Tag Archives: drama

Jessica Williams, Cate Blanchett star in Sundance premieres

Former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams flexes her dramatic chops. Cate Blanchett pays homage to great 20th century artists and “Silicon Valley” star Kumail Nanjiani tells a very personal story in some of the films premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Programmers announced their selections for the documentary and narrative premiere sections at the Sundance Film Festival, which has launched films like “Boyhood,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “O.J.: Made in America.”

As with many years, the Sundance premiere slate can be a place for well-known comedians to take a stab at more dramatic and serious roles.

In what’s expected to be one of the breakout films and performances of the festival, comedian Jessica Williams stars in Jim Strouse’s “The Incredible Jessica James,” about a New York playwright recovering from a breakup and finding solace in a recent divorcee.

Nanjiani is another who might surprise audiences in “The Big Sick,” which he co-wrote with his wife Emily V. Gordon and is based on their own courtship. He stars alongside Zoe Kazan in the Michael Showalter-directed pic.

The festival also has films featuring veteran stars in different kinds of roles.

Shirley MacLaine stars in “The Last Word,” about a retired businesswoman who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a journalist (Amanda Seyfried) after writing her own obituary.

Festival founder Robert Redford, too, is in Charlie McDowell’s “The Discovery,” about a world where the afterlife has been proven. Jason Segel and Rooney Mara also star.

Cate Blanchett re-enacts artistic statements of Dadaists, Lars von Trier and everyone in between in “Manifesto.”

Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland co-star in the drama “Where is Kyra.”

“Avengers” Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen re-team in the FBI crime thriller “Wind River,” the directorial debut of “Hell or High Water” writer Taylor Sheridan.

“Bessie” director Dee Rees is poised to be a standout with “Mudbound,” a racial drama set in the post-WWII South and starring Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige.

“It’s quite topical to this time even though it’s a period piece,” said festival director John Cooper.

Among the documentaries premiering are a look at the Oklahoma City bombing from Barak Goodman; Stanley Nelson’s examination of black colleges and universities, “Tell Them We Are Rising”; and Barbara Kopple’s account of a champion diver who announces he is transgender, “This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous.”

“The beauty of independent film is it’s not a copycat world, unlike some of the Hollywood stuff where they follow trends,” said programming director Trevor Groth. “Independent film has always been about originality and choice and something different.”

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 19- 29.

 

On the Web

www.sundance.org/festival

Dublin’s murder squad hunts for a killer in ‘The Trespasser’

Though Detective Antoinette Conway always dreamed of working in the murder squad, now that she’s made it to the Dublin Castle grounds where Ireland’s best detectives track down killers, she wants out.

Her co-workers harass her, and the majority of cases that make it to her desk involve domestic disputes, not the psychopathic serial killers she’d imagined hunting. When her boss assigns Antoinette and her partner a new case complete with a smarmy third detective to act as a baby sitter, Antoinette considers this her last stint on the squad before trading in her badge for a job at a security agency.

When they arrive at the scene, Antoinette stares into the face of the murder victim, Aislinn Murray, and recognizes her, though she can’t place the memory. The scene of the crime, complete with a candlelit table set for two and dinner in the oven, points to yet another date gone bad.

This should be a slam dunk. But from here, the case proves a wild animal nobody can read, sometimes bounding in a predictable direction, other times leaping down a path that catches everyone off guard. On top of this, Antoinette notices a strange man frequenting the road outside her house.

Author Tana French incessantly pushes the plot of The Trespasser forward with absorbing dialogue and shifty villains. When the investigation hits walls, relationships grow and morph, making the work as much about internal conflicts as external. Antoinette narrates with a rich, raw voice. Her sarcasm combined with a wry, hard-edged view on life may weary readers, but keep reading, because as in all of the author’s work, meaning lurks beneath every quip and glance.

French not only spins a twisty cop tale, she also encases it in meticulous prose, creating a read that is as elegant as it is dark.

Cast a wide net among channels when sampling new fall shows

The fall TV season always marks a reset of sorts, signaling an influx of new shows and a respite from reruns.

That’s the way it’s been since TV began, back when there were only three or four networks and dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Well, almost.

But despite this time-honored ritual of rebirth, series’ comings and goings have evolved into a seamless affair that flows year-round, boosted by the ever-escalating number of video outlets.

Dubbed “Peak TV,” this latter-day embarrassment of riches is noted by FX network’s president with a mixture of wonder and dismay.

Speaking to the Television Critics Association recently, John Landgraf forecast that a new peak of some 500 different scripted series would be introduced by TV outlets in 2017.

Of these, he said, “only” about 150 would be offered by the six major English-language broadcasters (ABC, CW, CBS, Fox and NBC, plus PBS).

The rest would emerge on cable and streaming services.

“I do this for a living, I think I have a pretty good memory, and I certainly can’t come close to keeping track of it all,” sighed Landgraf, adding, “While there’s more great television than at any time in history, audiences are having more trouble than ever distinguishing the great from the merely competent.”

Not to mention more trouble even stumbling on shows that viewers might consider great but instead get lost in the shuffle.

For instance, how many viewers will happen upon StartUp, one of the most distinctive and addictive dramas on any lineup? Starring Martin Freeman and Adam Brody in a steamy Miami mashup of techies and drug lords, it premieres Sept. 6 on Crackle, the streaming network known, if at all, for Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

On MTV, where “gym, tan, laundry” was once the mantra thanks to Jersey Shore, a much smarter situation awaits on Mary + Jane (premiering Sept. 5), a devilish comedy about two gal pals who run a marijuana delivery service in Los Angeles.

And on Hulu, where you may typically binge on Forensic Files reruns, you might be happy to discover Hugh Laurie in the psychological drama Chance (Oct. 19) as a physician perilously different from his role as life-saving Dr. House.

These new arrivals might well escape your notice in the fall onslaught.

But word of other new shows is impossible to miss.

In particular, NBC leveraged its sprawling, much-watched Rio Games to beat the drum for fall newcomers like This Is Us and Timeless.

Both those series are sure to be heavily sampled by the audience. But while many viewers may embrace This Is Us (Sept. 20) as a tenderhearted and touching dramedy about divergent characters who have a lot in common, other viewers may dismiss the show as saccharine and labored.

And while some viewers may see Timeless (Oct. 3) as thrilling and eye-popping, others may dismiss this time-travel romp as clunky in concept and a misappropriation of lavish computer-generated imagery.

While ABC’s sitcom Speechless (Sept. 21) can congratulate itself for its special-needs focus — the family’s teenage son has cerebral palsy (as does the actor who plays him) — some viewers nonetheless may find it cartoonish and, well, not very funny.

While Michael Weatherly is certifiably a fan-fave from his years on NCIS, his much-awaited new CBS drama, Bull (Sept. 20), seems over-reliant on his fast-talking, glib portrayal. For some viewers, his performance as a charming trial consultant gaming the legal system may quickly wear thin.

And while Notorious (Sept. 22) will plant its flag in the Shonda Rimes-ruled landscape of ABC’s Thursday lineup, this dismal poppycock (a hunky defense attorney joins forces with a hot TV producer to promote their respective professional interests) may succeed primarily by exposing how hard it is to pull off what Rimes does so well.

None of this is to suggest that the commercial broadcast networks aren’t a party to TV’s current Golden Age.

Television, almost anywhere you look, is enjoying a renaissance.

But for the most part, broadcast TV has been overtaken by its cable and streaming competition while being forced to chase conflicting goals — to please a necessarily mass audience while taking enough creative risks to not get left in the dust by its more nimble rivals.

Millions of viewers are satisfied with the results.

Now, as ever, broadcast TV serves as a home for the expected, a 22-episodes-a-season respite where the viewer can feel comfortable, not challenged.

Meanwhile, surprises and creative daring greet viewers who look elsewhere — and result, sometimes, in explosive success (consider HBO’s Game of Thrones or AMC’s The Walking Dead, neither of which would have ever gained admittance by broadcast gatekeepers).

Granted, mining shows from the mountain of Peak TV can be a daunting task, especially since on niche media platforms, as with mainstream broadcast, there’s plenty of fool’s gold cluttering the view.

But if this fall season is any indication, TV’s current Golden Age is aglow — and this gold rush clearly leads toward cable and streaming.

‘Love Story’ and beyond: Classic romantic tearjerkers

Call it emotional blackmail or just good storytelling, but there’s nothing quite like romantic tearjerkers — whether forbidden love, terminal illness or just bad timing that conspires to keep our on-screen lovers apart and us sobbing.

The filmmakers behind “Me Before You” hope their film about a working-class girl and the wealthy quadriplegic she falls for might just be a worthy addition to the canon.

Here are some romantic classics to prepare those tear ducts for maximum waterworks. Stock up on tissues and get ready for the feels-so-good despair.

LOVE STORY (1970)

“Love Story” didn’t invent the tearjerker, but Erich Segal certainly indulged in the melodrama of it all to great effect in this story of a preppy Harvard guy and the feisty, not-so-wealthy Radcliffe girl of his dreams, who finds out she’s dying. Not only is it touted as being one of the first modern-day blockbusters and the film that saved Paramount, but, it’s also the one that, for better or worse, taught us the catchy, if questionable, advice that love means never having to say you’re sorry.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957)

An intoxicating rendezvous between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr on a cross-Atlantic cruiser, the promise of a reunion atop the Empire State Building, and a series of some of the more infuriating missed connections that ever befell two human beings has made this remake an enduring classic.

THE WAY WE WERE (1973)

Is it just more tragic when opposites attract and then implode? Katie (Barbra Streisand) and Hubbell (Robert Redford) had the passion, but not the staying power in Sydney Pollack’s film. Maybe an apathetic pretty-boy and an impassioned activist weren’t meant to be after all, but it doesn’t make that goodbye any less heart wrenching.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)

Ang Lee’s adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story is one of the rare films that’s heartbreaking from the start in telling the saga of a forbidden love between cowboys Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) and the public lies and lives they continue to lead while yearning for one another.

THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)

It might look like a candy-colored musical dream, but Jacques Demy’s “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” packs quite a punch with its tale of a beautiful shopgirl (Catherine Deneuve) and a handsome mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo), torn apart by timing and circumstance. The tragedy is in the banality of the aftermath and the ordinariness of moving on and growing up. Michel Legrand’s luxurious score doesn’t hurt either.

THE NOTEBOOK (2004)

Nicholas Sparks has made a cottage industry out of the romantic tearjerker, but Nick Cassavetes’ 2004 adaptation of his novel about a rich girl (Rachel McAdams) falling for a poor boy (Ryan Gosling) in the 1940s somehow transcended his own worst tendencies of schlocky sentimentality.

IF YOU’RE STILL NOT CRYING…

“Brief Encounter”

“Casablanca”

“From Here to Eternity”

“The Earrings of Madame De…”

“Say Anything”

“Ghost”

“Atonement”

“Titanic”

“Blue Valentine”

“In the Mood for Love”

“Splendor in the Grass”

movies

On 400th anniversary, exhibit examines Shakespeare’s act

From a dress worn by Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth to a “Hamlet” script owned by famous stage actors, a new exhibition explores how William Shakespeare became “the Bard” 400 years after his death.

“Shakespeare in Ten Acts” looks at 10 key performances of the playwright’s works, from the first showing of “Hamlet” at the Globe theater around 1600 to a contemporary version of that play in the digital age.

The exhibition opens at London’s British Library as theater fans prepare to mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616.

“It’s really difficult to do full justice to Shakespeare’s legacy over the last 400 years,” exhibition lead curator Zoe Wilcox said in a British Library video handout.

“We’re not just looking at Shakespeare the man or his most famous plays, we’re focusing in on 10 significant performances of his work that tell us something about the way that his plays have been constantly reinvented through the ages.”

A woman is reflected in glass next to a human skull owned by Sarah Bernhardt during the press preview of the exhibition 'Shakespeare in Ten Acts' at the British Library in London, Britain April 14. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
A woman is reflected in glass next to a human skull owned by Sarah Bernhardt during the press preview of the exhibition ‘Shakespeare in Ten Acts’ at the British Library in London, Britain April 14. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Highlights include the only surviving play-script in Shakespeare’s handwriting, in which he describes the plight of refugees. Also on show is a human skull inscribed with poetry given by French writer Victor Hugo to actress Sarah Bernhardt, which she used when playing Hamlet in 1899.

Visitors will also be able to see a “Hamlet” script owned by the likes of Michael Redgrave, Peter O’Toole and now Kenneth Branagh and theater playbills showing the career highs and lows of Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play “Othello” on the English stage in 1825, organizers said.

“We are using the full range of things we have at our disposal to bring them (the acts) to life,” Wilcox said.

“So sound, video, costumes, props, paintings, everything we can to give people a sense of what those performances would have felt like had you been attending them.”

“Shakespeare in Ten Acts” runs until September.

A human skull owned by Sarah Bernhardt is seen during the press preview of the exhibition 'Shakespeare in Ten Acts' at the British Library in London, Britain April 14. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
A human skull owned by Sarah Bernhardt is seen during the press preview of the exhibition ‘Shakespeare in Ten Acts’ at the British Library in London, Britain April 14. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

On Broadway: ‘Blackbird’ is brilliant

It turns out there is a place more uncomfortable to be on Broadway than a bullet-ridden hut watching sex slaves try to preserve their humanity. That would be among the audience watching the harrowing — and absolutely brilliant — revival of “Blackbird.”

David Harrower’s play is so intimate and emotional and charged that it makes “Eclipsed” seem like a comedy in comparison. It’s also impossible to stop watching because both characters are fully realized and equally sympathetic.

That’s hard to do, since one is a woman who was sexually abused 15 years ago when she was 12 and the other is the man, who at 40, was the one who seduced her. It is a rich stew of anger and shame and love that opened recently at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre.

Michelle Williams plays the spiky, vengeful and still-broken victim, and Jeff Daniels is the stressed-out, humiliated one-time aggressor. With this indisputably superb cast, the play ducks and weaves enough to take your breath away under Joe Mantello’s taut direction.

The woman arrives unannounced during closing time at her former abuser’s place of employment, a nondescript modern, soulless office. He has served prison time, changed his name and has started a new life, even becoming involved with a woman his own age.

Daniels plays the man suddenly made raw, slightly bowed and disheveled as he is reminded of his horrific past. In her presence, he fights the reemergence of tics and is absent-mindedly obsessed with picking up the litter in the break room where they meet, as if he could make everything clean again.

There is also harshness to Daniels’ character, and he goes to the edge of violence to try to get out of having this confrontation, here and now. He’s protective of the new life he created and suspicious of his visitor’s motives. He even rifles though her bag to see if she’s got a weapon.

“I didn’t agree to this,” he says.

“I lost more than you ever did,” she replies.

While the play’s topic might initially put some off, this cast makes the spare and human dialogue soar. These are two actors at the top of their game, holding back nothing. At a recent preview, the audience was absolutely rapt, the theater silent. It gets so intimate you might be embarrassed to be so close.

Williams arrives for the confrontation in a girlish dress and high heels and a burning anger. She wants admissions and details and, above all, an explanation. “I hate the life I’ve had,” she tells him.

She toys with Daniel’s character at first, aware that he is under pressure by the presence of co-workers, who ghostly walk past the frosted windows. Phones bleat all the time, adding to the stress. Soon, she reveals the longing in her hurt and her own culpability in the relationship. It is an utterly heartbreaking performance.

In one beautifully realized moment, Williams delivers her 12-year-old version of events in a monologue that spills out like poetry as the office’s neon lights darken save for one illuminated square above her (Brian MacDevitt did the perfect lighting). In another splendid scene, the two actors unleash their frustrations on the room (Scott Pask did the spot-on scenic design).

By the end, it’s clear this is not a battle about the past as much as the future. Can the woman even find peace and move on? Can the man show he has changed? Will the past always rule us forever?

On Broadway …

“Blackbird.”

Bronzeville Arts Ensemble grapples with loss in ‘The Mojo and the Sayso’

An African-American family mourns the death of their 10-year-old son at the hands of a police officer, searching for a talisman of faith and the inner strength of family ties to keep them from being torn apart by the grief.

What sounds like another tragedy ripped from today’s headlines is in fact the plot of The Mojo and the Sayso, a play by Aishah Rahman being produced jointly by Milwaukee’s Bronzeville Arts Ensemble and Madison’s Theatre LILA. The production will have a limited run in late January at the Milwaukee Rep, where BAE is a new company-in-residence, and then again in February in The Playhouse at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts.

While the play’s themes are still relevant today, Rahman actually wrote the play back in 1987. The Mojo and the Sayso, set on the third anniversary of the child’s death, finds the Benjamin family struggling to understand and cope with loss. WiG asked BAE’s artistic director Malkia Stampley and Theatre LILA’s co-artistic director Jessica Lanius, who also is directing the show, to tell us more about the production.

What is the plot of The Mojo and the Sayso?

Malkia Stampley: The Benjamin family has to find the strength and courage to pick up the pieces and move forward together. With some humor, magic and a creative exploration of language, we go on this journey with the family. “Mojo” is that power, that magic and missing ingredient needed to get through.

The topic is very contemporary, yet playwright Aishah Rahman comes from a much earlier era. Do her perceptions and experiences bring greater depth to the narrative?

MS: Mojo is such a relevant piece and I love that so many people are shocked when they discover it was written almost 30 years ago. This piece is a strong reminder that these issues are not trends, not just hashtags and nothing new. The setting is meant to be timeless, which helps bring depth to this story. Her artistic freedom was bold at the time and was the beginning of a form of theater that is now very common to most theatergoers, exploring language and themes in abstract ways.

Jessica Lanius: (Rahman) is such a vivid and poetic writer. The layering of imagery alongside this particular story brings the characters and the circumstance to life in such a rich and complex way. Every day in rehearsal I feel like we uncover layers of the language that I hadn’t seen before. 

Does the play offer some interpretation of the issues with which it deals, or is it merely a reflection of America’s racial issues? 

MS: This piece highlights the families who are left behind after a publicly known tragedy. We have become so accustomed to the sensationalism of black youths being killed by the police, immediately forming opinions and picking our platforms. I don’t believe this play focuses on race, but rather brings greater humanity to the 30-second news story or front-page picture. I think psychologists would have a field day exploring the different ways each of the characters in this play processes trauma.

JL: Black lives matter, and this is what that looks like: A life, and the lives that one life touches, have been taken. The effects on a personal, familial level also reflect the effect it has on his community as a whole. If we can get our audience to feel this and make it personal for them, perhaps the issue becomes more important, more immediate, and the demand for change and justice becomes more obvious.

The play is described as a comedy/drama, yet it deals with a very serious issue. How does the playwright make this work?

JL: I think right now we are discovering that in great pain comes absurdity and that necessary levity. 

MS: Aishah Rahman’s language will make you laugh and cry in the same line. As with most of us, we desperately need find ways to see the humor in any situation, and this play is no different.

ON STAGE

The Mojo and the Sayso is being presented by Milwaukee’s Bronzeville Arts Ensemble and Madison’s Theatre LILA. Milwaukee productions of the work will run Jan. 28 to Jan. 31 at the Milwaukee Rep, 108 E. Wells St. For tickets, call 414-224-9490 or visit milwaukeerep.com. Madison productions will run Feb. 19 to Feb. 24 at Overture Center, 201 State St. For tickets call 608-258-4141 or visit overturecenter.org.

Finding Bronzeville

The name Bronzeville was used in many early- and mid-20th-century U.S. cities to refer to African-American neighborhoods. These neighborhoods often comprised the black business, cultural and artistic centers of those cities.

Opinions vary on the exact borders of Milwaukee’s historic Bronzeville, but the area was considered to have been roughly bounded by North Avenue and State Street on the north and south and Third and 12th streets on the east and west. The neighborhood was largely destroyed and properties appropriated for the construction of the I-43 freeway in the 1960s. In the last decade, a redevelopment project re-applied the name to the core of the Harambee neighborhood.

The Bronzeville Arts Ensemble is named as a tribute to what those neighborhoods meant to their community, according to artistic director Malkia Stampley.

“Milwaukee’s Bronzeville district at its peak was a center point for jazz, theater, art, music, community and culture,” Stampley says. “My hope is that the Bronzeville Arts Ensemble pays homage to Milwaukee’s Bronzeville, as well as the essence of the name ‘Bronzeville’ in communities throughout the country.”

— Michael Muckian

Gorgeous ‘Manchester by the Sea’ is a shattering masterwork

No one shows the landscape of human grief and trauma quite like Kenneth Lonergan.

It sometimes seems like the playwright turned director of both “You Can Count On Me” and “Margaret” knows us better than we know ourselves. His movies look and feel like life — it’s no wonder our souls can only handle one every few years. 

“Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan’s third feature which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday to a massive standing ovation, is truly a masterpiece.

In its simplest form, “Manchester by the Sea” is about family, tragedy and aftermath. Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a custodian in Boston for some scummy apartment buildings. He lives alone in an unadorned room. He fixes toilets as silently and as stoically as one can. He turns down frequent advances with a simple “that’s all right.” And he gets into bar fights of his own making.

Then his brother (played by Kyle Chandler) dies and he must return to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), forcing him to explore the reasons he had to leave years ago.

There is no easy way to sum up what the film is about. Part of its impact is how Lonergan allows the story to reveal itself to the audience as he elegantly weaves together past and present, building tension to a devastating crescendo midway through. To even describe who the other actors play would be too much, but, suffice it to say that both Michelle Williams and Gretchen Mol are pivotal.

And while it might be a drama to its core, it is neither dreary nor self-indulgent. It’s also packed with wit and humor as well.

“It’s about the relationship between very sad, terrible losses and the connections to other people that make them painful and can also get you through them — or at least keep you afloat,” Lonergan said prior to the Festival. “You have a very damaged man and a very good-natured, cheerful, energetic, determined kid who are thrown together in a town where one doesn’t want to be and the other doesn’t want to leave.”

After the film premiered, Affleck told a sobbing audience that the experience has made him a better actor.

Hedges, who had a small role in “Moonrise Kingdom” said, too, that the raw emotion of so many of the scenes are “often more fulfilling and therapeutic than destructive.”

The script has been in the works for years. Matt Damon, who produced, said that he and John Krasinski had come to Lonergan with an idea years ago. First Damon was to direct with Krasinski starring, then Damon was going to star with Lonergan directing. But Damon’s schedule was just too full.

“I didn’t want to get in the way of a great movie being way,” Damon said. “I said to Kenny I don’t want to give this role up to anybody but Casey Affleck.”

Damon and Affleck had done a play with Lonergan in London over a decade ago, and Damon was also in “Margaret.”

While it is comically early in 2016, it’s hard to imagine that “Manchester by the Sea” won’t be considered one of the year’s best, if not the absolute best, by this time next year.

“People find ways to live with real tragedy, but some people don’t,” Lonergan said. “I thought maybe they deserve to have a movie made about them too.”

Scully, Mulder, paranoia return in ‘The X-Files’ reboot

“The X-Files” creator Chris Carter is pleased to update the original template with his 21st-century unease. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny are glad to be playing opposite each other again as Scully and Mulder.

And admirers likely will do a happy dance to the Fox TV drama’s eerie theme music as it returns with a six-episode limited run.

The two-part opener is scheduled to air at 10 p.m. EST Sunday, immediately after the end of the NFL’s NFC championship game on Fox, and at 8 p.m. EST Monday. Subsequent episodes also air at 8 p.m. Monday EST.

Will the reboot retain the dark magic of the original TV series, which in its 1993-2002 lifespan offered a wildly entertaining blend of government conspiracies, otherworldly suspense and black comedy that was placed in the hands of two unknown but charismatic actors?

Creator and executive producer Carter offers assurances, but with the caveat that he insisted on more than an exercise in nostalgia for the franchise that included two big-screen movies.

“Someone said to me, ‘Great, a victory lap,”” when the new project was announced, he said. “That’s the opposite of why we came back. We didn’t want to do something that reworked old material or was just a sequel to what we’d done before. I wanted to make something fresh and original.”

Current events and figures proved helpful, Carter said, citing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and eroding personal privacy as examples.

“These are interesting and heady times, and perfect for telling ‘X-Files’ tales,” he said, promising a series more directly topical than the original. “We deal with fear in a lot of different ways. … The fact that we’re being spied on and don’t seem to be raising any protest is a frightening prospect for me.”

One tricky aspect is balancing the interests of “X-Files” devotees and potential newcomers.

“We have to be respectful of people who are familiar with the show so we don’t beat them over the head with things they know,” Carter said. “I think our approach is artful in what it gives fans and what it will provide non-fans.”

He’s joined in the cause by members of the creative team that helped make the first series a sensation, with Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan and James Wong splitting writing and directing duties with Carter on the new episodes.

Also back are Mitch Pileggi, who played FBI assistant director Walter Skinner in the original series; William B. Davis as the shadowy Cigarette Smoking Man; and, despite their deaths, the beloved conspiracy-theory geeks known collectively as the Lone Gunmen.

“No one is every truly dead on ‘The X-Files,’” Carter said, drolly.

Newcomer Joel McHale is onboard as Tad O’Malley, a news anchor.

In the first go-round, FBI agent Fox Mulder was driven to prove the government was hiding evidence of aliens on Earth. Fellow agent Dana Scully was his initially skeptical colleague.

In the reboot, new evidence reunites them in the quest to uncover the truth. It’s personal as well, Anderson said.

“There’s something that’s missing in Scully’s life, and that thing is clearly Mulder. Both of them feel disconnected from the world and themselves because they’re missing a limb,” she said.

She and Duchovny have moved on to a variety of on-screen and other projects, including writing (both have published novels), and, in Duchovny’s case, music. But they said returning to the “X-Files” fold, with Carter again in charge, felt right.

“Chris is a serious person and an artist. And if he says he’s got a way to make it work, I trust that,” Duchovny said.

Said Anderson: “There were aspects of it that felt ridiculously familiar and kind of felt we never left. Some elements were much more challenging — running in heels,” she added, laughing.

Last summer’s taping in Vancouver, Canada, was arranged around her London-based family life. But she brought part of it with her: daughter Piper, who is studying production design, was on the set to gain work experience and ended up contributing to the series, Anderson said.

Whatever work-related tension that existed between the stars, the by-product of churning out some two-dozen episodes a season and becoming instant stars, is long gone, Duchovny said.

“Put any human being in that situation, working the amount that we worked and going through the ride from obscurity to global (fame), it’s just crazy-making,” he said. “It’s a natural human emotion to have enough of one another in that situation. Now it’s quite the opposite, it’s respect and love and gratitude.”

On the Web

http://www.fox.com/the-x-files 

Rep actors talk ‘Of Mice and Men’

John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella Of Mice and Men captured the hearts of Depression-era America with its tale of George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant drifters and farm hands who formed an unlikely bond in their search for a home. A simple, poetic work, the book was intended to be what Steinbeck called a “play-novelette,” easily transferable from the page to the stage — a goal achieved with much success nationwide over the decades since its printing.

The Milwaukee Rep this month becomes the next theater to take on the work, with a production running Jan. 19-Feb. 21 in its Quadracci Powerhouse. It’ll be the second time British-born artistic director Mark Clements has staged the dramatic version of Steinbeck’s novel, having previously directed a production at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Playhouse in 2007. 

Clements says the play speaks to him on a personal level and that it also will resonate with Milwaukee audiences the way it has for generations. 

“I think people often view me as very confident and forthright, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me. So I related to all the protagonists in the play, who are all very much isolated,” Clements says. “The other key aspect to the play is the relationship between George and Lennie. It’s their friendship and their efforts in seeking a way to escape the isolation and find validation.”

In the Rep’s production, the pivotal roles of George and his companion Lennie will be played by Milwaukee actor Jonathan Wainwright and Scott Greer (who played Lennie in Clements’ 2007 production as well). WiG caught up with the actors between rehearsals to talk to them about their characters.

When were you first exposed to Of Mice and Men? What was your reaction?

Scott Greer: I read the novel in eighth-grade and it had a huge impact on me. Once I discovered theater in high school, Lennie became one of my “must play this before I die” roles. I feel very fortunate to get to work on it again. 

Jonathan Wainwright: I honestly can’t remember if I read the novel in school. So really my journey has begun right now and the work is new to me. My reactions are still unfolding, but at this moment the play is very personal and personally relevant. 

How would you describe your character to someone unfamiliar with the story? What fatal flaws have led him to his current situation?

SG: Lennie has a disability. He is emotionally and intellectually a child, but physically he is a very powerful, grown man. He doesn’t understand his own strength or have the maturity to control his emotions. 

JW: George is loyal, thoughtful, angry, isolated, scared and untrusting. His best characteristics could also be his fatal flaws, especially regarding his relationship with Lennie. It’s like that with so many of us. 

What approach did you take in developing your character?

SG: The first time I did this play, my daughter was 4 years old. Watching how she processed information, experienced joy and fear and struggled to control her impulses was invaluable to me. I also read a lot about mental retardation, especially a condition known as Fragile X syndrome. Lennie exhibits many traits that are symptoms of that disorder. 

JW: Research-wise, I developed a general understanding of the time and place, economic situations, race and gender issues. But really for me, the play is all about the relationship between George and Lennie. It’s about the relationships we all have in this life, those that both feed us and tear us down. 

What about the story appeals to you? What lessons did you learn about humankind in preparing for your role?

SG: I love the full-frontal humanity of Steinbeck’s characters. Even the villains are vulnerable. I also learned that we’re all capable of great compassion and great cruelty. In this play, it’s hard to see the difference sometimes. 

JW: The appeal is, again, all in the relationships. The language of these characters is rich and telling. There are secrets, layered thoughts between the lines, and a day-in-the-life sort of feeling that spirals into profound, life-changing actions and reactions. Making daily life suddenly extraordinary, as life itself often happens. 

The story epitomizes a distinct place and time in American history, but are there universal truths or characteristics that carry over to today?

SG: Without getting into a wealth disparity debate, I think people are as worried as ever about the American Dream.

JW: Loneliness, isolation, poverty, racial inequality, gender issues, care of the mentally handicapped, friendship, deep love and respect, life-changing decisions, life-ending decisions and loyalty. The more we change, the more we stay the same. The things these characters deal with, are the things we all deal with, always. 

ON STAGE

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men runs Jan. 19 to Feb. 21 at the Quadracci Powerhouse, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets start at $20. To order, dial 414-224-9490 or visit milwaukeerep.com.