Tuesday, September 27, 2005

You're So Vain

Broadway and television veteran Mandy Patinkin returns to series TV this week on Criminal Minds, a new CBS crime drama. (The series previewed last week but premieres in its regular timeslot on Wednesday, September 28). Writing in the Washington Post, critic Tom Shales gave this capsule review of the new show:

Criminal Minds asks the rhetorical question, "Will people ever stop imitating 'Silence of the Lambs' "? Jeez Louise, it was just a proficient thriller, not "Citizen Kane." Nevertheless, the pilot for this unspeakably pretentious crime series involves a sexually maladjusted killer and rapist and dwells on the suffering of his latest bound and caged captive in obvious "Lambs" style. Mandy Patinkin, most prominent of the leads, plays a cop recovering from a "major depressive episode," which is a good phrase to describe the premiere of this ghastly ordeal. (Wednesdays, 9 p.m., Sept. 28 with a preview airing Thursday, Sept. 22 at 10 p.m.)
Meanwhile, over at Newsday, Diane Werts finds the show's portrayal of women problematic:
Watch - or don't, please - as CBS unleashes "Criminal Minds," whose pilot episode is a repulsively fetishized close-up of yet more woman-victimization....

"Criminal Minds" is led by Mandy Patinkin as a haunted profiling whiz who may be as nuts as his weekly quarry. He's been through one of those professional Waterloos that TV loves, with colleagues dying due to his actions, and is now struggling to regain his equilibrium. Straight-arrow Thomas Gibson ("Dharma & Greg") gets the thankless task of being Patinkin's FBI minder. Daytime heartthrob Shemar Moore ("The Young and the Restless") is the team's Mr. Slick, who uses his profession as a babe magnet, with Matthew Gray Gubler as the resident young intellectual genius-social buffoon. The token woman is Lola Glaudini, whose character naturally gets saddled with having been victimized herself years earlier, since this is apparently the only defining trait this sad subgenre allows anybody female.
Mandy Patinkin's return to network television made me want to revisit a review I wrote of one of his concert performances, in this case at the Kennedy Center three years ago. Here is the review as it appeared in The Metro Herald on July 12, 2002:
Mandy Patinkin: Vocal Gymnastics on Exhibit
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Mandy Patinkin is annoying.

This is not to say that the star of stage, film, and television is not talented. He is. Immensely so. The problem is, he behaves like he knows it.

Patinkin’s self-absorbed concert act was on display at the Kennedy Center last month, one of the productions under the umbrella of the Sondheim Celebration. He sang an intermissionless 90 minutes of Stephen Sondheim songs (one with music by Richard Rodgers) with aplomb, vocal agility, and irritating self-satisfaction.

This characteristic of Patinkin is not new. It showed through his early solo recordings, Mandy Patinkin (1989) and Dress Casual (1990). On those CDs, you can hear Mandy Patinkin use a microphone the way an Olympic gymnast uses a pommel horse. Lots of flash, impressive muscles, and an adrenalin rush – but when it’s over, you just have to think, “There’s no there there.”

Despite relatively smooth delivery of 33 songs divided into five medleys, plus an encore, Patinkin’s detachment from his audience – he plays on stage as though he’s alone in a studio – is just one factor in his disappointing, almost disembodied performance. To say the best element of the production is the lighting design is not so much an insult to the “star” as it is a compliment to the lighting designer, Eric Cornwell, who has created atmospherics that make the whole evening bearable with color (mostly reds and blues), haze and fog, and contrasts and gradations of light and dark. You could say the smoke and mirrors save the show.

Patinkin isn’t always like this. When he plays a character, directed by someone else, he is able to subordinate his ego to the larger work and achieve the brilliance for which he is capable and so well-known. He has shone as Che in Evita (winning a Tony Award®) and he won an Emmy® for his work on the TV series Chicago Hope. He practically defined the role of George/George in Sunday in the Park with George. In all those cases, however, he was part of a collaborative team and succeeded by following direction and working with his cast and crew toward a common goal. As a solo performer, Patinkin faces no such constraints and suffers for it.

How irritating it is for a singer to sing both parts of a duet (or multiple parts of a trio or choral number) without acknowledging that he is, in fact, playing two different characters? Patinkin’s rendition of “Beautiful” from Sunday in the Park with George makes no sense like this.

His performance borders on the histrionic, trying to demonstrate both his vocal range – baritone to tenor, and what a falsetto! – as well as his acting chops. “Look at me!,” he says, “I can prodce a lot of emotions on demand! I’m sad, I’m frantic, I’m happy, I’m adorable!”

He doesn’t have to do that.

What a contrast to Barbara Cook’s solo Sondheim show (returning to the Kennedy Center in August). Cook possesses genuine warmth for her audience. She also really, really likes the songs she sings. She brings you into her heart, and an evening of her in concert is like an evening of her in her home. Patinkin is distant, technical, cerebral in the way that Sondheim detractors claim the composer is.

Patinkin’s run in the Terrace Theatre ended on June 30. You didn’t miss much.
When I get around to it, I'll post my corresponding review of Barbara Cook's Sondheim concert. The contrast is stunning.


Anonymous said...

You seem to go back and forth about Mandy and I am not quite sure whether this is a hate, love thing or what. Yes Barbara Cook is great, I have her Sondheim, and others CD. But you are comparing apples with oranges. Mandy interpets a song the way he sees & feels it. I think he is an individual and no different than Sinatra, Bennett or some of the other greats.
Criminal Minds has a great cast and
Mandy gives a very honest interpretation of the character Gideon. Gideon is what he is.

Rick Sincere said...

I don't think I "go back and forth" at all. I think I make it pretty clear that I disliked Patinkin's performance.