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Fiennes’ fine film

Actor-turned-director gives bold, homoerotic spin on Shakespeare classic



The final image in Ralph Fiennes’ fine adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” is riveting — two men in a war-torn landscape locked in a deadly embrace. Their final coupling sums up the passionate love-hate relationship and the series of personal and political betrayals that have led them to this fatal climax.

One of the men is the Roman general Caius Martius (played by director Fiennes) and the other is his sworn enemy, the Volscian leader Tullus Aufidius (played with brooding intensity by Gerard Butler, probably best known to gay audiences as the title character in the movie version of “The Phantom of the Opera” and the buff, scantily clad Spartan general in “300.”) When the movie opens, Martius is at the top of his game. He brutally but effectively suppresses an uprising by the starving plebians and almost single-handedly halts an attack on Rome by the Volscian army. (He is given the honorific Coriolanus to mark his conquest of the Volscian city of Corioles.) The tables turn, however, when his mother and their well-meaning patrician friends try to push the warrior into a political career. The skills that serve him so well on the battlefield (rage, invective, decisive action, foolhardy risk-taking) fail him in the public sphere. The fallen war hero is banished from Rome and joins forces with his former Volscian enemies.

Screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) does an excellent job of streamlining and updating Shakespeare’s timeless and timely tale. He and Fiennes present the story in a modern-day setting yet retain the richness of Shakespeare’s language, story and characters. The text is tidily trimmed throughout, but the only major excision is the famous fable of the belly, a charming parable used to keep the lower classes in check. Several expository scenes and messenger speeches are transferred with great facility to television anchors and pundits (on the wittily named Fideles TV). Battle scenes were shot in Belgrade and most of the secondary roles are filled by Serbian actors. Cinematographer Barry Atkinson (who worked with Fiennes on the award-winning The Hurt Locker) captures the noise, rage, terror and brutality of contemporary warfare in horribly effective detail. The savage intensity of the battle scenes contrasts nicely with the suave treachery of the political scenes.

Fiennes and Logan also follow Shakespeare in highlighting the homosocial bonds between the politicians and the soldiers and the explicitly homoerotic nature of the relationship between Coriolanus and Aufidius. Soldiers routinely greet each other by declaring they are happier to see their returning colleagues than they ever were to see their wives. Politicians taunt each other with charges of feminine or boyish behavior. Aufidius declares that Coriolanus is his enemy, yet welcomes him gladly to the Volscian camp. Under Fiennes’ assured direction, the two men literally cannot keep their hands off each other, yet they cannot stop battling for dominance. Their smoldering glances burn up the screen and their scary fight scenes only stop when one of the participants loses consciousness.

Fiennes’ focus on the homosocial and misogynistic world of the battlefield and the halls of power (in this case, smoke-filled bars, marble hearing rooms and brightly lit television studios) give a clear context for Vanessa Redgrave’s chilling performance of Coriolanus’ monstrous mother Volumnia, clearly one of the most intelligent people in this Rome, but there she has no effective outlet for her brains or passion. Instead of participating in the great events at the Capitol, she is forced to watch them unfold on TV. Her thwarted ambition is poured into her son, an inadequate vessel for her grand dreams, and the result is tragedy. Redgrave shines in every scene, whether chastising her daughter-in-law for her fears, tenderly dressing her son’s wounds, attacking the opposition or pleading with her son to return to Rome. The picture of Redgrave as Volumnia giddily applauding her warrior son while wearing the same junior military uniform as her young grandson is an unforgettable image of the societal price of sexism.

The rest of the cast is also uniformly strong. Brian Cox (Menenius) and John Kani (Cominius) give nuanced performances as leaders of the patrician party and they are well matched by the oily Tribunes of the People, James Nesbitt (Sicinius) and Paul Jesson (Brutus). Newcomer Jessica Chastain (“The Help”), one of the breakout performers of 2011, makes a surprisingly vivid impression as Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia, who he describes as “my gracious silence.”

For many years, “Coriolanus” was rarely produced, although there has been a resurgence of interest in the play in recent years. Shakespeare’s tricky political tale is very well-served by first-time director Ralph Fiennes (who has played the role onstage). He deserves extra credit for highlighting the homoerotic undertones that many directors shy away from, especially since the end result is a nuanced and fascinating portrayal of thwarted ambition, military bravado and political treachery. This is not a warm and fuzzy film, but it is a compelling and important one.



New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more



(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

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Rupert Murdoch’s powers on full display in ‘Ink’

Media baron helped pave the way for Brexit, Prime Minister Thatcher



Cody Nickell (Larry Lamb) and Andrew Rein (Rupert Murdoch) in ‘Ink’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Margot Schulman Photography)

Through Sept. 24
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814

Yes, Rupert Murdoch’s loathsome traits are many, but his skills to succeed are undeniably numerous. 

In the first scenes of John Graham’s West End and Broadway hit drama “Ink,” an exciting year-long detail from the life of a burgeoning media baron, Murdoch’s powers of persuasion are on full display.

It’s 1969 London. Over dinner with editor Larry Lamb, a young Murdoch shares his plan to buy the Sun and rebrand the dying broadsheet, replacing the Daily Mirror as Britain’s best-selling tabloid. What’s more, he wants to do it in just one year with Lamb at the helm. 

Initially reluctant, Lamb becomes seduced by the idea of running a paper, something that’s always eluded him throughout his career, and something Murdoch, the outsider Australian, understands. Murdoch taunts him, “Not you. Not Larry Lamb, the Yorkshire-born son of a blacksmith, not the guy who didn’t get a degree from Oxford or Cambridge, who didn’t get a degree from anywhere. Not you.”

Still, Lamb, played convincingly by Cody Nickell in Round House Theatre’s stellar season-opener, a co-production with Olney Theatre Center, remains unsure. But Murdoch (a delightfully brash Andrew Rein) is undeterred, and seals the deal with a generous salary. 

Superbly staged by director Jason Loweth, “Ink” is riveting. Its exchanges between Lamb and Murdoch are a strikingly intimate glimpse into ambition involving an ostensibly average editor and a striving money man who doesn’t like people.  

Once on board, Lamb is trolling Fleet Street in search of his launch team, played marvelously by some mostly familiar actors. He makes his most important hire — news editor Brian McConnell (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) — in a steam bath. The remainder of the Sun’s new masthead falls handily into place: Joyce Hopkirk (Kate Eastwood Norris) the women’s page editor whose forward thinking is marred by her casual racism; Zion Jang plays Beverley Goodway, an awkwardly amusing young photographer; persnickety deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley (Michael Glenn) who learns to love ugly things; and an old school sports editor who proves surprisingly versatile, played by Ryan Rillette, Round House’s artistic director. 

At Lamb’s suggestion, the team brainstorms about what interests Sun readers. They decide on celebrities, pets, sports, free stuff, and —rather revolutionarily for the time —TV.  Murdoch is happy to let readers’ taste dictate content and the “Why” of the sacred “five Ws” of journalism is out the window. 

Murdoch is portrayed as a not wholly unlikable misanthrope. He dislikes his editors and pressman alike. He particularly hates unions. His advice to Lamb is not to get too chummy with his subordinates. Regarding the competition, Murdoch doesn’t just want to outperform them, he wants to grind them to dust. 

Loewith leads an inspired design team. Scenic designer Tony Cisek’s imposing, inky grey edifice made from modular walls is ideally suited for Mike Tutaj’s projections of headlines, printed pages, and Rein’s outsized face as Murdoch. Sound designer and composer Matthew M. Nielson ably supplies bar noises and the nonstop, pre-digital newspaper clatter of presses, linotypes, and typewriters.

From a convenient second tiered balcony, the Daily Mirror’s establishment power trio Hugh Cudlipp (Craig Wallace), Chris Lee Howard (Chris Geneback) and Sir Percy (Walter Riddle) overlook all that lies below, discussing new tactics and (mostly failed) strategies to remain on top.   

Increasingly comfortable in the role of ruthless, sleazy editor, Lamb is unstoppable.

Obsessed with overtaking the Daily Mirror’s circulation, he opts for some sketchy reportage surrounding the kidnapping and presumed murder of Muriel McKay, the wife of Murdoch’s deputy Sir Alick (Todd Scofield). The kidnappers mistook Muriel for Murdoch’s then-wife Anna (Sophia Early). Next, in a move beyond the pale, Lamb introduces “Page 3,” a feature spotlighting a topless female model. Awesta Zarif plays Stephanie, a smart young model. She asks Lamb if he would run a semi-nude pic of his similarly aged daughter? His reaction is uncomfortable but undaunted. 

For Murdoch’s purposes, history proves he chose well in Lamb. By year’s end, the Sun is Britain’s most widely read tabloid. Together they give the people what they didn’t know they wanted, proving the pro-Labour Daily Mirror’s hold on the working class is baseless and paving the way for things like Brexit and a Prime Minister Thatcher. 

“Ink” at Round House closes soon. See it if you can.

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Out & About

CAMP Rehoboth’s final concert of the season is almost here

Chorus performs ‘Music of the Night’



CAMP Rehoboth Chorus is ready to close out another season.

CAMP Rehoboth Chorus will perform “Music of the Night” on Friday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. and on Sunday, Oct. 1 at 3 p.m. at Epworth United Methodist Church. 

The chorus will sing more than 36 song selections, including “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I Could’ve Danced All Night” and “In the Still of the Nite.”

Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased on CAMP Rehoboth’s website.

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