel, Ben Affleck’s latest triple-threat offering—which is set during the Roaring ‘20s and Prohibition—follows a Boston gangster who sets up in Tampa to become a rum-runner. It’s exceedingly well-made, with local color galore and flavorful characterizations courtesy of hams like Brendan Gleeson and Sienna Miller, but meandering plot lines—it should be much leaner than a drawn-out 128 minutes—and overdone violence (including the worst gun accuracy imaginable) contribute to its status as good, not great. The hi-def transfer is high quality; extras are featurettes, an Affleck commentary, and deleted scenes with Affleck commentary.

Won Ton Ton—The Dog That Saved Hollywood 
In 1962, director Jules Dassin made Phaedra for his muse Melina Mercouri, whose typically intense performance makes this shaky update interesting; she’s hamstrung, though, by Anthony Perkins’s inert portrayal of the stepson she’s (gasp) fallen for. Won Ton Ton, a wan 1976 silent-film spoof by director Michael Winner, has intermittent laughs among unfunny pratfalls and dozens of desultory cameos (Henny Youngman, Cyd Charisse, Billy Barty, George Jessel and the Ritz Brothers, for starters), but also has the always enchantingly funny Madeline Kahn, who even steals scenes from the titular canine!

(Warner Archive)
Blake Edwards made this jet-black 1981 satire of the movie business after his successful Pink Panther films and 10 with Bo Derek, so it’s not surprising it contains the same highs and lows: extremely funny moments coupled with limp slapstick and general crudeness. Although the movie is most notable for showing star (and Edwards’ wife) Julie Andrews’ breasts, it’s at its best whenever the triumphant comic turns by veterans Robert Preston, William Holden, Richard Mulligan and Robert Webber are front and center. The Blu-ray looks solid but unspectacular.

Wagner—Das Liebesverbot 
Schoenberg—Gurre-Lieder (Opus Arte)
Richard Wagner’s early opera Das Liebesverbot—an adaptation of Measure for Measure—is nothing like his later canonical works, but it’s entertaining and holds the stage, even in last year’s messy Madrid staging by director Kasper Holten. Best known as a 12-tone composer, Arnold Schoenberg wrote the lushly romantic Gurre-Lieder for large orchestra, soloists and chorus: but this cantata should not be turned into an opera (of sorts) with its love triangle “plot” enacted onstage, however cleverly director Pierre Audi did it in Amsterdam. On both discs, hi-def video and audio look and sound great. The lone Gurre-Lieder extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Movie review—Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “After the Storm”

After the Storm
Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Opened March 17, 2017 in New York and Los Angeles

Hirokazu Kore-eda's After the Storm

Although he’s made memorable dramas about family bonds, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda comes a cropper with his latest, After the Storm.

Ryota, a once-famous writer, now works as a private detective in a small agency. But whatever he earns he usually loses gambling, which makes it difficult to keep up his child support payments to ex-wife Kyoko for their son Shingo. Ryota is also bemused that his mother Yoshiko is moving on after his father’s death—including learning about music (currently Beethoven’s quartets) from a neighbor—and his sister Chinatsu is spending more time at their mother’s house, apparently—he believes—sponging off her.

One evening, Ryota brings Shingo and Kyoko to his mother’s house just as a storm is brewing—they end up stranded there overnight, and it’s while there Ryota (after Kyoko tells him they have no future together and that he’s a failed father) hopes to finally earn his son’s affection.

As always, Kore-eda has enormous sympathy for every character onscreen, even if he sometimes tends to rub Ryota’s nose in his continued inability to shape up and become responsible. But Hiroshi Abe’s sensitive portrayal beautifully balances Ryota’s irresponsibility with his half-hearted attempts to mend fences, which lets us root for him even as he keeps screwing up. But Kore-eda’s steady hand and insight into tempestuous family relationships were shown to far greater emotional impact in Still Walking and Like Father Like Son.

There are wonderful moments scattered throughout, especially in the final rainstorm scenes: when Ryota takes Shingo (an adorably unself-conscious Taiyo Yoshizawa) across the street to sit in the old playground where he went with his own dad as a kid, there’s a lovely, unforced, casual quality to it. But although After the Storm reaffirms Kore-eda as one of our pre-eminent chroniclers of real life, it’s the least resonant of his films I’ve seen.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Broadway Review—Arthur Miller’s “The Price”

Arthur Miller’s The Price
Written by Arthur Miller; directed by Terry Kinney
Opened March 16, 2017
American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, New York, NY

Danny DeVito, Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shaloub in Arthur Miller's The Price (photo: Joan Marcus)

Arthur Miller chronicled psychologically messy families, as the estranged brothers locking horns in The Price characteristically demonstrate. It’s surprising that The Price has been relegated to the bottom drawer of Miller’s plays, as warhorses like The Crucible, A View from the Bridge and Death of a Salesman are trotted out regularly; its quartet of juicy roles and dramatically enclosed space keep up the intensity level for over two hours, however contrived the basic situation.

The Frantz brothers are Victor, a 28-year New York City beat cop who hasn’t yet decided to retire, to the consternation of his bemused but loving wife Esther; and Walter, a successful surgeon who hasn’t had contact with his younger brother in 16 years, since their father died. Now that the enormous amount of bric-a-brac in the family home is about to be sold off prior to the building’s demolition, the brothers reunite for an uneasy tête-à-tête—attended to by 89-year-old Gregory Solomon, an antiques appraiser who becomes a sardonic commentator on the action—in which they painfully bat around what happened years ago that led to their estrangement and dealing with memories of their parents, particularly their father. Secrets are shared, and revelations are made.

Miller could write dramatically conventional but gripping confrontations in his sleep, and there are moments in The Price when it seems he did—notably Esther’s predictable shifts of allegiance between her wearying husband and his accomplished but slippery brother—but the back-and-forth between the brothers is heated and soul-baring throughout, as in this exchange about the price Victor paid while caring for their dad in his old age:

VICTOR: It’s all pointless! The whole thing doesn’t matter to me!
WALTER: He exploited you! Doesn’t that matter to you?
VICTOR: Let’s get one thing straight, Walter—I am nobody’s victim.
WALTER: But that’s exactly what I’ve tried to tell you—I’m not trying to condescend.
VICTOR: Of course you are. Would you be saying any of this if I’d made a pile of money somewhere?  I’m sorry, Walter, I can’t take that—I made no choice; the icebox was empty and the man was sitting there with his mouth open. I didn’t start this, Walter, and the whole thing doesn’t interest me, but when you talk about making choices, and I should have gone on with science, I have to say something—just because you want things a certain way doesn’t make them that way.
WALTER: All right then. How do you see it?

Of course, it helps to have actors able to tear into these meaty parts, and Terry Kinney—who directs with unobtrusive sympathy on Derek McLane’s spacious set cluttered with furniture and items doubling as symbols, like the centerstage harp and a fencing foil—has them in spades. Danny DeVito is a riotous Greek chorus as the aptly-named Solomon, and Jessica Hecht—usually an excessively mannered actress—keeps her affected line readings to a minimum, even if Esther’s New Yawk accent is straight out of Edith Bunker.

Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shaloub present a dizzying contrast in techniques. Ruffalo’s world-weary, run-down Victor finds its finest expression in the actor’s shambling stage presence, while the swaggering Shaloub—dapper in his impeccably tailored suit—flaunts Walter’s wealth and prestige even as the ghosts of the Frantz family’s past rise up to put the brothers’ own memories into question. Their head-butting never becomes fatiguing, which makes The Price—despite its flaws—heartening and, ultimately, poignant.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review—Bryna Turner’s “Bull in a China Shop”

Bull in a China Shop
Written by Bryna Turner; directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Performances through April 2, 2017
Claire Tow Theatre, 150 West 65th Street, New York, NY

Enid Graham and Ruibo Qian in Bull in a China Shop (photo: Jenny Anderson)

The story of Mary Woolley is a fascinating one: she became president of Massachusetts’ Holyoke College in 1901 while living openly with her longtime companion, Professor Jeanette Marks, and finally retired in 1937 after leading the charge for raised standards for women’s education. Too bad, then, that Bryna Turner’s play about Woolley, Bull in a China Shop, rarely burrows to the heart of her relationship with Marks and merely pays lip service to her stature as an advocate for women’s rights.

Turner’s play compresses four decades of Woolley’s life on the Holyoke campus into 85 minutes, but the lack of motivation and character development is a fatal flaw: populated by dramatically insufficient scenes, it’s surprising that the play is, as it says in the program, “inspired by real letters” between the women. Also, I’d be surprised if those letters between these two intelligent, spirited women contained the surfeit of “f” words that is liberally sprinkled throughout Bull’s dialogue, especially one particular epithet beginning with “motherf—.” It’s not that such words weren’t used a century ago, but in this context—spoken by highly educated women in a place of higher learning—they seem willfully out of place, distracting from the drama whenever they’re dropped in.

Lee Sunday Evans directs with insufficient variety, and with Arnulfo Maldonado’s mostly bare set and Eric Southern’s conventional lighting, the effect is of an inadvertent distancing, underlined further by the acting of Enid Graham, whose Woolley is shrill and overbearing. As Marks, Ruibo Qian is nearer the mark, providing needed shading, especially in the humorous (and later, tender) scenes with Pearl (Michele Selene Ang), a student with whom Marks has an affair.

Instead of a sensitive study of a worthy historical character, Turner’s unsubtle play ends up aping its own title with its awkward bluntness.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

March '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
All We Had
(Gravitas Ventures)
Katie Holmes’s directorial debut is an earnest, feel-good study of a single mom and her teenage daughter who teeter on the edge of poverty, how they beg, borrow and steal just to get by, and how a series of fortunate events allows them to lay down roots in a small town. Holmes directs straightforwardly, while her performance as the mom and Stefania LaVie Owen’s as her daughter are quite believable, which helps whenever the movie falls into its not infrequent melodramatic traps. The Blu-ray image is excellent; no extras.

Canoa—A Shameful Memory
A true resurrection by the Criterion Collection is this barely known 1975 drama by Mexican director Felipe Cazals, which powerfully recreates the events leading to the murders of a group of innocent young men who had the misfortune of visiting a region of their country where a cult leader, i.e., priest, held sway. Though marred by awkward acting and melodrama, Cazals’ blunt-edged film still resonates as a cautionary tale about following in lock-step behind a charismatic leader. The hi-def transfer is satisfyingly natural-looking; extras comprise a Guillermo del Toro introduction and conversation between Cazals and director Alfonso Cuaron.

45 Years 
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay give skillful portrayals of a long-married wife and husband whose relationship is upended when they find out that his long-ago girlfriend’s body was found after being missing for 45 years—that he never disclosed this earlier relationship to his wife before causes a possibly irrevocable rift. Director Andrew Haigh insightfully shows how little things may upend decades of marital bliss in this finely etched character study, based on David Constantine’s short story. Criterion’s sparkling hi-def transfer is complemented by interviews with Rampling, Courtenay, Constantine and Haigh and a Haigh commentary.

Ghost in the Shell
(Anchor Bay)
In this now-classic 1995 Japanese anime—whose influence has been so large that a live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson opens soon, if anyone cares about such things—a devious hacker called the Puppet Master is tracked down by a relentless government tracker and her team. The vibrant animation—a canny combination of traditional cels and computer generated imagery—is seen in all its glory in this fine hi-def transfer; there are no extras included, except the steelbook packaging.

Mercadante—Francesca da Rimini 
Although 19th century Italian composer Saverio Mercadante wrote many operas, they’ve been pretty much forgotten: at least until this 2016 Martina Franca (Italy) staging of Francesca da Rimini, under Fabio Luisi’s steady baton, excellent orchestral playing and choral singing, and fronted by head-turning vocal performances by soprano Leonor Bonilla and mezzo Aya Wakyzono. One of Mercadante’s contemporaries, Giacomo Rossini, is far better known (The Barber of Seville), but his obscure Armida was brought out of mothballs for an impressive 2015 Opera Ghent staging, with fine singing by Carmen Romeu and Enea Scala. Both operas have superior hi-def video and audio.

Six—Complete 1st Season
(Anchor Bay)
The inner workings of the elite Navy Seals are dramatized in this eight-episode mini-series, as the elite group must go in and pry loose its former squad leader after he is taken hostage by Boko Haram in Nigeria. By jumping around from hellish locations as far-flung as Afganistan and Chad—and by adeptly showing back stories like how the current hostage lost his position as squad leader—the drama dials up its intensity without losing focus on the men under fire. The hi-def transfer is splendid.

DVD/CD of the Week 
Grigory Sokolov—Mozart-Rachmaninoff Concertos/A Conversation That Never Was (Deutsche Grammophon)
One of the most enigmatic artists in classical music, Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov doesn’t give interviews and hasn’t performed with orchestras in years: so how do you put out a new release of his musicmaking? Deutsche Grammophon has dug out two of his older recordings: his sizzling 2005 recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 and his even more dazzling 1995 recording of the fiendishly difficult Rach 3 (Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto). Add to that Nadia Zhdanova’s documentary, A Conversation That Never Was, which recounts the pianist’s fascinating career through interviews with everyone but him, a less than definite portrait of a reluctant master.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Broadway Review—Joshua Harmon’s “Significant Other”

Significant Other
Written by Joshua Harmon; directed by Trip Cullman
Opened March 2, 2017
Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street, New York, NY

A scene from Significant Other (photo: Joan Marcus)

Like his Bad Jews, Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other is crammed with clever, even riotously funny dialogue, along with moments when characters mouth off crassly and snidely. But there’s an emotional weight to the new work that makes it more palatable than the sour earlier play.

We meet 29-year-old Jordan Berman (a name very close to the author’s), a gay man working in a Manhattan office, whose three closest friends are all female: sassy Kiki, fun-loving Vanessa and down-to-earth Laura, with whom Jordan roomed with in college. One by one, each woman meets a man and gets married; Jordan, meanwhile, is unable to begin, let alone sustain, a relationship. Significant Other begins at Kiki’s bachelorette party and ends at Laura’s wedding: in between Jordan becomes ever more desperate to find intimacy, especially when he realizes that the women will not be friends in the same way once they have husbands to prioritize.

But it’s when Laura—his best friend and soulmate—finally finds love that Jordan feels his own loneliness even more forcefully. Making him feel even more pathetic are visits to his loving, elderly grandmother, who both gives him positive reinforcement and makes him feel worse. There are also painfully funny scenes of Jordan trying to date Will, a coworker who agrees to see a bad documentary about the Franco-Prussian war with him, and a failed relationship with Zach, whom Jordan met while interning in Chicago, but who can’t let go of his own recent ex.

Harmon’s likably dark comedy chronicles how relationships constantly fluctuate, and the play’s often amusing conversations lay bare the frayed bonds within even the strongest friendships—like Jordan and Laura’s after her engagement. But the biggest sympathy for Jordan comes courtesy of Gideon Gick’s marvelously shaded performance, in which the shyness, neediness, and bruised but beating heart of this confused young man are laid bare wittily and compassionately.

Jordan’s quartet of women is beautifully embodied by four fine actresses. Sas Goldberg makes a sassy and vivacious Kiki, Rebecca Naomi Jones an appealing Vanessa, and Lindsey Mendez a sensitive and supportive Laura. Barbara Barrie is on hand to provide a lovely oasis of calm as Jordan’s grandmother.

Mark Wendland’s set design spiffily evokes the Manhattan apartments, offices and public spaces these people move through, complemented by Kaye Voyce’s adept costumes and Japhy Weideman’s expressive lighting. Add to all of this Trip Cullman’s knowing direction, which makes Significant Other anything but insignificant.