Quote of the day: HUG

January 16, 2020

HUG

The older I get, the more I like hugging. When I was little, the people hugging me were much larger. In their grasp I was a rag doll. In adolescence, my body was too tense to relax for a hug. Later, after the loss of virginity—which was anything but a loss—the extreme proximity of the other person, the smell of hair, the warmth of the skin, the sound of breathing in the dark—these were mysterious and delectable. This hug had two primary components: the anticipation of sex and the pleasure of intimacy, which itself is a combination of trust and affection. It was this latter combination that came to characterize the hugging I have experienced only in recent years, a hugging that knows no distinctions of gender or age. When this kind of hug is mutual, for a moment the world is perfect the way it is, and the tears we shed for it are perfect too. I guess it is an embrace.

–Ron Padgett (per The Writer’s Almanac)


BOOKS: RFD Interview re THE PARADOX OF PORN

December 28, 2019

The esteemed poet, therapist, and community treasure Franklin Abbott interviewed me about The Paradox of Porn for the latest issue of RFD, the radical faerie quarterly journal.


Culture Vulture: Top Theater of 2019

December 28, 2019

TOP THEATER OF 2019

  1. Fairview – I was a latecomer to Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, having missed it at Soho Rep and caught up with it at Theater for a New Audience (in a bigger and I have to imagine more ideal space). The play, Sarah Benson’s production, Mimi Lien’s set, Raja Feather Kelly’s choreography, and the masterful ensemble (especially Mayaa Boateng, Heather Alicia Simms, and Roslyn Ruff, below, photo by Richard Termine) rocked my world with its canny employment of theatrical elements to dramatize how we perform race for each other.

2. Octet – Composer Dave Molloy continued to astonish with this a cappella musical about a 12-step group for internet addicts, with a superb cast directed by Annie Tippe with extraordinary music direction by Or Matias.

3. American Utopia – David Byrne turned his latest album tour into a Broadway spectacle with the help of choreographer Annie-B Parson, staging consultant Alex Timbers, lighting designer Rob Sinclair, and whoever devised the technology to allow the musicians to roam the stage as self-contained entities.

4. Hadestown – Pop songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s adaptation of the Orpheus myth was a revelation to me, beautifully staged by the great Rachel Chavkin with a bunch of remarkable performances, including Amber Gray, Reeve Carney, and standout ensemble member Timothy Hughes.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation surpassed my expectations, thanks to Bartlett Sher’s tough production and Celia Keenan-Bolger’s indelible Scout.

6. Fefu and Her Friends – Lileana Blain-Cruz’s exquisite staging of Maria Irene Fornes’s famous, rarely seen 1977 theatrical groundbreaker, with excellent sets by Adam Rigg, costumes by Montana Levi Blanco, and top-notch performances by all, especially Amelia Workman and Brittany Bradford.


7. Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven – another rich, messy, double-slice of life from Stephen Adly Giurgis with a crazy good ensemble (above, photo by Monique Carboni) directed by John Ortiz, especially Elizabeth Rodriguez, Kristina Poe, and the towering Liza Colón-Zayas.

  1. “Daddy” A Melodrama – Jeremy O. Harris has unerring instincts for language, stories, and imagery that make theater electric. Like his Slave Play (currently on Broadway) and Black Exhibition (recently at Bushwick Starr, above, Miles Greenberg with Harris, photo by Sara Krulwich), Daddy made up for its imperfections with puppets, outrageous performances, and Alan Cumming suddenly grabbing a mic to sing George Michael’s “Father Figure” with a female gospel trio singing backup.
  2. Adaku’s Revolt – MacArthur fellow Okwui Okpokwasili mounted this beautiful small piece for young audiences at the Abrons Arts Center.
  3. Soft Power – David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori collaborated on this curious, ambitious fun musical-within-a-play about reimagining The King and I from a Chinese point of view in order to heal the 2016 election results and Hwang’s experience of being stabbed.

Special Mention: Madonna’s Madame X show at the BAM Opera House was surprising, annoying, theatrical, and unforgettable.

Other memorable performance highlights: Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop, beautifully staged by Stephen Brackett with brave Larry Owen in the lead; Netta Yerushalmy’s epic Paramodernities at New York Live Arts; Becca Blackwell and Danielle Skraastad in Hurricane Diane; exquisite design and direction of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Marys Seacole at LCT3 with Quincy Tyler Bernstine and Karen Kandel; Phelim McDermott’s beautiful campy production of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten at the Metropolitan Opera with a strong lead performance by counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (above); Lauren Patten in Jagged Little Pill; at least Part One of Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance on Broadway; Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman; Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas; Come Through, Bon Iver’s collaboration with TU Dance; and the Encores! Off-Center production of Al Carmines and Irene Fornes’s quirky, smart, devastating musical Promenade.


From the deep archives: Jean Smart

December 26, 2019

JEAN SMART

Jean Smart just celebrated her first anniversary of moving to New York City. She spent most of the last year giving one of the season’s great performances in Jane Chambers’ long-running play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, which moved from Off-Off-Broadway’s New Shandol Theater and Westside Mainstage to its current home Off-Broadway at the Actors Playhouse. And as an anniversary present, she’ll be making her Broadway debut in Pam Gems’ new play Piaf, which opens Thursday at the Plymouth Theater.

In Bluefish Cove Smart played Lil, a funny and romantic businesswoman fighting off terminal cancer and the pity of her friends by plunging into a torrid affair with a straight woman who unwittingly wandered into a lesbian summer resort. Chambers’ script carefully steered around most of the ample opportunities for Camille-like sentimentality, and so did Smart’s performance. Yet she managed – with just an occasional abstract gaze, a nervous cheerfulness, a sudden shattering of carefree façade – to transform almost a soap opera situation into a classic story of love and life struggling against grim odds. Blond and sultry, fleshy yet petite, Smart looked statuesque, which made all the more surprising her quick, husky voice, her pealing laugh, and her utter naturalness as an actor. Then, too the role’s rapid moodswings gave her a chance to show her stuff – inf act, she endured an arduous commute to play Lady Macbeth in Pittsburgh during the showcase stage of Bluefish Cove because, she says, “I knew Lil was too good a part to give up.” It’s always difficult to follow such a spectacular performance, but the producers of Piaf must have spied Smart’s budding charisma. In that play she has one short but pungent scene playing Marlene Dietrich.

Born and reared in Seattle, Smart began her career by staking out the Northwest Territory’ she has worked extensively at such theaters as Seattle Rep, A.C.T., the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the Alaska Rep. At the latter she appeared in Terra Nova, Ted Tally’s play about Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, who first reached the North Pole. “A friend in L.A. asked, ‘What do you do for a set, open the back wall of the theater?’” Still in her early ‘30s, Smart had already essayed such roles as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Eve in A History of the American Film,  and Hesione in Shaw’s Heartbreak House before making the inevitable migration to New York.

Putting off that migration gave her a chance to both learn her craft and see the world. Married for a few years to a Marine, she spent several months in japan when he was stationed there. “Another woman and I tried to start a dinner theater in the officers’ club,” she recalled. “We held auditions for You Can’t Take It With You, but nobody came. We had wanted to call it the Yes Theater. Nobody got the joke, so maybe it was just as well.”

(photo by Jonathan Postal)

Soho News, February 4, 1981


Quote of the day: MINORITY

December 17, 2019

MINORITY

I do not self-identify as a minority. I did an interview where I was asked about representing minorities. I asked the interviewer to look at me. What you should be seeing over my shoulders is the African diaspora. And that is no minority; humanity walked out of Africa. Now I know why we use the term minority, but that’s a political construct. And that is used to oppress me. And I refuse to be oppressed. Regardless of what is intended by my would-be oppressor, I refuse to be oppressed. I am a free, liberated man by birth. So when you see me, see Africa. When you see Africa you’re looking at the world.

–Andre De Shields, interviewed by Jose Solis for American Theatre


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