Seen on Broadway:
The Mystery of Charles Dickens
, at the Belasco Theatre, is a lecture about the life of the novelist, given by Simon Callow. From time to time, Callow performs scenes from Dickens' novels, as did Dickens himself in a series of personal appearance tours near the end of his life. It's completely unclear to me why this is supposed to be a satisfying theatrical attraction; the script is by Peter Ackroyd, a noted Dickens biographer, but any episode of A&E's Biography is more interesting than this. Callow's overemphatic, over-enunciated performance is, I suppose, an attempt at jazzing things up. But this is one of the dullest shows in town. Interestingly, the design is rather good: Christopher Woods' set, defined by a series of prosceniums, is very cleverly done, and Nick Richings' lighting adds a greal deal of nuance and visual variety to the production. Both designers have extensive résumés in England, but they tend to work on popular West End revivals and tours, rather than the high-end subsidized theatre productions that Broadway usually gets, with designs by Bob Crowley, Tim Hatley, Rick Fisher, Mark Henderson, and the like. On the basis of this, both Woods and Richings are real talents, and I hope we see their work again soon....
Heard: The Drama Desk nominations were announced this week; a full listing of nominees is located on this website. However, there were some very interesting developments in the design category. David Gallo was nominated twice, for scenery of a play and for a musical (the Drama Desk divides scenery into two different categories). The two nominations were for the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Wonder of the World, for which he created an astonishing number of settings, including the inside of a helicopter and three completely different themed restaurants, and for his less-well-received work on Thoroughly Modern Millie. Possibly the biggest surprise was Dick Magnanti's nomination in the costume category for Reefer Madness, perhaps the most forgotten musical of the season. Michael Brown was nominated for World of Mirth, a fast flop Off Broadway last summer, which has a distinctively creepy carnival setting. Also, it was nice to see Frances Aronson mentioned for her very fine work on the Playwrights Horizons production of Psych and Kenneth Posner for his work on the CSC production of Monster. Both of them are typical, modern, multi-scene plays, which demand a strong lighting design. On the other hand, there were some egregious omissions: What about Alexander Dodge's settings for Chaucer in Rome and Hedda Gabler, Jane Greenwood's costumes for Major Barbara, Kevin Adams' lighting for Hedda Gabler, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer's lighting for Elaine Stritch, Chris Barecca's setting for Everett Beekin, Allen Moyer's setting for The Dazzle, Paul Gallo's lighting for The Crucible and David Weiner's lighting for 36 Views? How about the scenery, projections, and lighting for Speaking in Tongues (Richard Hoover, Elaine J. McCarthy, and Brian MacDevitt), or the scenery, costumes, and lighting for The Elephant Man (Santo Loquasto and Jim Ingalls)? I haven't seen all the sound nominees, so I'll keep my mouth shut about that category. Anyway, not everybody can be nominated, but the awards ceremony, on May 19, should be mighty interesting. --David Barbour
Seen at the Movies: Hollywood Ending, Woody Allen's latest offering, which opened in New York on Wednesday and opens nationwide today. Small-Time Crooks is looking better and better compared to Allen's pallid, overlong, sometimes clueless new film. In this one, he again lambasts and lampoons Hollywood (personified by Treat Williams, Bob Dorian, and George Hamilton), to much less effect than Annie Hall or even Celebrity. Hollywood Ending has washed-up director Val Waxman (Allen) handed a last chance on a big Hollywood film by ex-wife Ellie (Téa Leoni). He promptly goes psychosomatically blind and tries to bluff his way through directing and editing the picture. Not many hijinks ensue, and Allen plays blind so broadly that you find yourself wanting to snap your fingers under his nose and say, "Over here! Come on, did you go deaf as well?" The scenes between Allen and Mark Webber, who plays his blue-haired, multipierced son, were particularly clueless. If there ARE any rat-eating punk rockers still out there, surely they're either in their 40s or 50s or teenyboppers trying on Dad's nostalgia? But Allen's reality is different from yours or mine; he thinks nothing of casting a woman 30 years younger than himself as a love interest--hey, it's his life, after all. Santo Loquasto's sets were opulent, wood-toned, and golden as always; DP Wedigo von Schultzendorff complemented Loquasto's work. Costumes are by Melissa Toth --Liz French
Seen at the Movies: The eagerly anticipated, heavily promoted film of Spider-Man certainly isn't bad, especially when it concentrates on the romantic longings and travails of insecure young hero Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and his beautiful though equally insecure next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Maguire and Dunst have a sweetness and sincerity about them that can't be faked. Director Sam Raimi keeps the movie's first half moving along at a breezy, unpretentious clip, and it's nice to see a superhero film that makes such realistic use of New York locations.
But "there's no feeling of elation," complained my screening companion, referring to the scenes when Parker uses his spider-like powers to scale and leap across city skyscrapers. I have to agree: The cutting is so quick that Spider-Man's movements are pretty much a blur, and what we do see looks...well, cartoony. Perhaps Raimi intentionally gave the action scenes a blatant CG patina, but I found the look alienating. Other than in these scenes, DP Don Burgess shoots the film in straightforward, unexciting style, and production designer Neil Spisak strikes a nice slightly stylized tone with the studio sets.
The Spider-Man suit is elegantly adapted by costume designer James Acheson (then built by John David Ridge), from the Marvel Comics original, but my perceptive friend (actually, it was former Lighting Dimensions editor Bob Cashill) noted the oddness in a live-action movie of Maguire's voice issuing from behind a mouthless mask. The Green Goblin's suit is also cool, but I found it impossible to take this campily cackling villain (played with rather ineffectual over-the-top relish by Willem Dafoe) seriously. The big confrontation between the forces of good and evil comes down, as it so often does, to a particularly noisy fistfight. But the movie's final scene, between Maguire and Dunst, is a heartbreaker, and almost makes me look forward to the sequel. I said almost. Do keep in mind that I never picked up a Spider-Man comic book in my life, so one must look elsewhere for an aficionado's opinion. --John Calhoun