Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

Two reviews

I went to see No Exit at the Pear Avenue Theater in Mountain View with my ex-wife Marilyn. Okay, she only played my wife on stage, in Come Blow Your Horn at Santa Clara Players. She also played in Murder Most Fouled Up with Meredith Hagedorn, who is the founder and impresario of Dragon Productions which was producing No Exit. I have seen and enjoyed all the Dragon Productions shows so far, and have especially enjoyed Meredith's performances in them.

Meredith is an excellent actress, a member of Actor's Equity, and her dream is to find a home for her company in Palo Alto, where she will continue to provide professional-quality theater in a small venue.

No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre is a 1-hour one-act play about three people in Hell. It's a bit dated, and doesn't work as well as it did back in the days when lesbians were considered diabolical, as were Frenchmen who fled the country to avoid being lynched for their collaboration with the Nazis. But if you accept the mores of the 1940's, it works just fine.

The Pear is a 50-seat black box theater with minimal lighting and set capabilities, which is fine for this play because all it needs are three seats, a door and a door bell. No light cues are required either, though in this production there was some dimming of onstage lights to indicate when a character was looking back to the world of the living. I thought it unnecessary, but it didn't hurt anything.

The characters are ushered in, one at a time, to a room which has three benches. The usher (Scott Hartley) is in a bell boy's vest, and is supposed to convey an air of mystery combined with a touch of "screw you". Hartley doesn't really pull this off, he seems a little bit lost, as if he didn't have a handle on the character.

The first victim is Mossiuer Cradeau, who tries very hard to pretend he knows all, and wants to know when they are to bring out the thumbscrews. His job is to be Angst Incarnate, and while his words and actions succeed, his manner does not. He's kind of wooden throughout the play. I never got the impression the actor actually believed the words he was saying. But he went through the motions superbly, which allowed the other two characters to come closer to the mark.

Next in the barrel is Inez (Meredith Hagedorn), who is an anti-social man-hating lesbian. She and Cradeau, who views himself as a macho hero, develop an instant antipathy. Hagedorn plays the role convincingly.

Finally, the usher brings in Estelle (Shannon Stowe), who is supposed to be an upper crust socialite trophy wife. She doesn't quite pull it off, until after she reveals why she's in Hell, and degenerates into a weak, co-dependent woman who wants Cradeau.

Log story short, what makes this Hell for them is Inez wants Estelle who wants Cradeau who wants to be left in peace. And Inez wants Estelle partly to steal her from Cradeau.

The show was ably directed by Jane Geesman, who was Palo Alto Players' artistic director last time I looked (though I don't see her name on their staff list anymore) and is fine actress in her own right. The toughest part of a small-cast show is making sure everyone has their lines down, which they did. Next toughest is coming up with blocking which isn't repetitive or boring, and this was done fairly well too.

All told, it's a good show, worth seeing. No Exit runs Thursday-Sunday through March 6 at:
The Pear Avenue Theatre
1220 Pear Avenue, Unit K
Mountain View, CA 94043

Reservations strongly recommended. Tickets can be ordered online and paid via Pay Pal Here

My plan for Saturday was to go to WonderCon in the city and catch Kevin Smith's panel, but at the last minute a friend called who had lost a close friend Thursday, and was looking for someone to keep her company and go see a movie. I'd wanted to see the Thai film Ong-Bak after reading the glowing Metro review, so that's what we saw.

Ong-Bak is pronounced "Awng-Bock". My Thai vocabulary is not as big as it should be, so I had to look up the words when I got home. Ong means a body, as in a body of work or a committee. Bak (which I thought meant "mouth", but that's spelled with a different "B"), means a chip off of something. So "chip off the old block" is probably a reasonable translation. In this case it's the name of the statue of Buddha in the tiny NorthEastern village of Nong Pradu. The reason for the name Ong-Bak is 200 years before, many solid gold statues were covered in plaster and painted with gold leaf to make it look like just another worthless statue. But the Burmese invaders got wise to that trick and would routinely chop the head to see what was underneath. So this Buddha's head is chipped from that slashing. It was just a concrete statue, but the villagers think it has magical powers, and will end the drought when the upcoming Songkran festival comes around.

But a sleazy Bangkok treasure hunter steals the head of the statue and takes it to Bangkok. Our hero Ting (Tony Jaa), a studly young man who is trained in what the film calls the ancient martial art of Muay Thai (Thai kick-boxing) is sent to retrieve the head, with a letter of introduction to a former villager named Hum Lae (Petchtai Wongkamlao) who is supposed to help him. Hum Lae is a loser who looks like a Thai George Foreman, and is now, appropriately, calling himself George.

The movie is way too violent. I saw lots of Muay Thai matches and demonstrations in Thailand, and none of them were anywhere close to the level of form, discipline and lethality which Jaa displays in the film. My guess is they invented this story of a Thai martial art form in order to allow a patriotic theme for what is more likely Muay Thai Meets Bruce Lee. Jaa is obviously a superb martial artist, way beyond the limits of Thai kick-boxing.

Another annoyance is they referred to a duel to the death as a "rope fight". I'd heard of this - the two competitors are tied to each other by a rope about a foot long, tied to their left hands. It's usually a knife fight. But in the movie, the rope fight is just a normal fight with hands wrapped in rope instead of in boxing gloves.

But back to the movie.

This movie is all about the fighting. There is a lot of it. Most of the reviews compare Jaa to Jackie Chan. There's no comparison. Jaa has no sense of humor, his choreography is extremely gymnastic but not very inventive. His style is more like Bruce Lee's, where the fellow who has the superior karate skills and strength and is fighting for Good always comes out on top.

I was disappointed in several ways. First, one reason I went to see the film was to get some nostalgic views of Bangkok, but the filming was so close-up that none of the scenery was recognizable. It could have been shot in any major city in the country. There is a tuk-tuk chase scene which looks like it starts in Soi Asoke on Sukhumwit avenue, but ends near the airport an hour's drive away. More likely it all takes place near the airport. Second, there is no romance, no sex, no humor and no sub-plot. Shallow. And third, the violence. Way too much.

And two nit-picks. One: the subtitles did not always match the Thai dialog. Often American slang cuss words were thrown in where there was no swearing in Thai. I suppose most of the changes worked better for an American audience than the original dialog would have. Two: there is a scene where the Ting, George and George's sidekick Muay Lek are eating take-out sitting on the curb. They are using chopsticks. I couldn't see what the boys were having, but Lek was eating some rice dish. Thais don't use chopsticks for anything except Chinese noodles - usually in soup. I suspect this scene was meant to be a parody of a similar scene in a Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee movie, but it sure looked Wrong to me.

IMHO, the pretty good acting and extreme martial arts skills don't justify huge amount of gratuitous violence and lack of a plot. If I knew then what I know now, I would have given it a miss.

No work Monday. No plans. Lousy weather, so I probably won't take the train into SF and wander around like I would have liked. Ditto driving down to SCruz. Netflix DVDs, I guess.

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