Orgasms 101 With Diane Lane … Broadway’s Wild, Wild Mess

Orgasms 101 With Diane Lane

Diane Lane’s progression from the screen’s most appealing ingenue to one of the screen’s most grounded and attractive women has been interesting to chart. It seems only days ago that she was skipping rope and climbing fences in such fare as A Little Romance and Cattle Annie and Little Britches . But after The Cotton Club and the television production of A Streetcar Named Desire , in which she was a smoldering Stella opposite Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange, it was clear that an adult career was about to hit the ground running. Now, in a small, satisfactory and sweetly touching no-frills movie called A Walk On the Moon , the jury finally reaches a verdict. The pigtails are history, and Ms. Lane has arrived to stay.

Any movie that features Wayne Newton singing “Strangers in the Night” offers a regurgitation factor that is inescapable, but A Walk on the Moon is true to the period. Things were pretty awful in 1969, and this little movie, honestly and affectingly written by Pamela Gray and sensitively directed by actor Tony Goldwyn, gets it right. It was the year of the Apollo Mission, the Vietnam protests, flower power and the sexual revolution, but for the Kantrowitz family, it was just another summer in the Catskills.

Ms. Lane plays Pearl Kantrowitz, a loving mother and responsible kosher housewife who feels life is passing her by. On her family’s annual trek to a Jewish summer resort in the borscht belt, it becomes clear that Pearl needs a change. Too old for romance magazines and too young for the rocking chair, she’s in that midlife vacuum where every alternative seems more glamorous than the boring life she’s in. She feels trapped and I don’t blame her. Days of mah-jongg and shopping for bargains at Moishe’s butcher shop are not exactly what Gloria Steinem was preaching in Ms. magazine.

At Dr. Fogler’s Bungalows, Pearl is stranded with her achingly adolescent daughter (Anna Paquin, who is doing some growing up of her own these days), her precocious young son, and their superstitious tarot-reading grandmother (Tovah Feldshuh) while her loyal but dull husband Marty (Liev Schrieber), a square who abandoned his own dreams years ago to become a TV repairman, spends much too much time back in New York. The only occasional bright spot in this deadly summer of repression is the weekly visit by the Blouse Man (Viggo Mortensen), an uninhibited hippie who sells hideous discount fashions from his gypsy van to idle yentas who are always in a frenzy for bargains.

On the weekend of the Apollo space mission, Marty is stuck in New York repairing TV sets so his customers can watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. With eyes wide open and nobody to talk to but the Blouse Man, Pearl nervously walks right into a sexually charged affair with this dangerous but seductive advocate of free love and experiences a liberating effect on her barren life she’s never known. While Grandma frets and Ms. Paquin experiences her own trauma with the arrival of her first menstrual cycle, Pearl abandons her responsibilities and dives right into the Blouse Man’s van. As Neil Armstrong exits the space capsule during one of Pearl’s greatest orgasms, he’s not the only one taking “a walk on the moon.”

It’s also the summer of Woodstock, and when Pearl and her 14-year-old daughter both end up in the swirling, body-painted, pot-smoking hedonism of it all, the truth comes out and changes everyone’s lives. The one time she decides to make one small step into life to see what freedom feels like, this decent, goodhearted woman pays a terrible price. All the Blouse Man can offer is a vagabond existence, sleeping under the stars. With him, she sees stars. All Marty can offer is structure, security and ennui. With him, she sees slavery. The choices Pearl makes give this quiet, realistic and admirably underplayed film bravery, resonance and dignity.

Mr. Goldwyn, a fine actor himself, shows a lot of promise in his directorial debut, never overplaying his hand and studiously avoiding soap-opera clichés. The cast is first-rate and Ms. Lane is a true revelation–a ripe peach on the verge of bruising and ready to be picked. I can think of better actors to do the picking than the sour, humorless Mr. Mortensen. He never shaves, rarely speaks above a mumble and appears to have never met a bar of soap he likes. He also seems to be making a career of messing up beautiful women for sport (after whopping the living daylights out of Demi Moore in G.I. Jane , he was last encountered trying to murder Gwyneth Paltrow in A Perfect Murder ). I’m not sure what the fuss is about, but as one well-bred, elegantly coiffed lass remarked as we exited A Walk on the Moon together, “It’s not a guy thing; most women have a secret fantasy about rough trade.” Oh. I still have my doubts.

But about this fresh and absorbing look at taking chances and finding adventure in unexpected places in life, there is no debate. It’s a lovely antidote to war epics, Elizabethan costume pageants and smutty teenage sex comedies–a woman’s picture with the potential for a wider appeal.

Broadway’s Wild, Wild Mess

So much has been written about how awful the new Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun is that the thought of adding my two cents makes me yawn. Still, I must confess that I have rarely seen a musical that annoyed me so much and made me smile at the same time, with its idiotic political correctness, cheesy sets, ho-hum choreography, unnecessary plot changes and the baffling deletion of “I’m an Indian, Too”–a bona fide show-stopper–there’s plenty to grouse about.

Starting the show with “There’s No Business Like Show Business” is one of the most suicidally, self-destructive decisions imaginable. This production is a mess that must have Irving Berlin turning over in his grave. It is also a hit that proves, when the dust settles, audiences still love to leave the theater humming the songs they know. Even in a miscast, misguided and decidedly second-rate production such as this, I’ll take Irving Berlin over Frank Wildhorn and Andrew Fucking Lloyd Webber any day.

P.C. (as in political correctness, not personal computers) will kill us all. By softening or removing the references to American Indians, Peter Stone probably thinks his revisionist book has improved Annie Get Your Gun . The man must be delusional. He’s smart and a real pro, but his new book chops a chunk of fun out of any sane resemblance to life in a Wild West show. There’s nothing remotely racist about “I’m an Indian, Too,” a song in which Chief Sitting Bull adopts Annie Oakley as an honorary member of the Sioux Nation. It comes at a spot where the show badly needs a hit number (not to mention some snazzy staging). So how could it offend?

And to really insult the Indians, the audience and the show, Mr. Stone has reinserted a dull subplot about Dolly Tate’s little sister Winnie and her marriage to Tommy the stagehand, making the roustabout a mincing chorus boy who is now half-Indian himself. Hey, guys, this may not be politically incorrect, but it is historically preposterous. In a real 19th-century Wild West show, in the days of Buffalo Bill Cody, if a blue-eyed blonde married an Indian there would not only have been an annulment, there would have also been a lynching. If you’re going that far, then why leave out “I’m an Indian Too”? The show is about a woman whose only way to happiness is to pretend to be inferior to the man she loves, so the whole thing is politically incorrect, anyway.

There are so many things to grouse about here, but contrary to what some critics would lead you to believe, Bernadette Peters is not one of them. Sure, she’s miscast. As a hillbilly sharpshooter raised on possum stew, she’s more frosted cupcake than buttermilk biscuit. But Ethel Merman was miscast in the original 1946 production, too, unless you think the West means West Bronx. By the time I saw her in the 1966 revival at Lincoln Center, she was already 30 years too old for the part and should have played Annie Oakley’s grandmother.

The only perfect Annie I’ve ever seen was–and probably always will be–Betty Hutton in the fabulous 1950 M-G-M musical version, which, for mysterious reasons nobody can explain to my satisfaction, has never been shown since its original release. Hutton combined the indefatigable ambition of a buckskin tomboy in love with show business with the dreamy makeover of a woman in love with a handsome rival sharpshooter to produce real fireworks. And she’s the only Annie in the world who ever sang “Doin’ What Comes Natcherly” and “You Caint Get a Man With a Gun” with the proper country inflections on mispronounced words.

But Bernadette Peters has her own kewpie-doll charm and she sings the living crap out of “Moonshine Lullaby” and “I Got Lost in His Arms.” Alas, the arms she gets lost in belong to Tom Wopat, the first Frank Butler I’ve ever seen with no glamour, no stature and no charisma. We expect Howard Keel or John Raitt and this short, scruffy, hairy-faced and slightly lumpy performer gives us Yosemite Sam. The show-stopping duets “An Old-Fashioned Wedding” and “Anything You Can Do” have all the chemistry of a fairy princess singing with a toad.

But damned if Bernadette Peters and all those songs don’t put a grin where it ought to be. They make you want to “go on with the show,” even if it’s the wrong one.