For eight weeks, FX is airing Fosse/Verdon, a restricted sequence about iconic choreographer/director Bob Fosse and legendary dancer Gwen Verdon, his spouse and artistic accomplice. In addition to being catnip for theater followers, their story raises ideas and questions on love, artwork, sacrifice, exploitation, abuse, and different subjects which are each well timed and timeless. This sequence explores each the aesthetic features of the present and its dealing with of these subjects.
At the start of this week’s episode, Bob Fosse is as soon as once more holed up in an enhancing room. This time he’s obsessing over footage of Lenny, his Lenny Bruce biopic, piecing collectively bits of Dustin Hoffman performing a standup routine. (We see Brandon Uranowitz enjoying Hoffman enjoying Bruce—but another stellar instance of the multitalented actors on this present who handle to tug off a number of personas directly.)
As Gwen Verdon and different members of the Chicago staff erupt into the room and begin speaking program design, the scene fractures right into a montage of calls for—Bob’s personal calls for and people of others—coming at him from all sides. Bob offers with the escalating strain by mentally transporting himself into the movie in entrance of him. Instantly there’s no extra Bruce (or Hoffman or Uranowitz); it’s Fosse on the mic, ever-present cigarette in hand, venting to the group.
This tactic works on a couple of degree. It reminds us that Bob craved management a lot that if he may have, he himself would have have written and starred in each undertaking he directed. (Dustin Hoffman instructed Fosse biographer Sam Wasson that it was clear each time Bob gave him route that he wished to be enjoying the position himself.) It additionally opens a window in Bob’s thoughts for us. His sardonic commentary accompanies us by means of the occasions that comply with, throwing gentle—or possibly I ought to say darkness—from the previous onto the more and more pressure-packed current.
The tragedy of Bob Fosse was that nevertheless good he was at what he did—and he was very, very, superb—he by no means felt ok.
Of course, Bob isn’t the one one who seeks to regulate issues. Gwen has been given approval over all the things pertaining to Chicago, from casting to paintings, and he or she’s raring to go. Her first phrases to Bob as he walks into the rehearsal room the place she’s already warming up are “I beat you.” “You win,” he concedes.
That is very a lot her undertaking, and it is a very completely different rehearsal room from those through which they teamed as much as create “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Who’s Got the Pain?” Their partnership now’s extra a precarious steadiness of forces pushing towards one another, a stress that might snap at any second. The soundtrack of this episode makes nice use of sharp, percussive sounds—the crinkle of a sweet bar wrapper, the clunk of a briefcase, Bob’s persistent hacking cough—that each mirror bits of the Chicago rating and underline the brittle nature of that partnership. Gwen revives like an individual having a non secular expertise when she’s again in a roomful of dancers, whereas Bob on the similar time appears to be like like he’s having the life sucked out of him.
But regardless of all the things, the partnership nonetheless in some way works, and never simply on an expert degree. When Bob suffers a coronary heart assault—it seems you’ll be able to’t work on two initiatives directly, smoke, dose your self with each prescription and non-prescription medicine, and keep wholesome—Gwen takes cost.
She provides the medical doctors the knowledge that Bob tries to carry again. (Physician: “Are you a smoker, Mr. Fosse?” Bob the Human Chimney: “Occasionally.”) She takes care of him within the hospital; she controls the movement of knowledge to the Chicago staff and tries to carry all of them collectively; she even turns a physician’s embarrassing fanboy second into a chance to get Bob a non-public room. She clothes up Nicole to look older, as a way to meet hospital laws, and brings her in to see her father.
And if Gwen’s motives in all this are blended, they nonetheless embody a deep and real concern for this troubled accomplice of hers. “I know Bob,” she tells her boyfriend, Ron, as he watches her forge Bob’s autograph on a pile of Playbills. “He’s about to have his chest opened up, and if we inform him that he’s being changed [on Chicago], he’ll die on that working desk.”
She’s not mistaken. Mendacity in a hospital mattress, Bob continues to be obsessing over work, when he’s not coaxing Ann Reinking right into a quickie simply to verify the medical doctors didn’t mess something up “down there.” However he’s trapped in that room in additional methods than one. Unable to distract himself, he’s besieged with visions of the previous that we obtained glimpses of final week—the previous the place he was a younger dancer compelled to carry out in seedy nightclubs to earn cash for his supervisor and his household. The atmosphere the place he was left on his personal and was sexually assaulted by feminine strippers.
In that ongoing standup monologue in his thoughts, Bob is self-aware sufficient and trustworthy sufficient to know what these assaults did to him. “You know the best part of being scared, turned on, confused, guilty, self-loathing, and in lust all at the same time?” asks that wry voice in his thoughts, on the very second he’s making Ann really feel the identical method. “It screws up your relationships for the rest of your life.”
Whereas Gwen has been busy recreating the previous, Bob has been doing a lot the identical factor: incessantly reenacting the shattering dynamic of abuse and exploitation that was visited on him when he was too younger to grasp. He was introduced up going to church, he displays, however the one Holy Trinity he’s aware of is “pleasure, confusion, and humiliation all at the same time.”
When the rug was pulled out from beneath that boy when he was solely 13 years previous, when he was preyed upon and nobody cared sufficient to guard him, Bob was left floundering, with one insatiable want: “Tell me I’m good enough.” Ok to be beloved, to be taken care of, to relaxation, to simply be. The tragedy of Bob Fosse was that nevertheless good he was at what he did—and he was very, very, superb—he by no means felt good sufficient. We’re left with that bleak information as Bob walks away from the microphone in his thoughts, and the lights fade out on the percussive beep of a coronary heart monitor.