Thursday, June 30, 2022

Theater Reviews: “The Orchard,” “Corsicana” and “Epiphany” Are Three Challenging Plays of Varying Degrees of Difficulty

The Orchard (c) Maria Baranova

Theater Review: The Orchard 
Baryshnikov Arts Center and Online (Closing on Sunday)

Both times I watched Igor Golyak’s reimagined version of Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard,” now shortened to “The Orchard” – once in person and one virtually – I kept being reminded of the production of another Chekhov play, “Uncle Vanya,” at the center of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar-winning film “Drive My Car” in which the theme of human communication is embodied by actors who speak in different languages to each other. “The Orchard” does this but also adds an element of sci-fi with a huge, mechanical, futuristic arm in the middle of the set and an adorable robotic dog scurrying throughout the play. Most of the characters speak in English, including the owner of the soon-to-be-auctioned-off orchard, Madame Ranevskaya (Jessica Hecht) and her two daughters, her brother and a beloved but too-old-to-do-much-good servant Firs (Mikhail Baryshnikov). However, a student named Trofimov (John McGinty) speaks in American Sign Language, while an imposing passerby (Ilia Volok) who terrorizes the family at one point only speaks Russian. Some of this is translated on the scrim that separates the audience from the action, but a lot is not, including some other languages used, like French. The dominant color of Anna Fedorova’s set is turquoise, which is a bold and striking choice, but like the robots and the language heard but untranslated, I could not figure out the reasoning for these artistic touches, especially in relations to Chekhov’s original themes of “The Cherry Orchard.” 

Monday, June 27, 2022

Film Reviews: A Film Night With the Parents? Try “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (Sort of?) and “Jerry and Marge Go Large”

Cha Cha Real Smooth (c) Apple TV+

Film Review:  Cha Cha Real Smooth 
On Apple TV+ 

Imagine if the iconic John Cusack characters of the classic 1980s movies reincarnated into the body of Casey Affleck and you’ll get Andrew, the likable and optimistic hero of director, writer and actor Cooper Raiff’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” the Sundance Audience Award winner. And if you think the title is awkward, consider Raiff’s first movie was called “Shithouse,” and this movie’s title (based on the dance, as if I had to tell you that) is rather harmonious and charming. The same can be said about Raiff’s film. Andrew (Raiff) is a college graduate working at the Meat Sticks stand (don’t ask) at his hometown New Jersey mall while everyone he grew up with has moved on. By chance, he chaperones his younger brother David (Evan Assante) at a friend’s bat mitzvah, where he discovers his skill of getting shy Jewish pre-teens to socialize, to the point that he gets hired as a party starter at various mitzahs. He particularly bonds with Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), the autistic daughter of Domino (Dakota Johnson), and not just because he finds himself attracted to the 30-year-old mother. In a more predictable movie, the main character would be David as he winds his way through bar/bat mitzvah season and hoping to kiss his crush with the help of his sort of lovable loser brother supporting player. But instead we get the movie about the loser, and as much as he is seen as not socially reaching potential, his goofy outlook on life makes him the richest character in the film, and that’s saying something since “Cha Cha Real Smooth” also includes both Leslie Mann (who plays Andrew’s mother) and Johnson’s best performances to date. And as much as this film feels like any one made by your typical cis, straight, under-30, white male indie filmmaker of any given Sundance Film Festival, sometimes (just by the law of averages) one of these is actually insightful, charming and fun. It happens. 

Rating on the “Watching a Film With Your Parents” meter? An 8 (out of 10) as the guy at the center of the film is someone who could charm them at dinner. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Theater Review: Sarah Silverman’s New Musical, “The Bedwetter,” is Bawdy and Sentimental in Equal Measure

The Bedwetter (c) Ahron R. Foster

Theater Review: The Bedwetter 
Atlantic Theater Company 

Premise: Comedian Sarah Silverman adapts her own memoir “The Bedwetter” into a musical, co-writing the book with Joshua Harmon and the songs with the late composer Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains of Wayne. Focusing only on the events in the memoir that give the musical its name, we meet young Sarah (Zoe Glick), who is going to a new school in New Hampshire after the divorce of her parents: her clothes salesman and lothario father Donny (Darren Goldstein) and her mother Beth Ann (Caissie Levy), whose depression keeps her bedridden. But Sarah seems to be handling everything fine, trying to fit in with her new classmates (Charlotte Elizabeth Curtis, Charlotte MacLeod, Margot Weintraub) with her brash humor and keeping things running smoothly at a home that includes her sister Laura (Emily Zimmerman) and her alcoholic grandmother Nana (Bebe Neuwirth). So, it’s a bit of a surprise that Sarah and not the more emotional Laura is the one suffering from the nocturnal enuresis. But stress, as much as Sarah wants to not admit it, has a way of seeping into her life. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Film Reviews: The Reboot-quels rule the Multiplexes with “Lightyear,” “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World Dominion”

Lightyear (c) Disney / Pixar

Film Review: Lightyear 
In Cinemas 

Among the many franchise “Hail Mary” shots the Big Studios are releasing to help them retain their box office dominance, the oddest and maybe the most enjoyable one, is Disney/Pixar’s “Lightyear” which doesn’t focus on the famous toy that Andy loved in “Toy Story,” but the movie character that toy is based on, now voiced by Chris Evans (in total Captain America mode). How Andy watched “Lightyear” and didn’t immediately want a SOX toy is beyond me, since that robotic cat is the standout character in this first Pixar movie to make it to cinemas since 2020’s “Onward.” I enjoyed “Lightyear” enough, most likely because the references to “Toy Story” were minimal. Sure, there are callback lines, and if you were wondering if the big villain from “Toy Story 2” and the “Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster” attraction at the Disney Parks makes an appearance, he sure does, along with a neat backstory and a believable motive. Essentially, this film shares more DNA with “Interstellar” and “Lost in Space” than “Toy Story,” and because of that, “Lightyear” is a pretty good summer movie but, alas, only a subpar Pixar one. The big heart at the center of the most recent Pixar films (“Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red”), which went straight to Disney+ because of the pandemic, is largely absent here, even with the inclusion of the much-discussed gay relationship (kiss included) in essentially a dialogue free montage. Buzz does retain his iconic motto of “To Infinity, and Beyond,” but “Lightyear” remains stagnantly routine. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Theater Reviews: Gay Pride Month on Stage Weaves Representation Into the Fabrics of “Snow in Midsummer,” “Fat Ham” and “…What the End Will Be”

Snow in Midsummer (c) Julieta Cervantes

Theater Review: Snow in Midsummer 
Classic Stage Company 

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s play focuses on a miscarriage of justice as a woman, Dou Yi (Dorcas Leung), is executed for a murder she swears she didn’t commit. Three years after her death, the Chinese city of New Harmony has been suffering a debilitating drought, but that hasn’t stopped entrepreneur Tianyun (Teresa Avia Lim) from investing in the city. But like all ghost stories, it’s her young, adopted daughter Fei-Fei (a wonderful Fin Moulding) that senses the spirit of Dou Yi as the truth starts to reveal itself. Handsome Zhang (John Yi), the wealthy son of the man Dou Yi is said to have killed, is hoping to leave the city with his boyfriend Rocket (Tommy Bo), leaving behind his spiritual mother, the bar owner, Mother Cai (Wai Ching Ho). And that isn’t half the plot as I haven’t even mentioned the titular event that figures so prominently in the story. The play’s based on a 13th century work by Guan Hanqing called “The Injustice to Dou Yi That Moved Heaven and Earth.” Cowhig has done a masterful job of transferring the story to modern times and director Zi Alikhan keeps the complicated story clear to the audience, while still giving us striking theatrical moments throughout, including the set piece of the evening: Dou Yi’s execution scene. There are certainly a lot of melodrama and soap opera elements, and your enjoyment of the play will depend on your tolerance for this kind of dramatic treatment. I found it fascinating, despite its excessiveness. The talented, excellent cast is a true ensemble. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Film Reviews: Terence Davies Directs a Thoughtful WWI Era Gay Drama; A Hip and Fun “Sexplanation” Documentary

A Sexplanation (c) Herra Productions

Film Review: A Sexplanation 
On Demand Streaming 

Alex Liu, a science and health reporter, has directed himself in his first documentary, “A Sexplanation,” in which he goes around the country asking experts and persons-on-the-streets alike about, well, sex: How did they learn about it, is there embarrassment around it and, most important, how open are you about it in your daily life? Liu, a charming, gay, Asian American guy is not just behind the camera, he puts himself through some of the more “humiliating” stuff in front of it, like talking to his immigrant family about sex and having an MRI while performing, um, things on himself, all in the name of science. Like those MTV documentaries in the 1990s, Liu incorporates animations, quick editing and graphic graphics to keep it all entertaining while also educational. Liu explains his motives in making this film is to “strip away shame from sex – unless shame floats your boat.” Despite some juvenile references (Did he really have to meet a Stanford psychology professor at a restaurant called The Nut House?), this is all easygoing and fun, even when he interviews a Republican state senator and a Catholic priest - both remarkably friendly and dogma-lite. My favorite moment is when he asked his mother if she ever suspected he was gay, and she said she had suspicions when he was so enthusiastic for the figure skating events at the Olympics. Moms always know. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The Interested Bystander's 2022 Tony Award Predictions: In Comes Company

(c) The Tony Awards 

Next Sunday, The Tony Awards will be handed out and the oddest race must be Best Musical in which Michael Jackson will go head-to-head with Michael R. Jackson as the Disgraced King of Pop whose life is portrayed in “MJ” vs. the Pulitzer Prize winning composer of “A Stranger Loop.” I will also be giving you my favorite in each category as well. Without further ado: 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Broadway Reviews: Ambitious Choreopoem Revival “for colored girls…” and the Black Comedy “The Minutes” as the Tony Awards Approaches

for colored girls... (c) Marc J. Franklin

2022 Tony Awards Recap: Part 2 

In honor of the upcoming Tony Awards on June 12, I have collected thoughts on Broadway shows I’ve seen that I didn’t write a proper review for. This is the second part, which covers two shows still playing on Broadway, two that have closed as well as links to the ones I did review. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Film Review: "Fire Island" is the Perfect End to AAPI Heritage Month and a Refreshing Start to Gay Pride

Fire Island (c) Searchlight Pictures, Hulu

Film Review: Fire Island 
Streaming on Hulu

Premise: The first thing you hear at the start of “Fire Island,” an enjoyably fresh gay romcom, is someone’s ringtone: “She’s an icon. She’s a legend.” And the contemporary references don’t stop there, with casual name-drops like OnlyFans, Grindr and TED Talks. But make no mistake, Joel Kim Booster’s script is smack dab in early 19th Century Jane Austen territory, even giving us the first line of Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” in voiceover before diving into the heart of that novel’s plot and themes. Booster plays Noah, the Lizzie Bennett of his gay group of sisters, and they’re spending their annual summer Fire Island week at the home of Momma Bear Erin (Margaret Cho). Noah’s best friend is Howie (Bowen Yang), a shy, romantic Jane Bennett–type who has never had a serious relationship, and so his flirtation with young, “so adorably clueless” L.A. doctor Charlie (James Scully) is cute, but also sets off the warning bells of Charlie’s rich, obnoxious friends, including lawyer Will (Conrad Ricamora), whom Noah takes an instant disliking to. The fun of the film is to see how Booster twists Austen’s story into this modern gay fable. Noah and Will fight and flirt over Alice Munroe, Alicia Vikander and even have their major confrontation in the rain. There’s even a too-good-to-be-true Mr. Wickham in the person of Dex (Zane Philips).