Friday, January 20, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Things have reached a pretty pass

Mark Ryder as Cesare Borgia.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Tardy to the "Borgia" Party and its sexy star, Mark Ryder. Also, Louis Cancelmi honored ... St. Clair Bayfield explained ... and Miss Monroe's Flying Skirts (Sorry, folks, it was in The New York Times!)

“THINGS have reached a pretty pass, when someone pretty lower-class/Graceless and vulgar, uninspired/Can be accepted and admired.”

So go the Tim Rice lyrics in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita.” (From the song, “Peron’s Latest Flame.”)
WE WANT to think pretty thoughts today, so we might as well yak about our “latest flame.”  His name is Mark Ryder and we just discovered him over the weekend on Netflix in a TV series that ran three seasons, somewhere.  It was titled “Borgia” and is not to be confused with “The Borgias” which aired on Showtime and starred Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia aka Pope Alexander VI.
I enjoyed “The Borgias” although interest had ebbed by season three. “Borgia” worked in reverse. I wasn’t too sure about season one, mostly because of the gruff, unmistakably American accent of John Dorman (Rodrigo/Alexander) but he is an excellent actor and grew on me.  Seasons two and three had me enthralled.

Both series cover pretty much the same blood-drenched, conspiratorial history with the usual inaccuracies/embellishments/imaginings of the genre. (However, the two series correctly interpret Lucrezia Borgia as a more or less innocent pawn of her family, not the evil prisoner of legend. Isolda Dychauk is exquisite as the Netflix Lucrezia, looking like she literally stepped out of a 13th century painting.)
Isolda Dychauk as Lucrezia.
But the focus of “Borgia” is Mr. Ryder as Cesare Borgia. What a performance, what a character arc — love him, hate him, love to hate him, really hate him! Sadistic, sensitive, sensitively sadistic, sane, crazy, humble and egomaniacal. 
Also, he’s smoking hot and not shy about showing off most of what the Good Lord gave him.  He doesn’t seem to have worked much since “Borgia” ended two years ago.  Come back to the big or small screen, Mark Ryder, Mark Ryder.  In times like these we need distraction.
A word of warning. (“Now a warning?” as Meryl Streep exclaimed to Isabella Rossellini in “Death Becomes Her.”) “Borgia” is awash in sex, nudity and wildly grisly violence; the latter very much true to that brutal age. I won’t insult you by saying it’s not gratuitous. Of course it is. But if you don’t mind the occasional, uh, gratuity “Borgia” is terrifically entertaining.
THE St. Clair Bayfield Award, which the Actors’ Equity Association bestows for the best non-featured Shakespearean performance, went this year to Louis Cancelmi, who, on four days’ notice, jumped in and replaced a sidelined Achilles (David Harbour) in Troilus and Cressida. The prize was presented by his father-in-law, an ex-Hamlet/Prospero/Lear/Benedick/Polonius/Assistant D.A. named Sam Waterston
St. Clair Bayfield Award winner, Louis Cancelmi.
More: Mr. Cancelmi is now, officially, a Somebody in “Everybody.” This is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ new offering at the Signature Public Theatre through March 12.  The role of “Everybody” will be played by a different actor at each performance — it’s some sort of a chance lottery deal every night, against four other actors. Sounds fascinating and scary!

But wait, there’s even more! (Not about Mr. Cancelmi, we’ve had the best of him.)   Some movie-goers out there are possibly thinking they vaguely recognize the name St. Clair Bayfield.
Well, he was one of the AEA founding fathers.  He was also a New Zealand sheep rancher, which goes to show what can happen in life. And, he was a smalltime touring actor. His greatest performance?  Convincing his wealthy lifelong paramour, Florence Foster Jenkins, that her operatic screechings were music to his ears; even fit to be appreciated at Carnegie Hall. Mr. Bayfield is wonderfully and movingly played by Hugh Grant in the current film, “Florence Foster Jenkins” opposite Meryl Streep as the vocally deficient but admirably persistent Florence.

Thanks to our old friend, theater arbiter/observer/writer Harry Haun for the above info.  HH now does his magic for Playbill.
EVERY SINGLE day, my inbox has at least three Google Alerts with the subject “Marilyn Monroe.” It’s always something with this long-dead dame.   I begin like this because a while back we received an email from a lady who just couldn’t bear one more photo or mention of Miss Monroe. We, our reader insisted, had to “accept” the fact that MM was dead, and “move on.” Lots of heavy sarcasm in those remarks.

This column indeed has a long history in reporting on this n’ that about Marilyn.  For one thing, she remains delightful in her films and photos. We are all for delightful.   Interest in her never seems to abate, although in the fifty-plus years since her death, her image has become distorted; both enlarged and minimized.  Young “fans” know her only as an image, a photo to hang various conspiracy theories upon, or to be seduced by the fallacy of her as a great symbol of screen sexuality. Nope. Really sexy movie women were the likes of Rita, Ava, Liz. Bacall! Gloria Grahame! Marilyn was a comedienne who impersonated America’s idea of a sex-symbol in the repressed 1950s. (She was truly sensuous only in her innumerable still photographs.) 

Also, this column takes credit for initiating the search for the hours of outtakes from Marilyn’s unfinished movie, “Something’s Got to Give.”  The discovery of all that ravishing footage cast a positive revisionist view of her final days — at least as an actress.  So, we’re part of film history, thank you very much.
We replied to the Marilyn-weary lady, saying (kindly) that she should just avert her eyes when MM erupted here.   Since then, we actually haven’t had cause to bandy MM’s name.  And we hoped our reader had taken notice.  Alas, my dear, it’s time to avert your eyes again.

It’s not our fault!  Innocently reading last Sunday’s New York Times, we turned to the Metropolitan Section and there on the front page was a massive color photo of Marilyn, skirts ahoy, in the famous scene from “The Seven Year Itch.”
What followed was an extensive story about previously unseen, rare color candid footage of the star the night she stepped onto that subway grate.  We got the history of the man who shot the film, Jules Schulback, all the circumstances around that exciting evening in Manhattan, including gossip about Joe DiMaggio.  Joe was unhappy that his new wife was sharing a glimpse of her panties to the masses. (And it is panties, plural.  Monroe wore two pair, to avoid being exposed under the blinding klieg lights. She did not, despite legend, bleach anything other than the hair on her head.)  
In an attempt to reconcile, Joe escorts Marilyn to the premiere of the film that ended their marriage. They argue during the after party. They do not reconcile.
Mr. DiMaggio did not approve.
The once-happy couple.
And we were assured, via the venerable Gray Lady, that dead as doornail or not, Miss Monroe remains vibrantly alive to the media and the public at large.  Her life-after-death legend is unprecedented.  And that is a testament to her unique qualities as an actress and to the hyper-sensitive woman who emerged — even in her lifetime — from behind the sometimes cartoonish image.

We’re so sorry to have mentioned Marilyn again. We’ll try to do better.  But, what the hell, I can’t stop those Google Alerts and I sure won’t stop reading the New York Times!  I’m afraid Norma Jeane will linger here just a little bit longer. 
After the Fall (or, after the rise of her dress) Marilyn weeps as she announces her impending divorce from Joe.
ENDQUOTE: Director Judd Apatow to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd:

“I don’t think it serves a purpose to be against him. [the president]. I’m trying to transition from making comments on social media to choosing one or two organizations to work with and support so that I feel like I’m actually being a positive part of the process.  You don’t want to be a crank.”
Contact Liz here.