Thursday, March 21, 2019

THE PLAY'S THE THING (THAT GOES WRONG)

Perhaps the theatre's most cherished maxim is that the show must go on. The company performing The Murder at Havershaw Manor certainly seems to have taken it to heart. From the first few lines of the wheezy old drawing-room murder mystery, set pieces fall off the walls, doors fail to open, an actor who is supposed to seem dead reacts, understandably enough, when his hand is trodden on. Duran Duran ends up, unintentionally, among the music cues. All in all, it becomes The Play That Goes Wrong.

This British farce by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, which opened in the West End in 2014 and on Broadway in 2017, is a spectacular piece of slapstick escalation. The premise is that we're seeing the "am-dram" (amateur dramatics; what we would call community theatre) production fall apart while we watch, but as the show progresses--if that's the word--we may not be prepared for the silent-movie/Looney Tunes degree to which, for instance, the shoddy set will collapse around the actors.

There's a human element to the catastrophe as well; one actor keeps mispronouncing multisyllabic words, another simply refuses to take the show seriously, smirking at the audience and capering around for our approval. The long-suffering stage manager has to step in and take over when the leading lady is incapacitated; when she returns, her replacement is reluctant to give up the role. And throughout, the comedy hinges on the tendency of actors, when a show is going badly, to focus on what's least important.

The frenetic yet disciplined cast is truly ensemble. But a word should probably be said for Peyton Crim as Robert (aka "Thomas Colleymoore" in the play), who, in the midst of, say, being buried in furniture as a platform sags under him, still manages to use his beautiful deep voice to maintain a weary dignity.

The splendid irony behind The Play That Goes Wrong is that, unlike the play within it, it goes off like clockwork. The timing and physical commitment of these actors is a joy to watch, and also a thrill--there are moments that seem dangerous, though this is (I hope) an illusion. Many of the show's biggest laughs, however, are in its slow-burn pauses, in which a performer realizes the extremity of what he or she is up against. Laugh-out-loud funny as this show is, the company's determination, against ever-worsening odds, to get to their curtain call may ultimately seem allegorical for life, the ultimate Play That Goes Wrong.

The Play That Goes Wrong runs through Sunday, March 20 at Gammage Auditorium. Go to asugammage.com for details.

Monday, March 18, 2019

GREEN DAY AFTER

Hope everybody had a great St. Paddy's Day yesterday. Here's some impressive art that my great-niece and a friend did in my brother's driveway in Florida...


Being some quarter-Irish myself, I made a pretty big weekend of it; at his movie night, my film historian pal Richard showed us the 1929 half-silent, half-sound version of The Informer, one of the earliest British talkies. The silent half is great; the talkie half curdles like bad Kerrygold Dubliner. Saturday night I re-watched the 1935 John Ford version of The Informer, while having my annual shot of Bushmill's. Drinking, fighting, lying, singing, drinking, fighting. Fantastic movie. Then Sunday The Wife and I waited most of an hour at Mimi's, of all places, which was packing in us green-clad oldsters for a portion of corned beef and cabbage apparently intended to re-create one of the famines. What there was of the beef was tender and yummy, however. I also took down Great Irish Tales of Terror, edited by Peter Haining, to read Gerald Griffin's wonderfully weird 1827 yarn "The Unburied Legs."


Check out Phoenix Magazine online for my interview with John Fusco and John Lee Hancock, screenwriter and director of The Highwaymen, scheduled to open here in the Valley on March 22...


Friday, March 8, 2019

THIEF OF ARTS

Happy Friday everybody!

Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, for my review of the visually fascinating (and sexy) animated feature from Hungary, Ruben Brandt, Collector...


...as well as my review Michael Winterbottom's noir thriller The Wedding Guest and a preview of the March 23 screening of the flamenco documentary Impulso; the latter is part of a new series called Truly Independent Films from Steve Weiss of No Festival Required fame. At least 35 tickets (at $14 each) must be sold for the screening to take place. All I can say is I thought the movie was worth that much.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

LENT TRAPS

The Lenten season is underway, so in my latest "Four Corners" column, in the March issue of Phoenix Magazine, now on the stands...


...I use it as an excuse to review some fish & chips options around the Valley. This may be my favorite "Four Corners" yet, as fish & chips might just be what I'd order as my last meal before my execution.

Monday, March 4, 2019

WITH MALLET AFORETHOUGHT

Last month my brother beat a coyote to death with a rubber mallet. It happened something like this:


My brother lives in Florida. After a long career as an airline pilot, he retired to the Orlando area with his wife a few years ago, mostly to be close to their daughter. But it happens that his wife's sister and her boyfriend live nearby as well.

So one day last month my brother was over at his sister-in-law's house, working on a remodeling project in the kitchen with the boyfriend. His sister-in-law was in the yard, doing some gardening. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a large animal wandering past. She looked over in time to see that it was a coyote, out in broad daylight, and that it was charging toward her. It lunged at her, and sank its fangs into her leg.


She screamed, naturally enough, and my brother and the boyfriend rushed out of the kitchen. The boyfriend grabbed the coyote and tried to pull it off her, but, perhaps fortunately for him, it refused to release her leg. My brother got a rubber mallet from his toolbox and beat the poor creature's brains in.

Needless to say, the sister-in-law has been made to undergo a lengthy and painful course of rabies shots, though my brother assures us that she's tough enough for them. He's seen her, he says, go straight from a chemotherapy session to babysit her grandkids.

These are the broad strokes of the story, related to me over the phone in unassuming, maybe slightly reluctant terms by my brother. I didn't press him for too many details; he was making jokes about it--saying that his new Native American name was Kills-With-A-Rubber-Mallet, for instance--but I could tell that the incident had shaken this soft-spoken, gentle-natured man.

Here's a thing about my brother: Like me, like several people in our family, he's a little on the OCD side. In his case this manifests, partly, as germaphobia. Out of any number of, to use Arlo Guthrie's phrase, "implements of destruction" that were near to hand, his choice of the rubber mallet to dispatch the coyote wasn't random. He picked it up, he told me, because he didn't want blood to fly. He knew you don't have to get bitten to be infected with rabies; simple exposure to bodily fluids can be enough. Even though blood didn't fly, the doctors considered ordering the shots for my brother and the boyfriend, though in the end they decided against it.

Here's another thing about my brother: He's been my hero since I was a child. He started earning his private pilot's license while he was in high school, though his ambition to be a commercial pilot seemed improbable because he wore glasses, which in those days was a disqualification. So for years he worked driving salt trucks, cement mixers, school buses. He worked building houses with a contractor cousin. He was even a weekend mail carrier in our Pennsylvania town (that's why I learned to drive in a jeep with right-hand steering).

Then deregulation allowed him to become an airline pilot after all, in his thirties and after he had gotten married. Years later I mentioned to him how gratifying I found it that he had been able to achieve his dream, and he told me that it wasn't as satisfying as he'd hoped.

He is, by his own account, a chronic worrywart. The weight of his responsibility for the lives of his passengers, his crew, even of people on the ground, had never been fully clear to him until he experienced it. In the last few years of his career, he switched to a ground job, working in a simulator, re-certifying pilots for duty. He hoped that this might relieve some of his worry, but no, it just extended it to the pilots he certified; their responsibilities becoming partly his.

"I don't want a tombstone when I die," he once told me, "but if I did, I'd want it to say 'HE FINALLY STOPPED WORRYING.'"

"Are you sure that's true?" I asked.

"No," he admitted.

My brother was slightly acquainted with Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after it collided with birds in January of 2009, saving everybody aboard. My brother told me that he's taken off from that same runway, and reflected, not optimistically, about one's options should an emergency landing be necessary in that area.

When I saw Clint Eastwood's film Sully, it brought me to tears, not only because it was an inspirational story but because it made me think of my brother, fretting about the people who had placed their lives in his hands, worrying about how he would save them if he had too. We all depend, probably far more often than we realize, on that particular brand of the kindness of strangers, and we can only hope that they take that duty as seriously as my brother does.

So I'm writing this, though I'm not sure I want my brother to read it, because I fear it might embarrass him. I'm writing it not because I love my brother, though I very much do, but because I admire him. He's a quiet, self-deprecating kind of guy, but if you need somebody to land you safely in an airplane, or to kill the rabid coyote that's attacking you, he's that kind of guy, too.

Friday, March 1, 2019

TAKING A BAO

Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, featuring reviews of the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts program playing this week at FilmBar, including the winner, Pixar's charming Bao...


...as well as of the old-school thriller Bullitt County...

 
...out this week on VOD.

Also, check out my short article on the 55th annual Phoenix Scottish Games...


 ...Saturday, March 2, and Sunday March 3 at Steele Indian School park.

RIP to the magnificent, sexy, hilarious, lovable Katherine Helmond, departed at 89.


Have a great March everybody!

Friday, February 22, 2019

INTRUDERS IN THE DUST

Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, reviewing Shawn Snyder's troubling but funny To Dust...


...plus a preview of the Sedona Film Festival, opening February 23 and continuing through March 3.

Have a great weekend everybody!