Monday, August 29, 2011


Disguise (August 26, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: August 29, 2011)

Comet donned this disguise for a while after he saw Superman. He gave it up, saying it only worked 2.7% of the time. He figures he just couldn't match Christopher Reeve's charm. While that is a tall order, we know Comet never lacks in charm. So, I suggested that it was more likely the tail that gave him away. Encouraged, he's back to researching this method.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


A bit under the influence, Simon settles in his sunny window seat for an afternoon nap.

Influence (August 19, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: August 19, 2011)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Uncle Vanya

Hi everyone,

To go along with my book-related posts, I've decided to add more entertainment value to my blog with some arts-related news. Every once in a while, I put down my markers and make it out of the apartment to attend an event, browse through a museum, or see a movie.

During my sister's visit earlier this month, we did all of that and more. In three days, we visited The Kennedy Center to see Uncle Vanya and Wicked, we toured the Holocaust Museum and the D.C. aquarium, and we squeezed in some Cowboys and Aliens to balance things out.

While I highly recommend all those things, I'll focus on The Sydney Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya. Cate Blanchett--one of our favorite, favorite actresses--and her husband writer/director Andrew Upton took over artistic direction of The Sydney Theatre Company in Australia in 2008 and the following year showed up at The Kennedy Center with a production of A Streetcar Named Desire. For that show, we sat four rows from the stage in awe.

This year, they have returned with Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekhov's classic tale of discontented lives. While we were neither as familiar with this play nor as close to the stage, the production and performances were just as gripping.

Uncle Vanya and Yelena
© Lisa Tomasetti
Set in an old farmhouse managed by Vanya (Richard Roxburgh) and his niece Sonya (Hayley McEllhinney), the story evolves around a prolonged visit from Sonya's father, Professor Serebryakov (John Bell), and his second, much-younger wife Yelena (Cate Blanchett). Love triangles and other personal frustrations are revealed: Vanya worships Yelena. Yelena and Sonya both love the country doctor (Hugo Weaving). And, the professor--who inherited control of the estate from his deceased first wife, Vanya's sister--plans to start fresh by selling the place.

Being a Chekhov play, my sister and I expected it to depress us. Instead, we were surprised by its humor and physicality, aspects enhanced in Andrew Upton's adaptation and under Tamas Ascher's direction. I particularly liked the story's timelessness and modern feel. Despite the play's origin--written in Russia in 1897--time and place are not defined or identifiable in this production. And, all of the characters have fantastic Australian accents.

Following a 6-month break after Uncle Vanya's first run in Sydney, this all-Australian cast reconvened for its exclusive U.S. engagement in D.C. By the time it got here, the director trusted the cast with the material and told them to surprise each other every night. This gives them the freedom to work within the framework of the play and means that each show is apparently a little different from the last. (Now, I kind of want to see it again!)

Catch it while you can! Uncle Vanya plays at The Kennedy Center through August 27.

Cate and Company
Lucky me! When Cate Blanchett was performing in A Streetcar Named Desire here 2 years ago, I attended a lunchtime discussion with her about that play. Repeating the treat, a similar evening discussion with all of Uncle Vanya's major players took place last night. Here are some good comments from satisfied audience members: "I've been coming to the theatre for 40 years, and you, Ms. Blanchett, are the most captivating performer I have ever seen!" and "I know you have your choice of where to take the Sydney Theatre Company productions. You could go to New York--or anywhere--but you chose The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. For that, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart." Right on, brothers.

The final question from the audience was a generic one: What advice would you give a young theatre artist? Richard Roxburgh was last to answer because he took a long time to articulate his response. I think I figured out that he was trying to say you should feel free as an artist. You should feel lucky and  always enjoy the exploration and journey, living life to the fullest. But it came out something like this: "You know, as artists, you have have to....You know, I always think of Pablo Picasso as the ultimate....the ultimate--"
"Philanderer," Cate interrupted.
"Yes! And that's my advice."

While this isn't the same discussion, you can get a taste of Uncle Vanya through this short interview with Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh, which aired on PBS Newshour earlier this week:

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour. (© PBS Newshour)

You can see the full 20-minute PBS Newshour interview here. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #11--Don Juan DeMarco (1994)

A note from me:
I know, it's late--technically. While I could go into detail about my frustrating struggles to format this post correctly for the last 4 hours, I'll just say that Blogger does not always cooperate. The spacing will apparently be eternally off, and there is nothing I can do about it. Wait, should I challenge Blogger to a duel now? I don't think I'd win. Oh well--Here's this month's Johnny Kitties....Enjoy!

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Johnny is Don Juan!
"Oh well, now I must die."
© New Line Cinema
Ten days before retirement, psychiatrist Jack Mickler (Marlon Brando) meets his next patient who challenges him to a duel. Dressed in full regalia of fabled Spanish seducer Don Juan DeMarco (Johnny Depp), the broken-hearted 21-year-old threatens suicide over his lost love Dona Ana. Dr. Mickler thinks fast, poses as Don Octavio De Flores, and talks him out of it. They strike a deal: Don Juan had 10 days to tell his story (in a great Spanish accent that Johnny modeled after Ricardo Mantalban by watching "Fantasy Island" reruns--I love that!). Then, Dr. Mickler must decide whether Don Juan's telling the truth or if he should be committed to a mental institution. 

Along with Dr. Mickler, the hospital staff is soon transfixed by Don Juan, his story, and his views on love and life. Who can  blame them? As Dr. Mickler says, "It's a wonderful world that he's in."

Johnny meets Marlon Brando!
Instant pals...
© New Line Cinema
Not only is the thought of Johnny portraying The World's Greatest Lover quite appealing, but this film also reunites Johnny with Faye Dunaway for the first time since Arizona Dream. The most exciting thing about this movie, though, is that Johnny costars with Marlon Brando! Recognizing the importance of this pairing, I was even more thrilled to learn that it was Johnny's idea to cast Marlon as the psychiatrist. (Imagine me nodding here, "Of course he did!") "Everybody looked at me like I was insane," Johnny says, "But he's the one I kept seeing in the role when I read the script." Although writer/director Jeremy Leven assumed there was no chance to cast Marlon Brando, he agreed to try anyway. "The next thing I know, I'm sitting in Marlon's living room, and we're making a movie," Leven remembers. "I think he really liked Johnny." (Imagine me nodding here, "Of course he did!")

The rest of the crew describes the experience as the passing of the torch from the greatest actor of one generation to the greatest actor of another. "I think Johnny is far and away the most talented of today's young actors," Jeremy Leven notes. "He is very much like Marlon on many fronts. They both have a 100% bull detector in that they know what is false and not working in a scene. They both have incredible instinct for knowing what writing is all about. And then, of course, they both have a lot of turmoil inside." Johnny takes a different view: "All the feelings are there--teacher and student, father and son. He's a hero." 

Johnny and Marlon loved working together on this film. "The most important thing I learned from Marlon was to keep a straight face," Johnny says. "That became the objective in a lot of the scenes, to just be able to get through it without exploding. Marlon is hilarious." They enjoyed a similar sense of humor and remained close friends until Marlon's death 10 years later. Can you imagine? Once the film was released, Johnny had to respond to constant questions about his relationship with the screen legend. Early on, he mentioned that his sister heard a phone message from Marlon on his answering machine once. Her comment: "Your life is so surreal...."

© New Line Cinema
Don Juan is contagious.
Don Juan DeMarco will make you happy. This film has a special spirit and sweetness with really funny moments that the whole family can enjoy. (Mine did.) Whether you believe Don Juan's story or not, you can't help but want become part of his world or--at least--appreciate love a little more than you did before.

(Be warned, like Benny and JoonDon Juan De Marco includes another infectious song, Bryan Adams's "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman." It will get--Great, it's stuck in my head.) 

The Kitties feel the love....
My favorite scene in this movie is the one in which Johnny isn't being Don Juan. But I lost the vote to draw that. When your subject is The World's Greatest Lover, you have to acknowledge all of his conquests--despite the daunting task of portraying 1,501 cats. 

So, here, Don Juan is in session with Dr. Mickler (Norman). They are discussing his escape from the harem in which he was enslaved for 2 years.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #11--Don Juan De Marco (1994) [May 30, 2011]

While Don Juan describes bidding adios to his many lovers, I imagine this tale may have sparked other romantic notions in Dr. Mickler. He may not realize it yet, but inspiration is brewing. Soon, he'll learn of Don Juan's true love Dona Ana, and Dr. Mickler will book a flight with his wife (The Mother Kitty) and ex-patient to the Island of Eros, where Dona Ana has vowed to wait through all eternity for Don Juan's return.

Do you think she's still there? Do you see yourselves waltzing on the beach with The Micklers now too? Why not?

Next month, Johnny's late for an appointment.
Johnny loses the accent and plays an accountant. Set your watch for action/thriller Nick of Time.