Celia Wren

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.

By this author

Beguilement from Another Era

A ventriloquist with a Mick Jagger dummy. A rope-lariat artist who hailsfrom the Bronx. A comedian who has been seen on Saturday Night Live.These are some of the artists you may encounter at Travesties of 2012, running July 19-28 as part of the 2012 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Mounted by the American Vaudeville Theatre, Travesties of 2012 will also showcase a contortionist, a mentalist, a chanteuse, and at least one high-profile clown during its run at New York City's 45th Street Theatre (354 W.

A Glam-free Gatsby

There’s an elusiveness to Jay Gatsby, the figure who haunts F. Scott Fitzgerald’s best-loved work. Gatsby is a charismatic millionaire who blends into the background at his own lavish parties. He is glamorous and yet pathetic, self-inventing but helpless.

'The Killing' Returns

This weekend brings a momentous decision: To watch, or not to watch, Season 2 of The Killing? Anyone who forged through the first season of this AMC police procedural (a remake of a Danish hit) last year is probably still fuming about the lack of answers in the final episode. For weeks, we had been watching the stubborn and slightly self-destructive Seattle detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) plod around the cityoften in the pouring rainas she attempted to solve the murder of high school student Rosie Larsen.


“Taut” is not an adjective one usually associates with Charles Dickens. The great English writer composed novels that brim with expansive observations and leisurely turns of phrase. His vibrant, oddball characters tend to stretch and embellish his narratives, rather than merely serve them; sometimes the characters seem to have generated themselves by sheer force of personality. Dickens might be the antidote to our Twitter-infected age.

All the World's a (Political) Stage

Just cant get enough of cutthroat politics? Find yourself on YouTube, replaying the meaner jabs from the Republican primary debates? You might want to add the 1990s BBC miniseries House of Cards to your Netflix queue. Based on a novel by a onetime Chief of Staff to Britains Conservative Party, House of Cardstracks the legal and illegal intrigues of Francis Urquhart, a Machiavellian party operative who wrangles his way up the rungs of power in post-Thatcher Great Britain.

Track Marks

The slam of a prison door is one of the first sounds you hear in Luck, the hyper-pedigreed new drama series that premieres on HBO on Sunday, January 29. Objectively considered, it should not be a mournful noise: that door is slamming behind Chester “Ace” Bernstein, an amiably shady entrepreneur—played by Dustin Hoffman—who is leaving federal prison after a three-year incarceration. But real freedom turns out to be in short supply for Ace and Luck’s myriad other protagonists.

Between the Poles

Echoes of a long-ago geometry class may waft through the minds of viewers who catch Journey of the Universe, the science-themed film airing on PBS stations starting December 3 [see my review here]. The film was shot on the island of Samos, birthplace of the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who famously came up with the theorem, pertaining to right-angled triangles.


Painted stars splay across the ceiling of an old Greek church. A flower blooms in slow motion. Tree roots twine serenely round the rocks of an ancient ruin. The images in the nonfiction film Journey of the Universe are luminously beautiful—and so well meshed that their flow feels almost effortless. But a great deal of effort has gone into this hour-long work, which aims to knit modern scientific knowledge and religious and humanistic perspectives into a seamless, eye-opening chronicle of cosmic and earthly evolution.

War Torn

It might seem odd to apply the term “understated” to a documentary that features gritty combat footage: gunfire- and explosion-wracked images from conflicts that include the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua and America’s intervention in Somalia in the 1990s.

Shaken & Stirred

On August 18, Commonweal media columnist Celia Wren spoke to filmmaker Ken Burns by phone about Prohibition, the new documentary he created with Lynn Novick. (Read Wren's review here.) The following is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for grammar and conciseness. Burns