Posted in Television

Onward

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Now that was…satisfying.

I meant that as a compliment. “Winds of Winter,” the season finale of “Game of Thrones” brought at least two story arcs to an end, initiated several more, and continued to tease another like a veteran stripper twirling her tassels at an audience. Nicely done, show runners.

Courtesy of Cersei, the Sparrows and their followers, along with Ser Loras, Margaery and their father, were all blown to Kingdom Come. While I’m certain the faithful wanted to get there eventually, it’s a safe bet that wildfire, King’s Landing’s variety of napalm, would never have been their vehicle of choice. I have to confess I’m going to miss that little schemer Margaery who was such a great foil for Cersei. I can’t say the same for the High Sparrow or Tommen, whose suicide seemingly earned little sympathy from the mother he had condemned to the Sparrows. Thus is fulfilled the prophesy that Cersei would see the deaths of all her children.

She certainly wasted no time weeping. Having seized the Iron Throne after years of marginalization by the men in her life, she now rules a kingdom that’s about to come under siege. Is she up to the task? I have to say her own brother looked none too happy about Queen Cersei’s power grab. Falling out of love at long last, perhaps?

Contrast their situation with that of the third Lannister sibling. Tyrion has done quite well for himself. He’s a Hand once more, this time to Queen Danaerys, and on his own merit, not as a plant by his father. Bravo.

Even better was Arya’s avenging the Red Wedding. Before we get there though, I have to wonder what would have happened had Jamie bedded her in her serving wrench disguise. No doubt he would have met the same fate as Walder Frey, but without the benefit of special baked goods (Nice wink at Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” there, show runners). Before this episode aired, the rumor on the interwebs was that Arya would do the deed in Lady Stoneheart disguise. Though the Lady is still MIA, the sight of Walder Frey’s slit throat and Arya’s smile made for lovely viewing.

In other Stark news, Jon Snow’s identity as Lyanna’s son was finally confirmed, though you had to know from Season 1 that Ned Stark was not his father (Ned would get all moody and distant when the subject of Jon’s mother came up, so it didn’t take much brainpower to put two and two together. Starks are not Lannisters, after all). However it seems we’re still being teased about his paternity. OK, Lyanna was abducted, but is this conclusive? What did she whisper in Ned’s ear before she died? Lip readers to the fore, please!

Bastard or no, Jon Snow is now King of the North, courtesy of Itty Bitty Lady Mormont’s calling out the slackers and Sister Sansa’s rebuff of Lord Baelish. Speaking of which, Sansa’s certainly got his number by now: “Anyone who trusts Littlefinger is a fool.” On the other hand, it may prove wiser in the long run for her to have observed the adage: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” I would think Littlefinger, always drawn to power, may shortly be hightailing it back to King’s Queen’s Landing to join forces with Cersei. And with Melisandre having been turned out of Winterfell and now freelancing, who knows what will happen?

[By the way, have you noticed how tall Sophie Turner has gotten? It’s somewhat amusing that she can now literally look down on both Aiden Gillen and Kit Harrington. Foreshadowing?]

So we end Season 6 with the Tyrells (Lady Olenna never misses a step), Martells, Iron Born and Targaeryan/Dothraki forces sailing to Westeros to install Dany as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Varys succeeded in his mission, the dragons are flying and Dany is at the helm. But winter has arrived—will she still prevail? Other wildcards include Arya, now making her way to Winterfell, the Hound and the Brotherhood Without Banners, Brienne and Gendry (Remember him? Robert Baratheon’s bastard).

Plenty to go around in the future, though it seems only two shortened seasons remain. I’ll miss the show after it’s gone, but I have to say the projected end date seems right. We’ve been through the initial “Shock of the Week” phase during the show’s first few seasons; this season has been one of satisfaction, as many plot expectations have been fulfilled. Every show has a “use by” date; it would be horrible to see GoT become a “What? That again?” show in predictability.

Knowing when to leave is prime TV wisdom. Let’s hope “Game of Thrones” wraps up in style.

Posted in Television

Reckoning

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If ever a television episode spoke for itself, “Battle of the Bastards,” last night’s “Game of Thrones” offering, certainly did. There’s very little I can add except to ask, “How many Emmys do you think it’ll win?”

I think the image of Rickon and Jon futilely racing toward each other across the battlefield will stay with me for a very long time. We instinctively knew Sansa’s prior assessment that Rickon was a dead man would hold true, yet the beauty of desperation and longing made us believe for just an instant until the arrow struck.  And Jon’s unsheathing his sword to face what seemed certain death was the gallant gesture of a king. He’s pure Stark, through and through.

[Before we leave the battlefield, though, I have to say that if you didn’t expect Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale to save the day, you haven’t been paying attention this season. In addition to her letter writing skills, our girl Sansa sure knows her way around ravens.]

I’m curious as to how successful this new Targaryan/Iron Islands alliance is going to be. Despite all the flirting, political and otherwise, between the two ladies, I can’t believe the followers of the Drowned God will so readily give up their nasty ways. They’re been pillagers and pirates for centuries. They’re not like the Dothraki who worship Daenerys as the Mother of Dragons, so I imagine our Ms. Stormborn and trusted advisor Tyrion are going to have their hands full before long.

Finally, at long last, Ramsay Bolton got his by becoming doggie dinner. It was tremendously thoughtful and brotherly of Jon to stop whaling on him so that Sansa could deliver the coup de grâce. But was it really enough as far as the Boltons are concerned? Instead of Ramsay dispatching his old man, I would have liked Arya to have stuck Roose Bolton with Needle and rummaged around his insides for a bit. I’m certain I’m not alone in thinking that Lady Sansa’s goodbye smirk to her erstwhile hubby, while satisfying, wasn’t truly commensurate with the torture Ramsay put her and Theon (not to mention the audience) through. At least his three seasons of sadism are over, though the GoT showrunners keep upping the ante in that department (See “Shireen, Death of”).

Nevertheless, we may finally have Red Wedding vengeance if the season’s finale promo is any hint. It looks like banquet time chez Frey, and here’s hoping they end up skewered. Also on tap are Cersei and Loras’ Trials by Sparrow—will House Tyrell rescue them? And what of Bran and Uncle Benjen? How’s Varys doing? The Hound? Did Brienne return to Tarth? Will Arya make it back to Winterfell for a Stark reunion?

Be there on Sunday to (hopefully) find out.

Posted in Television

A Stark At Last

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A girl came into her own last night.

Grey Worm smiled.

Khaleesi didn’t even bother to park her dragon.

All this and so much more in “No One,” Episode 8, Season 6 of “Game of Thrones.” Such a tasty dish. Which ingredient should we start with?

I never thought I’d feel sorry for Cersei, but wow, that’s gotta hurt (if not now, then definitely in the future). With Tommen’s abolition of trial by combat, we’ll be sadly deprived of any Mountain mayhem on Cersei’s behalf. And here we all thought Joffrey was the rotten kid in that family. Speculation: That verification of a rumor Cersei’s weasly advisor was whispering about? I suspect it’s that Sansa is alive, and the little bird that cheeped it was Petyr Baelish. Alliances do nothing but shift on this show, especially with Littlefinger being such a mercenary toad.

I’m really enjoying the saga of the returned Hound and his exploits. Unlike the Ironborn and Sam Tarly, he holds my interest and rates every minute of screen time he gets. His relationship with Arya made him human, and now that he’s joined the Brotherhood Without Banners, I see some intriguing twists ahead. With the continually resurrected Beric Dondarrion and especially Thoros of Myr back in the picture, can Lady Stoneheart be far behind?

Jamie Lannister has always reminded me of Angel of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame. You never know which side of the character you’re going to see in any given week. Last night we were treated to both. He was wonderfully knight-to-knight with Brienne, though there’s obviously a lot more going on there—and it’s definitely not one-sided. Did anyone else want to yell during his rhapsodic discussion of Cersei, “Dummy, she ain’t all that. Check the woman standing right in front of you!” Their mutual angst at the prospect of fighting each other and their poignant farewell waves as Brienne made her getaway from Riverrun spoke volumes. Forget the Tormund ‘ship. I’d bet good money that GoT is going to end with the two of them duelling to the death and dying in each other’s arms.

On the other hand, a Lannister-Tarth politically arranged marriage before the show ends would be a nice alternative. After all, being dismissed from the King’s Guard makes Jamie the most eligible bachelor in town, and she’d bring money, territory and her old man’s army to the alliance. It’s a match made in heaven. Besides, that was one heavy anvil that dropped when Jamie said he’d never betray his house. As my mother was wont to say, “We’ll see.”

Bad Angel Jamie emerged in his conversation with Edmure Tully, with whom he was at his most condescending and tyrannical. Despite Edmure’s prisoner status, can you blame Jamie? Prior to the Red Wedding Edmure was petulant and a bit of a wuss; it was clear sister Caitlyn was somewhat exasperated with him. And now he’s betrayed his name and the men who were willing to die for him. A sad end to House Tully.

Fortunately Arya redeemed all that with the sweetest payoff GoT has seen in a long time. I’m sorry we lost Lady Crane along the way—it would have made for a better story arc to see Arya spend some time as an actress (I agree that she’d be good at it), instead of two seasons in the House of the Dead. On balance, though, it was worth it to have Arya finally dispatch the Waif and proclaim to Jaqu’an: “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell. And I am going home.”

YES!!!!!

Next week: It’s the penultimate episode of the season, which means it’s time for The Big Battle. In this corner, Ramsay Bolton. In that corner, Jon Snow. It’s Bastard vs. Bastard, and the prize is Winterfell. Good times ahead.

Posted in Theater

Indecent

Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk in INDECENT written by Paula Vogel, created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Photo by Carol Rosegg, 2015.
Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk in “Indecent” (Photo by Carol Rosegg, 2015)

One of the joys—or woes—of live theater is its variability. An actor may be slightly off, the audience could be restless or something else may break the mood (Curse those cellphones!). On the other hand if you’re lucky all can fall into place and you’re treated to a wonderful performance. Fortunately that was the case when I saw “Indecent” last weekend at the Vineyard Theater in New York.

Created by Paula Vogel (author) and Rebecca Taichman (director), “Indecent” is a play about another play: Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance,” as well as the actors who perform it in its various incarnations. Written in 1907, “God of Vengeance” is the story of a Jew who runs a brothel in the basement of his home. Married to a former prostitute he seeks redemption through an arranged marriage between his innocent teen-aged daughter and a prized Talmudic scholar. He’s even commissioned a handwritten Torah to present to his future son-in-law as another mitzvah to wash away his sins. All comes to naught when Papa discovers daughter Rivkele has fallen in love with Manke, one of the girls downstairs, with whom she has spent the night. Enraged, he hurls the Torah to the floor and drags his daughter to the basement to work with his other girls. Curtain.

Although the play had been performed to great acclaim in Europe and in Yiddish theater in America, an English translation of “God of Vengeance” that opened on Broadway in 1923 was shut down, its cast and producers arrested and convicted of obscenity. Why? Because of the love scene between Rivkele and Manke, by turns lyrical and erotic, though most of it had been cut so as not to offend American sensibilities (The leading blue nose was a prominent Manhattan rabbi who denounced “God of Vengeance” from the pulpit as “bad for the Jews,” flying as this does in the face of Asch’s stated opinion: “Why must every Jew on stage be a paragon?”). Ultimately the actors’ convictions were overturned on appeal and the producers paid small fines, but not before the trial judge excoriated the play from the bench in a speech quoted in “Indecent” that just drips with the barely veiled antisemitism of that era.

But “Indecent” goes beyond that; it traces “God of Vengeance” from its inception to 1952 when Sholem Asch departed his adopted America for England. It’s not strictly biography or history but a cultural kaleidoscope. Presented by a company of seven actors and three musicians,  “Indecent” sounds some essential themes: the power of theater, the beauty of love, the harshness of censorship, the homogenization of culture and ultimately the survivorship of the human spirit through art. And it does so with a deft touch.

Six of the actors play multiple roles in “Indecent;” the one constant is Lemml (Richard Topol), a Polish tailor drafted to participate in the first reading of “God of Vengeance,” who acts as stage manager for both plays. As is evident from his introductory remarks, the fulcrum of “Indecent” is the love scene in “God of Vengeance” between Rivkele and Manke, referred to as “the rain scene.” One aspect of what makes “Indecent” extraordinary theater is the way Ms. Vogel and Ms. Taichman use this throughout their play and the manner in which it ultimately unfolds—twice. We see bits, pieces and other allusions at various times, but experiencing the rain scene in full is the emotional high point of the evening, as it also is in “God of Vengeance.”

Along the way there’s musical commentary by the actors and musicians: a naughty Berlin cabaret song, klezmer, a “Goodbye, God, I’m off to America” number (in which Orthodox payess, or sidelocks, become a flapper’s curls), some Charleston and—you guessed it—an Andrews Sisters-style “Bei Mir Bist Du Schein” (Yiddish meets ’30’s swing). There’s also a cameo by Eugene O’Neill, who was set to testify in defense of the 1923 production of “God of Vengeance” before the judge disallowed his appearance. It should come as no surprise that his favorite aspect of the play is Asch’s take-down of the selling of religion.

It’s somehow fitting that the full performance of the rain scene is presented by a troupe in hiding from the Nazis in the wartime Lodz Ghetto. As Lemml announces, “We’re performing Act II tonight, and God willing, if we’re still here, Act III next week.” And Katrina Lenk (Manke) and Adina Verson (Rivkele) do so, with a perfect blend of tenderness and sensuality. You think “nothing can top this” until these actors perform the scene once more, this time in Yiddish, after a disillusioned Sholem Asch leaves America. But this time it really rains—on stage—so that Manke’s stated desire, to wash Rivkele’s hair in the May rain, can become as real as Asch intended. It’s a magical sight.

The cast of “Indecent” is uniformly excellent. They’ve stayed with the play through its various stages of development, and their experience shows. Likewise the expertise of Paula Vogel in writing playwright to playwright, as it were. “Indecent” is one remarkable achievement.

Unfortunately the play’s New York run is currently set to end on June 19. Here’s hoping it’s taped by PBS—both play and production have earned it.