Thursday, September 12, 2013

Are you afraid of the dark?

The folks at Triad Stage in Greensboro are hoping that the answer is "yes" as they kick of their 13th season with Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark.

Dubbed "the lucky season," this year Triad will feature performances of such wide-ranging fare as Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well, the musical Pump Boys and Dinettes, as well as new plays The Mountaintop and Snow Queen.

If the season opener is any indication, we're in for a fantastic year of theatre in downtown Greensboro. Audiences may already be familiar with the story of Wait Until Dark through the 1967 film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin, but you haven't truly experienced Knott's story until you've experienced it up close and personal.

Mickey Solis, Laurence Lau, Rob Kahn and Cheryl Koski.
Photo by VanderVeen Photographers.
The senses play a huge role in this tale of Susy Hendrix (Cheryl Koski), a blind woman who accidentally and unwittingly comes into possession of a doll filled with heroin. Three dangerous con men want the doll, and they want it badly. One in particular, Mr. Roat (Laurence Lau), is a seasoned gangster who plays the other two into his own sadistic game. Determined to get the doll for themselves, the three concoct an elaborate plot to fool Susy into giving up the doll. But as Susy begins to get wise to their game, they are forced to take a more drastic approach, leaving Susy defenseless against their scheme. Or is she? Suddenly on her home turf, the con men find themselves locked in a battle of wits against a woman who lives her life in darkness, and where your most valued senses can't be trusted.

Director Preston Lane uses all the theatrical techniques at his disposal to ratchet up the tension to a shattering climax played out in a pitch black theater. The use of lighting by Norman Coates, even at its most bare minimum, is absolutely stunning, accentuating the importance of the play's excellent and wickedly effective sound design by Jonathan Fredette. The play is a true sensory experience, reminding us how we often take our senses for granted until we are deprived of them. Thrust right into the middle of the action, the audience becomes a part of Susy's ordeal, which makes it all the more suspenseful. It doesn't hurt that Koski's performance is so devastatingly believable; an appealing mix of sprightly charm and emotional heft. Pitted against Lau's coolly detestable villain, along with a more sympathetic Mike Talman (Mickey Solis) and his somewhat bumbling cohort, Carlino (Rob Kahn), Koski shines amid an enormously talented cast.

Whereas most theatrical productions emphasize what you see, Wait Until Dark often deprives us of that which we often take for granted, giving the audience a wholly unique and terrifying experience. There's something almost cinematic, even Hitchcockian, about its marriage of sound and visuals to tell a story, allowing the audience to see that which the protagonist cannot. But when we are all plunged into darkness and placed in her shoes, it makes for some truly thrilling theatre.

Wait Until Dark runs from Sept. 6 through Sept. 22. For more information or to purchase tickets visit www.triadstage.org, or call the box office at 336.272.0160.

From The Dispatch:
While Wilson Yip's "Ip Man" films are excellent in their own right, "The Grandmaster" is a more lyrical, perhaps even more abstract take with a much different focus. It is an intoxicating exploration of love and honor, and Wong's finest film since his 2001 masterpiece, "In the Mood for Love." This is cinema on a grand scale. 
Click here to read my full review.

Friday, September 06, 2013

When the legendary Ingrid Bergman first swoops into Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata (1978), she brings with her a whirlwind of energy, that kind of unique spark that accompanied the great actresses of Old Hollywood.

Ingmar, however, downplays Ingrid's stature. He knew, instinctively, how the audience would be drawn to her, so when she arrives in the film, the great Swedish director holds back, not allowing her the grand entrance she so deserves. The camera seems hesitant to show her face at first, but not to build up the anticipation of her reveal, but simply to treat her arrival as something wholly mundane. Her presence electrifies the film, but Bergman treats her like just another character making just another entrance.

Ingrid Bergman's presence in Autumn Sonata is not a mistake. For his quietly engrossing tale of an estranged mother and daughter coming to grips with old wounds and grievances, Ingmar turned to an actress who knew something about old familial pain.

Liv Ullman and Ingrid Bergman in AUTUMN SONATA.
Courtesy of The Criterion Collection
After leaving her husband for director Roberto Rossellini, Bergman didn't see her own daughter for several years, and caused a Hollywood scandal from which she never quite recovered. Autumn Sonata feels like something of a mea culpa, and while Ingmar famously complained that she had rehearsed every facial expression in the mirror and seemed "stuck in the 1940s," her raw, intimate performance here is a career crowning achievement, perhaps one of the greatest screen performances of all time. There is something about her that seems haunted by a past at the culmination of an illustrious career. As her character, Charlotte, a renowned concert pianist, sits down at a piano with her daughter, Eva (Liv Ullman, Ingmar's own wife), one can almost hear the strains of "As Time Goes By" wafting through Rick's Cafe Americain as the camera lingers on Bergman's pained eyes.

Those eyes saw a lot in the years between Casablanca and Autumn Sonata, which would end up being Bergman's final big screen performance before her death in 1982. A lifetime of pent up emotion seems to be flowing out of her, and the result is absolutely devastating. Here she is, one of cinema's great icons, playing a woman for whom everything is a performance, who neglected her children, even skipping the funeral of her four year old grandson because she was too busy recording a new album. She says these things as if they're perfectly justifiable, never seeing the fault in her own actions. She takes the place among cinema's great monster mothers, but Ingmar never treats her as unworthy of sympathy. We feel for both these women.

Ingrid Bergman in AUTUMN SONATA.
Courtesy of The Criterion Collection.
The extended final confrontation between mother and daughter, shot almost exclusively in intimate close-ups, lays bare a lifetime of grievances. Bergman's camera, with its warm, autumn colors courtesy of cinematographer Sven Nykvist, lingers on the women's faces to the point that the audience almost wants to turn away. We can't, however, because the performances on screen are so mesmerizing. There are times when the intensity of the close-ups recalls Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, as Bergman lets the beauty and the pain in his subject's faces tell an unspoken story all their own.

As it turned out, Autumn Sonata would also be Ingmar Bergman's final film made for the big screen. While later films like Fanny and Alexander and Saraband opened theatrically in the United States, they were made for Swedish television. Ingrid Bergman would go on to make A Woman Called Golda for TV in the final year of their life, but Autumn Sonata represented something of a swan song for them both, and a what a glorious swan song it is. It's a painful film, to be a sure, but a rewarding one. The new Blu-ray upgrade from The Criterion Collection is crisp and warm, while still retaining a decidedly film-like look. It's a gorgeous transfer, and also includes a three and a half hour "making of" documentary that's nearly as long as the TV cut of Fanny and Alexander. There is also an introduction by Bergman himself that details some of the tensions that arose on set with his star. Those tensions clearly paid off, because both Bergmans turned in some of the best work of their careers here. There's something breathtaking about watching these two legends unite for the first and only time, but even with such depressing subject matter, the energy simply crackles on screen. For fans of either Bergman, or just for students of great acting, Autumn Sonata is absolutely essential viewing.

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

Special features include:

  • New 2K digital film restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition 
  • Introduction by director Ingmar Bergman from 2003 Audio commentary featuring Bergman expert Peter Cowie 
  • The Making of “Autumn Sonata,” a three-and-a-half-hour program examining every aspect of the production 
  • New interview with actor Liv Ullmann 
  • A 1981 conversation between actor Ingrid Bergman and critic John Russell Taylor at the National Film Theatre in London Trailer 
  • English-dubbed track New English subtitle translation 
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme
On Blu-ray and DVD 9/17 from The Criterion Collection.

Thursday, September 05, 2013


From The Dispatch:
As Allen switches back and forth between Jasmine's present and her former life, we play witness to an incredible transformation — from self-absorbed woman of the world to a pill-popping, booze-swilling train wreck of a human being. It's the kind of performance Oscars are made of, but beyond any thought of awards or accolades, Blanchett delivers a once-in-a-lifetime kind of achievement. 
Click here to read my full review.