Sunday in the Park with George

Now playing at Studio 54 on Broadway.

I’ve seen theater that uses video projection before, but even when it was done well, it always seemed superfluous, just trendy window-dressing. And none of it compared to the stunning, seamless, marvelously engaging animation in this production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. Those other plays could have been stripped down without losing much, but the wizardry of this Sunday production so perfectly complements and expands upon the musical cues and dramatic themes that I can’t imagine the musical without it.

The Carhullan Army

By Sarah Hall. Published in the UK in 2007. (Published in the United States in 2008 under the title Daughters of the North, but that’s a meaningless, generic title, and I’d rather not use it.)

The dramatic arc of The Carhullan Army is a fascinating one. At first it seems that author Sarah Hall is telling the story of a resistance movement—an uprising that will climax in either triumph or failure—but in fact, her focus is much sharper and more provocative. The Carhullan Army is not a story of resistance but of re-creation, a story of why and how a cowed civilian might rebuild herself as a hardened soldier.

Hall doesn’t romanticize. Her protagonist’s journey is riveting but deeply unsettling, marked by characters who don’t slip easily into categories of “good” and “bad” and who follow a course that may or may not be for the best. With such dark shades of gray on its canvas, the novel might have been horribly depressing (and some might argue that is still is) were it not so vividly, fearlessly, brutally alive.

Once again: fun with music videos

“Wanderlust,” Björk; “Ready, Set, Go!,” Tokio Hotel; and “I Will Possess Your Heart,” Death Cab for Cutie.

I’m not particularly interested in anything playing at the movie theaters, I haven’t been to a concert in a while, and I don’t feel like writing about the book I just read, so it’s time to revive my favorite type of evergreen post. Behold: reviews of music videos!

From the Path of Beauty

Chanticleer and the Shanghai Quartet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday, April 10.

The members of Chanticleer blend their voices more beautifully than any other choir I’ve ever heard, and in the powerfully reverberant hall housing the Temple of Dendur at the Met—where their most recent New York performance took place—the effect is extraordinary. The choir’s collective voice envelopes you. It’s above you, behind you, inside you,* and it’s glorious.

To be honest, I didn’t even much care what they were performing—I was just happy to hear them—but in fact, the big work of the concert was the premiere of Chen Yi’s From the Path of Beauty, a song cycle for choir and string quartet. It is the sort of composition that probably would take multiple listens to fully appreciate but that Chanticleer and the Shanghai Quartet performed well enough to make even the first listen dazzling.

Vantage Point

In theaters.

Nothing makes you appreciate a good car chase like a bad one, so I guess I can thank Vantage Point for renewing my admiration of old Steve McQueen flicks, the Bourne movies, and John Frankenheimer’s oeuvre. Also, much of Vantage Point takes place at the beautiful Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain, so that’s nice. And … yeah, I think that might be all the praise I can muster for this dumb, dull, disjointed mess of a thriller.

It’s not like I was expecting a cinematic masterpiece, but with so many interesting, talented actors on screen (the cast includes Dennis Quaid, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, and Forest Whitaker), I thought it would be fun, at least. Instead, it was just painful watching them muddle through a screenplay so flat, so devoid of feeling, that each was forced to spend the vast majority of the movie wearing the same expression. Quaid: panicky. Hurt: self-righteous. Weaver: bitchy. Whitaker: mildly retarded. By the time the movie finally dragged its way to the incoherent, interminable car chase from hell, I wanted a semi to flatten every single character and put the actors and me out of our misery.

Café Boulud

My Aunt Holly and Uncle Mark and cousins Maggie and Kenny visited New York—and Sean and me—these past few days, and thanks to Aunt Holly’s connections, we all got to enjoy an amazing multi-course dinner at Café Boulud on the Upper East Side.

The Riches

Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. Three episodes into the second season.

Suburbs and gated communities are a terribly clichéd subject of satire in American pop culture, and some elements of The Riches suggest that its take on the well-worn material will be a shallow one. The setting, for example, is Eden Falls, Louisiana—almost as hilariously on-the-nose as Icarus, the name of the doomed sun-bound spaceship in Danny Boyle’s creepy Sunshine.

But intriguingly, beguilingly, The Riches goes beyond such cheap gags. The convoluted storyline relies on a number of extraordinary coincidences, but suspending disbelief is worth the effort. This is drama that understands what most of its satiric cousins don’t: the suburbs are fertile ground for satire not because they offer the opportunity to lampoon a certain class of people—that isn’t what The Riches does—but because they offer the opportunity to appraise people in general, the human condition: the substance of our dreams, what we’re willing to sacrifice to achieve them, and whether those dreams make us happy.

I realize that might sound ponderous, but The Riches is anything but because—in a brilliant stroke—the lens through with creator Dmitry Lipkin chooses to examine all that dreaming is a family of grifters, and grifters—deceptive and loyal, meticulous and quick-thinking—are inherently interesting, especially when they’re played by Eddie Izzard, Minnie Driver, and a trio of top-notch young actors.