Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Book Review: Look at the Birdie

(Downloaded from the Libby App and read on my I-Phone) Still devouring the miscellaneous works of Kurt Vonnegut, slowly working my way through all of his short stories. I should have read this collection of unpublished works before While Mortals Sleep since it was published first. This set of 14 stories is much darker in tone than Mortals. People get killed, disillusioned, framed and thrown in prison, and their nasty inner selves are exposed. The tone is set by the first story Confido in which a new-fangled doodad speaks your inner thoughts aloud to you and nearly ruins the inventor's family. Most of the tales are short and stabbing like knife wounds, the exception is Ed Luby's Key Club, a crime-soaked novella which reads like a nightmare noirish film script. An innocent couple is caught up in a web of danger when they leave a cheap tip for the titular club-owner, a mob boss. It's soaked with violence and sleaze, the resolution is ridiculous, but I had to keep reading it. Vonnegut had mastered the art of holding the reader by the proverbial throat and not letting go till the last sentence. Hall of Mirrors, Nice Little People and The Petrified Ants contain elements of sci-fi and fantasy with pointy edges. A Song for Selma returns to the whimsy of Vonnegut's other stories of a high-school band teacher and the joys and pain of teenage love. King and Queen of the Universe is a nice moral tale of the price of privilege and growing up. The collection is introduced with a letter from Vonnegut on his aims as a writer, offering an insight into his state of mind as he struggled to find his voice.

Monday, September 25, 2023

B'way Update: The Wiz Sets Dates and Theater

Melody A, Betts as Evillene (center)
in the revival of The Wiz, headed for Broadway.
Credit: Jeremy Daniel
The new production of The Wiz has found a Broadway theater and announced dates. The all-African-American cast will ease on down the road to the Marquis Theater after a national tour which just began at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theater on Sept. 23. Previews at the Marquis begin March 29, 2024 for an April 17 opening. The touring cast will continue onto Broadway with Nellie Lewis as Dorothy, Deborah Cox (Jekyll and Hyde) as Glinda, Melody A. Betts (Waitress) as Aunt Em and Evillene, Kyle Lamar Freedman (A Strange Loop) as the Lion, Philip Johnson Richardson as the Tin Man, and Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow. Wayne Brady (Let's Make a Deal, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Kinky Boots) will play the Wiz on Broadway with Alan Mingo, Jr. taking on the title role for most of the tour.

Schele Williams directs this revival of the 1975 version of L. Frank Baum's beloved classic. (She will also be directing the Broadway production of the musical version of The Notebook.) Tony nominee Amber Ruffin (Some Like It Hot) writes additional material to William F. Brown's original book.  (I wonder if Ruffin will work in Brady's game-show background. Will the Wiz say, "Okay Dorothy, you brought me Evillene's broomstick. You can trade it in for the big box or what's behind the curtain.") Charlie Smalls' score won one of the show's seven 1975 Tony Awards and one of five Drama Desk Awards.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Recent Weekends

Two recent weekend fragments.

Labor Day Weekend: Stayed with friends in upstate NY finger lake district near Syracuse. The last time we were there, lots of things were closed because of COVID. So to make for it, I wanted to see what we had missed. 
Harriet Tubman's house
in Auburn, NY

Auburn, NY
: Harriet Tubman's House. Our guide spoke for an hour on Harriet's life, explaining the movie was 75 percent accurate. Then we saw the actual house, but did not go inside because there was nothing in it. However, a second house on the property where Harriet ran a home for elderly people was resorted with furnishings of the era so we could go in.

The next day, I drove to Seneca Falls and visited the It's a Wonderful Life Museum. I loved all the artifacts from the film and bought a Clarence the Angel Christmas tree ornament. As noted in a previous blog, Seneca Falls is thought to be the inspiration for the beloved holiday classic. Frank Capra spent time there and may have heard the true story of an immigrant who jumped off the town bridge to save a woman from suicide by drowning--just as George Bailey saves Clarence the Angel. 

At the It's a Wonderful Life Museum
in Seneca Falls, NY

Friday, September 22, 2023

Off-B'way Update: Film/TV Faves in Madwomen

Jobeth Williams
A quartet of film and TV veterans will headline Madwomen of the West by Sandra Tsing Loh at the Actors Temple Theater with previews beginning Nov. 11 for a Dec. 11 opening for a run through Jan. 1, 2024. Caroline Aaron (21 Jump Street, Beyond the Sea), Golden Globe nominee Marilu Henner (Taxi, Evening Shade), Emmy winner Melanie Mayron (thirtysomething, Girlfriends), and Jobeth Williams (Poltergeist, The Big Chill) star under the direction of Thomas Caruso. The plot concerns four friends gathering at a Brentwood mansion for a surprise birthday brunch. 

Loh is the author of The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones, selected by the New York Times' 100 Most Notable Books. Her previous book Mother on Fire is based on her solo theater piece about the Los Angeles school system. Her other solo shows include Aliens in America, Bad Sex with Bud Kemp, Sugar Plum Fairy, and I Worry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Off-B'way Update: Iguana Revival with Eclectic Cast

La Femme Theater Productions will present an Off-Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana, directed by Emily Mann (Having Our Say, Execution of Justice). Previews begin Dec. 6 with a Dec. 17 opening for a limited run through Feb. 25, 2024 at the Irene Diamond Stage of the Pershing Square Signature Theater Center (this is not a Signature Theater Company production). The eclectic cast will be led by Emmy nominee Timothy Daly (Wings), Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent, Anna in the Tropics), Drama Desk nominee and SAG winner Lea DeLaria (Orange Is the New Black, POTUS, On the Town), Drama Desk winner and Tony nominee Austin Pendleton (The Minutes, Between Riverside and Crazy, The Little Foxes), and Jean Lichty (La Femme's productions of Williams' A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur and Horton Foote's The Traveling Lady). Mann also directed Rubin-Vega in the 2012 Broadway revival of Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.

Daphne Rubin-Vega and 
Tim Daly will star in
The Night of the Iguana.

The Night of the Iguana poses critical questions of faith and identity that are particularly relevant today as we navigate a paradoxically divided yet open world,” Lichty, executive director of La Femme, said in a statement. “Tennessee offers an answer by writing an epic that he described as ‘a play about love in its purest terms.'”

Iguana opened on Broadway in 1961 with Bette Davis, Margaret Leighton (Tony Award for Best Actress), and Patrick O'Neal, and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. The drama focuses on a defrocked priest at the end of his spiritual rope who has crash-landed at a rundown tourist spot in Acapulco, Mexico. There he encounters the lusty, widowed hotel owner, a traveling artist and her 92-year-old grandfather. John Huston's film version was released in 1964 with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Sue Lyon, and Grayson Hall (Oscar nomination).

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Book Review: While Mortals Sleep

(Read on my I-phone on the Libby app) Still continuing the Vonnegut reading jag. This collection of previously unpublished stories is a fast, fun read. Like the pieces in Bagombo Snuff Box, they were written early in Vonnegut's career to sell to popular publication like Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, and Ladies' Home Journal for casual entertainment in the days before mass media eliminated reading time. This group, the second posthumous collection following Look at the Birdie, has only two segments featuring elements of fantasy--Jenny, about a lonely traveling appliance salesman and his relationship with human-like refrigerator and The Epizootic, concerning an epidemic of suicide among young male breadwinners. The rest are neat little moral lessons with O. Henry ironic endings. They all have charm, but not the dark stinging wit which mark Vonnegut's novels. All the characters are sharply drawn in clear, quick strokes. I enjoyed the title story about a Scrooge-like newspaper editor forced to judge a Christmas light display contest. That one and the rest of the stories have relatively simple premises. A young war widow, ironically named Ruth, confronts her domineering mother-in-law. A model train enthusiast neglects his wife. Another widow develops a passionate fantasy life with a pen pal. Dave Eggers in the forward calls them mousetrap stories where the author traps the reader into a moral conclusion, as opposed to modern short stories which are more like photo-realism. Both genres have their place and can give pleasure.  

The only thing that bothered me about this volume is this: Does "unpublished" mean these stories were not published anywhere before, not even in magazines? There is no page listing where they might have originally appeared as there was in Bagombo which is subtitled "uncollected" as opposed to "unpublished."

Thursday, September 14, 2023

B'way Update: Uncle Vanya at LCT

Nicol Williamson and George C. Scott in
Uncle Vanya (1973)
Lincoln Center Theater will present the 11th Broadway production of Anton Chekhov's classic Uncle Vanya in a new translation by Heidi Schreck (What the Constitution Means to Me). Drama Desk winner Lila Neugebauer (The Wolves, The Waverly Gallery) directs (she will also be staging Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins' Appropriate for Second Stage this season.) Previews begin April 2 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater with an opening slated for April 24. No casting has been announced as of yet, but there will probably be some high-caliber stars attached. 

The play takes place on a country estate where Vanya and his niece Sonia's simple lives are upended when her pompous father and his glamorous young wife arrive for an extended stay. Vanya is a popular work on and Off-Broadway and on stages around the world. Another translation by Paul Schmidt
Heidi Schreck in her play
What the Constitution Means to Me.
Credit: Joan Marcus

starring David Cromer, Marin Ireland, Bill Irwin, and Will Brill played in a Manhattan loft for audiences of 40 this past summer and received rave reviews. Jay O. Sanders won a Drama Desk Award for playing the title tole in a 2018 production. Previous Broadway stagings have starred Derek Jacobi and Roger Rees (2000), Tom Courtney and James Fox (1995), Nicol Williamson, George C. Scott and Julie Christie (1973), and Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier and Margaret Leighton (1946). A film adaptation, Vanya on 42nd Street (1995), directed by Louis Malle, starred Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Larry Pine, and Lynn Cohen.