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17 December 2008

Movie: One Day You'll Understand

Sometimes you need distance, in time or emotion, to really understand things, and even then, we may not be able to bridge the gap of generation and era.

Can we ever understand what it's like to be at war, if we haven't gone there? Can we ever understand what it's like to have one's whole country turn against one or one's religion? These are the questions asked by the French language, Plus Tard, Tu Comprendras or One Day You'll Understand.

We're not immediately clear on the connection between the Nazi war criminal, Klaus Barbie, and Victor (Hippolyte Girardot), a well-to-do businessman. Barbie's trial plays in the background; he was the head of the Gestapo in Lyon and as such, oversaw the deportation of thousands of French Jews to the death camps.

Then we meet Rivka, Victor's mother (Jeanne Moreau), now widowed and unable to speak about the past beyond Victor's birth. She is comfortable with her life, a quiet, comfortable world of grandchildren and memories in an elegant apartment filled with keepsakes. She has the life many women dream hope for when they grow old.

Victor is not comfortable with his life. He was born after the war. As with most children, even adult ones, not knowing and being refused answers only makes Victor want to know more.

Victor begins to research his past and his desire to learn about his father and grandparents begins to worry his wife, Françoise (Emmanuelle Devos), but this doesn't stop Victor. Victor's father signed a document attesting to his Aryan identity and turning away from his Jewish roots. He and his sister were raised Catholic.

Amos Gitai's 2008 movie is based on Jérôme Clément's novel, Plus Tard, Tu Comprendras. The movie has no great revelations or sense of tragedy. It is not as poignant as the Louis Malle 1987 Au Revoir Les Enfants.

04 December 2008

Theater Review: Spring Awakening

Disney’s High School Musical series has proven that the musical isn’t dead and it isn’t a genre that just attracts the middle-aged. Likewise, when Spring Awakening hit Broadway, winning Best Musical for 2007 and seven other Tony awards, it brought in a new wave of young theater goers.

With lyrics and book by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, this musical combines modern alternative music sensibilities with teenage angst and rebellion against adult authority. The topic isn’t new. Like the 1996 Rent! which was based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 La Bohéme, Spring Awakening is based on an 1891 German play of the same title, written by Frank Wedekind. If the topics of masturbation, abortion, rape and teen suicide are slightly controversial now, imagine what a uproar a play with those topics caused over a century ago.

Christine Jones’ set design is a brick wall with paintings, some that light up during the show. There’s a sense of the fantastical like the oversized half of a butterfly. A small raised stage area is where the action is centered. On both sides, cast and audience members mingle in school type bleachers. The musicians are on stage right.

The play begins with Wendla (Christy Altomare) asking her mother about sex in the sweetly melodic “Mama Who Bore Me” and her mother (Angela Reed who plays all the adult woman roles), too mortified to explicitly explain the dirty details, tells her she must simply love her husband with all her heart. The other girls seem similarly naïve, but the boys are a different matter.

The boys are seen dressed in uniforms at school under the watchful eye of their Latin teacher (Henry Stram who plays all the adult male roles). Yet their hairstyles easily identify them. The ill-fated Moritz (Blake Bashoff), seen clutching an old-fashioned mike in the publicity photos, has a frightful tumbleweed of expressive hair. His best friend, Melchior (Kyle Riabko), is a leader, but also a thinker. And what are the boys thinking about? What any teenage boy is thinking about: sex. Moritz’s sexual fantasies keep him from getting a good night’s sleep, resulting in his dismal performance at school (“The Bitch of Living”). Other boys are similarly preoccupied, including Georg (Matt Shingledecker) who is obsessed about his piano teacher’s breasts (“My Junk”) and Hanschen (Andy Mientus) who masturbates.

The first act ends with Moritz expelled from school despite passing his exams and Melchior and Wendla consummating their relationship in an infamous scene that includes partial male and female nudity. The second act begins with Wendla and Melchior considering the change in their relationship, but they are not fated for a happy ending due to the interference of parents and adult authority figures. Consider Melchior song “Totally Fucked.”

Riabko, a Canadian pop singer, played Melchior on Broadway before joining the touring show. Bashoff had a recurring role on the mysterious, convoluted Lostuntil he was killed off before assuming the role of Moritz on Broadway. Both are engaging with dynamic stage presence. Altomare’s Wendla is poignantly drawn as a girl in love who will never be a woman. The music is angry and yet, at times, hauntingly tender and the dance choreography by Bill T. Jones controlled chaos delivered with precision by this touring company.

This energetic, lively musical is well-worth seeing as a new development in musical theater and a way of recalling or, for the younger crowd, reveling in teenage angst. If your mind says yes, but your wallet says no, don’t despair. The Ahmanson has its own entertainment stimulus package of $20 tickets available for each performance.

Spring Awakening continues until Dec. 7 at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown Los Angeles. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. For more information call (213) 628 2772.