Terrence Winter – Empire of Television

So the season finale of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire was controversial, dramatic, and unexpected, but most of all artistic.

A Return to Normalcy

Image via Wikipedia - Michael Pitt & Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi is obviously the lead character. It’s his first major lead role and he was impressive to say the least. However, this series made Michael Pitt a star on many levels for his portrayal of war hero James Darmody. Most of my friends watched the show because they were intrigued by Pitt and his visceral transformation.

This is where I have to applaud the shows creator, Terence Winter, for killing off James Darmody, the most intriguing character AND star of the show in the final episode of season two. Winter’s decision to kill off Pitt’s character was definitely not fan friendly and at the same time challenges the success of the next season. But given the context of the story, the decision was realistic to how it would play out in real life.

It’s nice to see a major television production take thei kind of risk. I personally think season three will be even better because the quality of the writing and acting carry the show. It’s a refreshing change to see Hollywood focusing on writing and acting as opposed to audience approval!

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Marky Mark Wahlberg

I just saw The Fighter and once again Mark Wahlberg gives a solid performance, enough to get a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Actor. But I keep asking myself the same question. Is Mark Wahlberg a good actor?

For some reason, I always leave a “Wahlberg” movie and wonder if I just saw a good actor or Wahlberg playing himself on camera. Look, I am not a hater. I am not saying he’s a bad actor. But I do question the similarity of his roles.

Lets take a look at four of Wahlberg’s vintage performances. In Boogie Nights, he plays a porn star. In Three Kings, he plays a solider. In Four Brothers, he plays a tough guy. In The Fighter, he plays a boxer. Are these characters that far off from the Marky Mark tough guy image he portrayed growing up?

Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, Three Kings, Four Brothers, & The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, Three Kings, Four Brothers, & The Fighter

At the end of the day, everyone gets typecast. Julia Roberts is Julia Roberts in almost every movie she plays. Some people return to the movies to see Julia play Julia. I don’t fall into that category. Personally, when I see actors play roles that fit their image, I am less likely to find them interesting as the character.

I would like to see Wahlberg leave his comfort zone as an actor so I can get a true sense of his range. Of course, that “choice” isn’t always the actor’s and more likely the producer’s and casting director’s. But if you are listening Marky Mark, surprise me with a non-Wahlberg type role. Oh yeah, also, if you actually are listening, you are the best actor of all time! …… I have to protect myself, the guy is jacked.

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There Will Be Blood …. From a Stone

Previews are awesome! It’s nice to see a mature Broadway show, but there is something to be said about the rawness of a preview. I recently saw “Blood from a Stone” in previews at the Acorn Theatre and it was just that …. raw, but in a good way. The play, written by Tommy Nohilly and directed by Scott Elliott, is a darkly comic portrayal of a working-class family in New Britain, CT.

Here are my Top 5 reasons to see “Blood from a Stone” at the Acorn Theater:

1)   Ethan Hawke
2)   Gordon Clapp
3)   Broken Windows and leaking ceilings
4)   Blood and fighting
5)   Dysfunctional family issues

Gordon Clapp, Thomas Guiry, and Ethan Hawke in “Blood From a Stone,” at the Acorn Theater.

Gordon Clapp, Thomas Guiry, and Ethan Hawke in “Blood From a Stone,” at the Acorn Theater.

Gordon Clapp and Ethan Hawke are exceptional as father and son respectively in “Blood From a Stone.” You probably know Clapp from his days as Detective Greg Medavoy on NYPD Blue. He raises the stakes to a new level in this play. Clapp’s interaction with his family (wife, two sons, and a daughter) is the most engaging part of the play. Natasha Lyonne, who plays Hawke’s sister, also is outstanding in her one scene with Hawke. Gemma Wilson from the Broadway Buzz recently interviewed her about the role. Read about it here.

At one point during the play, when everyone was laughing hysterically, my buddy Jesse turned to me and said “I don’t think this is very funny.” He was right. It was depressing, but it was also funny and you didn’t know whether to laugh at the family or feel sorry for them.

My critique would be that the ending didn’t seem to work. There is so much character development throughout the play that I was hoping for some sort of resolution or answers to my questions. An audience member said that they recently cut the length of the play so I am sure they are adjusting a few things to bring a little more color to the ending.

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Kidman or Nixon

Nicole Kidman bought the rights to Rabbit Hole while it was still playing on Broadway in 2006. She had the playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire, adapt his script into a screenplay and she hired John Cameron Mitchell as the director. She also co-produced the movie. So obviously Kidman casts herself as Becca Corbett, the lead, in this recently released movie.

I am not taking anything away from Nicole Kidman. She obviously gave an incredible performance. But, Rabbit Hole is an Indie film. Why not reward one of the best and hardest working theater actors (AKA Cynthia Nixon) with a role she deserves? After all, Nixon did win a Tony Award for her role in Rabbit Hole on Broadway in 2006. She also has plenty of on-screen experience to go with her many Broadway credits. For those of you who have never turned on a TV, she played Miranda in Sex and the City.

Cynthia Nixon & Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole"

Cynthia Nixon & Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole"

I guess you could make the argument that Kidman sells tickets, but the film has only grossed around $195,000 to date. Given that Rabbit Hole is the first movie Kidman has produced, I personally think it would have been a better move for her to cast someone else (Cynthia Nixon) as the lead. And why not add John Slattery into the mix? He also won praise for his role as Howie Corbett on Broadway.

John Slattery & Aaron Eckhart in "Rabbit Hole"

John Slattery & Aaron Eckhart in "Rabbit Hole"

Call me crazy, but I just like to see actors get rewarded for their work. And I personally think working actors on Broadway and Off-Broadway are the best in the business. When two people produce something as incredible as Nixon and Slattery did in Rabbit hole on Broadway, I think they deserve a shot on the big screen!

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Swan Method

Director Darren Aronofsky has done it again. The Wrestler was full of great acting, but Black Swan is full of great acting AND great directing. Furthermore, Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career.

In a strange way, I think many people can relate to Black Swan, particularly performing artists. Artists have been known to lose their minds through rehearsal and performance. Granted, we might not lose it completely like Portman’s character Nina Sayers, but I think it’s easy to empathize with someone who has given up everything to become someone or something else (in Sayer’s case, the Swan Queen).

Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"

Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"

To anyone who has inhabited a character as an actor or dancer by using the Method approach, losing your mind and/or confusion is not all that uncommon. Nina Sayers appears to have become the “Black Swan” through the Method. With pressure to perform in the role, a demanding choreographer, jealous dancers, and a weird sexual tension from her mother, it’s no surprise that Sayers goes crazy. Having said all that, it would be interesting to find out how Portman herself prepared for the role in the movie.

Barbara Hershey, who you might remember from Beaches, and Vincent Cassel are exceptional. Hershey plays Sayer’s mother and reminds me of Nurse Ratched in that sick and evil way. Cassel is just plain funny, but believable in his role as the sleazy and arrogant choreographer Thomas Leroy. And yes, Mila Kunis is hot as Lily.

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Middle of Nowhere

You are probably thinking I am going to have more positive comments about some off-Broadway play. And honestly, Time Out Magazine is usually spot-on and they give Middletown four stars. However, I think Middletown missed the mark.

It wasn’t the simplicity of the production that threw me off. It was the acting that bothered me. And I do like simple productions. I might have even shed a tear during Our Town this year. But, in Middletown, the actors seemed to be speaking over each other. It’s such a small theater, yet they never seemed to talk and listen to one another.

Georgia Engel, James McMenamin, and Michael Park in "Middletown"

Georgia Engel, James McMenamin, and Michael Park in "Middletown"

As a side note, I was lucky enough to sit next to a guy who knew quite a bit about some current off-Broadway productions. He highly recommends After the Revolution at Playwrights Horizons and Angels in America at Signature Theatre Company.

On a positive note, I really like the Vineyard Theatre. It’s comfortable and every seat has a great view. It is just the right size for an off-Broadway production. Along with Playwrights Horizons and Primary Stages at 59E59, The Vineyard Theater is definitely one of the better venues in the city.

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Michael Shannon – No Mistakes Made

Michael Shannon is arguably one of the finest actors of this generation. While most people know him for his work in Revolutionary Road and Boardwalk Empire, Shannon is currently starring as Producer Felix Artifex in Craig Wright’s Mistakes Were Made at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City.

So much of great acting is what the actor does between the lines. Most of this play involves Shannon listening and responding to someone on the other end of the phone. Shannon juggles phone calls from the writer, the actor, agents, the theater owner, the director, costume designer, his ex-wife, and a Middle Eastern thug. The audience never sees any of these eight people in the play, but Shannon somehow gives them specificity through these conversations.

Michael Shannon & Ross Newman

Michael Shannon & Ross Newman

As an actor, I feel privileged to be able to watch Shannon at work in such an intimate setting. His talent and work ethic are unparalleled. I got a chance to talk to him after the play. He couldn’t have been a nicer guy and was genuinely interested as to how I received the play. He also was kind enough to shed some light on his rehearsal process.

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Balm’s Away

Cutting edge theater is currently being performed off-off Broadway. If you have any doubts, Peter Jensen’s production of Balm in Gilead at the Terry Schreiber Studio should be enough to convince you.

It’s difficult enough to manage an acting troupe of four or five, but Jensen somehow gives life to 29 actors in a brilliantly staged production. From heroine addicts to prostitutes (both male and female) to thieves to junkies to a naïve young woman to a café manager, all of these characters manage to live on a set together. Add a quartet of street singers and what you have is a very entertaining and engaging production of Lanford Wilson’s first full-length play.

Lawrence Crimlis, Jonathan Wilde, and Ian Campbell in "Balm in Gilead"

Lawrence Crimlis, Jonathan Wilde, and Ian Campbell in "Balm in Gilead"

Standouts:

1) Lawrence Crimlis – Flawless as Dopey, an older junkie & the play’s narrator.
2) Matt Brogan’s set design – The 1960’s diner on the UWS is totally believable.
3) Anne Wingate’s costumes – Adds detail to the period.

Yeah, I might be biased. After all, I act at Terry Schreiber Studio and I take classes with Peter Jensen. But I like to think I am a pretty straight shooter. I think there is something for everyone in this play. For $20 a ticket, I think Balm in Gilead might be the best deal going ON or OFF Broadway today!

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“Time” for Great Acting

In my opinion, the most talented actors are the ones who can play a wide range of roles. Sure, Julia Roberts is great, but Julia Roberts is Julia Roberts in about every movie she plays (leaving Erin Brockovich aside).

How cool is it to watch an actor go from playing Shrek to playing a war reporter …..

Brian d'Arcy James in Shrek & Time Stands Still

Brian d'Arcy James in "Shrek" & "Time Stands Still"

…. or to watch an actress go from playing Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family to playing the young girlfriend of an older man !

Christina Ricci in The Addams Family & Time Stands Still

Christina Ricci in "The Addams Family" & "Time Stands Still"

Brian d’Arcy James and Christina Ricci show this extraordinary versatility in Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, now playing at the Cort Theatre on Broadway. Laura Linney and Eric Bogosian complete the cast.

I thought the acting was exceptional and there was a nice mix of comedy and drama in the dialogue. The plot was just OK, but watching James and Linney at their best made up for it!

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Boardwalk Top 10

I don’t know why I keep writing about HBO, but it might have something to do with the fact that HBO has the best programming on television.

I am not going to bore you with an elaborate post about Boardwalk Empire. I am just going to list the top 10 reasons why Boardwalk Empire is a KILLER show:

1)   Martin Scorsese
2)   Michael Shannon
3)   Steve Buscemi
4)   Naked women
5)   Al Capone
6)   The Prohibition
7)   1920’s
8)   Corruption
9)   Gambling
10) Atlantic City Boardwalk

Oh, did I mention that there are beautiful naked women on the show? Yes, I guess I did (#4). Good, I just wanted to make sure. To Paz de la Huerta, wherever you are …. I love you.

Steve Buscemi & Paz de la Huerta in Boardwalk Empire

Steve Buscemi & Paz de la Huerta in Boardwalk Empire

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