Archive for December, 2012

Quote of the day: WEIRD

December 31, 2012


In old traditions those who acted as elders were considered to have one foot in daily life and the other foot in the otherworld. Elders acted as a bridge between the visible world and the unseen realms of spirit and soul. A person in touch with the otherworld stands out because something normally invisible can be seen through them. The old word for having a foot in each world is weird. The original sense of weird involved both fate and destiny. Becoming weird enough to be wise requires that a person learn to accommodate the strange way they are shaped within and aimed at the world.

An old idea suggests that those seeking for an elder should look for someone weird enough to be wise. For just as there can be no general wisdom, there are no “normal” elders. Normal bespeaks the “norms” that society uses to regulate people, whereas an awakened destiny always involves connections to the weird and the warp of life. In Norse mythology, as in Shakespeare, the Fates appear as the Weird Sisters who hold time and the timeless together.

Those who would become truly wise must become weird enough to be in touch with timeless things and abnormal enough to follow the guidance of the unseen. Elders are supposed to be weird, not simply “weirdos,” but strange and unusual in meaningful ways. Elders are supposed to be more in touch with the otherworld, but not out of touch with the struggles in this world. Elders have one foot firmly in the ground of survival and another in the realm of great imagination. This double-minded stance serves to help the living community and even helps the species survive.

— Michael Meade, Fate and Destiny: The Two Agreements of the Soul


Performance diary: PICNIC

December 31, 2012

December 30 — I’ve never seen William Inge’s Picnic in any form. I’m not sure I’ve seen any play by Inge, once ranked alongside Tennesee Williams among America’s best-known playwrights, now associated with a certain kind of period drama about the emotional yearning of regular folks (and remembered as a sad closety gay alcoholic who committed suicide in 1973). I always picture an Inge play as being about a young stud who breezes into a patch of love-starved women, makes an impression, breaks a few hearts, and moves on – which is pretty much exactly what happens in Picnic. The original 1953 Broadway production starred Janice Rule as the prettiest girl in town, Madge; Paul Newman (in his Broadway debut) as Alan Seymour, the nice rich guy she’s supposed to marry; Ralph Meeker as Hal Carter, the sexy drifter who riles everybody up; Kim Stanley as Maggie’s plain younger sister, Millie; and Eileen Heckart as Rosemary, the wise-cracking schoolteacher with a desperate desire to be rescued. The play won the Pulitzer Prime for drama that year. Director Joshua Logan also made the 1955 film, which starred Kim Novak, Cliff Roberston, William Holden, Susan Strasberg, and Rosalind Russell. The Roundabout Theater’s revival, directed by the busy/ubiquitous Sam Gold, is perfectly built for people like me, who are curious about the play but have never seen it.

picnic 4
I was drawn in by the intriguing cast: Elizabeth Marvel as Rosemary, Reed Birney as the guy who’s been dragging his heels about marrying her, Mare Winningham as Madge’s mother, and Ellen Burstyn as the spinster who lives next door with her mean old (never-seen) mother and who is the one who hires Hal (played by Sebastian Stan, best-known for the Captain America movies) to do yard work and therefore parade shirtless in front of all these gals. Madeline Martin, the precocious youngster in August: Osage County on Broadway, plays Millie. All of them are enjoyable enough, but each plays his or her character as a caricature. By contrast, two actors new to me – Maggie Grace as Madge and Ben Rapaport as Alan – inhabit their roles with sincerity and understatement. Grace in her quiet way conveys the loneliness and oppression of being kept in the box of “prettiest girl in town,” and even though Alan could be the squarest, most thankless role in the play, Rapaport makes him genuinely kind and present in unpredictable ways. The two styles sort of clash, and I preferred the style of Grace and Rapaport. I think the show would have been stronger, more emotionally affecting if the others followed their lead. The show is still in previews. Who knows, it could look a lot different when it opens in mid-January. I will say that Chris Perfetti (below, with Maggie Grace), in the tiny role of the paperboy, is a sexy little fucker. And my favorite thing about the show is the line just before intermission, when Hal grabs Madge the way Stanley Kowalski grabs Blanche, and he says: “We ain’t goin’ to no goddamn picnic!”

picnic 3

Quote of the day: DIFFERENT

December 30, 2012


Elaine May: “What have you learned, Mike?”

Mike Nichols: I’ve learned that many of the worst things lead to the best things, that no great  thing is achieved without a couple of bad, bad things on the way to them, and that the bad things that happen to you bring, in some cases, the good things. For instance, if you grow up odd and—what is it when you’re left out? You’re not an extrovert—“

Elaine May; “Introvert?”

Mike Nichols: “No, when you grow up—“

Elaine May: “Peculiar?”

Mike Nichols: Peculiar. Different. The degree to which you’re peculiar and different is the degree to which you must learn to hear people thinking. Just in self-defense you have to learn, where is their kindness? Where is their danger? Where is there generosity? If you survive, because you’ve gotten lucky—and there’s no reason ever to survive except luck—you will find that the ability to hear people thinking is incredibly useful, especially in the theater.”

Vanity Fair (read the whole thing online here)


Photo diary: kisses from you in the flames of December’s boudoir

December 30, 2012
artwork at the Indonesian consulate

12-1 artwork at the Indonesian consulate

Andy at dinner with world-class sex educators: Kai Ehrhardt, Dave Allen, and Volker Moritz

12-3 Andy at dinner with world-class sex educators: Kai Ehrhardt, Dave Allen, and Volker Moritz

12-5 with Liz Robbins (of the NY Times "At the Table" column) at the Hudson Hotel's new bar/lounge that looks like something out of TWIN PEAKS

12-5 with Liz Robbins (of the NY Times “At the Table” column) at the Hudson Hotel’s new bar/lounge
that looks like something out of TWIN PEAKS

12-8 gamelan rehearsal with dancer Anang Totok Dwiantoro

12-8 gamelan rehearsal with dancer Anang Totok Dwiantoro

12-8 after the gamelan concert with Bu Uci and Bu Tatung (and the dancer's young son)

12-8 after the gamelan concert with Bu Uci and Bu Tatung (and the dancer’s young son)

12-8 10,000 Souls March -- North American Proteest Against the Targeted Killing of Shia Muslims in Pakistan

12-8 10,000 Souls March — North American Protest Against the Targeted Killing of Shia Muslims
in Pakistan

12-9 Bergdorf Follies

12-9 Bergdorf Follies

12-9 Bergdorf on 57th Street -- stilettos and tusks

12-9 Bergdorf on 57th Street — stilettos and tusks

12-15 my old buddy Dee Michel visiting from Northampton

12-15 my old buddy Dee Michel visiting from Northampton

12-15 ballerina with a lit-up tutu twirling on Seventh Avenue just south of Central Park

12-15 ballerina with a lit-up tutu twirling on Seventh Avenue just south of Central Park

12-15 turned out to be a scene staged for passengers on The Ride (bus tour of New York street-life-as-performance)

12-15 turned out to be a scene staged for passengers on The Ride (bus tour of New York street-life-as-performance)

12-16 store on Broadway -- truth in advertising

12-16 store on Broadway — truth in advertising

12-25 Christmas dinner with Alvaro and Stephen -- ambitious and delicious (Jamie Oliver recipe)

12-25 Christmas dinner with Alvaro and Stephen — ambitious and delicious (Jamie Oliver recipe)

12-28 back to the Park Avenue Armory for another peek at Ann hamilton's installation "The event of a thread"

12-28 back to the Park Avenue Armory for another peek at
Ann Hamilton’s installation “The event of a thread”

12-28 andy and bag12-28 pigeons and reader12-28 the rules12-28 from the balcony


December 26, 2012

MUSIC: I’m a relatively newbie among fans of the wacky art-rock outfit who call themselves Of Montreal (yet hail not from Canada but from Athens, GA)(of course). Themselves is actually Kevin Barnes, the lead singer and songwriter, although he has a hardy crew of regular musicians, and their stage shows include four dancer-mime-acrobats who run around changing costumes for every number, often appearing inside big pieces of stretchy fabric. (Check out their zesty website here.)
12-11 of montreal bestThey first entered my world when they were peaking in popularity, playing Radio City Music Hall (with Janelle Monae as opening act). After a couple of medium albums, they’re back to playing places like Webster Hall, where I happily caught up with them December 11. They pleased the crowd with some of the most popular tunes from their dozen albums, including “Gronlandic Edit,” “Oslo in the Summertime,” “Suffer for Fashion,” and “Wraiths Pinned to the Mist and Other Games.” As these titles suggest, Barnes’ lyrics mix the language of everyday romance with erudite literary references – not tossed about glibly but seriously digested, if delivered with insouciance. His androgynous persona and falsetto singing conjure Prince and David Bowie, although the combination of propulsive dance rhythms, blue-eyed soul singing, and nonstop psychedelic theatrics suggest Hall and Oates meet Mummenschanz on mushrooms. Me like.

THEATER: Christopher Durang’s new play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Lincoln Center Theater sold out quickly (undoubtedly because the cast includes Durang’s longtime partner-in-comedy Sigourney Weaver) so I had to pull strings to get tickets. I’m such a fan of Durang’s deranged plays, wickedly fun yet deeply melancholic and unnervingly close to the bone at times. A subset of his plays parody famous playwrights – most of them are brief, jokey sketches, but this one is a full two-act and very satisfying free-standing play that simultaneously tweaks Chekhov and absorbs elements of Three Sisters, The Seagull, and Uncle Vanya. Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and his adopted sister Sonia (the divine Kristine Nielsen) live in the house left to them by their late parents in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, although the mortgage and upkeep have been maintained by their famous-actress sister Masha (Weaver, who plays shallow with more wit and depth than anyone else I can think of), who breezes in for a visit with her hunka-hunka wannabe-actor boyfriend Spike (Billy Magnusen, good and game for stripping down to his briefs for much of the show), who excites the heartstrings of Vanya’s young neighbor Nina (Genevieve Angelson) and the suspicion of his voodoo-psychic house-cleaner Cassandra (Shalita Grant).
VanyaSonia06These actors turn in pitch-perfect performances thanks to the guidance of Nicholas Martin, the director most adept at managing Durang’s wild swings from pathos to outrageous farce to naturalistic drama to meta-vaudeville. The scene in which spinster Sonia talks on the phone to Joe, a widower she’s just met at a neighbor’s party, is a bravura one-act play in itself, all the more miraculous because Nielsen’s mad mugging nevertheless stays within range of the scene’s delicate emotion. (It reminded me of the Gentleman Caller scene in The Glass Menagerie, although it’s a monologue, so more like the letter scene in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, as I remember it performed by the great Brian O’Byrne.) My least favorite thing about the play was Vanya’s second-act rant against modern technology and social media – I suppose it’s a reasonable contemporary depiction of Chekhov’s Vanya to have him sentimentalize “the good old days” of licking stamps, but it veers a little too close to easy pandering to stodgy Twitter-hating change-resisters (“You kids get off my lawn!”). Since The Seagull is pretty much my favorite play in the world, I loved the weird experimental play that Vanya has written and (like Treplev) gets Nina and Cassandra to perform. There’s a moment where Nina, given a gentle acting suggestion by Vanya, wonders out loud about which kind of actress she should be, that pretty much sums up what The Seagull is about in 90 seconds. Great fun. You can read the issue of the Lincoln Center Theater Review devoted to this how online here.

MOVIES: The end of the year gets to a movie-watching frenzy, especially because my social circle includes several people with access to “For Your Consideration” DVDs of the big Oscar hopeful movies. I haven’t seen everything, and there are certain blockbusters and critic’s favorites I’m actively avoiding (Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook), but I did get to see Amour, Michael Haneke’s intense, elliptical portrait of an aging couple’s dance with mortality, performed with incredible depth and courage by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant. On Christmas Day at Stephen Holden’s house, we watched Leos Carax’s crazy Holy Motors, a very interesting existential-futuristic meditation on life as performance, reminiscent I suppose of Lars von Trier’s films but much more interesting to me, because visually rich and surprising (David Lynch-y), with a great central performance by Denis Lavant. Fascinating conceit: he leaves home in the morning and gets into a stretch limo whose driver, Celine, takes him around to nine different appointments, for each of which he undergoes a costume-and-makeup transformation. Is he a commercial actor hired for these fleet gigs, or is this an allegory about the journey of life, or compartmentalized contemporary existences?
pasolini arabian nights
Alongside the holiday movie glut, the Museum of Modern Art has been conducting a retrospective of the complete films of Pier Paolo Pasolini, including some short films you’re not going to find on Netflix. I was fascinated by the form and content of Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana (Notes for an African Oresteia), even as Pasolini’s interactions with African scholars, actors, and reg’lar people veered from naïve to condescending to earnestly ideological – until we got to the section where he has Gato Barbieri in a recording studio trying out an excruciating free-jazz score for two singers and saxophone. Le Mura di Sana’a (The Walls of Sana’a) is a brief, beautiful anthropological document preserving on film an ancient town in Yemen that probably by now has been completely overtaken by crappy new apartment buildings. This town becomes one of several stunning locations for Il Fiore delle Mille e Una Notte (Arabian Nights), my favorite of the films I’ve seen in this series – sexy, beautiful, and extremely weird, in that sense faithful, I suppose, to the erotic fairy tales from the original. (You can, if you’re so inclined, watch the whole thing on YouTube here.) I could barely believe my eyes during the sequence when a demon picks up our main protagonist in Yemen and flies through the air with him to Nepal, where he turns him into a monkey. O, Pasolini! His ideas and his visual sweep are rich and compelling, and I love his taste for the amazing faces of ordinary people, but he’s perfectly content with untrained actors who aren’t very good. Case in point: his Oedipus Rex, in which the title role is played by Franco Citti, a rough hyper-masculine molto-Italiano guy Pasolini cast in many of his films but whose performance just becomes tedious shouting after a while. I’m looking forward to seeing Pasolini’s Medea, starring Maria Callas, and (if I can stomach sitting through it again) his provocative, upsetting Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.angelhead

ART: Speaking of museums, I made a special trip to the Whitney Museum to check out the new show called “Sinister Pop,” the latest show built from rummaging around in the museum’s permanent collection. I liked the sound of it, but it’s quite small and unimpressive – not nearly as sinister or dark as we’re led to believe. I came across only one painting that intrigued me, Ching Ho Cheng’s “Angelhead” (above) and I was mildly interested to overhear an official tour guide in front of the Andy Warhol canvas Before and After mention that Warhol got a nose job when he was 21. Otherwise, I would say the show is skippable. While I was there, on a snowy afternoon, I spun through the floor devoted to Richard Artschwager, whose work does nothing for me, and also the show by Wade Guyton, whose work isn’t especially beautiful but I found it to be conceptually inspiring and made me want to go home and spend some time making my own work by printing over pages ripped out of books and magazines.


BOOKS: What do we call Joe Sacco? He’s not exactly a graphic novelist but a journalist who works in graphic-novel format, although his publisher goes ahead and calls him a cartoonist on the jacket copy for his latest book, Footnotes in Gaza, which was published in 2009. He works somewhere at the crossroads of Art Spiegelman, R. Crumb, and Harvey Pekar, cartoonists whose stories have humor but aren’t exactly “comic books.”  I intensely admired Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde, which was based on the four months he spent in Bosnia is 1995-96. In that book (you can download a PDF excerpt here), he did an amazing job of untangling and explaining to readers the complex history, unfolding enmities, and chaotic everyday life in the Muslim enclave of Gorazde during the time when Bosnian Serbs made the world acutely aware of the activity we now call “ethnic cleansing.” Sacco brings the same dogged attachment to first-hand reporting, multi-source fact-checking, willingness to probe beyond official sources, and exquisite attunement to the complicated emotions of a population under siege to Footnotes in Gaza. The new book centers its gaze on one particularly horrendous chapter of Israeli-Palestinian history in 1956, when Israeli soldiers conducted raids of two towns in the Gaza strip looking for guerrilla fighters (fedayeen), along the way murdering hundreds of Palestinian refugees living there. Reporting this story today (little-known by most people but vividly remembered by the survivors who still live in Rafah and Khan Younis) gives Sacco the ability to place that history in the context of the ongoing brutalizing of Palestinian citizens by the Israeli military, which many people (including Israelis) consider shameful. It’s a spectacular piece of storytelling in the Ugly Truths Department. You can see a ten-minute presentation about the book by the author on YouTube here.

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