Deflated

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I’m a big Philip Seymour Hoffman fan.  I remember seeing him on Broadway with John C. Reilly in their Tony-nominated performances in the revival of Sam Shepard’s True West and being just blown away.  His Oscar-winning performance in Capote is still, in my opinion, one of the most indelible cinematic performances of recent memory.  So when I received the Goodman season brochure late last year and saw that he was going to be making his Chicago directorial debut with a world premiere play in the winter of 2010, I started clearing my calendar to make sure I wouldn’t miss its limited run.  My anticipation was built up as friends recounted Hoffman sightings at restaurants or at Steppenwolf (taking in a performance of American Buffalo), and the Chicago press published interviews and articles about him and the play.  And yes, he was there at the performance I attended, silently observing from the Owen Theater’s mezzanine level. I was very certain I was going to be blown away, mesmerized, by his production of Brett C. Leonard’s newest, The Long Red Road, about a man broken down by the memories of a tragic past, that chills were going to run up my spine, that my jaws would need to be scraped off the floor,…..but I wasn’t blown away, my spine stayed ramrod stiff, and my jaws lay firmly in place.  In fact I was pretty disappointed, not so much with Hoffman’s direction, but with the material, which was muddled, unoriginal, and oddly, somewhat sedate and internalized for a play dealing with such harrowing themes as alcoholism, incest, pedophilia, and accidental murder.

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Genius

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Since I’m a pretty frequent theatergoer, I’m probably not as easily impressed by  something as the next guy is (so I heartily snorted with scorn and derision at the suburban soccer dad sitting beside me, over –the-moon with pleasure, at the undistinguished, Broadway-bound trainwreck that was The Addams Family last month).  I see a lot of plays I like, and some that I absolutely love, but it’s pretty rare for me to see something that I’m blown away by.  Something that stops me in my tracks to remind me how invaluable theater can be to living a life intelligently and fully.  It happened in 2007 at Steppenwolf during the unforgettable world premiere of August:  Osage County which indisputably proved the power of great theatrical storytelling.  It hasn’t happened since…well, until this week, when I was at the two necessary nights for Steppenwolf’s Chicago premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s genius The Brother/Sister Plays, which already pulverized with shock and awe New York’s jaded theatergoers, including the New York Times’ Ben Brantley, in their Public Theatre premiere late last year. (My usual full disclosure statement:  I am a member of Steppenwolf’s Auxiliary Council, the theater’s young professionals’ board).  Like August, The Brother/Sister Plays, comprised on one night of the longer In the Red and Brown Water and on another night of the two one-acts, The Brothers Size and Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet, is great theatrical story-telling.  But McCraney’s important magnum opus is more epic, more ambitious, more risk-taking, not only in theatrical form, but in theatrical content as it navigates through explosive threads in the African-American experience (underage pregnancy, homosexuality practiced on the “downlow” among straight men).  The Brother/Sister Plays is heady, intense, exhilarating, wrenching, proof that theater, with its mix of drama, movement, dance, and music, is the most complete live performance experience possible; more importantly, with its scope, its creativity, its emotional magnetism, it’s probably my theater-going generation’s Angels In America.

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Viewing List

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In the spirit of constructive feedback, my friend Joel suggested I add a blog section listing any upcoming performances I’m attending, so folks like you, my dear, devoted readers, could decide whether you would want to attend the same shows or performances, as well.  That’s probably not going to happen any time soon, since my preciously scarce blog real estate is already quite packed with Twitter feeds, blog rolls, and a listing of shows I had recently attended (which provides a general indication of what potentially would be content for upcoming postings).   However, I do listen to my friends suggestions, even if they’re delivered a little curmudgeonly (and I say that lovingly, Joel!), so here then are some of the performances I’m planning to go to this month.  February in all its cold, snowy glory is always seen as the “dead zone” of the Chicago winter season, but if you judge by the number of intriguing, lively, potentially can’t-miss shows, it’s probably more equivalent to July in Maui, arts-wise.

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Fearless Oscar 2010 Nominations Predictions!

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So everyone who has been reading From the Ledge for the past couple of years know that my usual blogging diet of theater, opera, art, world cinema and other more erudite artistic pursuits is supplanted by Oscar frenzy come February and March of the year.  Albee and O’Neill and Puccini and Wong Kar-wai are put out to temporary pasture while I obsess about…uhmmm, Sandra Bullock and Anne Hathaway, and everyone in between.  Speaking of Anne Hathaway, she will be bright up and early in Los Angeles tomorrow morning, February 2nd, to announce the nominations for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards (together with Academy President Tom Sherak) at 5:35 am Pacific time, so I think it’s apropros to unveil in today’s post my third annual fearless Oscar nominations predictions.  Although there are some pretty sure things (Mo’Nique should have started looking at couture swatches weeks ago), I think there’ll be some surprises, and hopefully some genuine jawdroppers, in tomorrow’s nominations announcement.

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