Tag Archives: The Washington Examiner

All Bite: Scena’s Sink the Belgrano! reviewed

Nothing shores up a foundering head of state’s popularity among the electorate like a quick war, decisively won. The British response to Argentina’s 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands looks from three decades on something like what the Bush Administration promised the seven-plus-year-old war in Iraq would be: The Falklands War lasted only 74 days, and the U.K.’s victory helped propel the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to big electoral gains the following year.

Sink the Belgrano!, a 1986 play by British actor and director Steven Berkoff, is not a cool-headed history of the conflict or anything close. It’s an astringent piece of agitprop condemning what Berkoff sees as a violent overreaction by Thatcher — called “Maggot Scratcher” here, in the plainest example of his appropriation of sing-songy, infantile language — whom the playwright argues rebuffed all attempts at diplomacy, knowing her political aims would be better served by bloodshed. The title refers to an episode a month after the Argentine invasion, wherein the British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror fired upon and destroyed the vessel ARA General Belgrano, killing 323 crewmen.
Continue reading

Hamlet Syndrome? Not hardly.

“Cast thy nighted color off,” Hamlet’s mom Gertrude, hastily remarried to his fratricidal uncle Claudius, begs of her mournful son. She might have been speaking to Joseph Haj, director of the Folger’s slick and unencumbered new gloss on what we’re used to thinking of as the Bard’s most psychologically complex play.

James Kronzer’s blocky, all-white set offers the first clue of what we’re in for, a visual metaphor for the production’s clean simplicity. Elsinore? Try Apple Store. Deposed King Hamlet’s ghost (a suitably traumatized Todd Scofield) has scarcely begun lobbying his son for vengeance before we see it isn’t just the castle that Haj and star Graham Michael Hamilton have lifted from the shadows: It’s the once-overgrown psychological landscape of the melancholy Prince himself.

Clear-cutting decades or centuries of accumulated inference — Hamlet’s Oedipal lust for Gertrude, his existential disdain of action for action, his self-awareness as a participant in a fiction — this feels like Hamlet for beginners, but that’s no slight. Unburdened of contradiction and played almost as a straight-ahead potboiler — close as it can be without cutting out Hamlet’s iconic half-dozen soliloquies, anyway — the show feels fresh, like a revelatory solo acoustic take of a song you’d thought you could never stand to hear again. Continue reading

Waiting for Goodman, the Comedian‘s Son

When he was writing Rooms: A Rock Romance, the two-person musical that premiered at Alexandria’s MetroStage in 2008 before going on to a warmly-reviewed off-Broadway run last year, Paul Scott Goodman inserted a layer of remove from direct autobiography: He based the show’s female character, rather than her male paramour, on himself.

When he returns to MetroStage this weekend, he’ll have no such veil.

Son of a Stand-Up Comedian is the story of a moment in the life of Paul Scott Goodman as written and performed on 12-string guitar by Paul Scott Goodman, 22 or 52 years in the making, depending. The composer/lyricist began working on his solo musical — which he performs in front of a microphone, concert-style, “a rock-and-roll raconteur kind of thing” — in the middle of 1988, when his wife, director Miriam Gordon, was pregnant with Shayna, their first child. Now 21, Shayna is set to graduate from Sarah Lawrence College next month.

“That summer was one of the hottest on record in New York,” Goodman says in the Scottish brogue he’s retained since moving to Manhattan in 1984. “I was working on my first musical, trying to get it on. I was trying to be a father, trying to be a writer, trying to be a husband. It was very trying.” Continue reading

Viva la Evolution: LaBute’s Reasons to Be Pretty at Studio

Another LaButian bromance: Thom Miller and Ryan Artzberger./Photo: Carol Pratt.

Something surprising has happened to Neil LaBute in the last five years: He seems to have met some people. Not necessarily anyone specific. Just people, whose appetites and impulses are selfish, sure, but not malevolent to the point of abstraction, like so many who populate his earlier oeuvre of men behaving badly. Regular, you might call them, to use the baby-shampoo-mild insult that brings regular-guy Greg so much misery in Reasons to Be Pretty, the initially shaky, ultimately rewarding dramedy that’s landed for what could be another long engagement at the LaBute-loving Studio Theatre.

Billed as the closing chapter of a trilogy that includes the substantial The Shape of Things and the more lightweight Fat Pig, both of which got comfy at Studio in ‘02 and ‘06, respectively, Reasons purports to continue its precursors’ investigations of physical beauty, once again proding and twisting the loyalties among two women and two men. And for a restless first pair of scenes — another protracted, profane screaming match, another depressing conversation between our nominal hero and an at-work frenemy who seems too venal and stupid to function in any nonfictional environment — it feels like a rehash of ideas LaBute has mined more profitably in the past. But what gradually reveals itself to be the play’s true subject is the problem of fidelity. Continue reading

Some Girl(s) Get the Shirt Off My Back and Leave Me with a Lethal Dose

Brian Sutow and Lisa Hoodsoll in Some Girl(s)

The moment in Some Girl(s) wherein the drama first gives away something of its intentions comes early: At the end of a hotel-room interview with the high school beau who dumped her more than decade earlier, a woman slaps a man with the feeble, constrained strike of someone who isn’t accustomed to raising her voice, much less her fist. After she flees, the man touches his cheek in amazement, then allows a wolfish smile to unfurl across his face.

Yep, this is a Neil LaBute play.

The prolific vivisectionist of emotional cruelty is once again poking the bloody viscera beneath the skin of romantic relationships, even if this five-year-old effort isn’t as jagged with malevolence as prior LaButian beatdowns like the play Fat Pig or the film In the Company of Men or the play-and-film The Shape of Things. This compelling production comes from a new company, No Rules. Director Joshua Morgan and a cast led by Brian Sutow (the pair are the startup’s co-artistic directors) have limned enough humor and revelation from the material to whet our appetite for whatever they do next.

Like Nick Hornby’s popular novel High Fidelity, Some Girl(s) follows a youngish cad on a tour of the casualty ward of his exes. Though his ostensible purpose is to make amends before his marriage, the first of his appointments (mousy Clementine Thomas) has barely removed her coat and started panting at him before we get that he’s a scab-picker and probably worse. Later, he tells Bobbi (Emily Simonness), a more recent former lover, “This is all just part of the honesty thing I’m working on,” as though asking a waiter to leave the mayo off his sandwich. Continue reading

Joyless Division: The Magnetic Fields bring Realism to the grand old seat of precious freedom and democracy

The Magnetic Fields have roughly the cultural and commercial footprint of an arthouse cinema hit. But a few weeks ago, Stephin Merritt — the group’s songwriter and chief creative officer —found himself staring straight into the ruddy, swollen face of his blockbuster competition.

“I was sitting in a bar, listening to thumping disco music, trying to write songs,” says Merritt from his home in Los Angeles, 10 days before the start of his band’s tour, which opens tonight at Lisner Auditorium. (Drinking in a loud bar is his customary songwriting environment, yes.) “Suddenly there was this television show with the sound on — usually it’s off. And the music, even when they were praising it, was so terrible it was like watching a car accident from different angles.”

Confirmed, then: The Magnetic Fields Guy? Not a fan of American Idol.

What is he a fan of? Irving Berlin. Judy Collins. And of swatting down the stubbornly pervasive idea that songs are primarily the product of something more mysterious than talent and work.

“There’s this book called Songwriters on Songwriting. I think the interviewer must have been asking leading questions, because maybe two-thirds of the people in the book say they feel their songs are basically written by God,” he says. “I just literally cannot believe that they really think this. I tend to write songs while I’m tipsy-to-drunk. But I still don’t feel like they’re written by some supernatural entity.” Continue reading

Loneliest Number: The Four of Us

Dan Crane and Karl Miller

We’re supposed to forgive our enemies, drink less, play fair, love but one person at a time, measure ourselves not against others. When our friends succeed, we’re expected to be happy.

That is what is supposed to happen.

Of easy choices and pain-free obedience are boring stories made. Itamar Moses 2008 two-man-play The Four of Us is never dull, and given the picayune-ity of its stakes, that’s much more than the faint compliment it sounds like.

Moses’s deliberately paced narrative dissects a friendship among two boys-to-men over a ten-year period. We meet David and Benjamin in their mid-twenties. One’s a playwright, the other a novelist who, as comes to light during an increasingly fraught after-dinner chat, has just had the nullifying prefix “aspiring” blasted off of his title in spectacular, quit-your-day-job fashion.

David is still struggling, and Benjamin’s sudden promotion to a more rarefied realm of the cultural stratosphere — and his insufferable aloofness about it, believably conjured by actor Dan Crane — is tough for him to take. He worries aloud if his pal has considered that his $2 million payday mightn’t be, “in some way, totally spiritually corrupting.” It really isn’t about the Benjamins for Benjamin, but try telling that to a guy who doesn’t have any. Continue reading