Performance Diary: LIVING HERE and FUN HOME

April 19, 2015

4-16 living here set
I’ve gone to see many Foundry Theatre productions over the years — great shows from David Hancock’s Deviant Craft to David Greenspan’s The Myopia, from Rinde Eckert’s And God Created Great Whales to Claudia Rankine’s The Provenance of Beauty, season-long colloquia on topics like money, values, and hope — but the other night the Foundry Theatre came to me. The current production, Gideon Irving’s solo Living Here, happens in a different New York City apartment every night, and the performance I volunteered to host in my living room took place last Thursday.

4-16 living here audience
It was a trip to have 32 people (half of them my friends as guests, half paying customers unknown to me) cozily jammed into my midtown abode watching an extraordinary show. Gideon has been doing home shows for several years now. He used to play in a band and got tired of playing crappy venues to semi-attentive audiences. (You can read an interview about the evolution of the show online here.) He did his first home shows in New Zealand, pedaling his instruments from gig to gig in a wagon behind his bicycle. Living Here combines songs and stories. The songs displayed his magnificent eccentric roar of a voice and his exquisite restless musicianship (he played banjo, guitar, Irish bouzouki, mbira, kazoo, harmonium, and electronic keyboard with special effects, including a looper he used to sample a classic ringtone from an audience member’s iPhone). And his stories reported from the front lines of his peripatetic survey of humanity, full of juicy details from his encounters with a potato warehouse manager to the son of a kazillionaire (who hosted a show in a multimillion dollar apartment with a staff of nannies, caterers, and assistant nanny caterers), an audience with a goat, what little kids yell out in the middle of his show, and tidbits culled from the casual conversation he’d had with me about my apartment during the sound check (below). It was an amazing show. I don’t think anyone who came will ever forget it.

4-16 don gideon

I admire Melanie Joseph, who started the Foundry, as much as anyone I’ve ever met in the theater. Her commitment to high-quality artists, radically unconventional theater, and social awareness inspire and amaze me. It’s borderline crazy what she does. There’s very little money to be made doing this. It’s a constant high-wire act, and the stress must be overwhelming. And yet she and her artists keep going, making magic against all reasonable expectations. Living Here plays through May 2 — catch one of the remaining shows if you can.

Adventures like Living Here spoil you for regular theater. Almost any other conventional play or musical looks stodgy and staid by comparison. And then there’s Fun Home, another show so original, so deep, so beautifully made, so unusual that it lives in a category all its own. This is the musical based on the graphic memoir by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel about her complicated relationship with her father, a funeral director and high school English teacher who was himself a closeted gay guy who committed suicide when she was in college. NOT standard material for musical theater, but as adapted by fantastic playwright Lisa Kron with a score by the great Jeanine Tesori guided by the fine director Sam Gold, it is nothing less than great theater.

FUN HOME PLAYBILLIt was a huge hit last season at the Public Theater, where Andy and I saw it twice. Now it’s been remounted on Broadway, extensively revised and radically restaged in the round at Circle in the Square. The work that the creators have done on the show had nothing to do with making it more palatable to an uptown audience or commercially viable but everything to do with making it a truer, deeper work of art. So much about the show is unprecedented — there’s never been a lesbian protagonist in a Broadway musical, a character played by three actresses representing the real Alison Bechdel (or T-Rab, as the cast apparently likes to call her) as a child, a college student, and an adult (Sydney Lucas, Emily Skeggs, and Beth Malone). Stories about fathers and daughters are relatively rare, but when do we ever hear lesbians talk about their relationships with their fathers? And this father (played by the excellent Michael Cerveris) is so complicated — brilliant, high-strung, overbearing, creepy, and increasingly crazy. The score is full of great songs, at least one major aria for each central character. We all know Jeanine Tesori is a wonderful composer, but the secret star of this show is Lisa Kron, whose book and lyrics excel. The strong cast give impeccable performances (I haven’t yet mentioned Judy Kuhn, Roberta Colindrez, and Joel Perez). The staging in the round sometimes diffuses focus (there are definitely moments I miss from the Public Theater production) but just as often it opens up new pockets of theatricality in telling the story and revealing the relationships, thanks to David Zinn’s protean set design and Ben Stanton’s essential lighting. This is clearly not a show for everyone — two small groups of women (a pair and then a foursome) walked out of the intermissionless show, apparently unable to tolerate the sight of two gals making out in a college dorm-room bed — but for me (and surely most of the otherwise sold-out house that leapt to its feet as soon as the show was over) it’s right up there in the pantheon of great unorthodox original musicals, a la Spring Awakening and Fela! We walked out emotionally shaken, thought-provoked, and ecstatic.

4-18 fun home


Photo diary: Berlin part 2 (places)

April 14, 2015

(click photos to enlarge)

the place to beat your rug (German apartment buildings are very picky about such things)

the place to beat your rug (German apartment buildings are very picky about such things)

4-2 xberg garage                                                                                          Kreuzberg
4-2 kreuzberg crossing

the place where firemen's equipment goes

the place where firemen’s equipment goes

on Mehringdamm, the line snakes down the block all day and night for Mustafa's

on Mehringdamm, the line snakes down the block all day and night for Mustafa’s

same block, huge crowds for Curry 36, classic Berlin street food (currywurst and pommes frites with mayo)

same block, huge crowds for Curry 36, classic Berlin street food (currywurst and pommes frites with mayo)

the equivalent of Standpipe Siamese

the equivalent of Standpipe Siamese

AA's apartment in Charlottenberg is large enough to have a dedicated room for showing art -- here The Healing Tent and a construction combining some cast-off pieces of taxidermy

AA’s apartment in Charlottenberg is large enough to have a dedicated room for showing art — here The Healing Tent and a construction combining some cast-off pieces of taxidermy

Achim Kraemer graciously offered me one of his private performances at the loft he shares with Robert in Neukolln -- I sat here in the Love Lounge

Achim Kraemer graciously offered me one of his private performances at the loft he shares with Robert in Neukolln — I sat here in the Love Lounge


Quote of the day: CITY

April 13, 2015

CITY

The secret of life in the big city is wear a suit, because you can take a shit anywhere. Folks are, like, “Hello, sir, welcome back!”

–Paul Feig

feig_a


Photo diary: Berlin part 1 (people)

April 13, 2015

(click photos to enlarge)

4-2 AA in kitchen
Great to visit my old friend AA Bronson, who went to Berlin for a one-year artist’s residency and decided to stay. Above: in his kitchen. Below: with me, Ben Haggard, and Joe Miron, a photo taken by AA’s husband Mark (in front of one of General Idea’s Pills pieces).

4-2 aa don ben joe pills
4-7 kai rhubard lemonade
I was in Berlin at the invitation of my friend Kai Ehrhardt to teach a couple of workshops and facilitate a panel discussion at the Stretch Festival (see http://www.stretch-berlin.com/), a fantastic gathering of soulful embodied men from all over Europe.

4-3 tom barber4-3 lerouge clothespins4-5 black leather don4-6 AE team at silverspoon

Some “Stretch-hoppers” from Kai’s Authentic Eros team, chilling afterwards in Neukolln: Robert Farrar, Achim Kraemer, Peter Bollinger, Andy Saich, Kai, Peter Kogelbauer, and Eric Martin (aka Lerouge). Below: me with Tom Barber, a handsome British yoga teacher who has relocated to Berlin.

 

4-7 don and tom


Quote of the day: MARRIAGE

March 17, 2015

MARRIAGE

What does a good marriage have in common with good writing? Consider these rules from Strunk and White’s the Elements of Style: “Place yourself in the background.” “Avoid the use of qualifiers.” “Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.” “Do not overstate.” “Do not explain too much.” To which I’d add: Show, don’t tell – though an occasional “I love you” never hurts. And avoid the passive voice – especially of the passive-aggressive variety.

54th Birthday Party for Cleo Laine
The comedian Henny Youngman’s most famous one-liner was “Take my wife – please.” But he and his wife, Sadie Cohen [above], were apparently very close. She didn’t mind being the butt of his jokes and often accompanied him on his tours. I read recently that Sadie was terrified of hospitals and, during the prolonged illness that led to her death, Youngman had an intensive-care unit built in their bedroom so she could be looked after at home. When she died, they’d been married more than sixty years.

— Sy Safransky’s Notebook, The Sun, March 2015


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