The Seventh Sense Recommends…

Ken AshfordRandom Musings1 Comment


Boeing, Boeing

This farcical comedy was a real surprise for me.

Written by French playwright Marc Camoletti in 1958, the play never did well in the United States until its recent Broadway revival.  It is the most-performed French play throughout the world.  After taking Paris by storm in 1958, it was translated into English in 1963 and played in the West End for seven years.  But when it originally moved to Broadway in 1965, it closed after only 23 performances.

It then was made into a really bad Tony Curtis-Jerry Lewis movie.

So nobody wanted to touch it here in America until its most recent revival.

The plot is wildly 1960’s.  Bernard (played by Bradley Whitford of The West Wing), a successful architect in Paris, is a playboy of immense proportions.  He juggles three air-hostess fiancées: an American (Gloria — played by Katherine Hahn), and Italian (Gabriella – played by Gina Gershon) and a German (Gretchen — played by Mary McCormack of The West Wing).

Bernard tracks their airlines’ timetables so that no two fiancees will never be in town at the same time, and his long-suffering housekeeper, Bertha (played by Christine Baranski, most recently known for her role in the film version of Mamma Mia!), reluctantly resets the menus and bedroom decor depending on the arrivals and departures.

Bernard has been successful at convincing each girl that she is the only one. Bernard’s old school friend Robert (played by Mark Rylance) arrives unexpectedly, and Bernard proudly explains to his wide-eyed visitor how he makes his busy romantic schedule run smoothly. He also has a fallback plan for keeping his fiancées separate, involving his country house. Unfortunately for Bernard, a new, faster Boeing jet has been introduced, changing the timetable. Weather delays occur, and complications arise when the girls’ behavior does not match Bernard’s careful planning.

If this sounds very much like the plot for Don’t Dress For Dinner, don’t be surprised.  Don’t Dress is by the same author, although it didn’t enjoy as much international success as Boeing Boeing.

Robert steps in to help Bernard by keeping one or more of the girls busy as they arrive ahead of (or behind) schedule. It becomes more and more difficult for Bernard, Bertha and Robert to keep the girls separate once they all arrive, and the lies told become more and more difficult to reconcile.

The performances were outstanding, especially that of Mark Rylance as Robert.  Rylance’s Robert enters the play in a bewildered state — a cross between Emo Philips and Bob Newhart — so when the farce gets underway, he’s totally helpless.  Rylance deservedly took the Tony this year for Best Actor In A Revival.

The three fiancees are, in their own unique way, all deliciously over-the-top, but Mary McCormack probably is the most engaging.  A tall woman, that Mary, and she uses every inch of her imposing body, as well as a ridiculously heavy German accent, to command the stage and everybody on it.  When the shy withdrawn Robert tries to seduce her, it is pure comic gold, especially when he succeeds.  (McCormack was also nominated, but didn’t win, a Tony).

This is not a subtle comedy.  It is for broad acting, without the slightest bit of nuance or shading.  But it is hysterically funny and deserving of its Tony for Best Revival.  My personal theatre experience was heightened by the fact that I sat next to Nathan Lane (at least for the first act; he switched with his friend for Act Two).  Nathan didn’t laugh much.

Also recommended:  Well, you probably don’t need me to tell you about Jersey Boys at this juncture.  If you love, or merely even like, the music, you’ll love this show.  Explosive.  But the musical to see is In The Heights, which is being compared to a contemporary West Side Story.  It doesn’t have the graivitas of that musical classic, but it has an inner-city atmosphere which just penetrates inside you and warms you up top to bottom.  GREAT dancing and fantastic music.

Not so much recommended:  Fans of the movie Dog Day Afternoon might enjoy the stage adaptation of Dog Day Afternoon which (rumor has it) is extending its run to an off-Broadway theatre.  I know I did.  Sadly, the stage version is close enough to the movie versioj so that it invites comparison.  And seriously, how can anything compare to Pacino?  Also with no intermission and hard seats, it makes for a difficult sitting.



200pxman_on_wire_ver2A documentary that chronicles the 1974 high-wire walk of Phillipe Petit between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center, as recalled by the participants.

Petit is engaging and energetic, as he was some 34 years ago, and his "partners in crime" also discuss the caper.  It was planned and rehearsed just like a bank robbery, which was the appeal back then.

Even if you are familiar with the story, you will probably learn some things, including how they did it.  The film wisely does not make any mention of what would happen to the Twin Towers several years later (presumably, the audience already knows, which makes it that much more interesting).  The 8mm film of the events, as well as the historical recreations, bring a sense of drama and excitement to the entire picture.

(2)  My Kid Could Paint That

A really interesting documentary, now out on DVD, telling the story and controversy sourrounding Marla Olmstead, a young girl from Binghamton, NY, who gained fame as a painting prodigy.

BildeThe documentary is fascinating on many levels.  For one thing, it makes the viewer question "What is art?"  Like many people, I look at many abstract painting — stuff like Jackson Pollack where he just splatters paint on a canvas — and I see those paintings sell for millions, and I get the sense that there is a real SCAM going on.

Then along comes Marla Olmstead doing basically the same thing at the age of four, and her paintings are selling for tens of thousands of dollars, and you kind of wonder: "Uh….gee… my kid could do that."

On the other hand, when you look at some of her paintings, you are struck by something.  They do evoke feelings, which is what art (I suppose) should do.

Interestingly, the people filming the documentary originally thought they were making a film about a child prodigy, but, during the course of their filming, controversy struck.  We watch them as they view an airing of 60 Minutes II, one of the many media outlets covering Marla.  But this 60 Minutes story isn’t a puff piece — it suggests that someone may have "helped" Marla with her art, either by telling her what to do, or touching it up.

Suddenly, the documentary film maker was in a dilemna.  He never really had footage of Marla completing a painting from beginning to end.  He also has some troubling footage suggesting that maybe Marla had indeed been getting "suggestions" from her father (an amateur painter).  And now there was friction between the filmmaker and the subject of his film.

Marla’s parents sought to quell the controversy by creating a DVD showing Marla creating one of her latest works called "Ocean", start to finish.  This, they were convinced, would put the controversy to rest.  The problem is, "Ocean" is, by comparison to Marla’s other works, pretty trite and childish.  (Of course, "art" is subjective, but *I* certainly wasn’t impressed with "Ocean", neither were the filmmakers, and neither was the art dealer who eventually bought it, complaining that "Ocean" simply doesn’t look lilke Marla’s other works).

Toward the end, the documentary gets very meta, as the filmmaker himself begins to question his art. 

How does the film resolve itself?  Roger Ebert wrote:

Is the little girl the star of a hoax by her family? Amir Bar-Lev, the maker of this film, says he doesn’t know, and the film has an open ending. He grew quite close to the Olmsteads, and at times worried that he was betraying their confidence. My own verdict as an outsider is, no, Marla didn’t paint those works, although she may have applied some of the paint.

But watch for yourself.  It’s a film that asks many interesting questions on many levels — not just about the originator of the "Marla" paintings, but the role of the media in creating (and then destroying) celebrities, and the nature of art itself when it collides with business.  Plus, it’s about an adorable four year girl.