Friday, November 27, 2015

Misery on Stage

I want to give a huge ovation to Laurie Metcalf for jumping into a role made so memorable on film by the award-winning Kathy Bates. Ms. Metcalf said while preparing to take on the role of Annie Wilkes in the Broadway production of Misery, she did not watch the film again to keep it out of her memory. She has truly created her own take on this crazed fan who will go to any limits to care for her favorite author. For almost 100 minutes, she rides the highs and lows of Annie Wilkes - carrying the tone of the show on her very capable shoulders. I am a huge fan of hers from film, TV and stage and think without her, this Broadway production would not have received any of the kudos that some have given it. 

If you read the Stephen King novel, you would know that Paul Sheldon is a novelist who after being in a car wreck finds himself being cared for by his number one fan. Rob Reiner directed the film version which starred Ms. Bates with James Caan and was full of thrills and yet still some humor mixed in. The screenplay and the stage adaptation were both penned by William Goldman, but stage director Will Frears has a tougher time conveying things that a film could do with a simple close-up. So instead of thrills and chills, this version is big on laughs. And the audience laughs...a lot. Even at times when one can't understand WHY they are laughing. 

One could say people laugh when they are uncomfortable and truly, you don't know how to take the craziness that is Ms. Metcalf...even though she is 100% committed to her role. So perhaps that's where some of the laughter comes from. There is original music used in the play to help set the tone so that we are to know it IS a drama. The incredible set and lighting are like another character in this play and between that and Ms. Metcalf, it's well worth the price of admission. 

This adaptation is basically two people (along with the local police played by Leon Addison Brown seen in a few scenes). The problem with this production is that Ms. Metcalf hasn't been given a co-star that matches her on stage. I've read many reviews that say it's because her role is so much bigger than the role of the famous novelist, but that's giving film actor Bruce Willis a pass that he doesn't deserve. It has been many years since Mr. Willis has played off-Broadway in Fool for Love in 1984 and he has gone on to shine in many films. 

But with his Broadway debut in this play, either he didn't fully understand the drama involved or his director couldn't get him to where he needed to be. Many reviews have called his performance low-key, but I will go further and say it is all one note. There is no fear, angst, grief - nothing from a man that is being held against his will week after week by this woman. He plays everything as if he already knows the ending and is not concerned with what she may or may not do to him. We need to feel what he is feeling in order to be pulled into his hell, but that never happens. This made me very sad for Ms. Metcalf. I realize Mr. Willis is bringing in audiences to see this show, but shame on the producers for not giving her a better acting partner to share the stage. 

All of this said, if you are a fan of this story - it is well worth seeing (it was on TKTS tonight). Her performance is amazing, the set rotates so that Willis can make his way through the house, and there are some pretty great effects as well.'s an interesting way to spend an intermission-less evening...even as we head into the holidays. A creepy winter's tale - with some laughs supplied by audience members sitting around you.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The King is On Broadway

I have never been one of those crazy Americans wrapped up in everything the royal family does. Sure, I watched Charles and Diana get married and I visited Buckingham Palace when I was in London, but I don't make a habit of knowing everything going on with them. When I heard the play King Charles III was coming to Broadway, I thought it could be interesting (and my other half who DOES follow the royal family wanted to see it). Last season I had seen The Audience which showed us the Queen and her weekly visits with the Prime Minister which gave us a great glimpse into the life of the reigning monarch. Then I discovered that much of this new play written by Mike Bartlett and coined "A Future History Play" was written in iambic pentameter and I was frightened to sit through the 2 hour and 40 minute play. As frightened as I sometimes am when seeing Shakespeare.

Boy was I wrong.

What a brilliantly written and conceived theatrical piece. Mr. Bartlett may write some in verse, but it is so modern that it trips off their tongues quite easily. I am so impressed with the nod to Shakespeare with the themes of royalty, betrayal, greed, and family. The play is set in the 'not too distant future' when Queen Elizabeth has passed and Charles must take over the throne. However instead of signing off on what Parliament and the Prime Minister has deemed as new laws, he challenges the political system with his own thoughts of how the country should run and sets the show in motion.

As an American, you can't help but think about the checks and balance in our own government. Still, it is amazing to think that a Prime Minister must run items past the royal family due to the tradition of that country. Tradition plays a huge part in this futuristic play. How does one hold on to tradition and yet change with the times? Mr. Bartlett has laid these issues out so well and Rupert Goold has directed it as if he is directing a piece by Shakespeare written centuries ago. The set by Tom Scutt is very effective and Jocelyn Pook's original music adds greatly to the overall tone of the evening. The entire show starts with a Requiem for the Queen which is moving and powerful.

It is this amazing cast that helps to vividly propel this evening along and takes us on a journey. Acting as an ensemble, they each have their moments to shine. We may not know the real Macbeths and Richard the IIs when we see a Shakespearean piece, but you come into this feeling you know Charles, William, Kate, and Camilla. Each of these performers are wonderful, but I must give a shout out to Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role who had me feeling for Charles in this mammoth role. He intensely attacks this role as if he is playing Othello or King Lear...and makes one think years from now, people will view this royal family in the same manner.

I stopped to think that it's funny that so far this season, my favorite Broadway shows have both dealt with history (Hamilton and King Charles III)...even if one is future history. 

Get your tickets now to this limited run so you can witness the entire London cast that has lived these lives for a while before it ever transferred to Broadway.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The New World of Choosing a President

We are a year away from choosing the next president of the United States and I for one am already exhausted. I find myself getting more upset than in years past. Previously, I will admit to being a one issue type of voter. But let me make it clear - that issue was built around my rights as an American. When someone tells me I don't have the right to be equal, you're not getting my vote. But this time around, I'm truly attempting to listen to the multitude of candidates and what they are saying.

However - they're not saying much.

Issues are always pushed aside. It's blaming the other side for whatever state the country is in. Only this time, it completely feels like we're part of the reality tv competition era and the most obnoxious, outlandish, most-twitter-followers person gets the attention. Just like on reality TV when someone flips a table, builds an alliance, or plots to take down a show.

This is not the country I remember growing up in. What has happened? The media attempts to ask questions and report to us so we can understand what candidates are about. (I'll admit, even that seems built around ratings.) However, the candidates get upset with everything the media does. But it's the media MAKING them the reality stars they are becoming. They are out there on book tours, hosting SNL, seeing how many shows they can get on...and then complaining the moment someone questions them about their past, something they've said or done, or....vetting them for the country so we can learn about the two dozen people running.

In the past, it was mud-slinging among candidates. Now it's screaming just for the sake of screaming. I'm truly frightened for our country. This was never how I saw us choosing a president...where we would continue to vote different people off the island until the last man or woman is standing. 

It's going to be a long year and I just hope that the field will narrow down enough where we can truly hear about true issues that affect us as a society and not strange and asinine comments that are simply meant to get more airtime. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Spring Returns to Broadway in Time for Fall

Something truly spectacular, moving, and incredible is happening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. When producers announced they were bringing the Deaf West Theatre's production of Spring Awakening to Broadway after it's LA run, many felt it was too soon for a musical that just left Broadway six years ago. But producer Ken Davenport is no theater-fool. He knows a good thing when he finds it and knew this production deserved to be seen by a New York audience. 

The story of teens feeling they are not heard by adults takes on a brand new meaning when half of the cast is deaf. Director Michael Arden and choreographer Spencer Liff have created images on this stage that take your breath away. (The tree choreography: exquisite. Father/Son scene - stunning.) There are some roles played by one speaking/singing actor (who often signs) while others are played by actors that sign their roles while others supply the singing voice. It's the connection between this cast that makes it so moving. There is a sense of 'us-versus-them' which is more prevalent when teachers don't want students to sign or hearing-impaired performers look to their vocal counterparts for reassurance of a choice being made on stage. These moments are pure brilliance.

I never saw the show the first time around. I knew the music, but I didn't know all of the story. I must say that I saw the Gypsy Run-through 3 weeks ago and am amazed by how much this show has grown in those three weeks. There was an electricity in the theater that night, but now - that electricity has created a current that runs through every performer on that stage. Powerful. While I can't be one to compare it to the original, I can say that the story-telling in this production is spot on.

Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater's music and lyrics sound and LOOK amazing as we witness it signed. Michael Arden has placed himself square into a 'must work with' spot among Broadway directors. And the lighting, sound, projections all add to an amazing night.

At the gypsy run, I felt I could tell who the Broadway vets were (even without a playbill in my hand). Tonight - every single performer on that stage made me believe I was watching someone who has been doing this their whole life. Even the two understudies who were in tonight. (Alexandria Wailes was beautiful in the Marlee Matlin roles and Van Hughes knocked it out of the park as the voice of Ernst/Piano when he wailed on "Touch Me".) 

While everyone in the cast is wonderful, there are a few stand-outs for me. When Krysta Rodriguez is on stage, I can't take my eyes from her. She is captivating and a star. Daniel N. Durant has layered Moritz in such a way that I found myself in constant awe of his talent. Andy Mientus OWNS the role of Hanschen. Ali Stroker has expressions that reach to the back of the house. I am in love with Alex Wyse and his voice. Camryn Manheim plays every single adult female role with gusto and diversity. Austin P. McKenzie takes Melchior to a new place, making us forget a certain gentleman one block over that originated the role. He is heart-breaking in his constant conflict and turmoil. Sandra Mae Frank is sweet, innocent, and mesmerizing as Wendla and Katie Boeck compliments her greatly in both incredible voice and a true feeling of support for everything Frank does with her body. These two work beautifully together to create one character.

I don't want to say too much except - go see this show. The show opened two nights ago and tonight, there were entirely too many empty seats in the orchestra section. No matter your age, you can recall and relate to that feeling of not being heard, understood, or attempting to find your way from adolescence to adulthood.             

Friday, September 11, 2015

What Did We Learn from 9/11?

Every year we think back to that horrific day in our history where everything changed. People post memories online. We are transported for a moment back to what started out as a beautiful September morning. Then we think about how it all unfolded, where we were, taking stock of friends we knew that worked in lower Manhattan or in the Pentagon area. Trying to reach out to people and phone lines being jammed.

Everyone has stories from their own perspective from that tragic day, but the common story was how people helped and supported each other. After standing in Hoboken and staring at the New York skyline, I got back on my train to head home. As I waited for my train to leave the station that morning, I watched people getting on who had just arrived from lower Manhattan. There was such kindness on that train before we even knew the enormity of it all. If we try and find a positive about 9/11, it’s how the country came together. 

We truly were once again the UNITED states of America.

Yet 14 years later, as we witness men and women all wanting to lead our country as the next president, we are more unraveled as a country than we have been in years. Gone are those feelings about 9/11/01 that we are all in this together. Now it’s us/them - right/left - and the divide becomes wider and wider. There isn’t a leader that seems to want to unite. That’s the saddest part of watching the elections unfold. It’s all about pandering, scripted responses, and how much air time can they get in the sea of candidates.

And then last night, Stephen Colbert (only in his third episode of the new Late Show) brings Vice President Joe Biden on and they travel to a place never explored in late night TV. In a world full of comedy, these two men had the most honest and amazing discussion. Biden allowed his humanity and humility to shine through - all the while saying that’s not something he should do. Almost apologizing for being human…as if politicians and those running for office should not show that part of their personalities. Through his personal grief (something Colbert can completely relate to), he displayed what we are missing in the current elections: humanity.

I’m not saying Biden should be forced to run. I’m saying it was nice to be reminded we are all the same. We hurt. We grieve. We bleed red. No matter what political affiliation we are a part of - we are Americans. It would be great to remember how we knew that after 9/11 and have potential leaders show how they could get us there again without having to go through another tragedy. We always say we will never forget, but it sure seems we forget what it felt like to be united. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Letter to My New Niece

Dear Chloe,

You have no idea how many people were waiting for you to be born all across the country today. We started teasing your mother online the moment your due date passed this week, but that was simply to keep us connected via social media with family in so many different states. You see, that's what we do in this family…we make jokes. You'll get used to it really quickly when you get older.

Your parents have worked hard to prepare your home for you…and what amazing parents you have. They met while serving our country in the US Army. They married and waited until the right time to have you…knowing how special you would be. Your mother wanted to have the perfect day and way for you to be born. Just wait until she describes this incredible day to you when you're old enough to hear the story. Your dad (my little brother) has waited his entire adult life to have a family and with you (and the dogs and the lizards) his family is complete. Let's hope you enjoy living in Noah's ark because I'm sure by the time you are grown, that's what it's going to feel like.

With your birth, we have a baby in the family again. You see, the next cousin you have on our side is 22 years old so we forgot what it was like to have a baby around. But those cousins will teach you how to wrap your Mamaw around your finger and get whatever you want from her. (That Mamaw flew from Texas to Wisconsin to be with your parents before you ever arrived to pamper your mom, keep your dad in line, and be there to welcome you into the world.) And then there are uncles, aunts, great cousins/uncles/aunts…the list goes on and on. This family is HUGE. (Don't be frightened: just learn the word "Bee" and you'll be doing just fine.)

Even though I'm in New Jersey as you are born in Wisconsin, you are in my mind and my heart. I can't wait to get to meet you. What an amazing Christmas we are going to have with a baby in the house again.

Sending you loads of love from your uncle. (Trust me, you'll learn fast that you can pretty much get whatever you want out of me too. Just ask Ashton & Shelby.)

Happy Birthday!

Love you,

Uncle Greg

Monday, August 3, 2015

Massage And Energy Therapy

Provincetown Bay
My body is sharing stories.

I've been seeing a chiropractor for lower back pain the past two months and she knew so much about my life based on my body. Even told me I need to slow down as I'm putting too much pressure on my feet all the time. My acupuncturist has also used my body like a map to tell how I live my life. 

When I travel, I love to get a massage and my recent trip to Cape Cod was no exception. Massage therapists are always great at telling what I do, parts of the body I favor, and working out those kinks and stress spots. A local recommendation was made and I noticed on the person's card holistic treatments and craniosacral therapy and for a moment thought of not going.

That would have been a mistake because the entire experience changed me. 

Namaste Spa
I'm not going to try and convert your views on holistic therapies nor can I truly articulate into words what transpired, but from the moment I was on the table and Ram Charan of Namaste Spa in Provincetown placed his hands on the back of my head, I knew this was a different massage. He worked on lower back, he worked on my stress points - but it was all done in a completely different way from other massages. There was energy flowing through my body in a way I've never felt. There is usually a connection between therapist and client, but this connection went deeper than I can express. I felt I was being filled from the inside out and light was radiating from me. By session's end, I had a deep dread of never experiencing this again. We had a great talk about what had transpired, I shared my anxiety/excitement and made another appointment before leaving town. 

Ram Charan Biz Card
The second session took much less time for me to open up and I was visualizing myself as a child running through a field, feeling a fire/light coming from my own torso, and by the end Ram shared some very illuminating things he found that I definitely struggle with. Again - my body was sharing stories with my therapist. I'm a seeker of knowledge and he tried to tell me there is much one can't understand about energy therapy, but suggested I read up on Rumi. I started reading The Essential Rumi book instantly.  Now I'm back home, wishing my new found spirit animal was closer to take me on this journey again, but also realizing it's already within and perhaps I can find someone local to work with. 

Herring Cove, P-Town
I think my Christian faith always made me believe one shouldn't dabble in anything outside of that belief, but now I see that is simply not true. Rumi is read by many different religions. Energy is God. Meditating can absolutely be prayer as well as allowing yourself to be open to those around you. For me, I was enlightened in a way like no other massage. I am externally grateful for Ram in leading me down that path and believe it was all meant to be the moment his business card was placed in my hand. Wow, what I would have missed out on had I chosen a different place. I can't wait to see what other stories my body has to share as I continue to open up to this new way of therapy. 

Thank you, Ram for an incredible gift and a highlight to a beautifully relaxing vacation.