Lamest Oscar News Ever

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So having spent most of last week in Sonoma for a vacation that quickly turned from a real one to a “partial” one (after I was asked to go on eastern time zone conference calls, which made for very long days and called for lots more beverage imbibing later on in the day), I’m still catching up on my arts and culture news from last week.  Of course the big news in the American film world is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ announcement that next year’s Oscars will have ten (yes, as in diez, dix, dieci, zehn) Best Picture nominees instead of five.  OK, so there is precedent for this, the Oscars were nominating ten films for Best Picture from roughly around it’s inception to 1943 (when Casablanca won over The Ox-Bow Incident, Song of Bernadette, Watch on the Rhine, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, among others).  But that was the golden age of Hollywood film-making.  Seriously, would the Academy have been able to get 10 films nominated for Best Picture during the past several years?  There is serious barrel-bottom-scraping that comes to mind with the nominees in this decade for example (Chocolat in 2000? Seabiscuit in 2003? Michael Clayton in 2007? Frost/Nixon this year?)  How are they going to fill up those ten slots, when historically they have been unable to pick five really good pictures to nominate?  So will The Hangover and Transformers:  Revenge of the Fallen get a pretty good shot at a Best Picture nomination? The snub for The Dark Knight aside, it almost seems like box-office success is a better predictor of an Oscar Best Picture nomination than artistic criteria.  Boy, this disappointing, perplexing news is enough to make this avid Oscar-watcher hang up his binoculars.

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Two Tragic Takes, Part Two: Mud People

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mud-people.jpgSophocles isn’t the only tragedian currently playing on Chicago stages.  One of my favorite Chicago-based playwrights, Keith Huff (whose Chicago-originated A Steady Rain will be produced on Broadway this fall with Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman playing Chicago cops, a fantasy twosome that deserves another blog post all on its own, ahem), wrote a Greek-style contemporary tragedy about murder, incest, and angel-sightings in a small town, with a happy ending, way back when (actually in 1989). Mud People is now in a Midwest premiere from the  ballsy, scruffy, rocknrollin’ Lakeview theater group, Mary-Arrchie Theatre.  I think it’s a curious, and ultimately disappointing, blip in the Huff dramaturgical canon, written much earlier than A Steady Rain and the wonderfully compact Pursued by Happiness, part of Steppenwolf’s First Look Repertory of developmental plays in 2008,  two much more accomplished and mature plays.  In the Mary-Arrchie production, I think strong ensemble acting, a steady hand from director Carlo Garcia, and some crisp, biting one-liners elevate muddled, credulity-stretching, first-draft seeming playwriting.

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Two Tragic Takes, Part One: Oedipus

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oedipus-hypocrites.jpgAs most of my friends can attest, I love overwrought, from Almodovar to Bizet, Bette Davies to Dalida.  And what can be more overwrought than Greek tragedy, with its ridiculous twists of fate, and all types of mayhem from incest to murder to self-mutilation to sexual outrageousness?  I think the most memorable contemporary productions of Greek tragedies that I have seen are the ones that don’t take themselves too seriously, that embrace the over-the-top nature of the tale, but at the same time preserve the inherent insights on human fallibility and the role of destiny and circumstance (one of my favorite productions, for example, was the New York production of Sophocles’ Electra several years back in which  Zoe Wanamaker as Electra and high-heel wearing Claire Bloom as Clytemnestra performed in a gigantic sand pit, a theatrical device both riveting and inane).  So I was very excited to see The Hypocrites and its Artistic Director Sean Graney’s take on Sophocles’ Oedipus since if there was going to be a group in Chicago who’ll redefine Greek-style outré, it’d be them.  

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Changing Seasons

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As my avid blog readers know, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Museum of  Contemporary Art Chicago’s performance season, known as MCA Stage.  I whole-heartedly agreed with one of my Chicago culturati friends when he said that MCA Stage is like our own version of the Brookly Academy of Music (BAM) in New York, the one institution in the city that has the vision, the commitment, and yes, the balls to present cutting-edge, risky, courageous, potentially audience-distancing work from both US-based and international arts organizations. The fact that they brought New York experimental theater Elevator Repair Company’s mesmerizing seven and a half hour Gatz last year (one of my top ten cultural experiences ever!) makes me want to throw money at them, regardless of what they’re showing.  They just released their 2009-2010 season this week, and I’m already itching to open my wallet.  I’m a little surprised, and a tad disappointed, that MCA Stage only has two straight-up theatrical offerings next year:  our very own The Hypocrites is putting on an original adaptation of Frankenstein (October 21-November 1, 2009) from Artistic Director Sean Graney, to be staged in his trademark promenade staging; and experimental theater provocateur Young Jean-Lee’s The Shipment (March 26-28, 2010), a “Black identity politics” show using a mix of song, dance, theater, and stand-up comedy, which may make the Wooster Group’s controversial The Emperor Jones seem like an Easter garden brunch by comparison.  There’s a very strong dance focus this year, with dance greats Lucinda Childs and Anna Halprin, and contemporary dance groups that have never been seen in Chicago such as the John Jasperse Company, as part of the season, but the one performance I’m looking forward to is a potentially bombastic collaboration between London-based choreographer Akram Khan and the National Ballet of China called bahok, from the  Bengali word for “carrier”, which explores issues of cultural and national identity within the throughline of multi-cultural passengers stranded in an airport.  It sounds ridiculously good!  You can view the entire MCA Stage season here.

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Out of Commission

Art, Food, Personal, Theater No Comments »

Yep, blog posting has been sparse since the beginning of June, unfortunately, since I seem to have jumped on a careening, brake-less Metra train between dealing with lots of organizational transitions going on at my day job, helping the rest of the Board and the company of TUTA Theatre Chicago put on our annual fundraiser benefit (which we successfully pulled off last Sunday, June 7, yay, despite lots of anxiety and hairpulling, de rigueur for non-profit fundraisers of all kinds, I’ve come to find out), and co-chairing this year’s Steppenwolf Theatre Red or White Ball (which benefits the theater’s educational outreach, the Steppenwolf for Young Adults Program).  The Red or White Ball is tonight, and boy, if I was exhausted last year after the event, I’m not sure what state of physical and mental being I’ll be in tomorrow.  Putting up a fundraising event of this scope and scale is pretty intense, with lots of hard work and time commitment required, but I think it’s going to be a spectacular event for a cause I’m passionate about – as my blog readers know, I feel very strongly that the arts can only survive if we are able to successfully enthrall, convert  and immerse new audiences.  I’m psyched!  Despite all kinds of crazy busy schedules though, I still have a lot of things on my mind, so I’d like to give a shout out to these below (and there’ll be more blog posts starting next week!) Read the rest of this entry »

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Baby Talk

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crowd-youre-in-with.jpgI thought it was pretty ironic that on the way home Thursday night from the Goodman after seeing Rebecca Gilman’s latest play, the “to procreate or not to procreate” drama The Crowd You’re In With, a baby was bawling its tonsils out on my Brown Line “L” car.  For me, a screaming baby on the “L”, just like Swiss chard on anything or Paula Abdul’s voice on a record, is just plain unacceptable.  Yes, I was irritated.  I’m probably not as child-friendly as many of my friends (and I am at that age already where a lot of people I know either have year-old kids, or are on their second or third baby), but I’m not as extreme as some of the characters are in Gilman’s play – to be honest about it, I just don’t see parenting in my tarot cards in the near to medium-term future, but I respect those who have decided to undertake this immense responsibility.  The Rebecca Gilman plays I’ve seen have always been about big topics contextualized into personal stories, whether it is poverty (Blue Surge), 21st century feminism (Dollhouse), or racism (Spinning Into Butter).  I think The Crowd You’re In With, although intriguing, contemporary, and exceptionally well-written at times is quite slight, and to be frank about it, mundane.   I don’t really see anything revelatory about this play, but maybe that’s just my problem, since the themes are too familiar, are too often part of my Sunday brunch conversations, that I feel that I shouldn’t have gone to the theater to see them dissected, even if there are interesting points being made.

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