THIS WEEK'S REVIEWS: FREUD'S LAST SESSION AT THEATRE J, COCK AT STUDIO THEATRE, MOVIES: BELLE, THE CHEF, MILLION DOLLAR ARM, HILLYER ARTS SPACE LIFE DRAWING DROP IN CLASS
Funny how all memories of it being scorchingly hot last summer (a lot hotter than this week has been!) have been somehow erased from my memory - a bit like having a baby, I presume - leaving me in a state of overheated alarm as the thermometer started inching past 80. And as such, this week, after a little paddleboarding on the Potomac, picnicking in Georgetown Waterfront Park, and cycling down the Capital Crescent Trail, I gravitated decisively to Washingtonian entertainments selected largely by their hefty dose of air conditioning. All this by way of an introduction to the fact that I went to the theatre twice and cinema three times this week! And here's what I thought of what I saw. Air conditioning: 10/10. Ahem.
Freud's Last Session at Theater J is a gentle Socratic-style two header musing on whether God exists. Which makes it sound perhaps more inflammatory or controversial or worthy than it is. The entire play takes place in the office of Sigmund Freud, who is terminally ill, and involves a fictional visit from CS Lewis, who has recently undergone a conversion from atheism to Christianity, much to Freud's fascination and derision. The entire show is essentially a debate between the two men, where one lays out a belief, and the other challenges it, etc. There isn't much (any) action in this play, except a bit of spitting up blood and sometimes turning on the radio. There isn't really a narrative arc. There is no epiphany moment, or even any insight we probably haven't all heard a hundred times before. But the conversation is interesting, the set is sumptuous, and the acting by the two men is excellent, which makes this play thoughtful and very much worth seeing. It made me long for some impassioned intellectual debate in my book lined study. As you know, I always have a phobia about bad British accents... on this occasion, imperfect but inoffensive, which is a feat for me: phew! Very nice work with what is surely quite a challenging play to stage in an engaging way, Theater J. It's on til June 29th. Check out the Goldstar app for cheap tickets. I've just discovered this app and have booked a lot of shows all over the city as a result!
I had high hopes for Cock at the Studio Theatre. It got good reviews in London, and in DC. It's directed by the same director as Tribes, which was really excellent. Alas, I was to be disappointed. In my head on the way out, I summarized it as "a lot of sound and fury, signifying very little". I overheard an audience member sitting behind me commenting "it's lucky there wasn't an interval because I wouldn't have come back," which I thought was apt. I liked the premise: a gay male couple splits up, one of them unexpectedly meets a woman, then indecisively can't decide whether to get back with his old boyfriend or go off with his now girlfriend. What is annoying about this play is that I can't imagine why either of them would want him. This play is so dependent on performances that it's hard to separate the quality of the play from the quality of the actors. It seems that Ben Cole is not right for the lead part. Notwithstanding the appalling English accent that set a new low for my all-time-worst-British-accent experience (a dubious honor previously held by Jarman - but can't Studio Theatre afford an accent coach?), Ben Cole delivers an uninspiring, dull lead character whose heart just doesn't seem to be in it - and thus, neither was ours. His limited emotional repertoire of shouting and looking blank in this play is all the more disappointing when compared to the excellent - though all too brief - performance by Bruce Dow in the second half (a reason not to sneak out). Indeed, this is a very shouty play, and playing it that way strips the whole thing of nuance. That doesn't mean it lacks redeeming qualities. The themes (indecision in life, identity) were interesting. And despite its flaws, prompting my whispered debate about whether to leave halfway through in favor of that avocado dish at Cork, my lovely wife and I stayed til the bitter end and concluded that while Freud was clearly better as an overall performance, Cock was inexplicably more enjoyable. But only in patches. It's on til 22nd June.
As a side note, we went to Cork afterwards, and they didn't have their glorious avocado dish (unripe avocados had been delivered). After my own horror at this terrible news, it was hilarious to watch each and every other diner reacting to this information with unfailing dramatic woe and horror. That is one cult dish...
But what of cinema, I hear you ask... I saw Belle, The Chef, and Million Dollar Arm this week. Belle is about a mixed-race young woman living in England with her uncle who is adjudicating a pivotal court case about slavery. It has the dual qualities of not being high quality cinema... but being really quite enjoyable and nice-looking if you have a penchant for Jane Austin-ish period drama - plus it has sufficient important themes for you to feel no shame in what's really a bit of a fluffy film, with only adequate performances.
The Chef is about a chef who is divorced, being a rubbish father, and stuck in a job rut - and the story of how he predictably transforms into a happy, fulfilled and successful husband, father and chef. Amusingly not a theme so very dissimilar to Le Chef, the film I enjoyed so much at DC's Independent Film Festival last month. Le Chef definitely did the genre better than The Chef. But I quite enjoyed it anyway.
The surprise was Million Dollar Arm. I was deeply skeptical of this film, based on a true story, about finding new baseball stars through running an X-Factor style contest in India. It's a Disney film, so the stereotypes are rife, and the subplots are rather contrived and schmaltzy, as you might expect. But it's nevertheless a charming, inspiring film that had me transfixed with embarrassing periods of tears dripping down my cheeks which I unsuccessfully tried to disguise from my lovely wife, who has mocked me ever since for both my tears and my misguided lack of enthusiasm for seeing this film. Another review described it as 'Slumdog Millionaire meets 42'. I absolutely agree. It's not in the same league as either of these films. But it's good. Bring Kleenex and revel in the schmaltz.
Oh, I also went to the life drawing class at Hillyer Art Space on Tuesday. This was one of my favorite art things I've done for ages. I turned up with a pad of paper and a pencil, and paid the woman at the desk $12. That bought me use of one of the seats arranged in a semi circle around a life model, in an attractive art gallery space with art on the walls, and plinky plonky type music. There were about another 7 or 8 people there, a diverse range, with art pads, charcoal, paints or pencil, all doing there own thing. There is zero conversation. But it's relaxing, interesting, meditative... We all sat silently, drawing the model, who gave us different poses of 5, 10, 20 and 30 minutes, and I found it was really enjoyable. It's like an art class without the distraction of teaching. And great value, with no need to commit to more than one, or even to sign up in advance. What a lovely resource. It's on every Tuesday, 6-9pm. I plan to return.
What's cool in the coming week
Wed 28th May: Try out the first film of the NoMA Summer Screen season: Back to the Future, at L between 2nd and 3rd Streets NE.
Thu 29th May: Do you watch all the random Spelling Bee-inspired plays and movies like I do? Perhaps you should go and watch the real thing! The Scripps National Spelling Bee semi-finals and finals are on Thursday and apparently you can just turn up and watch! The flaw is that it's out at the far-off weirdness that is National Harbor, at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center, which makes this plan more challenging for non-drivers like me. I know you can get there by public transport as I've done it before. And you could make a day of it by trying out the new Capital Wheel with views across the area and kayaking or paddleboarding at Key Bridge Boathouse's new National Harbor outpost.
Friday 30th May: The Farragut Square outdoor movie this evening is Mr Smith Goes to Washington. Or head to Black Cat at 9pm for a mashup of storytelling and songs with the Harikaraoke band at Story League Sings; theme: bad boys... I went to one of their mashup nights before and it was fab. Or check out the launch of the Capturing Fire queer poetry and spoken word festival that goes on all weekend!
Sat May 31st: I have never been to the Tour De Fat, but I love that it's essentially a bike and beer festival, and it's a great excuse to check out the lovely Yards Park. It's on 11-5 and sounds fun!
Monday June 2nd: It's Perfect Liars Club! We have some great and suspicious stories for you this month... If you're a lucky ticket holder, come take your seat from 6pm; if you're not, put your name on the waitlist from 6pm and we'll start selling tickets in order at 6:45pm til we reach capacity. See you at the Science Club. It's going to be a good one!!