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.
The purpose of a man is to love a woman,/And the purpose of a woman is to love a man,/So come on baby let’s start today, come on baby let’s play/The game of love, love, la la la la la love… sings the multi-talented, white-gowned and breech-clad cast moving with happy synchronicity. (Wayne Fontana – “Game of Love”) Yes, you’re in the right theater.
Playwright Kate Hamill, frustrated by “the dearth of complex-female centered characters and story lines …” is mining classic literature possessing that which she finds currently lacking. Pride And Prejudice, which comes to New York from The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, follows rollicking productions of Sense and Sensibility and Vanity Fair. Hamill reinterprets with irreverent glee, one foot in the appropriate era, the other is contemporary time, never eschewing pivotal plot.
Amelia Pedlow, John Tufts, Chris Thorn, Nance Williamson, Kate Hamill, and Kimberly Chatterjee
For those few of you unfamiliar with Austen’s novel, one might say it’s about the blood sport of husband hunting in Georgian England. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Chris Thorn and Nance Williamson, both warmly believable) have four daughters to advantageously marry off: 14 year-old, motor mouth Lydia – here with a tendency to get drunk (Kimberly Chatterjee who overdoes the childishness of this role); pretty, genteel Jane (Amelia Pedlow, superb in every way); ugly, put-upon Mary (hilariously embodied by a Goth John Tufts) who coughs so persistently, Mr. Bennet finally exclaims, “Have consumption and be done with it!” And our heroine Lizzy (Kate Hamill), who sees courtship as a facile game that can achieve only unfulfilling liaisons.
Mrs. Bennet is clumsily aggressive while Mr. Bennet, not uncaringly just wants to be left alone to read his paper while his girls find their way. When the estate next door is let by rich, eligible, here, puppy-like Mr. Bingley (Tufts-another bull’s-eye) -he pants and fetches a ball thrown by Darcy and his snobbish sister Caroline (the mercurial Mark Bedard whose finesse can’t be overrated), mom goes to work. The cherry on top might be Bingley’s houseguest, Mr. Darcy (Jason O’Connell, inhabiting farce and drama with equal plummy skill) who has double his friend’s income. Two daughters offloaded for the price of one!
Mark Bedard, John Tufts, Jason O’Connell
Long story somewhat short – Lizzy is offended by Darcy’s manner (he enters to the storm trooper theme from Star Wars) and a lie told by cad Mr. Wickham (Bedard, with silky bravado) while Darcy is put off by her lack of station. Multiple good deeds fix this and despite palpable (oh the suffering!), respective unwillingness, they fall in love.
Meanwhile Bingley adores Jane from whom he’s parted and reunited by Darcy. Lydia, who appears to be ensnared by Mr. Wickham, in fact, ensnares him. And prissy cousin, Clergyman Collins (Bedard in tick-enhanced, nasal glory,) who will inherit their home because the Bennett’s have no sons, fixes on neighboring Charlotte (Thorn playing it beautifully straight) when rejected by Lizzy.
Chris Thorn, Kate Hamill, Amelia Pedlow, and Mark Bedard
Despite the machinations of Collin’s patroness Lady Catherine DeBourgh (Chatterjee, an admirably imperious portrayal), everyone except Mary finds a mate. In one inventive histrionic fit, Mary gestures to Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” (Turandot), gliding up the aisle, arm outstretched like an Edward Gorey character, muttering “keep applauding, this is a long exit.” The actor then runs around the theater backstage – clump, clump, clump and returns to the stage whipping on Bingley’s cravat. Our audience is beside itself.
Call-out military drills, line dancing, frugs, waltzes (Ellenore Scott’s Choreography is buoyant) and any number of oddly apt 1950s songs keep the production at full musical tilt without swallowing up its story. The aisle is skillfully employed. Actors play guitar and piano. “Bits” involving uncooperative chairs (Bedard) and a tangled coat (O”Connell) are silent film worthy. The company, who developed character idiosyncrasies during early development, are adroit with high-low humor. It’s a pleasure to observe the appreciative camaraderie of those not participating in a scene as they watch their peers cavort.
Kimberly Chatterjee and Amelia Pedlow
With all this, intermittent gravitas reminds us emotions are present below the froth. Sometimes it’s a moment of acknowledgment, others, as in Lizzy and Darcy’s later confrontations, galvanize sympathy.
I’m afraid that, like her appearance in Vanity Fair, Hamill embodies her character with less insight and more ham than that with which her fellows manifest theirs. Perhaps the director thinks an author is untouchable. While mostly redeemed by Act II (she can clearly act), the first part finds her tantrum-LOUD, dissonant, and thoroughly unappealing in the part of a young woman who may have a biting tongue and progressive ideas but is, in every outward way, attractive and ladylike. This is not to say Lizzy can’t be funny, but that Hamill’s performance looks like trenchant vaudeville while the others are executing farce.
Kate Hamill and Jason O’Connell
Director Amanda Dehnert helms this screwball scenario with a sure hand (excepting Ms. Hamill and Lydia’s repeatedly jumping on Wickham-really?!). In turn artfully goofy, arch, and exuberant, the production shows an excellent editorial eye. What could often be chaos emerges as well calibrated romp, in almost constant movement, but never messy. Costume/character changes are cleverly mined for humor. Pace is brisk, but knows when to pause.
With laughter at a premium these days, Pride and Prejudice arrives a welcome catharsis. Go! Have fun!
John McDermott’s minimal Set utilizes choice elements to place us. Tracy Christensen’s Costumes are splendid. The facility with which these are changed enhances antic goings on.
Photos by James Leynse Opening: The Company
Primary Stages presents Pride And Prejudice by Kate Hamill Based on the novel by Jane Austen Directed by Amanda Dehnert The Cherry Lane Theatre 38 Commerce Street Through January 6, 2018 Ovationtix
Looking around during a preview of The Last Jedi, I had a startling thought: most of the press people in the audience hadn’t yet been born when the first Star Wars film premiered 40 years ago. Soon after that film hit screens, I stood in line on East 86th Street in New York to see what critics were already calling a cultural phenomenon. The young lead actors (Carrie Fisher was only 19), suddenly found themselves thrust into the public eye, part of a juggernaut whose full impact had yet to be felt. Even today, enthusiasm for the Star Wars films continues, bringing in new generations of theater goers. During a time when other sequels fail, this new trilogy (forget about those disappointing prequels) not only meets, but exceeds expectations.
In a May 25, 1977 review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby, then the paper’s chief film critic, said about the first Star Wars film: “Actually, I may have to see it again.” That was the same comment made to me by the guest I brought to the preview of The Last Jedi. Repeat business is what makes studio executives happy, and those at Disney will certainly seize on this moment as the best holiday gift possible.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
Like the first film in this new trilogy, The Force Awakens,The Last Jedi features characters from the past alongside a new youthful contingent. Mark Hamill, no longer the fresh-faced Luke Skywalker, is now a brooding and dark presence, holed up on a remote mountain, determined to avoid future battles. While the mountain is void of people, the non-human inhabitants are a delight to behold. These include: the adorable chirpy Porgs that resemble puffins; slug-like creatures large as dinosaurs; and servants with fish heads dressed like nuns who seem to perform the island’s daily chores. Luke’s sister, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, whose appearance is bittersweet), still hopes Luke will return to help the rebels, now called the Resistance. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the other member of the original trio, was killed off in The Force Awakens.
Oscar Isaac as Poe
The new trio consists of Rey (Daisy Ripley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Rather than joining together in the fight, however, each is on a separate mission. The film opens with Poe, one of the Resistance’s top pilots, leading an offensive against the First Order (formerly The Empire), which doesn’t end well.
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose and John Boyega as Finn
Finn, who has just recovered from injuries, is soon sent on a mission, along with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), to find a code breaker on a distant planet that bears a striking resemblance to Las Vegas. (Those customers gathered around the gaming tables remind us of the creatures Luke and Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi once encountered in a seedy intergalactic bar.) Daisy has perhaps the most difficult assigment: convincing a reluctant Luke to train her and then leave his retreat to help the Resistance.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
Among all the allied fighters, Rey, whose parentage is in question, seems to be aligned with The Force, that mystical power possessed by the Jedi. While on the mountain, she keeps seeing images of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is connected to The Force since his parents are Han Solo and Princess Leia, but has gone over to the dark side. In these dream-like sequences, Kylo tries to entice Rey to join him, disparaging his uncle, Luke, who once was his mentor. This tug of war plays out through the film, teasing us with the question of who will be turned, Rey or Kylo.
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo
The First Order is now led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, doing his computer-generated thing, turning this villain into something truly reprehensible), and General Hux, (Domhnall Gleeson), whose postering is less threatening than it is humorous. A welcome new face among the rebels is Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. Then, of course, there are the favorite droids, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee), along with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), truly going “solo” this time around.
Rian Johnson picks up the director’s job from J.J. Abrams, who is now executive producer. Rian, who had a cameo appearance in last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, makes the leap to directing big time with this film and succeeds on all fronts. From the over-the-top battles (a Star Wars trademark), to the more intimate scenes between the characters, we feel we are in capable hands. Once again, John Williams’ score soars over the action, triggering our auditory memory of Star Wars films long, long ago.
The battle between good and evil is never really over, something the Star Wars films underscore. And it’s hard not to think of our current political climate when watching The Last Jedi. Particularly unsettling are those marching storm troopers that bring to mind Kim Jong-un’s robotic army, as well as those leaders of the First Order whose black uniforms resemble those worn by the Nazis. As the second film of this trilogy, The Last Jedi closes some plot lines, but leaves many more unresolved, sure to build the anticipation for that third installment.
Photos courtesy of Disney Studios Top: Daisy Ridley as Rey and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
I don’t think I’m dreaming…I ain’t got the brains to make this up.
J.K. Rowling’s took the world by storm with her fantastical vision of Hogwarts and a magical world that we all desperately longed to live in. In fact, the Harry Potter series was so good and so iconic that I was more than a little skeptical about doing a prequel series, that might tarnish the beloved series as The Hobbit prequels only seemed to diminish the grander of Lord of the Rings. Or how The Phantom Menace utterly desecrated Star Wars.
Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston
Thankfully my fears proved groundless. Fantastic Beasts directed by David Yates, who did a number of the Harry Potter films, and set in New York City 70 years before Harry receives that letter from Hogwarts, manages to fit perfectly within the magical world we’ve seen before while paving utterly new ground. Newt Scamander (a rumpled and floppy haired Eddie Redmayne) has come to America on steamer ship to continue his study and collection of magical creatures, who all live in a suitcase.
Unfortunately, a mishap with Muggle/NoMaj Kowalkski (Dan Fogler in a nuanced and affecting performance) means the suitcase goes missing and some of the creatures are set loose, earning him the ire of recently demoted aurora, a dark wizard catcher, Tina (Katherine Waterston of Steve Jobs and Inherent Vice). Moreover there’s an anti-witch campaign being sponsored by Mary Lou Barebone (a terrifying turn by Samantha Morton).
Needless to say, the visuals are spectacular. The 20’s setting only adds to the feeling of enchantment as Kowalski and the audience see a whole new universe unfold before our eyes. Without giving too much away, what you see inside Mr. Scamander’s suitcase actually manages to hold its own against Hogwarts castle in the sense of the wonder and delight it elicits. But the film doesn’t just create some truly fabulous new CGI creatures but a wonderful tapestry of new characters and new motifs.
Colin Farrell and Erza Miller
Eddie Redmayne isn’t just adorably rumpled as Newt, he also showcases an incredible capacity for physical comedy in such moments where he tries to imitate the mating behavior of an Erumpent. (Trust me-you have to be there.) Colin Farrell is looking fitter and trimmer than we’ve seen him in years as the sinister official Graves. Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) is compelling as Mary Lou Barebone’s troubled adopted son, Credence.
The biggest surprise though, is singer-songwriter Alison Sudol making her film debut. As Tina’s flirty, mind-reading sister, Queenie, Sudol steals every scene she’s in and her romance with Fogler’s Kowalski is surprisingly poignant and sweet.
There are other elements too, that not only make Fantastic Beasts a delightful film in its own right but help set up another great franchise. In the Harry Potter films, muggles never played much of a role except for the odious Dursley’s who only appeared at the beginning anyway. Here, the whole storyline revolves around how wizards and non-wizards exist side by side with one another and the inevitable tensions and difficulties that may ensue. But there’s also a chance for new connections as well. Fantastic Beasts is a fable not only about natural conservation but also a story of bigotry, repression, and the need for tolerance. And in these times, that lesson seems more vital than ever.
Top photo: Katherine Waterston, Eddie Redmayne, Alison Sudol, and Dan Fogler Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures