Archive for June, 2010

Quote of the day: JERSEY

June 27, 2010

JERSEY

“The Lure of the Jersey Shore”

You need not wait for the results from the Census to know one thing: There are more colorful characters per capita in New Jersey than in any other state in the nation. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a freakin’ Snooki. Just take a drive down the Garden State Parkway through the Jackass Belt, hang a left into any one of a dozen or so shore towns, and pull into the first hoagie shop you see: Don’t be afraid. Talk back to Vinnie! That’s how it’s done. You will get exactly the sandwich you want no other way.

One thing you learn growing up at the Jersey shore is how to be mouthy and funny and loud while—if you get the mix exactly right—still retaining a certain charm. It’s a skill learned from hanging out in diners. The most telling fact about Jersey is that the state is home to 600 diners—more than anywhere else in the country. The fact that my mother was a waitress in a diner is not particularly surprising to anyone from Jersey. Everyone works in a diner! And what did my parents miss the most when they retired to a farm in West Virginia? Loud, mouthy, funny people.

Historically, mouthy New Jerseyans have had an outsize impact on American culture. Martha Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Wendy Williams, Dennis Rodman, Tara Reid, Jerry Lewis, Whitney!—all from the Garden State. There are lots of theories about why the state tends to produce famous people, but the most sensible one is that proximity to Manhattan tends to over-stoke the crazy dreams of all those face-pressed-up-against-the-glass strivers.

Now, of course, one needn’t leave Jersey to fulfill his or her attention-seeking ambitions. Cable television is overrun with self-described guidos and guidettes. Why New Jersey? Why now? And why so many Italian-American caricatures? (I grew up with a lot of Snookis and Situations; to my ear and eye, there is nothing off-key about Jersey Shore or The Real Housewives or Jersey Couture). My friend Rob Morea, who still occasionally slips into a Central Jersey patois—“I’m just sayin’ …” becomes “I’m just schayin’ …”—believes the popularity of Jersey on television is that everyone misses The Sopranos. Something, no matter how inferior, had to fill the giant hole left behind when James Gandolfini (Westwood!) retired his lovingly precise portrayal of Tony. And those bitches on Housewives have more than a little in common with Carmela. They may keep a “classy” house and get a lot of pedicures, but they will cut you.

My personal theory is that reality TV is currently in its peak-oil phase. There is not an unlimited supply of the sort reality-show producers depend upon: outrageous, unanalyzed characters with enough self-regard to allow cameras to show them behaving like clowns. The Jersey reality-television boomlet is a bit like the Deepwater Horizon disaster: It is now painfully obvious that the industry is desperately drilling deeper and deeper for the outrageous, often pent-up characters America is addicted to. And now they have come to drill down where they know there is a deep reserve, a place guaranteed to unleash a gusher: the Jerz.

But don’t take my (or Bravo’s) word for it. The Jersey shore isn’t all Snookis. Come see for yourself all the wondrous natural resources Jersey has to offer—the beaches, the hoagies, and, yes, the characters—before they pump the well dry.

— Jonathan Van Meter, New York Magazine

Performance diary: OUR TOWN

June 26, 2010


June 23 –
My friend Tom Dennison (above) loves to see shows repeatedly. He gets on a kick and goes back again and again, bringing friends, spreading the word, spreading the love. He was a huge fan of Spring Awakening and saw it 7 seven times in the last few months of its Broadway run. Some of his favorite movies ever are Shortbus and Lars and the Real Girl, and he’s turned several dozen of his friends onto them. His latest theatrical fixation is David Cromer’s production of OUR TOWN – he’s seen it six or seven times and recently corraled a posse of friends into going again, including Andy, who’s never seen or read the play before. I decided to tag along at the last minute and had a good time, a surprisingly emotional time. Cromer’s production is so devastatingly dry and pitiless – the emotional impact is inversely proportionate to the emotional expressiveness of the actors. I had such a strong reaction the first time I saw the production that my feelings came lunging back as soon as the show began. Especially seeing James McMenamin, the young actor who plays George Gibbs. He is responsible for the heart-ripping last moment of the production, so seeing him again I knew where he was headed and found myself on the edge of tears watching him in the earlier scenes of the play. The Stage Manager is now being played by Michael McKean, who’s very good – not quite as dry and brusque as David Cromer was originally…in a certain way, he seems more poetic, like some Irish poet, or an overgrown version of Tom in The Glass Menagerie. But I liked his performance very much, and for some reason was especially attentive and struck by the third act: his speech about eternity hit me in a way it never had before, and this time I got the sense that the Stage Manager has been speaking to us from the graveyard the whole time. I didn’t quite get it until this time because I was sitting in a seat where I could see his face and see that he was in the same thoughtful timeless placeless space as the dead characters.

This time, too, I was extremely aware of how much my experience of Our Town is inextricably bound up with the Wooster Group’s version of it, embedded in their controversial but nevertheless brilliant 1980 production ROUTE 1 & 9. That production juxtaposed scenes from Our Town (presented on video in black-and-white close-ups as if it were a soap opera) with a Pigmeat Markham vaudeville routine, performed by the same actors live in blackface. And the Stage Manager role was played on video by Ron Vawter, replicating an educational television lecture by literary scholar Clifton Fadiman, who explicates the themes of the play in a way that’s undeniably astute but also slightly risible in its obviousness. But I will apparently always remember the way Ron/Fadiman highlighted certain lines in the play: “Why, Julia Hersey: French toast!” and “The moonlight is so terrible!” Anytime I think of Ron Vawter, I feel pangs of great joy and great sorrow. One more doorway into the bottomless pit of AIDS grief….

Besides the famous third-act coup de theatre, one of the best things about Cromer’s production is that you spend the whole time looking at other people in the audience, the other citizens of Our Town. At this show in the front row was a young black woman wearing a black t-shirt that said in big bold letters, “Do I Look Like a FUCKING People Person?”

It was fun to revisit OUR TOWN with our gang (above: Andy, Scott, Tom, me and my Andy) and talk about the play afterwards sitting on the patio at Tanti Baci sharing pasta and a good bottle of Super Tuscan. Oh, and I guess everybody knows by now that Helen Hunt will be taking over the role of Stage Manager in a couple of weeks, and then David Cromer will come back for two weeks just before the production finally closes after almost two years.

JUNE 23 – MY FRIEND TOM DENNISON LOVES TO SEE SHOWS REPEATEDLY. HE GETS ON A KICK AND GOES BACK AGAIN AND AGAIN, BRINGING FRIENDS, SPREADING THE WORD, SPREADING THE LOVE. HE WAS A HUGE FAN OF SPRING AWAKENING AND SAW IT 7 SEVEN TIMES IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS OF ITS BROADWAY RUN. SOME OF HIS FAVORITE MOVIES EVER ARE SHORTBUS AND LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, AND HE’S TURNED SEVERAL DOZEN OF HIS FRIENDS ONTO THEM. HIS LATEST THEATRICAL FIXATION IS DAVID CROMER’S PRODUCTION OF OUR TOWN – HE’S SEEN IT SIX OR SEVEN TIMES AND RECENTLY CORRALED A POSSE OF FRIENDS INTO GOING AGAIN, INCLUDING ANDY, WHO’S NEVER SEEN OR READ THE PLAY BEFORE. I DECIDED TO TAG ALONG AT THE LAST MINUTE AND HAD A GOOD TIME, A SURPRISINGLY EMOTIONAL TIME. CROMER’S PRODUCTION IS SO DEVASTATINGLY DRY AND PITILESS – THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT IS INVERSELY PROPORTIONATE TO THE EMOTIONAL EXPRESSIVENESS OF THE ACTORS. I HAD SUCH A STRONG REACTION THE FIRST TIME I SAW THE PRODUCTION THAT MY FEELINGS CAME LUNGING BACK AS SOON AS THE SHOW BEGAN. ESPECIALLY SEEING JAMES MCMENAMIN, THE YOUNG ACTOR WHO PLAYS GEORGE GIBBS. HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE HEART-RIPPING LAST MOMENT OF THE PRODUCTION, SO SEEING HIM AGAIN I KNEW WHERE HE WAS HEADED AND FOUND MYSELF ON THE EDGE OF TEARS WATCHING HIM IN THE EARLIER SCENES OF THE PLAY. THE STAGE MANAGER IS NOW BEING PLAYED BY MICHAEL MCKEAN, WHO’S VERY GOOD – NOT QUITE AS DRY AND BRUSQUE AS DAVID CROMER WAS ORIGINALLY…IN A CERTAIN WAY, HE SEEMS MORE POETIC, LIKE SOME IRISH POET, OR AN OVERGROWN VERSION OF TOM IN THE GLASS MENAGERIE. BUT I LIKED HIS PERFORMANCE VERY MUCH, AND FOR SOME REASON WAS ESPECIALLY ATTENTIVE AND STRUCK BY THE THIRD ACT: HIS SPEECH ABOUT ETERNITY HIT ME IN A WAY IT NEVER HAD BEFORE, AND THIS TIME I GOT THE SENSE THAT THE STAGE MANAGER HAS BEEN SPEAKING TO US FROM THE GRAVEYARD THE WHOLE TIME. I DIDN’T QUITE GET IT UNTIL THIS TIME BECAUSE I WAS SITTING IN A SEAT WHERE I COULD SEE HIS FACE AND SEE THAT HE WAS IN THE SAME THOUGHTFUL TIMELESS PLACELESS SPACE AS THE DEAD CHARACTERS.

THIS TIME, TOO, I WAS EXTREMELY AWARE OF HOW MUCH MY EXPERIENCE OF OUR TOWN IS INEXTRICABLY BOUND UP WITH THE WOOSTER GROUP’S VERSION OF IT, EMBEDDED IN THEIR CONTROVERSIAL BUT NEVERTHELESS BRILLIANT 1980 PRODUCTION ROUTE 1 & 9. THAT PRODUCTION JUXTAPOSED SCENES FROM OUR TOWN (PRESENTED ON VIDEO IN BLACK-AND-WHITE CLOSE-UPS AS IF IT WERE A SOAP OPERA) WITH A PIGMEAT MARKHAM VAUDEVILLE ROUTINE, PERFORMED BY THE SAME ACTORS LIVE IN BLACKFACE. AND THE STAGE MANAGER ROLE WAS PLAYED ON VIDEO BY RON VAWTER, REPLICATING AN EDUCATIONAL TELEVISION LECTURE BY LITERARY SCHOLAR CLIFTON FADIMAN, WHO EXPLICATES THE THEMES OF THE PLAY IN A WAY THAT’S UNDENIABLY ASTUTE BUT ALSO SLIGHTLY RISIBLE IN ITS OBVIOUSNESS. BUT I WILL APPARENTLY ALWAYS REMEMBER THE WAY RON/FADIMAN HIGHLIGHTED CERTAIN LINES IN THE PLAY: “WHY, JULIA HERSEY: FRENCH TOAST!” AND “THE MOONLIGHT IS SO TERRIBLE!” ANYTIME I THINK OF RON VAWTER, I FEEL PANGS OF GREAT JOY AND GREAT SORROW. ONE MORE DOORWAY INTO THE BOTTOMLESS PIT OF AIDS GRIEF….

STILL, IT WAS FUN TO REVISIT OUR TOWN WITH OUR GANG AND TALK ABOUT THE PLAY AFTERWARDS SITTING ON THE PATIO AT TANTI BACI SHARING PASTA AND A GOOD BOTTLE OF SUPER TUSCAN.

Quote of the day: BLAME

June 25, 2010

BLAME

Blame gives us permission to remain where we are while pressuring others to tiptoe around our wounds. Blame does not heal and it does not produce change; forgiveness does.

— Caroline Myss

Quote of the day: QUESTION

June 24, 2010

QUESTION

Why is it that if a woman rents out her uterus, it’s called surrogacy, but if she rents out her vagina, it’s called prostitution?

— Frank Spinelli

In this week’s New Yorker

June 23, 2010

Three items of special interest:

1) Nicole Kraus’s haunting short story “The Young Painters,” continuing the New Yorker’s series spotlighting young writers, “20 Under 40.”

2) Ariel Levy’s profile of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, delivered with Levy’s usual light touch, detailed reporting, compassion, and unerring bigotry-sensor. To wit:

One afternoon in Jerusalem, while Huckabee was eating a chocolate croissant in the lounge of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, I asked him to explain his rationale for opposing gay rights. “I do believe that God created male and female and intended for marriage to be the relationship of the two opposite sexes,” he said. “Male and female are biologically compatible to have a relationship. We can get into the ick factor, but the fact is two men in a relationship, two women in a relationship, biologically, that doesn’t work the same.”

3) Anthony Lane’s laugh-out-loud hilarious account of the Eurovision Song Contest, which you have to be a subscriber to read online. But it’s worth chasing down and reading in full, perhaps aloud, to catch the gems that Lane tosses out on the run.

Whether you’re presenting, performing, attending, or watching at home, alcohol is essential for getting through the Eurovision Song Contest, and the Norwegian pils served at the concession stands, as weak as fizzy rain, was simply not up to the job. How else could one face an opening band, from Moldova, who rhymed “We have no progressive future!” with “I know your lying nature!”, and who had taken pains to insure that their violinist’s illuminated bow matched the bright-blue straps of the lead singer’s garter belt? A deranged Estonian pianist smacked his keyboard with one raised fist, like a butcher flattening an escalope of veal. A pair of ice-white blondes, one with a squeezebox, decided to revive the moribund tradition of oompah-pah — or presumably, since they were Finnish, oom-päa-päa. A Belgian boy came on to croon “Me and My Guitar,” otherwise known as “Him and His Crippling Delusion.”



%d bloggers like this: