Friday, December 28, 2012

Van Sant Goes Capra

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What Price Honor in Corporate America?

By Skip Sheffield


First, be aware “The Promised Land” is an ironic title. I don’t think people would flock to theaters for “At What Price Fracking?”
Yes, “Promised Land” is a tale centered on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, but it is also a cautionary tale about corporate greed and arrogance along with the ethical and ecological danger of selling out to the highest bidder.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film is based on a story by David K. Eggers, whose “Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” was a runner-up for a Pulitzer Prize and earned him the sobriquet “The J. D. Salenger of Generation X.” The screenplay is a collaboration between its two stars, Matt Damon and John Krasinsky.
Damon is Steve Butler, a hotshot salesman and candidate for vice president of Global Crossover Solutions, a New York-based conglomerate with a natural gas drilling division. The strategy is to breeze into some depressed hick town, ingratiate oneself with the locals, and convince them to sell the drilling rights of their land, preferably for the least amount of money, for maximum corporate profit.
Steve exploits his own history as a former farm boy from an Iowa town that went bust when its tractor factory pulled out of town.
The rural town of McKinley in western Pennsylvania is a perfect target. Most of the farms, in many cases in a family for generations, are on the verge of bankruptcy. Under those farms is a fortune in natural gas. However, hydraulic fracturing requires toxic chemicals which leach into the water table and soil.
Steve is picked up on the outskirts of town by his soft-sell partner, Sue Thompson (Frances McDormand), who has bought an old pickup truck to blend in. The couple’s first stop is a general store where they stock up on blue jeans, flannels and provisions. The store keeper is no fool.
“You’re from the gas company, aren’t you? He says with a knowing smile.
While many of the farmers are eager to take the money and run, there are holdouts. They are represented by Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook), a retired high school science teacher who knows all about fracking and its dangers.
So does Dustin Noble (John Krasinsky), a crusading environmentalist who comes to town to preach of the horrors of fracking, complete with photos, charts and diagrams.
Offering a diversion from the main plot is Steve’s interest in Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), a pretty teacher who is also a family landowner.
It all boils town to a town meeting very much in the Frank Capra tradition. Matt Damon is ideally-suited to play the basically good guy seduced by the power, prestige and profit of corporate America. Frances McDormand adds some depth to her one-dimensional character with her scenes as a single mother, keeping in touch with her son via Skype.
There is a dandy twist to the plot that will have liberals cheering and conservatives scoffing. As with most all morality tales, “Promised Land” is simplistic, with clear-cut heroes and villains. The real story of economic survival in 21st century America is a heck of a lot more complicated.  At two hours, 20 minutes it could have used some judicious editing, but it is a story that deserves to be told.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Quentin Tarentino's Revenge Kick Continues

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A Cartoonishly Violent “Django Unchained”

By Skip Sheffield


In “Django Unchained,” writer-director Quentin Tarentino does to slave-owners and traders what he did to Nazis in “Inglourious Basterds.” He blows them all the way.
Yes, “Django” is ridiculously, recklessly, relentlessly violent, in a cartoon-spatter kind of way. Tarentino gives a black man, Jamie Foxx, the hero’s role of freed slave Django. Playing co-hero, if you will, is a white man, Dr. King Schultz (Christophe Waltz), a German-born dentist-turned-bounty hunter who buys Django’s freedom in 1858 and sets out in search for Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who is being held in bondage by a particularly obnoxious and cowardly Southern plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
DiCaprio seems to relish playing such a reprehensible character. Dandy Candie is a kind of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Snidely Whiplash.
While it is beautifully, lovingly photographed, “Django” is not for delicate sensibilities or sensitive ears. The story practically revels in the cruelty and injustice of slavery, leading the audience to cheer the righteous vengeance of “Django” all the more.
“Django” is the dark yang to the idealistic yin of “Lincoln.” Abraham Lincoln was a real-life hero who paid the ultimate price for his courage and determination in freeing America’s slaves: his own life.
“Django” is as crude and simplistic (yet entertaining) as “Lincoln” is lofty, stately and noble. There is a place for both approaches in America. I happened to prefer “Lincoln” as my choice for best movie of 2012.

"Zero Dark" is Right

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A Dark, Controversial “Zero Dark Thirty”

By Skip Sheffield


Like “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty” is a movie whose outcome is already known. “Zero Dark Thirty” is the story-behind-the-story of the dramatic invasion and execution of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in bin Laden's Afghan stronghold in May of 2011. It is a second collaboration by director Kathryn Bigelow with journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal.
There was a lot more planning in the attack that meets the eye: literally ten years worth, starting right after the vicious USA terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Boal gives a richly-detailed but controversial account of the political and military strategies of the mission. Boal was the screenwriter of Bigelow’s Oscar-winning breakthrough film, “Hurt Locker,” which also was tough on the U.S. military.
In Boal’s telling, a female CIA officer, Maya is the clear-cut heroine.
Maya is played by the gifted Jessica Chastain, who has been named on a number of critic’s Best Actress lists. Maya was head of a special group within the CIA investigating suspects and possible collaborators in the 9/11 attacks. The controversial part of the screenplay is its rather explicit and lengthy depictions of torture by U.S. and allied interrogators. While there is little doubt that very forceful interrogation went on in the hunt for bin Laden, critics say the film implies that torture is an effective way of extracting information. Others say there was no torture.
“Zero Dark Thirty” (the title is a military tern for half-past midnight) is a literally dark film, shot in jerky documentary fashion with hand-held cameras. The kind of meticulous research and planning that went into the project could be perceived as boring, but Bigelow presents the unfolding of the story is a suspenseful manner. There are typical bureaucratic heroes and villains, but it is the Navy S.E.A.L.s who executed the difficult and daring mission who deserve the lion’s share of the credit, along with the stubborn, persistent and brilliant CIA strategist who pointed everyone in the right direction. For that, bravo Bigelow and right-hand woman, Jessica Chastain.

It's not Called "Les Joyeux"

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“Les Miserables” an Innovative Approach to Movie Musical

By Skip Sheffield


Three major motion pictures will be in theaters by Christmas Day Dec. 25. All three are included on the top ten lists of most professional critic groups.
The most eagerly-awaited is the screen adaptation of the stage musical “Les Miserables” by British director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”).
Hooper had the inspired idea of having his actors sing their lines live with just a single piano as accompaniment. The lush orchestrations would be overdubbed later.
This works brilliantly for the most part, as all the dialogue is sung and actors are better able to emote naturally.
“Les Miserables” has a long and illustrious history, starting with the 1862 publication of the novel by French writer Victor Hugo. For our purposes we will stick with the film, which is based on the stage musical that debuted in London in 1985 and is running to this day.
There is a reason for the title. This is not a cheerful or joyous story, but one of injustice, struggle, rebellion, revenge and redemption.
Jean Valjean (Broadway and movie star Hugh Jackman) is a victim of injustice at an early age. He was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving sister and children and sentenced to five years in prison. Headstrong and extraordinarily physically strong, Valjean escaped from prison repeatedly, which stretched out his sentence to 19 years.
When he is finally paroled by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), Valjean promptly breaks parole by stealing silver candlesticks from a kindly Bishop (Colm Wilkinson) who gives him shelter.
In court the Bishop not only lies to protect Valjean, he gives him more silver. For the first time Valjean realizes the power of forgiveness and renewal. He assumes a new identity and becomes the prosperous owner of a factory and Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. When Valjean performs a feat of strength to save another man, Javert realizes the Mayor has a familiar face: that of the man who broke parole.
So begins a tale of pursuit that continues to the end of the 156-minute film, played against the love story of Valjean’s devotion to tragic factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who is unjustly fired from her job and forced into prostitution, degradation and death.
It is Hathaway’s searing performance that garners the most acclaim. Surely she will be remembered at Oscar time as one of the greatest actresses (and singers) of her generation.
Fantine has an illegitimate daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), who has been taken in by two comically disreputable innkeepers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen), who treat her like a slave while they dote on their daughter Eponine (Samatha Barks from the 25th anniversary production).
Valjean buys Cosette’s freedom for 1,500 Francs and becomes her guardian. Cosette falls for fiery, rebellious student Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who is involved in the bloody June Rebellion of 1832.
Redmayne is a revelation as a singer. His character inspires Valjean to sing the score’s most poignant song, “Bring Him Home.”
“Les Miserables” was spurned by critics the first time out, but it endured by word-of-mouth and popular acclaim. It is overblown, unsubtle and over-long, but by golly you get your money’s worth.

A "Sister Act" for the Holidays

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By Skip Sheffield

Can I get an amen?
Amen!
“Sister Act” is one of those unexpected little blessings that sometimes come in the holiday season. The singing, swinging nun extravaganza runs through Dec. 30 at Broward Center for the Arts.
“Sister Act” is based on the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith and Kathy Najimy. For the 2011 Broadway musical version, which is produced by Whoopi Goldberg, the setting has been moved from Reno, Nevada to South Philadelphia. Additional music has been created by Alan Menkin (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Mermaid”) with lyrics by Glenn Slater (“Little Mermaid”). The time has been moved back to the peak of the 1980s disco area, which enables scenic designer (Klara Zieglerova) and costume designer Liz Brotherston to have some glittery, over-the-top fun.
The highly unlikely story has aspiring disco star Deloris Van Cartier (Ta’Rea Campbell) accidentally witness a mob execution.
Deloris flees to her friend “Sweaty Eddie” Souther (E. Clayton Cornelious), who happens to be a police officer.
Eddie long harbored a crush on Deloris and he is protective of her, so he urges her to hide in safety at the local convent, Our Queen of Angels. Deloris assumes the guise of a young nun, which allows for some sight and verbal gags.
The titular head of the convent is genial Monsignor O’Hara (Richard Pruitt), but the real power is with the Mother Superior, a stern, upright character played by Hollis Resnik. There is an immediate clash of wills, and it gets worse when Deloris takes over leadership of the convent choir and teaches the women some decidedly secular moves.
It’s all an excuse to stage some ever more elaborate musical numbers, backed by a 14-piece orchestra in the pit. There are some outstanding performers, starting with Ta’Rea Campbell, a woman with a voice more clear and powerful than Whoopi could ever hope for. Clayton Cornelious is an excellent singer with good dance moves and one truly amazing costume change for his showpiece number, “I Could Be That Guy.”
There is a tuneful, slinky male trio (Todd A. Horman, Ernie Pruenda and Charles Barksdale) that shows off slick dances moves behind bad guy Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs).
The element of surprise is well-played by the casting of original Broadway cast member Lael Van Keuren as the shy youngest novice, Sister Mary Robert. We’ll just say she doesn’t remain meek for long.
“Sister Act” is the kind of show that builds to an inevitable grand finale, which really does “Spread the Love Around.”
You don’t have to be Catholic or even religious to appreciate the rah-rah show biz feel-good glitz of “Sister Act.”
Tickets are $39.50-$79.50 and may be reserved by calling 954-462-0222 or online at www.browardcenter.org.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Road Trip With Mom

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A Fairly Funny “Guilt Trip”

If you like Barbra Streisand you will probably like “Guilt Trip.” If not, back away slowly from the movie theater.
“Guilt Trip” stars Babs as Joyce Brewster, the overprotective New Jersey Jewish mom of nerdy Andy Brewster, played by Jason Segel.
Andy studied chemistry at UCLA and he fancies himself an inventor. He has concocted an all-natural cleaning solution that is so non-toxic you can actually drink it. Andy has poured seven years and all his money into developing the awkwardly-named “Scioclean.” Sadly, Andy’s presentational skills are even more awkward.
This proves a problem when Andy embarks on a cross-county trip from New Jersey to San Francisco, with Joyce riding shotgun, trying to convince major chains to carry his product.
That’s pretty much it with Dan Fogelman’s screenplay, inspired by an actual trip he took with his mother. Fogelman is the author of the romantic films “The Proposal” and “Crazy, Stupid Love,” so you can bet he is big on aw-shucks vulnerability.
However, thanks in large part to the comedic skill of Streisand, there are some hearty yucks in this anticlimactic journey. I came away from the film with a new realization how beautiful Streisand’s eyes are.

Is Fun Over at 40?

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Unflattering “This is 40”

By Skip Sheffield

“This is 40” paints a very unflattering picture of that milestone.
This is a Judd Apatow production, written and directed by the creator of the raunchy comedies “40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and television’s “The Larry Sanders Show.” Apatow does not have a delicate sense of humor.
“I like filth,” he has been quoted as saying.
“This is 40” takes place a few years after the characters Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) appeared as a young married couple in “Knocked Up.”
Lovely Leslie Mann is Judd Apatow’s wife. Obviously she understands her husband’s caustic sense of humor. She is a very good sport too, because Debbie does not relish the prospect of hitting 40, and much of the humor comes from her insecurity and humiliation.
Pete has already hit the big 4-0, and his sentiment is quite clear: “(bleep) forty.”
There are some good things about “This is 40.” Pete is a fan of British singer-songwriter Graham Party, who plays himself in the film. Pete wants to promote a Parker comeback tour in America. It is for this reason Pete’s record label is in financial trouble. Even Parker doubts his box office potential.
Another good thing about “40” is Albert Brooks as Pete’s dad, who reassures his son the years 40 to 60 are the best of a guy’s life. Yet another is John Lithgow as Debbie’s dad and luscious Megan Fox as her coworker.
And so it goes. Jason Segal makes a cameo appearance as Pete’s buddy Jason from “Knocked Up” and Apatow’s friend and collaborator. The movie just sort of mills around until the inevitable 40th birthday party. Why it takes 134 minutes to get to this point is a bit of a mystery.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bill Murray Charms, Seduces as FDR



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Oh, That Rascal FDR


By Skip Sheffield

Franklin D. Roosevelt died before I was born, but his “New Deal” liberal policies were often a topic of my father’s grousing at our house.
“Hyde Park on the Hudson” is not as much about FDR’s politics or economics as it is about his love life. Who knew FDR was such a Don Juan?
When he is played by Bill Murray, perhaps you can believe it.
The title refers to Roosevelt’s family retreat, ruled over by Franklin’s starchy mother (Elizabeth Wilson). The story is set on a long weekend in 1939 in which the Roosevelts awaited the first ever visit by the King and Queen of England.
FDR knew King George VI (Samuel West) had an ulterior motive when he agreed to travel with his wife and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), mother of the current British monarch. They desperately needed the help of the USA in the gathering storm of war, which would explode in just three months hence.
The royals were quite stuffy and formal, which allows for much of the movie’s humor. Queen Elizabeth in particular is horrified that their hosts plan to serve hot dogs at a family picnic. Evidently no royal has ever deigned to taste the humble American snack.
The social and political maneuverings are secondary to the allegedly true story of FDR’s affair with a distant cousin. She is called Daisy (Laura Linney) here, but the story (by Richard Nelson) is inspired by the diaries of one Margaret Stuckley, which were discovered after her death at age 99.
Whether or not FDR actually had an affair with Daisy is all a matter of conjecture. As presented here Daisy is but one of several mistresses FDR maintains simultaneously, despite the fact he was severely disabled by polio (which was hidden from the public with the complicity of the press) and married to unlovely Eleanor (Olivia Williams), who in this scenario knew full well her husband’s indiscretions.
Hyde Park” depends heavily on the raffish charm of Bill Murray, who plays knaves and rotters we like anyway. FDR charms not only innocent Daisy, but the Queen and particularly the King of England, with whom he forms a bond. Director Roger Michell has given Murray free reign to be as outrageous as he needs to be. Laura Linney uses her considerable dramatic skill to expose the 32nd President’s callous, thoughtless side.
This film would confirm my father’s worst suspicions about FDR. For me it humanizes a man who has been put up on a pedestal and idealized, and it accomplishes it with great wit and humor.

A Feminist Comedy and Classic Albee




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A Very Funny Feminist Revenge Comedy


By Skip Sheffield


Some think feminists are dour, humorless people. Not so Lauren Gunderson.
Lauren Gunderson is the playwright of “Exit, Pursued by a Bear,” playing through Dec. 30 in its Florida premiere at the Arts Garage, 180 NE First Ave., Delray Beach.
“Bear” is a comedy about an abusive husband and his long-suffering wife, who has decided to suffer no more.
That woman is Nan (Niki Fridh), a northern Georgia housewife is fed up with the abuse and neglect of her loutish husband Kyle (David Nail). Kyle is a good ol’ boy Neanderthal who loves hunting and guzzling Busch beer. If he gets a little too much- which is often- he may just haul off and smack his poor wife.
The play opens with Kyle duct-taped to a La-Z-Boy chair, gagged and immobile. Nan announces she is going to leave his sorry self. Furthermore she is going to drag him to the back yard and cover him with venison steaks, which will presumably provoke him to be devoured, if not pursued, by a bear.
Nan is empowered by her new best friend Peaches, aka Sweetheart (Lindsey Forgey), an aspiring actress with a fondness for Shakespeare. There isn’t much call for Shakespeare in north Georgia, so sweetheart makes ends meet by stripping.
It is amusing to note that the play’s title is lifted from a famous stage direction in Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale.” Sweetheart likes to quote The Bard in a thick Southern drawl.
More important to Nan is her devotion to and respect for America’s 39th President, Jimmy Carter, whom she quotes often.
The idea of Carter as muse is funny. He was one of America’s less successful Presidents, but at heart he is a highly-principled, morally upright man. This is in stark contrast to Kyle, who has no redeeming value. Why Nan would ever get involved with Kyle in the first place is puzzling, but as the playwright says, this is a “shocking, violent and silly” play.
It is also very funny under the guidance of director Louis Tyrrell and the well-chosen cast, which includes David Hemphill as Nan’s other best friend Simon Beaufort, a gay, cross-dressing character in a cheerleader’s outfit.
“Bear” races along in about 70 minutes sans intermission. It’s not Shakespeare, but it is very funny entertainment and a good addition to Arts Garage.
Shows are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $30-$40. Call 561-450-6357.

“A Delicate Balance” at Palm Beach Dramaworks

On a more serious note, “A Delicate Balance,” runs through Jan. 9 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
I must confess I was a bit daunted at the prospect of a three-act play with two intermissions. However, the show fairly flew by under the direction of William Hayes. The cast is absolutely first-rate, befitting of the three Pulitzer Prize-winning plays by “America’s Shakespeare,” Edward Albee.
A lot of playwrights have written about dysfunctional families. Few have done so with the eloquence of Albee, who was inspired by some of his own history growing up as an adopted son of a wealthy family.
Agnes (Maureen Anderman) and Tobias (Dennis Creaghan) are a wealthy married couple living in a large Connecticut estate with servants and a permanent houseguest, Agnes’ sister Claire (Angie Radosh).
Claire is cheerfully, adamantly an alcoholic. The booze shields her from the harsher reality of her situation, but it has not dulled her rapier wit.
There is an ongoing tension and resentment in this domestic triangle, but the three characters have learned to live with it. The balance is upset with the unexpected entrance of the couple’s neurotic “best friends,” Edna (Laura Turnbull) and Harry (Rob Donohoe). The couple has been seized with some inexplicable terror that has driven them from their house, and in desperation they ask if they can seek refuge in the spare bedroom.
Ever the gracious hosts, Agnes and Tobias reluctantly agree to the intrusion, but the balance is upset further with the arrival of the couple’s daughter Julia (Anne Bates), who has come home to mommy and daddy after the crumbling of her fourth marriage. The tensions that simmered in Act One quickly and forcibly come to a boil as Julia freaks out about the interlopers in her room.
“A Delicate Balance” asks some very big questions. How much can one partner forgive the other in a marriage? How long must a parent care, nurture and forgive a grown child? What responsibility does a friend have for a best friend? How long can one sibling tolerate the misbehavior of another?
Maureen Anderman is a specialist in the work of Albee and she is the very picture of a wealthy, upper-class society matron: cool and polished on the outside; raging on the inside.
Dennis Creaghan is suave and debonair as Tobias, but not without guilt, weakness and doubt. Angie Radosh is a master comedian who makes her character’s reprehensible behavior amusing rather than repulsive.
Anne Bates has the toughest job of all making her immature, clingy daughter sympathetic, but rest assured all characters have his or her moment to state their case, and with this cast’s skill, we care.
Tickets are $55 and may be reserved by calling 561-514-4042.
In conjunction with this production, a film documentary, “The Stages of Edward Albee,” will have its world premiere with three showings at 2, 5 and 8 p.m. Jan. 8. Tickets are $10. Visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.



Monday, November 26, 2012

A Not-So "Wild Party"

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By Skip Sheffield



My mother used to say, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
And so I will choose my words very carefully. Outre Theatre Co. is the new kid in town, and a feisty one at that.
Outre’s inaugural production, “The Wild Party,” continues through Dec. 9 in the black box theater of Mizner Park Centre for the Arts (formerly Cartoon Museum).
“Wild Party” is a bold but curious choice for the Boca Raton audience. The work is a musical by Andrew Lippa based on a 1928 narrative poem by John Moncure March.
“Wild Party” was quite risqué in its day. It was duly “banned in Boston.”
Outre’s “Wild Party” has a huge and rather unwieldy 15-member cast, under the direction of Skye Whitcomb. It also has a large (9-piece) onstage band under the direction of Kristen Long to tackle Lippa’s challenging, not-very-hummable score.
As Whitcomb says in his director’s notes, “There are no heroes here. A cast of empty, hungry characters claw and bite for something, anything, to fill the void, while jazz, sex, betrayal and alcohol swirl around them.”
If this does not sound like much fun, then you get the picture.
If “Wild Party’ is supposed to be sexy and funny, the characters are so unlikable it is hard for it to be either. The main characters are Queenie (Sabrina Gore) and Burrs (Tom Anello), a vaudeville couple with an offstage relationship. It is a volatile relationship. You could say they are always at each other’s throats.
The hostilities escalate with the addition of two characters at the party of the title. Kate (Christina Groom) is a flapper who sets her sights on both Queenie and Burrs. Black (Mark Brown-Rodriguez) is a smooth-talking brown-eyed handsome man (with the best male voice) who picks up on Queenie’s revenge flirtations.
As the party wears on the characters sing about their messed up lives in rhyming couplets. One of the best things about “The Wild Party” is the dance numbers, choreographed by Michelle Petrucci and staged on Sean McClellend’s elegantly shabby set. A stand-out dancer is a little fireplug of a guy named Jackie (Ben Solomor), who gets his own solo number, “Jackie’s Last Dance.”
There is a grand finale of sorts, of which we will not detail. Suffice it to say the party is over. We are not likely to return.
We will return to see whatever else Outre Theatre has in the works. It is admirable the company is giving work to so many young and talented South Florida performers. We just wish the party could have been more fun.
For tickets, call 954-300-2149 or go to www.outretheatrecompany.com.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Human Conflict in "The Birds"

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By Skip Sheffield


Mosaic Theatre opens its 12th season with the Southeastern U.S. premiere of “The Birds,” running through Dec. 9 on the campus of Heritage School, 12200 W. Broward Blvd., Plantation.
This version of “The Birds” is adapted by Irish playwright Conor McPherson from the same original 1952 Daphne du Maurier short story that inspired Alfred Hitchcock to make his 1963 movie. The only real similarity between movie and play is that birds go berserk in both.
You will see no actual birds in the Mosaic production. Oh, you’ll hear them and see their shadowy silhouettes, but “The Birds” is about human beings, not birds.
The story unfolds with two strangers holed up in a cottage near the sea. Diane (Kim Cozort) is a successful writer whose conflicts with an estranged daughter have interfered with her creative process. Temperamental Nat (Kenneth Kay) is a divorced guy who has just endured a breakup with his latest girlfriend. She claimed he had mental problems and tried to have him committed. Nat has fallen ill with a fever and has just awakened from a two-day sleep.
Diane and Nat have made the observation that flocks of birds attack at high tide and retreat when the tide falls. That gives them a few safe hours to forage for supplies until they have to barricade themselves again.
A young woman knocks at the front door seeking refuge. Julia (Vera Varlamov) has been staying with a group of people who have become violent. One of them hit her on the head with a school bell, causing a wound that Diane treats. Julia offers to do chores in exchange for refuge. This is a bit of a joke, because Julia is kind of a slob.
The introduction of the younger woman creates a sexual tension among the three. Kim Cozort and Kenneth Kay are married in real life and their relationship compliments their characters. Diane is attracted to Nat and threatened by Julia.
Russian-born Vera Varlamov is a sensational addition to the South Florida theater scene. Though Diane rightly points out Julia is younger than Diane’s daughter, that doesn’t stop sexy Julia from openly flirting with Nat.
In the course of just 85 minutes with no intermission, secrets are divulged about all three characters. The most complex character of the lot is Diane. It is a treat to see Kim Cozort digging in to a personality with so many contradictions. An avowed atheist, Diane clashes with Julia, who wears a cross and quotes scripture.
I like it when I see a play that prompts me to go to the Bible and look up a quotation. Julia didn’t give the precise chapter and verse but I found she quoted Ecclesiastes 7:26, which states, “I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains.”
Whew! Yes, there are snares, traps and bitterness in “The Birds,” all played out on a fabulous set by Douglas Grinn, with spooky, portentous lighting by Suzanne M. Jones and chilling, evocative sound design by Matt Corey.
Mosaic Theatre is way out west on Broward Boulevard, nor far from Sawgrass Mills. Because of this I haven’t ventured out there before. I say for the record it is well worth the trip.
Tickets are $40 adults, $36 65 and up and $15 students under 25. Call 954-577-8243.

Guardians of Childhood Fantasy

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Do You Believe in the Easter Bunny?


By Skip Sheffield

Did you believe in the Easter Bunny? How about Santa Claus, the Sand Man and the Tooth Fairy?
All these childhood characters and a few more appear in Dreamworks’ CG-animated “Rise of the Guardians.”
I was a pretty skeptical kid. It didn’t help when I saw my dad putting presents under the Christmas tree late at night when I was 5.
I told my mother what I saw, and she said don’t tell your brothers or sister.
I did not. That is pretty much the premise of “Guardians.” Those childhood characters are symbols of hope, imagination and love. They should be preserved, not trashed.
The characters are inspired by William Joyce’s childhood “Guardians of Childhood” series, with a big-name cast voicing the roles.
Jack Frost, of “nipping at your front door” fame, is the main character in this fable. Chris Pine does his voice. Jack is a carefree dude but he would like some respect. Nobody believes in him- nobody this is except the other make-believe characters of Santa Claus, known as North here (Alec Baldwin); the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the dreamy Sand Man and Tinkerbelle, who are voiceless.
An evil celestial spirit called Pitch (Jude Law), who is known as the Boogie Man on Earth, is a spoilsport who wants to dash the dreams and hopes of children everywhere.
My expectations were quite low for “Guardians,” but it is more entertaining and action-packed than I expected, under the direction of Peter Ramsey. Perhaps Ramsey is atoning for the darkness of “Fight Club,” which he` also helmed, as well as the “Men in Black” movies.
As one who believes in the power of imagination I am sympathetic with the secular alternate universe this movie creates in glowing 3-D. Anything that promotes “Wonder, hope and dreams” can’t be all bad.

A Good-Looking but Uneccessary "Red Dawn"

On the other hand we have the paranoid fantasies of “Red Dawn,” a remake of the 1994 film that imagined a ground attack on America’s heartland by Soviet Russia.
Since the U.S.S.R. has been fragmented and Russia is now considered an ally by most, it would not do very well to cast them as villain in 2012. Instead we have the handy Red Menace of the North Koreans, who are considered crazy Black Hats by just about everyone.
Director Dan Bradley has cast for good looks in a far-fetched tale that has a group of feisty teenagers saving the entire USA with sheer pluck and improvised weaponry from their outpost in Spokane, Washington. Playing the adult role of U.S. Marine Jed Eckert is firm-jawed Chris Hemsworth. The combat kids include Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki and Isabel Lucas. Playing the bad guys are Will Yun Lee as Capt. Lo and Kenneth Choi as Smith.
If you crave action, explosions, gunfire and all manner of cartoon violence, you may be amused by a fascist fantasy that is even less believable today than it was 18 years ago.

A Mentally Ill Comedy

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“Silver Linings Playbook” is about a handicap not of the body but of the mind.
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has just been released after eight months in a psychiatric facility. A high school English teacher, his melt down has cost him his job, his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) and his house. Pat is picked up by his ever-loving mother Dolores (Jackie Weaver), who takes him back to the Philadelphia home he grew up in.
His father Pat Sr. (Robert Di Niro) isn’t thrilled, but he tries to give his oddball son some space. Pat Jr. went through some kind of 12-step program called Excelsior and now he is a fitness addict, jogging around the neighborhood with his upper torso wrapped in a black plastic garbage bag.
On one of his jogs Pat encounters Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl with problems of her own. Tiffany is also recently single (her husband died) and down in the dumps. She is mutually acquainted with Pat’s ex-wife, and when Pat asks her to deliver a letter to Nikki (she has a restraining order against Pat), Tiffany agrees.
In return for that favor, Pat agrees to take a stab at Tiffany’s request for him to be her dance partner in a local competition.
Writer-director David O. Russell (“The Fighter”) has thrown a little of everything into this feel-good comedy. Pat’s family are rabid fans of the Philadelphia Eagles. If you are a partisan, you will love that.
Jennifer Lawrence made her spectacular screen debut at age 19 in “Winter’s Bone” with John Hawkes. Lawrence has an irresistible, vulnerable, yet scrappy appeal that serves her character well.
Bradley Cooper is enormously earnest and naïve as Pat, and therefore quite funny. Di Niro has relaxed a bit as the apoplectic pop, and Jacki Weaver makes the perfect mother lioness. Emotional illness is nothing to laugh at, but “Silver Linings” makes recovery most entertaining.

A Sensitive Look at Surrogate Sex

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“The Sessions” a Most Unusual Film


By Skip Sheffield


“The Sessions” is a most unusual film. Before I go any further let me add that I think it has Oscar-worthy performances by stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt and co-star William H. Macy as well as writer-director Ben Lewin.
What makes “The Sessions” so unusual is that it is about surrogate sex, yet it is not really about the act of sex. It is about friendship, love and redemption. Oh, and it is based on the true story of poet Mark O’Brien, who was confined to an iron lung for most of his life due to the destructive effects of polio he contracted at age 6.
The amazing John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”) plays Mark O’Brien. Though Mark is in an iron lung he can still write, using a pencil clenched between his teeth. Mark requires constant care, but he does get out of his iron lung and his house, thanks to his helpers. A devout Catholic, the Berkeley, California resident regularly goes to confessional with his parish priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy).
Father Brendan is as an unusual a priest as Mark O’Brien is a polio survivor. There is nothing Mark can’t tell Father Brendan. When he tells him he longs to experience sexual union with a woman, and is thinking of hiring a sexual surrogate, Father Brendan understands and gives his blessing.
Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt) is the woman Mark hires. She lays down strict rules. There will be no more than six sessions; no socializing other than the therapy, and perish the thought of becoming emotionally involved. Cheryl is married and her husband knows what she does, but there are limits.
Cheryl is infinitely patient with Mark, who though a paraplegic, can achieve erection and orgasm.
Director Lewin, a polio survivor himself, uses a light touch in the awkward, tentative sexual encounters. “The Sessions” is actually quite funny at times. Fumbling sex is after all, pretty funny.
John Hawkes went to great lengths to approximate the shriveled, twisted physique of his character. Helen Hunt is warm and completely selfless as Cheryl, and dignified even when she bares all. Helen Hunt is 49 and beautiful, both in face and body, but it is her love and understanding that moves the viewer. This is the best performance of her career.
“The Sessions” is sad too. Losing his virginity at age 38 gave Mark more self-confidence and desire to have a relationship with an ordinary woman. Perhaps because of this he defied odds by living until age 49. Granted it was a short life, but “The Sessions” dramatically proves life can be fulfilling even under the harshest of handicaps,

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Catch "Catch Me If You Can" While You Can

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By Skip Sheffield


“Catch Me If You Can” ran for less than a year on Broadway in 2011. It runs only five days through Nov. 18 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, but it is certainly worth a look.
Librettist Terrence McNally and songwriters March Shaiman and Scott Wittman adopted the hit 2002 movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio as a charming, very young con man into a stage musical, much the same as Shaiman did with “Hairspray.”
Unlike “Hairspray,” which was based on a campy, spoofy John Waters movie, “Catch Me If You Can” is rooted in the real story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who wrote of his exploits in a 1980 autobiography.
Frank Jr. is played by Stephen Anthony, a 22-year-old Miami native who looks even younger than his years. This is good, because his character is only 16 when the story begins in New Rochelle, New York in 1963.
This is a time when color television was new and a real big deal. “Live in Living Color” is the opening number, and it sets the rainbow-hued 1960s vibe of the songs and sets to follow.
Frank Jr. is an extraordinarily bright student who is told by his proud father, Frank Sr. (Dominic Fortuna) that he can do anything.
Frank Jr. takes this all too literally when he is mistaken for a substitute French teacher simply because he is wearing a formal jacket (“The Pin Stripes Are All They See”).
This is an easy stretch because his mother Paula (Caitlin Maloney) was born in France and met his father during the war.
 All is not good between mom and dad. He is always living beyond his means and his business is failing. When Paula leaves, Frank Jr. decides to strike out too.
Frank Jr. is a born con man who finds it surprisingly easy to forge checks, ID cards and entire histories. So begins an adventure where Frank Jr. impersonates a Pan Am co-pilot, a doctor who is head of ER at an Atlanta hospital, and a Louisiana lawyer.
During his impersonation of a doctor, Frank becomes smitten with nurse Brenda (Aubrey Mae Davis), a Louisiana girl who ran out of a wedding she did not want.
During all his shenanigans Frank Jr. is doggedly pursued by FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Merritt David Janes), a lonely man who is fooled so many times he develops a grudging admiration for his young quarry.
“Catch Me If You Can” is strikingly staged in LED neon bright colors with a full orchestra on a sloping rising with drummer concealed beneath. Director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell were both on the creative team of “Hairspray,” and the influence shows.
Stephen Anthony has the requisite soaring tenor to pull off his ingenious rascal, and he is quite convincing with the tiny, lovely Aubrey Mae Davis. Ms. Davis is given the score’s best power ballad, “Fly, Fly Away,” and she soars with it.
Leggy chorus girls, limber male dancers, colorful costumes and sparkling scenery, “Catch Me if You Can” has all the elements of a good spectacle. It’s a bit too much at nearly three hours, but you will be entertained.
Tickets start at $25. Call 800-572-8471 or go to www.kravis.org.

“Sabre Dance!,” Baroque Music at FAU

The Music Department of Florida Atlantic University presents “Sabre Dance!,” Armenian, Austrian and German Masterworks in concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 in the University Theatre. Featured with the University Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Laura Joella is classical guitarist Ken Keaton. There is a suggested $10 donation at the door.
At 3 p.m. Sunday in the FAU Theatre is “Music of Sensitivity:” Music of the Baroque Period with FAU Chamber Soloists, directed by Leonid Treer. Works include Bach, Handel, Locatelli and more. A $10 donation is suggested.

Explore “The World of Downton Abbey” at Spanish River Library

Like “The World of Downton Abbey?” Leecy Barnett of the FAU Library will speak on the British aristocracy, social classes, World War I, the influenza epidemic and other aspects of the era dramatized in the Popular PBS series. The talk is at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18 at Spanish River Library. Admission is free.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Uncanny Lincoln Portrait

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By Skip Sheffield

“Uncanny.”
That is my one-word description of “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s tribute to America’s embattled 16th President as portrayed by British actor Daniel Day-Lewis.
Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book with screenplay by Tony Kusher, “Lincoln” centers on the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life, as he waged an emotional battle to pass the 13th Amendment, banning slavery in the USA as the Civil War raged on.
Two-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis bears an uncanny resemblance to tall, thin, you could say gaunt and haunted, Abraham Lincoln.
“I am keenly aware of my aloneness” muses Lincoln after the Battle of Gettysburg.
It is hard for us to imagine how passionate and contentious the fight over slavery was. It did in fact divide the nation and lead to the War Between the States. Lincoln was the man at the helm through the whole murderous struggle. Through his performance, Day-Lewis shows us the courage, perseverance and political brilliance of one of America’s strongest Presidents in history.
Lincoln did not do it alone. At his side was his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, beautifully portrayed by Sally Field. Mary provided Abraham his conscience and compassion. Like her husband she was tough and sometimes stubborn, having endured the unbearable loss of a son.
One of Lincoln’s strongest allies and close friend was Secretary of State William Seward, played with strength and dignity by David Strathairn.
Tommy Lee Jones provides whimsical comic relief as fiery abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, wearing a ridiculous wig his character even comments upon.
Lincoln’ has an epic scale to it, and it does not spare the violence and carnage of the Civil War. It does underline the moral courage required of Lincoln, even though he was forced to bend the rules and even resort to bribery to achieve his end.
It is highly ironic that in Lincoln’s time the Republican Party was the liberal, even radical party and the Democrats were the state’s rights, bible-thumping conservatives. How things have changed.

A One-of-a-Kind Musical Party at Broward Center

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A Million-Dollar Rock ‘n’ Roll Party at Broward Center

They’re having a party at Broward Center through Nov. 18. It’s called “Million Dollar Quartet” and it is a ball.
The show is already a hit on Broadway and in its Miami run. It’s easy to see why: light on plot, the score features some of the timeless greatest hits of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
The concept by Floyd Mutrux is based on an actual magical night that occurred Dec. 4, 1956 in the Sun Records studios of Sam Phillips (Christopher Ryan Grant) in Memphis Tennessee.
All four recording artists were discovered and promoted by Sam Phillips. Elvis Presley (Presley lookalike Cody Slaughter), by far the most popular, had already moved on the RCA Records. According to Phillips, RCA is courting him too as Elvis’ producer. Phillips invited Elvis for old times’ sake, and being the Southern gentleman he was, Elvis accepted and brought along his girlfriend Dyanne (Kelly Lamont).
Phillips has a three-year contract in his coat pocket for his next biggest star, Johnny Cash (deep-voiced Scott Moreau), but what he doesn’t know is that Cash has already signed with Columbia Records.
After initial success Carl Perkins (Lee Ferris) has taken a back seat to Elvis, who had a hit with Perkins’ song “Blue Suede Shoes.” Perkins is jealous and resentful, but Lee Ferris is the sparkplug of the live, onstage band, playing a beautiful Les Paul gold top guitar.
Martin Kaye plays up the hillbilly aspect of his Jerry Lee Lewis, dressed garish mismatched clothes with an ego to match. Kaye really does pound his piano (all the actors are skilled musicians) and he is the funniest character of the lot.
Kelly Lamont adds sex appeal in a tight shocking pink dress singing Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and fats Domino’s “I Hear You Knocking,” and she adds tasty high harmonies to the ensemble.
If you love old-time rock ‘n’ played real righteous and real, this is a show for you. Don’t leave early either.
Tickets are $29.50-$109.50. Call 954-462-0222.

"Delval Divas" Launches Women's Theatre in Boca Raton

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Laughing It Up Behind Bars with “Delval Divas”

By Skip Sheffield


The good news is that the Women’s Theatre Project has moved to Boca Raton. The inaugural production, “Delval Divas,” continues through Nov. 15 in the Willow Theatre of Sugar Sand Park.
This bodes well for the theatrical community and actresses in particular. It also enables audiences to experience plays they will see nowhere else.
The not-so-good news is that “Delval Divas,” by Barbara Pease Weber is not a particularly strong play. However, the performances are funny and spirited, by six of some of South Florida’s best actresses.
The setting is Delaware Valley Federal, a minimum-security prison for white-collar criminals.
Stella (Jessica K. Peterson), Linda (Karen Stephenson, Rosemary (Sally Bondi) and Beth (Jacqueline Laggy) have cooked books, skimmed funds, done Ponzi schemes and other such economic crimes. They have used their inherent intelligence and talent to create a pretty sweet setup that is more like a high-end hotel than prison cell.
The ladies are attended to by Lucille (Lela Elam), a young guard who is their liaison to the outside and the good life such as manicures, pedicures, gourmet food and clothes. In turn the women have encouraged Lucille to further her education and shoot for the job of warden, which is conveniently becoming available.
Beth is released on parole, and in her place comes Sharon (Lisa Kertin Braun), a woman accused of the rather serious crime of murdering her husband.
This is a comedy- a situation comedy if you will- and Sharon’s situation involves extenuating circumstances that led law enforcement officials to believe her to be a cold-blooded killer.
These extenuating circumstances involve certain unseen male characters against whom the women rally, giving the comedy a distinct feminist spin.
Jessica K. Peterson, Karen Stephens, Sally Bondi, Jaqueline Laggy and Lela Elam are all seasoned professionals, along with director Genie Croft.  Lisa Kerstin Braun is a relative newcomer is who shows great promise with her demanding role of Sharon. All the women know how to mine the most comedy out of even the thinnest material. This is not designed to be a serious expose of abuses of privilege in country club prisons, but a light-hearted farce designed to spoof the system.
Tickets are $25. Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 561-347-3948 or visit www.womenstheatreproject.com.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cruel Medicrity Vs. True Genius

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A Brilliantly Tragic “Amadeus” at Maltz Jupiter Theatre


By Skip Sheffield

Why is it that a few rare individuals are so extraordinarily gifted they make ordinary people seem mediocre?
That is the cruel central question asked by “Amadeus,” Peter Shaffer’s 1979 Tony Award-winning Best Play, launching the tenth season of Maltz Jupiter Theatre through Nov. 11 at 1001 Indiantown Road, Jupiter.
“I am the patron saint of mediocrity,” wails Antonio Salieri (Tom Bloom), an Italian-born court musician for Austria’s Emperor Joseph II. “Mozart is touched by God.”
The object of Salieri’s jealousy and despair is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Ryan Garbayo), one-time child prodigy now trying to make a name for himself as a 26-year-old newlywed in Vienna in 1782. Salieri is on his death bed at the outset of “Amadeus,” full of regret. He may well be mad too; a victim of guilt.
Scenic designer Philip Witcomb has created a marvelously decrepit, crumbling set that reflects the decline and disintegration of the two main characters. The role of Salieri is an actor’s showcase, and Tom Bloom gives it his all. Salieri is in a penitent mood, speaking directly to the audience as a close friend, trying to explain why he did the terrible things he did to thwart the career of brilliant young Mozart.
Salieri was a pious man. He lusts for his young protégée, Katherina (Traci Blair), but he pledges not to break his marriage vow.
Mozart is married too, against his father’s wishes to stalwart Constanze (Alexis Bronikovic). The couple can barely make a living, as Mozart has only three students versus Salieri’s 50. It only gets worse when they have their first child.
Salieri may not have the gift of God, but he is a good enough musician to immediately recognize Mozart’s genius, as he tosses off note-perfect compositions, each one more impressive than the next.
The court of Emperor Joseph II is mostly filled with sycophants and buffoons, principally Kappelmeister (music director) Bonno (Jeffrey Bruce), but even he recognizes there is something very special about the crude, giggling young composer.
Ryan Garbayo beautifully captures the boyish enthusiasm and the naivety of Mozart, an undisciplined boy-man brimming with the joy of creativity.
Salieri’s jealousy curdles into hatred and revenge. When he tries and fails to ruin the honor of Constanze, Salieri vows to block Mozart’s progress at every turn.
You don’t have to be a Mozart expert or classical music lover to recognize the Mozart pieces tossed off and spurned: “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don Giovanni,” “The Magic Flute” and his own “Requiem Mass.
Playwright Shaffer took considerable license in exaggerating the rivalry between Salieri and Mozart and the extent of the dirty tricks played by Salieri.
It all makes cracking good theater though, and director Michael Gieleta has brought out a thousand little details of sound, light and shadows to accentuate the drama.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is acknowledged as one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, creating up until his death at the tragic young age of 35 in 1791. Antonio Salieri would be but a footnote to history if it were not for this play.
Tickets start at $46. Call 561-575-2223 or visit www.jupitertheatre.org.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


“Avenue Q” Another Winner for Slow Burn Theatre


By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre Company continues its winning streak, leading off its fourth season with the bawdy musical comedy with puppets, “Avenue Q.” The show runs through Sunday. Nov. 4 at West Boca Raton High School at the west end of Glades Road.
Uproariously funny, often touching and very clever, this “Avenue Q” is every bit as good as the touring Broadway show I saw at Broward Center a few years back. What makes this all the more amazing is that this is a totally homegrown show, from direction, choreography and cast to large puppets hand-crafted from scratch by Richard Pena. All this was done on a tiny fraction of what a Broadway production costs.
The amazement continues with the cast, which had no previous experience manipulating puppets. The story, created by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, is a kind of young adult version of “Sesame Street” dealing with typical problems that confront the recent college graduate. Looming at the top of the problem heap is sex. Young twenty-somethings are often still in the process of finding their identity, philosophically, professionally and sexually. This is an R-rated show and with good reason. Leave the little kids at home.
Princeton (Mike Westrich) holds a newly-minted bachelor’s degree in English literature. He has no idea how that will help him in real life.
Kate Monster (Nicole Piro) is an upstairs neighbor in the crummy tenement they occupy on Avenue Q. Kate wants to be a teacher, and she is serving as an assistant to a crabby kindergarten teacher. She also has a thing for the new guy, Princeton.
Nicky (Christian Vandepas) is a cheerful, upbeat roommate of Rod (Mike Westrich again), who is experiencing a crisis in his sexual identity. Nicky and Rod are clearly modeled on Bert and Ernie in the PBS children’s show, but their relationship is much more explicit.
Gary Coleman (yeah, the little guy from “Diff’rent Strokes”), is played by a woman (Pamela S. Stigger), who is superintendent of the apartment building.
Christmas Eve is a stereotyped Asian character with exaggerated accent, but she is played by the distinctly non-Asian actress Ann Marie Olson. She wants to be a mental health therapist. Her boyfriend Brian (Trent D. Stephen) is a Fozzie the Bear-style lousy comedian.
Courtney Poston is a versatile utility player who operates one arm of Nicky, plays one of the insidious “Bad Idea Bears” with Christian Vandepas, and several other roles. We are supposed to be watching puppets, but Courtney’s face and smile are so expressive she is a delight to watch as she mirrors the emotions of the puppet she manipulates.
Remember this is an adult show. The Cookie Monster-style character is Trekkie Monster, who is hilariously addicted to Internet Porn. Lucy T. Slut (Nicole Piro again) is a lounge singer who acts just like her name.
The songs are half the fun of “Avenue Q.” The score won one of three major Tony Awards in 2004. The lyrics are about as far away as you can get from the wholesome likes of “Sound of Music,” starting with the introductory theme song, “It Sucks to Be Me.” Greatest hits include “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “Fantasies Come True,” “I Wish I could go Back to College,” “If You Were Gay” and the hilarious cover-up “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada.” The most wistfully romantic tune is “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” which shows the story has heart too. The score is played by a live, onstage but unseen ensemble most effectively.
You better hurry if you want to catch this little delight. Congratulations director Patrick Fitzwater, cast and crew. Thanks for keeping theater alive on a shoestring in Boca Raton.
Tickets are $20 students, $30 seniors and $35 adults. Call 866-811-4111 or go to www.slowburntheatre.org.


Friday, October 26, 2012

So What is a "Cloud Atlas?"



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Sprawling “Cloud Atlas” Not Easy to Figure

By Skip Sheffield

What is “Cloud Atlas?”
For one thing it’s a nearly three-hour movie about reincarnation or some such thing, based on a 2004 British novel by David Mitchell that everyone raves about. For another it’s a musical composition called “The Cloud Atlas Sextet.”
“Sprawling” is the charitable description of “Cloud Atlas,’ in which a half-dozen stories (sextet, get it?) span 500 years and jump back and forth in time as the same actors play different characters.
“Everything is connected” we are told at the outset.
 Direction is from the triumvirate of Andy and Lana Wachowski (“The Matrix”) and Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”).
“Cloud Atlas” is a movie where the makeup, costumes and sets are more impressive than the individual stories. The two principal stars are Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. Hanks (and his makeup artist) show extreme versatility creating six diverse characters in age from thirty-something to doddering oldster. Some are good. One in particular (Dr. Henry Goose) is very, very bad.
The story set back the farthest in time is the “Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” set at sea in the Pacific in the year 1849. The narrative is provided by the journal of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), who gets progressively sicker under the “care” of Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks).
“Letters From Belgium” is set in 1931. Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) is young composer in love with another man and in the employ of an autocratic old composer. This melancholy piece, directed by Twyker, is the closest thing to a romance in the movie.
Halle Berry’s standout role is as a crusading San Francisco reporter investigating a possibly unsafe nuclear power plant in 1975. Berry also plays a primitive native woman, a wife, a party guest, a Jewish woman and a solitary survivor of a now-ruined high tech society.
The most visually striking piece, directed by the Wachowskis is set in a totalitarian future “Neo-Korea.” Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) is a cloned female restaurant worker who dares defy the regime with the help of an almost unrecognizable Jim Sturgess as her comrade, Hae-Joo Chang.
Perhaps the most baffling piece is set in a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, with Hugh Grant in full war face paint as a ruthless Kona chief and Tom Hanks as an elderly goat herder who tells the gory story.
The most conventional and intentionally comic piece stars Jim Broadbent as Timothy Cavendish, an elderly British publisher railroaded into a nursing home by his scheming brother. Hugo Weaver is comically menacing as nasty Nurse Noakes.
“Cloud Atlas” is the most expensive ($100 million) independent film ever done at studio Babelsberg in Germany. Like “2001: A Space Odyssey” it will both baffle and enrage. Only time will tell if the general audience “gets it.” I’m not ashamed to admit I found it pretentious, at times ridiculous, at times exciting, never quite cohesive, but always an arresting visual spectacle.

A Surfing Soap Opera


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“Chasing Mavericks” Not Just a Surf Film

“Chasing Mavericks” is not just another surf film. Oh there are plenty of great wave shots, but “Chasing Mavericks” is more a biographical drama about a real surfer who lived a tragically short life.
That surfer was one Jay Moriarity, played by Jonny Weston. The screenplay, written by Kario Salem and based on a story by Jim Meenaghan, concentrates on Jay’s relationship with an older surfing mentor, Frosty Hesson, played by Gerard Butler.
The script is the weakest part of “Chasing Mavericks,” co-directed by American Curtis Hanson and British Michael Apted. In between his rigorous training with Frosty, Jonny deals with typical adolescent problems. His mother (Elizabeth Shue) drinks too much and his father is absent. He is bullied on the beach and at high school by some of the locals. He has a crush on an “older woman” named Kim (Leven Rambin). None of this is terribly original or interesting.
What is interesting is the real achievement of Jay Moriarity, who landed on the cover of Surfer magazine at age 16 when he was filmed in a spectacular wipeout at Mavericks, which is north of Jonny’s home town of Santa Cruz, California off of half Moon Bay. Gerard Butler radiates a convincing tough surfer-dude vibe. Butler was hospitalized after being injured doing his own surf stunts. The close-up shots are laughably fakey: Frosty and Jay sit discussing philosophical points on their boards in calm water one moment and peeling down the face of a 50-foot wave in the next. Hey, it’s only a movie.

Is Israel-Palestine Friendship Possible?



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Two Boys Switched at Birth in a Dangerous Land


By Skip Sheffield

It’s bad enough to be switched at birth. Just imagine if you were a Jewish baby boy who was inadvertently switched with a Palestinian baby boy born around the same time?
That in a nutshell is the dilemma of “The Other Son,” opening Friday at Cinemark Palace, Shadowood, FAU’s Living Room Theaters and Regal Delray 18.
The discovery is made when Joseph (Jules Sitruck) is preparing for mandatory duty in the Israeli Army. Joseph lives in a comfortable suburb of Tel Aviv with his mother, French-born Orith (Emmanuelle Devos), a psychiatrist, and father Alon Siberg (Pascal Elbe), an Israeli Army commander. Joseph is a carefree guy who aspires to be a musician but is proud to serve in Israel’s Air Force. However his blood type of A+ means he couldn’t possibly be the son of Orith and Alon. A search of hospital records show there was another boy born Jan. 23, 1991 of Palestinian parents. Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi) has grown up on the West Bank with Arab parents, Said Al Bezaaz (Khalifa Natour) and Leila (Areen Omari). The switch occurred when the babies were evacuated from a clinic during the Gulf War.
Joseph is shocked and chagrined.
“I’m the other one,” he laments. “And the other one is me.”
Writer/director Lorraine Levy has created “The Other Son” as a parable of one of our era’s thorniest problems: the animosity and blind hatred between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews. Once the two boys get over their disorientation, then they must deal with the reality of their different parents.
One is left with a hopeful thought. If Joseph and Yacine can become friends, can the West Bank Arabs and their Israeli neighbors finally come to a mutually acceptable relationship?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Lovely Waltz With Love

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Two wounded Souls Find Balm in “Tally’s Folly”

By Skip Sheffield

The ironic joke in the title “Tally’s Folly” is that what transpires in this Pulitzer Prize-winning memory play is not folly at all, but amazing good fortune of two kindred spirits finding their destiny.
Lanford Wilson’s uplifting 1979 work “Tally’s Folly” has settled in for a run through Nov. 11 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
Lanford Wilson broke with some theater traditions to create this two-character “waltz.” The male partner, Matt Friedman (newcomer Brian Wallace) breaks the “fourth wall” by addressing the audience directly at the outset, and explains exactly what will happen within the space of just 97 minutes.
“We have 97 minutes to change lives,” Matt explains.
The female partner is Sally Tally (Erin Joy Schmidt). Sally is the 31-year-old “spinster” daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Lebanon, Missouri.
Sally had a brief fling a year ago with Matt, who dropped in from the “big city” of St. Louis. Matt and Sally could not be less alike on the surface. He is a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant scarred by the war. Sally is from blue-blood Southern ruling class.
The lovingly referred to “folly” is an ornate but crumbling boathouse, constructed by Sally’s eccentric uncle a generation ago. Now the boathouse is in ruins, but it is the designated meeting place of the wayward lovers.
As Matt tells us, the boathouse, created by ingenious set designer Michael Amico, is more like a third character. We will see why as stubborn Matt, a 42-year-old accountant with a mind like a computer, works away on reluctant, insecure Sally.
Like Matt, Sally is wounded, both physically and emotionally. She works as a nurse caring for wounded soldiers but her own wounds are untreated. As the layers of her defenses are peeled back we see the healing glimmer of hope that real love provides.
“Tally’s Folly” had a flurry of activity after it won the Pulitzer Prize (I saw a couple different productions), then inexplicably it was put on the shelf. Like the perennial classic “The Fantasticks” early this year, “Tally’s Folly” is meant to be seen. This production is lovingly realized by director J. Barry Lewis, his cast and crew, including lighting designer Ron Burns and sound designer Matt Corey. These last two elements are crucial, as the story is set on July 4 in the year 1944. It is a happy Independence Day indeed.
Tickets are $55 ($10 students) and may be reserved by calling 561-514-4042.



Friday, October 12, 2012

"Argo" One of the Best of 2012


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“Argo” a Feel-Good Movie for USA, Canada




By Skip Sheffield



If “Argo” weren’t based on actual events one might be tempted to dismiss it as too far-fetched.

A daring rescue did occur in Tehran, Iran in January of 1980. A CIA “exfiltration specialist” named Tony Mendez led a group of six Americans from the Canadian Embassy where they had been hiding to a Swiss Air flight to freedom.

Mendez wrote a book about his CIA experiences titled “Master of Disguise.” In 2007 Joshua Berman wrote the article “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.”

Screenwriter Chris Terrio used both sources to create the script for “Argo,” directed by and starring Ben Affleck. This is by far Affleck’s best work both as actor and director. He had a lot of help from a crack team of Hollywood professionals, starting with Alan Arkin as the wise-cracking veteran producer Lester Siegel.

“Argo” is the name affixed to the phony script used to fool Iranian officials.

“This is the best bad idea we have,” admitted CIA operative Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston).

On Nov. 4, 1979 the American Embassy in Tehran was besieged by rioting supporters of the Ayatollah, a strict Islam cleric who took over Iran after the Shah fled to the United States. Fifty-two Americans were taken hostage. Six Americans managed to slip out the back and were granted refuge at the Canadian Embassy. This was the darkest era of the Carter Administration. The hostages would end up spending 444 days in captivity, fearing for their lives.

The rescue of six Americans was a tremendous morale-booster, but it could not be publicized for fear of reprisals against Canada. This operation would not have been possible without the express cooperation of Canada, which supplied fake Canadian passports to the Americans. Canadian Ambassador Kenneth D. Taylor (Victor Garber) risked his life and his country’s reputation to save the Americans, but the story was not declassified until 1997.

“Argo” crackles with edge-of-the-seat suspense and a surprising about of comic relief from actors like John Goodman, Kyle Chandler, Michael Parks and Clea DuVall.

“Argo” is not only one of the best-realized films of 2012 so far, it is the feel-good movie of the year. You may want to hug a Canadian after seeing this film.

A Pretty Dog and 7 Psychopaths

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Crazy Fun in “Seven Psychopaths”




With the title like “Seven Psychopaths” you must assume you will be seeing a black comedy.

Black comedy it is, and “Seven Psychopaths” is surprisingly funny considering its macabre premise. For that we must credit gifted playwright Martin McDonagh, who both wrote and directed “Seven Psychopaths.” McDonagh was named Britain’s Most Promising Playwright for his first play, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” in 1996. McDonagh tapped his buddy Colin Farrell, who had previously starred in McDonagh’s film “In Bruges,” to play the lead character of a failing, alcoholic screenwriter named Marty.

Marty’s best friend is Billy (Sam Rockwell), a ne’er do well actor who convinces Marty to help him dog-nap a valuable Shih-Zu named Bonny.

This is a spectacularly bad idea. Bonny is owned by Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a ruthless and possibly crazy gangster.

Soon Charlie is on the trail of Billy, Marty and their accomplice, Hans (Christopher Walken).

While the action is slapstick, choppy and mock-gory, there is an underlying satire of writer’s pretentions, crime movie clichés, mental health and obsessions. The dog is awfully cute too.