Archive for February, 2014

Seminar: Sign Up Now—Theatre

February 25, 2014

Just as “Inside Llewyn Davis” was a cautionary tale for those contemplating a career as a singer, the Bethesda Round House Theatre’s production, “Seminar,” puts the fear of God into those thinking they might be the next great novelist. Written by Theresa Rebeck and sharply directed by Jerry Whiddon, “Seminar” is a dark, but often funny look at the creative process and those who think they have the “gift.”

Seminar “Seminar” opens with a group of four 20-something writers gathering in a NYC apartment for a writing seminar with renowned novelist, Leonard (Marty Lodge). As we first meet them, save for Izzy (Laura C. Harris), none of them seem terribly likeable–all having that stereotypical NYC pseudo-intellectual aura about them. But as we get to know them, we begin to see that each really has a ton of insecurities–as writers and as human beings.  This becomes even more apparent when Leonard enters the fray and begins to critique each one’s work.  But Leonard is not without his own problems, coming with his own baggage as well as a mega-chip on his shoulders. What made Leonard the way he is? Do any of these writers have any kind of potential to make it? And just what constitutes success? “Seminar” attempts to address these questions and does so, for the most part, very satisfactorily and entertainingly.

Rebeck knows whereof she speaks. She’s enjoyed success as a playwright and writer for many television series. As the creator of 2013’s “Smash,” she also knows what it’s like to have one’s world upended when things don’t go according to plan. She brings all of this experience to her play, giving “Seminar” a huge dose of reality.

“Seminar” comes with a terrific cast. While all are very good, the standouts in this ensemble are Lodge, Katie deBuys as Kate and Alexander Strain as Martin. deBuys, so wonderful in Woolly Mammoth’s “Stupid F***king Bird” of last season, continues to shine.  It’s in her character’s apartment that the seminars meet and, therefore, she’s in nearly every scene. Her face is able to convey a variety of emotions that can be seen from the most distant seats. When her work is criticized, anyone who’s ever tried to write can identify with her reaction. Strain is terrific as the writer who’s really afraid to put his work out there. He actually fears criticism. His Martin is the member of the group with the most potential and the most psychological problems. The chip on his shoulder rivals that of Leonard’s, which might not be too unusual, since he is the most like Leonard.  Finally there is Marty Lodge. His character stirs the plot and as such he is fantastic. He very realistically portrays someone who has known what it is to have great success, lose it and try to rebuild. His Leonard is cunning, mean-spirited, belligerent and ultimately genuine.

A shout out must be given to James Kronzer’s sets and Ivania Stack’s costumes. The clothes are absolutely spot-on for this group and rarely does one hear applause for a set change as I did the night I was in the theatre.

If you love great acting in a witty, entertaining play, “Seminar” should be on your radar. It runs through March 2, so there is still time to get your ticket.

Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814, Box Office: 240.644.1100

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin: That’s All You Need to Know—Theatre

February 24, 2014

Mandy, Mandy, Mandy…What are you doing on “Homeland?”As my heart raced and then melted after he finished singing Some Enchanted Evening, I couldn’t help but think this. And this was just after the fourth number.An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin” is everything you’d want from the two…but still you leave the theatre wanting to spend more time with them. The two have known each other since 1978 and it shows. It’s like they can read each other’s musical minds. With just a piano and bass for accompaniment, LuPone and Patinkin entertain for nearly two hours. And what entertainment it is.

As the program begins, the theatre is dark. Then the lights come up with the spotlight on the two, and they begin singing Stephen Sondheim’s Another Hundred People. Patti’s wearing some sort of black/navy jumpsuit with a scarf and Mandy’s dressed in similarly colored shirt and pants. It’s all quite casual and playful and simply wonderful.

It’s hard to get an intimate feel in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre, but somehow these two performers manage to pull it off. Conceived by Patinkin and Paul Ford, the program is sprinkled with remembrances of LuPone and Patinkin, with dialogue from musicals and just chit-chat between old friends and the audience. And often the chitchat turns into a beautiful number. While many of the songs are performed together, each gets a chance to shine in solos. LuPone brings the house down with “Gypsy’s” Everything’s Coming up Roses and Patinkin rips your heart with his rendition of “Passion’s” Loving You. When the two conclude “Carousel’s” If I Loved You, the silence from the audience is palpable. But the program is not all heartache and tears. They have a blast with Kander and Ebb’s Old Folks, and Patinkin goes off the rails in a great way with Sondheim’s The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues.

Tony-award winning choreographer Ann Reinking provides some interesting dance movements for the two using chairs or just their hands. It sounds simple, but it works and brings a bit more pizzazz to the whole production.An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin 1

LuPone and Patinkin sing more than 30 songs and somehow it seems greedy to want more. But I do. And so I ask again…Mandy, Mandy, Mandy…paying the mortgage aside…what are you doing with “Homeland?” Could a musical episode please be in the works? Until that happens, be on the lookout for “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin” in your neck of the woods.

4 nuggets out of 4

About Last Night: More Fun Today—Movies

February 24, 2014

Although the language is a little rougher, at its heart, “About Last Night” is your standard romcom with some surprising chemistry. A remake of the Demi Moore/Rob Lowe 1986 film, the 2014 version is much funnier and just more entertaining to watch. Directed by Steve Pink with screenplay by Leslye Headland (based on the 1986 screenplay by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClu, which was based on David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago”), “About Last Night” 2014 is set in Los Angeles and centers on two couples —Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall) and Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant).About-Last-Night-Poster

The film begins with Bernie telling Danny about the woman (Joan) with whom he just had a one night stand and what a wild night it was. While he is regaling Danny with his story, Joan is sharing the details of the same evening with her roommate, Debbie. What’s really entertainingly humorous is getting both sides of the same one night stand. As the opening scene progresses, the foursome meet up at a favorite bar and wouldn’t you know it, Danny and Debbie hit it off, too.  And with that we’re off to the races.

Danny and Debbie are a quiet-spoken couple who take love and relationships seriously. Their romance follows the traditional trajectory. With Bernie and Joan—who knows what to make of these two? Noisy, belligerent…they might be a case of can’t live with…can’t live without. I write this with a smile, but to say they are the couple from Hell is putting it mildly. That’s what makes “About Last Night” a fun ride. We can see where we’re headed with Danny and Debbie, but Bernie and Joan keep us on our toes.

The movie has a good supporting cast which involves them in subplots about careers, past romances and friendships. These plot points help make the film more dimensional and well-rounded, definitely adding to “About Last Night’s” appeal.

Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant are meant to be the two leads and they are fine…but their story alone is not very interesting. I never thought I’d be writing this, but thank goodness for Kevin Hart. Together with Regina Hall, the two really ignite the screen. Granted, a little of them goes a long way, but they are still terrific. Hart actually acts and is great and Hall matches him step for step. The two of them will next be seen in “Think Like a Man Too,” so we’ll have to see if their chemistry holds.

“About Last Night” wonderfully showcases Los Angeles…both in the daytime and especially at night. I don’t think the city has ever looked so beautiful and inviting.

“About Last Night” doesn’t break any new romcom territory, but it is fun and far superior to its predecessor.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

The Lunchbox: Deliciousness Abounds—Movie

February 10, 2014

Unless you know a lot about India, you might wonder, as did I, where this story is headed, but that won’t deter you from enjoying this delightful film from India. Once you understand where “The Lunchbox” is going, you’ll enjoy it even more. Directed and written by Ritesh Batra, “The Lunchbox’s” plot revolves around Mumbai’s Dabbawala, a food delivery system known for its efficiency and accuracy. The service collects hot food in lunchboxes from residences and delivers them to workers who sign up for this service. Set in Mumbai, “The Lunchbox” is the story of two lonely people—a young housewife and an  accountant about to take early retirement—at a crossroad in their lives, facing major decisions about what path to take. The two connect because of the Dabbawala. Have I whetted your appetite?The-Lunchbox-2013

We first meet Ila (Nimrat Kaur) as she prepares a lunch which is to be picked up and delivered to her husband by the Dabbawala. A distance has grown between the two of them and Ila hopes to spice things up, literally, by preparing some new lunches for him. Unfortunately the Dabbawala makes a rare mistake and delivers the meal instead to Sajaan (Irrfan Khan), a middle-aged widower who works as an accountant. His reaction to this meal, so different from what he normally receives, is priceless. Eventually Ila realizes that a mistake has been made in the delivery and includes a note of explanation in the lunch container. Sajaan writes back and the two initiate a pen-pal type relationship, revealing more and more to one another about other facets of their lives.

In addition to Ila, Sajaan is very reluctantly drawn into a friendship with the young office-worker, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who is to be his replacement. Shaikh is so eager to please, it’s almost painful to watch, but he finally wins Sajaan over. Through Ila and Shaikh, Sajeen’s solitary life begins to open up and the change in him is wonderful to behold.

“The Lunchbox” features tremendous performances from its lead actors. Irrfan Khan is a familiar face to American movie-goers and he is absolutely terrific. His face shows so many emotions and makes him wonderful to watch. Nimrat Kaur does a great job in conveying her feelings of abandonment and the joy in her new-found friendship.  Nawazuddin Siddiqui is just delightful as the puppy-like trainee. You eventually see that there is more to his character than meets the eye and he helps pull the whole movie together.

For those of us who have only seen India in movies and as a stopping point in “The Amazing Race,” Writer/director Ritesh Batra makes us feel like we are right there in the heart of Mumbai. We ride the buses and the trains, visit workplaces and spend time in a variety of neighborhoods. And watching the Dabbawala in action is utterly fascinating.

“The Lunchbox” is a quiet little movie with much to savor. One word of advice…eat beforehand…the dishes Ila prepares will have you running to your favorite Indian restaurant at the movie’s end.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

The Monuments Men: Not Monumental Enough—Movie

February 10, 2014

With a top-notch cast of leading men and woman (oh, to be her on the set), the best character actors in the business, a terrific score and a very compelling story, “The Monuments Men” can’t be a complete failure…and it’s not. But it’s not as good as one might expect. Directed by George Clooney with screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov based on the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, “The Monuments Men,” is the little-known, but true story of the attempted rescue at the end of WWII, of art stolen by the Nazis during the War, with the goal of returning the art to their respective owners.The Monuments Men poster

Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes, is the driving force behind the mission, who, under the direction of FDR, assembles a team  called the Monuments Men to go to Europe and track down the stolen art. The men are art historians, architects and artists, all pretty much past their fighting prime, but happy and eager to serve. When they get to Europe they find that not only are they trying to recover the stolen art, but they are faced with what has been called  the “Nero Decree”—in which Hitler ordered that if Germany fell, among other things, “All military transport and communication facilities, industrial establishments and supply depots, as well as anything else of value within Reich territory, which could in any way be used by the enemy immediately or within the foreseeable future for the prosecution of the war, will be destroyed.” This decree included the destruction of the stolen art. In addition, Stokes’ team learns that the Russians are keeping whatever art they discover. Thus, there is a sense of urgency to find and protect as much art as they can, including art known to be housed in churches across Europe, saving them from damage during air raids.

All of this sounds like the basis for a terrific film. The problem with “The Monuments Men” is it that it suffers from a wealth of possibilities. Is it a caper/heist film…a comedy…or an action flick? “Monuments Men” really doesn’t know what it wants to be and tries to be all things to all people and ultimately falls short on all levels…save for the acting. All of the actors are very good…we just don’t get enough of each…to care very much about them.

As all the men go through basic training, your first thought is, “oh, no, will this be “Stripes” all over again?” Funny as that film was, fear, not. That doesn’t happen and the film quickly moves on. “The Monuments Men” pairs the characters and follows their stories, with the cast coming together near the film’s conclusion. Bill Murray and Bob Balaban work surprisingly well together as the film’s “odd couple” and most of the film’s humor comes from their interactions. John Goodman works with Jean Dujardin and the two have an easy-going chemistry. Hugh Bonneville’s character is a tortured soul struggling with alcoholism, who views his service as a shot at redemption.  Finally, Matt Damon spends most of his time in France, working with a museum librarian, portrayed by Cate Blanchett, who is helping the Resistance.

What Clooney does capture perfectly are the details of the era and some of those details are horrific. T’hose gruesome details remind you of the war’s horrors. Additionally, the hair, clothing and most especially Alexandre Desplat’s score, couldn’t be better and give the film a very genuine feel.

The real Monuments Men recovered over five million pieces of art as well as a fortune in gold. It’s a story worth telling, but “The Monuments Men” doesn’t do the men justice. This might be one time that the subject is just too big for a movie and might have better served as an HBO series.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

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