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Inside 'Moonlight' writer Tarell Alvin McCraney's inaugural Geffen Playhouse season

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Inside 'Moonlight' writer Tarell Alvin McCraney's inaugural Geffen Playhouse season

Geffen Playhouse Artistic Director Tarell Alvin McCraney has unveiled the lineup for his inaugural season at the helm of the city’s most prominent Westside theater.

The 2024-25 season will feature a mix of classics and new co-productions, as well as Los Angeles, West Coast and world premieres. It also debuts a strategic direction for the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, the Geffen’s intimate performance space.

“I’m someone who tends to plan ahead so I see this season as seeds in the ground,” said McCraney, the Oscar-winning “Moonlight” screenwriter and decorated playwright who was appointed in September. “It’s a primer and a foundational setting for the development work we’ll be doing on other plays that I’ll program into this season, and it’s readying us to be able to take larger swings in future seasons. So to me, it’s a call to work, to water those seeds and nurture them as best as we can.”

The season launches with a 20th anniversary staging of McCraney’s “The Brothers Size” (Aug. 14-Sept. 8), the modern-day fable about two brothers in the Deep South that marked McCraney’s theater debut. Part of his autobiographically resonant trilogy “The Brother/Sister Plays,” the co-production with New York City’s the Shed will be directed by Bijan Sheibani.

“It’s one of the first plays I ever wrote, and it’s the first professional play I debuted, and all these years later, it’s one of my most produced works,” McCraney said of the piece, inspired by his collegiate studies on Yoruba culture and his experience of his brother’s three-year incarceration. “Yet it all came from an ancient myth, a very small story that I came across in research for a class.”

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Performed in the round in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, the production is meant to establish the Geffen venue as a lab for artistic development and a platform for creative experimentation and development of new works, including workshops and readings. It will also continue as a flexible performance space for select ticketed Geffen Playhouse productions throughout the season; additional programming will be announced at a later date.

Playwright and performer Sara Porkalob will portray dozens of characters in “Dragon Lady.”

(Songbird Studios)

The Gil Cates Theater will house the L.A. premiere of Sara Porkalob’s “Dragon Lady” (Sept. 4-Oct. 6). Directed by Andrew Russell, the solo show sees Porkalob embodying dozens of characters to recount her family’s remarkable origin story. “It reminded me of my early roots in theater and how compelling it is to watch someone do a virtuosic turn onstage that’s so simple and yet so difficult,” McCraney said of Porkalob.

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“Her storytelling blew me away — it’s enchanting, personal and wildly funny, and I love that she’s fully up for the challenge of getting in our larger space with this intimate show.” And because it’s the first of “The Dragon Cycle” trilogy, “I’m hoping that we build a strong case to bring in more of it later on.”

Conor Lovett and Rainn Wilson will star in a reimagining of Samuel Beckett’s classic tragicomedy “Waiting for Godot” (Nov. 6-Dec. 15), directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett and produced in association with noted Beckett theater company Gare St Lazare Ireland. (While the choice is driven by Wilson’s “strong affinity” for this text, McCraney also happens to have grown up near Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse, where “Waiting for Godot” had its American premiere in 1956.)

Then, it’s Michael Frayn’s beloved backstage farce “Noises Off” (Jan. 29-March 2, 2025), a co-production with Steppenwolf Theatre Company that’s helmed by its artistic director, Anna D. Shapiro. “Steppenwolf has deep roots here at the Geffen,” said McCraney, one of many Geffen players who are also ensemble members of the Chicago theater.

“We want to celebrate that, and there’s no better way to do that than to laugh at ourselves and how wild it is that people pay us to get together, imagine things and try to connect to an audience. Sometimes we get things right, and sometimes we get things wrong, but it still takes great bravery to keep getting up to do it again.”

The season continues with the West Coast premiere of a.k. payne’s “Furlough’s Paradise” (April 16-May 18, 2025). Directed by Tinashe Kajese-Bolden, the play centers on estranged cousins — one on a three-day furlough from prison, another on a break from work — who reunite at a funeral and grapple with their conflicting memories of the past and their shared hopes for the future.

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“As a person whose family was greatly affected by incarceration, I want a place for families to be able to come into the theater and imagine what it’s like to work through incarceration to something else,” said McCraney.

“This play is poetic and funny, but it’s also charting what it means to try to find a utopia in a world that has a criminal justice system that is far from perfect.” And payne, also a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, “was one of my students, and probably one of the most powerful writers I’ve encountered in my time as a professor.”

Jake Brasch, in a green turtleneck sweater and red-framed glasses, smiles at the camera.

Playwright Jake Brasch’s “The Reservoir” follows a recent college graduate on the road to recovery.

(Thomas Brunot)

The season wraps up with the world premiere of Jake Brasch’s “The Reservoir” (June 18-July 20, 2025), a co-production with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. Directed by Shelley Butler, the humorous play centers on a recent college graduate who depends on his four lovable grandparents amid his struggle to stay sober after rehab.

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“It’s a beautiful and arresting play, but I’m not gonna lie, I also want to have four or five actors of that age onstage at the same time, which is something that we so rarely get to do,” said McCraney. “I want younger and older generations to see themselves in this and see that there are ongoing conversations about our communities and our world that we can all be actively involved in.”

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Movie Reviews

Humane (2024) – Movie Review

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Humane (2024) – Movie Review

Humane, 2024.

Directed by Caitlin Cronenberg.
Starring Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Peter Gallagher, Enrico Colantoni, Sebastian Chacon, Alanna Bale, Sirena Gulamgaus, Uni Park, Martin Roach, Blessing Adedijo, Joel Gagne, and Franckie Francois.

SYNOPSIS:

In the wake of an environmental collapse that is forcing humanity to shed 20% of its population, a family dinner erupts into chaos when a father’s plan to enlist in the government’s new euthanasia program goes horribly awry.

Humane takes a darkly fascinating, timely concept regarding ecological collapse and overpopulation, competently establishes some of that world-building that’s not too far off from a potentially bleak future reality, and then devolves into an hour of filthy rich siblings, most of whom are unlikeable, shouting at each other in an attempt to decide who they are going to sacrifice as part of an ongoing government-funded euthanasia cleansing.

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There is also nothing wrong with these characters being offputting and morally bankrupt when a sudden gathering organized by patriarch Charles York (Peter Gallagher) turns into an evening of survival, especially when there are military personnel and individuals even more psychotic overseeing the euthanasia process (a procedure with rewards that seemingly sets up the rest of one’s family financially for life), but the script from Michael Sparaga lacks characterization and complexity beyond one or two defining traits for each sibling. As a result, much of the backstabbing and betrayal between two particular siblings strains credibility and comes across as the screenplay looking to stretch the physical family feud long past its repetitive breaking point.

This is frustrating since, again, the hook grabs attention. Charles is a former celebrated news reporter who financially benefited from years of society ignoring climate change, among other pressing issues. Somewhat of a failure as a parent and husband, currently with a new partner named Dawn Kim (Uni Park), who has faced racism at extreme lengths of having her restaurant burned down (the script also mentions that for whatever reason, Asians, in general, have been made public enemy number one for the current disastrous state of the planet, without ever really expanding on that.) Charles cares deeply about his legacy. He is also looking for some form of redemption, so he signs himself and Dawn up for the euthanasia process while inviting his four adult children (one adopted son) over to say goodbye without explaining what the reunion is about.

The children are Jared’s (Jay Baruchel) government mouthpiece for the euthanasia program, Rachel’s (Emily Hampshire) sociopathic businesswoman who doesn’t realize or seem to care that her heartlessness gets her daughter Mia (Sirena Gulamgaus) endlessly bullied at school, recovering junkie and adopted son Noah (Sebastian Chacon) and aspiring actress Ashley (Alanna Bale.) Due to not knowing the nature of this reunion, Mia also ends up in the house. It is also established that Noah and Ashley are closer to one another than everyone else in this dysfunctional family.

Following dinner, Charles blurts out what is happening here; the euthanasia enforcements arrive, insisting that the family figure out a way to provide a second body since Dawn had run off before they arrived. Whether there is a deeper significance to that remains a mystery. There is no backing out, and the menacing ringleader, Bob (Enrico Colantoni), scrambles the Wi-Fi and is certain that these people are so selfish they will try to kill each other to ensure they are not the second death. He also makes clear that this group does not euthanize children (although the slimy Jared is seen on television early on promoting the idea, admitting that he would allow his teenage son to consider it), ordering his armed guards to bring Mia outside and into his van as insurance while the family decides what to do.

The euthanasia process is unsettlingly creepy, as fully seen during an opening prologue juxtaposed with an upbeat, cheerful song choice. The film consistently finds pockets to quickly drop tiny bits of information about this world and how the service is handled in the public eye, including gallows humor commercials thanking regular citizens for their suicide contributions.

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That’s all one way of saying Humane has the ingredients to be a sharp and socially aware takedown of the rich and a reflection of a grim, possible reality if everyone on this planet doesn’t get on the same page to do something about devastating global concerns. However, the film takes that intrigue and squanders it all on a sibling match of who can yell the loudest and survive the most injuries. Characters repeatedly try to kill each other, form alliances, betray one another, and show their worst sides in ways that don’t always feel believable, even for these wealthy, self-centered assholes. It becomes exhausting, and at one point, we side with the gleeful euthanizing murderer for trying to convince Mia that her mom is an awful person. Hilariously, it also tries to give that character a dramatic backstory while dropping the psychopathic behavior for roughly two minutes.

What Humane does have going for it is that it is the debut from Caitlin Cronenberg, and while this is a different kind of horror from what her father and brother would craft (and sometimes a black comedy with Jay Baruchel eliciting some laughs), the violence still has some body horror that fits right in with the family portfolio. Fingers are forced inside stab wounds, and blood squirts so often that it becomes confounding no one is dead yet. As a director, there should be interest in what she does next, preferably something with a stronger screenplay and layered characters.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

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Christina Applegate contracts virus after eating food contaminated with fecal matter

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Christina Applegate contracts virus after eating food contaminated with fecal matter

Christina Applegate was still recovering from her first run-in with COVID-19 when another virus recently had her health in the toilet again.

The “Dead to Me” star spoke humorously — and graphically — about her “gross” experience with a sapovirus infection in the sixth episode of “MesSy,” the multiple sclerosis-themed podcast she shares with actor Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

“It’s now time for the poop talk,” Sigler introduced the segment.

“It’s a poop pod,” Applegate said. “If you don’t like this part, totally fine. I get it.”

It started with dizzy spells and a bout of uncontrollable diarrhea.

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“I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t anything,” Applegate said, so she took a stool test. “You poop into a receptacle, and then you have to scoop your own poop into vials. And it was so gross, I started vomiting whilst doing this.”

The test told her she had contracted sapovirus, which occurs when one person ingests another’s fecal matter, most often via contaminated food. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Sapovirus infections are responsible for both sporadic cases and occasional outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis.”

The culprit, Applegate said, was most likely a takeout salad from a vegan restaurant she’s visited for years and declined to name.

“They say that it’s mostly from salads because cooked food kind of kills the bacteria,” she said. “Someone else’s poop went into my mouth, and I ate it.”

As if the virus wasn’t bad enough, Applegate said it exacerbated the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis, with which she was diagnosed in 2021. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the chronic illness can cause trouble walking, difficulty with balance and fatigue.

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“I woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning in a pool of s—,” she said. “Having MS at 3 o’clock in the morning and trying to change your sheets, it’s not fun.”

She and Sigler then joked about their qualms with adult diapers, which Applegate said she had recently been wearing again out of convenience. Their suggestions included adding Velcro and scrapping the “pretty” designs.

“I think it would be very nice if you could give me an adult diaper that fully supported my mood when I looked at it,” Sigler said, “which would be something along the lines of the words, ‘F— me’ across my pelvis.”

“Again, we’re losing a patent. Someone’s going to do this and make millions,” Applegate riffed.

The Emmy-winning actor has spoken about her experience with MS before, including on “MesSy.”

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During the podcast’s third episode, she revealed she was in a relapse at the time of recording, detailing “intense pain” in her legs and discomfort in her eye.

“I couldn’t sleep because every time I would close my eye, my eye would start doing some crazy s—,” she said, adding that damage to the optic nerve can be a symptom of MS.

During a March appearance on “Good Morning America,” Applegate said she suspects she had MS symptoms for several years before her diagnosis.

“I noticed, especially the first season [of “Dead to Me”], we’d be shooting and my leg would buckle,” she said. “I really just put it off as being tired, or I’m dehydrated, or it’s the weather. Then nothing would happen for months, and I didn’t pay attention.”

By the time she was filming the TV series’ third season, she was being brought to set in a wheelchair and sometimes had crew members holding up her legs out of camera range.

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Even now, she said, she struggles to accept her diagnosis or explain it to others.

“I live kind of in hell,” she said. “But of course, the support is wonderful, and I’m really grateful.”

Applegate received a standing ovation when she walked onstage to present an award at the Emmys in January. A few months earlier, her former “Married … With Children” co-star Katey Sagal physically supported Applegate as she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

During her speech, Applegate recalled how, as a child, she would read the names on the stars along Hollywood Boulevard, wondering how she could get hers among them.

“So this day means more to me than you can possibly imagine,” she said.

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Movie Reviews

Humane (2024) – Review | Dystopian Family Thriller | Heaven of Horror

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Humane (2024) – Review | Dystopian Family Thriller | Heaven of Horror

How to reduce the population in a humane way

In Humane, which takes place in one single afternoon, but based on events that have happened over decades, a family is forced to deal with an ecological collapse. Basically, we need to reduce Earth’s population now, so the question becomes; How can we do that as a society in a humane way?

Hot tip: You need to pay attention to everything being said in the background during the opening credits!

Of course, there isn’t anything humane about having to eliminate a large percentage of the population. And yet, money can help, so a new euthanasia program has been made. Basically, you can volunteer to be “put down!

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A very different take on the euthanasia plot here >

Your family will be by your side as you say goodbye to them and they will also get a pretty penny for your sacrifice. Clearly, this scheme leads to mostly poor people and immigrants signing up, as they can then help their children and grandchildren to a better life.

That’s why it’s such a shock when a recently retired newsman – who has plenty of wealth to last a few lifetimes – invites his four grown children to dinner to announce that he has enlisted for the euthanasia program.

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Of course, nothing is as simple as described in the commercials constantly playing on TV to enlist volunteers. So, when the father’s plan goes wrong, full-blown chaos erupts among the four siblings, and they end up fighting each other to survive.

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