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.

michael-cera-kiernan-culkin-bring-this-is-our-youth-to-broadway-02

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.

bootycandy graphic

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.


Quote of the day: TROLLS

August 28, 2014

TROLLS

There is an injunction among users of social media that one should not pay attention to online detractors. There is even a Twitter account, @AvoidComments, which issues monitory statements: “You wouldn’t listen to someone named Bonerman26 in real life. Don’t read the comments.” [Mary] Beard argues, instead, that comments sections expose attitudes that have long remained concealed in places like locker rooms and bars. Bonerman26 exists; his vileness should be contended with. In this spirit, she posted the image of herself-as-genitalia on her blog—it was surely the first time that the T.L.S. site might have needed a Not Safe for Work warning—and suggested possible responses for her supporters to take, such as flooding the offending message board with Latin poetry. The story made international news, and the message board soon shut down…

In another highly publicized incident, Beard retweeted a message that she had received from a twenty-year-old university student: “You filthy old slut. I bet your vagina is disgusting.” One of Beard’s followers offered to inform the student’s mother of his online behavior; meanwhile, he apologized. Beard’s object is not simply to embarrass offenders; it is to educate women. Before social media, she argues, it was possible for young women like those she teaches at Cambridge to enjoy the benefits of feminist advances without even being aware of the battles fought on their behalf, and to imagine that such attitudes are a thing of the past. Beard says, “Most of my students would have denied, I think, that there was still a major current of misogyny in Western culture.”

The university student, after apologizing online, came to Cambridge and took Beard out to lunch; she has remained in touch with him, and is even writing letters of reference for him. “He is going to find it hard to get a job, because as soon as you Google his name that is what comes up,” she said. “And although he was a very silly, injudicious, and at that moment not very pleasant young guy, I don’t actually think one tweet should ruin your job prospects.”

–Rebecca Mead, profiling classics scholar Mary Beard for The New Yorker

photo by Victoria Hely-Hutchinson

photo by Victoria Hely-Hutchinson

 


In this week’s New Yorker

August 28, 2014

The three long features are all worth reading, for very different reasons.

Rebecca Mead’s “The Troll Slayer,” a profile of British classics scholar Mary Beard, is the most entertaining because its subject is so self-accepting and outspoken and reasonable.

The subject of William Finnegan’s “The Man Without a Mask” — Mexican drag queen wrestler Saul Armendariz, aka Cassandro — sounds both tough and tortured, not unreasonably, given the amazing life he’s lived and the profession he has pursued. It’s a world I knew nothing about. Check out this amazing photo by Katie Olinsky:

cassandro by katie orlinsky

Connie Bruck’s “Friends of Israel” belongs to the category of Ugly Truths Department — one of the New Yorker’s political pieces that informs you about stuff you don’t really want to know but you really should, namely the negative impact that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has had on American politics by pouring tons of campaign money into Congress and enforcing an ironclad Israel-can-do-no-wrong attitude. Ugh. In its own way, AIPAC is as troublesome as the Koch brothers.

I gobbled up Lena Dunham’s “Difficult Girl,” but something about the glib way she plays her lifelong OCD for trendy status bugs me.

And another great cover by Eric Drooker, titled “Ferguson, Missouri”

new yorker ferguson cover


Quote of the day: RUIN

August 23, 2014

RUIN

“The Cabbages of Chekhov”

Some gamblers abandon carefully built houses
In order to live near water. It’s all right. One day
On the river is worth a thousand nights on land.

It is our attraction to ruin that saves us;
And disaster, friends, brings us health. Chekhov
Shocks the heavens with his dark cabbages.

William Blake knew that fierce old man,
Irritable, chained and majestic, who bends over
To measure with his calipers the ruin of the world.

It takes so little to make me happy tonight!
Four hours of singing will do it, if we remember
How much of our life is a ruin, and agree to that.

Butterflies spend all afternoon concentrating
On the buddleia bush; human beings take in
The fragrance of a thousand nights of ruin.

We planted fields of sorrow near the Tigris.
The Harvesters will come in at the end of time
And tell us that the crop of ruin has been great.

–Robert Bly

chekhov bly


Photo diary: midweek getaway to Cherry Grove

August 23, 2014

(click photos to enlarge)

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