Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Thoughts on "Bell, Book and Candle" at The Colony Theatre in Burbank

Tonight, I saw Bell, Book and Candle at The Colony Theatre in Burbank.

I'm a tad disappointed. Now I will freely admit to going to see this play mostly because of who was in it. Will Bradley, who was one-half of one my favorite plays, The Twentieth Century Way that ran at one of my favorite theatres, Boston Court was in this production, and I wanted to support him, since as I have said from the moment he bounded onstage in Camelot and into my consciousness, that I knew he would be destined for great things.

Unfortunately, this play was not one of them. Although this isn't to say it was bad, it was just - to use a colloquialism - meh.

For one, I think it was partly my fault. I wasn't feeling my total self tonight and for the first half of the production, the woman seated beside me was wearing the most hideous-smelling perfume that made me so excruciatingly nauseous, I was contemplating leaving entirely. I stuck it out, and thankfully, the theatre was half-full, so I was able to reseat myself away from this odoriferous offender and concentrate on the play, instead of attempting not to vomit.

The other issue was the theatre itself. Situated directly adjacent to the Burbank mall, the theatre feels more like an extension of the shopping structure itself than an actual separate cultural entity. Although its lobby is absolutely adorably charming and folksy, complete with "arts and crafts"-ish decor, the theatre itself is lacking. Something about its tiered seating reminded me of my days in the high school auditorium and I instantly got terrible vertigo. It didn't help that my Goldstar seat was up in the (near literal) nosebleed section. Although the theatre was charmingly small (270 seats), the layout just didn't feel as cozy or as welcoming as my beloved Boston Court. (Although I will say that the proliferation of exits and escape routes for such a tiny venue was an agoraphobic's dream!) The whole theatre smacked a little too much of two steps above bad dinner theatre, with the audience dressed as if going to a ballgame instead of a Friday night at a play.

Something was missing - in the production and the theatre itself.

The ushers were very kind (albeit too numerous for such a tiny venue), almost too kind. One grabbed me around the middle and dug her nails into my waist, calling me "honey" before nearly hoisting me over to my seat. There is friendly, yes, and then there is too friendly. This woman's behavior trod the line very closely.

But let's get to the play itself, shall we?

Photo by Michael Lamont

Bell, Book and Candle tells the story of Gillian Holroyd (Willow Geer) a young witch who bewitches a mortal man, Shepherd Henderson (Michael A. Newcomer) to fall in love with her. Witches are unable to shed tears or feel true love, so she seems to cast this spell as a way to get back at a childhood rival who also happens to be Shep's fiancée. As the play progresses, Gillian discovers she may truly be in love with Shep and has to make a choice between giving up her powers and falling in love, or remaining a witch and alone forever.

In the mix are her quirky Aunt Queenie (Mary Jo Catlett) and her sly and charming brother Nicky (Will Bradley). Auntie serves as nothing more than comic relief in this staging of the play, and although I adore Ms. Catlett (she was the housekeeper on Diff'rent Strokes and the voice of Mrs. Puff on Spongebob Squarepants for goodness' sake!), her performance felt a little "phoned in" and very "this is an actress we got for a cameo whom you will recognize which will make you feel safer watching a play." It felt like she was more there for "audience draw" than actual purpose. For me, the biggest disappointment was Ms. Geer's performance, which felt very sub-par. I found myself smacking my forehead throughout a lot of her more "intense" dialogue that sounded like she was reading off cue cards. The whole problem could be that she was utterly wrong for the role of Gillian, and I do hope her woodenness was either nerves or just poor casting. After seeing Rebecca Mozo's brilliant turn in In the Next Room at South Coast Rep a few weeks ago, perhaps for me, nothing could compare to that performance.

Photo by Michael Lamont

I'm now kicking myself I didn't see Michael A. Newcomer in Playboy of the Western World when it ran in Glendale earlier this year. He was wonderful as Shepherd, and really lent such great charm to the role that I could easily see him as the dashing Christy of Playboy. He also continued my absolutely hilarious and bizarre "body count" in which every play I've ever seen since living in L.A. has had some sort of male nudity in it. (Hey, I'm not complaining!) The romance between Geer and Newcomer really felt forced, especially when compared with the smouldery passion I saw in Oedipus El Rey earlier this year. Without being biased (honestly!), Will Bradley pretty much stole the show as Nicky, gliding across the stage with such fluidity, and adding these hilarious little catlike twitches and reactions to the character that made him sparkle. A lot of the audience around me murmured in appreciation at his lithe grace and I heard several people chatting excitedly about "the brother" during intermission, so it wasn't just me. Mr. Bradley is a great actor full stop and I do hope his next production is better than this one.

Perhaps I was expecting too much. This was a local production at a small theatre, but then again, every single one of Boston Court's productions (another small theatre) have been so phenomenal and professional, that after those, this was a big letdown. The sets were very basic and the sound design was tinny. On the positive side, the acoustics in The Colony were phenomenal. Perhaps everyone was miked, but it was still nice to hear the actors' words as clear as if you were standing right beside them. Sharon McGunigle's costume design was absolutely stunning, each of Gillian's dresses more adorable than the last, the final dress culminating in a stunning swath of emerald green that suited Ms. Geer's creamy features and auburn hair to a tee.

Photo by Michael Lamont

I stayed for the Talkback after the play, and discovered that the director had wanted to add the element of "giving yourself away" to someone when you fall in love, but I just couldn't find that in this production. I've always loved the idea of this play of love as a type of magic, but the "spark" between the principals just wasn't there, and that really left me sadly flat. The whole play felt vapid and hollow, like (again) something that I can't put my finger on was missing. If I can go off again momentarily (if only for fellow fans reading this) Will also stole the Talkback with his silly asides and easy joking demeanor. He mentioned that he was most proud of the role he had created (Brown in The Twentieth Century Way), instead of a role which other actors had played ad nauseum. Y'know, if South Coast Rep haven't cast their early 2011 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream yet, he would be perfect as Puck. But yeah, I'll stop now before I embarrass myself further.

Overall, Bell, Book and Candle was somewhat disappointing. Even without the nauseating patron perfumery or the acrophobia-inducing seating, I still don't think I would have enjoyed it fully. "Lacklustre" is probably a good word for how I feel, but then again...*shrugs*

Even though I wasn't really impressed with this production, I will definitely try another at The Colony, since every production will have its off-nights. And so will its audience, which was definitely me tonight.

Bell, Book and Candle runs through November 21st at The Colony Theatre in Burbank. More info and tickets here

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Elisa's Movie Marathon #4 Mini-Reviews

Over the past couple of weeks, I've seen a bunch of different movies, and thought I'd share my thoughts on them with you guys. I went all over the map this time, mostly renting from the library or watching stuff on Netflix InstantWatch (my new best friend).

If anyone has any further thoughts on any of these films or recommendations of what I should see next, feel free to comment below. Thanks! :)

Elisa's Movie Marathon #4

The Hot Chick (2002) - This was a surprisingly adorable Rob Schneider comedy. The plot is simple - an ancient curse puts the mind of a teenaged beauty queen into the body of a petty thief and vice versa. Hilarity ensues. No really, it does! Really cleverly written, I loved the way the subject matter was handled. Instead of going for all boob jokes and low-blows, it really explored the female persona, relationships, and friendship. For something I thought would be totally awful and stupid, this was a highly pleasant surprise. And my ever-growing crush on Ana Faris pretty much fell into complete swooning after seeing her play the ditzy, yet endearing best friend. It's on Netflix Instantwatch, so what are you waiting for?

Tales from the Hood (1995) - Much like Tales from the Crypt, this Darin Scott film is an anthology of four stories, each with a very clear, yet not "in your face" message related to African American culture. Subjects like racism, stereotyping, and gun violence were all touched upon and given a fantastic horror slant. The "wraparound" story deals with an eccentric funeral home director (played brilliantly by the one and only Clarence Williams III) and three youths who have come to pick up a special "package." Before the director will give up the precious loot, he relates these stories to the boys. One story about the KuKluxKlan was very hard to watch, but very, very well done. My favorite of all was the "doll" story starring Corbin Bernson, but I can't say to much without giving away the awesomeness of the stories, so I'll just say, definitely watch it, especially since it's on Netflix InstantWatch. After having seen the awful Dark House, I was pleased to know Mr. Scott can make good films like this and his brilliant Film Noir Caught Up.

King Kong (1933) - Having never seen this classic previously (*gasp*), I thought it would just be cheesy fun, but it was actually quite a good story! A rogue director brings his new starlet and crew to a remote island in hopes of discovering a legendary immense beast, and gets more than he bargained for. Highly enjoyable and Fay Wray is totally pretty! Honestly, I prefer Peter Jackson's take on Kong a bit better, since we feel a bit of empathy for him, and he's more "realistic," but although this is a lot less cerebral, it's a lot more fun, and Naomi Watts is thankfully missing. The Kong special effects were absolutely stunning (and pretty darned scary!) and still hold up well today. Well worth a watch, if not multiple viewings.

Les Miserables (1935) - Still on my Fredric March kick, I got this from the library, expecting to just ogle him and not really enjoy the movie itself, but I loved it! Having seen the musical as a kid (and loved it), I readily remembered Victor Hugo's original story, but had forgotten how heartbreaking and deep it truly was. March plays Jean Valjean, a petty thief who remakes himself and becomes a rich man, although his past still tries to haunt him. Charles Laughton was brilliant as Javert, the police inspector obsessed with following the law to the letter and bringing Valjean to justice. March really gave an amazing and touching performance, and is truly worthy of his iconic star status. Great, great film - a must watch.

The Lovely Bones (2009) - Having read bits of the book and not being that impressed, I only rented this film because it was at the library and free. Boy, am I glad I did. Directed and written by Peter Jackson, we enter the world of young Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), and see the events of her untimely murder unfold from her perspective "between worlds" of life and death. Beautifully shot and absolutely stunningly surreal, this wonderful film reminded me a lot of Jackson's earlier, Heavenly Creatures that I absolutely loved as well. I am truly sorry I didn't see this at the theatre, since much of the amazing cinematography is meant to be seen on the big screen. Mark Walberg again proves himself to be a very solid actor (his turn as Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights totally sold me, and made me love the film even more than I thought I would) as Susie's devoted father who would stop at nothing to find her killer. Although a little cartoony, Susan Sarandon as young Susie's grandma was a nice comic element in the piece. Stanley Tucci totally deserved his Academy award nomination for playing the incredibly creepy murderer George Harvey with a delicately subtle touch that made him eerily believable.

Halfway through the film, I recognized an early song by Brian Eno being used brilliantly as incidental music during an intense scene and quick Google discovered that he had composed the whole soundtrack to the film!!! I was ecstatic and returned to watch the rest with increased interest. Mr. Eno has always been one of my favorites, as his music is so transcendent and ethereally beautiful. The two early 1970s songs he used in the film - "The Great Pretender" and "Baby's on Fire" - were requested by Fran Walsh (Jackson's writing partner) who is a fellow fan and both fit seamlessly into the storyline. I recognized them instantly, since they are two favorites of mine as well.

An absolutely beautiful film that reminded me why I love Peter Jackson so very much.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) - This, in a word, was awesome!!! Having never seen this film previously, I was excited to finally have the chance. A crew of young scientists happen upon a mutant fish-man creature that was only considered myth previously. The creature is none too happy with the company, and makes his feelings known. Wonderful underwater photography, great, cheesy plotline and acting, and Julia Adams is totally hot! And if there hasn't ever been slash written about the two main scientists, David and Mark, there totally should be!!! They kept leaving Kay on the ship and heading down to that "grotto"...uh huh. XD Loved it! The creature makeup was incredible, too.

So there are a few movies I've seen lately. Feel free to recommend anything else!

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Thoughts on "Futura" at Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena

Tonight, I attended a performance at my beloved Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena of their new show, Futura.

As I was running a bit late (or so I thought!), I chose to take the freeway this time, and thankfully, it was a good idea. I made it to Pasadena in excellent time and was one of the first people to arrive. A friendly young guy whom I hadn't seen previously greeted me by name and handed me my ticket and program which was already prepared for me! This tickled me to no end and made me feel rather special! :)

As is my wont, I headed off to the restroom for a quick respite. In the middle stall, I was greeted with this hilarious sign courtesy of Boston Court Brian:

After examining all the "stall signs," this remained my favorite, but all of them were brilliant, and everyone was having extreme fun with them! As I was washing my hands, a woman in the stall on the end lustily burst into selections from The Sound of Music as her sign mentioned that one sounds best singing in the bathroom. Another woman's uncontrollable guffaws pealed out from her stall and echoed around the small restroom. This is such a brilliant and unique idea that really turns micturous monotony into flushing follies! (Sorry.) Brian tells me that he has more of these silly stall signs at the ready for the next production, and I can't wait to see them!

I settled into my favorite chair near the theatre door, and Brian came by to greet me warmly. He had told me that there was a "super secret gift" awaiting me at the theatre, which had piqued my interest greatly. When he produced this and unrolled it, I was excruciatingly delighted:

My friends, this is one of only ten posters the theatre had left of one of my favorite plays I've seen here in L.A., The Twentieth Century Way! These were the last remaining from the batch that was plastered all over New York City and the theatre saved one especially for me! I feel so honored owning this, and it now holds a special place on my living room wall. :) (Read my thoughts on TCW here and here).

After a friendly hello from Executive Director Michael Seel, I headed into the theatre and grabbed a seat in the second row.

Photo by Ed Krieger

Futura tells the story of a university professor (Bonita Friedericy) who speaks out against the new trend of online technology and the written word only existing on a computer screen. Physical books and libraries are a thing of the past, and the main source of information is a sole online "digital cloud" called The Collection. This data can be accessed and edited by anyone, which means that anything that is ever written - be it shopping lists, love letters, internal memos - can be read and changed by anyone else. Consider it like a massive wikipedia, which is forever expanding and changing into an ever evolving (or devolving) conglomerate of knowledge. Privacy is a thing of the past, as writing on physical paper has now been fully replaced by typed words on computer screens.

The first half of the play consists of the professor's fascinating thoughts on fonts, and their power as a "subtle science" that still retains the delicate artistry of physical words on paper. Text that still is able to be smudged by the human fingertip, and thus holds a key to the early beginnings of writing itself. She specifically mentions Paul Renner's innovative "futura" and relates how it is the only font ever to be copyrighted as a type of art. She goes into the interesting history of fonts, and how they helped to shape the thoughts on paper, bringing forth one of the last examples of the printed word on paper from her own private collection, a book of Milton's poetry. The professor touches on the controversial subject of what she deems the "Zero Drive," which she believes is a database or structure that houses all the original, still untouched and unedited texts of masterworks throughout the ages. (One is ever hopeful that if this Collection ever becomes reality, there is a "backup" of the originals somewhere.)

Interspersed between the lecture are the professor's increasingly manic asides related to her estranged husband's mysterious disappearance. As the play progresses, we discover that he may have been kidnapped or perhaps murdered by The Collective, a Fahrenheit 451-esque organization in charge of destroying all printed word and keeping everything digital and public.

Photo by Ed Krieger

As her rants become increasingly out of control, the stage falls into darkness and the professor is hustled away. After a brilliant set change, we discover that the professor's husband Edward (Bob McCracken) is indeed still alive, and working with two young vigilantes, Grace (Zarah Mahler) and Gash (Edward Tournier) who have kidnapped the professor to keep her out of harm's way. The professor's constant talk of a Zero Drive has warranted her unwanted attention from The Collective, who may want to destroy her because she is a threat to their existence.

Photo by Ed Krieger

Young Grace is a short fuse, who only wants to find the drive's whereabouts and will kill the professor to get it. Gash, who is in the process of devising a bomb to destroy the online Collection is more curious about words and the lost art of writing on paper, and soon develops a camaraderie with the older woman.

The play is surprisingly brief. I was just starting to relax into my seat, and it was finished, which startled me slightly, but Jordan Harrison's tight plot and dialogue creates a unique and fascinating concept for a story. Any "font nerds" will absolutely adore the professor's opening monologue and her quips and quibbles about various fonts. Being a writer and proofreader, I found myself nodding in agreement with much of the professor's diatribe on the lost art of writing on paper and reading actual books, especially as I scribbled away thoughts that would eventually become this post with a pen on a tiny pad of paper. (Suffice it to say, I did not enter Boston Court's contest to win an Amazon Kindle.)

Photo by Ed Krieger

I originally saw Ms. Friedericy in a reading of Ken Urban's "The Awake" which was part of Boston Court's PLAY/ground festival earlier this year. (Read my thoughts here) Any good Star Trek fan will also know she is the wife of John Billingsley who played Doctor Phlox on Enterprise.* John and Bonita's annual appearances at the German Fedcon science fiction convention are legendary and usually involve the removal of shirts...and sometimes pants, much to the audience's great delight...but I digress. Maybe it was an off-night, but there was much treading over dialogue and mumbled passages. She did very well as the professor overall, but this verbal fumbling really took me out of the play many times. Perhaps it was the briefness of the role that didn't give me a chance to fully see Ms. Mahler at work, but her acting felt a little forced and artificial, which (again) took me out of the play a little. Young Tournier was wonderful (and very cute!) as the bumbling, yet curious "mad scientist" bomb maker and McCracken was solid as the professor's gruff, estranged husband. The small quibbles I had with the acting didn't lessen my overall enjoyment of the play, and I'm keen to see it again, in hopes that this was just an "off night."

Myung Hee Cho's sets were absolutely astonishing, each one more ornate and beautiful than the last. When we first meet the professor, the stage is stark and bare - only a small podium with a jug of water and a glass and a massive touchscreen stand behind her. This touchscreen is a brilliant way of illustrating the way technology has overtaken the world in the play (and increasingly in reality!) as the professor used a special "cuff" on her hand to control the slideshow she used to illustrate her lecture. I was most fascinated by the third and final set, which served as the mysterious "Zero Drive" - a physical library of real books on massive shelves that arched high into the rafters. This was probably my favorite set I've ever seen at Boston Court thus far, and I spent a good deal of time examining its intricacies after the play had ended. I would love the chance to see it up close for myself, if at all possible.

Overall Futura is a bold and creative new idea for a play, and is executed with grace and sharp wit. I am seriously contemplating attending a second performance to see the sets again and fully immerse myself in the storyline anew.

Futura runs to November 2nd and tickets can be purchased here or at the Boston Court box office. If you're at all interested to see this show - even for its incredible sets - this Sunday is $5 Economic Stimulus day, so you have no excuse.

*During the initial scene after the professor is kidnapped, she is injected with a very Trek-looking syringe of truth serum. One wonders if this was "borrowed" from her husband's former workplace or a tiny nod to his time in the Trek universe. Hey, a Trek fan always finds references somewhere! ;)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Thoughts on "In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play)" at South Coast Repertory

My friends, today was an awesome day!

Photo by Ben Horak/SCR

On Friday, I read on Twitter that South Coast Repertory, a theatre in Costa Mesa (Orange County) had their special "Pay What You Will" performance of In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play). Being a fan of theatre (and vibrators!), the play sounded wonderful, but I couldn't afford to see it at the regular rate. I was extremely excited to discover that tickets today would only be $10, so I hopped on the freeway and headed south towards destiny...

As these special discount tickets were only available at the box office, I drove down early, in hopes of getting a seat. Halfway to the OC, I took a wrong turn and wound up in downtown L.A., totally lost and rather distraught. Not to be outdone, and determined to see the play, somehow, I found my way back on to the freeway! Halfway through patting myself on the back, I got lost again, but thankfully this time, I was close enough to the theatre to remember how to get there another way.

I parked nearby and took my spot in the (thankfully!) short line. Instead of being shy, I greeted the elderly couple in front of me, and the man and I got to talking about proofreading. He was lamenting the fact that a pamphlet he made up for his business still had spelling errors after every eye in the family had seen it. Always now the promoter, I suggested my "professional skills" and gave him my business card. Hehe.

A happy girl and her second row ticket. :)

After a brief wait in line, I got to the ticket window, and the cashier said, "I have one seat second row center, is that okay with you?"
My eyes widened and I spouted, "Hell yes, that would be awesome!"
(I actually did indeed say, "Hell yes," as I was just that excited!) Ten dollars later, I was the proud owner of Row B, Seat 113 for the afternoon's performance.


Loved these lighted mirrors in the bathroom. And they had loads of stalls, so there was never a long wait to pee. Excellent job, SCR! :D

After a fun look around the mall (which you can read about here), I got back to the theatre about 1pm, and hung around out in the sunshine until they opened the doors. Several groups of teenagers were milling about whom I believe were part of a youth drama program. It made me smile to see them showing off and being silly, because it reminded me so much of my days at my Arts high school in Canada. Sometimes, I still wonder whether I'm a frustrated actor, but I digress...

View of the stage from my second row seat!

The play was in the Julianne Argyros theatre, the slightly smaller, "second" stage, which sits beside the Segerstrom main stage. After having my ticket scanned (which I thought was way cool and ingenious), I was able to walk freely around the complex without having to flash my ticket to anyone again. I made my way down to my seat, that ended up being smack dab in the center of the row, which delighted me to no end. Plopping my stuff down on my chair, I made a last respite to the restroom. The staircases down to the seats were very narrow, and along the way, I had to wait for an elderly lady to pass. She saw me, and mistaking me for staff, asked for my help to get her down to her seat, explaining she had just acquired a new hip. Embarrassed by her mistake and apologizing profusely, I gladly obliged anyway, helping her safely down the stairs. On my way back to my seat, two friendly ushers nearby thanked me for my help and told them I was glad to be of service. Honestly, I was also secretly pleased to be mistaken for someone who works at South Coast Rep.

View of the stage from the balcony seats along the side of the house

Before the performance, I took a really good look around the Argyros, which even has a small balcony upstairs. There isn't a bad seat in the house, and it's big enough to house a good production, but small enough to still be intimate. Like Goldilocks' porridge, it's just right and I loved being able to explore its many nooks and crannies before showtime. After a friendly chat with my two elderly seatmates about Los Angeles theatre, I settled in to watch the play.

Dr. Givings' young wife Catherine (Kathleen Early) with patient Sabrina Daldry (Rebecca Mozo). Photo by Ben Horak/SCR

In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play) tells the story of Dr. Givings (Andrew Borba), who, through Edison's marvelous invention of electricity has devised a machine that will rid women of nervous hysteria and other psychological and physical conditions which ail them. His machine generates electrical impulses at variable speeds and, when positioned upon certain parts of the female anatomy, serves to rid the patient of excessive bodily humors that may be the cause of her distress. The device is commonly known today as a vibrator.

The doctor has a young wife, Catherine (Kathleen Early) who is a little dimwitted, but still curious about what her husband is always up to with his patients "in the next room." Givings believes that experimenting on his own wife is unethical, explaining that she is already healthy and doesn't need his treatment. Much to her disappointment, Givings leaves her out of his practice. As the doctor is always busy with his patients or experiments, Catherine soon feels neglected and becomes distraught.

Sabrina Daldry (Rebecca Mozo) relates her problems to Dr. Givings (Andrew Borba) while her husband (Tom Shelton) looks on. Photo by Ben Horak/SCR

We meet one of the doctor's ailing patients, Sabrina Daldry (Rebecca Mozo) who cannot bear bright light and is easily depressed. As a last resort, her boorish husband (Tom Shelton) takes her to Dr. Givings for treatment. She arrives a thin, timid figure, shrouded in black, but after a few sessions with the good doctor, her husband is thrilled to find she has color back in her cheeks and seems more carefree. Interestingly, her most successful session occurs when the power goes out at the clinic and Dr. Givings' female nurse, Annie (Libby West) has to perform the procedure "manually."

Trying to make the best of her lonely situation, Catherine befriends Sabrina, and curiosity getting the better of her, asks the young wife what her husband's treatments are like. Eager to share her experience, Sabrina agrees to demonstrate, which leads to one of the most charming and endearing scenes of the whole play.

Sabrina (Rebecca Mozo) undergoes some "stimulating" treatment by Dr. Givings (Andrew Borba) while nurse Annie (Libby West) assists. Photo by Ben Horak/SCR

There are many themes – women as food, repression vs. release, science vs. nature – threaded throughout this play, giving it a wonderful mosaic quality. Many aspects of femininity and women's sexuality are presented in the most frank and amusing way, but aren't thrust in your face, so as to make you miss their point. Playwright Sarah Ruhl's gift of language gives the threads such wonderful color and charm, and the play is filled with quotable lines that are both witty and profound. Much of the story really hit home with me, either relating to me directly in something I've experienced in my life, or having to do with women in general. This is a "women's play," but men will definitely enjoy it almost as much.

Photo by Ben Horak/SCR

My one little trifle was the secondary stories, involving a young African American woman, Elizabeth (Tracey A. Leigh) who becomes the Givings' wet nurse after Catherine's milk runs dry, and a male artist, Leo Irving (Ron Menzel) who comes to the good doctor after experiencing a block in his creativity. These two characters, although lending themselves somewhat to the main storylines and themes, felt a little unnecessary. There is one scene in which Elizabeth has a monologue about breastfeeding that totally could have been cut out. Then again, remember – I'm childless by choice and this part of women's biology just does nothing for me, so it might just be me. The artist's story felt like a little too much comic relief, in that he was a man getting similar treatment, but the joke was only funny the first time.

Photo by Ben Horak/SCR

The staging was brilliant. The play went on simultaneously between the Givings' parlor, where young Catherine entertains the various patients and their families and "the next room," in which Dr. Givings performs his electrical miracles. One had to be a bit of a "tennis head" to bob back and forth between the rooms, but it was well worth the effort for the full effect it presented. The costuming was absolutely incredible. As the piece was set in the Victorian era, every tiny detail was perfect, and the choice to begin Mrs. Daldry in black, and then slowly lighten her outfits by scene as she transforms into her true self until she is wearing a deep, sexually potent purple color was absolutely inspired.

Catherine and Sabrina "experiment" with electricity. Photo by Ben Horak/SCR

The whole cast was fantastic, but the standout for me was Rebecca Mozo, who played the repressed wife Mrs. Daldry. Her transformation from a meek, withdrawn young girl into a blossoming, unconventional woman was amazing and the little touches she added to the character made it just come alive. I was so transfixed by her ability to move from comic to serious with such grace, and do hope to see her in another production somewhere else very soon.

I came out of the play with my head full of that wonderful feeling one gets after seeing really good theatre. No single movie can move one as much as live theatre does – the connection to and presence of the players so palpable as they act and react directly in front of you – and today was living proof of that. Ruhl's script is wonderful, and I'd love to see anything else she has written. I did have to quietly giggle at the final, touching scene, as it dawned on me that I haven't seen a play yet since I've lived here in Los Angeles that hasn't had some sort of male nudity. Hey, I'm not complaining!

My one qualm was the audience was not amazingly receptive to the play itself, many deeming it too controversial or risqué. As I stated above, although playwright Ruhl is dealing with some touchy sexual subjects, her writing gives them such a clear and witty voice, I was surprised both my seatmates and the elderly couple I befriended in line were so negative about the performance. The elderly man suggested it's a "generational thing," and I would tend to agree. As it was a (cheap) matinée, the majority of the audience was in their late 50s and upwards in age. Being a female in her mid-30s (and, I will admit, a happy and proud user of the device upon which this play is based), I greatly related to the story and its characters and their struggles and triumphs. It was funny, charming, and an absolute treat to watch. At several points, I was even moved to tears. A wonderful play filled with brilliant performances. Even if you're not in the immediate area, it's very worth the drive to Costa Mesa. But no closed-minded patrons, please.

Don't miss out on seeing In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play) running at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa (Orange County) now through October 17th.

Click here for more information and tickets

Friday, October 1, 2010

Elisa's Horror Movie Marathon - 1930s Edition

Elisa’s Horror Movie Marathon – 1930s Edition

Over the last week or so, I've been indulging in some wonderful classic horror films from the 1930s. Every one of them I've seen so far has been a total gem and are all miles above the majority of schlocky shit they deem "horror" today. These had actual storylines, character development, and weren’t totally reliant on the number of kills or volume of bloodletting. There is something romantic about these older films that gives them a wonderful charm, with just a hint of kitsch.

Frankenstein (1931) - I LOVED this film! Based loosely on the classic Mary Shelley novel, Colin Clive plays Victor Frankenstein, a man determined to bring the dead to life by creating a man with his own hands…or is it a monster? Clive was perfect as the deliciously mad and unstably wonderful Dr. Frankenstein. He was the original mad scientist and played his role to its hilt. I realize now Mr. Clive's brilliant performance was blatantly ripped off by a few overactors in the 80s. Ahem. Boris Karloff was wonderful as the monster - so full of pathos. You feel so much for him as he struggles to understand the world – a child inside the body of a man. A totally unrecognizable Dwight Frye rounded out this powerhouse cast as Fritz, Dr. F.'s willing, yet dimwitted assistant. Great, great film. It's on Netflix InstantWatch, so you have no excuse!

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - Amazingly, Bride is the more popular of the two Frankenstein films starring Colin Clive, but I didn't like it quite as much as the original. Elsa Lanchester's performance as the bride was absolutely superb, but the film's plot fell a tiny bit flat for me. Karloff & Clive were brilliant again, but they didn't give Clive quite enough to do in this one, focusing more on Karloff, which disappointed me a little. I know he’s the iconic monster figure, but mad scientists need love, too! Still worth a watch.

By the by, there is a terrific lack of Colin Clive as Frankenstein merchandise, which disappoints me greatly. After watching the films, I was hoping to own a figure/dolly/somesuch thing to solidify my newfound passion, but almost nothing exists! There are these brilliant models, but one must actually be somewhat of an artist to make them look half-decent. Come on, toy manufacturers - you have five million Frankenstein's monster goodies, but barely any love for the guy who created him. Get on it!

The Invisible Man (1933) - I LOVED this film, too. Claude Rains plays Dr. Jack Griffin, a man who dares to dabble in the unknown realms of science, and in the process, makes himself invisible. Little does he know, the drug he ingested (ominously named “monocane”) to complete the transformation has psychological side effects, but the drug’s power soon becomes apparent to everyone around him. Rains, although in bandages for the majority of the film, had such a fantastic voice and presence that you didn't need to see his face to appreciate his performance. I loved his maniacal laugh and total madness. There's also something sort of kinky about the fact that the good (mad) doc has to run around totally naked to remain unseen. The special effects in this film were brilliant and still hold up today.

The three aforementioned films were all directed by the brilliant James Whale, whose fictionalized biography, Gods and Monsters (a quote from Bride of Frankenstein) starring Sir Ian McKellan and Brendan Fraser is on Netflix InstantWatch. Although it’s a little slow-moving, the story is interesting, albeit tragic.

Dracula (1931) - Another brilliant film starring the man of the piercing stare, Bela Legosi as the lord of the undead, luring (un)willing women into his fold of blood-thirsty brides, and Van Helsing the only man who can stop him! Personally, although Legosi was great, I only had eyes for his fly-eating slave, Renfield, played brilliantly by Dwight Frye. Frye, who also appeared in Frankenstein as the ever-faithful Fritz, did an amazing job portraying another crazed assistant in this film. He ate up the screen with his wild eyes and manic tics.

Check out this scene for a great example of Frye’s amazing ability.

After these brilliant turns, poor Dwight became typecast as the crazed assistant for most of his brief career, but check out this youtube channel to see more of his great range. Dracula director Tod Browning also helmed the bizarre, yet awesome Freaks, which I first saw as part of a midnight film fest at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) - Again, another brilliant film. Fredric March stars as both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in an Academy Award-winning performance that deals with a man who strives to release himself from the bad or “base/id” nature of man and only keep the good and “higher” intellectual aspects. He believes the best way to achieve this is to become two separate people, thus physically severing any negative part of himself. Obviously, this leads to disaster.

March really knows how to work the camera and his little facial nuances and body language had me rewinding to watch his scenes again, and catch even more of his brilliant performance. He added these little flairs like the nervous tic of combing his unkempt hair back when he was on the verge of losing control and becoming Hyde that gave the audience a cue disaster was imminent. Great stuff. March’s career was bright in both the screen and stage realms, and he has this wonderful presence onscreen that makes me wish I could travel back in time and watch him for myself in a theatrical performance or onset. For anyone wanting to see March in another, non-horror role where he really shows his range, another film I absolutely loved was A Star is Born (1937).

Also, just for interest factor, check out these two clips:

This clip is from the first transformation scene in J&H:

And this is a scene from one of my absolute favorite films, Jean Cocteau's Orphée from 1949 with the delicious Jean Marais:

Notice the similarity between scenes? One wonders if it’s coincidental or Cocteau’s small homage to the earlier film.

A brilliant “double” motif that ran throughout J&H, echoed in physical aspects (mirrors, the use of repetitive images), dialogue (actors repeating brief lines for dramatic effect), and characters (Jekyll’s love being a brunette and Hyde’s mistress a blonde). The special effects of Jekyll’s transformation into the simian Hyde were also amazing, and reiterated the fact that practical effects accomplished a lot before the advent of CGI went and made a lot of SFX lazy and tacky. Wonderfully filmed and a definite must-watch.

I would love to get a letter like this…but that’s just me. *blush*

This was a fantastic set of films, especially for someone like myself who is so enamored by mad scientists. (Oh, for one of my very own to love!) There’s just something so endearing about a man who is determined to challenge the boundaries of science and nature itself, and make his unconventional ideas a (albeit sometimes strange!) reality. And if he goes a little crazy in the process, all the better. It’s all in the name of science, my dears.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the myriad of horror films made in this early golden era, so if anyone can give me any recommendations, it’s much appreciated!