Seen on Broadway:

"Master Harold" . . . and the boys

, Athol Fugard’s wrenching memoir of 1950s South Africa, is back in a stunning new Broadway production, courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company. Christopher Denham, in a remarkable debut, is Hally (based on Fugard himself), the adolescent who, in a fit of misdirected rage, lashes out at Sam, the saintly black man (Danny Glover) who has provided him with a father’s love. Sam works in the tea room owned by Hally’s mother; Hally’s father, a hopeless, crippled alcoholic, is a constant torment to his son. Even though Hally, Sam, and Willie (another waiter) enjoy an apparently uncomplicated friendship, the realities of apartheid are never far from the surface. When things become intolerable at home, Hally commits a racist act that will forever shatter his friendship with Sam. In terms of structure, the play is little more than an anecdote, and, at times, the writing is a tad didactic, veering dangerously close to speechmaking, a quality that is not downplayed in Lonny Price’s otherwise fine production. But, as in the works of Eugene O’Neill, this blunt honesty is the also source of the play’s power. Fugard’s depiction of Hally’s anger and shame is unsparing; it is all too clear that the repercussions of his hateful act will continue to reverberate for years to come. Glover achieves a kind of monumental dignity as Sam, yet never sacrifices his humanity; watching him onstage, it’s hard not to feel that the movies have tapped only a small part of his talent. Michael Boatman is also very fine as Willie. The design is professionalism itself: John Lee Beatty’s tea room setting is transformed by the subtle tonal shifts of Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting. Jane Greenwood’s costumes feel totally authentic. And the constant undertone of falling rain--sound by Brian Ronan--adds immeasurably to the mood. This is a first-class revival of a first-class play, a strong start to a new Broadway season. --David Barbour


"Master Harold" . . . and the boys photo: Joan Marcus

Seen at the Movies: While contemplating a visit to Finding Nemo, I thought, oh, yawn, another Pixar movie. As accomplished and good-humored as the Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life, and Monsters, Inc. were, hadn’t the novelty worn off, and the wheels of formula begun to creak? Indeed, Finding Nemo engages in too much of the casual anthropomorphizing and smarty-pants pop cultural babble that are the conventions of the new digitally animated features. On the other hand, the visual beauty, ceaseless invention, and storytelling skill of the film soon had me hooked (no pun intended). Directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton, Finding Nemo tells the story of Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), a fretful clownfish widower whose son Nemo (nine-year-old Alexander Gould) is captured by a diver off an Australian coral reef. Aided by Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang with short-term memory loss, Marlin overcomes his natural reticence to brave sharks, jellyfish, explosive mines, and a Pinocchio-style whale to track his son down to a dentist’s office aquarium tank in Sydney.

Water has always been a bear to animate digitally, so the 180-person Pixar animation team had its work cut out. Supervising technical director Oren Jacob had to reproduce the specific lighting and textural qualities of water, particularly ocean water, and oversaw the creation of new programs--including a shading system called "transblurency" for the unique visual properties of jellyfish tendrils. Directors of photography Sharon Calahan and Jeremy Lasky, past experts on the anthill and toy box, had to get up to speed on water refraction and surge and swell. The effort paid off, because Finding Nemo sells its stylized undersea world, conceived with a brilliant reef-inspired palette by production designer Ralph Eggleston, without a hitch. All of the aquatic creatures--including sea turtles, pelicans, gulls, and crustaceans, as well as dozens of species of fish--are a perfect balance between the naturalistic and the caricatured. As usual, the problem arises when humans enter the frame; somehow, it’s comforting that people still look like stiff-moving plasticene figures when digitally reproduced.


Finding Nemo photos: Disney Enterprises Inc./Pixar Animation Studios

Finding Nemo is a bit overextended, and introduces so many characters that only the voice talent--including Alison Janney as a starfish, Willem Dafoe as a scarred aquarium denizen, and Geoffrey Rush as a helpful pelican--keeps everyone distinct. My favorite character by far is DeGeneres’ forgetful but reliably cheerful Dory, who keeps losing track of what important mission she’s on with Marlin, but never loses her courage, since each new traumatic event becomes just one more thing to not remember. Overall, Finding Nemo is a bright spot in a so-far dismal cinematic summer.


Capturing the Friedmans photo: Magnolia Studios

On a more adult note, Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans is a provocative documentary about a family being split apart by accusations of child molestation and an obsession with electronic documentation. The directors of photography include Adolfo Doring and David Friedman, a professional party clown whose persistent videotaping of his family’s darkest moments provides the viewer with quite a riveting voyeuristic spectacle. . . . Let’s hope now that Adrien Brody has won an Oscar, this gifted actor doesn’t have many more skeletons in his closet like Love the Hard Way, a two-year-old stinker that only seems to be emerging because of its star’s newfound fame. With Cannes winner The Barbarian Invasions coming up, the excellent Canadian DP Guy Dufaux has no need to keep this movie on his résumé, either. --John Calhoun