Friday, June 14, 2024

Theater Review: Off-Broadway’s Fascinating “The Fires” Burns Intensely; “What Became of Us” Is a Universal, Immigration Story as Told by Second Generation Siblings; and “Titanic” Sails Magnificently With Its Cast of Dreams

The Fire (c) Julieta Cervantes

Theater: The Fires 
At Soho Rep 

Celebrated choreographer and director Raja Feather Kelly (A Strange Loop, Teeth) has written an engrossing and structurally complicated first play that seems to be inspired by The Hours, both Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the Oscar-winning movie adaptation, but with a decidedly black and queer perspective. The Fires takes place in three time periods: 1974, 1998 and 2021, and they all occupy the same New York City railroad apartment simultaneously for the almost two intermission-less hour runtime. In 1974, the apartment is a black gay couple’s summer refuge from the straight world in which one is a tortured writer (Phillip James Brannon) working on debunking the Aphrodite myth leading to suicidal thoughts that scare the other (Ronald Peet). In 1998, a confused young gay man (Sheldon Best) related to one of the 1974 men, holes up in the pied-à-terre and pours over the journals of the writer in hopes of finding the truth of what happened that summer with such obsessive veracity it scares his mother (Michelle Wilson) and sister (Janelle McDermoth). And in 2021, a hookup obsessed young man (Beau Badu), who is subletting the apartment, is planning a party (although he doesn’t buy the flowers himself) while also reading the journals and hyper-fixating on a friend (Jon-Michael Reese) who may-or-may-not come to the party and who may-or-may-not be the love of his life. All three men are also literally stuck in the apartment: the first two in variations of agoraphobic tendencies while the third is self-isolating in the middle of the pandemic. It is fascinating to see the three men, who almost never leave the stage (the bathroom is their only escape), at various moments writing or reading the journal while also dealing with various family members (brothers, mothers and sisters) as well as found family (best friends and lovers). It is all well-conceived by Kelly and deliciously acted by the cast with a non-self-conscious queer sensibility. As a first-time playwright, Kelly makes some rookie mistakes, including sacrificing some of the individual character threads of each time period to make the overall theme fit together. But Kelly’s ambition is admirable and thrilling, especially in his directing choices when things start falling into place for the audience, if not for the characters. Raphael Mishler’s red-dominated set is so accurate in that it’s both comfortable and NYC-cramped that I’m surprised there’s no bathtub in the middle of the kitchen. Even in a play filled with painful truths, the joy and energy of Kelly’s writing is evident and infectious. It’s an impressive debut. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

The Interested Bystander's Final 2023-24 Tony Awards Predictions

Stereophonic (c) Julieta Cervantes

Here are The Interested Bystander’s Final 77th Annual Tony Award Predictions.  I've adopted my percentage formula that I use for the Oscars here as well, just in case you have a Tony Awards Pool in your office.

The Tony Awards will be presented on Sunday, June 16 coming from Lincoln Center and telecast on CBS. Ariana DeBose will be the host. 


Friday, June 7, 2024

Broadway Rewind: Looking Back at Some of Last Season’s Shows, Including the Sufjan Stevens’ Dance Musical, “Illinoise” and Cinderella, by way of Britney Spears, in “Once Upon a One More Time”

Illinoise (c) Matthew Murphy

Leading up to the Tony Awards on Sunday, June 16, I will look back on some of the shows that have made this season such a rousing success. Interestingly enough, two of the shows I saw had understudies in roles that are Tony-nominated for the original actresses. Both shows, in turn, started with the disappointment of not seeing their much-talked about performances but soon brought a different, vibrant energy because of it. 


Monday, June 3, 2024

‘Illinoise,’ ‘Merrily We Roll Along,’ and ‘Oh, Mary!’ Rule The Second Annual Dorian Theater Awards

Merrily We Roll Along (c) Matthew Murphy

New York, N.Y. (June 3, 2024): GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics’ 39 theater wing members gave Illinoise, Merrily We Roll Along and Oh, Mary! top honors in the group’s second annual Dorian Theater Awards, honoring the best of 2023-24’s Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, mainstream to LGBTQ+. 

Friday, May 24, 2024

Film Reviews: “Furiosa’s” Revenge Is an Enjoyable, if Lukewarm Dish; “Challengers” Is an Entertaining Ménage à Trois; “The Garfield Movie” Is Undercooked Lasagna

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

Film: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga 
In Cinemas 

Although Anya Taylor-Joy is Furiosa (taking the mantle from Charlize Theron from Mad Max: Fury Road), she doesn’t inhabit the role until halfway through Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’s hefty two-and-a-half-hour runtime. For the first half, Furiosa is played by newcomer Alyla Browne in a more impressive turn since Taylor-Joy is a known quantity and in fact is intensely unshakeable in her section. The young Browne uncovers the heart (and ultimately the rage) of Furiosa’s origin story. Reminding me of a young Millie Bobbie Brown, this Browne holds her own as she is tossed out of Eden (one of many religious symbolism) and into the desert wastelands of a lawless, future Australia being run by many violent factions, including a gang led by the silly “unobtanium”ly named Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). Hemsworth chews up the scenery for the majority of screentime, even though he is first seen as calm, messiah-like figure. I was not a huge fan of Mad Max: Fury Road, although I admired the technical aspects like its gorgeous cinematography and post-apocalyptic costumes with the story feeling almost secondary to the action. Does it matter who’s fighting whom when huge trucks and flaming guitars are barreling down the desert? For Furiosa, there’s more backstory which I appreciated because after a while, the action set pieces, and there are many, sort of blend together in their sameness. Director George Miller and cinematographer Simon Duggan know how to bring vitality to a chase scene, including the use of parachutes in one and a red gas explosion that tints everything in another, but with five chapters to get through, I felt less hype and more exhaustion when another car chase started up again. My audience was mostly silent when cheering seemed to be the goal. Where the film does work is in the much-needed human kindness interaction between Furiosa and her mentor Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), whose resemblance to Mel Gibson’s version of Mad Max is certainly not a coincidence. Even with these reservations, this is still a fun rollercoaster ride for the start of summer movie season. It just doesn’t have the unexpected boldness of Fury Road or, to be blunt, the campiness of a Tina Turner.