Well folks, the eve of summer is upon us. To my mind, it has already passed. How was yours? Mine…wasn’t terriffic. I am looking forward to a new season and am determined to make fall fun. But whatever else I can say about the summer, I have to admit, it was pretty kick ass in terms of pop culture. I saw 4 shows (3 musicals, 1 play); saw my boys play in Chicago; discovered some new bands and podcasts; read great books; went to a great film festival; and even had time to watch (or re watch) some TV. So it wasn’t all bad.
Below is the first installment of my best of summer pop culture picks. Feel free to share yours in the comments!
I saw a LOT of theater this summer. Actually, I’ve seen a lot of theater in the past year. Not sure how that happened, but also not complaining! It started in late May with Follies at the Kennedy Center, followed by Side By Side by Sondheim at the Signature Theater in June, Jerusalem in New York in July, and ended the summer theater tour with a return to The Kennedy Center to see Wicked.
My favorite: Well..see above. It was Jerusalem by a landslide. This play, you guys…go see this play. Well, actually you can’t; it was a limited engagement and closed. However, if you live in England you might have a shot. The plot is kind of hard to explain – it takes place on St. George’s Day, leading up to the festival to take place later that afternoon. The main character, Johnny “Rooster” Byron is a former dare-devil (think Evil Kneival) who has lived too hard and now makes his living selling drugs to the neighborhood teens who frequently come by to party and listen to Rooster’s stories. The police and Rooster’s neighbors want him to leave; Rooster refuses. But it’s more than that – it’s a metaphor for the rise and fall of England and a commentary on the state of the world today.
It’s a brilliant play – the writing is crisp, funny, and heartbreaking. The cast is sublime – in particular John Gallagher Jr. as Lee, who is leaving the next day to join the army, and Mackenzie Crook as Ginger, the oldest of Rooster’s posse who could very well turn into Rooster one day. (Disclaimer: I have been a huge fan of Crook’s ever since I saw him in the British Office; however he really is excellent.)
However, the real star of the show is Mark Rylance, last seen on Broadway (by me!) in La Bete opposite David Hyde Pierce. Rylance won a Tony Award this summer for his performance, and it was absolutely deserved. Throughout the course of the three-act play, he delivers a tour de force performance. It starts slow – in fact after the first act I told my Dad that, while I was enjoying the show, I wasn’t sure why everyone kept saying how great Rylance was because he was good but wasn’t wowing me. Well. Cut to act 2, then act 3, and I was absolutely blown away. By the end, I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for him to…um…do what was set up earlier in the show (for those who have seen the show, it has to do with a drum). It’s been about two months since I’ve seen it, and with the distance, I can honestly say he gave the best live performance I have ever seen. I am SO glad I got to see it.
So, you know, I liked it a little. This is what theater can do. Go see a show.
Runner Up: Side by Side by Sondheim, which was quiet and delightful, a little three person Sondheim revue.
This summer I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the SilverDocs Documentary Film Festival in Silver Spring for the second year. I saw several documentaries; not surprisingly my favorites were both from Kartemquin Films – A Good Man (airing on your PBS station November 11th on American Masters) and The Interrupters. A Good Man follows famed choreographer Bill T. Jones as he creates his latest piece in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial. It is a fascinating glimpse into the creative process. The Interrupters is about a group of gang violence interrupters who work for an organization called Cease Fire in Chicago. The film follows three interrupters for a year. It’s fascinating in a different way as well as both uplifting and heart breaking. It is playing in select cities now, so check your local theater. (Be warned: It’s a Steve James film so it’s long. Make sure you go to the bathroom beforehand!)
If I had to pick a favorite between the two, it would be The Interrupters. What a powerful film.
Runner(s) up: The Glee 3D Concert Movie – So much fun, and while I am sad it tanked at the box office, I am glad my theater was empty because it meant my friend and I could make comments and occasionally sing without disturbing anyone.
Company performance at Lincoln Center – Got to re watch NPH et al perform one of my favorite shows, and this time could see facial expressions. Also, April remains my hero.
It’s not a secret that I love a good podcast. It’s a wonderful way to pass the time on the metro or road trip, and can be a wonderful companion to mundane tasks as cleaning, making dinner, or doing busy work. About a month ago I was listening to Marc Maron’s excellent podcast WTF where he did a brief interview with comedian Kevin Allison. Maron talked about how funny Allison’s podcast was, so I decided to check it out. You guys – it is hilarious. It’s nothing groundbreaking – just a storytelling podcast ala The Moth – but it is SO FUNNY. Every week has a theme and the stories correspond to said theme. The live show podcasts are the best in my opinion, but they are all funny. I am starting from the beginning and still have 30-some to get through and have yet to be disappointed. Check it out here or on Itunes. Below is my favorite story thus far:
Runner up: Am I the last person in the world to discover The Nerdist podcast? Chris Hardwick,I had no idea you were such a geek. Also, how do you get awesome guests such as Neil Gaiman, Julie Benz, Mike Birbiglia, et al? (If you only listen to one, check out the Wil Wheaton show from earlier this year.)
Up next: my favorite books, music and TV of the summer.