Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Since you've gone away, all the things that they all say, all the things they did for you, it's the reason you don't come through." ~the band (covered by cold war kids below)
I know I posted a song by Cold War Kids in my last post; I'm on a kick. This is a new song (well, the song's not new, it's a cover) that will be on their new album coming out soon.

I've seen a couple shows lately, so here are my thoughts.

The Last Five Years
It's difficult to express how much I love this musical. It was last onstage in New York eleven years ago, and unfortunately I didn't get to see it then. Since that production, the show has gained a cult following, and I guess you could say I'm part of the cult. I discovered the show in college (I think my friend Caroline was the one who introduced me to it), and I fell in love. I found a video bootleg, I got the cast recording, and I couldn't get enough. Jason Robert Brown is the brilliant composer, and he also directed this new production. The show has two actors, and it's about a five-year relationship. Jamie tells the story chronologically, whereas Cathy tells the story in reverse chronological order. They meet once in the middle when their stories intersect. There was a talkback after the show with Jason Robert Brown, and he said about half of the people who see the show don't get it, which I believe. I, however, think the structure is brilliant. It adds so much depth to the show. You're constantly rethinking your opinion of the relationship as you see more of the progression of each character's story and put the pieces together in your head. When seeing this production, I started crying during the first song ("Still Hurting," sung by Cathy at the end of the relationship, because she starts at the end and goes in reverse). Then Jamie launched into "Shiksa Goddess" (at the beginning of the relationship, because he starts at the beginning) and it put a huge grin on my face because it's such a fun song. This show is a roller coaster of emotions. Betsy Wolfe and Adam Cantor play Cathy and Jamie, and they're both incredible. Betsy Wolfe's Cathy is charming and endearing and insecure and hilarious; she really, really impressed me. And of course her voice is amazing (and this is an incredibly difficult score to sing). Her "Summer in Ohio" is particularly fabulous. Adam Cantor also has a great emotional range. I can't say enough good things about this show; I loved finally seeing it live onstage. They're making it into a movie starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, and I'm very cautiously optimistic because I adore both performers but I'm just not sure how this will work as a movie. Finally, here's Sherie Rene Scott singing "Still Hurting" from the original production:

Hands on a Hardbody
I saw this show with my good friend Kelly, whom I was so glad to see and spend some time with. I really enjoyed the show. It's based on a documentary about a contest in which ten people had to keep their hands on a truck, and the person who lasted the longest won the truck. The music was written by Trey Anastasio (of Phish fame) and Amanda Green, and I thought the music was great. It melded multiple genres. I do wish there had been more group numbers rather than solos. I can't stop singing "If I had a Truck," and "Joy of the Lord" was a joyful, energizing showstopper. All the actors are very talented. I was excited to see some of my favorites (Hunter Foster! Allison Case!), who were great, but I was especially impressed with newcomer Kealla Settle. I wasn't thrilled with the ending of the play, but I thought Sergio Trujillo did an inspired job with the choreography (especially because he had to deal with the limitation of having all the actors constantly touching the truck in the center of the stage) and I liked the plot. I think this show might have done better in a smaller, off-Broadway setting (I'm afraid it might not last too long on Broadway), but I hope it does well because it's very entertaining.

I'm leaving for China on Saturday and will be gone for eleven days, so I'll return in a couple of weeks with a huge travel post! I've got my Google Nexus tablet loaded with new books. In case you're curious what I'm reading, here are my choices for the trip:

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain: This book won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award; it's received tons of accolades and is on basically every list of the best books of 2012, so I figured it was time to check it out.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: I've been putting off reading this because I know it's going to be one giant sobfest, but it keeps getting so much praise that I need to just suck it up and read it. The poor people on the plane with me will have to deal with the massive amounts of crying that I'm sure will occur. It was Time Magazine's Best Book of 2012, and it's another one that keeps getting heaped with so much praise that I can't ignore it.

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg: This is another one I keep hearing about, and it sounds really interesting to me.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"All that happens now is not some glorious accident. All that matters now is you ignore and I pretend. This plane's flying upside down, the steering wheel is stuck. But I'm turning us around, we will see that sky above." ~cold war kids

First of all, I am So. Freakin'. EXCITED. About. THIS. Of course I've already donated. Veronica Mars might just be my favorite TV show ever created, and you know how much TV I watch. I cannot tell you how much I adore this show (and how much I rewatch my DVDs of it since it went off the air). The fact that it's actually going to get a movie? Mind blown. Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas have been talking about this forever, but it is actually happening and I cannot contain my excitement. I think this is such a creative idea (and I wonder if it will start a trend). 

I've seen a lot of shows lately that I haven't written about, so here goes.

I never would have expected Holland Taylor to write and star in a solo show about Ann Richards (onetime governor of Texas), but she did, and it's on Broadway. I love Holland Taylor. She's an Emmy-winning actress with an IMDB resume a mile long (which includes roles in Two and a Half Men, Legally Blonde, One Fine Day, Baby Mama...). I very much enjoyed Ms. Taylor's portrayal of Ann; she nailed the political figure's spitfire personality and completely inhabited the character. Writing and starring in a 2-hour show (and being the only performer onstage the whole time) is quite a task, and I was impressed with Ms. Taylor's efforts, although I feel like she's stronger as a performer than as a writer. Fun tidbit: in the play, Ann has a series of phone conversations with Bill Clinton (obviously we only hear her end of the conversation). When I saw the play last night, Bill and Hillary Clinton were in the audience. They were there with Meryl Streep. It was funny to have Bill Clinton sitting in the theatre as the character of Ann Richards had conversations with him onstage. Gabby Giffords and her husband were also in the audience.

The Wild Bride
Oh my goodness, I can't say enough good things about this. This show is absolutely brilliant. It's an imaginative retelling of the folktale "The Handless Maiden" and features gorgeous music, choreography, set design, and performances. I'm so glad I listened when Vulture Magazine said, "Absolutely, positively sell your soul to see this. It's worth it," because it really was like nothing else I've ever seen before, and in the best way possible. Watch the trailer. I could gush about this forever.

Really, Really
This seems to be a polarizing play, but I enjoyed it. The play is filled with uncertainty and tension. It's about a possible attack on a girl at a college campus, but it's really about more than that; it's a chilling portrait of a generation of entitled young people who will do anything to get what they want. The play features some talented young actors best known for TV, like Matt Lauria (Friday Night Lights! Parenthood!) and Zosia Mamet. Zosia is best known as Shoshanna on Girls, but her character in this play couldn't be more different from Shoshanna, and Zosia's performance is fabulous. She turns Leigh into a complicated, layered young woman about whom you don't know what to think

Some highlights from Ben Brantley's New York Times review (because he's better at expressing his thoughts than I am): 
"'Ow.' That monosyllable may not be your idea of great dialogue. But as uttered by Zosia Mamet in Really Really, Paul Downs Colaizzo’s pitiless state-of-a-generation play at the Lucille Lortel Theater, it has my bid for one of the best lines of the season. This 'ow' is the final word, and one of the few spoken, in the opening scene of Really Really, which opened on Tuesday night in an MCC production. It’s a terrific scene, which in itself justifies the advance buzz that this play has generated...."

"[Really, Really] is a take-no-prisoners indictment of the young men and women poised to inherit the earth. They are all, it would seem, motivated by a single question, which is, according to Grace in her speech, 'What can I do to get what I want?' Morality is not a talking point here. This is Lord of the Flies with smartphones." 

Talley's Folly
This is an absolutely lovely play; I walked out of the theatre and could not stop smiling. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980, and this is a top-notch production. It's a two-character play that blends comedy, drama, and romance. Sarah Paulson and Danny Burstein are in it and they're both fabulous. I always love seeing Sarah Paulson onstage; she never disappoints. Seeing the play made me want to come home and watch my Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip DVDs (Ms. Paulson plays Harriet in the show, and she was most recently in American Horror Story). In Talley's Folly, Ms. Paulson does a great job of creating a character who is trying to maintain an emotional wall around herself while displaying miniscule cracks in that wall that grow ever so slowly. Mr. Burstein's portrayal is earnest and passionate, and the two make a perfect pair. I loved every minute of this show.

The less said about this, the better. I think it might just be the worst play I've ever seen, and I've seen 309 Broadway and off-Broadway plays (yes, I keep a running count). What on earth was Ethan Hawke thinking?

The Mnemonist of Dutchess County
This is a play about a young man with a perfect memory and synesthesia. Nic and I saw it because her friend is in it, and it was fine, but I wish it went a little deeper. It addresses a lot of issues but doesn't really explore them in depth.

Some Videos:

 Holland Taylor/Ann:

Zosia Mamet being awesome on Conan: 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

An Open Letter to Taylor Swift

Dear Taylor Swift,

Where do I start? I don't even know. You criticized Amy Poehler and Tina Fey's Golden Globes joke about you and then cited the quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Really?! Really?! (Please imagine me saying that in my best Amy Poehler Weekend Update impression.) Okay. So you must be an expert on helping other women. Here are a few song lyrics you've written:
"She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts, she's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers."
"She's not a saint, she's not what you think, she's an actress, whoa. She's better known for the things that she does on the mattress, whoa."
"It seems that I was uninvited by your lovely bride-to-be. She floats down the aisle like a pageant queen. But I know you wish it was me, you wish it was me." (This is a whole song about ruining another girl's wedding.)
So are these examples of women helping other women? Please clarify. To me it seems like your music puts down other women, women who aren't like you. 

Let's talk about Amy and Tina's joke that offended you so much. Here's a recap. Tina said, “You know what, Taylor Swift? You stay away from Michael J Fox’s son." Amy replied that maybe you should "go for it," and Tina replied, "No, she needs some me time to learn about herself." First of all, this was probably one of the least offensive jokes of the night. It also included some very good advice that you might consider following. In fact, you criticized Amy and Tina for not helping other women, but I think they were quite helpful to you. I don't see why this joke warranted such a severe condemnation from you. Who are you to decide who should go to hell, anyway?

Let's further explore the idea that Amy and Tina don't help other women. I'm going to focus on Amy because I know more about her. I love reading quotes from Amy Poehler because she's so wise it sometimes makes me want to cry. There are tons, but here's my favorite:
"I get worried for young girls sometimes. I want them to feel that they can be sassy and full and weird and geeky and smart and independent, and not so withered and shriveled." (Seriously, this makes me want to cry I love it so much.)  
She created a website, Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, and this is their mission:
"Smart Girls at the Party is a rapidly expanding online network that aims to help the process of cultivating the authentic selves of young women and the young at heart....Smart Girls recognizes that young women—and their interests—are multi-faceted. We change the world by being ourselves, and being ourselves is a life long quest."
She gives fabulous, heartfelt advice in "Ask Amy." She interviews girls with a wide variety of interests and talents in "Smart Girls at the Party." She reaches out to girls in an attempt to help them embrace their best selves. Maybe you should check out her website. She's also made tremendous gains for women in comedy. She is a founder of the Upright Citizen's Brigade (one of my favorite places in the world; I love UCB). She was a pioneer on SNL. She's not afraid to look silly and throws herself into everything she does. And let's talk about Parks and Recreation. She created a character who is quirky, optimistic, determined, intensely passionate about something (local government), and smart. Her character could easily have been the object of ridicule, yet Amy manages to portray Leslie's unique qualities as strengths. It's actually cool how much she cares about government. Here's an excerpt from Tina Fey's book, Bossypants, about Amy Poehler (it's a good book, by the way). I love this; it's a perfect example of Amy breaking barriers for women in comedy.
"Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start. There were always a lot of noisy “comedy bits” going on in that room. Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and “unladylike.”
Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.” Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit. (I should make it clear that Jimmy and Amy are very good friends and there was never any real beef between them. Insert penis joke here.)
With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it."
Basically you could learn a lot about supporting women from Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.