Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered: Isabelle Huppert at BAM

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Andrzej Chyra as Hippolytus and Isabelle Huppert as Phaedra in the Sarah Kane section of Phaedra(s) at BAM (photo by Pascal Victor/ArtComArt, courtesy Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe)

Though the ability to play multiple roles is essential to the art of acting, there’s something uncanny about seeing the switch happen before us. Even when we know there’s some presentational trickery involved, as when separate performances by Tatiana Maslany are composited into a single scene on the BBC America drama Orphan Black, we’re beguiled by it. (This year, Emmy voters were too, giving Maslany the award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series.) The Peter Brook approach to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first presented in 1970, in which many of the players of the court scenes also take on characters in the forest scenes, wins us over in part for thematic reasons but in part for purely theatrical reasons—this is a form of magic, especially appropriate to that play, but increasingly popular in other productions. Multicasting is part of the very idea of small companies such as New York’s Theatre Bedlam, which is currently using it in an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Whether this means something I’ll leave to others to decide, but I can’t help noticing that these theatrical demonstrations of multiple selves seem to have become more common during the last half century, roughly the same period in which our concern with authenticity has grown.

A recent presentation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Continue reading

Versions of history: on Dallas, computers, & AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire

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Don’t mess with Texas coders: a promo graphic for the second season of Halt and Catch Fire (via AMC)

Tinkerers are everywhere and probably always have been. The very idea of ham radio, for instance, was that it didn’t matter where you were; once you built or bought a transmitter, a receiver, and an antenna, you were set—you could chat with people in another part of the country, the continent, or the world. The network of hams formed an Internet before there was an Internet; when other channels failed or were blocked, hams were sometimes the first to spread the news of disasters and other events, much as the recent coup attempt in Turkey was reported on Twitter as it unfolded (by Zeynep Tufekci, among others). Where computers are concerned, there’s been no shortage of popular histories that have shown the far-flung origins of the devices on our desks and in our pockets. In 1984, Steven Levy published Hackers, a book tracing the hacker spirit in electrical engineers, computer programmers, electronics hobbyists, game creators, and phone phreaks around the country; many of these figures, in places ranging from Boston, Massachusetts, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, carried the flag of the personal-computer revolution. Levy’s book didn’t, as I recall, say much about women or the rest of the world, but Walter Isaacson, writing more broadly about computer history in his 2014 book, The Innovators, looked farther afield, describing the 19th-century British pioneers Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, 20th-century figures such as Alan Turing in Britain and Konrad Zuse in Germany, and a variety of women who followed, one way or another, in Ada’s footsteps.[1] The popular histories may yet remain incomplete; Continue reading

Cameron Crowe sings the unsung heroes of rock tours: Roadies

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Motley crew: Some of the characters of Roadies (photo via Showtime)

In this much-heralded era of Peak TV, with more than 500 scripted shows (to use a commonly cited figure) available for viewing, it’s often thought that everything is competing with everything else. Some critics have grown fond of pronouncing one show or another the best drama (or what have you) on TV, as if that were what we’re all seeking. But in truth, the proliferation of channels and the multiplication of scripted shows have made it easier for niche audiences to find something to suit their tastes. If you like rock music—if you’ve followed a band from one club to another, or had friends who took their act on the road, or merely tried to make music with a guitar—I’ve got a suggestion for you: Roadies, a comedy-drama that recently concluded a 10-episode season on Showtime.

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Lying about truth, art about art, Caught at PlayCo

Caught image (by Carol Rosegg)

Who are these people? They’re Jennifer Lim and Louis Ozawa Changchien, but they’re pretending to be Wang Min and Lin Bo, and who are they? And why are they in a box? (The photo was taken by Carol Rosegg—I know that much)

On a social-media website just now, I saw something that asked whether I understand Snapchat. Because I talk back to ads in my head (Don’t you? How else to fend off their insidious persuasions?), I started formulating a response: “It is not a matter of understanding Snapchat. It is a matter of…” Then I realized that a particular character in Caught would’ve put it just like that. Clearly, Christopher Chen’s comedy-drama, being presented by The Play Company in New York through September 24, is having its own insidious effect on me, days after I saw it.

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Update: What have I been up to?

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No, really, I’ve been busy: engineer Gordon Clark (played by Scoot McNairy) in a Season Three moment from Halt and Catch Fire (photo by Tina Rowden/AMC)

I’ve essentially completed a long commentary on the AMC drama Halt and Catch Fire, about which I’d like to say, as a Noël Coward–like character in a play says about something he just wrote, “It’s so good it frightens me.” I’m not sure it’s that good, but I’ve pitched it, defying common practice, to a publication or two and am waiting to hear about that. Either it’ll appear here soon, or it’ll appear elsewhere, which I imagine I’ll think to mention. Here are a few excerpts from the current draft: Continue reading

Yes, Virginia, another comment on acting

An actor acquaintance of mine, Jeff Still, recently shared on Facebook an Atlantic article about the contortions that film actors have begun going through in the name of creating a character. Surely you’ve heard of a few. Jared Leto acted like the Joker throughout the production of the recent Suicide Squad film, a process that included pranking the cast with used condoms and a dead pig. Leonardo DiCaprio, a committed vegetarian, felt he had to eat real meat in a scene of The Revenant. Adrien Brody starved himself and (by one account) broke up with his girlfriend before doing The Pianist.

This overheated approach to acting Continue reading