A Spanish Master Has His Day

Plaudits for Pedro, an MCCNY ‘Fiesta,’ a checkup on ‘The Producers’

It was Pedro Almodóvar week in Manhattan, with his film, “Bad Education,” playing at the New York Film Festival, which also presented a retrospective event, “Viva Pedro!” on October 7.

Watching his film clips with a largely Spanish-speaking, adoring crowd at Alice Tully Hall, I realized that Almodóvar has really become the preeminent filmmaker of our generation. From the early outrage of an overheated Carmen Maura, shrieking to be hosed down in “What Have I Done to Deserve This,” to that wondrous black-and-white sequence in “Talk To Her,” in which a tiny man disappears into a gigantic vagina, Almodóvar’s vivid imagination has undeniably colored all of ours.

“Que guapo!” (“So handsome!”) screamed one woman when “Bad Education” star Gael Garcia Bernal hit the stage to reminisce about seeing “Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” when he was 11, in Mexico. He was later turned onto “Matador” by a friend. When his concerned mother asked how old this friend was, the teenaged Garcia Bernal replied, “36.” He never dreamed he would make a film with Almodóvar.

At the Alice Tully event, Garcia Bernal expressed a desire to be able to get drunk that evening with Almodóvar, known for his carefully controlled behavior in public. At the after-party, I approached Garcia Bernal to ask him about “Bad Education” and he said, “Oh, man. You seriously want to talk about that? That’s all I’ve been doing.” Evidently, he meant what he said about drinking, p.r. be damned!

Garcia Bernal did get serious long enough to say that has no desire to do Hollywood films as is his “Y Tu Mama Tambien” co-star Diego Luna, now playing in “Criminal” with John Reilly.

“Why should I do that when there are so many more interesting films I can do in my own language?” Garcia Bernal asked.

On This Rock 2004, the Metropolitan Community Charities of New York gala at the Copacabana, on October 4, was a fabulous night, from the elegantly appointed space and yummy food to the fun, revved-to-party crowd and even the speeches, which were truly eloquent and inspiring. MCCNY’s Rev. Pat Bumgardner and the Rev. Troy Perry, the church’s Southern Californian founder gave addresses both moving and rabble-rousing addresses and this year’s honorees were Mayor John Shields of Nyack, Mayor Jason West of New Paltz and Deputy Mayor James Bruno of Asbury Park, who each received the Sylvia Rivera Political Action Award for their work in advancing the same-sex marriage cause, the first with a lawsuit, the other two by actually performing weddings.

West, told that he was quite the eligible object of desire in the gay community, laughed, and responded, “That’s what I’ve been told. That’s the irony of being straight and single. I go to all these wonderful events and it’s about marriage equality, but there’s no way I am going to meet anybody. This is one of the last places I’m gonna find a partner to get married myself.” West continued, “I’ve said this so many times that it’s starting to sound tinny and shallow to my own ears. But it’s human rights and civil rights, nothing to do with anything else.”

West said that New Paltz has been supportive in the wake of the Ulster County district attorney’s prosecution of him on 24 misdemeanor counts of solemnizing weddings with out marriage certificates.

I had an arraignment in our courthouse and was told there were 1,500 supporters outside and I could hear them chanting, with a brass band playing ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic,’” he said.

As for the presidential election, West, who was elected as a Green Party candidate, said, “I’m voting for Nader the same way I did in ‘96 and 2000. It’s unfortunate because I go to events all over the country, and there are maybe two or three people who can give me a rational reason why they think Kerry would make a good president. He wants to send more troops into Iraq and has the identical position to Bush on gay marriage, saying ‘I’m opposed to it; let the states decide if civil unions are all right.’ I agree with Eugene Debs who said, ‘I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don’t want and get it.’ We’re not going to see changes in the political arena until people start voting their conscience.”

Out-of-town family from Hawaii were visiting, so, of course, that meant taking in a Broadway smash. “The Producers” was their wise choice but the Sunday matinee performance on October 3 reinforced everyone’s fears about long Broadway runs. After three and a half years, the script, songs and production design remain as brilliantly clever as ever, but the whole shebang seemed to run overlong, due to excessive cast emoting. Mugging, not miking, was the problem here, as anything that got even a glimmer of a chuckle from the packed house was then milked to an excruciating fare-thee-well.

The major offender was Stacey Todd Holt, filling in for an indisposed Brooks Ashmanskas, as Carmen Ghia. That snakelike movement of the hand, which signaled his every exit, went on for eternities, while Kathy Fitzgerald, once so uproarious as an ugly chorus girl and Shirley, the lesbian lighting designer, has turned these comic cameos into lengthy arias.

The two leads, Brad Oscar and Hunter Foster, actually sing and dance better than Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick did, but both of these considerable talents have also rather succumbed to temptation. Foster’s neurotic blue blankie fits were particularly overdone.

Jonathan Freeman initially made a fine Roger DeBris, with the rubber-faced hilarity of Marie Dressler, but, during the big “Springtime for Hitler” number, he wasn’t up to Gary Beech’s genius original performance, and made up for it at the end with a hammy curtain call that severely sapped the number’s vitality.

John Tracy Egan gave the best performance, as Franz, managing to delight without recourse to overt scenery-munching. Of course, I may have been the sole dissenter that afternoon, as the out-of-towners were in high-sterics, with one woman behind me practically having seizures of the noisiest mirth.

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com

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