Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Oscar-Nominated Film “Albert Nobbs” in Boca
By Skip Sheffield
Now that Glenn Close and Janet McTeer have been nominated as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for this year’s Academy Awards, there should be a temporary surge in box office for the quirky little comedy-romance, “Albert Nobbs.”
Let me stress “Albert Nobbs” is not a laugh-out-loud comedy. It is hardly a comedy at all. It just has some ironically funny situations stemming from sexual role-playing and romantic misunderstandings.
The film is a labor of love for Glenn Close, who co-wrote the screenplay and starred in the play on which this is based almost 30 years ago.
It’s late 19th century Ireland. The character of Albert Nobbs (Close) showed at age 14 at Morrison’s Hotel. The hotel’s owner, Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins) took pity on the waifish lad and added him to the hotel staff
It is now 30 years later and Albert is an esteemed but almost silent, almost invisible butler.
Albert’s unruffled, predictable routine is upset when Hubert Page, a boisterous outgoing fellow, is hired to do some painting at the hotel. The thing is, like Albert, Hubert is really a woman too. That fact is revealed somewhat humorously when Albert is forced to room with Hubert.
If that weren’t confusing enough, Hubert is married to a woman (Bronagh Gallagher) who may or may not know Hubert’s true sexual identity, and who cares?
Confusing matters even further is lovely Helen (Mia Wasikowska), a young maid to whom Albert is attracted. Helen likes little Albert OK, but she is stirred more by the brutish boiler man Joe (Aaron Johnson).
Yes, “Albert Nobbs” is a feminist fable- an allegory really- about oppressive social, political and economic dictates. Victorian England and Ireland were notoriously anti-female, yet at the time the U.K. was ruled by one of its strongest most steadfast Queens, Victoria Regina.
While Glenn Close’s performance as this bottled-up little person is impressive, there is little to like about the melancholy character. The character we really like is Janet McTeer’s Hubert. In this year’s Oscar sweepstakes she has a much stronger chance of bringing home the gold.
If you are interested in sociology and gender politics, “Albert Nobbs” is a film for you. I don’t think it stands much of a chance with America’s mainstream audience.
“Urinetown The Musical” Comes to West Boca
By Skip Sheffield
Admittedly the title “Urinetown: The Musical” does not sound very appetizing.
Guess what? The Slow Burn Theatre production of this offbeat Off-Broadway show is funny, clever, and quite pertinent to our current political and economic situation. The show continues through Sunday, Jan. 29 at West Boca High School way out at the end of Glades Road.
“Urinetown” was nominated for ten Tony awards during its 2009 Broadway run. It won for Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Music Score and Best Direction of a Musical.
Authors Mark Holliman (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) say they were inspired by the politically-charged theater of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill (“Threepenny Opera”) in the 1920s and 1930s.
Kotis was also prompted by his encounter with pay toilets on his first trip to Europe. What if we all had to use public pay toilets, and any other form of elimination was a criminal offense? And what if those public toilets were controlled by a greedy, dictatorial giant corporation?
Sound familiar? Welcome to Urinetown and its all-powerful Urine Good Company (UGC).
“Urinetown” not only taunts corporate America, Wall Street and fascistic law enforcement, it makes fun of the Broadway musical itself in it very first song: “Too Much Exposition.” The experienced theater-goer will nod one’s head and say, yes, I’ve often felt that way.
Slow Burn’s cast is absolutely charming. Even the villains are entertaining, as we learn right off the bat as friendly Officer Lockstock (Matthew Korino) explains the situation to naïve but smart street urchin Little Sally (Jaimie Kautzmann). A drought has been going on for 20 years (sound familiar?) and water has become a precious commodity; so precious it is decreed ordinary people cannot be trusted using private bathroom facilities. If someone is caught relieving oneself in public, that person is carted off to “Urinetown;” presumably a penal colony.
The setting is Public Amenity No. 9; the poorest, filthiest facility in town. Policing the place is the formidable Penelope Pennywise (Cindy Pearce) and her young, idealistic assistant, Bobby Strong (Daniel Schwab). Trouble brews when Bobby’s father, Old Man Strong (Conor Walton) can’t afford the fee and urinates in the street (“It’s a Privilege to Pee”).
If this weren’t bad enough, UGC CEO Caldwell Cladwell (Larry Buzzeo) is conspiring with Senator Fripp (Michael Torok) to raise toilet rates even higher.
Every musical needs an ingénue. In this case it is Hope Cladwell (Lindsey Forgery), the CEO’s daughter, who has just joined the company payroll. Every musical needs romance too, and wouldn’t you know it’s instant attraction between Hope and Bobby Strong.
With its offbeat titles and subject matter, the musical score is not the kind you’ll find yourself humming after the show. It is well-played by a live but invisible band.
Kudos to choreographer/director Patrick Fitzwater for bringing this provocative, entertaining show to Boca Raton.
Tickets are $35 adults, $30 seniors and $20 students and may be reserved by calling 954-323-7884 or going to www.slowburntheatre.com.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Black Flying Heroes Known by Their “Red Tails”
By Skip Sheffield
Most Americans have not heard of the Tuskegee Airmen. Perhaps “Red Tails” will correct that oversight and add some real-life black heroes for African-American children.
Founded, in 1881, Tuskegee Institute is a historically black university in Alabama where some of the most celebrated African-American scholars have studied and taught. When the United States entered World War II, Tuskegee Institute recruited a group of young men to be trained as combat pilots. The men were duly trained, but there was a major problem: the U.S. Armed Forces were segregated. Furthermore, a now-discredited Army study in 1925 alleged that blacks were mentally inferior and unable to cope with complicated machinery such as airplanes.
The Tuskegee Airmen, formally known as the 332nd Fighter Group, were deployed to Europe, but as of 1944 they had not seen actual combat. They were equipped with well-worn, obsolete P-40 fighter planes and had to be content with just doing practice drills.
A long-gestating project by George Lucas, “Red Tails” recounts the turning point, when not only did the Tuskegee Airmen prove themselves; they performed above and beyond the call of duty.
Lucas had a challenge financing the project because its principal cast is all African-American. The two box office names are Terrence Howard as Col. A.J. Bullard and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Major Emmanuelle Stance.
The year is 1944 in Sicily, Italy. Back in Washington, Col. Bullard is pleading the case for his men. Finally the Tuskegee Airmen are given a chance to prove themselves in the extremely dangerous assignment of providing escorts for bombers.
“Red Tails” is an old-fashioned film that is a lot like any other war movie. The difference is the race of the characters and the additional obstacles they must overcome.
There is the hard-drinking squadron leader Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker); fearless flying ace Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo); runty Ray “Junior” Gannon and flippant Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelly), under the command of taciturn, pipe-smoking Maj. Stance (Gooding).
Director Anthony Hemingway and screen writer John Ridley show us pointed examples of discrimination and bigotry, but they also show the grudging, growing admiration of white bomber pilots, who came to specifically request the brave pilots of the 322nd as escorts.
The computer-enhanced air battles are much more convincing than war films of yore. There is even a token romance between Lightning Joe (Oyelowo) and Sofia (Daniela Rush) a beautiful Italian woman.
“Red Tails” is a bit corny, clichéd and rah-rah, but in a good way that makes anyone, black or white, proud to be an American
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
America Enters the Ring in “Chad Deity”
By Skip Sheffield
Is professional wrestling an allegory for life in America?
It sure is in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” running through Feb. 12 at Caldwell Theatre Company, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
In wrestling you have clearly defined heroes and villains. The heroes are staunch upholders of the American dream. Villains want to tear the USA apart. Part of the appeal of wrestling is that everything is so clear-cut and black-and-white. Real life is such a confusing mess of gray-scale tones.
Chad Deity (Donte Bonner) is the “hero” of Kristoffer Diaz’s 2010 Pulitzer Prize-finalist play.
“Hero” is in quotes, because Chad Deity is not a hero at all. Oh, he makes the most money and he is adored by the masses, but the real hero of the story is Macedonio Guerra, known as “The Mace” (Brandon Morris).
Mace is a professional bad guy. He is costumed in the garb of whatever ethic group we are hating at the moment.
Mace sets the stage by talking about his childhood in the Bronx; how he and his brother ate sugary cereals and played with wrestling figures. Don’t call them dolls, please.
Mace grew up to be a very good wrestler; so good it becomes his job to make lesser wrestlers appear better than they are.
Wrestling is all about team work, Mace explains. If you don’t work together, someone could get hurt. Mace’s love of wrestling is so lofty he likens it to an art form, like ballet, performed by 300-pound bruisers.
It is Mace’s job to make Chad Deity look good. Chad is handsome, confident, with gym-sculpted body. He drapes himself, literally, in the American flag. He is the star of “THE Wrestling” company. His action figures and T-shirts make buckets of money for the crass promoter Everett K. Olsen, known as E.K.O. (Gregg Weiner).
EKO knows what sells. When Mace brings in a charismatic upstart from Brooklyn, EKO smells money. No matter that Vigneshwar Paduar is of Indian descent, or that his sport is basketball. VP has presence. People stand up and take notice.
EKO cooks up a new script. Mace plays the villain as usual, but this time he is an America-hating Mexican called Che Chavez Castro. VP is a vaguely Mideastern Muslim character called The Fundamentalist.
Boo! Hiss! “Chad Deity” is extremely funny in its portrayal of the ridiculous extremes of wrestling, yet playwright Diaz salutes the men who play the roles. For authenticity’s sake, a real wrestler named Matthew Schaller plays three stereotypical heroes.
You don’t have to care a fig about wrestling to love “Chad Deity.” My brother and I watched wrestling on television when we were kids mostly for the comedy and entertainment value. Later, brother Richard got to know several professional wrestlers. They were hard-working stiffs like anyone else.
“Chad Deity” is a left-handed salute to the people of wrestling and a scathing commentary on America’s greed, materialism and jingoism. Above all its is an amazing theatrical spectacle that will make you laugh, jeer, gasp and feel both shame and pride. In the swift course of under two hours, director Clive Cholerton presents a microcosm of the paradox that is the good old USA.
Tickets are $27-$50. Call 561-241-7432 or go to www.caldwelltheatre.com.
Living With the Mother From Hell
By Skip Sheffield
Most of us have nothing but warm thoughts and memories of our mothers- most, not all.
“The Effects of Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” running through Jan. 29 at the lovely new and much larger Palm Beach Dramaworks at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, is about a less-than-ideal mother. You could call Beatrice Hunsdorfer the mother from hell.
Beatrice is played by Laura Turnbull, one of South Florida’s finest actresses. Furthermore her brilliant daughter Matilda is played by her own daughter, Arielle Hoffman, a senior at Coral Springs High School but a seasoned actress in her own right. Matilda’s older sister Ruth is played by Skye Coyne, another seasoned young professional.
The girls and their mother live in an unspecified town in a space that was once a vegetable store. Mother Beatrice is an embittered divorcee whose ex has since died, leaving her the sole support of her girls.
Mom ekes out a living taking in boarders. The current one is Nanny (Harriet Oser), a silent, decrepit old woman who shuffles around with the help of a walker.
The play begins with a voiceover soliloquy by Matilda on the magic and the power of the atom. It is the early 1960s, when many people thought atomic energy could be the answer to all our woes.
Matilda is using the power of the atom in a different way. With the help of her high school science teacher she has irradiated marigold seeds with gamma rays to see if the plants might mutate and grow faster and larger. It’s a science fair project that is the source of playwright Paul Zindel’s title.
A normal mother would be supportive of her daughter’s efforts to accomplish something difficult. Not Beatrice. Beatrice belittles Matilda, saying her experiment is foolish and she is awkward and unattractive.
Beatrice is not much kinder to Ruth, who has already suffered one breakdown and is fragile at best. All Ruth and her mother have in common is a fondness for cigarettes. Ruth is developing rapidly, and it is clear her mother is threatened by that.
Out of pain art can emerge. Zindel’s own home life and mother were very difficult. Through his flights of fancy he was able to soar over grim reality.
So Matilda grows in a most inhospitable climate. No matter what unspeakable cruelties her mother performs, Matilda manages to remain strong and steadfast.
It is this optimistic spirit of overcoming obstacles that perhaps inspired the committee to award Zindel the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1971.
Tough as it is, “Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” is a thing of rough beauty and uplifting thought, performed by a dream cast, each totally immersed in her role.
Laura Turnbull usually plays sympathetic, even tragic figures. Beatrice is in a sense a tragic figure, but we are not impressed or depressed. We have seen Beatrices before in people who blame all their misfortune on others.
Stick around for the curtain call and you see a heartwarming scene of mother and daughter acknowledging the sheer joy of acting.
Tickets are $55 ($10 students). Call 561-514-4042 or go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.
Friday, January 6, 2012
“Tinker Tailor” a Thinking Person’s Mystery-Thriller
By Skip Sheffield
Tired of cars that crash and things that blow up? “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is a thinking person’s action-mystery whodunit.
Gary Oldman stars as George Smiley, a top intelligence officer now retired from Britain’s secret service in this adaptation of John Le Carre’s 1974 chapter of his popular spy novel series.
The year is 1973 in the chilliest part of the Cold War. A year previously something went terribly wrong in Hungary. Three people were shot dead in downtown Budapest in broad daylight. One of them was an important “person of interest” in an ongoing investigation of a “mole” or informant to the Soviet Union at the very highest level of British Intelligence.
A melancholy man known as Control (John Hurt at his gloomiest) who resigned at the same time Smiley did after the fiasco, appeals to Smiley to come back to the “Circus,” as British Intelligence headquarters (MI-6) in London is nicknamed.
Smiley wants no part of the “Circus,” but it is hard for him to turn down a challenge. His marriage is in tatters and he is at loose ends. Grudgingly, he jumps back into the fray.
“Tinker” is so gray and gloomy director Tomas Alfredson could have just as well shot in black-and-white. There are many suspects, and Smiley considers them all. The plot is as complicated as a high-level chess match, but if you stick with it, it can be quite satisfying if not exciting.
The ensemble cast is absolutely first-rate. Toby Jones is at his effectively prissiest as fellow agent Percy Alleline. Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and Mark Strong all contribute strategic parts to the complicated puzzle, but it is Gary Oldman as the taciturn, ingenious and fearless George Smiley who holds it all together.
Oldman tips his hat to the great Alec Guinness, who created the trench coat-wearing, bespeckled master spy in a seven-hour version of this 400-plus-pages book, broadcast by the BBC. I neither read the book nor saw the series, so I was glad to experience this kind of Cliff Notes treatment of John Le Clare’s spy-versus-spy world. I do not miss the Cold War one bit. This film reminds me why.
Queen of Boogie-Woogie, Marcia Ball, Plays the Bamboo Room
By Skip Sheffield
Marcia Ball is hands-down the hottest piano-pounder in the world of blues and boogie-woogie. The long tall Texan and Alligator Records recording artist is making a rare local appearance with her band at 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7 at the newly-revitalized Bamboo Room, 25 S. J Street, Lake Worth,
“I’m so glad the Bamboo Room is open again,” she said recently from somewhere on the road. “It’s one of the nicest venues in Florida for the blues, and we do love Florida.”
Ball not only pummels her piano, she sings the blues and writes about them too. Every song on her latest album, “Roadside Attractions,” was either written or co-written by her.
“It’s a very personal album,’ she says. “It’s about life on the road. You see a lot of strange and interesting things. I have never tired of it.”
Ball has been “on the road’ for more than 40 years. She was born into a musical family in 1949 in Orange, Texas and began taking piano lessons at age 5. In 1970 she set out for San Francisco, but her car broke down near the musical Mecca of Austin, Texas. After playing in several bands, she set out on her own in 1974. Ball recorded on Capital Records and Rounder Records before landing on the nation’s premiere blues label, Alligator Records of Chicago, in 2001, At Alligator three of her first four albums have earned Grammy nominations and she has amassed seven Blues Music awards since 2001. In 2009 she won the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year Award. In 2011 Living Blues Readers’ Poll declared her Female Blues Artist of the Year and Most Outstanding Musician- Keyboard.
The Pinetop Perkins Award was especially meaningful to Ball. She was a personal friend to Perkins and one of five pianists- the only woman- to play a Pinetop Perkins memorial concert in Austin.
“It’s a brutal business,” Ball reflects. “But we have lasted longer than most. My bass player Don Bennett has been with me 40 years. Not everyone gets to do what we do, but we love it. That’s why we last.”
The love is returned. Marcia Ball headlines a “Blues Cruise” Jan. 8-15 to St. Barts, St. Kitts and Nevis. In March her band will perform at music festivals in Switzerland and Spain.
Tickets are $32 and $37. Call 561-585-2583 or go to www.bambooroom.com.