Essence and Repartee


A movie.  A play.  Each trying to get at the essence and pull of art forms, creating passion, pleasure, and power for those beyond the creator.  Is it possible to do such lofty things  and still have a plot?  Apparently not.  Still…

The film “Words and Pictures” sets up an arbitrary ‘war’ over which is more important, a more essential form of expression.  No surprise that the conclusion is that both are needed.

The fun comes in the arguments between the artist and the poet–both tortured souls, of course, suffering for their expression.  I happily went along for the ride for their moments of repartee.  And to think about the debate for myself.  If you’d enjoy watching two beautiful people argue about ideas, I recommend this film.

Nathan Lane in "It's Only a Play."

Nathan Lane in “It’s Only a Play.”

I’m not so sure about Terrance McNally‘s postmodern play about theater called “It’s Only a Play.”  The celebrity cast acts out the aftermath of a Broadway bomb that involves writing a play about the aftermath of a Broadway bomb.  Get it?

Well, it doesn’t matter a bit.  You go for the cast’s witticisms.  Biting, absolutely of-the-moment topicality they are, coming off as more snark than valentine.

The play is essentially plotless, and what little there is mimics “Words and Pictures” for being completely predictable.  Here it matters more.  With no plot and over-the-top caricatured characters, the show-must-go-on spirit is its own bust.

But don’t listen to me.  The audiences howled with delight, gave a standing ovation when cued by an actor, and had a great time.  I sorta did, too, admiring the rapid fire repartee of Nathan Lane with anyone and everyone else on stage.  He is truly a wonder.  And it does feel good to just laugh.

08_Selfie_183_TY-v2-WT_Thinner_BlurSince the characters were so snarky, I feel like I can be, too.  Matthew Broderick has phoned in his third wooden performance in a row, in my books.  His youthful charm and nebbishy ways don’t play cute anymore.  I keep wanting to tell him he can both bend and turn at the waist and move his arms.  A nutcracker is more animated.

And Stockard Channing, as much as I love her and found her funny here, is so stretched and mauled from her facial plastic surgery, that it’s a wonder she can move her lips.  Really, plastic surgery should have died with Joan Rivers.

Good.  Now that I have that out of my system, I will say I want more from McNally.  A theater pro like him?  Make me care!

“Shakespeare in Love”–now that’s a show that’s a love song to theater, with beautiful people, ideas, humor, and a plot.  Maybe just skip both of these newer shows and see that movie again.  Or, if you dare, wait for the British stage version to come to Broadway.

Now it was McNally today who bemoans all the talent from London dominating the stage here, arguing all the more reason why there are no more great American playwrights on Disneyfied Broadway.

What do you think?