“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” If your ears itch for fast-paced, witty dialogue and a dash of romantic intrigue, you can do no better than the L.A. Theatre Works production of The Importance of Being Earnest. One of the most adored plays in the English language is brought to vivid life, complete with assumed names, mistaken lovers, and a misplaced handbag. James Marsters leads a cast of nimble voice actors in the story of Jack and Algernon, who both pretend to be named Ernest in order to enjoy double lives. Laugh out loud with the play that best showcases Oscar Wilde’s scathing humor.
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From the moment you meet the delightful Tom and Gerri, you will immediately want to be their friend. Smart, affectionate, warm, and witty, they share a relationship that is marked by mutual respect and generosity. Others notice, too, which is why they’ve become a surrogate family for a misfit or two. They live out friendship in a way that demonstrates support and acceptance, even when the person(s) in question would exhaust anyone else. In Another Year, director Mike Leigh delivers an honest portrait of ordinary people who just want to be happy. Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, and Lesley Manville twinkle as their characters experience the comedy and drama of four memorable seasons.
Problem #1: You discover a headless corpse in your backyard. Problem #2: Calling the cops isn’t an option, because you make a living by growing marijuana. What do you do? If you are siblings Paul and Lacey Hansen, you draw on what you’ve learned from watching TV and dispose of the body yourself. Problem #3: A few days later, it’s back on your lawn. Uh oh. Heads You Lose, the latest from the hilarious Lisa Lutz, is more than just a comic crime caper. Alternating chapters are written by Lutz’s ex-boyfriend David Hayward, and the two authors have just as much fun criticizing each other as they do trying to keep up with the story itself. Odds are you’ll be laughing out loud.
From the creator of Amélie comes another step into the fanciful, big-hearted, and odd. Micmacs (2009) is the story of a video-store clerk who takes a stray bullet to the head. With no place to go, Bazil (Danny Boon) finds himself adopted by a motley crew of lovable eccentrics who live in a secret self-made junkyard treasure trove. When he decides to strike back at the city’s weapons manufacturers, his new friends offer their unique talents (including physical contortion and Rube Goldberg-like contraptions) to give the heartless profiteers their comeuppance. Written and directed by the imaginative Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Micmacs is a trip into the strange and wonderful.
Burt Hecker is much more comfortable in a time other than his own. A sixty-three-year-old medieval re-enactor in upstate New York, he dresses in a tunic and sometimes enjoys a little too much homemade mead. Hecker joins a group traveling to Germany to celebrate the 900th birthday of Saint Hildegard von Bingen, but his true purpose is to rescue his estranged son Tristan from the Bohemian city of Prague. Sound odd? Exactly! All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka has outrageousness aplenty to satisfy a casual reader, but just as in life, tragedy and humor are often intertwined.
Wandering the streets of Brooklyn in his pajamas is not the way Drummond Clark intended to spend Christmas Eve, but sometimes he gets confused. When his son Charlie returns him home, the house explodes! Soon the two find themselves pursued by assassins on an adrenaline-fueled cross-country adventure, and Drummond displays survival skills not many other retired appliance salesmen can boast. Could it be that Charlie’s workaday dad was once a spy for the CIA? A former agent struggling with early-onset Alzheimer’s is a potential disaster, and both sides want him quiet. With short, action-packed chapters and tongue-in-cheek humor, Once a Spy by Keith Thomson is a popcorn movie in book form.
Patton Oswalt was a wasteland or so he thinks in his new memoir Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland. A wasteland teenager is bored and escapist enough to destroy their life and create a new one. Example: Oswalt was born into a military family in the ‘burbs and wasn’t happy until he’d mastered the dark, lone-standing, spotlighted comedy stage. Oswalt’s book is a memoir in fictional and autobiographical essays. There are remembrances of odd jobs, crazy relatives, nightmare gigs, dungeons and dragons and pop culture aplenty all told in the same style as Patton Oswalt’s standup comedy – rambling, yet thoughtful – with plenty of digressions expressed in footnotes, lists and illustrations.
Politically Correct Holiday Stories by James Finn Garner puts a new spin on the holidays. Rudolph, the nasal, empowered reindeer, negotiates better working conditions from Santa. Then there is “’Twas the night before Solstice and all through the co-op not a creature was messing the calm status quo up.” Happy holidays!
Who better to narrate a book featuring a dark, conflicted character in a long black duster and a penchant for sarcasm than an actor who is best known for playing those very traits? James Marsters, the man behind “Spike” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame, easily steps into the wizard role as Harry Dresden, the hero of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Marsters’ reading is dramatic, fun, and tinged with intensity. A fast-paced blend of urban fantasy, action-adventure, and noir, Changes reveals that Chicago-based Dresden has an even more personal stake in the supernatural goings on of the world. Whether a long-time series fan or a newcomer, you’ll be wowed by the magic worked by this powerful combination.
If you think Shakespeare isn’t for you, perhaps it’s time to look at it from another angle. Instead of watching a mopey, indecisive prince debate whether life is worth living, step behind the action to see what the lesser characters might be doing while they wait their cues. This is the conceit of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1991), which takes two minor roles and reveals them as entertaining fools. They’re not quite sure what they are doing in the world of Hamlet, but they’re pretty good at faking it, and they may just discover the laws of physics along the way. Starring Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a feast of quick wit and clever repartee.