Monthly Archives: November 2009

An As You Like It Gone Hollywood

Francesca Faridany’s Rosalind and John Behlmann’s Orlando.

All the world’s a stage, except when it’s a film set.

The Shakespeare Theatre’s new production of As You Like It, the philosophizing romantic comedy set largely in a curative mystical forest, has adopted the trappings of an altogether different wood, one that no one ever accused of being good for you. (That’d be the one that starts with Holly.) The show begins ingeniously as a flickering silent film with title cards, but quickly assumes the props and types of a modern movie shoot, with boom-mic operators and cameramen and headset-wearing production assistants scurrying between scenes. We even hear Ted van Griethuysen growl “Cut!” now and again. Continue reading

Best. Concert. Ever. (Wherein, Upon Seeing Bruce Springsteen Perform for the 14th Time, I Surrender to Hyperbole)

By Thursday morning last week, I had made up my mind to give the show Bruce Springsteen played in Baltimore on Friday night a pass. My attempts to procure a ticket through honorable means had failed. The aftermarket bidding for general admission tickets to the arena floor, where my friends would be, had inflated beyond my rationally justifiable price range. I’d already seen the great man perform with the E Street Band twice in 2009; five times in the last 24 months. That’s enough Boss, surely.

Even before I was a semi-pro critic, I was skeptical of superlatives. To me, they always reduced criticism to mere marketing. I don’t even like the year-end lists nearly every professional critic is compelled to compile. So that’s why, after returning home in the small hours of Saturday morning having experienced a concert that left me elated like no rock show has in years, I hedged. “One of the three or five best gigs I’ve ever seen,” I wrote in a excited Facebook post before going to bed.

But after chewing the matter over in the cold, clear light of a couple of days, I’m prepared to go all in: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first show in Baltimore since 1973 was the best concert I have ever attended, by The Boss or anyone else. Continue reading

The Last Days of Disco Pigs

Solas Nua’s current production of Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs runs only 60 minutes, and you’re relieved when it’s over. Not because it’s bad — on the contrary, it’s a work of sparkling, propulsive genius, astutely staged and brilliantly performed.

But know this: Its brilliance is of the combative, exhausting variety. Its pace? Frenetic! Its language? Formidable. Our protagonists/narrators, Pig and Runt, don’t communicate in mere Irish slang, but in their own intimate, infantile, often impenetrable argot, one that recalls the Russian-influenced dialect Anthony Burgess concocted for his novel A Clockwork Orange. (Malcolm MacDowell memorably cooed it while terrorizing London with his “droogs” in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation.)
Continue reading

The Swell Season Show I Reviewed Last Week Was Good, But It Didn’t Have This

Forgetting Sarah Marshall screenwriter and star Jason Segal went emo last night at the Wiltern in Los Angeles. We approve.

Read my review of The Swell Season’s Lincoln Theatre concert two years here, and thir 9:30 Club gig last week here.

No, You Are Number Six: AMC’s The Prisoner on Trial

AMC’s slimmed-down reimagining of The Prisoner began its three-night run last night — somewhat shakily, it must be said. Still, if you’re any kind of a fan of what I called “the 1967 British spy-fi, allegori-stential cult TV series,” you’ll want to check out the City Paper’s Arts Desk Blog, where the great and good Glen Weldon and myself debrief at taxing length RE:the merits and demerits of the new series.

Big fun dissecting this stuff with G-Weld. Pity about show.

Part One: Arrival
Part the Second: Keep a Pig for Stability Edition
Finale: Your Revolt Is Good and Honest Edition

Road Warrior: Bob Dylan at the Patriot Center

Bob Dylan 2009

Even Bob Dylan can’t be Bob Dylan all the time.

The 68-year-old Boy from the North Country born Robert Allen Zimmerman has been trying to break his own myth since the mid-60s, when he alienated fans of his early folk albums by plugging in and rocking out. Since then, his muse has come and gone, but his contrarian streak – most recently indulged on the month-old Christmas in the Heart, whereupon the Jewish-born troubadour snarls his way through yuletide standards with psychotic zeal – has been a constant.

For the last 20 years, so has the road. Dylan tours endlessly, turning up at a half-full arena or a minor league ballpark near you again and again, as if to prove he’s no sage, just an itinerant song-and-dance-man. Though late-period albums like Time Out of Mind and Love & Theft have evinced a creative renewal, he’s often been erratic, even indifferent on stage. Still, there’s something noble in his doggedness, fighting those Workingman’s Blues. Paying the empty seats as little mind as the occupied ones. Singing on though thousands of shows have curdled his voice into a viscous, gutshot croak. On a good night, he can still remind you why people worshipped him in the first place. Continue reading

New Frame: The Swell Season at the 9:30 Club

The Swell Season 2009

Tree People: Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard

They broke up.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, for whom life imitated art imitating life when they fell in love playing lovers in the kinda-sorta-semi-autobiographical sleeper romance Once a few years back, are no longer an item. But on the evidence of “Strict Joy,” their first album together since they picked up an Oscar for Best Original Song last year, they remain creatively simpatico. Continue reading

Imperfection as Ideology: Kurt Vile at the Black Cat Backstage

Kurt Vile

It’s perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of a musician with as mighty a moniker as Kurt Vile. If that was a stage name (it’s not*) the intimation would be of the most confrontational, petulant punk, but the Philadelphia-based Vile’s defiantly primitive, accident-prone songs are lazier and hazier than that, rarely straying from the long and droning road but hinting at melodic paths untaken. Imperfection is his ideology.

At the Black Cat Backstage last night, Vile ambled through the final date of a month of shows with his three-piece band, The Violators, for what he said was the largest crowd he’d played. Double digits, still — right-sized. He opened the 70-minute set with a solo take of “Peeping Tomboy,” which, like so much of the spectral folk side of his songbook, seemed to waft in from some phantom radio. Even when the combo joined him for the stouter stuff — like “Freak Train,” the self-explanatory centerpiece of his just-released Childish Prodigy album — the cacophony was more ethereal than kinetic. Continue reading

Cate Blanchett DuBois’s Streetcar

There’s a huge star at the center of the Sydney Theatre Company’s much-hyped, Liv Ullman-directed, wholly satisfying new staging of A Streetcar Named Desire, which sold out its Kennedy Center run before the curtain rose on the first preview. I speak, of course, of the dramatist Tennessee Williams.

That’s no slight on Cate Blanchett, who fronts, fights, twirls and finally, crawls her way through a towering, plaintive gut-punch of a performance as Blanche DuBois, the cracked Southern belle at the center of Williams’s oft-revived 1947 Pulitzer-winning war of wills. (She’s also Sydney Theatre’s co-artistic director, with her husband.) Though famous for film roles from Queen Elizabeth to Katherine Hepburn to Bob Dylan, the 40-year-old Blanchett’s almost-as-eclectic stage resume reaches back to the early 90s. Here she proves again that the authority and vulnerability she intimates onscreen is no camera trick. Continue reading

Shut Up and Swing: (The Top Half of) Travis at Jammin’ Java

Fran Healy and Andy Dunlop

More than ever on the concert circuit, nostalgia is the move. With everyone from Liz Phair to Public Enemy to The Pixies (and those are just the P’s) devoting gigs and sometimes entire tours to reviving their seminal albums in sequence, lots of long-lived performers — particularly those strugging to get even their cult to embrace their new music — have glommed to the trend.

Travis are in a reflective mood, too, but they’re taking a different route. Founded in Glasgow in the early 1990s, they were one of the better U.K. trad-rock outfits to arise in Oasis’s mid-90s wake. They’re hardly commercial rivals (or contemporaries) of classic-album-revivalists Bruce Springsteen or The Pixies, but they’ve more hummable, singalong-enabled tunes to their credit than you probably remember, if you remember them at all. Continue reading

Woolly Mammoth’s “Full Circle,” review’d

Woolly Mammoth's Full Circle

Michael Russotto, Sarah Marshall, Daniel Escobar, and Jessica Frances Dukes

When we say that Woolly Mammoth’s production of Charles L. Mee’s decade-old satirical farce Full Circle is a sprawling affair, we don’t mean merely that it’s forever threatening to collapse under its own allegorical girth.

As directed by Michael Rohd, the show is performed promenade-style, appropriating almost every public area of the building as a stage wherein a dance party might erupt or a trial be called to order. A fresh-faced chorus of student demonstrators double as traffic cops, shuffling us through the theater’s rehearsal rooms, lobby, and auditorium as the narrative — a chase, more or less, through Berlin in the chaotic days after the Wall came down, 20 years ago this month — progresses. Continue reading

Scena Theatre, Doubling Down on the Poe

Halloween is done and gone, but Scena Theatre’s aptly sepulchral Poe double-header — The Fall of the House of Usher followed after intermission by director Robert McNamara’s solo performance of The Tell-Tale Heart — is still neatly matched to the season.

Not only is Usher set, in one of several Poe phrasings that playwright Steven Berkoff’s adaptation uses as a kind of mantra, “in the autumn of the year,” but by the time the show closes on Nov. 29, the holidays will be hard upon us. ‘Tis the season of joyless and compulsory engagements, and surely no social call was ever more dismal than the three days’ journey the dapper narrator of Usher (David Bryan Jackson) undertakes when summoned by his withered and demented old chum, Roderick (Eric M. Messner). Continue reading