Wednesday, November 13, 2019

BOOKS: Is Finance The Root Of All Evil?

Book lovers and anyone ready to take on inequality, check out my review of "The Finance Curse" By Nicholas Shaxson! It's exclusive to Book and Film Globe!  See an excerpt below.


We’re in the midst of a bull market when it comes to books on inequality, the ills of Wall Street, tax justice and how to fix the whole damn mess. Though well-intentioned, many of these books have flaws.
The Finance Curse gets it just right. Journalist Nick Shaxson has written for The Guardian and works with the Tax Justice Network. Here he provides a sharp history of finance and the many storied criminals of the past, among them robber barons like Rockefeller and his ilk. Then Shaxson smoothly and lucidly dives into a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of global finance and how it’s swallowing up the world economy. 
At the heart of his story? Not Wall Street, but London. The British Empire led to its second empire of inherently criminal tax havens. And that led to the Bill Clinton/Tony Blair Third Way of neo-liberalism to Ireland’s paper Celtic Tiger right up to the rapacious hedge funds and private equity firms of today....

Monday, November 11, 2019

THEATER: Good Intentions No Substitute For Good Melodies In "Broadbend, Arkansas"

BROADBEND, ARKANSAS ** out of ****
TRANSPORT GROUP AT DUKE ON 42ND STREET

Good intentions do not a good musical make. Composer Ted Shen's heart is in the right place with this odd duck of a two-hander show. In Act One, nursing home orderly Benny narrates an on-going feud between two women at his place of work in 1961. Then this widowed father of twins feels compelled to join the Freedom Riders fighting for justice in the deep South. He shadows a bus filled with a rainbow of protestors, protects a friend when the police move in, gets proudly arrested and finally heads back home though he'd love to ride on that bus to the next town.

In Act Two, it's 1988 and the struggle continues. Benny's daughter Ruby is in a cemetery looking for the strength to carry on. We soon realize Benny was killed by a policeman just miles from home. And now his grandson is in the hospital after being brutally beaten by yet another lawless cop. For all we know, that cop might be the grandson of Benny's murderer. Will it ever end?

The stage is filled by just two actors and they are far and away the best and only reason to check out this piece. As Benny Justin Cunningham fills the stage with his warmth and presence, even if the elderly women he briefly assays aren't terribly distinct in our minds. As Ruby, Danyel Fulton has the less interesting half yet she too brings complexity and passion to a part that offers little of that on its own.

Sadly, they are not enough. The tech elements are minimal but even those go astray. Lighting cues by Jen Schriever don't clearly indicate when Cunningham is tackling a different character, though sometimes they seem to do so. The costumes by Peiyi Wong don't seem period enough. And director Jack Cummings III doesn't mold all this together to give the two actors the support they need and deserve.



Photo by Carol Rosegg ©2019

But it all begins with this essay/history lesson disguised as a work of theater. Though the two acts are intimately connected, the first act is written by Ellen Fitzhugh and the second by Harrison David Rivers. The music and additional lyrics are by Ted Shen.

Curiously, about half of act one involves that feud between two women. One is the owner of the nursing home while the other is a patient. They bicker and fight over a game of Scrabble. But really their fight is over the man they shared: the patient's husband left her for the much younger owner of the nursing home, but not before the wife wounded him with a steaming hot iron. Benny claims to be refereeing the two women and making peace but really he's just narrating their story. Cunningham doesn't create two distinct women but that's partly the fault of Fitzhugh since their voices tend to blur together. Abruptly this ends and Benny goes off on his civil rights crusade.

The big problem? The feuding old biddies are by far the most interesting and fresh part of the musical. Their story feels like a story, not a noble speech dressed up as a story. And yet, they have nothing to do with the rest of the evening. Half of act one is devoted to this essentially separate tale and then switches over to civil rights. I suppose you could pretend they make peace and so can blacks and whites, but that's quite the stretch.

The other half of act one flows right into the story of Ruby, the daughter of Benny. here actress Fulton has far fewer roles to tackle. It's essentially a monologue and not a particularly fresh or interesting one. Worst of all, the presentation glides back and forth between dialogue and music. Shen seems wary of anything approaching an actual song or memorable melody. Part 5 of "The Bridge" sticks briefly in the mind as Benny sings about how "It's such a comfort to take the bus." And Ruby comes briefly to life via song when she remembers her twin sister telling anyone who would listen that their mom was a backup singer for Diana Ross.

That's it. The rest is sincere, principled, polite, sometimes politely righteous and even angry! But always, always forgettable. I can't figure out why the story of two feuding old ladies takes up half of act one. I certainly know all why they wanted to illuminate the bravery of the Freedom Riders and show how that struggle goes on. (Act Three might easily have jumped to Black Lives Matter.) But whether you're creating a musical about shopping or slavery, you better have the songs. As Duke Ellington and Irving Mills put it, it don't mean a thing.... See, you knew how to finish the lyrics ("...if it ain't got that swing") without me telling you. High art should not mean a disdain for the low appeal of a catchy tune.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2
All My Sons * 1/2
Tootsie ** 1/2
Ink ***
Beetlejuice **
Estado Vegetal ***
Hans Christian Andersen * 1/2
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia ***
BLKS ** 1/2
Moulin Rouge ** 1/2
Bat Out Of Hell **
Unchilding **
Sea Wall/ A Life ** 1/2
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child ***
Betrayal *** 1/2
Fifty Million Frenchmen ** 1/2
Freestyle Love Supreme ** 1/2
Derren Brown: Secret ***
(A)loft Modulation * 1/2
The Great Society **
I Can't See *
Heroes Of The Fourth Turning ** 1/2
Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz ***
The Glass Menagerie (dir Austin Pendleton & Peter Bloch) **
Terra Firma (debut of The Coop theater company) **
Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation ***
Dublin Carol ** 1/2
Soft Power **
The Decline and Fall of The Entire World As Seen Through The Eyes Of Cole Porter ***
For Colored Girls ** 1/2
Scotland, PA **
The Sound Inside *** (great cast, clumsy ending)
User Not Found **
Enchanted April **
DruidShakespeare: Richard III * 1/2
Broadbend, Arkansas **



Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

THEATER: "Richard III," A Schemer Undone By Greed, Violence And A Poor Production

DRUIDSHAKESPEARE: RICHARD III * 1/2 out of ****
LINCOLN CENTER'S WHITE LIGHT FESTIVAL 
GERALD W. LYNCH THEATER AT JOHN JAY COLLEGE

Richard III is undone by distrust. This cruel manipulator is never trustworthy so he can't imagine anyone else being trustworthy either. Ultimately it makes him paranoid and incapable of holding onto the power he has so ruthlessly seized.

But DruidShakespeare: Richard III is undone by too much trust. All ideas are welcome no matter how unconnected to one another they might be. The mishmash of sets and costumes and periods and acting styles turns what was a dully traditional production at the start into a confusing bore by the end.

Happily, they found a solid Richard in Aaron Monaghan. He scuttles about the stage a la Antony Sher and proves charmingly evil. Has Shakespeare ever written a more appealing villain? If his vocal tics seem increasingly desperate by the end, we can pretend it's the character spiraling down rather than an actor trying to hold together a production spinning out of control.




Photo by Robbie Jack ©2019


Playing off a reference to a slaughterhouse, the entire stage is framed in harsh metal by set designer Francis O'Connor, with all the trappings of a modern slaughterhouse, including the dirt-covered floor and a cattle gun (the weapon employed by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men). Tall metal doors line the sides and the back. All that's missing is a maze to lead the royal cattle to slaughter so they won't realize what's happening until the last moment.

Richard pops out of a grave site and launches into his opening gambit of winning over the audience to his wicked, wicked ways. "Now is the winter of our discontent...."  The bodies do pile up, with Richard wooing and wiling away towards and past and around his victims. He keeps his eye on the throne of England, symbolized by the crown resting on a skull displayed in a box hovering above the stage. It's almost within his reach.

The show sort of works, for a while. Richard's wooing of Lady Anne (Siobhán Cullen) has a power that can't be matched when a similar scene is reenacted again and again throughout the play. Richard's rapport with Buckingham (Rory Nolan) sort of convinces. And the anachronistic cattle gun wielded is ok, though Marty Rea's monotone executioner soon pales.

Many of the supporting performances simply fall flat, their lines delivered without purpose or meaning. But the story moves along on its own momentum just enough to get us to act two.


Photo by Richard Termine  ©2019 

Nothing is dramatically different in act two except all the poor choices you ignored in act one become inescapable. While Druid mainstay and co-founder Maria Mullen has fun miming the confusion and easily played emotions of the Lord Mayor, the uninteresting secondary performances pile up as much as the bodies. Even something as minor as the actress playing one of the Princes in the Tower doubling as a page annoys when the costumes by O'Connor (and Doreen  McKenna as co-costume designer) do so very little to set the two roles apart. And the clothes become increasingly odd, such as the sort of metallic bronze and silver royal cape Richard III dons after being crowned king. It's echoed by the red metallic cape uneasily sported by Richmond in the final battle, a piece of clothing that clashes unpleasantly with his odd regalia and almost gets tangled up in the climactic sword fight.

Worse is the cartoonish, massive hood sported by an executioner called in to dispatch the beloved tykes in the Tower. Presumably used to allow one actor to more easily double up on roles, it looks like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. (The actor's cartoonish gravel pit of a voice doesn't help.) Worse than that are the somewhat similar cheap black hoodies sported by servants and the like who rush in with a stream of bad news for Richard. The action starts to look like a Monty Python sketch. A rain machine drips throughout the show here and there as you keep wondering what exactly is falling from the ceiling until the rain scene happens and you think, ah, that's what that was! Worse, it drips pretty consistently throughout the scene after it's supposed to stop.

The night before the battle, Richard's army sets up tents for the king, tents which are made of long neon polls lit in red. Why, one can't imagine. Then they turn to pale blue, indicating, it seems, that night has come. Richard gets into his tent but then the other tent turns red again and in pops Richmond for his nap. When the battle is about to commence, they are clumsily lifted up into the rafters, the poles bouncing off one another and seemingly alive like the legs of neon spiders. It's a distracting and bizarre choice from start to finish.

Scene after scene passes woodenly, such as the meeting/confrontation of the royal women. Queen Margaret scores the most points, as always, thanks to her venomous curses, but not enough to wake the moment up. The lighting by James F. Ingalls rarely sets one moment off from the next. The music by Conor Linehan crashes in obtrusively once or twice to announce the beginning of an act or that something exceptionally dramatic might be going on. A vague mist appears every once in a while, uncertain as to whether it's wanted or not before timidly slipping away again. And the battle choreographed by David Bolger is simply inept.

As a final dashed-off thought hoping to tie it all together, Richmond (Frank Blake) is crowned king only to echo the misshapen and scuttling spider silhouette of Richard. Does power corrupt? Perhaps, but it's certainly not been the through line of a show devoted to a traditional take on Richard as an inherently cruel man, not one bent by the weight of the crown.

Director Garry Hynes co-founded the venerable Druid in 1975 and has undoubtedly delivered the goods before, though we've had precious few chances to witness it in New York. Still, her work here is slapdash and poorly thought out. Unlike England, a play needs a ruthless leader.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2
All My Sons * 1/2
Tootsie ** 1/2
Ink ***
Beetlejuice **
Estado Vegetal ***
Hans Christian Andersen * 1/2
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia ***
BLKS ** 1/2
Moulin Rouge ** 1/2
Bat Out Of Hell **
Unchilding **
Sea Wall/ A Life ** 1/2
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child ***
Betrayal *** 1/2
Fifty Million Frenchmen ** 1/2
Freestyle Love Supreme ** 1/2
Derren Brown: Secret ***
(A)loft Modulation * 1/2
The Great Society **
I Can't See *
Heroes Of The Fourth Turning ** 1/2
Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz ***
The Glass Menagerie (dir Austin Pendleton & Peter Bloch) **
Terra Firma (debut of The Coop theater company) **
Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation ***
Dublin Carol ** 1/2
Soft Power **
The Decline and Fall of The Entire World As Seen Through The Eyes Of Cole Porter ***
For Colored Girls ** 1/2
Scotland, PA **
The Sound Inside *** (great cast, clumsy ending)
User Not Found **
Enchanted April **
DruidShakespeare: Richard III * 1/2
Broadbend, Arkansas



Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

THEATER: "Enchanted April" -- The Charming Tale That Cannot Fail (Much)

AN ENCHANTED APRIL ** 1/2 out of ****
THEATRE ROW

It's 1922 and four women -- four strangers, really -- impulsively find themselves renting the castle San Salvatore on the coast of the Mediterranean for the month of April. It's absurd. A castle? For the entire month of April? Sunshine? And wisteria?

They all have their reasons. Lotty is a timid soul but when she spots an ad offering a castle for rent she somehow gins up the nerve to approach another woman in her club. They've never spoken despite attending the same church on Sundays. Lotty plants the idea and her friend Rose Arbuthnot tries to resist but then suggests maybe simply writing for the particulars wouldn't be so wrong. Before you know it, they're advertising for roomies to share the expense and up pop the dour Mrs. Fisher and the glamorous Lady Caroline Dester. They all decamp to Italy and the romantic setting conjures up the usual magic. The women blossom, become friends, romances are begun or rekindled with loved ones and it truly is enchanted.

That's the essential plot of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was published in 1922, between the wars and is the sort of light comic novel the British do better than anyone else. Heck, as far as I can tell, no one else even tries to write these sorts of books. It's sweet, perceptive, very funny in the kindest and most charming sort of way and well why not say it...enchanting. One hundred years have come and gone and I can recommend it unreservedly.

It's been turned into a play several times, a radio play, a few musicals and two feature films. The most recent movie is perhaps the most popular adaptation of all. That 1991 film was nominated for an Oscar and tweaked the story ever so slightly, as most adaptations can and must. Joan Plowright was especially good as the starchy Mrs. Fisher and really you can't beat the Mediterranean for sumptuous settings.


 

Here it comes again. You really can't go wrong with this story and the romantic idea of an Italian vacation to stir the soul. (E.M. Forster pulled the same trick with A Room With A View.) I'm not sure why but they've changed the title to An Enchanted April, which seems more random and annoying than the 1991 film insisting on just Enchanted April. Otherwise, the book changes by Elizabeth Hansen are reasonable choices.

In the original novel, Rose Arbuthnot is unforgivably religious and finds her husband's career as a popular writer churning out biographies of royal mistresses distasteful and embarrassing. It also mentions they lost a child. Here Hansen downplays the Puritanism and gives Rose a sad monologue about her guilt over the little boy's death. In the novel, the impossibly beautiful Lady Dester is just bored of being chased by every man alive. Try as she might to be dismissive or rude, everyone is charmed by her every utterance. Here, she is haughty, which is fine. She's also haunted by the recent horrors of the war, where Lady Caroline worked as a nurse and saw her share of suffering. In many ways, she is suffering from PTSD. Those changes lead to some other modest plot changes but it's all fine and good. Four women come to Italy, clash a little, loosen up and take a plunge into newer and better lives.

The big problem is the score. C. Michael Perry did the music and he and Hansen tackle the lyrics. It's all recitative tunes, with aimless, meandering melodic lines, the sort of thing people think of as a la Stephen Sondheim though of course Sondheim always offers great melodies. You rarely get anything approaching a proper song, just vocalizing about the lovely view or this and that from a modestly voiced cast. It wouldn't matter that most of the performers are not belters if they had some charming tunes to deliver. But alas, the flowers bloom but the songs do not. This being a musical, that is a fatal flaw.

The story rescues things, as it always does, along with two standouts. Leah Hocking captures the genial charm of Lotty, who puts the plot into motion and constantly insists something will happen because she can see it. This could be ditzy or silly or jokey but Hocking makes Lotty irresistible. Alma Cuervo is costumed to echo Plowright to a t. Happily, her performance is not a carbon copy but Cuervo's own thing. Though why they felt the need to have her slam her cane to the ground and shout "Brilliant" at the very end is beyond me. It was hardly a catch phrase of hers and simply underlined the lack of oomph from the finale.

With a very modest budget, the women were costumed nicely by Matthew Solomon, though I doubt Lady Caroline would have worn a flapper costume to any dinner at the castle and Jim Stanek's suit could have been a little more period appropriate. A little dab of Brylcreem (or rather its precursor since that came out in 1928) would have helped him too. The idea of white umbrellas serving as a backdrop was fine and the sets by William Armstrong did the job despite very few resources. The music was provided by two players though here again the musical choices were unhelpful. Better just two pianos instead of having one chintzily try to echo the sound of strings.

Still, for a brief moment it all works. Mrs. Fisher sings "This Feeling," a song about a tingle of excitement and pleasure she hasn't experienced since her youth.  Better than any other tune, it reveals character and pushes the plot forward. Cuervo makes the most of it, the song approaches a melody and for a moment you forget the modest backdrop, the performer and just get caught up in the moment. This feeling doesn't happen very often, but it's a treat when it comes.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2
All My Sons * 1/2
Tootsie ** 1/2
Ink ***
Beetlejuice **
Estado Vegetal ***
Hans Christian Andersen * 1/2
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia ***
BLKS ** 1/2
Moulin Rouge ** 1/2
Bat Out Of Hell **
Unchilding **
Sea Wall/ A Life ** 1/2
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child ***
Betrayal *** 1/2
Fifty Million Frenchmen ** 1/2
Freestyle Love Supreme ** 1/2
Derren Brown: Secret ***
(A)loft Modulation * 1/2
The Great Society **
I Can't See *
Heroes Of The Fourth Turning ** 1/2
Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz ***
The Glass Menagerie (dir Austin Pendleton & Peter Bloch) **
Terra Firma (debut of The Coop theater company) **
Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation ***
Dublin Carol ** 1/2
Soft Power **
The Decline and Fall of The Entire World As Seen Through The Eyes Of Cole Porter ***
For Colored Girls ** 1/2
Scotland, PA **
The Sound Inside *** (great cast, clumsy ending)
User Not Found **
Enchanted April **
DruidShakespeare: Richard III **
Broadbend, Arkansas



Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

THEATER: To Delete or Not To Delete, That Is The Digital Question in "User Not Found"

USER NOT FOUND ** out of ****
BAM NEXT WAVE AT GREENE GRAPE ANNEX


The UK theater company Dante or Die specializes in site-specific performances. Hotel rooms, self-storage units, ski lifts -- they've been there, done that. The company's latest show is User Not Found and it takes place in an actual café, in this case Brooklyn's Greene Grape Annex near BAM. As part of the Next Wave festival, Dante Or Die delivers a mediation on grief in our digital age. Audience members aren't just seated in the intimate space of a working café. They're also given headphones and a cell phone which displays key bits of information like text messages and social media posts. As with so many envelope-pushing shows, you can't help feeling more time was spent working out the bells and whistles of how it will all work rather than the actual story.

That story is a familiar one. Terry (played by Terry O'Donovan) is occupying his usual seat at the local coffee shop, pointing out other regulars and their various quirks. Then Terry gets a text from a friend expressing their deep sorrow. That, of course, would send a chill down anyone's spine. But Terry has to receive eight more (and a phone call from an older woman, which he doesn't answer) before ponderously texting back that he doesn't know what has happened. What are people texting sympathies about? And then it clicks. Terry dated Luca (sic) for about nine years and then Luca broke up with him. And now Luca is dead. As Terry says, first Luca left him and now Luca's left the world.

Terry is distraught, as anyone would be. Clearly Terry hadn't gotten over the break-up yet. As if the pain and grief weren't bad enough, Terry discovers a very modern twist to all this. When they were still together, Luca named Terry his digital executor. Terry now has full access to all of Luca's social media accounts and must decide what if anything should be preserved and what should be tidily erased from the internet. It's the five stages of grief, 2.0.

Possibilities abound. Luca blocked Terry from his Facebook account (and presumably Twitter et al), which Terry says he appreciated -- less possibility of turning into an online stalker, he confesses cheerily. Now Terry can see exactly what Luca has been up to since they separated. Did Luca have an online journal? Did he have an account on a gay dating app? Did he have an account on a gay dating app before they broke up? But none of the voyeuristic possibilities are explored. No secrets are revealed.

Instead, Terry grieves over his lost love while looking at public Facebook posts and the like. Terry also reconnects with Luca's mother Maria who, in one of the show's few subtle touches, mentions in a text she regrets not asking Terry to speak at the memorial. Really, he just mourns and remembers why he loved Luca in the first place and all those digital files help him do so. Terry might just as easily be sorting through Luca's closet or cleaning out his desk drawer, clutching a beloved t-shirt or discovering a birthday card Luca tucked away. The result would be the same.






Technology adds very little to User Not Found. The piece is a monologue and the information we get via headphones and cell phone (or should I say mobile?) is minimal and mostly unnecessary. It begins with some scene-setting music by Norah Jones and background chatter. But why over headphones? In fact the room is filled with the music before we put on the headphones so it makes a seamless transition. But why transition at all? Most of the time, we're not hearing the inner thoughts of Terry. We're watching him talk out loud and then hearing the audio feed. It leaves his performance at an unnecessary remove.

Further, the texting and other visual information is generally clunky and slow. Why does it take Terry so long to text someone to ask what the heck they're offering condolences about? And when he does text it's very cumbersome indeed and I can't imagine why. The same is true when Terry scrolls through Luca's social media. It takes forever and is quite unrevealing.

Terry focuses in on one photo of Luca holding a balloon and it was actually more powerful just to listen to him describe it rather than actually look at the darn thing. Hmm, we can look at a music video from one of Luca's favorite artists...or we can watch Terry talk about that annoying pop artist and eventually break down as the song hits him emotionally. And when Terry describes a leopard (or panther? or lion? some cat-like creature, anyway) coming into the café and prowling around the other customers it's a lot more interesting to imagine than anything we might see on screen. Yes, they sweeten the mix with the howl of the creature, but Terry already fired our imagination without it.

Again and again, the bells and whistles of the tech got in the way. With the audience isolated in headphones for much of the show, I understood why they sweetened the mix with some low-key canned audience laughter at appropriate moments. Still, it was distracting. Other ideas worked better, like the time Terry was leaving a voice mail message...and kept leaving it on the audio track but in real life addressed us and said his message was even boring himself. Terry struggles to remember some moments...and photos of them appear blurry on the screen of the mobiles we're holding. A fine idea though it had little dramatic impact for me. Ditto the many abstract videos meant to convey the emotional turmoil Terry is undergoing. A little better was the use of that one photo of Luca holding a balloon. As Terry went on about it, the photo became subtly smaller and smaller until it seemed to float away into the distance on the phone screen. Again, this was more interesting than impactful but at least it showed them trying.

The piece was written by Chris Goode and directed by Daphne Attias, who co-founded the company with actor O'Donovan. As Terry, he offers an immediate intimacy with the audience, not to mention some wonderful body work as he rolls and crawls and glides around the room at one key moment. But strip away all the toys and the monologue itself is banal. If there were any insights at hand, I was too busy looking at my cell phone to catch them.

Worst of all, the show never even starts to grapple with the question it insistently raises: if you could delete your digital legacy when you die (or a loved one's after they're gone), would you? In the show, that's apparently just a simple yes or no answer and Terry makes a choice. But he barely scratches the surface of how he makes his decision or why.

Isn't there some curating to be done? If every image of a loved one is stored online on their Facebook or Twitter account, would you want to just delete them all? How about choosing the best? How about asking the man's mother if she'd like some or all of those photos to be placed in an online album she can access? Or printing the best in a book you give her? Are there images of your former lover and his new boyfriend? Do you save those? Do you reach out to the lover? If you're the only person with control over all these potential memories, isn't it important to think about everyone else? And what does it mean to save a static Facebook page? Do you really just want it sitting there? If the person who died only had four Twitter posts ( like Terry does), why then it's not much of a decision. Get rid of it. Since Luca had tens of thousands of Twitter posts, you've got some thinking to do. Are they just boring images of the meal he's eating? Or is there a thread, a celebration of the life he led or the causes he championed or the friends he had that are reflected by those posts? Then you get to the dating apps (be they Grindr or OKCupid) and a whole other host of ethical questions arise. And hey, does the loved one who just died have online friends you knew nothing about? How much of our life are we leading online? Is it meaningless or does it have substance and import and matter?

As you can see from above, overseeing the social accounts of some who died raises a host of practical and philosophical questions. In dealing with them, we should learn more about Luca while Terry would perhaps reveal more about himself, what Luca means to him and how Terry views this life. Instead, Terry makes his choice and that's it, beyond a quick aphorism. What does this decision mean to him? We don't know.  And the bells and whistles of technology can't distract us from realizing that.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2
All My Sons * 1/2
Tootsie ** 1/2
Ink ***
Beetlejuice **
Estado Vegetal ***
Hans Christian Andersen * 1/2
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia ***
BLKS ** 1/2
Moulin Rouge ** 1/2
Bat Out Of Hell **
Unchilding **
Sea Wall/ A Life ** 1/2
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child ***
Betrayal *** 1/2
Fifty Million Frenchmen ** 1/2
Freestyle Love Supreme ** 1/2
Derren Brown: Secret ***
(A)loft Modulation * 1/2
The Great Society **
I Can't See *
Heroes Of The Fourth Turning ** 1/2
Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz ***
The Glass Menagerie (dir Austin Pendleton & Peter Bloch) **
Terra Firma (debut of The Coop theater company) **
Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation ***
Dublin Carol ** 1/2
Soft Power **
The Decline and Fall of The Entire World As Seen Through The Eyes Of Cole Porter ***
For Colored Girls ** 1/2
Scotland, PA **
The Sound Inside *** (great cast, clumsy ending)



Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Monday, November 04, 2019

MOVIES: "American Dharma" Bum Steve Bannon

AMERICAN DHARMA * out of ****

If you want to make a film about the denizens of a small town, you call someone like director Errol Morris.
If you want to take down a two-bit shyster, once upon a time you called Mike Wallace and ordered up a hard-hitting expose for 60 Minutes. 


But Mike Wallace interviewing a thoughtful intellectual? No. Errol Morris confronting a doofus doing damage? No thanks. Confronting is not in Morris’s DNA. 
And that’s how we arrive at the worst film of Morris’s career....

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

BOOKS: Don't Bother Trying To "Find Me"

Book lovers (and movie lovers), André Aciman wrote a sequel to his acclaimed bestseller Call Me By Your Name. Here's a tease for my review running exclusively at BookandFilmGlobe.com!



A sequel to the literary sensation Call Me By Your Name? That sounds like a bad idea, I thought. I was wrong. It turns out to be a positively dreadful idea. André Aciman’s new novel Find Me manages to be terrible in its own right and make you question your appreciation of the earlier book.
I saw the film version of Call Me By Your Name, starring Timothée Chalamet as the precocious and fawn-like 17-year-old Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver, a supremely handsome 24-year-old grad student. Oliver takes Elio to his bed but is too afraid to take Elio to his heart. Also, Elio has sex with a peach.  It’s a bittersweet tale and while I didn’t like it nearly as much as others, I enjoyed it well enough.
Then I read the novel...

Monday, October 28, 2019

THEATER: "The Sound Inside" Gets Muffled By Finale

THE SOUND INSIDE *** out of ****
STUDIO 54 

Pulitzer finalist Adam Rapp molds his new play out of very familiar clay.

Bella is a lonely academic and writer at Yale just told she has terminal cancer. One novel, many years ago, received acclaim (though not from the New York Times) and Bella has trudged along ever since. Single, quietly sad, artistically dead and now a future of chemotherapy followed by death? What's the point?

Christopher is a lonely student. Wildly opinionated like only college students can be, Christopher has no friends, despises the internet, loves Bella's lone novel, hates to be touched and is working on a book of his own in a frenzy of youthful passion.

You can fill in the rest. However, even the most familiar of stories becomes fresh when told with flair. As it unfolds, those well-worn cliches come to life again and you think, yes, ok, I'm going with it. Then, heartbreakingly, it stumbles in the home stretch, enough to make you rethink some of your earlier appreciation. The fault lies with Rapp. This is an impeccable, beautifully acted production of a flawed work.

A two-hander, it begins on a mostly bare stage with Bella wandering outdoors, pen and paper in hand, working out some ideas for a story. Showing artists at work is always hard. At least painters can slap on some paint or musicians can bring a new song to life. Writers can only scribble away. But Rapp manages the feat nicely, with Bella pausing to reword some idea, add a flourish or scratch one out as the moment demands.

It helps that Bella is played by Mary-Louise Parker, easily one of the best actors working today and a very good writer herself. (Her literary memoir Dear Mr. You is a delight and I trust she's working on a new novel or stories or something else of her own.) Parker exudes intelligence and her Bella is wry, self-aware and utterly convincing on every level.

As Bella shares her story, sets materialize out of the darkness, such as a professor's crammed office, a living room, a park and so on. Every technical element shines here: the scenic design of Alexander Woodward, the lighting of Heather Gilbert, the spot-on costumes of David Hyman and the deft music and sound of Daniel Kluger (hot off his marvelous new arrangements and orchestrations for Oklahoma!).

Overseen by the invisible hand of director David Cromer, the effect is positively magical, with sets floating into vision just when needed and quietly slipping away when their work is done. Without any flash, it feels just like memory or a writer's imagination at work. Everyone is in top form.

So The Sound Inside begins as a person-facing-cancer story until the insecure Christopher shoves his way in. He detours the story into several tantalizing possibilities: a romance beginning just as life is ending, a teacher/student tutorial on life and the craft of writing as Bella's final act, the tortured writer run out of things to say faced with a dazzling protégé handing over the sole copy of his first (brilliant) novel?

Actor Will Hochman plays Christopher, a role Jesse Eisenberg would have gobbled up fifteen years ago. You might say he goes toe to toe with Parker and holds his own, but that misses the teamwork on display. They are wonderfully in sync throughout. Hochman matches Parker but this isn't remotely a contest; their camaraderie at the curtain call says all you need to know. It's an impressive Broadway debut. And for, oh, 80% of the night, it's a very impressive play.


SPOILER ALERTS

It's impossible to discuss the flaws of the play without ruining the plot and the finale. If you have a chance to see the show in New York City, by all means take the time. You'll see Parker in top form and a strong new talent in Hochman. Afterwards you can debate with your friends (or me) about the last "act" of this brisk, entertaining 90 minute evening of drama.

Ok, here we go. Seriously, I'm going to describe every twist of the play right to the end. At one point as Bella and Christopher become friends, colleagues in writing (of a sort) and perhaps more, she invites him out to dinner and then back to her place for a drink and more discussion. Christopher mentions a girl in high school (it didn't work out) and a young woman in college who dumps him for a member of the glee club. "You've been Whiffenpoofed," Bella deadpans. Christopher teeters on the edge of self-absorbed and annoying, but Hochman reins this in with a performance that allows us to empathize with the human emotions roiling underneath Christopher's would-be misanthropy.

He's not an incel (that is, a guy who is misogynistic and self-loathing to a dangerous degree) and heck, he might even be a little asexual. Christopher blurts out at one point that he's about as sexual as your average parking meter. But then he cautiously reaches out and brushes Bella's cheek. She quietly leaves the room, brings back a pillow and sheets so he can crash on her couch and then goes to bed. It's not a rejection so much as an end to the evening. Yet, it's a while before they reconnect.

When Christopher finally comes back to have another dinner with Bella, he brings the only copy of his novella, typed on a manual typewriter and thus the sole copy in the world, as he makes clear. He's eager for Bella's opinion. Instead, she tells Christopher about the terminal cancer, her refusal to punish herself with pointless chemotherapy and asks him to help her commit suicide. She's bought everything needed from the internet but needs Christopher to be her "injection buddy," the essential partner to make it all go smoothly. Oh, and she wants to do it that very night.

Christopher agrees, but insists she read his work first and give a complete and frank assessment. She does and it's a masterpiece. In plays like this, college students always produce masterpieces. Then Bella is injected with the first needle putting her to sleep...and wakes up fifteen or so hours later. Christopher is gone and later discovered dead, facedown in the snow. Bellas' cancer miraculously goes into remission and she's left with his novella, a work she quietly noted earlier has no copyright, no indication that anyone else on the planet even knows it exists. (He had no friends whatsoever and even stopped going to his classes.)

Bella is wandering through the park and keeps thinking of Christopher's body, still working out in her mind how to describe the scene. "Did this park imagine his body?" she asks herself/the audience. "Would that be a better image?"

And so it ends. Why in heaven's name have I detailed every single plot point right up to the finale? Every possible complaint about The Sound Inside involves the final scenes, the moments that make you say, "Wait, what?"

Early on, Christopher insists the only way to become famous today is to commit suicide or be on Twitter. He then dives into a list of famous literary suicides. Never mind the endless list one can make of great writers who didn't commit suicide, it's just the sort of thing excitable college students like to proclaim as fact. But does that mean after creating his undeniable masterpiece Christopher chooses to seal his fame by offing himself? If so, Hochman's nicely modulated performance doesn't work. We don't think for a second that this character he plays is about to kill himself.

Maybe Christopher is lovelorn? Not really. Like Chekhov's gun, the moment where Christopher brushes Bella's cheek is the gun that never goes off. They're both lonely and a romance or at least a physical relationship is clearly a possibility. But Rapp doesn't have Bella reject Christopher in any definitive way. It's just an unexplored, unsatisfying option. And why did Bella invite Christopher to sleep on her couch? Couldn't he have just walked back to his place or Uber'd if it was farther? It's just another confusing signal for him and us.

If he's not aiming for fame or distraught over not becoming her lover, was his death just an accident? That would be deflating and uninteresting. On the night when Bella asks Christopher for help in killing herself ("Will I get extra credit?" I wanted him to ask), surely he could have said, "First, read my novella and then sleep with me. I can kill you tomorrow." And whatever happens as a result of that would surely be more consequential and rooted in who they are then the unresolved suggestions we're given.

The show annoyingly and rather obliquely suggests Bella might publish Christopher's work as her own. Again, either take that Deathtrap of a plot twist or don't. Being coy helps no one. And does her critique of his work have to be that it's an unalloyed masterpiece? Surely, she'd have something constructively helpful to suggest. Or God forbid, it might merely show "promise." Having Bella not rave about its towering brilliance would be reason enough for a weirdly deluded and vulnerable student to kill himself. So there she would be, finding a reason to live while dealing with her guilt and perhaps turning that into some new productive work of her own. How ironic and how far more satisfying than what we're given.

The worst possibility is that the entire evening is just a story being made up on the spot by Bella as she wanders in the night. That would be fine, though the story she's telling has lots of inconsistencies. (See above.) Plus, it would be better if the show gracefully and openly acknowledged that fact; heck a meta ending might be satisfying as we realize this particular story is an act of imagination. Any sense of being "cheated" would be calmed by Rapp reminding us that every play is precisely that and nothing more.

For the many complaints the ending raises, none can be raised about the two actors. Hochman is very good. And Mary-Louise Parker is a joy. Both break the fourth wall, though Parker has the bulk of the work to do here, narrating her own story while guiding us through the ups and downs of her narrow, unhappy life. Deadpan, deadly serious, and deadly funny, Parker is wholly naturalistic throughout, never calling attention to herself. That's why you can't take your eyes off her.

In one scene, Parker is in a bar alone and chatting up a guy. The way she looks at him faux agreeably and then turns back to us is hilarious and speaks volumes. They go back to his miserable hotel to have sex, which she narrates to marvelous effect, including the fact that the TV is on the entire time and showing a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond in which....  Here Parker squints as she struggles to make out the TV screen and tells us they're in the kitchen as Ray's wife announces she's invited both of her divorced parents for Thanksgiving dinner. That squint, that moment in which Parker is so present in the scene she's creating for us by herself on stage, is so typical of her greatness. (Again, the technical team is right there with her every step of the way.)

Another is the scene where Bella joins her students in an exercise and finds herself writing the same sentence over and over again: Listen to the sound inside. Listen to the sound inside. Parker repeats it over and over, the words fill up the stage in a beautiful projection by Aaron Rhyne and the effect is hypnotic. When it's over, Bella drolly admits, "I have no idea what it means." Well, I have no idea what it means either. And I have no idea what Rapp was thinking at the end. Out of unpromising stuff, he crafted a thoroughbred of a play that breaks your heart by stumbling just before the finish line. But with this cast and creative team, she's a beauty to watch while she runs.


THEATER OF 2019

Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2
White Noise ** 1/2
Kiss Me, Kate ***
Ain't No Mo' *** 1/2
Ain't Too Proud **
The Cradle Will Rock * 1/2
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie *** 1/2
Oklahoma! (on Broadway) ** 1/2
Socrates **
The Pain Of My Belligerence *
Burn This **
Hadestown *** 1/2
All My Sons * 1/2
Tootsie ** 1/2
Ink ***
Beetlejuice **
Estado Vegetal ***
Hans Christian Andersen * 1/2
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia ***
BLKS ** 1/2
Moulin Rouge ** 1/2
Bat Out Of Hell **
Unchilding **
Sea Wall/ A Life ** 1/2
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child ***
Betrayal *** 1/2
Fifty Million Frenchmen ** 1/2
Freestyle Love Supreme ** 1/2
Derren Brown: Secret ***
(A)loft Modulation * 1/2
The Great Society **
I Can't See *
Heroes Of The Fourth Turning ** 1/2
Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz ***
The Glass Menagerie (dir Austin Pendleton & Peter Bloch) **
Terra Firma (debut of The Coop theater company) **
Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation ***
Dublin Carol ** 1/2
Soft Power **
The Decline and Fall of The Entire World As Seen Through The Eyes Of Cole Porter ***
For Colored Girls ** 1/2
Scotland, PA **
The Sound Inside *** (great cast, clumsy ending)



Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.