Seen on Broadway: Hedda Gabler
. Kate Burton is giving the performance of her career, and possibly the Broadway performance of the year, in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, which opened at the Ambassador last week. Sir Richard's daughter brings humor, humanity, and a surprising depth to one of the more complex female characters in the theatre; even her heartiest laugh sounds vaguely dismissive and dissatisfied. Unfortunately, the rest of the production is a bit uneven; Jon Robin Baitz' new translation strives to give an accessible, modern sensibility to the proceedings, but the end result is a bit too jokey and occasionally veers dangerously close to a 19th-century sitcom (Hedda Morgenstern!). As the husband, Michael Emerson seems plugged into that idea, giving a performance that occasionally feels more like Sean Hayes' Jack in Will & Grace than a nerdy turn-of-the-century academic. In theory, so much lightness should provide added poignancy to the inevitable tragedy of the play's end, but instead it softens the impact. Still, watching Burton move about Alexander Dodge's ghostly white set, gorgeously lit by Kevin Adams, and wearing Michael Krass' richly detailed costumes, as she desperately seeks a sense of freedom if not power, more than makes up for the production's weaknesses. It's as though the design team gives Hedda the kind of respect she so desperately craved in life.
Seen at the Movies: The New York Film Festival comes to a close. It's been a so-so year at the New York Film Festival, which the Film Society of Lincoln Center has been presenting over the last three weekends. Sunday's final film, Jean-Luc Godard's In Praise of Love, is typical: an interesting outing from a renowned director that doesn't quite come into satisfying focus. An elliptical reflection on art, the stupidity of American producers who want to make a film about the French Resistance, and in some roundabout way the emotion of the title, In Praise of Love does offer up some absolutely breathtaking images. The first section is shot on black-and-white film, and includes shots of Paris that recall an early Godard work like Band of Outsiders. The film then shifts two years into the past, and to supersaturated color video. It's difficult to say which format is more beautiful. The DPs listed in the program are Christophe Pollock and Julien Hirsch, though there is no indication who shot what.
Some other highlights of the festival have included Mulholland Drive, David Lynch's surreal vision of Hollywood with atmospheric cinematography by Peter Deming and production design by Jack Fisk; and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, a off-center tribute to New York and its eccentric families, with lovingly stylized costume and production design by Anderson stalwarts Karen Patch and David Wasco. Both films will be covered in more detail in future issues of Entertainment Design.
Also, watch for the commercial releases of Richard Linklater's Waking Life in the coming weeks and Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien in the first part of 2002. Waking Life is effectively an animated expansion on Linklater's Slacker--a young man is followed through a series of vignettes in which various characters engage in philosophical ruminations. The interpolated rotoscoping technique applied by the director and Austin-based animator Bob Sabiston perfectly fits the content, which may in part or in toto be the primary character's dream: live-action footage was shot, and then digitally painted over in ever-flowing, ever-shifting lines. The effect is sometimes dizzying, as in a dream of falling.
For Y Tu Mama Tambien, Cuaron, the Mexican director of such Hollywood fancies as A Little Princess and the modern-dress Great Expectations, returns to his native country and trades in his traditional fantasy palette for something grittier. The story is of two teenage Mexico City boys who drive to the ocean with the older, married female cousin of one. Along the way, the comparatively well off trio catch glimpses of a violent, poverty-stricken countryside. Y Tu Mama Tambien, which translates as And Your Mother Too, is a vibrant road movie with shades of Truffaut's Jules and Jim and Blier's Going Places. The great cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, whose credits include The Birdcage and Sleepy Hollow in addition to the earlier Cuaron films, shoots the new movie with an uncharacteristic rawness and immediacy.
Seen on TV: Reba. OK, it's not going to revolutionize the sitcom form. But the WB network's new Friday night series starring the country-western star Reba McEntire is an exceedingly likable, well produced show, centered on a Houston homemaker who finds out simultaneously that both her 17-year-old daughter and her dentist husband's girlfriend/assistant are pregnant. The main setting is Reba's comfortable two-story suburban house, which production designer Colin D. Irwin gives a "kick-back elegance." Since, as Irwin says, the main character is "very much like Reba, the executive producer wanted a very homey environment, with a lot of overstuffed furniture and a lot of light coming in. It's contemporary, with a little bit of stuff that the character has collected at yard sales and swap meets; she's put it all together with a decorator, but it has her imprint on it."
Affecting Irwin's work on the show is the fact it's shot in widescreen high-definition format by DP Donald A. Morgan. "The high-definition has a tendency to exaggerate contrasts, so we had to keep a more muted tonal palette," says the designer. "The other aspect of high-def is that it gives you a depth of field that you don't necessarily want if you've got a closeup of somebody's head, and a wall that's 30' in the background, and you can read the wood grain." Underexposing the set a bit helps, as well as restraining the set textures and colors "so that things don't pop off the wall and hit you in the face."
Heard on the International Grapevine: London-based LD Rick Fisher is just back from the Tokyo Globe, where he lit a transfer of King Lear, originally presented at the outdoor Globe Theatre on London's South Bank. This past summer, Fisher helped devise a new system of lighting for the South Bank Globe, which has virtually no lighting (to mimic the conditions of Shakespeare's day). "We replaced the harsh stadium lights that served as the un-lighting," he explains. Instead he installed a system of small outdoor fixtures with 100W bulbs, all focused toward the stage. "They provide a nice tungsten light, which is friendlier to the actors and the period costumes," Fisher notes. He also added lighting for the audience, which in Shakespeare's time was lit with the same ambient light as the stage. In celebration of a Celtic season, the Globe had added garlands of fruits and vegetables (hops, rosemary, thistle, apples, and herbs) around the boxes and balconies. Fisher took advantage of these by weaving strings of 15W tungsten "pygmy" bulbs (like Christmas lights) in the vegetation. "It made it more fun and festive than the stadium lights, which were not used at all this season (and hopefully won't be in the future)," he adds. "We need some lighting, as we don't perform at the same time of day as Shakespeare did."
When the production moved to the Tokyo Globe, Fisher wanted to make it look like the London version, as if it were outdoors and with the stage and audience equally lit. To do this, he used the house rig with ETC Source Fours plus assorted PCs and fresnels for general cover over the stage. "The actors were better lit than in London," says Fisher, who used Lee 202 for a soft blue color. For general cover over the audience, he added a round rear-projection screen 7 meters in diameter with a circular truss to hold approximately 60 PAR cans. These were gelled in three shades of blue: Lee 281, Lee 68, and Lee 79, for slow fades between color washes. "The blues created a dusk-like sky," Fisher says. Barely stopping in London after Tokyo, Fisher set off for Washington, D.C., where he is currently lighting Of Mice and Men for the Washington Opera (a co-production with Houston and Bregenz, Austria, where it was seen this past summer, with sets by Richard Hudson, Francesca Zambello directing). Opening night is October 20. Fisher is currently represented in London's West End with lighting for Blue Orange, and Mother Clap's Molly House at the National Theatre.
Heard on the Street Theatre consultant Len Auerbach of the San Francisco-based Auerbach + Associates says that the firm is now in the planning stages for a new symphony hall (architect to be named) for the Atlanta Symphony in Atlanta, GA, as well as a new performing arts center in Mesa, AZ, in conjunction with Boora Architects. Auerbach will be seeing stars with two planetarium projects on the drawing boards: a new one at the Denver Museum in Denver, CO, and the renovation of the Griffith Observatory, a Los Angeles landmark.