Archive for December, 2010

Quote of the day: UNQUENCHABLE

December 28, 2010


Even as, over time, the women’s movement broadened and became less radical, less ferocious, Daly continued to pace the boundaries, her rage unquenched. She referred to herself as “post-Christian” and as a “radical lesbian feminist.” At speaking engagements, she refused to take questions from men, saying it was important for them to understand what it feels like to be voiceless and ignored. “There are and will be those who think I have gone overboard,” she wrote in “Outercourse,” her 1992 autobiography. “Let them rest assured that this assessment is correct, probably beyond their wildest imaginations, and that I will continue to do so.” She was forced to retire from Boston College after, in 1998, a male student threatened to sue over her exclusionary policies, accusing her — with no lost irony — of sexism. It was another victory for the cockocracy, but it gave Daly, at age 70, a new wave of international publicity, a new platform from which to nag at the snools. “What they hate about my classes,” she said at the time, “is they teach women not to be afraid.”

— Sara Corbett, New York Times Magazine

Culture Vulture: Best theater of 2010

December 26, 2010


A strong year in theater, I would say. Here’s my pick of a dozen top productions:

1. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – Les Freres Corbusier’s smart/stupid rock musical, my first exposure to excellent writer/director Alex Timbers and his fearless crew, including rock-star caliber lead performance by Benjamin Walker. As the subway ads put it, “History just got all sexypants!”

2. The Myopia – David Greenspan in a spectacular solo performance of his own crazy play

Lily Rabe, Al Pacino, and Byron Jennings in "The Merchant of Venice"

3. The Merchant of VeniceDaniel Sullivan’s deep, upsetting staging of Shakespeare’s play in which Al Pacino’s Shylock and Lily Rabe’s Portia were 2 out of 20 strong performances

Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber in "A View from the Bridge"

4. A View from the Bridge – direction by Gregory Mosher, with terrific performances by Liev Schreiber, Jessica Hecht, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Cristofer, and Corey Stoll

Billy Porter, Robin Weigert, and Christian Borle in "Angels in America"

5. Angels in America – Michael Greif’s revival of Tony Kushner’s play with extra-fine performances by Christian Borle, Zachary Quinto, Bill Heck, Robin Bartlett, and Robin Weigert

Danielle Skraastad, Susan Pourfar, Marin Ireland, Miriam F. Glover and Michael Chernus in "In The Wake"

6. In the Wake – Lisa Kron’s play (lynchpin of the Public Theater’s admirable political-theater season) with superlative performances by Michael Chernus and Deidre O’Connell

Alessandro Nivola and Karen Young in "A Lie of the Mind"

7. A Lie of the Mind – Ethan Hawke’s surprisingly beautiful re-imagining of Sam Shepard’s play, with a revelatory central performance by Alessandro Nivola

8. A Disappearing Number – fine smart new work from Complicite directed by Simon McBurney with a dazzling production design by Michael Levine

9. The Kid – the smart and tuneful musical adaptation of Dan Savage’s memoir with a good cast well-directed by Scott Elliott, most notably Christopher Sieber, Susan Blackwell, and Jeannine Frumess

Jeffrey Wright in "A Free Man of Color"

10. A Free Man of Color – John Guare’s ambitious stylized epic staged in high style by George C. Wolfe with a huge cast in which standouts included Jeffrey Wright, mos, and Veanne Cox

11. Another American: Asking and Telling – perfect timing for Marc Wolf (above) to bring back his Anna Deveare Smith-like solo performance surveying the topic of gays in the military

Zoe Kazan, Christopher Walken, and Anthony Mackie in "A Behanding in Spokane"

12. A Behanding in Spokane – Martin McDonagh’s hilarious new play with knockout performances by Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell and a superbly seedy set by Scott Pask

I’m not quite sure where to put three shows I’d seen before but were still high-water marks for 2010: Fela! (last year’s #1, which I saw twice again this year), Gatz (above, which made my top 10 in 2007), and the Wooster Group’s North Atlantic (the third revival, with a great new cast including Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk, Steve Cuiffo and Zachary Oberzan).

Miscellaneous highlights:

— William Kentridge’s dense and dazzling production of Shostakovich’s The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera and his equally theatrical retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art

— Norm Lewis singing “Being Alive” in Sondheim on Sondheim at the Roundabout

— Christine Jones’ set (above) and Michael Mayer’s direction for American Idiot
— Mark Rylance’s justly acclaimed performance in La Bete

The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway – sheer fun!

— Most Valuable Player (male): Scott Shepherd (above) for North Atlantic and Gatz

— Most Valuable Player (female): Bonnie Thunders, Gotham Girls Roller Derby (above)

Performance diary: Rufus Wainwright at Carnegie Hall and the Juilliard Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall

December 23, 2010

December 6 –
I’d heard in advance that Rufus Wainwright was making a strong request to audiences for his current concert tour that they hold their applause during the first half of the show, while he plays the song cycle that makes up his most recent record release, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu. I didn’t realize until seeing the show at Carnegie Hall that he was treating this song cycle as a kind of theater piece. He makes a dramatic entrance in silence, processing slowly across the bare stage wearing a thick black cape with a 20-foot train. He sits at the grand piano and proceeds to perform the album’s dozen songs, while video plays of a gigantic blinking blue eye smeared with too much dark eye shadow.  (Visuals by Douglas Gordon, whose photography also graces the cover of the album.) Three of the songs are adaptations of Shakespeare sonnets; the others are somber, dark, and sad, reflecting as they do on his feelings during the final days of Kate McGarrigle, his beloved mother. They’re not his best songs, not especially melodic, rather monotonous in fact, with florid show-offy piano arrangements and lyrics that sound like hasty blog entries. At Carnegie Hall, with its billowing acoustics, many of the lyrics were as difficult to hear as they are to read in the liner notes of the album, where they are written out in Rufus’s flourish-crazy handwriting. When the set was over, he got up and processed offstage as slowly as he arrived. Many of his diehard fans found this act a little hard to swallow, including me, but it certainly showed off the many sides of Rufus: the self-indulgent narcissist, the diva, the ambitious artist always wanting to stretch himself, the little kid playing dress-up, the grieving son.

After intermission he came back onstage dressed more casually in sweat pants (“don’t worry, they’re very expensive!”) to do a another set of favorites for the fans, again with only piano accompaniment. By himself he did “Grey Gardens,” “Memphis” (his tribute to “another New York legend, Jeff Buckley”), “Going to a Town,” “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” and “Dinner at Eight,” a song about him and his father, Loudon Wainwright III, who was in the audience. Rufus brought out Stephen Oremus, the music director for his remake of Judy at Carnegie Hall, to accompany him on a bunch of Garland standards: “Do It Again,” “A Foggy Day,” “If Love Were All,” and “The Man That Got Away.” And he brought out his sister Martha (who looked fabulous in spangly tights and super-high heels) to sing with him on “Moon Over Miami,” “Complainte pour La Butte” (from the Moulin Rouge movie), and “Hallelujah.” And then of course there were tons of encores, beginning with “Poses,” for which Martha came back onstage, this time with her infant son Arcangelo. “We start ‘em young in the Wainwright/McGarrigle tribe,” Rufus cracked. And then a couple more Judy Garland numbers, “Alone Together” and “You Made Me Love You/Me and My Gal.”

It was a celebratory and fun evening, but I was very aware that Rufus started the second half with “Beauty Mark,” his great zesty song about his mother, and ended with one of hers, “The Walking Song,” about the early days of her courtship with Loudon: in its own way a sweet memorial tribute to a wonderful musician and Rufus’s best friend.

Lots of famous fans showed up for the concert. I saw Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons), who was sitting in front of Stephen and Alvaro. I spied Frances MacDormand with her Coen Brother, and I chatted with Laurie Anderson, who was there with Lou Reed. Laurie looked great and remarkably relaxed, considering that she’s been on tour much of the year with three different shows. She told me she just performed at a benefit concert with her dog Lolabelle. I was trying to track Lou’s possible connection to Rufus, and then I remembered that Kate and Anna sang the odd little “Balloon” song on his Edgar Allen Poe album, The Raven.

December 11-12: I got behind on blogging because I had a couple of performances of my own with Gamelan Kusuma Laras at the Indonesian Consulate. It was a long and somewhat challenging program. I wasn’t surprised that several of my friends who came to the concerts had their fill and left at intermission. It was a gas for me. I got to play kethuk on one number (the welcoming music, “Clunthang/Kasatriyan”), and then I sang with a chorus of other folks on three other numbers (in ancient Javanese!). It’s been decades since I did so much singing in such a short amount of time. I was a little hoarse afterwards. And then for days I could not get some of this music out of my head….!

December 13: Thanks to my friend Roman, I found myself sitting sixth row center at Alice Tully Hall for a concert by the Juilliard Orchestra, playing two pieces new to me: Prokofiev’s Piano Concert No. 3 and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. Both were fantastic. The Prokofiev turns out to be one of those fiendishly difficult show-offy vehicles for a virtuosic pianist, like Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 1. In this case, the performer was an unbelievably talented 19-year-old Juilliard student from Virginia named Julian Woo with impossibly long fingers, all the better to play long stretches of crazy cross-handed piano, his fingers literally tickling the ivories, diddlly-diddly-dee. The orchestra, of course, includes basically the cream of the crop of young musicians, passionate and confident and highly attentive, dreamy to hear. And the conductor for the evening is some kind of rising star, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Quebecois music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic who will take over the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012. He’s a Leonard Bernstein-like dynamo, fantastically expressive, at times leaping off the floor, other times caressing his own cheek to cue the string section. The Ravel was equally exciting and exacting. The excellent programme notes by James M. Keller informed me that Daphnis and Chloe, commissioned by Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes, is Ravel’s longest composition ever with the largest orchestral accompaniment as well, including such rarities as celeste and wind machine. The Dessoff Choirs, which Andy sings with, provided the choral contribution, which consisted entirely of swoony non-verbal aah-ing and oo-ing that at times sounded like the music accompanying certain kaleidoscopic Busby Berkeley dance routines. I’m laughably uneducated at the history and appreciation of the classical repertoire, so I’m glad to get exposed to such treasures, however that happens.

Good stuff online: Dr. Brené Brown

December 21, 2010

I just watched the video of this TED Talk tonight, and it occurred to me that almost everybody I know might get a lot out of watching it. Dr. Brown is a researcher from Texas who speaks very honestly, personally, and humorously about the challenge of embracing vulnerability in life and relationships. True human connection, she says, requires the willingness and courage to be vulnerable and imperfect.

Theater review: ANGELS IN AMERICA

December 20, 2010

I subscribed to the Signature Theatre Company this season, devoted to the work of Tony Kushner, specifically so I could buy $20 tickets and take Andy to see Angels in America, which he’d never seen before in any form. Then I dilly-dallied around during the membership ticket-buying period and it was sold out until way into the new year. We ended up getting on the priority waiting list, which meant we might have had to sit on the stairs for all seven hours of this two-part epic. But we did not.

As I say in my CultureVulture review, “Angels in America… means a lot to me, having followed it as a journalist since it existed only as an unproduced manuscript being handed around by excited literary managers. I saw the 1991 world premiere at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco (when “Perestroika,” the second play, was still a work-in-progress), and then the first fully staged production the following year in Los Angeles, both parts as they debuted on Broadway in 1993, and then the Mike Nichols movie, which I watched twice. When the Signature Theatre Company scheduled a revival of Angels in America as the opening show in its current season devoted to the work of Kushner, I didn’t know if I had it in me to sit through the seven-hour thing again. I was almost dreading it, partly because I heard very mixed word-of-mouth about the cast. Well, forget all that. The Signature revival is a triumph for everyone involved.”

You can read the whole review online here.

Andy reported overhearing someone in the lobby reading the above sign and murmuring, “I hope the haze doesn’t obscure the nudity.” It didn’t.

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