13 items from 2009
Bad times call for upbeat slogans, producers seem to think, no matter what the film is really about
These are feel-bad times in western economies, and two high-profile movies just released in the United States (due in Britain early next year) can be commended for reflecting this. In Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a chilly figure whose job is to fly around the Us as an industrial executioner, sacking employees at firms who are downsizing or, as the cute euphemism has it, "right-sizing". Equally tuned to the current mood is Everybody's Fine, starring Robert De Niro as a seriously ill widower who, when his children renege on their promises to visit him for Christmas, summons his dwindling energies for a bus tour to their doorsteps.
Although both films have good jokes in them, they are fundamentally bleak case studies of alienation. Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, is emotionally cut »
- Mark Lawson
When August: Osage County, an astounding large-scale familial drama burst on Broadway, it trumpeted the arrival of Tracy Letts, who won the Pulitzer Prize. By contrast, his follow-up effort, Superior Donuts, is a quiet meditation on fathers and sons, hope and hopelessness. This round, Letts went smaller, more intimate. Though Donuts is expertly acted and genuinely touching, the plot is far more contrived. Now at the Music Box, Superior Donuts opens in a family-owned Chicago donut shop. The seedy neighborhood is quietly becoming gentrified, as evidenced by the nearby Starbucks. The shops owner, a tired hippie named Arthur (Michael McKean), is a study in resignation. A former draft dodger and son of Polish immigrants, his "old man" started the store, hoping his son would do better. Instead, Arthur fled the U.S. during the Vietnam War, and by the time he returns, »
- Fern Siegel
Chicago actor Chelcie Ross has his share of memorable moments in film and onstage. Last year, for example, the actor spent several months in London when he appeared in the National Theatre’s production of "August: Osage County,” a play by Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Tracy Letts. "Full houses every night. It was an actor’s dream come true — 'Ok, Lord, take me now,'" Ross said. Though he was a mainstay of Chicago stages for years and also has a thriving feature career ("Rudy," "Basic Instinct," "A Simple Plan"), television viewers may know Ross best for his role as Conrad Hilton »
New York – The abrupt closing Sunday of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" after only nine performances has cast a brief, uneasy shadow over Broadway's fall season, ironically one of the busiest in years.And the revival's collapse has had a ripple effect, forcing the cancellation of a second Simon production, "Broadway Bound," which was to have opened at the same theater (the Nederlander) in December and then run in repertory with "Brighton Beach.""A lot of nice people on stage and off will be out of work and a lot of good partners and investors will have lost a great deal of money," producers Emanuel Azenberg and Ira Pittelman said in a statement. "They all deserve better. It makes us sad."Yet its failure — the shortest run ever for a Simon play on Broadway — stands in contrast to the healthy box-office activity of several star-driven productions such as "A Steady Rain, »
The novella "Embassy" recently was sent around to producers by Joel Gotler, president of the Intellectual Property Group, inviting them to team with him to create a movie package to offer major studios. What was unusual was not that the thriller was written in five days by New York real estate investor, hedge-fund manager and author Richard Doetsch, or that it was published by Simon & Schuster but isn't available in bookstores. What was new was that "Embassy" has been published as a Vook, a hybrid of text and embedded video that intertwine to tell the story of a hostage crisis and can be read and viewed full-screen online or on any mobile device.
The Vook, Gotler says, is "the hottest thing right now."
What the Vook offers, along with a dramatic "Die Hard"-style story, is compelling video that helps sell the concept -- an element many producers are adding »
- By Alex Ben Block
Theatergoers attending Superior Donuts in hopes of seeing another Tracy Letts play of the caliber of his award-winning August: Osage County will be sorely disappointed. It’s not really good and it’s not entirely bad; what it does manage to be is thoroughly mediocre.
The chief flaw with this production lies in its writing. Letts uses the central figure of burned-out draft dodger Arthur Przybyszewski, aptly played by Michael McKean, to act as the kingpin in a very weak commentary on America and the many races of people it is comprised of.
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- C. Jefferson Thom
Actor-playwright Tracy Letts, if he writes for another 40 years, will never exceed the wild commercial success of his play August: Osage County, which has just had its national tour reach the Ahmanson Theatre at the Los Angeles Music Center. Its sold-out run at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, where Letts cut his razor-sharp theatrical teeth, has led to the show running a year and a half on Broadway, and the darkly comedic geneology of the Oklahoman Weston family has garnered the Pulitzer and more Tonys, Oliviers and other awards than a modern American playwright would generally dare wish for. The New York Times did a disservice in its intial praise of Letts' play, comparing it to O'Neill. While it only sporadically digs deep into the guts of any of its 13 characters, August: Osage County is a breed unto itself, a Sam »
- Brad Schreiber
There’s a certain feeling people get when a movie really surprises them. It eases their tension over losing 90 minutes of their precious time, it inspires higher expectations for the future, and it leaves them feeling somehow more fulfilled than they would have been had they gone in expecting greatness. It’s one of my personal favorite things about being a movie lover. Even better though, is when you decide to watch the film a second time to see if you were crazy or just plain wrong the first time through, and it only serves to reaffirm your stance. When I first watched The Haunting in Connecticut, I was tired, shitty-feeling and completely wound up, so you can imagine my relief when the credits began to roll and I stayed completely fixated through them, still on the edge of my seat. The Haunting in Connecticut has gotten a bad wrap »
- Saul Berenbaum
But before the movie... the tour! It starts in just under three weeks in Denver. I'm not getting paid for this but I'm going to shill because live theater needs to be promoted. It's so much cooler than TV ... even if Corporate America can't profit off of it as much (finite audience = number of seats in house) and thus makes it seem uncool by ignoring it or dismissing it as irrelevant.
Oscar winner Estelle Parsons, 81, headlines the August tour
And given that The Movie -- all caps because if it's any good it'll be Big -- is going to be the subject of much discussion whenever it begins to film and especially once it's in theaters, you'll want to be in the know early on. Even if you're not normally a theater person. If you haven't been following theatrical buzz and awardage these past couple of years, it's »
- NATHANIEL R
"You worked as hard as us, you'd all be President," says Violet Weston over the dinner table, her fracturing family gathered in the hours after settling patriarch Beverly Weston in the Pawhuska, Oklahoma earth. Violet Weston, brought to us in her third incarnation from the beautiful mind of Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad, simmers within a pill-induced haze throughout her turn on her mother's throne, like a mile of highway through the back country in summer. Self-drugged and slurring, it would be easy to lay the manias and madnesses of the Weston family at Violet's often stumbling, sometimes dancing, feet. But the question that stands -- at least in my mind -- shoulder to shoulder in Tracy Letts' towering play August: Osage County alongside the role of parents in shaping the destinies of their children, is the »
- Christian Nwachukwu, Jr.
The Kentucky-born star received a Best Supporting Actor nod from the Academy Awards board on Thursday for his role in the Sam Mendes-directed drama.
Shannon tells the Chicago Sun Times, "When given the choice between a film role and doing a play, very rarely do I pick the movie. Nine times out of 10, I go with the play.
"But these two projects totally overlapped, and I'm such a huge fan of the Richard Yates book (which inspired Revolutionary Road). So I had to go with the film. Plus, when I read the book, that character (former mental patient John Givings) stuck out for me, as it does for a lot of people."
And Shannon knows he made the right choice - because he is delighted with his Oscar nomination.
He adds, "I really was shocked. I felt a little punch-drunk when I got the call (about the nomination) at about 6am. But it didn't take long for me to feel pretty good."
In her job as casting director for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Erica Daniels not only plays matchmaker -- coming up with just the right actor to embody a particular character -- she also acts as a sort of theatrical den mother. "You're dealing with people with emotional needs, creative needs and wants; you're massaging a lot of personalities," says Daniels, who -- apart from the passing intern or apprentice -- constitutes the theatre's entire casting department. It's no small job. In the case of a large-cast play making its world premiere -- Tracy Letts' Pulitzer- and Tony-winning August: Osage County, for instance -- the stakes would seem particularly high. After all, the actor who first enacts a role could set the standard for future incarnations. The re-imagining of a classic drama, meanwhile, presents its own casting challenges. This fall, Daniels worked with director Tina Landau on William Shakespeare's The Tempest. »
- Mark Dundas Wood
In 1999, Sasha Eden co-founded Women's Expressive Theater in New York to promote better roles for women. After years of auditioning for parts she found demeaning, Eden believed that if more plays by female playwrights were produced, female actors would reap the benefits. "I found that most women were being pretzeled into a type," Eden said, "whether it was the bitchy one, the ethnic one, the not-pretty-but-funny one. But if you have a balance of male perspective and female perspective, you have a human perspective, and it is going to affect women's employment across the board."A decade later, however, statistics seem to show that female playwrights lag far behind their male counterparts when it comes to having their work produced. According to playwright Julia Jordan (Boy, Walk Two Moons, the book for Sarah, Plain and Tall), only 17 percent of the plays produced at nonprofit subscription theatres in New York, New Jersey, »
13 items from 2009
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