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Stage Door: Kathleen Turner in "High"

The Film Experience has always loved talking up theater, the true 3D experience. So let's do it weekly, even if it's brief. We'll make it movie adjacent: films adapted from stage, movies hitting the boards in a new form or worthy crossovers of any sort... that sort of thing. The lines in entertainment are much blurrier these days, aren't they? Many actors now do all three (tv, film, theater) with increasing regularity, don'cha know, no longer defining themselves as one medium actors.

Kathleen Turner on Opening Night | Turner w/ Evan Jonigkeit in "High"

I recently had the opportunity to see one of my all time favorite actresses on stage again: Kathleen Turner. Her major film career dwindled in the 90s but she's become a regular on Broadway and she's now starring as a foul-mouthed nun in Matthew Lombardo's drama "High". But not for much longer. It was announced yesterday that the show is closing Sunday after only 8 regular performances. Ouch. We're two weeks away from Tony nominations and we'd assumed that Kathleen would be nominated. But maybe not.

So is the play really that bad? The answer is a simple no. But it is a play that lacks the mythic enormity that you sometimes just have to have to fill up a big house with energy if not ticket buyers. Lombardo's last play "Looped" about the final movie performance of Tallulah Bankhead (played by Valerie Harper) had a similar problem though it was a much stronger show all told and was really helped by a transcendent sequence in the second act that was creatively staged as Tallulah remembers performing Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Both Looped and High are very simple in format -- which is not really a problem if the writing or story are superb -- but they rely too entirely on the star charisma of the lead actress, who is often monologuing, to really push them over.  High recounts the counselling sessions between a recovering alcoholic nun / social worker who is working with an unrepentant gay hustler and drug addict who has recently been involved in the overdose death of a teenager. How involved he was he won't say. The show has only three characters and while the nun and the drug addict have somewhat meaty if very traditional arcs, the Father character who pushes them together, just doesn't work in the writing or performing.

I'm glad I saw it and I hope Kathleen is Tony nominated being much stronger than the show but even she of that inimitable arresting rasp and considerable star charisma is unable to elevate it beyond its limitations. It might have worked far better as a made for TV movie, not for the subject matter exactly but for the intimacy that that medium can bring to small human struggle stories.

Stage/Screen News of the Moment
New York City Opera remember that Oscar nominated 60s movie Seance on a Wet Afternoon? It's now an opera by Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz. Should I see it and write about it?
Playbill an unauthorized musical parody of The Silence of the Lambs comes to Off Broadway in June.
Rama's Screen has the breakdown on the Rock of Ages cast -- who is playing who -- including a new character to be played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. So happy about this one as we needed Velma in another musical. I haven't seen the show -- I was put off by the American Idol stunt casting at the opening -- but now I'm curious and I have heard that it's very funny.

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Reader Comments (13)

I'm totally THRILLED with this post!

Kathleen will be fine. Thank God, there's always Tenneesse Williams to come back to.

PS I would love to read your thoughts about The Normal Heart.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I actually just saw Rock of Ages last night, with Constantine from American Idol. The show is hysterical (especially if you are of the age to appreciate Whitesnake/Kip Winger jokes), and stunt casting or no the guy is good (he did get a Tony nom for it). I'm concerned about the movie adaptation, though, as the show has a goofy, break the fourth wall kind of tone that I'm not sure will translate.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

For some strange reason I love theatre posts! It might be because I'm so far away from the action that it feels kind of mystical to me.

I'm so happy Kathleen seems to have the stamina that stage requires.

The good thing is no one will blame her so even if she doesn't get nominated, she'll still be in demand.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I'll second James T- I love when you write about (cinema-related) theater, even though I'm one state over, but I never have a chance to see live theater/go to NYC. Yes, see the Seance opera for us; your description alone has me curious. (I think it's a little late for a "Lambs" parody, though - satire works best when it's hot and fresh, unlike revenge. And given how great the movie was, I don't have high hopes for a parody.)

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

I just came back from NY. Here's an account of the shows i saw

American Idiot ****
Great show. B.J. Armstrong was excellent

Arcadia ***1/2
Great acting and the play has a fascinating concept, but there some cuts would only benefit the play. Nothing interesting in the direction.

Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo ***
Robin Williams was good and the rest of the cast was even better, but the conclusion of the play wasn't as expected.

The Book of Mormons ****
Wonderful and funny show. Didn't get some of the jokes (i am not american) but i really enjoyed it. I am sure it will make some people furious.

Catch Me If You Can **1/2
The leads were charismatic, but the score wasn't that exciting. Very poor sets for such a production.

Company ***1/2
I love this musical and I enjoyed the all-star cast. Neil Patrick Harris and Patti LuPone stood out as expected.

Good People ***1/2
A very good new play. Frances McDormand was excellent but Estelle Parsons stole every scene she was in.

The House of Blue Leaves *1/2
A really mediocre play and the stars can;t save this. Ben Stiller was ...well the usual Ben Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh has a really week voice that i struggled to hear from the 5th row i was sitting. Eddie Falco fared better but still... Maybe it will get better in a few days. The set and the effects were good.

The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to... ****
An excellent 2,5 hour play, trapped in a 3,5 hour production. Wonderful cast and direction but this just needs to be shorter.

That Championship Season **
The cast was fine but it couldn't save the boring play. The director didn't help either.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCinemanolis

Oh Cinemanolis, how did you get to see all these shows without going into bankruptcy?

Please, let us know!

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue i nearly went into bancruptcy but it's only once a year that i visit NY so i could afford it. The average ticket price for me was around $75. For some i paid more (Book of Mormons, Company) and for some far less ($20 rush tickets for Bengal Tiger, Arcadia). I generally used the Times Square half price ticket booth and a site called broadwaybox that has some interesting discounts.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCinemanolis

Thanks! Tips to grab cheap broadway tckets are always welcomed!

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I was just going to ask the same thing. well done.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

If you want to see the most exhilarating "true 3D" experience available right now, get your ass to Sleep No More on West 27th Street. You wander through 100,000 square feet spread over six floors and 95 rooms (including a grand ballroom, a pine forest, a graveyard, multiple offices and bedrooms, secret passageways) all while wearing a white, Eyes Wide Shut-inspired mask. Also, all while a wordless production of Macbeth is being acted out all around you. All while you are forbidden from speaking or engaging with the actors, though they can engages with you. All while Bernard Hermann's score for Vertigo pumps from the speakers. It's like wandering though someone else's dream world. I'll never forget it.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ

J -

OMG, that sounds effing amazing and creepy. UGH, I need to experience this, pronto.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I once saw a wordless production of Hamlet and I ended up sobbing.

Theatre can be so powerful!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

CZJ in a musical again would be bliss!!

April 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary Monroeee
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