Monthly Archives: June 2012

AIDS Crisis on Infinite Earths: On The History of Invulnerability and The Normal Heart

SUPERFAMILIAS: David Deblinger and Tim Getman (Stan Barouh/Theater J)

Any honest critic will occasionally find himself out on a lonely limb, and this week it’s my turn. To me and apparently no one else, Arena Stage’s The Normal Heart — a historically vital play about the early years of the AIDS epidemic in New York City — is morally worthy but artistically wanting.

I am girding myself for hate mail.

People sometimes make fun of Ford’s Theatre’s presidential history plays for being dowdy and pedantic; for being more interested in teaching us A Very Important Lesson than in taking us somewhere. That’s how The Normal Heart felt to me, albeit with a lot more crying. (Also, I tend to like the musty presidential histories.) I happen to agree with the play’s politics, as I understand them — though that really shouldn’t matter at all — and I acknowledge in my review that activist/playwright Larry Kramer was writing in a time and place when subtlety would not have been an appropriate or effective response to the nightmare he and his peers were living through.

I just don’t think the preachy, shouty play he wrote holds up, removed from that urgent context. Your mileage may, and probably will, vary. Continue reading

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The Beach Boys at Merriweather

Three out of five original Beach Boys are still kicking.

My review of Friday’s night’s Beach Boys concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion is in today’s Washington Post. I thought it was odd that the 14-piece band played along to the recorded vocal track of Dennis Wilson (d. 1983) singing “Forever” and then to a recording of Carl Wilson (d. 1998) singing “God Only Knows,” but the fact that “Heroes and Villains” made the setlist inclines me to forgive them anything. Continue reading

SILVERDOCS: On Joe Papp in Five Acts

Joseph Papp, 1921-1991

Man, I really miss going to SILVERDOCS. I don’t think I’ve been since 2009, maybe 2008. Late June has always been a crunch for me since I started handling the City Paper’s coverage of the Capital Fringe Festival, which runs the last three weeks of July, back in 2010.

I did review a screener of one doc, Joe Papp in Five Acts, about the much beloved founder of New York’s Shakespeare in the Park and then The Public Theater.

Blame It on Cain: Round House’s Double Indemnity, reviewed

Here’s my City Paper review of Round House Theatre’s production of the stage adaptation of Double Indemnity, based on James M. Cain’s Depression-era serialized novel.

Some plot developments may seem unfamiliar to those of us who only know the story from Billy Wilder’s iconic 1944 film noir, which departs from Cain’s structure in ways that’re all to the good. There’s nothing wrong with this play, really, but it’s hardly an essential document the way Wilder’s movie is.

There Will Be Acid-Blood: Musing on Prometheus

I owned this.

Over at NPR Monkey See today, I write about about the Sisyphean task Ridley Scott has taken on in trying to make his breathlessly-awaited, origins-of-life epic Prometheus compelling enough to compete with my adolescent obsession with the seminal films of the ALIEN franchise. (Ongoing, sadly. My fascination, not the franchise. But that’s ongoing too, obviously.)

I had fun writing it. I hope you like it. Prometheus is the sort of problem film where you know that diagnosing its failings and parsing its mysteries is the greater, more lasting pleasure than actually watching it (though I did enjoy watching it), a trait it shares with the latter two ALIEN joints. The best I can hope for is to go to my grave having purchased only one home-video version. If you’re interested in used VHS copies of the original release cuts or extended special editions of ALIEN or ALIENS, or the ALIEN Quadrilogy DVD set, I will totally give you a deal.

The Full Monty: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, reivewed

“Ehhhhhhhhxcellent.”

However precipitous its decline, The Simpsons remains the only TV show my entire family will sit in the same room and watch together. (Mom, I suspect, might just be going along to get along.) But one needn’t have so intimate an association with TV’s longest-lived comedy to appreciate the grim genius of Anne Washburn‘s Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play. I review Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company‘s world-premiere production in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free. Sorry about the ugly split infinitive that crept in there, you guys. Continue reading

They Want Their Money Back If You’re Alive at 33: WSC Avant Bard’s The Tooth of Crime

John Tweel sits atop a throne of guitars as Hoss.

I struggled with Kathleen Akerley‘s production of Sam Shepard‘s The Tooth of Crime after I saw it last weekend. The play is a fascinating time capsule of how much danger and possibility pop music, and rock and roll specifically, must’ve still had when Shepard wrote it back in 1972. That gives it a charm that partially compensates for the fact the (apparently) postapocalyptic world it’s set in is so cryptic and thinly drawn. Continue reading