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Girls & Boys
Written by Dennis Kelly; directed by Lyndsey Turner
Performances through July 22, 2018
Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys (photo: Marc Brenner)
That Carey Mulligan is astonishing in Dennis Kelly’s one-woman play Girls & Boys is no surprise. For the past decade, Mulligan has given full-throttle portrayals in movies as varied as An Education (her Oscar-nominated breakthrough), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Shame, Suffragette and Far from the Madding Crowd. Onstage she’s distinguished herself on Broadway in The Seagull and David Hare’s Skylight (for which she received a Tony nomination) and off-Broadway in a failed adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, in which she shone above the moribund goings-on around her.
What Mulligan does in Girls & Boys—a monologue by a wife and mother who has undergone a traumatizing, devastating event—is to consistently rivet us with an alternately hilarious and emotionally shattering performance, despite the shopworn material Kelly gives to her. For much of the play, this nameless woman describes her life since meeting her husband (cutely, of course, while queuing to board a flight) in a monologue that has humorous asides, as when hubby-to-be deals with a pair of gorgeous models trying to cut the queue.
Scattered amid her conversations are scenes showing her miming everyday dealings with her two (invisible) children, in a room that—in designer Es Devlin’s clever hands—looks like a sterile dream state, everything in it a kind of cool blue that occasionally bursts into colorful vibrancy. This woman’s life moves along parallel tracks: she’s doing brilliantly at making documentaries, and she, her husband and kids make up a lovely family. Until….
When Woman describes—in exceedingly and unnecessarily explicit detail—how her idyllic life is destroyed, Kelly’s writing can’t hope to keep up with the devastating direction he wants to take to kill his protagonist’s happiness. There’s something schematic about the way her life is ripped apart, as if Kelly simply wanted to give her (and us) the most shocking thing he could think of. Even Lyndsey Turner’s initially solid direction turns soggy, as if she couldn’t figure out a plausible way to get past it.
Whatever emotional power is wrested out of this exercise in dramatic shortcuts is due to Mulligan’s thoroughly charming, persuasive and incisive portrayal of an ordinary woman living a full life (kids, marriage, job) that’s suddenly torn from her. Mulligan gives the early light-hearted parts sardonic bite, balanced by her increasingly harried interactions with the children; when unspeakable tragedy finally rears its head, Mulligan maintains her composure and does the heavy lifting that keeps us captivated even when the writing lets her down.
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, New York, NY
Written by Jordan Harrison; directed by Pam MacKinnon
Performances through July 15, 2018
Ian Harvie, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Cindy Cheung in Log Cabin (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Log Cabin, Jordan Harrison’s bumpy but funny play about gays and lesbians coming to terms with their unexpected new status as “elites,” makes pertinent points while painting with a broad brush how much—or how little—the country’s attitudes toward gender and sexuality have changed in the past few years.
We first meet two couples that are close friends: Ezra and Chris, recently married after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to legalize same-sex marriage; and Pam and Jules, in whose well-appointed Brooklyn apartment (with a balcony!) the play is set. Pam and Jules decide to have a baby, and the baby monitor never gives anyone peace when the men come to visit. One day, Henry, a friend of Ezra (they went to the high school prom together when Henry was female), comes over with his girlfriend Myna—what a terrible name to give to someone!—in tow.
Henry’s arrival discombobulates everyone, since the two couples have finally won their equal rights but Henry reminds them that the fight is far from over for others like him: will they help out trans people or be content with their own gains?
Harrison’s script—filled with zingers flying in all directions, like Ezra being uncomfortable with the term “cis” because “it sounds like sissy”—is basically out of a sitcom, where the characters are mainly differentiated by how quickly they can hurl the next witticism at the others. But Harrison also tosses in a surrealistic curve ball when the women’s baby, Hartley, in his bedroom, is played by one of the actors. (Later, when another in the group gives birth, we get two adult actors playing infants, to fairly unilluminating returns.)
Despite contrivances involving overheard conversations from the baby monitor and the convoluted family dynamics among the group following a second pregnancy, Log Cabin—whose title evokes the gay Republican organization founded in 1977—manages to be entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. Pam MacKinnon directs adroitly on Allen Moyer’s handsome apartment set, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Ezra), Phillip James Brannon (Chris), Cindy Cheung (Pam), Dolly Wells (Jules) and Ian Harvie (Henry) make up a first-rate comic cast.
Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
Blu-rays of the Week
The Colossus of Rhodes
Spaghetti western master Sergio Leone’s first directorial credit was for this bloated and campy 1961 swords-and-sandals epic set on the ancient Greek isle where rebel heroes battle tyrannical rulers, all before the gaze of the huge statue—one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—guarding the harbor.
Indifferent acting and cheesy spectacle notwithstanding, there’s a frisson of excitement when the colossal structure is sent to its doom in a devastating earthquake. The film looks fine in hi-def; lone extra is an audio commentary.
(Film Movement Classics)
Derek Jarman’s 1991 adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s classic play about the lascivious king of England is marked with the director’s eclecticism, his brandishing of obvious anachronisms and his glee at tweaking an established entry in the theater canon with his own unmistakable stamp.
Unsurprisingly starring one of Jarman’s discoveries, Tilda Swinton, it works effectively, with several moments of sheer visceral pleasure. There’s a good hi-def transfer; lone extra is a retrospective featurette.
This gentle Tokyo-set character study, a sympathetic depiction of a lonely middle-aged woman who decides to enroll in an English-language course taught by an American, takes a long time to get where it’s going. Though Josh Hartnett is not my idea of an intelligent expat, the Japanese roles are all persuasively performed, particularly Shinobu Terajima in the lead.
Director Atsuko Hirayanagi presides over a small-scale comedy drama about ordinary people. The hi-def transfer is fine; lone extra is a Hirayanagi interview.
Wherein Margot Robbie proves that her sex appeal and talent—enough for two characters here—can ride roughshod over even the most ridiculously plotted story of double crossings, killings, and torture.
Robbie plays a greasy-spoon waitress and a glamorous femme fatale, while Simon Pegg looks completely lost amidst the convoluted goings-on and Mike Myers comes out of semi-retirement to play a bald villain who gets his comeuppance in a pointlessly torture-porn sequence. It looks impressive on Blu-ray; extras are cast and writer-director Vaughn Stein interviews.
DVDs of the Week
Six Films by Nikolas Geyrhalter
Austrian iconoclast Nikolaus Geyrhalter has made several eye-opening, thought-provoking documentaries over the past couple of decades, and this set collects six of them, all worth seeing for the director’s artfully composed, brilliantly shot and often unsettling images.
Included are his stark but beautiful 1999 look at the ruined area surrounding Chernobyl, Pripyat; the massive four-hour epic Elsewhere (2001); his masterpiece, 2005’s Our Daily Bread, whose Blu-ray version allows viewers to better appreciate the pristine compositions of animal factory workers; 2011’s Abendland; 2015’s Over the Years; and 2016’s haunting Homo Sapiens.
Master director Laurent Cantet—whose The Class, Time Out and Human Resources are among the best French imports of the past 20 years—returns with another incisive and pertinent study of class and generational differences. Marine Hands gives a finely shaded portrayal as Olivia, a novelist from Paris who holds summer writing workshops for a diverse group of teenagers at a coastal town.
Ethnic and class divisions become more pronounced among the group, and Olivia finds herself drawn to Antoine, an outsider whose talent is hidden by his extremist views. Cantet’s understated direction works wonders with the talented young performers, especially in their supercharged classroom arguments.
Isabella Boylston as Odette, photo by Gene Schiavone
A terrific season at the American Ballet Theater at Lincoln Center reached another peak on the evening of Tuesday, June 19th, with a thrilling performance of Kevin McKenzie’s production of the immensely popular Swan Lake, set to the glorious score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, with exhilarating choreography after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The handsome sets and costumes were designed by Zack Brown while the effective lighting is by Duane Schuler.
The event was unforgettable for its brilliant cast led by Isabella Boylston, magnificent as Odette-Odile—this was her strongest work I have yet seen. Her astonishing partner as Prince Siegfried was the sensational Daniil Simkin, one of the finest dancers in the company, who dazzled the previous week as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet.
Thomas Forster was a forceful Rothbard, marvelously doubled by Alexandre Hammoudi in the third act. Joseph Gorak who shone as Benno, the prince’s friend, was delightfully complemented by the excellent Cassandra Trenary and Stephanie Williams in the pas de trois from the first act.
Many other dancers deserve mention. In the second act, Rachel Richardson, Jin Zhang, Mai Aihara and Betsy McBride—she was also the Hungarian princess in the third act—comprised the extraordinary quartet of cygnettes, followed exquisitely by Katherine Williams and Catherine Hurlin in the duet of swans.
The third act featured several more wonderful artists including Isadora Loyola, Erica Lall, and Elina Miettinen as the Spanish, Italian and Polish princesses, respectively. Kelley Potter and Duncan Lyle excelled in the Czardas while Courtney Lavine, Sung Woo Han, Brittany Degrofft and Gray Davis were superb in the Spanish Dance. Finally, Luis Ribagorda and Garegin Pogossian also entranced in the Neapolitan dance. The outstanding corps de ballet executed the most impressive work I have seen by them this season. I excitedly look forward to next week’s presentation of the always enjoyable Don Quixote.
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