Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Party Down!

Saw "Abigail's Party" last night, in previews on Theater Row here, Mike Leigh's savage/banal whiplash-across-the-face-o'-bourgeois-London-life circa 1977, I caught this originally in a West End revival a couple years ago, this was a better production all round thanks to Scott Elliot's superior direction and incendiary ensemble work sparked by the phenomenal transformation of Jennifer Jason Leigh into a grating, suburban, proto-Chav hausfrau. We're in Pinter and Albee territory here, and Leigh evokes the spirit of Python and Fawlty as well in the maddening sing-songy cadences of the various British high&low accents on display here ("I staggered through your chitty dining room..." sang Ray Davies so aptly once in "Berkeley Mews"), although Leigh probably would never cop to this; in fact, the Leigh Man himself (remember the Fawlty Towers episode with the dead guest Mr. Leeman?) made an unscheduled appearance in the actual corporeal flesh after the final curtain for an impromptu Q & A with the audience and brusquely, with a whiff of what it is my sad duty to report came off to this citizen as a slight tincture of condescension, nyahed nyahed and stone-cold frustrated some poor soul who wanted the low-down on his famous technique of transforming weeks of improv into set-in-stone scenarios; he also scornfully told some young female questioner, "You don't look like you're 20!" after being informed by another audience member that a group of 20-year old fledgling theater goers were inda house...tant pis, I still like most of his films, especially "Naked" (anyone else out there ever notice how much David Thewlis channels Mark E. Smith to evoke his Mancunian anarcho-intellectual-punk character Johnny in that one?). This production will most likely be a hit, and any reader Manhattan bound for the holidays should see this.

My buddy Cineaste editor Richard Porton and I caught a preview screening of "The Libertine" this morning, and I dunno, while Johnny Depp is still about my favorite young actor he really falls back on trotting out his Capn' Jack Sparrow schtick pretty much throughout this murky, poorly lit (guess they were probably going for a touch of ye olde "Barry Lyndon" here) farrago which apparently lost its financing on the eve of production and as a result is fairly studio hide-bound (some occasional exterior shots of the English countryside circa mid-60's Hammer films come as a breath of, well, fresh air). John Malkovich in an unusually restrained performance for him actually steals the show, what there is of it, from JD here-- watching Johnny Depp as 17th century roue the Earl of Rochester swive his way through a succession of whores, get the pox, and slowly wither away is basically not my idea of a good time at the movies (although his strap-on silver prosthetic nose in the court scene at the end is a jolly nice touch). The director, hitherto unknown to me, confects an uneasy mish-mash of "Marat/Sade", "Tom Jones", Michael Reeves (there is one scene where they are almost surely trying to go for a "Witchfinder General" look), and various Peter Greenaway films (evoked by the usage of Michael Nyman as composer). Tim Roth actually makes a better fop than Johnny Depp (pace "Rob Roy"). Samantha Morton is wasted here; in fact the film cries out for a female performance on the caliber of the great long lost lamented Caitlin Cartridge (whose spirit is summoned here by one of the whores moaning "Johnny! Johnnnnny!" ala her character in the aforementioned "Naked").

And at this point, where characters and actors collide, I will rest my weary, media-saturated brain and sign off...



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see the play with my favourite Jennifer Jason Leigh in my favourite Mike Leigh. Booked flight and ticket...!

11/24/2005 1:57 PM  

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