Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Catching Up with the Merry, Murderous Month of May

It's May, which can only mean one thing. Tony Awards! Or at least the Tony nominations and a whole lot of discussion about who will win. If you haven't seen the nominations list yet, go take a look now. As expected, Hamilton cleaned up in the musical categories, picking up a historical number of nominations with 16. Yes, that's more than The Producers got back in 2001 (15), as well as more than the number of colonies (13) when Hamilton was helping to nation-build and more than the number of dollars (10) a Hamilton is worth and will continue to be worth after dodging a bullet from the Treasury and their money redesign people. History! It's fun! The awards will be presented June 12 on CBS with James Corden hosting.

If you're looking for a major piece of film history, you need to see Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game, which will be on screen tonight at 7 pm at the Normal Theater as part of their Tuesday Night Classics series. Renoir's film was made in 1939, when France was on the brink of World War II, but it was not well received at that time, and with no love from audiences, Nazis invading and Americans bombing, this masterpiece about different classes of French men and women playing at games of sex and romance in a country house was almost lost completely. But a restored print resurfaced twenty years later, putting The Rules of the Game at the top of "best of" lists ever since. Roger Ebert called it "magical and elusive" as he concluded it was "so simple and so labyrinthine, so guileless and so angry, so innocent and so dangerous, that you can't simply watch it, you have to absorb it."

Life looked very different 45 years later in the movie that has the late-night slot at the Art Theater and Co-op in Champaign Wednesday and Thursday. In memory of Prince, they'll be playing Purple Rain May 4 at 10 pm and May 5 at 11 pm. I lived in Minneapolis-St. Paul when Purple Rain was released in 1984, and let's just say people in those Twin Cities embraced their native son and then some. Purple Rain's picture of a talented musician with a fantastic sense of fashion, a beautiful love interest and a very messy home life defined the 80s for a lot of people. The Mod Squad's Clarence Williams III played the abusive father in the mix, with Apollonia as the stunning woman Prince's character, called "The Kid" was interested in. Prince's soundtrack for Purple Rain includes songs like "I Would Die 4 U," "When Doves Cry," "Darling Nikki" and "Let's Go Crazy" along with the title tune.

Marriage and betrayal are at the heart of Frederick Knott's thriller Dial M for Murder, on stage at Community Players from May 5 to 15. It's not so much a whodunit, since we know from the get-go that Tony Wendice, a man with murder on his mind, is the bad guy. Tony, played by Maurice Evans in the 1952 Broadway production of the play and by Ray Milland in the 1954 Hitchcock movie, has decided to do away with his wealthy wife, both because she's been having an affair and because he wants her money. But he doesn't want to get caught, so he blackmails a ne'er-do-well acquaintance into doing it for him at a time when he has a perfect alibi. And that's when things fall apart. Grace Kelly famously played the wife for Hitchcock, with Robert Cummings as her lover and Anthony Dawson and John Williams reprising their roles from the Broadway production as the criminal colleague forced into murder and the police inspector trying to make sense of it all. For Community Players, Andrew German is Tony, with Hannah Artman as his wife, Branden Smith as her boyfriend, Brian Artman as the would-be murderer, John D. Poling as Inspector Hubbard, and Jason Maloy as Thompson, another policeman.

Back at the Normal Theater, Ingrid Bergman fans have reasons to celebrate. The Normal Theater will show three of her movies -- Gaslight, Murder on the Orient Express and Notorious -- between May 17 and 28, with a documentary called Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words shown on other evenings as counterpoint to Bergman's films. Gaslight will be on screen on May 17 as a Tuesday Night Classic, with Murder on the Orient Express on May 20 and 22 and Notorious on May 26 and 28. The documentary plays on May 18, 21, 27 and 29.

Released in 1944, Gaslight stars Bergman as the victim of a scheme -- flickering lights, mysterious noises -- to convince her that she is mad. This is the movie that coined the verb "gaslight" to mean exactly that sort of scheme. Bergman plays opposite Charles Boyer, as her husband, and a very young Angela Lansbury as their maid. Bergman won her first Oscar for Gaslight and then earned her third 30 years later in Murder on the Orient Express. In this all-star adaptation of the Agatha Christie mystery novel, Bergman was cast against type as a frumpy, devout Swedish missionary who happens to be a passenger on the train where a horrible man was murdered in the middle of the night. Albert Finney plays detective Hercule Poirot, with a supporting cast that includes Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave and Michael York. Out of all of those actors, Bergman was the only one to walk away with the Academy Award.

And then there's Notorious, a sexy, suspenseful Hitchcock piece from 1946, with Bergman caught up in spy games with Cary Grant. Her father was a bad, bad man, a German who lived in the United States but was caught and tried for treason after World War II. Now Bergman's character, Alicia, has a bad reputation of her own, but Cary convinces her to team up with him to try to take down a creepy band of Nazis in Brazil. Her job entails romancing -- and even marrying -- Claude Rains, leader of the band, and trying not to get on the bad side of his evil mother. It's all very tricky, Cary plays down and dirty, and you'll need to keep an eye on the beverages in the plot, since both tea and champagne turn out to be important. I love this movie. I have its poster on my wall. Go see it on the big screen when you have a chance!

The last theater piece I have for May is Annie Baker's Body Awareness, scheduled for Illinois Wesleyan University's E. Melba Kirkpatrick Lab Theatre for three 8 pm performances between May 22 and 24. Baker's play is set in the fictional town of Shirley, Vermont, also the setting for her Circle Mirror Transformation and The Aliens. This time, Baker looks at a college professor who has set up campus seminars on the topic of Body Awareness, her partner, her son, and the photographer who specializes in female nudes who comes to stay in their house. The play involves gender, art and what happens to when people are not only aware of bodies, but what's inside. Click here for what information is currently available on the IWU SOTA production.

If you are willing to drive to Springfield or perhaps Joliet, you can catch the Royal Shakespeare Company's Shakespeare Live! in a movie theater on May 23. The RSC celebrated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death with Shakespeare Live!, which included "performances of some of the greatest dramatic scenes ever written, played by some of our greatest actors, as well as songs, comedy, dances and music celebrating Shakespeare's legacy. The show was conceived and directed by Gregory Doran and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate." Other actors who appeared included Dame Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joseph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear and Sir Ian McKellen. It was broadcast in Britain on BBC Two on April 23, but May 23 will be our first chance to see it in the states, now under the title The Shakespeare Show. If you're in England, you can watch the show on the RSC site, and the RSC Shop is also promising a DVD at some point. Let's hope they make a  DVD we can see watch here, too!

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