Proof was better on stage

By Hilary Dobel

Proof concludes with a slowly widening shot, changing in scope from intimate to omniscient until finally releasing us from the claustrophobia of the preceding 100-odd minutes. Director John Madden’s first film since 2001 is an ambitious project: adapting any play for the screen is a demanding task, but Madden seems almost masochistic in his choice of Proof. The much-loved, Pulitzer-winning play by David Auburn (who co-wrote the screenplay) features only four characters and takes place without a single scene change. It’s only natural that the movie feels closed and contained, though it sidesteps being tagged “oppressive” by wisely rejecting the play’s single-location conceit. Madden and Auburn do a worthy job transforming Proof from play to movie, but the film suffers from the casting and performances of its four leads. Gwyneth Paltrow is Catherine, the moody daughter and caretaker of recently deceased mathematician Robert Llewelyn, brilliant before succumbing to insanity in his late twenties. The mathematician is played by an adequate Sir Anthony Hopkins, who wanders in and out of the movie via Catherine’s flashbacks. As Hal, a former student and admirer of Llewelyn’s, Jake Gyllenhaal is wide-eyed and appealingly earnest – and eight years too young for Paltrow, who is clearly and jarringly in her thirties. Last and least welcome is Hope Davis as a shrill and distinctly unlikable Claire, Catherine’s estranged sister. Claire arrives after her father’s death to bring Catherine back to New York, convinced that Catherine has inherited her father’s madness as well as his brilliance. This suspicion is only strengthened when Catherine reveals an immensely important and complex proof she claims to have written – but the authorship is dubious. Davis’ performance hurts the movie most – instead of imbuing Claire with any human qualities, Davis turns Claire into a caricature of meddlesome yuppie scum. Maybe Catherine does need to be taken care of – Paltrow’s rendering of Catherine, a reprisal of her stage role in London’s West End, leaves room for doubt. But Davis makes Claire too easy to despise. When Catherine runs off (at the airport gate, no less), there is no sense of surprise or relief because nobody, regardless of her mental state, would want to be “taken care of” by a creature like Claire. Claire and Catherine dominate and control the plot, which is precisely why Davis’ acting is so unfortunate. Although she was excellent in American Splendor, it is impossible to feel sympathy for her when she and Paltrow are screaming at each other onscreen. This is worsened by the fact that Paltrow’s Catherine is not an inherently likable character, either. When the two sisters fight in a department store dressing room, it’s hard to choose sides. It should be stressed, though, that Proof is not altogether impossible to enjoy. As a college student and a child of two professors, I appreciate the way Madden captures the university atmosphere: there are lovely exterior shots of the University of Chicago, small groups of students lingering on walkways and benches, eulogies in the university chapel. This is something altogether new and fresh. It provides a break from the claustrophobia that characterizes the vast majority of the movie, shot inside the dim, aging Llewelyn house. Proof does not suffer from a lack of intensity, and is surprisingly structurally intact. But its performances, plagued by suffocating close-ups and unrelenting seriousness, need the stage to breathe.

Intime’s 24-hour play festival

By Aseem Mahajan

The plays at the Second Annual 24-Hour Play Festival weren’t really produced in 24 hours. On October 8, at 12:00 AM, six directors from the Intime Theatre Company were assigned six separate sets of elements to include in the plays, which they would produce and perform by 10:00 PM the next day. The whole process took twenty-two hours, which, while exhausting, is not quite twenty-four. The process lent itself to loud actors-in-waiting, who would cheer on their fellow performers with well-timed phrases like take it off!, he’s so hot!, and he’s been drinking all fucking day! Here are brief reviews of some of the plays: The night began with Jack Kang’s “Walking” (directed by Chris Simpson). Hedy (Katy Lankester) appears on stage, pacing with a black baseball bat. Although she is wearing an office dress, the young woman looks like a school-girl more than anything else. Smacking the her palm with a bat, Hedy looks heady enough to bash skulls. Jim (Stephen Strenio) enters soon after, and Hedy opens the dialogue. “You’re late.” “I have a Job, I have Time,” written by Peter Landwehr and directed by Damian Carrieri, preoccupies itself with the role of the listener—the audience essentially hears the story from a “provider of pretense, of caring.” The central character (Shawn Fennell) works at a makeshift listening station, where he encounters Cynthia (Shannon Clair), who tells him about her job at a record store. Her stories ramble but attract him. Most of his thoughts are reflected through Lorraine (Courtney Mazo), who cooks his meals and listens to him muse over his job and life. Fennell conveys her strained part well, and although Landwehr’s lines for Cynthia are often garish (Cynthia often longs for a “verbal touch”), the playwright reflects each character’s need for company. Liz Abernethy’s “Damian Does Dolly” (directed by Doug Lavanture) revives twisted remnants of the mid-60s’ Broadway from the basement of a typical keg-party. Damian, a flagrantly homosexual student-turned-Carol Channing (Paulo Quiros) dashes onto the stage, croaking in despair: Fuck! Shit! Unstable (apparently because of “actors who leave during breakfast on the last night before the debut” of his play), he seems offbeat—wearing basketball-shorts and a green tank-top, voicing the perfect drag queen, and adding moans that remind me of both Gollum and Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb. Soon the distressed dramatist encounters a more typical student (Charlie Stone), who wanders into the basement. The two wind up dancing together to show-tunes from “Hello, Dolly!,” and the dramatist almost lures his dancing partner away from heterosexuality (“looks like you’re quacking up the wrong bird!”). “The Widows’ Chakla,” directed by Lucas Barron and written by Wasim Shiliwala, was about a newly-widowed Indian bride (Frankie Butler) and an older woman (also played by Lucas Barron). The play tosses around some social issues (the morality of killing a husband, even if he disrespected the bride), yet remains cloudy, awkwardly stuck between irony and sobriety. Barron offers an outstanding Indian accent, and Butler does well in the macabre situation. “Death and Marie,” written by Andy Hoover and directed by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, depicts the suicide of young Marie (Sara-Ashley Bischoff), who realizes that her boyfriend, Frank, has been using a time machine to have affairs with Katherine the Great, Cleopatra, and Marilyn Monroe. After hanging herself, the girl encounters a cranky and nostalgic Death (Daria Hrabov), who discusses her own love-life with the likes of Entropy, Causality, Random Chance, and God (awkward “office romance and group sex” hindered the relationship). Hoover approaches hefty topics with clarity, and while unraveling the conversation between Death and Marie, he implies that perhaps causality outlasts death. The 24-Hour Play Festival offered great variety, though the informal atmosphere made the experience seem more improvisational than scripted. At the same time, each play was never afraid to confront the audience with the often comic reality of only twenty-two hours worth of preparation.

CD Reviews: You Could Have it So Much Better AND Armed Love

By Andrew Heyman

Franz Ferdinand’s eponymous 2004 debut cemented them as the critically adored commercial kings of the retro rock revival movement, even if they arrived a bit late to the party. And so it’s only natural that their sophomore release should be met with its fair share of hype, as well as speculation as to whether the same tragedies that befell so many of their peers’ second albums would haunt America’s favorite Scottish imports. Thankfully, Franz manages to avoid such pitfalls with flying colors.

Their latest release, “You Could Have It So Much Better,” still features many of the band’s trademarks, such as the unmistakable croon of frontman Alex Kapranos, witty lyrics delivered over danceable post-punk pop beats, and the jerky Gang of Four-esque twin guitar attack of Kapranos and Nick McCarthy. But Franz have also managed to grow quite a bit in the past year. Drummer Paul Thomson is looser and surer of himself; Kapranos, McCarthy and bassist Bob Hardy are more in sync than ever; and the band’s songwriting is more adventurous and varied. The album’s lead single, “Do You Want To,” is very much in the vein of “Take Me Out,” but “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” and “Walk Away” showcase a subdued side of the band we haven’t heard before. In addition, Rich Costey’s production brings out the band’s sexual and kinetic energy, which, though obvious live, was sorely lacking on “Franz Ferdinand.”

Still, the album is not without its flaws. At times, Kapranos’ vocals can border on an awkward bark that seems out of place. Thomson’s drumming, though more professional, is also more generic, and Costey has placed Kapranos’ vocal too low in the mix, opting instead to emphasize the over-produced guitars. This is a shame, considering Kapranos’ voice, which amalgamates the best aspects of Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell with his own pop stylings, is the best thing Franz have going for them. The guitars also simply sound too good – Costey would have done well to take a cue from The Futureheads, and indeed from Franz’s first album, and recorded them with a more raw and brittle sound.

Regardless, though, the quality of the songwriting shines through.

What this ultimately amounts to, of course, is that “You Could Have It So Much Better” is even more radio-friendly than its predecessor, with the potential to produce even more hit singles. Franz Ferdinand clearly have another commercial and critical hit on their hands. Bravo, well done.

KICKER: “Armed Love” by The (International) Noise Conspiracy

AUTHOR: Andrew Heyman

The (International) Noise Conspiracy are a funny little band, primarily because their ultra-radical hyper-Marxist politics appear to contradict their seemingly complete willingness to embrace the capitalist music industry. And also because, no matter how hard the Swedish proto-punk quartet tries, they will never be able to escape the shadow of frontman Dennis Lyxzen’s former band, Refused.

But with “Armed Love,” (I)NC make their most valiant effort yet. After two albums on Epitaph/Burning Heart, the band has made the jump to American Records. The result is, as expected, a much more polished and pop-oriented effort, helmed by über-producer Rick Rubin. And that actually ends up being a very good thing. Since rising from Refused’s ashes with their first release, “Survival Sickness,” (I)NC have gone for the sound that their more mainstream Swedish peers, like the Sahara Hotnights, Hives, and Sounds, have perfected. While the rest of the band has mostly been on target, Lyxzen has had trouble holding his own. His voice and enunciation, so accustomed to all the screaming he used to great effect with Refused, never meshed correctly with (I)NC’s R&B-inflected garage punk. Until now.

Something has clicked for Lyxzen on “Armed Love,” and it is as if he finally “gets” (I)NC’s groove. The charisma, clarity, and passion of his personality and words at last match that of his voice.

This is in large part due to the band finally dropping the tough-guy act and embracing the fact that they’re essentially a dance rock band. The saxophone solo on “A Small Demand” is testament to that. Indeed, songs like “Black Mask” and “The Way I Feel About You” are rather reminiscent of The Soundtrack of Our Lives. However, (I)NC still maintains that intensity and energy that have made them so magnetic over the years.

But is it possible for a band whose music screams “Have fun! Party! Dance!” to maintain an effective serious political message? More so than before, (I)NC’s radical ideas seem to get lost in the shuffle, though they’re somewhat hard to ignore when a song is titled “Communist Moon.” But, again, this ends up working to the band’s advantage: the politics are there if you want them, but “Armed Love” can run on music alone. Though (I)NC may not break much new musical ground with their latest release, fans of the new breed of Swedish rock would do well to check it out.

Kicker: Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple

Author: Peter Landwehr

Fiona Apple’s return has become one of the more talked about musical events of the year and a chance for people to pontificate about the value of production. Apparently legions of people are concerned that Apple’s new album, Extraordinary Machine, does not measure up to the leaked unfinished version that came out earlier this year, while other legions claim that the new album is an unquestionable triumph. All that needs saying is that if you would like the unmastered non-final version of the album, produced by Jon Brion, you can find it online. The final album, produced by Mike Elizondo, can be found at your local record store.

In her long absence, Apple’s voice has gained an extra bit of huskiness, and she spits, sings, and tremolos her way across 12 off-kilter tempo-switching jazzy tracks with natural grace. Apple still loves wordy lyrics (“A voice once stentorian is now again / Meek and muffled”) and songs about falling out of love, being out of love, and being one’s own woman. Elizondo pushes Apple’s voice and piano to the front of the mix, fleshing out the sound with a various mix of guitar, bass, synth, and surprisingly restrained percussion that is never overbearing; even on “Tymps,” with its heavy marimba beat, the feeling is light. Despite the hype over the change in roles, the fact is that Elizondo and Brion have known each other, and the former has taken cues from the latter’s earlier version of this album and Apple’s previous CD, When The Pawn… . This album is not perfect – the childishly bouncy “Window” and ambient background of “Red Red Red” stand out, but this is otherwise one of those albums that blends pop, jazz, orchestral ensembles and a hint of rock to fill a previously empty niche in your record collection.

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