A lot of people pride themselves on watching non-mainstream films. They act like watching a foreign film, independent film, or documentary is a morally superior act. They enjoy offbeat humor, scathing satire, and reading subtitles. Now, I watch my fair share of non-mainstream films, but I was cowed by a review for a new foreign film, which read, "If you only see one Ukrainian romantic comedy this year . . .", Only one? That's definitely all I'm going to see and I have to admit it'll be the first, too.
Kevin Kline as Cyrano
There is a way to outdo the super elite of the film viewing world, however. Watch stage to screen. I used to hate watching stage to screen works and avoided them for some time because stage to screen used to mean that someone would set up a camera in front of a stage and then not move, thus ensuring production values that rivaled your dad with a camcorder. Today's filmed stage works tend to be much better—after a few moments, you forget you're even watching a stage production and you focus on the action.
So, for your viewing pleasure, try some of these.
CYRANO DE BERGERAC. Edmond Rostand's superb play was the basis for Steve Martin's ROXANNE,
but until I recently taught CYRANO, I hadn't seen the original. Try the 2007 Broadway production with Kevin Kline and Jennifer Gardner. Kline is funny and heartbreaking as the long-nosed lover. You'll be surprised at how modern such a classic can be. I was surprised by how moved I was.
Antony Sher as Primo Levy
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. I've always loved Nathan Lane, but since he's usually doing stage work, I don't often get to see him. Luckily, he's the star of the 2007 revival of George S. Kaufman's and Moss Hart's hit play. Lane plays a mean spirited critic who's invited to the home of a small town couple. He slips on the ice outside their home and must stay with them through Christmas while his leg is healing. Their world becomes very strange.
PRIMO (listed in Netflix as PRIMO MYSTERIES). Primo Levi wrote one of the most haunting memoirs of the holocaust. In 2004, actor Antony Sher adapted it as a one man show, PRIMO. This premiered at The National Theatre in London and managed to sell out its run before it even really got started. Amazing man, amazing story, amazing performance.
OTHELLO. See OTHELLO the way Shakespeare intended—at The Globe. This 2007 production highlights the Bard's language by allowing the audience a Shakespearian experience—thus, there is a beautiful setting if not so much a set. The casting of Iago's wife proves intriguing, but I won't spoil how.
THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES. If you're too ashamed of the word vagina to see this film, you shouldn't have one or be allowed to touch one. This powerful and often hilarious piece started a whole social movement—V-Day. Even OTHELLO didn't achieve so much. My favorite monologue, in case any one was wondering, is "Hair." If nothing else, see this piece because so many places have not allowed the title of the piece to be shown or discussed, even when the play was being performed locally. What's the world coming to if you can't say vagina?
COMPANY. If you don't like musicals, don't see this or RENT. I'm not quite sure why you don't like musicals—you like music. And don't tell me that you don't like them because people don't randomly break out into song. I do! Anyway, I'm assuming you've heard of RENT, but not necessarily the Tony winner by Stephen Sondheim, COMPANY. Raul Esparza is engaging in this exploration of the pressures of
marriage and the pressure to marry. There are no minor characters in this cast—the staging is amazing and, aside from the "Bobby" song (which will unfortunately stay in your head for hours), the music is great.
Ian McKellen as Lear
KING LEAR. I have to admit, I actually found KING LEAR in SLINGS AND ARROWS to be more heart-rending, but Ian McKellen is powerful in the 2009 Royal Shakespeare Company production of this famous work. I especially loved seeing Francis Barber, who I had the pleasure of seeing live as the star of the Globe's ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
GOD SAID HA! Netflix thinks this is stand-up, but it's really more of a one-woman show. Yes, Julia Sweeney is a comedian and yes, this is funny, but a story of moving back home with your parents as an adult and of your brother getting cancer makes everything too beautifully bittersweet to be stand-up. What I'm looking forward to, though, is the release of Sweeney's latest show, LETTING GO OF GOD. I've been teaching an essay version of this and students either love it or hate it, which means it's doing something right.
Okay; I've given you some options. Go forth, watch some live theatre on DVD, and report back.
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