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Always look on the bright si-ide of life …
 

     There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who get Monty Python, and those who don’t. The dividing chasm is willingness to accept silliness. Python’s humor is physical (Google Silly Walk), yet it has an underlying winking, silly intelligence that the don’t-gets … well, don’t get.
    Fortunately for Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, the opening night audience for Monty Python’s Spamalot was filled mostly with gets. Based largely on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail — but borrowing from plenty of other Python hits — the Mike Nichols-directed Spamalot premiered on Broadway in 2005 and won three Tonys, including Best Musical. Some of the humor that is directly aimed at a Broadway audience full of Python fanatics fell a little flat in Annapolis (case in point: the Mel Brooks-ish “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway … if you don’t have any Jews”). Some noticeable opening night tentativeness between orchestra and chorus will tighten up over the five-week run. But this is already a delightful production creatively directed by Jeffrey Lesniak and highlighted by stellar individual performances.
    Even if you haven’t seen the movie (and by all means, do, it’s timeless!), you’re in for a silly good time.
    As some Broadway musicals use a thin plot to string together strong songs, Spamalot uses its thin plot — Arthur and his knights searching for the Holy Grail — to string together classic Python comedy bits and a few songs. The songs are meant as much to skewer Broadway musicals as to push along said plot. Python founder and writer Eric Idle wrote the lyrics and book. A parody of Arthurian times, Spamalot revolves around King Arthur (a droll Ruben Vellekoop) and his knights of the “very round” table. The knights are the stars of this show.
    Each plays several roles with comic timing and delivery — not to mention the various speaking and singing voices — all spot on. Standing out in the voice department is David Merrill, whose Sir (Dennis) Galahad gets things moving with a hilarious diatribe about the woes of the working class. He then joins the Lady of the Lake (Alice Goldberg) for a satirical yet lyrical jab at formulaic Broadway called “The Song That Goes Like This.” Merrill’s tenor is a treat. Later he shines as the famed Black Knight, insisting “it’s just a flesh wound” after losing his limbs to his challenger. He reappears as Prince Herbert’s overbearing father, getting into a hilarious back and forth with two guards who can’t quite grasp the concept of “stay here.”
    The other knights — Sir Robin (Fred Fletcher-Jackson), Sir Lancelot (Joshua Mooney) and Sir Bedevere (DJ Wojciehowski) — each contribute several comedic turns. Notable is Mooney as the French Taunter (“I fart in your general direction!”), the Knight of Ni and, of course, Lancelot, whose sexuality is confirmed for him by the singers of “His Name Is Lancelot’ (“he likes to dance a lot; he wears tight pants a lot”). Other standouts: a very funny Steven Baird as Patsy, the king’s dedicated coconut-clopping sound effects toadie; and Austin Heemstra, who narrates things as the historian and gets his own laughs as Not Dead Fred, the Minstrel and Prince Herbert.
    In addition to the very effective duet with Merrill on “The Song That Goes Like This,” Goldberg’s Lady of the Lake takes another shot at Broadway tunes when she returns to the stage in “The Diva’s Lament” (“whatever happened to my part? It was exciting at the start …”).
    Perhaps the most famous Python song of them all, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” opens Act II (and returns very effectively after the curtain call) exclaiming “When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle.” Originally sung in Life of Brian by a chorus of the crucified, it works, very well, here.
    Also working very well is the multi-level castle set by Dan Lavanga and the wide variety of colorful costumes by Linda Swann. Only God and Eric Idle (one and the same in this show) know what was going on behind the scenes during those quick changes.
    Don’t think that because Spamalot runs through August 31 you can just gallop on over and secure a seat. Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has a hit in this one, so the Holy Grail around Annapolis this month may be securing two tickets, not one chalice.


Music director: Steve Przybyiski. Choreographer: Rikki Howie Lacewell. Stage manager: John Nunemaker. Lighting designer: Matt Tillett. Sound designer: Dan Caughran. About 2 hours and 15 minutes including intermission.

Playing thru Aug. 31: Th-Su 8:30pm at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212;
www.summergarden.com.

How many losers does it take to save the universe?

The night Peter Quill’s mother died, he was abducted by aliens. Twenty years later, Peter (Chris Pratt: The LEGO Movie) remembers Earth by a troll doll and his mother’s Walkman. He travels the galaxy scavenging rare treasures from abandoned planets, listening to a mix tape of his mother’s favorite tunes.
    On a treasure run, he steals an orb from an abandoned building. Suddenly, he’s the target of a galaxy-wide manhunt. Turns out the orb will help the evil Ronan (Lee Pace: The Hobbit) exact revenge on the galaxy he blames for killing his warlord father.
    Quill is soon accosted by Gamora (Zoe Saldana: Rosemary’s Baby), an assassin working for Ronan. Gamora is in turn thwarted by two bounty hunters, a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper: American Hustle) and a sentient tree creature Groot (Vin Diesel: Riddick), both also after the price on Quill’s head. This team of sworn enemies, petty thieves, disinterested third parties and psychotics are all that stand between Ronan and the galaxy’s destruction.
    Guardians of the Galaxy is a silly action movie with ridiculous characters, big budget explosions and a machine gun-shooting raccoon. It’s also the best time I’ve had at a movie all summer. Director James Gunn (Super), who co-wrote the script, creates a universe filled with witty heroes, slapstick humor, thrilling action and awe-inspiring visuals. In other words, he understands how to make a film based on a comic book.
    In his big-budget debut, Gunn isn’t overwhelmed. He manages to orchestrate high-paced action that packs emotional punch. But Gunn’s real accomplishment is the script, which imbues a jumble of clichés — like the bad-boy thief with a heart of gold — with credible personalities.
    Script and direction make a good framework for the actors to vitalize. Pratt has long supplied comic relief in film and television; Guardians of the Galaxy is the star turn he deserves. With granite-jawed good looks and a devilish smile, Pratt turns Quill into a Han Solo for the modern era. He’ll shoot first and betray comrades for a quick buck. But when the fate of the universe is on the line, Quill will do the right thing.
    As a tortured assassin looking for vengeance, Saldana is a tough, smart heroine with a tremendous sense of right and wrong. Think of her as the Black Widow — if Marvel gave her an independent storyline.
    Supporting the two leads are a crew of oddballs. It’s not surprising that a tree with eyes, a tattooed and stupid tough and a smart-mouthed raccoon provide comic relief. It is surprising that Gunn allows each character a moment of dignity that makes them emotionally powerful.
    Unlike The Avengers — a movie about special people learning to set their egos aside and work together to be even more fantastic as a unit — Guardians of the Galaxy is a film about what losers can do if given half a chance. Quill’s crew isn’t the brightest, the strongest or the fastest; in fact, we watch each of the members fail spectacularly a few times. But they figure it out in the end. It’s a powerful message for those of us who haven’t discovered how to craft an Iron Man suit.

Great Comic Movie • PG-13 • 121 mins.

This tempest is a summer storm you won’t want to miss.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of an eerie desert isle where a band of royal castaways is marooned in style. No, it’s not a new sitcom or reality show. It’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a supernatural classic of haunting beauty playing for the next two weekends at the Bowie Playhouse. It’s also the Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s last production in that space before moving to new space on Chinquapin Round Road in the fall.
    The story begins before the action with Prospero (Brian Keith MacDonald), the deposed Duke of Milan, living in exile for 12 years with his teenage daughter Miranda (Jenny Donovan). All that time he has been plotting his retribution. Toward that end, he has become a powerful sorcerer by studying books provided for him by his confederate Gonzalo (Joe Palka), who spirited the father and daughter to safety along with basic comforts like a vast library complete with ornate shelving and a leather armchair. In Prospero’s service are a vile semi-human, Caliban (Alex Zavistovich), rightful heir to the island and son of a now-deceased witch, and three sprites: Ariel (Raven Bonniwell), Ceres (Emily Samuelson) and Juno (Micaela Mannix). All help Prospero exact his revenge on his traitorous brother, Antonio (Grant Cloyd). Thus the eponymous tempest, a supernatural storm conjured by Ariel, which is so ferocious you would swear you were caught in a real microburst if only the theater sprinklers were employed.
    The villainous Duke Antonio is shipwrecked along with his co-conspirator Sebastian (Elliott Kashner) and a royal entourage including King Alonso (Brian McDermott), Prince Ferdinand (David Mavricos), Prospero’s old friend Gonzalo, the jester Trinculo (Charlie Retzlaff), the drunken steward Stephano (Kiernan McGowan) and the noblewoman Adrian (Amie Cazel).
    Prince Ferdinand, separated from his shipmates, is delivered to Prospero and Miranda by Ariel so the youngsters may fall in love and marry, as is Miranda’s birthright. What follows is a series of trials involving frustrated lovers, treasonous assassins who play upon Caliban’s resentment, comical inebriates and generally clueless witnesses to supernatural intervention in the natural order of things. Finally, Prospero is returned to power, Ariel is freed from his service and Caliban is presumably left in peace at his master’s imminent departure.
    As with many of Shakespeare’s works, the plot can be overwhelming, so don’t try to follow it too closely. Just bear in mind that this play is more about witchcraft than story, and enjoy the ride.
    This production is technically a more impressive show than Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s typical fare. The simple set features a sheer curtain of oceanic scrim enhanced by dramatic special effects such as strobes, thunder and wind that either comes from a machine or supreme acting. A disorienting sonic décor of shifting chordal suspensions composed for this show by Gregg Martin keeps the magic alive throughout. The sprites cavort in bodysuits of a rich aquatic palette, while the aristocrats glory in resplendent crimson and gold.
    Major performers behind the mystery are Bonniwell and her sprites, Samuelson and Mannix, who gambol and tease and seethe and flit around the auditorium in a dreamy suspension between sea and sky from the moment the doors open until closing curtain, their every move a nuanced ballet. Zavistovich’s man-monster, with his dreadlocks, crazed eyes and rabid smile, menaces and cowers in extremes of animalistic power and vanquished powerlessness. Yet he is an eloquent beast. MacDonald commands the stage as if it truly were his home, and Retzlaff’s physical comedy makes him the king of fools.
    This tempest is a summer storm you won’t want to miss, but you can’t watch it from your porch. Get your tickets now, before they vanish.

Director: Jay D. Brock. Scenic designer: Andrew Cohen. Choreographer: Sally Boyett. Lighting designer: Catharine Girardi. Costume designer: Maggie Cason. Composer/sound designer: Gregg Martin.
Playing thru Aug 17, F at 8pm; Sa at 2pm & 8pm; Su at 3pm at Annapolis Shakespeare Company, Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $30 with discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

The everyday banalities of saving the world

     Günter Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman: Catching Fire) isn’t a man who stands out in a crowd. His shoulders hunch, pulling awkwardly at his ill-fitting jacket. His softening middle hangs over his pants, the product of poor diet and long days at a desk. His weary, weathered face reveals bright blue eyes often peering over the rim of a whiskey glass.
    Bachmann looks like hundreds of dissatisfied office workers who flood the bars of Hamburg. But he’s not. He’s the head of a small intelligence agency tasked with rooting out terror cells. Bachmann’s unremarkable appearance is exactly what makes him so good at his job.
    Bachmann’s current obsession is Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi: Inja Iran), a wealthy Islamic philanthropist who may be funneling money to terrorists.
    When illegal Chechen immigrant Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin: 4 Days in May), washes up on the shores of Hamburg, Bachmann sees his opportunity to break open a terror cell. Issa claims to be the heir to a Russian warlord’s massive fortune and a refugee from a Russian torture camp. He was also part of an extremist Islamic group. Bachmann is eager to see if Issa will use his new inheritance to help Abdullah fund a terror cell.
    Can Bachmann prove Abdullah is a dubious character? Is Issa a threat to Germany? What is the human cost of keeping a country safe?
    Based on a novel by John le Carré, A Most Wanted Man is much like the character of Bachmann: unremarkable, unless you’re paying attention. Director Anton Corbijn (The American) takes time to build the Hamburg environment. The offices are dingy, filled with papers and outdated technology. Dirty streets spill over from a heavily industrialized waterfront. Corbijn takes his time making the life of Hamburg teem in the streets.
    Because Corbijn spends so much time setting the scenes and developing his characters, he tears through plot at a breakneck speed. Like 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the movie is more rewarding to viewers familiar with the novel. If you don’t know the broad strokes of the plot and characters before buying a ticket, you’ll need to focus intently.
    As Bachmann, Hoffman is the quintessential le Carré hero. He’s cynical, drab and fiercely devoted to a country that allows him to do terrible things to save it.
    Hoffman is the center of a powerful cast that includes Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and Daniel Brühl. The one weak spot in this impressive spy thriller is Rachel McAdams’ Annabel, whose German accent quakes when she has more than a few lines of dialog and who isn’t quite believable as a tough human rights attorney.
    If you’re looking for a classic spy drama with a feeling of realism, A Most Wanted Man won’t disappoint. See it to say goodbye to one of America’s finest actors in a performance that is worthy of his legacy.

Great Drama • R • 121 mins.

Plenty of solid hits light up nine innings

     Colonial Players’ One-Act Play Festival has been a biyearly summer event since 1999. This year’s installment, THIS AND THAT, presents nine plays across two slates, THIS and THAT, running on alternating dates. The Festival is an occasion for novice directors, production staff and actors to produce known and unknown works under the tutelage of seasoned mentors. Thus, such talents as Rick Wade, past Colonial  Players president and author of the company’s classic A Christmas Carol, appear alongside theater newbies or actors who are cutting their directorial teeth.
    This year’s directors, in the order their shows are listed, include Dave Carter, Timothy Sayles, Rebecca Feibel, Robin Schwartz, Cseni Szabo, Scott Nichols, Dave Walter, Mark T. Allen and Lelia TahaBurt. Their stories range from comedy to tragedy, yet a theme in all but one is that things are not as they seem.

THIS, playing July 25 and 27
     Jerry Casagrande’s Among Shrubs and Ivy, which debuted in 2011 at Silver Spring Stage, follows John (Robert Eversberg) through a decade of vacations at a seaside campground owned by crusty Korean War vet Frank (Martin Hayes). With few but powerful words, they bond over their shared love of the property, their families and the value of continuity in a changing world. With Laurel Kenney, Gregory Anderson and Chloe Kubit.
    Me and My Shadow is a riotous look at duplicity when two classmates reunite with inner voices in-tow, speaking unspeakable thoughts. Playwright Rich Orloff’s forthright comedy follows an insecure writer, Susanne (Bernadette Arvidson), and her Super Ego, Susie (Rosalie Daelemans), to a luncheon with Susanne’s successful publisher friend Jacqueline (Kathryn Huston), and her Id, Jacquie (Peggy Friedman). Even the waitress, Andrea (Laurel Kenney), is funny as Andi (Kubit) expresses her candid thoughts about her customers.
    Sure Thing by David Ives is a take on the dating game reminiscent of Groundhog Day. Bill (Brandon Bentley) and Betty (Sarah Smith) grapple with pick-up lines and small talk, rejecting each other’s overtures with a game show buzzer until they stumble on the right formula for starting a relationship.
    James H. Wise’s comedy Mugger in the Park, voted an Audience Favorite at last year’s Watermelon One-Act Festival in Leonardtown, continues to delight with Kathryn Huston’s portrayal of Selma, the stereotypical little old lady who is stuck up by a thug (Jason Vaughan). Selma prevails with her retinue of complaints, kvetching and clever one-upsmanship. Martin Hayes and Robert Eversberg play Selma’s husband and a second thug.
    In Tough Cookies, by Brett Hursey, a date fizzles when the waiter (Jason Vaughan) can’t supply an entitled jerk, Chaz (Brandon Bentley), with a fortune cookie worthy of its name, while his date, Roxanne (Kenney), racks up paper compliments and blessings.

THAT, playing July 24 and 26
     Queen of the Northern Monkeys, by Jason Vaughan, presents a snippet of life from the 1957 Roman holiday of Danish Baroness Karen Blixen (Carol Cohen), aka Isak Dineson, who wrote the memoir Out of Africa. This lovely episode of her life, exploring her friendship with American literary titan Eugene Walter (Kevin Wallace) and her secretary Clara (Erica Jureckson), feels more like an excerpt from a larger work than a complete work in itself.
    Jeff Stolzer’s award-winning satire Emergency Room pokes fun at the broken healthcare system, pitting a patient (Kim Ethridge) against a corrupt hospital where the doctor and billing clerk (both played by Erica Jureckson) and security guard (Richard Atha-Nicholls) conspire to keep her captive. The exaggerated premise would be funnier if not for the frustration and sick humor.
    Rick Wade’s Foxgloves is a smart intrigue that takes place at an airport bar where widower Dennis (Danny Brooks) and his traveling companion Jerry (Atha-Nicholls) discover how much they have in common. Bernadette Arvidson plays the sympathetic waitress.
    Alien Love Triangle, by Katherine Glover, is a hilarious sci-fi thriller starring Richard Atha-Nicholls and Erica Jureckson as two astronauts studying life and finding love with K’Sh, an amoeba-like creature with three heads (Kubit, Sam Morton and Brooke Penne). 
    Some productions are more polished than others, but each slate offers at least a couple solid wins. It’s summer fun for sultry nights with a seed of surprise.


This and That: One Act Play Festival. Stage Manager: Ernie Morton. Sound: Brittany Rankin and Richard Atha-Nicholls. Lights: Eric Gasior and Shirley Panek. Costumes: Hannah Sturm and Kaelynn Miller. Set: Lyana Morton and Edd Miller.

Playing thru July 27, Th thru Sa at 8pm and Su at 2 at Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis. $10 per slate or $15 for both; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.
 

Is privacy possible in the Facebook Age?

     Jay (Jason Segel: How I Met Your Mother) and Annie (Cameron Diaz: The Other Woman) were insatiable. Their voracious sex life led to an unplanned pregnancy and marriage. Over a decade later, Jay and Annie still love each other, and they are flourishing professionally and personally, but their sex life has gone belly-up. Though both miss the intimacy, they can’t seem to find time for each other.
    Jay, who works at a radio station, has a complicated musical filing system that requires two iPads. For some reason, it also requires him to purchase new iPads every few months. He distributes his old ones to friends, family and occasionally business associates.
    Writer Annie’s popular blog on ­motherhood has attracted the attention of a huge corporation. They’d like her to be the face of their mommy blog, as long as she promises to keep the material wholesome. Thrilled at a chance to advance her career, which has stalled since the kids arrived, she plans to celebrate with a wild night of passion.
    Alas, Jay and Annie are no longer in synch. Things get awkward until Annie has a brilliant idea: Use Jay’s iPad to make a sex tape and spice up their DOA sex lives.
    Apparently, a camera lens is all you need to fix your marital ennui; the sex tape works like a charm. Happy to have reignited the spark, Annie tells Jay to delete the recording from the iPad. In post-coital bliss, Jay forgets and synchs his iPad to his computer. Now, thanks to the cloud and carelessness, Jay and Annie’s X-rated romp has been loaded onto all the iPads that Jay has given away.
    Can the couple retrieve them before their reputations are ruined? Or should they film a sequel?
    Rude, raunchy and ridiculous, Sex Tape is funny in spite of its plot. The misplaced sex tape has been done in sitcoms over the years, so the concept of a suburban couple terrified that their friends and family will find out that they have sex isn’t a new one. Still, the ease with which information is shared in the digital age could offer up some interesting problems for Annie and Jay.
    Director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher) isn’t interested in the implications of our media-obsessed culture. His interest is having Diaz flail and make funny faces while Segel flops from pratfall to pratfall. Nor is the crisis believable given what we know about the characters. It seems improbable that a guy who has cycled through at least six iPads in a year knows almost nothing about the cloud, which Segel’s Jay seems to think is a magical entity. There’s also a way to erase data remotely from synched iPads, but Segel and Diaz are too busy panicking to call tech support.
    Lazy plotting and lazier character development make Sex Tape a substandard film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t funny. Kasdan has stacked the deck with so many weird situations and outrageous lines that you’ll find something funny. Diaz and Segel are veteran comedians who can land a punch line out of sheer will. They are aided by supporting players who wring laughs out of the meager script. Rob Lowe, in particular, does some weird and wonderful work as Diaz’s seemingly conservative boss.
    Watching the movie is a bit like coming across your neighbor’s sex tape: You know you shouldn’t watch it and it probably won’t be that well-made, but that won’t necessarily stop you.

Fair Comedy • R • 94 mins.

Apes are as violent and stupid as humans in this sci-fi sequel

     It’s been a decade since chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis: The Hobbit) freed the apes of San Francisco to seek sanctuary in the redwood forests across the bridge. Thanks to the animal testing Caesar and his crew endured, these apes are hyper-intelligent. They have hunting parties, schools for their young and their own form of Hammurabi’s code carved into their simian city. Their society prospers under the leadership of Caesar and his lieutenant Koba (Toby Kebbell: The Counselor).
    But the Alzheimer’s treatment drug that empowered Caesar and his fellow apes was toxic to humans. As Caeser and his subjects build their civilization high in the redwoods, humanity is wracked by the simian flu. Those who don’t succumb to the virus die in the riots and looting that follow.
    It’s been two years since any ape has encountered a human, and the simians are content that their former captors have slaughtered each other into extinction. So the apes are surprised when they come across humans wandering in their forest in search of a hydroelectric plant.
    Not as surprised as the humans, who panic and shoot one of the apes.
    Koba, who was scarred and abused by laboratory scientists, wants to murder the people. Caesar, who was raised by a loving scientist, believes that humans and apes can co-exist. In a show of mercy, he tells the humans to leave and never return.
    Shocked by talking apes, the humans skedaddle. But back in their survivors’ colony, they tell tales of loquacious simians. Surviving humanity divides into two camps: those who see the apes as possible allies in their quest to survive and those who want to destroy the monsters they blame for the outbreak of the simian flu.
    This reboot of the iconic sci-fi films has cleverly focused on the apes’ perspective, but it can’t escape poor plotting and ridiculous dialog. Ninety percent of the conflict could be solved if the characters (both ape and human) spent five minutes talking.
    Apes are powerful creatures who should be fearsome predators if gifted with extra brainpower. Instead, director Matt Reeves (Let Me In) films the simian equivalent of a Rambo movie, with Koba charging the human colony on horseback while firing two machine guns as fire blazes in the background. Reeves is attempting to make an iconic image, but what he creates is so ridiculous that some viewers snicker during the grand battle for the fate of the planet.
    With the ending forgone, Reeves must rely on the strength of his actors to give his audience reason to care. The apes — all created from live-action performances covered with computer-generated images — are a testament to technology and the actors behind it.
    Humans, however, lack even basic character development. They are divided into two groups: the violent bad guys who won’t listen and the wide-eyed good guys who blindly trust the apes.
    Though it features groundbreaking CGI and amazing leaps in motion-capture effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a collection of missed opportunities. Without plot-driven tension or compelling performances from the homo sapiens, the film drags. With people like this, it’s hard not to root for the apes.

Fair Science Fiction • PG-13 • 130 mins.

Apes are as violent and stupid as humans in this sci-fi sequel

     It’s been a decade since chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis: The Hobbit) freed the apes of San Francisco to seek sanctuary in the redwood forests across the bridge. Thanks to the animal testing Caesar and his crew endured, these apes are hyper-intelligent. They have hunting parties, schools for their young and their own form of Hammurabi’s code carved into their simian city. Their society prospers under the leadership of Caesar and his lieutenant Koba (Toby Kebbell: The Counselor).
    But the Alzheimer’s treatment drug that empowered Caesar and his fellow apes was toxic to humans. As Caeser and his subjects build their civilization high in the redwoods, humanity is wracked by the simian flu. Those who don’t succumb to the virus die in the riots and looting that follow.
    It’s been two years since any ape has encountered a human, and the simians are content that their former captors have slaughtered each other into extinction. So the apes are surprised when they come across humans wandering in their forest in search of a hydroelectric plant.
    Not as surprised as the humans, who panic and shoot one of the apes.
    Koba, who was scarred and abused by laboratory scientists, wants to murder the people. Caesar, who was raised by a loving scientist, believes that humans and apes can co-exist. In a show of mercy, he tells the humans to leave and never return.
    Shocked by talking apes, the humans skedaddle. But back in their survivors’ colony, they tell tales of loquacious simians. Surviving humanity divides into two camps: those who see the apes as possible allies in their quest to survive and those who want to destroy the monsters they blame for the outbreak of the simian flu.
    This reboot of the iconic sci-fi films has cleverly focused on the apes’ perspective, but it can’t escape poor plotting and ridiculous dialog. Ninety percent of the conflict could be solved if the characters (both ape and human) spent five minutes talking.
    Apes are powerful creatures who should be fearsome predators if gifted with extra brainpower. Instead, director Matt Reeves (Let Me In) films the simian equivalent of a Rambo movie, with Koba charging the human colony on horseback while firing two machine guns as fire blazes in the background. Reeves is attempting to make an iconic image, but what he creates is so ridiculous that some viewers snicker during the grand battle for the fate of the planet.
    With the ending forgone, Reeves must rely on the strength of his actors to give his audience reason to care. The apes — all created from live-action performances covered with computer-generated images — are a testament to technology and the actors behind it.
    Humans, however, lack even basic character development. They are divided into two groups: the violent bad guys who won’t listen and the wide-eyed good guys who blindly trust the apes.
    Though it features groundbreaking CGI and amazing leaps in motion-capture effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a collection of missed opportunities. Without plot-driven tension or compelling performances from the homo sapiens, the film drags. With people like this, it’s hard not to root for the apes.

Fair Science Fiction • PG-13 • 130 mins.

The formula for the chemistry of commitment

     I Do! I Do! has been done over and over in community theaters, repertory theaters, dinner theaters and church basements since it closed on Broadway in 1968. One reason is that its two-person cast and simple single set of a four-poster bed make it far easier and less expensive to mount than the typical big-cast-and-chorus musical, thus very attractive to those looking to bring in an audience at relatively little cost.
    That’s not the only reason. The material was lightweight even for the 1960s, and the score produced only one recognizable hit. Yet both bring so much humor and empathy that anyone who is, has been or will be married can identify with Agnes and Michael Snow. It is their union the show follows for some 50 years from the honeymoon night all the way through to the sale of the house they lived in, loved in, argued in, raised kids in and sang to each other in for all those decades. It was written to begin in 1895 and end in 1945.
    Infinity’s production, tightly directed by Tina Marie Casamento and starring Daniella Dalli and Craig Laurie, takes a more modern setting, starting in the late 1950s and ending in the current day. The story is timeless enough that the change is barely noticeable.
    On Broadway, I Do! I Do! was a hit because the personalities and chemistry of stars Mary Martin and Robert Preston raised the level of the material. Infinity’s production is likely to be very popular for the same reason. Both Dalli and Laurie have personality plus, and their vocal chemistry elevates a score that was never one of Broadway’s more popular. Together, they turn the show’s hit, “My Cup Runneth Over,” a pop smash for big-baritone-voiced Ed Ames, into a more real-life paean to growing old together.
    The chemistry between Dalli and Laurie doesn’t stop with their vocals. As wide-eyed young love dims with the passing of the years — and the giggling embarrassment of the honeymoon night gives way to the inevitable vocal sparring of two people wondering years later whether they are where and with whom they want to be — both of these New York actors display an empathy for their characters and each other that remains strong throughout the rises and falls of a long marriage. That arc — from love to frustration to anger to cheating to loneliness and back — is one we’ve all seen on stage and film time and time again. Still, these actors know how to deliver a vocal quip and a physical take in ways that make it all seem fresh. Through it all, they never lose sight of the depth of feeling that must anchor each of these moments, just as it anchors the ups and downs of any long-term relationship.
    Dalli takes Agnes through the decades with a charming and knowing subtlety, gradually aging in body and blooming in attitude but never varying from the personality that makes her the anchor of this production. Her beautiful, rich soprano is the perfect vehicle to carry the emotional ups and downs of Agnes’ songs.
    Laurie is more of a character actor than a leading man à la Robert Preston, so we get a Michael who is a bit broader than one might expect. Laurie pulls it off because of that chemistry with Dalli, because he connects with the audience in a way many actors can’t and because, through it all, he never loses touch with that aforementioned depth.
    Music director David Libby keeps it simple, with pianist Paul Campbell playing a single keyboard in accompaniment because, frankly, that’s all two people singing a nice, relatively simple score really need. A single live keyboard played well is almost always more emotionally satisfying and effective than a recorded and digitized orchestra.
    That simple set with the four-poster bed? Turns out it’s not so simple. Being a professional theater company, Infinity knows how to get the most out of a set, and does so with this one. What appears to be just a big headboard, for example, turns into everything from the altar of a church to a quilt of lights mimicking Agnes’ and Michael’s raised voices in the same ritual married couples everywhere have engaged in since time began: talking past each other from opposite sides of the house.
    It is this, and so much more of ourselves, our parents and our married friends, that we recognize in I Do! I Do! The play is a salute to the institution of marriage, and Infinity carries on the tradition delightfully.


Scenic designer Paul Tate DePoo III; Sound designer Wes Shippee; Stage manager Geoffrey Weiss; Costume designer Tristan Raines; Lighting designer Jimmy Lawlor.

About 2 hours and 15 minutes including intermission. Runs through August 3: Thursdays at 2pm and 7pm; Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm; added performances on Wednesday, July 23 at 7pm and Friday, August 1 at 8pm. Advance tickets $35, $40 at the door (seniors $34/$29): call 877-501-8499 or visit www.infinitytheatrecompany.com

Extinction is the right ending

After the altruistic Autobots defeated the evil Decepticons in the Battle of Chicago, the American government had enough of alien warfare. The military ended its alliance with the Autobots, and both Autobots and Decepticons were declared illegal immigrants.
    So you can bet that the junked semi-truck found by broke robotics inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg: Lone Survivor) is more than it seems. In repair, he discovers that the wrecker is actually Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Yeager plans to fix up the Transformer to sell to the government.
    The CIA, led by the nefarious Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer: Think Like a Man Too), is running a black op, hunting down Autobots and Decepticons. Military units rend the Transformers into scrap sold to tech company KIS. Led by CEO Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci: Muppets Most Wanted), KIS is attempting to reverse-engineer the Transformers into a fully automated American army.
    Key to the plan is the recovery of Optimus Prime. So Yeager’s discovery brings in blazing guns. As death threatens, Yeager realizes the government might not be on the right side of the law and helps Prime escape. Now fugitives, Yeager and his family help Prime rebuild the Autobots and fight a new alien threat.
    Can Yeager and his family survive? Will Americans ever learn that robots that look like cars are our friends? How many IQ points are you willing to waste on this flick?
    Tortuously long and completely incomprehensible, Transformers: Age of Extinction is an exercise in endurance. Director Michael Bay (Pain and Gain) has set the cinematic bar so low you’ll need a deep-sea probe to find it.
    Avoiding plot at every turn, Bay fills the film with explosions; confusing action sequences; low-angle shots; esteemed actors belittling their craft and career for a paycheck; and female characters with no agency and even fewer clothes. Impressively, Bay has managed to include a half-naked woman, product placement or an American flag in just about every sequence of this two-and-a-half-hour car commercial.
    To make bad worse, Bay has taken time out of the movie’s busy explosions schedule for the dullest family drama ever committed to film. Yeager doesn’t want his sexy daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz: Bates Motel) to date because he feels he owns her body. When Tessa reveals a secret boyfriend, Yeager and the boy fight bitterly about who gets to tell her what to do.
    Mark Wahlberg has made a lucrative career vacillating between terrible and inoffensive performances. He seems at the mercy of his costars, who either elevate or expose him. When his costars are CGI hunks of metal and equally vapid humans, Wahlberg is lost. His skill extends to flexing his biceps and grimacing while shooting a gun.
    Veteran actors Tucci and Grammer add little. In campy performances that prove once and for all that acting is a job first, art form second, these actors debase themelves for paychecks.
    Transformers: Age of Extinction is the cinematic equivalent of a concussion: It’s difficult to stay awake, painful and you’ll feel slightly duller for a few hours if you survive the brain trauma.

Painful Action • PG-13 • 165 mins.