Tag Archives: theater

Lame Adventure 248: Who Are You?

Her name is Nina Arianda. She’s 27-years-old and the current “it” girl that has taken the New York stage by storm.  Currently, she is starring on Broadway as Vanda in the erotic comedy, Venus in Fur, opposite quite an “it” guy, Hugh Dancy.  Even his character, Thomas, during the acting audition that consumes almost the entirety of this 90 minute wild ride of a play-within-a-play adapted from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella about a 19th century masochist, that’s cleverly written by David Ives (an “it” playwright), asks Vanda in amazement, “Who are you?”

Announcement: you must see the play to find out.  Sorry, no spoilers here in Lame Adventureland.

Yet, I can report with authority, holy crap does Nina Arianda have it!  Whatever “it” is, Milton and I sure know it when we see it.  We got quite an eyeful and earful.  Nina, coupled with Hugh on the boards, shares an ocean of “it” with him.  Milton and I, sitting in second row orchestra seats that we scored on the cheap last August, were in our bliss getting splashed.  Afterward, over a beverage, we discussed the perfect cast.

Milton (dreamy):  I never thought a man could look so good in a vee neck t-shirt.  You know, he and I made eye contact.

Me:  He looked in your direction.  He’s happily married to Claire Danes.

Milton sits, foiled.

Me (bragging):  But I did get Nina’s number when you were in the bathroom.

Yeah, right, in my dreams.  Three times a year over the course of 19 minutes total, I am mercy-pleasured by people of my own gender in orthopedic shoes with names like Dinah Ickberg.  Post-how-we-do-it, they usually announce to me that they’ve decided to undergo a dramatic religious conversion and will head straight to a nunnery from my love-nest with me shouting after them:

Me:  It’s okay to say, “Don’t call!”

Even if an endorsement from Lame Adventures only carries about as much weight as an ant’s testicle, Christopher Isherwood, the revered theater critic for The New York Times, backs me up with his review.  In the November 7th issue of The New Yorker, John Lahr profiled Nina.

He described the response of the play’s director, Walter Bobbie, to her audition for the part of Vanda.

Bobbie wanted to stop the audition immediately.  “She showed me how the play worked,” he said. “I was afraid someone would cast her by the end of the day.  It was that breathtaking an audition.  I don’t know how to explain it.  But when the real thing walks into the room you know it.” 

Venus in Fur, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through December 18th.

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Lame Adventure 234: My Crack

When I was young, it was easy for me to equate theater, particularly Broadway shows, as the domain of rich oldsters and out-of-towners with money to burn.  Most years, I had seen one or two plays on or Off-Broadway, but theater was seldom on my radar.  Even when peers raved about shows they’d seen, I’d stifle a yawn and calculate in my head how many films I could catch for what they shelled out for tickets. I once met a Tony-award winning Broadway producer who took me out to breakfast and urged me to write a play.  I thought:

Me:  I’d rather split an atom in my kitchen.

Then, something happened in this millennium.  Although I’ve never been rich, as I grew less young I had an itch to slightly expand my mind entertainment-wise. Theater began to catch my attention.  Often as I was reading theater reviews while puffing on my Sherlock Holmes pipe I’d think:

Me:  Hm that sounds interesting.

Once I made the escape from working mega-hours in network news to my current get-rich-slow career, Minister of Tile Labeling (an industry that Coco claims has the capacity to age the face faster than vodka), I had the time to make plans after work and on weekends.  During the brief period before the economy capsized when I was paid a salary that resembled a living wage, I could indulge theatergoing with Milton to my heart’s content.  Since my pay was slashed 20% nearly three years ago, I have had to make some tough financial decisions in order to feed my inner theatergoing beast.  Yet, I know that my life will have entered freefall when I can no longer find a way to see the latest Stephen Sondheim revival or catch the transition from Off-Broadway to Broadway of one of the hottest new plays – the erotically charged Venus in Fur starring Nina Arianda (who originated the role of Vanda in the production staged at CSC in 2009), and Hugh Dancy.

Arianda and Hugh - hot couple, hot ticket.

Milton was particularly thrilled with the addition of Hugh to the cast.

Milton:  I’d see him play a tree!

Due to my ongoing financial limitations, Milton and I attend far fewer Broadway shows now but he did score us deeply discounted tickets to see that latest Sondheim revival, the lavishly produced, Follies, starring Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell.  They play long retired showgirls from a bygone era that reunite shortly before the theater of their youth is razed to make room for a parking lot.

That description leaves a helluva lot out including thirty years of disappointment, disillusion, infidelity, suffering, humiliation and that treasured chestnut, rejection.  All of these emotions are illustrated with powerful singing, excellent dancing and it’s haunted with ghosts.  What’s not to love when a show this complex and elaborate is as beautifully staged as this revival?

One thing that immediately comes to my mind is the 50-year-old mama’s boy sitting next to me with his date (yes, his mother).  He mimicked the entire score from start to finish with a low, off-key hum, that I initially thought was either a new breed of mosquito buzzing outside my ear canal or I was channeling someone’s prolonged death rattle.  Yet, even that unanticipated annoyance was incapable of destroying the brilliance of Sondheim’s inventive lyrics, but had I access to a polo mallet, a large sock filled with crushed brick, or simply a baseball bat, it is possible I would have ignored my inner pacifist and smashed Sonny’s head.

Afterward, Milton announced that Follies “was good,” but then his face contorted slightly into the Milton-wince, my cue to ask:

Me:  What was your problem with it?

Milton:  Anything Goes has raised the bar too high.  This wasn’t at that level, so I was a little disappointed.

B&W playbill for very colorful show.

Last July, Milton and I scored 2 for 1 third row aisle Orchestra seats to this madcap Tony-award winning music comedy revival.  It’s a Cole Porter masterpiece starring the reigning queen of Broadway, Sutton Foster play nightclub singer, Reno Sweeney.  To put it in perspective about how terrific Anything Goes is, due to the boneheaded mistake of eating a single hot wing prior to curtain, I suffered near-debilitating heartburn apparently for the entirety of the first act.  I say “apparently” because I was so completely captivated by the book, the elaborate choreography, spot-on singing and Sutton’s megawatt charisma, I did not realize until intermission that my feel sharp chest pain had escalated and it was possible that I was actually suffering a massive heart attack instead.  Had I bought my rainbow while watching that show, I would have exited this life in toe-tapping bliss.   Fortunately, a single hot wing is not lethal.  I recovered during the second act that was as wonderful as the first.  For me, this show was as healing as a visit to Lourdes.  Theater is that wonderful.

Collin Donnell, Anything Goes leading man outside stage door -- photographed by eagle-eyed Milton.

Lame Adventure 178: Breaking Up

Milton and I recently saw the Broadway debut of a play written by one of my favorite playwrights, Stephen Adly Guirgis, The Motherfucker With the Hat.  It’s a dramatic comedy about Jackie, an addict in recovery who is certain that his longtime girlfriend, Veronica, has cheated on him, but before falling off the wagon he confesses his woes about his relationship to his sponsor, Ralph.  Bobby Cannavale, at the top of his game, plays Jackie, Chris Rock, in a solid Broadway debut is Ralph, and Elizabeth Rodriguez, a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company (where Guirgis is co-artistic director with Yul Vázquez) is spot-on as cynical recovery-averse Veronica.  Film veteran Annabella Sciorra effectively plays Victoria, Ralph’s unhappy wife, and Yul Vázquez, rounds out the excellent cast as Cousin Julio, Jackie’s wise cousin.

A slightly problematic title to advertise publicly.

I loved it.  Milton did not.  I thought it was a thoughtfully written piece with brilliant dialogue and plot twists throughout about how we perceive ourselves to others, how we deceive others, and how we have philosophies that often conflict with others that get us through life, “one day at a time.”   Milton disagreed.  He thought:

Milton (thinking out loud):  It was about nothing.

If this fast moving, wonderfully written play is not considered a homerun, in my opinion, it was at least a triple that scored the game-winning run.

Note:  Milton loathes baseball.

Possibly the title of this post might imply that Milton and I have suffered a friendship-ending argument following this play.  We had nothing of the sort. Who I finally did get around to dumping was my flabby, freeloading longtime cell phone carrier, AT & T, for buff, “I’m there for you baby” newcomer (for me) Verizon.

Ancient Cingular (now AT &T) hunk of junk cell phone on left. Svelte new Verizon cell phone on right.

I was under the false impression that Verizon, what I always assumed was the Cadillac of cell phone service, was out of my league.  I thought it would cost me more, offer fewer perks, and only carry smart phones, a gadget I cannot afford on my measly laugh-out-loud wages.  When my rent increased last fall, I was forced to disconnect my landline of 27 years.  Psychologically, sacrificing my 212 area code was demoralizing, but saving that extra $600 a year eased my financial pain.  Yet, my ancient cell phone had given me a new source of mental anguish.

When I tried to make calls from home on my AT & T dumb phone, it often took up to four tries before I could get a signal.  Usually, when I did get a signal on my AT & T dumb phone, the call would drop.  My 84 year old father, who has a heart condition, and considering the fact that he is 84 makes any issue with any organ including a wart on his thumb a serious issue, has complained to me about having to call up to three times to get through.  The last thing I need hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles is the idea that my crummy cell phone might expedite my dear old dad buying his rainbow.

While dining in a noisy restaurant a few weeks ago with Coco, I needed to make a call.  She let me use her Verizon iPhone and that was when I had my Verizon epiphany.  I decided that somehow, some way, I was going to make the switch.  When my AT & T service for the month was a day away from completion, I entered my neighborhood Verizon wireless store, explained to Angel, the very helpful customer service rep, that I only use my phone for talking and texting, and what I could afford to pay.  Within an hour he had given me a free Samsung dumb phone (that is smart phone capable), and the same package of minutes and texting that I had before for what I was paying with AT & T.

Qwerty keyboard. Sweet!

Verizon may not have rollover minutes, but I never used a single one of my AT & T rollover minutes so I did not care about that.  What I do care about is reception and dropped calls in my apartment.  Both problems are now eliminated.  Joy.

Recently I received an email notification from AT & T the Jilted about my final bill:

AT & T love letter. Click on image to enlarge.

Meanwhile, I’m still familiarizing myself with my new dumb phone. The one thing I have not been able to figure out is how to shut it off.  This was a concern during the play, but I know how to silent it, so I buried it deep in my satchel.  Before curtain, I made Milton test call me.  It didn’t ring, but it did vibrate, so I had a quick foot massage before the play began.

Lame Adventure 112: Orlando the Ultimate She-Man

Thursday night after work, Milton and I met at the Classic Stage Company, an off-Broadway theater to see Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel, Orlando.  In my confused youth, the second I whiffed that Woolf had written a gender bending time-traveling semi-biographical story about and for Vita Sackville-West, a woman she had an affair with in the 1920s, fireworks exploded in my head.  My friends were drooling over David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, and Donny Osmond, a trinity of bland teen idols I found about as exciting as a TV test pattern.  What excited me was getting my sweaty little mitts on that book about a nobleman who transforms into a noblewoman.  The premise blew my adolescent mind.  Orlando was my first exposure to Woolf.  Since I was barely 13, I found the story completely bewildering.  Yet, I managed to read it in its entirety even though it essentially entered one eyeball and exited the other.

Early edition of the novel.

Years later, in 1992, filmmaker Sally Potter directed an accessible film version of Orlando featuring Tilda Swinton in the title role, and Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth I.  Billy Zane played Orlando’s male love interest; this was when he had long flowing tresses and looked dashing.  Nearly twenty years later, what I most recall from the film was after Orlando changes genders from male to female, she looks straight at the camera and matter-of-factly states, “Same person, no difference at all.  Just a different sex.”  I loved that moment and have been a Tilda Swinton fan ever since.

Movie poster.

Sarah Ruhl’s spirited theatrical adaptation makes me want to give reading the novel another try, but more likely, Milton will rent the DVD of the film on Netflix and he’ll let me borrow it.  The play is packed with droll wit.  Director Rebecca Taichman has overseen a very inventive production.  Even though the set, designed by Allen Moyer, is minimalist with a giant mirror suspended over a large swatch of fake grass filling the stage, this use of artifice perfectly personifies nature as a shimmery sheet symbolizes snow and ice.  Another element that contributes to this production’s depth is Annie-B Parson’s flowing choreography.  The entire ensemble cast deserves a loud shout out.  Their energy is vital in bringing this story to vivid life.  Francesca Faridany is wonderful as ageless Orlando, in any gender.  At one point, she exited the stage to sit on the theater’s steps where she continued to interact with her fellow cast members from afar.

She sat next to me.

I thought, “This is surreal. Orlando is sitting next to me.”  My next thought was, “I so hope I don’t sneeze or cough right now.”  For once my body functions did not betray me.

David Greenspan, a man of many vocal inflections, is hilarious as Queen Elizabeth I and a cloying duchess who later returns as an equally cloying duke.  Tom Nelis is spot on as both a multiple hankie dropping jilted girlfriend and Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, the man Orlando marries, as well as numerous other characters.  He can also belt out a song in grand opera style.  Howard Overshawn in one moment embodies a maidservant who vows to never remove her wedding ring and just as easily segues into the solicitous captain of a ship.  Fluid gender bending is everywhere in this play, with the sole exception of lovely Annika Boras’s Sasha, the ethereal ice skating Russian princess that breaks Orlando’s heart in his male youth.

Girls playing boys and boys playing queens.

At the play’s close, Orlando exuberantly declares, “I’m beginning to understand now!”

As does the audience.

Then, the actors took their bows to rapturous applause.  Once the cast left the stage, the audience made a stampede for the exit with such aggression, a guy who could have been the body double for Sasquatch stepped on my candy bar, giving me the impression that he and almost everyone else in the room had been trapped in a deep hole in Chile for 69 days, as opposed to two hours in Virginia Woolf’s Wonderland courtesy of Sarah Ruhl.

Closing Sunday October 17th.