Archive for the 'from the deep archives' Category

From the deep archives: Kate Valk and BRACE UP!

June 18, 2017

I have no idea what to expect from A PINK CHAIR (IN PLACE OF A FAKE ANTIQUE),  the new piece that the Wooster Group is developing in honor of Polish theatermaker Tadeusz Kantor, but I’m eagerly anticipating getting a peek at it when it has its world premiere at Bard College’s SummerScape festival next month. Meanwhile, I find myself rooting around in my various writings about the Wooster Group over the years, much of which I’ve already posted in my online archive. But then there’s this brief interview with Kate Valk that I did in 1991 when I was writing a column for the Village Voice called Playing Around. The Wooster Group was in the midst of developing Brace Up!, its layered adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Brace Up! was a star turn for Kate Valk, who served as master of ceremonies, androgynously attired in a chopped-off black “Japanese” wig and a man’s suit (Dafoe’s costume from Route 1&9, actually).

Her role corresponds to that of the maid in Chekhov’s play, she said when I interviewed her at the Garage one afternoon during wartime, which in turn refers to her own history with the Wooster Group. “I started off doing costumes, then props, then stage managing. Now that’s my role onstage.” But her performance is also based on two Japanese forms of presentational acting: the clowns in kyogen (the comic interludes in Noh theater) and the benshi (performers who narrated silent films and sometimes became more popular than the films’ stars). Japan became a fixation after Valk and director Elizabeth LeCompte stopped in Tokyo on their way back from a Wooster Group tour of Australia; the group spent a year studying Japanese movies (anything starring Toshiro Mifune) and tapes of Noh and kyogen. They used that research to create a mask through which to perform Three Sisters.

Going back and re-reading the column now, I’m struck by two things: I refer to the interview taking place “during wartime.” This was during the presidency of Bush Senior and the short-lived skirmish we now refer to as the Gulf War, a big deal at the time that now feels like a faint footnote compared to everything that has happened since then. Later in the column, talking about theater auteur Richard Foreman, I report that he is planning to collaborate with William Finn (of Falsettos fame) on a musical called Eating Yourself Alive. The musical never happened, perhaps needless to say, and I had forgotten all about its fleeting existence until this very minute.

You can read the whole column online here.

From the deep archives: Midnight Oil

June 3, 2017

Robert Gallagher just pointed out a record review I didn’t realize existed on Rolling Stone‘s website — my 1985 review of the Australian band Midnight Oil. I posted it in my online archive, but it’s short so I’ll just run the whole thing here:

Midnight Oil is a politically conscious Australian band whose music combines the postpunk abrasiveness of the Clash and Gang of Four with the Kinks’ music-hall variety and the pure pop of groups like Cheap Trick. Together with the double-barrel guitars of James Moginie and Martin Rotsey and the stunning presence of bald, seven-foot-tall lead singer Peter Garrett, it’s a heady brew. The references to local politics and history that stud the group’s songs and account in large part for its huge appeal down under may seem exotic or puzzling to Americans who don’t know that Kosciusko is the name of the tallest mountain in Australia or who haven’t kept up with the controversial use of shipyards in New Zealand as U.S. missile bases. But the general sense of antimilitarism, support for political prisoners and other forms of humanitarianism comes through even when the specific references are lost. “Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers” broods about the bloodthirst behind boxing matches, and “Who Can Stand in the Way” sarcastically defines the march of progress in a refrain that applies to many other Western countries: “Who can stand in the way when there’s a dollar to be made?”

Well produced by Nick Launay and the band, the album ranges from the exciting hip-hop tape tricks of “When the Generals Talk” to the chiming serenity of “Who Can Stand in the Way,” from songs like “Best of Both Worlds” that practically sound like heavy-metal anthems to odd little ditties (“Bakerman” and “Bells and Horns in the Back of Beyond”). Some of the slower songs drag on too long, and Peter Garrett’s voice, with its broad accent and exaggerated enunciation, isn’t quite as striking as his appearance. But it’s terrific to hear a good band that addresses itself exclusively to public concerns. Red Sails in the Sunset, as John Lydon would say, is not a love song.

From the deep archives: Griffin Dunne

June 2, 2017

You never know who you’re going to run into doing jury duty in New York City. For me this week, it was Griffin Dunne, the actor who is currently co-starring with Kathryn Hahn and Kevin Bacon in the Amazon TV series I Love Dick. I hadn’t seen him on screen in many years, and though I have mixed feelings about the series I was impressed to see him bravely leaping into the task of playing Sylvere Lotringer, the editor of the brainy art journal Semiotext(e) and husband of the novelist Chris Kraus. (The show has a lot of rowdy full-on sex scenes.) And then there he was at jury duty, unshaven and wearing thick-framed glasses and a few years older. I’d met him a couple of times, once to interview him for the book I did with photographer Susan Shacter, Caught in the Act: New York Actors Face to Face, and once to interview him and his partner in film producing, Amy Robinson, for Elle magazine.

I just posted on my website my interview from Caught in the Act, which took place in 1985. What stands out for me now is the story he tells about needing “a wad of quarters” to field phone calls with agents and executives on a movie he was producing — so hard to imagine the days of feeding quarters into pay phones, eh? But it wasn’t so long ago.

The piece is short but you can read it online here. Here’s the glamorous portrait of him by Susan Shacter.

From the deep archives: JACK HOFSISS (1950-2016)

September 16, 2016

Theater director Jack Hofsiss died this week at the age of 65. In addition to seeing a lot of his work onstage (most memorably the original Broadway production of The Elephant Man and Paul Rudnick’s first play in New York, Poor Little Lambs), I had the pleasure of interviewing him for The Advocate in 2000, 15 years after the diving accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The occasion for the interview was his production of a play called Avow, which dealt with the subject of gay marriage. Hofsiss had some very interesting things to say about the subject, coming from his background being taught by Jesuits in high school.

“I learned from the Jesuits not just to accept what is given to you but to think about it,” he said. “There was a sense of questioning. They shared the fact that ultimately your relationship to God is your own thing, that you can be gay and have a relationship with the God of the Catholic Church. That’s one of the big issues in this play, the refusal of these guys to take second-class citizenship. Instead of saying, ‘My love precludes me from being a Catholic,’ to say ‘My love enables me to be a Catholic. My love is love. Love is God. God is love.’ That’s the journey.”

You can read the complete text of my article online here. Let me know what you think.



Culture Vulture/From the deep archives: August Darnell & company

May 31, 2016

May 31: The mere announcement that La Mama ETC would be presenting Cherchez La Femme (subtitled “A Musical Excuse”), a show created by August Darnell and Vivien Goldman (pictured below), for three weeks (May 19-June 12), sent me on a high-speed excursion down Memory Lane. Darnell was a founding member of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and the creator of the pop group Kid Creole and the Coconuts. I was a huge fan of those acts and as a young pop-culture journalist spent a couple of years obsessively following their work. I wrote big feature stories about Darnell for the Soho News and the Boston Phoenix. For Rolling Stone, I reviewed the first two Kid Creole albums (Off the Coast of Me and Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places), the Savannah Band’s third album, and the solo album by Savannah Band’s lead singer Cory Daye. I also wrote a Soho News review of what I think was the first and only live concert in New York City by the Savannah Band, which was pretty shambolic; my reward for writing honestly about its painful shortcomings was a soggy package of dogshit delivered to the Soho News office. But for a short period of time, I had a friendly relationship with Darnell, and my Boston Phoenix feature details his emergence as an artist better than anything else I’ve read, at least until Jon Pareles’ feature in the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times last week (which was where I learned that Stony Browder Jr., Darnell’s brother and mentor, had died in 2001).


Andy and I and our friends Bob and Phil attended the second preview of Cherchez La Femme, which was pretty rocky. The book rambled, the staging was awkward, and the lively performers struggled to do their best while singing to prerecorded tracks blasted at uneven volume. But several production numbers stood out, thanks to the snappy choreographer of Kyndra “Binkie” Reevey and the snazzy costumes by Adriana Kaegi (Darnell’s ex-wife and former Coconut). I somehow expected the score to feature a nonstop barrage of Savannah Band/Kid Creole favorites. Instead most of the songs came from later, lesser-known Kid Creole albums, released after many listeners (including me) had lost interest. But the little bits of familiar music that did show up were a blast – besides scene-change snippets of “I’ll Play the Fool” and “Sour and Sweet,” we heard the title song (reprised as a curtain call), “Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy” (the lyric changed to “Addy,” after a character in the play), and a song from a Gichy Dan album called “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” that now I can’t get out of my head.

I’m delighted for Darnell that he’s gone back to his first love, writing plays (he did write the original songs for an Eric Overmyer musical called In a Pig’s Valise produced by the Second Stage in 1989). And it has been fun if slightly unnerving to revisit a cultural obsession from 36 years ago. I look back at my coverage of these artists and cringe a little at my naivete about drugs (Stony Browder didn’t get his name by being stoical) and my somewhat provincial white-boy attitude about world music. I am impressed how ahead of the game August Darnell was with his own variations on sampling and appropriation. And at the time the only corollary to the extended social/artistic Savannah Band scene I could point to was George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. Nowadays there are numerous similar enclaves of loosely affiliated artists, especially in the hiphop world (Odd Future, the Internet).

%d bloggers like this: