November 13, 2003

The World's A Stage

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This week has been one of highs and lows; one of excitement and irritation. As a result, this dichotomy of emotion has caused a split in this week’s column.

The Good News

With only two weeks until our Thanksgiving break, the rumble of the holiday season theatre bonanza is starting to be heard. Now, more than any other time of the year, a host of star-packed plays are beginning to gather large crowds and rave reviews. For the movie or television star, the return to the stage is not only a periodical outreach for credibility (heck, even Brendan Fraser received praise on his retreat from the worst movie repertoire in the history of man) but also, it is a return to the roots of their respective careers and a comforting paradox to the world of Hollywood. And so, it is no surprise that these stars are appearing in numbers in New York City. The return of Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane to The Producers is undoubtedly the biggest sign of the current trend. The pair that elevated the staged version of Mel Brooks’s classic movie to near-cult status between 2001 and 2002 arguably offers the biggest eye-catcher of the season — especially for those who thought they had missed out on the chance to see them altogether.

Hot on the heals of The Producers in the race for ticket sales is the latest production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Jason Patric, Ashley Judd, and Ned Beatty. Firstly, can I just say, if the thought of seeing Ashley Judd in the flesh isn’t enough to make your spine tingle and your feet rush to the ticket booth, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. But even for those numb to Judd’s obvious (and admittedly not theatrical) appeal, Tennessee Williams’s play has always been a must see and with Beatty performing a second-to-none Big Daddy, now is as good a time as any to go. However, perhaps the most intriguing offering of the season is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV that features Kevin Kline as Falstaff and Ethan Hawke as Hotspur. Messrs Kline and Hawke will indeed draw a crowd that may otherwise pass by the doors of the Lincoln Center, but for Shakespeare buffs, the condensing of parts I and II of the Henry IV saga is a curiously attractive feast in itself.

Bad News

I couldn’t go any longer without getting my two cents in on the disgusting dramatization of two prominent news stories: those of Elizabeth Smart and Jessica Lynch. Here’s an idea: let’s take two stories that, on the surface, are horrifying tales of human indecency and then under the guise of “informing the public of their dreadfulness,” cash in big time on some heightened realism. Slap me if I’m stupid but are there not more accurate and morally correct ways of telling these stories?

First let’s talk about Elizabeth Smart. Or perhaps the real issue at hand is Ed Smart, the shameless exploitative father of a girl who was abducted and seemingly brainwashed by her captives before her rescue in March. When I heard Mr. Smart announcing The Elizabeth Smart Story — a cheesy made-for-TV movie — it was almost enough to make me forget about Ashley Judd in the flesh! But seriously, as if this guy hasn’t been milking the camera enough since his daughter was kidnapped, he is now parading around on Larry King and other such “news” shows getting a little extra face-time. Mr. Smart originally said they would not exploit their daughter’s experience, by the way. Did I mention there is a book too?

Then there’s the soldier who was reportedly captured and tortured by Iraqi soldiers before being rescued in April. I would never talk badly of anyone brave enough to go to war for their country, but again, it just seems like third parties are manipulating a very serious situation for television ratings. Originally Lynch was apparently shot and stabbed during her captivity, which was later proved not to have happened, among other seemingly twisted events which, conveniently for someone, Lynch cannot attest to due to her physical and mental health at the time. Last Sunday night, NBC aired “Saving Jessica Lynch” (sound familiar?), another made-for-TV movie with the pure intentions of informing the public of exactly what happened out there. Sure. Believe me, I would feel sick — indeed immoral — for thinking about these cases if there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of factors pointing to, in my mind, further human indecency by those who exploit these poor individuals. And I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way as irritation with the media frenzy is growing. So with that, let’s make serious informative documentaries of saddening events, not movies. Let’s enjoy some innocent drama this holiday season, not made-for-TV junk. And let me get a back stage pass to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for Christmas. But that’s a column for another day.

Archived article by Tom Britton