Friday, June 19, 2015

Play Review: NSFW by Lucy Kirkwood

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Last week I saw tickets on Goldstar for the show NSFW, which was at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda. Since the tickets were cheap and I could walk to the venue, I made an impulse purchase and bought one ticket to see the play on my own.

At first, I was supposed to sit in the VERY front row. It's a small theater, so I would have been essentially face-to-face with the actors. Luckily I was able to switch my seat to somewhere further away, where I could still see the show. The stage was set up like the inside of a nudey men's magazine office. There were topless photos EVERYWHERE (hence the title of the play), and the show starts with the the staff of a the magazine (played by Laura C. Harris, Danny Gavigan, Brandon McCoy, and James Whalen as the boss) goofing around and chit-chatting; all of them are quite funny and good actors. This unfortunately was really the only enjoyable part of the play.

Things soon get serious, and the play gets sadder as you go on.

1. The magazine wants to do a story about one of their staff member's proposal to his girlfriend. This is obviously very personal, and he doesn't want to do it (which ends up being a moot point since you find out later that they broke up), and he's getting ganged-up on by his peers/boss.

2. The magazine gets in trouble for publishing a photo of a topless girl who is only 14 years old. She doesn't look 14, but you find out that her boyfriend faked her age and consent forms. Her father comes into the office, and he and the editor in chief of the magazine talk, going back and forth about law suits, money settlements, etc. This scene takes FAR too long, and Todd Scofield who plays the father is a meh actor, and I just was glad when he was finally off the stage.

3. The scene changes to a women's magazine, where you met their own editor in chief (played by Deborah Hazlett), who insists that every woman has flaws (she being a woman herself). She's interviewing Sam (McCoy), who used to work at the men's magazine. This is after his pathetic break-up, so he's not at his best, and his future boss is just picking on him the whole time. It was very uncomfortable to watch (which I guess was the point?), but then I was no longer enjoying the performance.

4. After Sam leaves, we see this female boss getting ready in her office for a night out, where she has a hidden closet of lotions, make-up, Spanx, etc. She's a bitter, older woman trying to stay hot in a young woman's world, and it's just sad. And then the play abruptly ends, with no real plot line nor closure.

So, what was the point? I know there's supposed to be a message about the misogyny of men and the pressures women face due to the media, lessons were learned. Nothing changed. Kirkwood is making a statement about society that is already obvious: why bother to write a play about it? The play doesn't change anything, and has no impact on society whatsoever (the show can't even sell tickets; why do you think I found it on Goldstar in the first place?).

Luckily the play was quite short (less than two hours long), so I didn't waste that much of my life on it. The sexy title hides the seriousness and misery of this little play; don't be fooled!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Royal Ballet: Don Quixote

The iconic windmill! The Spanish dress! Image found here:
Last week, a friend and I went to see the Royal Ballet perform Don Quixote. The only part of the story I remembered was the crazy guy on a horse trying to fight a windmill. This ended up being only a small part of the show, but I did get a refresher about more of the story!

This set makes the stage look like the size of a real town square! Image found here:
First of all, the sets were beautiful! They were SO big: you really felt like you were looking at a whole town square, or in a tavern with very tall ceilings! And the detail was amazing, from all the buildings to actually watching the sun set into the horizon. I cannot imagine how many days (weeks! months!) it took to create all of the wonderful scenery (and how do they get it from England to America? Do they break it all down and then build it again over here?). And the music was superb, too! The Spanish-inspired music (with castanets, of course!) was lively and energetic pretty much the entire way through!

Gypsies. Image found here:
I was also taken aback by how many dancers there were. This is a huge company! Of course they want to try to include everyone in the performance, but sometimes it was a bit overwhelming to have so many dancers (30+) on stage at one time. Sometimes less is more.This was especially true during the scenes in the town square, since a lot of people are just standing around. I was surprised how long that scene was, too, since it wasn't that exciting (and I'm sure that part of the story in the book was not nearly that long!). I also thought there were too many gypsies, and was surprised they didn't start snapping à la Westside Story when they did their skulking "boys vs. girls" dance.

Do these look like ballet dancers? No, I didn't think so. Image found here:
While most of the dancing was good (it is the Royal Ballet at the Kennedy Center), the character acting really turned me off. Perhaps this is why I usually don't care for ballets based on pre-written stories, since those tales weren't originally meant to be told by dance. Some of the characters barely dance at all, like Don Quixote and his pal Sancho Panza, or Gamache, a pompous nobleman. They were really there for comic relief, but for me, their slap-stick comedy took away from the essence of ballet. Running around the stage, getting hit in the face or falling down, making funny faces...all of that is more appropriate for a children's show, not a classic ballet. I realize it's all part of the story, but every time they came on stage, they took me out of the ballet experience; I was just sitting there waiting for it to be over.

Would a real matador wear this outfit? Um, no. Image found here:
The costumes were a bit hit-or-miss for me. Most of the townspeople were dressed in faded, muted colors, which just aren't that pretty to look at. However, some of the costumes were the opposite, with bright, clashing colors to the point that they were garish! Even Ryoichi Hirano, who was a fantastic dancer (light as a feather on his feet!) was forced to wear a bright green and pink outfit as a matador (huh?). There were also some demons/nightmares who were dressed like black ghosts, but had pointy masks on that were eerily like those of the Ku Klux Klan; perhaps this reference didn't make its way across the Atlantic Ocean? But of course my favorite costumes (and part of the play) were the Dryads (i.e. forest nymphs). They were dressed in beautiful tutus, and were the epitome of what ballet dancers should look like. Melissa Hamilton played the Queen of the Dryads, and she was incredible! She was so sprightly and quick on her feet! It was so fun to watch her. Meaghan Grace Hinkis played another Dryad, Amour, but she made some mistakes (noticeable to even the untrained eye), and stomped on stage rather than having light footfalls. But all in all, this scene was by far my favorite, and the most like classical ballet.

Those flowers! And the tutus! THIS is ballet! Image found here:
Mmm...I love a man in white tights! Image found here:
The most impressive dancers were of course the main characters. Carlos Acosta played Basilio, and Marianela Nuñez played Kitri, his lover. The whole story follows this couple, from them falling in love (against her father's wishes) to running away to the happy ending. Acosta is very impressive: not only is he an amazing dancer, but he also helped with the production and choreography (AND he's in his forties, when you'd think he'd be past his prime!). And she was clearly the prima ballerina. She has such a big personality on stage, and both she and Acosta were very expressive actors. I really did believe they were two young people in love! They are such strong dancers, which was especially true at the end when they had their solos and could really show off their skills (which is even more impressive since that's at the end of the show!). And of course I loved her wedding tutu. #DUH

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 Bravo! I would love to see the Royal Ballet perform again!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Movie Review: Maleficent [SPOILERS]

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I finally got around to seeing Maleficent, featuring Angelina Jolie. I must say that I still enjoy the cartoon version better. The whole idea of telling a well known story (Sleeping Beauty) from a different point of view or perspective is a bit...boring, quite frankly. We all know the story, and nobody likes the villain, so why bother?

But I will admit that Jolie does make this evil character more likeable. In this version, Maleficent befriends Aurora (played by Elle Fanning) and they become close, whereas in the cartoon they don't even know each other. This film even interprets "true love's kiss" as the kiss Maleficent bestows upon Aurora's forehead while she's under the sleeping spell. So that part was sweet. But there were more negatives than positives in this film.

For one, Jolie is the only well-cast actor. Fanning is no beautiful princess, with those large, dark eyebrows and imperfect smile. King Stefan (played by Sharlto Copley) is quite ugly for being Maleficent's first love, and he has a horrible voice! It's kind of squeaky and meek for a man, especially a man who becomes king (which is preposterous in the whole plot, since he's not royal or part of the nobility at all. It's impossible that he would be heir to the throne, no matter what deeds he committed). Prince Phillip (played by Brenton Thwaites, who is barely in the movie at all) is not very cute, either (kind of Harry Styles-ish, who is just too much of a boy to be considered handsome). And the three fairies don't look right, and they don't even have the same names as they do in the cartoon, which makes no sense since every other character has the same name!

Umm, I don't think so. Image found here:
That's more like it. Image found here:
One of my favorite scenes from Sleeping Beauty is when the fairies are trying to prepare for Aurora's birthday by cleaning the house and making a dress and a cake. It is so funny, and this live version barely has anything like that!

And this live version does not have the charming music from the cartoon, and the remake of "I Know You" by Lana del Ray that plays during the end credits is eery and creepy instead of light and romantic.

Don't get me wrong: I was entertained. But I'd much rather see a new, original movie that's not based on another movie, a book, or a play...

Friday, June 5, 2015

Movie Review: Far from the Madding Crowd [SPOILERS]

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Last night, my mom and I went to the movies (we had to do something since we were at the beach with bad weather). Since we're both fans of stories like Pride and Prejudice, I thought we'd like this one, too. But, unlike that great Jane Austen classic, Far from the Madding Crowd is based on a book written by a man. But I'll get back to that...

The movie starts out well. We see a young woman riding a horse across the beautiful countryside. Who doesn't want to be that girl? She lives next door to a hunky sheep farmer, and they become friends. He asks for her hand in marriage (like, what, ten minutes into the movie?), but she declines, saying she's too independent and doesn't want to be a man's property. I can totally respect this, and I like her character very much. Then she inherits her own farm and moves away, but eventually she meets up with the farmer again and he starts working for her. Her farm is doing well, and then her NEXT neighbor falls in love with her. This man is wealthy, middle-aged, and desperate not to spend the rest of his life alone. When he proposes, she tells him she'll think it over (but we all know she's not too keen on the idea). Life continues, and things make sense.

BUT THEN...We get to the part that only a man could write. This young woman meets a good looking solider in a red coat, and within 48 hours she's kissing him in the woods and falling madly in love with him. Until this point, her character was an independent woman who didn't need a man, but NOW that she sees  a soldier with a pretty face, suddenly she wants to get married. WHAT?! She barely even knows this man, but since he's a cute smooth-talker, she loses all her senses? I don't think so. Thomas Hardy, you clearly don't know women. Women don't make a 180 degree turn in their personalities like that. Hmpf.

Anyhoo...We learn that the soldier is a complete jerk, still yearning for his first love and just using his wife for her money to enable his gambling problem. He eventually runs into his former love, and learns that she's carrying his love child. He tells her to meet him the next day, but she dies. Eventually all of this implodes, with the soldier telling his wife that she means nothing to him and that this dead woman (and her child) meant everything to him. He leaves and goes to commit suicide by drowning himself in the ocean, which I think was quite noble, since he was a jerk and his wife wanted her independent life back, anyway.

So since he's dead, the middle-aged neighbor comes back, wanting her love again; all the while the farmer continues watching on and still is harboring feelings for her, too. At a party where the neighbor is planning to propose again, the dead husband shows up! EEK! He was rescued from the sea, but he couldn't continue living without some money, so the snake comes back to her and demands that she go home and give him some money. The neighbor can't take this and shoots the soldier dead (much to our relief; he was horrible!). But then this meant that the rich neighbor has to go to jail (sad, since he really is a good man), and our heroine is left without a man again.

But in the end, she realizes that she loves the farmer all along. Throughout the film they never share their true feelings (They never talk! They each give each other many opportunities to confess their love, but they never do!), but when he decides to leave for America, FINALLY she lets him know that she loves him and wants him to stay with her and for them to get married. If only she had accepted his proposal in the very beginning! She would have saved all of us (and herself) the trouble.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Concert: Kenny Chesney

Last week my boyfriend and I went to Merriweather Post Pavilion to see Kenny Chesney in concert. I saw him perform years ago at the Delaware State Fair, so I was excited to see him again.

Unfortunately, concerts held in outdoor venues like this can be hit or miss. In a way it's cool to have the lawn seating so you can have a picnic, and you really feel like you're out in the country. But there were thousands of people on the lawn, most of whom were college-aged hicks with no manners. Most of the men (ahem, boys) were wearing camouflage baseball caps, sleeveless shirts so you could see their tattoos, and scruffy beards. The girls were wearing teeny white dresses or WAY-too-short cut-off jean shorts with cowgirl boots (and some 90's grunge made an appearance, too). By the end of the night most of these (under-aged) people were high or drunk, stumbling their way out of the venue. I think it's fair to say that we were definitely the classiest people that night, and this was just another experience that reinforced my belief to not attend concerts unless they are 21+.

But onto the music. Chase Rice was the first opener. I've seen him twice before and really like him, but his performance this time was not that great. He didn't sound too good (we guessed it was either the pollen or the booze that was bothering him), and he was completely distasteful when he asked a married woman to come on stage with him and pretend that they were naked in bed (!!!). I was glad he only played a few songs before leaving the stage. He played his main hit, "Ready Set Roll", which is my favorite of his songs (well, I'm not sure if any of his other songs have been released on the radio yet), and of course he sang a little bit of "Cruise" since he helped write it (and I'm sure he's still bitter about how popular the song is but everyone knows Florida Georgia Line for it).

Next Jake Owen came on stage. I had never seen him live before, so I was really excited to see him! I was glad that the MC from WMZQ had mentioned that Owen had gotten a haircut, otherwise I never would have recognized him! He was pretty good, and played all the songs I wanted to hear. Here are some of my favorites:

Anywhere with You
Barefoot Blue Jean Night
The One That Got Away

And then onto the main event! Chesney had such great energy and kept it up throughout the night. I was really impressed with his stage presence, and he continued to thank the crowd and the fans, which I thought was humbling and sweet. He mainly played his new stuff, like "American Kids" and "Wild Child." And although he didn't play "She's Got It All" and "Come Over", two of my favorite songs of his, he did sing a lot of them that I do like. Here's a short list:

You and Tequila
Somewhere with You
She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy
No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems
How Forever Feels

*I do wish that, when he was singing the songs that are usually duets, he had one of his female backup singers sing with him. The songs just aren't the same without that female voice!

Notice that the photos I took (all of them except the top one) are taken from a screen. That's because I couldn't even see the stage when I was standing up. And when I was sitting down, then was my view: