Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
“Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”
Chapter 2, Verse 15 of the Song of Solomon in the King James version of the Bible
Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play, ostensibly drawing characters from her own family, has been a theater staple since its first outing. In New York, the role of Regina which originated with Talullah Bankhead has been played by such as Anne Bancroft and Elizabeth Taylor while Margaret Leighton, Maureen Sullivan, and Frances Conroy have counted among those featured as Birdie. This Manhattan Theatre Club production allows its leading ladies to play Regina and Birdie in repertory. One can choose whom to see in which role.
Laura Linney, Darren Goldstein
Keeping with 1900s Southern tradition, brothers Oscar (Darren Goldstein) and Ben Hubbard (a well grounded Michael McKean) inherited their father’s cotton business to the chagrin of sister Regina (Laura Linney). The two men are pompously nouveau riche, while she has to make due with being supported in less than the style to which she aspires by manipulated husband Horace Giddens (completely credible Richard Thomas), currently in a sanatorium.
Also enmeshed is Oscar’s sweet, alcoholic wife Birdie (Cynthia Nixon), married for inheritance and ancestry, so cowed she refers to herself as a “ninny,” his lazy, doltish son Leo (Michael Benz) superfluously employed by the bank, and Regina’s overprotected daughter Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini), a daddy’s girl who the Hubbards plan to marry off to Leo.
A business opportunity to enlarge holdings and walk off with sizeable annuity emerges with the potential collaboration of northerner Mr. Marshall (David Alford – appealingly decorous). While Oscar and Ben have ready funds, Regina must secure her investment from the estranged husband she hasn’t even visited for five months. Feigning affection, this latter day Lucrezia Borgia immediately sends Alexandra to fetch the invalid. Horace, however, despite or perhaps because he’s learned his prognosis is fatal, is no longer the patsy she remembers. How will the Hubbard brothers keep this windfall in the family? How will Regina secure her own ambitious future? Each acts for him/her self.
Richard Thomas, Michael McKean, Darren Goldstein, Michael Benz
Laura Linney’s Regina makes southern gentility organic without losing the character’s edge. Imperiousness fits like a bespoke glove, avarice is palpable. So much emotion is internalized, however, one misses flashes – a moment of sheer hatred during blazing discourse with Horace, a moment of fear when at last Alexandra denies her.
Cynthia Nixon inhabits Birdie from the moment she enthusiastically flutters onstage. She’s vulnerable, wary, resigned, hopeful, hurt and desperate. Every warble in her voice and skittery move embodies Birdie. We can practically feel the tightness in her chest. All together splendid.
Francesca Carpanini, Richard Thomas
Director Daniel Sullivan excels at this kind of solid drama. His characters exist naturally and, for the most part, distinctively. Oscar is fidgety, Ben blustery and overconfident, Regina steely and graceful, Birdie like a trapped rabbit. Leo and Alexandra could use some individual attributes. Confrontations between Oscar and Birdie are superb as are moments of those between Regina and Horace. The stage is well and attractively used.
Unless I missed something, there’s an omission: Horace knocks over his medicine before heading for the stairs. We never see it observed, questioned, or cleaned up. There are paramount reasons for all three.
Scott Pask’s gracious turn of the century mansion is apt environs for this play. The ceiling is splendid. Jane Greenwood’s Costumes are flattering and character appropriate. Accents, it should be noted, sound authentic.
Also featuring Caroline Stefanie Clay as Addie and Charles Turner as Cal- the Giddins’ servants
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Laura Linney, Cynthia Nixon
As a dog-walker, pet-sitter, and pet parent myself, I take more than a small interest in canines – in real life or on camera. From Rin-Tin-Tin, to Lassie, to Bear the crime fighting dog on Person of Interest, man’s best friend has always shone in Hollywood. Here are some of the best examples to make it to the silver screen.
Old Yeller (1957) This coming of age Disney drama was based on the Newberry award winning novel of the same name. In 1860’s post-Civil War Texas, Travis and Arliss befriend a lovable mutt they name “Old Yeller,” for his coloring. They have a series of adventures and Yeller saves the boys multiple times whilst becoming a beloved member of the family. But sadly, there’s that darn hydrophobia (aka rabies) out there… Warning this is generally considered one of the biggest tear-jerker films of all time, so stock up on Kleenex.
101 Dalmations(1961) We all know the story. When their puppies are kidnapped by the evil Cruella De Vil (one of the most memorable and iconic villains of all time) Dalmatian couple Pongo and Perdita set out to find them. Along the way they rescue over 84 other additional puppies as well. Hence the title. This animated adventure from Disney based on the 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith was an instant classic. It was reissued in theatres four times in 1969, 1979,1985, and 1991 as well as being made into a live action remake in 1996.
Best in Show (2000) This mockumentary follows five entrants into a snooty dog show and the bizarre antics that follow. The antics in question are actually all on the part of the dog owners and human handlers – the dogs themselves are a lot more level-headed. The legendary Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman) starred, directed and co-wrote this hysterically funny comedy with Eugene Levy (Splash, American Pie), who starred as well. The cast is a plethora of comedic riches with mesmerizing turns by Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, and Catherine O’Hara.
My Dog Skip (2000) Based on the autobiographical novel of the same name. In the 1940s,Willie Morris (Frankie Muniz of Malcolm in the Middle and Agent Cody Banks) is a lonely nine year-old with a veteran father (Kevin Bacon) and extroverted mom (Diane Lane). The latter decides against the wishes of the former to give Willie a Jack Russell Terrier for his birthday. Willie names the dog Skip and he quickly becomes the best and most important friend of Willie’s childhood.
Eight Below (2006) Professor McClaren (Bruce Greenwood of Double Jeopardy and Star Trek) travels to a remote Antarctic base in search of a meteorite. Local guide Jerry (the late Paul Walker of The Fast and the Furious franchise) decides the only way to make the trip is via dog sled. McClaren gets his meteorite, but is injured in the process and Jerry’s sled dogs rescue him. Back at base, the humans are evacuated due to an incoming storm, but the dogs are left behind – and then the humans can’t come back. Which leaves eight beautiful, brave, and smart Huskies abandoned to survive by themselves for months on end in the harshest environment on earth. Thank god they are, after all, Huskies. Loosely based on true events that happened to an ill-fated Japanese expedition to the Antarctica, it received good reviews and was a box office hit.
Top photo from Bigstock
Winnie’s book, The Dog-Walking Diaries – A Year in the Life of an Autistic Dog-Walker, can be bought for the dog lover in your life by clicking here to purchase on Amazon.
The Meddler is less a tale of meddling and more a tale of motherhood. It spotlights Susan Sarandon in a role that speaks to audiences. Outside of motherhood, there are themes of loneliness, moving on, and essentially trying to find purpose in a life that has lost its compass. “Anyway,” Sarandon’s Marnie says at the beginning of the film, proceeding to regale us with what she’s been up to, ending in a reassurance that she’s doing just fine. Writer and director Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) keeps the theatrics to a minimum and by keeping it down-to-earth, The Meddler is endearing, heartfelt, and might just make you want to call your mother afterward.
Picking up what’s left of her life after the death of her husband, Marnie (Sarandon) moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her screenwriter daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), who’s stressed over a new pilot she’s writing and can’t seem to move on from her last boyfriend (Jason Ritter). The introduction makes it look like the plot will revolve heavily on Marnie (who listens to a lot of Beyoncé’s “I Was Here”) and Lori’s relationship and equally give time to the both of them. However, while there’s a lot of tension in their relationship, once Marnie heads off to New York for a few weeks, the narrative shifts entirely to Marnie.
Left with money to spend and lots of time on her hands, Marnie spends it hovering over her daughter, calling her several times a day. She attends baby showers, volunteers thousands of dollars in order for Lori’s friend Jillian (Cecily Strong) to have a proper wedding, and drives the local iPhone sales guy, Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), to night school. This is all to avoid facing the fact that she’s a widow and doesn’t quite know what to do with herself anymore. Believing that helping others will prove useful, she comes to the realization that she also has to move on and think about her own happiness after meeting a security employee named Zipper (J.K. Simmons) on a movie set.
The Meddler has the distinct ability to bring out the best in its lead character by allowing Sarandon to take front and center, letting her steer the plot instead of the other way around. It does help that the plot isn’t very heavy, either. Disregarding the fact that Sarandon doesn’t have to worry about her financial stability, she’s a relatable character in every other aspect. At any age, people can feel adrift and wander throughout life without being able to move on. And this is essentially the definition of the film’s beauty. It’s in its simplicity and human relatability which endears it to us. Marnie tries to find purpose by doing several things, all of which are helpful and good deeds, but none that truly mean anything to her on a deeper level. The bridges she must cross to get back to her daughter and to open up her heart again are her true journeys.
Not everything works. There’s Marnie’s almost-suitor, played by Michael McKean, but he shows up twice and is forgettable in the bigger scheme of things. There is also a drug episode, where Marnie swallows an entire bag of pot, but other than wandering through Los Angeles in a haze and a lot of pretty shots of fountains, there isn’t much that this adds to the film. There could have also been more of Byrne’s character. Her interactions with Sarandon are fantastic and it would have been enjoyable to have more of her journey documented as well. Regardless, The Meddler is one of those films that has a lot of heart, some humor, and a character’s journey that drives the story. And if you feel the need to call your mother afterward, then the film has accomplished its goal.
Photos by Jaimie Trueblood, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics