Seen at the Movies and Around Hollywood
: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the 20th Anniversary Edition, at Hollywood's refurbished Cinerama Dome. This one-of-a-kind theatre on Sunset Boulevard, which opened in 1963 with It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, is famous for its curved, 32' high x 86' wide screen and the 316 hexagons and pentagons on its geodesic dome exterior, which was designed by Welton Beckett and Associates. It was slated to go the way of most big single-screen movie houses until Arclight Cinemas stepped in, built an adjacent multiplex, gift shop, and café (designed by Gensler Architects), restored the Dome, and upped the admission to a $14 top. The new building's shape itself evokes a Cinerama screen, and fits into the 1963 World's Fair feel of the site.
The Cinerama Dome
I was excited about seeing E.T. on the Cinerama Dome's screen, because I have fond memories of being enveloped there in the sights and sounds of movies like Apocalypse Now and The Last Waltz--which, coincidentally, also was just re-released in a new print and remastered soundtrack—back in the 70s. The downside is that the curve of the screen can distort images not shot with Cinerama cameras: that is to say, all but about a dozen films, none of them made since the 60s. But if you sit front and center, the effect is not too troublesome, though it does enhance the graininess of some of DP Allen Daviau's heavily diffused images. The theatre's sound system remains awe-inspiring.
As for the movie, it holds up beautifully. As is his wont, Steven Spielberg has tinkered a bit, replacing guns with walkie-talkies in one scene, doing a few digital touchups on the mechanical title character, and adding a whole scene of E.T. enjoying a bath. But many of Dennis Muren's visual effects, especially the flying bicycle sequences, retain a captivating simplicity. The movie, it should be remembered, cost a mere $10 million, a paltry amount even in 1982. It's not about dazzling technology but childhood and loss and other matters of the heart.
The El Capitan Theatre
Though not on the level of E.T., another fine family film was caught at the El Capitan Theatre, a relic of Hollywood's Golden Age. Built as a legitimate house in 1926 and remodeled (by Paramount art director Hans Dreier) as a more modern movie house in the early 40s, the Hollywood Boulevard palace with Spanish Colonial exterior was bought by Disney and restored it to its original gaudy grandeur—complete with East Indian-themed interior design--a decade ago. The current attraction is The Rookie, a follow-your-dreams story about Jim Morris, who became a major-league pitcher at the ripe old age of 35. Dennis Quaid, who is actually a very well preserved 48, gives a superb performance as Morris, and DP John Schwartzman's widescreen compositions of the West Texas setting are breathtaking. For a G-rated piece of Hollywood formula, The Rookie is as good as they come.--John Calhoun
Seen on Broadway: Fortune’s Fool, by Ivan Turgenev, has apparently never been seen on Broadway. That’s not surprising, since, in this adaptation by Mike Poulton, it is a typical piece of 19th-century clockwork playwriting, complete with the revelation of a dark family secret, followed by confrontations, a recognition scene, a tragic renunciation, you name it—the heroine even falls to the floor, overcome by emotion. The real reason for the production is the pairing of Alan Bates and Frank Langella, who make a fine meal of their roles as, respectively, a poor hanger-on at a country estate and an effete local squire. This is an old-fashioned star vehicle, with design to match—there’s even painted scenery—along with prettily done up costumes ultra-bright lighting, and cues for mood music (John Arnone, Jane Greenwood, Brian Nason, and Brian Ronan are the parties involved.) Fortune’s Fool is a high-calorie treat—it’s hardly good for you, but it certainly is tasty…
On the other hand, The Graduate is neither. Terry Johnson’s long-winded stage adaptation of the famous film substitutes tedious dialogue scenes for the original’s swift pace and sharp satire. It is however, racking up big bucks at the box office, thanks to Kathleen Turner’s notorious nude scene—she may be the most famous person ever to appear naked onstage—plus the clothed appearances of film stars Jason Biggs and Alicia Silverstone. Turner is a tense, mannish presence, while Silverstone delivers her lines in a distressing singsong. Biggs’ curtain speech (for Broadway Cares) displays a charm that is otherwise absent from his performance. Rob Howell’s setting, a series of louvered doors that are dressed differently for each scene, gets a little claustrophobic, and his period costumes are not always from the right period. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting is nothing special. Chris Cronin’s sound is highly professional. The Graduate is there, on Broadway, if you want it…
Seen Off Broadway: The title garment in The Underpants belongs to a pretty German hausfrau; when they make an unexpected public appearance, half of Berlin becomes crazed with lust. Soon, men are lining up to live with the lady and her boorish husband, hoping for another glimpse of feminine unmentionables—or, perhaps, more. Steve Martin’s adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s 1910 farce is a very funny depiction of the German middle-classes in disarray. The skillful cast includes Byron Jennings as the husband, who prepares for sex by doing pushups; Kristine Nielsen as a leering neighbor; Christian Camargo as a poet whose devotion to his muse takes over at the oddest times; and Lee Wilkof as a desperate suitor. Scott Pask’s dollhouse setting features an amusing show curtain—made entirely of ladies' bloomers. Angela Wendt’s nice period costumes work a palette that’s heavy on the lavenders. Russell Champa’s lighting is fine until near the end, when he piles on some gimmicky cues—a symptom of director Barry Edelstein’s inability to leave well enough alone. The fairly minimal sound design is by Elizabeth Rhodes. I’m hearing that this production may make a commercial transfer—a good idea, as it provides a fast, funny 90 minutes of entertainment…
Andorra, Max Frisch’s stinging play about European anti-Semitism, is rarely seen here, which is too bad, as it remains a powerful piece of work. Unfortunately, the current revival of it at Theatre For a New Audience won’t help much. The performances are stilted and uncomfortable; the staging by Livui Ciulei is often messy and unfocused, particularly in the many scenes that involve crowds or violence. (The production feels cramped on the stage of the Lucille Lortel Theatre.) The design is similarly iffy: Randall Parsons’ setting, a series of whitewashed flats with black stripes, looks inexpensive rather than evocative, and Beverly Emmons' straightforward lighting design turns heavy-handedly Expressionist in the final scenes. On the other hand, Catherine Zuber has provided a solid lineup of shabby suits for the men in the cast, and Mark Bennett has provided some unsettling sound effects. Still, this is a very long evening. I’ve always been impressed by Theater for a New Audience’s productions, even when I thought they were wrong-headed. This is the first time I thought the company was in over its collective head…
Helen, by Ellen McLaughlin, stars Donna Murphy as a Helen of Troy who sat out the Trojan War in Egypt and is waiting for someone to collect her. A number of people show up, including her lover Menelaus; Io, the woman whom Hera, in a fit of pique, turned into a cow; and the goddess Athena. Unfortunately, all they do is talk, talk, talk—about the ravages of war, the objectification of women, the meaning of history, whatever. Despite Murphy’s star power and a fine performance by Denis O’Hare as Menelaus, Helen is a stupefying experience. At least the design is terrific: Michael Yeargan’s hotel room setting provides a lovely view of the pyramids, and Scott Zielinski’s lighting swiftly changes from blood-red sunsets to harsh white washes. Gina Leishman’s sound effects are often very amusing, especially the buzzing of flies that torment Helen so much. Susan Hilferty’s costumes are generally very exciting—she has designed a sensational gown for Helen and a memorable silver-lame number for Athena, but I wish she had refrained from putting cow ears on poor Johanna Day, as Io. This is the second production in as many weeks at the Public Theatre to feature first-rate design. Now if only they could do something about those scripts…--David Barbour
Seen in the Altogether: Kathleen Turner in The Graduate, of course. But at least that costume was period-perfect; other getups onstage, specifically the underwear, were not. The play is set in 1963, and I'm not sure how old Calvin Klein was then, but he certainly wasn't making the nearly knee-length briefs that Jason Biggs sports in several scenes. Ditto for both la Turner and Alicia Silverstone's panties. While their tops were nearer the early 60s look (and one bra in particular closely resembled the one worn by Anne Bancroft in the movie), the panties were high-cut, modern-looking stuff.
Another anachronism wardrobe-wise was the hippie guru therapist garb worn by Robert Emmet Lunney, who played a…hippie guru therapist, oddly enough. But not all of the costumes were misses: Ben's mother wore several early 60s dresses and suits that made me recall how ugly the clothes could be then, especially for middle-aged women. And Ben's father, played by Murphy Guyer, sported a Bermuda shorts poolside outfit in one scene that perfectly captured the circa-63 suburban dad look.--Liz French
Seen at the Clark Studio Theatre, Lincoln Center: Choreographer Jonathon Appels knows talent when he sees it. For the American premiere (April 9-11) of Heat Lightning (which had its world premiere in Paris, France, last month), Appels has “borrowed” eight fantastic young dancers from such companies as American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He has melded them seamlessly into a company of his own for this hour-long piece which features Appels' own poetry in a dramatic soundscape that mixes everything from classical to disco music. Lighting designer Thom Weaver, another young talent who caught Appels’ eye, has sculpted the dancers, caressing their lithe bodies and long limbs with light.
“Jonathon and I talked about the idea of heat lightning as a force in nature,” says Weaver, whose dance lighting includes works for Rebecca Stenn, Diane Faye, Mark Haim, International Ballet Theatre, and Mathew Rushing. “We also talked about the idea of the lighting going suddenly on at the beginning and blinking off at the end, like a television being unplugged.” Weaver used Strand Studio 8” 2K fresnels with Lee 201 and Lee HT120 for a cool blue light, and at other times a warmer, amber light in Altman PAR-64s gelled with R21, or in clear for extra punchiness. ETC Source Four ellipsoidals are hung overhead as well as on side booms (with Lee 218 in the low positions and Lee 200 on the mids), with ETC Source Four Pars on the booms in the head height position. There is also some Lee 180, in a shade of purple that Weaver seems surprised he actually used. “I find it a little jarring but I made that choice and decided to keep it,” he admits. The lighting rig was rented from GSD Productions on Long Island and includes an ETC Obsession console. “There is no background light,” Weaver explains. “I wanted the dancers to look as if they were floating in a void. The contrast in the light from the booms and in the air helps define them in the space.”--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux