Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blank White Canvas - Art & Million Dollar Quartet - Theatre Reviews

Art - Bluma Appel Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - ** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Yasmina Reza, Translated by Christopher Hampton, Directed by Morris Panych
Runs until Apr. 10th 2010

Million Dollar Quartet - Nederlander Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - ** (out of 5 stars)
Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, Original Concept and Direction by Floyd Mutrux, Directed by Eric Schaeffer
In Previews, Opens Apr. 11th 2010

Boy, the rest of the audiences loved these shows and easily bought into the big hoopla, but I thought both Art (in a new production in Toronto) and Million Dollar Quartet (just opening on Broadway while a successful run in Chicago continues) are both big concept shows with little to show for it.

I saw Art when it first ran in London and remembered being slightly bored, but through the years, have waxed nostalgic and called it an entertaining, if somewhat overrated play. Seeing again only made me realize I've totally given it way more credit than it deserves. It truly is the blank white canvas it's talking about. In case you don't know the story, it's about 3 very different friends, who argue and bicker when one buys a piece of modern art (what looks like a blank white canvas, though claims to be shades of grayness) and it unravels the friendship to its true core. It's a GREAT concept, one that has so much potential for hilarity and deep discussions, but I find Yasmina Reza (or Hampton's translations?) never seems to fulfill the early promise of the play (which is the same problem I had with her current Broadway hit God of Carnage, a great concept play, poorly fulfilled but well acted).

Luckily, the new Canadian production stars Colin Mochrie (Whose Line Is It Anyways), Evan Buliung (Stratford) and Peter Donaldson and while Donaldson overacts a bit, I felt the script sort of forced him to. It's a sitcom script that feigns high intellectualism to the masses of middle class white folks to make them feel so high and smart for going to the "thea-tah". Mochrie does a fine job as the art buyer and Evan Buliung is terrifically funny as the cowardly jello of a friend, but even Panych's taut direction can only paint so much onto what essentially is a blank script.

Million Dollar Quartet is a new musical that's more like an elaborate Vegas revue with a few dramatic scenes in between. It's an excuse to put on a concert with the rockin' songs of the 50's, when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash met at Sun Records Studio in 1956 Memphis and made some impromptu recordings... and that's the story pretty much right there. Throw in the studio's owner Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Urinetown) and Elvis' girlfriend Dyanne (Elizabeth Stanley, Company) for those dramatic scenes, and you're left with a pretty hollow of an excuse for the concert show.

If it's a show you want, then you'll get it, as the performances recreating some of Presley, Lewis and Cash's best known songs are generally solid, while Perkins, was the original writer of "Blue Suede Shoes". Robert Britton Lyons (above left) sings some of the lesser known songs well, but mostly he just gets to act annoyed and disgruntled that Elvis is more popular from his own song.

Eddie Clendening (above and below centre) does a terrific Elvis that echoes Presley's persona without relying on caricature, and it surprisingly feels real and subtle. Clendening's recreation of Elvis' musical performances are terrific.

Levi Kreis (above left) gets the most to play with as the over-the-top Jerry Lee Lewis and while he doesn't have as many solo songs to perform, his musical talents don't go unnoticed. Both his musical and acting performances are fantastic and Kreis gives the dull book the biggest lift.

Elizabeth Stanley does what she can from a sketched out role. A role that is sort of an excuse to stick a woman into the proceedings to add a female voice, and a romance. Sadly, Stanley still feels underused.

Hunter Foster (above left, with Kreis) on the other hand doesn't even get to sing, a shame considering his talented voice, but he throws some good dramatic weight into the non-singing role.

Lance Guest (above right, with Lyons) is the only major performance disappointment who plays Johnny Cash as a lumbering mumbly wallflower. I barely noticed he was there most of the time and he's on stage almost as much as the other 3 singers.

At the end of the show, they forgo the one room set and Million Dollar Quartet embraces its concert nature with an elaborate finale/encore and for the first time, the show is truly rocking. The audience around me ate it up but the slim book and slow pacing from the intermissionless show just dragged the terrific performances down, and a fun finale is not enough to make up for it. The attempt at a hit parade only reminds me of how slick and smartly made Jersey Boys was, and I enjoyed another 1950's Memphis set new Broadway musical Memphis far more (with it's original musical and cliched but still winning book). Million Dollar Quartet may be a true incident of a special gathering of stars, but I wouldn't spend too much money trying to see it.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Own Discord - The Last Song - Movie Review

The Last Song = C+
Written by Nicholas Sparks & Jeff Van Wie, Directed by Julie Anne Robinson
Opens Mar. 31st 2010

Yah, I saw it. Yah, I'm reviewing it. Hey, considering I actually liked Hannah Montana: The Movie, I may actually secretly be the 12 year old girl demographics they're trying to hit here (which is basically what the screening consisted of. My friend and I may have shifted the average age demographics a few notches over). Of course, the real me would have groaned at this movie were it not for Greg Kinnear's involvement.

Instead, I think I sat through the entire mind-numbingly glossy movie with a grin on my face the whole time and practically clapped with glee everytime Liam Hemsworth took off his shirt. At least they were smart enough to have Liam Hemsworth shirtless within the first 5 min. of the movie. And then repeated that throughout the film. A lot. (Oh happy times)

Of course, I knew what I was heading into and you don't go into a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book starring Miley Cyrus expecting art. You know there's going to be a lot of loverly shots of a glowing Miley and Liam as they hate-first/love-later each other. You know that having Oscar nominee and former Talk Soup host Greg Kinnear means that the role of father couldn't just be a throwaway, and thankfully Kinnear throws some dramatic heft into the lightweight film.

And this being a Nicholas Sparks movie, you know all the straight guys are going to roll their eyes throughout the film (after whimpering like a baby when they got dragged their by their girlfriends/wives in the first place) while all the gays and the girls are going to cry at some point, and cry with glee at the sight of Liam Hemsworth (and to be perfectly honest, Greg Kinnear, who is looking just as good now as he did in his film debut in Sabrina).

To give Miley Cyrus some credit, wasn't horrible, although I think I found her bad-girl act a bit laughable. Liam Hemsworth was surprisingly decent considering half his job was to stand there shirtless. And Bobby Coleman (as Miley's younger brother), despite some showbizkid-look-at-me-acting, was thoroughly enjoyable, especially in his scenes with Greg Kinnear.


But while The Last Song doesn't come close to the actual quality of The Notebook, I didn't hate it either. Probably because it had nothing really to hate since the first half is spent blandly (but lovingly) covering the goo-eyed love between Hannah Montana the spawn of Billy Ray and Liam Hemsworth, while the second act reveals the sad twist it had been hinting at (and expected since nothing really happens up to that point, so SOMETHING had to happen).

Seriously, you knew SOMEONE was going to die in this movie. Though I will say that I actually stupidly guessed wrong. I should have known. My mind was numbed from all the cliches in the first half that I actually enjoyed the emotional manipulation of the second half.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

So You Think You Like These Changes? SYTYCD S7 Switches Up

So @dizzyfeet (Nigel Lythgoe) is changing up the format for Season 7 of So You Think You Can Dance.

After hinting tweets, the full explanation is out "We are forming a 'dance-pool' of your favorite dancers from previous Seasons to act as partners for this year's top 10." "The dancers will change partners each week picked from an 'All-Star Pool.' Each 'All-star' will be a specialist in specific genres of dance." "Only the competitors will be judged not the "All-Stars.". America votes for their favorite and one of the bottom three dancers will go home.".

So as many people on twitter pointed out, it's Dancing with the Stars now on SYTYCD only the stars are alums.

Not a terrible idea, but my gut reaction is that as much as I love some of the alums and the prospect of seeing Pasha, Neil Haskell, Travis Wall, Dmitry Chaplin, and Mark Kanemura on my TV every week again excites me, the reality is that it will somewhat take away from the new dancers and it won't allow them to forge their own identities, new partnerships as much.

While I do agree some weaker dancers have coasted through until the Top 10 with stronger partners, and if a pairing didn't work from the start, the poor dancers were stuck with them until the Top 10, I'm glad Nigel is trying to change things up.

With hints that it was only going to be a Top 10 though, and only one elimination per week, and new partnerships every week, I was hoping for something more drastic (3somes for Top 9?).

Of course I'm not against the All Stars idea, I just wish it were almost its own complete season. And since I've tabulated my list of ALL (except S1) the dancers from 5 seasons of SYTYCD AND 2 seasons of SYTYCDCanada, you already know who I favour.

But if I had to pick All Stars (albeit, you gotta remember some are actually working), I'd probably want Pasha, Neil (if he's not on Bway), Katee, Ellenore, Legacy, Heidi, Kathryn, Benji, Jeanine, Jakob, or Sabra.

I thought Lacey and Dmitry were busy on DWTS but apparently they are not on the latest season, and I thought Travis Wall had a show on ABC but he just tweeted this so maybe he's in. And yes Zach, I do think Travis is the second coming.

I'd also love to see Mark again but he's still on tour with Lady Gaga.

It's too bad Nigel probably won't be bringing in some of the Canadian dancers since we had some great ones up here.

I'm also going to assume Billy Bell will be back as a sure thing? He'd better be.

I also wish that at least one of the judging spots went back on rotation, and since Mary Murphy is apparently choreographing again, maybe it's going to be her spot?

What does everyone else think?

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The Art of War - Time Stands Still and Oh What A Lovely War - Theatre Reviews

Time Stands Still - Friedman Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Donald Margulies, Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Closed Mar. 27th 2010

Oh What A Lovely War - Soulpepper at Baillie Theatre in The Young Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Joan Littleton, Theatre Workshop and Charles Chilton, Directed by Albert Schultz, Choreography by Candace Jennings
Closes Apr. 10th 2010

Yes, we know War is harsh and brutal. But how does it REALLY affect people?

I saw Oh What A Lovely War 12 years ago when London's National Theatre presented a superb and thrilling revival at the Roundhouse Theatre. It's an absurb musical about WWI and when done right, can be wild yet haunting. An absurd musical that accounted for those in the trenches of the First World War and all of wars absurdities. Soulpepper is currently presenting the show with a great young cast and some clever staging but ultimately misses the silly absurdist viewpoint Joan Littleton and the Theatre Workshop intended the show to be.

Donald Margulies' latest new play follows a war photographer (Laura Linney) returning to her Brooklyn home after a landmine nearly kills her. Her job, her relationship, and her entire being comes into examination when her writer boyfriend (Brian d'Arcy James), her editor (Eric Begosian) and her editor's new naive girlfriend (Alicia Silverstone) tries to welcome her back to a more regular daily existence. It's a sobering look at the shock of returning to regular society, and one's place in the affects of war.

Time Stands Still is a fascinating play where nothing much seems to happen, but a few reveals are made and there are lots of discussions about war, politics, love, and ones human existence and it just gets more interesting as the show goes along as the characters make realizations in their own lives.

Of course, it always helps when Laura Linney, Eric Begosian and Brian d'Arcy James (Shrek) are speaking those discussions and particularly Linney, in the central role, easily commands the stage without resorting to overdramatic flair. Linney's rapport with James as partners, in both work and life, is easily accepting, even as troubles begin to shatter their comfortable partnership when they actually find themselves dealing with each other without a war as a backdrop.

Begosian, who can at times come off as abrasive in film and on television, is simply charming and believable as the understanding editor who is now in love with his much younger lover.

The younger lover is played by Alicia Silverstone in her Broadway debut and while she is easily the weakest of the actors and the one not belonging to the others, her part is exactly that, the unworldly pretty girl amongst a group of worldly intellectuals, so it seemed to work for the play and I wasn't that distracted by Silverstone's performance. Silverstone does a comparable job and she has an innate likability that endears her loving character that interludes Linney's shock filled return. In fact, the opposing styles with Linney only heightens the differences in their characters, making it all the more amusing and affective.

In fact, it's probably Silverstone's character that challenges Linney's photographer to self-examination as the idea of ones level of participation in war, in any capacity, reveals ones true self. It's only too bad the play was set for a limited run and has since closed (I saw it during its final week) but with the need for only 4 actors and one set (beautifully done on Broadway by John Lee Beatty), hopefully it will be performed on many regional stages.

Oh What A Lovely War at Soulpepper is a lovely and proper account of the history of WWI, but the musical really should be wild and absurd, reflecting the absurdity of war itself (just look at the name of the show itself), and the bigger the laughs, the lower the emotional fallout would be when the real tragedies occur. Instead we get facts slowly recounted through projections and our MC (a mumbly and dry Michael Hanrahan) but it's all too staid and historically stodgy and thus there's less an emotional impact than the piece should have.

The musical itself is a terrific show about WWI played as a performance piece (the London version I saw heightened the circus element the MC as the ringmaster) with the actors in clown suits and rotating roles in vignettes about the war. While I'd like to think I'm not trying to compare productions, the National Theatre's production simply blew me away with its stunning use of circus acts, superb choreography, a ring circus set, smart projections and some haunting performances.

The young Soulpepper cast (mostly from Soulpepper's Academy) are a talented bunch, and they do what they can to liven up the vaudeville show within the show, but while the actors are lovely singers, they are actors first, singers second and their voices can't carry through the (small) theatre and the poor sound mix fails the actors who are overtaken by the musical instruments (which the talented actors themselves play, much like John Doyle's Sweeney Todd and Company, but to less imaginative effect). I was sitting near the middle of the theatre and the people around me and myself all had trouble hearing a lot of the words, which wasn't helped by the fact that there WAS a mic used for certain instances. (In this instance, I blame poor sound design over the performers).

Oliver Dennis does a terrific job as one the more senior officers, particularly as the truly incoherent English officer training a new batch of soldiers. In the same scene, there's a moment of brilliance when Jason Patrick Rothery's soldier is short on a weapon and finds a pink umbrella from a previous scene as his gun. Doug Price and Ryan Field are priceless in their roles, while Gregory Prest is a particular standout in his multiple roles.

Alison Jutzi has a loveliness in her singing, while Raquel Duffy, Karen Rae and Tatjana Cornij are wonderful.

However, Albert Schultz's direction is uneven. There are some brilliant moments in staging, particularly the finale songs in both acts, and the use of 4 pianos as instruments and set pieces, but the entire show misses the spark of silliness the title implies and that Joan Littleton and the Theatre Workshop had written in (and they had written in for a relaxed, improved feel). The show is far too serious and somber and while Ken Mackenzie's Set and Video design, and Lorenzo Savoini's Lighting is particularly amazing, the practically non-existent choreography and Schultz's poor pacing drag the show down and loses all the brilliancy of Oh What A Lovely War.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Should Get A Tutor for The Tudors

Along with my list of Battlestar Galactica, Big Love, True Blood, The Wire, I have The Tudors on my pile of shows I need to catch up watching (I know I know, but I'm still catching up with Dexter, give me time please!). Considering The Tudors stars Henry Cavill and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, I'm not sure why I didn't watch from the start. But for those of you who love The Tudors, it's Season 4 Premieres Sunday April 11th at 9pm on Showtime

BUT!!! You can get a sneak preview of the full first episode (Ep.401) right HERE! right NOW!:

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Old Sweat - Hot Tub Time Machine - Movie Review

Hot Tub Time Machine = C+
Written by Josh Heald and Sean Anders & John Morris, Directed by Steve Pink
Opens Mar. 26th 2010

If you loved The Hangover, you're gonna love this shit. I didn't think The Hangover was all that funny and was basically totally overrated (and I saw it early before the hype), but you know, apparently I'm in the minority on this one so Hot Tub Time Machine is going to be a massive hit with the same formula.

4 guys end up drinking, having girls around, and getting in trouble in various wacked out situations. I mean, I think Craig Robinson (The Office), Rob Corddry (The Daily Show) and Clark Duke (Greek) are pretty funny guys, and John Cusack is... well... John Cusack and film staple since the 80's, and they're hilarious as they spit out their lines, but the lines themselves are not that funny, ones that rely on old tired jokes and insults.

There's still a likability in the movie with it's cast and ridiculously fun premise (guys get into a hot tub, they go back in time, they try to get back... what? You were expecting Chekov or something?) and I think I still laughed more here out of pure stupidity (and Rob Corddry's delivery) than I did with The Hangover (which to clarify, I didn't hate, I just didn't think it was the funniest movie of last year).

I'll give bonus points though for having Crispin Glover (Back to the Future) as the bellhop and Sebastian Stan (Gossip Girl, Kings) do a complete 180 playing the 80's bully (though too bad Charlie McDermott (so hilarious as Axel in The Middle) had little to do beside Stan).

Eh, but what do I know. All my friends LOVED it and thought it was hilarious and WAY better than The Hangover and this had it's moments. Recycled moments but dumb jokes are easy and are reliable aren't they?

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gay Ol' Time - The Boys in the Band, The Pride, Yank the Musical, The Temperamentals, True Love Lies - Theatre Reviews

The Boys in the Band - Transport Group Theatre Company at 37 W. 26th Street Penthouse - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Mart Crowley, Directed by Jack Cummings III
Closes Mar. 28th 2010

The Pride - Lucille Lortel Theatre - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Alexi Kaye Campbell, Directed by Joe Mantello
Closes Mar. 28th 2010

The Temperamentals - The Barrow Group Theatre - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Jon Marans, Directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Has Re-opened at New World Stages

True Love Lies - Factory Theatre Mainspace - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written and Directed by Brad Fraser

Yank! A WWII Love Story - York Theatre - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - **** (out of 5 stars)
Music by Joseph Zellnik, Book and Lyrics by David Zellnik, Directed by Igor Goldin, Choreographed by Jeffry Denmen
Closes Apr. 4th 2010

There seems to be a number of plays with gay themes in NYC right now, and if you add in the latest Off-Broadway transfer Next Fall, now at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway (and which I highly recommend with my review of ****1/2 rating), the abundance of gay plays might be a reflection of the current political debates on legalizing gay marriage in America, or maybe producers just know how to hit one of their target markets during a recession (cause if the gays don't still show up for the theatre in a recession, who will?).

What makes this batch of current gay plays slightly refreshing is that none of them are about being HIV positive or living with AIDS. We've progressed from that. On the other hand, a lot of them are still about coming out or accepting ones homosexuality, though almost in a reflective way as opposed to the typical coming out story. Even the new revival of the 1968 play The Boys in the Band is given a fresh outlook via it's super close in-situ presentation (the play is presented in Michael's living room with the audience as guests) and its precarious balance between reflective period piece and its relevancy to the gays situation of today.

In fact, you might get a sort of history of a gay man's self exploration and self understanding through the ages with these plays. Yank is a sweet and endearing musical about 2 gay soldiers who fall in love in WWII in 1943. In The Temperamentals, a secret society of gay men is formed in the early 1950's in order to fight for gay rights in America pre-Stonewall. The Pride follows two sets of love triangles in different times, with a lonely gay man finally connecting with a closeted married man in 1958 London, and when a gay couple breaks apart in 2008. The Boys in the Band moves up to 1968 when a bunch of gay men gather at an apartment for a birthday party, while Brad Fraser's latest play (that ran in Toronto and Scottland) True Love Lies and Broadway's Next Fall explores the progress (or lack thereof) of gay identity in our current century.

Yank! A WWII Love Story is a lovely little new musical that uses the harmonized quartet sounds of the 1940's and brings us back to a softened nostalgic look at the WWII era. Using a found diary as its frame, a young man (a wonderfully endearing Bobby Steggert, who was already so amazing in Ragtime) retells/re-enacts the story of Stu, a scared young soldier who falls in love with a fellow All-American private named Mitch (Ivan Hernandez). Along the way, he joins the Army's magazine Yank, and meets other closeted gays who have learned to dodge the closed-minded system, but alas, when Mitch is finally ready to fully act on his feelings to Stu, they are caught and the reality of gays in American in 1940's sets in.

The tunes by brothers David and Joseph Zellnik nicely bring back joyful memories of that era, while David's book is sweet and endearing with just enough darkness to give the musical some dramatic weight.

Igor Goldin does a wonderful job keeping the show compact and moving on such a small stage, while Jeffry Denmen (who also hilariously plays the very gay Artie and Yank magazine boss to Stu) throws in some fun choreography that works wonderfully with the story without putting the already gay story over the top (well, except the homage to West Side Story's Dream Ballet, but I liked the automatic comparison it gives the story of the doomed gay lovebirds).

The cast is wonderful, with some particularly hilarious turns by ensemble members Zak Edwards, Joseph Medeiros and Todd Faulkner as the Army Steno "girls", and Tally Sessions is particularly affecting as the beefy Czechowski, especially with his baritone voice (though it could have been miked to carry the low tones louder).

Nancy Anderson is the lone woman in the cast and plays various roles to terrific comic effect, while her voice is perfectly suited for the soft sounds of the 40's.

But really, the show holds out so well because the adorable Bobby Steggert centres the entire show with his soulful portrayal of Stu, a young gay man trying to survive the war and falling in love in those times. Steggert brings a lightness to Stu while still convincingly carrying the deep agonies of his situation, and Steggert's voice simply shines with the 40's styled tunes. If I hadn't already been blown away by his performance as Younger Brother in Broadway's revival of Ragtime, his performance here in Yank would have, and it's simply another wonderful performance that is making me a HUGE fan of his.

Bobby Steggert and the Yank cast, along with the Zellnik brothers music and story just make the whole thing seem so hugable and lovable. It's such a sweet and endearing little show that despite being sanitized, smoothed over historic look at a gay love story circa WWII, Yank remains quite affecting and enjoyable.

The Pride follows two sets of trios in two different times, constantly going back and forth between 1958 and 2008 London (sometimes in the same scene). In both times, we follow an Oliver, a Phillip and a Sylvia, but with devastatingly different results.

Ben Whishaw (Bright Star, Brideshead Revisited and the West End's Cock, His Dark Materials) plays both Olivers and in 1958, is invited to dinner by his new employee Sylvia (Andrea Riseborough, Donmar's Ivanov), but a deeper connection seems to be made to her husband Philip (Hugh Dancy, Adam, Confessions of a Shopaholic and Broadway's Journey's End) and their attraction deepens despite the closeted nature of the times.

Meanwhile, in 2008, Philip (still Hugh Dancy with fluffier hair) has just left his lover Oliver (again Ben Whishaw), and Oliver is devastated and seeks comfort in anonymous sex (which caused the breakup in the first place) and his best fag hag friend Sylvia (still Andrea Riseborough in funky clothes and wilder hair).

First time playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell has created a fascinating and complexly constructed play that compares and contrasts the plight of the gay man in the two time periods. 1958 Oliver is prim and proper but finds a window of light when he meets Philip and realizes he's no longer alone, while 1958 Philip refuses to acknowledge any gayness he may have, all while Sylvia becomes the poor betrayed wife/friend. The 2008 comparison brings Oliver and Philips relationship to the norm, and shows the importance of the female friend, and then adds layers to Oliver's addiction to anonymous sex.

With Joe Mantello (Wicked, Pal Joey) directing, on a beautifully revealing set by David Zinn, the time jumps between 1958 and 2008 wonderfully play well together in some smart transitions (also aided by Mattie Ullrich's costumes, Paul Gallo's lighting and Justin Ellington's transcendent original music). The play smoothly manages the two narratives and cleverly highlights the ironies and poignancy's within each story without any hugely gimmicky moves.

The cast is particularly great at creating distinct characters in each time era. Ben Whishaw is simply devastating as the two different Olivers and easily switches back and forth between the two in such a beautiful fashion. It's truly a brilliant performance with each Oliver being such a distinct character despite having a similar core.

Hugh Dancy does a great job as the repressed 1958's Phillip while easily charms as the betrayed 2008 Phillip. Andrea Riseborough is wonderful as the contrasting Sylvia's, one as the woman betrayed by gay men, and the other as the woman gay men rely on. Adam James rounds out the cast playing various characters and he makes the most of his smaller stage time.

The Boys in the Band is performed on the 12th floor of a building that is "Michael"'s living room. With windows on 2 sides looking out into the real New York City, and cramming in 99 seats scattered among the living room, we are automatically thrust into the party Michael throws Harold in this classic gay period play. The play was revolutionary at the time, presenting gay characters not as the lone token sidekick but as THE characters. Now we see the different characters as stock gay characters, and the plot is somewhat convoluted. The lines, while funny, can get very nasty and mean, but by making the play so intimate in this in-situ presentation, we are transported to the late 60's as voyeurs of a gay history lesson that may actually still hold sadly true. While New York gays in 2010 may be completely over the self-hatred and only go into their closets to pick their favorite designer outfits, gays in the rest of the world (or heck, in some parts of the country) may still have some of the acceptance issues that pepper the characters in The Boys in the Band.

The strong cast, that bravely acts in and around the audience (much like Our Town except with a full set by Sandra Goldmark that wonderfully denotes the 60's yet still feels contemporary) keeps the power of the play alive, and the intimacy seems to smooth over some of the nastiness inherent in the play.

Jonathan Hammond (Houdini in the Broadway revival of Ragtime) slowly unravels as our host Michael in a powerful performance that shows the layers of self-hatred underneath is proud preening. John Wellmann rolls with his showy role as the flamboyant Emory while Kevyn Morrow nicely balances the other half as Bernard, Emory's better Black half.

While Nick Westrate isn't given too much to work with in the sketched out Donald, Westrate creates a wealth of a character, especially in his reactions to his partner Michael, as well as to everyone else. With characters running around in every direction, the audience has different views to the proceedings, and Westrate, even when on the sidelines, nicely conveyed his poor-little-rich boy intelligence with heart and resonance.

Graham Rowat (who in full disclosure, helped reserve me a ticket via twitter) (Guys and Dolls, White Christmas) beautifully underplays the straight-acting gay Hank, who isn't getting the commitment he needs from his marriage-like relationship with Larry (Christopher Invar, who slowly reveals a devastating core). Rowat also nicely interplays with Alan, the lone straight intruder to the party, and amazingly performed by Kevin Isola. Isola has the difficult role that needs to balance between his mysterious true sexuality and the reason he stays at the party despite the bile thrown at him, and Isola somehow makes it make sense.

Jon Levenson finally saunters in last as birthday boy Harold and it's an over-the-top performance via a dry and slow and low voiced delivery and while I'm still not sure I get his performance, Levenson sure guaranteed the laughs everytime he opened his mouth. Harold gets to lear over his birthday gift, a beautiful cowboy escort, and while John Wellmann's performance seems a little stiff though sweet, the more I think about it, the more his low-profiled reactions would make sense when the party starts to devolve the way it does.

The play, while flawed, still resonates with some deeper core issues that still affect 21st century gays. The relationships are wonderfully interplayed here right up close and personal in this unique setting that strengthens the overall power of the piece.

The Temperamentals which has now moved to the larger New World Stages after last years successful run at The Barrow Group Theatre (where I saw it), is a nice history lesson in the gay rights movement pre-Stonewall. Designer Rudi Gernreich (Ugly Betty's Michael Urie) falls in love with communist Harry Hay (Thomas Jay Ryan) as they build their secret organization to fight for gay rights.

The cast is great, particularly Urie and Matthew Schneck (playing multiple roles) but while the play tries to mix romance with the history lesson of the play, the dryness of the history soon catches up to the piece while the romance never fully resonates. It's an interesting play about a fascinating look at gay history in America but the balance of drama and romance are never quite equated correctly into the whole, and the wonderful performances keep the clunkier moments afloat.

A slight trimming of the play would probably tighten it up, and I haven't heard if the play has changed since moving to its new Off-Broadway home, but the play I saw last year was fascinating but imperfect.

Finally, prolific gay playwright Brad Fraser (Poor Superman) debut his latest play in Scottland and Toronto last year, and while the concept for True Love Lies sounds promising, the once fiercely independent and shocking playwright seems to have written and directed a quite sitcomy new show.

In Fraser's new play, a married father of 2 teenagers meets up with his once longtime gay lover... and hilarity and shocking revelations ensue. The wife already knew, but it's news to the kids and while things get a little twisted into taboo territory, it all somehow feels four-camera-sitcomy and unaffective. The cast teeters from playing it too broadly but mostly due to the lines and direction they were given, as they seem to breathe as much reality as they can into the characters. I particularly liked Andrew Craig's disenchanted teenager and David W. Keeley (above with Craig, Broadway's original Mamma Mia, Stratford's Oklahoma) puts depth into the returning ex-boyfriend, but all in all, it felt too sanitized, which considering it's a Fraser play, just seems wrong.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Watch the Showgirls Now!

And in case you missed last nights Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara, SHOWTIME has released the Season 2 premieres to be watched here:

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Showgirls Jackie and Tara

Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara are BACK tonight for both of their second seasons on Showtime (starting at 10pm, with the shows airing back to back).

I loved both series' first seasons and I've seen the first half of both shows' second seasons and without giving away any spoilers, I can say that both continue nicely deeper into the lives of Jackie and Tara.

I've heard a lot of complaints about Nurse Jackie's first season and while Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith) was sometimes a little cartoonish, and everything just seemed to work out a little too well for Jackie, the 2nd season roughs up what was too smooth (by adding Sam (Arjun Gupta), that nurse who called out Jackie as a fellow drug addict, full time) and smoothing out the series' kinks. The only negative here is the disappearance of Homo Momo (Haaz Sleiman) with little more than a throwaway line, but this gives Thor (Stephen Wallem) more gay camera time, and leaves Eve Best's Dr. Eleanor O'Hara as Jackie's sole best friend confident, and the second season really milks Eve Best and Edie Falco's subtle acting skills to great use.

The entire cast is terrific and with Eddie (Paul Schulze) finding out about Jackie's real home life, it gives Schulze a lot more to play with and he's splendid this season (though I do miss his interactions with Jackie and Coop in the hospital). This also amps up the dramatic scenes for Kevin (Dominic Fumosa), Jackie's husband as he starts growing a spine and demanding more attention from Jackie.

Meanwhile, Merritt Weaver and Peter Facinelli continue to impress and delight as Nurse Zoe and Dr. Fitch Cooper and I love where they start taking Coops character.

And while Season 2 starts off regularly, jumping away from last seasons cliffhanger, everything starts culminating together and by episode 7, everything and everyone in the cast are in perfect balance and I can't wait to see what's next.

We jump ahead a few months on United States of Tara as well but this time because Tara's alters haven't returned for a few months and life seems normal.

There's no more hot Christian boy for Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) to be confused over, but instead gets invited to the gayble (that's gay table for you) at school, while Kate (Brie Larson) has graduated high school early and found a new mentor (in a strange artist played by Oscar nominee Viola Davis).

Tara's sister Charmaine is engaged to a brand new man, but don't worry, Neil (Patton Oswalt) will be back!

But of course there's Tara, and while Toni Collette continues her Golden Globe winning/Emmyworthy performance, life goes back to normal for Tara... at first. Soon the alters will return, and guest star Joey Lauren Adams (above with Collette) gets roped into Tara's alters' messes.

The second season seems to ground itself even more with Tara's regular family life (in fact we barely see two of the alters) which ups the seriousness of Tara's life, especially with her loving husband (John Corbett making me hate Aiden just a little less). While there seems to be an even slower solemn flow to the new season, it all seems to be getting more in depth with the family which makes me more curious about their future.

Can't wait to see the ends up the second season for both shows, but for the rest of you all, you definitely need to catch the start of Season 2 to see all the terrificness!

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