Secret Code(ing)

I’ve had a few people tell me they’re unable to comment from WordPress reader. Because of my insatiable, sophomoric need for attention, this bothers me greatly. If I know I’m missing out on just one comment—never mind a few—I’m up all night watching a moonbeam traverse my ceiling.

Does anyone know a good WordPress coder who wants to make a few bob fixing this mess? I paid top dollar to migrate this address from Blogger to WordPress and this shouldn’t be happening. Good help is tough to find.

[Edit: WordPress helpline wonk Jason said this site is “…a bit confused on where it lives.” Just like its owner. A developer will fix next week. Huzzah.]

Here are some plays I saw this past season. Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks for stopping by. You are the gift.


The Elephant Man
By Bernard Pomerance
Bradley Cooper
Patricia Clarkson
Alessandro Nivola

elephantI had deep misgivings about casting The Most Handsome Man AliveTM as the hideously deformed John Merrick. Talk about defying logic! The worst casting choice since Edward G. Robinson played an Egyptian in The Ten Commandments. An Egyptian, for Christ’s sake! [“Mmmwaaaa…Where’s your Messiah now…ya see?”]

Then I saw something really extraordinary. After a preamble, the play started like this:

elephant man1As Dr. Treves read a detailed description of Merrick’s deformities, photos flashed on the screen. Meanwhile, Cooper slowly distorted and bent his body. At the end of the scene, Cooper was gone and The Elephant Man stood before a stunned audience. This, augmented with a master class in acting by Patricia Clarkson, made for one of the more satisfying nights this year. The last :10 minutes of the Act 1 was so deeply moving that I almost lost it. Clarkson, as Mrs. Kendal, reaches out to shake Merrick’s hand—the first time a woman touched him. The moment hung there in the thick, quiet air,

The River
by Jez Butterworth
Hugh Jackman
Cush Jumbo
Laura Donnelly

People are killing themselves trying to get tickets to this, paying as much as $275 per seat. It’s an intimate theater—the capacity is only 776 seats. And it’s Hugh Jackman, after all. Here’s the dirty little secret that nobody is talking about:

It’s kind of boring.

theriverIt’s about a guy who falls in love too easily with women he barely knows. Hell, that’s not so special! That’s been my standard operating procedure for years. It’s not the actors’ fault. The source material is flat. Butterworth’s last play, Jerusalem with Mark Rylance, was so compelling that I left work “sick” to attend a mid-week matinee because I wanted to see it a second time. I’m not sure what happened here.

The Real Thing
By Tom Stoppard
Ewan McGregor
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Cynthia Nixon
Josh Hamilton

real thingIt wasn’t well received by the critics and discounts are readily available, but I had a nice time. This is Stoppard’s most accessible play and it looked like everyone was having a pretty good time. McGregor, especially, embraced the part of a philandering husband. Nixon’s British accent was a bit strained, which is inexcusable since she’s been acting since she was a child. Aside from that, what’s the beef? Lighten up, critics!

A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)
by Sam Shepard
Stephen Rea

particleI didn’t have high hopes for this. It’s based on Oedipus, which I know nothing about. He sleeps with his mom and murders his dad or something like that? But it’s Sam Shepard and, dammit, attention must be paid. It was a good enough production but I’d had a long day and was so fucking tired that night. Attending the theater when you’re tired is suicide. The lights go down. The chair is comfy. They’re reading a bedtime story. Good night, sweet prince.

This Is Our Youth
by Kenneth Lonergan
Kieran Culkin
Michael Cera
Tavi Gevinson

youthI didn’t have high hopes for this (Part II). I’m anti-Michael Cera. His line delivery is one-note and monotone. Also, I once read an interview where he complained about the burdens of fame and that worked my nerves. He’s a poor puppy. But I got a pfat discount so I went.

I’m still not ready to concede that Cera is a good actor overall, but he was quite good here. The revelation is Kieran Culkin. He had the flashy role and made hay with it. Tavi Gevinson isn’t a trained actor. She started a fashion blog at age 12 and is still a teen. No formal training! Her serviceable performance makes me wonder about the value of acting classes.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
By Simon Stephens
Nobody you’d know
dogProbably the most satisfying of the lot. Anonymous casts are sometimes best. Movie stars come with preconceived notions. Hugh Jackman was…well…Hugh Jackman. But with a cast of unknowns, the characters are allowed to develop unique personas. They’re free from all that baggage.

From London. A boy with Asperger’s syndrome sets out to discover who murdered the neighbor’s dog. An enjoyable first act segues to a trippy, brilliantly staged second act. You experience what navigating London might be like with your five senses overloaded. Alex Sharp, who just graduated from Juilliard in April (April, for cryin’ out loud! Some struggle.) is solid as s 15-year old mathematical genius who can barely walk down the street, much less navigate the London tube. Emotionally manipulative but SO WHAT. Excellent.

Disgraced
By Ayad Akhtar
Gretchen Mol
Josh Radnor
Karen Pittman
Hari Dhillon

disgracedPulitzer Prize winner. Brilliantly written sociopolitical drama about progressive, smarty-pants upper class professionals who might harbor a bit of racial prejudice after all when it comes to Islam. Mol quite good, Randor a little stiff. The lead was originally played by Aasif Mandvi but he couldn’t accommodate the off-to-Broadway transfer. No matter. Dhillon is broken and sinister enough.

Ayad Akhtar might be my new favorite contemporary playwright. (Sorry, Mr. Mamet.) In addition to this gem, his Invisible Hand is also currently playing off-Broadway. And as good as Disgraced is, that one is even better. A Wall Street sharp is kidnapped by Pakistani terrorists who force him to raise money on their behalf via illicit stock trades. Terrorists get a taste of capitalism. Hilarity ensues. (Not really.)

71 thoughts on “Secret Code(ing)

  1. Question one: When do you work, Mark? Lots of play-going these days. Lucky you. I’d like to see the star-less production. I’m with you on that observation. Let’s see new talent build their own chops by feeling the magic of character interaction and audience reaction.

    Question two: Why fear the WP dashboard so much? Go into the left strip and fiddle around with settings until you find Reader and Comments and Allow. If you’re patient and give yourself a few minutes you should be able to do it yourself. You have a WP theme. It doesn’t look super customized or anything. It should just be clicks, not coding. Of course, I’m no expert. Rest of the WP world?

    • I don’t work at 8:00 at night and that’s curtain time. Also, this sample goes back to September. I used to post play reviews more often but I don’t think anyone is that interested so now I do it wholesale.

      I’m inspired. I’ll poke around and try to fix it myself. If I suddenly go offline, you’ll know why.

      • After I hit reply on my comment I thought, duh, he goes to these plays after work. I remember when you reviewed them more frequenty. I always read with interest, FYI.

        If you mess up your blog settings, I am in seriously trouble, I know.

      • I never touch my settings under any circumstances. I have no faith in my ability to fix sometging I break. I don’t work on my car or perform surgery on myself for the same reason. I had an online chat with someone at WordPress earlier and he thinks its a simple fix. Wish I’d done it sooner.

  2. I read the Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time. I thought it was a so-so book, but I didn’t realize they made a play of it. That would be interesting to see.

    And no, I can’t comment on your post from my reader either. You might want to email WordPress Support. They’re pretty good at fixing these little bugs. With technology it’s always something, isn’t it? Always something to suck away more of our time to fix.

  3. Fix it. Because I’ve had to jump from the WordPress app all the way to Safari. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
    Your reviews always make me jealous, but in a good way. Is there a good way? Probably not. Way to slip in the Arthur Miller reference, side by side with Shakespeare. Do I get s free T-shirt?

  4. Well, I’m not most folks.I look forward to your reviews.Hell! I need the smell of greasepaint!
    About the commenting problem…it’s OK for me on my laptop, but I hear from people who read blogs on their ‘phones or ipads that there is a problem.
    Taking a sickie to see a play – love it!

    • I’ve taken a sickie to go to the art museum, too. Clearly, I’m not that serious about my career. Can you picture the CEO of Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan calling in sick to see a matinee?! What an immature way to go about your business. I yam what I yam.

  5. As of now, 2 p.m., I couldn’t comment on your post from my phone’s reader. I don’t use the real one. So being the wonderful woman I am, rather than the bitch who is incredibly jealous of this list of plays, I’m here to let you know and keep you from sleeping. Or let you get to sleep. Or something. Because I am that nice.

    The Elephant man sounds wonderful — as do a couple of the others. The Curious case of the Dog was a book I enjoyed but forgot completely. It might be fun to see.

    • Umm…thank you? I think? I use Feedly for my reader and was completely unaware of this problem. I wonder if my comments will pick up if it becomes easier for people to use? I’m on it. Probably won’t make any progress but I’m on it.

      Elephant Man was pretty special. Maybe because I expected to little up front. It always helps to temper your enthusiasm a bit. It sound like Curious Case is a lot more fun to see than read. There’s a lot of math in the play. Is the book like that, too? That’d prevent me from ever reading it.

  6. I have to open your blog in a browser to leave a comment, but if I got something to say, one extra click is not going to stop me from commenting.
    See, I had nothing to say and still was able to leave a comment.

      • Apparently, according to a Bear of Bigger Brain, it’s to do with apps (or whatever those things you all seem to use on your smart phones are called). Yes, you might [in some cases] need to open the blog in your browser. Easy peasy.

  7. As for the actual topic of the post, I’m not a big-theater goer, and I could probably count the number of plays I saw on Broadway on my thumbs, but reading your reviews makes me want to actually watch some of these.

  8. WordPress glitches are annoying! I do most of my blog reading and commenting from my laptop, and go to the full blog each time, so as to see the post in its full glory! So the issue you’re having wouldn’t affect me, but I hope you get it fixed for the others!

    You really are quite the theatre goer aren’t you. I can’t remember if you’ve mentioned this before, but have you ever been to London? I bet you’d like the theatre and galleries here too.

    • Well, I just had a lovely live chat with a WordPress tech and he said he sees the problem but it can’t be addressed until Monday. He’s going to have a developer look into it. I told him it’d be the best Christmas present a fella could get.

      Theater is my thing. Some like to drink. Some like sports. Some like shopping. Some watch reality TV. I’ve been to London a few times. You are correct. The theater and galleries are fantastic. I love the Tate Modern, especially. My father-in-law was an ex-pat executive living in London and had a flat in Mayfair. My Bride and I used to visit. It’s how I aspire to live but never will.

      • Ooh yes, Mayfair is nice! Now I think I do remember you mentioning something about London before. If you come again anytime soon, let me know, I’ll meet you for coffee or something (if you want to of course!). I can be in central London in an hour and a half from my house, it’s an easy trip.

      • That would be fantastic! I’ve been lucky enough to have several blogger meet-ups over the years and they’re always a lot of fun. People are nice. Lots of folks pass through NYC at one time or another and I like to impose my…*ahem*…local charm on them.

  9. no problems from the dirty south commenting, sweet pea. the only theater here is performed in the local high schools. *sigh* i am jealous and you know it.

    i bake cakes. xoxoxoxox

  10. How could the critics not like ‘The Real Thing’ with such an impressive cast? I’ve been a fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal ever since I saw her getting her bottom spanked by James Spader in Secretary. I’m glad you’ve given it a good review and I hope Cynthia Nixon is still looking passably attractive. What I find hard to believe is that there’s an actor called ‘Cush Jumbo’. I hope for his sake he was home-schooled.

  11. You go to a lot of plays! We got a heck of theater scene here in Chicago. I need to get after it more. The thing about theater is I put it off too long, and then the run is over. And it’s not like a movie where I can catch it on Netflix . . .

    • This year I saw a record 56 plays. It’s a hobby. Good thing I get discount tickets or I’d be broke.

      Chicago is a hotbed of theater. One of the best cities in America for that sort of thing. Go see ANYTHING that Steppenwolf does. You’re lucky to have them.

  12. Wow, you’ve been busy, Mark! I’m super jealous again, but feel lucky that you have shared your experiences here. You have the chance to see some pretty big names, although I agree it would be nice to see a show where the characters of the play steal the show. This is why when I see movies, I’d rather not know the personal lives of actors. It interferes too much sometimes, unless they’re really really good and I forget who they are. That’s hard to do! You are quite the theater goer. Good luck with WordPress. I’m getting tired of all their changes lately. It’s driving me crazy!

    • Don’t be jealous. Believe me, I hang on my cross for plenty of other things. It all balances out.

      You’re right about people being too famous for their own good. Every time I see a movie with Jack Nicholson in it, he plays Jack Nicholson.

  13. “Curious” is a wonderful book. Do read it if you have the chance. And please continues to post reviews! Here at the tip of Africa we have a committed Community theater and love your reviews. Our pitiful Rand/dollar exchange makes travel only for the lucky few and I, for one, just love hearing about what is on in New York. Am generally a lurker but just had to respond now,Thanks for a year of lovely blogs. Here’s to 2015!! 🙂

    • Helllloooo, lurker. I love lurkers. They’re so mysterious. They’re a nation’s flag in StatCounter, but who are they, really? They’re living breathing souls yet, they remain anonymous.

      Thanks for your generous comment. I’m happy to provide a service and am glad to know it’s appreciated. More to come in 2015. As always, there’s never a fee.

  14. I always look forward to reading your reviews on plays and art. I have never had a problem reading or commenting to your blog. Same for your e-mail address.

    • Thanks, Tom B. I’m not exactly in synch with the New York critics but I call it as I see it. I like to think of my opinions as being more “every man” and less overly-educated, if you know what I mean. Glad all the blog mechanics are working for you, but I won’t rest until all are served.

  15. Hey Mark! sorry i’m so late on this one – I got backlogged with my blog reading. I do enjoy reading your reviewer posts Mark, I’ll never see any of these plays so a look inside them – if only a brief look – is interesting. I actually used to allow my employees to take off time (without using vacation time) for personal special events in their lives, like plays, preimiere movie screenings, etc. They automatically had birthdays off with pay.

    I’ve heard of Gyllenhaal before, and of course Jackman, but the remaining actors are new to me. I seldom went to plays, preferring books instead. Until I moved to Ottawa, I never lived in a city that was big enough to have much in the way of professional theater. I am curious but not at all informed.

    Thanks so much for the post Mark, your knowledge and presentation of the material is excellent. Oh, by the way, I use e-mail notification to follow blogs and there hasn’t been any trouble with your notifications.

    • Those live broadcasts are really catching on. Now, everybody’s getting into the act. The Metropolitan Opera. The New York Philharmonic. I just read that they’re going to do a walking tour of the Matisse cut out exhibit at MoMA. I’m not sure how that will play out.

      The Jackman play took place in a cabin in the wilderness. You got to watch him do manly things like set up camp and actually gut a fish on stage. A lot of testosterone but still kind of dull.

  16. 56 plays? 56??? I think I may need to join TDF again. Can you recommend some discount ticket services that are open, so I can NOT go see those plays and have specific experiences to feel guilty about missing?

    The sad thing is, I was addicted to theater when I lived in New York. Yes, part of it was being an actress. I lived for moments like the one you described with Patricia Clarkson (love her!). Those palpable moments.

    So, Bradley Cooper has some real chops, huh? Who woulda thought? Or at least, has the physicality down, which is so important. Not surprised about Hugh Jackman. What IS your problem with Michael Cera? I think he’s adorable! I love cute nerds. You’re a cute nerd.

    I’m surprised about Cynthia Nixon’s accent, but not that you fell asleep during A Particle of Dread. I adore Sam Shepard, but some of his plays are slooow. Did you ever see Buried Child? By the time they unburied the child, I think I was snoozing.

    Ayad Akhtar? Hmmm. I’ll have to keep him in mind.

    Forget going to the theater. I’ll just live vicariously through you. xo

    • Now you know why I love New York so much. Well…one of many reasons. I’ll send some theater papering services to you. One or two might work. The thing is, I’m in the city every friggin’ day for work, so it’s easy for me. It’ll be a tougher slog for you.

      For Christmas I got a ticket to a five and a half hour play about Henry VIII on Broadway. It was a LOT of money. $200. But I’m a big anglophile and that’s my sweet spot. My wife is golden. Many wives would have told me to stuff my $200. Oh…and I got a new vacuum cleaner. The funny/sad part? I’m equally excited about both gifts.

      Shepard’s latest plays have been very snooze-inducing, but I go anyway. Did you know that the 13th St. Rep is currently doing Shepard/Patti Smith’s “Cowboy Mouth”? There’s another week left of the run. I think tix are only about $15 bucks.

      • Oh God. Massive heart squeeze.

        One of the first roles I ever played, in a little Off Off Broadway theater on Theater Row, was Cavale in Cowboy Mouth.

        I was really good in it. It was kind of the perfect melding of actor and role.

        I adore you, your love for theater, your addiction and past connection to New York, and your blog. But no one stirs up bittersweet memories for me like you do.

        Pang. Pang. (that’s my heart. I will have to eat chocolate now.)

      • Chocolate is the remedy for lots of things. Do you think you can make it into the city? Performances are winding down. And the 13th St. is a nice venue. Everything right in you lap. I saw LINE there about 150 years ago. One of the fist things I saw when I got here.

      • I don’t think I could sit through it. I don’t know. It seriously might make me too sad.

        LINE. Wow. Israel Horowitz. That brings be back. Is it still playing there? Nah. That would be, like, 40 years or something.

      • Yes, I did know that. My mind is an encyclopedia of useless information.

        I’m still not over the death of Adam Yauch. God, I’m a tortured soul.

      • Incidentally, I meant to comment that I saw Buried Child when it was on Broadway all those years ago. and thought it was pretty dark, brilliant stuff. Loved it. Michael Cera bores me. That’s all. But thanks for saying I’m a cute nerd. Tee-hee. I’ll take it.

  17. Haven’t had a problem commenting that I know of… hope you get it cleared up.

    Once again, jealousy. Raving, deep-seated jealousy of what you are able to experience. I would make a joke about the last artistic experience in these parts, but it would be more sad than funny.

    I like Bradley Cooper, by the way. He seems not to take himself too seriously but manages to do some decent acting here and there. Hugh Jackman… I find him boring as hell.

    You know, money’s always tight, but I would love to spend it where you do.

    • Anyone can comment if they visit the post. It seems that many never want to leave the safe haven of their WordPress reader. Personally, I like visiting the sties. It’s more personal. Every site looks the same when you’re using a reader. You miss out on all the design/layout work people put into their sites.

      I expected nothing from Cooper, even though I thought he was fantastic in Silver Linings Playbook. We have a schizophrenic relative and his depiction of mental illness was spot-on. But I was quick to dismiss his efforts on stage because of his pretty-boy looks. Look how wrong you can be. That’s the third time I’ve seen Jackman in a play and although he works his ass off, his performances have been just been okay to me. I give him credit for repeatedly returning to live theater. Do you know who does that as well? Daniel Radcliffe. Every few years he does something on Broadway. Good for him.

      • Oh I see… so if they just click the comment doesn’t lodge in the reader… that almost always happens to me if I try to do that on anyone’s blog, so I always clock through to the blog itself.

        Cooper was in American Hustle, and while I didn’t like his character, I wasn’t supposed to – and he sold that. I never saw Silver Linings Playbook. Jackman’s just blah… he ruined The Fountain for me, and I so desperately wanted to love that movie. Aronofsky had always laid me out on my ass with his stuff, until that movie – and it was the one with the greatest potential to knock me over. Now he’s making hack crap like that Noah movie with Russell Crowe… that was the longest, most stench-filled boat ride of my life.

        I saw Radcliffe in The Woman in Black, and he did a really good job. I think he may actually outgrow what made him famous… now that would be something. I will root for him, I think.

  18. I feel a bit odd about commenting almost a month late…but as you are a new discovery, I’m doing it anyway. I love the reviews. Actually think a few ‘professionals’ could learn a thing or two about brevity and honesty and leave their ego bullshit at the door. Anyway…I too thought Cooper was very good and quite believable in Silver Linings Playbook, though I went into the flick not liking him for various obnoxious type roles he’s played. In retrospect of course, the very fact I didn’t like him for those roles tells me he’s very talented. I’ve seen one of the ‘live broadcasts’ at a small theater in Rockland, ME. Found it very enjoyable, but wished I’d been in a theater on Broadway all the same. As for Hugh Jackman…I like him as Wolverine. That’s all I can say. I’ve seen a televised musical with him, and while he’s obviously multi-talented and more than one dimensional…I like him as Wolverine. That’s it. 🙂

    • We have a family member who is schizophrenic and Cooper’s performance is so close to the real thing that it’s a little unsettling. I’ve got a lot of respect for that guy. Now he’s taking Elephant Man to London. I WISH. Do you know who else has embraced theater and puts it all out there? Daniel Radcliffe. Another one who could coast but doesn’t.

      • Elephant Man is one of my favorite movies…and from your description, the play sounds incredible. I too would LOVE seeing it in London. What a thrill. And yes, I’ve heard very positive things about Daniel Radcliffe’s theatrical prowess. I did see his movie The Woman in Black and was impressed. Little Harry Potter no more…def. NOT a one trick pony. He’s one to watch for sure.

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