June 2 – You never know what you’re going to get with a new John Guare play. It’s never something generic. His brain is a repository of amazing stories, so you can count on some fantastic storytelling. 3 Kinds of Exile, his new show at Atlantic Theater Company, consists of three vignettes about European artists who left their homelands, each told in a different theatrical style. “Karel” is a monologue, performed by Martin Moran, who’s famous for his own solo shows (The Tricky Part, All the Rage), that asks “How much of your life have you made up?” It is a story within a story (about Karel Reisz, the Czech-born film director who staged Guare’s play Gardenia for Manhattan Theatre Club), with an O. Henry twist at the end. “Elzbieta Erased” is a duet performed by Guare himself with Omar Sangare, an actor who played young Paul in the Polish production of Six Degrees of Separation – together they tell the intricate, fabulous, sad story of Elzbieta Czyzewska, the actress famous in Poland who left when she married American journalist David Halberstam and almost never acted again. (In Ivo van Hove’s production of Hedda Gabler starring Elizabeth Marvel at New York Theater Workshop, she played the maid, sitting onstage smoking furiously the whole time and saying virtually nothing.) “Funiage” uses nine actors to give a condensed biography of Witold Gombrowicz, a critically respected Polish writer (played by David Pittu) who spent most of his career living and working in Argentina. It’s a nutty chunk of theater, well-staged by Neil Pepe and worth seeing.
What were your favorite books as a child?
I know that as a working writer I should answer this question in such a way as to make me seem intelligent; maybe Twain or Dickens, even Hesse or Conrad. I should say that I read intelligent books far beyond my years. This I believe would give intelligent readers the confidence to go out and lay down hard cash for my newest, and the one after that.
But the truth is that the most beloved and the most formative books of my childhood were comic books, specifically Marvel Comics. “Fantastic Four” and “Spider-Man,” “The Mighty Thor” and “The Invincible Iron Man”; later came “Daredevil” and many others. These combinations of art and writing presented to me the complexities of character and the pure joy of imagining adventure. They taught me about writing dialect and how a monster can also be a hero. They lauded science and fostered the understanding that the world was more complex than any one mind, or indeed the history of all human minds, could comprehend.
– Walter Mosley, “By the Book,” New York Times Book Review
There’s been a long, headache-inducing debate about the question of straight male actors “playing gay”—whether it’ll ruin careers, whether audiences will find the actor hot, and on and on. It’s a nonsense issue that social progress has begun to render irrelevant, and Michael Douglas’s spectacular performance as Liberace demonstrates a rarely discussed benefit. Freed from his trademark macho sulk, Douglas gains all sorts of unexpected charisma—he’s genuinely funny and surprisingly sexy, even with his toupee off, looking like an unshelled tortoise. His eyes lit with amused intelligence, Douglas’s Liberace is your classic “bossy bottom,” a gleeful narcissist who treats his hangers-on as a mirror (sometimes literally: he pressures Scott [Thorson, his boyfriend] to get plastic surgery to look like a younger version of him). And yet the man’s a charmer. He’s playful, even when he’s selling the world a line. In bed, the two have loving, affectionate exchanges, candid about their histories. Liberace jokes with Scott about the rumors—ones he encourages, of course—that he’s engaged to the Olympic champion Sonja Henie. “As if I would marry an ice skater,” he scoffs. “Please. I mean, those thighs!”
The movie is frank, and often very funny, about Liberace’s sexual appetites, which he pursued without seeing any contradiction between them and his devout Catholicism. He has a penis implant, likes porn, and late in their relationship he pressures Scott to take risks that seem crazy for a closeted star, like sneaking into a sex store in ankle-length matching furs. When the camera captures Liberace peeking over a booth with a grin, the movie doesn’t pathologize his good time—from one perspective, he’s a sex addict; from another, a madcap adventurer. During an argument about what Scott will and won’t do in bed, Liberace does a hilariously profane imitation of the couple as a gay Ricky and Lucy. “Why am I the Lucy?” Scott complains. “Because I’m the bandleader,” Liberace explains, with impeccable logic. “With the night-club act.”
– Emily Nussbaum, reviewing Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra for The New Yorker
Three very interesting complicated narratives dominate the issue:
* Nicholas Schmidle’s “In the Crosshairs” tells the compelling story of Chris Kyle, the highly decorated military killing machine and co-author of the best-seller American Sniper, whose well-intentioned efforts to help Iraqi veterans suffering from PTSD brought him in contact with Eddie Ray Routh, with disastrous results.
* In “The Manic Mountain,” Nick Paumgarten writes about an intense fight on Mt. Everest between elite white European climbers and the local sherpas who make the slopes safe for commercial tourism.
* Jill Lepore’s sharply negative review of Neil Thompson’s new biography A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It Or Not!” Ripley manages to achieve a capsule portrait of not only Ripley but also Goeffrey T. Hellman, who wrote many in-depth New Yorker profiles, including one of Ripley that ran in two successive issues in 1940.
I enjoyed reading Alex Halberstadt’s profile of Kim Gordon, even though I have never managed to get anything out of listening to Sonic Youth’s music. And I have to admit that I loved Emily Nussbaum’s review of Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra — I pretty much agree with everything she says about the movie.
Oh, and great timely cover by Marcellus Hall: