Category Archives: Just Did It

Just Did It: A View from the Bridge

Growing up, it was all about The Crucible and Death of a Salesman.  That’s one of the reasons it was such a pleasure to get to know A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller’s play about a Brooklyn-based, Italian-American longshoreman’s obsession with his niece and the codes and ethics of a close knit community in the 50s.  Another pleasure, of course, was the all-star cast featuring perennial Top Five-ee Liev Schreiber and Broadway newcomer Scarlett Johansson.  But we’ll get to that later.

This play is like taking a mirror to On the Waterfront — both protagonists rat, but with very different consequences — and many people think that Bridge was Miller’s response to Elia Kazan’s Waterfront, after that playwright chose to name Communist names before HUAC.  Miller was also called before HUAC but refused to talk.  Making this circle even more incestuous, Miller wrote the original screenplay for Waterfront, before the HUAC controversies led to a major falling out between these best friends.

The play is swift and climactic.  The narration and plot build the action to the point that it’s impossible to not know that things aren’t heading down hill for Eddie Carbone and his family.  Yet, I was enthralled and somehow still rooted for this fink — he of the “tunnel” vision (did Miller originate this phrase?) with a singular goal to stop his niece from marrying the illegal Italian immigrant who just wasn’t “right.”

I guess I wasn’t the only one rooting for him.  Listen to how lawyer-come-narrator Alfieri closes the play:  “Most of the time now we settle for half and I like it better. But the truth is holy, and even as I know how wrong he was and his death useless, I tremble for, I confess that something perversely pure calls to me from his memory–not purely good, but himself, purely, for he allowed himself to be wholly known and for that I think I will love him more than all my sensible clients.”

I’ve seen Schreiber on stage as the sexy lover in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, playing the great villain Iago at the Joseph Papp production of Othello and starring in Talk Radio.  He never, ever disappoints.  I was very curious to see how Johansson — she of the low, raspy voice, sultry eyes and many times dead performances — would stack up.

Pretty well, I have to admit.  For most of the play, her actions and words spoke innocence, but her body and dress spoke maturity and that delicate balance is crucial to the play’s tension.  When she finally does break free from her uncle’s firm grasp, you may even believe that it has nothing to do with love for her illegal Marco, and everything to do with the fact that she’s never tasted air.

Posted by: Mariela

Just Did It: A Streetcar Named Desire

In Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, the lustfully married Stella asks her sister Blanche:  “Haven’t you ever ridden on that streetcar?”  She’s talking about Desire, that “rattle-trap streetcar that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another.”  But, the truth is, Blanche has seen more than her share and it disgusts her.  “It brought me here. Where I’m not wanted and where I’m ashamed to be,” she says

Well, I feel desire, too.  And it’s in the form of Cate Blanchett, Liv Ullman and the spectacular production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the BAM Harvey Theater.  I desire that all productions I spend money on be just as emotionally-charged, thoughtfully-directed and unselfconscious as this one.

We were treated to an artist’s talk with the cast immediately after the performance where we learned that this was a labor of love by Blanchett and Ullman, who originally wanted to bring an adaptation of “A Doll’s House” called “Nora” to the screen, and instead decided to concentrate on this very American play with arguably the most iconic characters and memorable lines around…but do it with a Norwegian director and an Australian cast.  Blanchett said she had always shied away from the role of Blanche and it scared her.  But, she admitted, she’s “always scared.”

Joel Edgerton, who played Stanley Kuwalski, chimed in:  “Marlon Brando made a lasting impression in people who haven’t even seen the play.”  After six weeks of rehearsals, the cast dropped their accents, conquered their nerves, liberated themselves from the past and “brought the play home.”

The set – mostly a studio apartment divided with tacky flowered curtains – enhanced the claustrophobic nature of the production and set the scene for one of the great showdowns in fictional history:  the town princess-turned “town character” Blanche vs. the “Survivor of the Stone Age” Stanley.  Clearly, a studio apartment just isn’t big enough for the both of them and the climactic drunken rape scene was devastating in showing just how lost these two really were:  him, stumbling around violently in his wedding night red silk gown; her, makeup smeared, dress ripped open and mumbling under a shroud.

Shrouds, darkness and corners played a major role in the production.  Blanche has much to hide.  She has fallen far from grace and love, which she feels is the only thing that can restore her to the confident Grand Dame she once was.  That’s why Russell Kiefel, who played the Strange Man who at the very end comes at Stella’s request to take Blanche away, was asked to play the role like “the man she’d been waiting for.  It was like setting a bird free.”

It’s true:  Here, a lingerie-clad Blanchett, skin and emotions bare of all pretenses, looking to the Strange Man for her rest.  “I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers,” she says with relief and with a light shining overhead.

Posted by: Mariela

Just Did It: The Pixies’ “Doolittle” at Hammerstein Ballroom

“Got me a movie, Ah ha ha ho, Slicing up eyeballs, Ah ha ha ho!”

“Don’t know about you, but I am un chien Andalusia!”

The Pixies performed the second of four shows last night at the Hammerstein Ballroom here in NYC to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their mega-successful album “Doolittle,” playing the record in its entirety from start to finish. Jay Reatard opened and played his long, loud, and widely-grafted re-creation of the best of all rock n’ roll music from the 70s on. Then a few video screens projected some of the re-edited and re-formatted black and white imagery from “Un Chien Andalou,” a film by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali shot in 1929. Notorious for its slicing of an eyeball with a razor blade, the film inspired The Pixies’ first song “Debaser” off their 1989 album.

Yet the band started their set with four B-sides. Clever, I thought, because once a record starts there ain’t a lot of room to deflect the listener from presupposing the next track. Then came “Debaser” and the crowd knew where to go from there.

Last night was the first time I have seen The Pixies perform live. They disbanded in 1993 while I was still in high school so it’s no real surprise that I missed them during their heyday. Black Francis’ vocals were spot-on strong and Kim Deal brought adorable excitement for the band, which stayed remotely quiet throughout. Her vocal parts/songs have always been some of my favorites. Lovering’s drums were far from rusty, in fact at points they were the absolute highlight, and Santiago provided the surf rock-solid foundation. For all the criticism they are receiving for brazenly capitalizing off an old album’s years long success with steep ticket prices, I think they rocked it and maybe it is because of the fact that I’ve had 20 years to harbor enthusiasm and memories for this album.

I have learned, through this show and seeing Built to Spill perform their entire album “Perfect from Now On,” that there is something familiar and honest about playing a record live as it was recorded. As a fan, I know what I’m getting and the surprise comes in finding out how much I really enjoy that.

Posted by: Autumn.

Just Did It: After Miss Julie

After Miss Julie

Ben Brantley of the New York Times started his review by saying, “Let me just say up front that I was rooting for Sienna Miller.” Let me just say I wasn’t rooting for Sienna Miller. Maybe the better statement is: I wasn’t expecting much from Sienna Miller. As “movie stars” are showing up on Broadway more and more often, and many times it feels uncomfortable and forced (Julianne Moore in The Vertical Hour, anyone?), I didn’t expect much from Miller. I was pleasantly surprised by her and After Miss Julie.

Miller (as Julie) and the other Miller—Johnny Lee Miller as John—do “crazy” its justice. They both do neurotic, spiteful, sad, needy, fearful, mean…very well. Their range was impressive. One of the most titillating dialogues:

JULIE: Am I your conquest? Nothing more?
JOHN: Don’t force me to be cruel.
JULIE: Tell me what I am.
(Pause.)
JOHN: A fuck.
JULIE (childlike, to herself): I’m all dirty.
JOHN: So wash.
JULIE: STAND UP WHEN YOU SPEAK TO ME! STAND UP! REMEMBER YOUR POSITION!
JOHN (He stands): Which one, Madame? There were so many.
JULIE: You’re still a servant, you scared little squaddie, you’re still a servant.
JOHN: And you’re a servant’s slut.

Weaknesses: Miller was stretching to fill the shoes of her bourgeoisie character, a little like she was playing dress up. The segues between the fits of rage and passion felt a little quick, forced. But maybe that was just how crazy and scattered the characters were supposed to be.

Unexpected delight: Marin Ireland who wowed me in Reasons to Be Pretty as the third part of this on-stage trio.

Good show, well worth my discount ticket price, and I’d have to say it’s given me a little more faith in both Millers—and maybe even the plethora of big names on Broadway.

Posted by: Lisa

Just Did It: The Kitchen’s COMMES TOUJOURS Here I Stand

BIG DANCE THEATRE’s production of ‘COMMES TOUJOURS Here I Stand’ intrigued me not for its dance or theatrical components but solely because they were using Agnes Varda’s 1961 film ‘Cleo from 5 to 7’ as a found object. I was really interested in how that would work.

cleo5

Agnes Varda’s film ‘Cleo from 5 to 7’ follows through the streets of Paris a young chanteuse who fears she has cancer and is awaiting a biopsy result at 7pm. From the beginning of the film where she has her Tarot cards read, the only part shot in color, through to the end she encounters friends, colleagues and strangers and reflects on fate, mortality and herself.

Performed at New York’s THE KITCHEN, ‘COMMES TOUJOURS Here I Stand’ takes Varda’s film and uses a set of three swirling screens to catch and reflect video (some being recorded and projected live, other recorded before) while the actors bob and weave throughout their interpretation of the film. The set’s constant re-invention reflects the varying scenes from the film not in real time (as the film constructs itself) but abridged and adapted to fit in multiple costume changes, character switches, side stories and dance.

Picture 11

The choreography was demanding and exact; the actors flexible and fluid. The re-invention climaxed into a massive video screen of falls leaves with an almost empty stage, save for the heroine and the stranger walking towards her destiny.

Comme Toujours Here I Stand at The Kitchen from Big Dance Theater on Vimeo.

I look forward to future BIG DANCE THEATRE performances.

Posted by: Autumn.

Just Did It: The Way We Were and Robert Redford at BAM

When Katie Morosky Gardner says to Hubbell Gardner, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if we were old? We’d have survived all this. Everything thing would be easy and uncomplicated; the way it was when we were young,” you sort of agree with her because you just want “The Way We Were’s” gorgeously scripted and portrayed couple to make it.  But then, we wouldn’t have memories and a challenge, and Carrie wouldn’t have a scene to act out on the steps of The Plaza when Mr. Big has just become Mr. Big…and married.   (On this viewing, I even thought one of my favorite “Almost Famous” lines – when Penny Lane asks sweetly what kind of beer her rock star lover Russell Hammond sold her for – was inspired by Hubbell’s “What kind of pie” line.)

waywere

We were lucky enough to watch “The Way We Were” on the big screen for the first time.  But, we were even luckier to walk over to BAM’s Harvey Theater for an “Inside the Actor’s Studio”-type Q&A with Mr. Redford himself.  On our way there, we spotted him getting out of his car and it was shocking how grandpa-ish and stiff he looked.  Autumn’s spin?  “Maybe it was just a long car ride.”  It made us sad, but seeing him on stage from a bit of a distance quelled our fears.

Redford (aka “The Man Who Does Not Engage,” per Sydney Pollack) was sharp and a great storyteller.  I learned:

  • He’s wary of anything remotely artificial.  In fact, he used that word various times throughout the night to describe everything from his first impressions of Hollywood to quiz shows.
  • His first paying TV job was on…a quiz show.  It was Merv Griffin’s “Play Your Hunch,” where they asked him to fudge the truth, hide behind the screen and get booed by the audience.
  • How he spent his first big paycheck:  “I ate!”
  • Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty were slated to play Sundance.  In fact, Paul Newman was slated to play Sundance and the original title was “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy,” but when Redford prevailed the universe was sorted.
  • He went to high school with Natalie Wood, who he didn’t know until they made movies together because she was already making movies in high school.
  • He was responsible for adding Hubbell’s character flaw – “he would never be able to deliver on what he appeared to be” – to the script, avoiding a “Ken Doll” role.
  • About Paul Newman he said:  “He created a life that mattered.”

Unfortunately, our audience questions didn’t get picked from the pile so, Mr. Redford, if you’re reading, maybe you can address:

IMG_0308

IMG_0309

Posted by: Mariela

Just Did It: Olive Kitteridge for Book Club, Part II

Ladies, I couldn’t agree with you more.  And neither could the rest of book club.  When I pulled Olive Kitteridge out of the hat, I almost wanted to throw the slip of paper away and pretend it never happened.  Why would anyone have suggested this book — was it related to Kit Kittredge, did it deal with love in a pedestrian way, was it simple, slow and uninteresting and, what’s up with the outdated serif font?

But, it did snag that Pulitzer in 2008…

Olive Kitteridge is a series of 13 stories that are linked together by the title character — I dare say — one of the most fully developed, complex and all-too-real characters I’ve ever experienced.  When you meet her, you’ll hate her.  The initial Olive is nagging, judgmental and mean.  Then, she’s just insecure.  Then, someone you want on your side.  And throughout the book all these things:  paranoid, funny, scared, lonely, a good friend, a worst enemy, a disappointed mother, a widow and so, so confused.

She is the lead character in some stories a passing name in others, but she’s always there, a force in this fictional town of Crosby, Maine, where the residents deal with suicide, alcoholism, second chances, empty nests, disloyalties and hostage situations.  It would be a shame not to get to know her or her little world filled with big personalities because of a marketing mistake.

For the record, the hardcover was no better:

olive-kitteridge2

Listen up publishers:  Marketing matters!  This is the equivalent of NBC bungling Friday Night Lights by targeting only hardcore jocks.  There is a whole world of readers out there waiting to meet Olive, if only the cover didn’t make them want to “walk right past it” or think it’s “some novel lonely wives would want to read, and then get angry at their husbands for not being more like the male lead.”  Well said, Wendy.

Posted by: Mariela