‘The Chaperone’

The Chaperone is Masterpiece Theatreliterally!

True to its name — and its setting —  this new movie offers a revolving door of faces familiar to New York theatergoers: Blythe Danner! Jayne Houdyshell! Matt McGrath! Ronald Peet! Robert Fairchild! Alas, all are bit roles, but you know what they say about nonexistent small actors.

He’s not a stage mainstay, but I must give an additional shout-out to Son of Saul’s Saul: Géza Röhrig, who’s also in this year’s To Dust (review forthcoming…at a much later date; it’s an insignificant trifle masquerading as a profound exploration). His low-key persona’s immediately-recognizable across the three performances, but they’re quite varied in inner temperament.

To round out this acting dissertation: Haley Lu Richardson brought a rare air of grounded truth to the recently-blossoming, increasingly-derivative teenager-romcom-tearjerker genre in this year’s Five Feet Apart — released a mere two weeks ago — but here she fails to connect the Masterpiece style’s outward theatricality to any substantive depth to root the artifice in truth.

Stray Take 1: New York movies provide locals the distinct pleasure of spotting various locales, from the obvious — Central Park, replete with phony green screen to time-machine the backdrop back 100 years — to some gems. Abrons Arts Center’s main auditorium doubles for the Selwyn Theatre, which still stands…but I imagine the American Airlines today — it really couldn’t have been the “American Airlines’ Selwyn Theatre”, to preserve the history? — looks nothing like it did back in the day; plus, the Abrons’ Henry Street Settlement boasts an appropriate aesthetic for the subject matter. And was the dance studio’s exterior a Columbia building??

Stray Take 2: It’s time to call a moratorium on the narrative structure of starting stories near the end before flashing back to the beginning and chronologically filling in the gap, a transparent attempt to immediately engage audiences by relying on the climax’s naturally-heightened stakes. A device is never a wise way to intrigue; it’s like a preparatory signpost that reads, “Something amateur this way comes…”

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