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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hollywood Arms

There are two ways of looking at the anniversary reading of Carrie Hamilton and Carol Burnett's Hollywood Arms at Merkin Hall last night. As an event, it was a huge success. Just getting to see Burnett on stage and express our love for her was a major treat. She received a wonderful, slowly-evolving ovation. People clapped and cheered, and one by one, began to stand as we realized that the applause and cheers weren't enough. It took a long standing O to acknowledge the tremendous joy that Burnett has brought into our lives.

Emily Skeggs, William Jackson Harper, Cotter Smith, Michele Pawk, Tyne Daly,
Sydney Lucas, Caleb McLaughlin, Anthony Edwards, Jenny Jules, Will Pullen
Photo: Paul Zimmerman/WireImage
And just seeing the cast--Tyne Daly, Michele Pawk, Emily Skeggs and Sydney Lucas of Fun Home (once again playing the same character), Cotter Smith, and Anthony Edwards--walk on stage was exciting.

As a play reading, however, the evening was disappointing. While Hollywood Arms has lovely moments and some patented Carol Burnett humor, it's mediocre overall. The structure is far too episodic and repetitive, and the characters are insufficiently fleshed out. There's no convincing through-line, other than being based on Burnett's life story. People's lives seldom follow dramatic arcs, and fiction makes more demands than reality does. For example, while it's true that a stranger handed Burnett $1,000 when she was just getting started, the event is a little too deus ex machina for a modern play.

The performances were uneven. As far as I'm concerned, Tyne Daly practically walks on water. However, readings are not her métier (this is the second one I've seen her in). While she can tell an entire story with a glance, her line readings were awkward and lacked comic timing. I was also unimpressed with Michelle Pawk's performance (though I was clearly in the minority on that point).

Sydney Lucas and Emily Skeggs were both amazing, as always. Lucas could have been a touch clearer on some line readings, but her presence and vivid emotionality were almost frighteningly effective. Emily Skeggs nailed the long monologue/routine in which the character based on Burnett tells the entire story of a movie and plays all the roles. She also physicalized her character's determination beautifully. Cotter Smith and Anthony Edwards brought much to their small roles.

Hollywood Arms was obviously a labor of love for Burnett and her daughter Carrie Hamilton, who died in 2002 at the sadly young age of 38. And there was a great deal of love in Merkin Hall last night. As an event, the evening was indeed a great success.--Wendy Caster

(press ticket, 7th row on the aisle)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, but reviewing a ONE-NIGHT benefit READING???
And then filing a NEGATIVE notice when you've received
a PRESS PASS? And you THINK no one in the press corps
will notice? Go home, Pollyanna. Dinner is getting cold.

Wendy Caster said...

1. My understanding of my role is that when I'm given press tix, I'm supposed to review the performance.

2. Since the blog world is always evolving, I wrote to the press person to see if I misunderstood and told her I would remove the review if it was inappropriate.

3. She's out of the office til Thursday.

4. Be that all as it may, what I wrote was honest and not so negative, so I don't know why you got your knickers in a twist.

5. I was certainly more polite in my review than you were in your comment.

6. And I have the balls to sign my name to my writing, which you obviously do not.

7. [Fill in insults I would fling at you here if it weren't my philosophy not to fling insults. Make sure to include a good sprinkling of four-letter words and at least one seven-letter word.]

Tom Dudzick said...

I don't know if it's appropriate to critique "readings" or not, but I was there and I agree with Wendy's assessment. As an event it was a WOW, but as a play it missed the boat. But there's one thing I think everyone in attendance agreed on -- it was effing FREEZING in that theatre!

Susan Glattstein said...

I think Wendy's comments were spot on, except I thought Michele Pawk was wonderful. The event = A+; the play = eh. I also think if you are given a press pass, the normal thinking is you're supposed to review the event. And I also think that just because you are given a press pass it does not mean you are supposed to only give the event a positive review. One would hope the reviewer would be honest. Otherwise, really, what would be the point??? I have read many reviews of one-night only events... some positive and some not so much.

Cameron Kelsall said...

"And then filing a NEGATIVE notice when you've received
a PRESS PASS?"

Receiving a press ticket is not an invitation to be sycophantic. That's not how it works. And the fact that Wendy received a press ticket is essentially a tacit endorsement to file a review.

"And you THINK no one in the press corps
will notice?"

Huh?

Elizabeth Wollman said...

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, press corps! Notice us!!

Wendy Caster said...

I heard from the person who invited me, who said that the purpose of the press is to give an honest review.