An Amusement Column
by Harry Haun
THE SHORT-CUT LANE: Apparently, Nathan Lane is shopping around for shorter shows. His most recent Broadway opus—Taylor Mac’s Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus—was a start, tipping the scales (sans intermission) at a scant and snug 90 minutes. The play(s) before that—B.G.: Part One and Part Two of Tony Kushner’s epic cavalcade of the AIDS era, Angels in America—was one long day’s journey into theater and made Lane bristle a bit when called on it. “It’s seven and a half hours, have you heard?” he’d crack, beating detractors to the punch. “People like to tell you that it’s seven and a half hours, but, as I like to say, it’s not a rectal probe.” . . . It was, in fact, a masterful, Tony-winning workout for Lane, playing Roy Cohn. His portrayal was summed up best in a full-page ad the Angels angels placed in The New York Times, showing Lane in a full-on rage. Its caption was a direct quote from Cohn’s former apt pupil/now President, “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” . . . Where’s My Roy Cohn? is now a riveting documentary as watchable as a train wreck, reaching theaters here Sept. 20. . . . Director Matt Tyrnauer, who nabbed a Grand Jury Prize nomination at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for it, realized the day after the election that he had his work cut out for him, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past. . . . . The determined architect of the Rosenberg executions, the Committee-spotting Iago to Joe McCarthy’s Othello and the gay-hated gay who denied with his dying breath that he was dying of AIDS, Roy Cohn is indeed a suitable case for treatment. Happily, he was not a shy guy, so there’s archival footage galore to build a case. . . . There’s also contemporary footage starring an un-gagged Roger Stone (proudly identified as a Cohn protégé), a wordless, fleeting Barbara Walters (his “beard,” friend and fabricated fiancée—“I have no idea why Roy said that,” someone quotes her as saying) and assorted Cohn kin. . . . Two of Cohn’s lovers are still alive (yes, Virginia, I’m afraid that it’s true). One wouldn’t go near the cameras. The other would, under a pseudonym. . . . Other “talking heads” include a host of ink-stained wrenches who come to bury Cohn, not to praise him–definitely not to praise him (even though there seems to be a lingering, energizing fascination for him in all of them): Sam Roberts, Ken Auletta, Marie Brenner (who also produced), David Jay Johnston and, in a painfully close-to-goodbye appearance, Liz Smith. . . . At least one brand-name scribe showed up in person–sans ink stains—at Sony’s senior celebrity screening: Gay Talese, as ever the snappy dresser in his Tom Wolfe whites. . . . “Did you know Roy?” he asked some leaving the screening. If they didn’t, he focused on how well researched and organized the documentary was, but there were obvious tales to tell. . . Throughout the film, Cohn conducts a master class in how to look deeply, directly, unflinchingly, into a camera and lie like hell with complete conviction. (And you thought it was a new phenomenon!) Where’s My Roy Cohn? could easily qualify as a training film for wannabe baby despots.
SHAKING IT UP: Apparently, it’s not enough any more to be an attractive, able actress proficient in Shakespeare. A few, who are, have taken to filling up their downtime by writing their own plays. . . . No sooner had Enid Graham finished her gig at the Delacorte–playing Junius Brutus in Coriolanus–than she was off for Santa Barbara where she’s working on, and workshopping, a play that has a November date out there, What Martha Did. “It’s a big family drama about a woman who wrote an amazing book when she was 19 and then killed herself. The play takes place 20 years later, with the family still coping with that tragedy.” Amanda Quaid, who got her Equity card as Rosalind in As You Like It and her Equity award—the St. Clair Bayfield—as Dionyza in Pericles, is resolutely rooted in this century as a playwright. Her latest is a twisty three-character thriller—basically, a moral outcry against Big Brother and the use of the English language on newly arrived immigrants. It’s called, cleverly, Native Tongue, and it was well received at its premiere reading at HB Playwrights Theater. A major theater group is giving it a second read shortly.
THE BOYS IN AUTUMN: Barely a year has slipped by so you doubtlessly remember the back-to-back Golden Globe-nominated boys of last autumn, Beautiful Boy and Boy Erased. The former was Timothee Chalamet as Steve Carell’s drug-addicted son. The latter was Lucas Hedges as Rev. Russell Crowe’s son enduring a gay-conversion program run by therapist Victor Sykes. (A final fillip in the film’s closing credits: Sykes is now in a gay marriage.) Producer-director-adapter Joel Edgerton pitched the Sykes part to Viggo Mortensen, then decided to play it himself. . . . That was then, this is now: In the interim, some cinematic cross-pollination has been going on so that Chalamet and Edgerton now pop up in the same picture, The King. It’s world premiering at the Venice Film Festival, now going on through Sept 7, with Chalamet in the title role of Henry V, commonly called Prince Hal (Talk about dead-on casting! Chalamet was christened Timothee Hal Chalamet). . . . Shakespeare, of course, got here first with his plays, Henry V and Henry IV Part I & II, but that didn’t stop Edgerton (only producing and adapting this time) from slipping in there and re-writing himself the best role in the show, John Falstaff, whose raucous, unruly friendship with Prince Hal is not what England’s new ruler should be cultivating, encouraging or even continuing. . . . You can be excused for not knowing The Boys in Autumn actually existed. It’s primarily a West Coast phenomenon, a play by Bernard Sabath that imagines a reunion of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn a half-century beyond their boyhood. The joke is they’re essentially the same. Tom’s a conman ex-con who’s done hard time and vaudeville; Huck (who like any outsider), pursued a passion to be inside and respectable, got married and did his time behind a hardware counter. . . . This two-character play world-premiered in San Francisco in 1981 with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas and was billed Broadway-bound. The stars probably swallowed the material whole and opted to jump ship. Nine years later the play was revived in L.A. starring a couple of Star Trek travelers, Mark Lenard (Spock’s dad) and Walter Koenig (navigator Chekhov). . . . In between, in 1986, The Boys in Autumn materialized at Circle in the Square on Broadway as George C. Scott and John Cullum for about five minutes. The Times called it “terminally innocuous.” . . . Cullum, incidentally, had to postpone his upcoming gig at Feinstein’s/54 Below Sept. 2-7 to sometime in March because of a bout with pneumonia. . . . Then there are the girls in autumn who populate the Michael Colby-Paul Katz musical, Slay It With Music, which was nicely received Off-Broadway and in London and is now returning, a little late this year for Halloween, for a one-night benefit concert Nov. 2 at The Green Room. It’s a musical spoof in the Grand-Dame Guignol that occupied so many desperate screen divas of the ‘60s. You’ll recognize the pairing: two sisters huddling together in their spooky Hollywood manse, one an active soap-opera actress and the other an unstable film has-been about to make her comeback in a slasher flick called Chop Chop. This concert will benefit The International Rescue Committee, and quite a crackerjack cast has been assembled for the occasion: Sharon McNight, Tom Wopat, Marianne Tatum, Eddie Korbich, Janet Metz, Eric Michael Gillett and Caroline Concelson. Even the original director (Charles Repole) and the original musical director (Phil Reno) are returning to the scene of the crime.
THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS: Did you get a chance to say your adieu to the Paris Theater last week before it closed its doors on so many wonderful memories? It was the last civilized gasp of a single-screen movie house left in New York City, the emphatic end of an era. Now it’s all uniformly multiplexes.
HAPPY UN-BIRTHDAY: Last Thursday would have been the 121st birthday of Edmond Preston Biden, who kicked around in a variety of professions (inventing kiss-proof lipstick, a tickertape machine and an intaglio photo-etching process—plus introducing the club sandwich to Germany) before finally settling on one that made him–and the world at large!–happy. . . . He took up writing at 30, signing in as Preston Sturges, and became a one-man fun-factory in ‘40s films. At 38, he turned director by offering Paramount The Great McGinty for $1 if they’d let him direct it; they thought he deserved at least $10, and that $10 script wound up winning the first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. . . . Original was definitely the operative word for Sturges. He unleashed a whole wartime parade of audacious, irreverent antics (Hail the Conquering Hero, The Palm Beach Story, Christmas in July)—and boy! did we need it then. . . . As his movie-director hero in Sullivan’s Travels observed, “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Do you know that’s all some people have? It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan. Boy!” . . . A sublime example of Sturges wit–The Lady Eve with Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck–went straight to the top of Bosley Crowther’s 10 Best Films list in The New York Times (No. 2 was Citizen Kane). And, lucky you, it’ll be screened Sept. 16 at Film Forum. In attendance will be Tom Sturges, the filmmaker’s son who co-authored (with Nick Smedley) the new bio of his dad, Preston Sturges: The Last Year of Hollywood’s First Writer-Director. Film Forum Repertory Director Bruce Goldstein will quiz him on that, and there’ll be a Q&A. . . . The Sturges film that thrills Tom the most is The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek: “That film managed to completely elude the censors and did a big poke in the eye to The Hays Office, who was running around saying, ‘If you show two people in a bed, one of them has to have a foot on the floor,’ and my dad gets through the story of a girl who gets pregnant and doesn’t know the father. The only way he got that through is because he had not finished the script when he started production. He is writing the script at night, getting up in the morning and directing 50 pages earlier. He’s writing page 70 and shooting page 30.” . . . Sturges died at 61 in 1959, working at the Algonquin on memoirs ironically titled The Events Leading Up to My Death. . . . “So the lunatics have taken charge of the asylum,” scoffed Metro Pictures prexy Richard A. Rowland famously and inaccurately when he learned that film artists had united to form their own studio. Indeed, they had, and Mary Pickford made it official Jan. 15, 1919, when she affixed her mark to the articles of agreement already signed by her partners, Charles Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and her soon-to-be-hubby,Douglas Fairbanks. Mr. Rowland’s Metro Pictures lasted only five more years (till Mr. Goldwyn and Mr. Mayer broke out their checkbooks), but the lunatic asylum—United Artists—is now 100 years old. To commemorate its centenary, MGM Studios has created a special trailer that hits all the UA highpoints—West Side Story, Raging Bull, Twelve Angry Men, the spaghetti westerns, In the Heat of the Night and the iconic franchises like James Bond, Rocky and The Pink Panther. . . . And now, last but not least, a real birthday: Hoist a glass on Sept. 2 to a dancing delight at MGM, Marge Champion, on the occasion of her 100th birthday. She, like Zorba, has gone through and endured “the full catastrophe” and come out smiling.