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REVIEW: Alice in Black and White at 59E59

L-R: Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis in ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE, written by Robin Rice and directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Holly Stone

L-R: Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis in ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE, written by Robin Rice and directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Holly Stone

Alice in Black and White
Looking for Lilith Theatre Company
Written by Robin Rice
Kathi E.B. Ellis
59E59, New York City

Casual fans of street photography may not recognize the name Alice Austen, instead favoring Bill Cunningham or Humans of New York. In Robin Rice’s account of Alice’s life, we see the life of a trailblazer in both the personal and public realms.

 

The play takes place in two times: the first, Alice’s path through life; the second, how two people in 1951 go about trying to locate this woman from the past and resurrect her memory. At points, the characters of Alice (Jennifer Thalman Keppler) and 1951’s Oliver (Joseph Hatfield) communicate; the latter is working on a book called The Revolt of American Women and longs to include Austen in his work.

As the protagonist, Keppler moves through a lifetime of relationships, personal values and socio-political changes deftly. Her initial (slightly distracting) exuberance tempers as Alice grows into her teens, though the character’s stubborn single-mindedness never falters.

As Alice’s mother (Shannon Woolley Allison) and indulgent grandfather (Ted Lesley) implore her to find a husband, Alice rejects their advice and forms a relationship with a visitor from Queens – Gertrude Tate (Laura Ellis). A flawed heroine, Alice fails to grasp the importance of supporting herself – and while she doesn’t realize the implications at the time, she also overlooks the impact the stock market crash of 1929 will have on her in the years to come.

Meanwhile, in 1951, Oliver arrives at the Staten Island Historical Society on the lookout for some photographic negatives that his assistant had pinpointed as being in a trunk in the basement. The problem? Sally Lally (Trina Fischer), volunteer receptionist and aspiring Curator of the collection, who refuses to go against policy and let him inspect the contents of the trunk. It’s difficult to trace the emotional line of their story, and if there were more chemistry between the two leads – or clearly not more chemistry – it might be easier to do so.

The production benefits from a sparing set, which consists of a table, some chairs and some props (mostly cameras, but some tea implements as well), and lighting is used mostly to emphasize moments when Oliver and Alice seem to communicate across space and time. The metaphysical aspects of the play don’t receive a lot of explanation, and the audience is left to wonder how Oliver and Austen shared this bond across the decades, but in the end those moments seem incidental to the plot anyways. My one major critique of the play is that the relationship between Oliver and Lally doesn’t feel as if it grows organically, instead feeling superimposed on the characters.

For those who were already fans of Austen, Rice’s lens will no doubt prove a delightful delving into a woman of historical import. For those unaware of Alice’s work, the play offers just enough of a taste of the photographer’s personality and approach to life to whet the appetite.

Alice in Black and White is playing until August 14th at 59E59 theatre in New York City.

Theatre Review: Speak No Evil at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo, NY

Speak No Evil-100dpiTry not to make someone else’s world crappy, goes the main theme of Sonya Sobieski’s Speak No Evil.

Explored through the lens of Tricia (Emily Yancey) and Steve’s (J oey Bucheker) relationship – which has just ended – the piece is a through-the-looking-glass/absurdist farce about an institute which aims to eliminate the possibility of hurting the feelings of others. From microchip implants to its very own martyr (David C. Mitchell as Silent Guy, who so wants to stop causing offense that he’s stopped talking entirely), the Institute of Right Things to Say feels like it exists like a surreal setting from mid-century science fiction, complete with call-outs to Ray Bradbury.

While Tricia and Steve provide a pat through-line, the evening’s most engaging moments often take place between other members of the ensemble, most of whom play at least three characters. From Bethany Sparacio’s dead-on, hilarious caricature of a secretary or her portrayal of a hooker-slash-reiki-healer, to Joyce Stilson’s visitor to the institute and her aggressive nastiness towards both another visitor to the Institute and Silent Guy himself, to James Cichocki’s turn as the kind of co-worker everybody has and everybody wants to slap, the supporting cast bring necessary depth and color to the stage. The pacing, which director Neal Radice mentioned was altered somewhat by omitting the lowering and raising of lights between each scene, is snappy and quick – all the more impressive considering that one member of the original cast had to drop out just days before the show opened. On the whole, the ensemble helps elevate the piece beyond the text.

According to Sobieski, inspiration for the play came during a silent writer’s retreat/residency and its message is primarily aimed at personal interactions, with any political readings being unintentional (though she acknowledged the idea of the personal as political). Given this, it’s astounding how clearly the text seems to want to comment on society’s current obsession with political correctness, and to some degree this made it seem confused at times; every time one tried to determine whether the message was that society is or isn’t overdoing it on the whole “political correctness thing” the water got muddy and it felt as though something was missing. It’s not that a playwright necessarily needs to lay out clear, black-and-white points of view (I’d argue that it’s generally more effective if they don’t), but there are junctures in the story where you want it to go down this road: for example, during Tricia’s discussion with her boss (Melissa Leventhal), she comments on what she perceives as the ideals of the program. Leventhal seems to (nonverbally) communicate that the boss may know something Tricia doesn’t. Given how straightforward and direct much of the rest of the play is (even as it talks about avoiding saying hurtful things), the lack of a more elucidating response is somewhat frustrating.

Speak No Evil deals with both very concrete and very conceptual opposites, and at times I felt as if we were only wandering in the lighter end of the play’s potential emotional range. If you’re going to have an underground speakeasy in protest of the Institute of Right Things to Say, and it’s selling itself on the basis of being a place where anything – no matter how raunchy, no matter how cruel – can be said, then limiting the extreme language to a few “fucks” and other run-of-the-mill insults falls short of expectations. I expected darkness on the order of a Michael Richards outburst from the raunchy ventriloquist’s dummy, but the insults never reached a point where I believed they’d have the effect they’re shown to have here. In a politicized reading of the piece, you could argue that an anti-P.C. viewpoint might be well-served by a club where the most offensive thing anyone says is “fuck”, but the play didn’t seem to be attempting to make that argument. Truly shocking the audience in the lead-up to a tragic on-stage event might have made for both a higher surge of energy in the lead-up and a bigger reaction for the event itself. That said, some of the dialogue simply sparkled – a line about a worm on a sidewalk after rainfall (“It didn’t want to drown, but the only place it had to go was just as bad” or a discussion of prehistoric humans who lacked language (“Don’t eavesdrop with your eyes”).

With its introspective vantage point and prioritization of words from one person causing ill feeling in another, however, the scope of the narrative feels artificially limited. By opening it up a bit more, and either making it more specific to the portrayed relationship or universal enough to take a wider political agenda into account, Speak No Evil could pack a hell of a punch as both comedy and a commentary on today’s society.

As Radice said during the post-show talkback, it’s getting harder and harder to find scripts that are truly theatrical, and not just episodes of television that unfold on a stage.  Sobieski’s alternate reality is dreamily disconnected from our own, and this blended with the play’s apparent metaphysics and the set lends a dream-like quality to much of the piece. Radice’s sparse set (full disclosure: my first play, 1999’s POST, featured a set by Radice) is made up of a handful of chairs and desks, with few props. Most of the play’s visual personality comes from the costumes, designed by Stilson (more disclosure: she was the director for my first Edinburgh fringe festival play, PLAYING IT COOL, and also involved in POST’s production). They’re bright, colorful and vary dramatically from one character to the next.

In the end, Speak No Evil seems to succeed in what it set out to do, but one wishes it had set out to do a bit more. For a play with a poster that recalls both the Rolling Stones and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it is – overall – surprisingly straightlaced.

Speak No Evil runs from now through February 13, 2016 at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo.

The Revenant Recap/Review: Someone Give Leo His Oscar Already

revenant

“GIVE ME MY OSCAR ALREADY!” — the dialogue that goes along with this image, in my head

Just got back from seeing The Revenant, and the last thing I’ve seen that was that brutal might have been…well, I don’t even know. Mild spoilers below. You’ve been warned.

I spent most of the movie thinking it took place in Alaska, either because I didn’t read anything about it beforehand or because I associate Alaska with the man-versus-nature conflict. (Thanks, Jack London.) But it doesn’t – it takes place in South Dakota and Montana. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in films before but holy crap talk about natural beauty. No doubt assisted by Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography (though I did see some lens flare there for a second, let’s not go all JJ, now), the setting is most definitely a character in this one. A brutal, unforgiving character. 

Most of the characters in The Revenant are brutal (not the last time you’ll see this word in here, sorrynotsorry) and unforgiving, though, and those who aren’t don’t come out of things too well…or sometimes at all.

As the film opens, we get some smoky memories/images of Leo — sorry, Glass — and his Native American wife, and their young son, and the camp/community they’re living in. Then we see a lot of burning structures and hear a whispering voice recite the theme of the film – while you still have breath, keep fighting to survive. (Not a direct quote.) Next, we flash ahead to Glass and a group of fur trappers. He, his son (Hawk, played by Forrest Goodluck) and another member of the group (possibly Will Poulter’s Bridger, though honestly I have a hard time remembering faces the first time I see them so it might have been another member of the expedition) are hunting, trudging through ankle-deep watery swampland. They kill an animal and we head back to the fur trapper’s camp. We quickly meet our supporting cast: the captain, a bit naive and idealistic, with a father who apparently bought him his commission; Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who is a bastard (we know this because he cares more about money than people, makes a bunch of racist comments about Hawk’s parentage, and eventually leaves Glass in the middle of the woods to die.

They’re attacked by a band of Pawnee, and the entire sequence was chilling and ghastly and bloody. We don’t know it as the attack unfolds, but the leader of the group is seeking his missing daughter, Powaqa (later played by Melaw Nakehk’o), and has decided that she must be with the Americans – only ten of whom (out of forty) manage to escape with their lives. Glass, Hawk, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fitzgerald are among them, as is Bridger, as well as a half dozen other men of varying importance. Henry and Glass quickly decide that they have to abandon the few furs they’ve salvaged, leaving them behind for later retrieval, and that they need to ditch their boat as well. (They escaped on the boat, but staying on the river will leave them open to the Pawnee group.) Fitzgerald and a few others are upset by the thought of leaving a fortune in furs behind, and when a few of the men are assigned to set the boat adrift, they instead stay on it and float off down the river. Not sure we ever found out what happened to them. Given the rest of the film, I somehow doubt it was anything positive, unless by “positive” you mean “a quick and relatively painless death.”

The men who stay behind – Hawk, Bridger, Glass, Henry and a few others – stash most of their furs and set out back to their fort*. As their scout, Glass goes ahead to make sure their path is clear. Just as we, the audience, are getting past the opening slaughter…Glass gets between a mother bear and her cubs.

In a three-stage attack that left me covering my eyes with one hand and my mouth with the other, Mama Bear rips up Glass’ back, then rips up his front, then nips him in the neck, then for a minute it looked like maybe she was going to use her teeth to sever his spine, she dislocates his ankle…it’s ten or fifteen solid minutes of watching one of nature’s most frightening predators do her thing. Every time she starts to move off, Glass tries to breathe through the pain and finish her off, but this just provokes her to come back and keep tearing chunks off him. Finally, he stabs her repeatedly with a knife, then they both end up sliding down a hill into a valley, where the fight finally ends.

When the other men find Glass, they tend to his wounds and try to make him more comfortable, but ultimately the prospect of carrying him all the way home on a stretcher proves impractical. A few of the men say they ought to put Glass out of his misery, but the captain prevails and offers a reward to anyone willing to stay with him. Presumably, it will only take a day or two for him to die, then they can bury him and be on their way to the fort as well. Finally, Hawk and Bridger both offer to give up their shares of the reward money if Fitzgerald will stay behind. I was a confused as to why the captain would put the guy who just wanted to shoot Glass like a wounded horse in charge of the rescue mission, or why he’d trust the man’s word, but I’m hoping there was some other reason for that and maybe I just didn’t catch it. Clearly the captain shouldn’t have trusted Fitzgerald, because by the time another twenty minutes go by, Hawk is dead, Bridger is cowed, and Glass is resting half-covered and not actually dead in a shallow grave.

I could go through a play by play – the deceitful French trappers/rapists, Glass’ arduous experience in the wilderness, a number of encounters with other Pawnee, how everything pans out – but what’s more interesting to me is the way this film portrays an ordeal of superhuman determination and vengeance. We’ve been seeing a lot of “lighter Leo” the last few years – The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby – and the heaviness of this story stands in strong contrast to those roles. There’s very little (if any) humor to be found here (not that the script calls for it), but between the story and the characters and the acting, the film is still riveting.

From avalanches to mountains to frozen wastelands and eerie forests, every single setting is shot with an exquisite eye. From one moment to the next, you’re either rapt in wonder at its beauty or else you’re overcome by the idea that this man is trying to survive in this wilderness, sustained only by his desire for revenge. More than once, I thought, Damn. I don’t think I could do this. I’d lie down in the snow and be done by now. And yet Glass kept going. And kept going. And kept going.

One of the turning points in the film comes after we and Glass watch a pack of wolves bring down one Buffalo out of thousands. As Glass stares at the scene unfolding before him we can almost see him salivating. At the same time, with no real weapons, he has to hold himself back from surging forward – and the tension is palpable as this takes place. He sleeps, and when he meets a Pawnee whose village has been massacred by Sioux; the man takes pity on Glass and carries him, treating him when his infection rises and building him a shelter and fire where he can heal. Almost as mysteriously as he appears, the man is gone, leaving only a few words of wisdom behind: “Revenge is in the Creator’s hands” (in the hands of the creator? Not sure.). It’s a message Glass takes to heart, as we learn later. Abandoned by his savior, Glass wanders smack into the village of French trappers. He goes to steal a horse, but stops when he sees that the Frenchmen have a Pawnee woman captive and have been repeatedly raping her since her capture. He goes into action, first taking the Frenchman by surprise then allying with the woman – who we assume, then later confirm, is Powaqa. They both escape, though separately.

As he’s riding away from the French, the Pawnee warriors attack again, and this time Glass and his horse try to outrun them and end up running off a cliff. You know how it felt when Buffy killed off Ms. Calendar? Like nobody was safe anymore? Well, when your hero is mauled by a bear in the first act, you can be pretty sure that’s not the worst thing that’s going to happen to him. Time and again, Glass overcomes the odds. He keeps fighting to survive.

After the massacre of the French camp, as Glass lies inside his horse like Luke in a Tauntaun (sidenote: Google Docs appears to recognize Tauntaun as a word, whoa), one of the Frenchmen turns up at the fort – which we now learn is only about 13 miles from Glass…and said Frenchman is carrying a water flask that Bridger had left on Glass’ chest with a weak apology, earlier in the film. Assuming that the flask was dropped by Hawk, the Captain offers ten dollars to any man willing to head out with him on a search. They find Glass. Fitzgerald catches wind of it, and knowing his lies are falling apart, he takes off. The captain and Glass head out to find him, there are confrontations, and then another brutal battle where both Fitzgerald and Glass leave blood-covered chunks of the other in the snow. With Fitzgerald almost dead and taunting him about how he hopes revenge is enough, as it won’t bring Glass’ son back, Glass looks up and sees the Pawnees on the other side of the river. Remembering the words of the man who saved him, he pushes Fitzgerald into the river, where the current carries him to the Pawnee leader. Who kills him. As the band of Pawnee walk by on their horses, we see Powaqa, which is presumably the reason Glass is allowed to live.

Glass, left bleeding and weak by the side of the river, turns to look directly into the camera. Without a word, the screen fades to black.

There are a few things I want to look into: first, the film fails the Bechdel test with spectacular aplomb, so I’m curious as to whether there were women who worked as fur trappers (kind of like I’d never heard of lady pirates until a former roommate revealed her slight obsession with them). I want to know what Native American groups think of the portrayals of both the Pawnee and the Sioux. I want to read a bit more about the time period when the story takes place in general, to have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the entire unfortunate event. I appreciated that the film makes mention of things like “company store” contracts, and that it relies so heavily on imagery over dialogue (a good portion of which is subtitled). I’m curious as to other work by the director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (who wrote the piece with Mark L. Smith). And I might even want to read the book, if I get through my current “to read” pile any time soon.

Mostly, though, I want Leo to finally get his Oscar. He does a riveting job of bringing Glass to life, of showing the man’s depth of feeling and the range of emotions that shut down, one after another, as his desire for revenge overtakes everything else – and how letting that happen to him allows Glass to survive long enough to avenge his son’s death.

I’m not usually one for Westerns, so I’m not well-versed in the contrivances of the genre, but one thing that stands out to me as particularly smart was how Inarritu and Smith turned the convention of the kidnapped woman on its head. In something like The Searchers, and throughout Western (genre) literature, the idea of “the Indians” capturing the innocent white girl is pervasive; here, and perhaps in a more historically appropriate setup/synechdoce, it’s the white man who have kidnapped and brutalized a Native American woman. I don’t adore that the one named female character was basically there as motivation for the opening brutality, nor that she’s being repeatedly raped – that one hits a little close to truth, given national statistics about sexual violence against Native American women – but in terms of genre convention it was certainly a twist. 

Much like how I’m not a fan of car chases yet thought Mad Max: Fury Road was freakin’ amazing (another Tom Hardy flick, funnily enough), I highly recommend seeing The Revenant on the big screen in order to appreciate just how stunning the scenery really is – and to give you the best view of Leo’s raw emotive power during this two-and-a-half hour experience.

The Revenant is currently in theaters.

Capsule Reviews – Short SF and Fantasy Stories

In addition to writing short stories, I also enjoy reading them – just haven’t had much opportunity recently. That changed over the weekend, when I found out that I can subscribe to magazines over Kindle. (I know. I know. I knew in theory. Stop laughing.) So I did.

Here are a handful you might enjoy.

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, September 2015

Racing to Mars by Martin L. Shoemaker
A ship makes a trip to Mars to drop off some supplies, and one of the people along for the ride is the son of the company’s owner. Along the way, the spoiled brat is forced to grow up, and the narrating character – a woman whose medical career is on the ropes because she blew the whistle on medical negligence at an old job – watches it happen. Interesting because of what it says about how learning – sometimes forced – can overcome ignorance.

The Crashing of the Cloud by Norman Spinrad
Short, but I liked the twist at the end. Can’t say much more than that without giving it away.

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, july 2015

Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack
The tone of this story (and several others in the magazine) reminded me of China Mieville, Charles de Lint, or Neil Gaiman. To do with dreaming and mysticism. Interesting plot and characterization, though the general shape of the story is fairly familiar. Very entertaining and I liked the ways Pollack built her world. Vivid.

The Deepwater Bride by Tamsin Muir
I liked this one a lot. A weird, dreamy sort of language that was also forceful and specific as needed. The protagonist is a seer from a long line of seers, trying to find her way through a prophecy of death and destruction. Characters were well-drawn and vivid, and while I probably should have seen the final twist coming, I didn’t – and I loved the story all the more for that.

Dixon’s Road by Richard Chwedyk
An engaging concept, well-told. The home of a well-loved poet is run as a visitor center, there’s some interesting stuff done with time travel and relativity, and the narrating tour guide gives some insight into a well-constructed world that quickly becomes enjoyably familiar. Another one with a final twist – and not the one you think is coming midway through.

The Silicon Curtain: A Seastead Story by Naomi Kritzer
I’m not a reader of Kritzer’s series, so I’ve never encountered this world or characters before. It was still a fun adventure, though I feel like there were nuances to the tale that I would appreciate more if I had more familiarity with her world. Industrial espionage plot. I wasn’t entirely sure of the ages of the characters – teens or young adults or thirtysomethings – but this might be because I was reading on a plane. I might look for more of the books at some point.

There were other stories in each magazine, but I wasn’t particularly taken by them. Some were boring, some were borderline offensive, and more than a couple weren’t worth finishing. But I’d be interested in reading more from any of these writers, so even if you don’t feel like picking up the magazine, keep an eye out for their other work. And if you do, let me know what you think of it.

 

Review: FunkyFlick.com, A New Way To Find Movie Recommendations

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Funkyflick Company. All opinions are 100% mine.

In between blogging about Netflix, Hulu Plus and Aereo, one thing I don’t talk much about is how I actually find new movies to watch.

I keep lists from what people recommend to me, but just as often I’ll browse categories (like my documentary spree on Hulu the other day) and add things to my queue just because they look interesting. I’ve watched movies for work and research purposes (my binge of Shark Week programming earlier this year), for entertainment (I, like many of you, still catch myself humming Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen).

The flaw in this plan is, of course, that as a viewer, you’re often limited to whatever films, TV shows or books are available on the platform you’re searching – for example, if I open up my library app, I can search for books available through 3M but not what the NYC Library has available for Kindle. (I can get a fuller catalog search by going back to the actual NYPL site, but who wants to navigate that on their phone?)

The other day, at loose ends for something to watch, I checked out FunkyFlick.com, which claims to be able to find recommendations for movies, books and more based on what you already like. Okay, I thought, I’ll give this a go.

One of my favorite movies is (wait for it) Dogville by Lars von Trier, and while I completely acknowledge that von Trier has some major issues when it comes to dealing with women, his films really are a singular experience, often evoking particular emotional states and visceral moods. It’s hard to find other filmmakers whose work has the same effect on me as a viewer; I decided that looking up von Trier’s Dogville was a good way of testing just how robust it is.

The first handful of films that FunkyFlick.com recommended were actually other early works from von Trier, along with some more recent films and other pieces from the Dogme group. Then it got interesting. A couple of Westerns – High Plains Drifter, High Noon, Bad Day at Black Rock – popped up, along with the vampire horror flick 30 Days of Night.  Dear Wendy, a 2004 co-production between a bunch of European countries with von Trier as the writer (but it’s a comedy?) and a really neat-looking piece called Element of Crime about a British detective in Cairo all caught my eye. One horror film, Population 436, (about a census taker sent to a small town) looks like it might be a little scarier than I could handle, but I might give it a shot if it comes up.

I like that each of the films features a short trailer and a summary of the film, and while it might take some searching to find some of the more esoteric titles, at least now I have a way of finding actual recommendations – not just the cheesy “based on what you’ve watched, you might like” ideas that I’m usually handed by online recommendation systems.

All in all, FunkyFlick.com is an interesting site, and I would recommend anybody take a wee noodle around on it when they have a few extra minutes. You’ll definitely increase your to-watch list by (at least) a few titles.

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Fast Thoughts: The New Normal

Lots of one-liners and snarky comments, quick dialogue – the sort of thing we expect from Ryan Murphy (The O.C., Glee) – and not that it isn’t entertaining – but Ryan Murphy could easily cut the first half of the pilot episode  without losing necessary story points.

As it stood, it wasn’t until potential-surrogate-mom  interviews with potential-gay-dads that the show starts to feel like it’s moving somewhere, and we could have picked that background up through the episode’s later actions.

That said, the first half of this pilot episode is where much of the critical, reflective meat of the episode resides, laying out Murphy’s thesis for the show: that “Abnormal is the new normal.” There are some terrific moments here.

Example:
Kicking off a joke that defends “non-traditional” families with examples including Barack Obama and Mariah Carey, a scene follows where different types of families (IVF/single mom, mixed-race couple with hearing impairments, and a woman with a genetic disorder)  deliver their stories to the camera.
The diversity of the cast is not impressive (and if audiences and the media are going to call out GIRLS for that flaw, shouldn’t a show based on the idea that diversity is normal do a little better on this one?), but hopefully the characters will become a little more rounded as they have time to grow in the next few episodes. Example:
Early in the episode, when the Little-Miss-Sunshine type wise-beyond-her-years daughter of Potential Surrogate calls her great-grandmother out for bigotry. And then unfriends her.

The show also moves into some extremely uncomfortable ground regarding the commodification of women’s reproductive rights, and while Murphy’s heroes are motivated by their desire for a family, seeing multiple men sitting and discussing what makes a woman’s reproductive abilities “desirable” is slightly uncomfortable, given the current national “dialogue” on women’s agency and rights in reproductive matters. This kicks off around when the IVF (Salesman? Doctor?) compares potential surrogates to EZ Bake Ovens (with no legal rights to the cupcake).

If a combination of Raising Hope and Modern Family appeals, check out the pilot episode on Hulu and let me know what you think.

THEATER REVIEW: “The Beautiful Laugh” at La Mama

Clowning is a respected art with a long history, distinct from other forms of theater. My understanding of clowning comes out of familiarity with more classical European traditions, such as Marcel Marceau and the Commedia Del Arte style captured so excellently in The Corn Exchange’s production of Dublin by Lamplight, or the Harlequin story as viewed through the memory of a production I saw at Tivoli, in Cophenhagen, when I was about seven years old. In these forms, it’s often the precision of physical movement that distinguishes the skilled from the unskilled performer.

The style of clowning used in That Beautiful Laugh is different. It is a physical kind of comedy, related – particularly in the case of performer Carlton Ward – to circus acts and Coney Island contortionists, but it is also a comedy of noises and expression.

At the top of the show, a narrator (Alan Tudyk of Firefly, Dollhouse, Suburgatory and more) explains that there are multiple kinds of laughs, and lists some – as we wind through the cyclical routines presented by Flan (Tudyk), Ian (Ward) and Darla Waffles Something (Julia Ogilvie), the audience is no doubt meant to experience some of these different kinds of laughs. Whether or not the ultimate laugh – that beautiful laugh – is attained is, I suspect, largely in the hands of the audience on any given night.