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Saturday, February 26, 2011

TERMINUS impresses most when its rhymes impress us least

Posted by on Sat, Feb 26, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Catherine Walker, Declan Conlon and Olwen Fouere in Abbey Theatres TERMINUS
  • Catherine Walker, Declan Conlon and Olwen Fouere in Abbey Theatre's TERMINUS
TERMINUS
3.5 stars
(out of 5)
Abbey Theater of Dublin
Duke Performances
Carolina Theatre

If you want to explore some of the outer limits of theatrical discourse this evening, you now have two choices, not one.

For as chance—and producers’ schedules—would have it, less than half a mile away from IN THE HEIGHTS’ amazing musical fusion of slam poetry, rap and meringue-edged songs at DPAC (which earned our latest 5-star review earlier this week), Dublin's Abbey Theatre pursues a different form of verbal gymnastics in a production of Irish dramatist Mark O’Rowe’s latest work, TERMINUS, at the Carolina Theatre.

Given the edgy spoken-word jazz already intrinsic to O’Rowe’s work (which the region savored in a Delta Boys’ production of HOWIE THE ROOKIE in March 2008), the literary dare he undertook here is at least understandable: to write a contemporary full-length play, using rhyme, from first to last. The few indulgences allowed by technique—since rhymes, after all, can be broken, perfect, internal, off-center or slant—are likely the only factors permitting any other outcome here besides kitsch.

With a gripping tale, grippingly told by this trio of actors, TERMINUS is not a disaster by any means. But as much as I’d like to report that O’Rowe bests his self-set challenge, when literary filigree upstages the drama as often as it happens in TERMINUS, the work can't be called the artist's best.

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Q: Where's the future of the American musical?
A: IN THE HEIGHTS

Posted by on Sat, Feb 26, 2011 at 8:02 AM

IN THE HEIGHTS
5 stars
(out of 5)
Durham Performing Arts Center
Through Feb. 27

It's a bracing—and rare—experience in this region's theater to stand at the end of a show and say, "Oh. So that's what the future looks like."

It's happened twice now in the past month. Two weeks after the National Theater of Scotland's courageous production of BLACK WATCH showed the way forward for dramatic ensemble work, a touring production at Durham Performing Arts Center presents us with the future of American musical theater—or one of its futures, at any rate.

The show's name is IN THE HEIGHTS. And like watershed productions preceding it, including Jonathan Larson’s RENT, Rado, Ragni and MacDermot’s HAIR, and even Robbins, Laurents, Sondheim and Bernstein’s WEST SIDE STORY—composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda and playwright Quiara Hudes’ Tony Award-winning 2008 musical focuses our attention inexorably upon the life experiences of a community that had previously been largely eclipsed on the American stage. It chronicles the crises, celebrations and challenges that a group of everyday people face in the tightly-knit, largely Dominican upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Local author Beth Revis takes readers Across the Universe at Quail Ridge Books

Posted by on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 3:40 PM

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  • Visio Photography
With large displays at many bookshops, North Carolina native Beth Revis has gotten considerable buzz for her young adult science fiction novel Across the Universe (Razorbill, $17.99).

And the roots of the former schoolteacher’s interstellar romance came from her time at NC State University.

“When I went to NC State, my parents just dropped me off,” says Revis, who’ll appear with four other YA authors at Quail Ridge tonight as part of the “Breathless Reads” book tour.

“With my main character, Amy, I was remembering what it was like to be alone in college," she says. "There’s a sense of freedom, but also danger, and it was very harrowing to be alone.

"College really helped me become who I wanted to be, something I couldn’t have done just staying in one place.”

Revis received an undergraduate degree in English education and a graduate degree in English literature from NC State, but it took her about 10 full novels before she sold Across the Universe, the tale of a teen girl awakened from a cryogenic sleep on a long-term space voyage to discover that 1) the ship’s 50 years from its destination, 2) a patriarchal and highly superstitious society has evolved from the ship’s permanent crew and 3) she can’t be put back to sleep.

Revis says that her background as a teacher in Rutherford County helped her capture the teenage voice for the novel.

“I never really grew up all the way—I still have that teenage voice in me,” she says.

“It helped being a teacher and hanging around kids a lot. And you have to remember what it’s like—that worry and self-doubt that you have as a teenager, which I think everyone has.”

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Monday, February 21, 2011

"Half of Silicon Valley has something you'd call Asperger's": Interview with Temple Grandin

Posted by on Mon, Feb 21, 2011 at 10:02 AM

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  • Photo by Angus Bremner
Diagnosed with autism early in her childhood, Temple Grandin’s seemingly improbable success as an animal behavior scientist and designer of livestock-handling equipment has made her a bestselling author and one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world for 2010. Later today, the 63-year-old author, scientist and advocate will speak at Duke University for the talk “My Experience with Animals.”

Grandin, who received an honorary doctorate from Duke last year, spoke with us by telephone recently.

“I talk a lot about visual thinking, and animal behavior, and trying to combining those things together, and how being a visual thinker helped me in my animal behavior work,” says Grandin.

“And it’s Duke’s Women’s Studies group, so I’ll talk about getting started in the 1970s in a man’s world, which was real, real difficult.”

Grandin’s work came into the spotlight last year when HBO aired a TV-movie, Temple Grandin, which went on to win seven Emmy awards, including one for Claire Danes for her portrayal of Grandin.

“Oh man, I’ve gotten so much busier!” says Grandin of the film’s success. “All I do now is travel, giving talks.”

Indeed, our conversation takes place during a layover between flights to different appearances. After appearing at Duke, she’ll hop a plane to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with the American Meat Institute.

She describes herself as “sort of like Google for pictures,” and is impressed by how more defined the autism spectrum has become since she was growing up.

“Half of Silicon Valley has something you’d call Asperger’s—I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg has something like that,” Grandin says. “You’d almost have to have a touch of Asperger’s to be that good a programmer. Social circuits take up a pile of processor space in the brain, and then you don’t have the processor space to make stuff like Facebook.”

In some ways, she feels that the advancements in technology and social media have helped humans develop a more fractured type of visual thinking closer to animals, though in some ways this worries her.

“To create something like Google, people had to sit still for hundreds of hours to learn how to program,” Grandin says. “We’re getting a lot of people today texting all the time, fragmenting their attention. It’s ironic that the thing that they text on has to be made by someone who is not distracted and is looking at information in whole bits for long periods of time.”

Grandin says that while she stays focused on her work, she appreciates the effect that her story has on people. “I get students, young kids on the spectrum, telling me, ‘Your movie’s motivating me to study harder in school,’ or someone will e-mail me saying, ‘My kid’s an Eagle Scout now because of your book.’”

“That’s the sort of stuff that motivates me—it’s sort of like I’ve got a new job now.”

Grandin appears at the Baldwin Auditorium on Duke’s East Campus at 4:30 p.m.; the talk is free and open to the public, but the event is now full; tickets are no longer available.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Nevermore Film Festival celebrates 12th year with Hannibal Lecter and killer tires

Posted by on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 4:20 PM

In its 12th year, the Nevermore Film Festival—which starts today and runs through Sunday—shows that the line between low-budget horror and “mainstream” cinema has all but vanished. There’s a number of recognizable actors in the lead of the newer films, and many of the international efforts included have already earned considerable cult buzz.

There’s plenty of fun to be had with the older films—those who enjoyed Liam Neeson’s psycho ass-kicking in Taken or plan to see him in Unknown can enjoy him at his most over-the-top Neeson-est in 1990’s Darkman. Before he helmed the Spider-Man films, Sam Raimi directed this nutzo variation on Tim Burton’s Batman with Neeson as a scientist who gets brutally disfigured and uses his special mask-generator (and adrenaline-induced superhuman strength) to fight crime.

Or you could enjoy the film that launched an empire with the original 1980 Friday the 13th (warning: Jason isn’t the bad guy in this one!), or to go from lowbrow to highbrow, 1991’s Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs, with Anthony Hopkins’ celebrated performance as Hannibal Lecter (and let’s not forget Ted Levine as the lotion-loving Buffalo Bill).

Rubber is perhaps the most high-profile film of the festival; to my immense consternation, my DVD player wouldn’t play the review screener copy that was made available to me. The film, which somehow played at Cannes last year, involves a sentient psychokinetic tire named “Robert,” who can explode human heads. Admit it, you already want to see this. As a bonus, cult B-movie actor Wings Hauser is in this. But come on, evil tires! Who can resist that?

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Emo Philips keeps it old school at NC Comedy Arts Festival

Posted by on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 11:14 AM

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  • Photo by Andy Hollingworth
Comedians are often friendly and thoughtful people in interviews, but rarely are they actually funny. But Emo Philips proves the exception to the rule, rambling off sometimes a dozen hilarious one-liners in the course of a single sentence.

Here, for example, is his explanation as to why he’s playing the NC Comedy Arts Festival at Cat’s Cradle:

“Well, about two years ago, I played Charlie Goodnight’s in Raleigh, and (festival creator) Zach Ward came up to me afterwards, and asked, ‘Would you like to play this festival?’ And I thought, ‘Boy, it’d be nice to play a slightly different market.’ Because Charlie Goodnight’s is amazing, but this festival is pretty far away, and it’s probably going to skew a tad younger, and it’s good to get the younger generation excited about me, because by the time I go back to Charlie Goodnight’s again they’ll all have families and they can afford me with their jobs working for the government, monitoring people’s thoughts or whatever we’ll be doing, I don’t know how technology is going. But then again, an asteroid might be heading toward Earth by 2036, so that takes the pressure off considerably.”

[The club formerly known as Charlie Goodnight's is now called simply "Goodnight's Comedy Club."—Editor]

Philips came to prominence in the 1980s, with his witty wordplay and bird-like voice and features granting him a distinct stage presence. He’s toned down his look—gone is the Prince Valiant haircut from his early years on stage—but there’s no mistaking the voice that uttered such classic one-liners as, “Some mornings it just doesn't seem worth it to gnaw through the leather straps.”

He often uses religion in his humor (a few years ago, one of his longer jokes was picked as the best religious joke of all time).

“For some reason, religious jokes seem as trivial as jokes about food or driving,” Philips says.

He says that religion is a topic that almost everyone in an audience can relate to. "Even if you don’t care about religion, your neighbor might, if he votes.”

Philips admits times have changed since he started doing stand-up.

“A few days ago, it was my birthday, and it was in the newspaper, and growing up I never would have guessed that a) my name would be in the newspaper, and b) that I might outlast those papers.”

Even in today’s age of MySpace, YouTube and Funny Or Die, Philips remains a staunch supporter of old-school stand-up comedy. Still, he’s adapted to new media (“My latest Facebook fan is a teenage girl studying drama, kind of like a Mexican taking Spanish”), but he doesn’t text and needed confirmation from this reporter to confirm that “LOL” stands for “laugh out loud.”

He prefers the communal feeling of a live show to a tiny screen on the Internet.

“I understand if you want to stay home and watch me on YouTube, but it’s like incest—you’re putting convenience over quality.”

Emo Philips plays Cat’s Cradle Friday, Feb.18 at 9 p.m. as part of the NC Comedy Arts Festival. He has been in town all week, though, and additional sightings are possible.

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Bobcat Goldthwait: More than just a "Grover voice" at Goodnight's

Posted by on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 10:39 AM

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For a generation of comedy fans, Bobcat Goldthwait is known as that guy with the weird, grating, man-child voice—one he used to great effect alongside Bill Murray in Scrooged, John Cusack in One Crazy Summer and multiple Police Academy films as reformed gang leader Zed.

But in recent years, the once larger-than-life Goldthwait is keeping it small. He’s gone from the guy who once set The Tonight Show guest chair on fire to the acclaimed writer-director of the small-scale, ribald and pitch-black comedies Sleeping Dogs Lie and World’s Greatest Dad.

Still, his wild-man reputation persists. Not that Goldthwait—whose weekend gig at Goodnight’s Comedy Club continues through Sunday, Feb. 19, is completely against that perception by fans.

“I think I’m always fighting being a nostalgia act,” says Goldthwait on the phone from Los Angeles.

“I understand how people want to talk to me about my older material, and I hate it when some showbiz people don’t want to talk about their pasts. But you’ll see something about you posted (on YouTube) and think, ‘Wow, that’s all I am to this person?’ But it’s a perception that I perpetuated, so I could be frustrated by it, but it’d be a lot of wasted energy.”

Goldthwait sounds completely different on the phone than those only familiar with his acting and stand-up work would expect. He’s calm, laid-back and thoughtful when it comes to describing his life and career.

These days, he prefers to stay behind the scenes with his films, a career he eased into with a few years of directing Jimmy Kimmel Live.

“At this point in my life, I’m interested in working out things that I’m concerned about, or that eat up a lot of my gray matter,” Goldthwait says.

“Just simply to be famous is not fulfilling, so that’s why I’ve got to get stuff going with a little meat on it.”

His next film starts production in April, based on an original screenplay he calls “kind of like Badlands or Network, about the American coliseum, about how we’re all about throwing people under the bus.”

Last year, it was announced that he’d helm a film version of the Kinks album Schoolboys in Disgrace, though he says that project’s taking longer to come together, resulting in his going with the smaller original project in the meantime.

“I like keeping it smaller,” Goldthwait says of his films. “The Kinks musical I am very serious about—it’s going to cost more than the size and scope of the movies I usually make, and I keep working on it, but it’s going to take longer to get it going. And I like the freedom of doing a tiny movie.”

Though Goldthwait has announced his retirement from stand-up comedy a few times, he says he continues to draw inspiration from the people and places he sees on the road, and is looking forward to returning to Goodnight’s, a venue he’s played several times throughout his career.

Does he think the Goodnight's audience will be open to his new material?

“I just hope folks come out to the show and not expect the Grover voice,” he says.

Bobcat Goldthwait appears at Goodnight’s through Sunday.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Three leading poets appearing at Duke Friday—and why verse-lovers need to knock off work early

Posted by on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 3:29 PM

Roberson_Labyrinth.jpg
If you are a poet, then you need to knock off work early this Friday, Feb. 18.

Eileen Myles, William Corbett and Ed Roberson—three of the more fascinating and talented poets in the country—are at Duke University for an afternoon panel discussion and evening reading. Both events are free and open to the public.

Sponsored by the university’s English Department as part of the Blackburn Visiting Writers Series, the panel discussion will take place in the Breedlove Room of Perkins Library on West Campus this afternoon from 2:30-4:30. The reading will begin at 8 p.m. in the parlor of the East Building on East Campus.

Ed Roberson has written eight books of poetry, including Atmosphere Conditions (Sun & Moon Press), which was selected by Duke professor Nathaniel Mackey for the National Poetry Series and nominated for an Academy of American Poets prize. Roberson’s latest book is To See the Earth Before the End of the World (Wesleyan University Press).

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bye-bye Borders: Superstore files Chapter 11, Triangle stores to close in next several weeks

Posted by on Wed, Feb 16, 2011 at 12:14 PM

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Today , the troubled books retail giant Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The long-expected move means 200 stores will close, including four stores in the Triangle.

According to documents filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, stores in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Cary and Apex will all close as part of Borders' restructuring. The Borders in Greensboro will also close.

Borders' North Raleigh location at 8825 N. Six Forks Road will remain open, as will the stall at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Borders announced today that it had secured $505 million in debt financing to help the company satisfy its creditors and continue operations on a reduced scale.

The company noted that, among other initiatives and subject to court approval, Borders plans to undertake a strategic Store Reduction Program to facilitate reorganization and its repositioning. Borders has identified certain underperforming stores — equivalent to approximately 30 percent of the company’s national store network — that are expected to close in the next several weeks.

Borders plans to continue operating its remaining stores—wherever they are—and will maintain its online retail operations. It will continue to honor the Borders Rewards loyalty program, and payroll and benefits will be met, presumably for those who remain.

Here is the bankruptcy filing. borders.10_10614.pdf

And in other news, business continues as usual at your local independent bookstores.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Frasier and Spamalot star David Hyde Pierce takes spotlight at PlayMakers

Posted by on Sat, Feb 12, 2011 at 7:27 AM

On the phone to discuss his receiving the PlayMakers Distinguished Achievement Award at the Carolina Inn on Saturday, Feb. 12, David Hyde Pierce shows little of the stuffy, obtuse uptightness he became famous for over 11 seasons as Niles Crane on TV’s Frasier. But the character’s fierce intelligence is on display as the four-time Emmy winner rapturously discusses his first love—the stage.

Pierce, a Tony winner for 2007’s Curtains, first came to PlayMakers last year, when his longtime partner, UNC graduate Brian Hargrove (a long-time TV writer for such shows as Titus), was honored.

Since Frasier ended in 2004, Pierce has focused on the theater, headlining such productions as Monty Python’s Spamalot and more recently, David Hirson’s La Bête on Broadway. At this point in his career, he can afford to be choosy about his roles, taking on more eclectic projects at his leisure.

“To be able to choose what you want to do, and not have to worry about the economics of it, to take whatever’s offered, that’s a great luxury,” he says. “There’s also a great responsibility, I think, to yourself and your artistic life.”

Regional theater such as PlayMakers, Pierce says, “reminds me a lot of being in London—there, the audiences are constantly exposed to a wide range of plays. They’re not all good, but the audience starts to develop a wider idea of what a play is.

“That means the audience in the regions around the country can have more diverse tastes than audiences in the bigger cities, who get short bursts of shows that have been pre-selected, because we think they can make it through the gauntlet of fire that is commercial theater.”

Pierce bluntly answers “no” when asks if he’d like to do a TV series again, despite his respect for the medium.

“I don’t feel like I left anything undone doing Frasier. I loved that whole experience, it was fulfilling in every way, and after we filmed our last episode, I didn’t walk out of that soundstage thinking, ‘Oh, if only I’d had a chance to do something I didn’t get a chance to do with that fantastic company and that great writing.’ It would have to be something that really caught my eye and my ear about the writing of the character.

“The bottom line for me is the live audience. I love that connection, and it’s very difficult for me to give that up.”

Pierce’s upcoming work includes the independent film The Perfect Host and making his directorial debut on a stage production written by Hargrove.

We asked him if he had any advice for the production of Spamalot, scheduled to take place at DPAC in May. “I’m sure the actors know the material well already,” says Pierce, “but I can offer what Mike Nichols (the original director) told me—‘No matter how funny it gets, remember—it’s always very, very serious.’”

For more information on the PlayMakers Ball, including tickets and sponsorship, contact Lenore Field at 452-8417 or lenore.field@gmail.com, or visit www.playmakersrep.org.

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