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Monday, March 9, 2009

Broadway. It Ain't All Disney.

I'm in New York for most of this week.

My wife and I took in a matinee on Sunday. The new play with Jane Fonda, "33 Variations".

What I didn't realize was that we were seeing the last preview performance, as it opened last night. You are right in assuming that I'm not particularly interested in what critics have to say.As I've mentioned before, I have my own built-in shit detector.

As I am writing this, the play hasn't had it's opening night yet, and the reviews aren't in yet.
I know that the reputation of the New York critics is that they'll take a crap on anything and everything.
If that's what they do here, do yourselves and the theatre a favor in general, and ignore them completely.
This is a brilliant play. The kind of brilliance that I could never begin to approach.
And I think I write pretty good plays.
The kind of brilliance that hasn't been seen certainly on Broadway in quite a while.

She plays a dying musicologist, who is trying to solve a mystery about Beethoven.
We sat first row, center.
I was able to truly scrutinize Fonda throughout.

To use the word "exceptional" would be an insult.
Magnetic, riveting, compelling. Now we're getting warmer.

She shares, with her father, the wonderful acting trait of restraint.
She rarely wears her emotions on her sleeve, nor did the old man.

But when he did, as in the "Ensign Pulver describing the firecracker he's gonna throw under the old man's bunk" scene in "Mister Roberts", Fonda's giddiness is so much better because it was a momentary lack of restraint.

Sometimes restraint can be overdoing it, or should I say underdoing it.
I'm now going to do the cheekiest thing I've ever done.
I'm going to give Henry Fonda an acting note from a movie he made 68 years ago, like it matters to anyone but me.

The movie was "The Lady Eve", one of Preston Sturges' handful of classics he made in his prime.

It's a wonderful comedy.
Barbara Stanwyck plays a cardsharp whom Fonda, heir to a brewery fortune, snake fancier (He just spent two years in the Amazon), and basically a yokel, meets on an ocean liner.
She is on the prowl. She successfully draws him in.
On some pretense she creates, they go to her cabin.
She calls him "Hopsie". He hovers over her, obviously smitten.

The dialogue is something like this:

"Stanwyck: What's the matter, Hopsie? You seem a bit out of sorts.

Fonda: Oh, nothing. I guess it's your perfume.

Stanwyck: Don't you like it?

Fonda: Oh. Sure I do. It's just that I've been up the Amazon for the last two years, and they don't wear perfume."

He delivers that line deadpan, with restraint, and it basically passes in the night.

But what if he delivers it this way?: "Oh. Sure I do. It's just that I've been up the Amazon for the last two years and......(the thought registering on his face of just how badly those natives smell)......they don't wear perfume."

I guess it's too late to fix it.

The parallels between the relationship between Jane Fonda and her daughter in this play and the dynamic beteen the two Fondas in "On Golden Pond" are eerily close.
In each case, the elder knows he or she is breaking down and dying, and the younger is attempting to resolve earlier conflicts.
Putting Jane Fonda in this part adds a nice spooky element.

In "33 Variations", Jane Fonda chooses her unrestrained moments like a master chef going to the market to select his vegetables. It's something to see.

I plan to see several other shows while I'm here, and I'm delighted to see what a broad menu there suddenly is for dramatic plays on Broadway. It used to be there really weren't hardly any.

It's not just "The Lion King", and "Beauty and the Beast", and "Shrek".
There's a place for them, too. I'm in favor of anything that gives kids a reason to see live theater.

Now, we've got "33 Variations". Maybe that will even lead us to more variations.

Maybe not everything is going to hell this year.


1 comment:

  1. Checked a bunch of reviews this morning. There is nearly a consensus of "loved Jane, didn't like the play." (The only dissenters I saw were the Hartford Courant, who loved both and the New York Post, who hated both. Financially, though, it's always the Times review that matters, and that one flipped for Fonda and passed on the play.)

    I haven't seen it yet, but I do find the critics especially brutal to new plays, especially new plays that are not twelve-hour repertory events about Russian history. (Nothing wrong with those, per se, either, but sometimes you need something else.) I wouldn't advocate for fixing the game and giving a free pass to all non-musical plays, but you would think the critics have an interest in getting plays back on Broadway.

    I agree that it is better in recent years, and plays are coming back. Some originals, more revivals, but plays. I love musicals, but they don't seem as susceptible to bad reviews. Broadway is mostly a tourist and special occasion business now, and musicals are always an easier sell for Uncle Mervyn's birthday or The Red Hat Society of Winnetka, Illinois' annual New York frolic. I don't blame them, but with a little plugging from critics, plays could compete much more equally.



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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."