Friday, February 22, 2013

Oscar picks and New York theater...'Clive'

The ,”OSCARS,”…AND DRAMATIC REVELATIONS…let’s say it wasn’t about marketing and was about artistic merit … we should be so lucky!
My Choices :
Best Supporting Actress: Sally Field – “Lincoln”
Best Supporting Actor: I have no horse in this race.
Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva – “Amour”
Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis – “Lincoln”
Best Director: Ang Lee – “Life of Pi”
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino – “Django Unchained”
Best Adapted Screenplay: David Magee – “Life of Pi”
Best Documentary: Dov Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky and Estelle Fialon – “The Gatekeepers”
Best Foreign Film: Michael Haneke – “Amour”
This was a hard one. It was also the most interesting categorie as well as the most competitive.
“Amour,” and “A Royal Affair,” a toss up with the edge going to, “Amour.” Not far behind and worth a shout out, “No,” is right up there. All three very good films. Bravo to all, and as long as we are, hailing…, “Life of Pi,” again, loudly, and for all time.
The Dramatic revelation…
Just for a change of pace, I went to the Theater.

Ethan Hawke in “Clive”
“CLIVE” at The New Group in New York
At The New Group, one of the more adventurous and ambitious of New York’s Theater Companies we have, “Clive.” The New Group do a limited number of plays each season, carefully chosen, well produced, directed and acted. Their standards are very high. Thy are consistently reliable and if they slip occasionally …they do try. The Artistic Director, Scott Elliot, is relentless in trying to bring interesting work to his audiences. Geoff Rich, the Executive Director says that what they try to do is to provide, “a true forum for the present culture.”
“Clive,” is written by Jonathan Marc Sherman and directed by Ethan Hawke. Mr. Hawke also plays the title character of Clive, fills and carries the play.
Watching the play I found myself thinking about actors. I have always thought actors to be the gift of the theater. Acting is not a 9 to 5 job and then you go home and zone out in front of the TV. They are in it come hell or high water and always at war with the beast. The next role, the workshops, classes, readings, rounds, agents, small parts, smaller parts, commercials, the road, waiting on tables, driving cabs, the chatter, the backbiting, who else can you talk to but other actors, the friendships … what I did for love… and always the craft … doing what you love to do with your life’s blood. And don’t try to explain it to anybody. In the words of the film heartthrob of yester-year, Van Johnson, “they’re civilians.” Actors must act and part of their great frustration, is the lack of opportunity. So we see in, “Clive,” Vincent D’Onofrio, a bavura actor. You’ll recognize him from TV’s, “Criminal Intent.” He brings the stage to life. We should see more of him on our stages. The ensemble is terrific. It’s like one big acting class. Young actors trying to shine in their instant choices to realize a moment and then move on. You have to start somewhere.
Ethan Hawke is a film star. “Training Day,” “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead,” among many others. He has also been, “a contender,” on Broadway. Tom Stoppard’s, “The Coast of Utopia,” “Henry 1V,” “The Sea Gull,” all big time stuff. He has paid his dues… made, makes choices of grandeur. Rather than playing it safe, nestling into the star actor’s prerogatives of audience adulation and approval, he has carved out a different path for himself.  He wants to not only challenge himself, but also lead a meaningful, artistic and for him, healthy and vigorous life in a very difficult and frustrating cultural environment. He seems to be having a good time. It all comes together in, “Clive.” He is the reason for and the fulfillment of, ” Clive.” I guess he thought it would be easier to do it all himself. He gets an A for effort and a B for getting burned.
Not nearly all his fault. Jonathan Marc Sherman, says that, “Clive” is based on, inspired by, and stolen from the German version of Bertolt Brecht’s “Baal.” Mr. Sherman goes on to say that he used a literal translation to do his adaptation. It might have made a difference if the adapter understood German and breathed the nuance and texture of what meaning lay beneath the words in German so that he could adequately find the English understanding for the adaptation. What did the original play say …what was, “Baal,” all about?
We all steal. The key is to steal from the best and then do your version, wonderfully. Brecht pinched from John Gay’s, “Beggar’s Opera,” for his, “Three Penny Opera.” He took what he wanted and then made magic with it.
“Baal,” was Brecht’s first play, written when he was 20, in 1918. It is an angry young man’s play. A German young man, struggling with the society he was living in. Germany had lost the first World War. The country was in chaos. Brecht was furious with the theater and it’s taste for illusion and theatrical magic. He wanted to shake it up, rip it down, move his audiences with his vision of social conditions as they were. He wanted to provoke change by the challenge of his work on the stage. He was audacious, in your face, no holds bared, society, warts most of all. His was a theater of the despised, the depraved, and the despairing. Theater to run from. It was harsh …brutish … gutteral, like the German language itself. That was his, “Baal.” You can have cake if you are prepared to pay for it. Even if you aren’t. So long as you pay, and he would make his audiences pay. You see the seeds in, “Baal,” of, “The Three Penny Opera.” He’s talking about the same down-trodden underclass, but he had a social concern. I don’t see that social concern transposed to our culture, in, “Clive.” So what is, “Clive,” about?
Of course Mr. Sherman has updated, language, characterizations, locations … all to make it seem new and shiney today. For all of his changes, unless you find the right equivalents, things don’t remain the same, even if you intend them to equate. They just don’t. Mr. Sherman is talented … there are flashes … moments … some insights, crude but they and an honest attempt at relevance. There integrated musical doors with strings hanging from them; sounds nuts, but they are woven into the production design and occasionally plucked by characters scratching out melodic sound (not overdone) to enhance, contribute, to the dramatic moments. Surprised as I was …they work.  Another attempt at style is when the characters break to the audience and speak their own stage directions … a devise that added …what? It felt like an affectation of playwriting that was passed off for Brechtian style. And…more important … Mr. Sherman doesn’t have to do the dirty. He doesn’t fulfill the potential of the production. He doesn’t show the ugliness in all of its larger than life frontal assault on our sensibilities. Naming rape, seduction, assault, brutality … death …is really not the same as seeing it up front and personal. We get shadows, whispers of grossness, callousness, the harshness of man’s inhumanity to woman, and man. We see actorly versions of our culture’s underbelly, leaning heavily on sex, drugs and rock and roll for it’s own sake …and then I wrote … So What … or paraphrasing the mantra in, “Clive,” “A rat dies in the gutter … so what …?” Indeed … so what. Who cares.  And …we should care … about something or some one. Up there on the stage something must be happening that touches me at some point, for some reason. You can’t just tell me that everything is shit and so what … What does that say about me sitting in the dark nibbling my fear. I go to the theater for nourishment of some kind, not to just take up space and time. Nothing really happens in Clive’s story. He just is … and does l… destructive to himself and everyone, women, men, virgins, babies, anyone near him, anyone who might care for him, and then …, “a rat dies in the gutter … so what,” …and everyone shares the blame … including all of us.
About Irv Bauer
Screenwriter/Educator: IRV BAUER, has taught Screenwriting at the New York University’s Film School, at Sarah Lawrence College, and The Australian National Film School as well as in Master Classes at Cornell and at many other prominent venues. At the University of Bridgeport and The Minneapolis Playwright’s Lab he taught Playwriting as well as at the New Dramatist's in New York. At the University of Washington he taught Adaptation at the graduate level. In addition, Irv has taught workshops and seminars on screenwriting all over the world including special seminars for film and media communities in London, Paris, Sydney and New York and Los Angeles. His enormously popular annual two-week Summer Screenwriting Intensive in New York in July and Spoleto, Italy in August are attended by students from all over the world.


Sandy said...

Ah, another review proclaiming Vincent's greatness, surprise, surprise! I'm wondering if any of the girls that went a couple weeks ago are going to give us an idea of what they thought of the play?

Nantz said...

It was a very thoughtful review. You can tell he took his time and did his research and provided substance. I liked that. I haven't seen any reviews from the girls.

vikeau said...

Man I was in the middle of typing my thoughts on the play, hit the wrong key and lost it all. Suffice it to say I enjoyed the play--once I made the shift of trying to figure out why it was suppose to be set in the 90's as opposed to the 70's. Maybe because I was a kid in the 70's and remember the anger, angst and self destructive behavior that was the 70's. Since by the time the 90's came around I was an adult by then and probably wasn't paying attention to the manations of the youth of America.

Anonymous said...

Oh! Speaking of Oscars. VDO clip from The Cell slowness on In memorial

Anonymous said...

Sorry bad spellcheck. Shown due to passing of Cast member

Nantz said...

vikeau, we'd love to hear your thoughts if you'd like to try again. Anonymous, what cast member of 'The Cell' passed away?

Debra said...

Re: Oscars - It was Eiko Ishioka, one of the costume designers on "The Cell" who passed away.

Re: Clive - The reviewer makes a good point about the nuances of German being hard to translate. I run into it all the time when my mom tries to explain a saying my grandfather used - the literal translation is clumsy and may not make any sense. I've never read or seen Baal, so I can't compare the 2 plays. I'll just give you my thoughts on Clive.

I ended up seeing the play 3 times. The time setting didn't seem that important. For the most part there weren't any sympathetic characters, no one you really cared about. There were a few I wanted to root for to break free from Clive's toxic influence, but they continued to subjugate themselves to him. The ending left me wanting something to tie it all together, to reiterate a theme, to reference the beginning. But in the end... so what.

The material being what it was, all the actors did a fantastic job, the staging was creative, and the set and sound were wonderful. Vincent had the best and most touching scene, and he is a formidable presence on stage.

Nantz said...

Thanks so much, Debra. I didn't catch the name of the person who passed away so thank you for that. I couldn't argue about your comment about Vincent on stage. He amps up anything he is in.