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Written by Harvey Fierstein; directed by Moises Kaufman
Performances through February 24, 2019
Mercedes Ruehl and Michael Urie in Torch Song (photo: Joan Marcus)
It’s rare to see a Broadway show as bighearted, sentimental, funny and heartbreaking as Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song. At its 1982 premiere, it was a four-hour behemoth titled Torch Song Trilogy, earning raves and two Tony awards for its author/lead actor, who played Arnold Beckoff, the lovably cranky drag performer at its center. Now shortened by an hour and losing a word from its title, it might be even more affecting with some meat trimmed off its bones.
The probing Torch Song, which dramatizes Arnold’s successful onstage work as Virginia Hamm and his unsuccessful offstage life comprising fraught relationships with his bisexual ex, adopted teenage son and homophobic but protective mom, is set in the pre-AIDS era. Arnold’s lover Alan has been killed in a hate crime, beaten to death outside their apartment, a subtle reminder of the horrors gay men faced while trying to live their lives. Fierstein’s trimmed version and Moises Kaufman’s staging keep Arnold’s disparate relationships—with his mother; with Ed, who left him to marry a woman, but who returns when she throws him out; and with his adopted (and gay) son David—front and center.
Arnold, who is presented with naked honesty, is annoying without becoming wearying, a difficult tightrope walk which Michael Urie accomplishes with exceptional skill, his deadpan looks after spitting out a lethal line or campy reactions after a deadpan reading allowing him to make Arnold sympathetic by showing him in his entirety: as performer and lover, father and son, joker and mourner.
The same goes for Mercedes Ruehl in the (admittedly) scene-stealing part of Arnold’s mother. Although Ruehl is an old hand at the killer pause, double take or exasperated retort, her Jewish mother who can’t understand why her son is gay is anything but clichéd. This delectable mother-son rapport has genuine—if occasionally uncomfortable—feeling.
The rest of the cast—Michael Hsu Rosen (Alan), Jack DiFalco (David), Ward Horton (Ed) and Roxanna Hope Radja (Lauren, Ed’s wife)—remains a step behind only because Urie and Ruehl are on such a rarefied plane. But everybody does justice to a humane work of art that has only deepened with age.
Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, New York, NY
Blu-rays of the Week
Crazy Rich Asians
Considered an historic film as the first Hollywood studio release to have an all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club, director Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of the first of a trilogy of novels by author Kevin Kwan is certainly an audience-pleaser (check out its huge box office numbers).
Although it’s essentially a high-gloss soap opera, entertaining and enervating in equal measure, it has a classy, charismatic cast led by Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh and Henry Golding. The Blu-ray looks great; extras include Chu and Kwan’s commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurette and a gag reel.
Rambo—First Blood II
Before Rambo became a jingoistic joke, it’s pretty much been forgotten that the first film, First Blood, was an exciting action picture, well directed by Ted Kotcheff and with fine support by Richard Crenna and Brian Dennehy to offset Sly Stallone’s cardboard mumbling hero.
But things got worse once the ideological idiocy was amped up, and the second and third entries are barely watchable if instructive looks at Reagan’s America’s ultimate in patriotism—or, as the current White House occupant would have it nowadays, nationalism. These new releases feature sparkling hi-def restorations in 4K and standard Blu-ray, along with a mix of new and vintage interviews and featurettes.
Jeannette—The Childhood of Joan of Arc
The ultimate provocateur, Bruno Dumont, is back with his latest, which, believe it or not, is a head-banging musical about the beloved saint’s early life, before she takes up arms against the English and becomes a martyr. After the bizarre left turns of Li’l Quinquin (successful) and Slack Bay (disastrous), Dumont jumps off a different cliff with this rigorously shot but musically and dramatically inert drama that does little with its game amateur cast.
In theory, the juxtaposition of heavy metal sounds and the austere subject is enticing; but onscreen it comes off as simply too offbeat for its own good. The film looks lovely on Blu, but it’s too bad the burnt-in subtitles threaten to ruin the visuals; extras comprise two deleted scenes and a Dumont interview.
Director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg have made several “gritty” dramas together over the past few years—Sole Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and last year’s Boston Marathon bombing reenactment, Patriots Day—and their latest is a hot mess of convoluted plotting and overdone violence, including a couple of the most ridiculously unbelievable fight sequences ever committed to celluloid.
The verisimilitude works to a point, until several melodramatic twists make mincemeat of all that’s come before. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include featurettes, etc.
Rolling Stones—Voodoo Lounge Uncut
For the Stones’ tour to support its middling 1994 album Voodoo Lounge, the band pulled out all the stops, as this huge Miami stadium gig makes clear: playing a handful of new songs, the Stones’ emphasis is on its storied past, and that’s where the best performances lie, like hot takes of “Rocks Off,” “Angie” and “Street Fighting Man,” among others.
This is the first time the entire 2-1/2 hour concert has been released, and while the video is muddy, the sound has been exceptionally upgraded. Bonuses are five songs from a Giants Stadium show that same year, including a revved-up “Shattered.”
DVD Set of the Week
Scorpion—The Complete Series
Throughout the four seasons of Scorpion (all 92 episodes of which have been collected on 24 DVDs), the close-knit group of brainiac hackers kept coming up against still tougher and more dangerous assignments—all of which they, eventually, dispatched.
Now that this silly but entertaining series has run its course, one of the most charmingly natural actresses around, Katharine McPhee, is free again: maybe she can go back to doing more musicals on Broadway after she finishes her tour. Extras are featurettes, gag reels, deleted scenes and audio commentaries.
Plot Points in Our Sexual Development
Written by Miranda Rose Hall; directed by Margot Bordelon
Performances through November 18, 2018
Jax Jackson and Marianne Rendón in Plot Points in Our Sexual Development (photo: Jeremy Daniel)
In Miranda Rose Hall’s mainly searing, occasionally syrupy hour-long two-hander, a couple speaks openly and explicitly about the difficult roads each travelled to arrive at where they are now: reluctantly but hopefully embarking on a new relationship.
The title, Plot Points in Our Sexual Development, is anything but subtle: it literally describes what the couple does throughout Hall’s rather contrived but effective construction.
Cecily, a 30-something cis woman, and Theo, a 30-something genderqueer and transmasculine, at first alternate sharing their most enduring—and sometimes humiliating—memories of sexual initiation, gender confusion and other intimate experiences as they approach this current moment: tentatively (while more than a little scared), they decide to cement their growing relationship; even though it’s not guaranteed to work—physically or emotionally—it may turn out to be the necessary salve for their past wounds.
Hall’s dialogue is literate and biting, even if it sometimes approaches harangues for its own sake. But Margot Bordelon has directed simply and sympathetically on Andrew Boyce’s near-bare set, which visualizes the bare souls inhabiting it.
And those souls are gracefully inhabited by Jax Jackson (Theo) and Marianne Rendón (Cecily), tremendously affecting and vital, whether speaking or listening to the other, pulling away or drawing closer—in short, running the gamut of emotions their characters go through.
Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street, New York, NY
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