Yearly Archives: 2013

Fun Home

Adult Alison, Small Alison, and Medium Alison in FUN HOME

Two weeks ago, Slate ran a short piece called “Fun Home:  Is America Ready for a Musical about a Butch Lesbian?”  The article quotes collaborators Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change) and Lisa Kron (Well) describing the importance of seeing characters we don’t usually find in musicals.  Kron said,

[S]he has grown weary of a tiresome trope:  In several recent musicals, “There was a moment where someone would say the word lesbian as a non sequitur because it was funny.  I’d be so on board, and then I’d be slapped in the face by it.  It was just like, This character’s a joke.  This is not a person.”

If the preview performance of Fun Home I saw is any indication, enthusiastic audiences full of all kinds of people seemed at once moved, amused, and enthralled by the story of a lesbian who is indeed a person—and a full, complex one at that.

The new musical is adapted from cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home (2006), a meta-memoir that muses on her own family history and especially, her father’s.  A closeted gay man for his entire life, Bechdel’s father, Bruce (played with gorgeous voice and excruciating anguish by Michael Cerveris), throws his thwarted sexual energy into refurbishing old houses, including the one in which his family lives.

The “fun home” is actually a funeral home, a business left to Bruce by his father, in which he toils of economic necessity.  He’s also an English teacher, well-known in the small Pennsylvania town in which Alison grows up.  And he’s also an infamous cruiser of men and adolescents, who plies young guys with beer and sherry and leaves his three children alone in a New York apartment during a vacation while he slips out to pick up tricks.

But he’s also the only father Alison has.  When she realizes as a student at Oberlin, after many years of boyish gender performances, that she’s a lesbian, she wants to connect with the father with whom she turns out to have something profound in common.  But because he’s utterly unable to speak the truth of his life, he deflects Alison’s questions and disappoints her emotional need.  Four months after she comes out to her parents, Bruce steps in front of a bus traveling down the street where he’s taken on a new house-remodeling project and kills himself.

Bruce plying a teenager with sherry as adult Alison remembers (Joan Marcus)

The graphic memoir and this lovely, surprisingly funny and aptly observed musical focus on Alison’s struggle to make sense of her father’s life and death.  Kron, who wrote the pitch-perfect book and the literate and often hysterical lyrics, and composer Tesori and director Sam Gold (Picnic), create a capacious physical and narrative structure in which to let Alison’s story unfold.

Told in simultaneous time, the adult Alison (Beth Malone) narrates, standing behind her drawing table, pencil in hand, pondering captions for her cartoon frames, but also moving into and out of the rest of the action as a kind of unseen visitor from the future.  She lurks on the edges of her own past life, watching “Small” (Sydney Lucas) and “Medium” (Alexandra Socha) versions of herself play out key scenes in her family history.  She wonders, from the vantage of the present, if she can write a different treatment to capture what was really happening in her past.

Alison reads over her younger selves’ shoulders as they write in their diaries, groaning over their facile philosophizing or their tossed off observations about key moments.  For example, Small Alison, after being unexpectedly summoned to her father’s side while he prepares a corpse for burial, notes in her journal that she saw her first dead body today.  Then she comments, with the same emphasis and import, that she had an egg salad sandwich and watched The Partridge Family on TV.  Large Alison can’t believe that her smaller self left so little record of such cataclysmic moments.

In some ways, grown Alison’s musing, spectral presence, while moving and elegiac, is the most elliptical part of this wonderful show.  It’s difficult to capture someone thinking about their past, which makes Alison a powerful but static presence, the stand-in for the audience as we, too, watch history play out.  But Fun Home’s narrative isn’t conventional; that is, it’s not motivated by plot or conflict so much as by moments, crafted to exemplify two lives that ran parallel but so infrequently truly touched.

The set design, too, by David Zinn (who also designed the costumes), moves the episodic scenes fluidly around on a revolve, that opens up onto various moments in Alison’s life.  The always-moving scene let’s the story clip, and keeps Alison literally moving into and out of her own history.

Lucas is virtuosic as Small Alison, whom she plays as a prepubescent rebel with a cause.  Already a tomboy, Small Alison plays out her boyishness with relish, especially in “Al for Short,” a show-stopping song in which, wearing a tough leather motorcycle jacket, she asks to be called “Al . . .” and then adds, with distaste, “. . . ison,” eager to crop off the remnant of girlishness that ends her name.  Lucas’s charismatic, perfectly timed comic performance is thrilling.  When Bruce appears to insist that she wear a barrette and a dress, Small Alison’s disgust is palpable, painful, and understandable.

The kids performing the fun home commercial in front of coffins (Joan Marcus)

Griffin Birney and Noah Hinsdale, as Alison’s put-upon brothers, are also terrific.  The three kids stage a commercial for the fun home, in which they pop out of coffins to sing the praises of their father’s business.  Later, as they pretend to emulate the normal, happy family life each of them understands is not, in fact, their own, the kids and their parents perform as The Partridge Family, under bubble-gum pop lights, with music and lyrics that echo that fabricated television band’s forcefully cheerful melodies and words.

The Partridge Family-style number . . . the musical creates presentational moments that leaven its inherent sadness (Joan Marcus)

For those of us who grew up as proto-lesbians in the 1960s and 70s (Bechdel was born in 1960), Fun Home strikes a deeply resonant chord.  I know I wasn’t the only one in the audience at the Public that night whose eyes filled as she watched Medium Alison, struggling to understand her sexual and gender identity, approach the door of her college’s gay student union office, only to turn away in fear and shame before she could persuade herself to knock.

I doubt I was the only one who recognized the difficulty of writing a coming-out letter to your parents while at the same time, being over-the-moon with newly found but forbidden desire.  Kron and Tesori and Socha (wonderfully awkward and earnest as Medium Alison) capture these emotions in “Changing My Major,” a song whose refrain is “I’m changing my major to Joan,” Alison’s first girlfriend (Roberta Colindrez).  Joan wears an array of political buttons on her coat and backpack, and patiently, lovingly accompanies Alison as she discovers herself.

Medium Alison ponders the changes in her life once Joan appears (Joan Marcus)

Socha and Colindrez have great chemistry, capturing the excitement and daring of what it meant to be a “woman-loving-woman” on a college campus in the 1970s.  As Joan, Colindrez is droll and understated, but warm and empathic.  Joan manages to connect with Alison’s parents on a visit to the fun home, smoothing the way for Alison to be fully herself with them, even as Bruce continues to refuse his own truths.

Judy Kuhn, as Helen, Alison’s mother, has the thankless role of the wife who knows exactly who her husband is, but feels powerless to put into words what he denies.  A character without agency is difficult to play.  But Kuhn works up a good head of ire and rue in her one solo late in the show, bemoaning her own choice to stay with a man she knows prefers men.

Small Alison's brothers watch the 1970s style cabinet tv (Joan Marcus)

Fun Home evokes the 1970s, with its characters’ bell-bottomed costumes (perfectly designed by Zinn), the set’s bulky television cabinets playing blurry shows to which Alison and her brothers sit glued, and with its references to all the sexual intrigue of lives played out in the shadows of a culture in which LGBT people were still utterly invisible.  That the musical makes that historical moment so detailed and palpable is part of its huge allure.

I was also surprised by the show’s humor, delighted to find its creators so willing to poke gentle, even loving fun at the foibles of this particular generation.  To bring a comic touch to a personal story about a devastating life at a painful historical moment requires a real gift, which, happily, is everywhere evident here.

The terrific actors carry the warm, wry book.  Alison (Malone) is constrained and regretful as she watches her father’s secrets play out, but affectionate and generous with her younger selves.  Lucas, as Small Alison, is feisty and insistent, so willfully determined to be the something else she senses she is.  (A friend who saw the show wondered how someone as young as Lucas could portray the emotions of an eight-year-old lesbian so well.  And isn’t it something that such a character can be played on stage now?  So many of us have truly never seen anything like our lives being embodied on stage in front of our eyes.)

Joan and Medium Alison (Joan Marcus)

Socha, as Medium Alison, nails what it feels like to be barely able to live in your skin until suddenly, you understand there’s a name for what you are and that there are others like you.  She shrugs on her new identity like the army jacket Joan wears.  It’s easy to see how this diffident young artist grew into the mature cartoonist who created Dykes to Watch Out For, the graphic serial that captured the mores of lesbian communities around the country.

In one of Fun Home’s most wrenching scenes, Bruce instructs Small Alison about her drawing.  She wants to draw cartoons, and he wants her to draw high art, his elitism seeping into the imperious tone of his voice and the way he handles her work.  As she resists his lesson about shading and tone, Bruce gets annoyed, returning her pencil with irritation and announcing that he doesn’t care if her work is crap or that she’ll embarrass herself in front of everyone.

Bruce gets ready for a court date that Small Alison doesn't quite understand (Joan Marcus)

The scene perfectly illustrates the father and daughter’s tragic relationship.  He wanted, on some level, to live through her in the way he couldn’t live himself.  Bruce wanted to be proud of Alison because he was ashamed of himself.  But he didn’t reckon on a daughter who—even though that moment with Bruce hurts and scares her—knows that she’s right about her art and her sexuality.  She knows that she’s a cartoonist and a lesbian; as Alison moves into self-possession and visibility, she realizes that Bruce will never be able to experience either one.

Fun Home charts a key turning point in a family and in a movement.  And it does so largely with music (though the show is not quite sung through), always with humor, and consistently with a gentle, intelligent, compassionate tone that honors and ennobles its story.

Father and daughter (adult and small); how often have we seen them on stage? (Joan Marcus)

What a miracle to see this show performed last week.  What a miracle to have same-sex marriage legalized in New Jersey this week, so LGBT people can marry if they wish.  I left the theatre a week ago feeling strangely seen and not quite sure how to think about that; I’ve spent so many years watching for lesbian subtext and trying to read queerness underneath protestations of heterosexuality.  To see lesbian desire as the text felt almost startling—and more wonderful than I can even begin to describe.

Go see Fun Home.

The Feminist Spectator

Fun Home, The Public Theatre, opens October 22, through November 17.

Romeo and Juliet (Classic Stage)

Classic Stage promo; strangely, very few production photos are on line

Classic Stage’s production of Shakespeare’s love story competes with the high visibility of Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad performing on Broadway in a rendering that got respectful though not rapturous reviews.  I’m a fan of Elizabeth Olsen’s screen work (she was devastating in Martha Marcy May Marlene and smart and appealing in Liberal Arts).  And because the Class Stage Company regularly turns in compelling versions of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Sondheim, and more, I opted for the downtown version, eager to see what director Tea Alagic (who mounted the exciting production of Elfriede Jelenick’s Jackie for the Women’s Project last season) would do with the play.

The stunning opening promised a lot, as one by one, to discordant electronic music, each character appeared on the nearly empty blond wood stage floor, taking their places beside one another in a line across the back wall.  Capulets and Montagues moved into their places, stonily looking into the audience.  As the cast filed in, a neon red line bisected the stage wall behind them, painting in one bold image the divisions that would doom them all.

Would that the production had continued with that clarity and force.  Alagic’s post-modern interpretation has potential, but perhaps it’s just not there yet.  (I saw a preview performance October 5th; the production opens October 16th.)  From that bold metaphorical beginning, the actors proceeded to wander through the language and meander around that nicely empty stage.  While they all cut bold figures, in contemporary clothing that hints at its Elizabethan referents—the men’s pants, for instance, cling tight and often hang below the crotch—Alagic’s concept quickly fizzles.

Julian Cihi

The young actors playing Romeo’s buds make a compelling visual group.  Benvolio is solidly played by McKinley Belcher III, and Mercutio by T.R. Knight (though sadly, I saw an understudy), both as guys from the hood who have Romeo’s back.  Romeo, the melancholic but quickly love-lorn and hopeful young man, is played by the slight but romantic Julian Cihi (recently graduated from NYU), a Japanese-American with an interesting face and long curly hair pulled back around his ears.  The three men get the affection and determination of their crew, but they falter with the language, which sounds under-rehearsed and as a result, meaningless.

Olsen also falters with the dialogue.  She plays Juliet as young and naive, constantly fingering the hem of her dress and her sweater (her virginal youth is signaled always and only by white costumes).  She looks the part, with her open face and her long blond hair, but her talents seem better suited for the more subtle expressions of film acting than they are for the stage (or at least, for Shakespeare).  Olsen’s voice sounds thin and untrained.  She interprets Juliet’s most famous lines through contemporary cadences, rushing through the words, tossing them off as though she’s saying “whatever” with a shoulder shrug and an eye roll.  Instead of making the speeches modern and relevant, this choice just makes her lines rushed and vague.

Alagic conceives the Capulets unevenly.  The patriarch (David Garrison) is cruel and capricious, wearing a red robe that evokes kingliness.  Lady Capulet (Kathryn Meisle) is played as an adulterer who’s in love with the quickly dispatched Tybalt; Lord Capulet’s determination to see Juliet quickly married to Paris (Stan Demidoff) is motivated by his jealousy over his wife’s affair.  Meisle plays Lady Capulet in the highest of heels, wearing tight pink slacks, a leopard-patterned shirt, and a long blonde wig.  Her too-chic, faux sexy bearing signals a narcissistic wealthy matron, a woman who can’t take be bothered to care for her teenage daughter.

Daphne Rubin-Vega (Streetcar Named Desire) plays the Nurse as a Latina spitfire much in the vein of Sofia Vergara’s Gloria on Modern Family.  Even some of Rubin-Vega’s inflections and cadences sound familiar from Vergara’s Colombian stereotype.  Wearing five-inch platform shoes that require her to totter about the stage, and black bolero pants with a white silk shirt that make her look like a dashing matador, Rubin-Vega plays the Nurse for laughs.  She and Olsen work up little affection or compassion for one another.  When they’re onstage with Lady Capulet, all three women’s performances seem flat and unattractive.  They’re visual jokes, rather than pillars of narrative or meaning.

Elizabeth Olsen

Finally, what is Romeo and Juliet without the fire of the young lovers’ passion?  Well, it’s a pretty dull slog to a familiar ending, with none of the pathos or wistfulness or sorrow that should accompany this most iconic of stories.  Olsen and Cihi seemed to be acting past one another when I saw the production, rather than igniting the surprising fire of first-sight love.  Their climactic death scene is rather quiet here, even nonchalant.  As they slump on the floor, the Friar expresses his regret, the lights go down, the curtain call is comported, and off we go into the night, perplexed, weary, and unsatisfied.

The production appears to have been plagued with casting changes.  Finn Wittrock (Death of a Salesman) was originally announced to play Romeo, and William Hurt was first listed as Friar Laurence.  With these two more seasoned actors in those key roles, and perhaps with T.R. Knight onstage as Mercutio, the production might have had more heft.  As is, it’s a surprising and disappointing miscalculation for the usually solid and compelling Classic Stage Company.

The Feminist Spectator

Romeo and Juliet, Classic Stage Company, opens October 16, extended through November 10, 2013.

The Glass Menagerie

Tom (Quinto) and Amanda (Jones) on the set, surrounded by the reflecting pool

John Tiffany’s brilliant production of Williams’s classic boasts acting so precise and full and rich I sometimes found myself raised above the play, marveling at the skill and talent instead of feeling my emotions caught by those expressed onstage.  As even Ben Brantley rhapsodized in the Times, the production is devastating from start to finish.  Those of us who know how acting works know how rarely even the best performers are able to make that complicated transfer of molecules from themselves to their characters, and between their characters and the others they’re working with.  When we see it, as at this performance, we can’t help but reserve part of our own emotional labor for empathizing not just with the characters but with Cherry Jones as Amanda, Zachary Quinto as Tom, Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura, and Brian J. Smith as Jim, the gentleman caller.

The St. Louis apartment, floating over a dark pool

These actors make these characters’ lives look both real and abstracted, through John Tiffany’s signature anti-realist moments that grace the production.  Bob Crowley’s gorgeous schematic set design, gilded with nearly mystical lighting by designer Natasha Katz, emblematizes the family’s isolation and displacement with two connected platforms floating on an inky, watery lake into which Tom and Laura gaze and sometimes almost fall.  Above the family’s cramped St. Louis apartment extends a fire escape, with metal stairs that zigzag up into the flies, becoming smaller and smaller until the trick of perspective makes them seem to disappear into the heavens.  The space of performance, in this elegant, elegiac production, makes palpable the play’s content and form; Glass Menagerie is a memory play, and Tiffany’s production gives it all the ghostly remove and fleshy warmth of regretful remembrance.

Most striking about these virtuoso performances are the new insights they bring to characters who’ve long been part of high school and college literature syllabi and acting classes.  Amanda, Tom, and Laura can easily be clichés, haunted by spectators’ memories of too-young women in amateur productions reaching for Amanda’s long view of her own embellished memories, or of similar women equally ill-equipped to inhabit Laura’s debilitating shyness and introversion.  That Tiffany’s ensemble finds so many new colors within these characters, singularly and together, is the production’s real marvel.

Amanda, Tom, and Laura create a family of three, haunted by their collective memory of the husband and father who worked the telephone lines and one day just decided to up and follow those wires elsewhere.  His desertion sometimes creates a vacuum not just in the characters’ lives but in productions of Menagerie, as mother, son, and daughter circle around the absent, destructive figure without whom they don’t quite know how to structure their lives.  Amanda’s husband was a drunk, a man hardly worthy of the southern aristocracy she imagines as her origins.  But for Tom, his father’s choice to flee represents a freedom whose sweet bitterness he, too, is beginning to taste.

Amanda and Laura, adoring one another

Within the crushing burden of their mother’s florid memories and Laura’s impossible disabilities and Tom’s latent but pressing homosexuality, Tiffany and his actors find improbable, hopeful love.  Tom and Laura might cut their eyes at one another and mimic Amanda’s long-rehearsed speeches about her days as a debutante, but it’s clear here that her children adore her nonetheless.  And who couldn’t?  Jones’s Amanda is a tour-de-force, a vivid, loving portrait of a woman who might be deluded about her past but is clear-sighted and determined about securing a future for her compromised daughter.  Jones is Mama Rose without the music  of Gypsy and without that stage mother’s cruelty and bitterness; when she sits on the family’s battered old couch with Laura, Jones’s Amanda caresses the girl’s face and beams at her with real love and devotion.  Jones’s Amanda isn’t the flibbertigibbet other performers often create; she’s a battle ax of emotional fortitude and pragmatism.  How else could she ensure her limited daughter’s future but by finding a gentleman caller to rescue her?

Laura, Jim, and the doomed unicorn

Jim’s second-act appearance cracks open the fault lines among the family’s threesome.  Smith plays him beautifully, as a formerly formidable physical and artistic specimen who’s lost his own footing against the shadow of his spectacular past.  As he begins to realize the weight of Amanda, Tom, and Laura’s expectations for him, and the inevitability that he’ll disappoint them, Smith delicately lowers the boom of his prior commitments, guiding the family gently into a future he can’t fix.  Smith and Keenan-Bolger play their crucially two-handed scene with nuance and affection, which makes the impossibility of Jim’s saving Laura that much more poignant.  The play becomes a sustained ache, made painful and profound by the depth of the characters’ tangled feelings not just for themselves, but for one another.

As he did in Once, the musical adaptation of the indie Irish film, director Tiffany gently reminds his audience that they’re watching a play.  Quinto and Keenan-Bolger, placed precariously on the edge of the floating set, perform grace notes of movement, gesturing out into the water that magically reflects their actions and mirrors the set’s height in what seems to be the pool’s immeasurable depth.  These abstracted movements (created by Steven Hoggett, who also choreographed Once and the equally impressive Peter and the Starcatcher) could be pretentious embellishments.  Instead, because they’re simple and only lightly symbolic, they read as moments of sad revelation, gestures toward emotions that even Williams’s words can’t express.  They don’t break the fourth wall as much as they bring a heightened vocabulary to a play and a production already soaked in sentiment (though not sentimentality).

The inimitable Cherry Jones as Amanda

Jones is always a revelation on stage.  She’s a terrific television and film actor, but the stage lets her expand her gestures and her presence.  She’s an actor with such a big, beaming heart, with such abundant love for the moment of performance, she has to be seen live to truly appreciate her intelligent, capacious talent.  Quinto—making his Broadway debut—meets Jones more than halfway with his own smart, liquid portrait of a man choked by his own inexpressible need for more than a mid-century, mid-West, Middle America life can afford.  Quinto’s deep-set eyes enhance Tom’s watchful intensity, but he matches Jones’s loose-limbed charisma to make Tom a sexy presence full of potential impossible to squelch.

Laura and the unicorn, lit by Natasha Katz to appear as though it shines from within

Keenan-Bolger, too, makes Laura an anchor point on the characters’ triangle, down-playing the girl’s famous limp and enmeshing her instead in a tangle of loyalties and confusions that somatize not just her own but her mother’s and brother’s anxieties and longings.  And Smith is equally accomplished and heart-breaking as the man brought to save them, who can’t even save himself.

Williams’s women have been much in evidence lately, with Emily Mann’s production of Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway two seasons ago, and Woody Allen’s borrowing of Blanche for Cate Blanchett’s character in Blue Jasmine last summer.  Cherry Jones finds the steely strength in Williams’s Amanda, but breaks our hearts with the depth of her love.

The Feminist Spectator

The Glass Menagerie, at the Booth Theatre, Broadway.

Emmys 2013

Diahann Carroll and Kerry Washington--class acts

The 2013 Emmy Awards deserve only brief mention here.  What a tone-deaf show!  What a shame that of several of the evening’s surprising upsets, Kerry Washington didn’t take home an award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her terrific turn on Scandal.  Watching the elegant, graceful, intelligent, self-possessed Washington present with the doyenne Diahann Carroll in one of the evening’s few blissfully shtick-free moments, I could only mourn that Emmy voters couldn’t follow through on Washington’s historic nomination by giving her the award she deserved.

Smart, talented, but she already won

Not that Claire Danes didn’t deserve to win.  She’s terrific on Homeland and I’m looking forward to the show’s return this season.  But Danes’s win demonstrates one of the problems with the Emmys.  The repetition compulsion, which rewards the same actors and shows time and again, makes the whole process dull and predictable.

Jeff Daniels in an upset

I’m not a fan of The Newsroom, and Jeff Daniels might have taken his chewing gum out of his mouth before he accepted his award, but at least his upset in the Best Actor in a Drama Series made for an interesting moment.  I admire out actor Jim Parsons, who won Best Actor in a Comedy Series for the third time for The Big Bang Theory, but wouldn’t it have been interesting to see Don Cheadle win instead for his wild turn as the Machiavellian management consultant on House of Lies?  In which, by the way, the wry direct addresses to the camera were used seasons before Kevin Spacey’s Shakespearean asides on House of Cards wowed viewers.

Don Cheadle, House of Lies, not House of Cards

Likewise, Modern Family is such a safe (and redundant) choice for Best Comedy series.  I watch it occasionally; I laugh.  But is the best comedy, several years running, really one in which a gay male couple plays out silly stereotypes, or in which the white woman is hapless (and beautiful), and the Latina woman is heavily accented, heavy-breasted, and arch but also hapless?  I know that Modern Family‘s comedy comes from how hapless, in fact, most of the characters are meant to be.  But on a roster that includes much smarter shows–Veep, Louie, 30 Rock, and Girls, among them–why keep rewarding the same old same old?

Merritt Wever: "I gotta go now, bye."

At least Merritt Wever won for Nurse Jackie, a well-deserved recognition for her comic chops and empathetic, carefully constructed performance as the irrepressible nurse, Zoe.  Wever is a masterful comic but also a terrific actor.  Her Emmy acceptance speech was terrifically short, sweet, and appropriate.

Douglas and Damon, Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra won for best mini-series or TV movie.  I disagreed with many queer viewers who saw director Soderbergh’s film as only campy and ridiculous.  I found the film unsettling in its portrait of Liberace’s excesses, his narcissism, his desire for ever-younger men, and at the same time, his consistent and irresistible showmanship. Douglas deserved his Emmy, as he managed to inhabit and humanize a man who fame had somehow separated from his own humanity.  Matt Damon was even better as his young lover, who’s taken in by Lee’s performative love and devotion, and doesn’t recognize until much too late that he’s only part of Liberace’s predictable cycle of lust and loathing.  Damon is wrenching as he comes to understand that he’s literally changed his face for a man who’ll discard him as he has every other lover.

Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake: Watch this series

I was also a Political Animals fan, and glad to see Ellen Burstyn win for a show that should have had more staying power.  Likewise, I admired Laura Linney on The Big C, as she played a woman with terminal cancer with gumption and grace, even when the show’s writing took weirdly trite and inchoate plot turns.  But Elisabeth Moss, as a damaged but dignified detective on Jane Campion’s atmospheric and masterful Top of the Lake, should have won as Best Actress in a Mini-Series or TV movie.  Stream that show–it’s a beautiful, gripping, feminist drama set in a small, incestuous, mysterious town in New Zealand.

NPH: Not well served by crappy writing and concepts

Finally, poor Neil Patrick Harris.  He’s wonderful on the Tony Awards show, where his Broadway-style hoofing and charisma has often carried the day.  But as the Times commentators noted this morning, his self-referential musical numbers and all the puerile jokes about his over-hosting syndrome were boring and irrelevant to the achievements supposed being honored last night.  It’s not his fault, exactly–poorly conceived by the show’s producers, the evening was off from the moment it began.  Giving award winners only seconds to give their speeches while letting silly skits and song-and-dance moments go on forever is a very peculiar choice.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Emmys were all about the speeches, instead of fabricated razzmatazz and flat attempts at humor and lowest-common-denominator entertainment? Wouldn’t it be nice if award-winners had to take a few minutes not just to reel off lists of agents and managers and family members, but were required to share their thoughts on what television means to American culture?  I regret Kerry Washington didn’t win not just because she deserved to, but because I know she would have given a gracious, smart, culturally engaged acceptance speech.

Would that were the norm instead of the exception.

The Feminist Spectator