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 I should have read this collection of unpublished works before While Mortals Sleep since it was published first.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 up 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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

B'way Update: Days of Wine and Roses; Boebert Booted from Beetlejuice

Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James
in Days of Wine and Roses at Atlantic
Theater Company.
Credit: Ahron R. Foster
Announcements of Broadway shows are coming in on an almost daily basis now. After news that Mary Jane, Water for Elephants and Lempicka (the latter announced via a casting call) were arriving next spring, a press release was issued today that Days of Wine and Roses, the musical version of JP Miller's 1962 film and 1958 teleplay about an alcoholic couple would be transferring to Broadway's Studio 54 in early 2024. Tony winner Kelli O'Hara and Tony nominee and Drama Desk winner Brian d'Arcy James will repeat their roles from the Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company production which ran from June 5 to July 16 of this year. The new musical features a book by Tony nominee Craig Lucas, score by Tony winner Adam Guettel, and direction by Tony nominee Michael Greif. Further casting will be announced. Previews begin Jan. 6 at Studio 54 with an opening announced for Jan. 28.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

B'way Update: Water for Elephants; Lempicka

Water for Elephants at the
Alliance Theater in Atlanta.
Credit: Matthew Murphy
The new musical version of Water for Elephants will be marching onto Broadway this spring, with previews set to begin Feb. 24, 2024 at the Imperial Theater and an opening is scheduled for March 21. Based on Sara Gruen's best-selling novel, Water features a book by three-time Tony nominee Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher) and a score by PigPen Theater Company. Tony nominee Jessica Stone (Kimberly Akimbo) directs. The world premiere engagement of the musical was held at Atlanta's Alliance Theater, opening in June of this year. 

The story concerns an aimless young man who jumps a moving train and finds himself caught up in the exciting world of a traveling circus. A 2011 film version starred Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz. The production will feature seven circus performers who will make up a third of the cast. Capitalized at $25 million, Water is the biggest-budgeted show this Broadway season.

Monday, September 11, 2023

B'way Update: Rachel McAdams to Star in Mary Jane

Rachel McAdams will
star in Mary Jane
on Broadway.
Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (Spotlight, The Notebook) will make her Broadway debut in Amy Herzog's Mary Jane, presented by Manhattan Theater Club as part of their season at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. Previews begin April 2 with an opening date to be announced. The play follows the title character, a single mom, as she deals with the multiple responsibilities of her son's debilitating illnesses. Mary Jane premiered at Yale Repertory Theater in 2017 with Emily Donahue and Kathleen Chalfant. An Off-Broadway production followed the same year at New York Theater Workshop with Carrie Coon, Brenda Wehle, Susan Pourfur, and Liza Colon-Zayes. The play was named Best Play of the season by the New York Drama Critics Circle and won three Obie Awards. Anne Kaufman (The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, Marvin's Room) who directed the Yale and NYTW versions, returns as stager.

Herzog was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her play 4000 Miles and last season her adaptation of Ibsen's A Doll's House played Broadway with Jessica Chastain. The author's version of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People will also play Broadway next spring.

Mary Jane joins a growing number of 2023-24 Broadway productions which have been presented Off-Broadway in previous seasons. Others include Merrily We Roll Along, Harmony, Gutenberg! The Musical, Appropriate, and Prayer for the French Republic.
Carrie Coon and Susan Pourfar
in Mary Jane (2017)
Credit: Joan Marcus

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Book Review: A Man Without a Country

(Downloaded and read on the Libby App on my I-phone) Continuing with my Vonnegut binge, I ripped through this collection of short essays originally published in the small journal In These Times. Written towards the end of his life and published in 2005, these ruminations on politics, humor, and life in general are startling in their relevance almost 20 years later. With this characteristic dry sarcastic wit, Vonnegut bemoans climate change (then called global warming) and the rampant corruption and warmongering of the George W. Bush administration. God only knows what he would have said about our current state of environmental disaster and the Trump crime family who make W., Cheney, and their cronies look like Sunday school teachers. (And what's really scary is that a huge swatch of the gullible public actually want Trumpy back in power. That's a whole Vonnegut essay right there. In fact, Trump could be a Vonnegut character he's so over the top.) The author's probably rolling in this grave and if he could jump out of it, he'd scream at all of us, "I told ya so! Geez, I didn't think things could get much worse when I passed, but you morons managed to do it!" Vonnegut is merciless in his castigation of humanity for ruining our planet and putting ignorant "guessers" in power over scientists and wise men who follow logic instead of passions.

There are also biographical segments on his childhood, war experiences, struggles to gain a foothold as an author, and his current life in Manhattan. In the latter, he laments how technology has eliminated the simple joys of taking a walk to the corner newsstand to buy stamps, then to the post office to mail a manuscript to a typist, and meeting and talking with fellow humans along the way. Email and computers had destroyed typewriters and community. But at the same time Vonnegut doesn't pine for the "good old days." He objectively states that there were no "good old" times, just times and we should relish whatever joys we can such as just sitting with friends and drinking lemonade as his favorite uncle advised.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Book Review: Bagombo Snuff Box

(Borrowed from the Mid-Manhattan NYPL on 40th St. and Fifth Ave.) After viewing that documentary on Vonnegut on Hulu, I launched a binge on so-far unread works by the author I've been reading since high school (or maybe junior high, I can't recall.) A plentiful collection of previously uncollected stories from Vonnegut's early days as a writer, eking out a living at a variety of jobs including car salesman and PR wordsmith for General Electric. From the 50s into the early 60s, a number of magazines published short stories by unknowns (Now the New Yorker is one of the few left, and they generally employ known quantities.) Each is a little gem with a twist ending (In an afterward, Vonnegut admits he rewrote three of them for this collection.) Most are humorous satires of human behavior, subdivision small town dreamers. Only two (Thanasphere and 2BR02B) display the dark science-fiction bent of Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, Sirens of Titan, and Player Piano. The formula many follow has an objective narrator, either a real-estate man or a financial consultant injected into the bizarre world of absent-minded geniuses, small-time con men and women or obsessive ketchup consultants. My favorites were Any Reasonable Offer (very funny), Runaways (insightful dissection of shallow teenagers and their clueless parents), and Hal Irwin's Magic Lamp (a wallop of a story on clashing values along class and racial lines). Looking forward to the other Vonnegut collections of fiction, essays and letters.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

B'way Update: Cast for Mother Play; Death Becomes Her

Jessica Lange will star in
Paula Vogel's Mother Play.
Casting and dates have been announced for Mother Play by Paula Vogel (Indecent, How I Learned to Drive) to open this coming spring at Second Stage's Hayes Theater. Tony and Drama Desk winner Celia Keenan-Bolger (To Kill a Mockingbird), Oscar, Emmy and Tony winner Jessica Lange (Long Day's Journey Into Night), and Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG winner Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) will star in the world premiere directed by Tony nominee and Drama Desk winner Tina Landau (SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical). Previews begin April 2 with an April 25 opening. 

Lange will play Phyllis, a domineering matriarch supervising the move of her teenaged children Carl (Parsons) and Martha (Keenan-Bolger) into a new apartment outside Washington, DC in 1962. Phyllis has definite ideas about how her children should lead their lives. The play follows the family's rollercoaster ride through the coming years. 

In other news, Megan Hilty (Smash) and Jennifer Simard (Disaster, Once Upon a One More Time) will star in a musical version of the 1992 film comedy Death Becomes Her which starred Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, set to play Chicago's Cadillac Theater from April 30-June 2, 2024. The new musical, which has its sights set on Broadway, features a score by Noel Carey and Julia Mattison, book by Marco Pennette and direction by Christopher Gattelli (Newsies). Simard plays Helen, a writer whose husband has an affair with her former friend Madeline (Hilty), a glamorous movie star. As Helen plots her revenge against Madeline, the stakes becomes higher when both partake of a mysterious potion granting them eternal youth and beauty. 
Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in
Death Becomes Her.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Cutting the Cable Cord, Part 5

Only Murders in the Building with
Selena Gomez, Steve Martin
and Martin Short
Credit: Hulu
The last blog post about Cutting the Cable Cord (Part 4) was written in Jan. 2016. That was the first time our household experimented with cutting cable. We eventually re-attached Spectrum, the lure was just too strong. But now we have severed the connection again for two reasons: 1) our monthly bill for phone, internet and three cable boxes with DVR was over $300 monthly; and 2) streaming services have gotten much more sophisticated and inclusive of most of the networks TWC Spectrum provided. Another reason has popped up in the past week: 3) Spectrum is in a dispute with ABC and their various Disney channels, just as they were in a battle with CBS a few years ago--chronicled here in a blog post from 2013. So Spectrum has apparently cut off ABC. That spat will probably be resolved soon, but the first two considerations still loom large.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Book Review: The Big Lie: Election Chaos, Political Opportunism and the State of American Politics After 2020

(Taken out of the Jackson Heights Library) Jonathan Lemire is a familiar face and welcome presence for his appearances on Morning Joe and his tough questions for Trump as a reporter for Politico and the Associated Press. His book on Trump's endless mendacities is valuable in that its a fairly detailed record of the past seven years beginning with Trump's 2016 statement that the upcoming presidential election would be rigged if he doesn't win. I didn't learn anything I didn't already know and there is a lack of independent interviews (Most quotes are from other books.) But a good summary of Trump's efforts to discredit our election system when it didn't go his way, plus his history of an extremely loose relationship with the truth.