In this week’s New Yorker

September 16, 2014

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I haven’t even gotten to this week’s issue, but I just finished last week’s, which is remarkably loaded with good substance, notwithstanding its enigmatic untitled Saul Steinberg cover.

I was taken by virtually all the major features:

* Kelefa Sanneh’s “The Eternal Paternal,” a profile of Bill Cosby that brings up but never satisfactorily addresses accusations of sexual assault;

* Jerome Groopman’s highly technical but engrossing report on a breakthrough in leukemia treatment;

* John Lahr’s profile of Al Pacino, full of weirdly specific mundane details; and

* William Finnegan’s “Dignity,” a moving portrait of the budding labor movement among fast-food workers and an admirable demonstration of a male gringo reporter identifying with a non-English-speaking Latina McDonald’s employee.

Also surprisingly gripping: Alex Ross’s essay on the Frankfurt School of early 20th century intellectuals, centering on the combative friendship of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno and their various takes on pop culture (Adorno and Max Horkheimer, in their 1944 book Dialectic of Enlightenment, opined that the culture industry offered “the freedom to choose what is always the same”).


Quote of the day: MOLE

September 14, 2014

MOLE

In Mexico City we sit for a tasting-menu feast at Pujol, the Enrique Olvera atelier that some gastronomes consider the best restaurant in the country. (Olvera has been gearing up to open Cosme, his first restaurant in New York.) At Pujol, what tips [Danish chef René] Redzepi over into euphoria is mole. A lot of Americans assume that mole is a sauce made with chocolate, but there are scores of moles around Mexico, many conjured up with marathon lists of ingredients. Olvera does something unusual with his mole: He keeps feeding it. For months. “When I tried it the first time, I had goose bumps,” Redzepi says as Olvera sidles up to our table. “Enrique, how old is the mole?”

“Three hundred and seventy days,” Olvera says.

Like a sourdough starter, Olvera’s mole has been steeping in its own funky lagoon of flavor for, yes, over a year. But Olvera does another bold thing with his mole: He serves it by itself, on a plate, spooned into a mahogany circle. On top of that year-old mole is a smaller circle of rust-colored mole. That’s it. There’s no chicken or fish underneath the two moles. All you get is sauce on a plate, accompanied by a basket of warm tortillas for sopping it all up. When the mole arrives, Redzepi gazes at it, rapt, and compares it to the Eye of Sauron. “There isn’t a Danish designer from the ’50s who wouldn’t have an orgasm looking at this,” he says.

– Jeff Gordinier, “In Search of the Perfect Taco,” New York Times T Magazine

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Quote of the day: FAILURE

September 6, 2014

FAILURE

I think people don’t put enough weight on failure and how amazing it is. I try to teach my sons that. To keep trying. You need to fall down twenty times on your bike before you actually ride it. The idea that you can go out and try something new and excel at it in a second is just not going to happen.

–Frank Ockenfels 3

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Photo diary: out and about in New York City

September 6, 2014

(click photos to enlarge)

my future (I hope)

my future (I hope)

(not) my past

(not) my past

Apparently, that darn Obama has been advocating the extermination of Jews again...

Apparently, that darn Obama has been advocating the extermination of Jews again…

Apparently, the editorial staff of the New York Post has volunteered to go mano-a-mano with ISIS...

Apparently, the editorial staff of the New York Post has volunteered to go mano-a-mano with ISIS…

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Performance diary: THIS IS OUR YOUTH and BOOTYCANDY

August 31, 2014

8.30.14 Double-header on Labor Day Weekend.

Matinee: Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth is not a play I’ve been longing to see again. I remember seeing the original Off-Broadway production directed by Mark Brokaw at The New Group in 1996 and thinking some version of, “Who cares about these overprivileged rich, bored, lost white kids hanging out in an Upper West Side apartment doing drugs and talking trash?” I admired the cast – handsome and sad Mark Ruffalo (this is the role that launched his career), Josh Hamilton (always brilliant, usually playing the second male lead with impeccable style and understatement), and Missy Yager (poignant as the plain girl left out of the fiery relationship between the two guys) – but not much else about the show. I kept telling myself that for months, as the revival of the play, directed by Anna D. Shapiro (famous for August: Osage County), made its way from Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago to Broadway. But I couldn’t help being mesmerized and tantalized by the cast: Michael Cera, the brilliantly deadpan young film actor whose performances in Juno, Superbad, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World blew me away; Kieran Culkin, Macaulay’s brother who played the obnoxious gay roommate in Scott Pilgrim; and Tavi Gevinson, the already-legendary young media maven who started a fashion blog at age 11, runs her own magazine called Rookie, made her film debut last year in a small but well-done role in Nicole Hofcener’s Enough Said…and just graduated from high school in June.

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I broke down and bought a ticket, making it a point to sit close, fourth row center. I’m definitely glad I saw the show. These actors made the play compelling to me, and I enjoyed watching them from close quarters. Cera’s Warren doesn’t stray far from the awkward young dudes he’s played in movies, but as in Sebastian Silva’s Crystal Fairy he doesn’t play for charm, he plays for truth, and he creates a very particular physical character whose arms rarely seem to bend at the elbows and whose face becomes more unreadable the more emotional he gets. Gevinson’s Jessica has the smallest amount of stage time, all of it engaged in an ambivalent post-teen romantic dance with Cera. They have great chemistry and stay locked into each other the whole time, through many emotional twists and turns, though afterwards I felt less wowed by her than I expected to feel and wondered if her character hadn’t been a little too polished up – I have a memory of Jessica being a little plainer (wasn’t she previously still in high school, rather than enrolled at FIT?). Meanwhile, I came away super-impressed with Kieran Culkin, who has to barrel through an unbelievable tangle of plot turns and manipulations, several of them exclusively conducted over the phone, which he does at high speed, at high energy, with high plausibility. Hats off, dude! I appreciated the script more than I did before, at least in its commitment to the naturalistic details of these kids’ lives, thoughts, and preoccupations – less so when it veered into long expository monologues, though Culkin manages the, what, five-page monologue in act two masterfully. Because it’s a play with three characters set in one room, I kept thinking about Mamet’s American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow as well as Martin McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokane, and a little bit about The Motherfucker with the Hat, which Shapiro also staged for maximum comedy AND drama, not always easy. Hats off to her, too.

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Evening: There’s probably 20-25 minutes’ worth of good material in Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy at Playwrights Horizons. Unfortunately, it’s stretched out over two and a half hours in a production that makes a definitive case against the proposition of playwrights directing their own work. There’s not a single joke in the show that isn’t milked for five to 50 times more than its worth. By the end, I couldn’t get out of the theater fast enough, apologizing to Andy for the single worst show I’ve ever dragged him to. (He didn’t hate it as much as I did, and he would reserve that honor for Ivo van Hove’s staging of Teorema on Governors Island.) Sure, lots of people in the audience hooted and hollered and laughed and talked back and stood up at the end. Some of them had loaded up on cocktails beforehand and during intermission, but I still contend that they deserved better, as did the fine hard-working actors, who definitely get to do lots of crazy stuff and chew all kinds of Clint Ramos’s scenery. I’ve followed O’Hara’s work from afar and have wanted to check it out, because how many openly gay black male playwrights are there in the world? I’m willing to believe he’s capable of writing a play that I’ll admire someday but, whew, it’ll have to be directed by somebody else.


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