Monday, June 29, 2020

Woody Allen's Apropos of Nothing

Woody Allen is one of my favorite filmmakers. I have seen almost all of his films from Take the Money and Run to Wonder Wheel (even the abysmal Amazon mini-series Crisis in Six Scenes). (I'm only missing the second half of Hollywood Ending on DVD which I will get to eventually and I'm pretty sure I've seen What's New Pussycat and What's Up Tiger Lily, but I have to double check if I only viewed bits and pieces or the whole running time of both films.) Friends in Israel have seen A Rainy Day in New York and liked it.

I've also read his collections of New Yorker pieces--Getting Even, Without Feathers, Side Effects--and seen most of his plays on and Off-Broadway. (I was too young to see Don't Drink the Water and Play It Again, Sam, I missed the Floating Light Bulb, but I've read them. Everything else including his one-acts paired with short works by Elaine May, Ethan Coen and David Mamet I've seen.) So I was excited to read this memoir, particularly to get Allen's version of the whole Soon-Yi/Mia Farrow/Ronan/Dylan molestation accusation mess that's been going on for 30 years.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Roundabout Sets 2021 Dates for 'Trouble,' etc.

A scene from a 2014 production of Trouble in Mind at
Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ
Credit: T. Charles Erickson
The floodgates of Broadway announcements have been opened. Earlier this week we had new spring 2021 dates for The Music Man, The Minutes and American Buffalo, all pushed back from earlier dates due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Roundabout Theater Company has joined in with adjusted previews and premieres as well as new productions. The company will present the first Broadway production of Alice Childress'  comedy-drama Trouble in Mind, to be directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. The play which played Off-Broadway in 1955, is tailor-made for this moment as it deals with racism in the theater. The main character is a middle-aged African-American actress cast in a New York production of a drama about lynching in the South. She comes into conflict with the white director-producer over the validity of the script written by whites. Trouble is scheduled to play the American Airlines Theater in the winter of 2021-22. In the wake of nationwide protests against police violence against minorities, many artists of color have been sharing their experience of racism in the theater and calling for change.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

New Broadway Openings for 2021

While New York City is slowly reopening from the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the return of Broadway and other stages is still far in the future. But there is a glimmer of hope. Several Main Stem productions have announced new dates for previews and openings, all in 2021 and the earliest dates are March 1. The Minutes by Tracey Letts will begin previews at the Cort Theater on next March 1 with an opening set for March 15, one year after its originally projected premiere. The dark comedy about a secretive town council meeting has had a bumpy road to Broadway. After its Steppenwolf Theater Company debut in Chicago in 2017, the play was set to open on Broadway in 2018, but was delayed. The 2020 production was to have been directed by Tony winner Anna D. Shapiro (Letts' August: Osage County) and feature the playwright, Armie Hammer, Ian Barford (Letts' Linda Vista), Blair Brown, Cliff Chamberlain, K. Todd Freeman, Danny McCarthy, Jessie Mueller, Sally Murphy, Austin Pendleton, and Jeff Still. 

The fourth Broadway production of David Mamet's American Buffalo is now set to begin previews at Circle in the Square on March 24 with an opening slated for April 14, also a year from its original debut. The three-character play about small-time crooks planning a heist of a coin collection stars Laurence Fishburne, Oscar winner Sam Rockwell, and Darren Criss. Neil Pepe directs. Previous productions have starred Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, and John Leguizamo. 

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 13

New York is entering Phase 2 of reopening, but we may as well still be in lockdown. You can't eat indoors at a restaurant, browse in a bookstore, or stroll through a museum. I'm definitely not going to a movie theater anytime soon and Broadway appears to be off limits until at least spring 2021. One museum I definitely will visit once this ends is the Paley Center (formerly the Museum of Broadcasting.) A search of their archives of old TV shows turned up several complete Carol Burnett Show episodes available only piecemeal on MeTV, Amazon or ShoutFactory. Until then, there is still plenty of Burnett bounty to analyze in our continuing series of reconstructing the show. For this blog, I thought I would concentrate on presenting a broad range of episodes from across the entire 11 year run.

Season Three
Sept. 13, 1968: Jim Nabors
Jim Nabors and Carol in Hollywood Canteen
During the Q&A, Harvey accepts his Emmy and delivers a long-winded speech. There is a super-brief commercial take-off with Harvey as a Russian chess champion playing against Jim. Then Carol as the ancient Stella Toddler is assaulted and battered during a dedication of a theater named for her. She eventually winds up under the corner stone. The Stella Toddler character was not as funny as Tim Conway's Old Man, and I never found him that funny. The majority of the episode is devoted to movie send-up of generic WWII homefront films. Hollywood Canteen features Jim and Harvey as GIs attached to USO girls Carol and Vicki. There are five specialty songs, written by Ken and Mitzi Welch, climaxing into a Goodwill-and-Brotherhood number, There Will Never Be Another War, which erupts into violence as stereotype-costumed nationals engage in hand-to-hand combat. My favorite is a geisha attacking a Greek soldier with chopsticks.

Oct. 6, 1968: Steve Lawrence, Edward Villella, Rock Hudson
(MeTV/Amazon/ShoutFactory) The only two sketches in the pared-down edition were quite interesting for different reasons. In the first, a Carol and Sis vignette, Roger (Harvey) is insanely
Carol with Rock Hudson
jealous of Lyle again--a trope to be played dozens of times, but this one was slightly askew from the usual. The scene opens with Carol expecting a visit from an interior decorator and a plumber as Roger is leaving for a golf game. Roger goes on a homophobic rant, imitating a stereotypical swishy decorator and declaring he doesn't want one of "them" in his house. Enter hypermasculine Lyle in a sober business suit as Mr. Bruce, the decorator. Immediately, Roger forgets his golf game and fears Carol may be seduced by this hunk of man. In order to grill Mr. Bruce on his sexuality, he gets Carol out of the room to fix coffee--this act in itself is a fascinating example of male privilege. Roger asks Bruce if he would like some java and then insists Carol go and make it.

With Carol in the kitchen, Roger asks Mr. Bruce highly personal questions. Is he married? Does he live with his parents? Does he have a roommate? Bruce reveals he played pro football and you can tell from Harvey's subtextual acting and Lyle's reactions, the presumably straight decorator thinks this weird husband is coming on to him. (That potentially fascinating angle is not explored.) Eventually, Roger cannot control his envy and tells Mr. Bruce his wife will be doing the decorating herself. Just as he leaves, Lyle asks Carol if the couple have any children. She replies in the negative and Lyle says, "It figures." Does that mean he thought Roger was a closet case?

Roger apologizes profusely to Carol for his behavior and is about to leave for his golf game when the plumber arrives--Rock Hudson! Before Carol can ogle the gorgeous plumber, Roger rushes him off to the dripping sink. End music! Carol proceeds to drool over Hudson in a post-sketch chat while he plugs a war movie he just finished--The Hornet's Nest (1970, a war-movie bomb just like Robert Goulet's Underground, also plugged on Carol's show). Ironically, the closeted gay Hudson was playing a super-manly threat to a hetero hubby.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Semantics Matter: Thoughts on Hashtags and Slogans

Defund the Police.
Black Lives Matter.
Anti-Cop Movement.
Needless Laws.
Street chalk art of George Floyd in Queens, NY.
These are all powerful choices of words and can be misinterpreted--sometimes deliberately. In the age of Twitter Hashtags, pithy statements can lead to misunderstanding, oversimplification and confusion. The slogan Defund the Police began appearing last week after the international protests against police brutality erupted in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands, or knees, of Minneapolis police officers. I'd never heard if before. It means taking money from police budgets and distributing it to communities and social program to prevent the conditions which cry out for police action. It also addresses the fact that police are often called into situations they aren't trained for such as domestic disputes, drug addiction, and homelessness. When I first heard it I thought it literally meant take all the money from the police and eliminate them altogether. And some advocates do take that extreme position (we saw a discussion on this topic on the NewsHour earlier this week.) The Minneapolis city council has voted to dismantle its police department. What does that mean exactly? Camden, New Jersey, passed a similar resolution in 2012, dissolving its corrupt police dept. and replacing it with a new one, instituting reforms and emphasizing its role as a part of the community rather than as an occupying army. Crime has dropped by close to half (Source: This city disbanded its police force seven years ago. Here's what happened next CNN, June 9, 2020)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Eleventh Annual David Desk Awards, plus Thoughts on B'way Reopening

Today normally would have been one of the best days of the year, Tony Award Day! But because of
the COVID-19 pandemic, Broadway theaters have been shut down since March 12 and are not likely to
reopen until January 2021 at the earliest. In a May 25 interview with Tim Teeman of the Daily Beast, Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin was cautiously optimistic about the Main Stem lights being relit. But she stressed social distancing and playing to half-empty housing would not fit with the Broadway economic model which requires packing in as many bodies as possible for maximum profit. A few shows such as Plaza Suite, MJ: The Michael Jackson Musical and 1776 have announced opening dates for the spring of 2021, but those may be aspirational like Trump saying he wanted packed churches on Easter.

Without a vaccine or even treatment for the coronavirus, theatergoers will probably be reluctant to return. What would Broadway look like without a vaccine? It might mean closing the entire Times Square area off from cars so that the side streets from 42nd to 50th could be used for long lines of patrons to get their temperatures checked and handed face masks as well having their bags searched. (The latter practice started just a few years ago in the wake of various terrorist threats.) Getting into the theater could become just as time-consuming as going to the airport with patrons making sure to show up two-to-three hours before curtain time.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part Twelve

As we end week 12 of lockdown and week one of protests and curfew, it's time for the Carol Burnett Show Reconstruction to continue. I was all excited because ShoutFactory! had announced they were going to make all 11 seasons of Carol's variety series available for streaming for the first time on June 1, preceded for a weekend-long marathon of episodes on May 30 and 31. The press release implied that we would be getting different, previously unseen material, stating Carol herself went over the masters of the original episodes with people from Shout Factory! I eagerly awaited the marathon and it turns out all segments they have are exactly the same as those 22-minute, hacked up ones already available on Amazon and MeTV. What a disappointment. Shout Factory! was not being completely truthful. Amazon did have the same episodes as Shout Factory!

This means I may never find every minute of every episode of all 11 years. Oh well. Returning to reviewing segments, the theme for this blog is movie satires. These segments include Carol's parodies of Mrs. Miniver, Love Story, The Seventh Veil, Waterloo Bridge, A Star Is Born, the Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple series.

Season One
March 4, 1968: Imogene Coca, Mel Torme
(Best of DVD) Not one of the better early efforts of the series. Carol and Imogene indulge in cat-fight comedy as rival political wives. Harvey and Mel do movie monster schtick along with Carol and Pat Paulsen makes a cameo as the frightening couple's baby. Paulsen was one of the briefly famous
Carol and Imogene Coca as rival political wives
comics of the late 60s who disappeared after his 15 minutes were up, along with Tiny Tim (who had 30 minutes.) With a deadpan worthy of Buster Keaton, Paulsen ran a mock campaign for the 1968 Presidential election from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, satirizing the corruption of politics. His gimmick was his lack of charisma, claiming he couldn't possibly do a worse job than those in power. He had a short-lived half-hour comedy show.

The extended finale revolves around the upcoming Olympics with the USA team (Mel, Carol, Lyle) battling it out against the Russians (Harvey, Imogene) with specialty numbers written exclusively for the show. We get to see Lyle in a skimpy track suit.