Sunday, November 22, 2009

An Education - opening a season of Sixties Films?

How much do trailers tell you about the theatre you’re in? When I saw District 9 a few months back, the trailers were full of action, movement, violence, and I couldn’t tell you what movies were being advertised. I doubt I saw any of them. Saturday afternoon at the Kew Gardens Cinema on Lefferts Boulevard, my favorite Queens movie house, I saw the following four trailers:

  1. The Single Man. Colin Firth. 'Nuf said. And Julianne Moore. 1960s England. Glamorous, artificial. Before I even saw that it was based on a Christopher Isherwood story, I knew what it was about. And I’m dying to see it.
  2. Broken Embraces looks complicated, emotional, lifelike, fascinating. Before that moment when the luminous Penelope Cruz appeared on the screen, the name Amodovar sparked my interest. Her presence sets it on stunning. I’m dying to see this film too.
  3. The Young Victoria. I like costume dramas well enough but not especially. Part of this advertisement was that Julian Fellowes, the screenwriter of Gosford Park (one of my top ten for sheer pleasure ever), wrote this film. Cast looks fabulous, and Victoria’s (that’s Queen Victoria to you) history is interesting, so this trailer actually made me want to see this one.
  4. Me and Orson Welles. May be interesting. May not. The fellow playing Orson appears like Orson. Plotwise it seems fluffy; but tough to tell.

The trailers executed their functions well. I enjoyed all of them, so I ought to have a good winter of weekend films on Lefferts Boulevard.

I wasn't at the movies to watch the trailers, but to see An Education. I’ll see anything with Carey Mulligan. I have seen her Nina on stage, her Sally Sparrow on “Dr. Who” (don’t laugh, “Blink” is an excellent episode), and it was she that first caught my eye in a review of this film when it opened at the Toronto Film Festival back in mid September. My how time does fly. Was it fun? That’s a subject for another blog.

An Education
Carey Mulligan plays 16-year-old Jenny. Alfred Molina is marvelous, adding a depth to the traditional father figure at a turning point in social history; Cara Seymour plays her mother, who handles, understands, and loves her husband, and quietly encourages her daughter to a different sort of life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before, and she was marvelous. Emma Thompson is perfect (I recall the NYT review saying her work here was practice for her inevitable performance as Margaret Thatcher, and it was right on the nose), and Olivia Williams did the best work I’ve seen her do in a role that could have been a stereotypical understanding high school teacher. Not high school -- whatever the Brits call 10th grade. Dominic Cooper, whom I last saw as a schoolboy in History Boys, is all grown up here, classy and slimy at the same time. As he was in History Boys. Helen (sometimes referred to as “Aunt Helen”) was lived, not played, so perfect was she, by Rosamund Pike. And of course, Peter Sarsgaard as Jenny’s David. Charming, sweet, and sleazy.

This film takes place in 1961-2. Primary question for me is: Is this a story? A complete story, with a beginning, middle and end. It has fabulous characters, scintillating scenes, beautiful cinematography by John de Borman. Nick Hornby’s screenplay is sharp and soft, beguiling and seductive. And Lone Sherfig’s direction was so good I didn’t even notice; quite seamless (until the end). The film I saw was a landscape of a time with detailed and interactive portraits: of young girls who desperately desire the sophistication of Paris; of a loving and not at all dumb mother who, 15 years later, would be living an entirely different life, even if with the same husband; a loving and stifled father, as easily seduced as his daughter; two con men with different styles and morals; an extremely conservative principled principal; and a literature teacher willing to take an extra step. These are marvelous portraits, brilliant and enticing. They go a long way to making this film seem like a story.

Bored, stifled, clever Jenny wants her Life to begin. She wants her Life to be in France, she wants to be sophisticated, she wants to listen to music, but not the music her father listens to. Sound like 1961? Jenny does well in school (except for Latin), she plays cello in a small school orchestra, and a lovely young boy is politely besotted with her. While waiting for a bus in an incredible deluge, along comes a charming man in a fabulous little car to give Jenny and her cello a lift. The young man is amusing, he draws her out, he doesn’t seem to be in the slightest bit predatory. When David steps into Jenny’s life a second time, I groaned. Jenny is swept up in a musical romance, and joins in with David’s schemes to get her parents to allow her to go out with this blatantly older man.

David’s cohorts are Helen and Danny. The first time we see Jenny with them is just shocking. They are sophisticates, she is a child. But then Helen helps to transform her into a young woman – on the outside at least.

Rosamund Pike’s Helen is beautiful in face, figure, and fashion sense, charming, dense, insensitive with no such intent. She is so incredibly charming in her stupidity that when Jenny gets a “B” in her Latin course, Helen comforts her by saying that she’d read that within 50 years, no one will be speaking Latin, “not even the Latins.” How sweet is that.

Danny (Dominic Cooper) is brusque yet closer to honest than Peter Sarsgaard’s David. Personally I generally find Peter Sarsgaard rather sleazy, so unfortunately his David did not surprise me.

Jenny’s home is dull and colorless, despite her mother’s warmth. Her father is not a bad guy, but he’s essentially insulting. Mind you, in his time his attitude was the norm. As far as Molina’s “Jack” is concerned, all his daughter can hope for is his wife’s life, but she’d best get her A levels so she can go to Oxford. There she’ll become qualified to teach (Olivia Williams’ scenes as the lit teacher who probably had the same dreams as Jenny are exquisitely painful), but more qualified to meet someone appropriate to marry. In the years following these happenings, women would break out of these absurd societal shackles, but Jenny doesn’t know that yet. Her home is stifling despite the love in it, her French records are shouted down, and the cello that brings her to David’s attention is a tool to her father, not an instrument. The excitement and color of evenings out with David and his friends are a great contrast to Jenny’s home life, and she falls into that lush life like a Parisian Apache dancer. We see David’s charm, we understand. But please, he’s a sleaze and she’s jailbait. How this affair plays out is fated from the start.

An Education is based on a memoir, not a story. This shows at the ending, which I found rather disappointing. Too much or too little, but not quite what a story needs. Realistic as a memoir would be, and yet not dramatic and crushed into a few scenes with snow and spring buds to alert us to time going by. Denouement can feel awfully long.

This film is beautiful. The acting is superb. The cinematography of gray, rainy London is in stark contrast to glorious sunny Paris. It’s all gorgeous, evocative. Even the tea and biscuits that deservedly had their own shot near the end were dull, almost monochromatic. The scenes with the foursome – Jenny and David, Helen and Danny – are sharper and brighter and louder than the rest of Jenny’s life. They live the lush life. For a while Jenny lives it with them, at a price.

See this movie. I want to talk about the ending. Oh, and the score is excellent. A little classical, a little jazz, a little rock’n’roll. Just what a 1962 story needs.

~ Molly Matera signing off -- thanks for stopping by.

Monday, November 16, 2009

INSIDE OUT at BAM, 12 November 2009

I went to BAM again last night. This time there were clowns. Not evil dancing glaring clowns that haunt one’s dreams, leaping over the dreamer, sneaking up behind me in my cubicle – oh, no. Never mind. That’s the temp-with-too-much-to-prove.

The program “Inside out” by Cirkus Cirkőr, a marvelous circus troupe from Sweden, opened at the BAM Opera House Thursday night. My friends and I were safe in our first row of the first mezzanine seats – the tall white Clown could not come all the way upstairs to get us. No, he stayed in the orchestra, pulling ordinary non-circus folk from their seats onto the stage. Or were they ordinary?

This was not a play for which the program identifies the players in some definitive way. Members of the troupe have specializations, of course, yet I regret I cannot tell you who did what. There were at least two clowns. One was a tall skinny man in white – white clothes, whiteface on his hands, arms, face, neck, and wild & crazy white Alfred Einstein hair. And acrobats. And a master juggler, a tight rope walker, trapeze artists! And, per the program, “equilibrists.” All 8 directed with loving, daring, heartfelt care by Tilde Björfors.

Accompanying and part of this troupe is a fabulous band called “Irya’s Playground,” led by Irya Gmeyner (singer) and Pange Öberg (bass). Yes, of course I bought their CD. Irya’s singing is lyrical and moody and in tune with the physical life on the stage. And the drummer (Erik Nilsson) who accompanied the mad antics of the juggler in the second half drums like an acrobat run amok. (And excellent as that juggler was, that’s my one negative note – the juggling section was a few minutes too long.)

I don’t even know how to describe “Inside out.” I was as excited as a child at her first circus, I marveled, I gasped, I cried out in dread (really!), I cheered and clapped and hooted. This is a circus story with a theme. On my way home, I read the director’s notes with pleasure, happy to continue the experience with a director’s intents proven to match the final product – now that’s a rare feat! Director Tilde Björfors likens Circus to Life.

The show had a theme of life and death inside and outside the body. The visuals immediately set us up for more than fun and games with DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man painted on the floor of the stage. (Yes, this is exactly why the mezzanine offers more than orchestra seating ever can.) This image
is repeated with a large hoop put to astonishing effect by a male acrobat. Other elements of the human body – the inside, that is – are repeated on the curtains, the set pieces, in odd shapes coming to life throughout the evening.

One performer is “odd man out.” She’s an old woman, an acrobat, a comedienne. Not attractive. Not balanced literally or figuratively. Not in sync with the rest of the performers – although they put themselves in sync with her at various points in the evening. We see her journey, and that of a younger woman, in line with the stage pictures of the heart, the vena cava, blood cells red and white, and the struggles between them. Cirkus Cirkőr shows the heart literally as the pump maintaining life, in harmony with the heart metaphorically as repository of love and courage.

The White Clown is clearly the emcee, not to mention an equilibrist extraordinaire, and was bouncing around the orchestra since the audience began trailing in. The White Clown lead performers onto the stage, moved props around and connected a bicycle to cables that appeared to provide power to the lights. As the audience settled, he leapt into the aisle and pulled a man up onto the stage, tossed the poor guy’s trench coat to the floor, and put him into the bicycle. This audience member is Tom, and the White Clown makes Tom pedal to create the light. Tom became engrossed with the Clown’s balancing act on too many layers of angled chairs, and the lights went out. The Clown cries out “Tom!” piteously, and we hear an “Oh, sorry!” followed by furious pedaling until the spot comes up on the White Clown balanced on the very top chair.

The entire troupe is so on, taking part, watching, inviting the audience to marvel at their prowess, the leaps and bounds, the balancing, the joy. And occasionally the odd old woman wandered on, did something amazing, then something clumsy, and all the while the White Clown ushered her here and there solicitously. When she stumbled yet again, he caught her. Up she got to walk a tightrope on the ground, and down she went. He moved her. Lifted her arm. It flopped back down. She appeared dead.

Finally the White Clown addressed the audience talking about life and death, until he noticed someone in the aisle. He cried out to the woman, “Are you leaving?” and leapt into the house to lead her on stage. This is Christine, and the White Clown pulled her into the world of the circus people. Part of said world is, of course, make believe, and the old woman isn’t dead after all.

A marvelous scrim is painted like a circus tent, with a slit set where the tent’s flap opens and closes for exits and entrances. This simple effect made me absurdly happy. The first part is carny and fun and sets up the second part where the emerging themes come into focus. Sets are struck, dances are danced, drinking and merrymaking took place, and the old woman pulled the heart out of Christine’s chest.

Entertainment in the Interval, before the White Clown shouted, “Is anyone still in the toilet? No? Then we begin!” consisted of watching the thin white-faced man chat with members of the audience, then lead two slim men up to center stage, inviting them to sit on two chairs. Back the Clown went to the audience, house left this time, and brought up a couple. Perhaps a couple – the young man was androgynous such that only the mustache convinced me he was male − barely. The woman with him was in a short skirt and patterned stockings, and I wondered what the Clown would do that would make her outfit totally unsuitable. The Clown and the Juggler settled these two into chairs, then moved them all around. They manipulated the limbs and spines of the four audience members until they were leaning and lying on one another. Then the Clown removed each of the four chairs so the only support those people had was each other. This seemed interestingly in line with one of the evening’s themes, then the Clown gently pressed on that support system until all four were sprawled on the ground.

The stage is filled with shapes that don’t appear connected to a circus − globules, blood cells, the right atrium, nightmares come to life in the fantastic voyage inside our bodies. The inner journey is on video and onstage, blood corpuscles traveling through the veins and the vena cava, dropping onto the stage where red and white battle one another. Hearts are ripped out of chests, then carried outside in one character’s arms. Eventually the heart grows into a set piece on and in and through which the characters leap, crawl, fight and play. All this and acrobatics, too.

Director Tilde Björfors explains her study and love of circus and science by quoting DaVinci: “Art and science are two sides of the same coin, and both widen the world.” We do not see the science, but these performers do. Each prop is so carefully placed, each jump, leap, toss, so carefully balanced and safeguarded, that we cannot help but see a dedicated form to all that these performers do. This piece is scripted, each moment is judged and timed. Each magical act plays a part in expanding on the theme of the evening.

We have fears – and acrobats appear not to have them – but they can be overcome, one by one, so we can carry on and take the next step. To where? Wherever we need to go: To live more fully. To walk a tightrope. To trust your partner to catch you when you’re hanging upside down fifteen feet in the air.

This is not Cirque du Soleil; this is simpler, smaller. It does not overwhelm with lights and colors and death-defying feats. There are feats galore, and they amaze. This Cirkus is gentler, tells a story, and teaches us that the heart has many functions, and that courage is not the lack of fear, but overcoming it in order to accomplish something. The art of Cirkus Cirkőr is not to make it all look amazing, but to engage our hearts with their journeys. And they did.

I don’t know where the show is going next, but if it wanders your way, go see it. Meanwhile, check out the trailer at the company’s site for teasers galore: . Björfors says that “Circus is about life and death.” That’s how I think about theatre. Thursday night on the BAM Opera House stage, Theatre and Circus were the same.

~ Molly Matera signing off. So many somersaults to do!

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Quartette" n'est pas "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"

Quartette is a play by Heiner Müller, in French with English supertitles projected above the BAM Harvey stage. It is allegedly based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses, although Müller admits he never finished the original novel when he wrote this play in 1980-1. Since I know the story, I didn’t think the supertitles would be necessary. As it happens, though, the production was “conceived and directed” by Robert Wilson. The result is, while somewhat linear, not a straight line. Or a single line. In fact I suspect many sections of the line were erased.

I spent far more time reading brief but repeated text than I had expected, although my ear picked up more of the French as the evening went on. As M said, this evening fulfilled my opera quota for the year. No, they weren’t singing. But Isabelle Huppert’s monologues and, for want of a better term, dialogue, were certainly arias, as were those of her male counterpart (in more ways than one), Ariel Garcia Valdès.

The opening drew us in with elements visually and aurally interesting. A scrim showed a landscape painting with somewhat clothed musicians in the foreground (Frans Wouters’ “Le Concert Champêtre”). Before it, Mlle. Huppert crossed the stage extremely slowly; an old man sat at the head of a table, a slim young woman with an exceptionally long braid bouncing along her back danced in giggling; and a young man entered, pointed his dancer foot at the old man, and “shot” him. Shortly after this, the old man took out a pistol and shot the young man. Visual and sound designs were sharp and engaging. We were in for a treat.

But soon the opening passed into the next staging, and the next. Not scenes, as such. Stagings. Watching Huppert, in her deep purple off-the-shoulder dress, very pale makeup, and distinct red lips, speak French exceedingly fast (but not so fast that we didn’t know she was repeating the same few lines over and over again) is really only fascinating for a little while. (It is entirely possible some heterosexual men and/or homosexual women will disagree with me on that point.) Apparently Mr. Wilson consistently has one of his characters appear in Kabuki style, and last night it was Valmont: a red devil of a creature, who was sometimes green, and once off white. His vocalizations sounded like those of someone using a machine to disguise his voice during a particularly loud obscene phone call.

In case you don’t know “LLD,” this story is about sex. Carnal, illicit, lusty, ex-marital, blackmailing, controlling sex. Huppert’s brash laugh was frequently followed by a wink to the audience or a long curling tongue. The play is filled with audacious images, quite a few of which are amusing and/or affecting. This to assure you I did enjoy some of the evening.

Huppert plays the Marquise de Merteuil (except when she appears to be playing Valmont), Valdès the Vicomte de Valmont (except when he appears to be playing Merteuil or Madame de Tourvel). Three other performers play with them – Louis Beyler, Rachel Eberhart, and Benoît Maréchal. These three people were welcome additions to the stage, but it is difficult to say who they played. One of the men is young, very fit, and presumably represents Danceny. The young woman is sometimes Cècile, the virginal convent-trained niece Merteuil wants Valmont to seduce, and sometimes Mme. de Tourvel, whom Valmont wishes to seduce. One of them is an old but remarkably spry man, and no one knows who he’s playing. He’s a hoot, out there dancing in his white nightshirt while men and women in black (a.k.a. stagehands) change the drapings and set pieces rather too often.

Mlle. Huppert and M. Valdès habitually looked anywhere but at each other. While each spoke to someone outside his or her line of sight, other characters would appear behind or beside them. Perhaps the young man, with a length of thick chain around his neck, grimacing as he pulled it tight. Perhaps the young woman, laughing delightedly, or looking at the young man when he was suspended upside down from a noose.

In the second half of the play, shouts of Vengeance! recurred. These came from Valmont when played by Valdès. And Merteuil spent more and more time in what appeared to be a bathtub. Perhaps. This is how I knew that Mr. Wilson, if not Mr. Müller, had a good idea of how the original story turned out in other dramatizations.

Luckily the sound design included the cracking of a stick somewhere offstage. Its repetition jolted me into wakefulness at regular intervals. I never completely nodded off, but it became increasingly difficult to focus my eyes, despite the vibrantly colored images appearing on the stage.

Not vibrantly colored but alive, a lonely fish traveled from stage left to stage right in a tall aquarium while Mlle. Huppert traversed the perpendicular upstage, repeating “the whore is dead” (in French, of course). The fish probably wondered why its sea was moving across its earth. It was seasick.

I have read Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Mille pardons, en anglais. I experienced Christopher Hampton’s play on Broadway with the delicious Alan Rickman as Valmont and Lindsay Duncan as Merteuil. I have seen four film versions of the story (only one in French, and two set in the time period of the novel). These are barely a dent in the number of adaptations of this novel out there, yet perhaps I should have left it at that. Productions like this one make me feel quite stupid. I feel sure, had I a bit more energy, I might have deciphered some of the symbolism Mr. Wilson presented, although I’m equally sure re-reading the novel would not have helped. Perhaps, to comprehend one work conceived and directed by Robert Wilson, one must have experienced the entire oeuvre. In which case, where (or when) is one supposed to start?

I feel downright déclassé, but I believe I would have enjoyed the Duplex Cabaret Gala far more.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All right, all right, I’ll say it: “The Royal Family” Rules!

Why should one see an 82-year-old play on Broadway? 15 Reasons:

  1. Rosemary Harris. Unlike my friend “M,” I was not enjoying the double déjà vu pleasure of seeing Rosemary Harris as the Matriarch of the piece, Fannie Cavendish, after having seen her as leading lady Julie Cavendish in the mid-1970s revival. Nevertheless, seeing Rosemary Harris do anything means unalloyed joy. Seeing her as the Grand Dame of the Royal Family of the NY Theatre is to die for. She is grace, she is humor, she is wit, she is style, she is passion. She is fluid, she is life. She is why some of us wanted the theatre to be our lives.
  2. Tony Roberts. As Oscar Wolfe, the family’s manager, Roberts takes the stage discreetly and quietly. He is the calm at the center of the chaos that is the Cavendish family. Oscar is the non-actor in the maelstrom, and Roberts steps back and underplays this deviously caring role beautifully.
  3. Jan Maxwell. Take a deep breath and watch her fly. As Julie Cavendish, Jan Maxwell holds her own with Rosemary Harris. However generous Ms. Harris may be – and she is extremely so – this is no easy feat. Playing the role Harris played over 30 years ago may be daunting to lesser mortals, but Maxwell does it with style and grace. She poses, she soothes, she seethes, she’s the sane one in a madhouse, and she’s utterly mad. Her voice and diction are clear as a bell throughout the evening. She’s delightful and powerful, driving the play’s storyline from start to finish.
  4. John Glover. As the impoverished, perhaps not has-been but never-was brother of Fannie, Herbert Dean, Glover is a bundle of nerves unable to get work for himself or his wife. He ages handsomely but not gracefully, unwilling to let go of his leading man status. Needy and obvious, Dean’s annoying -- and yet, and yet, he’s a member of the family, and he adores them all. The Royal Family becomes our family, and the wayward uncle is part of it.
  5. Reg Rogers does a mean John Barrymore. He embodies the maddest of the Cavendishes, Fannie’s son Tony. Rogers’ Tony is never still, he fences, he leaps, he dances, he whirls. He’s utterly delightful (and put me pleasantly in mind of an old Star Trek “villain,” the Squire of Gothos a.k.a. “General Trelane, Retired” as played by William Campbell). Rogers is physically marvelous, bursting with energy and technical prowess, and a big heart; but a little more elocution would be welcome.
  6. Larry Pine. As Gilbert Marshall, the long lost love of leading lady Julie Cavendish, Larry Pine discreetly shines as the businessman who went off and made a massive fortune in South America when Julie turned him down 20 years before. He comes back just when Julie desperately needs his personification of solid, steady, and sane, and therefore quite disrupts royal family life. Pine is refreshingly normal, then rather frighteningly so. The man’s a pro at aplomb.
  7. Kelli Barrett. The younger generation, Julie’s daughter Gwen Cavendish, is an exuberant, energetic, melodramatic ‘ingénue’ who can hold her own opposite the powerhouses on the stage. She’s sweet, fretful, spoiled. Barrett’s Gwen has the grace of her grandmother and the strength of her mother, and her very own gumption. Barrett has power. She’s someone to watch.
  8. David Greenspan. What a delight he is playing “Jo,” the family retainer/butler/majordomo/whatever-the-family-needs-him-to-be. He’s quiet, witty, the perfect foil to the staid maid and the wild family. His voice penetrates the madness just when it is needed.
  9. Freddy Arsenault. Arsenault makes a sweet Broadway debut as Gwen’s beau Perry, the society boy/stockbroker, as opposite to the Royal Family as he can be. The role doesn’t make an impact, but his on the mark performance shows he’s got the stuff.
  10. Ana Gasteyer. It’s been difficult to make up my mind about Ana’s Kitty Dean, Herbert’s wife. She has hilarious moments, and all in all I’d say she did a marvelous job of playing the dislikeable and disliked character. In a family of great actors with cultured voices and styles, she’s an outsider. The one who married in and cannot act although she thinks she can. She’s a sad creature really – but Ms. Gasteyer’s tones are so sharp we flinch to hear her speak. Which makes me think that maybe, just maybe, she was quite brilliant.
  11. John Lee Beatty. Of course the set is his and perfect and magnificent, and of course
  12. Catherine Zuber’s costume design works perfectly in the space.
  13. Doug Hughes directed with love, reverence, joy, controlled abandon. A fine piece of work with staging more than pleasing to the eye, and reminiscent of the black-and-white comedies I loved.
  14. Let us not forget the playwrights: George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber -- sparkling wit, brilliant characters, the fastest-paced 3 hours you could wish. Just say the family names out loud and embrace them: Tony Cavendish, Julie Cavendish, Fannie Cavendish, Gwen Cavendish, and the late patriarch whose portrait oversees all in the living room, Aubrey Cavendish. Cheers to the brilliant playwrights! “The Royal Family” makes one yearn for more – the madcap of “Stage Door” (film version, please!), the culture clash of “Dinner at Eight” and “You Can’t Take It With You,” one of Kaufman’s collaborations with Moss Hart. Ah, the days of large casts – so much better than helicopters.
  15. And finally, Panache.

A marvelous piece of work at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Go.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. I must go watch the Yankee/Phillies game now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hamlet and the Met

My friend Marcia was in town from Minnesota, so we used my corporate ID and visited the Met gratis. On the advice of a museum-savvy friend, we were determined to see the Vermeer exhibit. Unfortunately, a great many other people were also seeing the Vermeer exhibit, making it almost impossible to get a clear view of the paintings. What we could see was thrilling. I’m not a big fan of static exhibits – that is, the still visual arts as opposed to performing arts – but seeing original Vermeers up close was a startling pleasure. No reproduction in any medium can do justice to the colors, to the lure of the light source in each painting. And looking at the similar paintings grouped in the exhibit, Vermeer still stands alone.

However, those glorious colors were obfuscated by too many people. Marcia and I were happier with the marvelous Egyptian wing. It’s immense, it’s always there, and in one afternoon’s visit you cannot make a dent.

The Egyptian wing is quietly accessible, simple and remarkable. I wondered as I wandered if any of the ‘art’ of the 20th - 21st centuries could weather over 3000 years as these pieces of history have. Imagine the extraordinary few of those days with the good and frightening fortune to create masterworks of painting, sculpture, architecture, and engineering while the majority were relegated to picking, pushing, pulling, dragging and hauling. The work has survived, colors fresh and vibrant, details amazing. For those of modern times not among the fortunate few who work for their art and not at any subsistence jobs, remember this: After you design, execute, and decorate a temple, you will not be buried underneath it!


  • The golden sandals that would be a bitch to wear in the summer’s heat -- yes, I can be that dense. It took me several minutes to realize the gold sandals were reserved for the dead. Never mind.
  • The ‘dollhouses’, the toys, the entire villages and ships created in miniature to populate the tombs. Those have lasted all these years so we can marvel at them. The living in Egypt did not have that opportunity after all, since these survived because they were sealed in airless sepulchers.
  • The colors, preserved, on the transported walls, the statues, the metalwork. To hell with paint chips, I must go back for postcards to save for the next paint job at home.
  • Around each corner we marvelled at the precision, the delicacy, and extraordinary imagination required to create beauties & horrors, dreams & nightmares.

Mind you, I can always do without mummies and statues. I dislike life-size and slightly larger than life statuary. Creepifying. Put me in mind of the stadtmuzeum across the strasse from the laundromat in Göttingen, Germany. There my minimal German was insufficient to read the legends on the exhibits in a room of mostly photos, black-and-white WW2 era, that appeared to be concentration camp survivors. Nonetheless, I could figure it out. They were photos of survivors of camps, but they were German survivors of Soviet camps. Nowhere in that museum of this university town were the German concentration camps mentioned.

Escaping from that appalling room, I stumbled into a long gallery of statues mounted on pedestals. Not Aryan, more like Norse god figures. Larger than life, but human. Creepifying.

Statues. Bah.

Note: yes of course my laundry was still where I left it, safe, no watchers needed there. It was Germany.

Back to NYC October 2009. We took the 79 crosstown bus to the B’way IRT, then had a pleasant dinner at “Room Service,” a Thai restaurant on 8th Avenue. It may not have been better than the many others along 8th Avenue in the 40s, but it was much prettier. From there we moved on to Hamlet at the Broadhurst. My second time, Marcia’s first.

I had looked forward to seeing the play a second time, assuming I’d see changes, the cast moving into a comfort zone, building upon the solid story-telling it had already accomplished. Alas, the performance felt as if it hadn’t progressed in the three and a half weeks since I saw the play in previews. Geraldine James had found her footing (OK, her lines, all of them), but she still hadn’t created a memorable, distinct Gertrude. Claudius was not any better than he had been -- I still want to see Richard Johnson again. Nor had Laertes gained any depth, although his final scene with Hamlet does work. Horatio seemed to have stepped back into the shadows, when I wanted more of him. And Ophelia was just as bad as she had been, and the underscoring of her song in the ‘mad scene’ was just as infuriating.

Second time around, the still excellent Jude Law stood out in a way he oughtn’t. Yes, he’s Hamlet in Hamlet. That doesn’t mean the rest of the characters who people the story should be drawn in duller colors. So what’s that about? Direction. The same man who underscored Ophelia’s mad song must have directed the actors to give Law stage, when Law is perfectly capable of taking it if he wants it and seems rather to wish to share it. Calling Michael Grandage: Empower the rest of your cast to challenge Mr. Law. They’ll have more fun, and so will the audience.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Thanks for stopping by.