BOB

This is another show from the 35th Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre, so bear in mind that it’s experimental and modern and such. BOB is a much more straightforward play than A Devil at Noon, which was the other work that I got a ticket to with my season pass. It is an easy play to like, filled with light humor and absurdity, with enough drama and poignancy to feel like more than a trifle. It’s sweet and sentimental and silly. It might not be the deepest work out there, since its message is ultimately a fairly pedestrian one, but it’s entertaining and a pleasant way to spend an evening, full of hope and celebration of human connectedness and spirit.

It’s not without its flaws. The inter-act dances smack a little too much of aggressive experimentalism for its own sake, and the softball teasing leveled at institutions like the Chicago Cubs and Starbucks somewhat reduce its otherwise strong sense of universality and timelessness. There were a few rough patches in the performances where actors stumbled over their lines (rather a surprise to me, since Actors generally has solid casts), although this was largely redeemed by the strength of the chorus members’ performances overall. One excellent aspect of the play, which might be either an aspect as written or of this specific performance was the characterization synchronicity which individual chorus members maintained through their various roles. Particular props to Danny Scheie, whose flamboyant and exuberant performance very nearly upstaged the protagonist.

Oh, and an aside to someone who is probably not reading this: my deepest apologies to the unfortunate whose bike I apparently managed to block in when I parked mine. I have no idea how that happened but I’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, to you or anyone else.

See also: premiere at Actors Theatre.

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פעם הייתי/The Matchmaker

I saw this film this evening as part of the Louisville Jewish Film Festival. It’s a largely sweet and nostalgic comedy with some surprising teeth. Like so many films that I find interesting, it’s also a picture of a time, a place, and a culture: there is a specific intergenerational and intercultural dynamic which is perhaps uniquely 60s-Israel, which suffuses the film: even among the young people, there are clear distinctions on a piety/nationalism/radicalism spectrum, with different young people subscribing to different views of what being Israeli really means. Of course that pales in comparison to the distinction between and among the older generation: the Holocaust survivors are a breed apart, and soberingly presented as not pitied but rather shunned. It’s easy to see how people get Survivor’s Guilt, when they’re in a culture full of Survivor Blame, and this film is merciless in presenting the basic rift in communication and understanding between those who survived and those who wonder just how they survived. This is quite possibly the coyest Holocaust film I’ve ever seen: the Holocaust itself is barely mentioned, but the spectre of its legacy hangs pretty heavy, and in unconventional ways.

While this intercultural drama is part of the experience delivery, and a very intriguing part, the film is, on the whole, a comedy, with likable characters bouncing off of each other in clever ways. There are recurring gags, such at Yankele’s overreliance on the exact same lines for every customer, and a tremendous amount of situational absurdity, and it is, for the most part, quite funny enough to keep the film moving in between the dramatic bits. The acting is generally solid: the entire cast is competent, and Adir Miller puts on an inspired performance which is believably sentimental. The only element of the story that really fell flat for me was the Arik-Benny-Tamara love triangle: Benny was fleshed out so sparsely, and even Tamara was fairly one-note, and that particular aspect of the plot felt flat and in large part irrelevant.

On technical notes it was mostly satisfactory, although some of the editing decisions seemed questionable: on more than one occasion a scene cut out without fanfare after a rather non-final-seeming line of dialogue. It didn’t seem that this technique was used with any deliberate purpose in mind; I assume that either the script or the editing was unintentionally abrupt, which doesn’t speak well to the technical aspects.

A word of warning, which may be an issue only of pre-releases and not of the actual stateside DVD: the subtitles are rendered in white (without the usual black border on subtitle script), which makes them very difficult to see when anything white is on the bottom of the shot. On the subject of the subtitles, they are sometimes haltingly ungrammatical or unidiomatic, but only when one of the Holocaust survivors is speaking, so I’d tend to put this one in the “faithful reproduction of aslightly mangled Hebrew” box (unless someone who speaks Hebrew tells me otherwise).

See also: IMDB.

Strings Attached, by Nick Nolan

This was in the Kindle free-books section (for a limited time, now passed), and had halfway decent reviews, so I snagged an e-copy. It’s a pretty easy read, as teen fiction ought to be. It’s even got a mostly solid plot, with our protagonist suffering both fish-out-of-water drama and disentangling a nefarious plot involving his family, and getting to be the Big Hero and save the day. It’s all very structurally solid on teen-fare issues, but it’s somewhat problematic in its elephant-in-the-room issue.

Namely, it’s gay fiction; not fiction with a gay protagonist or homoerotic themes, but which is explicitly dealing with the whole concept of gay self-discovery in America around the turn of the millennium. There are aspects of this it does very well (for instance, Jeremy’s failed attempt at a heterosexual relationship feels pretty organic), but it’s ignoring what I would imagine gay teens most want to understand and sympathize with, which is the isolation. Among the characters in this story, there are a lot of gay men. Jeremy is not without role models, and he’s surrounded by people who sympathize with his position. He actually seems much more out of place in his new society socioeconomically than sexually, which I don’t think is terribly representative of the experience of gay teens. I’d expected Cody to be the Voice of Homophobia and become the linchpin for violent drama and an obvious villain, but he comes across as (if sociopathic in a completely different dimension), actually fundamentally queer-friendly, and when there finally is a burst of the expected violence, it comes from entirely anonymous villains. While it’s nice that Nolan dodged the predictable way to build his characters, it was a bit unnerving to have a story about growing up gay almost completely devoid of major characters who disapproved, and I think it weakened the relevance of the book for the demographic that would find it most interesting. I can appreciate the limits of the medium of teen fiction, and the set of themes one can easily engage with, but this work seriously needed more teeth.

But, hey, it was definitely worth what I paid for it.

Breaking Away

[Screenshot]Breaking Away was recommended to me as pretty much the only feature film to really be about bicycling. There’s more than bicycling in there, though: it’s a classic coming-of-age story, as Dave (and to a lesser extent his friends) experiences graduation, disillusionment, romance, and determination; it’s an exposition on town-gown conflicts in university cities; and it weaving together these elements with a healthy dose of comedy.

It’s very feel-good, like many solo-sports films are, but it’s not rose-colored, and the generally straitened circumstances of the townies (or of the town as a whole) aren’t glossed over, and one gets a real sense of place from the iconic locations on campus and in the quarries. At some point in the next year, I’ll actually be heading up to Bloomington, and I expect it to be exactly as depicted in this film.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.