STAGE REVIEW: ‘War Horse’

It would be impossible to spend more than 20 minutes sitting in the audience of  War Horse, now at the Winspear, and not be bowled over by its excellent stagecraft. Of course, there are the celebrated life-sized puppets — not just of full-grown horses, but of foals and birds. But you can see a puppet show at any state fair midway. What makes War Horse special is the evocative way those creatures are presented.

The (for want of a better word) protagonist — the title Thoroughbred mutt Joey — is made of a pinkish metal exo-skeleton whose mechanisms (including the three actors who manipulate him) are clearly visible at all time. Plainly, as Rene Magritte might observe, “This is not a horse.” And yet for two-and-a-half hours, you believe it to be one. The first time Joey’s master, the young farmboy Albert, living in Devon, England, at the outbreak of The Great War, strokes his muzzle, you can sense the horseflesh under his hand, the warmth and force of Joey’s breath. In movies, to convince an audience of a horse storming through the fields of France, you need expensive CGI effects; onstage, you just need your imagination.

And lighting. Very, very good lighting.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Pride Edition

Usually I wait until Friday to run down all that’s going on in gaydom this week that you need to catch up on, but since it’s Pride Weekend, I figured I’d get a jump-start on all the events.

First up: Tonight is the first night of Miss Coco Peru Is Present at the Rose Room. She’s hilarious. And if you order using the discount code VOICE, you get up to 40 percent off your tickets. Amanda Lepore and Cazwell also appear at It’ll Do Dancing Club tonight starting about 11 — so you can see Coco and still catch their show.

Today is also the kickoff for two very different weekend long events. First, the Southwest RV Supershow starts Thursday and runs through Sunday at Dallas Market Hall. If you like camping — and let’s face it, gays really do — you’ll find a phenomenal selection of recreational vehicles here. On the other side of the spectrum is the opening of the City Performance Hall. If you find yourself in the Arts District anyway, you might wanna stop by and see The Second City Does Dallas at the Wyly or War Horse at the Winspear. (Psst! The horse is gay.)

Friday night might require some hopping to catch all that’s going on, from the launch of the new Dick’s Night Out gay men’s party the Red Party (a big fundraiser for Legacy Counseling Center) to Suzanne Westenhoefer cracking wise in the Vixin Lounge at Sue Ellen’s.

There are also three more days to catch both Uptown Players‘ The Producers and shows in their Second Annual Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival. But there’s also tons of other good theater around the area, including Rent at Theatre Arlington and a few more performances of The Most Happy Fella at Lyric Stage in Irving. Also out in the Mid Cities this weekend: Gay Day at Six Flags will be in Arlington on Saturday. You can get half-off tickets courtesy of Dallas Voice here. And Patti LuPone teams with her old friend Mandy Patinkin for An Evening With at Richardson’s Eisemann Center for Performing Arts on Saturday night. (Read an interview with Mandy in Friday’s Voice.)

Of course, by now you know about the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade along Cedar Springs on Sunday, concurrent with the Festival at Lee Park, but there are lots of other Pride-related parties that day (and all weekend), including DJ Tony Moran spinning at BearDance at TMC on Sunday, Chi Chi LaRue at BJ’s NXS! on Sunday, DJ Michael Tank at the Brick (also Sunday).

And we haven’t even started on all the events from Monday on, whether it be Gary Lynn Floyd inaugurating the new Cabaret Series at the Sammons Arts Center or yours truly giving his regular Gay Broadway Series lecture at War Horse on Tuesday night. So if you can’t keep track of it all, trust us — we get it.

Still, that’s all the more reason to pick up the Voice on Friday. We have a rundown of many of the events, plus interviews with celebs, pictures of hot guys in underwear and our first “hetero life partners” edition of Dynamic Duo. Pick it up, you’ll love it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

Dallas Pride Weekend is just around the corner, but the week leading up to it is jam-packed with events.

It’s the first weekend after Labor Day, which means theaters are churning out openings. Among the shows you can see this week: Rent at Theatre Arlington, The Second City Does Dallas at the Dallas Theater Center, the sexually complex Or, from Echo Theatre (at the Bath House, pictured above), War Horse at the Winspear as part of the Lexus Broadway Series and an entire selection of short plays courtesy of Uptown Players’ second annual Pride Performing Arts Festival. But we gotta say, the show we’re kinda most looking forward to this weekend is The Most Happy Fella at Lyric Stage. The rarely performed Frank Loesser musical (which immortalized our town in the song “Big D”) gets the fully orchestrated treatment courtesy of musical director Jay Dias, whom we profiled last month. Lyric only does two weekends of shows; it’s too bad, because they usually do a fantastic job. Cheryl Denson directs, too!

It’s not just theater, though, that takes to the stage. Drag diva Coco Peru performs her show at the Rose Room starting Thursday, unofficially launching Pride in Dallas. Best of all? Dallas Voice readers get a discount off tickets of up to 40 percent, just by using the promo code VOICE when they order here. And you can also see an actual theater — not something performed on its stages — by taking one of the behind-the-scenes architectural tours of the new City Performance Hall, which begins its gala weekend celebration on Thursday.

And if the Democratic National Convention only whetted your appetite for hearing gay people talked about on TV, tune into The New Normal on NBC at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, for the newest sitcom about gay life that could very well be the next Will & Grace … only this time, it looks more like Will & Jack.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lexus Broadway Series’ line-up

The Lexus Broadway Series at the Winspear Opera House confirmed its 2012-13 will contain seven shows, up from the usual four or five. As already reported, it features the play War Horse, the Tony Award-winner using remarkable puppet horses and other animals (including Joey, pictured), which runs Sept. 12-23. Much of the rest of the season, though, contains some familiar titles … though some are welcome back.

The season begins Aug. 14 with Chicago, which has been through North Texas a lot — last year, in Fort Worth with John O’Hurley; he’s here again in this production. After War Horse, Constantine Maroulis, the Idol who did a good job in the recent Rock of Ages, will be seen in Jekyll & Hyde (Dec. 4-16), a delightfully bombastic musical that hasn’t been to Dallas with a national tour since before it opened on Broadway.

A ” bonus” show (not part of the Series package) is Cirque Dreams: Holidaze, another Soleil wannabe from Neil Goldberg, from Decc. 18-23.

The season returns in 2013 with the national tour of the current Broadway hit revival Anything Goes† (Feb. 13-24), followed by the African-themed Fela! (May 7-19) from Bill T. Jones. The last show, Traces (Jun 11-23), is an unknown quantity, but looks like a cross between Cirque, Stomp and Movin’ Out.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Theater troupes to release seasons, but we already know one by the Bard

It’s that time of year when theater companies begin to unveil their seasons, and nowadays, they like to make it a show. Tonight, the Lexus Broadway Series will reveal its third season at the Winspear (look here on Instant Tea this weekend for an update!) and next week, the Dallas Theater Center and Theatre 3 both have ceremonies to announce their seasons.

We already know one of the plays on the Lexus slate: The Tony-winning War Horse, pictured, which was revealed last year. But we also know one of the DTC’s upcoming shows.

This fall will mark the start of the company’s fourth season at the Wyly, and artistic director Kevin Moriarty has always opened his season with a Shakespeare play: The comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the history Henry IV (Parts I and II) and the romance The Tempest. That only leaves one of the major tragedies (Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear), and smart money has always been in Lear: It’s less performed than all the others except Othello, and so the production would be pretty fresh. The question was, who would tackle the lead?

Now we know. The DTC may not have released its schedule yet, but Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I. — with which Moriarty has had a long affiliation — has. It released its 2012-13 season brochure a few weeks ago, which I happened upon online, and here’s what it says:

King Lear [Sept. 13—Oct. 21] Our resident acting company joins forces with the acclaimed Dallas Theater Center for a co-production of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. … In the winter, Trinity Rep’s actors will venture to Dallas to remount this thrilling co-production. Resident acting company member Brian McEleney stars as Lear.

It looks, then, like Shakespeare will not kick off DTC’s season for the first time at the Wyly, but will wait until early 2013, following DTC’s annual presentation of A Christmas Carol … another show Trinity Rep is also doing. Might there be other convergences on the two schedules? We’ll find out next week!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The Oscar scorecard

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Gay folks — both actors, characters and behind the scenes — are easier to find at the Tonys and Emmys than at the Oscars; it’s one of the reasons we get so excited about Brokeback Mountain and The Kids Are All Right.

But the Oscars do occasionally have their queer appeal — one of the frontrunners this year is an elderly man who comes out as gay to his adult son’s dismay.

Here’s a scorecard for those keeping track,
including who will win and who should … and who might sneak in. Let the office pool begin!

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Picture: Who will win: The Artist, pictured. Who should win: The Help. Spoiler:
The Descendants.

Director: Who will win: Michel Hazavanicius, The Artist. Who should win: Terrence Malick,
Tree of Life. Spoiler: Martin Scorsese, Hugo.

Actor: Who will/should win: Jean Dujardin, The Artist. Spoiler: George Clooney,
The Descendants.

Actress: Who will/should win: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady. Spoiler: Viola Davis, The Help.

Supporting Actor: Who will/should win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. Spoiler: None.

Supporting Actress: Who will/should win:
Octavia Spencer, The Help. Spoiler: None.

Original Screenplay: Who will/should win: The Artist. Spoiler: Midnight in Paris.

Adapted Screenplay: Who will/should win: The Descendants. Spoiler: Tinker Tailor Solider Spy.

Cinematography: Who will win: The Artist. Who should win/spoiler: The Tree of Life.

Film Editing: Who will win: Hugo. Who should win:  Moneyball. Spoiler: Descendants.

Art Direction: Who will/should win: Hugo.

Costume Design: Who will/should win: Anonymous. Spoiler: Hugo.

Score: Who will/should win: The Artist.

Song: Who will/should win: The Muppets.

Sound Mixing: Who will win: Hugo.

Sound Editing: Who will win: War Horse.

Visual Effects: Who will/should win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Spoiler: Real Steel.

Makeup: Who will/should win: Albert Nobbs. Spoiler: The Iron Lady.

Foreign Language Film: Who will win: In Darkness. Spoiler: A Separation.

Animated Feature Film: Who will win:
Chico and Rita. Spoiler: Rango.

Documentary Feature Film: Who will win:
Undefeated. Who should win: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. Spoiler: Pina.

Live Action Short Subject: Who will/should win: Raju. Spoiler: Tuba Atlantic.

Animated Short Subject: Who will/should win: The Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Spoiler: La Luna.

Documentary Short Subject: Who will win:
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Oscar race!

Need a jump on the office pool? We handicap the year’s likely nominees

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GAY FOR PLAY | Christopher Plummer (center), as a man who come out in his 70s, is a sure-bet for a best supporting actor Oscar nomination Tuesday.

The Academy Awards will announce their nominations on Tuesday morning … and I’ll be there. Yep, after years of writing about the Oscars, I’ll finally attend them (in part) while watching from the Academy auditorium as this year’s crop will be winnowed down to five (and for best picture, perhaps more) in each category.

And while some seem to be sure things, in some ways it’s a wide-open year. No one film, or even two or three, seem likely to dominate, the way last year’s The King’s Speech, The Social Network and True Grit did, or how Avatar and The Hurt Locker looked to dominate in 2009… and did.

Will The Help manage multiple acting nominees in addition to best picture and even director? Will the excellent Girl with the Dragon Tattoo surge near the end and get more than its lukewarm reception so far would indicate? Could Ghost Protocol actually surprise people? (The last seems unlikely, except in craft categories.)

There are some promising gay-interest nominees in addition to Tattoo: Shame, J. Edgar, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Beginners (Christopher Plummer seems a lock to win), even My Week with Marilyn.

Here then are my predictions in the major categories (listed roughly in their likelihood of being among the nominees).

And look on Instant Tea Tuesday or follow me on Twitter @ CriticalMassTX, where I’ll live tweet the experience at the Academy.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Picture (up to 10 nominees this year): The Artist; Hugo; The Descendants; The Help; Moneyball; Midnight in Paris; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Tree of Life; War Horse; Shame; Drive.

Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Steve McQueen, Shame; Steven Spielberg, War Horse.

Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Brad Pitt, Moneyball; Michael Fassbender, Shame; Leonard DiCaprio, J. Edgar; Michael Shannon, Take Shelter; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn; Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin; Charlize Theron, Young Adult.

Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Albert Brooks, Drive; Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn; Armie Hammer, J. Edgar; Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method; Patton Oswald, Young Adult; Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady.

Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help; Berenice Bejo, The Artist; Carey Mulligan, Shame; Shailene Woodley, The Descendants; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs; Judi Dench, My Week with Marilyn; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids.

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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE:

Read Chris Azzopardi’s exclusive interview with likely Oscar nominee (and this week’s Golden Globe winner) Meryl Streep at DallasVoice.com/category/Screen, and read Instant Tea Tuesday morning as Arnold Wayne Jones live blogs about the nominations from Hollywood.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Whatcha watchin’?

Our guide to Christmas movies: ‘War Horse,’ ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

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‘War Horse’ opens Christmas Day.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

There’s something vaguely profane about opening War Horse on Christmas Day. True, it’s a heartwarming family film suitable to share with kids — Spielberg’s most gooily inoffensive film since E.T., in fact — but it’s also a movie where the main character is treated with the same reverence as the Christ Child. I mean that quite literally: From the moment his mare foals, people look at the Thoroughbred Joey with the awed humility of the Magi bestowing frankincense and myrrh.

War Horse, in fact, is so relentless in its nudging, reassuring you, This is a magical horse! This beast is special! Take your eyes off him at your peril!!! that it in fact loses almost all sense of genuine cinemagic. Imagine a comedian who spent more time telling you his jokes are the best and you’ll be wowed by how funny he is, and you approach the counterproductive quality of this movie.

That’s surprising, because if anyone knows how to make wonder seem affectingly cinematic, it’s Spielberg. The moment the scientists see the living dinosaurs roaming about Jurassic Park is justified because freakin’ dinosaurs are walking among us!!! But a maverick quadruped at a livestock auction deserves it? Spielberg is getting soft. This is the most inept heartstring-tugging he’s done since Always, one of his few genuine flops, both commercially and artistically. And for someone who directed one of the great war movies of the modern era (Saving Private Ryan), this one contains tamely mediocre battle scenes. It doesn’t need to be a hard R, but World War I should look at least as harrowing as Saving Private Ryan.

Still, it would be unfair to say War Horse has no merit. The reunion of boy and horse is memorably charming (Hey! You can’t seriously think I’m giving anything away), and Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is staggeringly beautiful and versatile (the finale looks like it was lifted right out of the climax of Gone with the Wind). And Joey — at least, the computer-generated version of him — conveys a lot with a glance of those big eyes. It says a lot when the best performance in a movie is from a 2,000-lb. beast, and Oprah’s nowhere to be found.

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Daniel Craig stars in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ now playing in wide release.

When Stieg Larsson’s first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, debuted, it captured imaginations because it was at once a typical example of genre-fiction — the set-up, a sort of locked-room mystery about a girl who disappeared from a remote Swedish island 40 years earlier, invoked a standard whounnit structure — but also a deeply detailed screed against… well, against a lot of shit Larsson felt passionately about. Corporate control. Violence against women. Personal privacy. Journalistic ethics. By the time you sorted all those things out, you had a novel so plump with plots and subplots, it felt more like Tolstoy than Turow.

The Swedish-language film version, while altogether serviceable, had a rocky time balancing those elements, but this territory is right up director David Fincher’s alley. His English-language remake is almost as bleak as his modern quasi-masterpiece, Se7en, but the topics and the tone? Pure Fincher.

He declares his own stylish mantra during the opening credits: Organic, abstract, even desultory and festishistic images to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ pulsating punk score establishes this as Fincher’s version of a Bond film. (It’s perhaps no coincidence the lead actor in the proposed trilogy is Bond himself, Daniel Craig.) Mechanical, urban, oppressive — welcome to the worlds of Larsson and Fincher.

But The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo doesn’t weigh on you so much as it assaults you with its brazenness. The girl, Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), is a waifish and strange bisexual, antisocial to the point of psychopathic. She is clever but not subtle and without traditional cultural mores, so she has no problem hacking into the computers of industrialists if it suits her.

She eventually teams up with a disgraced journalist, Mikael (Craig), hired by a rich businessman (Christopher Plummer) to solve the enigma of what happened to his great niece on that summer day in 1965. That investigation leads down rabbit holes that uncover a serial killer half a century in the making, fueled by religious fervor and a Fascist past.

The pacing of this version has an energy the Swedish version did not, and Fincher excels during several violent ballets: A subway mugging, a harrowing rape scene (two rapes actually, but that may be saying too much), a chamber of horror torture sequence. He and screenwriter Steven Zaillian also streamline the plot, balancing Larsson’s philosophizing with dramatic tension (though they do tip their hand too soon with one key plot point and rushing some others.

Mara does a lot with a little; her Lisbeth is emotionally stunted but she moves and thinks deftly — she would be at home with Tom Cruise on the next Mission: Impossible. Craig also plays it close to the vest expertly. But the star is really Fincher, whose visually fluidity make you crave the next installment, and the next. It’s like Harry Potter for cynics.

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•online exclusive

For reviews of The Artist, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and A Dangerous Method, visit DallasVoice.com and click Screen.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas