Archive for May, 2010

Photo diary: 5/22-24/10

May 26, 2010

me and Dennis Altman in Chelsea police-car glare

first shot with my new Hipstamatic iPhone app

fruit stand on First Avenue

Quote of the day: PARENTAL GUIDANCE

May 25, 2010

PARENTAL GUIDANCE

When I was a teenager, in the late 1970s, part of my mother’s ongoing plan to keep our relationship in a state of maximum anxiety included sneaking up on me and then delivering some report on the nature of human sexuality. I’d be shampooing the dog or pouring glass beads into a groovy Makeit & Bakeit window ornament, and all of a sudden—from right behind my shoulder, and in the same conversational, non-insane tone of voice in which a normal person might have asked, “Do you want me to get the flea dip?”—she would announce, “Never marry a man because you want to have sex with him. Just have sex with him.”

If she had attempted to pull out one of my molars with a pair of pliers, I could not have greeted these advances with more hostility and undisguised horror. The dog would bound out of the sink or the beads would spill, I’d say something wounding to my mother, she would sigh, and an hour or two later, she’d track me down and look out the window in a vague, troubled way, and then let me have it, really show me how it felt to have such a rude and ungrateful daughter:

“I thought I’d make stir-fry tonight,” she’d say. “In the wok.”

I’d hand it right back to her, let her know exactly how frightened and confused I was about sex and how furious I was that she hadn’t found a way to talk to me that wasn’t so uncomfortable and incomprehensible:

“Okay.”

— Caitlin Flanagan, “Love, Actually,” The Atlantic

Photo diary: Elizabeth’s going-away party at the Ritz, 5-2210

May 24, 2010

Performance diary: THE METAL CHILDREN

May 24, 2010

May 21 – Having read a couple of Adam Rapp plays, I’ve never been too keen to see one. For me, he falls in the company of straight-white-guy writers like Neil LaBute and Eric Bogosian who dwell on dark, downbeat, edgy, nasty subject matter and bad behavior by low-life guys, as if that was enough to make a playwright Brave and Artistic. I made it a point to see The Metal Children at the Vineyard Theatre because I was dazzled by the cast of good New York character actors: Billy Crudup, David Greenspan, Susan Blommaert, Guy Boyd, Betsy Aidem, Phoebe Strole, and Halley Wegryn Gross, among others. The play centers on  Tobin Falmouth, a writer  – already a bad start for me, because I know there’s going to lots of people telling him what a great writer he is, the biggest cliché of art-about-artists – who’s down in the dumps: his wife left him, he’s depressed, his tiny New York apartment is a total pigsty, and he’s suffering writer’s block. Suddenly a book called The Metal Children that he wrote that acquired the status of cult novel for young adults has been banned at a school  in “a small community in the American heartland,” and he follows his agent’s advice and shows up for the town meeting where his book will be discussed. The kids in school have started to re-enact portions of his novel, and because there’s a certain amount of lurid sexual content the Christian right and associated crazies have begun terrorizing anyone who supports the book. They run around in pig masks vandalizing cars, burning down homes, and attacking the author.

I was somewhat fascinated by the play’s ambition to imagine living under a Taliban-like system in the U.S., where religion-based lifestyle restrictions are violently enforced by self-appointed citizen gestapo. (And we all know that school boards and libraries around the country have dealt with exactly this sort of battle between “freedom of speech” and “community values,” usually with ugly Orwellian results.) But for the most part, The Metal Children is a loathsome, narcisissistic, self-aggrandizing pile of clichés. That mess of a writer – guess what? He’s redeemed in the end and changes his ways. His agent is – guess what? – a hysterical queen. The gay high-school teacher who championed his book is – guess what? – a nervous nellie. The Christians are – guess what? – stupid and bigoted. The fans of the writer are – guess what? – supernaturally eloquent and physically brave. Sixteen-year-old Vera Dundee (played by Strole) is the ringleader of a gang of girls who revere the book and emulate its characters by getting themselves pregnant. Vera understands Tobin. She sees the purity of his hopelessness. She goes on at considerable length about “the novelist as cultural revolutionary.” She echoes her teacher in praising the novelist’s “courage to take an unflinching swing at the status quo.” And she bestows upon him the honor of impregnating her. Whew! How many straight-male fantasies can you visit onto one character? Rapp directed the play himself so, as you can imagine, every word is treated reverentially. Crudup, bless his heart, throws himself into the role wholeheartedly and plays every moment with terrific integrity. I was aghast at David Greenspan’s performance as the agent (he also plays a couple of other small parts) – I thought it was a tribute to Rapp as director that he could make the great Greenspan look terrible…but then it occurred to me that Greenspan’s egregiously over-the-top performance might itself be a sly critique of the play’s ludicrousness.

In this month’s issue of The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan writes about the culture of teenage girls, covering some of the same territory as The Metal Children. I rarely agree with Flanagan’s reactionary politics and her conservative variety of feminism, but I can’t help admiring her writing and her way of facing hard truths. I recommend reading her essay, called “Love, Actually.”

Photo diary: gay water polo tournament 5-22-10

May 24, 2010

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