In every conceivable way, Tony Stark’s foe in Iron Man 3 is himself. It starts with an enemy born of Stark’s chronic dickishness, a spurned fan-turned-supervillain not unlike Buddy Pine-cum-Syndrome in The Incredibles. It continues with a superhero whose egotistical compulsion to unmask his true identity continues to put an ever present bullseye on him and his scant loved ones. But Stark’s biggest adversary is his own psyche, an id now fractured by insecurity—indeed, it’s wry genesis that the film is essentially a 130-minute psychiatrist’s couch confession.
Beneath his renowned wisecracks and cocksuredness, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) faces a new reality spawned from the Big Apple battle royale finale to The Avengers. It bears mentioning that Iron Man was the first installment of the now-interwoven Marvel Cinematic Universe. The years since have seen gods and genetic behemoths as heroes, and mutants and aliens from other dimensions as villains.
Against this backdrop, Stark is a self-described “man in a can,” seized by fits of anxiety when a child fan merely asks about “what happened in New York.” (More 9/11 allegory? Never mind, let’s just move on.) While the 42 iterations of armor Stark has fashioned in the basement his cliffside laboratory appear the embodiment of an obsessive mind, they are actually the ongoing realization of Stark’s fateful “I am Iron Man” declaration at the end of the first film. The man and the machine are becoming inseparable, an evolution propelled by equal parts ego and envy.
Its characters may or may not be the kind of folks they used to warn some of us about back on the farm.
But PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT is most definitely the kind of show they warned me about in grad school.
“Beware of spectacle,” one theater teacher said. “Sure, it’s flashy. And it’s undeniably effective—in the short term.
"But as the audience acclimates to it, it takes greater and greater dosages just to have the same effect.”
The professor paused. “Ultimately, it’s unsustainable—and the crash is something wicked.”
That’s precisely the case for this 2006 musical, adapted from the 1994 Stephan Elliott film starring Terrence Stamp, Hugo Weaving (a half-decade before he became Agent Smith in The Matrix), and a pre-Memento Guy Pearce. It took five years for Priscilla to make it to New York—a clear sign of early difficulties. Once it got there, it ran for a little over a year on Broadway, in 2011. Ultimately though, it turns out to be significant that, during that run, Priscilla took only one Tony Award—for costumes.
It all starts so innocently, as ensemble and designers simultaneously embody and poke fun at the campy excesses of the golden age of disco and big city drag shows in the mid-1980s. But by the middle of the first act, Priscilla begins to look and feel as if it’s been hijacked at gunpoint by costume designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner.
Universes, the Bronx-based performance troupe that fuses spoken word, song, rhythm and theater, epitomizes the concept of arts-as-multidisciplinary. The performers who comprise Universes—all of whom are persons of color—serve as storytellers and poets and music-makers. They're also social critics who aim to give voice to the silenced. And, for the most part, they succeed in doing so without being too heavy-handed. That’s no easy feat.
Their newest piece, Spring Training, currently has its world premiere at PRC2 in Chapel Hill. Commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts and PlayMakers Repertory Company as part of their Rite of Spring at 100 project, a centennial celebration of Stravinsky’s revolutionary composition, the members of Universes were given free rein to adapt The Rite of Spring in any manner they chose. The result is less an adaptation or a recreation of Rite than an entirely new piece incorporating Rite as one thematic ingredient. In culinary terms, Universes uses Stravinsky to season Spring Training, but doesn't let Stravinsky be the dominant flavor.
That’s not to say you can't taste Rite in the work, which features Universes’ company members Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William “Ninja” Ruiz, Steven Sapp and Gamal Chasten under direction by Chay Yew. The opening and closing song of Spring Training, a soulful evocation of the struggles of everyday life, melodically mirrors the familiar, haunting bassoon at the beginning of Stravinsky’s composition. But here, the music gives way to Bobby McFerrin-esque rhythmic beatboxing and shadows of James Brown and Marvin Gaye.
Then begin the stories: poignant, heartbreaking and sometimes funny tales of suffering and, yes, the rites of passage young people must go through—the spring training of our lives we endure before confronting the even greater challenges of adulthood.
Duke Theater Studies
Sheafer Lab Theater
closed April 14
Young Jean Lee’s LEAR has a similar feel to it, with one marked exception: In this case, the parents are never coming home—not after King Lear and Gloucester, the fathers of the quintet we ultimately see on stage, have both been stripped of all power and banished to the storm, presumably to their deaths in this interpretation.
In the absence of such gods, the children in this bizarre redraft have already turned quite feral. The varying mixtures of mania, malice—and panic—in their eyes suggest kids who’ve gotten permanently lost while playing hide and seek in grownup’s bodies. Their impulsivity and increasingly radical swings in mood and focus speak to characters who’ve only just discovered that their games now have no frontiers, no exit—and no end.
So far, so interesting. In Young’s vision, the refinements of a ruling class have gradually crossed over into opulence and psychosis, if not mutation. Those dynamics are fully realized in a trio of performances director Jody McAuliffe has crafted with actors Jazmine Noble as Goneril, Madeleine Roberts as Regan, and particularly Faye Goodwin as Cordelia. In Sonya Drum’s costumes and the equally skillful (but uncredited) wigs and makeup, the daughters’ almost—but not quite—flawless skin and hair recalls the exquisite porcelain horrors of painter Ray Caesar, and more than hints at the madness and corruption underneath.
I love it when a theater review heralds the arrival of a new artist or a new work of art.
Sorry, but this isn’t one of those. Instead, we have more of a report from the road that director / adaptor / designer Chip Rodgers is currently exploring. His certainly audacious—and, at times, extremely frustrating—new adaptation of the ancient Greek drama ELEKTRA, whose workshop production runs through Sunday at Meredith College’s studio theater, is a work that can only be said to be in process. Still, presently, it’s headed in a most interesting direction.
We find in its torturous discourse an examination and critique of a psychologically land-locked age that should look hauntingly familiar to present-day audiences. Its inhabitants remain preoccupied with a search for true meaning and emotional and ethical authenticity, while being perpetually distracted by contingency and plagued by indecision and self-doubt. At several points, the modern language the work is housed in recalls the conversationalisms novelist Don DeLillo uses to indict the glib, reductive and facile grasp his modern characters have when it comes to contemporary dilemmas.
But, as also happens with DeLillo, Rodgers’ characters wind up talking past each other an awful lot—so much so, in fact, that the trait veers from the merely irritating, well into the theatrically problematic.
It's clear that this young, alternative-theater triple-threat, who impressed in last spring’s atmospheric staging of Hungry at Meredith, is on the trail of big, generational issues. Unfortunately, it’s just as clear that a number of fundamental script, character and performance-oriented questions haven’t yet been solved in this still-developing work.
Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is a tattered melodrama that reaches fevered pitches out of nowhere and ambles with confidence through its baggy plot. It’s a sweaty ride, shifting in and out of rapid speeds that come in spurts, a lot like Ryan Gosling on his getaway motorbike, zipping through Schenectady, N.Y., against oncoming traffic to suddenly curve off onto a damp side street.
Gosling, as Luke, rocks patterned pants, bleached-blond hair and corny tattoos, synthesizing a goofy demeanor with blunt intensity (his voice cracks when he robs banks) that fits perfectly into Cianfrance’s brand of opera in Dullsville.
As Luke’s partner in crime, Ben Mendelsohn limps through his scenes like an outsider artist with homicidal tendencies. Every time he shows up, the jagged tone crackles anew. If his character ever intersected with Ray Liotta’s electric bad cop, you get the feeling the screen would crack in half.
Cianfrance also does great work with Eva Mendes, but she’s always good, and—feat of feats—makes smug jock Bradley Cooper momentarily sympathetic as a skittish cop.
“You’re medicine, Jack!” growls Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in writer-director Brian Helgeland’s 42. He’s talking, of course, to Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), the Negro League player whom he’s hired to play in the big leagues, breaking baseball’s color barrier.
In this version of the story, Rickey never doubted himself, knew exactly how to make it happen and picked a ballplayer tough enough to deal with the nasty stuff he’d have to put up with, but smart enough not to fight back. Thank you, Jackie Robinson, for swinging the bat at the ball and not at anyone’s head.
Helgeland’s movie jumps back and forth from Robinson’s preparation in the minor leagues to the Brooklyn Dodgers preparation for his arrival: “He is coming!” bellows manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni), like John the Baptist prophesying about the messiah.
Combined with Rickey’s mentions of God as the ultimate baseball fan, and the way Robinson is picked almost randomly from a stack of files by Rickey and said to be blessed with “superhuman” talent, Robinson is made an incidental part of this scheme. It’s fate. There is no other way this could have happened. Of course, thinking Robinson is superhuman instead of smart and devoted enough to play the game well is its own more nuanced brand of racism. But that’s beyond the grasp of 42.
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Movies like 6 Souls, which creeps into theaters and VOD sites, remind me how psychological thrillers or supernatural thrillers or thrillers period are always tricky to pull off. These flicks always must walk a tightrope of staying intensely, viscerally plausible without falling off and descending into complete ridiculousness.
For the first hour or so, 6 Souls, which was made three years ago as Shelter and has been retitled upon this domestic re-release, makes audiences believe that it will keep its balance and stay on the rope. Julianne Moore, who seems to star in movies like this every five years, plays a God-fearing, widowed psychiatrist/single mom who debunks the claims of murderers that claim multiple personality disorder. She butts heads on this matter with her less skeptical father (Jeffrey DeMunn), also a shrink. He challenges her to debunk David (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), his wheelchair-bound, backwoods-accented patient who can also turn into Adam, an aggressive guy from the streets who can walk just fine.
Swedish directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein (who went on to direct last year’s Underworld: Awakening) create a moody, stylishly minimal atmosphere, complete with suspenseful music cues that verge on self-parody. They also pull off attention-grabbing camera moves (fluid overhead shots, steady long takes) that would make Brian De Palma shed a proud tear.
Everything goes downhill in the second hour. Whereas the first hour had an unrushed leanness to it, as Moore’s doctor slowly-but-surely discovers more about who David/Adam is, the second hour is anxiously crammed with a bunch of stuff. As you’ve probably guessed from the title, more personalities show up to inhabit Rhys-Meyers’ character, which the movie speedily doles out one after the other. Rhys-Meyers seems so game to show off his range, playing different characters in the same body.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers are far too busy throwing in everything, from obvious exposition to a detour into white-trash voodoo land to a showdown complete with a gotcha ending.
6 Souls is an attempt to address the religion-vs.-science debate. With the plot (scripted by Michael Cooney, who’s responsible for the straight-to-cable Jack Frost movies) hammering the message that there are some things out there you can’t explain—not to mention that the movie offs most of the non-believing characters—the film literally appears to be on the side of the angels.
But even though God is actually mentioned in the closing, special-thanks credits, dude couldn’t unfortunately work His/Her magic and prevent this film from being the uneven, preposterously out-of-control wreck that it is.
Can the church say “Amen”?
“Times have changed,” croons dazzling nightclub star Reno Sweeney in the title song of Anything Goes. “The world has gone mad today and good’s bad today.”
Maybe so, but the touring production of this Broadway revival shows that some good things have staying power. This comic tale of romance and madcap hijinks aboard a luxury liner originally opened on Broadway in 1934, starring the legendary Ethel Merman as Sweeney. Nearly 80 years later, Cole Porter’s delicious songs set against an updated book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman still add up to an escapist delight.
Do take the term “updated book” with a grain of salt. The show remains old-fashioned, featuring groan-worthy one-liners and a mostly nonsensical plot about Billy Crocker (Josh Franklin), a young financier who sneaks aboard a London-bound cruiser to pursue a lovely but betrothed debutante, Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke).
Also on board are Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate, who played The Producers’ Max Bialystock on Broadway), a charismatic gangster disguised as a priest; his tarty sidekick, Erma (Joyce Chittick); Hope’s very British and very wealthy fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (a hysterical Edward Staudenmayer); and the brassy, big-voiced evangelist-turned-showgirl Reno (a show-stealing Rachel York).
“Decorative” is a bit of a dirty word in the art world. It’s why we say “interior decorators” instead of something like “décor artists.” In galleries and museums, the word “ornamental” is preferred, describing artwork that incorporates motifs from traditional crafts, fashion or architecture into a larger statement or meaning. If, in the context of your work, you scrutinize an aspect or example of craft, then you’re considering the ornamental. But if the work doesn’t mean beyond its aesthetic fact, it might be dismissed as merely decorative.
The full-body portrait “Juliette the Baptist” is Walker’s best riff on a religious original, copping an aspect of Caravaggio’s beheaded St. John the Baptist. A woman poses jauntily in a slim brown suit against a dim, indeterminate background, grasping what seems to be the severed head of the actress Julianne Moore. Walker applies minimal sculptural collage to render the gore streaming from the neck to the painting’s ground. Something between thick rose petals and a bright red version of bracket fungi is affixed to the panel in bloody bunches.
Tonally, this woman could have stepped right off the pages of Vogue. She conveys feminine independence without overt sexuality, but the head she’s lugging looks just like her. Walker’s pointing out that independence has a habit of eating the independences of others. It’s a lesson that St. John learned the hard way.