Broadway Bummer: The Play’s Not the Thing

Joan Marcus

Three end-of-the-season disappointments: The Velocity of Autumn, Act One and Casa Valentina

Now is the season of my discontent. After a last-minute flurry of Broadway openings, in advance of Thursday’s deadline for Tony nominations, I find myself with little to rave about. A few of the spring’s new musicals (Rocky, Aladdin) have had their pleasures, and several revivals have been first-rate, most recently Michael Grandage’s smashingly good production of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, starring Daniel Radcliffe. But the crop of new plays has been notably lackluster.

I wasn’t expecting much from The Velocity of Autumn, Eric Coble’s one-act play about an elderly Brooklyn woman threatening to blow herself up in her apartment rather than get carted off to assisted living, and the play didn’t (which is to say, did) disappoint. It’s a cutesy, formulaic two-hander, essentially one long conversation between the stubborn old gal (Estelle Parsons) and her estranged son (Stephen Spinella), who has been called back from New Mexico to try to talk some sense into her.

The play hits all the familiar notes: rueful reflections on the indignities of growing old, revelations about the son’s wayward life, well-paced one-liners to keep the audience amused, and a predictably heartwarming ending. The only reason to sit through it is Estelle Parsons, who at 86 creates an admirably tough character while keeping much of the sentimentality at bay. Then again, if a beloved 86-year-old actress can’t win raves playing a feisty senior citizen threatening to ignite her apartment with Molotov cocktails, Broadway is in more trouble than I thought.

Act One held out more promise, at least for lovers of Moss Hart’s celebrated 1959 autobiography, on which James Lapine has based his affectionate, if ultimately unsatisfying play. Hart, for the uninitiated, was George S. Kaufman’s collaborator on such classic stage comedies as You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner, as well as the writer or director of several other famed Broadway shows, including My Fair Lady. Lapine’s stage adaptation takes a quick jaunt through Hart’s impoverished New York City childhood, then focuses mainly on the beginning of the Kaufman-Hart collaboration, on their 1930 comedy Once in a Lifetime.

The play paints a knowing, often amusing picture of the crazy world of Broadway collaboration, as the novice Hart must adapt to the notoriously persnickety Kaufman. Through a neat bit of casting legerdemain, Tony Shalhoub gets to play both Kaufman and Hart (the latter in his older years, narrating much of the story in flashback, while Santino Fontana plays Hart as a young man), and he brings both gravitas and, as the neurotic Kaufman, shrewd comic timing. But the play is too muted and meandering, the backstage tale lacking in either dramatic or comic tension. Twenty minutes could have been trimmed to the play’s advantage, but writer Lapine apparently had no strong director to tell him so. Probably because the director is also James Lapine.

Harvey Fierstein’s new play Casa Valentina is an odd duck, and not just because it focuses on an obscure and puzzling subculture: a Catskills resort in the 1960s where men — heterosexual, all-American, married guys — came to relax by dressing up as women. An array of good Broadway actors, including Patrick Page, John Cullum and Tom McGowan, have a high old time as the cross-dressing family men, strutting around in heels, padded dresses and bouffant hairdos. “Here,” says one of them, “we breathe.”

But what, exactly, is the attraction? Not sexual gratification, we are assured in this straitlaced play. Nor, it appears, very much fun. Barring one brief scene in which the guests get together to do a makeover on a timid newcomer (Gabriel Ebert), these gals seem to spend most of their time sitting around a table, smoking cigarettes and congratulating themselves on being there. The play, set in 1962, doesn’t even do much with the era’s peppy pop music. In one scene, three of the guests do a karaoke rendition of the McGuire Sisters’ “Sugartime.” But their performance is purposely amateurish, and the song is barely audible on a tinny old Victrola. What — it’s 1962, and the place can’t afford a stereo system?

No, this weekend of cross-dressing hijinks quickly devolves into a series of sober, angst-ridden discussions about the survival of the financially challenged resort. One regular (Reed Birney) wants the group to organize into a sorority that would explicitly ban homosexuals. Fierstein, who created empowering drag queens in shows like La Cage aux Folles and Kinky Boots, has written another preachy plea for tolerance for the misunderstood misfits of the world: not just gays (one resort guest turns out to be a closeted homosexual, with a daughter who foams at the mouth with anti-gay prejudice), but the straight guys who are man enough to embrace their feminine side. Right on, Harvey — but after a session with these earnest drag queens, I’m booking next weekend at Grossinger’s.


Elmo’s Voice Cleared of Sex Abuse Charges

The Apple Store Upper West Side Presents Meet The Filmmakers: Kevin Clash, Elmo, & Constance Marks
Puppeteer and creator of Elmo, Kevin Clash visits the Apple Store Upper West Side on Nov 20, 2011 in New York City. Wendell Teodoro—WireImage/Getty Images

Kevin Clash, the voice of everyone’s favorite ticklish red puppet, resigned from Sesame Street amid allegations of sexual abuse, but the case was dismissed and recently upheld due to "statute of limitations," an attorney for one of the accusers said

The man who for decades gave voice to the Sesame Street character Elmo will no longer face three charges of sexual abuse after an appeals court threw out the cases.

Kevin Clash, 53, was accused by multiple men of abusing them 10 years earlier. The U.S. Court of Appeals concurred with a New York judge’s decision to dismiss the cases last summer.

“The case was dismissed because of the statute of limitations. There is no ruling on the merits,” said an attorney for Sheldon Stephens, 25, Clash’s first accuser. Stephens claims Clash abused him when he was 16, PEOPLE reports. Stephens’ case against Clash is still pending, the attorney said.



REVIEW: Johnny Depp Cozies Up to Artist Ralph Steadman, For No Good Reason

Sony Classics

Famed for his work on the 'Fear and Loathing' books with Hunter S. Thompson, the Gonzo illustrator proves himself a surprisingly genial fellow in a bio-doc whose artistry can't match that of its subject

“F— you and your cheap drunken whining,” writes Hunter S. Thompson in his foreword to Gonzo The Art, a collection of Ralph Steadman’s drawings. Back in 1971, Steadman had illustrated Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream, that seminal text of Gonzo journalism, and the two teamed the following year for Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. But by 1998, when asked to write the Gonzo foreword, he had soured on Steadman, just a tad.

Given to outrageous invective on his most genial days — for that was his art and his madness — Thompson calls Steadman “a living, dangerous holograph of Dorian Gray” and soars into a more incriminating analogy: “You are now worse than Hitler in my mind. … Adolph was also an artist [but] he took the high road and you took the low road.” Escalating the excoriation, he warns his old colleague to “Never forget that you were a thief, once, a whore and a desperate brute of the streets. You forced your children into crime and sick burglaries, just to support your foul habits. … You are doomed and I can’t help you. … Soon you will have your moment in the Great Hall, face-to-face with the Lords of Karma. Good luck, buster. You’ll need it.”

Thompson faced the dark Lords in 2005, when at 67 he blew his brains out, leaving a note that ended, “Relax — This won’t hurt.” Steadman, 77, is still around, still refining his ferociously satiric style. Using his pen nib as a predator’s talon, he created works that suggest a modern Hogarth, a grosser George Grosz, a surlier Edward Searle, a Jackson Pollock in the graffiti era or an angry child defacing blotter paper. Ceaselessly productive, Steadman has published three books in the past three years: his Book of Dogs, Book of Cats and the illustrated memoir Proud Too Be Weirrd. In his spare time he sat for a full-length movie portrait, Charlie Paul’s 2012 doc For No Good Reason, which opens in the U.S. this weekend.

(SEE: A Gallery from The Ralph Steadman Book of Dogs)

His interlocutor is Johnny Depp, a friend of Thompson who also starred in Terry Gilliam’s movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Bruce Robinson’s film of Thompson’s The Rum Diary. In 1998, Depp and Thompson visited the TIME offices and raised some merry hell (or so I’m told; I wasn’t invited). After Thompson’s death, Depp funded the funeral service: shooting the writer’s ashes from a cannon to the accompaniment of “Mr. Tambourine Man” (the Bob Dylan song to which the Las Vegas book was partly dedicated). Among the mourner-celebrants were Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, Bill Murray, Charlie Rose and Ralph Steadman.

Depp’s appearance in the doc, however appreciated, doesn’t bring much but the patronage of a famous, friendly dude. Nor is Paul quite up to the challenge of synopsizing and illuminating an artist’s long career. As if to prove this is a coffee-house movie and not a coffee-table book, the director uses split screens, animation and rapid montage. But the salient, liveliest parts of For No Good Reason — the title comes from Thompson’s reply when Steadman once asked him, “Why are we doing this?” — are to be found in the artist’s display of his work and recollections of the eccentrics he met.

(READ: Corliss on Johnny Depp in the movie of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary)

For an artist who says he needed to draw “as an weapon, almost,” and whose black-and-white cartoons spill bile like those ink blots, Steadman is an amicable gent, as befits the author of many children’s books, the Gardening correspondent for Rolling Stone and the choir boy he was back in Abergele, Wales. Seeing an art-school ad in a magazine at 16, Steadman was soon contributing to Peter Cook’s satirical magazine Private Eye, where he honed the essence of his drawings: “to distort and yet maintain the likeness.” He came to New York City in 1970 — “the gray decade,” he recalls, “all these gray people staggering toward you… almost a museum of misery and deprivation.”

While in America he got an assignment to cover the Kentucky Derby for Scanlans magazine; the writer would be Hunter Thompson. He quickly realized that he had “scored a bull’s eye the first time, and met the one man I needed to meet in America.” The two seemed a chronic mismatch. “To me he was weird,” Steadman says. “To him, I was weird.” The artist rarely took drugs or alcohol; the writer never stopped. Director Brian De Palma says of Steadman, “I’ve never met a warmer, generous… He is not his paintings!” Yet Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner, who hired Steadman to illustrate Las Vegas after another artist dropped out, says that Steadman was the more daring one, Thompson the more cautious.

Steadman’s first sketch, of a Derby poobah’s wife, so affronted the woman that Thompson figured they were screwed. He gave up on the story, simply sending his notes to Scanlans, which published them under the title “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” and carrying the byline “Written under duress by Hunter S. Thomson, Sketched with eyebrow pencil and lipstick by Ralph Steadman.” The artist had seen the light: that he and his partner could turn journalism into cynical, weirrd comedy with a touch of autobiography. “The very face we were looking for was us,” he says, “back in the mirror.”

(SEE: Ralph Steadman’s illustrated blog and biography)

Working with Thompson or on his own, Steadman saw himself as a social reformer. “Cartooning meant more to me than doing funny pictures,” he says. “It meant changing something for the better… to change the world,” he says of the ’70s. “Now was the moment.” One drawing, shortly after news of the My Lai massacre and the Napalm poisonings, asked “How’re ya gonna crucify a child in Vietnam without any arms?” In his strongest political work, a strain of activist optimism peeks through the misanthropy, as if Steadman thought he could destroy Nixon and Ehrlichman by painting them as monsters.

He crossed paths, but not swords, with William S. Burroughs, the junkie poet-novelist, whom he compares with Thompson by noting, “They were perverse in many ways, and yet incredibly honest.” One of his saddest images is his dream-nightmare of the ailing Thompson in a retirement home: “There was this old crone crawling across the floor, and he knew that she was going to fondle his balls.”

Steadman stays youthful by seeing every painting as a new beginning. “I go out of my way to make something that is as unexpected to me as it is to anyone else,” he tells Depp. “If I knew what was going to happen before I started, what would be the point in doing it?” We might wish that Charlie Paul had surprised himself and his audience more with this documentary. For No Good Reason is no great shakes as a movie, but it will have value if it coaxes viewers into learning more about a remorselessly gifted artist who lived longer than Dorian Gray and who, on this film’s evidence, is a lot nicer than Hitler.


Meg Ryan Will Voice the Mother in How I Met Your Dad

Celebrities At The Lancia Cafe - Day 6 - Taormina Filmfest 2013
Meg Ryan on June 20, 2013 in Taormina, Italy. Valerio Pennicino—Getty Images

The How I Met Your Mother spinoff How I Met Your Dad has picked a narrator in romantic comedy veteran Meg Ryan. Her role will mirror that of Bob Saget from the original CBS series, and yes, she will actually be named Sally

Meg Ryan will narrate the mom on the How I Met Your Mother spinoff How I Met Your Dad.

Meg Ryan’s role will mirror that of Bob Saget from the original CBS series, Deadline reports. Saget was the voice of future Ted (present Ted was played by Josh Radnor) on HIMYM. Meg Ryan will do the same for future Sally. Present Sally will be played by Greta Gerwig.

Don’t expect Ryan to be making any “I’ll have what she’s having” cameos on the show. Saget never actually appeared on HIMYM, and future Ted, when we finally saw him, was played by Radnor. The same will likely be true for Sally in the spinoff.


Jodie Foster Weds Girlfriend

The wedding comes a year after the actress gave an acceptance speech at the Golden Globes in which she criticized the culture of celebrities ostentatiously coming out of the closet

Academy Award winner Jodie Foster over the weekend married her girlfriend of a year, Alexandra Hedison.

Foster, 51, began dating Hedison last summer, The Hollywood Reporter reports. Hedison, a photographer, was formerly in a relationship with Ellen DeGeneres until 2004.

Little more than a year ago, Foster gave a news-making speech in accepting a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes that many saw as her public coming out.

“I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age,” she said, “But now I’m told, apparently, that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show….No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me. It never was and it never will be.”

[Hollywood Reporter]


Pharrell Williams Casts a Lot of Non-Marilyns in “Marilyn Monroe” Video: Watch

The singer's latest video has lots of G I R Ls


Pharrell’s G I R L is probably going to be synonymous forever with his omnipresent soundtrack cut-turned-No. 1 hit “Happy,” but its follow-up and opening track “Marilyn Monroe” might be an even better encapsulation of the album. In one song, it’s got the opulence of Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience: a Hans Zimmer string section like the one on “Pusher Love Girl,” which quickly becomes a disco string section; the loopy retro-disco that’s been a Neptunes hallmark from Kelis on; the New Age law-of-attraction horniness that finds its way into almost all of Pharrell’s work. (Think “like the legend of the phoenix” — basically, if a lyric sounds like a spiritual pamphlet reworked into a pickup line, it was probably written by Pharrell Williams.)

Marilyn Monroe, of course, is the most be-metaphored woman in pictures; even if you limit your scope to urban music of this decade alone, you’ll be able to find Marilyn-themed songs by Nicki Minaj, Brianna Perry and Chrisette Michelle, at least. But “Marilyn Monroe” isn’t really about Marilyn Monroe: it’s about all the ladies who are not Marilyn Monroe, but that’s OK, Pharrell doesn’t judge. This concept both lets Pharrell say “girl” (and G I R L) a lot, and lets him get a lot of girls into the video (most of whom look nothing like Marilyn Monroe), in a lot of settings and a lot of outfits, runway to risqué.

The video, directed by Luis Cervero, wisely doesn’t try to outdo the 24-hour-long shenanigans of the “Happy” video, opting instead for the playfully raunchy low-concept vibe of “Blurred Lines,” back when all anyone was saying about that clip was that it was “playfully raunchy.” (Put another way: If “Happy” was directed to launch a thousand GIFs, “Marilyn Monroe” was directed to launch a thousand well-timed screencaps. Of girls.) It’s the kind of video where large portions are set on a goofy lavender moonscape, where Pharrell’s hats practically get a feature credit, and where Kelly Osbourne interrupts the proceedings from nowhere, like she does on the track, to go on about the groove and disappear. Like G I R L, it knows that pop ubiquity should never be taken too seriously.

Watch the video above.


Watch the First Scene from Orange Is the New Black’s Second Season

Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is locked up and losing it in solitary confinement when season two begins


The second season of Netflix’s prison comedy-drama Orange Is the New Black is picking up not far from where it left off, judging by a new clip from the critically acclaimed series.

After Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) gave her Bible-thumping rival Pennsatucky a bloody smackdown at the end of season one, the unlikely convict landed in solitary confinement, where, from the looks of things, she’s starting to lose it. Don’t expect Chapman’s storyline to dominate the 13 new episodes, though, as the second-season trailer shows the binge-watchable series is spreading the love and spending more time with its supporting cast.

Orange creator Jenji Kohan recently told our prison bunkies at Entertainment Weekly, who premiered the clip, that the show’s second season would be “a little darker” than its “summer-campy” first — because, you know, all the inmate conflicts, abuses of power and scathing indictments of the country’s prison-industrial complex weren’t quite dark enough.


Justin Bieber Apologizes For Visiting Tokyo Shrine Honoring War Criminals

Bieber took to Instagram to say he was sorry


In what is becoming a recurring theme, Justin Bieber has publicly apologized for being insensitive while abroad.

This time the pop-icon said he was sorry for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, including some military leaders who committed mass atrocities during the Second World War.

Beiber wrote in a statement on Instagram that “while in Japan I asked my driver to pull over for which I saw a beautiful shrine. I was mislead to think the Shrines were only a place of prayer. To anyone I have offended I am extremely sorry. I love you China and I love you Japan.”

This misstep happened nearly a year after Bieber wrote in the Anne Frank House’s guestbook that “hopefully [Anne Frank] would have been a Belieber.”


Drew Barrymore Welcomes Her Second Daughter


Actress Drew Barrymore and her husband, Will Kopelman, welcomed their second daughter Tuesday.

Both mother and child — Frankie Barrymore Kopelman — are “health and happy,” according to a statement released to People. Frankie joins her one-year-old sister, Olive Barrymore Kopelman, as the youngest members of the Barrymore Kopelman clan.

Barrymore told Oprah in an interview last year that she “cried to everybody” at the thought of raising kids in Hollywood, despite having been a child star herself.


Kanye West Asked Seth Rogen and James Franco to Perform Their 'Bound 2' Parody at His Wedding

Michael Tran / FilmMagic / Getty Images

The rapper requested that the funnymen recreate their parody of his "Bound 2" music video

Back in November, Seth Rogen and James Franco decided to spoof the video for Kanye West’s “Bound 2,” which featured the rapper and his fiancée, Kim Kardashian, humping on a motorcycle. Apparently, Kanye loved it so much that he asked the duo to perform it as his upcoming wedding in France, Pitchfork reports.

The 36-year-old actor explained during a recent appearance on The View that Kanye called him and Rogen two weeks ago requesting a special wedding performance.

“It would have been awesome for about 20 seconds,” Franco said, “but then there would be Seth with his shirt off in front all the Kardashians.”

So yeah, let’s not get our hopes up. But it would be pretty great to see this happen at what’s sure to be an already ridiculous affair:


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