LUTCHER THEATER – A FONT OF THEATRICAL TREASURES AND A REVIEW OF SOMETHING ROTTEN

SHORT TAKE:

Go to the Lutcher Theater in Orange, Texas to take advantage of all its theatrical delights.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Everyone, depending on the age appropriateness of the play being offered.

LONG TAKE:

Something Rotten has come and gone from the Lutcher Theater, but more about that later.

My husband and I have been to this lovely performing arts venue, the Lutcher Theater, many times. They are nestled in Orange, Texas at 707 W. Main Ave. and their season never disappoints.  You can get tickets here for the shows remaining season and for information for seasons to come.  We highly recommend you frequent this treasure. From the well chosen plays to the building itself, where there are no bad seats, we suggest you discover for yourself the Lutcher Theater and all the theatrical magic it has to offer.

Recently we traveled to see Something Rotten. I mean, it isn’t rotten. Well, the play we saw IS Something Rotten, but it is not, in fact, ANY kind of rotten. It really is, actually, wonderful. Nominated for dozens of awards, the play garnered Christian Borle the 2015 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Cleverly conceived and amusingly told, Something Rotten’s title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s most well known play, Hamlet, when Marcellus, a soldier who has seen the ghost of their deceased king, warns that “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” But the play Something Rotten is most definitely NOT – rotten.

Something Rotten musically tells the story of the two Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, who are rather good playwrights. However, they have the great misfortune of being contemporaries of, and therefore, competitors with — Shakespeare.

The tone is self-parody but the execution is erudite. While the whole thing is a hoot and laugh out loud funny in the witty lyrics and energetic pacing, it is steeped – DEEPLY – as you might expect, in Shakespearean language.

HOWEVER, EVEN if you’ve never heard a word of Hamlet, or Much Ado; if you think of Othello as only a board game and MacBeth may as well be in Swahili for all the sense it makes to you, you will still find Something Rotten very entertaining, but then you’ll miss the rich pudding of inside jokes. Almost every line, situation, and concept is referential to a Bardian play, and skewed by droll songs into a reflective parody. It’s comical and self-aware, often skating right up to that fourth wall but never quite breaking it.

And if that were not enough, there are homages to dozens and dozens of other Broadway shows. In the song, “A Musical,” for example, there are at least 20 allusions to other Broadway outings from Suessical to Sweeney Todd, from Annie to Evita. But you have to be quick to catch all the lines of lyric or iconic musical phrases.

And anachronisms abound. It’s a translation, if you will, of what the Renaissance might have been like in London, seen through modern eyes. Shakespeare is treated like a rock star, holding MTV-style stage performances of his sonnets and signing autographs on women’s bosoms. In “It’s Hard to be The Bard”  he moans of his own self-doubts in having to one-up himself with every play – a sentiment which I’m sure can be shared by every high performing actor and director in Hollywood. While the Bottom brothers moan their financial doldrums and the older brother loathes the far more successful Will Shakespeare in “I Hate Shakespeare,” his younger brother Nigel is a fan.  Frustrated and desperate, Nick seeks out the fortune teller, Nostradamus, who sings his predictions of the future, in “A Musical.”

Meanwhile, Nick’s wife, Portia, decides to dress up like a man and go out to earn some much needed rent money in “Right Hand Man,”and Puritans seek to close Nick down or have him beheaded. If the names and some of the situations ring a Shakespearean bell, that is because they are supposed to.

To get a delectable taste of the show watch here as the Broadway cast performs two songs on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

The costumes are period, the performers we saw were child-on-a-sugar-high, contagious level energetic. I do not know what troupe you might see but the musical lends itself to an upbeat, feel-good time for all.

But it is not FOR all audience members. The language can get rough and, while nothing is seen or done, the topics of conversation occasionally veer into the bawdy.

While no longer, at the moment, in Beaumont, you can catch this little gem on its tour around the country. And if you can’t catch up to it geographically, do not dismay. I predict that some day soon this will be transformed into a movie. It’s too delicious not — to be. (See what I did there?)

 

TAG – GOOFY MOVIE GIVES GOOD ADVICE

SHORT TAKE:

Based loosely on the real life camaraderie amongst 10 friends who have been playing the same game of Tag one month a year for 30 years, the movie Tag focuses on a representative five, plus one wife, a fiancee, and a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who breaks the story to the world.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Not for kids. Young adults and up only. The language and topics discussed are often raw and juvenilely crude and graphic. And the stunts these men are shown to pull are dangerous even under the supervision of stunt men, as Jeremy Renner found out. You would not want young impressionable kids trying to imitate them. UNLESS you want to show them clips and this photo to make the point – DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME!!!

LONG TAKE:

"You do not stop playing games because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing games." This rather wise saying by George Bernard Shaw is the avowed, often repeated, theme of the movie Tag.

I have often advised my girls and teased my husband and sons that I do not believe men ever really get beyond the age of 13. Be they the Pope, your husband, your 80 year old grandfather, your investment broker, or your doctor, they hit puberty and that's — that. The only difference amongst them is their ability to hide it. It's one of the things that is most charming about them and used properly is a superpower.

And for anyone who does not believe me, you should see Tag, the movie, based on a real group of ten men, written up in a 2013 Wall Street Journal  article by Russell Adams.. Back row, from left to right: Mike Konesky, Bill Akers, Patrick Shultheis, Mark Mengert, Chris Ammann and Brian Dennehy. Front row, from left to right: Father Sean Raftis, Joey Tambari, Joe Caferro and Rick Bruya. (Courtesy of Father Sean Raftis ) These men, from all walks of life, one a priest, met at a Catholic school and  have been playing the same game of Tag, on and off, for THIRTY years. The Tag Brothers as they call themselves, particpate in this childlike joyous event for one month every year as a way to keep in touch —- literally — with each other. They have played despite and sometimes because of: births, deaths, weddings, illness and distances. They have tagged each other, in real life, by their own admission: in disguise, after flying hundreds of miles, appearing at family events, and even breaking into each others' HOMES! It's a wonder none of them have shot the other yet. One got tagged during his father's funeral – the taggee acknowledging it was a form of comfort and condolence and that his father, a big supporter of their game, would have thought funny. The group collected to support one of them when his wife was undergoing chemo and tagged him there. They have tagged each other when wives were in labor, and even when those children were being conceived!! (I do NOT even want to IMAGINE that one!) It is the way these men have chosen to stay friends.

As funny as this premise is you'd think it would be a one trick pony, perhaps documentary worthy but not enough to carry a movie. But you'd be wrong. The screenwriters, Rob McKittrich and Mark Steilen, have rather cleverly condensed the reality and formed it into an analogy for what keeps people together.

SPOILERS

Obviously an ensemble cast, to introduce them in rough order of appearance: Ed Helms as Hoagie, a successful veterinarian married to Isla Fisher’s extremely competitive Anna. Jon Hamm plays Bob, a wealthy CEO of a drug manufacturing company. Annabelle Willis is Rebecca, the reporter who embeds herself into the group. Jake Johnson is "Chili," the loser friend, stuck in his hippie, weed smoking, teenaged days.  Hannibal Buress is Sable, an air-heady sweet guy who sees life existentially. And then there is Jerry – Jeremy "Hawkeye" and "Bourne" Renner  – waxing and waning with the group as they pursue him during his wedding preparations. He is the main target this year because, in thirty years of playing tag with these same four friends, he has NEVER —- BEEN —– TAGGED, and rumor has it he will retire at the end of the month. And there is almost no lengths to which these men will go – physically, legally or in mental gamesmanship – in order to avoid being the last "it" – or to end the game without Jerry beng tagged at least once.

The personalities in the story are composites. There are no comparable individuals who are directly represented in the movie, but the premise and inspiration which ignited this crazy story did and does continue. The game, as it were, is STILL a foot!

WSJ also published the Tag Agreement drafted and signed as young adults by the Tag Brothers, based upon the rules they followed as children.

I normally consider profanity in movies largely a lack of creativity. But I have to admit on some level it is appropriate in Tag. Once the game is on, the men revert to the crude one-upsman language of adolescent teenagers – comparing and hitting genitalia, awkwardly throwing out "cuss" words, and using profanity as though they are trying to win a secondary competition for the most vulgarity. But this is what little boys do. They play rough and crash headlong in and through windows, businesses, private homes, yards and garbage cans during the chases. So energetic were the scenes as filmed that during one failed stunt involving a stack of chairs Jeremy Renner broke bones in both arms. The rest of the movie was filmed having to CGI around the "green screen" casts he had to wear.

But what was most charming about Tag was the moral to the story. Jerry, the all time champion who had never been tagged, knew everything about his friends. He knew how they thought, acted, what they did for a living, the strengthes and weaknesses of their personalities and could thereby anticipate any schemes to trap him. This, and his almost superhuman running speed, has kept him the reigning champion for 30 years. Ironically, but in hindsight predictably, his friends knew very little about him. They didn't know he was getting married or to whom. They didn't know he had a drinking problem or that he was in AA – until they bribe one of Jerry's own employees to rat out Jerry's location. Jerry may have been the Olympic Tag gold medalist but the cost was not spending any time with his friends during the one month the rest were together scheming to get him. Tag deals with the 30 years resolution to this conundrum.

It is the heart to this goofy movie which helps ratchet up Tag above its threadbare premise.

Another clever and memorable aspect to Tag are the homages to other movie genres. A number of schemes are attempted to tag Jerry. One plays out like a classic monster movie as the group moves through a foggy forest. Another scenario includes Jerry's internal POV as a voice over describing his analysis of their attacks and how he plans to countermand them – much like Downey, Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes. Other scenes give nods to Renner's stint as the Bourne Legacy character Aaron Cross as he uses everything from tablecloths to donuts and a walker to thwart his friends and leaps chairs, through windows and around staircases with an agility that his own Hawkeye would have admired.

As ridiculous as this movie is, I could not help but smile at the irresistable charm of grown men letting loose in a spirit of genuine fun with their friends. If the quote by Shaw is right, the Tag Brothers will remain eternally young as they keep their bonds of friendship alive. And that is a game worth playing.

THOR: RAGNAROK – EXACTLY WHAT IT SHOULD BE

The wise and ancient Greek aphorism "Know thyself" which was said to hang in the forecourt at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi can apply to many things, even to movies. Movies of a particular genre are best when they adhere to the rules of their own known Universe. A romance should have long gazes and lovers who overcome obstacles. Horror movies should have jump scares. Disaster flicks should feature near misses and heroic self sacrifice. And movies based on comic books should bear the irreverent broad strokes of plot and illustration from which they originate.

Suffice it to say that Thor: Ragnarok understands its pedigree and is abundantly familiar with its own inner workings.

The premise, obvious from the title, is another in the line of adventures featuring Thor, Son of Odin and god of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth). Here he seeks to prevent the foretold, Ragnarok, the fiery destruction of Asgard, his home world.

SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THOR: THE DARK WORLD

Thor’s goal is complicated by Loki (Tom Hiddleson) who is hiding in the guise of Odin.

SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THE THOR: RAGNAROK TRAILERS

Thor is also hindered in his quest by Hela, the goddess of death, (Cate Blanchett) and by The Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum) who conscripts him into a gladiatorial competition against Hulk (Mark Ruiffalo).

This is a movie which THANKFULLY does NOT take itself too seriously. The colors are bright, the tale is full of creatures and fighting,    narrow escapes and changing alliances, spaceships, and the most unexpected cameos in the strangest places and characters which are WAAAAY over the top.

Jeff Goldblum’s Grand Master appears often as a hundred story hologram to his city which is imagined as the world’s biggest gameshow.

Hiddleson brings back Loki, the favorite Avenger Universe character one loves to hate in all of his snarky, clever, quipping, never-quite-absolutely-sure-what-he’s-going-to-do-next, ever so fun unpredictability. And every once in a while you get the feeling he is the only sensible adult in a room of idealistic children.

Anthony Hopkins reprises his role as Odin – first, in a comic turn, as Loki pretending to be Odin, then as the real Odin bringing to bear all of Hopkins’ Odin’s gentle dignity as a king and father.

Cate Blanchett’s Hela sports long dark hair which, when she brushes it back with her hands become enormous imposing deer antlers – a look, (much like Jason Isaacs’ ridiculously tall beaver hat adorning his Colonel Tavington in The Patriot), which only the likes of a great actor such as herself could sell as frightening.

As a side note, it is interesting to consider that Blanchett also played Galadriel, another extremely powerful supernatural being – the Queen Mother of the elves in Lord of the Rings who, when offered the Ring by Frodo gave a terrifying vision to Frodo should she accept:

"In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!"

But who then musters heroic self restraint and refuses ownership of the treacherous Ring.

"I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel. "

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeell just imagine if Galadriel had hungrily embraced the proffered ornament, eagerly put it on her finger, crushed Lord Sauron between her greedy fingers then you would get an idea of Hela – the flip side of Galadriel.

  And Blanchett has a Hela-va (think about it) good time munching on this role. She chews scenery, mows down soldiers, blows up castles and mews theatrically about being so very unappreciated in magnificent anti-hero finery. Hela is a worthy counterpoint to Thor’s beautifully strutting, splendidly self-aware position as the hero of the story.

But the story is not nearly as Wagernian as you might think, as characters, in very human fashion – make mistakes, trip, run into walls and annoy each other.

The screenwriters manage to run right up to that line in the sand between parody and affectionate homage and occasionally even plant one foot on either side. But they keep the ebb and flow between the comedy and genuine tragedy balanced as skillfully as a sword juggler at a PT Barnum circus.

Thor: Ragnarok is exactly what it should be: a live action comic book, brought to a gloriously larger than life by its director Taiha Waititi a New Zealand born child of both Maori and Jewish heritage, who also plays a wry rock monster gladiator named Korg.

Thor: Ragnarok is a perfect example of its kind. Like a two hour Disney ride it leaves you awash in eye-popping breath taking images, gentle humor which makes otherwise grandiose heroes familiar, and a plot which will carry you along like the Kali Rapids River Ride at Disneyworld. Thor: Ragnarok is, at turns, funny, heart-wrenching, heroic, endearing and ridiculous in only the way a comic book hero can come alive.

So grab your popcorn, turn your brain off and let Thor: Ragnarok take you on one of the most entertaining rides of the year. Had they been part of the same mythology, Thor: Ragnarok would have made Apollo proud.

AMERICAN MADE – FITTING SUCCESSOR TO RISKY BUSINESS

In 1983 Tom Cruise launched himself into stardom with his first leading role as Joel Goodson (no symbolism here, eh?) in Risky Business. Risky Business is the iconic story of a promising kid who through a series of serendipitous events goes from clean cut  college applicant to wildly successful pimp in the course of a long weekend while his parents are away. To this day people debate whether it was a social commentary, a smart offshoot of the Animal House genre, a drama with comedic elements or a black comedy. In many ways it is really a cynical tragedy of the ease with which innocence can be corrupted.

But there is no debate about the fact this movie was the start of Cruise's virtually unbroken line of blockbuster hits – Top Gun, Rain Man, A Few Good Men, The Firm, Interview With a Vampire, the Mission Impossible franchise, Jerry Maguire, Minority Report, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow all profit hugely from that boyish winsome smile, comic timing, bursting energy, and obvious enthusiasm for his characters. His willingness to perform his own stunts is legendary and he must have hired Dorian Gray's painter because at 55 he doesn't look much older than he did as Joel sliding across his parents' marble floor lipsyncing to Bob Seeger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" in his break out performance.

Now comes American Made, a fitting title for a movie starring a man whose acting career is the epitome of the American dream. In Risky Business Joel becomes a manipulative self-styled entrepreneur who takes immoral advantage of the free enterprise system. In American Made, the real life Barry Seal, drug and gun smuggler, CIA courier and informant echoes in real life everything extreme about the fictional Joel's reel life in Risky Business. I can't help but think of American Made as the sequel to Risky Business. In addition, the most significant events depicted in American Made took place in the early '80's – coincidentally the same time frame in which Joel was setting up his one night brothel. I love the poetic symmetry of Cruise in both of those roles hovering about the same time period. And it can be neither a coincidence nor an unintentional homage which makes sunglasses a repeated motiff of Barry's image in American Made when the most iconic portrait of Joel from Risky Business is the poster which features Cruise as Joel peering slyly over a pair of  sunglasses. It is an in joke for anyone who has seen both movies.

American Made is the biography, told in self-made video tapes of Barry Seal. Tom Cruise quipped that Barry Seal reminded him of a Mark Twain character – pilot, devoted family man, faithful husband, good father, who also happens to be a drug smuggler, and CIA courier. At the start of the movie Barry flies for TWA but sidelines as a smuggler of Cuban cigars. His skill at this is notices by one Monty Schafer (Domhnall "Bill Weasley" Gleeson) of the CIA.

As an aside, Domhnall , although born in Dublin and the son of Brendan "Mad Eye Moody" Gleeson, does a very credible American accent.

Monty hires Barry to take photos over South America, then to be a courier between the CIA and General Noriega in Panama. Dissatisfied with the pay he is getting from the government Barry accepts an offer from the Medellin Cartel to fly cocaine, which side business is winked at by his government handlers. Assuming even half of the crazy stuff that is conveyed in the movie is true, Barry makes so much money he literally can not find enough places to store it. There is only so much laundering he can do in the small town of Mena, Arkansas where he has been put up by Monty and wisely tries not to be too flamboyant in his living habits. Joel would have been delighted.

The director, Doug Liman, chose an interesting style with which to film. The Universal logo "glitches" from the 21st century high definition we are now used to seeing to the 1970's version, making use of a random optical texture technique naturally created in old film stock by the grains which would occasionally appear in film and scratch it. He also uses the poor visual quality of the grainy old taped video to realistically show the cheap tapes on which Barry documented his exploits. This film quality effect sucks us into the time period as readily as the dated hair styles and leather jackets.

    While I understand from the article about the real man that Cruise looks nothing like the overweight Barry Seal, there is one thing spot on naturally between the two of them and that's the grin.

This is one of those rare occasions where the trailer gives nothing away. I will say this – if you liked the trailer for American Made, you'll like the movie because the movie is just more of what you see in the trailer. The language is raw, there are some adult scenes of marital intimacy, and violence is accurately portrayed.

There is a motto I have told our kids. I hope it has sunk in over the years – some money is just too expensive to get. If this IS Joel from Risky Business all grown up then he has obviously learned nothing from the danger and betrayal he experienced. But perhaps, like the gambler who lives not for the win, but for that moment when the coin flip is in the air and the possibilities APPEAR endless, Barry did what he did for the thrill of it. The way he was portrayed in the movie, Barry certainly didn't seem to need, want or respect the vast amounts of cash he was paid. The mind blowing quantities of ill gotten bills seemed to be more of an inconvenience than a dream fulfilled.

American Made is fascinating in the same way that is watching an unavoidable train wreck in progress. The entire time I was writing this review I couldn't get Glenn Frey's prescient and period perfect 1984 song out of my head, especially the lines:

I'm sorry it went down like this,

Someone had to lose,

It's the nature of the business,

It's the….Smuggler's Blues.

Alas Joel. Alas Barry.