Julian Sands Celebrates Playwright, Actor, Director Harold Pinter at the Alley Theatre at UH

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of the Alley Theatre
Julian Sands
Asked to sub in at a charity event by an ailing Harold Pinter, the British actor Julian Sands not only helped out a friend for one occasion - after quite a few sessions spent with the playwright learning how his lines of prose and poetry should be delivered - but began a journey that takes him to Houston on Monday, October 27 for the John Malkovitch-directed A Celebration of Harold Pinter.

Sands, whose movie work includes The Killing Fields, Oceans 13 and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, said he grew up studying the famous Nobel Prize winning playwright, screenwriter, director and actor and then "had the great privilege of working with him directly."

What's most important, Sands said, is that Pinter, who died in 2008 and won the Tony award for his play The Homecoming, "returned theater to its basic elements: a contained space, unpredictable dialogue and characters at the mercy of each other." Those three things in combination generate the most compelling and powerful theater and at the same time can be wonderfully expressive of the human condition, very funny and very entertaining."


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Shakespeare's The Tempest: Not a Lot to the Plot But the Telling Is Grand

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Kristi Pewthers
Helen Rios, John Kaiser, and Kurt Bilanoski end up in a mental ward in this version of The Tempest
The set-up:
Shakespeare's final play that he wrote solo (he would go on to collaborate with protege John Fletcher on All is True, Cardenio, and The Two Noble Kinsmen), The Tempest shows off the master playwright in full authoritative control. An intriguing tale of magic, potency, and forgiveness, this is light entertainment, but full fathoms deep.

Woven throughout with songs and dances, elaborate stage effects, and a most dreamy atmosphere, the play's like a courtly masque, which was much in fashion at the time, c. 1611. As it's so light and airy, this original romance might be a throwaway, except for Shakespeare's razor sharp theatrical flair, luminous character sense, psychological insight, and, needless to say, sublime way with words. Conjuring its own special magic, this ethereal play has virtually no plot, but is nonetheless mesmerizing, transfixing each new generation with its retelling.

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Anything Goes Dances and Sings Up a Storm

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Reno Sweeney (Emma Stratton) and the rest of the crew show off their serious dancing talents
The set-up:
Move over, Sondheim, there's a new kid on the block. Name's Porter, Cole Porter. He writes lyrics that'll make your head spin. And fresh tunes with catchy rhythmic hooks to them. Nothing standard about these songs.

Except, of course, that five of his songs from Anything Goes (1934), playing only through this weekend in a gleefully sunny production from Broadway at the Hobby, are indeed standards, classic examples of the Great American Songbook. Choose one, I dare you, as a favorite: "I Get a Kick Out of You;" "You're the Top;" "Easy to Love;" "Blow, Gabriel, Blow;" and "Anything Goes." Or maybe, you'd prefer one of the interpolated Porter songs that were added to the first off-Broadway revival (1962): "It's De-Lovely" (from Red Hot and Blue) or "Friendship" (from DuBarry Was a Lady). Winner's all.

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Marie Antoinette Is the Original Material Girl at Stages Repertory Theatre

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Emily Neves as Marie Antoinette
The ill-fated queen of France (Emily Neves) sashays down the halls of Versailles to a heavy techno beat. Gigantic neon fleurs-de-lis flash blindingly. Looking as tasty and pastel as any of those luscious macarons piled into a decorous pyramid on the acrylic table, she could be a classy runway model: cool, vacant and relishing the ego kick that comes when everybody is looking at you, just you. Then she opens her mouth. Out pours pure Valley Girl.

In David Adjmi's contempo take, Marie Antoinette (2012), France's most notorious and misunderstood queen is the original material girl. Pampered, spoiled, rich beyond imagining, this vacuous celebrity has everything. She's not a 1 percenter, she's a .001 percenter. Always on display, "built to be queen," silly Marie is leader of the pack. But in one of history's most vicious pranks, this teen queen is too stupid to realize how the world sees her. First idolized, then detested, scrutinized at court with a gaze that could sear flesh, and later mercilessly mocked by the public, Adjmi's Marie whines her way through her short life and this play's two acts. She never "gets it," not even when this surfer girl gets slammed by the tumultuous tsunami of the revolution.

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Gillian Anderson Wows as Blanche DuBois in NT Live's A Streetcar Named Desire

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Johan Persson
Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois
The first reaction to the news that Gillian Anderson appears as Blanche DuBois in the broadcast production of of National Theatre Live'sA Streetcar Named Desire is doubt - doubt that she's old enough to play the aging southern belle Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' tragic story. A young Blanche just won't work. As soon as Anderson steps on the stage, that doubt disappears. She's fragile and vulnerable and oh so deliciously falling apart.

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In Love, Loss, and What I Wore, Women Reflect on Pivotal Moments and What They Were Wearing

Categories: Stage

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Photo Courtesy of Houston Theater LaB
The cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore.

The Setup:
Do the clothes make the woman? If you asked Nora and Delia Ephron, they'd probably say no, but they'd also say that a woman's wardrobe can tell her life story. That's the premise of their 2008 play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, which is now playing at Obsidian Art Space as part of Houston Theater LaB's current season.

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Red Death Registers as Inscrutable But Fascinating

Categories: Stage

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Photo by VJ Arizpe
Not quite sure where all the ladders are going
The set-up:
I fully admit it: Lisa D'Amour's Red Death (2001), currently playing at Studio 101 via Mildred's Umbrella, left me baffled. What the hell's going on? That's not to say there aren't plenty of reasons to see this, foremost among them being that any work by
D'Amour (Anna Bella Eema, Detroit), whose theater voice is distinct and disturbing, warrants a viewing. So go, and see if you can make more sense of it than I.

The execution:
Part mystery, part quest, Red Death is aswirl in metaphors, cyphers, and more metaphors. Although seeming to progress in a straight line, this intermissionless "thriller in seven scenes" circles back on itself, twists about in irony, finds humor in existential ways, and ties itself in knots. It's never boring, that's for sure, thanks to D'Amour's sure and steady hand in delivering quirky characters, odd situations, and elliptical dialogue that piques our interest in the eternal mystery that lifeguard Jane (Christie Guidry-Stryk) searches for.

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The Alley's Dracula: No One Rises Above the Material

Categories: Stage


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Photo by T Charles Erickson.
Jay Sullivan as Dracula
The set-up:
Anemic.
1. Of, pertaining to, or afflicted with anemia; bloodless, lifeless, pale.
2. The Alley's Dracula.

The execution:
In 1977, the hottest ticket on Broadway was the revival of John Balderston and Hamilton Deane's 1927 adaptation of Bram Stoker's Victorian horror classic Dracula (1897). With its black and white, pen and ink design by Edward Gorey, a celebrated eccentric artist whose macabre and comic cartoons where as lauded as those by Charles Addams of "Addams Family" fame, the play boasted another revelation: Frank Langella as the 500-year-old Transylvanian count. Brought up only knowing Bela Lugosi's signature portrayal from Tod Browning's movie adaptation - continental, soignee, a bit of a lounge lizard - here was a vibrant, sexy bloodsucker with Vegas moves and Clairol hair. Who wouldn't fall under his spell? Langella (and Gorey) made that show succeed, for truth be told, the play is a creaky chestnut, an outright clunker that does Stoker no good at all.


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Classical Theatre Postpones The Speckled Band Until February

Categories: Stage

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Houston's Classical Theatre Company has announced it is postponing The Speckled Band: An Adventure of Sherlock Holmes that was supposed to open next week.

According to a press release Monday, the problem involved "venue scheduling" which in the fine tradition of Arthur Conan Doyle, should be mysterious enough for everyone -- along with the notation that that "more information on th venue and specifics on the production will be forthcoming."

The new production dates are February 4-22.

Helen McCrory Crackles With Intensity and Rage in National Theatre Live' s Medea

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Jason Bell
Helen McCrory in Medea
The Set-up: On the surface, Medea, the woman who kills her children in order to punish her husband who has abandoned them all, seems impossible to understand. It seems equally impossible to sympathize with her. Helen McCrory's gut-wrenching performance in the National Theatre production of Medea, filmed live in September and currently in a limited run of theatrical broadcasts, allows audiences to do both.

Carrie Cracknell directs Ben Power's new version of Euripides' tragedy. Physically the production is spare. The characters are in modern dress; the stage has just a few pieces of dilapidated furniture, a sofa, a table. Just behind the family living room stands a shadowy woods. Above the woods, as if sitting on top of them, is the ballroom where Medea's husband Jason is marrying his new bride.

A group of women act as the Greek chorus; they're guests at the wedding in one scene, ghostly apparitions in another.

This story continues on the next page.

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