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Matthew Maher (#110 of 4)

Review: The Muscles in Our Toes at the Bank Street Theater

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Review: <em>The Muscles in Our Toes</em> at the Bank Street Theater
Review: <em>The Muscles in Our Toes</em> at the Bank Street Theater

For those who’ve dared attend one, a high school reunion is an occasion in which one’s past expectations and one’s present circumstances come head to head. For the characters in Stephen Belber’s absurd and often poignant new play, The Muscles in Our Toes, the effort to reconcile the two has a very real impact on their immediate futures when they gather in the chorus room (hyper-realistically designed by Lee Savage) of their high school for their 25th.

Inside this history-laden space, talk among four old friends turns quickly from the conversational pleasantries of work, kids, and marriage to the person conspicuously missing from it: their friend Jim, who, word has it, has been captured by a radical political group during a business trip in Chad. Reg (Amir Arison), a mild-mannered government employee, proposes a peace website to bring attention to Jim’s predicament, but the rest of the group, including Les (Bill Dawes), a fight choreographer who embodies a beguiling combination of macho jocularity and progressive sensitivity, Dante (Mather Zickel), an uptight banker and new convert to Judaism, and Phil (Matthew Maher), Dante’s flamboyant brother, have other plans. “If we wanna live more engaged lives we have to get up off our asses and do something,” Phil says.

Review: Mr. Burns at Playwrights Horizons

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Review: <em>Mr. Burns</em> at Playwrights Horizons
Review: <em>Mr. Burns</em> at Playwrights Horizons

D’oh! Mr. Burns is an audacious ode to all things Homeric. What initially seems an obsessive-compulsive mash note to The Simpsons becomes a brain-teasing deconstruction of pop culture, theater, and ultimately nothing less than the storytelling instinct itself. A mashup of the trivial and the epic, the satirical and the tragic, Anne Washburn’s “post-electric play” makes for a bravura exercise in post-apocalyptic post-postmodernism.

The play’s three scenes take us from the near future to the next century, where a sung-thru adaptation of the animated sitcom, performed here in masks, harkens all the way back to Greek tragedy. This loop-de-looping cavalcade of narrative tropes couldn’t feel more up-to-the-cultural-minute.

Just before curtain time, my friend and I sat quibbling over Breaking Bad. He listed plot holes in the final episodes. I thought about never talking to him again. Then the play started, with a small group of people around 30 years old trying to recall every beat of a Simpsons episode—the punchlines, the exact notes of the score—while sitting around a campfire, the proverbial first performance venue.

The Best of Off-Broadway’s Theatricalization of Film: The Flick, Belleville, & Really Really

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The Best of Off-Broadway’s Theatricalization of Film: <em>The Flick</em>, <em>Belleville</em>, & <em>Really Really</em>
The Best of Off-Broadway’s Theatricalization of Film: <em>The Flick</em>, <em>Belleville</em>, & <em>Really Really</em>

The best Off Broadway productions so far this year—The Flick at Playwrights Horizons, Belleville at New York Theatre Workshop, and Really Really at Manhattan Class Company—would probably make lousy movies. There’s no shame in that, but plenty of irony. After all, the traditional well-made play still serves as the model for most film scripts. To stake out fresh territory, talented young writers like Annie Baker, Amy Herzog, and Paul Downs Colazzo have veered away from the classic theater conventions annexed by films. Turnabout being fair play, they’ve theatricalized film techniques and genres to come up with something all their own.

Baker’s The Flick is a virtuosic example of naturalism. But it’s also a high-concept exploration of the push-me-pull-you relationship between film and theater. Collegiate movie nerd Avery learns how things work behind the screen at the Flick, a movie theater in Worcester County, Massachusetts. His teachers are the 35-year-old, longtime attendant Sam and 29-year-old projectionist Rose. The plot is minimal and the running time is maximal, giving director Sam Gold room to exhibit how theater can match film’s vaunted prowess at exhibiting the flicker of feeling crossing someone’s face.

There Will Be Choice: Why Gone Baby Gone Is the Best Film of 2007

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There Will Be Choice: Why Gone Baby Gone Is the Best Film of 2007
There Will Be Choice: Why Gone Baby Gone Is the Best Film of 2007

I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that make you who you are: your city, your neighborhood, your family. People here take pride in those things.—Patrick Kenzie

Gosh, what a great year 2007 was for movies. You could wipe out the Academy’s five Best Picture nominees, replace them with five others, and still have an honorable rack of best-picture candidates. One of those second five could easily be Ben Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone—my personal vote for best film of the year.