Right at Your Door

In theaters.

The image of ash falling from the sky is immediately arresting; the quiet terror it evokes, inherent and inescapable. Writer-director Chris Gorak doesn’t deserve any credit for that. He does, however, deserve credit for trusting that such quiet terror will be enough to give his thriller, Right at Your Door, the tension it needs to hold our nerves taut for ninety-six minutes. Someone else might have thrown in screaming crowds, explosions, and crashing cars, but such standard action material could have been brushed away. The ash—along with distant plumes of black smoke and a few dead birds—lingers in the mind, a signifier of once-unimaginable horror we now conjure up all too easily and vividly.

Right at Your Door plays on those fears, but it’s not cheap. It deserves credit for that, for sidestepping exploitation in favor of something more thoughtful and emotionally true, but I can’t say I enjoyed it, exactly. It feels like a cautionary tale, vaguely pedantic, earnestly warning me about dangers I acknowledge but on which I don’t want to dwell.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare in the Park, presented by the Public Theater, on Saturday, August 25.

Like everyone who has studied Shakespeare and who loves his work, I have strong feelings about how his plays should be interpreted. If, for example, a production diverges sharply from my vision of Othello (deeply internalized self-loathing rotting behind a facade of strength), I’m skeptical about its quality from the outset. My opinions about A Midsummer Night’s Dream are no less passionate (though perhaps less vehement), so I was slightly disappointed when I learned that the Public Theater’s new production wasn’t using the same actors for Athenian and fairy royalty, often key in the sort of Freudian, forest-as-the-unconscious interpretation I favor.

But Midsummer has so many elements—the lovers, the mechanicals, the fairies, the city, the woods—that even if one element isn’t to your taste, another surely will be. And the Public Theater production won me over. Funny but not frothy, sometimes creepy but never cruel, it was too charming and sweet not to enjoy.

I need a vacation from my summer.

Those of you who check my blog regularly may be frustrated by how scarce my posting has been over the past month or so, but believe me, you’re not nearly as frustrated as I am.

Mozart Dances

The Mark Morris Dance Group at the Mostly Mozart Festival on Wednesday, August 15.

I’ve never gotten used to the practice at dance recitals of applauding in the middle of a work—to acknowledge a string of pirouettes, for example, or a soloist’s exit from the stage. As a classically trained musician (I know it’s an insufferable phrase, but it’s applicable here), I was taught never to applaud until the very end of the piece and, even then, preferably not until the conductor has dropped his hands or the soloist released her instrument. In the music world, clapping between movements of a work is pitiably ignorant at best, and clapping mid-movement is unheard of.

Dance etiquette is different—I understand that—so I do my best to tolerate the outbursts of applause over the music of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev and Stravinsky, however much they make me wince. I nearly cracked at Mozart Dances, though. I wanted to scream: I don’t care that you enjoyed that particular solo sequence, people. Emanuel Ax is playing a piano concerto! Shut the hell up!

Perhaps that seems extreme, but in some ways the clash of etiquette reflects Mark Morris’ charming but sometimes problematic union of movement and Mozart. Maybe Mozart just doesn’t truly lend himself to dance.

Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and Faure’s Requiem

The Swedish Radio Choir at the Mostly Mozart Festival on Wednesday, August 8.

Russian choral music has a wonderfully distinct sound. Anchored by unusually rich, low bass voices, the music feels grounded and earthy yet, at its best, mystical as well, as if the music were spanning the spectrum of sound, all-encompassing, all-embracing. It’s glorious.

The Swedish Radio Choir never quite attained that glory when they performed selections from Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom Wednesday night. Maybe the not-particularly-live hall dulled the basso profondo sound and muffled the overtones. Maybe a man must have grown up in the Russian Orthodox Church to truly exemplify its musical traditions. Maybe the choir members simply haven’t lived and breathed the work, let it soak into their pores, into their consciousness and unconsciousness, the way you must to bring that music to life inside you. Whatever the reason, the Liturgy never took flight. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t transport me. I felt marooned in my seat.

The Bourne Ultimatum

In theaters.

When I was about 12, I watched the old Robert Redford movie Three Days of the Condor with my mom, but I couldn’t get past the premise: CIA assassins targeting one of the agency’s own researchers, who Knows More Than He Should, even if he doesn’t know that he knows. This was so silly, so unrealistic, I complained. Nodding thoughtfully, Mom explained that the movie came out in the 1970s, soon after Watergate. People were paranoid then and angry. Murderous, far-reaching conspiracies just didn’t seem that far-fetched. But I just rolled my eyes. Stupid movie.

Watching The Bourne Ultimatum this past weekend, I felt Mom’s explanation come rushing back to me. In this new movie, a black-ops arm of the CIA merrily stomps on the Constitution with complete impunity (and not a little incompetence). The agents eavesdrop indiscriminately, employ torture, and assassinate private citizens in public areas, and none of it struck me as particularly silly or unrealistic. It’s a great thriller—taut and compelling—but it made me long for the days when I could roll my eyes at such paranoid, cynical plotlines.

Friday Night Lights

Season two debuts Friday, October 5, at 9 on NBC.

I know next to nothing about football—little more than a vague awareness of what the quarterback does and the number of points a touchdown earns—and I’ve never cared enough to learn. But somehow, that ignorance and indifference toward America’s pastime (or is that baseball? I couldn’t care less about it either) is no obstacle to enjoying Friday Night Lights.

Based (only thematically, I’m sure) on Buzz Bissinger’s revered nonfiction account of high school football in a small Texas town, the drama depends on the game for some of its climaxes, but at heart it’s about the community, not the sport. Following the lives of a few of the players, the coach, and their friends and families, Friday is not only surprisingly thoughtful—fleshing out stock characters and grappling with provocative issues—but also persuasively heartfelt. Friday made me care about the emotional well-being of high school jocks! Not having been known for my team spirit when I was high school (to put it mildly), I’m still disoriented by that.