Posts Tagged ‘adam baran’


November 14, 2022

The fall season took off like a roar. The last few weeks have been jampacked with music, movies, theater, and art.

October 27 – On the ninth anniversary of Lou Reed’s return to spirit, Laurie Anderson hosted a gathering of what was jokingly called “the cult” – the folks who loved and supported and collaborated with Lou. It was a mash-up of musicians, performers, and Tai Chi aficionados. Master Ren, Lou and Laurie’s teacher, led a rudimentary Tai Chi practice on the roof, while I nibbled crudites and chatted with New York Times reporter Sam Anderson and clocked a crowd that included Michael Imperioli, Julian Schnabel, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, and Gina Gershon.

Downstairs, Jason Stern (above) – Lou’s tech director and right-hand man – talked about the recent releases from the archives and the exhibition “Caught Between the Twisted Stars” at the New York Public Library, curated by Don Fleming, who also spoke (below).

I chatted with Rameshkar Das (below top), who co-authored Ram Dass’s last couple of books, and Shahzad Izmaily (below right), who plays bass and keyboards with Arooj Aftab.

Stewed bull pizzle was served.

October 28The Gold Room at HERE, a very sexy and smart two-actor one-hour play by Jacob Perkins featuring Robert Stanton and Scott Parkinson who shift seamlessly through a dozen characters apiece, beautifully staged by Gus Heagerty.

We had dinner afterwards at Lupe’s with Parkinson (below right, whom we know as Scooter) and Marc Antoine Dupont, Body Electric buddies.

October 29 — Thomas Ostermaier’s bizarre and slapstick-y production of Hamlet started out at the Schaubuhne in Berlin in 2008 and completed its round of touring at Brooklyn Academy of Music. This stripped-down version employs six actors playing all the roles on a stage filled with dirt. The show starts with something that’s not in the play, the burial of Hamlet’s father, so that the wedding banquet literally takes place astride the grave. Many familiar, seemingly crucial scenes and lines were cut. “To be or not to be” occurred several times. And maybe because we were reading the subtitles while the actors spoke German, I encountered lines I swear I’ve never heard before in the umpteen productions of Hamlet I’ve seen in 50 years of theatergoing, such as “Eat a crocodile.” Surely Shakespeare didn’t write that? Guess again.

In the title role, Lars Eidinger has been given license to ham it up and ad-lib like crazy. There were lots of empty seats after intermission, and when some people got up to leave in the middle of the second half he muttered, “Rats leaving a sinking ship!” And as the final scene approached, he roamed around the audience looking for someone to go onstage and fight Laertes in his place. These antics served to keep the show lively, but I’m not sure they illuminated anything about the play. My friend Stephen Greco’s pithy review: “Not enough sadness.”

The lobby of the BAM Harvey hosted an exhibit of pertinent work by women and femme-presenting artists.

October 31 – On Mubi, I watched the early Godard film A Married Woman, from 1964, a love triangle – woman (Macha Meril), her husband and her lover (very handsome Bernard Noel).

It’s hardly a straightforward narrative but a combination of essay, poem, collage, photo album. Its style is referred to as modernist, I guess because it thrives on the things that film can do – quick cuts, juxtapositions. A recurring motif: zooming in on a public sign so that the few letters showing spell out a pertinent word. Crisp black and white, quite sexy, a lot of skin, and a few very long speeches or long dialogues interspersed with long sections without any faces or words. Very free and inspiring.

November 3 – I went to Playwrights Horizons to see Bruce Norris’s Downstate against my better judgment because I’ve deeply disliked his other plays. Indeed, it turned out to be exactly the kind of play that I hate: ostensibly addressing a provocative subject populated by constructs, not people, behaving implausibly from the get-go, in dialogue that is flagrantly exposition-heavy. The play lost me from the top. No one who works with sex offenders or their victims would ever counsel or approve of an adult survivor meeting a sex offender 1) at the sex offender’s residence 2) with three other residents wandering around in various states of undress eavesdropping. And what wife, accompanying her traumatized husband to such a meeting, would take a banal phone call in the middle of his reading a painful confrontational letter he’s waited his whole life to deliver? No. No. Just no. When the set-up is so flagrantly bogus, it’s hard for me to give credence to anything the playwright is trying to convey. Among the performances, K. Todd Freeman is brilliant as ever, even in a crappy play like this. Mine is clearly not the only possible reaction to Downstate. The friend who recommended it offered this analysis: “Everyone in the play has sexual needs. Some of these needs cause damage to others, others are not totally expressed but all here are punished. I don’t think in any way it’s about excusing or forgiving these people, but it’s about the reality of the desires that exist.” On Twitter, Paul Rudnick paused his Trump-trolling to say, “Bruce Norris’s play Downstate, now at Playwrights Horizons in NYC, is a miracle of writing, acting and directing. It’s harrowing, funny, thrilling and everything that great theater can be. Do not miss.” So go figure.

November 4 — I was delighted to win, through the lottery, a pair of tickets to the first performance of Suzan-Lori Parks’ new shows, Plays for the Plague Year, at Joe’s Pub. It’s a musical starring her (above) as The Writer, comprising the plays she wrote every day for 13 months starting March 13, 2020. The sketches and songs alternate between family life with Hubby (the wonderful Greg Keller) and Son aka Pumpkin Pie (the tall and rambunctious Leland Fowler) and public life – the pandemic, applauding the essential workers, the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, RBG and Larry Kramer, her first husband Paul Ocher. “A banquet of the unbearable.” SLP is wonderful. She has a great expressive face, cuts a very charming figure onstage, and plays decent guitar. The scenes are often very short and to the point. She goes to Atlanta to work on a TV show (the Aretha mini-series, presumably) with her husband, and they go to double-check with the real estate agent that the owners of the house they’re renting know that Suzan-Lori is black. The agent hadn’t done so, assumed that because the owners were gay, they would not be bothered. But the couple insist, in such a way that makes you imagine all the unpleasant experiences they’d had in the past that led to ask the question so insistently. The owners did indeed turn out to be cool.

When we walked in, we were handed two slips of paper to be filled out and placed in baskets at intermission: thinking back on the lockdown year, what/who do you want to remember? What/who do you want to forget? The first one she read was, “I want to forget having a threesome with my roommates.” I thought the show was terrific, even if a little long – almost three hours. I think it will have a run.

My guest was filmmaker and queer community treasure Adam Baran, who knows Niegel Smith, the director (who stages most of Taylor Mac’s stuff), so I got to meet him. In the lobby they were selling copies of the script. I went to buy one, and a young woman standing next to me jokingly said, “Will you buy one for me?” Impulsively, I did. An actor just out of college at U. of Michigan, she had seen A Raisin in the Sun, which she said was fantastic. Her name is Shaunie Lewis (@itz_shaunie_k on IG). Ask for what you want, girl!

Chilling later with Andy, I shared with him the high points from the new “Super Deluxe” edition of the Beatles’ Revolver that Giles Martin put together, with early, middle, and late takes of “Yellow Submarine,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

November 5 — Saturday afternoon was the Dessoff Choirs’ concert at Union Theological Seminary, an acoustically ideal venue for choral music, especially when it can feature the impressive pipe organ. This concert featured two ravishing pieces (a madrigal and a motet) by Vicente Lusitano (1520-1561), the first black composer to have his music published. It was another instance of musical rediscovery by Dessoff’s musical director Malcolm J. Merriwether (below), whose championing of 20th century black composer Margaret Bonds has led to more and more performances of her long-neglected work. (On YouTube, you can watch a half-hour conversation about Lusitano between Merriwether and Joseph McHardy, director of music for His Majesty’s Chapel Royal in London.) The concert continued with the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé with its ravishing polyphonics, its long-held hushed final notes, and a brief interlude with soloist Lucia Bradford and cellist Thapelo Masita. David Enlow masterfully handled the pipe organ throughout.

We had an early dinner afterwards with some of the singers at an Italian place on Broadway. Then we came home just long enough for Andy to change out of his tuxedo to go to see Kimberly Akimbo, which we liked very much. I didn’t see the 2003 iteration of the play, which David Lindsay-Abaire wrote for the amazing Marylouise Burke, but when he and Jeanine Tesori turned it into a musical, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. A teenage girl with that disease that ages you rapidly moves to a new school and falls in with a posse of ice-skating show nerds. Andy had never seen the great Victoria Clark and was blown away by her performance in the title role. As her ne’er-do-well yet infuriatingly charming aunt, Bonnie Milligan steals the show whenever she can; I smell a Tony Award. Stephen Boyer, playing Kimberly’s father, turns out to have a surprisingly lovely singing voice. The high school kids are adorable, especially Justin Cooley as Kimberly’s tuba-playing partner in the great adventure of Living Every Day Like It’s Your Last. I think it’s going to be a hit.

November 6 — Instead of making myself crazy watching the inconclusive results roll in from the midterm election, I took myself to the movies to see Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin. I’m a big fan of McDonagh, and this film reunited the stars of his first full-length feature, the hilarious In Bruges, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Here they play best friends in a tiny town on a tiny Irish island in 1923 who have a falling out. The dialogue is absurd and hilarious, both heightened and mundane, the action is violent and mysterious (cf. his play A Behanding in Spokane), the surrounding characters are eccentric, a pet miniature donkey figures in the story, and if you know your McDonagh, animals hardly ever come out well in his work.

To me the spiky buddy-buddy relationship smacks of Sam Shepard (who was a big McDonagh fan) but I just listened to an interview where he said his biggest influences were Mamet and Pinter, that his early attempts at playwriting were all attempts to recreate The Birthday Party and American Buffalo. It doesn’t take a genius to detect in this slim tale a fable about the bloody civil war between North and South Ireland, but the movie doesn’t lean hard on that parallel.

November 10 — On my way home from the post office I decided to stop in at the Museum of Modern Art to check out the exhibition devoted to JAM (Just Above Midtown), the peripatetic gallery founded by Linda Goode Bryant in midtown and eventually relocated downtown, showing a vast array of black artists (superstar David Hammons was an early and very active participant in the gallery’s operations, which were as much about community building as exhibiting art). I like this emerging trend of museums showcasing the work of legendary art spaces as if they were individual artists. I loved the frankness and transparency of this show, which includes a whole wall of JAM’s unpaid bills.

I enjoyed seeing work by artists I’ve admired in other contexts (painter Cynthia Hawkins, illustrator Valerie Maynard) and encountered some striking stuff new to me, like this provocative piece about Indigenous and English language by Edgar Heap of Birds.

Down the hall from the JAM shows was a retrospective of work by surrealist Meret Oppenheim, about whom I knew almost nothing except for her famous fur-lined teacup. It excited me to witness the range and breadth of her art practice, which explored almost every possible medium without ever resolving into a recognizable style. The pieces that stood out most for me don’t look anything like each other.

I also enjoyed this canvas, displayed prominently in a hallway next to the atrium where Barbara Krueger’s installation still reigns triumpantly. As the T-shirt says, I too am not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it.

That evening I spent some time poking around MUBI to make the most of my monthly subscription and found myself watching a quirky queer short film called Starfuckers (gay sex workers in Hollywood plot revenge) and then a completely engrossing film I’d never heard of called Lucky, a bravura showcase for Harry Dean Stanton (below) by John Carroll Lynch, son of David Lynch, who plays a small, crucial role.

November 12 Cameron Crowe’s stage adaptation of his autobiographical movie Almost Famous, with music and lyrics by Tom Kitt, clearly lost some luster in its transfer from the Old Globe in San Diego, where it received ecstatic reviews in 2019, and its opening on Broadway, where it did not. The staging by Jeremy Herrin feels a bit limp. Still, there are pleasures to be had watching the cast inhabit the fantasy of Rock Star Life on the Road, circa 1973. Drew Gehling and Chris Wood have fun fronting the midlevel band that teenage journalist William Miller (Casey Likes) attempts to profile for Rolling Stone; ditto Rob Colletti as Lester Bangs, William’s snarling rock-critic hero-mentor. I kept thinking the show and the music were tame in their depiction of rock ‘n’ roll. But listening to the movie’s original soundtrack album later, I took in the point that the album and the movie make, which is that those rock bands — the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Lynard Skynard — didn’t do hardcore headbangers nonstop. They all had songs that inhabited a quieter, acoustic, folky/CSN territory. It was funny to emerge from the theater to commotion in the lobby – there was Cameron Crowe, happy to meet and greet and take selfies with excited fans.

It’s always fun delving into the background after seeing a show, reading reviews and interviews and other source material. A really fun complement to seeing Almost Famous was checking out the Netflix documentary Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres while writing postcards to Get Out the Vote in Georgia for the Senate runoff race there. Ben Fong-Torres is best-known as a writer and editor in the early days of Rolling Stone (he’s a character in both the movie and the musical Almost Famous) but he has gone on to have an admirable career as a community organizer as well as broadcast journalist. And he kept all the tapes of the musicians he interviewed over the years!

Performance diary: Queer/Art/Film screening of FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL

July 28, 2010

July 26 – I’ve gotten hooked on the Queer/Art/Film Series that Ira Sachs (below right) and Adam Baran (below left) co-curate at the IFC Center every month. Russ Meyer’s 1965 Faster Pussycat Kill Kill is a classic B-movie – I realize that’s a dated term for a genre flick, an apologetically trashy, low-budget, black-and-white exploitation film. This would ordinarily not be my cup of tea – “so bad it’s good” isn’t high praise for me. I’m a kind of intellectual snob and would rather see something arty than something trashy almost any day of the week. And Russ Meyer got famous pandering to horny straight guys with soft-core titty movies, again not an audience that would include me. But for Queer/Art/Film, this movie was selected and introduced by Joe Gage (below center), who was the first guy who succeeded in making gay porn movies that were both aesthetically compelling and sexually hot. His famous trilogy of Kansas City Trucking Company, El Paso Wrecking Company, and L.A. Tool and Die made a huge impact on my budding gay sensibility, from the moment I heard about them and saw stills to the times I went to the Adonis Theater (and other old-fashioned dirty-movie palaces) and watched them for myself. (More recently, his films for Titan Media have rocked my world, such as Cop Shack.) Plus, it was fun to go with my friend Allen, who’s been in a bunch of Joe Gage movies himself (he plays the title character in Dad Takes a Fishing Trip), which meant the chances were good I’d get to meet one of my culture heroes in person. I didn’t have to wait long. While we were standing in line and buzzing because John Cameron Mitchell and Justin Bond were right behind us, Joe Gage walked up behind Allen and gave him a bear hug, and introductions ensued.

The movie turned out to be crazier and artier than I’d imagined. How to describe this movie? Bad girls in racing cars kidnap a teenybopper, kill her handsome boyfriend, and terrorize a compound out in the middle of the California desert where a misogynistic tightwad in a wheelchair and his two semi-retarded sons live off the settlement from his accident. I had to get past the screechy line readings, the hokey melodrama, and the leering use Meyer makes of gals with big jugs (all three of the female leads were professional strippers, apparently) to appreciate the director’s freewheeling application of cinematic methods, his sly references to other films (The Misfits, Rebel Without a Cause), and his influence on John Waters, David Lynch, and other cheeky indie filmmakers ever since. And I appreciated Gage’s commentary on the context in which the movie appeared on the scene and how shocking it was to see “the war between the sexes” presented in such a down-and-dirty, egalitarian way. One guy in the audience offered a stream of arcane trivia about the “stars” of the movie – he turned out to be Shade Rupe, who’s just published a collection of his interviews with cult artists.

Afterwards, we repaired to Julius’s, the unofficial BUTT Magazine hangout, where I had the pleasure of introducing Adam Baran (New York editor of BUTT) to Allen. Adam was so cute and clearly agog at meeting our handsome porn star friend in person. (See below.)I felt the same way chatting briefly with John Cameron Mitchell, whom I interviewed once for the Advocate, and who hosts a monthly Thursday night party at Julius’s called Mattachine. I think Shortbus is one of the bravest, most meaningful films made in the last 20 years, but I was too shy to babble on about it to John, who also seemed very shy and modest and sweet. A lesbian jazz combo played smoky music by the bar.

Performance diary: THE HIDDEN SKY and the Charles Ludlam films

February 23, 2010

February 20 – Some friends of Andy’s, writer-director Kate Chisholm and composer-lyricist Peter Foley, have spent the last few years developing a musical called The Hidden Sky, based on Ursula LeGuin’s short story, “The Masters.” It’s currently having a production at the Prospect Theater Company, so we went to have a look. It’s truly Off-Off-Broadway: performed in a disused church, minimal production values, amateur actors, minimal orchestration (two live musicians, everything else on tape), terrible sound, etc. And wouldn’t you know, the woman playing the lead was out sick, so another member of the cast was stepping in, with book in hand. But the musical values were respectable – the choral arrangements (by Foley) were especially lovely, and most of the cast had pretty good voices.

The main draw is the story, set in “a time other than now” but very much about now nevertheless. (It could be taking place in Afghanistan, or Iran, or Iraq, or Albany — any place where religious fanatics are trying to bring back the Stone Age.) The world is dominated by a highly religious culture that worships the sun as God…only the environment has been destroyed so God has not shone through the clouds in many years. Knowledge and thought has been banned, but an underground tribe of “seekers” continue to pursue scientific experimentation and mathematical calculation. A young woman named Ganil, who’s achieved mastery in the crude industrial culture and is engaged to be married to the son of a mucky-muck, possesses unusual aptitude for math. Despite being cautioned against this pursuit and the prospect of bodily mutilation and ostracism, egged on by a renegade from another region named Lee, Ganil focuses on numerical patterns that exist in nature, studying them to the point of neglecting other concerns. (Can you say Sunday in the Cave with Ganil?) In one of the weirder yet fascinating musical numbers I’ve encountered in the theater, she basically discovers or re-invents the Fibonacci sequence. The climactic moment of the show is when she realizes that there is a predictable, elaborate, elegant pattern that shows up in nature, and she proclaims this awesome phenomenon to be “the face of God.” Are we meant to take that seriously and agree with her? Is she truly seeking a scientific alternative to the superstition of the mainstream culture, or is she exchanging one fundamentalist faith-based system with another? Does she have no other language for something mysterious and powerful than to call it “God” and is that the show’s point? (I haven’t read LeGuin’s story, so I don’t know how much of this is original to her or shaped by the adaptors.) Is the show making a case for intelligent-design theory? I had a good juicy discussion of all this over drinks and dessert at French Roast with Andy and Allen, who are both science-fiction/fantasy geeks and enjoyed the show more than I did.

February 22 – Steven Watson had an extra ticket at the last minute to see the showing of “The Lost Films of  Charles Ludlam” (two black-and-white silent shorts left unfinished when he died in 1987)  in the “Queer/Art/Film” series at the IFC Center, hosted by filmmaker Ira Sachs and BUTT magazine editor Adam Baran. I was delighted to go, and I’m glad I went. Not that the movies are great. They’re decidedly not. It was a little like watching the dailies from an extremely low-budget student film – zero editing, bad lighting, mugging rather than acting, every shot going on 20 times longer than necessary (every shot!). But still…there was the late great Charles Ludlam, playing a bisexual convict on the lam in Museum of Wax – it’s thrilling to see his incredibly expressive face on film. And you get a glimpse of him naked on a train in The Sorrows of Dolores, a madcap takeoff on The Perils of Pauline starring Everett Quinton (above) with Ridiculous Theater stalwarts Black-Eyed Susan, Lola Pashalinski, John D. Brockmeyer, and Minette in smaller roles. (Both films would probably be better off being shown as slideshows — brief slideshows! But with some of the terrific music Peter Golub apparently whipped up at short notice for these screenings.) Everett introduced the films alongside Anthony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons fame), who selected the films for showing in the festival and gave a rambling but personal and touching talk about his introduction to the lineage of gay drag theater. The audience for this event pretty much WAS the event. Lots of familiar faces, art fags of every age and gender. It was one of those nights where New York felt like a little tiny cozy village.

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