Although I mostly dedicated my time to reviewing films in 2014, I still dabbled in theatre, television, and music reviews — my other passions. Here’s a look at my best writing of 2014 for The Seventh Row that’s not about film.
One of the best plays I saw this year was Sam Mendes’s production of “King Lear” starring Simon Russell Beale (who played Falstaff in “The Hollow Crown” films) at the National Theatre of London. The show was broadcast to cinemas around the world via NTLive, and I wrote about why this was such an exciting reimagining of the Bard’s play and how well it played on cinema screens. Here’s an excerpt from my review of the production:
“In Sam Mendes’s almost flawless production of King Lear at the National Theatre, broadcasted live to cinemas worldwide through NTLive, Lear (the phenomenal Simon Russell Beale) is a megalomaniac slowly losing his mind. He suffers from dementia and is prone to violent, childlike outbursts of anger. He moves jerkily, shuffling from one side of the stage to the other. Even before he divides his kingdom, and before he mistakes a banana for toasted cheese, he’s a man in decline, desperately trying to keep it together. His daughters’ betrayal only catalyzes his downfall. The tragedy is heightened because he’s both a prisoner of his own decaying mind and the agent of his own destruction: by spurning and banishing his one loving daughter while bestowing lands on his conniving ones, it’s only a matter of time before they discard him. You almost root for his comeuppance – he created the monsters that spurn him, after all – until it all becomes too heartbreaking, too real.
When we first meet Lear, he’s an emotionally stunted menace dressed in military garb. His daughters are seated next to their husbands in a line at a long table while his knights line the periphery of the room. Speaking into a microphone from his desk facing his daughters, Lear demands that they publicly proclaim their love and affection for him. Could he have chosen a less personal method to ask for their love? Can anything they might say be sincere and not mere flattery when a performance is required?”
2. Television Review: Josh Thomas returns for a second terrific season of the Australian comedy “Please Like Me” on Pivot TV
This was one of the first reviews of the second season of the Australian comedy drama “Please Like Me” (based on screeners of the first four episodes) to be published, and it’s a glowing one. It’s worth going out of your way to find it. Here’s an excerpt from my review:
“The terrific first season of Australian comic Josh Thomas’s comedy series, “Please Like Me,” set the bar high with its unique blend of humour, pathos, and awkwardness, which didn’t shy away from the very dark – in the first episode, Josh’s mother, Rose (Debra Lawrence), attempted suicide – but always remained buoyant. After getting dumped by his girlfriend because “[he’s] probably gay,” Josh spent the season dealing with starting to date boys, taking care of his divorced parents – he moved in with his mother who’s depressed and was constantly calming down his mostly helpless father – and still finding time to dress up his dog, John, in dresses. As one of the best-directed comedies on television, by Matthew Saville, it even improves with re-watches.
The second season, which premieres tonight, not only lives up to the first season but takes it up a notch again: it’s darker, funnier, more epigrammatic, more mature, and even smarter. I watched the first three episodes twice, back-to-back, because it was just that good.”
3. Concert Review: There were never too many notes from solo mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile at the SFJAZZ Centre
This is the only review of Thile’s solo performance at the SFJAZZ Centre, and one of a small number of reviews of his US solo tour promoting his album of Bach Violin Concertos played on the mandolin. A little known fact: Frances McDormand and Joel Coen were also in the audience. Here’s an excerpt from the review:
“In the encore to Chris Thile’s fantastic sold out show at the SFJAZZ Centre on Friday, the refrain went: “I’ll play you a song on the mandolin. There’ll be too many notes, but then again…There ain’t too many folks can play too many notes on the mandolin”. And many notes there were – although never too many – across many genres, from classical music to bluegrass, all infused with Thile’s signature virtuosity and clarity. Within the first fifteen minutes of the concert, Thile had already made his way from seventeenth century baroque music to twenty-first century pop and his own original compositions. He opened the concert with J.S. Bach’s Sonata no. 1 in G Minor for solo violin, and seamlessly segued, without stopping or skipping a beat, into a couple of consecutive bluegrass tunes.
Genre-hopping is something Thile is legendary for, having in the past year performed in a jazz duo with pianist Brad Mehldau, in the folk/bluegrass quartet with cellist Yo-Yo Ma (whom he regularly upstaged), and with his progressive bluegrass group Punch Brothers. He also recorded a solo album of J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin on the mandolin. In a concert with such a mix, it’s no surprise that the audience was divided about how to show appreciation for his inspiring performance of the entirety of Bach’s Partita in B Minor for violin. The second movement was so good that we wanted to clap — and many did — while the staunch classical music fans hemmed and hawed, something I’d have been doing had this been any other musician or venue. But this is Thile, who is all about making music accessible and Bach relevant to a contemporary audience.”