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 holiday movie season is in full swing, but when the weather outside is frightful, you just might want to stay cozy and warm at home watching something on TV. And, let’s face it, these days there is so much to watch on TV, not only on the networks and cable, but also on the streaming services, that there’s something for everyone. And being able to binge watch means you don’t have to wait to find out how the story ends. So grab your remote and tune in to one of these.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Rachel Brosnahan shines in this Amazon Studios series as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a Jewish housewife who tries to help her businessman husband, Joel, who dreams of becoming a comedian. Midge bribes the owner of the Gaslight, a seedy comedy club in lower Manhattan, with her brisket, landing Joel (Michael Zegen), better spots in the club’s nightly lineup. But when Joel bombs one night, he tells Midge that he’s having an affair with his secretary. Midge gets drunk, returns to the Gaslight and knocks the audience dead with her hysterically funny (and racy) perfiormance. Seems she’s the real comic in the family. The cast, which includes Tony Shaloub as her brilliant but controlling father, and Marin Hinkle as her neurotic mother, is terrific. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has been nominated for two Golden Globes, for Best Television Musical or Comedy and for Brosnahan as Best Actress in a Television Musical or Comedy.
This BBC Scottish crime drama is so atompsheric that you will want to book a trip to the island immediately. Largely based on the novels by Ann Cleeves, the series, which can be streamed on Netflix, stars Douglas Henshall as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez. A standout is Alison O’Donnell who plays Detective Sergeant Alison “Tosh” MacIntosh. Also on the force is Detective Constable Sandy Wilson played by Steven Robertson. For a small area, Shetland has more than its share of crimes and the suspects usually include longtime (and certainly memorable) residents, most well known by the police. Both Henshall and the series have won BAFTA Awards. Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife) appears in season three as someone who could help Perez solve a crime. And there’s a relationship triangle: Perez shares custody of his stepdaughter, Cassie, with her biological father, Duncan Hunter (Mark Bonnar). Cassie’s mother died while married to Perez. While the Scottish accents are delightful, you will want to turn on the caption function so you don’t miss any clues.
Martin Ellingham, a brilliant and famous vascular surgeon, develops haemophobia (fear of blood), forcing him to leave London and open a general practice in Portwenn, a fictional village in Cornwall. (The series, available for streaming on Netflix, is so popular that the area where the show is filmed has become a tourist destination.) Despite his blood phobia, Martin is a gifted doctor, able to diagnose even the most arcance illnesses he comes across. What he possesses in smarts, however, he lacks in social skills, regularly insulting his patients and locals with his outspoken and rude comments. Yet schoolteacher Louisa Glasson (Caroline Catz), falls in love with him and their on-again, off-again romance makes for many humorous episodes. Portwenn has more than its share of unusual characters who come up with their share of illnesses needing the doctor’s help. Performances are top notch. A U.S. verison of the show is reportedly in development.
This Is Us
Although this show currently airs on NBC, you can watch the first season on Netflix. It’s no secret that the networks have had a hard time coming up with solid hits, but This Is Us is certainly one that has been a critical success. The show centers on the Pearson family – father Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and mother Rebecca (Mandy Moore), and their three children. The series jumps back and forth between the past and present time. In present time, the three Pearson children are: Kevin (Justin Hartley), an actor who rose to fame as the lead in a TV sitcom called The Manny, which he now regrets; Kate (Chrissy Metz), battling weight issues and trying to mend her relationship with her mother; and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), a Harvard graduate and successful businessman. Rebecca was pregnant with triplets, but lost one of the babies. Randall had been left by his birthfather at a fire station and ended up in the nursery alongside the two surviving Pearson babies. Jack came up with the idea to adopt the African American baby, and after some initial doubt, Rebecca agreed. The show deals with a variety of social issues without ever becoming clichéd. And jumping between the past and the present fills in the blanks about how the family relationships evolved. A great show to watch with older children.
The Good Doctor
ABC finally has a hit. The Good Doctor stars Freddie Highmore as Shaun Murphy, a young surgical resident who is autistic wtih savant syndrome. While his autism means his bedside manner isn’t always the best, his abilities soon make him a valued member of the staff at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. Richard Schiff plays Aaron Glassman, the hospital president, who rescued Shaun from an abusive childhood and saw to his education. While he’s confident of Shaun’s skills, he worries that his protege is unhappy and needs help navigating the other aspects of his life. Shaun, however, resists his intervention, creating tension between the two. The show is based on an award-winning series from South Korea that was discovered by the actor Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-O), and first shopped to CBS before landing at ABC. Highmore has been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance.
49: 8- the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough–
Fifty year-old Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo) is a cop. Entering what used to be his home, dispensing with jacket and firearm, he removes sheets from fine old furniture, picks up paraphernalia- a long oar, a fencing sword, tries the old radio and wind-up phonograph- on which we hear a 1920s laugh track. Above him, Derek McLane’s wonderful set suspends heavy, period furniture as if it were decorative molding on steroids.
Slowly, Victor circumnavigates the crowded, dusty room reacting to memories. One can almost see him think. The place has sat empty since the death of his father, a man whom he cared for and supported, sacrificing personal aspirations. Were it not for the building being torn down, all we see might remain in perpetual stasis.
The amount of time given to perusal is generous, effective, and rather brave. We feel the weight of history and Victor’s attachment. There’s isn’t a cough or rustle in the theater.
Jessica Hecht, Mark Ruffalo
Victor’s wife Esther (Jessica Hecht) joins him. She finds the apartment depressing, but feels it necessary to goose her husband both into getting the absolute best price from a furniture dealer on the way, and keeping the money, rather than splitting it with his estranged brother, Walter (Tony Shaloub), a well heeled doctor. This is a housewife suffering from empty nest syndrome, one who didn’t bargain for as small and mediocre life as she feels she’s enduring. “Everything was always temporary with us. You should’ve gotten out during the war.” Victor had planned to be a scientist.
In what seems the to-date highlight of his career, Danny DeVito veritably inhabits Solomon, the 90 year-old, semi-retired furniture dealer whose name Victor got from the phone book. Esther is suspicious. “I’m registered, I’m licensed, I’m even vaccinated,” he retorts with good humor as the men bid her goodbye.
Solomon is a gregarious salesman. Everything elicits a story, an explanation, a defense, an excuse. He talks about relative value, unpopular eras, oversized scale of gracious pieces, their aura of permanence. “A man gets married, sits at this table; he knows he’s gotta stay married.” Victor has trouble pinning the agent down to an offer. The arrangement is all or nothing. Itemization implies otherwise. Still, he has a soft spot for the old man and can’t help but being amused by knowledgeable spin, not to mention tidbits about Solomon’s own colorful life.
Mark Ruffalo, Danny DiVito
At one point, the dealer takes a hard boiled egg out of his briefcase and eats it. It’s sheer vaudeville. He answers Victor slightly spitting egg, chokes a bit, and swigs from a silver flask, never breaking stride. Ruffalo looks at DiVito with deep appreciation. It brings to mind The Carol Burnett Show, whose production team actually allowed the company to crack each other up on camera. Here, things are kept in appropriate check, though laughter feels imminent. Both actors are marvelous.
Just as cash is changing hands, Walter unexpectedly arrives suspending the sale. Victor practically backs away. He can’t let go of the difficult, deeply resented past in which Walter seems to have shaped his brother’s future. Facts and motivation conflict. Denial spurts like errant geysers, precursor to eruption.
The Price is heady and dense. Playwright Arthur Miller explores the complex, fallible nature of his beautifully drawn characters (humanity) and long term consequences of decisions that seemed axiomatic when made. Though not without humor, the drama seriously addresses one’s relationship with one’s self, others subject to fallout. A context that might easily evoke judgment abstains.
Danny DiVito, Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shaloub
The whiz bang company unfailingly balance one another. Tony Shaloub (Walter) is so forceful and charismatic when quick-changing tacks, uncertainty about his intentions never abates. Jessica Hecht’s portrayal of Esther makes the backbone of her marriage believable even after play-long discontent, prodding, and even threats.
Mark Ruffalo’s naturalistic performance is immensely nuanced. Small gestures and expressions speak volumes. The actor fully occupies his character even in silence. We’re made to feel Victor’s wrenching internal battle which encompasses not only the pivotal earlier decision, but taking a stand that must powerfully affect life going forward. That which Ruffalo holds in is as palpably potent as his outbursts.
Danny DiVito’s Solomon captivates. Walking a fine line between amusing attributes and credibility, DiVito never grows too broad. Miller gives us a familiar type, but the actor brings him to quirky and specific life. Comic timing is impeccable.
Director Terry Kinney does a masterful job in regulating the ebb and flow of emotion. Everyone has his/her own reaction timing. Small business and use of the staging area seem character instinctive. Kinney’s opening is inspired. Periodic use of room elements – visualize Danny DiVito stuck holding an oar five times his height – is wry, yet never inappropriate.
Derek McLane’s excellent set pairs adjacent water towers and an expanse of backdrop sky with the terrifically appointed room.
This is an extremely satisfying production of a superb play.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shaloub
Roundabout Theatre Company presents Arthur Miller’s The Price
Directed by Terry Kinney
American Airlines Theater
227 West 42nd Street
“Once not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”
What appears at first glance to be a slight ripple in history sometimes affects those present in profoundly unexpected ways. This gem of a musical, whose fine book buoys grounded lyrics, embraces what we have in common rather than becoming yet another platform for political social/division. That it does so with limpid delicacy eschewing Hollywood outcomes makes the piece as refreshing as it is sympathetic.
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has been invited to open an Arab Cultural Center in Pet Hatikva, Israel. Overseen with utmost decorum “We are here to represent our country!” by their conductor, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Tony Shaloub), the small troop appear somewhat dazed. Crisp, powder blue military uniforms stand out against sand and cracked cement as if landed from another planet. In fact, they are strangers in a strange land.
Tony Shaloub, Alok Tewari, Ari’el Stachel
When trumpet player/ladies man Haled (Ari’el Stachel) mistakenly arranges passage to neighboring Bat Hatikva (B not P), the men find themselves in a one horse desert town without the horse. Locals pass by means of a stage floor turntable. They’re all “Waiting”, but is it for something special or just “Looking off out into the distance/even though you know the view is never gonna change…”
Café owner Dina (Katrina Lenk), affable Itzik (John Cariani), and hapless young Papi (Daniel David Stewart) sing “Welcome to Nowhere.” As the next bus doesn’t come through till tomorrow and the settlement has no hotel, Dina agrees to put up Tewfiq and Haled. Itzik takes home clarinetist Simon (Alok Tewari) and violinist Camal (George Abud.) Others will bunk in the café.
John Cariani, Katrina Lenk, Daniel David Stewart
David Yazbeck’s infectious music embraces Middle Eastern influences with estimable skill, maintaining an atmosphere of “other” one rarely finds in musical theater. Orchestra members without speaking parts supplement hidden musicians creating inclusiveness. Stachel actually plays trumpet, Tewari, clarinet, Abud, violin. Several cast members speak fluent Arabic while others deliver dialogue in Hebrew. There isn’t a single weak link in acting or vocals. Casting (Tara Rubin) must’ve been like scaling a glass mountain.
The play evolves over a single afternoon and evening with four integrated chapters. In Avrum’s home (Andrew Polk as Iris’s father), we observe Itzak’s unemployment and a new baby strain his marriage to Iris (Kristin Sieh). Polk tells Avrum’s love story with palpable warmth. A pleasing “Beat of Your Heart” elicits memories: Love starts when the tune is sweet/And you lift your feet/to the beat of your heart…Simon unwittingly affects dynamics.
Kristen Sieh, John Cariani, Alok Tewari, Andrew Polk, George Abud
At a well staged roller rink, Papi panics around girls. Description of his state “Papi Hears the Ocean” is priceless. Haled instills the boy with confidence in a charming scene.
Curious about and drawn to her guest, the attractive Dina literally lets her hair down and engineers private time with Tewfiq. It seems she’s familiar with Egyptian film and the music of female vocalist Umm Kulthum. “Omar Sharif” is wistful and original: From the West from the South/Honey in my ears/Spice in my mouth…Dina gets the guarded conductor to begin to open up. He sings in a capella Arabic (with immense feeling), but is it about love, she wonders, or fishing? Still, this man is compelling. They understand one another on a deeper level. It’s “Something Different.”
Tony Shaloub, Katrina Lenk
The fourth chapter, an embodiment of hopeful perseverance, is played out with the Telephone Guy (Erik Liberman, good vocal) who has stood outside a phone booth every night for a month waiting for a promised call from his girl. Then it’s time for the orchestra to move on. We last see them – performing – in Pet Hatikva. It’s extremely difficult not to get up and dance. A completely satisfying experience.
Ari’el Stachel imbues Haled with gentleness that would appeal to the girls with whom his character continually flirts, yet masculinity is ever present. His paternal attitude toward Papi is lovely. And he sings. Daniel David Stewart is pitch perfect as awkward, earnest Papi.
Katrina Lenk and Tony Shaloub are a match made in heaven. Lenk’s earthy, sensual, smart portrayal make Dina a real and formidable woman. Rarely have the practical and passionate been so believable in tandem. And she has a superb voice.
Shaloub’s performance is layered and nuanced. Fastidiousness is unmistakable. Revealing his painful past, Tewfiq maintains perspective, yet at one point, we hear his breath catch. His song communicates lost illusions – I didn’t understand a word. The couple’s parting couldn’t be more convincingly manifest.
Director David Cromer has both a soulful character touch and the kind of comprehensive staging vision that never makes a false move. The turntable is wonderfully utilized. Live musicians are meticulously integrated.
Language and Dialect Coach Mouna R’miki deserves a standing ovation. Scott Pask’s flexible set evokes the desolate environment while maintaining a sense of community with flow.
Photos by Ahron R. Foster Opening: Ari’el Stachel, David Garo Yellin, George Abud, Tony Shalloub, Harvey Valdes, Sam Sadigursky, Alok Tewari
Atlantic Theater Company presents The Band’s Visit Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek; Book by Itamar Moses Based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin Music Director: Andrea Grody; Orchestrations: Jamishied Sharifi Directed by David Cromer Linda Gross Theater 336 West 20 Street Through January 1, 2017