Sunday, May 04, 2008

No Small Roles

We’ve been awash in Kentucky Derby fever here the past couple of days because of a family connection to Big Brown (and no, in case you’re wondering, I am not related by blood to the Derby winner; my brother-in-law – one of the most humble people I know who is also among the most talented in his field – originally found and bought Big Brown on behalf of the current owner). If you follow the news you know that the race ended up being almost a classic triumph / tragedy story. Big Brown pulled out a dramatic win with a thrilling home stretch run (especially thrilling for those of us with money involved) but the valiant second place filly Eight Belles broke both ankles and had to be immediately euthanized. Almost before we could start jumping up and down in victory, we were bowing our heads in sadness. With all the time, money, love, hope, and dreams that are poured into these horses, you had to feel the enormity of the loss of the filly’s owners.

I was not able to make it the ‘O.T.’ though my lovely wife and daughter did and they report that it was an excellent production with many sterling performances (among the few more awkward ones). I thought with the pop-cultury slant on the title it was going to be an updated, perhaps somewhat satiric take on “Our Town,” but by the sound of it, they played it pretty straight.

Instead of at the theater, I was at home being domestic, including watching “Juno” while folding laundry (hot time on a Saturday night!) I was ready to be put off by the too-cleverness of it all, but sure enough, I got drawn in. Ellen Page was great but the performances that really did it for me were those of Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. Particularly Garner – her role had all the makings of a simple cliché: the controlling, over-invested power wife. But Garner made her character so human and at times heartbreaking. For my money, hers was the real breakout performance of that movie.

I’ve also been hearing quite a bit of buzz about Steve Martin’s work in “Baby Mama.” I’ve always thought Martin was a genius – I was one of those people who paid what was then an enormous sum to see his “King Tut” concert tour back in the late 70s. Apparently (and correct me if I’m wrong), Steve virtually steals the movie during his brief time on screen.

Which is just another testament to the power of a good actor even in a smaller role. I waxed (semi-)poetic about Laine Satterfield in “The Little Dog Laughed” a while back and sung praises about Ali Thibodeau in “Pan.” I believe Jason Marks is among the best aspects of the Mill’s “Mattress” and I think forward toward “Guys and Dolls” and wonder who it will be further down the cast list who will grab my attention. Theater mirrors life in so many ways. While some times the minor player is key to the success of a production, some times it’s the unsung hero who makes all the difference, like my brother-in-law who set in motion Big Brown’s trajectory toward his Derby win.

I’ll be out of town for a few days so things might be a little quiet around here. But I’ll be back in time for “The Seagull” opening at Henley Street where I’ll be trying to wipe my memory clean of the Justin Dray / Erin Thomas production of so many years ago – at least for the duration of the performance.

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