— Older 2021 Blog updates
June 7, 2021 Update
Signs of a life where we can actually smile and know the
person we're smiling at can see it keep gaining momentum.
News about New York's comeback from a heartbreaking year
include more announcements of opening and reopening dates at
Broadway theaters. Hopefully, the theaters off as well as on
Broadway will be able to recover from the extended losses
and win back former theatergoers as well as those for
whom going to a show isn't a regular habit.
One show that isn't waiting for Fall to play to a full capacity Broadway theater is Pass Over. This contemporary take on Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot
by Antoinette Nwandu. has just three actors and requires no
intermission at just 85 minutes and therefore involves none
of the difficulties of staging a play with a large cast
and complicated scenery. Nwandu's concept also fits the need
for more relevant storytelling. The play, which reprises a
2018 production at Lincoln Center Theater, will have a limited run
at the 1,190-seat August Wilson Theatre from August 4th until
An even earlier new take on an often produced play brings
back the Public Theater's free Shakespeare in the Park on July
6th. The Merry Wives of Windsor, adapted by Jocelyn Bioh
and directed by Saheem Ali for an all black cast is the only
production on this year's menu. But one is infinitely better
than last year's none, and Bloh's Wives will make
merry three weeks longer than usual, until September 18th.
With the state guidelines for limited seating, social
distancing and masking still in effect, the 1,800-seat theater
will admit only 428 Shakespeare enthusiasts for each performance.
Wonderful as it will be to have Broadway full of life and
vibrancy again, the streaming platforms continue to
entice viewers to check out new as well as older
theater-centric films, serials, and documentaries.
Since the filmed version of Hamilton was truly
satisfying, I have high hopes for the stage-to-screen version
of Lin-Manuel Miranda's first musical, In the Heights which on June 10th opens in movie theaters and for 31 days at HBO MAX.
(my review of the stage version).
A note about a made-for-screen-watching, The Kominsky Method,
an oiiginal series that recently opened its third and final
season. It stars Michael Douglas an actor who has
always practiced his craft in front of cameras. His
portrayal of much married Hollywood acting coach Sandy Kominsky
dealing with regrets, aging, and loss of his best friend
(Alan Arkin another of filmdom's gems) is a master class of
inhabiting a character with depth and humor.
As actors like Douglas exemplify acting for the screen at its best, memorably, so Chuck Lorre,
The Kominsky Method's creator proves that a sitcom
setup can breathe with rich emotional life. Who except a
master of this episodic format could make third and final
season at Netflix work even though Arkin left the show at
the end of sSeason 2. It's like doing The Odd Couple
with Just Felix or Oscar. Yet it works. Lorre has
killed off Arkin's character and his memorial service
humorously introduces all the characters and then moves into
more serious territory. Some of the episodes lose steam
when Douglas isn't front and center, and if this were a
stage play those segments would be cut with details from
the first two seasons also trimmed. But then this isn't
a live play, but a lively and original streamed
Finally, a less high profile series that ended its third
season a decade ago, is back. I'm not a mental health
professional so for me the series was all about Gabriel
Byrne's interpretation of In Treatment's practitioner
of what's often referred to as "The Talking Cure." He managed
to make Paul Weston memorably watchable. His patients too
were portrayed by some outstanding thespians.
The weekly sessions with each patient were involving enough
to work like small plays. That included Paul's own
personal problems as revealed during one-on-ones with his
own professional mentor (Diane Wiest). As the show played out
weekly on TV, it gained enough of a following for a third
season that focused on Paul's own traumas with a new therapist
The type of therapy that Paul questioned in that third season is now back, with a brand-new fourth In Session
still following the original format, but shorter with
African-American actress Uzo Aduba in the listener's seat. But
while the three patients certainly have problems, Dr.
Brooke Taylor is herself so deeply troubled from the get-go
that this is basically her show.
While a fresh approach makes sense, this update doesn't
add up to a real Wow. And the personal trauma of
Aduba's Brooke isn't exactly new enough to win a fan
base as Byrne's Dr Weston did. Still, Aduba is an Emmy
Award winning actress with enough fans to make this In Treatment
clickbait â€” especially since HBO has now opted to make the
whole season available for streaming on June 14th rather than
stick with a week-at-a-time release schedule.
May 17, 2021 Update
When the Daryl Roth Theater opened its doors to New
Yorkers starved for watching a show facing a stage rather
than a screen, Blindness, the play presented,
didn't have an actor on that stage. A script delivered
by a recorded voice, with light and sound technology instead
of scenery, hardly afforded that special something associated
with live theater. Yet its opening got as much attention as
a star-studded new musical like Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The big news this past week was that the Broadway
theaters are back in business now that COVID requirements for
opening only with limited audiences have been lifted. My
mailbox has been stuffed with announcements of opening and
reopened dates as of Sept. 14.
That's not to say that producers can forget the pandemic.
Safety measures are still needed to make audiences
comfortable enough to accept this new normal. The
safety of actors and backstage personnel too will still
Even when all these plans for New York to get back its
sizzle materialize, the onscreen world willl continue to
be more theatrical than ever. As I've noted in past blog
entries and sreening features, small as well as large
organizations will film productions to tap into larger,
more diverse audiences. And I will continue to cover new
offerings with sturdy theatrical legs and search out older
movies that resonate as much, if not more, today as
originally. With that in mind, let's move on to my most
recent onscreen outings.
My "most anticipated" new series for 2022: The Gilded Age
This costume drama by Christian Fellowes was filmed in New
England for HBO during the pandemic. Its starry cast includes
Audra McDonald, Kelli O'Hara, Christine Baranski, Nathan Lane, Debra
Monk, Cynthia Nixon, and DenÃ©e Benton.
More Broadway and off-Broadway onscreen outings
Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest
presented by L.A. Theatre Works is another great opportunity
to see a top quality production of a classic work. The
Roundabout Theatre Company's 2011 production was directed by and
starred Brian Bedford. It was filmed live in HD direct from the
Broadway stage. One of my favorite actors,
David Hyde-Pierce, hosted the presentation and an intermission
with Alfred Molina and UCLA School of Television, Film and Theater
professor Michael Hackett. Tickets to watch are $15 and
available through June 30th. For ordering details
To read my review during its Broadway run
The Niceties is a reprise from Manhattan Theater Club.
Featuring just two actors sitting in chairs, it's obviously
easier to film live and even adapt especially for virtual
viwing. This virtual version will premiere on May 27
and runs through June 13th. Tickets are free and can be
reserved at www.manhattantheatreclub.com/mtc-now-showing.
To read my 2018 review go here,
Over at the Mint, their archived Silver Lining Streaming Series has now added George Kelly's Fatal Weakness from May 17th to June 27th. It's free with no password required.
Three oldies but goodies at HBO and Amazon
Documentaries are category that the streaming platforms have
embraced to the point of overkill. But I've discovered
enough that are genuinely interesting and entertainig to make
the search worthwhile. My most recent find was Arthur Miller-Writer filmed by Rebecca Miller, the daughter of his third and happest marriage to Inge Morath.
I've been fortunate to have seen all of Miller's plays,
quite a few several times. I also read his own memoir, Mindbed,
but there's something fresh and intimate about this very
personal documentary based on years of daughter and
father interviews. Besides commentary from his other
children, and notables like Tony Kushner and Mike Nichols â€”
who directed the Broadway revival of . .Salesman that
starred Philip Hoffman â€” the hour and twenty minutes features
footage from both his Connecticut life and some of the
It all adds up to a combination documentary-memoir. For the
Miller chapter in CurtainUp's Playwright' Album go here.
I loved Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake but never
got around to seeing the movie adaptation. Thanks to HBO's
terrific collection of quality films, I was able to play
catchup last week. Director Mira Nair has been true to this
story of a Bengali-American family that mirrors the stories of
immigrants from other countriesc. The movie, like the book,
covers some 30 years of a Bengali couple's life. It starts
with their arranged marriage in India, then moves on to
their life in New York and New England where their relationship
blossoms into genuine love. They enjoy the American dream
but remain both American and Indian by developing close
friendships with other Bengali-Americns. In the second part of
the 120 minutes, the focus shifts from Ashima and Ashoke to
their totallly Americanized children, especially their son
Gogol. His name is a key element of the unique
subtlety with which the personaties and relationships were
developed by Lahiri, and brought to life by Nair and the
Another gem I caught up with was Cross Creek at Amazon.
It follows Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to Florida, where she wrote her 1939 Pulitzer Prize winning The Yearling.
While a new biography by Ann McCutchan has been well
received and is on my list of books to read, no book can
match the vivid cinemetography of the 1982 movie directed by
southern setting specialist Martin Ritt and starring Mary
Rawlings' neighbors in the Everglades include the little
girl who inspred
The Yearling. Like Steenburgen, the actors portrayimg
these Floridians add to the the film's pleasures, notably
Rick Torn as the little girl's rough but very human
father and Peter Coyote as the local store owner who
breaks down her resistance to marriage. Steenburgen's real
life husband at the time,
Malcolm McDowell, makes several appearances as the iconic
editor Maxwell Perkins.
Rawlings is no longer taught
because of racist refernces and attitudes, but this WAS how
Florida was and she was regarded as more broad and fair
minded than most Floridians. Even though The Yearling
is no longer on school library book shelves, it's still in
print and the movie adaptation is available to stream at
List of Broadway's first back in business dates
Chicago at the mbassador Theater
Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theater
The Lion King at the Minskoff Theater
Wicked at the Gershwin Theater
American Utopia at a theater to be announced
Six at the Brooks Atkinson Theater
Come From Away at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater
Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theater
Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theater
Caroline, or Change at Studio 54
Oct. 8; non-subscription tickets on sale July 28 at Roundabouttheatre.org.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater
Jagged Little Pill at the Broadhurst Theater
Mrs. Doubtfire at the Stephen Sondheim Theater
The Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theater
Trouble in Mind at the American Airlines Theater
Oct. 29; non-subscription tickets on sale July 28 at Roundabouttheatre.org.
Flying Over Sunset at the Vivian Beaumont Theater
Diana at the Longacre Theater
MJ at the Neil Simon Theater
Dear Evan Hansen at the Music Box Theater
Company at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater
April 27, 2021 Update
Unsurprisingly, shows I've streamed and written about were a
dominant presence at this year's COVID-conscious Oscar
ceremony. The 37 Netflix nominees should help the
streaming giant to hold on to its status as the top
platform. If there was a word that would apply to all
the winners, it would be a "first" first for the Black
actress Viola Davis to win the most Best Actress nominations (Ma Raney's Black Bottom), yet cede the win to Frances McDormand (Nomadland). That play did make Chloe Zhao, who is Chinese, the first woman of color to win the award for best director.
Ma Rainey also included another almost first, a
posthumous Best Actor first for Chadwick Boseman. But Anthony
Hopkins, at age 82 became the first octogenarian
to do so. (The Father).
Ma Rainey did make Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson the first
African-American women to nab the makeup and hairstyling Oscar.
the ceremony itself did little to win back the audience it's
been losing for years.
The long dead playwright who still attracts more new
interpretations by directors and actors remains William
Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, his early star-crossed
romance is no exception. Director Simon Goodwin's version
filmed at the National Theater and adapted for screening by
Emily Burns is now available for streaming as part of
PBS's Great Performances
(https://www.pbs.org/video/romeo-juliet-eibhz4/). This 90-minute
production (half its usual length) will have purists looking
in vain for customary scenic bells and whistles, and even parts
of its verbal gems. Viewers more accustomed to
fast-paced storytelling may actually prefer this very
contemporary, filmic take â€” especially with two Netflix stars,
Josh O'Connor (The Crown) and Jessie Buckley (I'm Thinking of Ending Things)
playing Romeo and Juliet. Neither is a teenager but
then it takes mature talent to tap into the emotions and
nuances of their roles. Supported as they are by a diverse
cast of more seasoned Shakespeare role inhabiters, this
is indeed a great opportunity for even audiences whose
only exposure to Shakespeare was in high school (probably a
reading assignment or a copy of a film mounted on a
classroom screen â€” most likely Julius Caesar/).
Despite Shakespeare's continued popularity, those not
smitten include prominent writers. Leo Tolstoy made no secret
of their disdain; neither did George Bernard Shaw who
during his three years as a theater critic dismissed some
of his plays as "melodramas" and "potboilers." Shaw did
give Shakespeare credit for his linguistic versatility and
mellowed somewhat during his later years, Perhaps, the new
smartly cast, filmed and performed Romeo and Juliet will mellow some in that anti-Shakespeare camp.
While you're over at the THIRTEEN website be sure to check out
American Oz, the fascinating addition to their American Experience documentaries. It's a biography of Frank Baum the author of The Wizard of Oz,
the all-time best selling children's book that turned
into a whole series of Oz book, a play and the famous
movie starring Judy Garland. The movie, besides being
one of those favorite annual TV revivals, has had many
newly interpreted stage spin-offs such the musicals The Wiz and Wicked.
If you're not a THIRTEEN Passport subscriber you can rent or
buy it at Amazon. This series features many others worth
your time. The one about Lorraine Hansberry is still
incredibly moving. even more. I There's also the Finding Your Roots
series that's in its seventh season. The latest celebrities
discovering their roots with historian Henry Louis Gates are
Audra McDonald and Mandy Patinkin (https://www.thirteen.org/).
My search for the wheat hidden beneath the chaff
recently turned up a filmed adaptation of Donald Margulies's
Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner With Friends at HBO-MAX.
While dealing with the end of still new and exciting
marriages and friendships may not seem all that critical
these days, this tragi-comedy still deals with ever relevant
aspects of our lives. The movie cast captures the
characters as well as the award-winning cast I saw during its
initial run at the long gone Variety Arts Theater.
Another film adaptation of a play by a Pulitzer
Prize-winning playwright that you can now watch onscreen is
Two Sisters and a Piano. This one is newly filmed for streaming by
New Normal Rep and available at YouTube until May 23rd.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRekwRiKnxg). It's directed by Cruz
and one of the sisters is played by Daphne Rubin-Vega who also starred
in the live production I saw at the Public Theater (review).
Speaking of the Public thester, their streamed production of The Line
is back in respones to popular demand. You can view it amy
time until June 21st, by clicking over to
April 22, 2021 Update
News about reopened theaters continues and will escalate
as we keep wrestling COVID towards herd immunity. But
theater will continue to reflect the pandemic's inroads on
seating, strictly observed safety rules aren't going to
disappear any time soon, nor are intermissions likely to
make a quick comeback even when health protocols can be
eased or abandoned. The financial losses resulting from the
long shutdown will also keep what's on offer smaller and
less expensive to produce. Belt tightening will also apply
to big shows, for example, fewer musicians in orchestras for
Right now, theater is still more virtual than live, with
what we see at streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon,
as well as the websites of theaters that have made
filmed versions of past productions available.
Next up in the latter category, another freshly filmed
revival by the Irish Repertory Company of Elaine Murphy's
triple monologue Little Gem. It stars Marsha Mason,
Lauren O'Leary & Brenda Meaney and runs from April 27 to May
9. For more information before I post my review, click over to
the Rep website at https://irishrep.org/
I look forward to seeing how theater organizations will
continue to take advantage of the great value in the
digital marketplace that has taken virtual performance as a
valuable audience builder and not just a survival tool.
While companies like the Irish Repertory Company have been
especially innovative in their streamed
offerings it will require partnering with filmmakers
accustomed to capturing live productions successfully and skilled
podcast producers to help use that burgeoning addition to
the cultural infrastructure to keep these new audiences coming.
And so, while I don't think anyone can count on a return
to theater-as-usual, I do envision a future that crests
new opportunities to
include more people than ever. Given the flood of
movies and series on their home pages, I'll continue to
dig out the weeds from the chaff, in hopes of discovering
what is best suited to the theatergoer's tastes and
For sure, the series concept of storytelling is here to
stay, as are choices about watching it a week at a time as
was once the custom when TV reigned the media landscape.
What's more. it seeds further cross-pollination between cultural
forms â€” for example, while waiting for the next season of The Crown
series, the real royals have provided plenty of stories
thus marrying print and streaming media. The fascination
with all things royal has also prompted PBS to produce Atlantic Crossing,
a series about the Danish royal family. (Though based on
actual events and characters, it's heavily fictionalized.)
The marriage of all storytelling formats at once is
currently best exemplified by book and movie versions of Nomadland,
a PBS Independent lens documentary and interactive events with
the book's author.
And speaking of documentary films their popularity is
understandable. However, though a worthy format, it's been way
too overdone and thus tends to take up much of my
wheat-from-chaff separating time.
April 8, 2021 Update
Trees will soon be bursting into blossoms. After more than
a year of lives on hold, hope for living more fully
once again springs into our hearts. For theater enthusiasts
that means that more and more theaters will reopen. So
far it's been in baby steps, and audiences have been
small â€” either by requirements for observing strict safety
protocols, or nervousness about gathering with strangers
before absolute herd immunity.
One of the most high profile baby steps has been taken by
producer Daryl Roth at the Union Square venue that bears
After a successful trial run at London's Donmar Playhouse
a limited, safely distance audience can gather at the
theater to experience Simon Stephens' light-and
sound-adaptation of Blindness, based on Jose Saramago's dystopian novel.
So far, the theater has had no lack of people eager to
get back to live theater even if it's still with only
actors' voices and light and sound effects rather than the
scenery we expect to see. Naturally everyone who cares
about the theater is going to want to support this or any
other venture that bolsters hope for a return New
York as a the epicenter of cultural life. This is even
more true for theater critics, though with the pandemic
still lurking like clouds on a sunny day, critics as well
as theater goers are still not all ready to put live
culture before health officials advice for more caution.
The critics who did go to see â€” or rather to hear â€” the
actors narrate the story have raved about its pleasures. The
only exception has been New York Magazine's Helen
Shaw. She did praise it's execution but "not ravishing . . .not
worth getting sick for. " As she pointed out, the climbing
infections in our city had her wondering it it would not
have been wiser to listen to the message of the play which
is, after all, about a plague.
Sight and sound unseen, I tend to agree with Shaw. The
fact that our Mayor was outside to cheer on the
production but too busy to go in was hardly surprising.
After all the threater for the De Blasios of this world is
politics. And De Blasio has not exactly been a steady
presence on or off Broadway
As I've never been a huge fan of dystopian narratives, no
matter how intriguingly conceived, I'm not sure I'd want
to spend time with Blindness, even if Helen Shaw's
wish for it to be possible to listen to it in the comfort
and safety of my home were realized.
I did quite enjoy having the veteran actor John Cullum
visit my home screen to reminisce about his more than
half-a-century long career on stage as well as big an small
screen. While John Cullum: An Accidental Star was
originally intended as a cabaret, he's got enough charm to
make it work in the current bare bones film version.
Even as the baby steps get larger and Broadway can be
Broadway again, consumer habits have changed and the
availability of filmed shows is enough of an audience builder
to continue to be an option. That is already the case with Diana,
the new musica; that had nine previews on Broadway and was
filmed without an audience. Therefore; it will be available
to stream on Netflix as of October 1, before resuming live
performances on December 1.
March 30, 2021 Update
With more and more people fully
vaccinated, it remained the better part of wisdom not to
rush into an "old normal" way of living. That meant
Passover still called for fewer family members gathered arouncd
the Seder table and sticking to masks and social
distancing. It was only by being as strict about
observing safety rules as the characters of Shtisel are about
adhering to ultra-orthodox Jewish customs, that the hit
series' creators were able to bring us a much awaited third
season. Per my just posted review, it was worth waiting
I'm not a foodie and don't usually watch cooking
documentaries. However, Stanley Tucci is one of my favorite
stage and film actors, so the chance to follow him on
his trip to Italy in search of
meals to sample was irresistible â€” especially during this
long and lonely year when the only trips most of us took
were to the grocery store. Obviously enough other people
have enjoyed their armchaiir trips to six different regions
for a follow-up season to be on the horizon. The six
episodes may be watched in any order and are available at
With documentaries flooding our screens, there are some recent
ones that have struck me as unnecessary additional
public airings of scandals already excessively covered in
the media. Two cases in point: Allen vs. Farrow at Netflix, and The College Admission Scandal at HBO. I didn't make it through more than one episode of each. On the other hand, Joan Didion, The Center Will Not Hold that I stumbled across in my search for hidden Netflix gems turned out to be soâ€” so is Everything is Copy- Nora Ephron: Scripted & Unscripted at HBO.
Finally, a reminder, that Yours Unfaithfully, one of
the plays archived by the invaluable Mint Theater Company is
now available for streaming thrugh May 16th. I was
fortunate enough to see the play live. To read my review go here.
March 12, 2021 Update.
A royal interview triggers the
reality show's comeback. . . Season 3 of Shtisel coming to
Netflix. . . the return of live musical theater will include
The Queen's Gambit. . .
Bingeing series after series of The Crown
has been one of the most popular ways to forget about COVID
and follow the season-to-sesson shifts ofa actors playing the
British royals who have fascinated people all over the
world, and enriched the tabloid press. But with fifth
sesson still as uncertain as our return to normalcy, two of
the real live royals have brought back tell-all reality
courtesy of a 2-hour interiew with the queen of tell-all
interview hosting, Oprah Winfrey. Popular as the series has
been for Netflix, I doubt it's matched the audience it
attracted initially and continues to nab thrugh the extensive
media coverage. That said, as Netflix doesn't share its
exact clik numbers, neither can the network ratings know
whether the person tuned in is actually paying
attention or might be eating or sleeping.
In the meantime, a Netflix hit series that has another season ready for subscribers to view is Shtisel.
I reviewed the first two seasons of this series about
an ultra-orthodox family in Jerusalem together with The Marvelous Mrs. Maizel about
another Jewish family â€” but this one American â€” and its
focus on the failed marriage and successful stand-up comic
career of its the titular charscter. Given the name
recognition of the Maisel series cast and t he more relatable
plot, I opted to review the Shtisel family saga mainly to
see how a show with with Hebrew dialogue and about
characters and a lifestyle most of us know little about
was likely to be a strong clickbait at Netflix.
But surprise, surprise: While I failed to find Mrs. Maisel
all that marvelous, I couldn't stop watching the Shistel
family's doing. Despite those awful side curls and beard,
Michael Alon's Akiva proved to have matinee idol charm.
The religious backround added texture and authenticity to what
is essentially a soap opera, but one with depth and
Not only did Shtisel become a global hit on Netflix
but so did their 4-episode drama with a quite different
take on ultra-orthodox Jewish life, Unorthodox. If you haven't seen Shtisel
or want a refresher before Season 3 becomes available on
March 25th, it's still available to stream, and so is Unorthodox.
Though we're hardly out of the woods in terms of the return
to normalcy, inluding a chance to attend live rather than
watching on on screen, there are plans to adapt
The Queen's Gambit,
another atypcal hit series at Netflix, as a stage musical.
Actually, this wouldn't be the first time to turn those
chess moves into song and dance numbers, though unlike The Queen's Gambit, the show wasn't a winner. (a href="chessdc.html"> a link ro
production we reviewed).
Until theaters can once again fill all their seats and present
coventionally staged shows
with stories told by more than one or two actors, with costumes and
scener the Daryl Roth Theatre at Union Square is
presenting Blindness to a live audience as of next week. It's an
audio adaptation by noted playwright Simon Stephens of Nobel laureate
JosÃ© Saramago's novel in which a Storyteller/Doctor's wife describes a
world changed forever in the blink of an eye by an unimaginable global
pandemic. The response to the initial Donmar Warehouse poduction was
strong enough to bring it to New York. Now as then, strict pandemic
protocols will be followed and tickets starting at $45 must be bought in
pairs. Here's the link for more details and ticket reservations:
February 24,2021 Update. The pandemic has brought two
atypical new stars to the Netflix lineup of originals to
make their ten most watched list â€” the handsome 31-year old
British-Zimbabwean actor, RegÃ©-Jean Page and Fran Liebowitz, the
70-year-old caustic wit. In Brdgerton, based on
romance writer Julia Quin's novels, brings a
romantic lead of color to the usually all-white romantic
costume drama. In Pretend it's a City, Liebowitz just
ambles around the streets of New York and schmoozes with
her friend and the series producer, Martin Scorsese, making
no secret of her age, sexual identity and anti-internet
Liebowitz, unlike Page, has been a fixture on the
New York cultural scene. Since writing two books as well as
a column for Andy Warhol's magazine she's claimed to suffer
from writer's block and instead supported herself as a
well-paid guest on countless TV interview shows, as
occasional acting gigs. Now, Pretend It's a City has endeared her to the social media crowd whose communications devices she's shunned.
Even though Liebowitz tends to pretty much return to her
basic theme song â€” her New Jersey childhood, and love affair
with New York â€” I found the seven half-hour episodes of
the Netflix series amusing enough to watch all in just two
evenings. On the other hand, neither the lavish
production values, generous servings of sex, or the woke
casting of Page, Bridgerton struck me as a
second-rate, wannabe Jane Austen entertainment. I gave up
in the middle of the second episode.
Obviously, the Netflix viewers who have elevated Bridgerton
to the ten most watched category don't agree with me.
However, quite a number of readers of my blogs and
streaming features have sent emails about their own quickly
aborted viewings. Unlike series like The Queen's Gambit and The Dig, which appealed to all ages and tastes, Bridgerton didn't hit home for that huge an audience.
Though Pretend It's a City is a far less complicated production than Bridgerton
it does have a spectacular scenic element â€” the city of
New York with its busy streets that Liebowitz still
roamed without the need for a mask. Therefore, aa she and
Scorsese needed no add-on coda to explain that the show
was filmed pre-pandemic. Watching it almost a year since
the offices in Manhattan's high rise landscape emptied out
and theaters shut down did have me wondering if Liebowitz
could wrest any amusing bon mots from the changes in her
beloved city and whether dealing with surviving the
lockdown had her
finally cave in and get a cell phone.
Like the rest of us, Liebowitz has been forced to spend
more time at home and observe safety protocols. But she's
still doing interviews to promote Pretend It's a City.
However, she neither zooms or texts but remains devoted
to her landline. And she hasn't given up on her belief
that New York is a tough but great place. As she sees it,
cities never stay the same. Sometimes they change for the
And that brings me to what a comeback to a more normal
life will mean once all of us are vaccinated. For
many of us the most important return to normalcy will mean
that we can meet with family and friends and see their
whole facea. But when it comes to large gatherings, masks and
other safety measures will be with us for a long time.
As for the theater, the financial losses will make
one-and- two person shows and modest production values the
norm for a long time.
To get back to Liebowitz's observation that cities always
change, this is as true for small towns as well. The
closing of factories have devastated many small towns for
years. Some manage to reinvent themselves as North Adams,
Massachusetts did by converting its closed factories into
MASS MoCA. Not so for Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning
novel Empire Falls, about how shameful pollution
of the town's natural resources led to the decline of a
small town in Maine. That brings me back to my
disappointment with the BBC series adaptation of Elizabeth
Jane Howard's The Cazalet Chronicles. The failure to
capture all the books's characters and plots into the series
made for s finale that was too abrupt and not true to the
power of the entire epic.
Since Russo tackled the page to screen series himself,
the mini-series provides as rich an experience as reading Empire Falls
did. And the actors portraying the novel's panorama of
characters are all A-list. Fortunately the two parts, divided
into 5 chapters each, is still available to stream at
Finally, even as we're still processing the incredible
number of lives lost during the past year, the latest
tragedy that befell one man â€” the sports world icon Tiger
Woods â€” suddenly became The story dominating every news
outlet. You don't have to be a golf enthusiast to be
moved to tears by the recent HBO documentary about Tiger's
life, which makes his latest trauma yet another chapter in
a story at once inspiring and incredibly tragic.
For me, the news of Tiger's accident reminded me of my
husband's never forgotten golf experience at the time of
another tragic moment in history. He and a friend were out
golfing when someone came to the hole they were at and told them that
President Kennedy had been shot. When this was followed with
the news that Kennedy was dead, my husband put down his clubs, left
and came home. His friend and a priest who was playing with
them stayed and finished the game. His golfing buddy and other
golfers to whom he mentioned how my husband had walked out
on the game all said, "well, he's not a real golfer."
Eventually, my husband did go back to golfing -- just as,
hopefully, all of us will go back to many of the activities
probably on hold for some time to come.
January 16, 2021 Update â€” When our already surreal lives take a climactic turn . . . .
The drama of the real life horror show unfolding, not at a
theater or streaming platform but in the hallowed halls of
our Capitol, has undone even my efforts to add some
meaningful content to CurtainUp â€” at least until Joe Biden and Kamala Harris assume the posts to which they were legally elected.
Since March my online theater outings were geared to search
out the massive content on platforms like Netflix for new
stageworthy content as well as older gems worth getting
to know or revisit. Sure, this kind of onscreen rather than
live entertainment was always a way to deal with this
suddenly isolated lifestyle. But with the Trump presidency in
its horrific final act has made it hard to stay
focused on anything but the efforts to hold onto power by
Trump and his enablers. And so, instead of treating the
"play button" as if it were the same as the houselights
dimming, I've surfed from channel to channel, often fast
forwarding and no longer taking notes as has been my habit
as a critic.
Fran Lebowitz's half-hour ramblings around Manhattan when its
streets were still busy had me actually chuckling a few
times. Between the day I watched the first of the 7 episodes
of Pretend It's a City on Netfilx and the last (and my
favorite) about books and bookstores, the city of Washington
turned from mayhem into a fortress and Trump was impeached for
the second time..
Martim Scorsese, her companion during the interludes at The
Players' Club and the show's producer, hasn't added a coda
for him and Lebowitz to comment on how New York has
changed since they filmed this. Probably wisely so, since
even the always witty Lebowitz would have a hard time
wrestling any laughs from today's New York scene. I suspect
she would have to cave in on her "no cell phone" mantra today
so this new relationship with technology might just seed
some funny observations. Lebowitz did do an interview after
2016 (available at YouTube) when she, who claimed to always
be right, owned up to being totally wrong about the
likelihood of Trump's being elected.
As the rollout of the vaccine added to the difficulties of
life in a deadly pandemic, Netflix added a fourth season
of Last Tango in Halifax, which takes its senior
lovebirds into a 7-year-itch stage of their marriage.
With Derek Jacoby, one of Great Britain's greatest actors,
and Anne Reid as the better-late-than-never marrieds, the quiet
charm their story, and that of the rest of their family
members proved a respite from the chaos all around us.
That said, Images of them wearing masks and being at high
risk kept getting in the way of relaxing into the
nostalgic pleasure of the current season.
The online outing that probably took my mind off current
events most completely was my revisit to Kenneth
Lonergan's long-in-the-making movie, Margaret. And that's
not because because it was a fast-paced,
action-packed entertainment that made me laugh as Fran
Lebowitz did. In fact it's slow-moving, talky tragedy inspired
and named for a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem about a youg
girl's early intimations of mortality. The tragic encounter
with death by Lonergan's central character gives Margaret
an all too real, punch-in-the-heart timeliness. For theater
buffs it's also a chance to see some of their favorite
Broadway and Off-Broadway actors (including Anna Paquin in her
breakout role and Lonergan himself as her character's father).
The list of shows whose lives were cut short by the pandemic now includes Mean Girls, Frozen, Hangmen and the latest Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?
And as if trying to survive weren't enough, one of New
Yorks jewels for all who love musical theater, the York
Theater Company in St. Peter's Church on Lexington Avenue, has
suffered extensive damage and lost equipment and archived
scripts from a severe flood. If you type York Theater in
the enhanced with Google box, you'll see links to the many
memorable shows we've covered there. Here's wishing them
luck in saving their distinguished history.
December 24. 2020 Update
In my review of the wonderful new filmed version of August Wilson's
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
I said that I thought that if the playwright were still
alive he might approve of what George C. Wolfe and Ruben
Sandiego-Hudson did with it . According to David Gordon's
interview with Wilson's widow, she agrees. that what they did
accentuated their understanding of his language and that his
message was always about Black lives matter.
I doubt if Jonathan Bank would ever take the liberties Wolfe
and Santiago Hudson did since the plays he's been presenting
to the Mint Theater's many fans for years are not revered
masterpieces by a playwright who's named a theater after him.
Instead the Mint's mission is to provide a platform for
overlooked works and talent. The Mint is now presenting
another season of past plays filmed during their live runs
and now available for limited, FREE virtual runs.
Since all were reviewed before the Curtainup freeze, following is a list of what he has lined up through next spring with links to the reviews.
Women Without Men2/02 to 3/21
Days to Come2/04 to 2/21
Yours Unfaithfully 3/22 to 5/ 16
A Picture of Autumn329 to 5/29
Fatal Weakness5/19 to 6/13
A great holiday present for all of us is, of course, the
arrival of the first doses of . COVID vaccine to make the
return to a more normal life style possible. Normal, yes. .
.but it won't ever be the same in terms of
how we'll consume and appreciate entertainment. I've
always loved the movies but these many months of going to
the theater via my ipad have not only been a life saver,
but doubled and trippled my appreciation of the close-up,
the convenience and a really well-made stage to screen
Naturally, those creating entertainment â€” whethr for streaming
platforms, TV or live live theater â€” will make only gems
like the stage-to-screen Ma Rainey or the stunning page-to-screen
The Queen's Gambit.
Greed and economic necessity are unlikely to put an end
to celebrity casting and less than newly relevatory
replays of proven favorites.
Bridgerton, a new period drama series debuting Christmas
day at Netflix is using the work of a living novelist
Julia quinn rather than the done to death Jane Austin.
But then, perhaps someone is concocting a series about a
living Austen who's grinding out so many historical
romances that she needs to publish some with a pseudonym.
For March thrugh December 2020 blog entries go here