Thursday, October 23, 2014

A 'Wedding Band' Presented In Black and White

By Darlene Donloe

Playwright Alice Childress is known for creating vivid, fully-developed characters.  Her works include: A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich, Those Other People, Like One of the Family, When the Rattlesnake Sounds, Rainbow Jordan and more.

Her play, Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White is currently enjoying a fully partner-cast revival at the Antaeus Theater in North Hollywood.

Considered one of her best works, Wedding Band is an interracial love story set during WWI in 1918 in Charleston, S.C. on the Gullah Coast.

Childress has populated this community with interesting and authentic characters. The focus is a black woman named Julia (Karole Foreman) and her lover, a white man named Herman (Leo Marks). The two have had a clandestine relationship for 10 years.  Although they are not legally married, this particular day marks their 10th anniversary – of sorts.

In an attempt to keep their secret and to move on from communities that were not accepting of her relationship with a white man, Julia takes up temporary residence in a small, black, backyard tenement. Fanny, the nosey black landlady (Karen Bankhead) is suspicious of Julia’s presence and becomes even more concerned when a white man shows up and shares the cabin.

To seal their love Herman, a baker by trade, puts a ring on it and presents Julia, a seamstress by trade, with a wedding band on a chain.  Theirs is a real love story, but unfortunately during that time in America their love was forbidden. 

It’s a bit ironic that this play, which was written in 1962 and set in 1918 brings up the same issues about who people have the right to love that is currently confronting and plaguing many in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.

When Wedding Band was written in 1962, the subject matter was so controversial and the language so frank, that no theater in New York was willing to produce it. It received its premiere in 1966 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and starred Ruby Dee. It was then followed by a production in 1971 at the Virginian Theatre in Chicago. The play finally made it to New York in 1972. It was directed by Joseph Papp. That production was subsequently broadcast by ABC in 1973 – but eight ABC-TV affiliates refused to carry it.

As Herman’s mother (Anne Gee Byrd) tells it: “There's something wrong ‘bout mismatched things, be they shoes, socks or people.  People don't like it. They are not gonna letcha do it in peace.”

It would seem she’s right as even the black folk in the community aren’t exactly setting out the welcome mat regarding the interracial relationship that is in their midst. In fact, they are nervous and scared about having a white man in their community, especially after he becomes sick.

Even in 2014, there is still an uneasy atmosphere regarding the notion of black/white love.

It would seem not much has changed since 1918.

This is an emotional, gut-wrenching and powerful play about love, race, tolerance, acceptance and most importantly - life.  At times it’s uncomfortably real and brutally honest.

Julia and Herman hiding in a small cabin in a small, unassuming community is a metaphor for living one’s life in a box. Eventually you must emerge and choose to live life on your terms or to yield to the bigotry and hatred of others.  Julia and Herman’s love is heartbreaking to watch and even more tear-jerking to feel.

Childress has written some colorful (pun intended) characters – each coming with their own set of circumstances.  While there are clearly plots and sub-plots – there are no subordinate roles as each character has its own personality and sorrowful life story. One character bolsters the other.  While Julia and Herman are the focus, there are so many stories being told throughout this tome.

Foreman, who has a venerable stage presence, is brilliant and believable as Julia whose personality vacillates from vulnerable to robust. Aloof from her blackness at some points and all-in at other points. She's a proud black woman with a strong constitution.

Byrd brings just the right amount of disdain and disgust to the role of Herman’s mother, as does Karianne Flaathen who plays Herman’s sister, Annabelle.

Fanny, played briskly and capably by Bankhead, is proud to be a black, female landowner. She’s been holding it down for so long she forgot to find love. In a last ditch attempt to find love she propositions Nelson, a young soldier home briefly from the war. Nelson is played fervently by Jason Turner.

Nelson’s mother, Lula, played by the vibrant Saundra McClain, is a bit over protective of her son, especially when he goes up against The Bellman (Brian Abraham), who likes to hawk his wares and flex his muscles.

Cheryl Francis Harrington exudes passion and power in the role of Hattie, a mother to Teeta (Olivia Sparks). Hattie longs for the return of her husband, October, from the war.

Sparks and Ranya Jaber, who plays her white friend, are simply adorable and bring not only a freshness and innocence to the community, but the possibility of a hopeful future.

Director Gregg T. Daniel has assembled a tight ensemble. The words and story are brought to life with his fluid and effective direction. In a relatively small space he creates and captures the feeling, mood and rhythm of a real community. Daniel, who has numerous directing credits, most recently directed the New Jersey premiere of playwright Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop at Cape May Stage.

This is a sensational production. This is what theater is all about. When the story, dialogue, direction, acting, set (Francois-Pierre Couture), music (Jeff Gardner), lighting (Michael Gend) and costumes (A. Jeffrey Schoenberg) are firing on all cylinders, the production shines. That combination enhances the show and transports the audience to another time.

Wedding Band is one of the best plays of the year with one of the strongest ensembles. Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story In Black and White is not to be missed!

Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White is directed by Gregg T. Daniel and has two casts.  This review is for the following ‘Sweet Potatoes’ cast: Karole Foreman, Cheryl Francis Harrington, Saundra McClain, Karen Bankhead, Jason Turner, Anne Gee Byrd, Olivia Sparks, Brian Abraham, Leo Marks, Karianne Flaathen and Ranya Jaber.

The ‘Honey Bunches’ cast includes: Veralyn Jones, Karen Malina White, Nadege August, Peggy Ann Blow, Lynn Milgrim, John Prosky, Jasmine Saint-Clair, Buck Zachary, Mma-Syrai Alek, Belen Greene and Amad Jackson.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story In Black & White gets an E (excellent).

Running time: 2 hr 15 minutes, including one 10-minute intermission.

Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White, Antaeus Theater, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA  91601; 8 p.m. Thur.-Sat, 2 p.m. Sat-Sun. through Dec. 7; $30-$34; (818) 506-1983 or www.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Michael Keaton Flies High In Dramedy, 'Birdman'

By Darlene Donloe

Birdman is one of the best films of the year!!! 

It just doesn’t get any better than this!

Not only is the story intriguing and the acting spectacular, Director Alejandro G. Inarritu's (Babel, 21 Grams) direction is frickin incredible. Almost the entire movie looks as if it was filmed using one continuous tracking shot. What? Yep!

The way it’s shot, coupled with the acting of Michael Keaton and the strong performances from the rest of the ensemble cast, makes this film a must-see and a true contender for one of Hollywood’s biggest awards. Uh, huh, I mean the Oscar®.

Michael Keaton

Keaton is mesmerizing in a role that is memorable for many reasons.  Before this film Keaton was remembered for Beetlejuice, Mr. Mom and, of course, Batman.  His role as Riggan Thomson in this film is perched right alongside those three roles.

Emma Stone gives a great turn as Riggan’s daughter, Sam. Edward Norton is equally impressive as the self-absorbed actor Mike Shiner. Naomi Watts lights up the screen as an actress trying to enjoy her first time on Broadway. Zach Galifianakis  is spectacular as Riggan’s manager/partner Brandon Vander Hey.

(l-r) Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis

What a refreshing presentation. This film is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor - famous for portraying an iconic superhero-as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself, which is no small feat.

Keaton plays the washed-up former action movie star who, while attempting his comeback must put up the nonsense of a mercurial lead actor (Norton), an anxious business partner (Galifianakis) and a daughter (Stone), who has just returned from rehab.   With all of that to contend with, he’s also  haunted by the specter of his most famous character who likes to say nasty things about what he thinks of the actor’s life.

Keaton is brilliant!!!! He’s on edge. He’s driven. He’s hopeful! He’s skeptical! He’s scared!

You can’t help but love this quirky, inventive film. It’s firing on all cylinders. There isn’t a weak link anywhere. It’s funny! It’s ambitious! But, most of all, it’s great fun!

Michael Keaton

Emma Stone

(l-r) Michael Keaton and Edward Norton

Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts star.  

Birdman (Fox Searchlight) is Rated R (for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence). Running time: 1 hr. 59 min.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Birdman gets an E (excellent).

Brad Pitt Leads His Team During WWII In 'Fury'

Brad Pitt
 By Darlene Donloe

Brad Pitt’s latest film, Fury, takes him behind enemy lines during the waning days of WWII.

The film, which came in #1 at the box office last weekend, is an up close and personal look at a tank crew led by Pitt.

The story is both intriguing and unsettling. There are scenes where the tight quarters of the tank leaves the audience feeling somewhat claustrophobic. It’s so real , anxiety sets in.

Setting the scene: It’s April, 1945. The Allies are making their final push in the European Theatre.  A battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and its five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and outgunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to defeat Nazi Germany.

This action/drama is a fascinating character study about the mettle and heart it took to confront war on a daily basis, in tight quarters with your fellow GIs, for years.  What’s it like to be shot at daily? What’s it like to watch your friend get blown to bits? What’s it like to kill the enemy both long range and short range? How to maintain any semblance of sanity? Does anyone come out of a war unscathed?

The action sequences put the audience right into the thick of things. It’s intense! It’s scary!  It’s realistic!  The audience comes out battered and bruised just like actors.  There is plenty of bang, bang, shoot ‘em up, plenty of gore, plenty of unbridled violence – but it’s justified. War is hell even when it’s helmed by Pitt.

This is Brad Pitt’s movie.  While he’s been confronted by Nazis before (Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds), this film show’s Pitt’s true acting range.  He’s a hard nosed tank leader one minute and a tender hearted human being the next. 

Director David Ayer’s (End of Watch/ Sabotage) ensemble cast is brilliant.   

Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf does his best work – EVER!  He nearly steals the movie from Pitt. Complete with a self-inflicted scar (adding character) and a slight accent, LaBeouf leaps head first into the fray with a noteworthy performance.

Michael Pena, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal and Jason Isaacs are equally impressive as GIs who have formed an immovable bond.

Michael Pena

Hold on to your hats for the last 30 minutes of the film.  The anxiety level is palpable.

The film is so memorable, I found myself thinking about it days later.  Couldn’t shake it!

Ayers and his team have created a solid WWII film. Kudos to everyone involved.

Fury is Rated R. Running time: 2 hr 15 min.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Fury gets an E.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jolie's 'Unbroken' In Theaters Christmas Day

Academy Award® winner Angelina Jolie directs and produces Unbroken, an epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis "Louie" Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII-only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's ("Seabiscuit: An American Legend") enormously popular book, Unbroken brings to the big screen Zamperini's unbelievable and inspiring true story about the resilient power of the human spirit.

Starring alongside O'Connell are Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock as Phil and Mac-the airmen with whom Zamperini endured perilous weeks adrift in the open Pacific-Garrett Hedlund and John Magaro as fellow POWs who find an unexpected camaraderie during their internment, Alex Russell as Zamperini's brother, Pete, and in his English-language feature debut, Japanese actor Miyavi as the brutal camp guard known only to the men as "The Bird."

The film is produced by Jolie, as well as Clayton Townsend (This Is 40), Matthew Baer (City by the Sea) and Erwin Stoff (The Day the Earth Stood Still). Leading the accomplished behind-the-scenes crew is 11-time Oscar®-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall).

Academy Award® winners Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men) rewrote the screenplay from earlier drafts by William Nicholson (Les Misérables) and Richard LaGravenese (HBO's Behind the Candelabra).

In Theaters December 25, 2014

BAFTA Los Angeles Announces Inaugural Celebrity Golf Tournament

Celebrity participants include Joe Mantegna, Ray Romano and more

LOS ANGELES (October 16, 2014) – The British Academy of Film and Television Arts Los Angeles® (BAFTA Los Angeles) announced today that it will host its Inaugural BAFTA LA Celebrity Golf Classic on November 3rd at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale to raise funds for its education and outreach programs. Registration is now open.

The 18-hole
tournament will begin at 11 a.m. on Oakmont’s championship golf course, a classic Southern California-style course featuring a challenging layout and undulating greens. An Awards Dinner will follow in the country club’s exceptional dining room. Proceeds from the star-studded event benefit BAFTA Los Angeles Inner City Mentoring, Education & Outreach Programs, BAFTA LA Scholarships, and the BAFTA LA Student Film Awards.

“The BAFTA LA membership is very proud of the education and outreach programs we have committed ourselves to over the years. Proceeds from this tournament will help us reach more students in the inner city and beyond in very meaningful ways,” explained Nigel Lythgoe, Chairman of the BAFTA LA Golf Tournament Committee.

Celebrity guests scheduled to golf in the tournament include Rob Brydon (this year’s host of the Britannia Awards), Jamie Bamber, Jonathan Banks, Gregory Harrison, Andrew Howard, Michael Ironside, Greg Itzin, Vinnie Jones, Nigel Lythgoe, Joe Mantegna, Joel Murray, Timothy Omundson, Ron Perlman, Ray Romano, Patrick Warburton and others. Celebrity golfers are subject to change.

Teams for the Monday tournament will be comprised of a five-person group, and play will consist of a Shotgun Start with team prizes awarded to the top finishers. Registrations are being accepted as a foursome and a celebrity golfer will be paired with each group to make up the five-person team. Registration fees for BAFTA members are $5,000 per foursome. A buffet Awards Dinner will be served after the tournament. The tournament is limited to 25 foursomes.

BAFTA Los Angeles
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) supports, develops and promotes the art forms of the moving image by identifying and rewarding excellence, inspiring practitioners and benefiting the public. In addition to its awards ceremonies, BAFTA has a year-round, international programme of learning events and initiatives that offers unique access to some of the world’s most inspiring talent through workshops, masterclasses, scholarships, lectures and mentoring schemes, connecting with audiences of all ages and backgrounds across the UK, Los Angeles and New York.

Founded in 1987, BAFTA Los Angeles serves as a bridge between the Hollywood and British production and entertainment business communities. Its commitment to professional and community education is at the heart of all activity, including an award-winning community outreach programme, screenings, seminars, Behind Closed Doors series, Q&As, scholarships for British students studying in the US, a Newcomers Program for emerging British talents working in the US, and a Heritage Archive project that preserves in-depth interviews with the industry's leading talents for future generations. BAFTA Los Angeles celebrates and promotes excellence through its annual Britannia Awards, Awards Season Film and Television Tea Parties and the Student Film Awards.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Neil Patrick Harris To Host The 2015 Oscars®

Photo Credit: Eric Schwabe
LOS ANGELES, CA – Award-winning star of stage and screen Neil Patrick Harris will host the 87th Oscars®, show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced today.  This will be Harris’ first time hosting the ceremony.   The show will air live on ABC on Oscar® Sunday, February 22, 2015.

"We are thrilled to have Neil host the Oscars," said Zadan and Meron. "We have known him his entire adult life, and we have watched him explode as a great performer in feature films, television and stage.  To work with him on the Oscars is the perfect storm, all of his resources and talent coming together on a global stage."

“It is truly an honor and a thrill to be asked to host this year’s Academy Awards.  I grew up watching the Oscars and was always in such awe of some of the greats who hosted the show,” said Harris. “To be asked to follow in the footsteps of Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Ellen DeGeneres, and everyone else who had the great fortune of hosting is a bucket list dream come true.”

“We share Craig and Neil’s excitement in welcoming the incredibly talented Neil Patrick Harris,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Academy President.  “He is the consummate entertainer.  Neil’s distinctive charm and showmanship make him the ideal host to honor the Oscar legacy and ensure we all enjoy another unforgettable celebration.”

“Neil is a terrific actor, singer, risk-taker and collaborator,” said Dawn Hudson, Academy CEO. “We can't wait to see the show that he and Craig and Neil create together.”

“Neil Patrick Harris is highly energetic and a definitive entertainer,” said Paul Lee. “We are thrilled to have him as our 2015 Oscar host.”

A triple-threat performer, Harris has enjoyed a successful career in entertainment.  He can currently be seen starring opposite Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in David Fincher’s critically-acclaimed feature film, “Gone Girl.”  Harris garnered multiple Emmy® and Golden Globe award nominations for his role as Barney Stinson on the hit television series, “How I Met Your Mother,” and he won an Emmy for his guest-starring role on “Glee” in 2010.  He also recently starred in the title role of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” on Broadway, earning the 2014 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.  Harris served as host of the 61st and 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, as well as the 63rd, 65th, 66th and 67th Tony Awards, for which he won four Emmys.  Most recently, Harris added the title of author to his list of accomplishments with the release of his autobiography from Crown Publishing, “Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography.” 

The last two Oscars telecasts, which were produced by Zadan and Meron, received a major spike in the ratings.  The 86th Oscars was TV’s most-watched entertainment event in 10 years and attracted the biggest viewership since 2000, with more than 45 million viewers.  The show resulted in dramatic gains in younger demos and social media conversation, with more than one billion impressions generated on Twitter and 25 million interactions happening on Facebook on Oscar Sunday.

Additionally, the star-studded “selfie” became the most retweeted photo of all time with 32.8 million views.

The Oscars will be held at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network at 4 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

# # #

87th Oscars Social Media Guide
Follow the Academy, Oscars producers and host Neil Patrick Harris for the latest updates throughout Oscar season.
Neil Patrick Harris:
Oscars Producers
Neil Meron:
Craig Zadan
Google +:

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the world’s preeminent movie-related organization, with a membership of more than 6,000 of the most accomplished men and women working in cinema. In addition to the annual Academy Awards—in which the members vote to select the nominees and winners — the Academy presents a diverse year-round slate of public programs, exhibitions and events; acts as a neutral advocate in the advancement of motion picture technology; and, through its Margaret Herrick Library and Academy Film Archive, collects, preserves, restores and provides access to movies and items related to their history. Through these and other activities the Academy serves students, historians, the entertainment industry and people everywhere who love movies.


'Dear White People,' A Love Letter To The Races

By Darlene Donloe

Justin Simien’s Dear White People is a smart, witty and satirical in-your-face movie about racism on a fictional college campus.

Presented with elements of comedy to allow the medicine to go down smoothly, Simien pulls back the curtain on some stereotypes that have plagued black people for centuries and the questions whites have about everything from why black people don’t swim to the $60 million question about why white people like to touch black hair.  Don’t do it, says one character in the film, ‘it’s inappropriate.’

Simien’s debut feature is a cautionary tale about pre-conceived notions and the accompanied consequences.

It’s a slippery slope when blacks and whites have conversations about the other’s culture. Both sides try their best not to offend the other by appearing racist, out of touch, completely ignorant or too nosey.

If nothing else, Dear White People, which won prizes at the Sundance and San Francisco film festivals, is an ice-breaker that can lead to meaningful conversations about race and race relations.

The film takes place at Winchester University, a fictional, racially charged campus.  It’s there that division amongst the races takes place even down to the student’s living quarters.  The campus is divided between them and them over there. Those in between need to choose sides.

The film follows the stories of four black students, one of whom is Samantha White, (Tessa Thompson) a mixed race student who leads the college’s traditionally black residence in a militant stand against housing assignments. Oh, and she’s also secretly dating a white classmate. Oh, and she runs a college radio show called, ‘Dear White People.’  Samantha uses her power of the airwaves to expose the cultural differences of the students.   She loves to taunt the Caucasian persuasion with statements like, ‘not including weed dealers, the number of black friends required of a white student to not seem racist has been raised to two.’ And there’s a lot more where that came from.

White doesn’t pull any punches. She lets white people have it with full barrels.   Just what does it mean to be black? What is the black experience and why is everyone trying to become a part of it, while at the same time showing disdain for the proprietors of the experience? Why must black people wear their blackness on their sleeves on a daily basis?

Tyler James Williams (foreground)

Then there’s Troy (Brandon P. Bell), the strait-laced son of the school dean (Dennis Haysbert). Coco (Teyonah Parris) wants desperately to be a reality TV star, while Lionel (Tyler James Williams), the shy gay observer, would just like to fit in.

The story gets going when a riot breaks out over a popular “unleash your inner Negro” themed party thrown by a white fraternity.

No white people were harmed in the making of this movie!!

Kudos to Simien and everyone involved with Dear White People.

Dear White People is written, directed and produced by Justin Simien. The film stars Tyler James Williams (“Everybody Hates Chris,” Peeples), Tessa Thompson (For Colored Girls, “Veronica Mars”), Kyle Gallner (A Nightmare on Elm Street, CBGB), Teyonah Parris (“Mad Men,” They Came Together), Brandon P. Bell (“Hollywood Heights”), Malcolm Barrett (The Hurt Locker), Brittany Curran (“Chicago Fire”), Marque Richardson (“The Newsroom”) and Dennis Haysbert (“24,” Far From Heaven).

Rated R: for language, sexuality and drug use; Running time: 108 min.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Dear White People gets an O (oh, yeah).