Archive for November, 2010

In this week’s New Yorker…

November 30, 2010

Aside from the cheeky and up-to-the-minute cover image by Barry Blitt (above), I was most intrigued with Kelefa Sanneh’s Critic-at-Large essay, ostensibly a review of Jay-Z’s book Decoded, which betrayed an extreme familiarity with every scrap and tittle of Jay-Z’s music and discusses it with the detailed obsessiveness that Stephen Sondheim fans apply to every new item from the master. And then Sanneh goes on to review Sondheim’s memoir Finishing the Hat. A rare cultural critic whose sphere of reference spans hip-hop and Sondheim, innit? Go, Kelefa!

Speaking of cross-cultural stretch and the New Yorker, I was intrigued to read in New York magazine that the New Yorker‘s rapacious pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones has been hired as culture editor of The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s new iPad-aimed digital newspaper.

What else? I was also fascinated to read Gay Talese’s almost breathlessly starstruck account of traveling with the young opera star Marina Poplavskaya, currently appearing at the Metropolitan Opera in Don Carlo. She sounds like a terrific singer — can’t wait to hear her in person.

Theater review: A FREE MAN OF COLOR

November 29, 2010

In my theater pantheon, John Guare looms large. Along with Richard Foreman‘s Rhoda in Potatoland, Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls…, Robert Patrick‘s The Haunted Host (starring Harvey Fierstein), and the Wooster Group‘s Nayatt School, the original production at the Public Theater of Landscape of the Body was one of a handful of productions that smashed my young playgoing brain into pieces. I’ve followed his work closely ever since.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Guare’s new play A Free Man of Color for years, since it was first put on the schedule at the Public, under the direction of George C. Wolfe. It got scratched from the Public, supposedly for financial reasons but really — we learned from the New York Times a few weeks ago — over artistic differences with Oscar Eustis. Happily, Lincoln Center Theater picked it up and has spared no expense putting up this extravagant piece of work.

My review has just been posted on, saying in part:

Jeffrey Wright in "A Free Man of Color"

“Few of his works have ever shied away from wildly imagined multiple narratives sprawling in time, space, and dimension. Still, Guare has outdone himself with A Free Man of Color. Here he plays theater nerd as hip-hop DJ, mashing up big swatches of classic dramas (William Wycherley’s The Country Wife and Ben Jonson’s Volpone, The Merchant of Venice and Don Giovanni, to name only the most obvious), in order to tell the story of New Orleans circa 1801 as a unique crossroads of freedom and slavery, geography and imagination, race and racism, American history and American dreams, Europe and Africa, perched halfway between the Caribbean Islands and the Mississippi River.”

You can read the complete review online here.

Photo diary: Max’s closet salon and Harlem housewarming

November 29, 2010

This is my friend Max rada dada -- artist, performer, magician, trickster. Sometimes he appears in Boy Scout uniform. Tonight he's favoring a look Andy calls "Rip Taylor meets Salvador Dali."

This is Max's partner, Tim, a special education teacher. They've been peripatetic in recent years -- after meeting in Hawaii, they've lived in West Virginia and New Orleans, driven back and forth across the country, and now they've landed in New York City.

They've just taken occupancy of a tiny garden apartment in a Harlem brownstone. So they hosted the first of several housewarming salons, showcasing a small sample of Max's artwork, which includes 20X24 Polaroids, sculptures, collages, and conceptual pieces.

He loves to use money as material.

He loves to collect unusual commercial products.

He loves to write on things or have people autograph them as an ongoing Warholian documentary of his/their/our life.

His latest passion is for "Unexceptional Tricks." Most of all, he likes to meet people, to entertain, and to encourage playfulness. He's the person who first designated me a Pleasure Activist, an identity I cherish.

Event: Gamelan Kusuma Laras, December 11 & 12

November 29, 2010

Several months ago, I finally got up the nerve to seriously pursue my interest in learning to play gamelan, which is a kind of Indonesian percussion ensemble that makes a distinct and hauntingly beautiful music. By great good fortune (thanks to Rachel Cooper, director of programming at the Asia Society), I found my way to Gamelan Kusuma Laras (above) and have been studying and rehearsing with this group, which takes its repertoire from Javanese gamelan (specifically from Solo in Central Java). And now I’m getting the chance to perform with the group in two concerts at the Indonesian Consulate on East 68th Street. As a beginner, I will be playing on only one number but singing on three others (in a large chorus — in ancient Javanese!). Please come!

Gamelan Kusuma Laras
New York City’s Premier Javanese Gamelan Ensemble
Presents Music and Dance of Central Java

Directed by I.M. Harjito
with Triwik Harjito and Shoko Yamamura, Guest Dancers

Saturday, December 11 at 8 pm
Sunday, December 12 at 3 pm

Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia
5 East 68th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues
Suggested Donation: $20

Tickets may be reserved by contacting

Originally formed 26 years ago, Gamelan Kusuma Laras has entranced audiences in the United States and  Indonesia with its authentic performances of music, dance and theater from the classical repertoire of the courts of Central Java.

The ensemble has been active in the New York City cultural scene since its inception, performing at the Arts at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, Symphony Space, Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Bronx Zoo of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bard College, Vassar College, Wesleyan University, Princeton University, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Cooper Hewitt Museum, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Festival, and the Jogjakarta International Gamelan Festival, to name a few.

For this concert, Triwik Harjito and Shoko Yamamura will be performing Adaninggar Kelaswara, a Javanese dance that depicts a duel between two female warriors: Adaninggar, a Chinese princess, and Kelaswara, a Javanese princess.

“…shifting timbres that floated and surged in a mesmerizing flow”
-The New York Post

“…a skilled ensemble…a treat to watch.”
-The New York Times

From the deep archives: J. R. Ackerley’s WE THINK THE WORLD OF YOU

November 29, 2010

One of my favorite movies of the year so far has been My Dog Tulip, based on the book by J. R. Ackerley, a somewhat obscure but much-admired gay man of letters in the last half of the 20th century. Watching it twice, thinking about it, and talking it over with friends has sent me back to the review I wrote in the Soho News in 1981 of what was then the newly-issued paperback edition of Ackerley’s novel, We Think the World of You. The novel has since been made into a fine little movie starring Alan Bates and Gary Oldman. My review is one of my favorite things I ever wrote. I happened to have personal connections at the time to the artist Don Bachardy, Christopher Isherwood‘s longtime partner, who I knew had made one of his famous portraits of Ackerley, and I landed what I thought was a major coup by getting Bachardy to let us publish his picture (see below) with my review.

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