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Directed by Alex TimbersBook by Alex Timbers; music & lyrics by Michael FriedmanChoreographed by Danny MeffordStarring Benjamin Walker, Maria Elena Ramirez, Ben SteinfeldAlex Timbers' play is a stunning satirical revisionist history of America's seventh president Andrew Jackson as a genocidal Indian killer. It's done in a rock idiom that takes the edge off and makes him seem almost a man of his time as well as/rather than a political murderer. But with some present day vernacular, it takes on immediacy. It's a commentary on the past and also on the present day politics of state killing that is rare in its gut-wrenching toughness.Chandeliers are suspended over the audience and stage. Walls are hung with oils of the grandees of the time. Here comes Jackson (Benjamin Walker) and his crew chanting, "Populism, yeah yeah! Take a stand against the elite. They don't care anything for us!" They raise their fists. "Populism, yeah yeah." The cast is vibrant and full of energy. Timbers' text and Michael Friedman's lyrics are truthful and outrageous.Jackson's family was killed by Indians. We see the arrows flying. Andrew and his wife Rachel (Maria Elena Ramirez) throw blood at each other. He declares, "I will make them all bleed." He says, "Rachel, I love you, but I've also got to kill the entire native population." What a history lesson! Walker might be as charismatic as Jackson was.Jackson was elected president in 1828. We see Washington politicians John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, John Calhoun, Henry Clay, and James Monroe in their white ruffled collars. They propose a corrupt deal. But Jackson is against the Washington insiders, the aristocracy. We give those Wall Streeters a chance, he says, and they'll destroy the nation.So what was he proposing instead? His populist "direct democracy"? That turned out to be posturing to crowds. Calhoun and Van Buren were his vice presidents. But the play points out that he was also for shutting down the national bank, a private institution that had been made the depository of federal revenues from which some rich and powerful men earned generous profits.However, the theme is Jackson's overriding failure on human rights. He owned slaves. In the play, his wife quips, "I always thought I'd live in a house with a dog and some kids and a few slaves."He signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, forcing tribes east of the Mississippi to move to the west so whites could steal their lands. We see his deal with Blackhawk (Ben Steinfeld), who betrayed the Indians.How come the Democratic Party is still holding Jackson Day dinners? How come it takes an inventive rock musical to bring the issue to the American public?With Friedman's eclectic rock music and Danny Mefford's choreography (including a Nutcracker-style ballet and a rock dance with rifles) this production is a powerful and pulsating in-your-face denunciation of an American genocide.Bloody Bloody Andrew JacksonPublic Theater425 Lafayette StreetNew York, New York212-967-7555Opened April 6, 2010; closes June 27, 2010
For more by Lucy Komisar: TheKomisarScoop.com
Photos: Joan Marcus
Directed by Prakash JhaWritten by Anjum Rajabali, Prakash JhaStarring Ajay Devgan, Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai, Sarah Thompson
After an abominable opening sequence, with a fast-talking narrator spewing a parade of so many names and interlocking relationships you need a scorecard, the sprawling Hindi political drama Raajneeti (literally, "Politics," contextually, "Affairs of State") squanders whatever high-minded notions it originally may have had and devolves into a pulpy potboiler -- parliament elections by way of The Godfather. Blatantly: One character awakens not with a bloody horse's head in his bed, but his bloody gay lover. The Michael Corleone character, complete with WASP girlfriend, tries to get out but gets pulled back in, and sees his heir-apparent brother killed at his car by the family's rivals. One character even paraphrases a signature line from The Godfather Part II, instructing, "This is politics. Here, keep your enemy close to you."This might certainly play well in India, where the admittedly Godfather-inspired Sarkar (2005) was a critical and commercial hit. But the highly specific milieu of Indian parliamentary elections carries a resonance that's lost on mainstream U.S. audiences -- who, as well, hear the term "Bollywood" and expect musical sequences. Raajneeti being in no way a musical, the only big chorus-dance number, taking place naturalistically at a nightclub, gets as truncated as those expectations. The film is also a modern-day telling of the ancient epic poem Mahabharata, further cementing its Indian sensibilities and diminishing its American cinema viability.To be fair, so does its wild potboiler of a story. A young woman (Nikhila Trikha), 27 years ago, had an out-of-wedlock baby with a leftist leader we hear no more about. The baby is put, Moses-like, into a basket on the river by the woman's brother, Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar), a political power-behind-the-throne in a region of the country that’s unclear here. The child grows up to be the charismatic Sooraj (action star Ajay Devgan, seen here in 2007's Cash and 2008's U Me aur Hum), who wants to run for election to represent the lower castes. Ah, it's our movie's hero! Whoops, no, just one of a tangled cast of characters whose story arcs virtually all end badly if they even make it to the end of the film.As succinctly as possible: Political party leader Bhanu Pratap (Jehangir Khan) suffers a stroke and hands power to his younger brother, Chandra (Chetan Pandit), and Chandra's son, Prithvi (Arjun Rampal). This enrages Bhanu's scheming son, the villainously mustached Veerendra (Majoj Bajpai), who recruits Sooraj to help shore up his uncertain power base. Meanwhile, Prithvi's younger brother, visiting American Ph.D. candidate Samar (Ranbir Kapoor, star of 2009's terrific Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year) must stay in India after Veerendra's camp has Chandra killed. Rich party girl Irdu (Katrina Kaif) must marry Prithvi instead of Samar, whom she loves but who doesn't love her, and car bombs go off, and a crooked police chief get beaten to death with a baseball bat, and the three main women characters each get pregnant after having sex once …it all eventually becomes so ridiculous and over-the-top violent that there is nobody, nobody, to root for. By the end, you're almost rooting for the villainous Veerendra simply because all the nominal good guys turn out to be even worse.Played too straight to enjoy as satire, too seriously to enjoy as campy fun and too insularly Indian to mean anything to Americans, Raajneeti at least has a historical distinction of having some of Bollywood's most graphic sex scenes -- which is to say, not very.
For more by Frank Lovece: FrankLovece.com
Blu-rays of the WeekOndine
(Opus Arte)The great German modernist composer, Hans Werner Henze, turns 84 in July, and is still going strong. This recording of his best-known ballet Ondine — from performances last year at London’s Royal Opera House—prove that his seminal collaboration with British choreographic master Frederick Ashton (which premiered in 1958 with ballerina extraordinaire Margot Fonteyn in the lead role) is a match made in musical and dance heaven. Ondine is one of Henze’s most vigorous and thrilling scores, and Ashton’s scintillating choreography matches it note for note. This first-rate performance, starring diminutive Miyako Yoshida as the water nymph heroine, has been captured on HD in all its visual and aural glory (the music sounds sensational), and there’s a short bonus interview with the frail yet sharp-minded composer.
Dialogues des Carmelites(Opus Arte)Although Francis Poulenc is known for some of the 20th century’s wittiest music—like his one-act comic opera The Tits of Tiresias -- it’s the stately tragedy that premiered in 1957, Dialogues des Carmelites, that’s his most affecting score. This powerful drama, set in a convent of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution, ends with the sound of the guillotine. There’s no way to remain indifferent when hearing Poulenc’s intense music as the opera moves toward its inevitable tragic climax, and Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s stark, simple production (with black and white as dominant colors on a near-bare stage) visually reinforces that notion. Lehnhoff’s 2008 staging is nearly ruined by the television director, who ham-fistedly shortchanges Poulenc’s shockingly blunt ending by too much clever cross-cutting of close-ups of the nuns before they meet their deaths. Luckily, the music (in capable conductor Simone Young’s hands), despite such butchery, still resonates.
DVDs of the Week
Gamera(Shout Factory)Japan’s second most famous monster—after you know whom—returns in this newly restored version of the original movie that brought the extra-large turtle to prominence. As befitting a schlocky ‘60s monster movie, Gamera is silly throughout, with the usual parade of cheap-looking effects, but that’s immaterial in the broader sense: this creature—awakened from hibernation under the Arctic ice after a nuclear explosion—is befriended by an adorably cherubic boy, and so becomes one of the good guys. This black and white “classic” (the sequels were shot in color) looks about as good as it ever will, and the extras include an informative audio commentary by August Rangone and a retrospective making-of featurette.
Ghostwriter: Complete Season One(Shout Factory)In the nearly 20 years since its debut (and 15 years since its cancellation), the PBS mystery series Ghostwriter has nearly been forgotten among the crappy shows that have come and gone since. But since this is one of the smartest “all ages” programs ever (from the folks behind Sesame Street, the Children’s Television Workshop), it’s a pleasure to have it back again. Ghostwriter follows a group of Brooklyn teens who receive cryptic messages from their computers that help them solve neighborhood mysteries both innocuous and more serious. With guest stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Mark-Linn Baker and Spike Lee, the program still offers hours of intelligent entertainment, and the five-disc set (with all 28 episodes) includes a 12-page “casebook” for those who want to sleuth at home.
CDs of the Week
Shostakovich: Cello Works(Praga Digitals)Two Czech musicians — cellist Michal Kanka and pianist Jaromir Klepac — play three chamber works by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): the D minor cello sonata from 1934, an alternately somber and playful work that the men sink their instruments into with grit and clarity; two brief pieces from the 1951 Ballet Suite, which are dispatched with vigor; and, finally, Shostakovich’s last chamber work, the Viola Sonata, which sounds even more despairing and haunting played on the cello’s low registers. These are vital performances of some of the most inward-looking music of the past century, reminding us yet again of Shostakovich’s singular genius as a composer.
Czech Piano Trios: Florestan Trio(Harmonia Mundi)Over a century of Czech music is heard on this charming CD, with the excellent Florestan Trio playing works by Bedrich Smetana (from 1855), Bohuslav Martinu (1930), and Petr Eben (1986). Smetana’s Trio is a typical Romantic work reminiscent of Schumann and Brahms, but with his own voice peeking through. Martinu—who, along with Leos Janacek, is the heart of Czech music of the first half of the 20th century—is represented by his fleet, brief first piano trio, while Eben (who died three years ago) has penned a trio in an unabashedly tonal but muscular style. Pianist Susan Tomes, violinist Anthony Marwood and cellist Richard Lester give exciting readings of these works, which give us a tasty entrée into a neglected corner of Bohemian chamber music.
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