Emma and Max ***

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 16, 2018:  Emma and Max is the playwriting debut of controversial, independent filmmaker Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness), who also directed. Part of the Flea Theater’s “Color Brave” season, it’s a well-acted, intermittently interesting, but overly garrulous, tortoise-slow, oddly shaped play satirizing (with too-few laughs) the racial attitudes of white so-called liberals, as well as the nasty effects—including on raising kids and wedlock—of white privilege.

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 16, 2018:  Emma and Max is the playwriting debut of controversial, independent filmmaker Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness), who also directed. Part of the Flea Theater’s “Color Brave” season, it’s a well-acted, intermittently interesting, but overly garrulous, tortoise-slow, oddly shaped play satirizing (with too-few laughs) the racial attitudes of white so-called liberals, as well as the nasty effects—including on raising kids and wedlock—of white privilege.

Matt Servitto, Ilana Becker

The play begins when a room thrusts forth from a closed wall, showing the Greenwich Village home of a well-to-do, philandering businessman, Jay (Matt Servitto), and his narcissistic wife, Brooke (Ilana Becker). Despite all the praise they heap on her as one of their family, this socially-challenged couple is firing the black nanny, Brittany (Zonya Love), who looks after their two- and three-year-old eponymous kids (seen only in a computer desktop screen projection).

Brittany, a Barbados immigrant, who’s told she hasn’t done anything wrong, is going to be replaced by Famke, a Dutch au pair. Barely speaking, she receives three months’ severance pay, which she counts out slowly, bill by bill, almost as a punishment to her uncomfortable bosses.

Zonya Love

This precipitates a tale in which Jay and Brooke worry that Brittany, depressed and unable to find a job, hasn’t returned the household keys, and might be capable of vengeance. Perhaps you’ll wonder, as did I, why Jay waits so long before bringing up the idea of changing the lock. Does Solondz want us to ridicule the couple for their fears of a disgruntled black employee? Given what happens, it’s a question only those seeing the play can attempt to answer.

Jay and Brooke feel guilty about their fired nanny, Brooke even equating her own childhood “ugliness”—her “personal Kristallnacht,” she calls it—to Brittany’s situation. But, leaving Emma and Max with Famke, they go off to bask in the sun of Brittany’s Barbados, where she says, ominously, all her relatives are dead.

Over the course of the play’s 90 minutes, each of the principals gets to deliver a very lengthy monologue, even when no one’s listening. Brooke touches on the white guilt she feels for underprivileged people of color; Jay speaks of his marriage, the pleasure he takes in firing people (POTUS, are you listening?), and the racism he tries to justify; and Brittany, incarcerated, tells Padma (Rita Wolf), an activist writer, about what led to her imprisonment.

Ilana Becker, Matt Servitto

Oddly laconic until now, Brittany finally spits out whatever cat’s been holding her tongue by bursting out with page after page of dramatic, even bizarre revelations, some referencing Jay’s sexual predations, some mentioning rape, and some explaining why she did what she did to end up as she has.

It’s a weird narrative suggesting that this downtrodden woman—who believes the only actress capable of acting her in a movie is Meryl Streep (heard singing ABBA’s “The Winner Takes it All” from Mama Mia!)—isn’t playing with a full deck. Just as we can find little compassion for the clueless, solipsistic Jay and Brooke (who vanish two-thirds through the play), so is it difficult—despite the implications—to feel deeply for the angry Brittany.

Water being one of the themes trickling through the play, projected waves wash coolly over the walls at both the beginning and end. Even the pale gray walls of Julia Noulin-Mérat’s set—an upstage wall with its two side walls set at obtuse angles—are covered with watery lines, gracefully lit by Becky Heisley McCarthy; later, we’ll also see a swimming pool projected on the floor.

Each wall contains sliding panels that are pushed aside to reveal an interior setting, which rolls out or is slid back as needed. Many of the shifts, clearly intended to symbolize Brittany’s oppression, require she perform them like Sisyphus rolling his hellish stone. It’s a clever convention but its overuse only draws attention to Solondz’s snail-like pacing.

Each actor makes a distinct impression, and Solondz’s attractive physical production (including Andrea Lauer’s costumes) achieves its goals. Still, Emma and Max’s overly broad characters lack the humanity needed for audience empathy, its dramatic structure (all that speechifying!) is distractingly lumpy, and it’s satire’s point is too quickly blunted.

Emma and Max ***
Flea Theater
20 Thomas St., NYC
Through October 28, 2018
Photography: Joan Marcus 

The Nap ****

By Isa Goldberg

October 14, 2018:  Watching a bunch of grifters, in The Nap, is a guilty pleasure because it’s silly, and delightfully inconsequential. It’s a comedy well timed for the zeitgeist.

By Isa Goldberg

October 14, 2018:  Watching a bunch of grifters, in The Nap, is a guilty pleasure because it’s silly, and delightfully inconsequential. It’s a comedy well timed for the zeitgeist.

Author of the popular Broadway farce, One Man, Two Guvnors, British playwright Richard Bean’s cockeyed whodunnit, is the season opener at the Manhattan Theater Club’s main stage.

The titular Nap refers to the grain of the green cloth on snooker tables. Originally a British sport, snooker is like our game of pool, but it’s historical development and the culture that surrounds it are completely different.  In modern times, it’s a worldwide sport, with championship matches, and financial stakes.

As the play opens, Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer), a successful professional snooker player, is practicing his game in a seedy Sheffield pub, and sharing tales with his ex-con dad, a sweetly appealing John Ellison Conlee. Sheffield, being the home of snooker, is a kind of mecca for the pub-centric sport.

Max Gordon Moore, Bhavesh Patel, Ben Schnetzer, John Ellison Conlee, Heather Lind

Schnetzer’s Dylan is a wide-eyed, millennial-appealing vegetarian, whose innocence, it turns out, is a big draw for con artists. Enter the cops – a flirtatious young woman played by Heather Lind, and her consort, a threatening authority portrayed by Bhavesh Patel. Their story about match fixing places Dylan at the center of criminal activity, and threatens his career.

Director Daniel Sullivan drives this big game of fraud into a rabbit hole of deceits and misadventures, mining the farce with exquisite flare. The much-exaggerated characters who interact over the game include Max Gordon Moore as Dylan’s over the top agent. His physical comedy and bizarrely colored suits (Kaye Voyce) are loudly out of place in designer, David Rockwell’s seedy Sheffield pub. But that is just the start.

Johanna Day, a recognizable dramatic presence on many a New York stage, is totally unrecognizable here, as Dylan’s mother, Stella Spokes. Dressed really oddly, in bright yellow, with hair that dwarfs the rest of her, she plays the cheap and narcissistic mom of the sports star. Her partner in crime Danny Killeen (Thomas Jay Ryan) is filthy and indestructible in his pursuit of The Pound. And her ex-boyfriend, now transitioned into an elegantly beautiful woman, by the name of Waxy Bush, is Dylan’s sponsor. Their antics and manipulations are deft, and remain opaque, at least for a while.

Anyway, it’s full blown comedy, and a very well-acted farce flaunting innocence as well as romance. I, for one, felt completely snookered.

The Nap ****
Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 W. 47th Street in NYC.
Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time: two hours and 20 mins. including intermission.
$79—$159. www.telecharge.com.
September. 27th – November 11, 2018

Photography: Joan Marcus

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur ***

By: David Sheward

October 12, 2018:  Even in his minor works, Tennessee Williams tenderly exposed the desperate longings of life’s dreamers and poets. In the age of Trump, they might be called losers because they fall between the cracks and do not possess the steely aggression to pull themselves out of their tiny tenements or expand their narrowly-defined lives. But this greatest of all American playwrights had compassion for these lost people and gave voice to their need for fulfillment and companionship. La Femme Theater Productions offers a glimpse of the dramatists’ fading but still moving storytelling power with a sturdy production of the delicate, rarely-seen A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, presented Off-Broadway in 1979 and one of the last of Williams’ works to premiere in New York before his death in 1983.

By: David Sheward

October 12, 2018:  
Even in his minor works, Tennessee Williams tenderly exposed the desperate longings of life’s dreamers and poets. In the age of Trump, they might be called losers because they fall between the cracks and do not possess the steely aggression to pull themselves out of their tiny tenements or expand their narrowly-defined lives. But this greatest of all American playwrights had compassion for these lost people and gave voice to their need for fulfillment and companionship. La Femme Theater Productions offers a glimpse of the dramatists’ fading but still moving storytelling power with a sturdy production of the delicate, rarely-seen A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, presented Off-Broadway in 1979 and one of the last of Williams’ works to premiere in New York before his death in 1983.

Jean Lichty, Annette O’Toole, Kristine Nielsen

This extended one-act contains numerous themes and characters evocative of earlier, stronger Williams classics, but director Austin Pendleton and his small cast gave the piece a life of its own. Set in a Depression-era St. Louis, the city and era of the author’s young manhood, Creve Couer concerns four women dealing with the specter of loneliness, each in her own unique manner. Dorothea (or Dotty) is a variation on Blanche DuBois of A Streetcar Named Desire, a faded Southern belle eking out a living as a schoolteacher and deluding herself with romantic fantasies pinned on her lecherous principal. Like Blanche, she shares tiny quarters—a flat with Bodie, a single 40-ish office worker, more pragmatic than Dotty and bent on hitching her roommate with her twin brother Buddy, despite his obesity and penchant for cigars. The title refers to Bodie’s matchmaking weekend plans for a picnic with Dotty and Buddy at a local park, ironically named “broken heart” in French.

Dropping in are Helena, Dotty’s catty fellow teacher, and Miss Gluck, the pathetic upstairs neighbor grieving over the recent death of her elderly mother. The main action, such as it is, is the battle between Bodie and Helena over Dotty. Bodie is determined to make her roommate her sister-in-law while Helena wants to recruit her co-worker to share an apartment on the more exclusive side of town.

That conflict feels drawn-out in order to fill an entire evening’s two hours. Thankfully a pair of superb actresses, Kristine Nielsen and Annette O’Toole, are here to do the stretching and filling in. Bodie and Helena could have easily been reduced to caricatures of earthy hausfrau and frustrated spinster. But Nielsen, one of New York theater’s most reliable comic performers, endows Bodie with a deep compassion and a vast maternal urge in need of an object. When Bodie explains her desire for nieces and nephews because she cannot have children of her own, Nielsen makes it a painful secret and the heartbreaking center of her being. O’Toole captures the painful ache of isolation beneath Helena’s stylish exterior (Beth Goldenberg created the eye-catching 1930s costumes.) Her emptiness is as big as Bodie’s and this makes their battle an equally matched and fascinating one.

Jean Lichty

Jean Lichty skillfully charts Dotty’s course from neurotic illusion to a sad acceptance of the less-than-beautiful realities of life. Polly McKie gives deep subtext to the small role of Miss Gluck, a pitiable creature attired in a bathrobe, moaning like an abandoned child. Harry Feiner’s homey set captures the crowded confines of these women’s desperate lives as does this insightful production of a rare flawed, but charming Williams gem.

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur
Sept. 23—Oct. 21m 2018
La Femme Theater Productions at Theater at St. Clements
423 W. 46th Street NY.
Wed—Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm.
Running time: one hour on 45 mins. with no intermission. $55—$99.
(866) 811-4111  www. lafemmetheatreproductions.org.
Photography: Joan Marcus

Polly McKie
Kristine Nielsen

 

 

 

Hitler’s Tasters **

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 9, 2018:  For anyone in Nazi Germany during World War II, when food supplies were short and rationing in place, getting a job where you were guaranteed three delicious meals a day, even if they were vegetarian, must have seemed highly desirable. Especially if your only job responsibility was to eat those meals. On the other hand, since the purpose of the job was to ensure that the food, intended for Adolph Hitler, wasn’t poisoned, one could be forgiven for having reservations about gobbling it up.

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 9, 2018:  For anyone in Nazi Germany during World War II, when food supplies were short and rationing in place, getting a job where you were guaranteed three delicious meals a day, even if they were vegetarian, must have seemed highly desirable. Especially if your only job responsibility was to eat those meals. On the other hand, since the purpose of the job was to ensure that the food, intended for Adolph Hitler, wasn’t poisoned, one could be forgiven for having reservations about gobbling it up.

Kaitlin Paige Longoria, Hallie Griffin, MaryKathryn Kopp

Such indeed are the circumstances behind Michelle Kholos Brooks’s play, Hitler’s Tasters, now in a New Light Theater production at Off Broadway’s IRT Theater after winning the 2017 Glaspell Award and premiering at Hackettstown, NJ’s, Centenary Stage Company. If a reviewer can be considered a play taster for prospective audiences, I’d say I survived Hitler’s Tasters but not without a case of critical cramps.

In 2013, newspapers in Germany began to report that Hitler had a system in which 15 young women were given the “honor” of serving the Reich by tasting each of the Fuehrer’s meals. The 96-year-old woman providing the information, who had been one of the tasters, was named Margot Wölk. When she died in 2014, no one claimed it was from something she ate.

Nothing in the program of Hitler’s Tasters, much less the play, mentions the historical background. But it seems likely that Wölk’s account provided its inspiration, especially as one of its four characters is named Margot (Hannah Sturges). We don’t meet her, though, until after the situation has been set up: three young women meet daily in a room resembling a gray, padded cell, designed by An-lin Dauber, furnished with a table and three chairs. It’s not a jail, though, since they’re apparently able to commute.

MaryKathryn Kopp

Hilde (MaryKathryn Kopp), whose “vater” is an important officer, takes the mean girl role, Leisel (Hallie Griffin) is more a conciliator, and Anna (Kaitlin Paige Longoria) verges on the overwrought, partly because her associations with Jews are suspect. When Anna vanishes, Margot replaces her. Another replacement will appear just before the final curtain.

Totally bored, the girls fill the time between meals by behaving like egregiously silly teenagers. The script says they’re “high teens to early 20’s” but they behave more like empty-headed 12- or 13-year-olds as they gossip, squeal, giggle, snipe, fight, dance, loll about, brag, and chat about sex, the guards’ looks, the Fuehrer, the Fuehrer’s dog (Blondi), and Hollywood stars (including speculation about Frank Sinatra’s endowment).

As they await a signal that the danger of a meal has passed, they ponder their fate, justify their “patriotic” existence, and express nervousness about the possible outcome of each meal, even considering the existence of an antidote.

MaryKathryn Kopp, Hannah Mae Sturges, Hallie Griffin

For some odd reason, though, Brooks, whose methods vary from serious to comic, has deliberately anachronized the play, giving the girls cell phones, allowing them to constantly take selfies, and even long for when Hitler himself will visit and share one with them. It’s hard to make out what Brooks is after with this and other choices (including a few vulgarities) other than to suggest that these benighted girls are no different from the airheads of today. After an hour and 20 minutes of this, you may begin thinking about antidotes yourself.

Which isn’t to deny that each actress fulfills her obligations with energy and commitment, regardless of their unconvincing, frequently annoying characters. Director Sarah Norris stages the play with a modernist sensibility, ritualizing the meals and otherwise creating theatrically heightened moments that have interesting visual values.

Hannah Mae Sturges, Hallie Griffin, MaryKathryn Kopp

She’s helped by Christina Tang’s stylized lighting, including neon strips surrounding the set; vaguely period costuming by Ashleigh Poeteat that requires four, simultaneous, onstage changes; and completely out-of-period, contemporary music, like “Bitch I’m Madonna,” which accompanies a group dance choreographed by Ashlee Wasmund. I had no idea what it meant but it was my favorite moment.

The story of Hitler’s tasters is one audiences might be hungry to devour. But Brooks’s tongue-in-and-out-of-cheek approach fails to locate its dramatic meat (much less its comic bones). A docudrama version of the fascinating (on paper) events might have proved far more theatrically succulent.

Hitler’s Tasters **
IRT Theater
154 Christopher St., NYC
Through October 27, 2018
Photography: Hunter Canning

Bernhardt/Hamlet ****

By: Isa Goldberg 

October 13, 2018:  One should not be fooled by the title of the Roundabout Theatre’s current production, Bernhardt/Hamlet, by Theresa Rebeck. Regardless of the title, the soul gripping center of this show is Janet McTeer, and what a whirlwind she is.

By: Isa Goldberg 

October 13, 2018:  One should not be fooled by the title of the Roundabout Theatre’s current production, Bernhardt/Hamlet, by Theresa Rebeck. Regardless of the title, the soul gripping center of this show is Janet McTeer, and what a whirlwind she is.

McTeer encompasses Bernhardt’s self-dramatizing style, her shameless self-promoting, her altogether eccentric nature, with utter aplomb. She’s wildly amusing.

Janet McTeer

And all the more so when, in Rebeck’s new play, the theatrical world rains misogyny on the most famous actress of the day. That was, in part, the reception Bernhardt received in 1899, when at the age of 55 she became the first woman to play Hamlet.

Not only did she play the role in a French adaptation, she also played it in London, and in Stratford. She even made the movie. No small roles, or small actors for Bernhardt!

Bernhardt’s ambition to play Hamlet unfolds here, side-by-side with her love affair with the minor French writer and playwright, Edmond Rostand. As a matter of fact, the stage door to her theater is plastered with a poster of her in his play La Samaritaine.

It’s a famous image, by the artist Alphonse Mucha. Still, she walks all over Rostand, in dominatrix fashion, when it comes to her demand that he “rewrite” Hamlet for her – to make the poetry and the character more accessible to her, and more relatable for the audience.

In modern times, ideally, women would find more subtle ways of enforcing their will. Still, Rebeck makes the most of the volatile interplay between the two. The masculine side of the woman, and the feminine side of the man– in Jungian etymology, the animus and the anima – are fundamental concepts vigorously explored through their relationship.

Indeed, a large part of the second act is about Bernhardt’s quandary over playing Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac, a role Rostand (Jason Butler Harner) wrote for her, according to his wife, Rosamond. In that role, Ito Aghayere is convincingly smooth, vulnerable, and coy.

But the argument between the playwright and the actress is very much to the point of this play.

EDMOND: Roxane is the embodiment of female perfection.

SARAH: If you like them pretty and silent.

For fans of the television series, Ozark, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see two fierce opponents – the FBI agent (Harner) and a representative of the Colombian drug lord (McTeer) face off. The two actors ignite wonderfully here.

But more importantly, the historical setting is colorful, and evocative of the outpouring about women’s roles today. As directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, McTeer achieves her #MeToo moment fairly early in Act II. “Of course he loved me in Camille!” she tells us. “All the men love the beautiful whore who is there to adore the prince and remind him of feeling and passion, then renounce him and conveniently die so he doesn’t have to sully himself with tawdry melodrama anymore, when he needs to marry and pass on all that money to children who are, you know. Unsullied.”

Indeed, Rebeck’s play is based on historical characters. Dylan Baker is astonishingly comic and chameleon, as the prominent French actor, Constant Coquelin. In the role of Alphonse Mucha, the artist who became famous for his portraits of Bernhardt, Matthew Saldivar occupies himself tirelessly in her employ. And Nick Westrate suitably portrays her doting, spoiled son Maurice. In this play, as in history, Sarah Bernhardt reigns!

Set amidst the bones of the stage, Beowulf Boritt’s design makes us feel like we really are in the guts of it all. And Bernhardt’s dressing room, with her collection of artifacts from around the world, is enchanting – an appropriate signature for a woman who was known to be truly exotic. Similarly, Toni-Leslie James costumes of both periods are character revealing, in and of themselves.

It’s in the shaping of a woman’s history that this story unfolds, ambitiously of course.

Bernhardt/Hamlet ***
 Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre
227 West. 42nd Street in NYC.
Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours and 20 mins. including intermission.
$59—$159. 212-719-1300. www.roundabouttheatre.org.
September. 25th – November 11, 2018
Photography: Joan Marcus

Hel’s Kitchen

An Equity Stage Reading of Hel’s Kitchen, a new play by Sam Affoumado will be presented at Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street (8th Floor) NY, NY 10036  on  October 17th @7pm, October 19th and 20th @7:30pm.

October 9, 2018:  Hel’s Kitchen, a comedy/drama set in The Bronx, New York of 1961, is a realistic account of a watershed weekend in the life of a young woman. Helen, the eighteen-year-old, sewer-mouthed fat girl, has always used her clique to insulate herself from life. Though she is not prepared to leave her teenage years behind, Helen discovers that her relationships with her friends Vinny (the stud), Stanley (the brain) and Fern, a student of “beauty culture,” must be re-defined in order for them to survive as a group and emerge as individuals.

An Equity Stage Reading of Hel’s Kitchen, a new play by Sam Affoumado will be presented at Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street (8th Floor) NY, NY 10036  on  October 17th @7pm, October 19th and 20th @7:30pm.

October 9, 2018:  Hel’s Kitchen, a comedy/drama set in The Bronx, New York of 1961, is a realistic account of a watershed weekend in the life of a young woman. Helen, the eighteen-year-old, sewer-mouthed fat girl, has always used her clique to insulate herself from life. Though she is not prepared to leave her teenage years behind, Helen discovers that her relationships with her friends Vinny (the stud), Stanley (the brain) and Fern, a student of “beauty culture,” must be re-defined in order for them to survive as a group and emerge as individuals.

The cast includes Makayla Wilkerson – Maggie Bera* – Ty Baumann,
Frank Provenzano – Sharon Schiller – Michael Basile* –  Benji Sills
and Jaimi Paige.*
*Actors appearing courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association

Tickets are free but seating is limited.

For reservation requests – Email: Saffu@aol.com

Maggie Bera, Frank Provenzano

 

 

2018 Hamptons International Film Festival Winners

Congratulations to the  2018 Hamptons International Film Festival.
And The Winners Are:

Congratulations to the  2018 Hamptons International Film Festival.
And The Winners Are:

The HIFF Award Winner for Best Narrative Feature sponsored by Netflix

ALL GOOD “ALLES IST GUT”, directed by Eva Trobisch

HIFF Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature sponsored by Netflix

DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES, directed by Alexis Bloom

The HIFF Award Winner for Best Narrative Short Film

FENCE “GARDHI”, directed by Lendita Zeqiraj

The HIFF Award Winner for Best Documentary Short Film

GUAXUMA, directed by Nara Normande

Special Jury Prize For Acting

BORDER “GRÄNS”, directed by Ali Abbasi, received a Special Jury Prize for acting for the two lead actors, Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff

The 2018 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award for a Film of Conflict and Resolution

AND BREATHE NORMALLY, directed by Ísold Uggadóttir

Vimeo Staff Pick Award

CROSS MY HEART, directed by Sontenish Myers

Suffolk County Film Commission Next Exposure Grant

ONLY THE WIND IS LISTENING, directed by Emily Anderson

The Zelda Penzel “Giving Voice to the Voiceless” Award: Dedicated to Those Who Suffer in Silence

THE CAT RESCUERS, directed by Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence

Victor Rabinowitz and Joanne Grant Award for Social Justice

THE SILENCE OF OTHERS,  directed by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

Industry Advocate for Women Award

Terry Lawler, Executive Director of NYWIFT

And as previously announced:

The Dick Cavett Artistic Champion Award

Alan Alda

2018 Breakthrough Artists

Kayli Carter, Cory Michael Smith, Amandla Stenberg

HIFF Narrative Feature Jury

Geralyn Dreyfous, Academy Award®-winning producer of BORN INTO BROTHELS, THE SQUARE and THE INVISIBLE WAR and founder of the Utah Film Center and co-founder of Impact Partners Film Fund

Ebon Moss Bachrach, actor; Girls, The Punisher, The Last Ship, LOLA VERSUS

Linus Sandgren, FSF, Academy Award®-winning Cinematographer who collaborated on films including FIRST MAN, LA LA LAND, JOY and AMERICAN HUSTLE

HIFF Documentary Feature Jury

Rory Kennedy, Academy Award®-nominated director of films including ETHEL, LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM and the upcoming ABOVE AND BEYOND: NASA’S JOURNEY TO TOMORROW

Jamie Patricof, producer of THE AFTER PARTY, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC and BLUE VALENTINE

Alissa Wilkinson, writer and film critic for Vox

ABOUT THE HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

The Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) is a year-round 501(c)3 non-profit organization with events, screenings, film workshops, comprehensive summer programs and an annual film festival each October. The Festival is the premiere film event on New York State’s east end, and is an intimate showcase of some of the year’s best offerings in contemporary cinema from around the world. With cash and in-kind prizes handed out totaling more than $180,000, HIFF continues to attract some of the best films of the year.

Selections from all of our programs continue to play an important role during awards season. 2018 marked the 8th time in a row that a film in the Festival has become the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars, making HIFF the only Festival on the East Coast with such a distinction. For more information, please visit www.hamptonsfilmfest.org.

The 26th Hamptons International Film Festival

The 26th Hamptons International Film Festival  announces their award winners at a ceremony in East Hampton.

October 8, 2018:  ALL GOOD “ALLES IST GUT”, directed by Eva Trobisch, won the Award for Best Narrative Feature, sponsored by Netflix. DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES, directed by Alexis Bloom, received the Award for Best Documentary Feature, also sponsored by Netflix. FENCE “GARDHI”, directed by Lendita Zeqiraj, and GUAXUMA, directed by Nara Normande, received the Award for Best Narrative Short Film and for Best Documentary Short Film, respectively.  Both Short Films will qualify for Academy® consideration. All four films were directed by female filmmakers.

The 26th Hamptons International Film Festival  announces their award winners at a ceremony in East Hampton.

October 8, 2018:  ALL GOOD “ALLES IST GUT”, directed by Eva Trobisch, won the Award for Best Narrative Feature, sponsored by Netflix. DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES, directed by Alexis Bloom, received the Award for Best Documentary Feature, also sponsored by Netflix. FENCE “GARDHI”, directed by Lendita Zeqiraj, and GUAXUMA, directed by Nara Normande, received the Award for Best Narrative Short Film and for Best Documentary Short Film, respectively.  Both Short Films will qualify for Academy® consideration. All four films were directed by female filmmakers.

BORDER “GRÄNS”, directed by Ali Abbasi, received a Special Jury Prize for acting for the two lead actors, Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff.  The film was selected as Sweden’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

AND BREATHE NORMALLY, directed by Ísold Uggadóttir (HIFF Screenwriters Lab 2015 Alumni), was awarded the 2018 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award for a Film of Conflict and Resolution, which is accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize.

CROSS MY HEART, directed by Sontenish Myers, was awarded the Vimeo Staff Pick Award, which provides a $3,000 cash prize and Vimeo Staff Pick to winning film.

ONLY THE WIND IS LISTENING, directed by Emily Anderson, was awarded the Suffolk County Next Exposure Grant.  This program supports the completion of high quality, original, director-driven, low-budget independent films from both emerging and established filmmakers who have completed 50% of principal photography within Suffolk County. The film was awarded a $3,000 grant.

THE CAT RESCUERS, directed by Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence, was awarded the Zelda Penzel Giving Voice to the Voiceless Award. This award is presented to a film that raises public awareness about contemporary social issues, including the moral and ethical treatment and the rights of animals as well as environmental protection.  The film was awarded a $2,500 grant.

THE SILENCE OF OTHERS was presented with the Victor Rabinowitz & Joanne Grant Award for Social Justice.  The film is directed by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar.  The annual award is handed to a film that exemplifies the values of peace, equality, global justice and civil liberties, and is named after iconic civil rights lawyer Victor Rabinowitz and his wife Joanne Grant, an author, filmmaker and journalist.  The award, which is accompanied by a cash prize of $1,500, is named in honor of two people who spent their entire lives fighting for those values.

Terry Lawler, the outgoing longtime Executive Director of NYWIFT, was presented with the “Industry Advocate for Women Award” from HIFF Executive Director Anne Chaisson.  This was the inaugural presentation named to an industry advocate for women.

The Audience Award, sponsored by Out East, will be announced tomorrow.

As previously announced Alan Alda was honored with the “The Dick Cavett Artistic Champion Award,” presented by Alec Baldwin at the festival.  2018 Breakthrough Artists included Kayli Carter (PRIVATE LIFE), Cory Michael Smith (1985) & Amandla Stenberg (THE HATE U GIVE).

This year’s Narrative Jury was compromised of Geralyn Dreyfous, Academy Award®-winning producer of BORN INTO BROTHELS, THE SQUARE and THE INVISIBLE WAR and founder of the Utah Film Center and co-founder of Impact Partners Film Fund, actor Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Girls, The Punisher, The Last Ship, and LOLA VERSUS and Linus Sandgren, FSF, Academy Award®-winning Cinematographer who collaborated on films including FIRST MAN, LA LA LAND, JOY and AMERICAN HUSTLE.  The Documentary Jury included Rory Kennedy, Academy Award®-nominated director of films including ETHEL, LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM and the upcoming ABOVE AND BEYOND: NASA’S JOURNEY TO TOMORROW (which screened at the festival), Jamie Patricof, producer of THE AFTER PARTY, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC and BLUE VALENTINE, and Alissa Wilkinson, writer and film critic for Vox.

This year the Festival was honored to partner with Variety for the seventh time and the New York Film Critics Circle for the tenth year

“We offer our sincere praise to this year’s winners and are thankful to all the films that participated in this year’s groundbreaking competition slate,” said David Nugent, HIFF Artistic Director. “In a year in which all of our Screenwriters Lab participants were women, and our competition section was evenly split with 50/50 gender representation, it is great to see that the jury selected four films by female filmmakers.”

“The festival is very fortunate to have an astounding and dynamic team of hard-working staff and volunteers that keep the festival strong,”said Anne Chaisson, HIFF Executive Director. “We are also very appreciative to all the donors, sponsors, film industry, and attendees, including filmmakers and talent that could join us this year to celebrate the latest and greatest of cinema.”

Attendees of the 2018 festival included Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, Bob Balaban, Carl Bernstein, Matthew Broderick, Carter Burwell, Bill Camp, Kayli Carter, Damien Chazelle, Katie Couric, Garrard Conley, Henri Dauman, Jamie Dornan, Michael Dweck, Emilio Estevez, Rupert Everett, Eric Fischl, Maria Giese, April Gornik, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Olivia Hamilton, Peter Hedges, Matthew Heineman, Justin Hurwitz, Rory Kennedy, Barbara Kopple, Nadine Labaki, Don Lemon, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Alessandro Nivola, Rosamund Pike, Sandy Powell, Gabriela Rodriguez, Raj Roy, Linus Sandgren, Peter Sarsgaard, Brian Selznick, Josh Singer, John Sloss, Cory Michael Smith, Amandla Stenberg, George Tillman Jr., Dolly Wells, Alex Winter, Steve Young, Jerry Zaks and more.

The 26th annual Hamptons International Film Festival took place over Columbus Day Weekend, October 4 – 8, 2018. The Hamptons International Film Festival greatly appreciates the support from their corporate sponsors and media partners, including premiere sponsors Audi and Out East, lead sponsors Delta Air Lines, Altour International, and Netflix, and official media partners WNBC New York and Variety. For more information please visit www.hamptonsfilmfest.org.

Click Here for a List of All the Winners

 

A Star Is Born ****1/2

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga Light the Sky in A Star Is Born

By: Ellis Nassour

October 8, 2018:  Bradley Cooper and Lady Gage are no strangers to having their names in lights, but in A Star Is Born, [Warner Bros./M-G-M; 135 minutes] their names explode in such magnitude that they light up the sky. Except for a few moments of homage, it would be theatrically incorrect to call the just released A Star Is Born an updated remake of its three predecessors with the same title. Four-time Oscar nominee Cooper, as director, co-writer, and co-producer, has created a Star that won’t eclipse the powerful 1937 dramatic original or 1954 musical remake but which becomes a cinema legend of its own. In fact, it’s poised to become an instant classic. As far as the edgy 1976 box office blockbuster musical remake with the same title – the verdict is still out.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga Light the Sky in A Star Is Born

By: Ellis Nassour

October 8, 2018:  Bradley Cooper and Lady Gage are no strangers to having their names in lights, but in A Star Is Born, [Warner Bros./M-G-M; 135 minutes] their names explode in such magnitude that they light up the sky. Except for a few moments of homage, it would be theatrically incorrect to call the just released A Star Is Born an updated remake of its three predecessors with the same title. Four-time Oscar nominee Cooper, as director, co-writer, and co-producer, has created a Star that won’t eclipse the powerful 1937 dramatic original or 1954 musical remake but which becomes a cinema legend of its own. In fact, it’s poised to become an instant classic. As far as the edgy 1976 box office blockbuster musical remake with the same title – the verdict is still out.

In this 90% original take, written with Oscar winner Eric Roth [Forrest Gump, The Insider, Ali], Grammy-winning Oscar-nominee [Best Song] Gaga as Ally says, “Almost every single person I’ve come in contact with in the music industry has told me that my nose is too big and I won’t make it.” During the 10 years she studied acting and auditioned for theater, film, and TV, she said she heard similar and much worse. In 2008, with her debut Platinum plus-selling album Fame, we saw star potential. It was just the tip of the iceberg.

Many didn’t take her seriously because of her attention-getting antics. As a megaselling recording artist [31 million albums and a multitude of hit singles], she popped up in cameo and guest roles, but it wasn’t until the 2015 Oscars when she stunned with a mesmerizing soprano rendition of a medley of tunes for the 50th Anniversary Sound of Music salute that the masses took notice [during the 20-second standing ovation, with her tattooed arms outstretched, among those avidly applauding was none other than Cooper]. Her fan base quintupled with her Golden Globe-winning casting as the Countess that year on American Horror Story/Hotel, channeling a host of notorious film fatales and aided by extravagant costumes, platinum blonde hair, and glam make-up] that finally the public met Gaga the actress.

Cooper, making his directorial debut, envisioned the film with Gaga as co-star. It’s fascinating watching as they prop each other up. The romance begins a bit too soon and rushes toward the inevitable pledging of troths. In love, in performance, and at war their chemistry is solid.

Gaga gives a shattering performance as Ally, a singer struggling to break into the big time but who’s given up after so many defeats. She finds it hard to believe that at last someone believes in her. Enter rock legend Jackson Maine, Cooper in another brilliant performance. Reckless boozing, cocaine, and a devastating secret that would ruin his career have him on a destructive path. It’s a performance so vividly etched that it will be long remembered.

With her Star accolades and the inevitable nominations to be heaped on both stars during awards season, Gaga can close the book on her period of dresses fashioned with meat and outrageous shenanigans and can start a new one – coffee-table size. Singing or dancing or acting, she’s a force to be reckoned with. There were big shoes to fill, and quite smartly she pays homage to Judy Garland, star and co-producer of the ’54 film, with an “Easter Egg” hum of “Over the Rainbow.” It was also her idea to pay homage to her idol Edith Piaf, with her standout rendition of “La Vie En Rose.” Another “Easter Egg” is Gaga/Cooper’s bubble bath ala Streisand/Kristofferson’s in the ’76 Star – minus candles burning on beer cans. Gaga pays tribute to her legend of gay fans by singing, as she did early on, in a drag bar – where Jackson wanders in [only in search of a drink, though he ends up signing autographs in unusual and very personal places].

The burden of Cooper’s own demons as a recovering drug and alcohol abuser is obvious as he bares his soul singing in sequences filmed live at music festivals. To prepare, he studied with a voice instructor and learned to play the guitar well enough so he would never get booted offstage. Gaga bares more than her soul in a flash of nudity from her solo bubble bath.

Cooper surrounded himself and Gaga with an equally impressive ensemble cast: Sam Elliott, as Jackson’s caretaking brother; Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father; comic Dave Chappelle as a trusted old friend; and Rafi Gavron as the manager who steers Ally toward stardom and an independence that affects her marriage.

The stars are immensely complemented by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who helps push the music sequences and raw emotion with HD close-ups [you won’t soon forget the last image of Gaga]; and two-time Oscar-nominated editor Jay Cassidy. Songs are by Cooper, Gaga, and Lukas Nelson, son of Willie, who also performs with his band.

To enjoy the huge impact in store, the only way to see A Star Is Born is at a huge-screened cineplex with surround or Dolby sound.

A Star Is Born is also co-written by Will Fetters. It’s produced by Cooper, Bill Gerber, the controversial Jon Peters [due to rights he held for the ’76Star], Todd Phillips, and Lynette Howell Taylor.

Bernhardt/Hamlet *** The Nap ****

By: David Sheward

October 6, 2018:  The fall Broadway season opens with two new plays centered on an incomparable artist pitted against the forces of compromise. One has loftier ambitions and only partially succeeds, the other just wants to show us a good time and lands on the money. The former is Bernhardt/Hamlet from Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines, Theresa Rebeck’s examination of the legendary stage actress in her revolutionary attempt to play Shakespeare’s most challenging role. The latter is The Nap, Richard Bean’s raucously dark comedy on the plot to rig a snooker championship presented by Manhattan Theatre Club after a hit run in London.

By: David Sheward

October 6, 2018:  The fall Broadway season opens with two new plays centered on an incomparable artist pitted against the forces of compromise. One has loftier ambitions and only partially succeeds, the other just wants to show us a good time and lands on the money. The former is Bernhardt/Hamlet from Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines, Theresa Rebeck’s examination of the legendary stage actress in her revolutionary attempt to play Shakespeare’s most challenging role. The latter is The Nap, Richard Bean’s raucously dark comedy on the plot to rig a snooker championship presented by Manhattan Theatre Club after a hit run in London.

The Rebeck work should be celebrated because it affords a vehicle for the magnificent Janet McTeer as the Divine Sarah. This is an opportunity to see one of the greatest actresses of her generation playing one of the greatest actresses of all time. The French Bernhardt was regarded as the most sensuous, theatrical performers of her day, the late 18th century into the early 20th. She was one of the few actresses in the world to have her own company. The play captures her as she approaches the age when ingenue roles are no longer quite suitable and mature parts are not challenging enough. She dares to take on the Melancholy Dane to consternation of male critics and the shock of polite Paris society.

Jason Butler Harner and Janet McTeer in “Bernhardt/Hamlet”

According to contemporary reports, Bernhardt’s technique was breathtakingly artificial, beautiful and unashamed in its theatricality. (Of course, this was decades before the Method and realism in acting were regarded as the height of artistry.) McTeer is simultaneously grand and naturalistic, combining the best of the era of the play and the age in which it is presented. Her smoky voice, her tall, willowy frame and her expressive features are the perfect instrument for a feast of tour de force moments. She makes every line of dialogue—whether Rebeck’s or Shakespeare’s—seem as if it is being spoken for the very first time. Whether teasing a lover, sparring with his wife, searching for the meaning in a soliloquy, or figuratively or literally fencing with her adult son, McTeer’s Bernhardt is a giant, passionate soul, brought to life by an equally colossal performer.

The play itself provides numerous pleasures including several entertaining backstage hijinks staged with wit by Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Beowulf Borritt’s dark, wooden Belle Epoque set and Toni-Leslie James’ exquisite period costumes add to the theatrical atmosphere). But it doesn’t hold together. Rebeck’s central theme is Bernhardt challenging the male status quo and refusing to be confined to syrupy melodramas like Camille because of her gender. But the playwright sabotages her own message of female empowerment by building the arc of her plot around Bernhardt’s romance with the playwright Edmond Rostand (a sleek Jason Butler Harner) and whether or not he will adapt Hamlet into a less poetic script in order for the star to shine brighter. (Rebeck’s heroine is dependent on a man.) In addition, we never find out the fate of her Shakespearean production which is supposedly the focus of the whole play. The show ends with Rostand dropping the adaptation to finish his masterpiece, Cyrano de Bergerac and Bernhardt’s transgender Dane yet to open.

Individual sequences to savor include Dylan Baker and McTeer exploring the subtext of the Ghost scene; McTeer jousting with an implacable Ito Aghayere as Rostand’s clever spouse; McTeer drunkenly holding forth on art, sex, critics, and her rival Eleonora Duse in her gorgeously appointed dressing room (kudos again to designer Borritt). As indicated by the preceding list whenever McTeer is off-stage, the enterprise suffers. Fortunately, that is not very often.

Max Gordon Moore, Bhavesh Patel, Ben Schnetzer, John Ellison Conlee, and Heather Lind in “The Nap”

In The Nap, the commendable Ben Schnetzer plays another kind of artist from a world totally different than Bernhardt’s, but he’s equally purist. He’s enacting Dylan Spokes, a British champion snooker player who refuses to “bust a frame”—that is, to purposefully lose a round of the pool-like game—even if his mother may be killed by bad guys with big money riding on the match. While Bernhardt/Hamlet is a loose patchwork of scenes, Nap is a tightly-knit caper thriller. By the way, the title does not refer to an afternoon snooze, but to the pile of fabric making up the surface of the snooker table, as in a rug or carpet. As he did in One Man, Two Guvenors, playwright Bean weaves together a bizarre cast of characters and outlandish story strands, creating a tremendously satisfying whole.

Recounting the complex plot would spoil the fun. But a quick inventory of the loopy dramatist personae and their individual quirks will give you an idea of the madness in store. There’s Waxy Bush, a transgender gangster with an artificial arm and a penchant for using the wrong word. She’s sort of a post-modern Mrs. Malaprop with homicidal tendencies, played with hilarious zest by trans actress Alexandra Billings of Transparent. Let’s not forget Dylan’s working-class mom and dad, Stella and Bobby, a riotous Johann Day and John Ellison Conlee, who look like they’ve escaped from the Jerry Springer set. Dylan’s manager, is another brightly colored cuckoo (Kaye Voyce did the eye-popping costumes), constantly on his mobile phone and spouting indecipherable slang, energetically embodied by the hilarious Max Gordon Moore. Then there’s Stella’s new Irish boyfriend (a delightfully slimy Thomas Jay Ryan) who associates every event with a recent movie, but he can never remember the title. Into this daffy melee burst a pair of mismatched investigators (pompous Bhavesh Patel and alluring Heather Lind), each with their own agenda concerning Dylan’s prospects. Director Daniel Sullivan hits just the right tone of contained insanity and arch cynicism. David Rockwell’s grimy sets have the right lived-in feel and the antiseptic championship stage is appropriately high tech. The staging and script could have veered into excessively violent Martin McDonagh territory, but Nap stays within the bounds of credibility—just—and lands its snooker balls expertly into each comic pocket.

Max Gordon Moore, Johanna Day, and  Alexandra Billings in “The Nap”

Bernhardt/Hamlet ***
 Sept. 25—Nov. 11. Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours and 20 mins. including intermission. $59—$159. 212-719-1300. www.roundabouttheatre.org.
Photography: Joan Marcus

The Nap ****
Sept. 27—Nov. 11. Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time: two hours and 20 mins. including intermission. $79—$159. www.telecharge.com.
Photography: Joan Marcus

The Evolution of Mann ***

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 4, 2018:  Musicals about New York singles looking for love in all the right places are not quite as common as plays about aging folks with Alzheimer’s but there are enough of them to qualify as a mini-genre of their own. The newest addition to the club, which includes titles like Company, Significant Other, First Date, and Marry Me a Little, is Douglas J. Cohen (music and lyrics) and Dan Elish’s (book and lyrics) The Evolution of Mann, a moderately well performed but ultimately tired rehash of familiar tropes, with too few original bones to qualify it as a member in good standing.

By: Samuel L. Leiter

October 4, 2018:  Musicals about New York singles looking for love in all the right places are not quite as common as plays about aging folks with Alzheimer’s but there are enough of them to qualify as a mini-genre of their own. The newest addition to the club, which includes titles like Company, Significant Other, First Date, and Marry Me a Little, is Douglas J. Cohen (music and lyrics) and Dan Elish’s (book and lyrics) The Evolution of Mann, a moderately well performed but ultimately tired rehash of familiar tropes, with too few original bones to qualify it as a member in good standing.

Max Crumm, Allie Trimm

The theatre is Nancy Manocherian’s the cell, an intimate 23rd Street venue that suggests the foyer of a 19th-century townhouse—equipped with a loft-like balcony—in which the audience sits on uncomfortable wooden seats of different heights to overcome sightline problems. Its flexible space has been arranged by Libby Stadstad so that the audience surrounds a narrow, raised runway on three sides.

Nearly everything on stage is white, including the fringed curtain beneath the balcony at the far end behind which sits the three-member band (cello, guitar, and piano). Props are symbolic, like the white boxes that serve multiple purposes. Overhead is a striking, transparent, plastic mobile evoking the city’s skyline, lit to change colors by Chris Steckel, whose overall contribution is impressive. And Alan Waters creates some fine sound effects, notably when a Xerox machine is working.

The Evolution of Mann is (apart from a very late arrival) a three-hander about Henry Mann (Max Crumm, Grease), a 32-year-old “starving artist,” who’s writing a musical called The Green Light, based on The Great Gatsby. Henry, who (as seems almost inevitable in such shows) is Jewish—and comes supplied with a kibitzing Jewish mother (Allie Trimm)—carries a torch for the love of his life, Sheila, who jilted him.

Leslie Hiatt, Max Crumm

Henry, who has gone to 12 weddings in 12 months, decides to show Sheila what for by finding someone to marry himself. Aiding in his desperate quest is Gwen (Leslie Hiatt), his lesbian best friend and roommate. An experimental theatre actress-playwright, she’s also preoccupied with trying to get back with Diane, her wife, who walked out on her.

Gwen helps Henry get a date with an attractive, cultured, artsy friend, Tamar (Allie Trimm), a publicist, whose relationships with men are not too promising. The desperate Henry, instantly thinking he’s found Ms. Right (she even likes the idea of his Gatsby musical), quickly finds he’s wrong, and turns instead to Christine (also played by Trimm). She’s a student teacher who, like Gwen and Henry, works part-time as a legal assistant at a law firm. Overcoming his initial hesitation because of her unibrow, Henry dates Christine and things look promising until Tamar turns up again.

As these all-too conventional developments evolve, the focus sometimes turns to Henry’s mother, to the young yoga-practicing woman Gwen and Henry spy through her window, and to phone calls from a mysterious woman saying “I wanna do you on the dining room table.”

Under Joe Barros’s brisk, minimalist staging, sometimes done with choreographic precision, the transparently artificial plot works itself out as we view bits from both Gwen’s ridiculous play, in which she portrays an amoeba, and Henry’s awful Gatsby show. We also visit a Lower East Side dive bar (“Further east than Cambodia,” Henry unwittily quips), where Christine, of all people, turns up to perform a song, and a basketball court where Henry’s predictable, presumptive soulmate shows up just in time for the curtain.

When one of the nearly hour and a half show’s 14 songs isn’t being sung, music often accompanies the dialogue. It’s pleasant enough on the ears but the melodies, most on the upbeat side, are largely in a generic, pseudo-Sondheim mode, too many being sound-alikes. Cohen and Elish’s lyrics are usually better than the music, perhaps the best example being “The Unromantic Things,” whose title notes, with irony, where it is “you find what’s pretty and romantic.”

Here and there The Evolution of Henry Mann offers a gentle charm offensive, as when Christine and Henry read and sing his children’s poem, “Benjamin Potter the Otter,” but more frequently the bits, especially the humorous ones, land with a leaden thud. The characters are paper-thin, with Henry—so desperate to have a wife a single date is enough to think he’s found a bride—coming off as something of a jerk. Oddly, never once do any of the cell phone-using characters suggest the possibility of finding love through social media, alluded to even in a recent updating of Company.

As Henry, Crumm sings very nicely but falls short in the charisma department, and he’s saddled with an innocuous plot device requiring him to look like a downtown, bohemian artist by wearing a silly yellow beret, and a tacky black and yellow shirt, one of designer Siena Zoë Allen’s weaker choices. Hiatt is modestly enjoyable as Gwen, but Trimm, who might have done well by either Christine or Tamar, lacks the versatility to give each a distinctive personality, much less express the humor of Henry’s stereotypical mother. Nor, by the way, is she well served by Allen’s rather homemade-looking costumes.

At one point, Tamar tells Henry that, in writing a show, one must take risks and “think outside the box.” Paradoxically, The Evolution of Mann is still in the box. With its lid firmly in place.

The Evolution of Mann ***
Nancy Manocherian’s the cell
338 W. 23rd St., NYC
Through October 27, 2018


Photography: Carol Rosegg

Max Crumm, Allie Trimm

Bernhardt/Hamlet ***

By: Paulanne Simmons

 The great French actress Sarah Bernhardt enjoyed a life that was as dramatic onstage as it was off. The daughter of a high-class Jewish prostitute and (probably) the son of a wealthy merchant from Le Havre, Bernhardt possessed theatrical talents that were discovered at a convent school.

By: Paulanne Simmons

 The great French actress Sarah Bernhardt enjoyed a life that was as dramatic onstage as it was off. The daughter of a high-class Jewish prostitute and (probably) the son of a wealthy merchant from Le Havre, Bernhardt possessed theatrical talents that were discovered at a convent school.

Dylan Baker, Jason Butler Harner, Janet McTeer, Matthew Saldivar

Onstage Bernhardt played in such French classics as Phèdre and Ruy Blas, as well as works by such contemporary playwrights as Edmond Rostand and Victorien Sardou. Offstage she slept in a coffin, accumulated a menage of notable lovers and was a staunch supporter of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer falsely accused of betraying his country. This led to a year-long rupture with her anti-Dreyfus son, Maurice. Bernhardt performed almost until her death, a good number of those years on one leg, after an injury led to gangrene and amputation.

Little of this turns up in Theresa Rebeck’s new play, Bernardt/Hamlet, directed by Moritz von StuelpnagelInstead, Rebeck imagines an affair with Rostand based on contemporary rumors Bernhardt’s biographer, Cornelia Otis Skinner, calls “nonsensical.”

The play is set in Paris, in 1897, when the 53-year-old Bernhardt (Janet McTeer) is taking on Hamlet onstage and Rostand (Jason Butler Harner) offstage. Although there is a great deal of talk about various critics’ opposition to a woman in this iconic role, as Bernhardt is producing, there is no real possibility of anyone stopping her. And despite Bernhardt’s incessant pleas for Rostand to leave his wife and young children, it’s quite obvious that, notwithstanding his infatuation, the playwright has no such intention.

With very little real conflict or drama going on, Rebeck resorts to giving McTeer a huge amount of stage time in which Bernhardt analyzes the role she is about to inhabit, something the famously melodramatic actress in pre-Stanislavski times would hardly undertake. Nevertheless, McTeer is magnificent as she struts back and forth, giving Bernhardt youth and vitality, if not very much depth. However, no one would ever believe her Bernhardt is either French or 53 years old (this is something of an achievement, as McTeer is actually several years older than Bernhardt would have been at the time).

Eventually, dissatisfied with the translation of Hamlet she is using, Bernhardt commissions Rostand to give her a new one.

Things pick up in act two with the entrance of Maurice, (Nick Westrate, who adds charm and humor) and Rostand’s wife, Rosamond (Ito Aghayere, who brings in much needed genuine emotion). Now it turns out that Rosamond not only knows about Rostand’s affair but also realizes Bernhardt’s demands have taken her husband away from his masterpiece, the future Cyrano de Bergerac.

This is a wakeup call for Bernhardt. She reads the play and immediately recognizes its potential, although she is not happy the role of the female lead, Roxane, is so poorly developed. Which brings us back to the play’s main argument: no wonder Bernhardt wants to play Hamlet! As Bernhardt announces in one of the play’s many zingers, “A woman who can’t do anything is nothing. A man who does nothing is Hamlet.”

One cannot argue with Rebeck’s premise. One can only wish she’d written a better play.

Bernhardt/Hamlet ***
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street
www.roundabouttheate.org.
Photography: Joan Marcus

Dylan Baker, Janet McTeer

 

Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga Approached Working Together As Equal Partners

By: Ellis Nassour

October 8, 2018:  Lady Gaga is as mega as you can get as a rock star and Bradley Cooper knows the best and worst about the movie business. She’s got the vocal chops; he’s got the acting chops. You might wonder in making A Star Is Born if she was putty in his hands or if he just let her loose to run wild.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga Approached Working Together As Equal Partners

By: Ellis Nassour

October 8, 2018:  Lady Gaga is as mega as you can get as a rock star and Bradley Cooper knows the best and worst about the movie business. She’s got the vocal chops; he’s got the acting chops. You might wonder in making A Star Is Born if she was putty in his hands or if he just let her loose to run wild.

Like the characters they play, she says, “We relied on each other in every single way. We were truly in this together. We approached every scene, every song as partners.”

He states, “As a storyteller, you want to make sure you cast the right person. Her talent and work ethic honed from years of performing exploded every time we did a musical number. I saw this undeniable force in her, and knew there was no one else who could’ve played the part. There’s something about acting and singing that’s so honest, you can’t hide at all. I thought that those two things could be put together in a way that maybe I’d find my point of view.”

Putting  his stamp  on  the  a thrice-told story to make its timeless nature of human feelings and failings appeal to today’s diverse audiences and music lovers, Cooper says, “I never thought, ‘How do I make it original?’ I just knew I had to make it authentic. I wanted to tell a meaning story filled with lots of raw emotion.”

Though she loved his take on the story, Gaga was nervous taking on a role of such depth. It was my first feature film. When somebody has talent inside them, brewing for years, ready to move into another medium and it finally happens, it’s a huge explosion, an opus. I’m so insecure. I had to get past the nerves. When Ally talks about how ugly she feels, that was real. Bradley was not only at the helm but also always by my side. He knew the ropes, and as we created the songs, I watched him become a real musician. He was meant to direct, and I got lucky to be in his first film.”

Cooper states, “You’re going to say, ‘This is her first feature?’ Stefani [Gaga] has done incredible work as an actress, but to make this huge transition was brave of her. Actually, we were at the same point individually in our work, and we both needed the same thing from each other, essentially, in order to jump the tracks to this other place.”

In the film, when they first meet, Jackson tells Ally, “Talent comes from everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out there and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth.”

“I always wanted to direct,” informed Cooper, “but I knew I needed to have a point of view to know why I was doing it. I always wanted to tell a love story, because it’s something everyone can relate to — love, the loss of it, the high of it.  It’s the thing that makes you feel the most alive. I wanted to explore the complexity of intermingling lives along with fears, joys, doubts, anger, hopes. Coupled with that is music — not just music, but singing. I was ready to dive into something that would challenge and push me to be relevant and current.”

To enhance the immediacy of Jackson and Ally’s first connection, while dancing and is lying on the bar looking at him for the first time, to really get the impact of that moment, Cooper shot at 48 frames per second instead of 24. Another thing was to go close up on Ally in the beginning of the relationship – when Jackson touches her nose, when he’s wrapping her hand after a bar brawl, when she touches his ear. You always remember the first touch of somebody, because it either sends a chill down your spine or it’s a dead fish. But for them it’s chills!”

“I wanted to pull back the curtain on what it means to be a star and a rising star in today’s industry,” observes producer Lynette Howell Taylor. “And Bradley isn’t your typical first-time feature director. He’s business been in the business for years, soaking up knowledge from directors David O. Russell, Clint Eastwood, and Todd Phillips and honing his own craft as a producer.  He’s paid attention”.

Though they’d never met, Cooper conceived the role of Jackson’s brother, his surrogate father, manager, counselor, and talented singer who sacrificed his aspirations for the more driven Jackson. “We discussed his vision and how I might fit in. He shared footage on his phone of working with Stefani at her piano. I was dumbfounded at the beauty of it.”

“It’s all about the work with Bradley,” he adds. “Getting at the truth, being honest. He’s such a collaborator, so generous, and filled with trust that you want to give it back to him.”