Sunday, September 21, 2014

Seurat? Seurat, Dept.

I was fortunate enough to see last night's performance of this sold-out revival of a Sondheim favorite Sunday in the Park with George at the intimate Signature Theatre.  Fourth row left, but not a bad seat in the house.  The leads, Claybourne Elder and Brynn O'Malley, are terrific, bringing a new fire and rawness to the show's central relationship, which is saying a lot for roles that were originated by Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin.

I last saw a production during the Sondheim festival at the Kennedy Center in 2002.  At that time, Melissa Errico and Raul Esparza played Dot and George in a terrific, well-staged revival.  But Signature's smaller scale is perfect as a showcase for a show that's ultimately about a painting as the frame for the relationship between two people.

And to watch, 20 feet away, George arrange the dozen characters onstage into the positions they finally assume in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte as they sing "Sunday," one of Sondheim's most moving anthems, is a breathcatching moment.

BONUS SOBSISTER SONDHEIM REALIZATION: Here's my OMG moment for the day: While researching the 2002 revival, I noticed that, among the cast of A Little Night Music--which, along with Sunday..., was one of the six plays produced for the Sondheim Celebration--was a Kristen Bell as "Fredrika Armfeldt." It couldn't be that...I mean...I saw that production and...really?  But sure enough: Ms. Bell played that role two years before she broke out as TV's Veronica Mars.

DOUBLE BONUS SOBSISTER SONDHEIM REALIZATION: Here's my even-bigger OMG moment for the day: 2002 Sondheim Celebration.  Company.  Which I also saw and is one of my--and many people's--Sondheim faves.  The lead role of "Bobby" was played at that time by...John Barrowman.  John "Captain Jack Harness" Barrowman?!!  Are you freakin' kidding me?!?!  Now, granted, this was three years before his first appearance as that character on Doctor Who, but, dang, I guess precognition is not my mutant power.

TRIPLE BONUS SOBSISTER NON-SONDHEIM REALIZATION: The sidewalk outside Signature Theatre was jam-packed with high-schoolers, 60?, 70? of them.  My friend, who was the kind and generous soul who bought the tickets, and I were more than a little concerned that they would be attending Sunday... and swamping the small space.  Sure enough, we took our seats, and in came the teens, chittering, giggling, waving at each other across the space.  I was even less optimistic at that point, thinking that the performance would be punctuated by texting, whispering and endless fidgeting.  And...your sobsister was completely dead wrong.  The show, which, as a meditation on art and creativity, ain't exactly Hairspray or Wicked, engaged the entire audience from the late-middle-aged gay couple eighth row center to the row of African-American teen girls right in front of them.  And everyone stood to appreciate the cast with applause and cheers at show's end.  So, bully for these kids and their teachers, and shame on me for (mis)judging books by their covers.  A lovely evening was had by all.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Losers and Winners, Dept.

Poster for Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

So your sobsister caught this one in >>>3D IMAX<<< yesterday a.m.  And, yeah, it really is as charming as the reviews may have led you to believe.

Five "losers," i.e., each has lost something important to him/her/it, but, truth be told, they're not exactly a bunch of overachievers either, band together, at first unwillingly, to recover a thing (something important in the Big Story Arc that Marvel is constructing among its Disney titles but also a MacGuffin) in order to make a spaceboatful of money.

If you're familiar with the Marvel Universe, seeing long-time villains such as Ronan the Accuser and Thanos (played, respectively, by Lee Pace and Josh Brolin; Pace particularly terrific) is a kick.  Karen "Amy Pond" GIllan as Thanos' daughter Nebula is perfect.  Dave Bautista, who, I just learned, is a pro wrestler, does a great job as Drax the Destroyer--like "real actor"-great, not "ironic novelty casting"-great.  The two animated characters--Groot, a rather tall ambulatory tree who can only say "I am Groot," and Rocket, an itchy-fingered enhanced raccoon on the grift--are voiced, respectively, by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper and, surprisingly, are the heart of the movie.  Sci-fi blockbuster queen Zoe Saldana is Thanos' other daughter, Gamora, whom daddy likes better than Nebula, which sets up a scene or two.  She's a killing machine who runs up against/into Chris Pratt's Peter Quill, a kid from the '70s abducted by aliens who grows into a wisecracking Indiana Jones treasure collector-meets-Han Solo interstellar lover boy.  There's some heteronormative boy-meets-alien/alien-kicks-boy's-ass/boy-charms-alien byplay between Quill and Gamora, but, really, there's just so much other stuff going on that it's, like, fourth or fifth in line in terms of meaningful character relationships.

That's just a start of a summary.  Throw in the most comic Marvel screenplay to date, a primo '70s AM soundtrack, a flock of other guest stars (Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, John C. Reilly), excellent FX and design, and a very unexpected cameo after the credits (no, not Stan Lee), and you've got the best Marvel flick since the first Iron Man movie or The Avengers.

GotG has shattered the record for an August opening by $25+M and will likely benefit from a lot of multiple viewings/good word-of-mouth over the next few weeks.  That Marvel could hit one out of the park with a property unknown to all save fanboys says everything about the strength of the casting, acting and directing as well as the imperishable value of an entertaining movie rooted in character rather than eye candy.  I didn't know what to expect beyond the trailer, and I was charmed, tickled and even moved.  Looking forward to DC's explanation about why it can't do a Wonder Woman feature after GotG, not even in Marvel's second tier of heroes, can crush the summer season.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

This Bong Kills Fascists, Dept.

Another 4/20--Where does the time go?  This year, however, it's not just Nazis and nugs, as this momentous day falls on Easter Sunday.  So, let's think a little about that, shall we?
Adolf Hitler, born today in 1889--125th anniversary!--was a bad man whose teachings have been used to oppress people and sow hatred since his death.

Cannabis, with us since the Garden of Eden, is an herb about which propaganda has been used to oppress people and sow hatred since Mexicans brought it into the United States.

What's that?, you may ask.  Anti-drug propaganda used to sow hatred?  Tragically true, dear friends.  Here's some 1937 congressional testimony from the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger:
I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents. That’s why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of who are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions.
Oh, if only Fox News had existed back in the '30s!  Well, it did, actually, but it was called the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft.

Tying this together, in the course of my research online, I found a number of folks who are, in fact, celebrating Der Führer's ("Der" to his friends) natal day.  Mostly on sites such as Vanguard News Network (slogan: No Jews. Just Right.--I only wish I were kidding), where, on one posting celebrating the birth of Mrs. Schicklgruber's little boy, the following statement was made:
If Hitler had won we wouldn't be seeing the human garbage displayed here:
Which links to a Twitter search page for "happy 420."

If neo-Nazis, who are demonstrably bad, hate marijuana, then it stands to reason that marijuana is demonstrably good.  QE2.

Further, there are a huge number of "praise and blaze" postings to Tumblr today, celebrating the confluence of Easter and 4/20.  And isn't one of the sayings currently in vogue "stay lifted"?  Couldn't we say that that is, in fact, what Jesus did at His Ascension?  (I'll plant the flag right here and say, Torch a fatty on 5/29, y'all.)

At any rate, blaze a bud, then, on this day, and strike a blow against Fascism. 
It's what Jesus would want you to do.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Minor Triad, Dept.
So, I was listening to an album of songs by Binnie Hale, a British stage and screen star most popular in the '20s and '30s, and I recalled that there was a British stage named Sonnie Hale, who, upon investigation, turns out to have been her brother (theatrical family, don'tcha know).

Well, Sonnie Hale was involved in one of the more lurid divorces of that entre-deux-guerres period, as steamy love letters penned by his co-respondent and This Year of Grace co-star Jessie Matthews were found by Hale's wife, theater star Evelyn "Boo" Laye.

The letters, read at the June 1930 divorce proceedings, cause the somewhat-priggish judge to fulminate, "It is quite clear that the husband admits himself to be a cad, and nobody will quarrel with that, and the woman Matthews writes letters which show her to be a person of an odious mind."

One excerpt, cited here, follows:
"My Darling, I want you and need you badly, all of you, and for a very long time. I am lying here, waiting for you to possess me. The dear little boobs, which you love so much, are waiting for you also."
The small world of the West End must have seemed just that much smaller for this trio.

To provide some sense of their respective styles, here is Binnie Hale singing "You Don't Know The Half Of It" from 1935's Hyde Park Corner, here is Jessie Matthews in a sparkly body stocking singing "It's Love Again" from the 1936 film of the same name (read the comments for discussion of Fred Astaire's interest in co-starring with her) and here is Evelyn Laye singing "Love Is A Song" from 1934's Princess Charming.

And here is the play that brought Miss Matthews and Mr. Hale in close proximity, which, quoting Dante (Inf., V., 137-8), I share with you:
Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Love and Death, Dept.

Yeah, so your sobsister correspondent was metroing around town Saturday.  Very slowly, because Metro has been taking advantage of the weekends to fuck over anyone who doesn't own a car in the city effect track improvements. And I noticed packs of 20-something men and women (hereafter "Youngs"), some wearing colorful headgear, weaving noisily through the Metro Center subway stop at irregular intervals.

Surfacing at Farragut North because the train I was riding decided that that was now the last stop on the westbound Red line, I walked up Connecticut Avenue and saw a humongous line of people.  At least a couple hundred.  Youngs, men and women, mainly Caucasian, although some Youngs of Color were also lined up.  Was money being given away?  Jobs?  Photo ops with the president?

No, silly sobsister!  It was just people waiting a long time to get into one of a number of venues in the greater Dupont Circle area participating in the Cupid's Bar Crawl, "the country’s largest and most electrifying Valentine’s Day themed pub crawl" in which you are invited to "join thousands of fellow crawlers and take a shot at love at some of Dupont Circle’s most popular bars."

And, sure enough, they were out by the thousands.  An alarming number of the women were wearing what I'd describe as spring dresses, lightweight, above the knee, with maybe a shrug or light top.  It was 32 degrees at Dupont Circle when I walked by, and humid.  So, what I, an Old, would consider bone-chilling cold, these blithe female Youngs considered a judiciously selected opportunity to display their wares in "a shot at love."

Of the really made-up holidays, Saint Patrick's has always been an occasion for public inebriation because, faith and begorrah, we honor the memory of that missionary saint by puking green on public property.  Cinco de Mayo because you have to wait all the way till the end of the month to commemorate our fallen servicemen and -women by killing a six before the barbecue.  And now, St. Valentine's Day, more nakedly than ever about drugging someone to participate in your attempt to quell the white-hot flames of libido and fear.

Oh, Industry.  First, you create it, and then you degrade it.  Well played.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Doobie More Clever, Dept.

Weed: Been There. Done That.
Hey, Cap'n Bringdown, you're harshing my mellow!  *ha ha*  No, but seriously, NYT columnist David Brooks writes about how he "outgrew" pot because of "embarrassing incidents"--no, not as good as you might hope--such as getting tongue-tied in English class.  See, at first, he and his equally immature boon chums would occasionally fire a fatty, blow a bone, fumarse un porro, just for shits'n'giggles, but then he and they "developed higher pleasures."  No, not the Lucky Pierre, although that was my first guess for him, too.  He repeats that they "graduated to more satisfying pleasures"--again, not the Lucky Pierre--that I have to share with you:
The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Because, you see, you filthy, unmotivated slave to that resinous scrotum of Satan, only those whose lips know not the will-sapping weed are capable of personal advancement and growth.  You are too mired in your "dubstep" and your "Adventure Time marathons" to know the joys and satisfactions of achievement and knowledge.

Even as he sneers at potsmokers for being sketchy underachievers,  Brooks (street name: What Passes for Conservative Intellectualism Nowadays Yo) then weasel-words the following:
Not smoking, or only smoking sporadically, gave you a better shot at becoming a little more integrated and interesting. Smoking all the time seemed likely to cumulatively fragment a person’s deep center, or at least not do much to enhance it.
The "only smoking sporadically" allows a lot of people in his peer or demographic group to say, Oh, yeah, we're not like total wake'n'bake losers, and lets them buy into the rest of his specious argument.  Which only applies to "those potheads," amirite, guys?

But that is an intellectually dishonest rest stop on the Speciousness Highway.  Because, really, what he's saying is POT IS BADPeriod.  No medical MJ, no nothin'.  But he has to cut you, the reader, a little slack in order to get you on his wavelength.

Brooks is known for being among the less cretinous of the conservative columnists.  But this essay wants serious rethinking and rewriting.  On "healthy societies":
I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship.
In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.
Oh, David, your conservative Whiteopia, where government is subtly interventionist.  Not all regulatin' an' whatnot, but hovering like a benign guardian angel, sky-high and translucent white against the blue horizon of American Hope, nudging us to go to Shakespeare in the Park.

I'll close with this wowser:
Most of us figured out early on that smoking weed doesn’t really make you funnier or more creative (academic studies more or less confirm this).
David, I am so with you.  I look at my record racks and see acres of music produced by abstemious men and women, strangers to intoxication.  How could the sticky ick possibly fire someone's creativity?  "Academic studies more or less confirm this"?  Yeah, I'm gonna go with "less."

There's so much to criticize, just go, read.  "Clueless Puritan Privilege Doesn't Like Something"--film at 11.