At the beginning of Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s compelling feature debut, As You Are, two figures disappear into the woods, and a gunshot is heard. The rest of the film goes back and forth between the videotaped interrogation of the main characters and the events leading up to the shooting, told from multiple points of view. Carefully trying to avoid coming-of-age genre clichés, As You Are is an astute, expertly told story about teen angst by the twenty-three-year-old Joris-Peyrafitte, who cowrote the film with Madison Harrison and composed the score with Patrick Higgins. It’s 1993-94, and Jack (Owen Campbell) is a loner, a friendless high school skateboarder who listens to music (GG Allin, the Melvins, Nirvana) in his room, takes long, solitary bus rides, and lives with his single mother, Karen (Mary Stuart Masterson), in an isolated house in upstate New York. Karen is dating Tom (Scott Cohen), whose own loner son, Mark (Charlie Heaton), hits it off immediately with Jack. They are soon joined by fellow high school outcast Sarah (Amandla Stenberg), as flashbacks show the trio dealing with bullying, drugs, first love, physical abuse, firearms, and sexual identity while Detective Erickson (John Scurti) continues his questioning and the narrative heads toward an ambiguous conclusion.
Winner of a 2016 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize, As You Are takes its name from one of Nirvana’s biggest hits, “Come as You Are” (“Come as you are, as you were / As I want you to be / As a friend, as a friend / As a known enemy”); in fact, the death of band leader Kurt Cobain plays a critical role in the film. Campbell (The Americans, The Hudson Tribes), Heaton (Stranger Things, Shut In), and Stenberg (The Hunger Games, Lemonade) form a kind of Jules and Jim musketeer trio with hints of Band of Outsiders, three teens who find solace only in one another. Joris-Peyrafitte scored quite a coup casting late-1980s/early-1990s star Masterson (At Close Range, Some Kind of Wonderful) in her first film in more than a decade (she had taken time off to raise her family); the gorgeous fifty-year-old actress plays Karen with an implicit understanding of teen ennui and alienation, clearly identifying with all three students. (Of course, she could have played the role of Sarah back in the 1980s.) Expanded from a student film Joris-Peyrafitte made with and starring childhood friend Harrison, As You Are also features powerful cinematography by documentary veteran Caleb Heymann, including stunning overhead shots looking straight down, the characters unrecognizable, as if they could be anyone, experiencing common problems that so many face. As You Are is an atmospheric, beautifully made film by a young director to watch.
Who: Mary Fahl, Liz Tormes, Cassandra Jenkins, Hannah Read, Joy Askew, Oren Bloedow, Adam Minkoff, Glenn Patscha, Steven Bernstein and Sex Mob Horns, Matt Johnson, David Mansfield, Mark Marshall, Katie Scheele, Matt Darriau, more to be announced
What: All-star performance of Richard and Linda Thompson’s I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight album
Where: City Winery, 155 Varick St. between Spring & Vandam Sts., 212-608-0555
When: Monday, February 27, $25-$35, 8:00
Why: In 1974, former Fairport Conventioneer Richard Thompson and singer Linda Thompson (née Peters) helped redefine British folk rock with the classic album I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, consisting of such stand-out Richard originals as “The Calvary Cross,” “Withered and Died,” “Down Where the Drunkards Roll,” “The Great Valerio,” and the rollicking title track, in which the Thompsons proclaim, “Meet me at the station, don’t be late / I need to spend some money and it just won’t wait / Take me to the dance and hold me tight / I want to see the bright lights tonight.” On February 27, you can meet up at City Winery as an all-star lineup performs the record in its entirety, along with other numbers from the Thompsons’ canon, which came to an abrupt end in 1982 with the ultimate breakup album, Shoot Out the Lights. The event is organized by Canadian composer, producer, musician, and Ollabelle founder Glenn Patscha and will feature members of such groups as the October Project, Elysian Fields, and the Doyle Bramhall Band in addition to veterans of Bob Dylan, St. Vincent, Glen Hansard, and more. It’s only fitting that the show is taking place at City Winery, where Richard Thompson has played many times. In fact, a few years ago we were at one of Richard’s shows at City Winery when I had to ask the woman in front of me, who was enthusiastically singing along to the songs, if she could stop leaning so far forward, as she was blocking my view. My jaw dropped as she turned to me and sincerely apologized. “I’m so sorry. I’ve certainly seen him enough over the years, having lived with him,” Linda Thompson told me, sitting back in her seat.
Thursday, February 23, Nitehawk Cinema, 136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave., 718-384-3980, 9:30
Monday, February 27, Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn, 445 Albee Square West, 718-513-2547, 7:00
If you’re like us, you can’t watch a movie without identifying many of the actors who have small roles, familiar faces you’ve seen in films and old television series but who rarely get their names in the opening credits. You then scan the closing credits, trying to confirm their appearance. Kevin Maher will explore that phenomenon with two editions of “Kevin Geeks Out About Character Actors.” Among those who come up in the trailers for the February 23 show at Nitehawk and the February 27 show at the Alamo Drafthouse are Elisha Cook Jr., Jack Elam, Robert Morley, Tiny Lister Jr., Taylor Negron, Paul Dooley, Billy Barty, Timothy Carey, and Alice Nunn; if most or all of those names mean something to you, then this is the program for you. Maher, who geeks out about something monthly — past geek-outs have delved into space operas, super villains, Nazi zombies, holiday specials, and the apocalypse — will be joined at Nitehawk by Tanya Smith, Sonya Moore, Ryan Gabos, James Hancock, and Adam Howard and at the Alamo by Ryan Arey, Cristina Cacioppo, Caroline Golum, Bob Satuloff, and Andy Webb. While those names might not ring a bell, here’s some more character actors who might be part of these discussions: Michael Berryman, Zelda Rubinstein, Pete Postlethwaite, Margaret Hamilton, Gerrit Graham, Joan Cusack, Jon Polito, René Auberjonois, and Curtis Armstrong.
The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Irene Diamond Stage
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday-Sunday through March 19, $30 through March 12, $40 after
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s endlessly inventive Everybody is a magical, mysterious theatrical experience that is a must-see for adventurous theatergoers who relish being challenged over and over again. Rising stars Jacobs-Jenkins (An Octoroon, War, Gloria) and director Lila Neugebauer (The Wayside Motor Inn, The Wolves) explore love and death, dreams and reality, the fear of G-d, the human need for companionship, and the value of each individual life in the ninety-minute play, which opened last night at the Signature Theater’s Irene Diamond Stage for an extended run through March 19. The less you know about Everybody, the more surprises are in store, and the Signature is helping out in several ways. The wall outside the theater, which is usually bedecked with wide-ranging information about whatever play is being performed inside, putting it into sociohistorical context, only contains reproductions of paintings about death by such artists as Rubens and Breugel the Elder, and the audience doesn’t receive a program until the show is over. What we do know and can say, without giving anything away, is that Everybody is an adaptation of the late-fifteenth-century morality/mortality play Everyman, which was an English translation of the Dutch Elckerlijc, which was inspired by a Buddhist fable. At each performance, five members of the cast — Brooke Bloom, Michael Braun, Louis Cancelmi, David Patrick Kelly, and Lakisha Michelle May — line up to find out which abstract, conceptual character they will play, so each show is very different. The wonderfully cheeky Marylouise Burke is always Death, while the terrifically energetic Jocelyn Bioh is always G-d. (The excellent cast also includes Lilyana Tiare Cornell and Chris Perfetti.) “How can it be / that of all my productions, / it is you who have deteriorated / so severely, so vastly disappointing? / And don’t you hear the remainder of my creation, / the wonder that is everything, / crying out for justice against you?” G-d declares early on. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the world is indeed a stage, and we men, women, and children are merely players, with only so much time to justify our existence and get our things in order.
Laura Jellinek’s set is just about as basic as it comes, although with a major twist, consisting of eighteen chairs, the same kind that ticket holders sit in, lined up on a narrow section of the stage in front of a dark wall, blurring the line between audience and performer. Every so often Matt Frey’s lighting goes pitch black and Brandon Wolcott’s sound design takes over as voices are heard throughout the theater; keep your eyes and ears ready, because just about anything can happen anywhere and with anyone as the surprises keep mounting. The second of three works that will make up Jacobs-Jenkins’s Residency Five stay at the Signature (following 2014’s Appropriate), Everybody is an ingenious piece of theater that is involving from the moment you step inside the Irene Diamond. Incorporating splashes of Brecht and Beckett, Jacobs-Jenkins delves into topics that will have you taking a good, long look at yourself, regardless of whether you believe in G-d and the afterlife. You’re also likely to want to go back and see the allegorical show again; there are 120 variations of actors and roles, and the emotional resonance is sure to be very different depending on who gets cast as whom; on any night the main character may be a young woman or an old man. Regardless, just keep your faith in Jacobs-Jenkins and Neugebauer, who take you on quite an existential journey; when the play’s over, facing its own demise, it will of course rise again, living on in more performances and in the memories of those who have experienced it. The Signature has scheduled numerous special events in conjunction with Everybody, including talkbacks with members of the cast and crew after the February 23, 28, and March 7 performances, a Backstage Pass talk with Jellinek before the March 2 show, and a book club gathering on March 16 discussing Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, which asks the question, “What makes human life meaningful?”
WEEKEND CLASSICS: THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (Jason Reitman, 2006)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
February 24-26, 11:00 am
Series continues weekends through April 2
Jason Reitman, the son of producer-director Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters, Dave), made his sparkling feature-film debut with the brilliant Thank You for Smoking, a devilishly delightful black comedy based on the novel by acerbic wit Christopher Buckley. Aaron Eckhart gives a riotous performance as Nick Naylor, a fast-talking, handsome, smarmy lobbyist for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, a Big Tobacco laboratory that, remarkably, cannot find a link between cigarettes and health risks. A master of spin, Naylor seems to even believe himself when he tells a young boy dying of cancer that he’s better off smoking. As a grandstanding senator (William H. Macy) plans congressional hearings on the evils of tobacco — especially on teenagers — Naylor is being groomed as the industry’s savior by his high-strung boss (J. K. Simmons) and the Captain (Robert Duvall) while trying to establish a meaningful relationship with his son (Cameron Bright). The fine ensemble also features Katie Holmes as a hot young reporter who’ll go to virtually any length to get a story; Sam Elliott as the Marlboro Man, who is dying of lung cancer; Rob Lowe as a Zen-like Hollywood agent who is considering Naylor’s idea of making cigarette smoking cool in the movies again; and Dennis Miller and Joan Lunden as themselves, adding a bit of reality to the hysterical situation, which might not be as far off from the truth as we might think, especially with President Donald Trump recently promising to enact a ban preventing administration members from becoming lobbyists for five years after they leave government service.
Among the funniest scenes in this wicked film are Naylor’s weekly meetings with the M.O.D. Squad (the Merchants of Death), as the lobbyists for the alcohol (Maria Bello), tobacco (Eckhart), and firearms (David Koechner) industries playfully call themselves. The film is produced by David O. Sacks, who amassed his fortune when he sold his Internet baby, PayPal, to eBay in 2002 and headed straight for Hollywood. Sacks also makes a cameo as an oil lobbyist. The talented Reitman has gone on to make such films as Juno and Up in the Air, earning himself two Oscar nominations for Best Director. Thank You for Smoking is screening in a 35mm print February 24-26 at 11:00 am in the IFC Center Weekend Classics series “Autocratic for the People: An Unpresidented Series of Star-Spangled Satires,” which continues through April 2 with such other political mockeries, parodies, spoofs, and lampoons as Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog, and Andrew Fleming’s Dick.
1564 Broadway at 47th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 25, $79-$199
In 1995, Sunset Boulevard was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, winning seven, including Best Musical, Best Original Score (Andrew Lloyd Webber), Best Book (Don Black and Christopher Hampton), and Best Leading Actress (Glenn Close). Two decades later, Close, now sixty-nine, is back in Lonny Price’s mediocre revival of the musical based on Billy Wilder’s classic 1950 film noir, which was nominated for eleven Oscars, winning three. Despite this glorious history, it’s worth remembering that 1995 was an extremely weak year for Broadway musicals; no other show was up for score and book, while only Smokey Joe’s Café was also in the running for Best Musical, and Close’s only competition was Rebecca Luker for Show Boat. The night we attended this new revival, running at the Palace through June 25, much of the crowd was distracted by the presence of a radiant Hillary Clinton, but they were still familiar with the story: Trying to evade a pair of tough repo men, struggling Hollywood writer Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier) pulls into a hidden-away, fading mansion, where he meets bald manservant Max von Meyerling (Fred Johanson) and former silent-screen superstar Norma Desmond (Close), an aging, delusional woman who still moves and speaks like a silent-movie queen. Plotting a return to glory via Cecil B. DeMille (Paul Schoeffler), she takes on Gillis as cowriter and boy toy; meanwhile, smart, bespectacled studio script editor Betty Schaeffer (Siobhan Dillon), the fiancée of Gillis’s friend and colleague, Artie Green (Preston Truman Boyd), shows an interest in more than Gillis’s writing. It all leads to one of the greatest closing lines in film and theater history.
This updated version of the 1995 hit features a record-breaking forty-piece orchestra, conducted by Kristen Blodgette, taking up most of the center of the stage; the action occurs in the narrow space in front of it and on a series of ladders and platforms above and around it, rendering Stephen Mear’s choreography nearly nonexistent. While it’s lovely to hear and see such a grand orchestra, the audience is constantly looking around to find where the actors are, and David Cullen and Lloyd Webber’s orchestrations and arrangements are so mundane that a smaller band might have sufficed. Close (The Real Thing, The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs), playing the role made famous in the film by the glorious Gloria Swanson (and also played onstage by Rita Moreno, Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, Diahann Carroll, and Petula Clark), is fine as Norma but sometimes gets caught between playing it serious and camping it up; however, her costumes, again by Anthony Powell, are spectacular. Xavier (Love Story, Into the Woods), who is rather hunky in a bathing suit, plays the William Holden part with a sly grin, while Johanson (Aladdin, Jesus Christ Superstar) excels in the role performed in the film by Erich von Stroheim. The book by Black (Aspects of Love) and Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), who later collaborated on Frank Wildhorn’s Dracula, the Musical, follows the film almost too closely without much stagecraft, save for having a car onstage, which can so often be tacky, and black-and-white projections. The catchphrase of the music and text, extolling Hollywood as a place that creates “new ways to dream,” is repeated ad nauseam. The show opens with a life-size dummy of the deceased Gillis lifted out of an unseen pool (the story is told by the character in flashback), but for some reason it is left hanging above the stage the entire night, like a creepy ghost watching over everything, much as the ghost of the classic film hovers over the proceedings onstage, hoping the musical will get better, but except for too few shining moments, it never does.