The Columnist 29th April, ’12

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Just how involved should a journalist get? How deeply entangled should he be with the subjects of his columns? Just how far should he venture into newsmaking instead of news reporting?

These are the central questions in The Columnist, and they are brilliantly asked by John Lithgow as real life political columnist Joseph Alsop who influenced and made politics via his column in 160 newspapers in the US. His home in Washington was a meeting place for Senators and Presidents, he was feared and therefore able to make his “suggestions” heard and followed by the rulers and people in power. And one of the most powerful people at that time was Joseph Alsop.

Only once he was exposed: picked up in a hotel bar in Russia he spends a night with a russian tour guide, totally unaware that blonde Andrej who so convincingly told him he was actually attracted to him and loved the sex with him, Andrej who spoke four languages and still was only a tour guide, was in truth KGB – his hotel room had been bugged and the photos of him having sex with another man used to blackmail the powerful journalist.

this was not only the beginning of the play, it also was the beginning of Alsop’s lifelong paranoia which grew more and more prominent, the older he got. But at first it didn’t stop his meddling with politics. Even when his brother seeks another job because he does not want to be in the middle of all that scheming, Joseph continues, even marrying his housekeeper, telling her he is not interested in her as a woman, but offering her a lifestyle in the middle of parties and power. On the day John F Kennedy is elected president, the most important party, the party where the president shows up to relax and have a chat, is the one in Alsop’s house – the center of the universe.

But there are consequences to Alsop’s take on political journalism. As he is so close to the powerful people he should be writing about, they are able to influence him by catering to his vanity. His brother sees it, his co workers see it and there are rumors about certain pictures. And then his friend, charismatic leader Kennedy is assassinated. His writing changes – nothing is good enough compared with the dead prince of camelot. His influence, though still there, is waning even tho he is still feared. and then his wife leaves – she had thought she could .. “change” him and she breaks when he mercilessly makes fun of her desperate attempt to explain her desires.

Alone after his brother’s death from Leukemia he writes against the hippie movement, against the peace rallies and stands by his conviction that the vietnam war is an american success. Alone and even without contact to his beloved step daughter he finally meets a young Russian in a park in Washington – a man who turns out to be Andrej who is now an attache at the ambassy, trying to apologize and give back the negatives. But Alsop, faced with the young man can only think about his revenge – he will write a column that will destroy Andrej’s life, maybe even cost it.

It is late that night and Alsop is sitting over his column – a death sentence in cold war Russia. but for once he actually SEES the consequences of his writing up close and personal. and probably for the first time in his life he destroys a column and will be late delivering his work…

Lithgow is absolutely brilliant as the assholey journalist who is using his power to manipulate and gain power instead of observing and writing about it. He delivers a character study of how power can make you lose sight of integrity and personal happiness while you are driven into paranoia and loneliness. It is the perfect play to compliment The Best Man – both being about the corruption of the mind, of losing sight of your principles – but from different points of view. I just was lucky to have booked these two plays in consecutive order (unknowingly, tho!)

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The Best Man 29th April, ’12

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This play is a  must see for various reasons – first of all it’s an old but very current story about politics and how easy it is to become corrupted by the lure of power. And secondly it features an all star cast that is so amazing one has to see it to believe that all these highest class actors came together for one play. And according to Playbill the producers lured them all in with each other… 😉

Who wants it most? that is the central theme of this high class drama (made into a movie in 1966 with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson): During the pre election of the front runner of their party William Russell (John Larroquette), almost too honest for the job to come bt never faithful to his long suffering wife (Candice Bergen and marvellous), and slick, young Joseph Cantwell (Eric McCormack), who’ll say anything to succeed, are trying to get the votes of the senators in a hotel in Philadelphia. They’re also desperately trying to get endorsed by President Hockstader (James Earl Jones – brilliant) and the Chairman of the Women’s Division, Sue Ellen Gamadge (Angela Lansbury, and divine as always).

Russell is a man of conviction and hopes to elevate politics beyond the personal attack. Cantwell is a political street fighter who practices a “means justifies the ends” strategy, willing to crush any opponent.

For ex-president Hockstader it’s Russell’s inability to act that’s his flaw. Russell, a man of conscience, sees too many sides to issues, he is paralyzed by analysis. Hockstader, a practical man, is ready to endorse Cantwell.

And while hot shot Cantwell uses polls and digging up dirt on anyone standing in his way, Russell tries to keep politics clean. He doesn’t really succeed tho – Cantwell acquires Russell’s hospital files from years ago, when he had a nervous breakdown and intends to use them to make Russell go away. And Russell’s campaign manager finds out that now married with children Cantwell has been court martialled during his military years – because of being gay.

And even though blackmailing Cantwell with these papers goes against everything Russell believes in he finally is willing to use this dynamite in order to keep Cantwell from being elected – because Russell believes he is the better man for the job. And then – former president Hockstader collapses and dies – his hernia operation was a smoke screen – he had been suffering from cancer for the longest time. And while Hockstader dies in hospital, Russell finally makes up his mind and comes to a decision.

He steps out of the race and gives his votes not to Cantwell, but the unknown, faceless third contender – because the less is known about the new candidate the more people can interpret into his actions. He will turn out to become the best man.

James Earl Jones is amazing – his booming voice and stance commands the authority of a president effortlessly. Angela Lansbury is a brilliantly annoying Chairman for women’s affairs, defending old fashioned women’s behaviour and requiring the same from the future First Lady. These two actors obviously make everyone else trying to be at their best and so the rest of the brilliant cast is trying to live up to their high standards – and they are succeeding.

The play is brilliantly done, in a theatre decorated as a political stage in 1960, which is an awesome idea and makes the audience part of the action. It’s only  a14 weeks run, so if you get tickets, go see it – it’s brilliant – even more so in pre-election time USA of today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t dress for Dinner 28th April, ’12

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It’s a hoot. It’s pure complicated, intelligent, sexy fun and it’s worth seeing more than once. Actually – I’d recommend seeing it twice at least – after all you’ll be laughing through some of the hilarious scenes and therefore miss out on further fun! It’s tumultuous, fast paced, delivered at breakneck speed precise farce. Rush to see it!

Written in the 60ies, this farce fits seamlessly into the tradition of its predecessor Boeing, Boeing (remember the movie w Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis?) and is a perfect example for a modern version of the screwball comedies of the 40ies and 50ies – after all: intelligent comedy never gets out of fashion.

That said I need to emphasize that this farce lives and dies with the actors involved – and that it lives and thrives is largely because of the skills of these actors: There is Adam James as the notorious lothario Bernard, who even after marrying cannot stop to pursue every skirt in the vicinity. His long suffering wife Jacqueline is played by Patricia Kalember – who it turns out does have secrets of her own.  There’s Jennifer Tilly, absolutely brilliant as the busty Suzanne, Spencer Kayden as Suzette, ze cooook who gets paid a lot of extras and David Aron Damane as her husband George who has a short but sweet appearance at the end of the play.

And then there is Ben Daniels as Robert. And he takes Farce to a whole new level. He becomes the 42 year old divorced Brit living in Mont Matreux (montmartre) with his two cats, who just came home from Kuala Lumpur.

Robert is the alibi guest in Bernard’s weekend house (a converted barn) – with Jacqueline soon to be out to go to her mom for the weekend Bernard had invited his new conquest, knock out Suzanne for an intimate birthday celebration; and Robert is brought in  in order to derail the nosy neighbours. What Bernard hadn’t considered: as soon as Jacky hears Robert is back she cancels her visit to her mother because – ooops – she has an affair with eager Robert!

Which has to be hidden from Bernard. Bernard, who wants Robert to pose as the boyfriend of his lover Suzie so that Bernard still can have his way with his mistress. Which doesn’t go over too well with Jacky who is enraged that Robert apparently has a second mistress next to her…

And to make things really complicated Suzette arrives just as husband and wife are out groceries shopping – and Robert assumes this is Suzie, Bernard’s girl on the side. As the good friend that he is, Robert introduces cook Suzette to the elaborate scheme and after 200 franc pass hands the cook accepts – in a way that makes Robert think she’s a pro hooker.

And yet it is not before knock out Suzie arrives and immediately snogs the life out of Robert, when things get really out of hand.

Now it would be too much to give an exact summary – I’m afraid it would probably kill the fun.

Just: the magnificent slapstick is displayed in such brilliant precision the audience is absolutely rolling out of their seats. There is the scene when Robert first comes into the house and is greeted by Jacky – very sexily. Before Bernard comes down and sees him he’s thrown out again only to come in a second later, hat askew and echoeing Jerry Lewis. I choked on my laughter, he was so brilliant.

There is the fabulous phone scene where Bernard tells his mistress to pretend being Robert’s girlfriend while Robert desperately tries to grab the receiver from Bernard. The two men end up entangled in phone cable and Robert’s face ends up in Bernard’s crotch – his face: priceless.

There’s Robert trying to get to know Bernard’s girlfriend in order to pretend she’s his girlfriend, only – he’s already mistaken Suzette the cook for Bernard’s mistress Suzie – and so he drops his pants to show off his recent appendix scar. I hadn’t known one could contort a body the way Robert is tying himself into a knot. Or when Robert desperately tries to understand what Bernard tries to tell him with gestures only – Robert, having no clue what his friend’s waves mean, starts to dance to put Jacky off their scent… and he moves and shakes – there is not a dry eye in the audience.

There is cook Suzie, sexy dress and french accent firm in place, pretending to be Robert’s cousin (“you arrre quite ze hunk, Unc!”), dancing the Tango with Robert. It’s a mixture of argentinian and french tango and Spencer Kayden seems to be a trained dancer, her ochos certainly are very precise. I never knew that steamy tango could ever be so sexily funny, tho: Robert’s face when she kicksteps between his legs is to die for.

And the way both men are reduced to stammering idiots at the sight of Suzette’s muscly husband George is more than just hilarious. Robert’s face when yet another batch of 200 franc change hands – this time given to George – and he answers George’s jovial “how are you, Uncle??” with a rather desperate “I survive” is just incredible.

Finally – when fast thinking Robert has “explained” the whole situation – or rather explained it away – and Bernard ends up in bed with Jacky – it’s Robert’s time: sexy buxomy Suzie, in search of a new benefactor, silently creeps over to Robert’s room just as Robert realises he won’t get any – erm his affair with Jacky is most likely over. And as she sheds first her black flimsy robe and then throws her nighty enticingly at Robert, Robert gets over his lost love rather “OH …MY…GOD!!” very quickly.

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I said it before and I’ll repeat it gladly – Ben Daniels shines in this part. Known mostly for intense and stark parts he is certainly revelling in being dorkily funny in a both mentally and physically challenging part. And he enthusiastically delves into it every night, some nights twice. “I can eat so much right now, it just falls off me”, he – obviously delighted – confided when I met him at the stage door. There’s no doubt that his perfect comic timing lifts the farce to new levels of fun, even making Adam James – who has the least gratifying part in this play – sympathetic. Ben’s face throughout the play is worth a second, third viewing alone. I really wish they’d record this version of the farce for posterity.

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Pam Ann, You F*Coffee April 13th, 14th

I laughed till I almost peed myself. My make-up went all runny and my cheeks ached. It was two hours of deliciously naughty, rude, clever fun in the Festival of shameless arts currently on in Vienna. And I do admire Ms Pam Ann that she very obviously created her program especially for us, the Viennese. There was lots of talk about AUA (our national airline) which has been bought by Lufthansa (the Germans) and now tries to keep Emirates Air (“You don’t like to hear that name here in Vienna, do you?”) out of our airport because – well, they’re cheaper and offer better service.

First off a little explanation: Pam Ann is truly  too good to be true – she’s the alter ego of Australian comedienne Caroline Reid and incredibly successful with her Pam Ann Show on aussie TV. Now see how I came upon her: http://www.celebritynetworth.com/watch/vP0wAHK_4P0/pam-ann-simon-burke/  and believe you me – she is TAME in comparison to her live show. And onto the live show:

It all starts with an info screen that shows various destinations and various airlines (like Qantas to Sydney – in repair; or American Airlines to Las Vegas – no crew yet; or Al’Italia to Rome – departure at 8.20-ish; and finally Lufthansa to Berlin – you better be on time!) which is hilarious in itself. They update themselves regularly till all show that we now all are on the way to Paradise… Then Ms Pam Ann peruses the new (and I think rather short lived) TV-show Pan Am and copies herself into the various scenes, not one of which is now appropriate for children any longer.

Then Pam Ann comes out and states – she is only going to talk to first class and business. Everyone from the seventh row on is a non-entity to her – “I smell you, don’t you wash? I’ll have flight attendants come to you with bricks to build a wall between you and us”. This was followed by stabs against various airlines – British Airlines with their new marketing strategy “What would Kate do?” the Kate in question of course being Kate Middleton. So in case of an emergency – Kate would do NOTHING because she’s the f..ing future queen. She has people who do things for her!!!!

Or the story about the point of no return when an aircraft must take off,  when … “what, you haven’t heard of that? You are living in a f….ing fairy tale land. No – no kidding – your houses are all gingerbread houses, your people are all so f…ing friendly and even your names… cute, really fucking cute!” … a spanish plane didn’t know how to use the runway and was on course to crashing with a Lufthansa aircraft. And the tower said “helloooo Lufthansa…” that’s the gay coordinator on – “hellooo Lufthansa, you are ready for take offffff!” then he sees the intercepting aircraft and “Hello LUFTHANSA STOP!!!!” just before the point of noi return and all you see is – whomp. And Lufthansa stops “ja? what waz the problem. Ve stopped. Ve have a bit hot tyres now but ve can return immediately.” Now picture that with an easy jet machine. The gay coordinator comes on again, turns to his colleage: should we even bother?  and booooom, one problem less!

Also the story about the tears in the wings of the qantas airbusses – “yes, you don’t know them, they can’t even LAND in Vienna, they’re so … BIG!” – yeah, you heard about that, didn’t you? That’s because we Australians are so f…ing loud! HE WE HAVE TEARS IN OUR WINGS! LISTEN WORLD! TEARS!!!! Emirates Airlines are much more discreet “cha mana chacha, psst, decha mahaamo – give them free stuff they won’t see a thing!”

Or why it takes so long to get off a plane in Schipohl: Because KLM is the last airline to offer their first class passengers gifts – tiny little ceramic houses, a new one every year, filled with … Gin of course. So the stewardess comes out with a tray full of houses and every gay has a list on his phone or iPad where the houses he has are ticked off “Do you have ’67? oh yes, love, take a look….” So that’s why it takes hours to unboard in Schipohl – BECAUSE THE F…ING GAYS CAN’T DECIDE WHICH HOUSE THEY WANT!”

And so it goes on and even after seeing it two times I am not able to remember all the hilarious jokes and innuendoes an incredibly brilliant Pam Ann was delivering at a breakneck speed. There was the dig against Virgin Airlines who are apparently crap but their stewardesses are hot and easy to fuck, against Austrian – you are dressed all in red – against the red walls your stewardesses just vanish – very clever, against the “jeanny”-like stewardesses of Emirates with their tiny little veils and then they blink and are gone! and finally against Air France who are so stuck up they don’t serve you because that’s not a good enough job for them.

It finally ends with another brilliant montage of Pam Ann starring in The Exorcist, Superman, The Godfather. By that time we were all exhausted from laughter but would have gone on for ages if it were only possible! Truly, I hope she comes back next year – Vienna obviously loves her, both shows were sell out successes!

Es ist immer jetzt April 5th

 

Now that was … something else.

But let me start from.. the start. The title of the show is “it is always now” – and a colleague of mine waxed lyrical about it. So I got curious and myself a ticket. I should have caught on that something’s wrong when the show obviously wasn’t sold out. And when I realised that I was probably the youngest member of the audience.

But I still was really looking forward to  Burgtheater-Doyen Michael Heltau with his one man show. Even though the only decoration on stage was a microphone used as a stand for a panama hat.

It got worse. I think I saw a Eulogy – sung by Heltau for himself. The man is over 80 and he was so fabulous when he was younger. He  was the first to interpret Jacques Brel’s chansons in German and he was really good at it, too.
But at this show all he did was talk-singing one song after the other, each one more depressing and frustrating as the one before. It was all about people with no chances in life, people who are mourning their youth, their loves, their lost opportunities. It was Jacques Brel all right – but I guess it was a very bad translation – I mean Brel did sing about depressing themes, but he was all about going to the edge of the abyss, then turn around and challenge fate: hit me now, you are not going to bring me to my knees. In these translations Heltau did go to the ledge of the abyss and then took a step forward to fall to death instead of fight.

With a lot of sadness I thought back to the absolutely brilliant “Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris” I saw  in my beloved Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada, where the translations were so much more accurate. Also: the small band on stage did not much to enhance the performance, not even when during one song they had to hum along the song .After 45 minutes was intermission8.15 and with the program’s end planned for 10  I decided I am not depressed enough to endure that any longer. I left, and I wasn’t alone, either. (I met people paying with a burgtheater- card in the parking garage just like me LOL)

I guess I’m just very spoiled. The signature shows I saw by Simon Burke or John Barrowman are so much better, they are not even in the same universe than this. They are structured and fun and moving and more than worth the money. This show was just incredibly depressing – also because it was the demontage of a former talent – and there only remains one question: What did  my colleague actually see in this awful performance…