The Retreat From Moscow (Booth Theatre, NYC)
Great cast, John Lithgow, Eileen Atkins, Ben Chaplin. The acting is superb, the play by William Nicholson is first rate..
P. Perl, NY

Kill Bill! (Film)
Phhbbbbt! Tarantino masturbates again and makes us all sticky.
Jolisha Carbin, Los Angeles, CA

Muholland Drive (Film)
My Laura Elena Haring is more gorgeous than your Catherine Zeta-Jones! In our dreams, eh? Still figurin' ... dang COWBOY! I'll get him.  In my dreams, 'eh? 
Steve Esquerre, New Orleans, LA

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Film) -- This 1983 film has emerged, not as a cult classic, but an example of the brilliance of Japanese cinema, Directed by Nagisa Oshima with a wonderful performance by Tom Conti, beautiful scoring by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also "stars" as an actor in the film) and a strange, compelling perforrmance by the strange, compelling David Bowie.
Arthur Meiselman, Santa Barbara, CA

Thirteen (Film) -- Wonderful, wonderful movie. Evan Rachel Wood is sensational and Holly Hunter isn't.
Sin Merman, Tampa, FL

Henry V (NY Shakespeare Festival) -- If you missed Liev Schreiber in Henry V in New York, you missed one of the great stage performances of the year. And if you don't see New York theatre, you've missed theatre, period.
P. Perl, New York, NY

Smash (Globe Theatre - San Diego) -- An adaptation of Shaw's fiction, "The Unsocial Socialist". The adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher is quite good, the scenic design by Scott Bradley - a round table of running gags and pranks - extraordinary, and the staging by Karen Carpenter witty. But it doesn't stand up. The fluff doesn't hold up the ironies in today's corporate world - where women and men are equally corrupt.
Ned Bobkoff, Rochester, NY

 [A Bunch from Michael Bettencourt, Boston, MA]
African American Theater Festival -- Consisting, on alternating nights, of A Soldier's Story, directed by Lois Roach, and four short plays by local playwrights. Story was well-crafted and performed, though the cast was a tad too young for the piece.  The short pieces leaned heavily on poetics, singing, and dance performance and very lightly on drama -- enjoyable, but not many theatrical calories.

Antigone -- American Repertory Theatre's take on Sophocles, and as with anything A.R.T. undertakes, it is over-designed and under-performed and drains the theatrical lifeblood right out of the piece.

The Burden of Ninevah -- A new script by David Valdes Greenwood, written specifically as part of his tenure as playwright-in-residence for The Theatre Cooperative (Somerville), it involved a sinning-but-now-reformed Pentacostal minister angling to retrive the affection and partnership of his long-ago lover and mother of his bastard child. Bees and anaphylaxia figure prominently. Gothic but without any of the guilty pleasures.

The Complete History of America (Abridged) -- The Lyric Stage Company's remedy for the mid-winter blues. Frat stuff and and obvious, not particularly inventive, though the actors do yeoman service in trying to give it life.

From the Mississippi Delta -- Another in Merrimack Repertory's (Lowell, MA) two-year long New Century Series to present significant theatre from the 20th century. Written by Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland, this autobio-play is affectingly performed by three actors who sing, dance, and act their way from the Delta and prostitution to a Ph.D.

Fully Committed -- Jobbed in to the Wilbur Theatre and directed by Nicholas Martin (who had done it in New York and is currently the artistic director of the Huntington Theatre), this is a cheeky play that makes fun of the same boorish bourgoisie who fill the audience's seats.  More of a transcription that an actual play, it's like Chinese food: fills you for a moment, then disappears.

Godspell -- Updated at the Colonial Theatre, steered by Stephen Schwartz's son, its attempt to be current self-destructs within about ten minutes of the opening because it undercuts the sweetness that is at the core of the work. It may be time to retire Godspell, but my feeling is that we need to go back to the sweetness, which is lacking throughout our land.

Gonzo Night School -- A one-man show by Joe Smith (best known for his 500+ performances in Shear Madness), the set-up involves a fractured night school where an angry mime, for instance, has to teach a course on mime and martial arts because the two classes have been combined due to low enrollment.  At times witty, even laugh-out loud funny, there just isn't enough substance here to carry beyond some posture, some dead-pan, some low-key mime.

Hamletmachine -- Heiner Müller's 1977 meditation on Hamlet and other things got a competent airing by the A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theatre Training.  (However, it paled beside the recent performance of Hamletmachine at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the Hamlet character was a 3'-high mobile puppet manipulated by two actors.)

Hedda Gabler -- At the Huntington, directed by Nicholas Martin.  The reviews for Hedda have stressed the central character's tortured and sardonic soul, a "pistol-packin' mama" as one said, a "Hedda to be reckoned with" said another. Hedda is a dangerous woman, to be sure, but not because she is a woman trapped in a man's world.  She's dangerous because she's careless, because she has no moral compass that allows her to love others without demanding that they give their oxygen to her own ego. She chews up and spits out people because her own appetities are monstrous.  So why do the critics praise qualities in a character that, in real life, they would not tolerate for five seconds? The production, by the way, is clunky and static, the action consisting mainly of actors moving curtains and furniture around in various fits of pique and pomposity.

Henry Flamethrowa -- Trinity Repertory Company (Providence, RI), by local playwright John Belluso.  Drawing from the story of Audrey Santo, the comatose girl in Worcester (MA) whom many believe can do miracles, the play tries for a Manichean discourse on good and evil, but mostly the theology comes off as tinny and cheesy-horror movie.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change -- Fluff for the carriage trade, which means it will last forever.  The trials and trivialations (oops, tribulations) of the love lives of four people, all hetero and all straight out of the women's mags.

Sin -- Coyote Theatre's presentation of Wendy McLeod's "modern morality play."  The seven deadly sins here provide the framework for a story of love and death centered on the San Francisco earthquake of 1989.  The moral teaching of all this sturm und drang: Just sin a little -- you'll feel better. Doctrine drained down to self-help bromide.

Three Farces and A Funeral -- A.R.T.'s Artistic Director Robert Brustein adapted three Chekov farces and appended his own 10-minute play, "Chekov on Ice," as the coda to the evening.  Chekov described farce as "an explosion of pain in a comedic way," but the A.R.T. did not follow Chekov's advice and instead larded on so much affectation and design that it drained any of the farce away.  Jeremiah Kissel, though, gives a heart-wrenching performance as Chekov -- one of Boston's best actors, to be sure.

The Weir -- Another Conor McPherson gabfest, ably done at the New Repertory Theatre in Newton Highlands.
Michael Bettencourt, Boston, MA

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Film)
Wonderful choreography and effects, exquisite cinematography all marred by bland acting. And, Mr. Siegel, it is NOT one of the "Greatest films ever made!"
Arthur Meiselman, Santa Barbara, CA

Quills (Film)
The unbearable lightness of Phillip Kaufman's direction fogs a magnificent performance by Geoffrey Rush. Another failed attempt to capture DeSade on screen or in any medium other than his own writing, for that matter.
Arthur Meiselman, Santa Barbara, CA

Bamboozled (Film)
Has its problems, but no denying the iconographic pain of the minstrel images. Let the right brain lead on this one.
Michael Bettencourt, Boston, MA

Requiem for Srebrenica (C. Walsh Theatre, Boston; BAM, New York)-
Despite the enthused review of this in the Sunday Times of November 5, this production drains any heart and anguish from the renaissance of genocide in our times. Studied, allegorical, stylish -- and boring.
Michael Bettencourt, Boston, MA

Eyes Wide Shut (Film - The European Cut)
Makes little difference. Takes the last blemish away from the superb visuals. Remains Kubrick's most personally private work. Needs to be seen 3 or 4 times to absorb it.
Arthur Meiselman, Santa Barbara, CA

Touch of Evil (Film)
Phenomenal opening sequence. Bizarre, twisted story is somewhat confusing. Heston didn't fit. Welles was terrifyingly brilliant. Restored uncut version seems like unfinished work. Worth seeing.
Lia Beachy, Los Angeles, CA

Fanny: A Family Musical (Stage - Berkeley, CA)
Distasteful premise: privileged girl maturing in snobby family restaurant, alientated from boorish classmates who don't love halibut or arugula. Brilliant lyrics, splendid performances, workmanlike direction.
Lissa Tyler Renaud, Oakland, CA

Waiting for Godot (Gate Theatre of Dublin Berkeley, CA)
Definitive first act of the definitive play for our age; slow-ish second. Stubbornly anti-intellectual stance at Q&A--"No idea what it all means!"--was ungracious.
Lissa Tyler Renaud, Oakland, CA

The Green Bird (Berkeley Repertory Theatre, CA)
Sizzle; fizzle. Startling visuals, uneven performances, smug adaptation, mannered direction. Enjoyably multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary--but the magical story of The Bird never  takes flight.
Lissa Tyler Renaud, Oakland, CA

Harold and Maude (Theatricum Botanicum, LA)
Taken from the movie by the writer. Ellen Geer is very good, the play is not. Show could use a director.
Pat Ruann-Sommers, Los Angeles, CA

Jagged Edge(Film)
Interesting script but too much a rip-off from "Basic Instinct". Jeff Bridges is good, Glenn Close is o.k., Robert Loggia is great.
Larry Dieterle, Evanston, IL

Jagged Edge(Film)
Actually this predates "Basic Instinct". Joe Esterhaz wrote both. "Basic Instinct" is a better film. Jeff Bridges and Robert Loggia are excellent. Glenn Close is miscast.
Arthur Meiselman, Santa Barbara, CA

Hans Christian Andersen (American Conservatory Theater, SF)
Swimming mermaids and fairies lighter than air thanks to flying by Foy. A dark book puts familiar songs in new contexts. A transforming experience.
Valerie Weak, San Francisco, CA

Southern Comfort (Film)
Cruelty. Couldn't sing "Can Do" either. Initially thought it was a documentary. So real,  forgot they were actors (the zenith of accolades, n'est-ce pas?)
Steve Esquerre, New Orleans, LA

Random Hearts(Film)
Exactly what keeps Sidney Pollack from becoming a master filmmaker - he believes his own PR. He's the second worst actor in the world - Scorcese is the first.
Arthur Meiselman, Santa Barbara, CA

Black Robe (Film)
3rd greatest story ever told. Rich production values. Jesuit converts Canadian Indians? Can't tell; Screenwiriter, Director, Actors, Cinematographer, convert me. Rent/buy/steal/see it!
Steve Esquerre, New Orleans, LA

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DECEMBER 2003