Thursday, October 15, 2015

LIZ SMITH: The Man Behind the Genius

by Liz Smith

A New Book on Woody Reveals the Man Behind the Genius Who Just Can't Stop Creating ... "Catch The Butcher" and "Ripcord" Dazzle Off-Broadway audiences ... Trump's "Crippled America" has a new release date. (Just in time for his "SNL" appearance!)

"DONALD Trump's stunning lead in the GOP presidential race reveals a much deeper problem at the heart of modern democracy; widespread voter ignorance," wrote Ilya Somin in USA Today.

("Polls show 40% of Republicans without college degrees support Donald as opposed to 19% of college graduates ... the sobering reality is that most Americans follow politics and government superficially and don't even know the names of their representatives, or which party controls Congress.")
I LOVED the Democratic debates. Indeed, both campaigns are simply riveting in their differences and complexities and what will we ever do without their drama when it is all over and we have a new President? (We'll have to go back to the Kardashians for entertainment.)
THE DONALD Trump book, which is titled "Crippled America," has a brand new release date of November 3rd. It comes from Simon & Schuster's Threshold Editions.

And this book is out just before Donald hosts "Saturday Night Live" on November 7th. This should constitute quite a kick for Trump's campaign and also for the book, which will bear only his name as author.

Writer Somin, above, says that Trump's popularity and support is "that he's a self-assured, highly entertaining celebrity who knows how to talk on TV."

Donald Trump can't lose even if he loses. And "SNL" and the nightly entertainment shows have become the most influential mechanisms for rising and waning popularity in this country's history.
Click to pre-order "Woody: The Biography."
"DEAR Woody Allen, I'm asking you to take a gamble on this ..."

That was author David Evanier, responding to the first of many e-mails he exchanged with director/writer/auteur/figure of controversy Woody Allen, as Evanier began work on his now-finished book, "Woody: The Biography." (Arriving November 3rd, from St.Martins.)

Woody had sent Evainer a lengthy, extremely polite but wary e-mail, expressing some concern about sources Evanier had mentioned, films the author considered masterpieces, which the creator of those films didn't agree with at all! Would Evanier's flattering — if misguided critiques — "add anything to the cultural landscape?" Allen wondered.

In the end, Woody Allen met with Evanier only once, did not open his Rolodex to the writer, but didn't stand in the way.

The result is a fascinating, often scholarly, but still intimate biography that might not be the last word on Woody, but it will more than do. (Allen will likely never have such an impassioned, intelligent, objective admirer of his work!)
Super fan David Evanier.
THE thrust of the book is the separation between Woody on-screen, and the real man. Over the years, we have adjusted ourselves to the idea that Woody is simply playing himself, or, as in recent years, using some other actor to play him, to recite the Allen philosophies. This is only partly true. All great stars, all distinctive cinema personalities eventually come to playing some version of themselves, an ersatz combination of the real and what the public assumes. But these stars depend on others to present their unique qualities, Woody has always written for himself, shaping his own legend, right from the start. (There are terrific early chapters on Woody's career as a stand-up comic, which I must admit, I'd forgotten about!)
The author is chiefly interested in Woody's work, and the intricacies of how he has melded his personal beliefs into an astonishing, and constant output. But there is plenty of material on his personal phobias, shyness, surprising warmth and generosity, coldness, obsessiveness, and a work ethic that is second to none. Also, much is revealed about his first wife, Harlene Rosen, second wife (Louise Lasser) and but of course, the ultimately disastrous relationship with Mia Farrow ... and his current, apparently happy marriage to Soon-Yi. (The blistering, info-packed chapter on the Farrow scandal doesn't absolve Woody of a lifelong tendency to evade responsibility in certain aspects of his personal life, but to read it is to have the words "Hell hath no fury ..." ringing in your ears.)
Woody with Harlene Rosen.
Woody with Louise Lasser.
Woody with Mia.
Woody and Soon-Yi.
For any student of Woody — a man who simply won't, can't stop working and re-inventing — this book is gold. Most of his peers believe that the 79-year-old has yet to deliver a truly great, perfect film. So close, but no cigar. And Woody himself would agree! (Hmmmm ... if "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo" — among others — aren't perfect, what is?!)
Picture perfect (to us anyway).
In the end, author Evanier sums it up: "All the time we thought he was a neurotic mess, he was actually playing the ultimate magic trick on us. Broken, needy, an impractical dreamer, a schlepper on screen, in life he was an artist who kept going, was never destroyed, who got it all."

Oh, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I love Woody.
IF YOU FLINCH every time you pay for a ticket to a Broadway show, maybe you'd feel more comfortable when visiting New York or living here, contemplating the many, cheaper, more reasonable theater offerings.  Here are two:

I already told you a bit about "Catch the Butcher" down at the famous Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village.  Now I've actually seen this dramatic, horrifying, funny-yet-not-so-funny offering written by Adam Seidel.  

The acting by the three main characters — Jonathan Walker, who you have seen in many a drama (and he is always superb) ... Lauren Luna Velez, a compelling sex pot with a mysterious death wish ... and the short brilliant turn toward the end by Angelina Fiordellisi who has mastered entirely any takeoff of a Texas matron with all attendant flourish and faults. (If you're interested, Ms. Fiordellisi also owns the Cherry Lane Theatre but she can really act in the bargain.)
Lauren Luna Velez and Jonathan Walker in "Catch the Butcher."
Angelina Fiordellisi and Lauren Luna Velez in "Catch the Butcher."
This serial killer drama is guaranteed to haunt your dreams and you won't soon forget it. I'd compliment again Valentina Fratti's direction of this minor masterpiece but she is a friend of mine so I'll just leave her to heaven. It's ending October 30th and tix are at cherrylanetheater.org.
Angelina Fiordellisi, Jonathan Walker, and Lauren Luna Vélez on opening night of "Catch the Butcher."
The other winner play I personally viewed is a free-for-all titled "Ripcord" at the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, which opens October 20th and closes December 13th. It stars two of the best-celebrated performers in their fields (and their fields cover everything.)   Marylouise Burke and Holland Taylor act older than their ages in a drama by David Lindsay-Abaire.  The production has a real shot at some kind of immortality by its director's fame — David Hyde Pierce.
David Hyde Pierce, Holland Taylor, Marylouise Burke, and David Lindsay-Abaire.
His ladies are "retired" in a high scale rest home with all the attendant indignities of such living. But they can afford to share an attractive room with two big double beds and a window. One of them (Marylouise) is cheerful, happy, talkative and making the best of her visiting family while the other (Holland) is an upscale, disillusioned woman who loathes everything--the life she is leading, the family lost to her by choice, a sense of superiority.  She fights the reality of a  "roommate."

Miss Taylor, who put the story of the mighty Ann Richards on the stage two years ago and is forever identified as an over-age, over-sexed "Two and 1/2 Men" comic from the hit TV series is here, the same woman but embittered and above it all.  This may sound dismal; it isn't. It is very funny and full of delightful surprises as the two "roomies" battle it out over who gets the bed by the window, who gets whom to leave her alone, and one has to wonder at who will win in their fight and ultimate bet on who survives old age happily. 
Miss Taylor as the mighty Ann Richards.
Holland Taylor and Charlie Sheen in 'Two and a Half Men,' one of Ann Richards' favorite shows.
I just adored both these actors whose credits would do justice to the best England has to offer.  And there is a hanging and a skydiving incident on the tiny stage that are worth the price of admission.  You have to sometimes fight the subscribers to this poplar organization but it's worth it; The Manhattan Theater Club produces rave after rave, year after year. 

Tickets start at $90; call 212-581 1212.  Remember — it closes December 13th, but I'm betting these inimitable stars and their popular director will push on past that.  Ask about the youthful "30 under 30" promises of this organization.

Contact Liz Smith here.