CULTURE WATCH

By Sarah A. Spitz

Misses and Hits

OK, call me the Grinch. “Something Rotten” at the Ahmanson Theatre just did not float my boat.

Having recently seen both “Hamilton” and “Spamilton,” the bar for true theatrical innovation, as well as satire and parody of Broadway, is very high for me.

I am vastly in the minority on this one – on opening night, midway through Act One, a “rockettes”-like dance line generated a three-minute standing ovation…I didn’t stand. Sorry.

And of course, the play received loud guffaws throughout, cheers and applause when the curtain closed. I didn’t stay. Sorry.

My critique takes nothing away from the excellence and the energetic work of the actors, singers and dancers, all of whom are truly top notch. It’s just … well … the material.

The difference between clever and intelligent is what’s at work here, for me.

“Something Rotten” is, to my eyes, obvious, the premise ridiculous (though that’s never stopped a musical before), the sex jokes and double entendres as old-school and tired as they come, and the attempt to parody Broadway musicals is nowhere near as smart as “Spamilton.”

The story line is that it’s The Renaissance; theatrical rock star William Shakespeare is sucking all the air out of the room, and stealing ideas everywhere to write his hits.

The hapless brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, are trying to compete and failing.

Nick consults a soothsayer to find out what Shakespeare’s greatest play in the future will be so he can produce it now … and, well, “Omelette, the Musical” came up.

A slight predictive mis-translation of “Hamlet,” of course. And, of course, musicals don’t exist in Renaissance England.

Not a hummable tune in the batch; just silly, over-the-top action, love between a Puritan’s daughter and Nigel, the Puritan’s reveal as a closet hypocrite, I mean, seriously.

When I say obvious, this play is it. And I know, it won a Tony, and reveled in great reviews…but hey, I feel what I feel. It’s a super crowd pleaser, but I’m not part of that crowd.

THANK HEAVEN FOR STREAMING

I’ve been busy with a temporary “gig,” so I haven’t gotten out as much as usual, but streaming comes to my rescue! This really IS the golden age of the small screen and yes, I am willing to pay for the pleasure of streaming services that provide top quality fare.

What I have been watching lately: “Godless” and “Alias Grace” on Netflix. “White Famous” on Showtime.

“Queen Sugar” on OWN.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Godless” revolves around a mining town in New Mexico, where all the men were killed when the mine exploded, only the women remain to take care of the treacherous business of living in the pioneer wilderness that is largely unprotected.

One woman, Alice Fletcher (admirably portrayed by Michele Dockery, Lady Mary of “Downtown Abbey” fame), living outside the town of LaBelle, is an outcast with an Indian son, whose husband (the boy’s father) was shot in the back by townspeople.

Into her life rides Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), a good guy gone bad and back to good again (maybe), who’s being sought after by the murderous and rapacious outlaw gang leader Frank Griffin (an almost unrecognizable Jeff Daniels) for betraying him.

It’s stark; it’s dark; it’s beautiful. I’m three episodes in and really wondering what going to happen next.
“Alias Grace,” also on Netflix, is quiet but equally disturbing.

Based on a Margaret Atwood novel, Grace Marks has been convicted of killing her employer, his housekeeper and his mistress. Is she guilty, innocent, crazy or demonic?

As a group of social reformers and spiritualists attempt to prove her innocence, they hire a doctor who specializes in the new field of mental illness.

He tries to get at the truth, unlocking her memory (she says she cannot remember what happened) and falling for her in the process. She was terribly abused, it could be traumatic brain disorder, or maybe she justifiably did the dirty deed.

The answers are not clear; the drama is amazing.

“White Famous” on Showtime is a cutting take on Hollywood. Floyd (Jay Pharoah) is an up-and-coming black comic, tapped for breakout fame in Hollywood, a town hungry to prove its that it can be diverse.

Can he remain true to himself and not be co-opted by the players who have their finger on the power buttons? Can he break through without being broken? The series is co-created by Jamie Foxx, who’s lived this experience and based the show on it.

“Queen Sugar” on the Oprah Winfrey Network is as soap opera as soap operas get, but oh my gosh, is it addictive (a little like sugar itself). The siblings in the family are estranged from one another. There’s Nova, the crusading journalist, played by one of the stars of “True Blood,” Rutina Wesley, who.

Her sister, Charley (the breathtakingly beautiful Dawn-Lyen Gardner) was married to a basketball star but they’re now divorced. She owns the only sugar mill in America run by a black woman and she struggles in the face of entrenched racism.

Their brother, Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) was formerly incarcerated, and now is seeking redemption through farming, and raising his son the boy’s mother, a former drug user.

This well-spun sugar is stuff drama is made of.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.

Caption:
The cast of “Something Rotten!” at the Ahmanson Theatre through December 31, 2017.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

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