National Theatre Live: Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller

[1] Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has lasted because of the profound themes in her story – the morality of science, parental responsibilities, man’s vanity, the removal of the divine from creation etc. Nick Dear’s writing takes these all on, keeping the story’s political punch alive. 

[2] …great comic timing in his depiction of the more playful parts of the Creature’s growing pains, and real tendresse and anxiety as the Creature battles his own internal conflict between love and revenge.

-Victoria Sadler (Huffington Post, 10/29/13)

Frankenstein (adapted by Nick Dear from Mary Shelley’s novel) returned to movie screens this past week (10/22 & 10/29) just in time for Halloween. I almost forgot that this was on (until I looked up my local movie listings this afternoon)! In my audience, I saw several older couples (as I’d expect to see at live theater), along w/ two young ladies (Japanese), and a few other women in their 20s and 30s. Filmed in 2011 at the National Theatre in London, this (sold-out) production has been seen by about 500,000 worldwide. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Frankenstein features Cumberbatch and Miller (who seem to be good friends; both have played Sherlock) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. FYI: I saw the version where Cumberbatch (long before he was a household name in either the UK or US) was the Creature.

[1] …it’s rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view.

[2] Cumberbatch’s Creature is unforgettable. “Tall as a pine tree,” as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos… But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch. As he quotes Paradise Lost, his voice savours every syllable of Milton’s words…

-Michael Billington (The Guardian, 2/23/11)

Wherever the Creature goes, people scream in fear and/or beat him, until he comes upon the hut of a blind man, De Lacey (veteran actor Karl Johnson). This is a poor former professor (w/ a lot of old books) who lives w/ his farmer son, Klaus, and daughter-in-law, Agatha. De Lacey is kind and gentle w/ the Creature, teaching him in secret for about a year. The Creature clears away rocks (so the couple can till the soil) and fetches wood for making fire. The old man even tells the Creature that if he “is a good man,” then someday he’ll have someone to love. One day, De Lacey insists upon introducing him to the family. It goes wrong- quickly and like the “emperors and heroes in the stories” he’s read, the Creature vows “revenge.”

I should be Adam. God was proud of Adam. But Satan’s the one I sympathise with. For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong. And when I see others content, I feel the bile rise in my throat, and it tastes like Satan’s bile! -The Creature explains to Victor 

The central question of this story: Who is the real monster- the Creature or Frankenstein himself? The young scholar Frankenstein rejects his creation, cursing it and throwing it out into the streets (along w/ a notebook of experiments). While Victor has been engaged to Elizabeth (a pretty, strong-willed, yet empathetic Naomie Harris), he barely speaks w/ her or shows any kind of affection. The outcast/lonely Creature desperately wants someone to love, asking Victor to make “a mate” for him. At first, Victor is repulsed by the notion, but quickly becomes intrigued at the thought of “the perfect woman.” They shake hands (strike a bargain) and Victor goes off to England, then Scotland, to do his work. From here, the play gets even darker in tone! (Now I’m curious about the original book.)

[1] Using the first 30 minutes to display the creature gradually “building” his own personality, Dear places the “voice” and troubled psychological aspect of the creature right at the centre of the adaptation, with Dear smartly showing Frankenstein and the towns people’s interactions from the outcast point of view of the creature. Whilst the screenplay does show that Frankenstein and the towns people turn the creature into “the monster” that they fear, due to being focused on the permanently damaged exterior and not the welcoming, and repairable interior of the creature.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unexpectedly subtle, vulnerable performance, with the opening of the film solely focusing on the creature rising from the dead, allowing Cumberbatch to place the viewer deep inside the skin of the character, thanks to Cuberbatch slowly showing the creature transform from being speechless and native, to using human skills such as lying to his deadly advantage.

[2] An intense, must-see thrilling performance from both Cumberbatch and Miller. The dialogues filled with static chemistry, a beautiful and perfect mix between beauty and horror, a destabilized yet animated stage that shows all facets of life and death. A hypnotizing and cutting-edge play, a real work of art that is absolutely not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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Show Boat (1951) starring Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, & Howard Keel

The Cotton Blossom, owned by the Hawks family, is a show boat known for musical entertainment traveling down the Mississippi River. Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner) and her husband, Steve (Robert Sterling), are the leading actors of the show. After a jealous boat hand calls the local police on Julie (who’s father was white and mother black), they’re forced to leave; interracial marriages were forbidden (in the 1890s). Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson), Captain Andy’s (Joe E. Brown) pretty young daughter, becomes the new attraction; she has a great smile, a good voice, and learned much by watching Julie. Her leading man is Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel), a charming/handsome gambler, who is impressed w/ her at first sight. The two fall quickly in love and marry, w/o the approval of her mother, Parthy (Agnes Moorhead).

Nolie soon faces reality; gambling means more to her husband than anything. She confronts him after he gambles away their fortune; he leaves in the middle of the night. Nolie runs into two old friends, Ellie May and Frank (Marge and Gower Champion), who sang and danced on the show boat. They’re going to perform at a nightclub; Nolie tags along. None of them know that Julie is working at the same club; she is backstage and recognizes the song Nolie sings. Julie leaves the club abruptly, angering the manager and owner, b/c she hears that Nolie needs a job.

A few yeard later, Julie meets Gaylord on a gambling boat, and realizes that he’s Nolie’s runaway husband. Julie gives him a piece of her mind, and shows him an ad w/ the captain, Nolie, and his little daughter. Gaylord swears that he never knew he had a child. Julie begs him, if he ever sees her old friend, to never tell how low she has sunk. Gaylord decides to go to Natchez (where the show boat is docked) and seek forgiveness from his family.

I’ve seen this colorful MGM musical (written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II) maybe 3 times. I recall loving the songs (and having the CD); my favorite songs are “Ol’ Man River” and “Life Upon the Wicked Stage.” Looking at it today (on TCM), there are some pretty good performances (esp. from Gardner). The role of Julie (who passes as white) is tragic, though she is beautiful, talented, and loyal (esp. to Steve, who eventually leaves her). She turns to alcohol and her singing suffers. At the end, Julie is left w/ nothing, b/c this society has no place for her.

[1] Ava is, as always, ridiculously and insanely gorgeous. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of her than I did. It’s a stretch for a white woman to play a bi-racial woman, but she did it with what seemed like such ease. She accompanies so much with a look (which is evident as she watches Gay and Nolie sail off together with Kim — you all know what I’m talking about). 

[2] Now for Marge & Gower Champion: who couldn’t love them? Gower is this sort of… fluid-like creature with a stature and grace like Fred Astaire, but instead of Astaire’s “lanky movements” that defined his style, he somehow executes the more athletic, brisk movements that defined Gene Kelly’s style. And Marge has to be just about the cutest little person I have ever seen (great facial expressions!) and one of the most talented dancers… I’ve ever seen grace a screen. “I Could Fall Back on You” and “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” are two of the most outstanding moments in the movie. You’ll love them.

[3] Musically of course, the film is a masterpiece and though my favourite tune is “Make Believe”, I was extremely impressed by the version of Ol Man River sung by the actor William Warfield who must have had one of the most brilliant voices I have ever hear! I confess to never having heard of this gentleman prior to seeing the film and had imagined the singer to be Paul Robeson. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Some Trivia Behind the Film

  • The original production of Showboat opened in the Ziegfeld Theater on December 27, 1927 and ran for 572 performances.
  • Even though the character of “Magnolia” is supposed to look up to “Julie” in an older-sister type of relationship, in reality, Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner were born in the same year.
  • The Breen Censorship Office tried to raise an objection against the use of the “miscegenation sequence,” but they were unable to do so because the 1936 film had already used it (setting a precedent).
  • Lena Horne mentions in her biography that she wanted to do the role of Julie badly, but only got as far as performing a single number in the “Clouds” film in the opening “Show Boat” vignette. America was still a segregated nation in 1950; interracial romance was taboo onscreen.

The Heiress (1949) starring Olivia de Havilland & Montgomery Clift

In the late 1800’s, the wealthy Sloper family- surgeon Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson), his daughter Catherine (Olivia de Havilland), and the doc’s recently widowed sister- Lavinia Penniman (Miriam Hopkins)- live in a spacious house at Washington Square in Manhattan. Despite lessons in various social graces, Catherine is awkward and shy; in contrast, her deceased mother had a LOT of charm and beauty, as her father and their social circle often comment. Lavinia attempts to get her niece to be more social and hopefully meet the a suitable man to marry. Enter handsome, smooth-talking Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), recently returned from Europe.

Morris dances w/ Catherine at a party, NOT minding her clumsy feet, and manages to put her at ease briefly. He comes to call for several days in a row; she is surprised and nervous, even skipping out one morning hoping to avoid him. In no time, Morris declares his love to Catherine and asks to for her hand in marriage. She is thrilled, b/c she NEVER expected anything like this to happen to her. The air-headed/hopeful Lavinia (who serves as chaperone) greatly approves of the man, though cold/aloof Dr. Sloper is suspicious of Morris’ motives. The young man has potential, BUT doesn’t have a job. Above all, the father can’t fathom that a man would want the daughter that he continually puts down. Dr. Sloper, after learning more re: Morris’ character, refuses to give his permission for the marriage. Catherine, angry yet determined, forms a plan to elope ASAP. 

As one viewer wrote:

There are no easy answers in this movie. You can think Dr. Sloper is right about Morris and only wants to protect his daughter, or you can see his actions as those of a vindictive man who blames her for the death of his beloved wife (in childbirth). Morris could be a fortune hunter, or he could be a man who does care for Catherine, in his own way, and would make her happy. Or all of the above. 

After seeing The Heiress on Broadway, de Havilland approached William Wyler about directing her in a screen adaptation (which won 4 Oscars). He agreed and encouraged Paramount execs to purchase the rights from the playwrights (Ruth and Augustus Goetz) and have them also write the screenplay. They were asked to make Morris less of a villain than in the play and the original novel (Washington Square by Henry James); the studio wanted to capitalize on Clift’s reputation as a romantic lead. Wyler’s idea was to pair de Havilland with frequent co-star Errol Flynn, but studio execs favored Clift (w/ a more subtle acting style). Though Flynn and de Havilland had great chemistry, execs felt that the actor’s real-life womanizer rep would’ve worked against him.

 

 

Movies, Theater… & More Around DC (NOV/DEC)

FRI, NOV 10 & weekends (NOV 11-12 & 18-19)

FotoWeek DC 2017

Whether through fine art photography, photojournalism, or the work of emerging artists, FotoDC provides a dynamic, evocative, engaging experience for photographers, cultural institutions, galleries, curators, schools, area residents, and tens of thousands of viewers.  

I MAY have heard of this event before, BUT have never gone! You can also volunteer during this event; I sent in an application (via Google doc). 

http://www.fotodc.org/events-fotoweekdc-2017

FRI, NOV 10 (5:30-8:30PM), National Press Club

2017 Book Fair & Authors’ Night

Authors will talk to fans and sign books at this literary event (now in its 40th yr). Tickets are $5 for NPC and Politics & Prose members; $10 for the public. Tickets will also be sold online and at the door.

http://www.press.org/bookfair

WED, NOV 15 (7PM), Smithsonian Natl Museum of Natural History (Baird Auditorium)

The Problem with Apu (w/ Hari Kondabolu)

In the new documentary, Kondabolu confronts his long-standing nemesis Apu Nahasapeemapetilon—better known as the Indian convenience store owner on The Simpsons.

Creator and star Kondabolu discusses how this controversial caricature came about, burrowed its way into the hearts and minds of Americans, and continues to exist—intact—nearly three decades later. The film features interviews with Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Whoopi, W. Kamau Bell, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Aparna Nancherla, as well as Simpsons writer Dana Gould and others. -Synopsis from Smithsonian web site

This is FREE y’all, so you just need to RSVP (after setting up a free Smithsonian account)! After the screening, Hari will be having a discussion w/ Elizabeth Blair (NPR). If you know me, you know I’m a BIG fan of his- YAY!

FYI: This doc will also be shown on SUN, NOV 19th on truTV.

https://smithsonianassociates.org/ticketing/Tickets/Reserve.aspx?id=240875

THURS, NOV 16 (7:15PM), AFI Silver

Big in Bollywood (w/ intro & Q&A w/ actor Omi Vaidya)

California-born, NYU-educated Omi Vaidya had been struggling to make it in Hollywood as an Indian-American actor when he was suddenly offered a role in Mumbai. The film was 3 IDIOTS, and when it turned out to be an overwhelming critical and box office success, Omi — who hardly spoke any Hindi — woke up to overnight stardom in India. His unlikely story is told in this creative documentary, made by Vaidya’s college friends: just like 3 IDIOTS, this is a film about camaraderie and success, but told from behind the scenes. -Synopsis from AFI web site

You gotta LOVE living in/near downtown Silver Spring (DTSS), esp. when you hear about events like this! I’m inviting ALL my local gal pals to come out; hopefully, some of them can make it. I also think this will make a V interesting (future) blog post.

FYI: Vaidya is one of the ensemble cast of Brown Nation (Netflix).

https://silver.afi.com/Browsing/Movies/Details/m-0100001643

WED, NOV 29 (7:30PM) & SAT, DEC 2 (2PM): Round House Theatre (Bethesda)

The Book of Will (Pay-What-You-Can)

What if Shakespeare’s works had been lost forever? After the death of their friend and mentor, two actors are determined to compile the First Folio and preserve the words that shaped their lives. They’ll just have to borrow, beg, and band together to get it done. 

I used to work a block away from this theater, so I usually noticed what was going on (thanks to posters hanging outside and convos of some Bethesda residents). My parents BOTH liked Miss Bennett last holiday season, which was also written by Lauren Gunderson. PWYC events are great, as long as you plan ahead (b/c you need to wait in line) and bring some cash ($15 is suggested donation, but you can give whatever amount fits your budget). Don’t be embarrassed if you’re (temporarily) broke! I usually take along a friend or my parents (if it’s a weekend).

http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/performances/book-of-will

SAT, DEC 9 & SUN, DEC 10: Walter E. White Convention Center

MetroCooking DC 2017

Shop. Sip. Sample! Spend the day experiencing the many culinary highlights of MetroCooking DC. Restock your pantry and shop for holiday gifts at our exhibitor marketplace, featuring select vendors selling and sampling specialty foods, confections, utensils, appliances, and many other unique kitchen wares. Enjoy watching your favorite celebrity chef whip up delicious dishes live on the James Beard Foundation Cooking Stage. Learn useful tips, tricks, and trends geared toward cooking, home entertaining and healthy living at the Taste Talks Workshops. Plus, give the gift of cooking this season and pick up an autographed cookbook in our bookstore. Grab your friends for a fun, food filled day out! 

I saw an ad for this event (NEVER been before) on the metro this evening… and got V excited. Sure, I LOVE movies, the theater, BUT my love of food is above ALL that! This year, celeb chefs- Guy Fieri and Jose Andres (whose restaurants are FAB)- will be appearing. General Admission for either day (10AM-5PM) is $21.50; there is also a Groupon deal ($14) that you can buy. 

http://www.metrocookingdc.com

https://www.groupon.com/deals/gl-metro-cooking-dc-7

 

MUST-SEE for ANY Shakespeare Fan: A Presentation by Author/Actor Ben Crystal

Breakdown of segments in this video:

0:00-5:00 – Introduction & Ben’s own challenges with studying, then performing, Shakespeare. 

5:00-10:00 – What exactly is iambic pentameter? (Ben shows us how it’s part of everyday life!) Discussion of sonnet form, poetry, and prose.

10:00-39:00 – Ben breaks down, in a fresh new way, 3 famous scenes from Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear (w/ the help of two actors from his theater company and his linguist father). Ben speaks in Shakespeare’re original pronunciation (OP)- it’s a mix of different accents from Elizabethan England (“a melting pot”). 

39:00- 58:00 – Ben talks about how Shakespeare “directs the actors” w/ his writing, his own eclectic accent, then reveals to us the original pronunciation (OP) from the Bard’s day- a mix of different accents from Elizabethan England (“a melting pot”). Ben looks at the (bawdy) humor in a scene from As You Like It and the almost-military cadence to one of the monologues in Richard III.

58:00 – 1:02:00 – Suggestions of how to teach Shakespeare in schools (incl. to young children).

1:03:00 – end – Q&A w/ the audience (as well as others watching ALL over the world).