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Double-Oh Snap! Kingsman: The Golden Circle, reviewed.

Chris Klimek

Taron Egerton, the very model of a modern British nongovernmental superspy.

Taron Egerton, the very model of a modern British nongovernmental superspy.

Would you believe that John Denver's 1971 encomium to backwoods livin' "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is been featured in two 2017 films starring Katherine Waterston and two starring Channing Tatum, and not the same two? 

That's the kind of piercing observation I had no room for in my review of the new sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which reprises "Country Roads" from Alien: Covenant and Logan Lucky. I had the privilege of discussing both of those on Pop Culture Happy Hour in addition to writing about them. Anyway, I like British superspies. And I liked The Golden Circle. With reservations.

The Unclean House: mother!, reviewed.

Chris Klimek

Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence and the chorus. (Paramount)

Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence and the chorus. (Paramount)

No one is under any obligation to like Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (sic) (or his mother) or any other movie (or person), obviously. Even so, mother! is the sort of challenging picture that offers a good test for whether a critic—regardless of where he or she stands on the question of the film’s artistic merit—has any imagination at all. I’ve seen some fine writing on this movie and some truly dreadful, dumb, reductive writing. I hope my own NPR review is one of the former specimens, even though it takes the form of a long argument against you reading it.

Wake Up: Studio's Skeleton Crew and Theatre Alliance's Word Becomes Flesh, reviewed.

Chris Klimek

Caroline Stefanie Clay and Tyee Tilghman in Skeleton Crew. (Teresa Wood)

Caroline Stefanie Clay and Tyee Tilghman in Skeleton Crew. (Teresa Wood)

You've got two, two, two big shows written by and starring people of color up in the District just now: Skeleton Crew, the third entry in Dominique Morisseau's Detroit series, has the same concerns as Lynne Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat but it's a better play, and Studio Theatre's production is built to last. And Psalmayene 24's multi Helen Hayes Award-winning production of Marc Bamuthi Joseph's Word Becomes Flesh is back at Theatre Alliance for a remount starring the same superb cast it did last year. I review both in this week's Washington City Paper. For which I also wrote the cover story, for some reason. It's not like I get paid by the word, people.

Talk Shop: My Washington City Paper cover feature on Story District's 20th* anniversary

Chris Klimek

Amy Saidman (center), seen in this 2005 postcard, wanted to be clear this was not for kids.

Amy Saidman (center), seen in this 2005 postcard, wanted to be clear this was not for kids.

The oral yarn-spinning concern now known by the moniker Story District is the subject of this week's Washington City Paper cover feature—my fourth, I think. I'm reasonably happy with how it turned out. I only regret that I didn't find the right space to mention John Kevin Boggs, who was a huge contributor to that organization, and to DC's performing arts community in general, as a storyteller and instructor. He passed away in March of 2015, much, much too soon.

*Kinda. The Speakeasy open mics, which were started by Washington Storytellers Theatre (est. 1991), began in 1997. WST became SpeakeasyDC in 2005 and then Story District in 2015.

Fiery Reentry: Howard Shalwitz Returns to the Stage in The Arsonists

Chris Klimek

ARSONISTS 750x300.jpg

Gwydion Suilebhan, the playwright who by day is Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's marketing chief, knows how to tailor a pitch. He hooked me on the idea of doing a feature about Woolly co-founder Howard Shalwitz's return to acting after almost a decade away by suggesting that Shalwitz is DC theatre's answer to John Cazale. I took him so literally that I had a couple of paragraphs to that effect that my first draft:

Gwydion Suilebhan, Woolly’s Director of Brand and Marketing but also an oft-produced playwright, likens Shalwitz to John Cazale, an actor now remembered mainly by pub-quiz champs and committed cinephiles. Before he died of cancer in 1978, Cazale appeared in only five feature films, but every one earned a Best Picture nomination. Three of them won; all remain revered. Probably most famous for his role as the hapless Fredo Corleone in the Godfather pictures, Cazale set a never-to-be-surpassed standard for quality control.

It’s an imperfect comparison. Part of the Cazale legend was its compression: He made five towering films in six years, and then he died. Shalwitz’s performances have been parceled out over decades. And though Shalwitz himself has usually been praised, reception to the shows overall has been more mixed-positive than universal adoration. (With the exception of Full Circle, his entire body of work as an actor predates my own tenure as a critic.) The Arsonists is only the third time he’s performed in Woolly’s airy, modern, Penn Quarter playhouse since the company moved into its permanent home a dozen years ago.

It was still a good idea for a story, so here's the story. Thanks, Gwydion, and Howard, and everyone who talked to me or tried to get in touch with me for it, whether your comments ended up in the piece or not.

Deleted Scene: Howard & Jen & Lenny & Lou & The Wheelbarrow Walk

Chris Klimek

Howard Shalwitz and Jennifer Mendenhall in Ian Cohen's Lenny & Lou, directed by Tom Prewitt, 2004. Thanks to Gwydion Suilebhan and Lexi Dever at Woolly for digging up the photo.

Howard Shalwitz and Jennifer Mendenhall in Ian Cohen's Lenny & Lou, directed by Tom Prewitt, 2004. Thanks to Gwydion Suilebhan and Lexi Dever at Woolly for digging up the photo.

It pains me to report that when my Washington City Paper story about Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Founding Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz's career as an actor hits tomorrow it'll be absent one filthy anecdote from his Lenny & Lou co-star Jennifer Mendenhall that had to be sacrificed for space considerations. (Newsprint doesn't grow on tr—you know what, never mind).

Anyway, here's the bit. My apologies to Ms. Mendenhall's spouse Michael Kramer, who gave me some less salacious but still insightful comments about directing Shalwitz in a 1990 production of David Rabe's Hurlyburly that also hit the cutting room floor.

Mendenhall had been a little intimidated, she recalls, when she’d had to share a long kiss with Shalwitz—an actor she hadn’t met before—in Savage in Limbo. But when Prewitt put the two actors together again in Lenny & Lou, 17 years later, that kiss felt like mere foreplay.
Or five-or-six-play, if chief Washington Post theatre critic Peter Marks is to be believed.
“It’s not pornographic exactly,” Marks wrote in his admiring 2004 review of Lenny & Lou, “though one scene of acrobatic rutting is so well-choreographed it would make a decent novelty act in an X-rated Cirque du Soleil.”

Woolly was without a regular address at that time (the show was performed at Theatre J which makes that filthy sequence all the more fun to try to imagine), and Mendenhall recalls rehearsals taking place in offices borrowed from Theatre J. Mendenhall kept urging Prewitt and fight director John Gurskisex scenes have fight directors—to let the encounter be more absurdly explicit.

“I said, ‘We need a wheelbarrow walk.’ Howard said, ‘What’s a wheelbarrow walk?’ I said, ‘I’ll show you!’” Mendenhall recalls, laughing. She says Shalwitz’s one job during their carnal melee was to hold her skirt down so it she wouldn’t moon the audience. But he’d sometimes forget. The night her parents were in the audience was one of the nights when he forgot.
“It was insane,” she says. “It was so fun.”

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Logan Lucky, discussed.

Chris Klimek

Workaholic artist Steven Soderbergh on the set of Logan Lucky. (Bleecker St.)

Workaholic artist Steven Soderbergh on the set of Logan Lucky. (Bleecker St.)

I dropped by NPR HQ to talk about Steven Soderbergh's return to features, Logan Lucky, with screenwriter and author Danielle Henderson and regular Pop Culture Happy Hour panelists Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon.  When we recorded this discussion, I'd taken the opportunity to see the movie a second time after filing my review, and my opinion on it had evolved a little. Anyway, you can find the episode here.

I wish I could put my finger on why it read to me as condescending in a Coenesque the first time but not the second. I love the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. But the ones Logan Lucky most recalled for me, Raising Arizona and Fargo, are not among my favorites.

Hillbilly Elegy: Logan Lucky, reviewed.

Chris Klimek

Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, and Adam Driver as the luck-starved Logan clan. 

Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, and Adam Driver as the luck-starved Logan clan. 

Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh’s return to features after a four-year “retirement” in prestige TV, is a lot of fun, though I’m not as high on it as some. I have the same reservations about it that I do about the Coen Brothers films it most readily recalls. Anyway, here’s my review.