Sunday, March 14, 2010

Around Town - The Geffen Playhouse

I've always found it odd that the city of Los Angeles doesn't have a distinct theater district like New York or London, particularly given that this is an entertainment industry town. Actors here can easily move from stage to television to film work and you would expect LA to have a thriving theater business, but it doesn't.
Our theater choices are pretty much limited to The Ahmanson and the the Mark Taper at the Music Center in downtown LA which is 30 minute drive on the 10 freeway (on a low traffic night) or The Pantages in Hollywood for those silly big stage musicals like CATS (snore) or random small theaters dotted about town in dodgy neighborhoods that are hard to find, and worse, don't have parking.

Fortunately, on the west side of town we have the Geffen Playhouse. Conveniently located in Westwood across the street from UCLA, in a charming old Spanish style building, it's the only place close by to see a decent play.
The architecture is unpretentious and intimate and it has this charming interior courtyard where you can have a cocktail before the play.
I hadn't been to the Geffen in ages, and I ventured out last week to see The Female of the Species written by Joanna Murray-Smith
and starring Annette Bening as the Germain Greer-ish feminist author
David Arquette as the sexually ambiguous son in law
and Julian Sands in a small role, Merritt Wever, Mireille Enos and Josh Stamberg.
Here's the short review
Three-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening (Being Julia, American Beauty, The Grifters) returns to the Geffen Playhouse as Margot Mason - feminist theorist and author of such influential works as "Madame Ovary" and "The Complete Insignificance of Male Sexuality." Loosely inspired by a real-life incident, The Female of the Species begins with Margot at her country home attempting to pen her next masterpiece in the peace and quiet. Problem is, nothing's coming. Nothing, that is, except for Molly (Merritt Wever), a former student who is intent on taking Margot hostage as punishment for her mixed message ideology. Enter Margot's overlooked daughter (Mireille Enos), her simplistic son-in-law (David Arquette), her longtime publisher (Julian Sands) and a disgruntled cab driver (Josh Stamberg) ... and all of a sudden a simple kidnapping turns into a battle over who can throw the first punch and get the last word.
The in depth review from Variety is here
I thought that the play was really well written and clever and I enjoyed the subject of what Feminism has wrought, both good and bad, but this specific production was difficult to sit through. The veterans Bening, Arquette and Sands were great but Merritt Wever and Mireille Enos both overacted their parts. That's not a comment on their acting skills but on the direction by Randall Arney.
And as much as I enjoyed seeing a play in a small intimate theater with great acoustics, the acting was so loud that I felt like I was being yelled at for 95 minutes. It was painful.

I couldn't wait to get home to finish my book, Belinda, by Maria Edgeworth. I have enjoyed this book more that anything that I have ever read by Jane Austin.
The book, published in 1802, is brilliantly written with interconnected themes of marital discord and harmony, friendship, jealousy, social class and gender roles. I would loosely describe it as a literary response to Mary Wollstonecraft's 1792 The Vindication of the Rights of Women. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the book is the mention of an interracial marriage which is described in such a blase manner that you would have thought that it was the norm in Georgian England.
If you haven't already read it, here's the short description from Amazon
The lively comedy of this novel in which a young woman comes of age amid the distractions and temptations of London high society belies the challenges it poses to the conventions of courtship, the dependence of women, and the limitations of domesticity. Contending with the perils and the varied cast of characters of the marriage market, Belinda strides resolutely toward independence. Admired by her contemporary, Jane Austen, and later by Thackeray and Turgenev, Edgeworth tackles issues of gender and race in a manner at once comic and thought-provoking. The 1802 text used in this edition also confronts the difficult and fascinating issues of racism and mixed marriage, which Edgeworth toned down in later editions.
So, while I enjoyed the clever writing in Joanna Murray-Smith's play, I'm not sure that it will endure for the next 200 years like that of Maria Edgeworth.
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Miss Cavendish said...

Ahh--Edgeworth! Lucky you.

And why did I think that that play was on in New York? Probably because I read a review in the NYT. I adore Annette Bening, but the play sounded like a female version of Oleanna--not that that's a bad thing, but a true mail carrier's holiday for this feminist prof.

teawithonesugarplease said...

I'm going to check out the Belinda book - as I am such a fan of Jane Austin. Thanks for sharing

Jill said...

Julian Sands...where the hell has he been?! I've always loved him. I'm trying to remember the first movie I saw him in, but my addled brain will not allow it!

Belle de Ville said...

Miss C: Yes I think that this play opened in NY. I'm looking forward to reading more Edgeworth.
Tea: Edgeworth is more difficult to read than Austin, it's wordier and more preachy, but there are some incredibly well written and clever language in it. I hope that you read Belinda.
Jill: Yes, what was that first thing that Julian Sands was in, maybe a Masterpiece Theater piece?
Wasn't he the hottie in "Room With A View" with Helena Bonham Carter?
Since then he's been in a lot of B movies, such a shame.

Jill said...

I think he was in something with a dragon...maybe. I'm a nerd for Dragon movies.

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