In Washington, D.C., summers, we’d go to a movie theater to
cool off. You may be considering the same strategy this weekend just to warm
up! If so, here’s my take on two movies currently on view and one riotous play
sparking the New Jersey theater scene. Let’s take the serious one first.
If Beale Street Could
When James Baldwin published the book this movie is based on
back in 1974, it was out
of sync with the times and not a success. Americans had turned attention
from their civil rights concerns, distracted by Watergate and the windup of the
Vietnam War, perhaps, or perhaps it was another sorry indicator of how short
our national attention span is for issues that defy quick solutions.
Now writer/director Barry Jenkins has timed the book’s film
version perfectly (trailer).
All the issues Beale Street raises
remain relevant, and our persistent racial injustices are once again
top-of-mind. This is a love story with many threads, and each is knotty,
whether the love is between a young man (played by Stephan James) and woman
(KiKi Layne, the film’s gentle narrator), between parents and their daughter, or
between an incarcerated father and his pre-school son, living apart. The acting
is all top-notch, and I particularly enjoyed Tish’s parents, Colman Domingo and
Regina King, who doesn’t have to say anything to reveal her heart to you.
Tomatoes critics rating: 95%; audiences: 69%.
Stan & Ollie
As a kid, I was a big Laurel and Hardy fan, and this Jon S. Baird film, written by Jeff Pope, about the duo’s late-stage career, is necessarily bittersweet (trailer). They’re approaching the top of the hill they’re about to go over. Genius British comic Steve Coogan is Stan, the writer of most of the skits and bits, and John C. Reilly, in an unbelievably natural fatsuit and rubber chin is American comic Oliver Hardy.
Although it’s a movie about two slapstick comedians and about what it means to have and be a partner, some of the funniest moments come from the sniping between Ollie’s devoted third wife Lucille (Shirley Henderson) and Stan’s fourth wife Ida (Nina Arianda). The two women can’t stand each other, but even Ida softens when Ollie’s precarious health is endangered. Well worth the price of a ticket!
Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 92%; audiences: 88%.
Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, is presenting this non-stop Michael Frayn comedy on stage through February 3. Directed by Sarna Lapine, you may run out of breath laughing well before the end of Act I and the absurdities continue to pile up.
In case you’re not familiar with the story, in Act I, a
lackluster theater company is in the final rocky rehearsal for a show called Nothing On, which takes place in an
English country house. The house is supposed to be empty, but is soon filled
with people trying not to be found there. During the cast’s conversation
between scenes, you learn about several ongoing love affairs and problems among
In Act II, the set is turned around and, though you hear
some of the play dialog on the other side of the wall, the action is backstage,
mostly in pantomime, as the lovers quarrel, try to make up, and generally
behave badly. There’s a pause before Act III, and the set turns again to the
front. Now it’s the play’s last performance, and situations have spiralled totally
out of control. Sheer mayhem!
Ellen Harvey plays the housekeeper in the
play-within-the-play, Jason O’Connell the homeowner and Kathleen Chloe his
wife; Michael Crane is the realtor and Adrianna Mitchell his somewhat dim
would-be paramour (when the show is falling apart, she keeps delivering lines
that no longer fit what’s happening); Philip Goodwin is an aging actor whose
sobriety must be constantly monitored; Gopal Divan is the play director,
Phillip Taratula the stage manager, and Kimiye Corwin his assistant. I named
them all, because they were all so good!
The Two River ticket
office online; or call 732 345 1400.