Friday, July 14, 2006

The Julia Brief

This is a story that I printed on my other blogs a couple weeks ago; but last night I was watching So You Think You Can Dance and Travis did a stunning piece to 'The Blower's Daughter'--and I was just watching CLOSER and looking at my new Plain Jane Jones tattoo...
Then, coincidentally, I came across the above photo in my computer. I took it all as a sign that I should post it, here, too. For symetery.

And for love.

The Julia Brief

This is a sad day for me.

Oh, it's not a tragedy. It's not like someone has died or moved away or had a fight with me. It's not even as bad as when you spend all day baking and frosting a cake and then drop it on the floor. It is, though, a sad day for me.
Julia Roberts is leaving today.

What you need to know to understand my frame of reference here is the following: I love art, I love beauty, I love New York, I love the theater and I especially love Broadway. I am led by my emotions and (almost) always approach every situation, first, from a viewpoint of love. I am also extremely intelligent, intellectual, stubborn, defensive and angry, especially when someone I love is under attack. And lastly, I love Julia Roberts.

I'm not a stalker. I'm not even a fanatic. I am just an ardent admirer of the people who make me happy. This is not limited to the celebrities of the show business world. I have literary idols, photographic heroes, musical muses and personal inspirations from my friends and family. When someone captures my devotion, it is theirs, unconditionally and absolutely. And there is no rhyme or reason to the devotion that is dolled out. For example, my literary tastes range from E.M Forster to Michael Cunningham, from Truman Capote to Sidney Sheldon. I watch COMMANDER IN CHIEF and I watch SURVIVOR; I watch AMERICAN IDOL and I watch reruns of AS TIME GOES BY. My list of favourite movies includes THE LION IN WINTER as well as FIFTY FIRST DATES. It is all about how an artist moves me.

Now, specifically speaking, there is a list of actors and a list of actresses to whom I am devoted. I will admit that, as the actors go, there are those I love for their talent (Albert Finney, Denis O'Hare, Kevin Kline) and those I love for baser instincts (Matthew McConaughey, Collin Farrell, Morris Chestnut)--not to detract from their talents, which are considerable. It's just the way things are. The criterion for actresses is a little less specific and, greatly, all encompassing. There is fine line and a mixture of talent, beauty, star quality and general diva-dom that is observed. There are a number women referred to as my ladies. There are the late and great Hepburns, Audrey and Katharine. I adore the lovely Lee Remick and Leann Hunley; I revere Judith Ivey, Judi Dench and Judy Parfitt; I champion Kathleen Turner, Kathy Bates and Cate Blanchett. I am particularly fond of Donna Murphy.

And I love Julia Roberts.

Now, here is the thing about Julia Roberts. She is the MOST beloved female star since Audrey Hepburn. This is an oft noted fact in the press. She is a joy to watch onscreen, even when playing a flawed and base character like Anna in CLOSER. She is reputed to be the nicest woman in the world of film making and she is the most beautiful woman in the world. These are undeniable facts, inalienable truths. Yet, with all her legions of fans around the world, she is not without her detractors. They are vehemantly vocal and they will try to argue you into their opinion, try to get you to denounce the gifts granted this great star and great artist. I am an eloquent speaker but when people come rollin at me with their criticisms of Julia Roberts, ultimately my response is going to be "Shut Up!"

It matters less to me that I love Julia Roberts and matters more to me that my parents love Julia Roberts. That carries a lot of weight for me. Julia Roberts makes my mom and dad happy. Give the girl a medal.

Let's look at the record, artistically, speaking. Yes, she has had some movies that tanked--MARY REILLY and MONA LISA SMILE are two of the films that I hear, most often, disparaged. There are very few actors who have a hit every single time. I am not an uneducated theater or movie go-er. I have seen almost every one of Julia Roberts' films and the lady always steps up to the plate and delivers. People may have some things to say about MARY and MONA LISA but let's talk about this: STEEL MAGNOLIAS (Academy Award Nomination), PRETTY WOMAN (Academy Award Nomination), SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY (huge hit), THE PELICAN BRIEF (huge hit), SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT, PRET-A-PORTER (a Robert Altman movie!), EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU (a Woody Allen movie!), two of my personal favourites CONSPIRACY THEORY and STEPMOM, two of my personal favourites which are two of the world population's favourites MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING and NOTTING HILL, the popular RUNAWAY BRIDE, AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS and the OCEAN'S films, the artistically lauded CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and FULL FRONTAL, not to mention my favourite movie CLOSER and the astounding ERIN BROCKOVICH. Oh, that's right! She received an Academy Award for that last one, by the way....

But Julia Roberts is not good enough for Broadway.

That is NOT my opinion. It has been the general attitude of the theater critics who write for the papers and magazines that, regrettably, no longer support the art of theater but who, instead, try to destroy it. It has been the general attitude of snotty chat room regulars who have no careers or lives of their own but who, instead, attempt to tear down the legends, the icons and the plain old working actors of the New York theater community. Miss Julia Roberts wanted to grow as an artist, to try something new; she wanted to do a play on Broadway. I still believe that it is every actor's dream to work on Broadway and I still believe that every talented actor deserves that chance. Just because a girl is the MOST FAMOUS movie star in the world, the MOST BEAUTIFUL girl in the world, the MOST BELOVED celebrity in the world, not to mention a little matter of her personal happiness with a gorgeous husband and two gorgeous kids and a flush bank account and an Academy Award, doesn't mean she should come under vitriolic attack for wanted to grow as an artist, to try something new. That, however, is NOT the opinion of the press and the theatrical community of New York.

It didn't keep the fans away, though. Like me, many people stormed the box office to get tickets to see THREE DAYS OF RAIN. We all wanted to bask in the glow of Julia Robert's star. When the box office opened, it was front freakin page news that the tickets sold out so fast. When the show began previews is was front freakin page news that swarms of fans lined the streets to glimpse the Pretty One. When the show opened it was front freakin page news that the critics did not like it. When Julia Roberts was not nominated for a Tony Award it was front freakin page news. When ticket scalpers could not unload their $200.00 + tickets after the bad reviews, it was front freakin page news. All for a girl who just wanted to try something new, to grow as an artist, to satisfy that dream of appearing on Broadway.

Now would be a good time to mention that Miss Roberts appeared at a benefit for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS and presented a Tony Awarad, even in the light of her apparent snub by the nominating committee.

Now would be a good time for me to tell my, personal, Julia Roberts story.Pat and I went to see THREE DAYS OF RAIN for our twentieth anniversary. It is, naturally, my dream to photograph Julia Roberts. Not since I went gung ho to get a shoot with Judi Dench have I wanted something so much. So the night we saw the play, I sent Miss Roberts a gift basket and a letter. The gift basket contained a signed copy of THE SWEATER BOOK and the entire line of PMS Kookies (including the sister line, MoM Cookies). The letter said welcome to Broadway, you brighten the world and, now, the street even more; that Pat and I were seeing the show for our 20th Anniversary and were so excited. It also said, in unthreatening and flowery terms, that I love Julia Roberts.

ONE WEEK later I received a handwritten thank you note in the mail from the biggest movie star in the world.

'Nuff said.

So let's get down to brass tacks: How was THREE DAYS OF RAIN?It was lovely. There are probably people who wanted it to be some grand standy revelation. That's not what THREE DAYS OF RAIN is. This is an intelligent play, a quiet piece that attempts to make the audience feel AND think at the same time. It attempts to make a statement about not just the complexities of relationships but the simplicities, as well. It attempts to do something fun and while it is not a new device, it is cool to watch the actors play different characters in Act Two--characters that relate to the ones in a different time in Act One. THREE DAYS OF RAIN is poetry. And not everyone likes poetry; not everyone gets poetry. Pat and I do. (Richard Greenburg is Pat's favourite playwright).

The sets? The costumes? The lights? Lovely. The rain? Wonderful. I will admit that I preferred all of these elements more, years ago at Manhattan Theater Club, where the play had its New York premiere. I refuse to compare the acting in the two productions because it is not fair to the artists. Artists should not be compared--each actor should be permitted the luxury of creating their own individual interpretation, just as a singer is afforded the right of putting their own spin on a famous piece of music. I will say that the actors in the current production of THREE DAYS OF RAIN are simply wonderful. Paul Rudd is a very well respected and quite famous actor of stage and both screens, large and small. Bradley Cooper was up and coming about a minute ago but has shot to fame in a couple of years and quite deservedly so. Not only are both men talented and a pleasure to watch, they are both movie star handsome.

It is not Julia Roberts' fault that when either or both men were on the stage with her, I could not look at them. It is not Julia Roberts' fault that, even when she is not the focus of the scene (and for the record, she is a giving performer who places her focus on the actor in the spotlight, sending the audience's focus to that character) you cannot take your eyes off of her. It is not Julia Roberts' fault that she is the most mesmerizing, charismatic woman in show business. It is just the way it is. The girl can't help it.

Remember, I am not an uneducated theater go-er. Here it is: not one false moment! Julia Roberts is a film actor. She does not know how to ACT--only how to BE. On film, when the camera is so close to you, you cannot act a character, you must become that character; that is what film acting is all about. If you are acting, your audience will spot it. And you know how I feel about honesty. Julia Roberts was completely honest in the play. Now, to some that might translate as no technique. Not so! I heard every word she said. I caught every nuance, every sideways smile, every tilt of the head, over raised eyebrow. I heard the anger, the exasperation, the desperation, the love, the desire in her voice. She created two distinctly different personalities and she inhabited them and brought them over the footlights to me, sitting in the second row of the mezzanine. I'll tell you the moment I remember most because she struck a raw nerve in me. Her Act One Character needs, terribly, for her brother to no longer be an emotional burden on her and if he can just inherit their dead parents' home, he will have a place to be and she says (and I do not know the exact line) "the house will take care of him and I will be free"). I have spent my entire adult life taking care of others and I have wished for something to take care of each of them so that I could be free. Her performance of this particular moment in the play is something that I will remember until the day I die; because I felt as though she had read inside my heart and shown the world how I feel, only more eloquently than I could ever do.

Are you getting that I enjoyed THREE DAYS OF RAIN? Are you getting that I enjoyed Paul and Bradley and Julia?

Then you can probably get how ANGRY I am at the way the New York entertainment community has treated Julia Roberts. For years people have complained about how Broadway is dying; people have talked about the harsh economy of the New York theater scene and the fact that the public isn't coming anymore. Shows open and close faster than Catherine Tramell's legs and everyone here complains about it. But NO ONE is doing anything to fix it!! They are all working against it! We need the public to want to come to see our plays but when producers put celebrities into shows so that the public will come, everyone complains that Broadway has sold out. We NEED movie stars to come to Broadway but when they do, the critics vilify them and the community treats them like the bastard at the family reunion. The public are the ones who go to the theater. The public WANTS to see Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Melanie Griffith, Susan Lucci and Tom Selleck. Yet when each of these people come to Broadway, the snobbery of the community dictates the most appalling behaviour toward them and when they leave the Great White Way, they don't want to come back. And why would they? I don't want to play with people who don't want to play with me; ESPECIALLY when I can be getting fifteen million dollars to make a movie that will certainly be seen by more people and possibly get me an Oscar! Please don't get me wrong. I do think that that people should be cast properly; I do think that people should be talented enough to carry if off; I do think that there should be some guidelines to govern the presenting of famous performers on the Broadway stage. I didn't get to see Denzel do Shakespeare or Tom Selleck in A THOUSAND CLOWNS, so I cannot comment. I did see Kelly McGillis in HEDDA GABLER and it was horrible. I saw Lesley Ann Warren in DREAM and loved what she did but most people did not (I seriously doubt she will EVER come back to Broadway). I didn't see Susan Lucci in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN but I did see Cheryl Ladd and she was charming. I saw Bernadette Peters and Reba McEntire, too, and you KNOW who I'm going to say was the best. But it doesn't matter! It doesn't matter that every single one of those women was too old to play Annie Oakley; Ethel Merman was too old, too. It doesn't matter! They are all stars with talent and with a following and it sold tickets, keeping the show running longer and keeping actors and stage crew off the bread line. THAT'S a good thing! I did see Melanie Griffith in CHICAGO and thought she was WONDERFUL!!! She had a pleasant singing voice and she did the dancing to the best of her ability (which was not great but which was fine for me because I believe that Roxie Hart can be played as a talentless hack). However, Melanie Griffith is a film actor--remember what I said about film actors? She wasn't acting, she WAS Roxie Hart. When she did the monologue for the song ROXIE, I believed every word. She said "I'm older than I ever intended to be" and it was a heartbreaking realization that Roxie knew, too, that she was a talentless hack. Melanie was freakin good in CHICAGO but the snobs of this community just couldn't say it because they all hate movie stars and want the stars of the shows to be the New York actors we love and cherish as our local treasures. But that doesn't seem to matter to people either!

Bernadette Peters was doing GYPSY and got sick. She missed some shows because it was better for her to save her voice, for all time, than to go out and perform while ill. The press and the fans and the chatterati vilified her. What they did to Donna Murphy when she was ill during WONDERFUL TOWN was uncontionable and I would be surprised if Donna came back to Broadway, now. Now they are doing the same thing to John Lloyd Young. The man has to sing FREAKY high notes in JERSEY BOYS and if he has to miss a performance here or there, the chatterati online are all over it like a sugar daddy on a Chelsea boy. The community here is so hell bent on having power over the famous that it has become their regular pastime to see which artist they can build up to the heights and how long it will take them to tear the artist down again.

Well, they can't tear down Julia Roberts. She is untouchable. I imagine that getting bad reviews hurts her, as it would anyone. I imagine that not getting a nomination for an award is bothersome--but I also doubt that Julia Roberts does this for awards. She is an artist and she is creating art; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but she is still out there creating art and doing her job and taking her paycheck home and paying for her real life--and that's where things really matter. She has a handsome husband who adores her (we all see the paparazzi pics--they are in LOVE!) and two gorgeous children with FABULOUS names. She has a family of friends and a great life. I don't imagine the power of the press and the New York theater community touched the lovely Miss Roberts for very long; at least I would like to imagine that it didn't. I want to think of Julia Roberts as being happy. Because she makes me (and more importantly, my mother) happy.

And that is why I am sad today. Because today is the last performance of THREE DAYS OF RAIN. Today will be the last day that I can walk down 45th street and be aware that, for awhile, Broadway was a more important street, a more glamourous street, and definately, a classier one.


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