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Archive for the ‘Theatre/Dance/Art’ Category

Best of 2012

So as we hit the end of 2012, I offer up my best in entertainment of the past year. Keeping in mind not all of these were released this year, it’s just what I saw/read.

Best Movie – Lincoln
Honorable mentions – Pina, Skyfall

Best Book – A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Honorable mentions – Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Best TV series (drama) – Mad Men
Honorable mentions – Downton Abbey, Sherlock

Best TV series (comedy) – Happy Endings
Honorable mentions – 2 Broke Girls, Modern Family

Best Music (album) – Magic Hour by Scissor Sisters
Honorable mentions – Some Nights by fun., The Truth About Love by P!nk

Best Music (single) – Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye (feat. Kimbra)
Honorable mentions – We Found Love by Rihanna (feat. Calvin Harris), Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen

Best Theatre – Black Watch
Honorable mentions – Once, Now.Here.This.

Best guilty pleasure – Pitch Perfect
Honorable mentions – Revenge, seeing Betty White live and in person

Best Board Game – At the Gates of Loyang
Honorable mentions – Seasons, Airlines Europe, Heartland

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One of the more perplexing mysteries in society is the monetary valuation of visual art.  This is especially true when we look at contemporary work, which has not withstood hundreds of years of critique to determine its intrinsic worth.  While one person may look at Mark Rothko’s Green and Tangerine on Red and say it just looks like a couple squares of paint, others see deep meaning, earning it a prime location in Washington D.C.’s Phillips Collection.

To get a better understanding of how contemporary art is valued and sold, I encourage you to learn more about the subject.  The first half of Ulrich Boser’s The Gardner Heist provides some insight into how art is acquired by museums and private collectors.  You may also enjoy this podcast by NPR’s Planet Money, that looks at how pricing works in the art market.

But if you want to experience the unpredictable world of buying and selling paintings for yourself, then you need look no further than Reiner Knizia’s masterpiece of a game – Modern Art.  This is a game with broad appeal that puts you right in the middle of the wild and wonderful world of art auctions.  The game is published in the U.S. by Mayfair Games, and is not to be confused with Modern Art: the Card Game, which is a vastly inferior impostor.

In Modern Art, each player is involved both with buying and selling paintings by five fictional artists.  While this makes certain thematic sense (museums generally only sell art to purchase other art), I’ve found it easier to explain as players wearing two hats.  First, you’re an art dealer, anxious to unload a painting to the highest bidder.  Secondly, you’re a museum director, looking to acquire something by the Next Great Artist.  Think of the art dealer being in cahoots with the museum director – he may sell it to his best pal, who has a little insider information about what’s about to hit the market.

The game is played over a series of four rounds, and the winner is the player with the most cash at the end of the game.  At the start of the first three rounds, players are dealt a hand of cards, each of which has a painting by one of the five artists.  These cards represent the holdings of your art dealer side (paintings acquired by your museum will be played on the table in front of you).  Those cards also each have a symbol which represents the type of auction that must be used to sell the painting.

Moving around the table in turn order, players will offer up a painting for auction to everyone, including themselves.  The card symbol tells you how to conduct the auction – it may be traditional, each player may only get one bid, it may be a secret sealed auction, or the painting may be offered at a single fixed price.  There are also cards that require a double auction – two paintings by the same artist go on the block at once.  Then the bidding begins!  Players are trying to determine what they think the painting is going to be worth at the end of the round – because that’s when the art really pays off.

At the end of the round (which happens when the fifth painting by a single artist is played), everyone looks at the three top artists – those that had the most of their art sold.  Each painting by the #1 artist pays out at $30,000, the #2 artist’s work gets you $20,000 apiece, and #3 pays $10,000 each.  The other two artists just didn’t make it big this time around.  All cards on the table are discarded, and a new round begins (players keep unsold paintings in their hand to carry over).

The game really heats up in later rounds, because those payouts are cumulative!  So if, for example, Karl Gitter is the #1 artist in the first round, and in the third round he’s the #2 artist, his paintings are now selling for $50,000 each!  Which means the bidding goes higher and higher…  The challenge is that players are trying to do quick calculations in their head as the game goes on; “If he ends up being #2 this time, I could get $50K , so I think I’m willing to bid up to $40K to get it.”  You’re working with limited information based on what you see on the table, what you remember has been sold in the past, and what cards you hold in your hand.

This on the surface is a straight-forward game, but the right group of people can turn it into a party game.  I first learned Modern Art with a bunch of theater-folk, and we naturally found ourselves naming each art piece as it was played, adding back-story about the artists, and working hard to convince each other to BUY THIS PAINTING!  Believe me when I say this makes the game twice as much fun.  Sometime I’ll tell you the story of how my sister-in-law named a Yoko painting simply with a sound effect.

It’s really a fantastic game, and represents auction games in the purest form.  The agony of knowing that you need to spend your money to make money, and you also need that money to win is just delicious.  The game works for 3 – 5 players, but I strongly prefer it with 5, as you get the maximum excitement in the bidding process.  Modern Art is a contemporary classic that gives you a window into the wild and wonderful world of art acquisition – and it remains one of my top ten games of all time.  Check it out!

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August: Osage County

Currently at the Kennedy Center is a touring production of  the Tony Award-winning play August: Osage County.  Scott and I were lucky enough to get some discounted tickets, and it was well worth it!

The play is definitely a black comedy.  Playwright Tracy Letts has a real gift for humor, offering up more laughs than I would have expected from such dark subject matter.  And yet she imbues her characters with deep, often hidden motivations which are what carry the play to its inevitable resolution.  But truly I laughed so hard and so often – it was fantastic!  Truly, utterly hilarious.

The plot begins by introducing us to the parents of the Weston clan – Beverly and his wife Violet.  He’s a washed up poet and an alcoholic, she’s perpetually addicted to prescription drugs.  Our window on their world is the housekeeper that Beverly hires – Johnna, a soft-spoken Cheyenne Indian in need of a job.  But tragedy strikes, and the whole family comes out of the woodwork – first Violet’s sister Mattie Fae and her husband Charlie and later their own son “Little Charles.”  All three of the Weston daughters also come to roost – Barbara, Ivy and Karen.

Photo by Robert J. Saferstein

Barbara, the eldest, is full of disdain and rage at her parents, fueled by her separation from her husband Bill.  She feels like she can’t control her daughter Jean, and vows not to make the same mistakes.  But as is so often the case, the sins of the parents are passed onto their children.

Ivy is the middle daughter who has remained in this small Oklahoma town to care for her parents.  On the surface she is scattered and genteel, but when she starts talking, it’s evident she’s anything but happy to see her sisters.

Karen is the youngest and full of life – so full of it that she chatters on and on, ignoring what’s happening around her.  She says that she has found happiness in life with her fiancée Steve, but is she just settling?

Well all those truths do come out, because at a feisty family dinner, matriarch Violet really lets go.  She’s determined that “truths will be told” and she could care less about the consequences.  What follows is a lot of laughing, fighting and crying.

Photo of Shannon Cochran, Jeff Still & Estelle Parsons by Robert J. Saferstein.

The strength of this show is really in the acting – most of the cast sparkles with the material they’ve been given, no matter how small the role.  Estelle Parsons as Violet proves she has come a long way from her stint on Roseanne, offering a searing portrayal of a woman with one foot firmly over the edge.  All three daughters are remarkable – Angelica Torn is full of quiet rage and clever one-liners as Ivy, while Amy Warren makes certain you won’t forget her bubbly Karen.  But the powerhouse is Shannon Cochran as Barbara, who matches Parsons blow for blow.  When she seethes with lines like, “Eat your fish, BITCH,” let’s just say you feel like you’d better eat that fish, pronto.

I also was really happy with the Anna Shapiro’s direction – her sense of rhythm and timing are impeccable.  It’s amazing how she’s able to milk the smallest moments for laughs, simply by spacing out the dialogue.  She especially makes good use of DeLanna Studi as Johnna, who pops in at just the right moments to offer a good laugh or a much-needed moment of sanity.  The overall pacing is also nice to see – for example, while Act 2 is very much about a shift in power between Violet and Barbara, the Act 3 opening is unquestionably controlled by Ivy as she unravels even more hidden secrets.

Lastly I have to admire the remarkable set design by Todd Rosenthal – a towering three-story house with at least seven visible rooms, and two staircases that get quite a workout.  The players are given plenty of room to breathe, but the house still gives off a sense that we are trapped in this loony bin until the lights come up.

So to sum it up – you really, really should go see this show!  (Not appropriate for kids – too much foul language.)  Don’t let the long running time of 3 1/2 hours scare you away – the play blazes by, and with two brief intermissions you don’t get antsy.  I understand there are still a lot of discount ticket offers there, so take advantage of them and see this show!  Any seat in the Eisenhower Theater will be a good one for this play with larger than life personalities.

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Currently at the Kennedy Center is a production of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire as performed by the Sydney Theatre Company.  Scott and I were lucky enough to scoop up tickets quickly, and it was without question the best money we’ve spent on entertainment all year (in my opinion).

Now perhaps I’m a bit biased here – this was  my first time seeing Streetcar ever, and it was starring one of my favorite actresses – Cate Blanchett.  But I could tell by the end I wasn’t the only one who thought it was stunning – so did my husband and the entire theater which gave a standing ovation that went on for 4 curtain calls!  Clearly this production was something special.

Streetcar Blanchett

The heart and the meat of the show is Blanchett’s performance as Blanche DuBois – a woman who appears to be superior and confident, but it belies a much darker past and many layers of madness.  She acted the hell out of this role – every line was delivered with full conviction while savoring the words themselves.  Picture her wringing her hands in a supplicating gesture as she pleads to Mitch, “I don’t want REALISM!”  As Blanche’s lies unravel, so does her psyche, and Blanchett delves deep to show us a woman utterly destroyed.  She…was…breathtaking.

And she didn’t go it alone – Joel Edgerton was a powerful presence as Stanley Kowalski – all swagger with a strong intuition.  When he eventually gets to the point of assaulting Blanche, it seems the logical endpoint for his anger.  Also on the plus side, Edgerton is very easy on the eyes.  Let’s just say his butt gets its own scene.  Seriously.

Streetcar Blanchett 2

Robin McLeavy played things awfully meek as Stella, but it shows us perhaps why she has lived all her life in Blanche’s shadow.  Here in New Orleans she could be the center of attention and worshiped by her husband – so she puts up with his drunken and abusive ways.

The set was sparse but appropriate for this show – it had a suffocating feel to it.  And for an all-Aussie company, the accents were actually quite good.  Only occasionally did things slip a bit.  (“Steller…”)  The direction was obviously superior, led by the incomparable Liv Ullmann, who stole my heart a few years ago as the narrator of the Oscar-winning animated short The Danish Poet.

All in all this is a production not to be missed – but sadly it’s sold out!  So if anyone offers you a ticket to go as his/her date – GO.

Now as long as I’m talking theatre, I should give a couple quick reviews of our Broadway trip last month for Scott’s birthday!  We took in a couple more plays with very famous film actors.

Jude Law Hamlet

First we saw Jude Law in the title role as Hamlet.  I tend to be a bit critical of Shakespeare productions now, just because I’ve seen so many of them!  And on the whole I thought the production was just OK – the sets were nothing to write home about, and most of the performances were fair.  (Don’t get me started on Ophelia – dreadful.)  But Law was absolutely amazing – without question the best Hamlet I’ve ever seen.  His performance was believable, he made the text come alive for the audience, and he kept his energy up for the entire performance.  Which was a long one – no text was cut, which made this a 3 1/2 hour show.  And even though I got antsy in my seat a lot, it was well worth it to see a brilliant actor in the performance of a lifetime.

Streetcar Named Desire review

The following day we went to see our boyfriends Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in a 2-man play called A Steady Rain.  It’s the story of a couple of cops in Chicago telling a wretched tale from very different perspectives.  The script itself was not bad, if a bit predictable.  But this really was about seeing men not only act, but act out at each other.  Jackman was clearly more comfortable in front of the audience, enjoying the breaking of the fourth wall that this play shared with his prior Broadway role in The Boy From Oz.  But at the same time Craig very ably filled the subtler role of straight man to Jackman’s antics, ultimately bringing sympathy to a character who may not be very likable.  On the whole I didn’t love the show, but I did love the performances.  Besides, how often do you get to see Wolverine take on James Bond, using only words as weapons?

So that’s been my theatre story as of late.  What plays or musicals have you had the chance to see?

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Once in awhile we latch onto a completely crazy idea and just run with it.  That was the case this past weekend when we took a spur of the moment trip up to New York to see the new production of Hair on Broadway!  We were up and back in one day – it was crazy and fun.  Of course we got to have a lot of fun with TheKara, so that made it truly sweet.

hair_playbill_image-755560

I’ve always wanted to see this musical performed, but never had the opportunity.  It’s been one of my favorites for ages, and some day I dream of being able to choreograph the show myself.  So to see this on Broadway – critically acclaimed and selling out in its first weeks since opening was a special treat.

Hair is a unique musical in that the plot, such as it is, doesn’t amount to much.  It exists more as a backdrop for a varied songbook that covers everything from rock and gospel to ballads and country(ish).  I was impressed by director Diane Paulus’ ability to present a coherent tale, even if the first half still felt like a continual excuse to trot out another song.  By the time the show approached intermission, the story solidified and we were drawn into Claude’s push and pull decision-making as he weighs freedom of self versus freedom of country; although it may have resonated more in the Bush era, the anti-war message still feels strong and relevant.  The intensity was powerful enough ending the second half that I actually didn’t notice for awhile that the cast was suddenly all naked!  (Kudos for the unconscious beauty of that moment that didn’t seem salacious in the least.)  The show even ended in an unconventional way – the Tribe somberly proceeding out of the theater leaving Claude [Gavin Creel] behind all alone.

Photo of Will Swenson courtesy BroadwayWorld.com

Photo of Will Swenson courtesy BroadwayWorld.com

But it certainly isn’t all serious!  This is a rip-roaring show that celebrates drugs, sex and silliness.  Berger [Will Swenson] was more than willing to play around and show of his…assets…proving to be the class clown throughout.  The whole supporting cast (“the Tribe”) was a delight, including Woof [Bryce Ryness] as a kinda-gay gentle soul, Jeanie [Kacie Sheik] the pregnant smoker, and Dionne [Saycon Sengbloh] the soulful center of the group.  (Sadly we didn’t get to see Sasha Allen of Camp fame playing Dionne, but Sengbloh did a great job.)

The set was simple (very Rentesque), but the costumes were a hippie delight.  I felt like the choreography by Karole Armitage was too simplistic, but it was true to her style, which I can appreciate.

What’s really wonderful about this production is how much the Tribe brings the audience into the experience.  Continually throughout the show they prowled around the aisles – passing out flowers and flyers, toussling people’s hair, and pulling people up to dance.  In fact, after the curtain call, they brought dozens of patrons up on the stage to revel and dance to “Let the Sunshine In.”  It was quite the love-in!

photo courtesy BroadwayWorld.com

photo courtesy BroadwayWorld.com

We also got to meet some of the cast and get autographs afterwards, which was the perfect cap on a wonderful experience (shout out to Lauren Elder!).  It was well worth the drive and I hope this show runs for a good long while and picks up a Tony or three.

Hair on Broadway!

Peace!  Flowers!  Freedom!  Happiness!

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Made in Manhattan

As you may have read on ScottE’s blog already, we spent the Thanksgiving holiday up around New York City.  As is our tradition, we did our best to see some Broadway, and weren’t disappointed.

whats-that-smell-logo

First we went to see a little off-Broadway show as TheKara’s “out of left field pick.”  It was a musical called What’s That Smell?, and it didn’t actually smell like much, but it was a good time.  Picture the worst (and gayest) musical composer you can imagine.  Now imagine he has the ego of Tom Cruise and is being interviewed by his biggest (if completely misguided) fan on a cable-access talk show about Broadway musicals.  That’s about it!  Along the way we were treated to a sampling from his illustrious career as a “living American composer,” including his musical rendering of Private Benjamin (“He Died Inside Me”) and a fantasia on shopping malls (best bit – poking fun at Abercrombie & Fitch).  When they got to the line about patriotism in another number – “Like an EAGLE with a BOOB JOB…” I was pretty much dying of laughter.  Of course the best part of the show was when a technical difficulty delayed the show for a few minutes, but the actors tried to keep us laughing.  Sadly this show is already closing by year’s end.  If you happen to be near NYC – check it out!

Then we closed the weekend with our long-planned destination – seeing Daniel Radcliffe (a.k.a. Harry Potter) in Equus.  It’s a play I’ve seen before, and I knew it was powerful and disturbing, but I was still unprepared for how visceral and intense it can get.  Radcliffe was very strong, proving that his experience as an actor has come a long way, baby!  As for the much-reported nudity – it’s kind of not the point at all.  By the time it happens, you’re so drawn into the moment you hardly notice.  It’s a violently gripping scene that will stick with you long after the curtain falls.

Photo by Alastair Muir

Photo by Alastair Muir

The strength of this play was actually in the production values – the lighting was par excellence, and the staging matched it very well.  One of the most intoxicating aspects is the use of large metal masks that mimic horses’ heads which the “horses” wear, along with high heel “hooves.”  They move with dancing grace and immense power.  The choreographer in me was in heaven.

Unfortunately the show has a real weak point, which is suprisingly Richard Griffiths.  The award winner seemed to be phoning his performance in, giving all the energy of a marble statue.  It’s a shame, because his take on the character was refreshing.  It was also disappointing to see the wonderful Kate Mulgrew prove that she forgot how to PROJECT in the THEATER so those of us in the BALCONY can hear her.  (See, you heard that, didn’t you?)

All in all – a remarkable production – the 3 hours flew by.  If you still have the chance to see this before it closes in February (and can get a good deal on tickets), this is well worth your time.

Next up in this space, a review of the film Milk, starring Sean Penn!

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