The Agenda: This Week's Recommended Events

Wednesday, Aug. 28

Animal Crackers/Duck Soup

SIFF’s Slapstick Savants retrospective features a Marx brothers double bill today, with Duck Soup sandwiched between two screenings of Animal Crackers. Like most of their comedies, the two films were road-tested as stage shows—appropriately, since it was in vaudeville that Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo got their start in showbiz. Their ears were attuned to live audiences, and the timing of their gags eliminated potential dead spots. If one bit doesn’t logically lead to the next, you don’t have time to complain. In 1930’s Animal Crackers, Capt. Spaulding (Groucho) makes a mockery of high society—embodied, of course, by Margaret Dumont. (A sample exchange: “Captain, this leaves me speechless.” “Well, see that you remain that way.”) In 1933’s Duck Soup, perhaps the most lighthearted war movie ever made, Groucho plays the war-crazed but cowardly leader of Freedonia, who directs an invasion for his own personal gain. Chico and Harpo are enemy spies who try to halt the plan. Directed by Leo McCarey, the dazzling comedy was made at a safe distance from World War I, the Spanish Civil War hadn’t yet begun, and World War II was only a gleam in Hitler’s eye, so the laughs came easy. You can make the case for Duck Soup being the Marx brothers’ greatest film, and it’s still certainly their most topical. Also note that Groucho’s grandson Steve Marx will attend the screenings and answer questions about his famous clan. SIFF Cinema Uptown, 511 Queen Anne Ave. N., 324-9996, siff.net. $6–$11. 4:30, 7, & 8:30 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 30

Middletown

As if to honor the Seattle Freeze—which maintains we all be near-acquaintances, or sort-of strangers, no matter the temperature—ACT is staging one of the heralded works of Will Eno. With his penchant for bursts of dialogue and low-impact despair, the Boston playwright is something like Aaron Sorkin if you replaced the bravado with ennui. An absurdist take on Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town, Middletown tells the story of two neighbors, newcomer Mary (Alex Tavares) and long-time resident John (Eric Reidmann), and their attempts to connect. Of course, true connection is never achieved. (Is it ever?) The premise is a downer, and Eno isn’t shy about reminding you. “I never thought I’d have a lonely life,” says John. “I do, it turns out. Like, medically lonely. Like I’ve got sad genes.” If, as I do, you think that sounds like a jolly good night of entertainment, Eno is for you. Yet his succinct, poetic dialogue—also exchanged among umpteen other village folk—does manage to find some hope and humor around, and even within, the Sisyphean task of getting to know your neighbor. John Langs directs the production. (Previews begin tonight; opens Sept. 5; ends Sept. 29.) ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., acttheatre.org. $41 and up. 8 p.m.

Russell Brand

He’s on heroin. He’s off heroin. He’s married to Katy Perry. He’s divorced from Katy Perry. And then he’s tweeting about his divorce from Katy Perry. The wonder of it is that Russell Brand still has time for comedy as he toggles between the tabloids and Hollywood (with occasional detours to attack paparazzi and MSNBC hosts). Since breaking out of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival a decade ago, then reaching the U.S. via MTV and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Brand has globalized his irreverent, bad-boy persona yet retained a gift for self-mockery. He jokes about his own megalomania and past excesses because those are the qualities that most define the celebrity-industrial complex. Appropriately, his new tour is called Messiah Complex, in which he considers Che Guevara, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Hitler, and other charismatic leaders. (Into which category he might also include himself?) Penance is also a big part of Brand’s act, as he’s written about drug laws and treatment for English newspapers and in his in memoir (My Booky Wook). He next appears in the movie Paradise (the directing debut of Juno writer Diablo Cody), slated for release next year, playing—what else?—a corruptor of youthful innocence, even if those days are well behind him. The Neptune, 1303 N.E. 45th St., 877-784-4849, stgpresents.org. $39.50. 8 p.m. E

 
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