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The Country House
The Fortress of Solitude
New re-releases of Led Zeppelin
Eric Clapton and Monty Python on Blu-ray
I saw two plays recently. The Country House, which stars Blythe Danner, is referred to by critics as an updated mash-up of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and The Seagull but takes place in Williamstown in the present and features an acting family and a lot of unfulfilled sexual yearning. Playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, the Manhattan Theatre Club production is directed by Daniel Sullivan and features one the best ensemble casts I can ever remember seeing, including the adorable Sarah Steele, David Rasche, Kate Jennings Grant, Eric Lange and Daniel Sunjata as the hearthrob. It’s a great “play” and the kind of Broadway experience that, as this wonderful script makes clear, is an increasingly endangered species.
Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude is one of my favorite books of the past twenty years and one of the best novels ever written about either New York City—in this case Brooklyn—and the transporting power of popular music. It was an awfully ambitious musical at the Public Theater. The book, published in 2003, is a complicated chronicle of a Jewish boy growing up in a largely African-American Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s a little hard for me to judge the play’s book because it’s drawn directly from a book I regularly teach (at Brooklyn College, no less) and know parts of by heart. Much has been omitted, naturally the main storyline remains intact. What is decidedly most awesome about the play though is the music—it’s awesome because music is the perfect way to communicate a story that is in part about the power of music (and the power of its loss) and awesome because the music itself—a combination of soul, funk, punk and rap is awesome with some to spare, especially the soul ballads, which carry a great burden on their shoulders if you’re familiar with the novel. It’s a limited run, so go quickly if you’re going to go.
The Led Zeppelin reissue campaign continues with reissues of Led Zeppelin IV (the third best-selling album in U.S. history sayeth the publicity people) and Houses Of The Holy. As with the previous deluxe editions, both albums have been newly remastered by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page and are accompanied by a second disc of companion audio comprised entirely of unreleased music related to that album. There are lots of formats but I got the two-CD deluxe edition of both. They are what they are. Great to many, the Devil’s spawn to many others. I have gone in both directions depending on my age and the song. I still wish “Stairway to Heaven” had never been imagined (or stolen depending who you ask)—I prefer the version by Little Roger and the Goosebumps—but I think Led Zep got better as they went along, at least through Physical Graffiti, so I think these are pretty great, if you fast-forward through “Stairway.” Both albums have been remixed and the