Thursday, February 26, 2009

Help Me, Hedda

During the second scene of the Roundabout Theatre's flat and ill-conceived revival of Hedda Gabler, I started thinking about brighter days. My mind kept straying to memories of all the wonderful shows I'd seen featuring the talented cast and creative team whose work seemed so lifeless: Mary-Louise Parker in Proof, Michael Cerveris in great Sondheim shows like Assassins and Sweeney Todd, Paul Sparks in Blackbird and a slew of other Adam Rapp plays, director Ian Rickson's terrific production of The Seagull, playwright Christopher Shinn's fantastic Four.

How could so many talented people go so far astray? I've heard from a reliable source that problems started early on in rehearsals. Hedda Gabler is one of the shows I reviewed for; one that pleasantly surprised me in a lot of ways is Pal Joey.

So far, though, I'd have to say that the best shows I've seen in 2009 are the previously mentioned Becky Shaw, the wonderfully dynamic Uncle Vanya, starring Denis O'Hare at CSC and the Atlantic's finely honed Cripple of Inishmaan, a holdover from last year. I didn't seen the much maligned original Off-Broadway production, but about 10 years ago I caught the show, starring Fred Koehler, the kid from Kate & Allie, at the Geffen during a trip to Los Angeles. A good production, but not as intimate or stirring as the Garry Hynes one currently on stage. And I'd forgotten the many plot twists that unfold in the final scene.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Art the L.A. Way

Got a kick out of this recent article — with slideshow and video — from the L.A. Times about the fabulously fun Downtown Art Walk. Until a trip to Los Angeles in November, I hadn't spent much time in Downtown, except to see a couple of plays at the Taper. But I'd heard quite a bit about the area's resurgence from office buildings and hotels to art galleries and (very!) pricey lofts and wanted to do something that was definitely off-the-beaten tourist track.

A friend had warned me that it was quite a scene, but I thought he just meant by California standards. I couldn't imagine a savvy New Yorker like me would be particularly stunned. Oh, was I wrong. You may notice that very little of the visuals involve people actually looking at art, and that was largely my experience. Not that I didn't want to, but with so much music, activity, wine and people around, I was suffering from sensory overload. When I passed a young man balancing a live black cat on his shoulders I knew it was time to go home.

Actually, my favorite part of the evening had been an earlier trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue, where I first got a look at art-viewing L.A. style. I was comfortably dressed in jeans and sensible shoes, my usual attire for an activity that requires copious amounts of walking, and I soon noticed most of the 20-somethings around me looked like they were right out of Central Casting: Women wore heels and short skirts, men had the perfect hipster hats. The whole environment was easily as photogenic as the exhibits themselves.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Little Night Whedon?

I shouldn't have been surprised that Stephen Sondheim's name came up in the "Dollhouse" panel at Comic-Con on Sunday. (I was there only for professional reasons, of course!) Famed "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon, there to unveil his new Fox TV series, is a known admirer — and they're both artists who inspire cultish worship. A woman who'd seen Whedon wax about Sondheim at a panel four years ago in honor of the consumate musical theater composer-lyricist's 75th birthday wanted to know if he aspired to adapt and direct a Sondheim musical for the screen, and if so, which one.

Whedon was quite enthusiastic about the prospect, although he noted with some regret that the musical that most appealed to him was recently filmed by Tim Burton — "Sweeney Todd." Still, he didn't rule out the possibility of doing his own version somewhere down the line — which prompted a cry of "James Marsters as Sweeney Todd!" from an audience member. His second choice? Not "Assassins," which would have been my guess, but the wistful and romantic "A Little Night Music."

"I want to be on Broadway," he added, and broke into a few lines of Sondheim's "Broadway Baby." And Broadway could really use Whedon's passion, smarts and talent right now. Dr. Horrible meets Buffy on the Great White Way, perhaps?

This week I vow to find the time to re-watch Whedon's Internet musical "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," starring another Sondheim follower, Neil Patrick Harris. You should too.