Friday, November 17, 2017

Elizabeth Taylor: Fatal Beauty

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in The Sand Piper (1965)
I recently viewed Elizabeth Taylor at two vastly different points in her career via two media platforms. The Sand Piper (1965) flew to me on a DVD from Netflix. Only a small handful of classic "old" films have found their way to the streaming service--mostly with Marilyn Monroe because she trends--but you can get almost any film ever made on the DVD mail-in deal. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1955) has been in public domain for many years and a low-grade print of the entire film is available on YouTube. It's even on a cheap DVD of Hollywood "classics" you can buy at Walmart. Of course Taylor is ravishingly beautiful in both films, but her acting veers from tolerable in Paris to execrable in Sand Piper. Also in both, she plays unconventional women in tragic relationships.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ripped Apart: Thoughts on America in 2017

America is being pulled in two directions. The forces of reaction and conservatism want to drag us into the past, while progressives seek to continue the march to the inclusive future. The election of Donald Trump exemplifies this split, it was definitely a reaction to our first black president. Not everyone who supports the Orange Man Baby is a racist, sexist pig, but there is a significant portion of his base that wants us to travel back to the 1950s or even further. No pesky government regulations on air and water pollution. No political correctness to force us to consider the feelings of women or minorities who should know their place. No gay marriages. Back to the closet, y'all. No Happy Holidays crap.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Lucy in Retirement

When life gets a bit hectic, I watch reruns of The Lucy Show on YouTube. I always wondered what happened to Lucy Carmichael after the series ended and Lucille Ball turned into Lucille Carter on Here's Lucy. Here's a sketch imagining a meeting between Mrs. Carmichael and her daughter Chris:

A retirement home in Danfield, NY. 1980.

Chris Carmichael is sitting in the dayroom. She is a stylish woman in her early 40s, dressed in chic French couture. Her mother, Lucy Carmichael, now in her 80s, in wheeled in by a nurse.

Nurse: Here we are, Mrs. Carmichael. You have a visitor.

Lucy (waking up): What? Who is it?

Chris: Hi mom, it's me, Chris, your daughter. (Nurse leaves)

Lucy: What? Who? I have a daughter?

Chris: Yes, remember I had a brother Jerry and we shared the house with Aunt Viv and her boy Sherman after our dad died.

Lucy: Oh, yes, it's all coming back now. Chris, sweetheart.

Chris: Good. Mom, I know I haven't seen you in many years, but there's something I've been meaning to ask you. Why did you just abandon me and Jerry when you moved to California?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Apocalyptic Food Stuffs

A scene from The Day After (1983)
During reruns of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In on the Decades channel, there were incessant commercials for food supplies to be consumed in case of national emergency. You've seen them. It starts with blazing images of man-made or natural disaster. North Korea...Isis...Hurricanes...Earthquakes. Homes wrecked, cities destroyed. A shot of a father comforting his little boy in a landscapes of debris. Then the announcer intones "Protect your family for up to 25 years with this amazing survival food system." These scenes of tragedy and disaster are followed by a shot of a white, suburban family calmly sitting around the dining room table passing huge casseroles and spooning out its heaping contents while it's totally dark outside. So the message is that if the North Koreans nuke us, we'll be OK as long as we buy this rip-off company's freeze-dried macaroni and cheese. It's airing during Laugh-In reruns, for God's sake, who do they think is gonna buy this crap? I was tempted to call for a free sample and their "free survival guide" just so I could read what weird shit they would be peddling to scared people who are genuinely worried about avoiding the apocalypse.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Thoughts on Joan Rivers

From my review of Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Love, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers by Leslie Bennetts which I posted on

This book was a gift from friends who know I always enjoyed Rivers' comedy. Bennetts has a great beginning with Rivers contemplating suicide after her husband has done likewise in the aftermath of the cancellation of her Fox talk show which he produced. She's devastated but her little dog jumps on her lap and she reconsiders. After this horrible setback, she bounces back stronger than before becoming a cultural icon while most of her contemporaries fade away. The rest of the bio is fairly standard but not up to the intriguing opening scene, offering insights into Rivers' driven personality and the contradictions in her career. She shattered sexist glass ceilings in comedy, but reinforced the chauvinist attitudes towards beauty and female roles. She made fun of men's shallowness but also derided women who slept around or had let themselves go such as the late-career, heavy-set Elizabeth Taylor. Bennetts also delivers a mini-history of women in comedy, but not a very deep one. She neglects to go very far back (no talk of Mae West or Fanny Brice), skips over some pretty big names (like Elaine May), barely mentions Lily Tomlin and Carol Burnett. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Angels and Mockingbirds Descend on Broadway

Nathan Lane and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett in Angels in America
at London's National Theatre
Credit: Helen Maybanks
There's been a flock of new Broadway announcements lately. The smash hit National Theater revival of Tony Kushner's two-part epic Angels in America will be winging its way from London to New York and the long-gestating stage adaptation of the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird has confirmed an opening date. Angels will begin performances Feb. 23, 2018 at the Neil Simon Theatre prior to a March 21 opening night. Most of the London cast including Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield will be repeating their performances which were seen in cinemas worldwide as part of the NT Live series. The only cast member not to make the trek will be Russell Tovey (whose bare chest caused an audience member to swoon during A View from the Bridge). Denise Gough will repeat her performance as the delusional Harper Pitt, but first she will repeat her Olivier Award-winning turn as an alcoholic, drug-addicted actress in People, Places and Things at St. Ann's Warehouse. Speaking of Harpers, the stage version of Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird to be adapted by The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin was first announced months ago. Producer Scott Rudin took out a two-page ad in the New York Times announced the show will open on Dec. 18, 2018. I picked up a copy of the print edition of the Times recently (I hadn't looked at it in ages) and I was astonished at how few ads there were in the theater section. Tony winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, Golden Boy) will direct.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Big Broadway Turnover for 2017-18

Summer is drawing to a close and that means a rush of announcements for the fall Broadway season. But with the incoming tide of new shows, there is also a group of outgoing productions unable to survive the tidal pull of audience indifference. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 will shutter at the Imperial on Sept. 3 and Groundhog Day will burrow into the ground forever on Sept. 15. The case could be made that both shows did not get a fair shake. After three successful runs Off-Broadway, Comet soared onto the Main Stem with pop superstar Josh Groban in the lead and received 12 Tony nominations--the most for any show during the 2016-17 season. But once Groban left tickets sales plummeted. A casting controversy erupted when the producers clumsily
Mandy Patinkin; Okieriete Onaodowan
announced Mandy Patinkin would take over the lead role from Okieriete Onaodowan (Groban had already vacated the show at that point.) Several actors of color protested on social media stating the African-American Onaodowan was being let go in favor of the white Patinkin who quickly withdrew. The producers could have handled the situation better. Not long after the controversy erupted, the closing notice was posted. Comet probably would have closed not long after Patinkin's limited engagement anyway and the producers should have realized that Onaodowan was not a strong enough name to bring in new customers. The fact that he was in the original company of Hamilton was not a big drawing card. Was Patinkin suddenly available and only for a short time? Could he have played certain performances and alternated with Onaodowan? Who knows. But it's a pity this innovative, exciting show will close.