August 3rd, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Having missed it in first run, we caught up with “Mad Max: Fury Road” at the budget cinemas on Friday evening, July 24th. I hadn’t been particularly interested by it initially, but the reviews captured even the interest of Georgie (who is not a fan of violence for violence’s sake), so we went, and were glad we had.

The film is set in a post-nuclear wasteland (not as obviously Australia as in the prior “Mad Max” films). Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules a small “hydraulic empire” (water monopoly) enforced by his testosterone-sodden cult of “War Boys” , who believe that Joe will open the gates of Valhalla to them when their “half-life” ends (preferably in a splash of ultra-violence).

Max (Tom Hardy), who is the protagonist only in the classical sense of being the first character on stage, is captured by the War Boys, and both his car and his blood co-opted for the Citadel, Joe’s stronghold.

By chance, Max gets dragged along as part of the escort for Furiosa’s (Charlize Theron) mission to fetch fuel from Gas Town. (Evidently, “Imperator” is a rank title, which seems odd for a subordinate, until you consider that Imortan Joe is a “god”, more or less. It’s also unusual that Furiosa is one of Joe’s chief henchbeings, since no other women that we see are anything but property in the Citadel, but apparently she’s that tough--.) When it appears that Furiosa has her own agenda, events allow Max to get free and start taking a hand, although he still ends up going along with Furiosa’s plan.

Since I expect that, by this time, anyone who cares has probably seen the movie, I won’t go deeper into plot details.

Considered on its artistic merits, the film is grotesquely beautiful. It is a long symphony of motorized conflict, with every move carefully choreographed. The fact that the War Rigs are all real, and the battles done mostly without CGI really does somehow add something—an extra bit of realism to the surreal. And each move and tactic seems to have meaning in the conflict, without being just gratuitous. The kludged-together designs of the scavenged vehicles are crazily marvelous. The varieties of barren landscape have austere beauty, also.

The action is largely non-stop: the first half of the film has little more intelligible dialog than the “Minions” movie--; but there are breaks to let off pressure, which makes the movie easier to endure.

I appreciated hark-backs to the earlier series, mainly found in the credits, where the character names (“Rictus Erectus”, “Toast the Knowing,” “The Doof Warrior”) sound like members of the back-up band for GWAR or the cast of a Moebius comic. However, the thing I missed was the eccentric characters such as “The Gyro Captain” from Mad Max: The Road Warrior, or the nigh-unstoppable “Ironbar” from Beyond Thunderdome. Characters such as these must have been important to writer/director George Miller at some time, but now all humor, all whimsy has been ground under the hungry wheels of action, action, action.

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American Players Theatre, “Pride and Prejudice”

Saturday, August 1st, we went to American Players Theatre for a “double-header.”
We were very interested to see American Players take on the Joseph Hanreddy-J.R. Sullivan adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, which we had also seen done by the Milwaukee Rep. APT made the play their own, and did a marvelous job with it.

The set was very spare, with only some chairs and one desk/piano serving to delineate all the locations, with some of the action spreading off into the gardens at the sides of the stage. Costuming was referential rather than strictly accurate, but generally attractive and supported the story more than detracting. (I do, however, seriously envy Darcy’s long blue riding coat--.)

Kelsey Brennan, as Elizabeth Bennet, alternatively crashed against and withdrew from Mr. Darcy (Marcus Truschinski) like the surf battering a promontory. Tall, handsome, and as rigid in his carriage as in his principles, Truschinski was the perfect Darcy, his face a frowning cliff that was a marvelous setting against which Elizabeth’s emotional rises and falls play out. (I had to wonder if Mr. Truschinski needs to have his face massaged after the play, since he has to frown through two hours and fifty-nine minutes of a three-hour show--.)

Of course, Sarah Day was the only choice for Mrs. Bennett, and played the shallow and foolish matron with such unaffected energy that she remains loveable, and it is understood why her daughters and husband stick by her. James Ridge as the long-suffering Mr. Bennett showed us his sardonic humor with more of an edge than some we have seen, which contrasts nicely with Day’s Mrs.

Standout performances among the supporting cast included Chris Klopatek (reviewed herein as Bertie Wooster at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre) as unctuous Mr. Collins, Melisia Pereya as a wonderfully bratty Lydia Bennett, and Tracy Michelle Arnold, who gave her Lady Catherine de Bourgh a nice physical edginess. The other Bennett girls were well represented, with Laura Rook quite fine as the saintly Jane, Aidaa Peerzada pouting well as Kitty, and Elyse Edelman getting off a number of good humorous interjections as the bookish Mary.
It really was a delightful show, and made even the fact that we ended up in the one section that had full sun all afternoon bearable.

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American Players Theatre, “Merry Wives of Windsor”

Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” is one of my favorite plays, and this year’s production took full advantage of the many opportunities for over-the-top foolery.

The production was updated to Edwardian times, which worked well, and gave the designers some interesting options with costume and set, although I do not think the inhabitants of Windsor (then or now) would be flattered at being compared to American television’s “Mayberry”, as in the director’s notes. An interesting dimension was added by musical numbers which sounded like period music-hall songs.

Brian Mani plays Sir John Falstaff as a decorated veteran of colonial campaigns, wearing a Boer-War era khaki uniform, and accompanied by his raggle-taggle bad men Bardolph (Wigasi Brant), Nym (Chike Johnson), and Pistol (Jeb Burris). (The men’s broad-brimmed hats, Colt pistols, and Bowie knives give kind of an American West vibe, like Rough Riders gone to the bad--.) Mani’s beard and makeup resemble the late Orson Welles in his age, had he played Falstaff as an old man, and Mani’s characterization, sometimes pompous, sometimes threatening, and sometimes pathetic, was always spot on.

Falstaff, ever self-deluding about his charms, casts eyes both lecherous and covetous on two wives of wealthy commoners, Alice Ford (Deborah Staples) and Margaret Page (Colleen Madden) whose wiles are more than up to the task of making a fool of Falstaff, while initially hiding the goings-on from their respective husbands.

James Ridge, as the easy-going Page, has little to do but be amiable, except when plotting against his wife to marry their daughter to the man of his choice (Robert R. Doyle, the diffident Slender). On the other hand, David Daniel, as Ford, has a major bit of scene-chewing to do as the husband “possessed of a fine devil of jealously,” and takes full advantage of the opportunity.

Although Falstaff is the star, Daniel’s Ford dominates the scenes he is in, whether laughing, crying, and grimacing in his solo rants as “Master Brook,” or in destroying his own house hunting for Falstaff. I have often heard the somewhat vulgar phrase “going apeshit,” but never seen it done on stage until now. When Ford, having emptied the buck-basket fruitlessly searching for Falstaff, sits in it, rocks, and literally screams with rage and frustration, it was truly primal. The audience roared its appreciation.

The supporting cast was also excellent. I give full marks to Tim Gittings for his Welsh accent and delivery as Sir Hugh, the parson, even though American audiences don’t find Welshmen as easily funny as comic Frenchmen like Dr. Caius (Jonathan Smoots). Sarah Day was a lively and youthful Mistress Quickly, and gave a very good rendition of a song as well. Eric Parks, playing the aptly named Peter Simple, gave a charming dimension to the character by hugging everyone he meets, no matter whom. I was so very glad that the Theatre took a stab at actually presenting Hugh and Caius’ revenge prank on the Host of the Garter (Chris Klopatek), which is often cut, although the duel scene that sets it up is always left in--.

The climax in Windsor Forest was very nicely done, with period-appropriate disguises, effective lights, and a major musical number when the ‘fairies’ discover Falstaff.

This was a thoroughly delightful evening at the theatre, and has our highest recommendation.

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