If there is one thing that fervent film and musical theatre aficionados like me dread more than a seismic earthquake, or the uncontrolled melting of ice in the South Pole, or the repetitive intonation of the bone-chilling phrase “Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank”, is to see a botched film version of the best musical ever created by a human mind (and one of my own personal favorites), Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd”. Since the time Tim Burton announced that he was a directing a film version with Johnny Depp in the lead role close to a year and a half ago, gossip, innuendo, a high level of anticipation, and large doses of bitterness and cynicism have flooded the blogosphere. From the casting to the production design to which songs were cut- everything about the movie has been yakked about by various theatre and movie bloggers and pundits. “Sweeney Todd” is currently being marketed as the movie to beat at the Oscars, so I am keeping an open, albeit very cautious, mind about it. I admire Tim Burton and really think Johnny Depp is a fascinatingly unique and talented actor, but Helena Bonham-Carter, in a role that Meryl Streep and Toni Collette were up for, that Angela Lansbury originated to great acclaim onstage? That is a coronary inducer if you ask me. Anyway, some short “Sweeney” film clips have tantalizingly made it to various Oscar blogs (check them out here), but my apprehension level right now as to whether the quality and power of the “Sweeney” movie will pass muster, is as high as that of someone about to go into their first colonics session.
The Oscars are my Super Bowl and World Series combined. It’s a tsunami that consumes me from December to March of every year – I sprint from one movie theatre to another to see all the movies which could possibly be nominated; I voraciously devour all the Oscar-related news, speculation, gossip, and prognostications, both online and in print. I have also been very fortunate that over the past six years, one of the people who occupy the top tier of my life’s “gush list”, the divine Ms. Jennifer M., has been sharing this passion with me. Jennifer, who possesses razor-sharp wit, an elegant writing style, impeccable artistic taste (well, maybe I should temper that one a little bit, since she did vote with the Academy on Crash over Brokeback Mountain a couple of years ago), and the uncanny ability to quote both Vanity Fair and InTouch in the same breath, has been partnering with me to write two Oscar notes: one before the big show where we unveil our picks for the winners, and one on Monday after the ceremony, giving our observations on the winners, the fashions, the show, and anything else that’s fair game at the Kodak theatre. For the past six years, we have made these notes available to a select distribution list (not because we like exclusivity-well, maybe we do-but because we’re apprehensive that Renee Zellweger’s publicist stumbles across the writings and starts thinking, ah, uhmmm, lawsuit), but with the unveiling of “From the Ledge”, I think we’re now ready, actually eager, to come out as bona-fide Oscar bloggers to the world at large. We’re now ready for our proverbial close-up.
I go to a lot of theatre, film, and art galleries by myself, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, there are certain experiences that call for solitude, in order to better reflect on and soak in the moment. Sometimes, a play or a movie or an art exhibit is on its last weekend, and I have to run to go see it before it ends, so it’s impractical to round up people to come with me. At other times, I just feel that when I invite people to join me at the theatre, at a film festival, an art exhibit, or at a musical performance, there is some tentativeness, some reserve, some meta-looking-around-for-some-other-things-to-do-as-an-excuse-not-to-go, before the coup de grace, the soundbyte, the very polite, very respectful, but very firm turndown…”Well, I think (insert name of play/film/artist/composer/opera here) is a little too challenging.” Over the years, when friends, co-workers, and various associates use the word “challenging”, I view it as code for “I’m probably not going to enjoy myself”, so I graciously back-off. Last Sunday, I went to see James Thierree’s spectacular “Au Revoir Parapluie (Farewell, Umbrella)” at Chicago Shakespeare, by myself, since I knew people were going to view it–with its lack of a narrative storyline and dialogue and its meticulous set pieces combining acrobatics, pantomime, and even magic-as “challenging”. As I sat there enthralled at the myriad ways in which theatrical boundaries could be expanded, I regretted that I wasn’t sharing the experience with anyone I knew. What was dismaying to me too was that Chicago Shakespeare, despite being standing-room only, had very few audience members of my generation. Where were all my peeps?
No visit to Minneapolis is complete for me without a trip to the Walker Art Center, one of the most esteemed and most risk-taking and original of all contemporary art museums in the US. My arts education as a graduate student in Minnesota way back when was heavily influenced by the Walker; it was here that I first encountered Chuck Close and Robert Rauschenberg, and I remembered sitting through a screening here of Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book delirious with wonder at the craziness that Greenaway brazenly put on film (including unabashedly admiring shots of Ewan MacGregor’s, shall we say, ah, uhmmm, prodigious, non-acting, assets). As soon as I got off the plane in Minneapolis last Wednesday, friends and random strangers were telling me to run and see the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Walker. So off I went, and then found out, disappointingly, that there was an hour and fifteen minute wait to get into the Kahlo galleries. As I gazed with dismay at the sea of Minnesotans in their wool sweaters embroidered with various forms of flaura and fauna, patiently waiting, I decided, unless Salma Hayek was inside in her Frida costume and unibrow, that no way in hell would I be waiting an hour in line for anything. So I wandered through the other Walker galleries and literally stumbled into their phenomenal, meticulously curated survey of international contemporary art called “Brave New Worlds”. No amount of Frida, or Salma for that matter, could have been as dazzling and intellectually satisfying to me as this exhibit was.
I am back in Minneapolis this week for the Thanksgiving holidays; it’s the city I lived in when I first moved to the US for graduate school back in the days when no one could fathom that stringing the letters b-l-o-g together could stand for something significant or meaningful (way back in the mid-90s to be honest). It’s a city that I will always hold close to my heart, not just because of the vivid, life-altering memories I have of my life here, the numerous close friends I still have living here, but also because, and it may come as a surprise to many, it’s thriving and interesting cultural and artistic life. Minneapolis isn’t just the city of Larry Craig’s tea-room shenanigans, of the Coen brothers’ surreal, darkly funny Midwest, or the place where bad clothes happen to really good-looking people; it’s a city where theatre is alive and booming and where major art exhibitions are created and sent out to the world. The Guthrie Theatre, majestic in its new building, and the Walker Arts Center, are two cultural institutions that are heads above shoulders of many of its peers in the North America. No Guthrie play for me this trip, but I do have tickets for the Theatre de la Jeune Lune‘s latest production, a re-invention of Marivaux’s infrequently produced farce, “The Deception”. I am also planning to take in the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Walker. Look out for my blog entries on both soon.
Two years ago this week, the Saturday after Thanksgiving to be exact, I pulled a muscle on my left calf doing some facsimile of windsprints during boxing class at my gym. My first thought above the excruciating pain was (well, right after “where the hell is the Tylenol in this joint?”), “how am I going to survive the walkaround stage production of Sarah Kane’s “Psychosis 4.48″ that afternoon?” Injured leg notwithstanding, I was determined to see the play, not only because it was the Chicago premiere of the last work of a major contemporary playwright, but also because the Hypocrites, one of the city’s most exciting storefront theatres, was performing it, with it’s Artistic Director, the brilliant Sean Graney, directing. I wasn’t disappointed, because Graney’s production of “Psychosis 4.48″, with its audience wandering around the Steppenwolf garage, without any separation between them and the performers, and a truckload of strange but beautiful artistic flourishes (voodoo dolls on the chorus’s outfits, a bathtub in the middle of the floor where the lead actress got dunked repeatedly) was mesmerizing and powerful. Over the years, I have been excited about Sean’s work, and have come to associate him with enthralling, visually stunning theatre, whether it was last year’s extremely original staging of Maria Irene Fornes’ “Mud” (another walkaround production, since the actors were encased…in, an, uhmmm, aquarium) to the recent “Elephant Man” where the naturalistic acting of the actor playing John Merrick was an ironic counterpoint to the expressionistic visual style (see my blog post on the show). His latest show, an over-the-top, very cutting, but thoroughly entertaining version of Joe Orton’s “What the Butler Saw”, currently running at the Court Theatre, is a must see. Joe Orton and Sean Graney together? Priceless.