We have Gund's widow, Caroline (the always outstanding Laura Linney) and his girl friend, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg, with too little to do), and her daughter, Portia (Ambar Mallman). There's also Gund's brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins, in very good form), and his long time lover and companion, Pete (Hiroyuki Sanado). They all live on the estate, they don't like each other very much and they don't trust each other at all.
And eventually, Deidre, the girl friend (Alexandra Maria Lara) also shows up. She's pushy and rude and unpleasant, a big pain in the posterior.
Things just move along, slowly, in summer heat that enervates everyone. There seems no reason why a scholar, even a half-baked one like Omar, should be so interested in a half-baked writer like George Gund, or why his university seems so eager for him to write this book.
"The City of Your Final Destination" opens today at the Plaza Frontenac
There's lots of buzz about Farmhaus these days, and it seems ready to become this summer's Hot Spot, with Kevin Willman, formerly of Edwardsville's Erato, manning the helm and doing things in his own slightly idiosyncratic way. For instance, he recently took off a few days to go fishing, and just closed rather than delegating the weight of running a new high-expectation operation. But he caught some fish, and had them on the menu.. So there's a pleasing looseness to some aspects of things. Not the food, however. Willman's freshness-oriented kitchen with a busily changing menu provides equal pleasure on this side of the river.
The décor, for example, is not exactly loose, but pleasantly relaxed. The dining room displays some great old photos, and a landscape print that looks straight out of the Fifties. Each table sports a Mason jar holding, on our visit, a single calla lily, a wonderfully pristine combination. The restaurant is well lit, and with a fair amount of noise from diners, but the ambiance is casual and friendly.
We approached the menu as a collection of small plates. Treating them as first courses or appetizers results in generous servings. As traditional entrees, they are smaller, both in size and price, than St. Louis is accustomed to. Our grouper plate, at $15, was the second most expensive item on the menu; the highest was a 9-ounce beef filet at $34. This approach allows for tasting many different things, always fun.
We were thrilled with the mushroom salad, made with roasted Ozark Forest mushrooms, goat's milk cheese, excellent bacon lardons, un-wimpy greens and a warm vinaigrette made with the bacon. The roasted pecans garnishing the plate added their woodsy notes. It's the sort of dish we'd want to order on every subsequent visit. Pickled shrimp are not common in Midwestern farmhouses, but are a Southern party standard. Willman seems to like to pickle things, and alongside the tender shrimp, still tasting of themselves and not of just their marinade, came other vegetables like onion slices and zucchini, even tasty enough for He Who Doesn't Do Zucchini.
The sweet potato nachos seem to be a permanent fixture on the constantly evolving menu. Those expecting Mexican-style nachos will be disappointed. For the rest of us, they're a most satisfying combination of textures and flavors (sweet potatoes fry up to blend crunchy and chewy, and they sparkle with more bacon, which is housemade, by the way). Sprinkled with blue cheese from a Wisconsin cooperative of small producers and drizzled with a catsup made from sweet red peppers that have been fire-roasted, the flavors dance.
A more conservative eater might go for, and sing about, the slices of cold and tender rare roast beef, served with a truffle foam and some of the lavash that comes with many of the salads, all sitting on what the menu called horseradish panna cotta. We didn't get any horseradish, but truffle oil and whipped cream? Cures most ills.
The grouper, described as slow roasted, still had a crisp skin, and wasn't overcooked. Spoon bread, another Southern delight seldom seen hereabouts. Delicious and tender braised greens dressed with a ham-red wine reduction rode alongside. And a slice of bacon-wrapped meatloaf was first rate, meaty rather than the sort that's a tribute to breadcrumbs. It was somewhat dense, accompanied by a nicely cheesy macaroni and cheese and some gently cooked sweet onions.
Another plate, labeled on the menu simply as "breakfast" showed off housemade maple sausage links and a buttery poached farm egg (and the flavor difference in such eggs is remarkable), which were both good, plus roasted pork belly and some fat corn blini, little pancakes that didn't need syrup. And those two were delightful. Definitely a keeper for those of us who love morning food.
A raspberry tart led pastry chef KT Fitzgerald's dessert list. It was simple, just a tasty tumble of red and black raspberries atop a creamy filling in a first-rate pastry crust. The pecan financier is an American take on a traditional French dessert made with ground almonds. It's very simple, tasting of honey and served with honey ice cream and a homemade graham cracker. The “cracker” is chewy rather than crisp, and rather thick, more of a cookie. A lemon pudding cake wasn't quite what the phrase evokes, but rather a square of moist cake, lightly lemony, with a scoop of basil ice cream alongside. Some grandmas made fried pies, and so does Fitzgerald, hers filled with strawberry and rhubarb, with some particularly good strawberry-creme fraiche ice cream.
The kitchen doesn't always get all of an order out at the same time, but that just seems to be part of the aura. But the servers are pleasant and alert, and on a busy weekend evening, Willman himself was occasionally seen serving a dish or busing a table
Folks also eat at the bar, which has its own room. There's fixed-price ($10) lunch service on weekdays, not from a menu but from a five-day rotation of blue plate specials, listed on the website. Farmhaus also is big on Twitter and Facebook, the latter including the daily menus. The wine list is limited, but inexpensive, with a couple of higher-end labels. The by-the-glass list could be longer, but we found some satisfactory choices.
We strongly recommend reservations, and patience in the process. We've twice had dinner-hour phone calls unanswered. Try lunchtime or mid-afternoon. Worth the effort, for sure.
3257 Ivanhoe Ave.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner Wed.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: No
March may come in like a lion, but summer comes in like "Knight and Day," an utterly predictable action movie that opens today, with impossible things becoming everyday events. Cameron Diaz, who may be the first Kansas-based heroine since Judy Garland, runs an auto repair shop in Wichita and is restoring her father's treasured GTO as a wedding gift for her sister. She's on her way to the wedding (the car remains in Wichita; it will not fit in the overhead compartment) and has many problems getting on the plane. Tom Cruise intercedes, fiddling with her luggage, and she boards. Only a handful of other passengers are present, and Cruise is in the next seat. Surprise!
Shortly after takeoff, Cruise calmly kills everyone else on the plane, including the pilots, with his bare hands, and then shows he has the skill to land the plane in a cornfield.
Next thing we know, Diaz wakes up in her sister's house, makeup intact, ready for the wedding. And that's in just the first 20 minutes or so.
From there on, Cruise and Diaz are on a world-wide tour to Switzerland, Vienna and other romantic places, always with freshly cleaned and pressed clothes, while Cruise, who can do anything instantly and remain charming all the time, protects a super energy source from all the bad guys, a group that may or may not include the CIA, the FBI and many other alphabetical agencies from nations too numerous to mention.
James Mangold, who directed the first-rate "3:10 to Yuma" remake in 2007, keeps the action taking curves and hills like an out-of-control roller-coaster, and there's good work from Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard as police types, and from Paul Dano as the inventor of the device.
"Knight and Day" is close to being a comic book, but it's fast-moving and generally exciting enough to leap over the large and frequent plot holes. A fine summer movie; just make sure the theater is properly air-conditioned.
"Knight and Day" opens today at several theaters.
When a baseball team changes a pitcher, there are conferences at the mound, and signals to the bullpen, and warmup throws, and time for several commercials and even a beer or two. When a well-run theatrical company needs to make a change, the replacement slips onto the stage between numbers, and few in the audience realize it until an announcement is made.
As "Wicked," the high-powered, high-volume, high-spirited retake on the tales of the Wizard of Oz, opened at the Fox Theatre last night, Vicki Noon, co-starring as Elphaba, the green (as in color, not as inexperienced) witch, could not continue. Between "I'm Not That Girl," and the very next number, "One Short Day," Noon left the stage and was replaced by her standby, Anne Brummel. An announcement was made at intermission, observing Actors' Equity rules. Not many people had noticed. I didn't, though once I learned, along with the rest of the audience, I realized differences in the actresses' style and voices. Considering the speed of the switch, and her second-act performance, especially in "No Good Deed" ("goes unpunished," as legend says), it was quite an achievement for Brummel. The company did not announce a reason for Noon's departure, nor was there mention of her return.
The production is a delight to the eye, if an occasional pain in the ear. Eugene Lee's set, Susan Hilferty's costumes and--especially--Kenneth Posner's lights, are exciting. There's a dragon above the proscenium, its red eyes flashing from time to time. Several scenes have more green lights than a farm of Christmas trees, and there are acrobats and fliers among the cast. Natalie Daradich delights as Glinda, who arrives and departs, and just floats around, in her large bubble. Her Miss Goody Two Shoes approach was outstanding, and her occasional mangling of words hit the right comedic notes, a technique also used successfully by Marilyn Caskey as Madame Morrible, the school headmistress. Daradich's voice, however, did tend to slip into screech mode on occasion.
Don Amendolia, shown in a photo by Shari Hartbauer, is simply terrific as the Wizard, especially in "Wonderful," his duet with Brummel. A few soft shoe moves, and the skill and timing built over many years, make it an endearing performance. Chris Peluso was an effective Fiyero, a role originated on Broadway by St. Louisan Norbert Leo Butz, and David De Vries scored as Dr. Dillamond, one of the original scapegoats. Zach Hanna offered good work as Boq, the Munchkin.
Most of the familiar characters from the movie show up along the way, some with slight changes, and those familiar with the story (who isn't?) will note many similarities. The music is unmemorable, but serviceable enough, and there's a large enough amount of talent and energy on the stage to provide a good time for everyone.
"Wicked," at the Fox Theatre through July 11
Shot on location in the sparse woods and sullen landscape of southwest Missouri, where a car and a washing machine, neither in working order, serve as front-yard ornaments, "Winter's Bone" is an excellent movie, with fine, on-the-money performances. It's pessimistic and depressing, discusses family loyalty that has turned to stupidity and lives in the sub-culture of methamphetamines.
Certainly not the stuff of comedy.
Based on Daniel Woodrell's excellent novel, Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini wrote a hard, taut, unflinching screenplay and Granik directed in a stylish and understated manner, using the barren, unfertile country as a metaphor and a backdrop for the lifestyle of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), her family and friends. The 17-year-old Ree has more than enough on her plate. Her mother is living in a world far away and is unavailable to help, so the responsibility for taking care of her run-down house and her two much younger siblings falls squarely on her shoulders.
Making matters worse is the fact that her father, one of the county's finest cookers of meth, has been arrested. As bail, he put up his house and land. Then he vanished, and while Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) is kind and understanding, he plans on taking the house.
Ree goes looking for her bail-jumping father, but is shocked by the attitude of friends, neighbors, even relatives. They are following some archaic code of family loyalty, though the loyalty does not reach as far as Ree and the smaller children. In fact, in a scary scene, members of her family beat Ree to convince her to give up her search, and when she asks, "Are you going to kill me?" one of them responds that it had been discussed. Lawrence, a native of Kentucky, looks right and sounds right, offering a superior, attention-grabbing performance. John Hawkes, as her uncle, also is first-rate.
An interesting moment shows a distressed Ree, desperate to get out of her environment and perhaps make something of herself, meeting with an Army recruiter (the very good Tate Taylor) who advises her that this form of running away is not a good idea, that she seems to lack any understanding of what the Army is all about, to the point where she thinks she can take the siblings with her. He's kind, mature and understanding, and it makes one wish all Army recruiters were so sensitive.
"Winter's Bone" opens today at the Plaza Frontenac
Michael Douglas doesn't have all the rights to playing rotten guys, but he has most of them. His Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street" set a standard, and apparently just to keep in shape for the sequel, coming out later in the year, he stars in a very good movie, "Solitary Man." He is not as single-mindedly greedy as Gekko, but his portrayal of Ben Kalmen displays a man with a sleaze quotient somewhere north of genius, a sex drive to put rabbits to shame, and class and honesty that he obviously learned at the knee of Bernie Madoff.
Kalmen is an automobile dealer in the New York area who formerly billed himself as "the tri-state area's honest car salesman." When we meet him, criminal behavior in business, reprehensible behavior as a husband and selfish, dishonest behavior in every other part of his life, have left him a man just about out of options. His former wife, a sympathetic Susan Sarandon, holds him at arm's length. His girl friend (Mary-Louise Parker) has been shamed to the point where she does what she should have done years earlier. Imogen Poots, a teenager who gets her own revenge, has a splendid role, and plays it splendidly, as Parker's daughter.
The nice people are men, played warmly and sympathetically, if warily, by Danny DeVito and young Jesse Eisenberg, but then, they face little risk from the emphatically heterosexual Douglas. DeVito is a friend of long standing who understands Douglas, gives him a job in his college-town diner. That doesn't last very long because Parker's revenge comes with a reach that goes from New York to Cambridge, Mass. Eisenberg is a college student impressed by Douglas' breezy, confident, car-salesman manner, but he's smart enough to soon see through it. Eisenberg's girl friend is even smarter, realizing sooner what Douglas has in mind and shaming him badly. Unfortunately, men like Ben Kalmen never feel the shame.
As a good friend of mine says, "No one is completely useless. He can always be used as a bad example," and that's Douglas. As rotten as his behavior may be, he is a brilliant actor, and his Ben Kalmen is a gripping bad example. David Levien and Brian Koppelman are co-directors, working from Koppelman's screenplay, and they have done excellent work.
"Solitary Man" opens today at Plaza Frontenac.
Several years ago, a Super Bowl commercial humorously dealt with herding cats, a chaotic way to spend some time. Cats, however, have nothing on sheep, as shown in "Sweetgrass," a documentary that follows a huge herd of sheep for most of a year, from shearing and birthing in the spring to summer in the high country of Montana and Wyoming, and an autumn return to lower altitudes.
It's a fascinating film, with neither narration nor explanation. Most of the sound (or noise, if you prefer) comes from the sheep. Sheepherders John Ahearn and Pat Connolly, whom you could never call shepherds, provide a college-level education in profanity as they, and a large handful of dogs, herd the sheep up hill and down dale. The men, usually on horseback, use the same old words in some new and excellent combinations, sometimes riffing like a soloist in a jazz band. Friends of Lamb Chop, the famous hand puppet of Shari Lewis, may be bothered at the descriptions of sheep.
The dogs, Australian sheepdogs or border collies and a few mixed breeds, are amazing as they work the sheep, responding to vocal commands as if they spoke and understood profane English.
The film begins with shearing, and watching the men work brings amazement. Birth is next, in graphic detail, and with the necessary, if cold-blooded action of working to find babies that the ewes will nurse, and vice versa. When a sheepherder puts a newborn lamb into a sheepskin coat so that a ewe might think the lamb was hers, it's hilarious, but it also makes one root for the lamb, because it's a heartless world out there.
Going into the mountains for the summer is reminiscent of old cowboy movies with pack horses and mules carrying supplies, a large number of riders and tuneless, wordless old songs as company in the dark while watching and protecting the herd. A late-night gunfight, so to speak, with a family of bears breaks the darkness and the silence. Made by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash over a number of years, it's a rare and extremely powerful look into the reality behind "Brokeback Mountain."
"Sweetgrass," opens today at the Winifred Moore Auditorium on the Webster University campus
Jesse Eisenberg's other prominent, well-acted role this week is in "Holy Rollers," which has no connection with in-line skating, but is a standard tale of a minority (the Hasidic Jewish community in this case) trying to speed up its climb through the ranks of American society with a slick, but illegal idea. Think of dozens of Mafia movies, or "Double Indemity," or "Superfly."
Kevin Asch's feature film debut, from a story and screenplay by Antonio Macea, is based on a real incident, and on airport security's tendency to lax (as in "loose," not as in a Los Angeles airport) inspections of supposedly religious Jews in long black coats, equally long sideburns and wide-brimmed, fur-trimmed hats. Eisenberg is Sam Gold, a loving and hard-working son who wants to buy Mom a stove that works. His friend, Yusuf (an excellent performance by Justin Bartha), convinces him that smuggling pills, concealed in the hat brim, is a way to not only provide the stove, but also to become a wealthy, big-time player in a New York underground world.
Ben Kutchins' cinematography focuses on the gritty Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Crown Heights (where I grew up), and the mood is properly dark. Unfortunately, we've all seen this story many times, and while the faces and the clothes are different, this one ends just like all the others.
"Holy Rollers" opens today at the Tivoli
Across the street from the northeast corner of the Meramec Campus of St. Louis Community College, in a storefront that's evocative of old Kirkwood, the exterior, with its cream-and-black striped awning and old-fashioned, cut-glass chandeliers, feels a bit like uptown New Orleans, and the interior, with more chandeliers, soft pink lighting and paneled walls, evokes the old days on The Hill. Stuffy? Not a chance, despite the décor. The ebullient Peppe is too bubbly to let that happen, and he's nearly always on hand.
Lovers of calamari should not miss the fritto misto, its tender and very lemony squid dusted with crumbs and flash-fried. The accompanying lemon wedges are superfluous; leave these guys crisp, because the pre-crumbing lemon juice dunk is just right. The dish also carries some tempura-battered asparagus and slices of pepper, the latter remarkable for their sweetness. A salad of thinly sliced mushrooms and fennel, dressed with a light vinaigrette and topped with shaved parmigiano reggiano, was a delight, its contrast of crisp and soft adding to the diner's pleasure.
Also listed as a first course are Signora Profeta's meatballs. Peppe's mother cooked with him for many years, and these wonderful meatballs are all the credentials she needs to prove her skill. All-beef, they arrive in a tasty red sauce, with three fat polenta fries. They'd do for a light entree, but we pressed on, in the interests of our readers – and our own curiosity and appetite.
On both the appetizer side and the list of main courses, there are old standards and some newer options. We were mightily tempted by fettuccine Alfredo, one of Peppe's signature dishes and a classic preparation, but aimed instead for spaghetti al pomodori fritti, described as “fresh marinara sauce, pan seared till golden crispy” We've had this before, too, arriving in a pan-sized pancake with crisp edges. Not this time. What was placed before us was a handsome plate of al dente spaghetti, with a brilliant red tomato sauce, full of basil, absolutely as summery as a day in July. Delicious. But not fried. An inquiry got only a very vague explanation. And though it tasted good, it wasn't what we expected.
More contemporary was a pair of duck breasts, sauteed to the requested medium-rare, sauced with a demiglaze made of vin cotto, a sweet Italian dessert wine, and a garnish of peas and shallots. The duck was tasty and tender, with hints of sweetness, but it was not overwhelmingly sticky-sweet. Alongside were a few more asparagus spears, and a potato croquette, devilishly rich inside. We asked for a side of pasta with Bolognese sauce, and were rewarded with that same al dente spaghetti with a thick, dark red sauce in the classic style of Bologna, almost sweet from sauteeing the odori, the carrot, celery and onion mixture (almost like a New Orleans roux) that begins the sauce. Not much tomato, but lots of meaty flavor, including chunks of tasty, tender and very lean, beef. If the marinara sauce was July, this was February, absolutely rib-sticking.
At dinner, all of the pastas and many of the other entrees are available in half- or full portions, a good idea for the budget- or weight-conscious diner.
Desserts are made in-house, led by small cannoli that are cooked to order, and the lightly sweetened ricotta filling was a charming and cool contrast to the still-warm shell. Carrot cake turned out to be moist and pleasant, slightly spiced, the sort of thing Grandma-who-had-been-a-hippie can still turn out. (Has carrot cake stuck around longer than any of the other iconic foods of the Seventies?)
The wine list is short, both on bottles and by-the-glass choices, but reasonably priced, heavy on Italian wines, with a Sangiovese house wine that has flavor but is very young and slightly raw. To offset that, look for lots of happy customers and good food – we'd strongly advise reservations. Lunchtime is weekdays only, but we like seeing an eggplant muffaletta, a fritatta and an anchovy pizza on a lunch menu.
Peppe's Apt. 2
800 S. Geyer Rd., Kirkwood
Lunch Tues.-Fri., Dinner Tues.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
Entrees prices (full dinner portions), 14-$28
He almost reviewed it himself. Some time after Eugene O'Neill wrote "Now I Ask You,": in 1916, he said, "It's not my sort of stuff, but it's a damn good idea for a popular success." For the man who wrote "A Long Day's Journey Into Night," "Desire Under the Elms" and "The Iceman Cometh," among others, it certainly wasn't his sort of stuff. As a theatrical curiosity, "Now I Ask You," is fine, but as a play, whether comedy or tragedy, it falls very short in today's world. It opened over the weekend as a Muddy Waters production at the Kranzberg Center, and will run through June 27.
Mostly inexperienced acting didn't help either, as we deal with a high society girl, suddenly enthralled by the anarchist ideas of the World War I era, convinces her husband that open marriage will be a good idea. Think about a Nob Hill debutante falling in with the 1960s hippies of Haight-Ashbury while she's engaged to a Sausalito suitor. Of course, this being 1916, the centerpiece of an open marriage is not even mentioned. The poor girl has no idea what she is talking about.
Katie McGee, as Lucy the bride, is trapped by the part. She isn't experienced enough to be truly believable, and O'Neill's silly, sappy prose would be a supreme test for anyone. McGee is stuck with a collection of awful lines, and after a while, they defeat her. Ben Ritchie, her husband, is a stick, but he, too, must deliver lines that neither FedEx nor UPS could. Andra Harkins, as Lucy's mother, carries much of the action and does it well
Sarajane Alverson, as the loopy Leonora Barnes, is literally all over the stage, handling broad comedy with aplomb, but acting honors for the evening go to Alan C. David as Gabriel, a poet whose soul is wrapped up in pretension. He's plays petulant very well, and his ego, created by O'Neill's best lines and easily shown off by him, is large enough to play in the Rams' defensive line.
Director Jerry McAdams, trying to make chicken salad out of a sow's ear, was working with the wrong recipe.
Now I Ask You, by the Muddy Waters Theatre, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, through June 27
Roald Dahl wrote stories about children that were not for children to read. A writer who had lots of problems and a life that wasn't always kind, Dahl was often dark and bitter, and children who misbehaved could be subjected to awful punishments. But Peter Ash and Donald Sturrock, with a fine cast of singers and a host of talented technicians, have transformed Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" into "The Golden Ticket," a bright, witty opera that had its world premiere last night on the Opera Theatre of St. Louis' stage at the Loretto-Hilton Center. It will be repeated five times before it closes on June 26. It also is scheduled to be produced in Ireland as part of the Wexford Opera season in October.
Ash's music and Sturrock's libretto, brought to life by Timothy Redmond and members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and directed for the stage by James Robinson, artistic director of OTSL, were strong, definitely contemporary and a good fit with Dahl's writing style. And this being the 21st century, we had strong, fascinating visual images through the video design of Greg Emetaz, making his OTSL debut with movement, color and brightness--from rivers of chocolate to mountains of jelly beans--that were almost the ultimate eye candy.
The more traditional tech work, sets, costumes and lighting, were exquisite, especially the costumes of Martin Pakledinaz, who certainly figured out what an Oompa Loompa should wear and the proper look for a spoiled brat like Veruca Salt. Everything he designed was just right. Bruno Schwengl's set was led by the moving, four-person bed and some wonderful lettering that simply looked great and needed no reason. I thought the cage that carried Willy and Charlie up, up, up to the Heavyside Layer (oops, that's a different show) was a little overkill, and the four stagehands a rather obvious distraction. Christopher Akerlind, lighting designer for "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Eugene Onegin" in addition to "Ticket," has been lighting OTSL productions for 20 years, making everything look right while keeping a certain hard-to-define OTSL look to the stage.
Robinson's direction was solid, about as simple as you can get with a stage full of Oompah Loompas and a mixture of children and adults. He was well-focused and found the humor in Sturrock's libretto. It may be the result of a life in the theater, but the opening scene of umbrella-carrying singers, brought a memory flash of the opening scene in "My Fair Lady," and Willy Wonka himself, a fine performance by Daniel Okulitch, brought many thoughts of Harold Hill and "Music Man."
Okulitch, a rich bass-baritone, was a fine, bright Willy, the tour guide through Candyland, and young Michael Kepler Meo was a delight as Charlie and a youngster with a great deal of presence. The grandparents, a wonderful conceit by the authors and a triumph of humorous staging by Robinson, were Kristin Clayton, Mary Ann McCormick, Oren Gradus and Frank Kelley, with Kelley first among equals as Grandpa Joe. Clayton doubled as Mrs. Gloop, mother of the gluttonous Augustus (Andrew Drost); McCormick also was Mrs. Teavee, mother of the delinquent Mike (David Trudgen); and Oren Gradus doubled as Mr. Beauregard, in a cowboy suit of Hook 'em Horns orange, as father to rambunctious redhead Tracy Dahl, a Violet who expressed every emotion but subtle and was busily chewing gum (as her part calls for) every time I glanced in her direction.
Jennifer Rivera was all kinds of fun as Veruca Salt, so spoiled she was only a day away from becoming aromatic, and David Kravitz was a delight as her father.
There's good humor and lots of high-tech wizardry on display at "The Golden Ticket." The music is not memorable, but the production works.
"The Golden Ticket," an Opera Theatre of St. Louis production at the Loretto-Hilton Center, through June 26
Thornton Wilder's classic American play, "Our Town," which opened the other night as a strong, intelligent, entertaining production by Stray Dog Theatre, is a drama most people know about, but is not performed often enough on any sort of professional level. Why? Well, it has 24 characters who show up on stage and off, here and there around the theater at Tower Grove Abbey and that's a very large cast.
Director Gary F. Bell has trimmed the number to 17, with some actors doing more than one role, and that works. It's also a three-act play, of the style when "Our Town" was new in 1938, and it has to be performed in three acts today. Changing it would be absurd. That means some additional length, bothersome to those theater-goers who simply must get home in time to turn on their television sets.
But it remains a wonderful play, classic in the sense that it's still meaningful, still accessible, still vital after 72 years, and Bell brings some fine work from his cast, especially from David K. Gibbs, as the Stage Manager, and Michelle Hand and Colleen M. Backer, as the women who hold their families together.
Gibbs, tall and slender in a white suit, with a most proper sense of irony in his delivery, is brilliant. Hand and Backer, two-thirds of the original Orange Girls, are very strong, Hand as the wife of Dr. Gibbs (an excellent Mark Abels) and Backer as Emily, daughter of the newspaper editor who lives next door. Hand shows real maturity, as the character needs, and Backer is a charming, flirtatious, delightful high-schooler. Kevin Boehm, as the doctor's son who is attracted to the girl next door, shows his panicky teenage indecision quite well. Abels, in addition to a fine portrayal, also displays the rare ability to stand on stage, look at the audience and tie a bow tie that looks right.
Leslie Wobbe, as Emily's mother and the editor's wife, creates a proper small town woman in the early days of the 20th century, and watching her and Hand, often as mirror images, pantomime all the house work of the mornng, give the plays its rhythm. John Reidy is the editor, but his part is written so weakly as to give him almost no personality. Jan Niehoff, an enthusiastic wedding guest, and Viktor Freesmeier, a newsboy, also stood out
The bare set, as is traditional with the play, has a few chairs and tables to represent the houses, and they benefit from Jay V. Hall's intelligent and stylish props. Tyler Duenow's lights are effective. Bell's direction is intelligent and first-rate throughout, with the drama of the third act highlighted by Hand's intelligent, stoic expression that says everything we need to know.
Our Town, by the Stray Dog Theatre Company, at the Tower Grove Abbey through June 26
Political theater, and especially political theater with a strong social message, can turn into a polemic faster than Lou Brock stealing a base, and then it tends to become heavy and, frankly, boring. So it's a tribute to Joan Lipkin and the cast of "The State of Marriage," that they mostly avoid the deadly pothole. Her play, making a strong case for same-sex marriage with a good leavening of humor, opened last night at the Regional Arts Commission Theater, to run through June 20.
The play, 90 minutes without intermission, is a joint production of Lipkin's That Uppity Theatre Company, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and the St. Louis Actors Studio.
Lipkin, as is her wont, wrote and directed, with JT Ricroft as assistant director and choreographer. It's based on the experiences shared by some of the St. Louisans who joined an early spring bus trip from St. Louis to Iowa, where same sex marriage is legal, though Missouri does not recognize it. In addition, there are tales of the inequality before the law that same sex couples face, like being turned away while trying to visit a same sex partner in a hospital or being ineligible for Social Security or VA benefits.
Mike Van Allen and Laura Coppinger are a straight couple getting married; Keith Thompson and James Slover, and Sally Eaton and Lynda Levy Clark are a pair of homosexual couples trying to do the same thing. Alice Kinsella is a rabbi who celebrates the Coppinger-Van Allen nuptials.
The trio of Leon Braxton, better known as Dieta Pepsi, Theresa Masters and Sara Hamilton are delightful as bridesmaids, singing, clowning and dancing up a storm, including Masters doing a brief Hora. Dancing honors go to Troy Turnipseed, who also stands out as the television announcer hosting a game show known as the Leviticus Limbo. Carl Overby and Chris Brenner round out the cast. Deborah Sharn added a couple of cabaret numbers; local singers will perform each night; she's the first.
With a performing area is only slightly wider than a fashion show runway, and the audience on three sides, things are a little tight, but the acoustics have been improved greatly since the last time I saw a show at RAC. Patrick Huber is credited with set design, so let's applaud him for a wonderful, magical bus that travels to Iowa with Braxton as the driver and a miniature Marge Simpson as--well, if it were a ship, she'd be a bowsprit, so we'll call her a bussprit. Angela Grewe and Lipkin designed costumes, but the highlight of that decor was a collection of some of the ugliest bridesmaids' dresses to ever see the light of day hanging on the walls of the theater. The acting is variable, but earnest because the performers, like many people, believe in the correctness of the demand for sexual equality. They're trying to make a serious point in the midst of satire and humor--and most of the time, they make it.
"The State of Marriage," produced by That Uppity Theatre Company and the St. Louis Actors' Theatre, through June 20 at the Regional Arts Commission Theater
The giant IMAX movie screen at the St. Louis Science Center is perfect for the mind-boggling expanses of outer space, which makes its new feature, "Hubble," a glorious experience. The 45-minute film opens today, and while the tense experiences of repair work cut into the time I would prefer be devoted to astronomical glories, it's probably considered necessary when NASA uses it in an attempt to convince Congress not to abandon the space program.
Leonardo DiCaprio narrates, and some of the facts and statistics are amazing, but everything else pales when the camera focuses on Saturn, or familiar constellations, or just the vastness of what's out there. Is there anything? All answers are equally speculative.
Almost as impressive, from a cinematic viewpoint, is the takeoff of the rocket. The impressive camera work makes the hair stand up on the back of one's neck as the giant cylinder rises from its stand and leaps into the sky, trailed by a wake of flame. Toni Myers, producer-director and one of the writers, worked on the earlier films on Hubble, some 15 years ago, and the difference is fascinating, largely in the development of more sensitive equipment. What then brought a reaction of "Wow," has added several exclamation marks.
Anyone who ever has looked up at a night sky and been staggered by the view will now find so much more. I wish "Hubble" were twice as long, with all the extra time devoted to simply looking at the stars and being told more about what I was seeing.
"IMAX Hubble," opens today at the St. Louis Science Center
People feel guilty for many reasons, some legitimate and some not. They have many methods for assuaging this guilt. Catherine Keener, as Kate in "Please Give," tosses food and money at panhandling or homeless New Yorkers. She's obsessed by these street people, and by her re-sale shop, and she has little time for her 15-year-old daughter and even less for her husband as he drifts into an affair. "Drifts" may not be a completely correct term, but he's obviously ready to veer into infidelity as soon as he receives the correct signal and she appears uninterested in noticing.
"Please Give," which also includes Oliver Platt as Alex, the drifting husband, Sarah Steele in a terrific performance as the daughter, Abby, and Rebecca Hall (Rebecca) and Amanda Peet (Mary) as the neighbors, who live with their virago of a grandmother, Andra, a fine portrayal by Ann Guilbert, her hair dyed "menopause red," as one of the movie characters describes it.
Nicole Holofcener, who wrote and directed, has shown a keen eye for character development, especially among women, though she's a little fuzzy in terms of New York neighborhoods. Alex and Kate, well-defined characters, supposedly live on the Upper West Side, where their shop is located, but there are shots on Lower Fifth Avenue and other sites that do not jibe. Anyway, Alex and Kate are kind-of ghoulish scavengers. They check the death notices, then go to the apartments of the deceased, buy the furniture and accessories from a grieving relative and sell them at a New York price
They are greedy and acquisitive, and excessively cheap in other areas of their lives, as many people are. They also have their eye on Andra's apartment next door, with expansion of space and of value uppermost in their minds. So they do favors for her, even as they resent her presence, with a birthday party among the worst examples. Rebecca has her own problems, working as an X-ray technician giving mammograms and finding a social life almost impossible. Mary gives massages, spends a lot of time in beds, tanning and otherwise, and finds avoiding a social life almost impossible, though she is not in an active avoidance mode.
By the way, the opening sequence is hilarious, in a very black-humor way. We see Rebecca pereparing women for their mammograms, flopping a large number of breasts onto the machine while credits are rolling and, in the background, the Roches sing "No Shoes." Dark humor at a high level. Mary segues from business to pleasure with ease.
Steele's portrayal, and Holfocener's creation, of the 15-year-old Abby, makes her a fascinating character. She's on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, battered by both, trying to find out where she belongs, and getting no help from either -hood or either parent. But time helps in many situations, and by the time we get to an interesting, perceptive curtain line, we all may be getting somewhere. And so may Rebecca, who loosens her guard just enough to make room for Eugene, a sensitive, slightly cliched but still lovely piece of acting by Thomas Ian Nicholas.
A good movie, making us look at various relationships through a mature lens.
"Please Give" opens today at the Tivoli
"House," known as "Hausu" in Japanese, is the least horror-strewn Japanese horror film I've ever seen. Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 film, now being released here and there around the country, was Obayashi's first effort, and like many first-time directors, he gives us everything he knows. There are many attractive, imaginative sequences, some that are very strange, some that are funny. Wind plays a role, and so does a white cat, and there's a rather cartoonish severed head that seems to contain a mind of its own as it tries to act out the old expression, "Oh, bite my a--."
The cat is a villain, but an attractive one, and much of the cinematography seems there to emphasize a poetic image of girls in white dresses.
Seven pretty, lithe teen-age girls, not the Seven Dwarfs, but Oshare (Gorgeous), Fanta (Fantasy), Gari (Prof), Kun Fu (Kung-Fu), Suitto (Sweet), Matsuku (Mac) and Meredi (Melody),go to visit Gorgeous' aunt, who is confined to a wheelchair.
Their adventures are not very life-threatening, and they giggle a lot, but the film has charm and grace.
"House," opens today as part of the Webster University Film Series in the Winifred Moore Auditorium, 470 East Lockwood Rd., and runs through Sunday.
As a spoof of the James Bond genre of movies, "OSS 117: Lost in Rio," a French version by writer-director Michel Haznavicius, is often quite funny, nearly as often extremely imaginative. It loses points for a surprising amount of insulting so-called humor about Jews, but Jean Dujardin is effective as Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath.
Although we're many years after World War II, de la Bath is searching for an escaped Nazi officer who has fled to Brazil with a microfilm list of Frenchmen who collaborated with Germans. A sexy Israeli intelligence officer, Dolores (Louise Monot), battling constantly with the sexist Frenchman, is his comrade-in-arms, and the rest of the cast is filled with the same old cardboard cutouts. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. The song "Gentle on My Mind" plays over the titles, but there is not much gentle about the movie.
"OSS 117: Lost in Rio" opens today at the Tivoli.
Joe Hanrahan has a special place in the St. Louis theater world. As the founder, artistic director and half the company of the Midnight Company, he performs the roles he wants where and when he wants to do them. Thankfully, while Hanrahan often works in mysterious ways, he always offers something interesting and thought-provoking. Sometimes one thinks about a Hanrahan production for a few days, sometimes only a few minutes, but one walks from the theater with new thoughts, or a new response to some old ones.
The short, quizzical-looking Hanrahan is currently appearing in, "An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on this his Final Evening," appearing through June 24 in a small room upstairs above Dressel's Pub in the Central West End.
As we remember--or should--Faustus traded his soul to the Devil for a life of luxury and the want for nothing, but Mephistopheles has been sitting on the doctor's bed every night for 24 years, and tonight is time for Faustus to keep his part of the bargain. A silent, masked Mephistopheles, portrayed by Travis Hanrahan, is sitting on a stool when the audience files into the small room and he remains there through the 70-minute play, dressed all in black, including high-top sneakers, and wearing a white mask.
The space is small, with neither stage nor set, but Hanrahan knows how to work his room, though a little real lighting would have helped. He does not reflect about having made the deal, but he is angry that his privacy has been violated, his diary read. He carries the beaten-up book, its pages covered by markings like those of a prisoner, four straight vertical lines, then a diagonal line through them. Hanrahan likes plays that include minutiae like that.
Reflections upon whether these lines are "hatch-marks" or "hash-marks" are part of the action. Hanrahan is a good actor, and he chooses work that reflects his own philosophy, or his own questions. Mickle Maher, a Chicago-based playwright whose brother could not pronounce then name Michael, is the author,and Sarah Whitney, who has worked with Hanrahan through the years, directed. It's an interesting evening; one-man shows are tricky, but Hanrahan kept me involved and attentive, even if his point of view sometimes becomes hard to understand.
"An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This, His Final Evening," presented by the Midnight Company through June 24
Wei Hong does dim sum on Saturday and Sunday, but they also are often serving it on holidays, a welcome option for those with no plans until mid-afternoon. And it's a crowd that tends to drift in relatively late, more toward noon, with plenty of children in all age groups. Even the child-free curmudgeons can only smile at the sight of a pre-schooler tackling a sesame ball the size of a baseball, the young one's cheeks about as round as the ball. Fewer carts held more items each, we noticed, and by the time we left, most tables were ordering items off the menu to supplement
Dim sum turned out to be a mixed bag on our visit. Char siu bao, the fluffy steamed buns filled with barbecued pork, looked mangled, although they had a good proportion of meat to dough. The taste was rather standard. . But a version of shu mai, the open-faced pork dumplings, was assertively spiced with ginger and showed the coarsely ground pork at its best. (Most of the pork in the meal was that same coarse grind.) Shrimp dumplings were ordinary, especially compared to a fabulous scallop-and-crab triangle-shaped delight, full of seafood-y pleasure with just a faint hit of the ginger.
Instead of shrimp-stuffed eggplant or green peppers, the filling at Wei Hong was placed on some tofu, which made things a little less complex in the mouth but shrimpier. A vegetable-filled dumpling with a green-colored translucent rice-flour wrapper worked well with its melange of flavors, led by what seemed to be shiitake mushrooms.
And then we tried something we'd never had before. Now, taro balls have been around for a while. We've always passed them by. We'd tried taro in Hawaii and been underwhelmed by its blandness. The fuzzy balls, which look as though they've been rolled in shredded wheat, just looked, in the words of Mrs. Old China Hand, as though they were an excuse for grease.
Well, we were all wrong about the Wei Hong version. Beneath the crunch is a creamy pinkish interior that looks like a lumpy batch of refried pinto beans. The filling is studded with bits of pork and other, less identifiable things, hints of green onion and soy and other flavors. The contrast between the creamy and the crispy makes it a dazzling dish. Yes, they're a little greasy but they're worth it for an occasional splurge.
Our severs smiled a lot, but were not very facile with their English. We were among the few non-Asian patrons on this visit, which we always take as a good sign. And the price is right.
Wei Hong Seafood Restaurants
7740 Olive Blvd, University City
Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Entrees (non-dim sum): $9-$35
The St. Louis Symphony rarely has sounded better, turning "A Little Night Music" into a large and luscious musical performance, and a June night never was more perfect for anything that came to mind. There were some superb vocal moments from the stage, and the super-titles made the wonderful and clever, but convoluted lyrics of Stephen Sondheim much easier to assimilate and understand.
And yet. . . .
Isaac Mizrahi, fashion designer of great renown, displayed some lovely gowns, but true to the place and the time (Sweden at the turn of the 20th century), his color palate had to be rather subdued. Making his debut as a director of opera, he also became the first to take a curtain call without socks. His set, a lawn, was superbly green and dotted with trees, but in the course of the performance (a couple of weeks of stage time, 2 1/2 hours in actuality), branches came and went, providing work for actors in the trees, but interrupting audience focus and becoming a distraction. Another distraction came from a great deal of movement of props and furniture that interrupted and slowed the action, especially in the first act.
Mizrahi says that he's trying to meld Bergman's film with Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," but rubbing two diamonds together creates only...well, what?
The story, by Hugh Wheeler, is based on an Ingmar Bergman movie of 1955, and deals with attorney Fredrik Egerman (a very solid Ron Raines, shown center left) and his 18-year-old trophy wife, Anne (delightful Amanda Squitieri). They've been married 11 months but she remains a virgin. Meanwhile, his 18-year-old son Henrik (charming Christopher Dylan Herbert), a fumble-footed would-be dour Lutheran minister, is desperately in love--and in lust--with step-mom, even as the perky, lusty, available maid, Petra (excellent Candra Savage), tries to solve half his problem. At the same time, actress Desiree Armfelt (miscast Amy Irving, shown far left), a former mistress of Fredrik, comes to visit her aging mother, Madame Armfelt (impressive Sian Phillips), and her daughter, Frederika (cute Vivian Krich-Brinton). Filling out the cast are Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (outstanding Lee Gregory, shown above, the gentleman to the right), Desiree's jealous male of the month, and his wife, Countess Charlotte Malcolm (exciting mezzo-soprano Erin Holland, making her OTSL debut).
A wonderful quintet of singers, dressed as fairies, sprites and other forest creatures of midsummer nights, act as a sort of Greek chorus, and despite having to work from tree branches, behind shrubs and other odd sites, they are simply wonderful. Aaron Agulay, Lauren Jelencovich, Mark van Arsdale, Laura Wilde and Corinne Winters comprise the group, who fit together like a straight flush. Bass Matthew Lau, who also is Dr. Bartolo in "The Marriage of Figaro," is a late replacement as Frid, Mme. Armfelt's butler, and handles the role with style, grace and a superior bass voice.
Stephen Lord conducts a group of St. Louis Symphony musicians, and they probably give the Sondheim score the finest performance it ever has received. Their control is splendid, and the music was thrilling. Musical theater scores rarely, if ever, are performed as if they were real music, but this one was right. Speaking of "right," so is Michael Chybowski's lighting.
There's nothing wrong with Mizrahi trying to attach his own signature to "A Little Night Music." Directors do it all the time with Shakespeare, or Sondheim, and others, but Mizrahi made it fussy and too busy, and neither great Scandinavian design (the Arch) nor great Scandinavian direction (Bergman) need that sort of extra attention.
Irving, many years since her relationship with a pickle-seller in the wonderful "Crossing Delancey," has a number of bright moments, and interacts beautifully with her daughter and her lovers, past, present and future, but I think it was unfair to cast a non-singer in a show filled with real opera singers. Her breath control was occasionally off, and she seemed unsure of herself from time to time. Phillips, the other major name, is a trained singer who was Desiree in England not long ago opposite Judi Dench as Mme. Armfelt.
But considering the singing of the rest of the cast, plus the remarkable Sondheim score, "A Little Night Music" is a very good, extremely worthy evening at the theater.
"A Little Night Music," a production of Opera Theatre of St. Louis at the Loretto-Hilton Center, June 9, 11, 15, 17, 19.
"Hair," on stage has had almost as many adapters, stylists and camp-followers as hair on head. "The Me Nobody Knows" was one of them, coming to New York a couple of years later. Based on some poems and essays written by New York school children, enhanced by music from composer Gary William Friedman and lyrics from Will Holt, it had some success and some good reviews. It opened last night at the Grandel Theatre as the final production of the Black Rep's 2010 season, and will run through June 27.
Although there's no burning of draft cards or revolutionary nudity (no nudity of any type), the show involved young people looking for a brighter, freer future than their parents and grandparents experienced. They do it almost as a revue, with no plot or story line, but a lot of song and dance from a cast of young performers, mixed with a few vignettes about life in Harlem. It's often powerful and effective, sometimes slightly dull.
The production is directed by Ron Himes, with simple choreography by Heather Beal and Chuck Creath a standout as the musical director.
The usual acoustic problems left some lyrics difficult to understand, but for the most part, the performers showed considerable style and grace. Working on a simple set, representing a Harlem street, by Regina Garcia, Chauncy Thomas was a real standout as Clorox, speaking with passion about a street corner incident involving a black man, passers-by and police, and showing fine vocal skills in bitter, angry renditions of "Rejoice, Children" and "Black," the latter a gorgeous trio with Sharisa Whatley as Nell and Alexis White as Melba. White also scores in the opening song, "Dream Babies," and the two women have a standout performance of "Sounds." Whatley brightens the stage from beginning to end.
John Reed II, as Carlos, is another strong performer, usually as a prisoner hemmed in by a fence topped with razor wire, but he and Abigail Oldham have a lovely duet. On the lighter side, Peter Winfrey scores with "I Love What Girls Have" and Tyler White and Demetrius Sylvester lead the ensemble into "Flying Milk and Runaway Plates." Alessandra Silva, Anthony Tarvin Jr. and Tre'von Griffith also brightened the evening.
Lyricist Holt and his late wife, Dolly Jonah, were early Gaslight Square entertainers, long enough ago that when they first sang at the Crystal Palace, it was on Olive Street east of Grand Boulevard. They also worked with the original Second City, both here and in Chicago.
"The Me Nobody Knows," a St. Louis Black Repertory Company production at the Grandel Theatre through June 27.
But family and children, in an accidental combination of births and the well-known, inexorable passage of time, are a constant presence.
Clown extraordinaire and charming Sancho Panza, Giovanni Zoppe, introduced his eight-month-old son, balanced on his hand and wearing a red hat identical to his father's. Fierce equestrian Sasha Alexandre Nevidonski showed off his son, Leo, and aerial ribbon standouts Andrew Adams and Erika Gilfether also had a newborn son on display. Time has made its own impact on the Arches, the young tumblers who were skinny, scrabbly children in the early 1990s,when they first drew cheers. Now, the originals have grown into highly attractive young men and women, and some are ready to begin careers of their own. Hentoff's daughter, Elliana Hentoff-Killian was two weeks old when Zoppe, as Nino the clown, introduced her to circus audiences. Now she's part of a team, the Elliare Duet, paired with Claire Kuciejczyk-Kernan in aerial balance and dance on the lyra.
It's impossible to discuss Flora performers in terms of "better than," because I was like any other kid at the circus, and we all sat spellbound in the tent, our eyes wide with wonder, our hair (for those who have some) practically standing on end with excitement.
Julien Posada is thrilling on the slack wire, with a flamenco beat; Adams and Gilfether, as Adamo, are exciting and work in perfect harmony; Jenny Vidbel leads, in delightful style, a dozen white Welsh ponies and a few sheepdogs through a variety of tricks; Vince Bruce, grizzled and gnarled enough to have ridden the range with Will Rogers and Tom Mix, on a pair of gorgeous paint horses that might have been ridden by Tonto, makes his whips crackle like July 4 firecrackers, and twirls a rope in the style they made famous; Nevidonski rides his black horse as if he were Alfred Noyes' Highwayman, galloping along the road that "was a ribbon of moonlight. . . up to the old inn door."
The Cossack Riders, Omar Chinibekov, Sergey Latokhin and Elexey Bashaev, thundered around the ring while one of them achieving the feat of clinging to a galloping horse while crawling down one side, under its belly and up the other side. And the Pages, seven fliers, mesmerized the audience with their trapeze work. Willy, Jill, Mercedes, Anthony and April Page teamed with Eric Craft and Vanya Ponce for the usual flips and soaring exchanges which were glorious no matter how many times one sees them.
No circus is complete without clowns, and Zoppe is a remarkable clown who also works the trapezes, the swings, handles animals, including the only egg-laying rooster in the Western World, and gets involved in a funny, intricate, choreographed Indian-club throwing routine with the Arches, the veteran ringmaster Cecil MacKinnon, a talented, witty performer who has been with Circus Flora its entire 24 years.
Circus! Like dance, it needs no spoken language to entertain and instruct. I've had two chances to run away with a circus, and I still wonder what might have happened. . . .
Circus Flora, through June 27 on the Powell Hall parking lot, Grand Center
They live in Mohawk Valley, N.Y., an upstate community that has a Remington plant and little else.
Don Mosher served with American forces in Vietnam and several Middle Eastern wars, came home, worked at Remington for a few weeks until, as he says, he realized a trained ape could do his job as a bolt maker. Then he joined the Mohawk Valley police department. He drank. He beat his wife. He basically ignored his children, ended a relationship with his sister because she was a Wiccan. He never spoke about his days at war, but he could not attend July 4 ceremonies because the fireworks spooked him. He cannot say "I love you" to his children.
He knows something is wrong but. . . .
"We wouldn't know normal if it fell on us," he says.
His wife, Dottie, married too young, bore children too young, may have welcomed the beatings because they meant Don.
And she watched her daughters, Donna and Danael, follow the same cycle, marrying too young, having children too young, accepting beatings as part of life. She tried to talk to them, but like so many children everywhere, no one listened. The cycle continued through a son who has spent his life in and out of jail, two daughters who went from bad relationships to worse ones.
"If he doesn't smack her around," says Danael, reflecting on the men in her life, "he'll make her wish he did smack her around."
Desiree, Danael's pre-teen daughter, already sees what life has in store for her; she says she's smarter than her mother and her aunt, and says she will not follow in their footsteps. Knowing where the footsteps lead may be the best thing she has going for her.
Donal, brother to Donna, Danael and Chris, broke away from the family cycle and left home, possibly with greater ease because he is gay. He became a photographer and a writer, and met Palmieri in San Francisco, where they began working together. Donal said the family had the final edit; if anything displeased them, he would remove it. The result is an eerie film, shot in shadows and dark places, focused on odd things and minutiae of this fearful and scary family. Knowing that all the principals saw the footage and accepted it makes the whole thing more frightening. And enlightening.
"October Country" opens today and runs through June 10 at 7:30 p.m. daily in the Winifred Moore Auditorium, 470 East Lockwood Ave., on the Webster University campus.
Simon still was in his 20s when he was hired by Caesar, joining a writing group that included Woody Allen (Gary Wayne Barker), Larry Gelbart (Jordan Reinwald), Mel Tolkin (Bob Harvey), Lucille Kallen and Selma Diamond (combined into a single character, played by Kirsten Wylder), Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (the same, played by Bobby Miller) and Michael Stewart (B. Weller). Christian Vieira is the young, inexperienced Simon, who also sets the scenes and provides a little background; Alexandra Woodruff is the naive secretary, Helen.
And then, badda boom badda bing, there's Alan Knoll as Caesar, way over the top in a role written for the hyperactive Nathan Lane. Knoll is as effective as Lane was when I saw the play during its nine-month run on Broadway 16 years ago. Knoll rants and raves, cowers behind his desk, pleads and harangues, goes all out physically and verbally. It's a powerful performance, with misplaced words and malapropisms adding flavor like salt on a steak. He thinks, at one moment, that the writers should quit their jobs and, in effect, go on strike, adding, "If someone doesn't want to quit, well, he can walk out the door and leave right now."
Knoll is perfectly matched by Miller and Barker. Miller, going from one wild sport coat to another as the comedy progresses, has most of the best lines, the throwaway zingers that Brooks and Reiner took to the furthest of extremes. His face has become hilariously pliable through the years I've watched him, and Miller is masterful in his timing, hitting his lines to perfection, a skill I learned about one night in post-performance conversation with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Barker, seen mostly in more serious roles, swings happily into comedy and just nails the egotistic, hypochondriacal Allen in perfect style.
Wylder takes on the role of the woman who wants equality--she does not want to be known as a "woman writer," but "just as a writer"--and she excels as a participant who checks her gender at the door of the writers' room and becomes just as profane as her colleagues. It's a fine performance.
Bob Harvey adds an accent to his profanity and spars nicely with Miller, and Reinwald, as the Gelbart character, offers a fine contrast, his vocal approach softer, but his verbal darts striking sharply. Viera is effective as the young Simon, approaching his colleagues as if he were walking through a mine field, and Weller provides another balancing point. Woodruff, as the put-upon secretary, did well with her attitude, and also in a discussion with Miller.
The new space at the Jewish Community Center had a couple of minor lighting glitches on opening night, but otherwise appeared to come through in fine style. It's far more comfortable, with better sight lines and acoustics than the former basement space, and appears to be a large improvement with more versatility in its seating arrangements. Scott C. Neale's scenic design worked nicely, with basic office furniture of the 1950s and room for the nine-person cast to move comfortably. The bagels were late to arrive, but the humor showed up right on schedule as the theater closed its 13th season on a high note.
"Laughter on the 23rd Floor," produced by the New Jewish Theater at the Jewish Community Center through June 20.
A talented cast gives the film more strength, with excellent work from a witchy Naomi Watts as an attorney who happily inserts her sexuality into relationships for fun and/or profit; a struggling Annette Bening who has yet to recover from an illegitimate child of her adolescence and a feisty Sareeka Epps also carrying a child whose future she wants to guarantee. And there are fine performances from Jimmy Smits, S. Epatha Merkeson and Samuel L. Jackson. The wonderful Cherry Jones is on hand, too, a link among the various mothers and children, but I wish directors would hire her to portray a character who is not a nun.
Karen (Bening), a physical therapist, lives with her mother (Eileen Ryan) and resents her close relationship with her Latino housekeeper and her child. She also wonders about the child she gave up for adoption. Elizabeth (Watts), herself an adoptee and also a beautiful, brilliant attorney, seduces her boss (Jackson) as a long stride on her way to becoming a partner. And then, out of sheer meanness or as an act of sub-conscious revenge merely to impede someone else's good relationship, coldly does the same thing to a next-door neighbor whose wife is pregnant. Sexual tension is an important part of this film, and Watts creates it brilliantly.
A parallel plot involves Kerry Washington, as Lucy, who is trying to adopt a child after failing to become pregnant by her husband. Epps, a pregnant teenager (as Bening once was), knows what she wants for her baby, and her interrogation of Washington comes awfully close to being an inquisition at times. Merkerson, warm and far from the detective of "Law & Order," is Washington's mother, calm and helpful.
There's a great deal going on in Garcia's plot, including some wonderful acting by Jimmy Smits as a co-worker of Bening's, trying diligently to break through the solid bubble she has constructed to keep the world away. Despite the occasional drifting into soap opera, "Mother and Child" is a fine movie, showing a great deal of warmth and love as the various characters, like ourselves in many ways, continue to construct obstacles for ourselves.
"Mother and Child" opens today at the Plaza Frontenac
Anne Bass is a wealthy woman. Immensely wealthy, mainly because of a huge divorce settlement from Texas oil billionaire Sid Bass, she has given generously to many arts organization, primarily those involving dance. On a trip to Angkor Wat in 2000, she was convinced to attend a dance recital by the Wat Bo School in Preah Kahn, and among the participants was a 16-year-old Cambodian boy, Sokvannara Sar.
"Dancing Across Borders," directed by Bass, is an unexciting documentary film that follows her attempts to turn him into Mikhail Baryshnikov or Rudolf Nureyev. Cambodian folk dance, while requiring talent and intense instruction, is not classic ballet, but neither Bass nor her bankroll were deterred.
The boy was eager, and had some talent, and worked diligently for almost five years with Olga Kostritzky and other dance teachers like Jock Soto and Peter Boal. He also was hired by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, in Seattle, when Boal became artistic director of the company.
Sar and Bass posed for photos when "Dancing Across Borders" opened in New York a couple of months ago, but I could find no information as to what the boy is doing now. Bass' charitable feelings may have been honorable, but the film's celebration of a rich, white American woman taking an Asian boy from Cambodia to support these feelings leaves one rather suspicious about many things, and not very entertained by watching a boy struggling to learn to live in a different world, not to mention learning ballet.
"Dancing Across Borders" opens today at the Tivoli.