Monthly Archives: October 2015

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps): Girlstar and Avenue Q, reviewed.

In this week’s Washington City Paper, I size up a pair of musicals: Signature Theatre’s Girlstar is a confused mess borne aloft by a strong cast, and Constellation Theatre’s revival of the hit Sesame Street parody Avenue Q is funnier and more soulful than The Muppets. (The dour 2015 version, not The Muppet Show.) More words, if not necessarily more insight, on these subjects here and here.

Arboreal Talk: Keegan Theatre’s The Magic Tree and Molotov Theatre’s Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite, reviewed.

Brianna Letourneau and Scott Ward Abernethy in Keegan Theatre's "The Magic Tree."

In this week’s Washington City Paper, available wherever Washington’s free alt-weekly is sold, I review the well-performed Keegan Theatre production of Ursula Rani Sarma’s perplexing The Magic Tree, plus Molotov Theatre’s Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite, adapted from a half-dozen short stories by the celebrated author of chillers, Hey Probably Lovecraft.

Homeless, by Which I Mean Unpaid-for, Thoughts on Bridge of Spies

Billy Magnusson, Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks in

“Radical Decency” might be a fancy new name for the old-timey philosophy governing Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg’s earnest, burnished, thoroughly gripping account of a notable episode of Cold War diplomacy. Compressing events that unfolded between 1957 and 1962, the film is primarily about the relationship between Manhattan insurance lawyer James B. Donovan and Rudolf Abel, née Col. Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher, the Soviet spy he was court-appointed to represent.

Though reluctant to accept Abel’s case, Donovan defends his client with more zeal than anybody, including the judge, wants, on the grounds that it’s the only way to show the world that innocent-until-proven-guilty American justice is superior to its totalitarian Soviet counterpart. Though unable to persuade a jury of Abel’s innocence, Donovan convinces the judge to spare his life—leaving the U.S. with a bargaining chip when C.I.A. pilot Francis Gary Powers’ top-secret U-2 spyplane is shot down over Soviet territory and Powers is captured three years later. Appreciating that Donovan foresaw the need for a captive to trade, the C.I.A. dispatches him to freshly walled-off East Berlin to try to negotiate Powers’ release in exchange for Abel. Continue reading

On Around Town, talking Uprising and Bad Dog and Alice in Wonderland

Anthony Manough and Cynthia D. Barker in MetroStage's "Uprising." (Chris Banks)

Our long summer hiatus complete, I’m back on WETA’s Around Town with host Robert Aubry Davis and fellow theatregoer Jane Horwitz to talk about three recent shows I reviewed for the Washington City Paper: MetroStage’s historical musical Uprising, Olney Theatre Center’s brutal-but-funny addiction drama Bad Dog, and Synetic Theatre’s confused new version of Alice in Wonderland. You will no doubt notice from my lapels that I am wearing a new sport jacket, at my mom’s insistence. Continue reading

Pop Culture Happy Hour No. 264: The Martian and How-To Stories

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.

…wherein I join PCHH host Linda Holmes and regular panelists Stephen Thompson and Glen Weldon to talk about where the beloved hit movie fits into director Ridley Scott’s oeuvre and its fidelity to Andy Weir’s novel.

I suggested How-To Stories as a companion topic, since The Martian — in both its incarnations, albeit moreso in prose than onscreen — goes into unusual detail about the stuff its stranded-astronaut hero Mark Watney must do to survive on a planet that (so far we know) does not sustain life. We all struggled to come up with suitable examples of favorite stories in this genre, and to thread the needle between a How-To and a Procedural. I could’ve talked about several different Michael Mann films, but particularly Thief, Manhunter, Heat, or even The Insider. As is often the case, I didn’t think of that until later. Continue reading

Too Much Is Not Enough: Bad Dog and Alice in Wonderland, reviewed.

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My reviews of Bad Dog, a tough new comedy about alcoholism from prestige-TV writer Jennifer Hoppe-House, and Alice in Wonderland, Synetic Theatre’s watery take on the Lewis Carroll classic as reinterpreted by former Washington Post film & theatre critic Lloyd Rose, are in today’s Washington City Paper. I got paid to write them but you can read them for free. Everybody wins.

Let the Children Lose It, Let the Children Use It: The Martian, reviewed.

Matt Damon portrays the titular hero in THE MARTIAN.

“There are a bunch of severe psychological effects that would happen to someone being isolated for almost two years. And also the anxiety and stress of being on the verge of death from various problems for so long—most people would not be able to handle that. The loneliness, the isolation, the anxiety, and stress—I mean, it would take an enormous psychological toll. And I didn’t deal with any of that. I just said like, ‘Nope, that’s not how Mark Watney rolls.’ So he has almost superhuman ability to deal with stress and solitude.

“And the reason I did that was because I didn’t want the book to be a deep character study of crippling loneliness and depression—that’s not what I wanted! So the biggest challenge were the psychological aspects, and I just didn’t address them and I hope the reader doesn’t notice.”

— Novelist Andy Weir, to Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson, last year.

“Let the children lose it

Let the children use it

Let all the children boogie.”

David Bowie, “Starman,” 1972.

My review of The Martian, screenwriter Drew Goddard and director Ridley Scott’s inspiring and so-good-I’m-mad-it’s-not-great adaptation of Andy Weir’s superb novel, is up at NPR now. Further Reading: My interview with Martian star Matt Damon for Air & Space / Smithsonian.