• U.S.

Short Takes: Oct. 19, 1992

4 minute read


Crazy Like a Fop

WHEN SIMON GRAY’S MELON OPENED IN London in 1987, it dealt memorably if imperfectly with the random, amoral way that glittering success and crippling insanity are doled out, sometimes to the same person. In compulsive revisions, the most recent of which, THE HOLY TERROR, opened last week off Broadway, the normally astute Gray (Butley, The Common Pursuit) has flung out the baby and preserved the bath water. Two ideas worked in the tale of a foppish, philandering publisher: narrating his decline in flashback, from the vantage of a man afflicted and now somewhat healed, which earned instant sympathy; and letting his worldly fall lead to a moral rise. Both have been muted, and only stray witticisms linger.


Dizzy in Gear

“OLD CADILLACS NEVER DIE,” OBSERVES the great trumpet player and immortal bopcat at the close of Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac. “The finance company just fade ’em away.” DIZZY GILLESPIE must never have had a brush with the collection agency: there is no fading, only gleam on Dizzy’s Diamonds (Verve), a 3-CD collection spanning 1950 to 1964. Grouped into three broad grooves — Big Band, small group and Afro-Cuban — these 40 wondrous cuts show Dizzy setting the pace for some fast company, including Stan Getz, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. The Big Band material blasts, the small-group sides jump, and the Afro-Cuban tunes sound drivingly modern. Dizzy is an Eldorado that never runs on empty.


Half a Holden

READING EVE HOROWITZ’S PLAIN JANE (Random House; $20) is like listening to a World Series no-hitter called by a taciturn announcer: the listener knows something terrific is happening out there, but he just can’t hear it. The narrator is teenager Jane Singer, second daughter of a gently Jewish family from Cleveland and worshipper of Holden Caulfield. Jane tells about, among others, her mother, who divorces Jane’s father and takes up the violin, and her formerly promiscuous sister, who marries an Orthodox doctor and gives birth to a boy Jane jokingly calls “the Little Messiah.” Except for eloquent moments, the reader longs for a little verve. Jane is a nice girl who should go to college, marry a nice boy and leave narrating no-hitters to another heroine.


Name Dropping On Sunset

THE BEST THING ABOUT TALES FROM HOLLYWOOD is its subject. Christopher Hampton’s 1982 play focuses on leading German literary emigres who settled in the film capital in the ’30s and ’40s, namely Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann and his brother Heinrich (along with Austro-Hungarian dramatist Odon von Horvath, who never really made it to America but serves as fictionalized narrator). Yet an impressive cast — Jeremy Irons, Alec Guinness, Sinead Cusack — cannot lift this PBS American Playhouse adaptation much above elegant name dropping. Despite snatches of Ragtime-esque fantasy and an ending that pays homage to Sunset Boulevard, the drama is hobbled by an old plot: crass Hollywood grinds down true artists, told once more with less feeling.


Crushed by Fate

ONE TEST OF A NOVEL’S VALUE IS WHETHer it has relevance beyond its time. John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN (1937) meets that challenge. Its loser-heroes could be two of today’s homeless horde searching for work, for value, for someone — anyone — who might find value in them. In Horton Foote’s scrupulous new adaptation, John Malkovich is lumbering Lennie, whose frustrated tenderness crushes the things he would cherish; Gary Sinise is George, Lennie’s protective pal; Sherilyn Fenn is the lonely wife held hostage by capricious fate. The credibility of their playing breaks through the familiar sanctity of a “classic” revival. Sinise also directs, in a muted style sensitive both to the palette of a waning California autumn and to the texture of an enduring American parable.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com