Friday, 15 September 2017

Dolphins and Sharks by James Tyler- Theatre Review

This review is of the 2017 production of James Anthony Tyler's 'Dolphins and Sharks' at the Finborough Theatre, particularly the performance on the 12th of September.

'Dolphins and Sharks' is sort of 'The Typists' by way of 'Throne of Blood'. A young man from Staten Island, Yusuf, is hired into a copy shop in Harlem as a means of getting by and paying his overdue rent. Like 'The Typists' Paul Cunningham, he is young, intelligent, keen-eyed and ambitious. The two women who work in the shop, Xiomara and Isabel, eventually hire Yusuf after much persuasion.
But unlike 'The Typists', which is about two employees who go nowhere, 'Dolphins and Sharks' is about what would happen if one of them goes somewhere.
The company's CEO, an ominous, unseen threat to the harmony of the community, hires one of the employees as manager, and friendships start to deteriorate in the workplace. Also, the photocopier may or may not be a lie detector.

The play is sharply written by James Tyler, with witty dialogue and characters who are not good or bad people, but all victims of societal prejudice and corporate racism.

Director Lydia Parker adds her unique flourishes of humour to the first act, which makes Isabel and Xiomara's friendship seem very close and personal. Her choreography is dynamic and original.

The opening has the five characters, including their regular client, enacting the work of a chain gang on a railroad. This was not Lydia Parker's idea, but playwright James Tyler's. For all of the sharp dialogue in Tyler's writing, this was a choice that was annoyingly banal.  It also talks down to the audience. We're not stupid. We know the implications within the play that are already explained in the dialogue.
This opening was specifically written in the script, so Tyler could have done without it. The contract for producing the play included the rule that Parker couldn't change his writing. Still, this choice from Tyler was a bad one.

This is also shown by the beginning of the second act, where the characters all scream in frustration as they're being worked for little reward. This was Shyko Amos' (Isabel) idea, and it is much better. It says a lot about the societal structure without being too heavy handed.

In light of this, the play comes off as having more than one director. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

A couple of the actors try to direct themselves and it does not work in their favour. It's obvious that they had agreed with Parker's ideas in rehearsals and then during the performance decided to disobey her for some reason.

Hermelio Miguel Aquino is too over the top as Danilo, the janitor, to make him the slightest bit sympathetic or relatable. This was Aquino's own choice and it was a self-sabotaging one. Of course, Danilo is supposed to be a funny character, but even Belulah Archuletta's character in 'The Searchers', T'sala-ta-komal-ta-name, carried herself with dignity, even in the face of the film's racist misogyny. Did Aquino think that he was helping the play's message by making Danilo so obnoxious and unlikable?

Shyko Amos is excellent as Isabel for the most part. She understands her character and connects with her. However, the way she has Isabel react to bad news brought to her in the second to last scene is forced and unnatural, and again, much too overblown. Of course, Isabel's situation is bad, but it doesn't warrant such histrionics. Like Hermelio, this was her own choice and had she listened to the director, she would have elicited sympathy from the audience by making it more natural.
Still, as before, her idea about the opening of the second act was a good one, especially compared to Tyler's idea for opening the first act.

Ammar Duffus, Rachel Handshaw and Miquel Brown are all very good in their respective roles. Duffus' Yusuf is mild-mannered and likeable, Handshaw's no-nonsense Xiomara is professional and beleaguered, with enough subtlety to make her believable, and Brown's Ms. Amenze is warm and intelligent.

A very interesting play, which has to be seen for Parker's strong direction.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

I got interviewed in iNews!

When I made a film called 'Force of Habit', it was shortlisted for the Autism Uncut awards ceremony. I got in touch with a journalist from iNews and she interviewed me over the phone about myself and my influences.

I saw myself in the most unlikely movie character and look where it got me!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Gender Dynamics in Disney Movies of Late

I appreciate the fact that there have been more progressive female characters in Disney movies, from the diligent, hardworking Tiana, to sheltered yet empowered Rapunzel, ambitious race car driver Vanellope von Schweetz, and now bunny policewoman Judy Hopps, as well as many others in the past eight years or so.

These women are paired, romantically or platonically, with a guy, and they go on adventures together, and that's cool.

I've been noticing a pattern in recent Disney movies.

Whenever there's a male-female dynamic, the guy is always the wisecracker, the laid-back one, the easygoing rogue.

The relationship between Rapunzel and Flynn Rider in 'Tangled' is a standard dynamic. She's perky, quirky, energetic, and cute, while he's suave, worldly and much more level-headed. We have the same thing with Princess Anna and Kristoff in 'Frozen', and Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde in 'Zootopia'. The girl is often funny, but in a dorky way, while the guy, more often than not, always has an intelligent comeback for everything.

Dashing thief Flynn Rider and cute, sincere Rapunzel
Savvy, rough-around-the-edges Kristoff and naive, previously sheltered Princess Anna
Optimistic rookie cop Judy Hopps and streetwise hustler Nick Wilde

I think they need to create a wisecracking heroine for girls to look up to.

The reason why they don't so far may be because of a society rule that was all but spelled out in 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' episode 'Sally and the Lab Technician', the rule that men always have to be the funny ones, that a girl making wisecracks would scare a guy off.

Furthermore there's the other society rule of "brave boys" and "good girls". A male hero generally has a smart mouth (like Jim Hawkins in 'Treasure Planet' or Hiro in 'Big Hero 6'), while with a female hero (especially Rapunzel and Princess Anna) we laugh at her expense for doing something cute or innocent. This is because the boys are charismatic troublemakers, while the girls are adorably rebellious and have good intentions.

These double standards may not be the reason why. It may just be that since these charming female dreamers are the emotional centres of the movies, they need a foil, who often happens to be male and more experienced, which is necessary for the protagonists' development.

A surprising inversion is 'Bolt', which has the sheltered, idealistic dog Bolt paired with the down-and-out cynic Mittens. But they're non-anthropomorphic animal characters in a film that wasn't the studio's best work so they don't leave enough of an impression to set an example.

I'd like to see them explain the pattern of the male lead often being the one who makes the funny quips.

Does the PG rating mean anything anymore?

When I saw Tangled in cinemas I was horrified by the PG rating it was issued... because there was nothing there that would give it a PG rating.

So who do Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks et al think they're fooling?

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

It's Election Night, now, and I am bringing you some of the best political comedy moments of the year, and yes, that includes something made by the Internet.

(Hammond had the look down but Baldwin did it better)

(The South Park episode 'Where My Country Gone?')

This one isn't just funny, it's really sweet at the end as well.

This is just outright brilliant...

And getting Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane to return as Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock was a real treat.

Happy Taco Tuesday!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Burning Bridges by Amy Shindler- Theatre Review

Burning Bridges stars a woman with autism. That was what intrigued me into seeing this play, since I have Asperger's Syndrome myself.
The trouble is, the story doesn't actually centre around her.

25-year-old Sarah arrives at her sister Kate's home so she can get back on her feet after a bout of offscreen online gambling. Obsessed with Tamagotchi and One Direction to the point where she has a meltdown when both those worlds come crashing down, she turns the worlds of her sister and brother in law upside down, even though they don't make any attempt to try and understand her. Why put up fences when you can build bridges, indeed?

Sarah, who is bizarre and unique even for an autistic woman, ends up building too good of a bridge when she gets uncomfortably close with her brother in law, Dan, and invites him to a drinking game while her sister is away, inevitably causing drama between the three people. Not just tension, but drama.

It's never shown what happened between Sarah and Dan, but she claimed she was taken advantage of to cover up the truth about them.

We learn that Sarah was put in a care home when she was a child and resents Kate, whom she had previously loved, for sending her there after the death of their mother. But it turned out that their mother decided to put her in the care home and, in true Theatre 503 tradition, tries unsuccessfully to kill herself. And yet Kate and Dan dispute about whether or not the affair between himself and Sarah was consensual or not, if indeed it ever happened. Kate questions herself after Sarah reveals that she has the ability to lie.

The play revolves less around Sarah and more around Kate and Dan's relationship. Kate loses her job spending too much time looking after Sarah, who is shown to cause problems in their relationship, despite not being a bad person, just clueless about other people's feelings.

Sarah herself is interesting. She's smart, but not a savant. She has the typical autistic trait of being completely blunt and seemingly insensitive towards other people's feelings. She seems independent and together, yet is unable to take care of herself. She's surprisingly flirtatious, though it's possible that she's copying what she's seen other girls do. Her personality is almost inconsistent. It's as though Shindler knows someone who's autistic yet has not quite grasped their experiences as an autistic person, and she feels more comfortable writing about the experiences of more "normal" people. Probably due to the fact that not many autistic playwrights get their works produced.

There wasn't anywhere in the play which showed which sensations- which sights, sounds, smells, etc.- Sarah couldn't bear. Sensory sensitivity is a common and consistent trait in people with Asperger's Syndrome. There are people who can't stand the feel of velvet, or the texture of certain foods, or loud consistent noises. I don't remember any of that being discussed in the play.

The actors were excellent, especially Rae Brogan as Sarah, despite weaknesses in the script.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

My Vintage Protest

New York City is one of the fashion capitals of the world. That's why no-one batted an eyelid when I came into the city looking like a star of an old Hollywood movie.
I had always been interested in fashions of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. They were bold, glamorous, and fun.
And in December 2014, I had decided that I would find a political purpose for them.

With the deaths of untold numbers of African Americans in the recent couple of years alone, America has been sliding backwards. And with the threat of a new fascist regime waiting to press its iron fist down on the United States, I felt I had to look the part. This isn't just a fashion statement. This is my protest against injustice, prejudice and the threat of dictatorship in the so-called "land of the free". 

The truth was, the moment there was a Republican majority Senate elected, I gave up on America. The Ferguson protests made me realise that nothing had actually changed in the country. It was a peaceful protest, and they brought in armed police. All because they looked different from them. And now, the Conservatives are looking even more like the national socialists that had been our enemies in the Second World War.

I believe in the power of fashion to make political and social statements. We live in a society that judges us by our appearance. I'm proud to be from New York City, which at its best is diverse, creative and liberal, where you didn't get strange looks from people if you didn't look like them. I think it's a very progressive city. 

I guess this look I'm going for is a way of looking different from everyone else and seeing how law enforcers react. They won't even know that I'm protesting against conservatism. 

Still, if we don't move forward and make the world around us a more inclusive, tolerant, less violent place, we'd all be dressing like this. 

So if you think this is also a good idea, I recommend wearing more vintage clothes. It's a lot of fun, I'll guarantee it. 

Plus, I think we ought to humiliate the rest of America by going around in this stuff, if indeed it does ever become a fascist nation.