Friday, August 11, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: Opening Nights



Health and family issues conspired, sadly, to prevent me from attending an opening night at Los Angeles' storied Ahmanson Theatre since the end of last year.  Thankfully, I was able to break out of this vicious cycle last week in time for the LA premiere of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Not only was this 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Play (in addition to several other Tonys) outstanding in virtually every way, but I was seated next to out actor-screenwriter Peter Paige (the US Queer as Folk, The Fosters) as well as just down from the fabulous, always friendly Wilson Cruz.  Cruz will soon be seen as one of the first two openly gay characters ever to grace a Star Trek TV series, with Broadway's Anthony Rapp playing his partner.


Curious Incident isn't a gay-themed play per se.  Adapted from Mark Haddon's bestselling 2003 novel by Simon Stephens, it follows the adventures of 15-year old Christopher Boone.  This intelligent British teen lives with his widowed father and is apparently on the autism spectrum, though this is never specifically mentioned.  Christopher has very particular likes and dislikes, doesn't relate well to other people and hates to be touched.  He has affection for his pet rat Toby, as well as video games, Sherlock Holmes detective stories and his neighbor's dog.

One night, Christopher discovers the dog next door dead in its yard, a pitchfork protruding from its side.  He sets out to discover who could have committed such a ghastly, seemingly unwarranted act.  The incident proves to be just the tip of the iceberg for Christopher, who ends up uncovering family secrets that lead him to travel alone (well, with Toby) beyond his home town for the first time.


The production is stunningly, engrossingly directed by Marianne Elliott, whose current London revival of Angels in America is drawing similar raves to her Tony Award-winning work on this.  Elliott and her design team do an impressive, at times overwhelming job of staging the action from Christopher's perspective.  It is frequently but necessarily loud, busy and visually irritating.  Audience members can't help but feel what life for someone living with autism or Asperger's must be like.

While the entire, notably diverse cast of the touring production is exceptional, young Adam Langdon was nothing less than amazing as Christopher during the opening night performance (Benjamin Wheelwright alternates in the role during Saturday and Sunday matinees).  It would be a demanding, challenging role for the most experienced actors but Langdon portrays Christopher beautifully, with both sensitivity and profound strength.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Ahmanson through September 10th and will then resume its national tour.  It absolutely should not be missed.


Speaking of opening nights, there is a fun, new, gay-interest film with that very title now available on DVD from Wolfe Video.  Opening Night finds a strong roster of both characters and actors occupying Isaac Rentz's backstage musical-comedy.  Topher Grace (where has he been?) headlines as Nick, the flummoxed stage manager of a new Broadway musical entitled One Hit Wonderland.  A celebration of such 1980's and 90's songs as "Rock Me Amadeus," "I Melt With You" and "Living La Vida Loca" ("Come On Eileen" is conspicuously missing) the show stars NSYNC's JC Chasez.  These and other musical numbers are energetically choreographed by Aakomon Jones of Pitch Perfect and Dreamgirls fame, assisted by Amy Allen.

Anne Heche plays the musical's Cher-esque leading lady but a backstage accident sidelines her.  Her understudy, who also happens to be Nick's ex-girlfriend, assumes the role to the initial chagrin of the production's high-strung producer (Rob Riggle).  Meanwhile, gay dancer Malcolm (the always delicious Taye Diggs) is battling a hilariously foul-mouthed Lesli Margherita for the attentions of the show's hot new male dancer.

The movie's plot doesn't amount to much but it serves as a great showcase for the cast as well as its retro song score.  Andre Lascaris's colorful, dynamic cinematography is also of note.  Opening Night is great for a quiet summer night at home, especially for fans of its showcased one-hit wonders.


My personal travails earlier this summer also prohibited me from reviewing two new-ish films that demand attention.  The Ornithologist, by gay, Portuguese writer-director Joao Pedro Rodrigues, isn't unlike a queer film as directed by David Lynch.  The film's hunky title character, Fernando (played by Paul Hamy), encounters all sorts of unusual people and adventures as he paddles down a river searching for rare birds.  Cute, deaf-mute Jesus (Xelo Cagiao) is memorable as a lonely goatherd who crosses Fernando's path with dramatic results.  There is also plentiful Catholic imagery at play, which naturally caught Reverend's attention along with the men on display.


And then there is South Korean filmmaker's Joon-ho Bong's Okja, now available on Netflix as well as in some US theaters.  Alternately delightful and disturbing, it is at heart an E.T.-like story of a girl and her beloved giant, genetically-engineered pig friend.  Young Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) embarks on a journey to the decadent old US of A when Okja is abducted by the evil corporation that created it, headed by Tilda Swinton in dual roles as the company's hilariously insecure CEO and her downright vicious sister.  Mija and Okja also become targets of an animal rights group and a demented TV host à la the late Steve Irwin, portrayed by a surprisingly whacked-out Jake Gyllenhaal.  The remainder of the movie's all-star, multi-national cast includes Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins and The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun.  Okja isn't for kids, despite its cute & cuddly star, but it serves as a potent adult fable.  Have some hankies handy.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (on tour): A
Opening Night: B
The Ornithologist: B+
Okja: A-

Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to let you know how appreciated your work is. You help us keep current on gay film.

    ReplyDelete

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