Posts Tagged ‘jane campion’

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, Jasper Johns, Jennifer Packer, THE POWER OF THE DOG, and more

November 22, 2021

November 14 – Michael Longhurst’s revival of Caroline, or Change has had its delayed opening at Studio 54 under the auspices of Roundabout Theatre Company. Originally mounted in London, the show did nothing to erase my memories of the virtually impeccable original production that George C. Wolfe staged first at the Public Theater and then on Broadway. But Sharon D Clarke is indeed remarkable in the title role of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s beautiful, strong musical play.

November 15 – I’ve been on a Paul Bowles roll recently, happily making my way through a massive volume of his letters (In Touch, edited by Jeffrey Miller). Bowles occupied one of the more fascinating corners of 20th century art as a novelist, composer, musical anthropologist, and photographer. He married Jane Bowles — both of them deeply idiosyncratic fiction masters, both of them queer — and for a time they lived in the famous house in Brooklyn also occupied by the likes of W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, Carson McCullers, and Gypsy Rose Lee. He had to be one of the most pretentious/precocious teenage artists who ever lived — his first day in Paris he hung out with Jean Cocteau AND Gertrude Stein (who took him under her wing for a while and called him “Freddy”). The letters include a long missive he wrote to Ned Rorem while having a not-very-enjoyable trip of mescaline.

Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary Let It Come Down (available on DVD from Netflix) fed me plenty of tidbits. The filmmaker managed to get footage of a NYC hotel room meeting between Bowles (above), William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg, the last time those literary lions all met. Burroughs pronounces The Sheltering Sky “an almost perfect novel” (I agree) while also referring to Without Stopping, Bowles’ memoir, as Without Telling, because he’s so maddeningly discreet about anything having to do with sex, romance, or actual people (in contrast to Gore Vidal’s memoirs, which Burroughs appreciates for dishy gossip on every page). Bowles has nothing good to say about Bertolucci’s film version of The Sheltering Sky. I was also intrigued to see footage of Cherifa, Jane Bowles’s mysterious partner, as an old woman (below) repeating without denying rumors that she was a witch who exerted strange powers over JB.

November 18 – I don’t have anything nice to say about Lynn Nottage’s new play Clyde’s, directed by Kate Whoriskey for the Second Stage at the Helen Hayes Theatre, so I’m not going to say anything at all.

November 19 – I dutifully showed up at the Whitney Museum to check out Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror (the other half of this retrospective is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), which only confirmed the inability of Johns’ work to move me at all. His imagery (flags, numbers, maps, etc.) has always landed on me as extremely banal and ugly. The one piece that stood out for me in this show is Field Painting, probably because it looks a lot like the kind of multimedia “combine” that was the specialty of Robert Rauschenberg, his former partner and an artist whose lively, restless, generous creativity has always excited me.

The real reward of this expedition was encountering the splashy exhibition by a painter new to me: Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing. Her large multilayered canvases merge representation and abstraction in unusual and beautiful ways.

I’d also never heard of My Barbarian, the Los Angeles-based art collective, whose installation on the first floor is small but dense and fun and alive with film and animation.

November 20 – Today was National Trans Day of Remembrance. As I’ve done numerous times in the past, I gathered with Gays Against Guns – the activist organization formed after the Pulse massacre in Orland in 2016 – and manifested as one of the Human Beings, silent veiled figures dressed in white representing victims of gun violence. I held placards commemorating Tiara Banks and Dominique Lucious, two of the 34 trans Americans killed by guns this year alone (more have been murdered through other means).

We stood in front of the Washington Square Arch as passersby read and absorbed the stories of these lives lost to senseless violence, and then we processed across the park to Judson Memorial Church, where there was a ceremony and service honoring trans lives.

Among the other Human Beings were two artist friends who’d never met. I got to introduce Paul Wirhun (aka Rosie Delicious aka Egmananda), a radical faerie artist who specializes in psanky (eggshell painting), to Antonius Wiriadjaja (aka Oki), whose Instagram #foodmasku (“I make my meals into masks and then I eat them”) went from pandemic pastime to online sensation. Oki, whom I met playing with Gamelan Kusuma Laras, is also a victim of gun violence (innocent bystander to a drive-by shooting in Brooklyn) and tireless advocate for better gun control laws.

I also got to meet Camille Atkinson (below right), who’s from New Orleans and knows how to rock a memorial outfit.

I wasn’t chomping at the bit to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s film version of Jonathan Larson’s musical tick…tick…BOOM, mostly because I’m not a fan of Andrew Garfield (still haven’t forgiven him for his shallow performance in Angels in America on Broadway – minority opinion, I know, since he walked away with the Tony Award). Nor was I a big fan of Rent, of which TTB is kind of a rough draft. But it was Saturday night on Netflix, so we tuned in. The first 10-15 minutes were tough going, with all the selling-it-to-the-rafters Broadway-style singing we’ve been overdosing on lately. What kept us going were the cameos – I kept exclaiming with delight spotting New York theater treasures among the supporting cast and background players (see the complete list online here), and Andy had fun spotting familiar geographical landmarks and vicariously inhabiting cramped Village apartments recognizable from when he himself was a lad in the early ‘90s finding his way through NYC.

November 21 – MUBI is yet another curated streaming platform for arcane art cinema from all around the world. I’ve encountered some gems and a lot of quirky curiosities there, and just when I think “Is this really worth $10.99 a month?” they’ve sweetened the deal by offering subscribers a free ticket to a brand-new art film playing in theaters. I might not have gotten to Jane Campion’s new film The Power of The Dog so quickly if it hadn’t been playing two blocks from my house at the Paris Theater, FOR FREE. But wow, so glad I did! I’ve loved a lot of Campion’s work, and this one is right up there. I’m never drawn to any movie that falls in the category of “Western” – even one set in Montana but shot in the hills of New Zealand – but this one is exceptional. I had flashes of thinking about There Will Be Blood and Days of Heaven and Brokeback Mountain and even A Streetcar Named Desire but then the film (based on a novel by Thomas Savage) goes several places I would never have guessed. I say no more except to recommend it to anyone who has the patience for a slow-moving but intensely emotional drama. Among the strong performances is one you won’t quickly forget by this kid named Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Opinions are not ideas. I wish I had more ideas than I do. But I do have positive opinions about three other shows playing right now, shows that would surely never be produced on Broadway if it weren’t for the ruptures we’ve seen in the last couple of years. I highly recommend the two downtown hits playing in rep at the Lyceum Theatre, Tina Satter and Half Straddle’s Is This a Room and Les Waters’ production of Lucas Hnath’s Dana H. (with quietly astonishing lead performances by Emily Davis and Deirdre O’Connell, respectively). Ditto Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind, a trenchant and still pertinent play about racial politics in New York theater finally having its Broadway premiere at the American Airlines Theatre, elegantly staged by Charles Randolph-Wright for the Roundabout, with especially fine performance by LaChanze, Chuck Cooper, and Michael Zegen.

Culture Vulture: VIOLET, ALL THE WAY, THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN, TOP OF THE LAKE, NORMAL HEART, and Roz Chast

May 22, 2014

THEATER

5.9.14 – VIOLET – I’m a huge fan of Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change, Fun Home), and I’d only heard the original cast recording of the 1998 premiere at Playwrights Horizons of her first musical, Violet. The Broadway revival at the Roundabout Theatre stars Sutton Foster as a woman horribly disfigured by her father in an ax-wielding accident as a child who take a cross-country bus trip to ask a TV preacher to give her a beautiful movie-star face. It’s a thoughtful, detailed short story of a musical (played without intermission) but for me it never really took off, either emotionally or musically. I did enjoy the performances in several small roles by the great character actress Annie Golden (below, with Foster) and Rema Webb as the gospel singer Lula Buffington who almost but not quite raises the roof.

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5.14.14 – ALL THE WAY – I’d heard Robert Schenkkan’s play about President Lyndon Johnson’s push to pass the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was long and shouty, so I wavered about going until my friend Misha Berson, in town seeing shows for her gig as theater critic for the Seattle Times, generously took me along as her guest. I was happily surprised at how good the play is. It’s very similar to Tony Kushner’s screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln, in that it spends most of its running time focused on the minutiae of Washington politics, how bills work their way through Congress, and the machinations and back-channel dealing that goes on.

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I wasn’t so impressed with Mr. Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston’s performance, which was too shticky by half, but the story kept me rapt, if at times appalled to the point of furious tears, hearing the most disgusting racist sentiments delivered as Senate testimony in my lifetime. Ugh. Bill Rauch of Cornerstone Theater did a fine job casting and staging a large company of actors. Some performances I especially enjoyed included Michael McKean as J. Edgar Hoover and Brandon J. Dirden as a dignified yet remote Martin Luther King.

5.15.14 – THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN – I love Martin McDonagh’s plays, and I’d seen this one twice before, its American debut at the Public Theater directed by Jerry Zaks and a spectacularly good revival at the Atlantic Theater Company staged by Gerry Hynes with a largely Irish cast. Andy’s a fan of McDonagh’s hilarious film In Bruges but had never seen his work onstage, and I thought this would be a dandy introduction, an acclaimed London production directed by Michael Grandage and starring Daniel Radcliffe. Ehhhhh, not so much. Radcliffe is an absolute non-starter in the title role, dull and unimaginative even in the way he plays Cripple Billy’s physical disability. None of the other actors met or matched my fond memories of earlier productions, although I did enjoy Sarah Greene as Slippy Helen (below). Which left only the play to enjoy, with its insane deadpan repetition and whiplash plot turns, from high comedy to melodrama and back.

Cripple

TELEVISION

TOP OF THE LAKE – Casting about for something to try out on my new Apple TV device, I remembered that Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker had good things to say about the BBC mini-series conceived and directed by Jane Campion, a filmmaker whose work I’ve admired for its narrative eccentricity and visual boldness if not always loved. There were almost immediately a bunch of things I found highly implausible about the main character played by Elisabeth Moss, a young police detective on a hometown visit to her ailing mum who suddenly takes over the investigation of a missing teenager and starts bossing around the local police force. But damned if I didn’t get hooked on the thing and ended up watching all seven episodes with its relentlessly grim arc about the horrible exploitation and mistreatment of women by slickly corrupt cops and gnarly local violent maniac meth-dealers.

Picture shows: G,J (HOLLY HUNTER)
Mostly I became intrigued by the subplot of an encampment of damaged women presided over by their guru-who-claims-not-to-be-a-guru, an Asperger’s-like savant named GJ played by Holly Hunter with long gray Jane Campion hair and a compelling, brusque affectlessness. The community of women she shepherds are a crazy, individual assortment even more fleetingly and quirkily depicted than the gals on Orange Is the New Black – we learn almost nothing about them, which of course makes each scene with them riveting. It’s sort of Prime Suspect set in the back woods of New Zealand, though Moss’s character is way more flawed and not nearly as great as Helen Mirren’s.

THE NORMAL HEART – I am astonished at how well Ryan Murphy managed to pull off the long-awaited HBO film of Larry Kramer’s incendiary historical play about love, community, and politics in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Having seen the original production and the revival at the Public Theater as well as the Broadway production two seasons ago, I really didn’t know if I had the emotional stamina to revisit those horrendous mid-1980s years of catastrophe, loss, helplessness, and fury. Yet with Murphy’s coaching, Kramer extensively revised and expanded and deepened his play so that it becomes a much more generous portrait of the time and the gay male community in New York, not so much a self-righteous screed about how right he was and how wrong everyone else was.

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Aside from the fact that (like every other actor who’s played the part) Mark Ruffalo is ten times better-looking than Larry Kramer ever was, his performance is excellent and honest, as are many of the supporting players (including Joe Mantello as Mickey, above with Ruffalo) and Jim Parsons, reprising his Broadway role as Tommy Boatwright). I watched a screener of the HBO show with five friends, we barely breathed while it was playing, and we had a good heartfelt conversation about it afterwards.

BOOKS

CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? is Roz Chast’s brave, hilarious, sad graphic memoir about ushering her parents through the last few years of their lives. I’ve always taken Chast’s cartoons in the New Yorker depicting the neurotic fearfulness of her family as comic exaggeration. But here she documents with unsparing detail her parents’ devotion to each other, their denial about aging and sickness, her father’s monumental anxiety, her mother’s domineering and punishing personality, and her own alternately meek, loving, exasperated, and calculating efforts to please and care for them.

roz chast memoir excerpt

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