Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Movies, Books, Theater, Concerts, CDs I Saw/Read/Heard In 2019

Updated December 31, 2019

KEY: star rating is on the four star scale
          meaning of "/" or "\"
          *** is three stars out of four
          ***/ is three stars leaning towards  3 1/2
          ***\ is three stars leaning towards 2 1/2


BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS
(Increasingly, I am sampling books, reading 10%, 20% even 40 or 50% before deciding to move on. The books below are only the ones I've read completely. That also explains what looks like generous grading -- more and more, if I sense a book is not going to be among my favorites, I stop reading. Too many books; too little time!)


1. Love To Everyone by Hilary McKay (ya WW II) *** 1/2
2. The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926) *** 1/2
3. The Winter Of The Witch by Katherine Arden *** 1/2
4. The Music Of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg **
5. DogMan: Brawl of the Wild by Dav Pilkey ** 1/2
6. Cane by Jean Toomer (1923) ** 1/2
7. Underground: A Human History Of The World Beneath Our Feet by Will Hunt *** /
8. Unknown Man #89 by Elmore Leonard (1977) *** 1/2
9. The Falconer by Dana Czapnik (NYC coming of age basketballer) *** 1/2
10. Midnight In Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham *** 1/2
11. The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard (2005) ****
12. Pogo: Bona Fide Balderdash -- The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol 2 1951-1952 by Walt Kelly ****
13. Pogo: Evidence To The Contrary -- The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol 3 1953-1954 by Walt Kelly ****
14. The Complete Terry and the Pirates (1937-1938) by Milt Caniff *** 1/2
15. The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown (1941) *** 1/2
16. The Last Samurai by  Helen De Witt (2000) ****
17. There Is No Planet B: A Handbook For The Make Or Break Years by Mike Berners-Lee **
18. Cherokee America by Margaret Verble *** 1/2
19. A Taste For Honey by H.F. Heard (1941) ** 1/2
20. Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions And What They Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans De Waal ***
21. The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan **
22. The Players Ball by David Kushner ***
23. What Blest Genius: The Jubilee That Made Shakespeare by Andrew McConnell Stott ***
24. The Binding By Bridget Collins ** 1/2
25. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1865) *** 1/2
26. Falter by Bill McKibben ** 1/2
27. Our Castle by The Sea by Lucy Strange **
28. Endling #2: The First by Katherine Applegate ***
29. Charles Dickens -- A Tale Of Two Cities (1859) ***
30. Call Mr. Fortune by H.C. Bailey (1920) ***
31. Aloha Rodeo by David Wolman and Julian Smith ** 1/2
32. Ghosts Of Gold Mountain by Gordon H. Chang ***
33. Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010) ***
34. The Porpoise by Mark Haddon ** 1/2
35. The Book Case by Dave Shelton ** 1/2
36. Maddy Alone by Pamela Brown (Blue Door #2) (1945) ** 1/2
37. Golden Pavements by Pamela Brown (Blue Door #3) (1947) ***/
38. The Complete Terry and the Pirates Vol. 3: 1939-1940 by Milton Caniff *** 1/2
39. Blue Door Venture by Pamela Brown (Blue Door #4) ***/
40. Walt and Skeezix Vol. 1: 1921-1922 by Franbk O.  King ***
41. The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller ***
42. The Vagabonds by Jeff Guinn ** 1/2
43. Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey **
44. The Philosopher's War by Tom Miller *** 1/2
45. Gasoline Alley: The Complete Sundays 1920-1922 Volume One by Frank King **
46. The Complete Terry and the Pirates Vol. 4: 1941-1942 by Milton Caniff *** 1/2
47. Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller ***
48. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett ***
49. Pogo: Under The Bamboozle Bush -- The Complete Syndicated Strips Volume 4 1955-1956 by Walt Kelly ***
50. Gasoline Alley aka Walt and Skeezix Complete Daily Strips 1923-1924 by Frank King ***
51. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead ***
52. Maddy Again by Pamela Brown ***
53. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal **
54. The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina ** 1/2
55. This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews (graphic novel) ** 1/2
56. The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958) ****
57. A Purple Place For Dying by John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee #3) ** 1/2
58. The Years Of Lyndon Johnson: Means Of Ascent by Robert A. Caro ****
59. A Hero Born by Jin Yong (Legends Of The Condor Heroes Vol. 1) trans Anna Holmwood *** 1/2
60. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative by Mark Fisher ****
61. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master Of The Senate by Robert A. Caro ****
62. That Will Never Work: The Birth Of Netflix by Marc Randolph **
63. Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime by Sean Carroll ***/
64. The Years Of Lyndon Johnson Vol. Four: The Passage Of Power by Robert A. Caro ****
65. Song Of Solomon by Toni Morrison *** 1/2
66. The Pioneers by David McCullough **
67. The Second Founding by Eric Foner ***
68. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison ***
69. The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols by Nicholas Meyer (Sherlock Holmes) **
70. Last Witnesses by Svetlana Alexievich (kids during WW II oral history) ***
71. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald ****
72. Find Me by André Aciman *
73. The Finance Curse by Nicholas Shaxson *** 1/2
74. The Secret Commonwealth: The Book Of Dust Volume Two by Philip Pullman ** 1/2
75. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin (1922) *** 1/2
76. A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay *** 1/2
77. The Lost Art of Scripture by Karen Armstrong ***
78. Religion As We Know It: An Origin Story by Jack Miles ***
79. The Code Of The Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse(1938) *** 1/2
80. Permanent Record b Edward Snowden ** 1/2
81. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu **
82. Disney's Land by Richard Snow **
83. The Final Reflection: A Star Trek Novel by John M. Ford ***
84. The Season: A History Of The Debutante by Kristen Richardson ***
85. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (the original 1868 novel) ***
86. Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott (1869, now packaged w first book as Little Women) ** 1/2
87. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (1871) * 1/2
88. Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott (1886) * 1/2
89.



CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS (A strong emphasis on the ones I like, so don't think I love everything I listen to -- I just don't bother really listening to the ones I don't )

1. The Beach Boys -- Smiley Smile (1967) *** (esp side two)
2. The Beach Boys -- Wild Honey (1967) **
3. The Beach Boys -- Friends (1968) ***/
4. The Band -- Stage Fright (1970) ** 1/2
5. The English Beat -- Public Confidential ***
6. The Band -- Cahoots (1971) *** 1/2
7. The Band -- Northern Lights Southern Cross (1975) ***
8. Van Morrison -- The Prophet Speaks *** \
9. Dee White -- Southern Gentleman **
10. Ken Nordine -- Speak With Your Ears (1979) *** 1/2
11. David Gray -- Gold In A Brass Age ** 1/2
12. Van Morrison -- The Healing Game (1997) ***/
13. Various Artists -- Joni 75: A Celebration ** 1/2 /
14. Maren Morris -- Girls ***
15. Elton John -- Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy (1975) **
16. Joe Jackson -- Fool *** /
17. Trevor Horn -- Reimagines The 80s **
18. India Arie -- Worthy ** 1/2
19. The Everly Brothers -- Roots (1968) ***
20. John Pizzarelli -- For Centennial Reasons: A Salute To Nat King Cole ** 1/2
21. Julio Gutierrez -- Cuban Jam Session Vol 1 (1956) ***
22. Lone Justice -- This Is Lone Justice: The Vaughn Tapes 1983 ***
23. Nancy Wilson -- Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley (1962) *** 1/2 /
24. Nancy Wilson -- Something Wonderful (1962) *** 1/2
25. Nancy Wilson -- Tender Loving Care (1966) ***\
26. Ella Fitzgerald -- The Complete Decca Singles Vol. 1 *** \
27. Nancy Wilson -- The Swingin's Mutual w George Shearing (1961) ***
28. Antonio Carlos and Jocafi -- 20 Super Succesos ** 1/2
29. Idles -- Joy As An Act Of Resistance (2018) **
30. Mercury Rev -- Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited ** 1/2
31. Bobby Long -- Sultans **
32. Ramsey Lewis Trio -- Sound Of Christmas (side one solid, side two w strings awful) 1961 **
33. Hozier -- Wasteland, Baby! **
34. Better Oblivion Community Center -- Better Oblivion Community Center (Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers) ***\
35. Chet Baker and Art Pepper -- Playboys aka Pictures of Heath (1956) ***
36. Gilbert O'Sullivan -- Himself (1971) ** 1/2
37. Gilbert O'Sullivan -- Back To Front (1972) ** 1/2
38. Solange -- When I Get Home *** 1/2
39. Ben Platt -- Sing To Me Instead * 1/2
40. Bryan Adams -- Shine A Light **
41. BTS -- Map Of The Soul: Persona **
42. The Blue Nile -- A Walk Across The Rooftops (1984) ****
43. The Blue Nile -- Hats (1989) ****
44. Norah Jones -- Begin Again **
45. Johnny Cash -- The Christmas Spirit (1963) *
46. Les Paul and Mary Ford -- Bye Bye Blues (1952) ***
47. Melissa Etheridge -- The Medicine Show **
48. Ella Fitzgerald -- Ella and Basie! (1963) *** 1/2
49. Ella Fitzgerald -- Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! (1961) *** 1/2
50. Ella Fitzgerald -- Lullabies Of Birdland (1954) ** 1/2
51. Ella Fitzgerald -- Ella Swings Brightly With Nelson (1962) **
52. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong -- The Decca Duets (playlist of eight songs) ****
53. Paul McCartney -- Wildlife (1971) *
54. Paul McCartney -- Red Rose Speedway (1973) **
55. Patty Griffin -- Patty Griffin **
56. The Tallest Man On Earth -- I Love You. It's A Fever Dream ***/
57. Alan Parsons -- The Secret **
58. Gary Clark Jr. -- This Land **
59. Grupo Fantasma -- American Music: Volume 7 ***
60. Billie Eilish -- When We All Fall Asleep ***/
61. Lee Fields -- It Rains Love **
62. Corey Hart -- Dreaming Time Again ep **
63. George Winston -- Restless Wind **
64. The Claypool Lennon Delirium -- South Of Reality **
65. Wynton Marsalis NYT jazz playlist *** 1/2
66. The Coral -- Move Through The Dawn **
67. 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love The Piano NYT playlist ***
68. Aerosmith -- Toys In The Attic (1975)
69. George Strait -- Honky Tonk Time Machine ** 1/2
70. George Benson -- Walking To New Orleans **
71. Ben Webster -- Ben and "Sweets" (w Harry "Sweets" Edison) (1962) *** 1/2
72. Howard Jones -- Transform **
73. Husker Du -- Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987) *** 1/2
74. Youssou N'dour -- History ** 1/2
75. Weezer -- Teal **
76. William Tyler -- Goes West **
77. The Who -- Who's Next  (1971) *** 1/2
78. Various Artists -- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season One soundtrack ***
79. Vangelis -- Nocturne **
80. Vampire Weekend -- Father Of The Bride ***/
81. Doris Day -- Duet (w Andre Previn Trio) (1962) *** 1/2
82. Doris Day -- The Essential Doris Day (2014) ** 1/2
83. The O'Jays -- Back Stabbers (1972) ***
84. Nick Lowe -- Love Starvation ep ***
85. Professor Longhair -- New Orleans Piano (1972) ***
86. Lee Dorsey -- The New Lee Dorsey (1966) ***
87. Richard Thompson -- The Cold Blue soundtrack ***
88. Eric B and Rakim -- Paid In Full (1987) *** 1/2
89. Neil Diamond -- Hot August Night (1972) ***
90. Mavis Staples -- Live In London ** 1/2
91. Leon Redbone -- On The Track (1975) *** 1/2
92. Leon Redbone -- Double Time (1977) *** 1/2
93. Leon Redbone -- Champagne Charlie (1978) ***
94. Stray Cats -- 40 ***
95. Steve Earle -- GUY (tribute to Guy Clark) ***
96. Rickie Lee Jones -- Kicks **
97. Various Artists -- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season Two soundtrack ***
98. The Mills Brothers -- Merry Christmas (1978) * 1/2
99. The Mills Brothers -- Four Men and A Guitar (1995) **** (actually called Boys)
100. Margo Guryan -- 27 Demos (2014) ***
101. Monsieur Perine -- Encanto Tropical **
102. Morrissey -- California Sun ***\
103. Miles  Davis -- The Complete  Birth Of The Cool *** 1/2
104. The National  -- I Am Easy To Find ** 1/2
105. Nigel Wilson -- Have Yourself A Merry Little Synthmas (2018) *
106. Carly Rae Jepsen -- Dedicated **
107. Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau -- Long Ago and Far Away **
108. Connie Converse -- How Sad, How Lovely (2015) *** 1/2
109.  Dick Haymes -- Keep It Simple (1983) ***
110. The Doors -- Waiting For The Sun (1968) * 1/2
111. Sting -- My Songs **\
112. Sturgill Simpson -- High Top Mountain (2013) ***
113. Thomas Rhett -- Center Point Road **
114. Grateful Dead -- Aoxomoxao (1969) **
115. Bruce Springsteen -- Western Stars ** 1/2
116. Madonna -- Madame X **
117. ZZ Top -- Greatest Hits * 1/2
118. Dean Lewis -- A Place We  Knew ** 1/2
119. Meghan Trainor -- The Love Train ** 1/2
120. Chris Shiflett -- Hard Lessons ***
121. Everly Brothers -- Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958) *** 1/2
122. Etta James -- At Last! (1960) ***\
123. Chris Robinson Brotherhood -- Servants Of The Sun **
124. Celeste -- Lonely EP **
125. Bruce Hornsby -- Absolute Zero **
126. The Fratellis -- In Your Own Sweet Time ***
127. Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas -- 22 Original King and Starday Hits! (2005) **
128. Hobo Johnson -- The Rise Of Hobo Johnson (2017) ***/
129. Hector Lavoe -- La Voz (1975) *** 1/2
130. Brad Mehldau -- Finding Gabriel **
131. Sonny Clark -- The Sony Clark Trio (1960) *** 1/2
132. Branford  Marsalis -- The Secret Between The Shadow and The Soul *** 1/2
133. Santana -- Africa Speaks ** 1/2
134. Buddy and Julie Miller -- Breakdown on 20th Avenue South ***\
135. Chris  Jones -- The Choosing Road **
136. Josh Newcom -- The Blues Gonna Getcha **
137. Curtis Mayfield -- Curtis (1970) ***
138. Eels -- The Deconstruction (2018) ***
139. Jacob Miller -- Natty Christmas *
140. Jamie Cullum -- Taller ** 1/2
141. Jamila Woods -- LEGACY! LEGACY! **
142. Jessica Pratt -- Quiet Signs **
143. Jimmy Webb -- SlipCovers **
144. Josh Ritter -- Fever Breaks ** 1/2
145. Jackson Browne  -- Running On Empty (1977) *** 1/2
146. Jackson Browne -- The Pretender (1976) ***
147. Janet Jackson -- Control ** 1/2
148. The Japanese House -- Good At Falling **
149. Jenny Lewis -- On The Line ** 1/2
150. The Jonas Brothers -- Happiness Begins ** 1/2
151. Joy Williams -- Front Porch ***\
152. Julio Gutierrez -- Cuban Jam Sessi0on Vol. 2 ***
153. Willie Nelson -- Ride Me Back Home ** 1/2
154. The Waterboys -- Where The Action is ***
155. Various Artists -- The Great Gospel Men: 27 Classic Performances *** 1/2
156. Kate Bush -- The Kick Inside (1978) ****
157. Lil Nas X -- 7EP ** 1/2
158. The Rolling Stones -- Beggars Banquet *** 1/2 \
159. Kate Bush -- Lionheart (1978) ***
160. Lewis Capaldi -- Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent **
161. Little Steven -- Summer Of Sorcery **
162. Lizzo -- Cuz I Love You *** 1/2
163. Luther Russell -- Medium Cool *** \
164. Maddie Poppe -- Whirlwind ** 1/2
165. Neil Young -- Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) *** 1/2
166. Motown: The Complete #1s (11 CD set) *** 1/2 \
167. Max Von Essen -- Call Me Old-Fashioned **
168. Various Artists -- Once Upon A Time In Hollywood *** 1/2
169. Dionne Warwick -- She's Back... **
170. The Divine Comedy -- Office Politics **
171. Kaiser Chiefs -- Duck ***
172. Prince -- Originals ***
173. The Go-Gos -- Vacation (1982) ***
174.  Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers -- Moanin' (1959) ****
175. The Go-Gos -- Talk Show (1984) ***
176. The Regrettes -- How Do You Love? ** 1/2
177. Barbra Streisand -- Love Is The Answer (2009) ***/
178. The Raconteurs -- Help Us Stranger ***/
179. Yola -- Walk Through Fire **
180. Various Artists -- Come On Let's Go: Powerpop Gems From The 70s and 80s ***/
181. Various Artists -- Burnwood Playlist: This Won't Take But A Minute Or Two *** 1/2
182. The Roches -- The Roches (1979) ***
183. Van Morrison -- Veedon Fleece (1974) *** 1/2
184. The Maytals -- Never Grow Old (1964) ***
185. Mariachi Los Camperos -- De Ayer Para Siempre *** 1/2
186. Burning Spear -- Marcus Garvey (1975) *** 1/2
187. Sheryl Crow -- Threads ***/
188. Lydia Mendoza -- La Alondra de la Frontera: Live! (1982) *** 1/2
189. Jesse Malin -- Sunset Kids ***
190. Daryl Hall & John Oates -- Change Of Season (1990) *** 1/2
191. The Highwomen -- The Highwomen *** (but why not Highwaywomen?)
192. The Beatles -- Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Boxed Set ****
193. Los Lobos -- Llegó Navidad (holiday music) *** 1/2
194. Various Artists -- Country Music (soundtrack to Ken Burns doc) ****
195. Tanya Tucker -- While I'm Living (Brandi Carlisle labor of love) *** 1/2
196. Nick Cave -- Ghosteen *** 1/2
197. The Judds -- Greatest Hits (1988) ***
198. The Judds -- Greatest Hits Volume Two (1991) ** 1/2
199. Vince Gill -- Okie **
200. The Judds -- Christmas Time With The Judds (1987) **
201. The Ramsey Lewis Trio -- Sound Of Christmas (1961) **
202. The Ramsey Lewis Trio -- More Sounds Of Christmas (1964) * 1/2
203. Rodney Crowell -- Texas ** 1/2
204. Jim James -- The Order Of Nature ** 1/2
205. Lakou Mizik -- HaitiNola ***/
206. Jim Sullivan -- If The Evening Were Dawn (2019 release of demos) ** 1/2
207. Doris Day -- With Love ***\
208. Dionne Warwick -- & The Voices Of Christmas **
209. Wilder Woods -- Wilder Woods ***
210. Michael Kiwanuka -- Kiwanuka ***//
211. Jeff Lynne's ELO -- From Out Of Nowhere ***/
212. No Man's Land by Frank Turner *** 1/2
213. Phil Wickham -- Christmas **
214. Blue Magic -- Blue Magic (1974) *** 1/2
215. Thin Lizzy -- Deep Lizzy playlist courtesy Burning Wood *** 1/2
216. Bryan Adams -- Christmas EP ** 1/2
217. Dave Stryker -- Eight Track Christmas **
218. Big Thief -- Two Hands **
219. The Doobie Brothers -- Toulouse Street (1972) *** /
220. The Doobie Brothers -- Takin' It To The Streets (1976) ***
221. Dori Freeman -- Every Little Star *** 1/2
222. Joel Paterson -- Let It Be Guitar! Joel Paterson Plays The Beatles ***
223. Vince Guaraldi -- It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) **
224. Various Artists -- It's A Prog Rock Christmas *
225. The Avett Brothers -- Closer Than Together ** 1/2
226. Alexi Murdoch -- Towards The Sun (2011) *** 1/2 maybe, but Nick Drake should sue
227. Angelique Kidjo -- Celia *** 1/2
228. The Band -- The Band 50th Anniversary (1969) ****
229. Beck -- Hyperspace *** 1/2
230. Bob Dylan -- Travelin' Thru: 1967-1969, Bootleg Series Vol 15 sampler ***
231. Bobby Helms -- Jingle Bells (2019 album) **
232. Booker T and the MGs -- In The Christmas Spirit (1966) **
233. Brittany Howard -- Jaime ** 1/2
234. Calypso Rose -- Calypso Rose & Friends ** 1/2
235. Chicago -- Chicago Christmas *
236. Chrissie Hynde -- Valve Bone Woe ***
237. Chuck Brown -- The Spirit Of Christmas *
238. Van Morrison -- Three Chords and the Truth ***
239. Leonard Cohen -- Thanks For The Dance ***/
240. Sturgill Simpson -- Sound & Fury *** 1/2
241. Grace Potter -- Daylight **
242. Frank Sinatra -- My Way (1969) (first two tracks winners) **
243. Gruff Rhys -- Pang!
244. The Grascals -- Straighten The Curves **
245. Alexi Murdoch -- Time Without Consequences (2006) *** 1/2
246. Simply Red -- Blue Eyed Soul **
247. Lea Michele -- Christmas In The City *
248. TobyMac -- Light of Christmas *
249. CeeLo Green -- CeeLo's Magic Moment ** 1/2
250. John Basile -- Silent Night **
251. Josh Rouse -- The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse ** 1/2
252. Timi Dakolo -- Merry Christmas, Darling *
253. Judy Collins w Jonas Fjeld -- Winter Stories ***
254. Keb' Mo' -- Moonlight, Mistletoe & You **
255. Ne-Yo -- Another Kind of Christmas **
256. Latvian Concert Choir -- Christmas Joy In Latvia (2008) ***
257. Randy Rainbow -- Gurl, It's Christmas **
258. Robbie Williams -- The Christmas Present ***/
259. Weezer -- Christmas With Weezer (2008) ** 1/2
260. The Imaginaries -- Hometown Christmas **
261. Soundgarden -- Superunknown (1994) *** 1/2 just not my cup of tea
262. T. Rex -- The Slider (1972) ***
263. Taylor Swift -- Lover ** 1/2
264. Trisha Yearwood -- Every Girl **
265. Van Morrison -- Veedon Fleece (1974) *** 1/2
266. Wynton Marsalis/Jazz at Lincoln Center Band -- Big Band Holidays (2015) *** 1/2
267. Wynton Marsalis/Jazz at Lincoln Center Band -- Big Band Holidays II (2019) ***
268. Oscar Peterson -- An Oscar Peterson Christmas (1995) **
269. Lou Rawls -- Merry Christmas From Lou Rawls (2009 EP reissue) *** 1/2
270. The Staples Singers -- The 25th Day Of December (1962) ** 1/2
271. The McCrary Sisters -- A Very McCrary Christmas **
272. Ringo Starr -- What's My Name **
273. Rosie Thomas -- A Very Rosie Christmas **
274. Willie Nelson -- Pretty Paper (1979) *** 1/2
275. Wade Bowen -- Twelve Twenty-Five **
276. The Ventures -- Christmas Album (1965) **
277. Various Artists -- Reggae Christmas From Studio One (1992) **
278. Various Artists -- The Ultimate Motown Christmas (2009) ** 1/2
279. Various Artists -- Hannukah+ (2019) **
280. Various Artists -- Christmas In Soulsville (2007) ** 1/2
281. Tracey Thorn -- Tinsel and Lights (2012) *** 1/2
282. Tara Thompson -- Hillbilly Christmas **
283. Oh Wonder -- "This Christmas) single *** 1/2
284. Letters To Cleo -- OK Christmas **
285. John Fahey -- The New Possibility (1968) *** (too stately as a whole)
286. Jimmy Smith -- Christmas Cookin' aka Christmas '64 (1964) *** 1/2
287. James Brown -- Funky Christmas (1995) **
288. George Jones and Tammy Wynette -- The Classic Christmas Album (1992) ** (but "Silver Bells" a keeper)
289. Choir Of Kings College, Cambridge -- A Festival Of Nine Lessons and Carols (1999) ***/
290. Aimee Mann -- One More Drifter In The Snow (2006) *** 1/2
291. Ben Lee -- Quarter Century Classix ** 1/2
292. The Who -- Who ***\
293. Tinariwen -- Amadjar *** 1/2
294. Martina DaSilva -- A Very ChimyTina Christmas **
295. Various Artists -- Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits *** (everyone sang long slow ballads)
296. Emmylou Harris -- Light Of The Stable (1979) *** 1/2
297. Allison Moorer -- Blood *** 1/2
298. Herb Alpert -- Over The Rainbow *
299. Harry Connick Jr. -- True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter ** 1/2
300. Jason Aldean -- 9 **
301. Kalie Shorr -- Open Book ***
302. Durand Jones -- American Love Call ***
303. Lou Rawls -- Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! (1967) *** 1/2
304. Purple Mountains -- Purple Mountains ** 1/2
305. Randy Hauser -- Magnolia ***
306. The Rails -- Cancel The Sun **
307. Rapsody -- Eve **
308. Raphael Saadiq -- Jimmy Lee **
309. Robert Ellis -- Texas Piano Man ** 1/2
310. Rex Orange County -- Pony ***
311. Romeo Santos -- Utopia ** 1/2
312. Sam Fender -- Hypersonic Missile **
313. Signe Marie Rustad -- When Words Flew Freely **
314. Sharon Van Etten -- Remind Me Tomorrow **
315. Ariana Grande -- thank u, next ***\
316. Anthony Ramos -- The Good & The Bad **
317. Allan Clarke -- Resurgence **
318. Belle and Sebastian -- Days Of The Bagnold Summer ***\
319. The Doughboys -- Running For Covers ***
320. Various Artists -- Now That's What I Call Yacht Rock ***
321. Mansion Harlots -- All Around A Fairground *** 1/2
322. Our Native Daughters -- Songs Of Our Native Daughters ***
323. Burna Boy -- African Giant ** 1/2
324. Bon Iver -- i,i ***\
325. Dave Malloy -- Octet (Original Cast Recording) *** 1/2
326. Bad Bunny -- X100PRE (2018) *** 1/2
327. Bones -- IFeelLikeDirt ***
328. Ari Lennox -- Shea Butter Baby *** 1/2
329. Umut Adan -- Bahar ** 1/2
330. Femina -- Perlas & Conchas **
331. iLe -- Almadura *** 1/2
332. Lana Del Rey -- Norman Fucking Rockwell ** 1/2
333. Marta Sanchez -- El Rayo De Luz **
334. Mara Aranda -- Sefarad En El Corazon De Turquia ** 1/2
335. Mdou Moctar -- Ilana (The Creator) *** 1/2
336. Kim Petras -- Clarity **
337. King Princess -- Cheap Queen ***
338. Miranda Lambert -- Wildcard ***/
339. Leyla McCalla -- The Capitalist Blues ***\
340. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah -- Ancestral Blues *** 1/2
341. The Garifuna Collective -- Aban *** 1/2
342. Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising *** 1/2
343. Judy Collins -- Winter Stories (w Jonas Fjeld and Chatham County Line) *** 1/2
344. Various Artists -- Nigeria 70: No Wahala -- Highlife, Afro-Funk and Juju 1973-1987 ***\
345. Various Artists -- Nostalgique Porto Rico (Puerto Rican Roots 1940-1960) *** 1/2
346. Slowthai -- Nothing Great About Britain **
347. Summer Walker -- Over it **
348. John Luther Adams -- Become Desert *** 1/2
349. Rachael & Vilray -- Rachael & Vilray ** 1/2
350. Polo G -- Die A Legend ** 1/2
351. DaBaby -- Baby on Baby ***
352. 100gecs -- 1000gecs **
353. A-Wa -- Bayti Fi Rasi **
354. Ahmad Jamal --- Ballades **
355. Andrew Norman -- Sustain *** 1/2
356. Altin Gun -- Gece **
357. Cimarron -- Orinoco ***
358. Andy Burrows and Matt Haig -- Reasons To Stay Alive *** 1/2
359. Harry Styles -- Fine Line ***
360. Ekiti Sound -- Abeg No Vex **
361. Neil Young -- Colorado *** 1/2
362. The Jay Vons -- The Word ** 1/2
363. Binky Philips -- Established 1972 NYC ** 1/2
364. Caroline Polachek -- Pang **
365. Caroline Spence -- Mint Condition *** \
366. P.P. Arnold -- The New Adventures of P.P. Arnold ***
367. Wilco -- Ode To Joy *** 1/2
368. J.S. Ondara -- Tales of America ** 1/2
369. Vagabon -- Vagabon **
370. Eliane Elias -- Love Stories **
371. Fontaines DC -- Dogrel ** 1/2
372. Tyler, The Creator -- IGOR *** 1/2
373. Julia Jacklin -- Crushing *** 1/2
374.



MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES 

(Not TV movies, of course, but movies and TV -- and TV movies if it comes to that. Mostly I only list TV shows when I've tackled an entire season at once or reappraising an entire series after it's over This doesn't really capture my ongoing watching of current TV.)

1. Sweepstakes Winner (1939) no stars
2. Captain Marvel **
3. Giant Little Ones *** (gay swimmers)
4. Leave No Trace (2018) *** 1/2
5. Minding The Gap (2018) *** 1/2
6. Wildlife (2018) *** 1/2
7. Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle (2018) **\
8. Us (w Luis) **\
9. Border (2018) ***/
10. Sweet Country (2018) *** 1/2
11. The Tale (HBO, 2018) * 1/2
12. Woman's World (at MOMA w Noam) **
13. Running On Empty (1988) ***
14. Shazam (2018) w Zoe * 1/2
15. The Good Fairy (1935 at MOMA w Noam) ***
16. Apollo 11 (doc) ***/
17. Avengers: Endgame **
18. El Rebozo De Soledad aka Soledad's Shawl (1952; dir Roberto Gavaldón) ** 1/2
19. La Noche Avanza aka Night Falls (1952; dir Roberto Gavaldón) **
20. Knock Down The House (Netflix doc OAC) ***
21. La Diosa Arrodillado aka The Kneeling Goddess (1947; dir Roberto Gavaldón) ** 1/2
22. Walking On Water (doc on Christo) ***
23. The Tin Drum (1979) (at Moma) **
24. Happily Buried (1939) * (waffle iron musical short)
25. Radio Hams (1939) (ham radio operators short) * 1/2
26. Killing Eve Season Two ***\
27. BookSmart ** 1/2
28. No Place To Go (1939) *
29. John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum **** (ok, ** 1/2 , but still, pretty awesome)
30. Rocketman ** 1/2
31. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters *
32. Glimpses of Australia (1939 short) no stars
33. The Mad Maestro (1939 animated short) * 1/2
34. Toy Story 4 ***\
35. Girl Crazy (1943) ***
36. The Kid (1921) ***
37. Spider-Man: Far From Home ***
38. Last Black Man in San Francisco *** /
39. Crawl **
40.  The Lion King (2019 version) * 1/2
41. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood ** 1/2
42. The Girl From Mexico (1939) * 1/2
43. Juarez (1939) * 1/2
44. Jewel Robbery (1932) *** /
45. Hobbes and Shaw *
46. Luce  **
47. The Farewell ***
48. The Nightingale *** \
49. The Leopard (1963) *** 1/2
50. Within The Law (1939) ** 1/2
51. Atlanta Season One *** 1/2
52. Tell No Tales (1939) ** 1/2
53. Blackmail (1939) ** 1/2
54. A Family Affair (1937) (start of Andy Hardy series) **
55. Monos (esp cinematography) ***
56. Give Me Liberty (Russian-American car service driver) *** /
57. Aquarela (cinematography, editing) *** 1/2
58. The Little Princess (1939) ***/
59. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice ** 1/2
60. Blinded By The Light **
61. Synonyms (Israeli-French drama) **
62. Pain and Glory (Almodovar) ***
63. Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach 2020 film; acting, writing) *** 1/2
64. Mindhunters Season One ***
65. Say Amen, Somebody (1982) ****
66. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) live score w NY Philharmonic *** 1/2
67. Psycho (1960) live score w NY Philharmonic *** 1/2
68. Hustlers * 1/2
69. Atlanta Season Two *** 1/2
70. The Cave (Syrian doc on docs) ** 1/2
71. Fleabag Season One ***
72. Deadwood Season Two *** 1/2
73. Mindhunter Season Two ***
74. American Dharma *
75. Fleabag Season Two *** 1/2
76. Judy * 1/2
77. Dark Magic (1939 short w Robert Benchley) * 1/2
78. Parasite ***
79. By The Grace Of God (Ozon) **
80. Popeye The Sailor: Customers Wanted (1939 animated short) ** 1/2
81. Harriet *
82. The Current War: Director's Cut (at Lincoln Square w TJ)
83. Country Music (Ken Burns doc) ***
84. Filibus: The Mysterious Air Pirate (1915) **
85. Amazing Grace (at BRIC w Noam) ****
86. Western Stars (Springsteen) **
87. Joker * 1/2
88. Picturesque Udaipur (1939 travel short) **
89. Popeye The Sailor: Leave Well Enough Alone (1939 cartoon short) * 1/2
90. The Insider (1999 film at MOMA) *** 1/2
91. Akhnaten  (English National opera revival, dress rehearsal at Met w Garrett) ****
92. Doctor Sleep **
93. Chernobyl (HBO miniseries) *** 1/2
94. Honey Boy (Noah Jupe v good) ** 1/2
95. Popeye: Hello How Am I (1939 cartoon short) *
96. Popeye: Ghosks Is The Bunk (1939 short) * 1/2
97. Ford V Ferrari (Noah Jupe v good, again)***
98. Jojo Rabbit (Archie Yates v amusing as best friend Yorkie) ***/
99. Knives Out ** 1/2
100. Popeye: Never Sock A Baby (1939 cartoon) *
101. Code Of The Secret Service (1939) *
102. James A. Fitzpatrick's TravelTalks: Rural Hungary (1939) **
103. The Battle Of Midway (1942 short film doc by John Ford) * 1/2
104. Midnight Family (doc on Mexican fam private ambulance) *** 1/2
105. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood **
106. End Of The Century ** 1/2
107. Captain and the Kidds: Mama's New Hat (1939 cartoon) * 1/2
108. Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker * 1/2
109. A Hidden Life ** 1/2
110. Little Women ***
111. 1917 *** 1/2
112.



THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS
(The names after the shows are the people who joined me at the performance.)

1. Frankenstein (at Public) ** 1/2 
2. Minor Character (at Public) ***/ 
3. Ink (at Met) (w Noam) ** 1/2 
4. Choir Boy (at MTC) (w Noam) ** 1/2 
5. Chambre Noire (at Public) (w Noam) ** 1/2 
6. Weightless (at BRIC) (w Diego) (left early feeling ill, but quite promising)
7. Be More Chill (on Broadway) (w Noam) * 
8. Grease (at UN International School)  (w Noam) 
9. Das Rheingold (at the Met w Noam) ** 1/2 
10.  White Noise (at the Public) ** 1/2 
11. Kiss Me, Kate! (alone) ***
12. Ain't No Mo (at Public w Zoe) *** 1/2 
13. Ain't Too Proud (w Cohen) ** 
14. Die Walkyrie at the Met (2019 w the Machine and Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde, Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde and Stuart Skelton as Siegmund) *** 1/2 
15. The Cradle Will Rock (at CSC w Noam) * 1/2 
16. Mrs. Murray's Menagerie (at Ars Nova w Noam) *** 1/2 
17. Socrates (at Public w Noam) ** 
18. Siegfried (2019 Ring Cycle at Met w Noam) *** (thrilling final act) 
19. Oklahoma! (2019 at Circle In The Square w Evans) ** 1/2 
20. The Pain Of My Belligerence (solo) * 
21. Burn This (w Zoe) ** 
22. Hadestown (w Noam) *** 1/2 
23. All My Sons * 1/2 
24. Tootsie (w Noam) ** 1/2 
25. Ink (w Noam) *** 
26. Beetlejuice (w TJ) ** 
27. Estado Vegetal (w Diego) *** 
28. Hans Christian Andersen * 1/2 
29. Götterdämmerung (2019 at Met w Noam) *** 1/2 
30. Tolkien exhibit of drawings, maps, timeline (!) etc at Morgan Library (alone) *** 1/2 
31. The Vessel outdoor public art at Hudson Yards (w Noam) ** 
32. BLKS (w Zoe) ** 1/2 
33. The Tale Of Genji exhibit at Met NYC (alone) *** 1/2 
34. Cirque Du Soleil: Luzia (w Noam) *** 
35. Octet (at Signature, alone, in previews before locked) ***/ 
36. August Wilson Annual Monologue Competition 2019 (w Noam) *** 
37. Nickel Creek/Punch Brothers at Carnegie Hall (w Noam) *** 1/2 
38. Legally Blonde (2019 at Notre Dame Catholic Girls School in Manhattan) (w Jamie)
39. Octet (at Signature)(alone)  *** 1/2 
40. Moulin Rouge! (w Zoe) ** 1/2 
41. Corinne Bailey Rae at SummerStage (w Noam) *** 
42. Bat Out Of Hell (w Luis) ** 
43. Unchilding (w Noam) ** 
44. Sea Wall/ A Life w Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Sturridge (w Noam) ** 1/2 
45. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (w Noam) *** 
46. Patty Griffin at Lincoln Center OutDoors w opener Yola (w Noam) *** 
47. Walt Whitman at the Morgan Library *** 
48. The Philadelphia Story (staged reading at Circle In The Square w Luis and Noam) ***  
49. Betrayal (on Bway w Tom Hiddleston) (w Zoe) *** 1/2 
50. Derren Brown's Secret (Bway 2019 w Stephen Garrett) *** 
51. Roy DeCarava photo exhibit (w Noam) *** 
52. Freestyle Love Supreme on Broadway (w Zoe) ** 1/2 
53. Fifty Million Frenchmen at the York (w Noam) ** 1/2 
54. (A)loft Modulation (w Noam) * 1/2 
55. The Great Society w Brian Cox (w Stephen Garrett) ** 
56. I Can't See (Halloween in the dark event) (solo) * 
57. Heroes Of The Fourth Turning (w Noam) ** 1/2 
58. Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz (Paper Mill, w Noam) *** 
59. The Glass Menagerie (dir Austin Pendleton) (w Noam) ** 
60. Richard Serra exhibits in art district (w Noam) *** 
61. Terra Firma (debut of The Coop) (w Noam) ** 
62. Dublin Carol at Irish Rep (w Noam) ** 1/2 
63. The Decline and Fall...Through The Eyes Of Cole Porter at York (w Cohen) *** 
64. Soft Power at Public (w Noam) ** 
65. Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation at Triad (w TJ) *** 
66. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf (Noam) ** 1/2 
67. Scotland, PA (w Luis) ** 
68. Panama Hattie (at York w Cohen) ** 
69. Iolanthe at NYGASP (w TJ) ** 
70. The Sound Inside (w Noam; **** prod of ** 1/2 play) *** 
71. Vija Celmins art exhibit at Met Breuer -- good to great retrospective, w Noam *** 1/2
72. Madama Butterfly at the Met (w Garrett; left early) **  
73. Roy De Carava jazz photo exhibit at David Zwirner, w Noam ***/ 
74.  User Not Found (site specific piece by Dante or Die) alone ** 
75. An Enchanted April (musical w Noam) ** 1/2 
76. DruidShakespeare: Richard III (alone) * 1/2 
77. Broadbend, Arkansas (two monologues, w Noam) ** 
78. Einstein's Dreams (musical, w Noam) * 1/2 
79. The Crucible (by Bedlam, w Noam) *** 1/2 
80. Pumpgirl (Irish Rep, w Noam) *** 
81. A Christmas Carol on Bway w Campbell Scott (w Noam) ** 
82. A Woman of the World w Kathleen Chalfant solo (w Noam) unrated 
83. Fire In The Mirror (Signature revival of Anna Deveare Smith play) *** 
84. Akhnaten  (2019 English National opera revival, dress rehearsal at Met w Garrett) ****
85. Barber Shop Chronicles (at BAM) (w Noam) *** 
86. Anything Can Happen In The Theater: The Musical World Of Maury Yeston (at York) (w Cohen) ** 1/2 
87. The Gospel Of John (at Sheen) (solo) ** 1/2 
88. The Thin Place (Hnath at Playwrights) (w Noam) ** 1/2 
89. Daniel Kitson: Keep (at St. Ann's) (w Noam) ** 1/2 

KEY: star rating is on the four star scale
          meaning of "/" or "\"
          *** is three stars out of four
          ***/ is three stars leaning towards  3 1/2
          ***\ is three stars leaning towards 2 1/2

Updated December 31, 2019

Friday, December 13, 2019

THEATER: Two Of Our Best Playwrights Return To NYC

THE THIN PLACE ** 1/2 out of ****
PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS

DANIEL KITSON: KEEP ** 1/2 out of ****
ST. ANN'S WAREHOUSE

It's the end of the year, the end of the decade and the lists keep coming. Clearly, I am very aware of what everyone else believes to be the best shows of the decade, but what did I think? Intrigued or bullied or most likely just procrastinating before writing a review (not this one!) I pored over my lists of each and every work of theater I've seen since 2010. Grabbing together all the shows I gave three and a half stars or a very rare four stars, the result was a good pile of stuff and some happy memories.

Certain names popped up again and again: PigPen Theater Co., Philip Glass, Bedlam, Mark Rylance, Harriet Walter, Lucas Knath and Daniel Kitson. PigPen is a theater company/rock band poised to find its biggest audience yet with their new show The Tale of Desperaux. I finally saw all three of composer Philip Glass's "portrait operas" thanks to remarkable revivals of Satyagraha in 2011, Einstein On The Beach in 2012 and -- just under the wire -- Akhnaten a few weeks ago. Bedlam created some of the best revivals, pivoted to bold new works and has now fissioned into two companies one hopes will produce twice as much heat. Rylance and Walter are obviously two of the best actors around. And Hnath and Kitson are two of our best playwrights.

Watching Lucas Hnath produce one intriguing, thoughtful, playful work after another; seeing him smartly create pieces that are challenging but easy to produce for companies around the country (he's no fool); marveling as he grew in reputation until his triumphant Broadway debut with the brilliant, Tony-winning A Doll's House, Part 2 has been a thrill. This is exactly how it's supposed to work.

Daniel Kitson creates and performs his own pieces and would likely hide at home rather than appear on Broadway. Like Hnath, Kitson has his own regional support system to try out and refine new pieces. But his goal is not greater and greater attention. He keeps ticket prices and production costs low, always, and that gives him the freedom to do precisely what he wants. The result is a remarkable body of work I might compare to Spalding Gray or Eric Bogosian but that's wrong. It's not confessional or personal; it's certainly not stand-up (which Kitson also does) though I think of him and Eddie Izzard in the same breath. It's work that is uniquely his own -- funny, piercing, deeply human, sneakily complex and open-hearted.

Any time Hnath or Kitson come to NYC with a new show, it's an event. Neither quite sticks the landing in their new piece. But I wouldn't miss either of them, ever.

First, the Hnath.


Lucas Hnath's new play is stripped down to almost the bare essentials. The stage is bare and unadorned. The set consists of two chairs with a small table between them. The cast consists of four actors. But I think it should have been stripped down even more.

Hnath's plays love to explore public performance from scientific debate (Isaac's Eye) to the Sunday sermon (The Christians) to a reading (A Public Reading Of An Unproduced Screenplay About The Death Of Walt Disney). Now with The Thin Place he tackles one of the oldest performance genres of all: the ghost story.

Hilda slips onto the stage rather apologetically, carrying a cup of tea. She sits down and begins to talk. A lonely child, a beloved grandmother who played games where they tried to read each other's minds and -- when the grandmother dies -- secret seances where the child Hilda tries to pierce the veil to the other side. She tries and fails to find the thin place, that rare physical location where this world and the next rub shoulders.

As an adult, Hilda discovers and becomes fascinated by Linda, a real psychic with a gift for talking to those who have passed over. Hilda becomes a devotee and then a disciple and then perhaps a friend of Linda. And as Hilda tells her story, Linda strides onto the stage, almost indifferent to Hilda and us. We are beneath her notice or perhaps merely beside the point. Linda carries the story forward and their onstage pas de deux is intriguing, a little mystifying and even creepy.

Then Linda carefully makes clear to Hilda that what she does isn't exactly real. She doesn't say, "I'm a fraud" exactly. But you can't help sitting up straight and wondering how the gullible and odd Hilda will react to Linda patiently explain how she does what she does. It's a genuine service and provides comfort to her clients. But she's not precisely speaking to the dead so much as telling the living what they desperately want to hear: you are loved, I forgive you, there is something more than this life.

And then two more people burst onto the stage. Jerry and Sylvia are friends of the psychic Linda, which is no surprise since you don't imagine Hilda has any friends to speak of. Suddenly, all sorts of new threads are introduced: Linda is working as a consultant for a politician, Sylvia supports Linda financially and is clearly jealous of Linda's new friendship (and perhaps romance) with Hilda. Just when we get a handle on these interlopers, they fade away and we get back to the purpose at hand, telling a spooky tale.

Despite a few effective bumps in the night, that final story didn't get under my skin. It's easy to imagine Hnath had a two-hander, got stuck and decided to give his story a jolt by having two new characters barge their way in. But a ghost story needs a relentless focus and distractions are not welcome. Since everything Jerry and Sylvia introduce is beside the point, it's a shame Hnath didn't disappear them and stick with what works so well here: the complicated and uncertain relationship between Linda and Hilda.

I think the technical team and director Les Waters gave Hnath everything he wanted, though I'd need to return to the show to decide how I felt about a few abrupt touches. And while it's easy to think Mimi Lien could hardly go wrong with a bare stage, two chairs and a table, they feel like exactly the right two chairs and table. Oana Botez's costumes are also perfectly judged.

As the two interlopers, Triney Sandoval and Kelly McAndrew do what they can with limited roles and no certain purpose. But Emily Cass McDonnell is very good as the unobtrusive Hilda, a character that recedes into the background as much as possible while always making her presence felt. (After a long stretch of saying nothing, when Hilda finally speaks up at a party the effect is hilarious.) And Randy Danson is a treat as the psychic Linda, commanding the stage with aplomb from start to finish. Her British by way of the Caribbean (?) accent wavers a bit, but it doesn't matter. I generously took that as adding to the unreliability of everything Linda says, though the dodgy accent is not intentional. Danson is wonderful, utterly convincing as she explains away her psychic gifts one minute and just as passionately defends them the next. I can't read minds, but just as Hnath worked again with Laurie Metcalfe I'll bet he'll find another piece to showcase Danson's talents soon.

And now Kitson. He's a busy man, doing stand-up, hosting benefit shows with other comics, deejaying on his local radio station for two weeks every year and traveling the globe doing his "story shows." His Wikipedia page gives a sense of that prodigious output. I've sadly never seen his stand-up and while gladly catching every single work of theater he's staged in NYC, that still means I haven't seen half of what he's done. So any guess as to the shape of his career is naturally blinkered.

The likely mistaken impression I've received is that increasingly passionate critical raves were a little unsettling to Kitson. Wary of adulation or simply believing his success was coming too easily, he turned his Rube Goldberg-like plays into truly dense Borgesian contraptions. And if god forbid he felt a climax proving too emotional or touching, Kitson ran in the other direction.

Bollocks. His plays have always been dauntingly complex, despite the ease with which he pulls them off. And though it briefly seemed Kitson was trying to make things difficult for himself (one show involved reel-to-reel machines with pre-recorded bits; it didn't work), he's delivered the goods before and since. In 2014 (just five years ago), Kitson created his most open-hearted piece with A Show For Christmas. And four of his plays are among my favorites of the 2010s, more than any other artist.

Keep won't be on it, but it's often very funny. The stage is bare and plunged into darkness except for a table and chair and behind that a filing cabinet with dozens of drawers containing index cards. Kitson tells us he spent six months cataloguing every single item in his rambling home. Each item gets one index card. And he's going to read them off to us, one by one. It will, he assures, have a fascinating cumulative power but it's not for the faint-hearted. If you want to leave, by all means do so now and you'll get a full refund. And then he begins.

Problems ensue and with them pleasures. The shape of the show slowly reveals itself, along with what seem to be digressions and diversions and casual improvisations. By and large, not a word is wasted since we realize every offhand comment has a purpose. The audience -- fans one and all -- are with him every step of the way, laughing at jokes that are set-up with an aside at one moment and then landed with a quick jab maybe half an hour later. It demands attention and receives it.

Kitson's plays are often labyrinthian pieces, letting us wander through his idiosyncratic worldview. But at the heart of the maze is not some minotaur-like beast, but a willingness to embrace humanity in all its quirks and failings. They often click into place with a delightful snap at the end, like placing the final piece of a puzzle into place. That doesn't quite happen here, for some stray details muddy the effect and confuse the finale. If I sound like the Emperor in Amadeus by declaring Keep has "too many drawers!" it's not because the show needs to be shorter, as such. It's because once we know the shape it's taking, filling in the dots should happen as quickly as possible. I'd spend hours in Kitson's brain but once we know where we're going the play needs to get there quicker.

And yet, what a performer. I often think of Kitson the writer and Kitson the wit. But I don't often think of Kitson the actor. His pieces are fiendishly elaborate and difficult; Keep might just be the trickiest of all to pull off. A lifetime of stand-up, of delivering complex stories with ease and of winning over an audience to the challenges he's going to set them allows Kitson to be at his best here. Keep may not be a keeper, but Kitson along with Hnath remains on the short list of artists I'd follow anywhere.
 


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 **
Einstein's Dreams * 1/2
The Crucible (by Bedlam) *** 1/2
Pump Girl ***
A Christmas Carol (Bway w Campbell Scott) **
Barber Shop Chronicles ***
Anything Can Happen In The Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston ** 1/2
The Gospel Of John ** 1/2
The Thin Place ** 1/2
Daniel Kitson: Keep ** 1/2


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, December 12, 2019

THEATER: THE GOOD NEWS, OR AT LEAST ONE FOURTH OF IT

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN ** 1/2 out of ****
THE SHEEN CENTER

Have you heard the good news? Anyone tired of A Christmas Carol on stage or A Christmas Story marathon on TV has a new option. Actor Ken Jennings is at the intimate black box space at The Sheen Center to share the Gospel of John. He offers up the entire gospel in a casual, confiding tone and it doesn't get more Christmas-y than that. Unless of course you want to hear the Nativity Story, in which case you probably want the Gospel of Luke (or Matthew).

For many years, actor Alec McCowen performed the Gospel of Luke as a one-man show. He brought it thoroughly to life, painting various apostles as specific, unique people; drawing out the humor and compassion of Jesus and building to the awful and bloody climax. Like John Gielgud with his Ages Of Man tribute to Shakespeare or Patrick Stewart with the Dickens' Carol, St. Mark's Gospel was McCowen's annuity, a show he performed and returned to again and again. When a member of the audience once asked McCowen where she could get a copy of the script, he said, "Any hotel room." It's a good joke but not an honest answer. McCowen was faithful to the text but he shaped it into drama in ways large and small.

Ken Jennings does none of that. This evening is described as "conceived and performed" by him, but I prefer to say he's sharing it. It's not quite a recitation, but he certainly doesn't shape the gospel into drama. Jennings most assuredly does not bring to life a host of characters. He stands on a lovely wooden stage, whose edge has a wavy curve to it. That platform stands a little off the ground. Towards the back, stage right, is a small wooden bench he moves here and there. A simple, rough-hewn cloth curtain hangs at the back, stretching down but never touching the stage. (The scenic design is by Charlie Corcoran.) That's it. Jennings stands in front of the stage, makes the sign of the cross, quietly collects his thoughts and then he begins.

By deciding not to create a galaxy of characters, by not dramatizing the gospel, Jennings subtly places the emphasis not on the stories within but the message. He memorized the Gospel of John during tough times and used it as a prayer. That's precisely what his recitation feels like here, a straightforward, sincere act of communion both with the gospel and with the audience.


That's not to say Jennings is a mere reader. His Gospel of John is surely theatrical, complete with lighting and sound effects. I wish his performance had been just as committed to using every tool at his disposal. Almost everyone but Jesus blurs into one another and usually they sound like angry, kvetchy characters. Each outburst -- whether a pharisee or a woman at a well or an apostle that doubts Jesus has risen from the dead -- dims the impact of the one that follows. That creates a wearying sameness to the many other voices found in the Gospel of John.

Worse, every once in a while Jennings will be speaking as Jesus when the sound design of M. Florian Staab gives his voice an echo-y, God-like sound, just in case we don't quite grasp the fact that this Jesus of Nazareth isn't just merely the latest in a line of prophets. For a while, I thought this effect was going to be used to underline the moments when Jesus declares "I Am...," a key motif of John that links back to the voice of God that spoke to Moses from the burning bush.

I don't think that was done, but whatever the motivation for this hokey effect's appearance, the show would be better without it. Staab's other, more subtle touches (the sound of water, of crowds and the like) are far more beneficial. Ditto the nice lighting of Abigail Hoke-Brady, which suggests water lapping against the stage at certain points, paints the backdrop with vivid color, closes in as night falls and so on. Hoke-Brady also aids Jennings mightily at the finale with an excellent fade-out.

Presumably director John Pietrowski wasn't going to convince Jennings to change his approach to the text. But since Jennings was happy to make use of lighting and sound, why not use all his skills as an actor to more fully dramatize the Gospel of John? We'll have to agree to disagree on that, as well as who wrote the Gospel in the first place. Because of his choice, the inherent drama is lessened and the show blurs a bit when the stories drop away and all we have are passages of sermonizing.

Scholar Karen Armstrong makes clear in her new book The Lost Art Of Scripture that for most of human history, religious texts and tales didn't come alive until they were performed. So Jennings is following in a grand tradition. One can easily sit alone and read any one of the four gospels in half an hour. But it's far more true to the spirit of tradition (and perhaps to the Spirit) to do precisely what he's doing: to share it in public with others.


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 **
Einstein's Dreams * 1/2
The Crucible (by Bedlam) *** 1/2
Pump Girl ***
A Christmas Carol (Bway w Campbell Scott) **
Barber Shop Chronicles ***
Anything Can Happen In The Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston ** 1/2
The Gospel Of John ** 1/2


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.