Tag Archives: Angels in America

PBS delivers a valentine from London’s National Theatre

Judi Dench performs 'Send in the Clowns.'

Judi Dench performs ‘Send in the Clowns’ from ‘A Little Night Music’ during ‘ National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage,’ tonight on ‘Great Performances.’

If you’re eager to take a break from the Winter Olympic Games, or if you’re just ready for two beguiling hours of television on general principal, Great Performances tonight presents the national television premiere of National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage on many PBS affiliates (as always, check your local TV listings to confirm when it’s airing in your area).
This glittering two-hour special, which was screened as a live satellite transmission to a limited number of U.S. movie theaters last November, spotlights a jaw-dropping array of British actors as they assemble to pay tribute to the first half-century of productions at a venue that is their part-time home: The National Theatre, which opened its doors at the Old Vic in 1983 under the artistic leadership of Sir Laurence Olivier before eventually transferring to its current location on London’s South Bank. The NT, which houses the Olivier, Lyttleton and Cottlesloe Theatres, annual generates an acclaimed combination of both classics and new works each night.
The evening’s program combines archival snippets of great past productions with a number of actors appearing live on stage to perform a speech from a play with which they’re associated. In the most moving example, we see an old clip of Maggie Smith at her most hilariously mannered in a production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever from her salad days, juxtaposed with the veteran actress of today as she recites a worldly-wise monologue from The Beaux’ Strategem, a Restoration comedy.
Another huge audience favorite, Judi Dench, appears to recreate two roles that won her the Olivier Award (London’s equivalent of the Tony Award) as best actress: as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and as aging actress Desiree Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.
Among Britain’s younger contingent of stars, Benedict Cumberbatch appears in a scene from his past triumph in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, while Cumberbatch’s Sherlock nemesis, Andrew Scott, and Dominic Cooper perform a scene from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
The cast of 100 performers also includes such familiar faces as Christopher Eccleston, Joan Plowright, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Penelope Keith, Helen Mirren and Derek Jacobi.
As the program unfolds, the producers’ desire to pack as much as possible into two hours inevitably starts to feel like the video equivalent of picking one’s way through the greatest Whitman’s chocolate sampler of all time, as one great moment in English drama after another follows all too fleetingly on the other. Also, I do regret that not all plays or even featured performers are identified (for the record, that’s a singer named Clive Rowe bringing down the house in “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls).
Still, even if you can’t put a name to an occasional face or performance, there’s no missing that, in terms of quality per minute, National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage is an embarrassment of riches.
Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch appears as Rosenkrantz in Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.’

HBO goes back to the ‘Boardwalk’

onyx dancers
Dancers at the Onyx Club
His mad-dog nemesis Gyp Rosetti finally put down, Prohibition-era gangster Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is trying to keep a low profile as Boardwalk Empire starts its fourth season tonight on HBO, but he soon faces a new threat from an unexpected quarter. Nucky has managed to strike an uneasy truce with the other mob bosses in the New York-New Jersey area, and he has rewarded his black community ally Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) by giving him control of the Onyx Club, a Cotton Club-style Boardwalk nightspot.
It’s not long, however, before a racially charged incident at the club draws a sinister new figure into Nucky’s world: Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Emmy winner Jeffrey Wright, Angels in America), a well-spoken Harlem power broker whose stylish appearance and philanthropic demeanor mask a ruthless violent streak every bit as dangerous as Gyp’s. Narcisse wants a cut of the dollars the black community has begun to pour into Nucky’s coffers, while also sowing discord within the already tenuous alliances between black and white business figures.
At the same time, Nucky’s attentions are being drawn to Florida, where the exploding real estate market is shaping up as a lucrative new turf. There he meets another of Season Four’s more promising new characters, Tampa speakeasy owner Sally Tweet (Emmy winner Patricia Arquette, Medium).
On the homefront, Nucky’s wife Margaret (Kelly Macdonald), mourning the murder of her lover Owen Slater and horrified by how violence from her husband’s business dealings is encroaching on their family, has left him, with their two children in tow (although Macdonald’s name remains in the opening credits, she’s entirely missing from the first several episodes HBO sent out for review). In her absence, Nucky has begun spending more time with his brother Eli (Shea Whigham) and his family, including college-age son Willie (Ben Rosenfield), who starts turning to his uncle for some covert help with life’s problems.
Elsewhere this season, Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) is spiraling deeper and deeper into addiction as she fights in vain for custody of her grandson, but she may get a lifeline in the form of Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston), a grocery store executive who takes a shine to her, and the seemingly naïve new Federal agent Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty) may not to be quite the pushover Nucky and his rum-runners are hoping for.
Based on these early preview episodes, Boardwalk Empire is returning in splendid shape, if without the volcanic jolt Bobby Cannavale brought to Season Three with his Emmy-nominated guest stint as Gyp Rosetti. As a trade-off, though, it looks as if we’ll be getting some interesting insights into the complex ways racial issues affected the 1924 crime scene, along with some terrific musical numbers of the period.
Patricia Arquette