Posts Tagged ‘john cameron mitchell’

Culture Vulture: February in NYC

March 1, 2015

The relentlessly brutal cold this winter has really gotten me down, to the point of contemplating some future when I spend winters somewhere warmer or even relocate permanently. What stops me? Among other things, I’m spoiled by the steady diet of rich, high-quality, and/or offbeat culture available in New York City. In the last three weeks, I’ve seen a motley series of nine extremely different live shows I could have seen hardly anywhere else:

Pretty Filthy, the Civilians’ docu-musical about the LA porn industry at the Abrons Arts Center;

Disgraced, Ayad Aktar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama on Broadway;

Pour Une Âme Souveraine—A Dedication to Nina Simone, Meshell Ndegeocello’s concert at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series;

“Love, Hate, & Comics,” an evening with Matt Groening and Lynda Barry at BAM;

Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country at Classic Stage Company, starring Taylor Schilling and Peter Dinklage;

Stockhausen’s trippy, ritualistic Stimmung performed by Paul Hillier’s Theater of Voices at Zankel Hall (above);

Soho Rep’s production of An Octoroon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s saucy adaptation of a Dion Boucicault melodrama revived at Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn;

a return visit to Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, with co-creator John Cameron Mitchell playing the title role wearing a knee brace after a recent injury, necessarily making the performance considerably quieter, less flashy, and more poignant than Neil Patrick Harris’s; and

All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, a banal play by Canadian novelist Sheila Heti overemphatically performed by Toronto’s Suburban Beast theater company at The Kitchen.

Once upon a time I would have written detailed commentary on each of these performances, but that’s not really what I’m doing these days. I will say that much as I admired the writing and the performances and the staging and the terrific, tuneful score (by Michael Friedman) of Pretty Filthy, I couldn’t help feeling that the show (above) was regrettably tame, both in its content and in its theatricality. I wanted it to be darker and stranger. I wish this company felt freer to color outside the lines. My taste for that kind of theater was happily sated by An Octoroon, an inventive, ambitious, imperfect show (below) not quite like any other show you’re likely to see anytime soon. I highly recommend it.


Culture Vulture: best theater of 2014

December 22, 2014

There was a time when I saw over 200 shows a year. I went to everything I could. I was insatiable. That time is long past. I don’t feel the need to see everything “to keep up,” but I still love going. Here is my list of my ten favorite shows of 2014:

curious-huge1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – I dragged my heels about seeing Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel about an autistic kid with high math skills and low social skills but Marianne Elliott’s staging dazzled me with major contributions from Bunny Christie’s visual design, Steven Hoggett and Scott Graham’s choreography, the superbly contained lead performance by Alex Sharp (above), and Ian Barford’s deep, moving work as his loving, imperfect father.

2. The Ambassador – John Tiffany’s theatrical staging at BAM of a suite of songs about Los Angeles written and performed by Gabriel Kahane (below), the most interesting singer-songwriter I’ve encountered in recent years (Adam Guettel meets Ben Folds, brainy dense lyrics with high conceptual vision and pop friendliness).
AMBASSADOR-articleLarge3. Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Director Michael Mayer did a fantastic job of blowing up John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s beloved up-from-Squeezebox rock musical to fit a Broadway house and helping Neil Patrick Harris more than fill Hedwig’s stacked heels. Special kudos to Mike Albo and Amanda Duarte for the faux-Playbill framing the show as the aftermath of Hurt Locker The Musical.

intimacy cast
4. Intimacy –
The New Group’s Scott Elliott staged Thomas Bradshaw’s outrageous suburban family play, a smart and shocking comic book about the prevalence of pornography in American culture, with brave performances by game actors, none more than David Anzuelo in a role requiring him to be naked and erect every night.

5. Indian Ink –
The long-delayed New York debut of Tom Stoppard’s 1995 play about sisters, art, and the ownership of memory got a splendid production at the Roundabout by Carey Perloff with a luminous leading performance by Romola Garai with help from Firdous Bamji and the great Rosemary Harris.

6. This Is Our Youth – The terrific cast (Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson) made Kenneth Lonergan’s play about overprivileged lost white kids compelling, in Anna D. Shapiro’s Broadway staging.

scenes from a marriage
7. Scenes from a Marriage –
the great Flemish director Ivo van Hove exerted his usual inventiveness in transferring Bergman’s film to the stage at New York Theater Workshop with an immersive set design by Jan Versweyveld and excellent performances by Arliss Howard and Tina Benko (above), Susannah Flood, Alex Hurt, and Mia Katigbak.

8. Cry, Trojans! –
The Wooster Group managed to go even deeper, weirder, and more complicated than ever with this adaptation of Troilus and Cressida with eerie costumes by Folkert de Jong – hard to love, impossible to forget.

9. St. Matthew Passion – Peter Sellars’ grave, exquisite production of Bach’s oratorio at the Park Avenue Armory showcased the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle’s direction with several great performances, especially by Mark Padmore as The Evangelist (below).


10. Red-eye to Havre de Grace – This intimate musical spectacle at New York Theater Workshop about the last days of Edgar Allen Poe was a welcome introduction to the quirky talents of writer-director-designer Thaddeus Phillips and composer-performers David and Jeremy Wilhelm.

Other pleasures:

Audra McDonald’s fierce turn as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill

Sting’s tuneful original score and David Zinn’s monumental set for The Last Ship

Tyne Daly in Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons

Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s season within the Lincoln Center Festival

Landfall, Laurie Anderson’s collaboration with Kronos Quartet at BAM

The original cast recording of Dogfight, which made me wish I’d seen the show at Second Stage

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.

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