Archive for the 'Culture Vulture' Category

Culture Vulture: Best Theater of 2018

January 24, 2019

Best Theater of 2018:
(somewhat arbitrary ranking)

  1. After – Andrew Schneider’s spooky high-tech meditation on what happens to the dying body (Under the Radar)
  2. 24-Decade History of Popular Music – Taylor Mac’s temporary queer utopia (all 24 hours in Philadelphia)

  3. The Damned/NetworkIvo van Hove’s intense, upsetting staging of Luchino Visconti’s 1969 film about the rise of Nazism — performed by Comédie-Française at Park Avenue Armory with his usual peerlessly inventive multimedia design team — was eerily resonant with today’s shifting political landscape. Ditto van Hove’s London-to-Broadway stage version of Sidney Lumet’s 1976 movie depicting electronic media’s uncanny ability to turn grass-roots political rebellion into cash-generating consumer culture; Bryan Cranston gave a towering performance as the disillusioned newscaster who’s “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”
  4. The Emperor – Colin Teevan’s adaptation of Ryszard Kapuśiński’s portrait of Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie at Theater for a New Audience with stunning performances by Kathryn Hunter and musician Temesgen Zeleke
  5. The Head and the Load – William Kentridge’s spectacular, appalling pageant depicting the involuntary participation of Africans in World War I, at Park Avenue Armory

  6. Dance Nation – Clare Barron’s fascinating, constantly morphing ode to girl power at Playwrights Horizons
  7. In and Of Itself – Derek Delgaudio’s melancholy mind-blowing philosophy-seminar-as-magic-act
  8. Three Tall Women – Joe Mantello’s exquisite revival of Edward Albee’s play with ferocious Glenda Jackson
  9. Is God Isdespite everything I didn’t like about Taibi Magar’s production at Soho Rep, I was knocked out by Aleshea Harris’s crazy/bold language and theatrical imagination
  10. In the Body of the World – Diane Paulus’s beautiful staging of Eve Ensler’s raw cancer memoir

Other remarkable manifestations: Toshi Reagon’s music for The Parable of the Sower and Dickie Beau’s stealth AIDS memoir Re-Member Me, both at Under the Radar; Vox Motus’s puppet epic Flight at the McKittrick Hotel; the Performing Garage incarnation of the Wooster Group’s hommage to Tadeusz Kantor, A Pink Chair (in Place of a Fake Antique) ; Joe Mantello’s Broadway revival of The Boys in the Band ; Oneohtrix Point Never’s trippy theatrical concert Myriad at Park Avenue Armory; the brief, timely revival of Lee Breuer and Bob Telson’s The Gospel at Colonus in Central Park; Craig Lucas’s brave play I Was Most Alive with You at Playwrights Horizons, starring the mesmerizing Russell Harvard; Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s spectacular staging of Six Brandenburg Concertos (above) at Park Avenue Armory (do you detect a theme? the Armory programming rocks — hats off to executive producer Rebecca Robertson!); Elaine May and Joan Allen in Lila Neugebauer’s fine production of Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery ; Daniel Fish’s bold reimagining of Oklahoma!  at St. Ann’s Warehouse; Heidi Schreck’s righteously outraged What the Constitution Means to Me ; Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s tough immersive drama The Jungle with its gigantic international cast at St. Ann’s; Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman on Broadway with another terrific huge ensemble, among whom Justin Edwards especially stands out; and Jeremy Harris’s edgy, form-smashing Slave Play at New York Theater Workshop.

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future” at the Guggenheim Museum

January 13, 2019

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: David Wojnarowicz at the Whitney Museum

August 28, 2018

Andy and I visited the Whitney Museum to see the David Wojnarowicz retrospective, History Keeps Me Awake at Night. Here are some pieces that stuck out for me.


The next day I found this cardboard cry for help on the sidewalk next to my closest mailbox. It struck me as related to the experience of urban alienation and despair that runs riot through Wojnarowicz’s work.

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: Saturday 8/18/18

August 21, 2018

On Facebook, John Leland turned me on to peach and tomato salad, and now I can’t get enough of it (sometimes with avocado, onion, and pepper, tossed with salt, olive oil, and rice vinegar).

Andy and I set out to ride bicycles to the movies but my rear tire blew out. If we hadn’t had to walk to the subway, I would have missed seeing this strange sight — a duo from Argentina called Ensamble Ferroeléctrico de Marte (you can follow them on Facebook or Instagram).

We planned to see Crazy Rich Asians at Cinépolis in Chelsea but the screening was sold out. So we took a leisurely stroll over to the Whitney Museum, which is open until 10pm on Saturdays.

What stood out for me? Among the selections from the permanent collection, Andy Warhol’s $199 Television (1961, above) and Fairfield Porter’s double portrait Ted Carey and Andy Warhol (1960, below, pre-wig for Warhol).

We popped into The Wild Son for a cocktail and a snack. Later we had another drink and some small plates at Txikito on Ninth Avenue, including a delicious Russian potato salad with tuna and capers plus strange breadsticks that looked like fingers poking up out of the pile.

Between the two pit stops we wandered the High Line after dark, ideal time for viewing Andrea Bower’s neon sign reading “Somos 11 Millones / We Are 11 Million,” which is the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.


Culture Vulture/Photo diary: Taylor Mac in Philadelphia part 2

June 14, 2018

Saturday June 9 —

Andy and I returned to Philadelphia for the second half of Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music.” It seemed like half the crowd had seen the first part, the other half were all new people (including our friends Nick and Jimmy). Taylor said something in judy’s introduction that judy hadn’t said before, that judy undertook this epic theater piece because there’s no way it could be perfect — an exercise in managing The Anxiety of Imperfection. That’s one of many inspiring aspects of the extravaganza.

Some highlights:

Each decade’s costume was a Machine Dazzle masterpiece, some more dazzling than others, like this simulation of the Wright Brothers’ airplane wings with Machine traipsing around in a Mount Rushmore headdress.

Guest artists included Philadelphia-based immigrant advocacy activist Yared Portillo, accompanied by Erick Pérez.

During the Depression era, the theater became a soup kitchen, as the Dandy Minions served soup to the audience. When the 1950s rolled around, Taylor’s white-picket-fence costume signalled the era of “white flight” to the suburbs. At this point in the show, Taylor had all the white people in the middle section of the orchestra “migrate” to the suburbs and invited all the people of color in the house to take seats in the center, so for the rest of the show they got to sit in the best seats in the house, soon followed by the queers.

Machine Dazzle’s costumes and Matt Ray’s musical arrangements have been widely and deservedly lauded, but I’m not sure enough praise has been heaped on set designer Mimi Lien and lighting designer John Torres, who succeeded in continually transforming the look of the show/concert using the simplest of means. Andy and I had seen the three-hour section covering the ’60s/’70s/’80s at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, a flexible open space. At the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, the curtain came down as the ’60s rolled in, and it reopened with this grand entrance, to the tune of “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

In Taylor’s queer revisionist pop-song history, “Born to Run” became a Stonewall anthem, as Taylor ran around the audience in judy’s disco-ball headdress and light-up brassiere, orchestrating a simulation of Judy Garland’s funeral (with audience members recruited to play La Garland and her pallbearers, which you can see over our shoulders).

In Brooklyn, Taylor brought on a local youth marching band to signify Black America “Movin’ On Up” at the start of the ’70s. In Philadelphia it was a fantastic local youth dance troupe called Camden sophisticated Sisters/Distinguished Brothers. Notice the hefty gal in the hijab? She did a handstand that turned into a back flip!

And the Dandy Minions got to represent ’70s disco.

The ’80s morphed from a backroom bar into the grim specter of AIDS.

For the oughts, Taylor invited all the lesbians in the house to join him onstage for beer and snacks while judy sang an array of lesbian music (including a sweet rendition of Ferron’s “Girl on a Road,” a duet with Cynthia Hopkins) and brought on Toshi Reagon for a stellar solo.

By the end of the night (the last hour was Taylor solo, singing original songs), I was left with a few strong impressions. Fun and crazy and dazzling as the visuals and the jokes were, this was an incredibly impressive and accomplished musical event. Especially when Taylor slowed things down or stood still to sing ballads, they were overwhelmingly beautiful and emotional, along a fascinating unpredictable spectrum — the country ballad “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” Patti Smith’s “Birdland.” And I walked away blessed to have inhabited a day in the life of a Temporary Queer Utopia, which is as strong a political statement as an artist can make these days.


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