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August 2010 Archives

August 22, 2010

Patricia Neal

This was how good Patricia Neal was: when Hollywood wanted to make a TV-movie about her courageous struggle to resume a normal life after a series of strokes, it hired Glenda Jackson to play her.

No one else was quite real enough, or quite regal enough, to suggest Neal, a nonpareil among screen actresses. Her broad, arresting, not-quite-beautiful face and her gravel voice, combined with a screen presence that tended to white out every other performer she appeared with, made her unique. She was equally believable as the imperious rich girl in "The Fountainhead" and the seen-it-all, done-it-all housekeeper in "Hud," and few other actresses--Bette Davis comes to mind, as does the aforementioned Jackson-- could be so commanding and so down-and-dirty at the same time. Neal wasn't quite the right type to assay the role of Elizabeth I, as Davis and Jackson did, but it would have been interesting to see what she might have done with it.

Although Neal's career was blighted by ill health, she maintained a sterling reputation, both as an actress and as a woman of character and courage. Her men done her wrong--Gary Cooper, Roald Dahl--and so did her body. But her spirit remained strong, as did her talent. From her first screen appearances in the 1940s to her last in Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune," she always brought to the screen the fascination of an idiosyncratic yet solid personality.

One of my favorite all-time moments in the cinema belongs to her. In Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd," she plays a reporter hopelessly in love with a monstrous TV superstar she helped to create, played by Andy Griffith. When Griffith jilts Neal for Lee Remick, Neal reviles him in a towering rage. But the truly magnificent moment comes after Griffith leaves: the raw, wounded-animal sound that emanates from Neal, lasting no more than a couple of seconds, suggests a depth of pain the cinema has rarely portrayed. It is that raw reality that made Patricia Neal great.

August 28, 2010

Free for All, Fun for All

There's about a week to go for the Shakespeare Theatre's "Free-for-All" production of "Twelfth Night" at Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, DC. I imagine all the tickets are gone now (though it wouldn't hurt to check); if you have tickets for one of the remaining performances, you are in for a treat. Some critics have been hard on this production, a revival (with a few slight revisions) of a 2008 production of "Twelfth Night." Well, it might not be the most subtle performance of Shakespeare you've ever seen, but it is imaginative, visually stunning, excellently performed, and above all one hell of a lot of fun.

From the opening scene, we are drawn in to this production's special world. It shows Viola (Christina Pumariega) suspended above the stage, rolling in blue light that simulates the action of pounding waves, while below Countess Olivia (Sarah Agnew) walks the stage in darkness, weeping, swathed in mourning black. I cannot think of a better visual way of capturing the polarities of the play, and the production's continuing visual scheme--panels of red roses, multiplying as if by magic as the play's romantic entanglements increase and multiply--is simultaneously cheery and thrilling.

Of the many, many fine performers on stage in this production, I was particularly impressed by the clowns. Chuck Cooper is properly Falstaffian as Sir Toby Belch, Philip Goodwin admirably prissy as Malvolio, Tom Story delightfully pixilated as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. My favorite, however, is Floyd King, who brings a sad, sly, disabused worldliness to the role of Feste, a jester who'll do absolutely anything for you as long as you put a large enough sum in his outstretched hat. At the end, with all misunderstandings explained and all wrongs righted (well, OK, Malvolio's punishment seems a little harsh, but that's the problem with the play), King's Feste appropriates the Fool's Song ("He that hath a little tiny wit...") from "King Lear," putting an appropriately bittersweet cap on Shakespeare's little meditation on life's confusions.

If you're anywhere near Washington, DC, check for tickets--NOW. And remember, they're free!

About August 2010

This page contains all entries posted to MDM in August 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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