Friday, March 6, 2015


Arnold Schoenberg (Jesse Fair) and Mathilde Schoenberg (Amanda Lovejoy Street) in Fugue. Photo Credit: Darrett Sanders.

Softcore theater

By Ed Rampell

Do you have a guilty pleasure? Your galavanting reviewer confesses to one that whiles away the hours during long haul flights: Reading books that stick their big noses into the private lives of geniuses. While soaring through the stratosphere over the Pacific Islands or aboard trans-Atlantic flights tell-all biographies of Pablo Picasso, John Lennon and Marlon Brando have been eagerly consumed. These prying eyes can’t get enough of those salacious details! It may be poor manners but there’s nothing like reading the personal letters, etc., of others to pass the time away (as our three amigos, N, S, & A well know!).

So it was with great interest that your curious critic attended the world premiere of the cleverly titled Fugue. In it, playwright Tommy Smith delves into the sex lives of not one, not two, but three -- count ’em three!!! -- musical geniuses! It’s a veritable tabloid-apalooza of invasions of privacy which Smith lays bare (but not bare enough, as you’ll soon see), exposing the purported behind-closed-doors peccadilloes of a trio of composers and their, uh, consorts and cohorts.

The musicians are: The brilliant Piotr Tchaikovsky (Christopher Shaw), who gave the world such supreme pleasure, with wonderful works such as “Swan Lake”, “The Nutcracker Suite”, etc., in the 19th century. But bestowing such splendor upon his fellow humans wasn’t quite enough for patriarchal Czarist society, which stipulated that the gay composer also live up to its strict heterosexual code of behavior. To say the least, complications ensue when Tchaikovsky weds Antonina (Alana Dietze), and his long suffering bride/beard decides to, shall we say, shave. Ah, sMother Russia, land of pussy riots! (Astute cinephiles may recall a sort of comical reenactment of Tchaikovsky’s mock marriage in Ken Russell’s 1969 film, Women in Love, based on D. H. Lawrence’s novel -- and, BTW, one of the best cinematic adaptations of literature in screen history.)

Our next troubled talent is Arnold Schoenberg (Troy Blendell), the 20th century Austrian innovator of atonal music and the twelve-tone technique (no, that doesn’t refer to a series of Kama Sutra positions, but to a type of music). Arnie’s wife, Mathilde (Amanda Lovejoy Street), takes up with the younger painter Richard Gerstl (Jesse Fair), who cuckolds his friend and sometime benefactor, the far more successful Schoenberg. (Hey, what are friends for?) Further complications ensue, as the threesome careens down a sexual skid row.

Our final tortured composer is somebody this writer had never heard of, the genuinely creepy Carlo Gesualdo (Karl Herlinger), a 16th century Italian musician who, according to press notes, was of noble rank and wrote intense chromatic music. Gesualdo gives new meaning to the term “Renaissance Man,” as he was also something of a genius when it came to hanky-spanky sex. The musical sadomasochist’s practices would make Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey blush 50 shades of red. Jeanne Syquia plays his partner-in-slime Donna Maria, and Justin Huen has a double role, as Fabrizio and the priest Gesualdo “confesses” to in this confessional play.

Smith’s script is interesting and Chris Fields’ direction skillful, with a cinematic touch. Fugue sort of uses a split screen technique and we sometimes have three sets of actors performing onstage at the same time, albeit in different times and places. This method of presentation is not only filmic, but also, musically, fugue-like. Michael Mullen’s period costumes are a good fit. The thesps all acquit themselves well -- but, alas, your erstwhile scribbler has one quibble.

One imagines that the dramatist, director, company, et al, fancy themselves as being “daring” for presenting sex acts performed on the boards - albeit underneath blankets. Well, here’s a newsflash, and as Chuck Berry would say, “Tell Tchaikovsky the news”: Nudity has been legal onstage and onscreen since the 1960s in the United States. This reviewer refers you to the Living Theatre, Hair, etc., as well as to Alan Bates and Oliver Reed’s wrestling romp au natural onscreen in the aforementioned Women in Love. Unlike Julian Beck and company, performers today don’t have to worry about being busted for indecent exposure and the like.

Depicting undercover sex acts onstage and onscreen veiled by beach blanket bingos is not only a sexual cop out, but an attempt to have your cake and eat it too: The production wants to titillate the audience with bawdiness without delivering the goods, while collaborating with America’s still puritanical norms and constraints. For example, just consider the fact that Showtime airs Masters of Sex, an entire fact-based series about those pioneering sex researchers Masters and Johnson, wherein not since 2013 has a single strand of pubic hair made its debut on this “shocking” series - although it is perfectly legal nowadays to do so on cable television. What sheer cowardice!

Artists went to jail, to court, etc., to win the right for free expression and to now have the legal right but for today’s talents to not make use of this hard fought for First Amendment protection is pretty spineless. If stage and screen productions are unwilling to depict people having sex the way they usually do in real life -- you know, partially or completely unclothed -- then they should keep sex acts relegated to offstage/ offscreen inferred action. Quit trying to have it both ways -- or go fugue yourselves.

Other than that, Fugue is a thought-provoking, well-acted two act play with an intermission. However, it will likely not be the cup of tea for ticket buyers who are offended, upset, etc., by violence onstage and/or simulated (even if hidden) sex acts. 

In any case, the next time this ranter and raver jet sets off to parts unknown he may read a copy of Fugue’s script to make the hours slip more swiftly by while munching a bag of airline peanuts.

The Echo Theater Company’s production of Fugue runs through March 22 at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village, CA 90039. For more information: 310-307-3753; Fugue It!.







































Thursday, March 5, 2015


A scene from Futuro Beach.

Drowning by numbers
By Don Simpson
Fueled by Suicide’s dissonant electro-punk anthem “Ghost Rider,” two motorcyclists speed across the dunes of the idyllic Brazilian coastline. They disembark their bikes at the titular Futuro Beach to immerse themselves in the dangerous surf. Heiko (Fred Lima) and Konrad (Clemens Schick) find themselves dragged underwater by an insatiable undertow, attracting the attention of two lifeguards. Heiko falls prey to an accidental drowning, leaving Konrad, his close friend and former brother-in-arms, directionless and alone in a foreign land.
Riddled by the heroic guilt of his inability to save Heiko, Donato (Wagner Moura), the lifeguard, offers to comfort Konrad; a relationship transpires, eventually convincing Donato to abandon his family — including 10-year-old brother, Ayrton (Savio Ygor Ramos) — and relocate to the landlocked city of Berlin. It is not long before Donato begins to feel, quite literally, like a fish out of water. Gone are his days of being a heroic lifeguard at Brazil’s most dangerous beach, as are his days of playing Aquaman for his aquaphobic younger brother; now Donato is an utter nobody in a concrete jungle. Rather than basking in the Brazilian sunlight, Donato is reduced to soaking in the dance floor lights of underground nightclubs.
Many years later, in the final third of this clearly defined three-act narrative, a much older Ayrton (Jesuíta Barbosa) appears in Berlin to scold Donato for abandoning him. It is the classic trope of a hero destined for disappointment. In his submissive attempt to comfort Konrad after Heiko’s death, Donato devastated Ayrton, the one person who admired him unconditionally; thus, Karim Aïnouz’s Futuro Beach contemplates the age-old choice between family and love.
Playing with the obvious metaphors of drowning and being lost at sea, Aïnouz presents Donato as a powerful swimmer in Brazil who can barely tread water in Germany. After submerging himself into a tumultuous relationship with Konrad, Donato becomes a lifeless body, completely overwhelmed by life’s rough currents. If there is one common theme throughout Futuro Beach, it is the loss of control, or the human inability to remain buoyant. There are ups and downs in life, the secret is to not let those evil undercurrents overcome you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


A scene from Wild Canaries.
The ghosts of Gladys Kravitz

By Don Simpson
Even though the death of Barri (Sophia Takal) and Noah’s (writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine) downstairs neighbor (Marylouise Burke) is determined to be due to a heart attack, Barri is convinced that foul play is involved. While her boyfriend Noah is off at work, Barri’s suspicions get the better of her as she begins to snoop around their apartment building in search of clues. At first, Barri’s irrational inquisitiveness seems cute and endearing to Noah; but as her actions become more reckless, he begins to worry for her safety. In desperate need of the support that her boyfriend refuses to provide, Barri enlists their third roommate, Jean (Alia Shawkat), to assist in her investigation.
Levine reaches back to a seemingly dead genre, the screwball murder mystery, for his primary influences on Wild Canaries. Using The Thin Man series as one of his earliest reference points, Levine models Noah after William Powell’s Nick Charles, developing a character who is comically reserved and rational, yet despite his carefulness is also quite vulnerable. Noah is so tentative in his actions — well, except for whenever he is inebriated — that this character takes a backseat in the murder mystery to Barri. The plot of Wild Canaries could almost be explained as a modern day adaptation of Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) — which is debatably the last legitimate entry into the screwball murder mystery cannon — with Levine playing the Woody Allen to Takal’s Diane Keaton.
While Noah requires definitive reason to justify sleuthing, Barri is propelled solely by instinct and intuition. The rich comedic chemistry of Barri and Noah’s juxtaposed personalities seems to be derived from the roles that Takal and Levine play in their real life marriage. Wild Canaries plays like a psychological examination of their relationship, carefully observing Takal’s intentional irrationality as the chaotic counterpoint to Levine’s oh-so-serious stoicism. By purposefully exaggerating their personality traits and the situations in which their characters find themselves immersed, Levine creates a “worst case scenario” to test the limits of their relationship. Taking the personal angle out of the equation, Wild Canaries is an intriguing-yet-humorous analysis of masculine and feminine personality traits as it studies how the two sexes can interpret the exact same situation in drastically different ways.

Monday, March 2, 2015


A scene from My Life Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn.

Cohabitation fixation

By Don Simpson
A filmmaker’s significant other not only has unbridled access to their personal life, but they also have a unique perspective on the filmmaker’s personality and psyche; so, as we watch Liv Corfixen’s My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, we learn that the title of the “behind-the-scenes” documentary by Refn’s wife has a multitude of meanings. Though My Life Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn may seem like an everyday documentary about a filmmaker contending with the pressures following a critical and commercial success, that description surely does not do Corfixen’s film the justice it deserves.
Refn’s critical and commercial success, of course, was Drive, which obviously makes My Life Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn “about” the film which followed Drive, Only God Forgives. We all know the fate of Only God Forgives — only a handful of critics recognized the auteurial genius, while everyone else trashed it with reckless abandon. Judging from Corfixen’s documentary, the fate of Only God Forgives was essentially predetermined. Utterly terrified of failure, Refn is deathly nervous about his new production; his Kubrickian obsession with perfection certainly does not help.
In one of the infinite risks that Refn takes throughout Only God Forgives‘ production, Refn drags his family to Bangkok for six months. As it turns out, this is just the tip of the iceberg of Refn’s domineering tendencies. Sure, My Life Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn reveals Refn as a committed family man who dedicates time to entertain his children and speak lovingly with his wife, but the unblinking eye of Corfixen’s ever-vigilant camera also reveals a more menacing side to Refn’s persona. Do not worry, Refn is never abusive, yet he does become overly fixated on success, leaving his family by the waste side. This is precisely where Corfixen’s oh-so-personal view of her subject really takes hold.
Although Refn is the one who initially directs Corfixen to reveal herself (via a mirror image) as the person behind the camera, Corfixen’s presence becomes increasingly apparent as their marriage is impacted by Refn’s behavior. With telling facial expressions aimed directly at the eye of Corfixen’s lens, Ryan Gosling has no qualms about slyly criticizing Refn as he rambles on about how Only God Forgives‘ build up of violence relates to sex. Gosling presumably knows that Refn is clearly off his rocker, he just wants to make sure that Corfixen understands this as well.
Corfixen becomes the innocent victim of her husband’s creative risks and egotistical desire; all the while, My Life Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn showcases Corfixen as the obliging and supportive wife, who heroically contends with her husband’s depression and violent outbursts…because that it is precisely what the wives of artists do, right? In the end, Corfixen serves as Refn’s voice of reason.
That is not to say that Refn is a total bad guy. My Life Directed by Nicholas Winding Refnalso provides a more forgiving perspective in which to view Only God Forgives. It is hard to deny that the hope of this documentary is to shed a light upon Refn’s genius, no matter how flawed it is. The aforementioned comparison to Kubrick’s drive for perfection is by no means an exaggeration. Refn himself deems Only God Forgives to be a failure, but only because it is not absolutely perfect. Maybe Refn has not learned that absolute perfection is a very rare commodity in the realm of cinema?  

Friday, February 27, 2015


A scene from Eastern Boys.
Security in western arms

By John Esther

"Her Majesty the Street" (AKA Part 1) is filled with young males from Eastern Europe. Uzbekistan, Macedonian, Russian, Romanian and Ukrainian teenagers and young men swarm and play together on the streets around the Gare du Nord train station and nearby shopping centers.

Teasing each other like less-cultured people tend to do, protecting each other from the authorities who would deport them, and scheming together to survive, these Slavic transients have fled the harsh conditions of their home countries and landed in Paris.

For most of part one, viewers essentially eavesdrop and survey them during another sunny day in gay Paris. There are no subtitles. For all intents and puposes they are to remain strangers until the friend is met -- or a hired lay as this case may be.

Obviously somebody with money, Daniel (Olivier Rabourdi) approaches one of the young men, Marek (Kirill Emelyanov). Through broken English and French the two manage to arrange a rendezvous for the next day at Daniel's house.

When the next day comes, it is not what Daniel had planned. He has been conned. Surrounded by strangers in his own home, the home invasion is a rather intense scene. If Daniel makes the wrong move he could be hurt. To complicate matters, Daniel is also a bit aroused, at least excited about the change in events and having so many young people around him.

A few days later, Marek comes back, looking to cash in on Daniel's need for a young man. Seemingly unphased by what has transpired, a la the home invasion, Daniel agrees and they have one of the most awkward sex scenes you could imagine. Could it be anymore obvious that Marek is only doing this for money? Perhaps Daniel appreciates the dettachment?

As weeks pass by, the relationship changes in its arrangement and in its tone. It seems these two men are looking for is something a lot more sophisticated than a client-prostitute relationship. Could they be friends or something else instead? Of course, back at the cheap hotel where the undocumented live, this does not bode well with Boss (Daniil Vorobyev) and the rest of the gang. Comrades for life!

Set in four parts, director Robin Campillo's Eastern Boys tackles solidarity and solitude, economic class, language and lingering ages -- managing to remain engaging throughout most of its two hours-plus running time.

Granted, none of the characters is particularly likeable and their motives seem less sympathetic -- though their pasts have obviously scarred them. Marek's need for Daniel is rather obvious. Daniel provides Marek income and some stability. As a price, Marek must offer his body, but he seems so uninterested in what is being done to his body, you wonder if he has endured worst. Well, at least psychologically he has.

Daniel's motives are certainly less clear and they somewhat change unexpectedly in the film. The trope is not entirely convincing but somehow forgivable as the narrative actually becomes more interesting henceforth. But, then again, he has been a rather unpredictable character all along.


A scene from Bluebird.

Clipped wings

By Don Simpson

As Lesley (Amy Morton) does the routine end-­of-­day inspection of her school bus, she becomes distracted by the presence of the titular bluebird. As quickly as the little bird flies away, this fleeting event creates a tsunami of consequences for Leslie. Found to have been negligent in her job duties, it is Lesley’s inaction that leaves a young boy hospitalized in a coma.

The comatose boy’s mother Marla (Louisa Krause) and grandmother (Margo Martindale) need to blame someone, because they certainly do not want to face their own negligence as his guardians. There is no way around the fact that Lesley should have finished checking her bus, but the boy’s family never once called the school, bus company or police to report the child missing. Instead, Marla passed out in her bathtub after a late night of drunken karaoke, never knowing (or caring) if her son was safe.

As it turns out, Marla did not want to have a baby when she was just 17-years-old; but her mother is “religious,” so Marla was forced to have the baby. This choice — or lack thereof — trapped Marla in this northern Maine logging town where she earns a measly paycheck as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant. As an escape, Marla turns habitually to alcohol and drugs; she has all but given up custody of her son to her mother.

Marla sees her lawsuit against Lesley as an opportunity to get out of her financially-constrained rut. Little does Marla know, if she does win the case, there will not be much money to get from Lesley’s family. Lesley will almost definitely lose her job as a bus driver, while Lesley’s husband, Richard (John Slattery), is counting the days until the local paper mill closes, which will render him unemployed as well. With not many other employment opportunities in this economically-ravaged town, Lesley and Richard are destined to lose their house to the bank.

Writer-director Lance Edmands’ film contemplates the economic risk of working in jobs in which you are responsible for other people’s lives. As a bus driver, Lesley probably never thought about what would be at stake if anything happened to one of the children on her bus. All people get distracted while working, yet most of them do not risk a lawsuit or jail time as a result of an innocent ten second distraction. That seems to be a humanly impossible expectation — for someone to never get distracted while they are working. We all make mistakes. The problem is, we are a society who likes to assert blame. We are also a society who loves to sue each other purely for financial gain.

Edmands makes his opinions fairly clear on the matter. As a result, it is difficult not to have some level of sympathy for Lesley and anger towards Marla. That said, Edmands is studious about pointing out Lesley’s — as well as her family’s — faults. They tend to do a lot of stupid things, but so does Marla…and so does everyone in the world. We also see just how riddled by guilt Lesley becomes; she grows increasingly fragile, moving around like a zombie. If only these people could just communicate with each other.

Bluebird is an impressive directorial debut by Edmands, who gets incredibly naturalistic performances from his very capable actors. Edmands ties his characters to the nature that surrounds them; the trees and snow both factoring directly into the emotional struggle of the characters. (One might even conclude that Lesley is being emotionally pulped.) Those very same elements also seclude their town, cutting it off from the rest of the world, leaving them to deal with their own problems. One might think that journalists would flock to cover a story about a young boy who was left alone on a school bus on a cold winter night, but we never see any out-of-towners.

Captured with a frigid blue and green color palate by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes, Bluebird is similar in mood and tone to Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter — yes, and both films deal with the passing of guilt, blame and responsibility associated with a school bus. Observing the unique qualities of the natural light during the outdoor scenes, I realized just how few films I have watched that were actually shot in northern Maine during the winter…if any. Then I think, were they crazy?! Shooting in northern Maine in February?! At least they probably did not need to pay for any fake snow.

Monday, February 23, 2015


A scene from Sassy Mamas.

Ought um
By Ed Rampell
Sassy Mamas, by prizewinning playwright Celeste Bedford Walker is a comedy-drama about three longtime girlfriends in Washington, D.C., who, in the autumns of their lives, find themselves flying solo.
Hospital administrator Jo Billie (the indomitable Iona Morris, who also helmed this remount) is recently widowed, while Mary’s (Elayn J. Taylor) ambassador husband has broken diplomatic relations with her by throwing Mary to the curb in favor of a younger woman. The never-married, career-driven National Security Adviser Wilhelmina (not Condoleeza), who is played by Honolulu-born actress Denise Dowse, has been too busy pursuing international relations to have a personal relationship. What’s a single woman to do?
Prodded by Jo Billie, who appears to be the sassiest of the gal pals, they ponder why it’s socially acceptable for a male to have a much younger female mate, and they decide to “flip the script.” So using their advantages in terms of social status, wealth and position the upper crust trio seek younger sex partners.
In the first act it seems as if Sassy Mama will be a raucous, raunchy farce about “cougars” - or, in this case, “black panthers” - and their, shall we say, young “bucks.” But over the course of almost three hours Walker’s two-acter reveals that there’s much more to her characters and plot than just an older woman-younger man paradigm.
Let’s just say that cum-plications and hilarity ensue, along with some drama and pathos. Jo Billie, who is portrayed by the youngest and sexiest of the three actresses, acquires a boy toy whom the businesswoman signs a contract with for his sexual services (paging Ms. E.L. James!). LaDonte (Jah Shams) and Jo Billie have an especially high-larious scene involving some hanky-spanky role playing, with the impish Morris wearing a sort of I Dream of Jeannie costume. This sidesplitting sequence is worth the price of admission alone.
Sassy Mamas runs through March 29 at Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., CA 90019. For info: 323-571-3232; Tickets 














Friday, February 20, 2015


This year's John Garfield Award recipient for Best Actor in a Film: David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma.
Thinking differently
By John Esther
This week an anonymous member of the Academy declared "Selma has no art to it," and that the decision of its filmmakers to wear a "I Can't Breathe" t-shirt in memorial to Eric Garner's death at the film's premiere was "offensive."
Nevermind, for a moment, that this member of an organization that is reportedly 94 percent white is complaining about a protest against police brutality on unarmed black people at the filmmakers' own premiere of their film. Or that Selma is a film about a man, and many others, who stood up against police brutality and were indeed victims of police brutality. Forget that for a second because he or she does not know what he or she is talking about. Selma has plenty of art to it. Otherwise there is no way the James Agee Critics Circle could have awarded it the Trumbo for Best Picture of the year and the film's lead, David Oyelowo the Garfield Award for Best Actor in a film released in the U.S. 2014.
That would not be possible. (This person probably thinks the woefully offensive Last Days in Vietnam is one of the best documentaries of the year.)
Here are the other winners of the 8th Annual Progies -- in Blue.
THE TRUMBO: The Progie Award for BEST PICTURE is named after Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten, who was imprisoned for his beliefs and refusing to inform. Trumbo helped break the Blacklist when he received screen credit for Spartacus and Exodus in 1960.
Winner: Selma.
Other nominations:
Cesar Chavez;
The Congress;
Goodbye to Language;
The Liberator;
Two Days, One Night
THE GARFIELD: The Progie Award for BEST ACTOR is named after John Garfield, who starred in pictures such as Gentleman’s Agreement and Force of Evil, only to run afoul of the Hollywood Blacklist.
Winner: David Oyelowo in Selma.
Other nominees:
Benedict Cumbert, The Imitation Game;
Harvey Keitel, The Congress;
Michael Keaton, Birdman;
Eddie Ramierez, The Liberator;
Jeremy Renner, Kill the Messenger;
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything;
Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher;

KAREN MORLEY AWARD: The Progie Award for BEST ACTRESS in a film is named for Karen Morley, co-star of Scarface (1932) and Our Daily Bread (1934). Morley was driven out of Hollywood in the 1930s for her leftist views.

Winner: Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night.

Other nominees:
American Ferrara, Cesar Chavez;
Juianne Moore, Still Alice;
Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer;
Tessa Thompson, Dear White People;

THE RENOIR: The Progie Award for BEST ANTI-WAR FILM is named after the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, who directed the 1937 anti-militarism masterpiece, Grand Illusion.

Winner: The Imitation Game.

Other nominations:
The Kill Team;
The Unknown Known;
Zero Motivation;

THE GILLO: The Progie Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE FOREIGN FILM is named after the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, who lensed The Battle of Algiers and Burn!

Winner: Goodbye to Language.

Other nominations:
The Circle;
Human Capital;
The Liberator;
Norte, the End of History;
Two Days, One Night;
THE DZIGA: The Progie Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE DOCUMENTARY is named after the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov, who directed 1920s nonfiction films such as the Kino Pravda series and The Man With the Movie Camera.

Winner: Citizenfour.

Other nominations:
The Case Against 8;
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia;
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz;
To Be Takei;
Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger;
OUR DAILY BREAD AWARD: The Progie Award for the MOST POSITIVE AND INSPIRING WORKING CLASS SCREEN IMAGE is named after King Vidor’s 1934 classic about an American collective farm.

Winner: Pride.

Other nominations:
Cesar Chavez;
The Liberator;
Two Days, One Night;

THE ROBESON: The Progie Award for the BEST PORTRAYAL OF PEOPLE OF COLOR that shatters cinema stereotypes, in light of their historically demeaning depictions onscreen. It is named after courageous performing legend, Paul Robeson, who starred in Song of Freedom and The Proud Valley.

Winner: Dear White People.

Other nominations;
Big Hero 6;
Cesar Chavez;
The Liberator;
A Most Violent Year;

THE BUNUEL: The Progie Award for the MOST SLYLY SUBVERSIVE SATIRICAL CINEMATIC FILM in terms of form, style and content is named after Luis Bunuel, the Spanish surrealist who directed The Andalusian Dog, Belle de Jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Winner (four-way tie): Birdman; Inherent Vice; Nightcrawler; A Trip to Italy.

Other nominations:
The Congress;

THE PASOLINI: The Progie Award for BEST PRO-GAY RIGHTS film is named after Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who directed The Gospel According to St. Matthew, The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales.

Winner: Pride.

Other nominations:
The Circle;
The Imitation Game;
Love is Strange;
To Be Takei;
The Way He Looks;

THE LAWSON: The Progie Award for BEST ANTI-FASCIST FILM is named after John Howard Lawson, screenwriter of 1938’s anti-Franco Blockade and the 1940s anti-nazi films Four Sons, Action in the North Atlantic, Sahara and Counter-Attack, and one of the Hollywood Ten.

Winner: Snowpiercer.

Other nominations:
Most Wanted Man;
The Lego Movie;
Norte, the End of History;
THE SERGEI: The Progie Award for LIFETIME PROGRESSIVE ACHIEVEMENT ON- OR OFFSCREEN is named after Sergei Eisenstein, the Soviet director of masterpieces such as Potemkin and 10 Days That Shook the World.

Winner: Harry Belafonte.


Monday, February 16, 2015


Kenneth (Peter O'Meara) in The Night Alive. Photo credit: Michael Lamont.

Riders of the storm

By Ed Rampell

A poster from the 1963 movie ,The Great Escape, is a visual cue that provides a vital clue and key to what’s going on in Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive. This one-acter, performed sans intermission during its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse, is essentially about five Dubliners who live marginal lives. The onstage action takes place in the untidy “apartment” - without so much as a refrigerator - that middle aged Tommy (Paul Vincent O’Connor) rents from an older guardian of sorts named Maurice (Denis Arndt), who insists on calling it a mere “room” in his Edwardian house. Doc (Dan Donohue) is a 30-ish, dimwitted hanger-on and laborer who drifts between sleeping at his sister’s home, Tommy’s place and a van.

Enter into the pecking order and drab, lonely lives of these three solo men aimless Aimee (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), a 20-something woman with a murky past whom Tommy rides to the rescue of on a white horse, saving this total stranger from a dire predicament. In offering her refuge he turns the three men’s presumably celibate lives upside down. In the process, Tommy believes he comes alive and is being given a second chance at life.

Although, as said, The Night Alive is a one act play, what could pass for, more or less, Act I, is quite low key and uneventful - some might even consider it talky and dull. But things really pick up when Kenneth (Peter O’Meara) enters, stage right, from out of nowhere as a kind of bogeyman, turning things topsy-turvy as we learn more about who Aimee really is, and why she needed sanctuary.

This play is essentially about fringe characters yearning to get away from their boring existences. In particular, Tommy is a study in male menopause and mid-life crisis. Separated from his wife and children, somehow eking out a living by tending to “bits and pieces”, residing in Maurice’s room/apartment, he believes Aimee presents him with the opportunity to break free of the mundane, ho-hum routine of his sexless day-to-day monotony. His legs aren’t so much limbs as they are stumps; clearly, this aging, balding man has seen better days. (But maybe not much better…) The details of his and Aimee’s sex life, or what passes for it, are pretty grim - listen closely (there’s a good joke about what causes “repetitive strain injury”). But it’s better than nothing - Doc offhandedly confesses that he’s impotent, while the forlorn Maurice mourns his deceased wife.

Tommy constructs a wild plan to flee Ireland to start anew with Aimee in a place this reviewer has never before heard referred to as a haven for shattered souls seeking a second lease on life. (Really?) Be that as it may, the aforementioned The Great Escape poster tacked to Tommy’s wall is a pop culture reference to the inner meaning of McPherson’s drama. In that John Sturges World War II classic, Allied POWs plot to escape from a Nazi prison camp. As the “Cooler King,” Steve McQueen (the actor, not the director) nears the border with neutral Switzerland, desperately trying to jump the barbwire fence on a motorcycle in a scene that encompasses humans’ existential struggles for freedom. This sequence is indelibly etched in the mind’s eye of anyone who has ever seen it onscreen, and no one can fail to root for McQueen and his valiant effort to escape from the Nazis to freedom in democratic Switzerland, so near yet so far across the barbed wire.

For Tommy, Aimee is arguably his motorcycle. Will he jump the barbed wire to find freedom?

In any case play is able, ensemble acting is well-directed by Randall Arney, who previously helmed American Buffalo at the Geffen. This seems appropriate, as Alive’s down-and-out characters brought to mind David Mamet’s characters in his 1975 Buffalo. (The interactions between Tommy and Doc are also reminiscent of the relationship between George and Lenny in John Steinbeck’s heartbreaking Of Mice and Men.) Takeshi Kata’s set, with its high ceiling, strikes just the right sordid note of dinginess. Daniel Ionazzi’s lighting comes, well, alive in the mystical grand finale.

O’Meara’s Wolfman-like Kenneth puts the “fear” into McPherson’s drama, which takes unexpected turns. O’Shaughnessy, who previously played the title role in Oscar Wilde’s Salome at the Gate Theatre Dublin, isn’t particularly sexy as Aimee. But perhaps that’s precisely the point: O’Connor invests Tommy with so much desperation and sexual longing that any female in her twenties seems to have the erotic powers of an Aphrodite.

In 2014, Conor McPherson adapted a new version of The Dance of Death for A Noise Within’s L.A. production of Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s 1900 play. The much-touted and awarded Dublin-born McPherson, who previously wrote The Weir, is in the tradition of those great Gaelic scribes, such as Sean O’Casey and James Joyce, and the Welsh Dylan Thomas. McPherson may perpetuate that image of the Irish as storytellers by making the dopey Doc a writer, who scribbles (guess what?) into his notebook, but thankfully, although there is some drinking in Alive, he eschews the stereotype of the Irish as drunks. The Geffen’s production of McPherson’s 2013 play, with its magical realist, enigmatic ending that had theatergoers scratching their noggins (again, this reviewer/roadmapper to inner meanings, refers you to The Great Escape poster and another pop cultural signpost: a rendition of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On), gives Angeleno audiences another opportunity to sample this bard’s vision.     


The Night Alive runs through March 15 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., LA CA 90024. For info: 310-208-5454;