By Giovanni Mattera
I've never really been drawn to the theater, whether in real life or depicted in films - an exception being ME AND ORSON WELLES (2009) , a rarely talked about Richard Linklater coming-of-age film about a young actor getting some major life lessons during his time performing as part of The Mercury Theater group under a young up-and-coming director named...Orson Welles.
Recently I was able to watch a private screening of STAGING ANNA and got a first look at a short film that is sure to garner attention once it hits the festival circuit.
STAGING ANNA, written and directed by K.M. Murphy brought to mind that obscure Linklater film from 2009, mostly in how it explores the relationships between the actors in the theater group, both platonically and romantically. In STAGING ANNA, the acting troupe is lead by the director played by Paul Calderon (PULP FICTION, BOSCHE) whose notorious psychological techniques have earned him a reputation in the New York theater scene. He is directing his first play in ten years, an adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie".
Calderon delivers an exceptional performance, playing favorites with the cast and working his manipulative techniques on a young actor who appears way too green for Calderon's world. "Let me guess, you're from the suburbs." he chides at one point. "You give a homeless guy a buck and think you're the goddamn mayor." Calderon may play games but there's a method to the madness and a deeper level to his facade that we discover in a later monologue scene that has Calderon delivering Tarantino caliber prose. That is, if Tarantino were making a drama about the theater.
The pacing and mood is exquisitely established from the first opening tune "The Swan" performed by Clara Rockmore on The Theramin, paired with striking imagery and a rich color palette painted by the cinematographer Michael Mastroserio. Being the setting is a theater stage, it allows for a vast array of interesting lens and lightning choices that give the film an exuberance that you rarely see anymore from young up and coming filmmakers.
There's a playful quasi-surreal quality to the proceedings that keeps you sucked in but somehow doesn't detract from the realism of what we're experiencing; A general toying with the emotions of his soldiers and stealthily pulling the strings to make his pupils bring out the best of what's inside them and to make his adaptation of the play all the better for it.
It will be interesting to see where writer/director Murphy's creative eye will take him next. I'll be very much looking forward to it, because as far as short films go, it's one of the best I've ever seen.