“Sloane’s a genius! I mean…an evil, horrible genius, but still…he’s a genius…”

I’d planned to write about this at the end of last week, but realized in time that I couldn’t write anything until after the fact. Danielle and I drove to New York City for the weekend to attend our friend Will’s “thirty-plus-two” birthday party. Or, rather, to attend his surprise “thirty-plus-two” birthday party. Will reads my blog, so writing about it ahead of time would’ve ruined the surprise, I think. Hunches… I have them. But that didn’t occur to me until I set myself before my computer to write about the then-pending, now-passed weekend. Sometimes I’m smart and dense at the same time, which explains why I paid for my flight to Vegas on United because I couldn’t use my USAirways miles even though I then entered my USAirways frequent flier number with my purchased ticket. Can you tell why I love movies and books and TV shows and all things with an ending that I block out until it arrives? I don’t suspend disbelief so much as I suspend comprehension. So I barely caught myself before I made the big mistake of broadcasting “Will’s having a surprise birthday party!” But now it’s done, the surprise having remained intact until the end, so I can write what I was going to write on Friday.

We hadn’t been to New York since November of 2003, so this was a chance to get back and enjoy the city. And with Danielle involved, any trip to New York requires Broadway. She prefers musicals to plays, while I prefer plays to musicals. Mostly, I think that’s because she’s loved Broadway forever, while I’ve only begun to appreciate theatre in the last five years or so. I enjoy it, but I need to work my way up to Les Miserables or something else like that. Give me a story told in prose and I’ll love the process more. There’s only one way I can enjoy “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and that’s (unfortunately) not on Broadway. So, mostly I prefer plays.

The last three times we’ve been to New York we’ve seen a show. We saw Rent because it’s well-reviewed and a less-traditional style of musical. Think more rock and less Jazz Hands. I even listen to the original cast recording now, appreciating the story more every time I listen. It doesn’t hurt that Danielle and I are BFFs (best friends forever) with one of the original cast members. And by BFF, I mean he’s Danielle’s friend’s husband’s best friend and we went to a baby shower at his apartment one time and talked to him for a few minutes. As you’ll soon discover, official BFF status is easy to achieve with Danielle and me.

After Rent, we saw The Violet Hour because I wanted to see a play instead of a musical. I’d seen Side Man at the Kennedy Center in D.C. before, so I knew I liked plays. When Danielle and I searched for suitable plays to enjoy, we settled on The Violet Hour for the same reason I chose to see Side Man: the star(s) of the play is (are) famous. The minimum is one, but the more the merrier.

In the case of Side Man, Andrew McCarthy and Michael XXXXXXXXX starred. I was born in 1973, so the core formative years for my movie appreciation occurred from 1982-1987. Those years meant the Brat Pack of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and the coup de grace, St. Elmo’s Fire. I was always partial to the characters Andrew McCarthy played because he was always the outsider of the Brat Pack, the one who fit in but only on the periphery. That would’ve been me if I’d tried harder to be popular. And, really, who doesn’t absolutely heart Mannequin? I thought so.

The play we chose for the next visit had to meet the same standard, of course, and The Violet Hour fit that. It starred Scott Foley, who played Noel Crane on Felicity. (I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m really just a 12-year-old girl. You thought I was kidding?) Plus, Scott Foley was married to Jennifer Garner. Really, need I say more? Any time I can be one degree of separation from Jennifer Garner with someone in the room, I’m gonna pass that up? Ummm, no. So we saw The Violet Hour and loved it, despite the tepid reaction it received from our BFF.

Knowing that we were coming to New York for the birthday party, Danielle and I knew we had to see a show. Spamalot and Avenue Q were our first choices because we’d decided on a musical-play-musical-play rotation, but tickets for those two were either sold-out or the available seats were bad. Then we remembered that The Paris Letter was headed to off-Broadway after it’s successful run in Los Angeles. We didn’t know anything about the show other than it’s stars, which is really all anyone needs to know, right. As I’ve written, it is for us.

And how does The Paris Letter rank on the star scale? Wow. Wow. The L.A. cast, which we hoped would be moving with the show to New York as we’d read, included Neil Patrick Harris, who played Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. More importantly, it starred Neil Patrick Harris getting naked. Even as a heterosexual male, anyone who tells me that, given the chance to see Neil Patrick Harris naked, they’d say no, I reply with this: liar. I don’t want to see it; I have to see it. That’s reality. It just is.

Of course, Neil Patrick Harris wasn’t the only star worth seeing who might be moving to the New York cast. Far bigger on the critical Fame Importance to Tony&#153 scale was Ron Rifkin, better known to the world as Arvin Sloane on Alias. Not only does Ron Rifkin offer that one degree of separation to Jennifer Garner criteria, he is an Alias cast member. AN ALIAS CAST MEMBER, PEOPLE! You know Alias, The Greatest Television Show E
ver&#153. I mean, duh. Talk about the easiest ticket purchase in the history of ticket purchases.

The moment we confirmed that the show would be playing in New York last weekend, we bought tickets. The cast hadn’t been confirmed, but we hoped. And our trip coincided with the show opening for previews. If Ron Rifkin or Neil Patrick Harris moved with the show to New York, little chance existed that we’d see an understudy. If we saw Neil Patrick Harris or Ron Rifkin’s understudy, Bitter Time&#153 would last until 2037. That would be bad. Very, very bad. But we were lucky smart because we bought tickets to preview weekend. Problem averted, if Neil Patrick Harris and/or Ron Rifkin followed the play to New York.

In April I saw this announcement:

Ron Rifkin of ABC’s “Alias” and a Tony winner for his role in the long-running Broadway revival of “Cabaret” will star in the New York premiere of “The Paris Letter,” Jon Robin Baitz’s play about friendship, family and secrets.

The play will open June 9 off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre. Preview performances begin May 13.

Rifkin, 65, is a veteran of Baitz’s plays, having appeared off-Broadway in both “The Substance of Fire” (as well as in the film version) and “Three Hotels.”

In “The Paris Letter,” which will be directed by Doug Hughes, Rifkin portrays an investment counselor confronting his past actions. Also in the cast are John Glover, Daniel Eric Gold, Lee Pace and Michele Pawk.

Rifkin starred in the world premiere of “The Paris Letter,” which was done last December in a different production in California.

I admit I was a little bummed when I read that Neil Patrick Harris would not move with the show to New York, but the key actor, Ron Rifkin, remained. I was ecstatic at the prospect of seeing an actor from Alias on the stage. I mean, really, it’s Alias, The Greatest Television Show Ever&#153! The only task left was to learn what the play is about. Here’s the summary:

The Paris Letter is about sex, power and money. Wall Street powerhouse Sandy Sonenberg finds his personal and professional life threatened by the unraveling secrets of his past. A tragic game of financial and moral betrayal is played out over four decades and between two friends at the cost of family, friendship, love and marriage.

The story is much deeper than that simple description, but I won’t give it away. The play is exceptional. The writing is fantastic. The story moves along well, with details unravelling at just the right pace. All five actors delivered superb performances. There were a few minor blips in the process, but the play is in previews, so that makes sense. I actually appreciated that, because it gives the same feel as a concert. If I want perfection, I’ll listen to the cd. I recommend it.

As an unexpected bonus, our seats were on the left side of the theatre, so we had a specific viewpoint of the play. We could see the actors as they lined up on their mark before entering the scene. We could see the workers behind the doors whenever a new prop moved to the stage. Normally, I would’ve thought this would detract from the play, but it didn’t. I’ve never been in community theater or high school plays or anything like that. I don’t know the inner workings of how a play is staged. Seeing how it happens fascinated me. Short of “martian walks on stage”, it couldn’t have been cooler. And Ron Rifkin faced our direction for most of the play. It was the best of all possible scenarios.

When the show ended, we clapped with everyone else. Unlike everyone else, we knew our fun was only beginning. Being the theatre junkie that she is, Danielle knew to wait outside the stage door after the show for the chance to meet the cast Ron Rifkin. Rather than explain all of the details, I’ll send you here, where Danielle has written an excellent review of our waiting outside the theatre. (We also had a special bonus based on our seat location, which she also explains.) The short version is that Ron Rifkin was the third cast member to leave the theatre, about 45 minutes after the play ended. This is what happened when he left the theatre:

Danielle: “Mr. Rifkin? Would you mind signing an autograph?”

Ron Rifkin: “Of course not. I’d be happy to. Oh, please tell me you didn’t wait all this time for me. I feel like I’ve wasted your time!”

Danielle: “Oh, no you didn’t! We had to wait, because it’s YOU!”

Ron Rifkin: (taking my Alias dvd with Arvin Sloane on the label) “Which season is this?”

Me: “Season three.”

Ron Rifkin: “Which season is your favorite?”

Me: “Season two, probably.”

Ron Rifkin: “Why?”

Me: “Because of Lena Olin.”

Ron Rifkin: “Oh, so you have the hots for Lena Olin?”

Me: “I think she added an interesting dynamic to the show. Though, this season is great because it’s getting back to the series, with Rambaldi and cliff-hanger endings.”

Ron Rifkin: “This guy [points Jon Robin Baitz, who wrote The Paris Letter] wrote last week’s episode of Alias.”

Me: (Turning to face Mr. Baitz) “I loved last week’s episode. It was well-written.”

Jon Robin Baitz: “Thank you.”

Me: (Turning back to face Ron Rifkin) “I don’t understand why ABC thinks that viewers can’t handle the episodes that aren’t self-contained. And keep Rambaldi involved in the show!”

Ron Rifkin: “ABC despises Rambaldi.”

At this point, I’ve descended into Basement of the Science Building mode. I’m as geeked out as I can get. I am fucking chatting about Alias with Arvin Sloane Ron Rifkin! I can die now.

Me: “Why?”

Ron Rifkin: “They think it’s too weird.”

Me: “But the show is over-the-top. It’s supposed to be larger-than-life. It’s a big comic book!”

Ron Rifkin: “I know.”

Later, in a George Costanza “Jerk Store” moment, I would come up with this: Right, because a 500-year-old manuscript of advanced technology and prophecy is weird, but plane crash survivors stranded on a tropical island with polar bears and monsters is normal. We’re the fans and we decide if it’s too weird. Deal with it.

At this point, they have to leave, so we say our goodbyes, with the additional encounter mentioned by Danielle. We’re BFFs with Ron Rifkin now, of course. I suspect that Danielle and I will be having Thanksgiving dinner this year with the Rifkins. No doubt, it will be a festive time enjoyed by all.

That is why we decide on the play based on the star(s) involved.

The view is better than an ocean sunset

Compare these two pictures:

I snapped the first picture from my seat in row 13 at yesterday’s Phillies/Nationals game. I snapped the second picture from the seat in front of me in row 12. Notice how much larger the Toyota, Budweiser, and Geico signs are in the second picture. Isn’t the viewer so much sweeter? I was so stunned at the difference that I begged the guys in front of me to switch seats with me, but my begging amounted to nothing. They knew how much better their seats were than mine, so why would they switch. That extra view was worth the $10 premium they paid for their seats. So worth it. I was jealous. (Still am, in fact.)

I enjoyed paying $25 for row 13 instead of $35 for row 12 (and pleased by the disparity), but I’ve never encountered a dumber pricing scheme than changing the price in the middle of a section. Someday, maybe the Nationals will realize they’re in the Major Leagues. Maybe.

I only write the interesting bits

The House of Representatives is considering legislation “that would let parents and children filter the curse words, sex scenes and violence out of movie DVDs”. Senate bill S. 167 passed the Senate, so the House is its final obstacle before it lands on President Bush’s desk for his signature. I think everyone can assume that he’ll sign it. Here’s the surprising point: I don’t care.

I’ve written about free speech and our need to protect it, especially the speech that we least enjoy, but this legislation doesn’t upset me. It’s a blow against the boneheads in charge of Hollywood studios who wouldn’t know business sense if Congress stapled it to the desk of every executive. For a group so historically focused on the greenback instead of artistic merit, this doesn’t surprise me. Rather than embrace the potential for an expanded audience, the studios seek to shut down anything they don’t control. This is very much an “old media” strategy when there wasn’t money to be made in new ways or, wait for it… consumers who wouldn’t purchase the Hollywood product before technology made it possible to be family-friendly safe watered-down.

Specifically, the Family Movie Act of 2005 addresses the following issue:

The legislation was introduced because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the makers and distributors of technology for DVD players that would skip movie scenes deemed offensive. The movies’ creators had argued that changing the content would violate their copyrights.

But the legislation would create an exemption in the copyright laws to make sure companies that offer the technology like ClearPlay, a Salt Lake City business, won’t get sued out of existence.

An unfortunately worthy goal, although perhaps the “activist judges” would interpret the law as they did the invention of the VCR. Dare we trust the system? Of course the answer is no, and I think we all know the primary reason. This issue involves “family”, so it’s a political goldmine, no legislative necessity required. That it involves “family” against Hollywood transforms it into a bottom-of-the-ninth, bases-loaded four-bagger. Consider:

“These days, I don’t think anyone would even consider buying a DVD player that doesn’t come with a remote control,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. “Yet there are some who would deny parents the right to use an equivalent electronic device to protect their children from offensive material.”

Yes, but wouldn’t strapping a collar on your child and putting the offensive material beyond the electric fence be as effective? Even though that amazing technological device known as the remote control can be used as a MovieNanny&#153 to “protect” children via its surprisingly effective On/Off button, I’m kidding. Representative Smith is correct that devices like the ClearPlay DVD player are simply electronic devices that filter content, helping parents to avoid responsibility protect their children from objectionable material. The original version of the disc isn’t change. Take the DVD out of the player, put it into a non-ClearPlay DVD player and the movie plays as the studio and director released the film. The studios can complain, but there is no issue.

Rather than write a new ending, I’ll rehash something I wrote last April. Behold:

If people are buying a movie, then watch a filtered version, the director still wins. She can continue making the movie that she envisions, while more people see it than would have originally. Through maintaining her artistic vision, she can perhaps enlighten those viewers about her idea of creativity and free expression. Who loses?

But I still think there’s something to that whole invisible fence thing.