Familiar by Danai Gurira (Wooly Mammoth Theatre)

Familiar is written by Tony-nominated playwright Danai Gurira (who was born in the US, but raised many years in Zimbabwe). She can be seen in the newest Marvel movie- Black Panther.  (Listen to a recent NPR interview w/ Gurira here: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/17/586172340/danai-gurira-on-her-black-panther-role-she-protects-what-we-would-have-been). Familiar is Wooly’s entry into the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. The play is directed by Theater J artistic director, Adam Immerwahr (one of Gurira’s long-time collaborators).

Donald (Kim Sullivan), a low-key lawyer and partner in his firm, and his high-strung scientist wife, Marvelous (Inga Ballard), are getting ready for the wedding of their older daughter, Tendi (Sharina Martin). Their younger daughter, Nyasha (Shannon Dorsey- I’ve seen her in All the Way and Octoroon), has recently returned from Zimbabwe, and is full of excitement and stories. Unlike religious/straight-laced lawyer Tendi, the much younger Nyasha is a free-spirited musician still finding herself. (Nyasha reminded me of Beneatha Younger, the idealistic/Afrocentric college girl from A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.) 

Two sisters of Marvelous have come over for the wedding: Margaret (Twinkle Burke)- an adjunct professor who loves wine and Anne (Cheryl Lynn Bruce)- a traditional woman (who stayed behind in the old country). Tendi invited Anne to help w/ the roora (bride price) ceremony, despite the fact that she and her mother don’t get along. Marvelous is shocked, as she does NOT approve of roora. However, Tendi and her white fiance/nonprofit worker, Chris (Drew Kopas), want to honor the elders in this way. It turns out that Chris needs a go-between for the ceremony, so he brings in his younger brother/former soldier, Brad (Andy Truschinski). Misunderstandings, sibling rivalries, hurt feelings, secrets, and a LOT of hilarity ensues! 

I was lucky enough to get tickets (online) to see this play on a pay-what-you-can performance. I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard in the theater before! It’s NOT just about jokes, there are some VERY touching moments (some of which grow out of a long-hidden family secret). I highly recommend it to anyone in the DC area; it’s playing until SUN, MAR 11th (https://www.woollymammoth.net/event/familiar).

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Carol (2015) starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, & Kyle Chandler

This film was an awards show darling a few years back, BUT I didn’t get around to seeing it until last week (on Netflix). The film (made for less than $12 million) received a 10 min. standing ovation at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival -WOW! The woman who wrote The Price of Salt– Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces of January, Strangers on a Train, etc.)- was a friend (later in life) to the screenwriter of Carol, Phyllis Nagy. The Price of Salt was inspired by a blonde woman in a mink coat who ordered a doll from Highsmith when she was working as a temporary salesgirl in the toy section of Bloomingdale’s in New York City during the 1948 Christmas season.

Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven; HBO’s miniseries Mildred Pierce) has a deep interest in stories w/ strong women and unlikely love. His style was inspired by Douglas Sirk, who was known for “women’s pictures” (Imitation of Life, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, etc.) Carol is quite an effective film w/ regard to its look: period costumes and hairdos (wigs), musical score (by Carter Burwell, frequent collaborator of the Coen brothers), beautiful cinematography (by Edward Lachman), and thoughtful directing style. Carol was shot on Super 16 mm film to resemble the look and feel of photographic film from the late ’40s/early ’50s. There is shooting through windows and using reflection.

What I found lacking was the dialogue; I found out that some other viewers felt the same. I expected more deep conversations between the two leading characters, 21 y.o. clerk, Terese Belivet (Rooney Mara- wide-eyed yet wise beyond her years), and 30-something housewife, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). However, it wasn’t hard to relate to Terese, who feels uneasy and unsophisticated when hanging out w/ Carol (w/ her fur coat, jewels, and manicured red nails). Terese wants to work as a photographer; she is more of an observer, letting life happen to her.

Carol is a BIT of a mystery to the viewer, as well as to Terese. It’s obvious to viewers that Carol deeply loves her young daughter, Rindy. The character of Carol was inspired by Virginia Kent Catherwood (1915-1966), a Philadelphia socialite 6 years older than Highsmith with whom she had a love affair in the ’40s. Catherwood lost custody of her daughter after a taped recording of a liaison she had in a hotel was used against her. Carol is risking much by falling in love with Terese, BUT she can’t help it, as she tells Abby (Sarah Paulson). This woman who seems to know Carol best; Abby had a much bigger role before the film was edited, Paulson said in interviews after the film was released. Abby is someone that I wanted to know more about; she isn’t afraid to assert herself in a male-dominated world.

The men in story are NOT evil, BUT they are clueless. Terese’s long-time boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), seems like a decent guy, though there isn’t much interest on her side. Richard is planning/saving for a big trip to Europe after they get married. I thought it spoke volumes when Terese gently refused to go to over to his family’s home on Christmas day. Danny (John Magaro), the young newspaper reporter who hits on Terese, turns out to be a supportive friend in time. Even Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Harg (Kyle Chandler), is NOT painted as an all-out villain. I thought the actor did a fine job w/ the role, esp. in the more quiet moments (notice the pained expressions on his face). I think that Harg loved Carol, BUT he didn’t realize just how far she had gone from him (emotionally). When they were married, her life was all about him (as was expected of a housewife of Carol’s status).

Re-watching Top Rated Episodes of Black Mirror (Seasons 1 & 2)

Season 1: Episode 3

The Entire History of You 

“O beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on,” the diabolical Iago warns insecure new husband, Othello, in Shakespeare’s tragedy. In this ep of the British sci-fi drama series, Liam (Toby Kebbell), suspects that something more than just a fling before they met went on between his wife, Fi (Jodie Whitaker, the next Doctor Who) and her old friend, Jonas (Tom Cullen from Downton Abbey). Not unlike Othello (a military man), Liam (a lawyer) seeks justice. Liam almost violently demands that Fi rewind her memory chip (“grain”), so that he can see exactly when and what happened w/ Jonas. Liam doubts the paternity of his baby daughter, though a few astute viewers noticed that her eyes are blue (like Jonas’); both Liam and Fi have brown eyes.

Though this ep (like almost every ep of this show) has some element on futuristic tech, at the crux is the (deteriorating) marriage between Liam and Fi. Since he keeps replaying moments of his life, Liam is socially awkward and insecure (perhaps more so than Fi’s friends at the dinner party). We all know folks like this, right? Jonas (perhaps named after the main character in The Giver) is a catalyst; he holds the memories that could unlock the truth. Liam’s obsession and jealousy drives him to attack Jonas in his own home, then force him to erase all memory of Fi. What did you think of the ending? Did Liam pull out the grain b/c his (positive) memories were too painful? Or did he want to simply erase Fi b/c of her betrayal?

The proposed film version, which is being put together at studio Warner Bros via Robert Downey Jr’s Team Downey production company… is set in the near future, and it will centre on a widower who uses similar technology to reconstruct his relationship with his dead wife until he unwittingly uncovers a vast conspiracy.

-The Guardian

[1] While I enjoyed seeing the worst of humanity being magnified by the satire of the previous episodes, here it was done with sense of humanity – a heart rather than a sneer. The relationship drama is quite engaging and he use of the technology seamlessly becomes part of that.

[2] What makes this episode so painful, is that we witness the end of a once loving relationship, in all its sad, pathetic and all too human frailty and weakness. The technology that seemed so useful and essential now becomes a curse and enhances our cruel nature. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Season 2: Episode 4 

White Christmas 

This is the Christmas special (yet NOT cozy and comfy like a typical one) of Season 2 in 3 acts, all of which feature American TV icon, Jon Hamm.  On IMDB, it’s noted that this episode uses a similar concept as Inception (which I haven’t seen yet), layering realities making the viewer question if what the character is experiencing is actually real or not. We see a kitchen in a cabin where Matt (Hamm) is preparing dinner for himself and Potter (Rafe Spall), the nearly-silent man w/ whom he’s been living for 5 yrs. Matt tries to draw his companion out w/ his warm tone and friendly manner. Potter is very reluctant to talk, so Matt tells him about his past.    

You’ve heard of the PUA (pick-up artist) culture, right? In the first act, Matt was part of a futuristic version of this, helping socially awkward young men get a date or simply hookup. These types of coaches rely on cheap pop psychology and think they can read people’s minds. One of Matt’s clients, Harry, meets a dark-haired “outsider” woman, Jennifer (Natalie Tena from Game of Thrones) at a holiday party. At first, he’s comforted by the fact that Matt (and a group of other men) are virtually there (“inside my head”) to help him out. Later, as the night goes on, Jennifer misinterprets Harry’s words and moves much faster than he expected. At her apt, Harry learns (too late) that she does have voices in her head, and wants to commit suicide with him! Horrified, Matt and the other men watch as Harry is poisoned by a drink that Jennifer pours down his throat. When Matt’s wife finds out about this event, she blocks him, then leaves w/ their baby girl.

The first guess Potter makes about Matt’s occupation is “a marketing person.” This is a reference to his character in Mad Men, who works at an ad agency. In the second act, a young woman named Ash (Oona Chaplin- also from Game of Thrones), has her consciousness (“cookie”) extracted and put into a small egg-shaped machine which will run her home. However, this cookie is very disturbed by her new situation, thinking that she’s alive and real (though considered “only code”). Matt’s job is to break down this cookie’s resistance (torture is a word some critics/viewers used), so that she will perform the duties that she was removed for in the first place. Is this “slavery,” as Potter declares w/ disgust?

In the final act,  Joe Potter’s life story is finally revealed! He was a regular guy (though maybe w/ a drinking problem) who loved his gf, Beth, who became pregnant suddenly. She was distraught about this fact, which confused and saddened Joe. (It’s rare to see a modern drama tackle such controversial issues such as abortion and paternity rights.) Beth blocked Joe, w/o much discussion, yet decided to keep the baby. Joe became obsessed w/ knowing anything re: his child, even driving each Christmas day for 5 yrs to the remote cabin the the woods where Beth spent time w/ her father. This little girl was also blocked, since she was the offspring of Beth, until Beth died suddenly in a train crash. Joe went back to the cabin, saw the girl, who looked East Asian (so NOT his child)! He realizes that it was Beth’s married co-worker, Tim, who was the real father. Tim was in the background, or side of the screen, in several scenes (BUT you won’t notice until you see this ep twice). Joe went in the cabin, very distraught, and ended up hitting Beth’s elderly father on the head- killing him. May, the girl, was hiding upstairs; she later walked out into a blizzard and died (awww). Joe was captured, BUT refused to talk until he met Matt (who was helping the police get a full confession). Well, Joe’s cookie talked, as the real him was in a jail cell. Matt is released from his sentence, though he is blocked (from everyone)- whoa! He won’t be able to have basic human interactions. 

[1] The idea of cookie is appalling. I always believe that physical existence is not the way to describe a person-human beings are their memories and minds. …It is just utterly cruel, while this episode apparently succeeded in demonstrating how technology can dehumanize people. 

[2] The episode really makes you think, its such a chilling experience. Charlie Brooker really does create some crazy worlds.

[3] The most disturbing thing, in my opinion, is how easy the technicians are able to accelerate the time for the clones, which are not really human, but react like ones: suffering, getting crazy, locked for the eternity in an egg…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews