Sunday, November 28, 2010

‘Lombardi’: A Good Story About a Great Man

Dan Lauria and Judith Light, above, as Vince and Marie Lombardi at a Giants/ Patriots game. Photos from http://www.lombardibroadway.com.

BY TAMARA BECK

"WE
didn't lose. We just ran out of time," Dan Lauria's Vince Lombardi bellows at Keith Nobbs' Michael McCormick in the new NFL co-produced "Lombardi."

You don't have to be a football fan to enjoy the outstanding performances in this tight and light drama about the life of the late, great coach of the Green Bay Packers. There are not a lot of surprises in the script by Eric Simonson based on the book, “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” by Pulitzer-prize winning Washington Post editor David Maraniss. Coach Lombardi is a tough taskmaster with a monomaniacal focus. He rages easily. DL gives a well-rounded performance as a man who demands perfection and control. He is exceptionally good at his craft and an excellent leader.

In “Lombardi,” at the Circle in the Square Theatre through 2 Jan., there is also a fair sprinkling of locker room chatter with which audiences will probably be familiar from going to the movies. I am excessively fond of films about sports. I love the life lessons they teach and the spirit they exhibit. This show has that spirit, too.

Dan Lauria’s Vince Lombardi at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, next to a poster of himself.

Judith Light is exceptional as the brittle, hard-drinking Marie, Lombardi's wife and booster. She sees his flaws and protects her husband. Her pride in his accomplishments is evident.

Michael McCormick narrates the story, which covers several years but centers around a weeklong interview that appears to be his biggest assignment. KN is boyish and poised as the likable young reporter.

Visit http://http://www.lombardibroadway.com/ to learn more about 'Lombardi."

Tamara Beck is President, Clean Lists Associates, Inc, an association management firm. And an avid theater-goer.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

‘A Free Man of Color,’ ‘Banished Children of Eve’

Jeffrey Wright, above, as the larger-than-life Jacques Cornet in “A Free Man of Color.” Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

BY TAMARA BECK

THE
theme is America’s racial history at different points in the national timeline. One play is a raucous spectacle with a cast of 32 and a strong sense of theatrical traditions. The other is rather grim and slightly amateurish despite a seasoned and sometimes exceptional cast.

John Guare covers a lot of territory in "A Free Man of Color" at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theater through 9 Jan. Under the play’s title in the playbill, "Professor" Guare credits a long list of influences, from the Greeks to the Restoration.

Much of this could alienate and antagonize his audience:
· There's the callow titular character, ably portrayed as foppish, egocentric, conceited and annoying by Jeffrey Wright;
· The frenetic history lesson that travels continents;
· One can't ignore the fact that the central character is a black man with huge sexual appetites and exceptional prowess.

The latter in particular has the power to offend even if there is no intention to do so.

Further, there are numerous characters who are merely representatives – many paper cutouts rather than fleshed-out personalities. For instance, the veteran John McMartin's Thomas Jefferson is a stock figure of a man content with the borders as they are. His secretary, Meriwether Lewis, eager to explore unknown territories beyond the existing 16 states, is animated by the fine Paul Dano. Take a bow: you recognized his destiny as part of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It will occur before the end of our saga, which begins in New Orleans of 1801.

Jeffrey Wright seated, center, with cast, including Mos third from left second row, in “A Free Man of Color.” Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, New Orleans was a free-wheeling city whose denizens were often defined, but not hampered, by race. JG has each of the city’s citizens in “A Free Man of Color” introduce himself by his entire racial makeup.

JW's "free man," Jacques Cornet, has a slave, Cupidon Murmur, he inherited along with his wealth from his white father. Mos aka Mos Def portrays with equal finesse Murmur's yearning to purchase his own freedom, his admiration and disdain for Jacques Cornet, as well as the liberator of Haiti, Toussaint Louverture.

Jacques Cornet's half-brother, Zeus-Marie Pinceposse, a smarmy Reg Rogers, pride-fully proclaims himself to be 100 percent white. He is in a mock marriage to a black girl, his "Margaret" aka Margery Jolicouer, played by Nicole Beharie as a giggly, wily country girl. He is tormented by jealousy of her and of his brother's riches.

Triney Sandoval's Napoleon Bonaparte stands out in a cast of 26 who portray 37 historical figures. Also excellent is Justina Machado as Doña Smeralda, one of the wives our hero seduces.

The story has an erudition and a cynical modern sensibility. The staging is entertaining and stirs the intricate plot at a fast pace thanks to the deft direction of George C. Wolfe. Hope Clarke choreographs swordplay that even on the Beaumont's expansive stage threatens to spill out over the audience. The exquisite costumes by Ann Hould-Ward are colorful and imaginative.

Set years later in New York City is “Banished Children of Eve.” Kelly Younger's world premiere at The Irish Repertory Theatre until 5 Dec. is based on a novel by Peter Quinn.

Christopher Borger as Squirt, Amber Gray as Eliza, David Lansbury as Jack Mulcahey, and Malcolm Gets as Stephen Collins Foster in "Banished Children of Eve." Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The background and history that inform this story – the Draft Riots that lasted from 13 to 17 July 1863 and the ethnic tensions they brought to the fore – are more interesting by far than this little melodrama. The working classes, particularly the Irish, were under the impression that while they were being conscripted to fight the Confederacy, newly freed blacks would get their jobs. The resulting riots were both bloody and brutal.

Nonetheless “Banished Children of Eve” does have something to recommend it.

The cleverly designed circular set by Charlie Corcoran is busy with the industry of an 1863 New York City street. Here a cobbler polishing a shoe; there fishmonger Euphemia Blanchard (the shrill Patrice Johnson) offering “creatures of the deep,” and a theatre owner Mr. Miller (Kern McFadden) hawking his latest minstrel show.

It’s a small stage so the scale of activity and the details of the set are impressive.

Like All Good, ‘In the Heights’ Is Coming to an End
From the “sad to see it go” department: The 2008 Tony-winning musical “In the Heights” closes on 9 Jan. Lin Manuel Miranda’s rap about the gentrification of a neighborhood is lyrical, romantic, funny, nostalgic and wise. This reviewer saw it three times and will miss having it around for another peek into the lives Miranda brilliantly created.

Visit http://www.lct.org/showMain.htm?id=198 to learn more about “A Free Man of Color,” and http://www.irishrep.org/banishedchildrenofeve.html to learn more about “Banished Children of Eve.”

Tamara Beck is President, Clean Lists Associates, Inc, an association management firm. And an avid theater-goer.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

'Brain: The Inside Story' of an Incredible Organ

The anatomical illustration by Vesalius, above, shows the brain as the hub of the nervous system, a branching network of nerves that links all the parts of the body and connects with the outside world. Photo from AMNH/D. Finnin.

AS I write this story on my computer keyboard I am eating slices of Granny Smith apples. I know that I am eating a Granny Smith, of course, because I can see that it is green and can taste that familiar tart flavor.

I am also able to see it and taste it because of the workings of my cortex. This wrinkly part of the brain regulates not only my ability to see and taste, but to feel, hear and smell. Signals are sent to my visual cortex and gustatory cortex, where I receive the message that I am eating a Granny Smith instead of a Royal Gala.

Similarly, I am able to type without looking at the keyboard (except for the numbers) because in my high school typing class I repeatedly practiced where the letters are positioned on the keyboard. If I touch the "R" key instead of the "T" key, for instance, I know something is amiss because I have memories of the location of each key in my basil ganglia. This area in the center of the brain stores memory of routine activities such as typing or tying shoelaces.

No doubt I learned such scintillating facts in my high school science class – or was it junior high? In any case, it was not presented in such an accessible, interesting and interactive fashion. The world has the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) to thank for “Brain: The Inside Story” on view until 14 Aug. 2011. Very few who pass through New York will have an excuse to miss this expansive showcase because it will be up for nearly nine months. Online visitors will not get the full experience but will surely sense the extraordinariness of it. (See various videos and slideshows: http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/brain/videos.php)

“I want people to change when they go through the exhibit, curator Rob DeSalle said during remarks at the press preview last week. RDeS is also a researcher at AMNH’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics. “I want people to think better after they go through the exhibit.”

Using hand-recognition technology, this interactive exhibit helps visitors understand how neurons communicate with each other at high speeds using thin spindly branches called dendrites that constantly change shape and sprout new shoots. Photo by AMNH/D. Finnin.

"Brain: The Inside Story,” offering some of the latest information and newest perspectives on the workings of a complex organ, is divided into seven sections. “Your Emotional Brain,” for example addresses how the brain processes emotions, while “Your 21st-Century Brain” takes into account advancements that can help the deaf, blind and epileptics.

Enter the exhibit, and welcome to the “Introduction" section. In a small case on a pedestal in Daniel Canogar’s brain installation is a human brain preserved using some sort of silicone technique that is beyond easy comprehension by the lay mind. It weighs about three pounds and is utterly captivating. One is compelled to get as close to the glass as possible and to move around the pedestal for the very best vantage point for observation. Equally captivating is the installation itself. It is a darkened space filled with 1,500 pounds of cable-like wire extended from a frame near the ceiling to the floor. The wires are tangled, twisted, contorted and intersected. Beads and shards of light move rapidly over the wires. Together, they represent the brain’s pathways and the myriad electrochemical signals therein that help the human perform any number of functions like walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Along with a couple of dozen other journalists, Yours Truly opted for a tour behind the scenes led by scientists, including one who studies the brains of birds. Another, John Maisey, curator in the AMNH’s Division of Paleontology, has learned that brains can fossilize and has proof in the form of the skull of a 300-million-year-old fish with a brain-shaped structure at its center. He is absolutely giddy about this find - in Kansas of all places. “I suspect that the brain was not preserved on its own,” said JM, who has the look of a mad scientist about him. “I believe it was eaten by another animal to have remained intact.”

During a fascinating visit with the rather telegenic Mark Siddall, curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, the group had the pleasure of seeing parts of an octopus, squid and sponge. All are preserved in alcohol. The one live creature was a leech – or rather several. While theirs are not as complex, leeches have more brains than humans – two to be exact. A front brain and a back brain, both of which they require for survival. It is the rear brain that informs the bloodsuckers when they have had their fill.

Heretofore, none had seen a diagram of a lobster brain but plenty had clapped eyes on a dead lobster, though not as big as the one MS keeps in his lab. Incidentally, the lobster brain does allow it to have the sensation of feel. Yes, when they are dropped into boiling water they do feel the heat. Because it is unbearable they faint, MS said. The result is tough meat. For better results he recommends “putting them in cold water and bringing it to room temperature” and then heating it up. An even better result is to cut it down the middle. Either way it does not bode well for the lobster, no?

In the theater presentation on the brain and brain function, a clear resin 3D brain that lights up relevant brain areas is synchronized with a video that follows Lea Elizabeth Ved as she auditions for Julliard. Here, the amygdala lights up to signal her nervousness. Photo by AMNH/D. Finnin.

Back out front at the exhibit, once a visitor moves out of the brain installation the next stop is the “Introductory Theater” section. On view is a huge brain made from resin that lights up to show which parts of her brain Lea Elizabeth Ved, shown on an adjacent video screen, is using during her dance audition for Julliard. It and the human diagram on the edge of the installation are not to be missed. The two are what primary school education is to the rest of formal education. Good primers, both as they prepare visitors for success when they stop by the build-a-brain interactive exhibit ("Your Emotional Brain" section) and language acquisition interactive ("Your Thinking Brain" section). "Your Sensing Brain" section is the home of the waterfall illusion. One sees a waterfall but is that the sound of a waterfall being piped out of the speaker. Is the mind playing tricks or are tricks playing the mind?

At the human diagram in the intro section one learns that the spinal cord is “the main highway of the nervous system.” In other words, it carries signals from the body to the brain and from the brain to the body. (The brain stem connects the spinal cord to the brain and the rest of the body.) Knowing this puts into perspective what doctors mean when they declare a patient brain dead.

Unlike LEV, a brain dead person does not have the capacity to become nervous during a dance audition or on any other occasion. Her fit of nerves is triggered when a stem cell sends a message to her limbic system, the place where emotions are triggered and memories are processed. Also stored in this bank, viewers learn from the video clip, are memories of the numerous occasions her dance instructor reminded her that she knows the routine well (stored in her basil ganglia). This has a calming effect. All the while, the various parts of her brain in play as she moves or feels light up on the resin model. LEV finishes the audition and is pleased with her performance. She will remember it a long time. Specifically, this memory resides in the amygdala section of her limbic system. The memory of her acceptance at Julliard is stored there, too.

Every second a neuron (brain cell) may send as many as 1,000 signals regarding memory of any number of sensations and all brain functions. It is through neurons that messages are transported throughout the nervous system, from the body to the brain, within the brain and from the brain to muscles and organs. That's why it takes more than eyes to see, ears to hear and so on. These electrochemical signals zip from neuron to neuron by way of a connection called a synapse at speeds up to 250 miles (400 kilometers) an hour. See a visual illustration of this at the neuron gesture table in the “Your Sensing Brain” section and be mesmerized by the speed of the movement of neurons when a hand is placed on the table, as well as the spidery forms created by the contact. The brain allows humans to experience their environment as an integrated whole because of the constant signals (traffic) therein.

A floating projection of fMRIs (functional images of the brain) in the Brain Lounge tells the story of four people performing differnt activities. Photo by AMNH/ R. Mickens

This notion is best articulated in this sensing brain section. Take sight for instance. Of course, one sees with one’s eyes. However, eyes (through the retina) respond to patterns of light by sending electrical signals to one set of brain cells. The cells (thalamus) take the signals and relays them to other cells (visual cortex) down the line that sense shape, color and movement. Piece by piece the brain puts together the scene that we see, whether it’s grass, an apple or an obscured image of Jay-Z's spouse. At another station in this section the viewer is challenged to identify the portrait of a certain lady with a sly smile from piecemeal visual cues.

Brain areas are devoted to seeing, smelling, tasting and touching. “They communicate,” according to ‘Brain: The Inside Story’, "like parts of an orchestra, so that your experience feels rich, seamless and complete.”

End "Brain: The Inside Story” in the Brain Lounge. Take a load off on white latex-like benches arranged around a projector shaped like a tabletop. View the brain scans of a few people at work, including a United Nations translator switching easily from Arabic to English, as well as those of a New York Knicks basketball player as he reacts to making a basket and the resultant crowd response. Swoosh!

Visit http://www.amnh.org/ to learn more about “Brain: The Inside Story, including hours, admission, gift shop, etc.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Misunderstandings in 'The Language Archive'

John Horton, Matt Letscher, Betty Gilpin and Jayne Houdyshell, above, in “The Language Archive.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

THERE are no clichés in “The Language Archive,” Julia Cho’s commissioned new work from Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels Theatre through 19 Dec. There are, though, a few too many devices.

But all happily add up to more than the sum of their parts. (See opening night footage: http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/video/1011/archive_2.htm)

Each character directly addresses the audience at some point during the play. There is dialogue in defunct languages. The cast gives audience-participation lessons in Esperanto. Characters appear to each other with the very thing that each needs – sort of Deus Ex item, or needs to hear.

Matt Letscher is appealing as George, the linguist in the titular The Language Archive. He is not an emotional man; he is deeply saddened, however, by dying languages. His wife, Mary, he explains, cries all the time; this saddens and worries him. But he is unable to convince Mary, played by an alluring Heidi Schreck, why she should not leave him. On the other side of the lab, his assistant, Emma (Betty Gilpin), can’t find the words, even in Esperanto to tell him that she loves him.

George and Mary both have a wry manner and a pleasant mien; in other words they seem well suited, so it is a surprise when Mary leaves him. There is a little foreshadowing of it, though, when George – in a moment of nostalgia – remembers when he first met Mary. His words are extremely romantic and eloquent, but language is a two-way street. Mary doesn’t understand what he’s trying to say. The two are not speaking the same language, even though they are both English speakers. A shortcoming of “The Language Archive” is that it lacks character motivation as it regards these two. It is clear what they don’t want to or can’t express. What is unclear is why this is.

Elsewhere, Jayne Houdyshell (Alta and others) deftly pulls off silly accents and survives ridiculous costumes. She plays her various parts with flair, revealing the underlying truth and humanity of each character. John Horton (Resten, Alta’s husband and others) skillfully conveys the distinctions in all of his parts. Resten and Alta, the Elowan couple flown in to the Archive so that George and Emma can record the last conversations in a dying language, are better able to express their feelings. They bicker and argue in English because they are too mad at each other to use their own beautiful language. Their cutting words are stronger than the recriminations in their banter.

Love and language and, bread-making are at the heart of this quirky unromantic comedy, ably directed by Mark Brokaw.

Visit http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/pels/ to learn more about “The Language Archive.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tristan Couvares Isn't Going to Disney World

TRISTAN Couvares is going to be emancipated in two days’ time, and guess what he’s going to do?

Instead of going to an amusement park, tonight he is going to host a live “Webathon” charity talent show (http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=110541645678380).

Yeah, I know what you’re wondering – Who is TC and why should you care that he’s being emancipated and celebrating said event?

Trritan Couvares, right, with Lucy and presumably awaiting orders from his public. Photo from Control TV Facebook page.

In answer to the latter questions first: For two obvious reasons. One, no human should be held in bondage. Second, good will come from it. Specifically, proceeds raised from the somewhat secretive L.A. talent show will go to four charities, including charity: water (http://www.charitywater.org/) and Green Dot Public Schools (http://www.greendot.org/).

As for TC, if a certain Facebook page is to be believed the 25-year-old Manchester, CT total babe moved to Los Angeles two years ago. Somehow, goes the narrative, he found himself “with no job, no girl, and no clue what do [sic] do with his life …”

Eh voila! a reality show and star-in-the-making are born. Not just any reality show, however. “Control TV” made its debut last month on the Web with two groovy hooks: Viewers are encouraged to vote on virtually every aspect of TC’s life, down to what he eats and wears. By popular demand he inherited a doll named Dolly and a car named Lucy. One question on the table now is whether TC should keep Lucy, a 2011 Ford Fiesta, per an oath he made to viewers. Voting is trending toward him keeping his ride, but it doesn’t end until Tuesday (16 Nov.) at 9 a.m. PST.

Are you ready for this, “Control TV” is streamed live – 24/7. Check it out now: http://www.controltv.com/. When TC is freed from his shackles on Wednesday (17 Nov.), it will have been for six weeks.

One reckons such a traumatic experience calls for tonight’s jubilee at Café Was (http://www.cafewas.com/), especially if one detests fried hotdogs or doesn’t care to be burdened with a pregnant belly suit. In New York, the talent show will be simulcast at 9:30 EST during the aptly named “Libations for Liberation!,” a celebrity-speckled party thrown by Digital Broadcasting Group (DBG, http://http://www.blogger.com/www.dbgroup.tv/), the show’s executive producer/distributor.

Granted, maybe you still don’t care about TC. Surely, though, your heart beats for Ocean Park Community Center (http://www.opcc.org/) and Donors Choose (http://http://www.donorschoose.org//), no?

Just Sayin' ... '38th International Emmy Awards'

Three 38th International Emmys Awards nominees: Naomie Harris, above, in a scene from "Small World"; Julio Chavez and Cecilia Roth (center) in "Epitafios," as well as Kristine Hermosa and Jericho Rosales in "Dahil May Isang Ikaw," which is nominated for Best Telenovela. Photos from http://www.bbc.co.uk/, HBO and http://www.abs-cbn.com/, respectively.

AS I perused the list of 39 nominated programs/performances in 10 categories up for prizes in the 38th International Emmy Awards ceremony next Monday (22 Nov.), I kept an eye open for work that captured my imagination.

What made the biggest impression, however, were the observations that Yours Truly was making in search of interesting/compelling international television to bring to your attention. Eight of them are listed below in no particular order.

OBSERVATION No. 1 – While the awards recognize excellence in television outside of the United States, The 2010 International Emmy World Television Festival (20, 21 Nov.) and awards ceremony are held at the New York Hilton. Why not Laos, Lisbon or London? I have sent out polite inquiries and hopefully will have an answer shortly.

OBSERVATION No. 2 – The Brits generally have the most nominations. This year the count is nine. For instance: Likely the best known in the world of all of the nominees are two UK players. Helena Bonham Carter is up for a Best Actress award for "Enid" (Blyton), about the very complicated life of the great children’s book author (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nxkm8). In The Street, Bob Hoskins (Best Actor nominee) is Paddy Gargan, a recovering alcoholic and owner of a pub on an ordinary street. He and his patrons muddle through life – sometimes the best they can; sometimes not – like the rest of us (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008cbds). The TV Movie/Mini-Series category includes “Small Island” with Hortense (Naomie Harris) as a Jamaican immigrant to 1948 London. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/smallisland/index.html). She has big dreams, which are challenged when she faces racism and poverty. The series, which also airs in the United States and Northern Ireland, is based on Andrea Levy’s best-selling novel of the same name ... Do the Brits fare so well because more work is submitted from their shores? Do they simply produce the best work? Or is the fix in?

OBSERVATION No. 3 – There are only two African entries – both from South Africa. One of HBC’s competitors in the Best Actress category is Lerato Mvelase, a star of Home Affairs, a series about the seemingly different lives of nine South African women. (http://www.penguinfilms.co.za/inprod/inprod2005.html) LM, who staged a very public and successful fundraising campaign to book passage to New York for the awards ceremony, portrays a university student originally from the provinces who has lived an overprivileged life with her adoptive parents in the city ... Still in the throes of euphoria after beating out 85 contenders to win the prestigious Rose D’Or (http://www.rosedor.com/) are the brains/talent behind Hopeville. The mini-series (http://www.curious.co.za/) about a reformed alcoholic who wants to reform his town’s public swimming pool, triggering a hue and cry, is nominated as a Best TV Movie/Mini-series.

OBSERVATION No. 4 – It is not televised live or recorded (though last year it was streamed live and likely will be this year), therefore the 38th International Emmy Awards and previous editions are an unknown entity to most in the United States. Yet the program is not a small affair (http://iemmys.tv/awards.aspx). Last year Graham Norton hosted. Barbara Walters, Henry Kissinger and David Frost presented and/or received the International Emmy Directorate Award or International Emmy Founders Award. Previous recipients of the Directorate/Founders award include Silvio Berlusconi, Jacques Cousteau, Hisashi Hieda, Patrick Le Lay, Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Ted Turner and Dick Wolfe. At the 38th International Emmy Awards hosted by Jason Priestley, the Directorate award goes to Lorne Michaels (“Saturday Night Live”); the Founders award honoree is none other than Simon Cowell (“American Idol” amongst other things).

OBSERVATION No. 5 – Out of hundreds of entries from 50 countries considered in three rounds of judging over six months by more than 700 judges, there are no nominated programs from India or the rest of South Asia; ditto for France.

OBSERVATION No. 6TV Globo seems to have a lock on TV production in Brazil. The company is either the sole or co-producer of all five of the country’s nominated programs, including Best Documentary contender, Kuarup: The Lost Soul Will Return. It chronicles the two-day ritual of bringing back the lost souls of family and friends practiced by the Alto Xingu Indians (http://www.globotvinternational.com/prodMulti.asp?prodId=139&mType=25&catId=4).

OBSERVATION No. 7 – Is HBO poaching content ideas from itself and others? Last year’s, “Capacodio” (Mexico, http://www.hbolatino.com/capadocia/), is a drama set in a women’s prison airing on HBO Latino. HBO classic is responsible for “Oz,” the discontinued drama set in a men’s prison. This year’s Best Drama entrant, Argentina’s “Epitafios” (“Epitaph,” http://www.hbolatino.com/epitafios/index.shtml), is about a serial killer. “Dexter” is the namesake of the serial killer on the popular Showtime series (http://www.sho.com/site/dexter/home.do).

OBSERVATION No. 8 – Those in the United States in particular who swear off TV, probably will not invest in one to watch international TV either. Some good stuff here to be sure. And no shortage of the bad and the ugly.

Visit http://iemmys.tv/ to learn more about the 38th International Emmy Awards and festival.

Live from New York, Lord & Taylor’s 'Holiwindows'
The family scene, right, is one of 12 window displays to be shown this evening when Lord & Taylor's Holiday Window displays are unveiled. Below, a panel from last year's display. Photos from www.LordandTaylor.com and Rudy Pospisil (www.anothernormal.com).

For more than 70 years Lord & Taylor has been contributing to the U.S. yuletide season in part by unveiling its Christmas windows each November. Tonight, the New York-based department store is unveiling its Fifth Avenue (#424) windows in a way it has never done before:

The unveiling ceremony at 5:30 EST will be streamed live (www.lordandtaylor.com/share). That means anybody in the world with an Internet connection who cares to see yet another American spectacle can witness it if s/he wishes – even a body in Timbuktu.

This year there are all manner of tie-ins:
– Before the unveiling Broadway star Kristin Chenowith will perform;

– Not only will the Young People’s Chorus of NYC sing, the ensemble (http://www.ypc.org/) will perform “Share the Joy,” a holiday song composed exclusively for L&T;

– Local student groups across nine states where L&T stores are located will simultaneously sing “Share the Joy.” The performances will be posted on L&T’sWeb site (www.lordandtaylor.com/);

– Today, the Fifth Avenue store only hosts/boasts “Charity Day” to benefit the American Red Cross (http://www.nyredcross.org/). Customers who make a $5 donation receive a 20 percent off single-item coupon and 15 percent savings the whole of the day. L&T will also support the Red Cross’ preparedness mission with a customer drive to collect vital disaster supply items for emergency "Go-Bags."

– “Share the Joy” is the theme of this year's holiday window displays; see past displays at http://intheknow.lordandtaylor.com/news-events/holiday-windows-past-present/?nggpage=2;

– The windows were inspired by favorite holiday traditions and memories from L&T customers, families and friends submitted via Facebook;

– The 12 Christmas scenes, set in New York over the past 50 years, include “picking out a tree,” “taking a family photo” and “Christmas baking”;

“This year is all about sharing and we’re thrilled to take our customer interaction to a new level by bringing to life their holiday traditions in our windows,” Brendan Hoffman, President and CEO/L&T said in a press release. “The annual Christmas windows are our gift to New York City and I’m excited that this year we can share the magic of this tradition with everyone around the world through our live stream.”


Tristan Couvares Is Going to Get His Life Back
TRISTAN Couvares is going to be emancipated in two days’ time, and guess what he’s going to do?

Instead of going to an amusement park, tonight he is going to host a live “Webathon” charity talent show (http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=110541645678380).

Yeah, I know what you’re wondering – Who is TC and why should you care that he’s being emancipated and celebrating said event?

Trritan Couvares, right, with Lucy and presumably awaiting orders from his public. Photo from Control TV Facebook page.

In answer to the latter questions first: For two obvious reasons. One, no human should be held in bondage. Second, good will come from it. Specifically, proceeds raised from the somewhat secretive L.A. talent show will go to four charities, including charity: water (http://www.charitywater.org/) and Green Dot Public Schools (http://www.greendot.org/).

As for TC, if a certain Facebook page is to be believed the 25-year-old Manchester, CT total babe moved to Los Angeles two years ago. Somehow, goes the narrative, he found himself “with no job, no girl, and no clue what do [sic] do with his life …”

Eh voila! a reality show and star-in-the-making were born. Not just any reality show, however. “Control TV” made its debut last month on the Web with two groovy hooks: Viewers are encouraged to vote on virtually every aspect of TC’s life, down to what he eats and wears. By popular demand he inherited a doll named Dolly and a car named Lucy. One question on the table now is whether TC should keep Lucy, a 2011 Ford Fiesta, per an oath he made to viewers. Voting is trending toward him keeping his ride, but it doesn’t end until Tuesday (16 Nov.) at 9 a.m. PST.

Are you ready for this, “Control TV” is streamed live – 24/7. Check it out now: http://www.controltv.com/. When TC is freed from his shackles on Wednesday (17 Nov.), it will have been for six weeks.

One reckons such a traumatic experience calls for tonight’s jubilee at Café Was (http://www.cafewas.com/), especially if one detests fried hotdogs or doesn’t care to be burdened with a pregnant belly suit. In New York, the talent show will be simulcast at 9:30 EST during the aptly named “Libations for Liberation!,” a celebrity-speckled party thrown by Digital Broadcasting Group (DBG, http://http://www.blogger.com/www.dbgroup.tv/), the show’s executive producer/distributor.

Granted, maybe you still don’t care about TC. Surely, though, your heart beats for Ocean Park Community Center (http://www.opcc.org/) and Donors Choose (http://http://www.donorschoose.org/), no?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Very Different Flights in 'Wings,' 'Spirit Control'

Jan Maxwell (seated), above as Emily Stilson in "Wings." Below, in "Spirit Control," are Brian Hutchison, Maggie Lacey and Jeremy Sisto. Photos by Joan Marcus.

BY TAMARA BECK

THE
theme is flight. That is all Arthur Kopit’s 1978 “Wings” and Beau Willimon’s brand-spanking new, “Spirit Control,” have in common.

Jan Maxwell can do anything! In “Wings,” currently in a revival through 21 Nov. at the Second Stage Theatre, her portrayal of Emily Stilson is proof of her theatrical prowess.

Emily has suffered a stroke, and the stages of her recovery are apparent. Though she cannot speak, her recorded voice is lucidly screaming in her head. She is delusional – believing she has been captured behind enemy lines. Emily begins to communicate with her doctors and nurses in garbled language. Much of this is a monologue taking place while she is seated in a straightback chair.

JM gives a tour-de-force performance. But despite the seemingly interesting back story –Emily is a wingwalker – most of “Wings” remains very dull. January LaVoy convincingly plays compassionate and intelligent therapist, Amy, who works with Emily individually and proves to be a comforting leader in group sessions.

The opening scenes of “Wings,”during which the cast is dressed as doctors and nurses pushing around panels and mirrors as Emily muses, are busy and clamorous. Even the "smoke" and mirrors don’t add to the theatricality or excitement.

When “Wings” was first produced in 1978, it was a hit. In this iteration it is a decidedly minor and uninspiring work.

No such thing can be said of Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of “Spirit Control” at City Center Stage I.

The superb and versatile Jeremy Sisto is Adam Wyatt, chief air-traffic controller at The Spirit of St. Louis airfield. An incident on Adam’s watch in the summer of 1985 haunts him over the next 25 years. It impacts both his interpersonal relationships, and the choices he makes.

His buddy and colleague, Karl (Brian Hutchison) picks up some of the pieces. His wife, Jess (Maggie Lacey) tries to preserve the normalcy of their marriage. Nothing, however, remains normal for Adam. His son, Tommy, (Aaron Michael Davies) vents his anger against him. The seductive Maxine, a fetching Mia Barron, wreaks havoc and, gives him peace.

Adam is fiercely protective of the secret that informs his actions. He is deeply wounded and resigned in his anger but at the same time determined to heal himself in his isolation. In a carefully nuanced performance, JS strips away all of the layers to expose the ethos of a proud and capable man who has lost his power to fix what is broken.

The storytelling is taut – unraveling a compelling and unusual account of a life that has veered off course.

Visit http://http://www.2st.com/ to learn more about “Wings,” and http://www.mtc-nyc.org to learn more about “Spirit Control.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

MIAAC: One Man's Quest to Save the Music

"In Songs of Mashangva," Rewben Mashangva, above, has a musical message for his people that is chronicled in part by director Oinam Doren, below. Photos from Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival.

AS you’re reading this article, Rewben Mashangva and his 9-year-old son, Saka, may be making their way to another village in northeast India to share some good news.

With self-made instruments in tow, the blues musician and composer is essentially on tour playing oldies and goodies that many from his Tangkhul Naga tribe have all but forgotten. The musical genre is a form of folk that is almost 1,000 years old and was once upon a time fully integrated into the lives of the people in the hill region (Ukhrul district) of Manipur state on the border with Myanmar.

In Songs of Mashangva, making its U.S. premiere at the 10 Annual Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council (MIAAC) Film Festival tonight, director Oinam Doren chronicles this fascinating story and the tragedy that informs it in his first feature-length film.

“I instinctively made a connection with it [music],” OD explained via e-mail. “The sound was unique, something I have never heard of before and the lyrics was very local. I identify myself with the visual images the songlines connotes.”

In an article titled “My howling Mashangva experience,” writer Jyaneswar Laishram waxes nostalgic about the first time he saw the artist in concert: “… my maiden experience of his music at ‘Shared Solace’ was something else beyond what I expected from him. In fact, my knowledge of music is not mature enough to give proper appreciation of Mashangva’s songs. His music is perhaps a discovery of the finest facet of our homegrown tune which had been buried unnoticed for a long time.” (http://www.merinews.com/article/my-howling-mashangva-experience/15830375.shtml)

It was at university that OD, who has worked in TV and is also a writer and photojournalist, first heard RM’s music. At the time he wanted to do something with his music but he did not know what just yet. “Over the years, Mashangva grew as a musician both in status and in form while I became a filmmaker. It is only when I met him, started interacting with him that I realized there is more to Mashangva's music other than just the unique sound or lyrics.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2EbTsrSKs0)

Part of what he realized was RM’s music preservation campaign. How is it possible, though, that such an ancient tradition can be facing extinction? Two words: Christian missionaries. It is the familiar, sad, sorry story of these “do-gooders” globetrotting, converting primitive pagans and heathens to the one true God, then massively overstepping the bounds of civilized behavior by denouncing ancient cultural traditions/institutions/mores as inferior and replacing them with self-described superior European alternatives.

“They [Tangkhul Nagas] have songs for every occasion – festival, seasons, work or everyday activities. For them it was a way of life,” said OD, who has observed that similar cultural practices are under threat in segments of his community, The Meiteis. “The songs also made the toils and labour of primitive life in the wild very pleasing.”

In relatively few years however, dating to the late 19th century, the Rev.William Pettigrew&Co., set into motion a chain of events that today is making RM’s challenge a rather formidable one, and the plight of Tankhul Naga folk music is not part of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage campaign. (http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00002) The young generation favors gospel and rock, while the old generation is dying out, “so the fear is that after a few generations, the rich heritage will perish completely from the Tangkhul Naga society, said OD who is from the valley region of Manipur state. Coincidentally, his and RM’s regions are at odds with each other for reasons too complex to explain here. The two men, obviously, are not.

Asked what he wants viewers to take away from “Songs of Mashangva,” OD said, “I wish my film garners enough supporters, partners, collaborators around the world for Rewben so that he succeeds in his mission. Otherwise I don’t see any future for him, as well as this rich primitive art.”

Visit http://miaacfilmfest.org/index.htm for tickets, venues, show times and general information about the “10th Annual Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival.

Monday, November 8, 2010

'New York Entrepreneur Week' Means Business

The 15-second pitch during New York Entrepreneur Week in April, above, is back for this edition, along with the popular networking session, below. Photos by Jeffrey Holmes for New York Entrepreneur Week.

HAVE a brilliant business idea and all the resources to launch the enterprise except money? Is the idea cogent enough to pitch to a moneybags in 15 seconds or less – on an elevator?

You are a thrill-seeker in the spirit of a 007 or any other double 00. Life’s excitement is on the edge where danger looms.

Doubtless, you are an evolved individual with pretensions to green living.

This really you? Do you want to be this individual? A place to be then, literally and virtually, is at New York Entrepreneur Week. It’s on today through Friday at Scholastic Auditorium in Soho. (http://www.nyew.org/event/agendaschedule-nov-2010/)

Organizers of the year-old, semi-annual NYEW best state their mission: “Our goal is to make connections across diverse industries, from young idea-stage innovators to hundred million dollar revenue generators, and join them together in a unifying movement that propels inspired business, facilitates lasting connections, and generates opportunities for more successful entrepreneurial ventures.”

It’s five days of speeches, panel discussions featuring leading and emerging entrepreneurs, Q&As, networking opps, and so on.

Each day during 20 min Speed Networking entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs-in-the-making have an opportunity to hunt up clients, hear solutions to business problems. And to pitch their big idea in the time it takes an elevator to reach the desired floor - at least 10, hopefully. There are also a couple of opportunities to submit the pitch online in hopes of breaking the world record. At the moment, the only prize is bragging rights, but a quick pitch can only help down the line, no? (http://www.nyew.org/event/world-record/)

Those who have been there (Living on the Edge: The James Bond Entrepreneur Lifestyle) and survived to tell the tale will explain how to morph those danger-courting tendencies into moneymaking propositions. Likewise, practitioners (Investing in Green: Why it Works) will jaw about how to make green from being green – sensible strategies along the lines of staying on-trend and why green is ripe for investment.

Plenty of food for consumption during the week. For instance, it is so difficult for some to do that it has given rise to 30 Second ‘Big Ask’ Round Robin. Here, 15 folks – some reluctant, no doubt – sitting in the crowd will be randomly selected to take the mike and ask for the money, mentors and advice they need. Childcare, too.

Events around dining and happy hour include NYEW Presents: The Entrepreneur VIP Dinner. Over a four-course meal and “intimate ambiance,” an opportunity to pick the brain of “six of the best and brightest entrepreneurs in the world.” Has anybody checked Bill Gates’ datebook? The more faint of heart will be less intimidated by NYEW & Do it in Person Present: The Cocktail Reception. Recognizing the importance of face-to-face communications, NYEW and DiiP blog have thrown in to host a mixer. In hopes of loosening tied tongues, a ticket for one premium drink – presumably that includes a martini, shaken not stirred.

Attendees can use tidbits picked up during NYEW at Startup Weekend. (http://nyc.startupweekend.org/) It is being billed as the first Arts+Tech mash-up where in 54 hours startup enthusiasts, marketers, business managers, graphic artists and others will converge for a networking orgy designed to spawn community and companies. It is also part of the Global Startup Battle.(http://globalstartupbattle.com/) It will connect startup weekends in more than 20 cities around the world e.g., São Paul and Tokyo, and lead to a sort of battle royale.

Meanwhile back at NYEW, innovators should turn their attention to the birthplace of civilization. Soon enough Asia will be tapped out, whereas Africa is still ripe for the picking, so to speak. “Entrepreneurship, Conscious Capitalism & the New African Renaissance” provides an overview of hot sectors, projects, social initiatives and successes/pitfalls on the Continent.

Considered the centerpiece of sorts of NYEW is “2BN in Value Created: Top Entrepreneurs Reflect.” In no uncertain terms, successful CEOs recommend thinking big first and crushing (yikes!) the competition.

Visit http://www.nyew.org/ to register, purchase tickets and get more information about New York Entrepreneur Week.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Surprising Results All Around 'In the Wake'

Danielle Skraastad, Susan Pourfar, Marin Ireland, Miriam F. Glover and Chernus, above, talk politics “In the Wake,”as does Danielle Skraastad, Michael Chernus, Marin Ireland, below. Photos by Joan Marcus.

BY TAMARA BECK

“IN the Wake,”
which opened at The Public Theater on Election Day after two weeks of previews, is as bracing as that first crisp gust of fall. It’s tantalizing and refreshing but somehow you know it’s going to be a long, hard winter.

Ellen steps forward to address an audience. As Ellen, the captivatingly expressive Marin Ireland, is always lecturing someone – generally about politics.

Ellen is talking about blind spots, and we assume the only wreck she is describing is the 2000 Presidential election and its aftermath of war and lies. “In the Wake” author Lisa Kron (“Well”) weaves detailed personal narratives into a politically charged framework.

Politics are not Ellen’s only blind spot. Her life is complicated not only by her devotion to left-leaning politics and work with foreign-aid charities. Like her sister-in-law, Kayla (Susan Pourfar), and her friend and houseguest, Judy (Deirdre O’Connell), Ellen works in the world of do-good non-profits. Her particular expertise is the rather arcane and well-articulated issues of tax codes and how they further the goals of the right.

Ellen is intense and she and Kayla can’t shut off the CNN coverage of the recount of 2000 even to celebrate Thanksgiving. Michael Chernus is charming as Danny, Kayla’s brother and Ellen’s live-in boyfriend. He hands out pilgrim collars and dons a hat, reminding Ellen that Laurie (Danielle Skraastad), Kayla’s wife, will be annoyed by all the political talk.

Kayla and Laurie both dislike Judy, DO’C in an excellent and droll turn, who has just returned from aid work in Africa. Judy is also intense, caught up in the world of ethnic wars she polices. She is moving to D.C. because, as it turns out, she is involved with a married man who will be working there.

Everyone here – Danny, Kayla, Judy, Laurie, and Ellen – is on the same page, certain that the results of the 2000 Election are a disaster for freedom and will lead to greater injustices everywhere. Judy’s niece, Tessa, an unaffected Miriam F. Glover, has come to live with her. She wonders why her schoolmates are so hard on George W. Bush. Our band of well-meaning liberals asks her if she doesn’t know what it feels like being an outsider since she is a black girl in a small Kentucky town. She doesn’t understand what they mean: “I’m mixed. My mother’s white.”

The politics are the intelligent icing on this story of relationships and romance.

At one point, Ellen tells Judy about Kayla and Laurie’s wedding. All of Kayla and Danny’s family attended and were puzzled that the lesbians had a big wedding, whereas she and Danny weren’t getting married.

As “In the Wake” unfolds, another impediment arises to a happy ending for Danny and Ellen. She meets Amy (Jenny Bacon)at a lecture and their relationship blossoms. Now Ellen must choose.

The choice she makes is unexpected, like the blind spot to which she alludes in the beginning. “In the Wake” is unexpected at every turn, and nothing is easy or facile.

For tickets and general information about “In the Wake” visit http://www.publictheater.org/component/option,com_shows/task,view/Itemid,141/id,1012/.

Tamara Beck is President, Clean Lists Associates, Inc, an association management firm. And an avid theater-goer.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Many Different Textures 'For Colored Girls'

In the closing scene of "For Colored Girls," above, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington, Janet Jackson, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Devine, Tessa Thompson and Thandie Newton. Below in other scenes from the film, Kimberly Elise and Rhashad; Whoopi Goldberg and Tessa Thompson, as well as Kimberly Elise and Michael Ealy. Top photo by Patrick Harbron; all others by Quantrell Colbert.

NOT surprisingly, “For Colored Girls” is getting the same kind of criticism as “The Color Purple,” the film: It makes black men look bad. Only one (Hill Harper’s detective) is shown in a positive light.

It opens nationwide today.

Two thoughts. First, anyone with common sense and a thinking brain knows that there are many good black men out there; there are many bad black men out there, too. Alas, the bad boys garner the most notice, which flows into thought No. 2: don’t blame the messenger. Just as “The Color Purple” was faithful to Alice Walker’s book, so is this film - if not to the words - to the spirit of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Ntozake Shange's classic choreopoem that addresses abortion, abandonment, rape and love. The characters are named for colors i.e. blue, red. etc. Writer/director/producer Tyler Perry gives the characters actual names - a number of liberties that he takes.

“For Colored Girls” will likely have a greater impact than another seminal film, “Waiting to Exhale.” The latter resonated with black women because it was the first time in myriad moons that they saw themselves on film as successful, complicated, nuanced individuals. Women of all ethnic groups could relate to the difficulty of relationships and the importance of having friends when He leaves/strays. It was a smash at the box office. A similar fate awaits “For Colored Girls,” though purists will be furious with TP for what they consider sacrilege.

“For Colored Girls” features 10 (including Macy Gray in a weird cameo) black actresses. Just about every black actress in Hollywood wanted a part in the film. It is, of course, a book. And has been adapted for both television and the stage. An Obie award and Tony nomination are among its accolades.

Try as I might I was unable to treat the film like any other. I couldn’t take it for granted, for this was not ordinary. I was witnessing something extraordinary, and it was appropriate that I had butterflies in my stomach and occasionally held my breath. Tears betrayed my poker face a few times. There’s the incredible Loretta Divine and TP’s sometimes muse, Kimberly Elise, who has one of the most interesting faces in Hollywood. And Janet. And Thandie. And Kerry. And on and on and on. Sistahs. SISTAHS. Is there any wonder that TP told the women of "The View" that he was intimidated. Who wouldn't be with all of this talent and a work of such heft and depth?

While I cannot relate to all of the characters - not that I must - I relate to a significant number. Phylicia Rashad as Gilda, a nosy neighbor who means well, reminds me of so many elderly women in the village neighborhood where I came of age in the South. The love shown in the comfort/scolding she gives to both KE’s Crystal/Brown and Thandie Newton’s Tangie/Orange is palpable. It’s as if she took the words right out of the mouth of Miss Becky (my grandfather’s first cousin) or any of those wise ol' girls in the neighborhood. In the neighborhood, too, were hardworking women like LD’s Juanita/Green, giving love to everybody and getting none herself. Janet Jackson’s uptight, elitist, resonates, too. All are loving and hurting and simply trying to make a way the best way they know how in a world that is often cold and cruel to them.

Some – white males, for example, who are responsible in the main (because they hold most of these jobs) for the film’s largely negative reviews just as they were with “Sex in the City 2” – may believe one is making a big to-do about nothing. I beg to differ. One is making a big to-do about something. It is rare to see such a large number of actresses of any ethnic group in featured roles on the big screen. The last I recall was “The Women” in 2008, and that was a remake of the 1939 classic starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine, Rosalind Russell and others. Did 70 years really need to lapse between the two films? White males see themselves in myriad guises on TV and in film – every character type imaginable. Many can’t begin to understand when an under-represented group becomes excited about a film – or any entertainment – that features them, especially in a broad range of roles.

As captivating as it is, “For Colored Girls” is by no means a perfect film. TP does a competent job of wrapping the narrative around the poems, as well as threading/overlapping the various stories. The film, though, has disposable and plodding moments. An early scene in the dance class that introduces Nyla/Purple (Tessa Thompson) is contrived, and frankly, boring. Further, here is a spot where NS's prose is diluted to the point of blandness, not to mention that Purple is uttering the words of Yellow - TP inexplicably does this with other colors throughout the film. MG's boozey, back-alley abortionist is a caricature and cliche. Meanwhile, LD always gives good performance as she does here, however, sometimes her delivery is more suited to the stage. Occasionally, she delivers her dialogue so fast she is barely comprehensible. And the projection in her voice that works so well on stage comes across as screaming on screen.

Further, at moments in “For Colored Girls” seemingly nothing is happening. It’s as if TP thinks that just putting black women on the screen is sufficient. It is not enuf to just see ourselves, we need to see ourselves doing something interesting/engaging. Blacks and other non-Europeans/European-Americans are increasingly being cast in roles outside of the box. TP deserves some credit in this expansion. He is not, however, above, stooping to buffoonery. In “For Colored Girls,” it is manifested in histrionics that put soap operas to shame. One example is a scene that evokes the specter of Madear in which Micheal Ealy as KE’s war-scared husband, Beau Willie, comes utterly undone. Similarly, a heated argument between Alice/White (Whoopi Goldberg) and Tangie/Orange borders on the shrill, is hollow and is excruciatingly long. To TP’s credit, he spares the rape scene from any such violation. It is handled with great care and is one of the most powerful and affecting in the film.

Incidentally, Anika Noni Rose’s recitation of the “latent rapists'” poem is a tour de force. One feels to the core her sense of bewilderment, betrayal and shame; her hurt. One takes onto one's self her pain and sorrow because she owns these words. She is utterly convincing. Here is one of the few spots in the film where the poems are handled well. Kerry Washington's "pyramid" is another. Alas, LD’s ("somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff") sounds more like a sermon. The acting is visible and offputting in MG’s abortionist’s, "i used to live in the world." It doesn’t help that she delivers it in an almost singsong voice. It’s been a spell since I read the book, but this one seems terribly and poorly embellished, or it is simply the delivery. Janet Jackson lost an opportunity to break out of Jo’s repressive shell in a scene that serves as a prelude to “sorry.” It is here that one should begin to see the cracks in her armor, but she maintains the same one-note robotic delivery she adopts throughout the film.

Still, "For Colored Girls" offers a welcome cross-section of character types, complete with complications and foibles. One doesn’t mind so much that Thandie Newton is a whore when Anike Noni Rose is a girl next door. Or Janet Jackson’s Wintour-esque magazine editor when she is counterbalanced by Kerry Washington's social worker ...

Indeed, the film has numerous flaws. It also has it moments, including the opening and closing. They are sublime and divine.

“For Colored Girls” is rated R for some disturbing violence, including a rape, sexual content and language.

DOC NYC, New York's Newest Docs Fest

Kati, above, is preparing to take her first steps into adulthood in "Kati with an I," one of the documentaries in DOC NYC. Below, a U2 concert filmed in 3-D and with Surround Sound. Photos from www http://www.docnyc.net.

VERY shortly, New York may be compelled to add another nickname to its arsenal – something around film.

An increasing number of festivals in different sizes and scope are calling the city home. There is the African Film Festival. The 7th Annual Southeast Asian International Film Festival just wrapped Tuesday. The 48th New York Film Festival shuttered last month, and the 14th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival in September. Of course, there is Tribeca and others.

A few upon us that merit notice are the inaugural “DOC NYC, New York’s Documentary Film Festival,” “10th Annual Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival and the “3rd Annual Zero Film Festival.”

For the last five years the weekly documentary series, Stranger than Fiction at the IFC Center (http://www.ifccenter.com/series/stranger-than-fiction/stf-fall-2010/) has been the proving ground for DOC NYC, a festival dedicated to - what else - documentaries.

“[It] showed us there was an eager audience for this material,” DOC NYC executive director Raphaela Neihausen said of STF via e-mail.

Through Tuesday (9 Nov.), that amounts to more than 40 films and events, including galas, symposia, as well as several sections i.e., Metropolis, Spotlight, Kaleidoscope. In "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," Werner Herzog (“Grizzly Man”) uses 3-D to help viewers see what some believe are the earliest known images of mankind ensconced in caves in southern France. It opened the festival Wednesday night, and WH hung around for a Q&A.

For music fans is the Midnight Rock Docs section. On screen Saturday midnight David Bowie does his thing circa 1973 in “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture.” At midnight tonight is “U2 3D.” The pride of Ireland is captured in concert in various South American venues during the Vertigo tour. The fusion of U2’s performance, 3-D imagery and Surround Sound is supposed to make for a unique and enhanced theatrical experience. (See video: http://www.u23dmovie.com/)

RN, a documentary producer (“MISS GULAG”), and her husband, Thom Powers, the festival's artistic director, have an expansive worldview as it regards DOC NYC. “We want to represent documentary in many manifestations and styles. You’ll find visions from around the world in the Viewfinders competition; great New York stories in the Metropolis competition; and many other discoveries throughout the festival.”

On 7 Nov., the world premiere of “The Road to Carnegie Hall” features a live performance by the young cellist Joshua Roman. Also on the bill is Errol Morris’ “Tabloid,” exploring the cult of fame and the media’s complicity therein. On 8 and 9 Nov., the Tribute to Brownlow brings a Q&A and screenings of several films of Kevin Brownlow, including Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic. These are some of RN’s recommendations for those who have trouble choosing what to see.

Earlier tonight is the heartwarming “Kati with an I” from director and the subject’s half brother, Robert Greene. Kati is preparing for high school graduation day and facing various challenges along the lines of living away from her parents, dealing with the over-protective mother of her fiancé and generally experiencing things going wrong. (See trailer: http://www.katiwithani.com/trailer4.html)

At the DOC NYC pre-opening party at Posteritati Vintage Movie Posters, RG gave me to know that the seminal event was a labor of love and therefore harried. “It was really stressful for everybody.”

Stay tuned for more from “DOC NYC, New York’s Documentary Film Festival.”

Visit http://www.docnyc.net/ for ticket, venue and general information about DOC NYC.

Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival
COULD
the next “Slumdog Millionaire” be among the bunch? Time will tell as the MIAAC film festival rolls out on Wednesday (10 Nov.) at the SVA Theater. This venue also hosted another festival featuring South Asian fare: the recent Southeast Asia International Film Festival.

MIAAC, which stakes claim as “the oldest, most prestigious, fun, fabulous Indian Independent & Diaspora film festival in the USA,” has the distinction of bringing “Slumdog" to the notice of U.S. audiences. Considered a film to watch this year is the closer, “Cooking with Stella,” concerning a woman who can cook the books as well as she can curry chicken. Other highlights are a retrospective of the films of the revered Smita Patil.

A scene, left, from "Noise(Shor”), which opens the MIAAC film festival. Photo from http://miaacfilmfest.org/index.htm.

MIAAC opens with “Noise (Shor”). From the directing duo of Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, “Noise" morphed into feature length from a work that won the best short film award at the 2008 MIAAC festival. It chronicles the exploits of an expat, a bootlegger and a cricket player in Mumbai and was inspired by newspaper stories.

Stay tuned for more from the “10th Annual Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council" film festival.

Visit http://miaacfilmfest.org/index.htm for tickets, venues and general information about the “10th Annual Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival.

Zero Film Festival Directors Finance Themselves
No word yet on the actual lineup, but for the third consecutive year the Zero Film Festival promises, “the best self-financed cinema the world has to offer.”

What Yours Truly knows at this writing is that the New York – Brooklyn – branch opens Saturday (13 Nov.) for a week. Zero is dedicated to bringing exposure to under-represented filmmakers not financed by the Hollywood machine. In December, it moves to Los Angeles and debuts in Miami.

Opening night festivities in Brooklyn include “visually enhanced live” performances from musicians Asobi Seksu, Sherlocks Daughter, Oberhofer. Also on the bill for opening night are 20 shorts with titles as common as “Taste” and as exotic as “A Headless Nun on a Swingset that is on Fire.” At the close on 20 Nov., more bands, singers, deejays, as well as more than 20 local and international film premieres. The biggest name in the festival, Chloe Sevigny, appears in Jonathan Caouette’s “All Flowers in Time.” The rather creepy short, about shape-shifters, evil signals and monsters, also appeared in the 48th New York Film Festival.

Stay tuned for more from the "3rd Annual Zero Film Festival."

Visit http://www.zerofilmfest.com/ for more information about the 3rd Annual Zero Film Festival.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

'Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake' Still a Sensation

The males, above, in "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" are graceful creatures. Photo by Bill Cooper.

BY TAMARA BECK

"Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" scandalized ballet-goers with its unorthodox casting of swans and cygnets when it opened in London in 1995. It won a Tony in 1998.

It caused a sensation and it is still sensational.

"Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" is at New York City Center through Sunday (7 Nov.), then will tour Italy from mid-November to mid-December.

Ballet does not have to be about anything. There's no need to tell a story when toned bodies are twirling through space, rising on toes, and planting high kicks. Some ballets insist on telling a story anyway, and frankly, I often have trouble getting it. Take “Swan Lake,” for instance. A boy – well actually a prince – is in love with a bird. OK, OK, a swan that was once a girl. The sorcerer, who has bewitched her, tricks the prince into declaring his love for a different bird … er ... swan, so he won't have to release the swan from her spell.

There is an apotheosis, with gorgeously swelling chords, in which prince and swan go over a cliff to be reunited in the hereafter as lovers.

More on this ballet when the "traditional" production comes to New York City Ballet next season, so remember this plot, please. "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" is set to Tchaikovsky's beautiful music, while NYCB's is to Prokofiev's equally stirring score. This reviewer's preference for the latter is based solely on greater familiarity; Tchaikovsky is a great favorite!

The swans are all male, and they are truly swan-like in their movements, just as in the more traditional version of the ballet. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TbmmqMbdrg&feature=related) They enunciate their necks, trunks and legs, forming perfect visions of these beautiful birds. Somehow, however, this version of the ballet, with its contemporary attire, all-male swans and cygnets, makes so much more sense than the ballet standard. The swans are aggressive, forceful and elegant.

"Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" is not a parody like the “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo” (the Trocks, (http://www.trockadero.org/) but a powerfully conceived and often very funny ballet. It is not men in drag, but men cast under a spell as swans. If ballerinas can be bewitched as swans, so can balleroux.

Our Prince (an appropriately mournful William Simon) dreams of his Swan before he encounters him on the Lake. He sleeps with a stuffed toy swan. He faces the paparazzi and adoring subjects. They go to a disco where The Queen (an aptly regal Nina Goldman) finds a handsome young man to accompany her. The Prince is stalked by a lovely young woman, the Girlfriend (a very appealing Madelaine Brennan), who accompanies the royals to the opera. At the opera, The Girlfriend, dressed in bright pink puffy hot pants, giggles loudly and fetchingly at the proceedings.

By the way, Lez Brotherston’s costumes are wonderfully elegant. The Queen is dressed in a glamorous A-line, silk cocktail coatdress. She picks up escorts along the way, while the Prince searches faithfully for the Swan of his dreams.

The Prince has a royal crest on his pajamas, military outfit and evening jacket. The crowds that await the royal pair behind velvet ropes, amid the flashing of cameras, sport hats and topcoats. At the nightclub where the Prince goes after his encounter with the Swan (a compelling Richard Winsor) at the Lake in the City Park, he meets a handsome man in leather trousers. He mistakes him for his Swan, but this man is a whip-wielding flirt. He picks up women at the nightclub. The Prince is distraught.

The apotheosis in "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" is darker and more disturbing than in other productions. This one owes more to Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer" than to Petipa.

Visit http://www.swanlaketour.com/ for tickets and more information about "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake."

Tamara Beck is President, Clean Lists Associates, Inc, an association management firm. And an avid fan of dance.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

'Gen Art Resurrection' in Two Day's Time

Rihanna and alum Zac Posen, above, are supporters of Gen Art as is Lost Art's Jordan Betten whose work is featured below. Photos by Miles Ladin and from Lost Art, respectively.

HEAD’S UP: Welcome to the debut of Bits & Pieces. The capsule-length roundup of events various and sundry is to be published at least once a month, usually on Monday or Tuesday.

IN the Bible book of James, the writer asserts that “you have not because you ask not.”

Gen Art cannot be accused of such as lapse. At the moment, Gen Art is insolvent (and in Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection) – another victim of The Great Recession – and is doing a number of things in its power to reverse the situation.

One prong in its re-solvency initiative is Thursday’s aptly named Gen Art Resurrection Benefit at Good Units (Hudson Hotel). Another is the 19 Nov. sale of its assets at public auction. Gen Art is hoping for a benevolent benefactor who will want to re-launch it, for it is not going down without a fight! Interested parties are directed to reach out to the bankruptcy trustee through Michelle Gershfeld; 914-332-8000/mgershfeld@kittaylaw.com.

Meanwhile, seemingly all hands are on deck for the Gen Art Resurrection Benefit. The Gen Art Foundation will hand over all funds raised from the event to award winners from the 15th Anniversary Gen Art Film Festival, as well as some designers involved in Gen Art’s Shop events that were cancelled.

Haven’t heard of Gen Art or the Gen Art Foundation? Not too surprising. They are New York-based institutions-in-the-making born in the early ‘90s. Gen Art is the fundraising portion of the enterprise, whereas the Gen Art Foundation holds it down in the area of support (including awarding grants and giving cash awards) and education programming. The underlying mission of both is to showcase the best emerging talent in film, fashion, music and art in major U.S. cities. Emerging photography and fashion designer talent will be on show at the benefit.

While there may be less familiarity with Gen Art/Gen Art Foundation, Oscar nominees Edward Norton and William H. Macy are household names by now. No doubt, the names Zac Posen, Phillip Lim, Adrian Grenier, Peter Som, Rebecca Taylor, Zach Braff, Milly by Michele Smith ring a bell.

EN is on the host committee for the Gen Art Resurrection Benefit. Other committee colleagues are Paz de la Huerta of HBO’s new series “Boardwalk Empire.” Serving, too, are Kate Mara, Steven Cox & Daniel Silver (Duckie Brown, http://www.duckiebrown.com/), Wenlan Chia (Twinkle by Wenlan, http://www.twinklebywenlan.com/index.php) and Jordan Betten (Lost Art, http://www.lostartnyc.com/).

All of the above are Gen Art alums. Those turning out for the Gen Art Resurrection Benefit are also engaging in a bit of old-fashioned fund-raising. Indeed, the event is a modern-day barn raising.

Visit http://http://genartresurrectionbenefit.eventbrite.com/ for questions about the benefit; contact info@genart.org for questions about the benefit or Gen Art/Gen Art.

'The Christopher E. and Deborah J. Buck Award'
The window display, left, created by John Danzer for Munder Skiles, was the raison d'être for a garden party at Buck House this summer. Photo from Buck House.

LET graduating students in goodstanding with the School of Visual Arts MFA Designer as Author program (MFAD) who have ears hear this:

For your thesis you wish, as an example, to buy/own a house and furnish it with interesting knickknacks and treasures from the world over arranged just so and available for sell. The front window, just above the sidewalk, will function as a display case. One month it may feature a garden party theme; another, a lady’s budoir. Not only will you exhibit your wares in this space, you will invite other artists to showcase/sell theirs, too.

Such a uniquely viable idea as this, have you? But, alas, you don’t have the resources to realize it? Good news. You may qualify for The Christopher E. and Deborah J. Buck Award. This could mean up to 25K to fund your dream.

Deborah Buck is an MFAD faculty member and the proud owner of Buck House (http://www.buckhouse.biz/). BH is an Upper East Side/Carnegie Hill townhouse that the artist/designer has furnished with interesting knickknacks and treasures from the world over, including a 200-plus-year-old Persian water vessel that is an object of singular craftsmanship. They are arranged just so and available for sell, etc.

The affable and globetrotting DB, who lightened the doors of the White House this summer and who recently returned from an expedition in London with another treasure trove, has something uniquely viable in the exquisite Buck House. And she wants to help others make the world a better place through their own Buck House, specifically those of a mind to, in the words of MFAD, build "a better mousetrap.”

Visit http://design.sva.edu/site/home to learn more about both The Christopher E. and Deborah J. Buck Award and School of Visual Arts MFA Designer as Author program.

Dirt at SCF ‘21st Annual Celebrity Sports Auction’

LEARN to dance like a Rockette or visit the New York Giants Training Camp ... Hmmm ... Which has the most appeal?

Of course, it depends on one’s interests. Also, whether said one makes the winning bid for the prize in the Starlight Children's Foundation of NY NJ CT 21st Annual Celebrity Sports Auction. It goes down Monday (8 Nov.) at Madison Square Garden.

Hoopsters, there’s a basketball on the block autographed by Meadowlark Lemon and Magic Johnson. Up for grabs, too, for the football fan are skybox seats on 12 Dec. to the New York Jets vs. the Miami Dolphins game at the brand-spanking new Meadowlands Stadium. Go to the game decked out in a jersey autographed by himself, Mark Sanchez.

No organization would dare have a sports auction in The Big Apple and not offer something from the Bronx Bummers – even if they did fail to win the 2010 World Series – right? Right. Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson run a clinic for kids. Meanwhile, you gotta love Yankees coasters with dirt from Yankees Stadium.

There are scores of items. Besides sports-themed lots are trips, dinners, photos, Hollywood memorabilia, electronics, jewelry and so on (http://library.constantcontact.com/doc208/1102950807849/doc/Pxa8VJ9lFyCgLVD2.pdf).

All auction proceeds benefit the SCF. (http://www.starlight-newyork.org/).

Visit https://www2418.ssldomain.com/starlight-newyork/help/index.php/event to purchase tickets and www.starlight-newyork.org to learn more about the auction and the Starlight Children’s Foundationi of NY NJ CT.
 
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