Seen at the Movies:
A Home At The End of The World
, adapted from his own novel by Michael Cunningham, is the film directorial debut for Broadway’s Michael Mayer, and I hesitate to say he shouldn’t quit his day job. But the movie is fairly lifeless, and magnifies the faults of the book. Like its source, the film covers a couple of decades (1970s-80s) in the lives of its two main protagonists, Jonathan (played as an adult by Dallas Roberts) and Bobby (Colin Farrell). We first meet them as young teenage outcasts in Ohio; Jonathan is the shy boy, and Bobby is the wild one, and they soon become inseparable. Eventually, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his parents (Sissy Spacek and Matt Frewer). Cut to a decade later—Jonathan has moved to New York and begun living the early 80s gay party boy life, and found a close friend and roommate in Clare (Robin Wright Penn). When Bobby shows up on their doorstep, an unconventional triangular relationship develops.
A Home At The End of The World, photo: Warner Independent Pictures
The best part of the movie (and of the novel) is the opening, which sensitively examines both the stirrings of Bobby and Jonathan’s love and the housewifely frustrations of Jonathan’s mother. One big problem once the movie settles in with the adult characters is Roberts, who gives a callow, off-putting performance. And the romantic arrangements between Jonathan, Bobby, and Clare that may have seemed radical when the book was published in 1990 just seem like a strained plot device now. Wright Penn and Farrell do give their all; Farrell gave up more, of the full-monty variety, in preview versions of the film, but unfortunately, this was deemed distracting and cut (the shot, that is, not the monty). But the film lurches along in its second half, often leaving character motivations and transitions as anyone’s guess, and ending on the cinematic equivalent of a shrug. DP Enrique Chediak does a serviceable job distinguishing the movie’s time periods, but the curse of Toronto descends on production designer Michael Shaw, who struggles in vain to suggest both suburban Ohio and downtown Manhattan in its environs. Costume designer Beth Pasternak has fun with the 70s and 80s fashions.--John Calhoun
Seen in Chillicothe, Ohio: There’s no way to prepare yourself for the disappointment you face when you’re sitting down to watch a musical and then 15 minutes into the show realize that you have, in fact, stumbled into the audience of a play. Of course that’s not the production’s fault, but selling CDs and cassettes on the path to the Sugarloaf Mountain Ampitheatre certainly hinted that an evening of music was in store. It wasn’t. Tecumseh is the telling of the Shawnee Indian chief who attempted to rally the entire American Indian nation into one big conglomerate to face down Indiana governor William Henry Harrison, who, as you may or may not know, later became President of US whose claim to fame was having served the shortest term ever at just over a month. Tecumseh is filled with romance, drama, narration by Graham Greene, and real live horses, but clocking in at over 2 hours the show was, in a word, looooong.
< American Indians and soldiers commiserate in Tecumseh in Chillicothe, Ohio.
The set design by Alan W. Eckart (who is also the playwright) is actually quite interesting. The “stage” is at the bottom of the ampitheatre with a small body of water beyond it that serves as the “river” in the story and it’s shallow enough to allow soldiers and Indians on horseback to trot through with no problem. On either side of the main performance area, are two faux stone structures that represent hills and mountains and double for forts, homes, caves, and so forth. While the structures resemble something you might find in the bear or lion environment of an older zoo, they function quite nicely in providing adequate staging areas, as well as character entrances and exits. Well-worn paths run up the side of the audience area and off into the woods and provide an effective exit for chase scenes on horseback. Try that at the Helen Hayes Theatre!
The sound design is credited to Alan Levy, which is odd considering that the actors are not miked. The only amplified sound to be heard comes from a few speakers behind the audience underneath the eaves of a shelter that serves as “front of house.” Seeing as how the actors had to compete with typical night time sounds of rural America, a few stationary mics might have been nice. Admittedly the sounds of crickets and one belching bullfrog enhanced the show’s realism; not so much the small planes above. What was piped through the speakers was the underscore between scenes and the aforementioned narration. It was audible but unremarkable. Hidden speakers in the trees to provide fill for the seating area would have been welcomed.
The workhorse of the show, design wise anyway, was definitely the lighting by Dr. David Weiss. Admittedly, the lighting does not come in to play very much during the first half of the show since it’s, well, daytime. But the second half of the show is where the most striking scenes in Tecumseh occur. There are no moving lights, just racks of conventionals on the audience shelter, but they cut through the night sky to effectively pop out the action on stage without looking like a spotlight gone terribly wrong. I was struck by the lighting’s hard edges, which effectively seal off the rest of the stage the audience is not supposed to be looking at. If there is action on the rocky edifices stage right, you can be sure that the audience will see absolutely nothing going on stage left. The exception to that was the abundance of fireflies flitting about the woods, which were a rather pleasant distraction to a New Yorker who hasn’t seen fireflies—or stars for that matter—for a long, long time.--Mark A. Newman