I’d intended to write a good deal more this month than I have, and as March draws to a close, it is evident that I haven’t done more than scribble disjointed notes. So, in order to be an April Fool with fresh energy and material, I’m just jotting down some brief thoughts on the two films and two plays I’ve seen in the past few weeks, forgiving myself, and moving on.
Venus in Fur was a delightful surprise. Oh yes, I’d been told the performances were marvelous and it was hilarious. They were and it is. Initially, though, I had to object to what appeared to be the Deus ex machina of the ending.
Then I slept on it, and realized that the whole play had led just there. The two larger than life yet totally realistic characters: Vanda, the aspiring actress, played by the remarkable Nina Arianda; and Thomas, the playwright/director, played by Hugh Dancy in an exhilarating performance of a role that could have been subsumed by the power of Vanda and Ms Arianda. We meet him first, so we think he’s the protagonist. But is he?
The epitome of what this playwright abhors in modern woman shows up to audition for his play, and late. She becomes the woman he most desires. She switches back and forth. If you can stop laughing long enough to think, it's fascinating. Who is acting upon whom? Who is acting? It’s a very funny play — perhaps a smidge too long in its last third — but you really don’t want to miss these performances. Not to mention the tight, bright, lightning-flashed direction by Walter Bobbie.
And then, my second John Ford play in a month was extraordinarily inventive, memorable, well-acted — well, mostly — smartly produced, directed, designed, and totally worthy of the always exciting Cheek by Jowl company. Yes, I’m talking about their production of ′Tis Pity She’s A Whore presently running at BAM.
Onstage, as we entered the Harvey Theatre, is a teenage girl’s bedroom, complete with posters on the red walls and a teenage girl lolling on the bed. This is Annabella, in a crisp, funny, sexy, graceful, youthful and age-old performance by Lydia Wilson. Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod have taken John Ford’s play of the first quarter of the 17th century and tossed it into the air to create a timeless — while quirkily old-fashioned — Italy via England. It’s an image, a darting, dancing dream, an idea of a play, telling us more about people than one would have thought John Ford knew. The actors gather round that simple central prop/set piece, the girl’s red bed, and enact scenes that take place here, there, and everywhere. Why? Because all that anyone cares about in this play is that girl’s bed and what happens there.
This was a shortened version of the play, running two hours (without intermission) so probably has a lower death count than usual — but enough. What violence we see onstage is disturbing. The violence we do not see because it’s done barely offstage in the bathroom is still more disturbing. Mind you, this play also has a lot of laughs.
Donnellan has filled this production with movement and song and dance and stomping and sometimes that drowned out the words. I see some technical difficulties holding back this extraordinary, willful, mad production, but none that would keep me from urging you to get to the BAM Harvey soon. It closes this weekend.
|Lydia Wilson and Jack Gordon (C) Manuel Harlan|
Two Movies I Missed on the Big Screen
For Chills and Thrills:
Drive starts with rules. The driver will give you five minutes. Within those five minutes he’s yours, whatever happens. Before or after that window, you’re on your own. The first five minutes of this movie are excruciatingly tense. I was in awe of the direction, the cinematography, the writing. Hooked.
Ryan Gosling is the Driver. His character is precise, smart. He drives for the movies (stunt driver), and robbers (wheelman), and wouldn’t mind a real racetrack. Shane wanted a peaceful life, too. Well we can’t have everything.
This isn’t a relaxing film, it’s damned disturbing, but so worth it. Its spare script is by Hossein Amini, directed so tightly it hurts by Nicolas Winding Refn. This is deep noir, Los Angeles, cars, speed, guns, bad people. And a few goods ones caught in the middle. Gosling gives a riveting, ravishing performance that makes me wonder what movies the award shows are viewing. Bryan Cranston is superb, Albert Brooks is terrifying, there’s not a moment to catch your breath in this film, it’s that engrossing.
It’s also a western. I think you’ll recognize it. Let me know.
To Weep with Laughter:
My cousin recommended Paul as a comedy that is actually funny. He got that right. Paul includes witty, scintillating and absurd writing, expert characterizations and execution of them with brilliant casting. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are back, this time as two comic book geeks speaking English with the occasional Klingon on a road trip to the UFO-sighting sites of America. Two Englishmen, an RV, a roadside diner (Jane Lynch!), a car crash….and an Alien. Plus a mysterious voice ordering about an absurd number of men in black (one of whom is the delightful Jason Bateman), a crazy gun-toting bible thumper, a girl, and the extraterrestrial illegal alien himself, Paul, voiced by Seth Rogen. If you want to be happy, see Paul.
So. Two plays, two movies, not a bad month. More to come....
~ Molly Matera, signing off, asking you to support your local starving artist -- go see a play!