zines: EKPYROSIS (2019)

January 21, 2020

I have a long-standing tradition of creating an end-of-year compilation of quotes, poems, cartoons, and images (many of them XXX-rated) as a gift to friends.

In recent years, I’ve been a little lax about posting them online, but I spent some time the other day making the last five years’ worth available.

Feel free to go here and click around for your literary and visual entertainment.

Be forewarned: these books contain X-rated images. By clicking on any of these titles, you certify that you are over 18 and have learned to dress yourself.

The most recent is titled EKPYROSIS. The title is a word I only learned from Mabou Mines’ annual Christmastime fundraising letter. It’s a Greek word the Stoics used to refer to the periodic destruction of the cosmos by a mass conflagration.


Culture Vulture: Under the Radar Festival and Duane Michals at the Morgan Library

January 20, 2020

Under the Radar, the annual festival of cutting-edge international work centered at the Public Theater, always opens the year with a bang. I feasted on three events in one day.

Aleshea Harris, one of the cadre of fierce amazingly original playwrights of color who’ve emerged in the last few years, created WHAT TO SEND UP WHEN IT GOES DOWN , which presents itself very specifically as a ritual first and foremost for black people to heal/address the situation of violence against black people in this country. “Please note that it is not often that Black people have a safe, public space for expressing their unfiltered feelings about anti-Blackness. We are taking that space today.” The playwright and the company she works with (Movement Theater Company) incorporate many elements of pagan ritual, African village ceremony, trauma therapy, and spiritual workshops to make every moment of the experience participatory, not sit-back-and-watch theater. Whitney White directed the uniformly strong performers: Alana Raquel Bowers, Rachel Christopher, Nemuna Ceesay, Ugo Chukwu, Kambi Gathesha, Denise Manning, Javon Q. Minter, and Beau Thom (above, photo by Ahron R. Foster).

I read the text when it was published in American Theatre last year, which blew me away, and the experience itself is super-powerful, from gathering in the lobby surrounded by photographs of black people killed by police to the very end of the show, which looks different for black and non-black audience members. I took very much to heart the statement Harris has an actor read at the end of the show to the non-black audience: “A good friend once told me that we each have a different job where challenging racism is concerned. She spoke to the ways she could use her privilege as a white woman to dismantle the white supremacist ideology that contributes to the deaths of so many people. As a Black woman and writer, I am uniquely positioned to create a piece of theatre focused on making space for Black people. This is one way I can contribute. This is my offering. I’d like to end this ritual by challenging you to consider what you are uniquely positioned to offer. As a non-Black person, what is a tangible way you can disrupt the idea responsible for all these lives needlessly taken? My hope is that you will consider this deeply. My further hope is that your consideration will turn to action.” I have some ideas. I want to percolate more. WHAT WE SEND UP had a short run Off-Broadway last year and will have another short run at Playwrights Horizons this summer.

I went from that intense reality directly to the moon – via TO THE MOON, a 15-minute virtual reality piece co-created by Hsin-Chien Huang and Laurie Anderson. Five people at a time sit on stools wearing a headset and holding joysticks for a trip through space. There were some beautiful images and speeches familiar from Anderson’s recent work, but the piece as a whole was so SCARY! I’m not a gamer and I’m amazingly prone to vertigo, so I stayed pretty low to the ground. When the video provided the opportunity to fly through space or climb a high steep mountain, I had to shut my eyes. It was so crazy: I knew I was sitting on a stool with a headset on and my feet on the floor but my palms were sweating and I was making involuntary fear sounds.

Then I got to see MUKHAGNI, created and performed by a young-ish gay male couple, one of them Bengali-American (Shayok Misha Chowdury), the other biracial/African-American (Kameron Neal). They do the entire 90-minute performance totally naked: cook food, stand with video projected onto their naked bodies, lie on the (stage-soil-covered) floor speaking into microphones dangling inches above their faces, talk about death and death rituals in various cultures and cremation and their respective families. (The title means “mouth fire,” which is how cremations along the Ganges begin.) They take a pile of birch trunks and build a kind of square seating area, then they rearrange the tree trunks into a kind of bonfire structure. Then the lights come up and they sit in folding chairs and talk to the audience about their relationship in a funny structure (“on our 15th date we did this…on our 312th date we did that…on our 186th date we decided to make this piece,” etc.) — a regular activity on “dates” was to visit cemeteries — then there’s a mourning ritual where Chowdury creates a garland of fresh flower blossoms while Neal shaves his head with a clipper. So amazing and sweet and strong and not exactly like anything I’ve seen before. But it’s the sort of thing I’ve watched my friend Keith Hennessy create over the years, elements of spiritual ceremony combined with pop-culture savvy non-linear performance art. I wish this show would have a longer run somewhere. You can see more pictures on their website: http://www.shayokmishachowdhury.com/mukhagni

A few days later I met my friend Liam Cunningham at the Morgan Library to walk through the beautiful exhibition “Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan.” I’ve long admired Michals’s work, distinctive for the interplay of image and language, poems and sentences and stories handwritten in the margins around his usually black-and-white, often enigmatic photographs.

The show is partly a retrospective but also an “artist’s choice” event, meaning that Michals got to root around in the Morgan’s archives to pull out art works that struck his fancy or that resonate with his own work.

Liam (who is a legendary photographer in his own right) took this beautiful picture of me in front of Sol LeWitt’s giant Wall Drawing 552D.

 


Quote of the day: HUG

January 16, 2020

HUG

The older I get, the more I like hugging. When I was little, the people hugging me were much larger. In their grasp I was a rag doll. In adolescence, my body was too tense to relax for a hug. Later, after the loss of virginity—which was anything but a loss—the extreme proximity of the other person, the smell of hair, the warmth of the skin, the sound of breathing in the dark—these were mysterious and delectable. This hug had two primary components: the anticipation of sex and the pleasure of intimacy, which itself is a combination of trust and affection. It was this latter combination that came to characterize the hugging I have experienced only in recent years, a hugging that knows no distinctions of gender or age. When this kind of hug is mutual, for a moment the world is perfect the way it is, and the tears we shed for it are perfect too. I guess it is an embrace.

–Ron Padgett (per The Writer’s Almanac)


BOOKS: RFD Interview re THE PARADOX OF PORN

December 28, 2019

The esteemed poet, therapist, and community treasure Franklin Abbott interviewed me about The Paradox of Porn for the latest issue of RFD, the radical faerie quarterly journal.


Culture Vulture: Top Theater of 2019

December 28, 2019

TOP THEATER OF 2019

  1. Fairview – I was a latecomer to Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, having missed it at Soho Rep and caught up with it at Theater for a New Audience (in a bigger and I have to imagine more ideal space). The play, Sarah Benson’s production, Mimi Lien’s set, Raja Feather Kelly’s choreography, and the masterful ensemble (especially Mayaa Boateng, Heather Alicia Simms, and Roslyn Ruff, below, photo by Richard Termine) rocked my world with its canny employment of theatrical elements to dramatize how we perform race for each other.

2. Octet – Composer Dave Molloy continued to astonish with this a cappella musical about a 12-step group for internet addicts, with a superb cast directed by Annie Tippe with extraordinary music direction by Or Matias.

3. American Utopia – David Byrne turned his latest album tour into a Broadway spectacle with the help of choreographer Annie-B Parson, staging consultant Alex Timbers, lighting designer Rob Sinclair, and whoever devised the technology to allow the musicians to roam the stage as self-contained entities.

4. Hadestown – Pop songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s adaptation of the Orpheus myth was a revelation to me, beautifully staged by the great Rachel Chavkin with a bunch of remarkable performances, including Amber Gray, Reeve Carney, and standout ensemble member Timothy Hughes.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation surpassed my expectations, thanks to Bartlett Sher’s tough production and Celia Keenan-Bolger’s indelible Scout.

6. Fefu and Her Friends – Lileana Blain-Cruz’s exquisite staging of Maria Irene Fornes’s famous, rarely seen 1977 theatrical groundbreaker, with excellent sets by Adam Rigg, costumes by Montana Levi Blanco, and top-notch performances by all, especially Amelia Workman and Brittany Bradford.


7. Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven – another rich, messy, double-slice of life from Stephen Adly Giurgis with a crazy good ensemble (above, photo by Monique Carboni) directed by John Ortiz, especially Elizabeth Rodriguez, Kristina Poe, and the towering Liza Colón-Zayas.

  1. “Daddy” A Melodrama – Jeremy O. Harris has unerring instincts for language, stories, and imagery that make theater electric. Like his Slave Play (currently on Broadway) and Black Exhibition (recently at Bushwick Starr, above, Miles Greenberg with Harris, photo by Sara Krulwich), Daddy made up for its imperfections with puppets, outrageous performances, and Alan Cumming suddenly grabbing a mic to sing George Michael’s “Father Figure” with a female gospel trio singing backup.
  2. Adaku’s Revolt – MacArthur fellow Okwui Okpokwasili mounted this beautiful small piece for young audiences at the Abrons Arts Center.
  3. Soft Power – David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori collaborated on this curious, ambitious fun musical-within-a-play about reimagining The King and I from a Chinese point of view in order to heal the 2016 election results and Hwang’s experience of being stabbed.

Special Mention: Madonna’s Madame X show at the BAM Opera House was surprising, annoying, theatrical, and unforgettable.

Other memorable performance highlights: Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop, beautifully staged by Stephen Brackett with brave Larry Owen in the lead; Netta Yerushalmy’s epic Paramodernities at New York Live Arts; Becca Blackwell and Danielle Skraastad in Hurricane Diane; exquisite design and direction of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Marys Seacole at LCT3 with Quincy Tyler Bernstine and Karen Kandel; Phelim McDermott’s beautiful campy production of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten at the Metropolitan Opera with a strong lead performance by counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (above); Lauren Patten in Jagged Little Pill; at least Part One of Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance on Broadway; Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman; Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas; Come Through, Bon Iver’s collaboration with TU Dance; and the Encores! Off-Center production of Al Carmines and Irene Fornes’s quirky, smart, devastating musical Promenade.


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