Thursday, March 15, 2012
“Delicacy” a Delightful Bonbon from France
By Skip Sheffield
“Delicacy” is the perfect title for a delicious French bonbon of a romance, starring delectable Audrey Tautou (“Amalie”).
Tautou plays Nathalie, successful Paris business executive madly in love with her husband Francois (Pio Marmai). When Francois dies tragically in a car accident, Nathalie plunges into depression and obsession with work.
Directed by brothers David and Stephane Foenkinos and based on David Foenkinos’ novel.’ “Delicacy” jumps ahead three years with Nathalie still in mourning and disinterested in romance.
Nathalie’s egotistical boss Charles (Bruno Toeschini) thinks he can move in on the attractive young widow so he confidently wines and dines her. There is one problem: he is already married.
Suddenly and impulsively one day in the office, Nathalie plants a big kiss on Markus (French comic star Francois Damiens) a shy co-worker from Sweden. Markus is stunned and confused and Nathalie is a bit embarrassed. Why did she do that? Markus is balding, pudgy and not particularly graceful or attractive. Yet slowly, tentatively they begin a relationship that is bound to lead to romance.
“Delicacy” is a movie for those cockeyed optimists who think anything is possible in love. Tautou has played this role of irresistible gamine before, but she does it so well.
The real achievement is Francois Damiens’ transformation from shy nebbish to virile leading man. “Delicacy’ may be a trifle, but it is oh so tasty.
Nicolas Cage Seeks Vengeance in “Seeking Justice”
The good news about “Seeking Justice” is that it is not the worst film Nicolas Cage has ever made. Cage has toned down his characteristic macho bravado and inserted a vulnerability as Will Gerard, a tweedy New Orleans high school English teacher married to the voluptuous Laura (January Jones).
But one fateful night after a theater rehearsal Laura is accosted, brutally beaten up and raped.
Will is beside himself with rage and sorrow. When a mysterious stranger named Simon (Guy Pearce) appears at the hospital and indicates he can do something about the perpetrator, a serial rapist, Will is intrigued. Unwisely, he is persuaded to have Simon and his shadowy group “take care of” the rapist. All Simon asks is perhaps “a little favor” down the way. What is that favor? Don’t even ask.
Aussie director Roger Donaldson (“The Bank Job”) knows his way around a crime thriller. Guy Pearce utilizes his considerable stage presence to communicate an air of growing menace and foreboding. We just know that Will is getting more than what he bargained for, so we are not surprised when his world begins to deconstruct.
Vengeance films have long been a staple of Hollywood fantasy. For people frustrated buy the legal and penal system, they are a welcome release. I am no fans of such films, but this one is pretty effective. Just don’t take it too seriously.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Haiti on a Wing and a Prayer
By Skip Sheffield
Never before had I been on an airline flight in which the pilot said, ‘Do you mind if we have a moment of prayer?’ before takeoff.
Mission Aviation Fellowship is no ordinary airline. It consists of fervent Christians, many of them pilots, whose mission is to take missionaries to places they might not otherwise reach. Michael, our pilot, is also a pastor. He has been in Haiti five years. He is truly on a mission from God.
Haiti is no ordinary country. It is the world’s first and only nation founded by slaves who overthrew their masters. It is the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, and it has been even more impoverished since a devastating earthquake struck the capitol city of Port-Au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010.
Seven of us departed for Haiti March 5 on an American Airlines flight to Port-Au-Prince, the nation’s capitol. Our mission was to meet with teachers and students of the Christian School of New Vision in northern Haiti. There was one pastor, Tom Tift, and three laymen from First United Methodist Church of Boca Raton. Going to teach the teachers were three staff members of Toussaint L’Overture School in Delray Beach, including the school’s co-founder, Dr. Dianne Allerdyce.
Signs of the earthquake two years ago are still evident everywhere. Our first stop was Grace Children’s Hospital, which was so badly damaged the main structure was deemed unsafe and is in the process of demolition. As soon as the rubble is removed construction will begin on a new children’s hospital. Meanwhile life goes on in makeshift quarters. The Haitian people are both hardy and resourceful. They are also very patient and used to endless government red tape and delays. It is largely through the generosity of American and Canadian donors that schools, orphanages and clinics are being maintained in Haiti.
Christian School of New Vision was founded in 1995 by Ludner St. Amour, 40, a gregarious, cheerful and devout son of a farmer in the mountainous region of northern Haiti.
The main campus of CSNV is in the small town of La Jeune. The school has three satellite branches in the rural communities of Sylvain, Donne and Hide.
Our first stop was Sylvain, not far from the tiny Pignon air strip. Villagers were pumping water from a well constructed through donations from Boca Raton. The “school” is not much more than a shed with a tin roof. As if by magic children began to materialize and fill the hand-hewn benches. Our task was to identify and photograph students for sponsorship in the USA.
It was a short ride to La Jeune, but in reality no ride in Haiti is short. Outside the cities the roads are not paved and are pocked with huge ruts and wash-outs. Ludner drives a 4-wheel drive Toyota pickup made possible by American donations. There are very few 4-wheel vehicles in rural Haiti. Far more common are little Chinese motorcycles. Rarely is there just one rider. I counted as many as five on one motorcycle.
The campus of CSNV La Jeune is high-grade by local standards, with concrete buildings housing as many as 600 students from the outlying areas. The school has its own well and gravity-fed running water. The buildings are wired for lights and computers, but municipal electric lines have not yet reached the school. A large John Deere generator can power the entire school, but diesel fuel is so expensive Ludner can afford to run the power only two or three hours in the early evening, with lights out at 9:30 p.m.
Twenty-five to 30 orphans live on the CSNV campus. They have been rescued from the tent city slums of Port-Au-Prince. Rescuing orphans is an ongoing effort for Ludner and people like him. Upwards to 1 million Haitians were rendered homeless by the earthquake. Haitians do not trust the police or their own government. The educational and medical work that is going on is largely funded by America church organizations.
“The government is demanding customs charges for donations made in America,” explains Ludner. “We have a container filled with sewing machines still sitting on the dock since December because the government wants $4,000 Haitian dollars to release it.”
Public schools are an iffy prospect in the outback.
“Sometimes children walk to school only to discover there is only one teacher or no teacher at all,” Ludner says. “The public school teachers are very overworked and classes crowded.”
A strict regimen is followed at CSNV. All students wear crisp pale green uniforms. There is an assembly every morning at 7 a.m. The Haitian flag is raised and the national anthem sung. Tardiness is not tolerated.
The task of educating Haitian children seems overwhelming. People have not been taught the simplest rules of health and hygiene. At the clinic we visited in Pignon there were posters encouraging people to wash their hands; part of a national campaign.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Since declaring its independence in 1803 the country has been mismanaged by its leaders and mistreated by other nations. Yet there is an undying “joie de vivre” amongst the Haitian people. Parts of northern Haiti are no more advanced than a typical African village, yet the people are happy and hopeful for a better life.
There is a new breed of tourist in Haiti. They are not tourists at all. The waiting room at the Port-Au-Prince was jammed with mission people, many of them college age. Instead of partying for Spring Break, many young people have chosen to volunteer in Haiti.
Haiti will never be like America. It has its own proud history and culture. What Americans can do is lend expertise and material assistance so that Haitians can help themselves. The will is there. With a little help they will find the way.
Note: If anyone is moved to donate, CSNV's American address is LCW-CSNV-Haiti Project,
Powell TN 37849, or call First United Methodist Boca Raton at 561-395-1244.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Celebrate “Working” at Caldwell Theatre Company
By Skip Sheffield
Is there anything more universal that work?
Other than eating, sleeping and breathing, probably not. Since 99 percent of us must work at something or other, why not celebrate that fact?
That in a nutshell is the musical “Working,” running through April 1 at Caldwell Theatre Company.
“Working” is a robust, energetic show, based on the book by Studs Terkel (1912-2008), a Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago radio and print journalist who spent the best part of his life chronicling the joys, trials and sorrows of the workers of the world.
Stephen Schwartz, composer of “Godspell” and “Wicked,” created “Working” in 1977 with Nina Faso. The Caldwell production is a revamped and updated version of the show that debuted at the Asolo Theatre in Sarasota in 2008.
There are six members in the cast, representing various segments of American society (and one Indian tech guy in Mumbai), under the direction of Clive Cholerton.
The songs are an eclectic lot, composed by Schwartz and a half-dozen other songwriters.
Jim Ballard is a beefy, hairy guy who excels at such manly pursuits as trucker, cop, firefighter and stone mason. Michael Focas, a recent graduate of FAU, plays more white-collar roles. Musical theater veteran Barry Tarallo plays older characters such as wistful “Joe,” but is wonderfully evergreen in the ballad “The Mason” (with Jim Ballad), accompanied by himself on guitar.
If I had to pick a favorite in the female cast it would be Melissa Minyard, simply because she is so lovely, with beautiful soprano to match, so poignant in “Just a Housewife.”
For sheer power, Kareema Khouri wins hands-down with her gospel-infused delivery and such blue-collar heroes as “Cleanin’ Woman.”
Laura Holdos has her moment to shine on “Nobody Tells Me How” about the perils of teaching in an ever deteriorating school system.
“Working” is performed with economy in just 90 minutes, no intermission, backed by a lively onstage trio.
Caldwell Theatre has been a cultural treasure for more than 35 years. It certainly deserves your support; now more than ever before.
Tickets are $27-$50. Call 561-241-7432 or go to www.caldwelltheatre.com.
“Sweet Charity” at Sugar Sand Park
Margot Moreland stars in the Boca Raton Theatre Guild production of the musical “Sweet Charity’ through March 18 in the Willow Theatre of Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military trail, Boca Raton. Carbonell award-winning Moreland belts such numbers as “Hey Big Spender” and “If They Could See Me Now,” in a beloved score that won the show a Best Musical Tony Award. Playing her best boyfriend is Jeffrey Bruce, with an all-professional supporting cast. Tickets are just $20 and may be reserved by calling 561-347-3948.
Sixth Festival of the Arts Boca Kicks Off March 7
The sixth annual Festival of the Arts Boca Raton kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 7 with a concert by the world-renowned Spanish tenor, Jose Carreras at Mizner Park Amphitheater. Performing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday will be Alfredo Rodriguez and his trio. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 9 it’s the romantic classic movie “Casablanca” with live accompaniment by the Boca Raton Symphonia orchestra.
Individual tickets are $20-$100 Call 866-571-ARTS or go to www.festivaloftheartsboca.org.
Friday, March 2, 2012
A Jolting “High” at Parker Playhouse
By Skip Sheffield
Addiction is not pretty.
Neither is the play “High,” running through Sunday, March 4 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. It is shocking, yes, even quite funny at times, but it is anything but a conventionally pleasurable experience.
Playwright Matthew Lombardo is in recovery himself and he obviously knows intimately the horrors of addiction, Addiction does not just hurt the addict. It damages everyone and everything in its path.
I wanted to see “High” primarily because Kathleen Turner stars as Sister Jamison Connelly, a nun and recovering alcoholic who is pressured into counseling a 19-year-old drug addict named Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit). Turner was torrid in her big screen breakthrough, “Body Heat’ in 1981. I last saw her as Tallulah Bankhead in “Tallulah!” at least ten years ago at Coconut Grove Playhouse. Though she had thickened and coarsened, there was still an unmistakable allure to her. It felt like a magnetic force when I met the actress face-to-face.
Turner is the first one onstage in “High” in spotlight silhouette in a monologue that begins, “When I was a girl…” I did not recognize her at first, but there is “that voice;” deeper than ever now, and that pretty face that grows more beautiful when she smiles.
Turner is perfect as Sister Jamison, a once-wild woman who still has dark shadows dogging her life. Although she is a nun she curses like a sailor. She has regrets but she does not dwell on them. She has focused her energy to helping others, which keeps her personal demons at bay.
Then Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit) unwillingly infiltrates Sister Jamison’s fortress of faith.
Cody is a homosexual drug addict and prostitute with a horrendous past. It is not by accident that Cody has shown up at the rectory of Father Michael Delpapp (Tim Altmeyer). The Father has a special connection to the wayward Cody; a relationship that unfolds in two acts as Sister Jamison gets closer and closer to the truth.
Truth is elusive even among the most highly-principled people such as Father Michael. It is almost impossible to face for a hardcore addict like Cody. An addict will lie, cheat, steal, commit unspeakable acts and even murder for that next fix. Evan Jonigkeit makes the horror palpably real in a searing, painfully raw performance.
In 12-step programs people are encouraged to confess their sins to a higher power. In a sense “High” is a confessional in the form of a play. It depicts the pain and depravity of the addict and those that enable him or her. It does not moralize, but it does allow that some find redemption through religious faith. Others find it when they find purpose in life. Some never find it. They do not survive.
“High” was a hit in New Haven, then it flopped on Broadway. It is simply too tough for the average audience, with all its foul language, sexual explicitness and a notable scene of full male nudity. I think it may have found its audience in Fort Lauderdale, judging by the mostly-male cheers at the standing ovation.
Tickets are $36.50-$56.50. Call 954-462-0222.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
By Skip Sheffield
“Billy Elliot” is the flip side of Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning performance as “Iron Lady.”
Running through Sunday, March 11 at Broward Center for the Arts, “Billy Elliot” is a musical version of the 2000 film set in the Margaret Thatcher era of 1984, when the British Prime Minister Thatcher decided to close unprofitable coal mines. Mrs. Thatcher was steadfast in her opposition to union demands, and she became the villain as a result.
Coal was the lifeblood of Durham County in the north of England. The union miners voted to go on strike for their livelihood, provoking one of the longest, most violent worker-versus-government conflict in British history.
That is conflict No. 1 of “Billy Elliot.” Conflict No. 2 is that of gender and sexual identity. Billy Elliot, the 11-year-old son of a veteran miner (Rich Hebert) has no interest in the boxing lessons his father can ill afford. What Billy really wants to do is dance; not just ballroom or tap, but real, rarefied dance at the Royal Ballet.
If you’ve never been a kid taking dance classes, you may wonder what is the Big Deal? The Big Deal is chauvinistic, macho notion that real men don’t dance. If you do dance you are a sissy, a queer.
I felt the sting of peer derision when I was taking tap at Ginger’s School of Dance. As much as I loved to dance and be the center of attention in a room full of girls, I let the mocking comments discourage me.
The truth of the matter is that real men do dance, and they dance with grace and beauty. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation.
The role of Billy Elliot is very taxing, especially for a young boy. Therefore there are four boys alternating in the role in this touring production.
A mop-topped, dark-haired lad named J.P. Viernes was Billy for the opening night performance. In a word he was terrific. We see the progress of a boy with natural ability under the tutelage of a tough old gal called Mrs. Wilkinson (Leah Hocking).
Mrs. Wilkinson reminded me of my own Ginger; an ex-Broadway hoofer with a profound love for dance but a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to class discipline.
The choreography of “Billy Elliot’ is a thing of beauty, meshed perfectly with a spectacular set design the combines industrial decay with ethereal beauty.
There is a brawny male chorus of miners and cops who clash noisily while moving with balletic grace. There is a corresponding adult female chorus of downtrodden women who come alive as they dance.
There is also a tiny female chorus of adorable would-be ballerinas of various sizes prancing about in their tutus.
There are several scene-stealing secondary roles: Cameron Clifford and Jacob Zelonky alternating as Billy’s cross-dressing best friend Michael; Cynthia Darlow as Billy’s feisty Grandma and Cullen R. Titmas as his fiery older brother.
Elton John’s musical score is quite impressive and expressively played by a powerful band in the pit. The whole show culminates in a rapturous tap-dancing finale that loudly celebrates the joy of dance.
“Billy Elliot” is a show that entertains and delights while poking fun at a grim era in Britain when it looked like everything might go down the tubes. It didn’t, Mrs. Thatcher notwithstanding, and England emerged stronger, not unlike a football player who gets better practicing ballet moves.
Tickets are $29.95 and up. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.