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Monday, April 25, 2011

Ruined Continues Arena's Banner Season

I was talking to a friend the other day about the woeful DC Film Festival which has quietly come and gone once again - Potiche on opening night? Please! - and he commented: they didn't even have any films from Africa; there are so many great stories there. Luckily, theater in town has picked up where film (or one festival) has dropped off. Ruined, which just began a couple-month run at Arena Stage, takes you into places - geographically and of the heart - that you don't go very often. Playwright Lynn Nottage won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for this emotionally intense, lyrical and entertaining play about a brothel in the Congo during Civil War strife. She conducted numerous interviews with women there to see the toll war took on them. That she's able to dramatize this in such a realistic yet pleasing way is incredible.
The audience stood and cheered follow Sunday night's performance. Particularly brilliant in the cast are lead Jenny Jules, Rachael Holmes (who was also superb this season at Studio in "Marcus"), Jamairais Malone (from Rutgers, my alma mater!) and all the incredible musicians who add vibrancy to this amazing mix. Yes, there are scenes of pure music and joy that fit well into the evening That this play works so beautifully should be no surprise given the talent of director Charles Randolph-Wright. His Sophisticated Ladies soared at the Lincoln for Arena last year, as did his Guys and Dolls a few years before that.
(Side note: We are also very fortunate to have the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, Clybourne Park, returning to the area this summer (Woolly Mammoth). Washington theater has certainly taken an upturn of late.)
Make your way to see Ruined.

Friday, April 22, 2011

AU Katzen Reception and a Couple Interesting Films to Catch Before They Disappear

American University's Katzen Center may be the perfect place for a partly rainy day tomorrow evening as they hold their MFA Thesis Reception for Graduate Art Students. Join the American University Museum, Department of Art, and MFA Thesis Students in celebrating the opening of their Spring Thesis Exhibitions.  This sounds like a good vibe to me.  And with free underground parking, what's not to love?

As for films this weekend, the Cinema West End has brought back Certified Copy, a very interesting film from the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarastomi. Juliette Binoche gives one of her finest performances. Three excellent movies are playing at E Street: Win Win, Bill Cunningham New York (more on that one tomorrow) and Nostalgia for the Light. My meetup group saw Nostalgia a few weeks ago at the National Gallery and was blown away by the scenery in the Atacama Desert in Chile and the powerful stories of the Chilean people. The director is able to combine the astronomy taking place there with the horrific memories of the Pinochet era.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easing the Old Quarter Life Crisis

I don't usually go out at 9:30 pm on a school night. I may stay out past that time but usually once I'm home past 8 or so I'm home for good. Last Thursday night was an exception. I headed to the 10 pm showing of the film Happythankyoumoreplease at E Street because it was apparently the last time that this area will get to see this well-done film with a great soundtrack in a theater setting. Because now it seems to be gone - one can only hope that the Avalon's small upstairs theatre or Josh at West End might resurrect it. As I went to buy a ticket, the marquee said HTYMP or something like that, so that's what I asked the 20-something attendant for a ticket for. She looked at me funny and said it sounded like a porn thing or something. She laughed.
"Is it good?" I asked.
"Oh yes, very good. It portrays the quarter-life crisis in excellent detail."
"The what?" I asked.
"The quarter life crisis."
"There is such a thing?"
"I've been looking for a [full-time] job for six months now. Yes, there is one."
So the biggest problem with this movie might be the title. Who came up with that? I would guess the writer/director/star Josh Radnor, but someone should have got him to change it. Anyway, it's an intelligent movie about a group of quarter-life friends with one contrivance that it takes a little getting past. (He does a good deed by stepping in to help a 10-year-old boy who is lost and abandoned on the subway. But then he kind of keeps him as a Little Brother.)
Otherwise, the relationships that this movie draws up are very believable and sometimes even poignant as is the case with his friend Annie. His love interest is named Kate Mara, and she is everything that Gwyneth Paltrow used to be before she became what she is now. Mara sings the last song of a  really cool soundtrack - it's a departure from the indie folk stuff that we've heard up until then. It's Sing Happy by Kander and Ebb of Cabaret fame and it knocked my cotton socks off.
I will let you know when this film is available to see either in a theater or on rental. And when the nice quarter-life woman at the boxc office gets a real job. As much as I like the film, I hope she comes first.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Look Outside Your Window: Phil Ochs Documentary Is a Must-See Film

"Anybody could be Dylan. Ochs' songs were for those who cared." That's one of the quotes describing Phil Ochs (pronounced Oaks) in Kenneth Bowser's terrific documentary, "Phil Ochs: There But for the Fortune" - currently playing at the Avalon after a nice run at the West End. (My apologies to Josh there for my not taking a group to see this.) Like the great documentary film "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29" which I also saw at the Avalon's upstairs theater, this film chronicles the '60s in all its war and tragic pieces. What a different world it was!  I knew of Phil Ochs because of an older brother who played his music, especially the wonderfully evocative "Outside a Small Circle of Friends." Hear it in this clip.

But he was best known for his protest songs, beautifully written from stories in the newspapers.  It's worth it to see this film just for the history lesson we get of the '60s. To go from the excitement of John Kennedy to his assassination and then to the start of the Vietnam War followed by the amazing passion and bravery of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy to their deaths. Oh my gosh!  Even to see them fall today is heartbreaking; they were so young!  And then ending the decade with Richard Nixon! Young people stood up for what they believed in - and foremost among these was Ochs.
We get interviews with the people who knew him, from family to Joan Baez, Christopher Hitchens, Pete Seegera and Tom Hayden, and finally to an admirer Sean Penn. With his music always playing in the background, we hear I Ain't Marching Anymore, The War Is Over, The Ringing of Revolution, What Are You Waiting For? They wouldn't give permits for protest concerts at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago but Ochs came anyway and just set up makeshift concerts on the street.
One poignant interview toward the end of the film with his daughter said that he would be pleased that his music is still relevant but not pleased that we're still fighting so many of the same battles (unnecessary wars). Unfortunately, Ochs started drinking, became very unstable and committed suicide at age 35. This film is riveting and should be seen by adults and teenagers alike.