"THERE'S NOTHING like the love of a good man!" said Julia Roberts over her shoulder to me after I'd commented on how young and beautiful the actress looks these days.
This -- after she'd come all the way across the Ethel Barrymore Theatre to give me a great hug before Mike Nichols' opening night of Harold Pinter's "Betrayal." (Julia did indeed look spiffy in a sleek black dress and we had a brief chat about life, husband, children and everything except whatever she is doing next. She is a real star and one of my favorites.)
You probably already know how hard it will be to get in to see this play, which set a box office record for a limited run and for sales with top ticket prices well over $400. (When it ends its run on Jan. 5, don't be astounded if they agree to make a movie out of it. They should.)
Set in London, "Betrayal" explores an extramarital affair whose mysteries unravel backward chronologically from 1977 to 1968. It is fun to figure out all the nuances on display by consummate actors. I don't want to spoil anything so I won't say more about the plot of "Betrayal." It is slight, but it is powerful.
Yes, yes, there are four characters, one of them an Italian waiter delightfully played by Stephen DeRosa. Of the other three roles, well...
Let's just say that Daniel Craig and his real-life wife, Rachel Weisz, are two of the sexiest people I've ever seen in a lifetime of watching the stage. She is a rare beauty, disturbed, lips trembling, eyes blossoming and in her sex scene with actor Rafe Spall, convincing. Mr. Spall received a special dispensation from Actors' Equity to come play his role in New York and he is just great.
But Daniel Craig is overwhelming onstage, more so than he is as James Bond onscreen. I saw this charismatic guy with Hugh Jackman in "A Steady Rain" some seasons ago. That was terrific but he managed to damp himself down for the part. Here, he seems magnified, which makes his dubious role more interesting. I'll say again, he is surely one of the sexiest actors I've ever seen live and in person and, honey, I've seen a lot of them in 50 years of fandom.
And here he is playing against himself, for in real life I'm told he is modest and down-to-earth.
In the play, with its underpinning of friendship between the two men, it is actor Rafe Spall's role that cements everything together. His final spilling of his early romantic nature brings down the curtain on an explosive note and his speech should be committed, by all great lovers, to memory.
A real night to remember what a fabled writer Harold Pinter is, what magnified actors can accomplish onstage and what a mighty director is Mike Nichols.
Oh, and let's not forget the other unmentioned star of the evening -- the drinking onstage, which never ends and nobody becomes falling-down drunk. Did we really drink like that in the '70s? Hmmm, I guess we did and some of us lived to tell about it.
I'VE HELD off writing about Showtime's latest series, "Masters of Sex" because I wanted to see where it was going. Now I know. It's going great, with superb performances by Lizzy Caplan as the forward-thinking Virginia Johnson and Michael Sheen as the emotionally constipated William Masters. (Masters and Johnson wrote the groundbreaking 1966 and 1970 research books on the science of sex.) Also, Caitlin FitzGerald, as Masters' dissatisfied wife, Libby.
All other performances, large and small, including that of Beau Bridges, are equally well-performed. Some are calling it "the new 'Mad Men,'" because it is set in 1957, but it really isn't. For one thing, the writers of "Masters of Sex," although expert at crafting characters, are often a bit off on language, hair and costuming. But that is a minor quibble. (Still, a recent reference to "Mr. Ed," a TV series that didn't debut until 1961, was especially glaring.)
"Masters of Sex" has been renewed, as has the now-troubled "Homeland." (The spy-show is not so troubled that ratings have fallen off, but there is a virtual cacophony of criticism from fans and critics about the direction of the series. Variety recently ran a piece titled "Why 'Homeland' Wasn't Meant to Last.")
Fair warning. The new show is called "Masters of Sex." It's about sexual behavioral research. There is nudity. But not nearly as much as on, say, "Game of Thrones." However, if bare buttocks or breasts distress you, move on.
The series is only three episodes in, but I think both Caplan and Sheen are Emmy-worthy. His, in particular, is a difficult role. Masters was a notably distant type, and Sheen walks a fine line, staying true to his character's often abrasive, dismissive personality, while maintaining audience sympathy. His breakdown scene in last Sunday's episode was heartrending.
Sheen has appeared to fine effect in several dozen movies ("Frost/Nixon" was a standout) but he is perhaps best known for having played British Prime Minister Tony Blair three times, most notably opposite Helen Mirren in "The Queen."
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
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