Thoughts on 3 Oscar Nominated Films

Bridge of Spies (6 Oscar noms)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Actors: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, & Alan Alda


I watched this w/ my mom (On Demand); my dad lost interest after a few scenes, but saw it the next day.  It’s a more slower film than I expected, but it DOES have it’s moments (patience gets you the payoffs).  Tom Hanks is VERY good (in a low key manner), BUT it’s Mark Rylance (known across the pond for his work in theater) who captures the viewers’ curiosity.  His character is lean, mostly still, and deeply haunted.  I really liked the music (by Thomas Newman) and cinematography (by Janusz Kaminski, a frequent collaborator of Spielberg).


Room (4 Oscar noms)

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Actors: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, & William H. Macy

'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director says
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in “Room.” (Ruth Hurl/Element Pictures)

I’d heard a LOT of praise about this film on various podcasts, and finally went to see it last weekend w/ two of my gal pals.  We ALL liked it (even given the VERY difficult subject matter); the small audience seemed to agree.  You will be in tears, or close to it (like I was), several times during the story.  Jacob Tremblay is in a league of his own among child actors!  The director said that he didn’t need much directing to do his scenes.  And the lovely/relatable Brie Larson is NO slouch either- hope to see more of her in the near future.


Spotlight (6 Oscar noms)

Director: Tom McCarthy (also dir. of  the MUST-SEE film- The Visitor)

Actors: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Jamey Sheridan, & Paul Guilfoyle


Some of you may know of  dir. Tom McCarthy from his work as a character actor; he really hit it out of the park w/ The Visitor in 2007 (starring Richard Jenkins- the voice of the former priest turned psychologist here).  With this (fact-based) film, he reaches an even higher level of acclaim- MUCH deserved!  The people are NOT glammed up or overacting- they are simply telling a VERY important story.  I esp. enjoyed Michael Keaton (Robby Robinson, editor of the Spotlight investigative team) and Stanley Tucci (hardworking Armenian-American plaintiffs’ lawyer- Mitchell Garabedian).  I wanted to see MORE of Tucci, but who doesn’t!?  Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) was the newbie managing editor of The Boston Globe in 2001; unlike most of the (Catholic) staff under him, he was Jewish.  Mark Ruffalo (lead writer Michael Rezendes, of Portuguese heritage) was going through a separation; he loved his work and threw himself into it (esp. after meeting Garabedian).   

Interviews featuring playwright Ayad Akthar

Ayad discusses Disgraced (on Broadway), Aasif Mandvi, etc. w/ NYC theater critics.  This convo goes from the 2:00 min mark until 17:10.

This is a lengthy, yet V interesting vid!  Ayad is in convo w/ a Lebanese writer (Rabih Almeddine- never heard of him before) while Indian writer (Amitava Kumar) serves as moderator.  There is a smart/funny Q&A section w/ interesting points made by BOTH the audience & writers! 

Aasif played Amir in Disgraced at Lincoln Center Theater.  Josh played Isaac on Broadway (opposite Hari Dhillon).  These guys are ALL friends- pretty cool! 

WARNING: This next 2 videos contain SPOILERS for Disgraced. 

Another long, yet very recent, interview (January 14, 2016)- it includes the meaning of the title, which is explained by Abe, the young nephew of Amir (who has “legitimate historical anger,” as Akthar comments in the vid). 

For 300 years, they’ve come to out part of the world, made- drawn new borders, taken our land, made us want to be like them, look like them, and marry their women.  They disgraced us.  They disgraced us.  Then they pretend they don’t understand the rage we’ve got.


For DC Area Theater Fans

Othello (Sidney Harman Hall: FEB 23-MAR 27)

This is my favorite Shakespeare tragedy; I love it even MORE than Hamlet!  In this production Othello will be played by a Pakistani-American actor- Faran Tahir. VERY exciting…  I’m going to be seeing it SUN, FEB 28 (7:30PM).


Some of you will recognize him from the first Iron Man movie and the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot films.


Link to 2014 podcast interview with Faran Tahir

Link to play website

Use promo code OTHELLO20 for 20% off price.

Disgraced (Arena Stage: APR 22-MAY 29)

I’m VERY excited to go see this play; one of my gal pals and I got tickets as part of a package!  Actor-turned novelist and playwright, Ayad Akthar (who I blogged about before) won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for this play, which was also his first. 

This play is being produced in 40 different theaters in the 2015-2016 season- WOW!  In some ways, it looks to be a simple domestic play, as it has only one set and five actors.  The play is set in the Upper West Side Manhattan apartment of South Asian American corporate lawyer, Amir, and his artist wife, Emily.  They hold a small dinner party w/ Amir’s work friend Johri, an African-American woman, and her secular Jewish husband, Isaac.  As the night goes on, more and more alcohol is consumed, the conversation gets  heated- the mood of the play turns serious.  Amir, who seems to have totally separated himself from his Pakistani and Muslim identities, is revealed as a complex and troubled man.

I read this play less than 2 years ago, after seeing clips about the Lincoln Center production (which starred The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi).  One of my acquaintances saw it when it premiered on Broadway; Hari Dhillon (an Indian-American of Sikh heritage) played the lead role. The PBS Newshour piece (see video below) features Dhillon and How I Met Your Mother actor Josh Radnor (who played Isaac). 

Akthar said that he wrote this play “for the global Muslim audience” (many of whom will never see it, given restrictions on freedom of speech) and the “typical (mostly white) theatergoing audience here in the U.S.”  Something important to keep in mind- the major influences for Disgraced were Othello and Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller. 

Link to play website

The Who & The What (Round House Theatre – Bethesda: MAY 25 -JUNE 16)

“The Who & the What” (the title of Zarina’s novel)… explores intergenerational and interfaith conflicts with fluid eloquence and intelligence. Mr. Akhtar writes dialogue that, while often funny and always natural, crackles with ideas and continually reveals undercurrents of tension that ratchet up the emotional stakes.  -Charles Isherwood (NYT) re: 2014 Lincoln Center production

I read this play soon after Disgraced.  It focuses on an upper-class Pakistani-American family in Atlanta, which includes the father, a widower and religious Muslim- Afzal (who runs successful donut shops) and his two daughters- complicated and intellectual Zarina and the more simple and beautiful Mahwish.  Since his younger daughter is almost done w/ grad school and unofficially engaged to her  (father-approved, Pakistani-American) beau, Afzal is eager to find a husband for Zarina, who is around 30 at the start of the story.  (It may remind you a bit of The Taming of the Shrew.)  Like MANY people, Afzal turns to an online platform for Muslim singles; he meets a smart and caring man who is a white convert.  Eli, who grew up in Detroit with liberal parents and many Muslim friends, is the imam of a small and humble masjid.  Zarina decides to give Eli a chance, but her main focus is a book on the life and times of Prophet Muhammad.  The topic of this book is VERY controversial- it could jeopardize her closest relationships!

Link to play website

PWYC: WED, MAY 25 (7:30 PM) & SAT, MAY 28 (2 PM)

Related Videos

Ayad Akthar’s TED Talk




Guards at the Taj by Rajiv Joseph


I first learned about playwright Rajiv Joseph (pictured above) from a brief theater piece on PBS.  Though only in his early 40s, he has achieved much in his brief career, including being a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

Theater Review Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Yes, that is comic genius Robin Williams (above w/ castmates)- he appeared a few years back as the tiger in Joseph’s critically-acclaimed play, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.


Mr. Joseph dramatizes a dark myth about its building that stands as a grim allegory of the supreme divide between the powerful and the powerless in 17th-century India and, perhaps by extension, many places today.

Babur’s lively imagination drives the conversation, as he fantasizes about elaborate flying machines and wonders about the provenance of the stars. “I think God wants us to learn more and more things,” he says.

-Charles Isherwood (NYT Review: June 11, 2015)

This play can be seen from FEB 1-28 at the Woolly Mammoth Theater in DC. It consists of only 2 characters, Humayun and Babur, lowly imperial guards in the city of Agra, India (referred to then as Hindustan).  Their duty it is to stand in front of the building site of the Taj Mahal, facing away from it.  Babur has the energy of an overgrown kid.  He arrives late and keeps breaking the silence that the guards are supposed to maintain, to the disapproval of Humayun. Obeying the rules is something Humayun takes seriously. There are severe punishments for various levels of civil disobedience.

I saw an existential allegory about the struggle of incompatible universal impulses within human nature.  –Comment from NYT reader

We will probably never know what was done to the artisans who built the Taj, but we do know, like those who slaved for years to build the Pyramids, the Taj artists have remained invisible.  –Comment from another NYT reader

The Taj is a memorial tomb for Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, has been hidden by a wall during its  16 years of construction. The guards, longtime friends (who call each others “bhai,” meaning brother) are awaiting dawn, when the tomb will be unveiled to the public.