by Colin Thomas
Filmmaker Rebecca Miller just finished directing a documentary about her famous father for HBO—Arthur Miller: Writer.
In this interview in The New York Times, Ms. Miller evokes the passion that her dad felt for his second wife, Marilyn Monroe. Apparently, Monroe, who was an orphan, used to tell her husband how to recognize other orphans by the look in their eyes. And the playwright called his wife “a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.”
Rebecca Miller also addresses her parents’ controversial institutionalization of her younger brother, Daniel, who was born in 1966 with Down syndrome. Now Miller says that, thanks to her husband, she has a renewed and very happy relationship with her sibling. That husband is (former) actor Daniel Day-Lewis.
When Miller explains to journalist Maureen Dowd that she didn’t allow the famously obsessive Method artist to bring his characters home with him once they had children, Dowd asks, “So, I wonder, that means he never made love to you as Abraham Lincoln?” “That might have been kind of cool,” Miller replies. “But no.”
Arthur Miller: Writer premieres on HBO on March 19.
One of the areas in which an actor’s skill—or lack of skill—is most evident is in their ability to deeply inhabit a character’s accent.
Erik Singer, the handsome dude in these videos, is an accent coach in Hollywood and what he has to say in these clips is spot-on.
Using excerpts from film performances, he takes a number of actors to task. Listening to Kevin Costner’s inconsistent Rs in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, he notes, “This is like the paradigm of bad movie accents. This is the one everybody brings up—and for good reason.” And, after a clip of Mickey Rooney’s racist Japanese characterization in Breakfast at Tiffany’s he asks, “Who the fuck let this happen?”
But it’s Singer’s praise that’s the most illuminating. Watching Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, he says, “I love Heath’s performance here. The character’s tightness and repression and struggle with himself is mirrored in his posture … Look at the way his jaw and his lips are held taut all the time.”
Singer talks a lot about tongue placement and the shape of the mouth: Ray Charles’ omnipresent smile affects the way he sounds.
And the posture of the jaw comes up a lot. Interestingly, Singer observes that a couple of actors who have lots of stage experience let their jaws go too loose: stage actors learn to relax their jaws to produce a greater volume of sound but that relaxation does a disservice to Winslet’s Polish accent in Steve Jobs.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep are, of course, dazzling.
Last week, a Serbian theatre company opened a musical about accused Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. The Lift: The Slobodan Show, which is experimental in its form, premiered in the Serbian-majority town of Gračanica in Kosovo, which is a primarily Albanian country. (For a brief summary of the relationship between Serbs and Albanians, check this link.)
According to The New York Times, The Lift: The Slobodan Show, which was written by Jelena Bogovac, focuses on the relationship between Milosevic and his wife Mirjana, and on his rise to power. It ends with Milosevic’s death from a heart attack while he was on trial for war crimes in The Hague. Through that narrative weave the Serbian actors’ memories of what life was like for them under Milosevic’s rule during the ‘90s.
Some have criticized the piece because it includes no first-person accounts from Albanians and because it features Milosovic. Director Nenad Todorovic insists that he does not intend to valorize the so-called strongman: “If you ask me what I think about Milosevic, I don’t believe it will be for newspapers. Too many bad words.” And he believes the region must face its ghosts: “If we don’t have catharsis, we don’t have healing.”
In Vancouver, theatre and other forms of live performance may be starting to reclaim some real estate from the movies.
As this article in Daily Hive tells us, 4184 Investments Limited has plans to revive the art deco Hollywood Theatre on West Broadway as a live-performance space. It’s all part of a plan that also involves building a six-storey multi-use building next door.
The Hollywood opened in 1935 and was closed in 2011. It offers a whopping 651 seats.
Another cinema, the Rio, also has a business plan that includes a mix of screenings and other cultural events, and rentals. (I saw TJ Dawe perform one of his Fringe shows there.)
But, before any of that can happen, Corinne Lea, who operates the Rio, has to raise enough money to buy the Rio and prevent redevelopment of the site. She has turned to crowdfunding to help her do that.
This week, as The Courier points out, Lea got a boost from Vancouver-born Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds. In a tweet in which he said that he had donated to the Rio and encouraged his fans to do the same, Reynolds wrote: “Spoiler Alert: I plan to be buried there.”
The $25,000 prize is awarded annually to female dramatists writing in English.
As The New York Times explains, in the play, three time periods coexist: in the 1970s, Carol kills herself; in the 1990s, Anna, Carol’s daughter, electrocutes herself in the bath; and, in the 2030s, Anna’s daughter Bonnie struggles to stay alive without shutting down.
As this earlier article from The New York Times makes clear, Birch doesn’t mess around. Her play Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again calls for feminist revolution in sex, marriage, work, and language. We Want You To Watch calls for an end to pornography.
Simon Stevens, who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and who acts as a mentor to Birch, says that Birch’s “bombastic rage” marks her as an artist of a younger generation. She “holds no truck with lazy irony,” he says. “She has conviction behind her ideology in a way that I find really compelling and makes me feel that I’m lazy for nestling into contradiction.”
But, according to journalist Laura Collins-Hughes, in person the writer is “so quiet that you have to lean in closer to hear her.”
Birch acknowledges that, with playwriting, “I consider myself incredibly lucky to have that space to be so noisy and to say the things that I feel passionate about. I don’t think I would stand up and say those things necessarily. I don’t think I would have the confidence to.”
Intoxication is probably my least favourite comic trope, but The After After Party, which is about a couple of drunk, stoned high-school girls won me over. The writing is just so surprising: when Jules and Fiona can’t remember what happened in their night of partying—they think maybe they killed a guy—they decide to snort Ritalin and travel back in time to see what happened. And Cheyenne Mabberley and Katey Hoffman, who wrote and perform The After After Party are a classic comic duo, with Mabberley playing the puke-stained “straight man” to Hoffman’s inspired screwball.
I’m moving on, but let’s not lose touch!
Today’s issue marks the second-last time that Colin Thomas’s Fresh Sheet will appear in the Theatre Wire newsletter.
The folks at Theatre Wire kindly took me under their collective wing in July, 2017. Writing Colin Thomas’s Fresh Sheet on Theatre Wire has allowed me to get a handle on this whole newsletter thing. And now I’m going to move the action to my own e-publication, which is currently called Colin Thomas’s Newsletter, but will soon inherit the title Colin Thomas’s Fresh Sheet—because, let’s face it, Colin Thomas’s Newsletter sucks as a name.
Please come with me!
You will continue to get all of the same content, including curated local, national, and international news. You will also get links to all of my reviews—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Crucially, I will get subscriber support. As print publications continue to die the death, reader support for online initiatives is vital to the survival of independent arts coverage.
Here’s where to sign up. It’s free. It’s easy. Keep coming to the theatre with me.
[Editor’s Note: Don’t worry, Theatre Wire will also continue sending its own newsletter with updates from independent theatre in Vancouver and other fun tidbits for theatre lovers!]