Sep 27, 2013

Baitz on Film

More than a dozen years ago, when L.A. native Jon Robin Baitz belatedly premiered his L.A.-set play Mizlansky/Zilinsky at the Geffen Playhouse, I had the chance to sit down with him and chat about his career, which for all its New York pedigree and well-made-play reputation, began in part under the fold of the avant-garde Padua Hills gang (Baitz reconnected with this formative influence in this 2012 interview with John Steppling).

We've stayed lightly in touch since, but I didn't have the opportunity for another meaty conversation with him until last year, when Other Desert Cities--another California-set play, among an ouevre not generally set on that coast--was finally bowing at the Mark Taper Forum, a theater Baitz grew up going to, and I talked to him for the program.

Now he's getting his first major New York revival, of a play set in South Africa in 1970. The Film Society had its debut at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1987 before opening to some acclaim at the Second Stage the following year, in a production starring a young whippersnapper named Nathan Lane. The Keen Company's production, starring Euan Morton, opens next week, and it was the occasional of this lovely chat for my former employer, TDF. He spoke in part about how, though the play was inspired by some formative years he spent in South Africa at a private school while his dad was working for Carnation company, he felt he had 
"no way of talking about South Africa now. I did go back in the ’90s and went to one of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, and got a ride back to Johannesburg from Pretoria with Athol Fugard, whom I knew a little bit. There was slightly a menacing vibe, and a few burning cars and tires here and there.” A sense of menace is chief among the things he remembers from his younger years there: “There was a dominant terror of black people, which was just under the surface of the daily discourse there. ‘When is the revolt going to happen?’ ‘Do you have your guns ready?’ It was nothing if not weird."
RTWT here.

Sep 26, 2013

Watch This Space

Early in my New York freelance career, I wrote about the opening of a new multimedia arts space not far from Ground Zero. It was almost exactly seven years ago, in early September, 2006, and 3-Legged Dog had just moved into its new space on Greenwich Street, the 3LD Art & Technology Center. Since then it's weathered any number of crises and not only survived but thrived. So it was a pleasure to revisit the space as it embarks on an ambitious new season, also for the Times. Don't miss the stunning slideshow.

Sep 19, 2013

Is It Worth the Waiting For?

My formative-album-replay project continues apace over at my Train My Ear blog, and I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't mention here that today's is a cast album, Oliver! (the original London recording with Georgia Brown--accept no substitutes). I haven't done a lot of those since I started the project last winter--I'm trying to spread the love to all the genres and subgenres that have shaped my tastes--but the few show records I have revisited (Fiddler, Pacific Overtures, Threepenny) have made me hear anew how much the music leads the theater. This should be obvious, I guess, but it seems it's not always remembered by the people who actually make musical theater--one reason, I suspect, that I don't have more cast albums on my preferred playlist.

Sep 10, 2013

Today in Wicked Stage history

I'm in Arizona helping my dad prepare for a big move, so I'm kind of out of the loop. I offer in lieu of original blogging, a look back to a post from five years ago today in which I proposed a "songbook shuffle" game for polymathic pop-music lovers (this was before kids scrambled my brain). The premise was simple:
 What if I made a mix that was a daisy chain of songwriters covering each other's work? There would be two rules:
1. No song can be performed by its writer.2. Each song must be written by the singer of the previous song (except, necessarily, for the opening track).
I came up with some fun results (and a really long one in the comments section). And just for today, I've concocted a brief one, fresh off the mind-press:

1. "All the Things You Are," played by Charles Mingus...
2. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," sung by Joni Mitchell...
3. "Big Yellow Taxi," sung by Bob Dylan...
4. "Dark Eyes," sung by the Dirty Projectors...
5. "Stillness Is the Move," sung by Solange Knowles

Do try this at home!

Sep 3, 2013

Blonde Faith

I realized recently that one could mark the years of my young life by actress crushes: Amy Irving and Ingrid Bergman in high school, Holly Hunter and Audrey Hepburn in college, and some indeterminate years later, the only outright blonde who would make the list, the marvelous Carole Lombard. I've more or less dropped the straight-up idolization habit, in part as my film consumption has flatlined and in part as I began to have relationships with actual ladies, and I haven't missed it much. But I'm glad that last crush led me to the great, bold Lubitsch comedy, To Be or Not To Be, in which Lombard made her greatest statement on film (and tragically last, as she died in a plane crash before its release), and grateful that Backstage editor Mark Peikert asked me to write about it for their Standing Ovation column. An excerpt:
There are other Lombard performances worth a look: her definitive ditz in “My Man Godfrey”; her entirely convincing dramatic work in “Hands Across the Table”; even her sassy bride in “No Man of Her Own.” But only in “To Be or Not to Be” was she given the fullest measure of that greatest acting opportunity: the chance to show restraint, to underplay, to load subtext under a glittering surface. And what a surface: Swathed in an hourglass wrap by Irene, or with her hair laced with flowers to play Ophelia, Lombard never looked more radiantly glamorous, with the borrowed high-status grandiloquence of the classical actor. But when the dire circumstances of the plot conspire to reduce her to the actor’s more typical status of Gypsy or whore—a word Siletsky pointedly almost utters about her—the brilliant facade drops to show a still more brilliant core of resolute integrity.
 One footnote about something I noticed on this viewing: If she's playing Ophelia, then it's in a dramatically reorganized production of Hamlet, given that she entertains Robert Stack's flyboy during her husband's "To be or not to be" speech, then receives her husband in her dressing room, post-speech. But what's a nunnery speech among farceurs?

RTWT here.