Quote of the day: TRUMP CULTURE

January 8, 2017

TRUMP CULTURE

The most frightening aspect of the looming Donald Trump presidency is not so much the likely outcomes, many of which are horrifying, as the unlikely ones. Running the federal government of the world’s most powerful country is hard, and many things can go wrong. Full control of government is about to pass into the hands of a party that, when it last had it, left the economy and the world in a shambles. These disasters occurred because the party’s ideological extremism made it unequipped to make pragmatic choices, and because its chief executive was a mental lightweight. Sixteen years after it last came to power, the party has grown far more ideologically extreme, and its head of state is much less competent. Many of the tail risks of an extremist party led by an unqualified president are difficult to foresee in advance. But one is especially glaring: the appointment of Michael Flynn (below right, with staffers K.T. McFarland and Michael Flynn Jr.) to be national security adviser…

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Flynn’s portrait seems to reflect the worst qualities of Dick Cheney, but in exaggerated form. Flynn avidly subscribes to conspiracy theories. He believes Islamists have infiltrated the Mexican border en masse, guided along the way by Arabic-language signs Flynn claims to have seen himself. He also believes that Democrats have imposed Sharia law in parts of Florida, and shared a now-deleted tweet that suggested Hillary Clinton could have been involved in child sex trafficking. These claims were frequent enough that his subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency gave them a name, “Flynn facts,” which means a Flynn belief that is the opposite of a fact.

It is almost impossible to overstate the danger to American national security posed by the combination of Flynn and his staff. Because his appointment is not subject to Senate confirmation, and also because it has been overshadowed by the Rex Tillerson nomination and its connection to the fast-moving Russia story, Flynn has receded from the front pages. His appointment is unprecedented, like so many other other things Trump has done — indeed, the endless violations of precedent are what make Trump’s election so surreal, and its dangers difficult to order.

But it is the specific, mutually reinforcing characteristics of Flynn and his staff that invite the most alarm. He is a conspiracy theorist averse to any challenge to his suspicions, surrounding himself with a staff of fellow conspiracy theorists seemingly designed to shut out any challenge to his biases, providing advice to a novice president who is himself a conspiracy theorist. It’s under-informed, overconfident crackpots all the way down. As a comedic script, it would defy plausibility. Except there’s a terrifying chance that a lot of innocent people will die as a result.

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine


Culture Vulture: Year in Review

December 27, 2016

TOP THEATER:

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  1. Notes from the Field – Anna Deveare Smith’s latest triumph in channeling the zeitgeist focuses on education, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the killings by police of black men, zeroing in on exactly what we need to be thinking and talking about. Smith (above) gives voice to an astonishing array of characters (including Congressman John Lewis) with precision and extreme down-to-earth humanity in a way that arrives at hope and inspiration. I wish this show were broadcast on TV for everyone to see every week for the next year.

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  1. Kings of WarFlemish director Ivo van Hove, one of the great theater artists of our time, brought his virtuosic Toneelgroep Amsterdam to BAM to perform this wildly ambitious 4 ½ hour mashup of six Shakespeare histories (from Henry IV to Richard III) in Dutch with English surtitles. The breathtaking inventiveness of Jan Versweyveld’s multimedia design made these political dramas excruciatingly immediate. A countertenor, four brass players, and a DJ provided strange and beautiful underscoring, and Hans Kesting gave an unforgettable performance as Richard III as a demonic wounded monarch cocooned in the mirrored chamber of his power-madness.david-hyde-pierce-in-a-life-joan-marcus
  2. A Life – Adam Bock never fails to impress me with his gift for character, language, humor, soulful reflection of contemporary life, and most of all the extraordinary freedom he takes to shape his narratives in theatrically surprising ways. He outdid himself with this show at Playwrights Horizons, which occasioned a low-key yet astonishing performance by David Hyde Pierce (above), with a uniformly excellent supporting cast well-directed by Anne Kauffman on an ingenious Laura Jellinek set.

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  1. The Encounter – Simon McBurney conceived, directed, and performed this fascinating experiment in theater-via-headphones (on Broadway!) depicting an American photographer’s adventures with South American shamanism, similar to the terrific Colombian film Embrace of the Serpent.
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  2. YOUARENOWHERE – former Wooster Group associate Andrew Schneider (above) and a cutting-edge tech-savvy design team created this dazzling mindfuck of a performance piece at 3-Legged Dog.

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  1. A 24-Decade History of Popular Music – Generosity of spirit, woke politics, musical chops, and playful theatrical nerve made queer genius Taylor Mac’s epic vision a delight-filled call to arms, with peerless costume-design-as-gesamtkunstwerk by Machine Dazzle and music direction by Matt Ray.
  2. Steve – Mark Gerrard’s script captured the intersection of sex, relationships, and social media in gay life today to a T. Cynthia Nixon directed a fine cast for the New Group, but Matt McGrath’s performance dove several layers deeper than almost any I saw this year.
  3. The Crucible – I didn’t think I needed to see another production of Arthur Miller’s classic again but damned if Ivo van Hove didn’t find a dozen ways to make it a stark and terrifying reflection of today’s chilling political climate, with another mind-boggling design by Jan Versweyveld and a cast mixing terrific Brits (Ben Whishaw, Sophie Okonedo, Saoirse Ronan) with great downtown actors not usually seen on Broadway (Bill Camp, Jason Butler Harner, Thomas Jay Ryan, Brenda Wehle, Teagle Bougere).
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  4. portrait of myself as my father – Nora Chipaumire’s exploration of black African masculinity is set in a boxing ring. But the costumes, the gestures, the masks, the soundscore, and the movement pile onto the boxing metaphor numerous other frameworks: hiphop concert, voodoo ritual, club performance, shamanic trance ceremony, and Wooster Group-style mediated theater. The three performers (Shamar Watt, NC, and Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye, above) push themselves to extremes of physical ability, gender identification, and cultural cross-reference.
  1. Dear Evan HansenSteven Levenson’s morally complicated book, Pasek & Paul’s tuneful score, Michael Greif’s staging, and the lead performances by Ben Platt and Laura Dreyfuss made this the most substantial original musical of the year.

Some Other Goodies: the Encores production of Sunday in the Park with George, especially Annaleigh Ashford and Phylicia Rashad; Benjamin Walker’s central performance and Duncan Sheik’s ‘80s-techno score for American Psycho; the Canadian dance company Holy Body Tattoo’s revival of Monumental with poetic texts by Jenny Holzer and a brooding/squalling score performed live by Godspeed You! Black Emperor; Charlayne Woodard in Branden Jacobs-Jenkin’s War at LCT3; Kiki and Herb at Joe’s Pub (below).

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Some Great Music: Ego Death by The Internet, Bowie’s Blackstar, Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, Black Noise by Pantha du Prince, multiple Mixcloud playlists compiled by Nick Francis (Quiet Music), lowlightmixes, and Halftribe.

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Some Great Films:
Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Tangerine, Arrival (above), April & the Extraordinary World.


Quote of the day: POLITICAL EFFECTIVENESS

December 5, 2016

POLITICAL EFFECTIVENESS

The NRA, to my knowledge, has never held a mass demonstration or march. You know why? Because, like all the most effective lobbies in this country, it focuses on just 535 human beings called senators and representatives. That’s where its efforts begin and end. The NRA knows everything about these politicians: who funds them, what primary challenger they’re most afraid of, who their doctor is, who their lawyer is, who they play golf with, what their personality and character weaknesses are, whether they are susceptible to flattery and like to be taken on junkets. That’s why the NRA is so powerful. Add to that the NRA’s political action committee, which rewards obeisant public servants on Capitol Hill with campaign contributions. And the NRA knows how to punish, too. If a politician stands up to the NRA, it will back a candidate in a primary to try to beat him or her. Members of Congress are afraid of people who are extremely energetic on a single issue. That’s the secret.

Activists usually hold mass rallies against war or climate change in Washington, D.C., on a weekend, when members of Congress aren’t there. All this energy that it takes to put together a rally sort of goes up into the ether. The event doesn’t get that much coverage either, because there are not as many reporters working on the weekend. The activists don’t take up a collection at the rally and raise money to open an office with four full-time employees. With two hundred thousand people, you can quickly raise enough to pay four people’s salaries for a year. Then, when the members of Congress came back on a weekday, they would find more than just a bunch of crushed cups and soda cans on the Mall. They would find four full-time advocates who are connected with a lot more people.

We have to be smarter in the way we lobby. I always say, “Don’t just hope that the government will hear you. Summon the senators and representatives to your town meetings.” We are the sovereign people, and we have to make our hired hands in Congress come to our events and do their homework on the issues. Then we’re up there on the stage, and they are in the audience with their staff. Why don’t more people do that? It’s so much fun to make these politicians squirm.

Ralph Nader, interviewed in The Sun
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Culture Vulture: Adam Bock’s A LIFE at Playwrights Horizons

December 4, 2016

I saw Adam Bock’s tremendous new play A Life at Playwrights Horizons for the second time yesterday. It impressed me again with its deep humor and humanity and with the playwright’s amazing skill at creating characters, writing amazing scenes, and taking unbelievable freedom for himself in shaping the narrative. The first half hour of the play is an extraordinary long monologue by the main character, played by David Hyde Pierce. When I first saw the play in previews, the audience in the intimate Peter Sharp space upstairs at Playwrights was pretty quiet. This time, after stellar reviews, the audience was quite excited, plus clearly many were there who were major David Hyde Pierce fans (including Andy’s friends from London whom we took to see it). And the way he responded to every tiny little ripple in the audience — including instantly saying “Bless you” when somebody sneezed — was fantastic to witness. Tonight is the final performance.

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One of the things I always love about seeing shows at Playwrights Horizons is that almost always you can pick up in the lobby afterwards a simple Xeroxed copy of an interview with the playwright conducted by either artistic director Tim Sanford or the literary manager Adam Greenfield. These smart, in-depth interviews almost always tell you everything you want to know about the show you’ve just seen. The interview with Bock doesn’t answer ALL my questions but it’s a fascinating conversation nevertheless. You can read it online here. Check it out and let me know what you think. There’s also a ton of other intriguing stuff about the playwright and the play on the theater company’s website — see here. adam-bock

 

 

 


Photo diary: weekend in the country

October 24, 2016

(click photos twice to enlarge)

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