There’s always a question of whether or not icons can sustain their status and relevance as they age. Tied to histories that have cultivated their own mythology over time, we’ve been presented with comeback albums grasping onto some semblance of the youth they thrived in. In the chorus of the opening song off an album that came as a welcome shock to fans and loyal followers, David Bowie simply responds to the curious and the skeptical: “Here I am, not quite dying.”
Better Than: Seeing Matt & Kim in any other city.
A fine line separates a regular live show from a searing explosion of fiery red sparks that emancipate themselves from every beat, chord, or sound a musician produces, making an entire room feel like it’s about to cave in on itself at any given moment.
Matt & Kim not only cross that line, but they fist bump the flames in the process.
When drummer Kim Schifino shouts from atop her drum set “go big or go home, and we’re fucking home” with the same vicious ear-to-ear grin she seemed incapable of wiping off for the entirety of the show, you understand why an explosion had to occur. For Schifino and her partner Matt Johnson (vocals and keyboards), this was more than just a sold-out Terminal 5 show; it was a triumphant return to their hometown.
After a fun set from fellow Brooklynites Oberhofer, Matt & Kim stormed onto the stage with a rambunctious version of “Block After Block,” the short inhale of an opener from their third album Sidewalks. In the background, a looping gif-like video of fireworks felt like a premature celebration to a show that had just begun, but as the night progressed, the undeniable truth behind the duo just being happy to be home felt like a very real and justified cause for early commemoration of this particular Thursday night.
Every song felt sped up, but maybe that was just the atmosphere of the show. Matt’s brutally fast keyboard playing and Kim’s rapid, animalistic drum beats were delivered and received with signature back-and-forth-back-and-forth intensity. Their uptempo electropop gave the illusion of a race, with slowed-down songs appearing to let the audience take a breath.
What makes Matt & Kim such a refreshing live show, of course, is more than just the energy the duo bring. Beyond the adrenaline rush is a sense of humor and a series of relevant, cleverly timed pop culture jokes and references that sneak their way into the set at unexpected moments. Between a brief mention of eating bath salts, mash-ups of their singles with past Top 40 gems (“Cameras” with Ludacris’ “Move Bitch” and “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare” with Kriss Kross’ “Jump”), and a post-encore good-bye twerk featuring Kanye West’s “Mercy,” it felt like a massive playdate at Matt & Kim’s house that we were all invited to just so they can share their favorite toys.
When they beg the audience to sing along to “Lessons Learned,” the final song before the encore, lyrics like “thinking about tomorrow won’t change how I feel today” followed up by an earnest thank you speech from Matt, wrapped up the show like a warm farewell at the end of a reunion with a friend who has been away from home for far too long.
Critical Bias: Weirdo pop culture references always win me over.
Overheard: “They’re playing with Passion Pit? Is that who’s opening?” – someone who clearly misunderstood the premature advertisement for the February Madison Square Garden date where Matt & Kim will be opening for Passion Pit.
Random Notebook Dump: Guy who crowdsurfed a Budweiser across the entirety of the main floor to Kim, per her request: #hero
After being reminded by a friend after working on a project for her fashion blog, I realized how long it’s been since I’ve posted the content I’ve created on here. Over the course of the holiday weekend, I’ll be updating this blog with my writing, mostly published, that I’ve done this semester.
Better Than: Being outside in all that snow.
Ironic is the only way to describe a situation where a band whose most recent album is named Diluvia has a show postponed while the city began its own post-diluvia recovery efforts. Freelance Whales, however, more than made up for the canceled date from last Thursday by playing a gorgeous show to a receptive, enthusiastic crowd at Webster Hall last night — in the middle of a Nor’easter.
But the seasons are something the band embraces, with weather themes making appearances in album titles (their first album is aptly called Weathervanes) and dripping throughout the lyrics, like the icy and haunting “Winter Seeds.” It seems only fitting that this particular band would have to conquer nature in its physical form, and Freelance Whales came prepared to fight.
After energetic performances from openers Conveyor and Geographer, “Aeolus,” the first track off of Diluvia, began a strong set list well-versed in balancing old, familiar tracks with the new while breathing life into a venue that wasn’t much warmer inside than it had been outside. Similar to the skill displayed on their albums, Freelance Whales is tactful in seamlessly connecting one song into the next to create a fluid, ethereal sound. When “Land Features” began, it was difficult to tell when “Aeolus” had discretely ended.
Jumping between tracks from the first and second album, the band proved how well all of their music meshes together. While the newest album shows musical growth, it stays rooted in the ambient dreaminess of their debut. The musicians mesh in a similar way. In between songs, the bandmates would switch spots and instruments like the well-oiled machine they are as a whole. Yet there is nothing mechanical about their performance; there’s a sense of friendliness and warmth that the band seems to exude when they’re on stage, and the audience’s energy proved that the feelings are mutual.
While tracks like “Spitting Image,” “Hannah,” and “Locked Out” were frantic bursts of dance-y air-pop, the most memorable moments throughout the concert came through during the more haunting pieces. Eery, almost stripped down songs that make full use of intermingling vocals by the band members while lead singer Judah Dadone lights the way were the backbone of their set. “Broken Horse” and “DNA Bank,” both during the encore and separated by the very fun “Starring,” are slowed down, whimsical gems that prove just how fantastic these musicians are.
As they request to be told in the song “Generator (Second Floor),” Freelance Whales are equal parts “stunning and cadaverous.” Their music, while filled to the brim by a unique selection of instruments and layered vocals, create a singular thread as fluid as the transitions between tracks and their movements on stage give an almost skeletal feel. In the end, the airiness of their sound never feels empty, and that’s what makes Freelance Whales absolutely stunning.
Critical Bias: The band’s name may or may not have been the inspiration for my Halloween costume…
Overheard: “Are you on iTunes?!” – inquired by a most likely inebriated audience member during the set for openers Geographer
Random Notebook Dump: Doris Cellar should sing lead on more songs and be my personal stylist.
Generator (Second Floor)
Generator (First Floor)
Dig Into Waves
Note: This is one of my assignments for my Reporting the Arts course here in Prague, where I am currently studying abroad.
Complex and overwhelmingly stark, Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Coal Mines. Steel Mills. exhibit that is currently being displayed at Galerie Rudolfinum’s large hall brings beauty to industrial life. The series of black and white photos share glimpses at coal mines and steel mills, as the title aptly suggests, throughout Europe and America over the last few decades of the twentieth century. Each area has a unique quality and shape to their metal structures that the photographers very carefully document. British mines have an almost carnival-esque appeal; mines in America are terrifyingly animalistic; Belgium and France prove to have strangely beautiful symmetry and Germany’s “post-apocalyptic,” as one visitor commented, vibe is chilling and hard to ignore.
Unlike other black and white photos, there is no underlying vivacity that helps carry the weight of the picture. Nothing is “alive” about the cold metal that occupies the frame, which helps reinforce the dismal nature of the subject. While the beautiful lines are set against sprawling landscapes, the massive structures steal focus from the scenery and display the harsh reality of what industrialization can do to an area. The houses surrounding the mills and mines appear minuscule comparatively and are sometimes seen less than the rubble that peppers the towns.
The composition of the pictures is incredible and the fact that the Becher duo can create a wonderfully interesting and well-developed collection from a typically ignored and boring subject is remarkable. Each photograph draws you in; the shapes and hints of smog in the distance draw you in. The homes provide a human quality that leaves the viewer with remnants of curiosity as to how these structures affected the lives of the inhabitants of said homes. For some, they may provide nostalgia if they had been employed by or knew someone who had been employed by these steel mills and coal mines. The humanism of some photographs juxtaposed next to the animalistic nature of others allows patrons to enter a much more complex visual journey.
While the photographs are obviously gorgeous creations and wonderfully put together by curator Petr Nedoma, one complaint would lie in the execution of the exhibition. The organization is simplistic and does very little to elevate the pictures. To viewers who may not be immediately drawn in by the subject, and honestly, there is not a huge demand today for photographs of coal mines and steel mills nowadays, the colorless photographs may be difficult to connect with and off-putting. Once the initial wall between the art and the viewer is knocked down, the beauty is very easy to take in. In one room of the gallery, however, there is a video accompaniment to the exhibit that explores the original gallery showing of the photos by the Becher duo. This video will be probably be unappealing to foreign visitors since it is in Czech, but to locals, it might offer great insight into the motivation behind the project.
Overall, the exhibit is a wonderful exploration of the “industrial landscapes” across Europe and America. Once the viewer of these simple and gorgeous photos opens himself or herself to the intricacy of the smooth, sleek lines and curves of the structures among ruined hills and natural backgrounds, the result is more than worth it. Through their art, Bernd and Hilla Becher have provided interesting insight into a mundane aspect of society that has become so integrated into our culture that the population has looked over the implications and sad beauty of this modern architecture.
Bernd & Hill Becher: Coal Mines. Steel Mills. will be running in the large hall of Galerie Rudolfinum from March 22 to June 3. The gallery’s entrance is around the corner from the Rudolfinum concert hall and is right off the Staromestska metro stop. It offers discounts for students.
Sex, Power, and Aphrodite
“Don’t we go to plays for passions we don’t get in life?” When this particular question is posed in the middle of Venus in Fur, it is pretty difficult for the audience to oppose such a sentiment. Feisty and sexy, Venus in Fur is the hottest show on Broadway – literally.
We meet Thomas (Hugh Dancy). He is fed up with the unoriginal and unprofessional actresses who have been auditioning for the lead role in his new play based off of the classic novel of the same name. As he is about to leave for the day, Vanda (Nina Arianda) storms into the room and begins to turn Thomas’ life upside down. Boisterous yet naive, Vanda is surprisingly good as she begins the audition she has coerced Thomas into letting her have. Truly a show within a show, scenes from Thomas’ play seamlessly dive in and out of sequences featuring the playwright and the actress discuss, argue, and flirt while both attempt to gain the upper hand.
Hugh Dancy is marvelous as the pretentious playwright, but Nina Arianda absolutely shines. She slips in and out of Vanda, the actress, and Vanda, the character within Thomas’ play, with commendable ease. Dancy and Arianda play well off of one another and share an intense chemistry. They exuded a great deal of sexual tension through every word and and body movement.
David Ives’ brilliant script deserves a great deal of attention for generating the majority of the play’s heat. Not only is the dialogue witty and quick, but the topics of their heated arguments are exhilarating. Since it is a show about power and sex, Vanda and Thomas disagree over the motivations of their characters, gender roles, and even their personal lives. Embedded in their conversation is genuine comedy; the playwright takes the audience on an incredible roller-coaster of humor, desire, and power.
Venus in Fur is a truly remarkable piece of theater. The actors are enthralling, and the show is filled with shocking turns and revelations. Blurring the lines between what is real and what feels realistic, the play builds up the energy and tension until the end arrives and does nothing less than blow your mind.
The line between illusion and reality can often be marked by fear or mental illness. For Curtis, a soft-spoken, blue collar husband and father, discovering whether his visions of an impending storm fall in the illusion or the reality compartment proves to be a painstaking journey that threatens his relationships and even life. However, defining the invisible line as having been created by true fear or a family history of schizophrenia proposes a new world of complex paranoia in the thriller Take Shelter.
What anchors this film is its attachment to the reality of how one would deal with the issues Curtis and his family face, and what separates it from other apocalyptic thrillers is its basis in logic. Both of these factors rely heavily on the performances of Michael Shannon as Curtis, the honest man who wants to protect his family, and Jessica Chastain as Samantha, the woman who loves her husband but knows that she needs to prepare herself and her deaf daughter for whatever Curtis’ possible mental illness or even the threat of the world ending will throw at them. Shannon’s eyes speak in vivid sentences; the emotional distress is apparent with every protective glance he shines on his daughter who is often a victim in his reoccurring nightmares. Chastain is a powerhouse; she portrays a woman who must become the entire backbone of the family as her partner becomes a victim to his own turmoil with an incredible amount of grace and strength.
The exhilaration of trying to figure out whether or not Curtis is schizophrenic makes Take Shelter a truly outstanding addition to the list of this year’s best films. As the man discusses his problems with a counselor, his ill mother, and his wife, it felt as if I were piecing together the facts with him. Dramatic irony was nonexistent, and the struggle felt honest. Up until the last moment, much like Curtis, I was left with dual desires for him not to be ill so that he would not have to leave his family but also for his visions to be false so that they, as well as the rest of the world, would be safe. Maybe the truth of this extraordinary film lies in how we deal with our idea of reality being threatened.
The twelve-year-old me was a weird kid. Despite being happy and functional with a fairly lively social life, I wore a lot of black. I also listened to too much sad music. I won’t dive much deeper into the extent of my Wednesday Addams syndrome, but let’s just say that the employees at the nearest Hot Topic store knew my name. It was pretty bad. After a few years, I suddenly had the desire to break free from my moody exterior. While my closet brightened up dramatically, my tastes never really left. I still listen to The Smiths on a daily basis, and the urge to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas as I get ready for the holiday season is still unshakeable. Burton on Burton, just one member of the lengthy list of books in the Faber & Faber series that highlights the works of celebrated filmmakers through in-depth interviews filled with anecdotes, made me realize that Tim Burton is basically twelve-year-old me — a fairly functional child with an affinity for the dark and mysterious.
In this collection of interviews, Burton becomes surprisingly personal as he takes the interviewer and the reader on a journey from his childhood in California, taking a detour to his time at Disney, and finally hitting the brakes in 2005 (when the book was revised and published) when he becomes a family man with a slightly altered vision of the world he grew up in. I have come to describe Burton’s style as if you were having Siouxsie & the Banshees sing a Dr. Seuss book — it’s twisted and gloomy, but with an underlying message of the importance of being yourself because that’s all that matters. Or something like that.
Every project for Tim Burton, it seems, is a very personal exploration of the aspects of his childhood that helped him create the sugar-coated gloom we have become so familiar with. While still working with Disney, Burton began to explore his personal and brooding artistic visions. In 1982, he made his first stop-motion short film entitled Vincent. The story follows a young boy who wants to grow up to be Burton’s personal childhood hero, Vincent Price (who also narrates the film with a lovely poem that the director had written about his hero). The director never denies the similarities many of his lead male characters have to his own personality, world view, and even appearance, however he consistently insists that it is usually never intentional.
An exception, however, comes much later in his career with Big Fish (2003). After the parents he had never been very close to had passed away, Burton sought out a project that would help him feel close to them once more. The adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s novel of the same name, about a son coming to terms with the absenteeism and general elusiveness of his dying father, crossed his path at an opportune time. Burton speaks with high regard for the lead actors of Big Fish, Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney, who play young Edward Bloom and Edward Bloom senior respectively. The project resonated with Burton since he had never been able to resolve the problems he had with his own absentee father before his passing.
Prior to this particularly personal endeavor, the director explains some of his biggest hits and the motivation behind him. Burton took on a project entitled Beetlejuice (1988), because he was tired of the same stock scripts that kept being sent to him; he saw something unique and even edgy to create with Beetlejuice. Beyond that, he was able to integrate some of his personal artwork and own twisted visions of the underworld and the lives of the supernatural into the design of many of the costumes and characters.
The director even provides a response to some of the controversy that shrouded the darker aspect of his films, especially in relation to the direction he took for Batman (1989). Everything from the pre-release response to the casting of Michael Keaton (also the title character in Beetlejuice) to the wariness of fans to the all-black costuming of the caped crusader. Burton defends his choices as an exploration of the psychological motivations of a man leading a double life. He strove to find Batman’s inner outcast, probably out of his own desire to feel connected to the subjects of each of his stories and films.
In 1993, an endeavor he had begun around the time of Vincent’s release finally came to fruition in the form of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. The script came from a story Burton had written about the Pumpkin King of Hallowe’en, Jack Skellington, who grows weary of his own holiday and decides to take over Christmas. The brooding and dark exterior of this stop-motion film masks a much brighter morality tale that is also encompassed by extraordinary amounts of compassion, in the form of Sally, who is literally falling apart at her seams, and her never-ending love for Jack. The film was directed by Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, Coraline), but it still encompasses the very distinct vision that can be seen in Burton’s earlier and later endeavors. One of his most well-known projects, Burton expresses a strong sense of pride in his creation that spawned the mascot for a generation of Hot Topic shopping preteens, like myself. Being able to provide sanctuary for the outcasts of the world who never felt comfortable in the constricting norms of suburban life still brings Burton copious amounts of joy, since he had found a home in heros like Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe as a young boy.
The most endearing thread of Burton’s career is his friendship with many actors; he often fights production companies to cast his friends in many of his films. The book begins with two separate forewords by Johnny Depp; one had been written for the book’s original release in 1994 while the other came in 2005 after the birth of children for each men and starting new families. Depp holds a special place for his kindred soul who helped save him from becoming a typecast heartthrob during his time on the teen drama 21 Jump Street. They first began working with each other in the quintessential favorite film of every emo kid I knew in high school, Edward Scissorhands (1990). Depp finally had the chance to escape the mold that Hollywood was about to create for him and had the chance to explore a more creative side of himself. Scissorhands helped spawn a lucrative partnership between the actor and director for several more films (Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride before the publication of this book, and Sweeney Todd after).
It must be difficult for Tim Burton to still consider himself an outcast. He has created his own table for the cool kid’s at lunch, complete with matching Jack Skellington hoodies and all. The book was a fun look inside the mind of a fairly normal man who just finds the idea of a more gothic life a little more appealing. In turn, he has influenced a legion of Poe-loving rascals to slap on the black eyeliner and take a dip into a much gloomier world.
If I were to create a list at this very moment of the fiercest women in cinematic history, there is no doubt that there would be a duel between Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for the obviously enviable position at the top of the list. In 1950‘s classic All About Eve, both women radiate such deliciously conniving energy that keeps every scene fresh and every exchange of dialogue dripping with anticipation. As astutely declared by Davis during the film, “fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”
Bette Davis plays Margo Channing, an aging actress, who feels threatened by Anne Baxter’s Eve Harrington, a young obsessed fan of Margo’s. The film is framed by scenes of Eve accepting an important award for her work in the theater as attended by an audience filled with mixed emotions. The film then rewinds to the time when a young and seemingly innocent Eve boasts to Margo’s best friend Karen (Celeste Holm), after one of Margo’s many performances in the aptly titled Aged in Wood, that she has seen every performance of the play.
Slightly creepy but somehow endearing, the viewer is reeled in by the ingenue’s charm as she does the same to the members of Margo’s inner circle, which includes Karen’s husband Lloyd, a playwright (Hugh Marlowe), and Margo’s younger boyfriend, a director (Gary Merrill). As the older actress realizes how conniving the younger woman is, she begins to fight back in order to regain her position at the top of the theater food chain. Theater critic Addison DeWitt, whose lines are delivered with subtle sass by George Sanders, begins to find himself entangled in Eve’s treacherous web but has a few conniving tricks up his sleeve. No one can describe Mr. DeWitt better than he can describe himself, as he states: “I’m Addison DeWitt. I’m nobody’s fool, least of all yours.”
Two women being pitted against each other has never been presented as classy as it was in All About Eve. The plot is familiar, and the theme of how fleeting youth and beauty in such an aesthetic-driven career as acting has been exhausted thoroughly. Somehow, there is something refreshing about this film. Through every dramatic turn and bitchy glare, Davis wins back the audience’s waning sympathy as quickly as Margo succeeds in regaining her friends from Eve’s sharp claws. It is quite a feat for both Baxter and Davis to portray such incredible actresses while giving two jaw-dropping performances themselves; Margo and Eve are masters at deceiving others until they get what they believe they deserve, and the actresses who portray them add edge and vulnerability to every biting exchange of words and each sharp yet subtle motion of their bodies and even facial expressions in an outstanding manner.
Beneath the pre-Dynasty diva-off that takes place between the actresses is an almost disheartening reality that they come to realize they are a part of: the expectations of women in who face the inevitability of old age and declining beauty. As Margo vents to Karen in a moment of desperation after seeing the extent to which Eve will go to take away everything from her idol, the actress reflects on what it means to be a female actress and merely what it means to be a woman. She muses, “That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not.”
After this circle of theater folk barely escapes from drowning in a hellish pit of deception and betrayal, the film ends on a darkly humorous note that hints at just how cyclical and karmic life is. Through heart-stopping performances and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp script and stellar direction, All About Eve ironically succeeds in maintaining the youthfulness that the leading women so desperately treasure after sixty years in the public sphere.
Dysfunctional people bring me a lot of joy. For this reason, I tend to watch and become temporarily addicted to numerous trashy reality television shows with more enthusiasm than a normal person with an extra hour to spare. In the beginning stages of America’s obsession with watching the downfall of humanity for a couple of hours each week (or night), Christopher Guest graced us with the brilliant inside look at dog show politics in the 2000 mockumentary Best in Show.
Preceded by Waiting for Guffman and followed up by A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, Best in Show represents the middle child in the long lineage of Christopher Guest’s improvisational mock documentaries that put a fluorescent light on well-meaning but socially awkward people with undying, and sometimes odd, passions. This particular film follows dog owners as they excitedly gear up to present their pooches at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show for the annual competition. The movie plays out like a particularly hilarious and histrionic episode of Toddlers and Tiaras without the sobering post-show realization that you just witnessed some weird form of child abuse.
For 90 minutes, the viewer gets to meet the five dogs and their stage parents as they head to the competition and encounter one another in the high stress environment. Meet Meg Swan (Parker Posey) and her husband Hamilton (Michael Hitchcock), a brace-faced couple from Chicago living a yuppy fairytale of sorts (one scene includes the two recounting how two separate Starbucks helped bring them together). The couple and their weimaraner Beatrice have a strange relationship; the two treat their dog as if she were actually their daughter, even going so far as to bring her to therapy after she witnesses her owners having sex.
Then there is Harlan Pepper (Christopher Guest) with Hubert, his bloodhound. Pepper’s southern drawl and Bubba Gump-esque listing of all the names of nuts he knows is adorably humorous. While Pepper sets out to make his family proud, Gerry Fleck (Eugene Levy) and his wife Cookie (Catherine O’Hara) sing amusing songs dedicated to their terrier Winky. They also encounter several of Cookie’s past hook-ups along the way. Inevitable awkwardness ensues.
Sherri Ann Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge) and her much older husband Leslie (Patrick Cranshaw) have a poodle named Rhapsody in White that is trained by Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch). Over the course of the film, the relationship between Sherri and Christy is revealed. And finally, Scott Donlan (John Michael Higgins) and his partner Stefan Vanderhoof (Michael McKean) flamboyantly keep their game faces on with their Shih Tzu and a pair of homemade, flame-emblazoned leather pants.
The number of major players in this independent film is overwhelming, but it is never hard to follow each character. Screen time and character development is spread fairly evenly between each of the competing families. Their stories are spiced up with appearances from the always inappropriately funny Fred Willard and Jim Piddock as Buck Laughlin and Trevor Beckwith respectively; they are the commentators of the dog show with Piddock playing straight man to Willard’s unpredictable wild card spin. While a judge makes a decision, Willard’s character matter-of-factly points out: “And to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten!”
Not being a dog owner myself, let alone the owner of a show dog, I was thoroughly impressed by how included I felt in this peculiar world watching this film. Guest dives straight into the deep end of this quirky world of dog competitions without leaving the novices confused by the subject matter. Those who have a better understanding, however, may have a deeper appreciation, but despite my lack of familiarity, the film was inviting to the viewer through its attainable humor.
The true brilliance of Best in Show lies in the delivery. Natural and wonderfully subtle, the true gems of the film can almost be missed. Jane Lynch, whose star power has risen because of her role on Glee but really should have been attained because the comedy prowess she unleashed on the world long ago thanks to Mr. Guest, steals every one of the scenes she is featured in. During one exchange between the dog trainer Christy (Lynch) and the dog owner Sherri Ann (Coolidge), the trainer comments on the successful parenting style of her family and how her mother’s unconditional love, as she states, “worked for my family, you know…until my mom committed suicide in ’81.” Somehow turning a lighthearted memory into an extremely dark one in the most sickly humorous way seems almost impossible but is accomplished by this talented cast.
While the genius lies in the subtlety, the failure lies in the histrionics. While some melodramatic scenes come off successfully others were almost painful to watch an slightly annoying. Such a huge difference in the success of the dramatics can be seen in two scenes between Meg Swan (Posey) and her husband Hamilton (Hitchcock). In one scene, a melodramatic fight between the two over the location of a missing toy for their dog is almost off-putting and uncomfortable. However, the following scene featuring Meg frantically searching for the missing toy in the hotel room while screaming at the comically calm hotel manager (Ed Begley, Jr.) is so much more amusing, probably because of the juxtaposition of hysteria with subtlety.
An important component of this film is its sense of humanity. Each of these people are flawed, but they are not terrible human beings. Their problems are exaggerations of everyday issues; the singing, terrier-owning Flecks (the always brilliant Levy and O’Hara), for example, prove themselves to be the most charming couple in the mix as they deal with the resurfacing of exes and monetary issues that force them to stay in the hotel’s storage closet for the duration of the competition. After a winner is announced, Guest provides the viewers with a satisfying epilogue that offers glimpses into how life went for these average people after they helped their canines achieve their fifteen minutes of doggy fame.
Reaching even deeper, Best in Show is a compassionate portrayal of man and his best friend – the owners truly love their pets and care about their safety, health, and general well-being. For many, the dogs have brought — and in some cases kept — these people together. For that message alone, I would give this film a blue ribbon.
“Sons of the Prophet,” a new play by “Speech & Debate” writer Stephen Karam, does everything it can to make the audience feel one family’s pain as it struggles through a series of sad events and disabilities.
The story is about Joseph Douaihy (Santino Fontana), a worker for a deranged, Karen Walker-esque publisher named Gloria (Joanna Gleason). Hungry for a hit after being alienated from the literary world, Gloria attempts to buy the Douaihy family’s story after learning that he is distantly descended from a Lebanese prophet. Shortly thereafter, Douaihy and his father are injured in a car accident. Once hospitalized, his father dies of a heart attack.
Douaihy’s Uncle Bill (Yusef Bulos) is heartbroken and angry because the court refuses to sentence Vin (Jonathan Louis Dent), the young jock who partially caused the accident. Douaihy and his younger brother Charles (Chris Perfetti) struggle with their mounting emotional strife, as their family’s privacy comes under scrutiny by the press.
Throughout the show, the introduction of every new piece of life-altering news threatens to overwhelm and weigh down the performance. At one point, Douaihy accurately notes, “We’re like the Kennedys without the sex appeal.” The use of humor, however, keeps the play from crushing the audience with constant despair.
“Sons of the Prophet” adds so many layers to its characters that they never become one dimensional or boring. Each person connected to the accident is given due time to express his grief and work through his loss.
Emotional but funny, “Sons of the Prophet” bares all and leaves no form of pain untouched. The exchanges between the characters are simultaneously powerful and humorous in the best way possible, but it will rip your heart out more quickly than you may be willing to let it.
“Sons of the Prophet” will run until Jan. 1, 2012 at the Laura Pels Theater at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater on 111 W. 46th St. between Sixth and Seventh avenues. A limited number of $20 tickets are available for patrons under the age of 35 who register at hiptix.com.
Brittany Spanos is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.