Sunday, July 29, 2007

Arabesque of treachery

27 July 2007

As I was saying, I went over to Dr. Deviancy’s to take in the series opener of Damages. I confess to being a bit of a Glenn Close fan. She’s a very musical actress. By that I don’t mean musical, as in stage musical (at which, of course, she’s proven her total competency – not so much because of her musicianship, but simply because she’s a compleat genius actor), but rather an innate musicality to her approach to performing, unlocking a character – probing, if you will, its tonal range and rhythms, its harmonic resonance and registration. (It’s something I think almost all great actors have, whether they’re conscious of it or not.) It’s a quality very much in evidence in just about every scene she appears. She plays herself – her character – a high-power class-action New York litigator ne plus ultra – no less than she plays her foes and foils, who might as well fall into place as her rhythm section. But of course there would be no keeping up with a lawyer like Patty Hewes. She keeps re-writing the tunes even as her opponents – and perhaps her colleagues – still think she’s just modulating into a new key. It’s clear from her very first appearance on screen that Close is playing the kind of lawyer who brings two or three playbooks to a case and is completely at ease juggling all of them.

The character, Patty Hewes, is a stealth warrior, a kagemusha, ‘shadow’ warrior playing it as the gayest cavalier; she’s a ‘Pimpernel’ in the biggest legal poker game in the world. The case ‘at bar’ is a class-action suit against Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), a speculator-cum-executive in the Ken Lay/Conrad Black Enron/Hollinger mold, though as Danson plays it, the character seems a somewhat more textured composite – closer to one of the subalterns like Andrew Fastow, etc. (Between here and Wall Street, there are hundreds if not thousands of them.) The story unfolds in flashback, partially through the perspective of a bright new hire to her firm, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), who Patty takes under her wing, immediately involving her in this high-stakes case. As it turns out, there may be any number of reasons for Ellen’s recruitment to the firm and this particular case besides her talent and litigation acumen, just as there are any number of contingent strategies for winning the case. By the episode’s end – with the ingénue associate bloodied and half-naked in police custody, which is where it began – it seems as if she has been used at least partially to bait the rather large hook that will be required to reel in the shrewd and deadly Frobisher.

Aside from the hokiness of some of the set-ups and the ‘poor ingénue caught in a spider’s web of intrigue’ plot device, Dr. Deviancy (who is, after all, the expert here) faulted the show for what he regarded as mediocre production values – not so much the cutting around the flash-back format of the story, but the lighting which seemed to vary more or less in tandem with the editing. Setting aside budget considerations (i.e., production costs might well have been trimmed simply because of the salary costs of Close and Danson), I actually loved the cutting and the lighting. The characters, including Hewes/Close, especially Close, are presented in vignettes and fragmentary impressions – the way we might encounter such people in life – pieces of a puzzle to be pressed in place as the picture-story takes shape. The characters both offer clues and are themselves clues in this story; and their layered lives/characters hint at the stories beneath the stories beneath the stories that drive this kind of narrative. It looked as if many of the scenes were shot with available light; and some are simply a bit dark. But I love this lighting style. No noir nostalgia here – just that it’s appropriate to the story. Is that my particular bias? I do wonder about it (cf., my remarks in the blog about The Hoax). There is a sense in which contemporary life seems to move on the ocean floor, the light (brighter only because of all the devastated plankton) filtered through mile-long depths of denial, deception and mendacity. Denial is the key (trust me to know). It’s the flip-side of Welles’ “bright, guilty world” – the murky, guilt-free world.

That’s the joy of an actress like Close in a part like this. The guilt is only the softest bass-line continuo to the arabesque of treachery Close knows how to play like a coloratura soprano singing the Queen of the Night.

Night, queens, treachery – I digress. There was treachery in Shirley Tse’s intriguing show at Shoshana Wayne – which was closing when Renée Petropoulos was opening at Rosamund Felsen – her trademark plastics woven into what looked like a loom. Or was it a rack? Walking into the gallery, I was immediately riveted, but, unlike the Petropoulos, there’s no going back. I’ll spare you my cursory notes for the moment.

Did I mention Dr. Deviancy introduced me to his fabulous cat? Seventeen and magnificent. What name can be worthy of such feline splendor? I’ll call him Dr. Divinity. Excuse me while I curl up into a ball for a few moments. Miao (rhymes with ciao).

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