Archive for the 'Culture Vulture' Category

Culture Vulture: Best of 2017

December 18, 2017

 Top Theater of 2017


The Band’s Visit – David Yazbek’s sublime musical score, impeccably direction by David Cromer, wonderful ensemble headed by Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk (above).


Poor People’s TV Room – this haunting multimedia performance by electrifying dancer-creator Okwui Okpokwasili at NYLiveArts, with terrific cast directed by Peter Born, Okwui’s partner (their previous collaboration, Bronx Gothic, inspired a documentary film that was also a highlight of the year).

A Pink Chair (in Place of a Fake Antique)
– the Wooster Group outdid themselves with this almost unbearably beautiful homage to Polish theater legend Tadeusz Cantor at Bard College’s Summerscape with ambitious music overseen by Gareth Hobbs.


The Glass Menagerie
– Sam Gold’s iconoclastic Broadway staging of Tennessee Williams’ classic (above), with Sally Field, Joe Mantello, wheelchair-bound Madison Ferris as Laura, and a stark set by Andrew Lieberman, wasn’t to everybody’s taste but it was to mine.


The Town Hall Affair
– the busy Wooster Group continued to expand and refine their restaging of a 1971 forum on women’s liberation with Kate Valk’s standout evocation of Jill Johnston.


The Antipodes
– Annie Baker’s very strange and surprising play at Signature Theater beautifully staged by Lila Neugebauer (whose crazy-good production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s wild Everybody, also at Signature, was another favorite).


Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
– Mark Brokaw’s brutal revival of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play.


People, Places, & Things
– an excellent cast headed by Denise Gough (superbly directed by Jeremy Herrin) and Bunny Christie’s astonishing set lit up a tough play about addiction written by Duncan Macmillan (who also wrote and directed, with Robert Icke, the terrific adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 on Broadway).


Also: Phyllida Lloyd’s The Tempest set in a women’s prison with original score by Joan Armatrading; Manual Cinema’s gorgeous Mementos Mori with music by Kyle Vegter; Laurie Metcalf and Condola Rashad in Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House Part 2; Rebecca Taichman’s inventive staging on Broadway of Paula Vogel’s Indecent; Jo Bonney’s impressive revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’s F**king A; KPOP, the witty, immersive piece about a Korean popstar factory at Ars Nova; David Greenspan’s miraculous solo performance of Eugene O’Neill’s nine-act Strange Interlude, directed by the Transport Group’s Jack Cummings III; Keegan-Michael Key’s lively Horatio in Sam Gold’s impenetrable staging of Hamlet at the Public; Ramsey Nsar in Ivo van Hove’s spectacular if unsatisfying staging of The Fountainhead at BAM (above); Taylor Mac’s holiday extravaganza at Town Hall; and David Zinn’s  extravagantly fun sets and costumes for SpongeBob SquarePants (below).  

Movies That Meant a Lot to Me: I Am Not Your Negro, Julieta, Get Out, Icaros: A Vision, Marjorie Prime, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Call Me By Your Name, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Lady Bird, The Ornithologist, Bird on a Wire (Tony Palmer’s Leonard Cohen documentary), Long Strange Trip (Amazon documentary about the Grateful Dead).

Culture Vulture: TAYLOR MAC AT TOWN HALL

December 14, 2017


Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History: Holiday Sauce was in some ways a New Orleans-style funeral for drag legend Mother Flawless Sabrina disguised as a Christmas show. Between some of the most savage, scornful renditions of carols and pointedly political commentary, Taylor shared the pearls of wisdom that judy gleaned from a long apprenticeship with Flawless Sabrina, who died three weeks ago at the age of 78. An icon within the drag/faerie/trans community, Sabrina was best known for organizing a national drag competition that culminated in an event at Town Hall that became the basis for the award-winning documentary film The Queen. That made this concert at Town Hall exactly 50 years later a very special convergence of powerful forces.


“Remember your substitution skills” was a Flawless Sabrina axiom that Taylor Mac employed in order to give a queer spin to classic holiday numbers (“O Holy Night” was thoroughly sliced and diced to layer acceptably inclusive meanings over heterosexist Christian-capitalist propaganda). And the essence of Mother Flawless Sabrina’s teaching was that “expression is an act of citizenship,” a lesson Taylor Mac has thoroughly absorbed.


The show was a sort of coda to the 24-Decade History of Popular Music that judy unfurled at St. Ann’s Warehouse last year, with the same extraordinary collaborators, genius costume designer Machine Dazzle and supernaturally gifted music director Matt Ray. Taylor’s first outfit combined a Christmas wreath headdress that conjured Medusa, a camisole with roast-pig epaulets, and a tutu-skirt of candy canes, reindeer antlers, and pussy-grabbing hands; while Tigger Ferguson performed the inevitable striptease (to “Spirit in the Sky”), Taylor changed into a Glinda tiara with carousel hoop-skirt.


Machine of course appeared as well, first as a Christmas tree, then as naughty housemaid.


From the piano, Matt Ray took the exquisite eight-piece orchestra through a nutty unpredictable set list that ended with the whole house quietly humming “Silent Night” along with the distinctly New Orleans-flavored horn section. Additional special guest Glenn Marla came out as Hot Santa to demonstrate how every mall in America could use this season to conduct a Sexual Consent Workshop.


It was one of those all-star audiences that convene for special occasions in New York. Andy and I went with our friends David Zinn, Bob Mower, and Phil Hayes (who jumped onstage when Taylor Mac summoned all the Brits to sing along with the Pogues’ beery pub anthem “Fairytale of New York,” above). There was Jackie Rudin, of course, with Fussy LoMein, and Wesley Morris, and Rob Marx and Jim Ingalls, and Emily McDonnell, and Gabriel Ebert, and and and. The minute the show ended, everyone looked at their phones and learned the good news from Alabama, and the theater erupted again with cheers and tears.

A bunch of us repaired to Cafe Un Deux Trois afterwards for refreshments. O, what a night!

Culture Vulture: Robert Rauschenberg at MOMA

June 3, 2017

(click photos to enlarge)

Friends from London were visiting so I took them on a stroll through MOMA’s new show “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends.” We lingered over cappucinos and cookies in the cafe so closing time crept up on us before we’d even gotten halfway through the exhibition. I will go back again and again because few artworks I’ve ever seen in person make me as sick with joy as Rauschenberg’s combines, and this show has a whole bunch of them, some classics and some I’ve never seen before, like “Short Circuit.”

I love that the show revolves around Rauschenberg’s collaborations and friendships with fellow artists because they’re so central to his life as an artist. Check out this great photo he took of a young young Cy Twombly.

I’ve never been a big Jasper Johns fan, but I loved this piece, “Target with Four Faces,” especially knowing that the face is that of the late performance artist Rachel Rosenthal.

And then there’s just the whimsy of this little corner of the men’s restroom.

 

Culture Vulture: Dessoff Choirs and Alice Coltrane, or how many black female harp players can you name?

May 24, 2017

5.21.17Malcolm J. Merriweather – remember that name. He’s going to be famous in the music world one day, and you can say you heard it here first. He’s currently the music director of the Dessoff Choirs, the distinguished group that has been performing choral works in New York City since 1924 (my boyfriend Andy has been singing with them since 2008). On Sunday they closed their season with a beautifully conceived, musically ambitious, philosophically inspiring concert at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Central Park West called “A New Amorous World,” which took on the theme of love as it is viewed all over the world not just as a personal human emotion but as a spiritual and political force.
The title of the program comes from the work that opened the concert, an eight-part 20-minute wackadoodle piece called “The New Amorous World” by a young composer named Lembit Beecher based on the writing of 18th century French utopian philosopher Charles Fourier. I knew nothing about Fourier until I read Beecher’s program note about him, and now I want to know all about him. In this piece he lays out his conception of the impending end of Civilization as we know it, to be replaced by what he calls Harmony, which will see “the establishment of perpetual peace, universal unity, the liberty of women.” The score mainly has the choir singing a cappella, lightly accompanied by two horns and a harp (all played by young women) – who does that??? And the text, mostly sung but sometimes spoken by individual singers, veers far beyond what you usually hear a choir singing, on the subject of love, work, and passionate attraction.

Sample passage: “Manias relating to love will be common in Harmony. Manias will be completely equal before the law in Harmony. People forget that love is the domain of unreason. The more unreasonable a thing is, the more closely it is associated with love. Some manias are spiritual; some manias are physical in harmony. How can people assume that God intended love to be no more than an agent of a tyrannical bond called marriage? How shameful it would be for God if he had created the most noble of passions only to yield the most contemptible result. How impertinent of man to impute such ineptness to God. Amorous heel scratching, hair plucking, fondness for lesbians, desire to eat spiders – all varieties of love.”

Did I mention Fourier’s concept of the Archibras, a sixteen-foot-long tail that men and women living on the sun will have in the time of Harmony? “It has a firm grip with retractable claws. It enables man to swim like a fish, dig in the ground, slide down a tree, grab onto rigging. It is infinitely useful!”

Imagine singing lines like that! The music is pretty tricky and difficult yet quite beautiful, and the Dessoff pulled it off spectacularly, which must have been gratifying to the composer, who was sitting just a few feet away from me.


And that was just the beginning of a program that moved through traditional Arabian muwashshah, Syrian, Turkish, Chinese and Japanese folk songs, Hebrew liturgy, Haitian and Sufi songs, and an amazing wordless piece called “Past Life Melodies” by Australian composer Sarah Hopkins performed by the United Nations International School Senior Chorus (conducted by Daniel Stroup), who also joined the Dessoff for two numbers, including the finale, the Navajo prayer “Now I walk in beauty” set to music by Gregg Smith.

The singers did a spectacular job with these contrasting styles and multiple languages. The acoustics were superb for largely unaccompanied (or lightly accompanied) singing. And besides his canny, knowledgeable sense of programming and fine-tuned conducting, Merriweather has a distinct flair for theatricality from the way he has the singers process to the stage area to the way he arranges soloists and small groups around the house to distribute the sound. He’s young (31), tall, handsome, gay, black, super-talented, and clearly going places. Here he is with Andy, after the concert.


I was amazed to see Ashley Jackson playing the harp (below) because I knew that right after the Dessoff concert I was running out to the Knockdown Center in Maspeth (a neighborhood in Queens I’d never heard of before) to see a concert paying tribute to Alice Coltrane, the most famous black female jazz harpist in the world — not that it’s a gigantic population, but two in one day!?!


Well, Alice Coltrane (above) died ten years ago, but for this occasion her parts were played by Brandee Younger, in a ten-piece band led by Coltrane’s son Ravi that also included Reggie Workman (erstwhile sideman for Ravi’s legendary father, John Coltrane) and the great pianist Geri Allen. The event, entitled “The Ecstatic World of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda,” was presented by the Red Bull Music Academy NYC and was inspired by an album of the same name recently released on Luaka Bop, the label formed by David Byrne (who showed up for the concert, bicycle helmet and all).


The event had two parts. For the first part, “The Sunset Set,” half of the Knockdown Center had been converted into a temporary ashram, to reproduce the Sai Anatam Ashram that Coltrane created in Santa Monica in 1975 for the study of the ancient Hindu philosophy of Vedanta. Central to Coltrane’s spiritual practice were Sunday communal ceremonies of singing and chanting the original gospel-tinged arrangements of Sanskrit chants that made up the entirety of her musical output for the last ten years of her life.


For the event on Sunday, audience members were handed cloth bags for their shoes and comfortable pillows for sitting on the floor, both saffron-colored, as well as songbooks for singing along with the Sai Anatam Singers, a group from the California ashram led by music director Surya Botofasina. I assumed that anyone who showed up for this event would be familiar with the tradition of kirtan and eager to join in, but noooooo, this was a respectful quiet crowd of Brooklyn hipsters who treated it as a concert and barely responded, which made it much less fun.


Then there was a break, during which the audience was served free tasty vegetarian samosas while the band set up for part two, “The Evening Set,” in which Ravi Coltrane’s ensemble played selections from his mother’s jazz compositions. I daresay there’s no Alice Coltrane fan who doesn’t consider her essential track to be “Journey in Satchidananda” – it’s her “Love Supreme,” her “Thunder Road,” her “Smooth Operator.” I never thought I would hear it performed live in my lifetime, but there it was, opening the set – an ecstatic stretched-out 25-minute version with three different horn players and a flautist filling in for Pharoah Sanders’ solos on the original recording. They worked through four or five other classic Alice Coltrane pieces as well as a completely improvised interlude featuring two dancers. I went home happy.

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: “Expanded Visions” at Leslie Lohman

May 20, 2017

(click photos to enlarge)

I wanted to get together and check in with my friend Jeff Weinstein so we agreed to meet at the Leslie Lohman Museum in Soho. Weirdly, I’d never been to the museum since the collection moved in 2006 from a basement on Prince Street (in the building where Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman lived) to its spiffy new location at 26 Wooster Street, cater-corner to the Performing Garage, in a space that held a beloved downtown record store (Soho Music Gallery) when I first moved to New York. And we arrived just in time for me to get a look at “Expanded Visions: Fifty Years of Collecting” a couple of days before this terrific show closed. I was excited to take in the whole gamut: painting, photography, and multimedia pieces from famous names (Duane Michals, David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe, Catherine Opie) to plenty of undersung artists coming from a wide spectrum beyond white gay men, like these pieces by AndréTavet, Ayakamay, and Hunter Reynolds.


There was a time when the Leslie Lohman Art Foundation (as it was once called) was looked down on as cheesy because it tended to equate “gay art” pretty exclusively with “dick pics.” There’s still a fair amount of kitsch in the collection because, hey, there is a lot of gay art that focuses on naked bodies, and a big audience for it. But over time the couple’s art-buying morphed into a seriously curated collection, and the selection for this show is pretty stellar. And I’m not just talking about Stanley, one of my favorite photographers, himself a master at eye-catching male nudes.


I recognized several artists whose work Jeff and I had seen last summer when we walked through the “AIDS Art America” show at the Bronx Museum, including Joey Terrill and Patrick Webb.


A striking untitled piece by Nicole Eisenman.


And then all this intriguing stuff new to me (as mesmerized by swinging dicks as anyone else).


And then this headboard, which I would happily have in my bedroom.

By the way, the museum has a robust online presence, including a searchable database of images from Leslie Lohman’s vast holdings. Check it out here.

 

 

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