" . . . you've got to stand up for the imaginative world, the imaginative element in the human personality, because I think that's constantly threatened . . . People do have imagination and sensibilities, and I think that does need constant exposition." -- John Read

"To disseminate my subjective thoughts and ideas, I stealthily hide them in a cloak of entertaining storytelling, since the depth of my thinking, shallow at best, might be challenged by erudite experts." -- Curt Siodmak

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Buntport’s ‘Rabbit’ musical a dream awake


 Magical Marla (Hannah Duggan), Alec the Amazing and All-Powerful (Evan Weissman) and Snowball (Erik Edborg) in Buntport's original musical, "Jugged Rabbit Stew."

We have moved into full-on hallucinatory territory.

Buntport’s final production of its 10th season is “Jugged Rabbit Stew,” an original musical that is fascinating, entertaining and thought-provoking in the Buntport tradition.

Except that there is no tradition. Every time it seems that the collaborative is about to lapse into a house style, the group subverts itself, turns its approach inside out, pies itself in the face. In a culture where art and entertainment is churned out with assembly-line predictability, Buntport keeps things fresh and alive.

Just as Buntport is a theater in the existential sense that it’s a group of people that explores the human condition live onstage, “Stew” is a musical in that it contains songs. Everything else is up for grabs. The plot is marginal, the characters are, literally, fragmented, tangential speculations abound, and in the end the whole contraption just kind of drives off the edge of a cliff.

It’s great!

The central figure is a giant magical rabbit, played by Erik Edborg, clad in ears, paws and anger, chugging booze from a hutch’s water dispenser. He is the deus ex machina – ruling the others on stage like a sociopathic Harvey, or the furry, fanged Frank from “Donnie Darko.”

His victims/cohabitants in his newspaper-lined rectangle of a room are his magician, Alec the Amazing and All-Powerful (Evan Weissman), magician’s assistant Mystical Marla (Hannah Duggan), Erin Rollman as a Woman suspended in space, along with a handful of props, above the stage for the length of the show, and Brian Colonna as Alec’s missing right arm.

Yep.

Erin Rollman as Woman and Brian Colonna as Arm in Buntport's "Jugged Rabbit Stew."

The score is by Adam Stone, who previously collaborated with Buntport last year on another original musical, “Seal. Stamp. Send. Bang.” He’s a facile composer who’s conversant in the modern musical style – flowing, pop-catchy, swooping ballads – as well as genre pieces (for instance, a gentle country/Western ode, “Hand in Hand”).

More importantly, you can tell from his writing and arrangements that his skills are extremely broad and deep: his work simultaneously reinforces the form’s traditions and asks pointed questions of it – for instance, how do you make rhymed couplets out of the chaotic premise, and singable ones at that?

Yet, Stone and Buntport do so – like Cole Porter on acid. Buntport’s members can sing, too, which is a more complicated task than the layperson might think. Besides staying tuneful and in key, a musical performer has to sell the number, stay in character, move through choreography . . . and breathe. Daunting, but they do it. And numbers such as “When Love is There to Blind You,” “Take Me, Break Me, Make Me Something More,” and “That Special Hare” are stand-alone good.

(Um, confession – I have been playing the cast album in the car and singing along . . . loudly. That’s an endorsement – CDs are available for purchase in the lobby!)

There’s no plot to summarize. Every character suffers from incompleteness. Everyone wants to be something else -- as one lyric states, "To be the version of myself/That I want the world to see." Amazing Alec’s right arm states, “I don’t have a pocket – that’s my tragic flaw,” and most of the others mull over the tragic-hero state and the fate implied for such a figure during the show. Death, fate and love are the themes here, and they are covered from a multitude of angles as the show careens forward.

Mystical Marla sports the bottom half of a car mechanic, thanks to Snowball’s magical wrath. Ditto for Alec, who can’t do much prestidigitation without his missing limb. Meanwhile, Arm (Colonna somehow performs covered in black, save for his brightly clad appendage) falls in love with Woman; everyone is at odds with each other, and all clamor for love and resolution from Snowball, who can only perceive himself as prey.

The abrupt and brutal and artfully staged conclusion still has me wondering what the hell happened. In honor of it, I won’t offer the usual sweeping statement or grandiose deduction or satisfying summation that form the final-paragraph-ending "kicker" of a review; "Stew" is a good, thought-provoking show and you should go and experience it.

Excuse me, I need to go drive around and sing now.

“Jugged Rabbit Stew” is presented by Buntport Theater, 717.5 Lipan St., Denver, through June 19. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; a 3 p.m. matinee takes place on Sunday, June 13. For tickets and information, please call 720-946-1388 or visit buntport.com/reservations.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A bitch to pitch: ‘Splice,’ ‘Killers,’ ‘Greek’ and ‘Marmaduke’


(Note: Just for kicks, I do a weekly roundup of local premieres on my "Preview Reviewer" blog. I had so much fun with this week's entry I thought I'd repost it here. Enjoy!)

OK, kids, a slew of selections come out this week, and we’re gonna give them to you in descending order of awfulness – complete with our guess as to what the one-sentence pitch that got each of them made was!

“Get Him to the Greek”:

“You take the freak from ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ and give him his own flick with the ultranebbish Jonah Hill!”


The bromance subgenre/Apatow School/Paul Rudd filmography has produced some winners (“Knocked Up,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Funny People”) and some dogs (“Pineapple Express,” “Step Brothers,” “Role Models”). How does this stack up?

Well, the trailer cuts all emphasize groinal/anal pain, massive drug and alcohol abuse, frantic anxiety, bad sex, and the like. Being as it’s Apatow-y, I’m seriously afraid that there will be some sentimental moments, or lessons learned, or character development of some kind.

Wouldn’t it be nice if none of those three things happened? What are the odds? I know – not good.

“Killers”:

“It’s a romance/comedy/thriller -- like ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith,’ only funny!”


Eeuh. I love Heigl, and ringers Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Mull all make little appearances.

It just sounds too busy. If they’re not kissing, they’re bickering, or killing, or fleeing, or something. Wack-a-doodle.

“Splice”:

“It’s ‘Frankenstein,’ only the monster is a hot chick that can swim and fly and kill people!”


WAAAAHH!! Scary. It’s touted as a straight-up sci fi/horror flick, although there are rumors that it’s meta, or ironic, or darkly funny, or something. Adrien Brody is fast moving into his equivalent of middle-period Michael Caine, when he’ll do anything for money. I thought Sarah Polley was past this acting thing – she proved what a great director she is with “Away from Her.” Maybe you should go, just to support her.

“Marmaduke”:

“Hey, you know that awesome one-panel newspaper cartoon about the big dog who’s always getting in trouble? Wait, come back! He can TALK! Wait, don’t call security! CGI DOGS DISCO DANCING! LET ME GO!”


This film was not made for audiences – it was made for torture purposes. You can use it on Grandma and Grandpa, forcing them to take the kids; I believe that the Department of Defense will screen it to Guantanamo prisoners and Afghan detainees. Will it prove superior to lethal injection? Will the Supreme Court bar its use and cruel and unusual punishment? Only time will tell.

ART HOUSES

At the Mayan, it’s “Please Give”:


The director is Nicole Holofcener, who made “Lovely and Amazing” and “Friends with Money.” We are in Woody Allen Land here; can we say anything fresh about liberal white guilt?

At the Chez Artiste, “OSS 117 – Lost in Rio”:


This parodic sequel stems from a long-lived series of spy novels by French author Jean Bruce, featuring a suave James Bond type – four years before Ian Fleming published his first Bond book. Initial film adaptations were serious, but the most recent are Gallic takes on the Austin Powers conceit.

Starz carries “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo,” “Ride the Divide” and “180 Degrees South.”

Meanwhile, the Regency Tamarac, they are programming Bollywood selections like nobody’s business. This week, there’s “Vedam”:


And “Raajneeti”:


There’s also “La Mission” – lead actor Benjamin Bratt will be at the theater on Friday – looks like intergenerational conflict, a change in the way of life and how we look at things, and an inspiring transformation.


SPECIAL EVENTS

SATURDAY, 6/5

It’s “Nuclear Madness” all day at the Boulder Public Library, featuring three documentaries about same – “In Our Hands” at 10:45 a.m., Dark Circle at 1:35 p.m., and “Nagasaki” at 3:45 p.m. These shows are FREE, and not for the timid or easily upset. Don't forget -- many atomic bomb components were crafted right here at Rocky Flats by friends, relatives and neighbors from south Boulder and north Jefferson County. I grew up downwind of same -- did you?

At Starz, the Kids Saturday Nickleodeon: Etienne! The Hamster Movie, 3 p.m.


This looks refreshingly strange! And believeable in the way movies aren’t, usually.

Then at 7 p.m., a FREE showing of the classic 1931 version of “The Front Page”:

Lewis Milestone’s film is visually creative, contains some great performances (Adolphe Menjou, Pat O’Brien, Edward Everett Horton) and codifies, as the original hit play did, all the clich├ęs about journalism and newspapermen in existence.

MONDAY, 6/7

At the Boulder Public Library, it’s a FREE showing of “Captains Courageous” at 6:30 p.m.

Victor Fleming directed this Oscar-winning tale of a spoiled brat who learns about life from a bunch of Portugese fishermen. (All right, no jokes!) It’s got the winsome Freddie Bartholomew, Spencer Tracey, Lionel Barrymore, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, John Carradine, Mickey Rooney . . . wow. Yes, I cried at the end.

EVENT OF THE WEEK:

I don't know what's up at the Mayan, but they are not publicizing these special showings enough. On the venue's big screen, downstairs, F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent masterpiece "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" will be seen at 7:30 p.m.!



The word "masterpiece" is overused, but this is truly one of the 10 best movies ever made. GO!!!!

TUESDAY, 6/8

Once again, the Mayan scores with two days of Hitchcock's great 1959 "North by Northwest" -- Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 and 9:30 p.m., on the big screen in glorious VistaVision and Technicolor!



Hitchcock's best film? Many think so . . . see you there.

The Fresh City Life series at the DenverPublic Library presents, as part of it summer-long “Presence of the Camera: Documentary Film Series,” Les Blank’s brilliant 1982 “Burden of Dreams” at 6 p.m.


Who’s crazier – Werner Herzog or Klaus Kinski?

At Starz, as part of the “Direct from Tribeca” series, it’s Julien Nitzberg’s 2009 documentary, “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” at 7 p.m.


Gee, y’all, I don’t know. I grew up with this kind of crap, so it gets old fast. Filming miscreants and sociopaths and their train-wreck lives as a form of entertainment/cultural anthropology lesson is fun for some. It may be wild, but wonderful?

The now-vaunted Film on the Rocks series kicks off its 11th season with “The Hangover” at 7 p.m. (gates open at 6 p.m.) For those who haven’t gone, Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside of Morrison, close against the foothills, is an inspiring location, and a great venue for music, film and the like.

 The marriage of a live concert introduction to a feature film, with sometimes a thematic connection between the two, is a lot of fun. This week, Kinetix, with The Pirate Signal, starts things off musically. The movie unspools at dusk.


WEDNESDAY, 6/9

At the Boulder Public Library, it’s a FREE showing of what looks to be the very good 2009 documentary by Mai Iskander – “Garbage Dreams” at 7 p.m. It’s about Cairo’s zaballeen – those who scour and scavenge the city’s trash, and who face the government’s interference with even that lowly way of life.


At the Thin Man Tavern, the Wim Wenders festival concludes with what looks to be an overlooked little gem – 2005’s “Don’t Come Knocking” at 8 p.m.


What a great ensemble! Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange, Eva Marie Saint, Sarah Polley, Tim Roth – Fairuza Balk? Eva Marie Saint? George Kennedy? Julia Sweeney? Tim Matheson? Wenders’ quirky filmography has only begun to be really appreciated. See you there!

THURSDAY, 6/10

Outdoor movies are all the rage. The Denver Botanic Gardens chimes in with a series way down southwest at its Chatfield location (near C-470 and Wadsworth Blvd.) with Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated feature from 2009, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Gates open at 7 p.m., film starts at dusk.


The Boulder Public Library presents Zeffirelli’s 1967 Burton/Taylor version of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” at 7 p.m.


To be honest, there are better filmed versions – try Kirk Browning’s 1976 work for the American Conservatory Theatre, or Jonathan Miller’s 1980 outing for the BBC. Or “Kiss Me Kate.” Burton especially goes WAY OVER THE TOP in this one, even though it is one of the Bard’s most ribald comedies.

At Starz, for “One Night Only,” it’s “Joan Rivers – A Piece of Work” at 7 p.m.


For a special treat, go to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts at 7 p.m. Go around the back, to the left, down the stairs toward Speer Boulevard. See the Ricketson sign? It’s now a small proscenium theater, but it was designed as a cinema.

For years, some incredible projections of some incredible films took place there. I saw the very first program there – an impeccable, glowing print of “Grand Hotel,” which changed my appreciation for black-and-white movies FOREVER. At 7 p.m., it’s that hilarious paean to old-school horror, Mel Brooks’ 1974 “Young Frankenstein.” Great cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld.


LATE NIGHTS

At Denver’s Esquire, the midnight movie is the immortal catastrophe from 1980, “Xanadu”:


“Open your eyes and hear the magic!” OK.

At Starz, it’s the Watching Hour at 10 p.m. – “Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors.” Don’t know about the movie, but the trailer is GREAT!


Last but not least, Century Boulder features the 1977 apex of Woody Allen’s career, “Annie Hall”: