Posts Tagged ‘keith hennessy’

Culture Vulture/Photo diary: the Whitney with Bob and Phil, GO FORTH with Keith Hennessy, Laurie Anderson’s Midnight Moment

January 27, 2016

(click photos to enlarge)

1.2.16 Andy and I started the new year by having brunch with our friends Bob and Phil at Blenheim in the West Village then moseying over to the Whitney Museum. Bob and Phil had not experienced the new building before, so we walked through the Frank Stella show (eh), donations from the Thea and Ethan Wagner collection, and the Archibald Motley show before settling down to watch Rachel Rose’s mesmerizing 12-minute video “Everything and More.”

1-2 bob mower1-2 phil hayes1-2 alfonso ossorio number 140151-2 jacob lawrence depression detail0171-2 motley lawd my mans leavin detail0191-2 guys on the stairs

1.7.16 Keith Hennessy made his annual visit to New York to participate in the American Realness festival, performing a duet with Jassem Hindi (future friend/ships) and directing his former colleague and mentor Sara Shelton Mann in a valedictory performance called Sara the Smuggler. On his off night, we checked out a show in P.S. 122’s COIL Festival, Go Forth, the directorial debut of Kaneza Schaal, the extraordinary actress who performs with Elevator Repair Service and the Wooster Group. It was an ambitious, dramaturgically complicated piece based on Egyptian funerary texts that didn’t entirely land with me. But I very much admired the photographic installation (by Christopher Myers) that hung along the hallway leading to Westbeth’s intriguingly raw, crypt-like performance space. And who doesn’t enjoy having a free beer handed to you in the midst of a show?

1-7 go forth photo plus keith1-7 go forth negative confessions1-7 truth justice cosmic order1-8 harlem beer

1.12.16 After dinner at La Carafe on Ninth Avenue, Andy and I and David Zinn swung by Times Square to sip hot cider and witness Laurie Anderson’s Midnight Moment. For the month of January, 54 of the 10 zillion LED screens in the heart of the theater district flashed three minutes of Laurie’s film Heart of a Dog at 11:57, thanks to Sherry Ridion Dobbin and Times Square Arts.

1-12 dz and aew1-12 laurie in tsq1-12 midnight moment


Culture Vulture: the year in review

December 30, 2015

Top Theater of 2015:


  1. A View from the Bridge – Ivo van Hove’s intense Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s, staged within Jan Verseweyveld’s evocative stark set and lighting, an excellent cast headed by Mark Strong, Michael Gould, and Nicola Walker
  2. Between Riverside and Crazy – I’m thankful that Second Stage brought back the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of Stephen Adly Giurgis’s deep, dark well-deserved Pulitzer recipient, full of amazing performances (Stephen McKinley Henderson and Liza Colon-Zayas – pictured below — with Ron Cephas Jones and Victor Almanzar) directed by Austin Pendleton.


  1. An Octoroon – the kind of big, messy, important, risk-taking production that keeps me engaged with theater. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had key collaborators in director Sarah Benson, eight brave actors, smart producers (Theatre for a New Audience extended the life of the show that began at Soho Rep), and a design team at the top of their game (especially Mimi Lien, who certainly deserves the MacArthur Foundation fellowship she won this year).
  2. John (Signature Theatre) – Annie Baker’s long astonishing play staged by Sam Gold on Mimi Lien’s hyperrealistic set with four terrific performances: Georgia Engel, Lois Smith, Christopher Abbott, and Hong Chau.

    GhostQuartet3(Ryan Jensen)

  3. Ghost Quartet – a sweet and haunting chamber piece from Dave Malloy (above, plaid shirt), composer of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, performed in the cozy setting of the bar at the McKittrick Hotel.
  4. And That’s How The Rent Gets Paid – Jeff Weiss (below) and Ricardo Martinez’s East Village epic revived at the Kitchen featuring a cast of veteran and emerging downtown stars under director Brooke O’Harra’s fine-tuned cat-herding.
    7-14 jeff weiss
  5. iOW@ (Playwrights Horizons) — playwright Jenny Schwartz gave herself an amazing amount of freedom with this piece, one of the most aggressively odd-shaped plays I’ve ever seen in how information is delivered, how characters are introduced, how the story advances, the use of music (gorgeous and scrupulously unpredictable score by Todd Almond), etc. Kudos to director Ken Rus Schmoll and a super-game cast.
  6. Composition…Master-Pieces…Identity (Target Margin Theater) – I don’t know how he does it but David Greenspan again inhabited Gertrude Stein’s prose with effortless genius.
  7. Gloria (Vineyard Theatre) – another fine example of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ gift for merging social commentary, shrewd humor, and extraordinary performance opportunities; Evan Cabnet directed the fantastic six-member cast, among whom Jennifer Kim and Ryan Spahn stood out for me.
  8. Hamilton (Public Theatre) – I had my reservations about the most acclaimed musical of the year (the hiphop score is monotonous, the staging is theatrically square, and author Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance struck me as charmless) but there’s no denying that this retelling of early American history by black and Latino performers is smart, conceptually ambitious, and fiendishly well-written.
  9. Steve (New Group) – Mark Gerrard’s smart, hilarious gay comedy about sad stuff, impeccably directed by Cynthia Nixon with a fine cast and a seriously great performance by Matt McGrath.

Honorable Mentions:

Eclipsed (Public Theatre)– Danai Gurira’s original play about the experience of women during Liberia’s civil war with an exceptional all-female ensemble directed by Liesl Tommy

Ada/Ava (3Legged Dog) – unusual, inventive, emotionally absorbing shadow puppet play created by the Chicago-based Manual Cinema

Spring Awakening – DeafWest Theatre’s revelatory revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s play with a cast full of impressive Broadway newcomers directed by Michael Arden, noteworthy set by Dane Laffrey.

Grounded (Public Theater) – Julie Taymor brought her theatrical magic to this small honest play starring Anne Hathaway (below) as a disillusioned and war-damaged drone pilot


Preludes (LCT3) – another exceptional eccentric musical event from the team of composer Dave Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin starring Gabriel Ebert (below, with flowers) on another dazzling Mimi Lien set.


Disgraced – Ayad Akhtar’s play superbly directed on Broadway by Kimberly Senior.

Living Here (Foundry Theatre) — Gideon Irving’s one-man musical performed in living rooms all over NYC (including mine)

Raul Esparza in Cymbeline in Central Park

1-8 keith abronsKeith Hennessy’s bear/SKIN in the Abrons Arts Center’s American Realness Festival

Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes and Robert Fairchild’s performance in An American in Paris

Daniel Oreskes, Cameron Scoggins, and Tom Phelan in Taylor Mac’s Hir at Playwrights Horizons with a set by David Zinn that screamed “toxic America”

Other Culture Vulture High Points:

South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s show Isibonelo/Evidence at the Brooklyn Museum

Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s Partita in the White Light Festival

The new Whitney Museum

Habeas Corpus, Laurie Anderson’s collaboration with Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed el Gharani at the Park Avenue Armory

Love and Mercy, Bill Pohlad’s harrowing, arty, moving, thrilling biopic of Brian Wilson with an incredible performance by Paul Dano – my favorite film of the year

Culture Vulture: Chris Ofili’s NIGHT AND DAY and Keith Hennessy’s bear/SKIN

January 11, 2015

My expedition to the Lower East Side began at the New Museum to see “Night and Day,” the first retrospective in New York City of paintings by Chris Ofili, the artist of Nigerian descent who was born in London and currently resides in Trinidad. I was very keen to see the show because I’d heard so much about Ofili’s work, and Calvin Tompkins’ profile of him in the New Yorker recently also whetted my appetite. The show takes up three floors of the New Museum, and the work on the second floor captivated me the most — large, textured, sexy brightly colored witty canvases with other materials collaged in with the paint. They’re definitely worth seeing in person, close up.

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Of course, Ofili gained some notoriety in New York in 2005 when a work of his called “The Holy Virgin Mary” appeared in a group show at the Brooklyn Museum and was attacked, sight unseen, by Mayor Rudy Giuliani as blasphemous, based on sensationalized descriptions of the piece in the tabloid press. One of Ofili’s key materials is elephant dung — he uses dried balls of it like furniture legs to rest many of his large canvases on, and one of the Virgin Mary’s breasts was represented by a similar clump of elephant dung. That whole controversy was an embarrassing episode for New York City and Giuliani, and “Night and Day” frames it beautifully by standing “The Holy Virgin Mary,” a somewhat provocative young man’s piece, far from Ofili’s finest work, next to a very strong piece called “No Woman No Cry.”

1-8 ofili no woman no cry
Taking its title from the Bob Marley song, the painting was inspired by yet another episode of a young black man killed by police in London many years ago. You can see here that the mother’s necklace and the footrests for the painting are all made of…well, I realize that in the course of Brooklyn Museum controversy the press learned to refer to the material as “dung,” a polite word that can be printed in family newspapers. But one of the pieces in “Night and Day” explains how early in his career Ofili made an  installation/performance on the street in London selling what he explicitly labeled “Elephant Shit.” At the New Museum we see a tiny little piece called “Shithead,” featuring elephant shit with baby’s teeth and some clumps of Ofili’s own hair turning it into a grinning scheisskopf. So all along, Ofili’s attitude about the stuff has been witty, not just folkloric. On the second floor there are several canvases depicting a black action hero he invented named Captain Shit. I very much enjoyed this ghostly/amusing one called The Naked Spirit of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars:

1-8 ofili capt shit

1-8 ofili happy phallus

His female figures are fierce, voluptuous goddesses — my favorite is simply titled She:

1-8 ofili she
Strangely, the lighting for this exhibition is shockingly poor — the strong overhead lighting casts a lot of glare on the canvases. On the third floor is a room of recent very dark paintings that are almost impossible to see anyway, and the lighting makes the experience of communing with them worse. On the fourth floor are a series of paintings inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, less interesting to me than this piece called Lime Bar, which includes an Ofili self-portrait (apparently in Trinidad he bartends part-time at a friend’s bar):

1-8 ofili lime bar

I was fascinated by Ofili’s rendition of the Anunciation, a huge sculpture with a black angel and a gold Madonna, fused at the mouth like Rodin’s famous sculpture The Kiss:

1-8 ofili annunciation
On the fifth floor is a small sidebar, “When Shadows Were Shortest,” about Ofili’s sets and costumes for an opera based on the myth of Diana and Acteon — I loved this costume for a shadowy hound-creature :

1-8 ofili opera costume
Afterwards, we went for a quick tasty bite at Pearl & Ash, the cozy wine bar right across the street on the Bowery.

1-8 pearl and ash
Then it was time to mosey down to the Abrons Arts Center to see the opening night of my friend Keith Hennessy’s Bear/Skin in the American Realness festival. Born in Canada and based primarily in San Francisco, Hennessy is a highly skilled dancer, performance artist, and nouveau cirque acrobat; he is also a veteran social activist, community organize, and now credentialed art historian, so his work tends to incorporate an unusual density of verbal commentary and visual imagery. In the American Realness catalogue, here’s the description: “Motivated by grand spectacle and ambitious prayer, Bear/Skin appropriates Nijinsky’s choreography for Le Sacre du Printemps (1915) to consider Modernism’s dependence on appropriations of the indigenous, folk, exotic and oriental to ask questions about ritual and art today.” But no such summary does justice to the collage that Hennessy performs or the relentless intellectual dance he does, introducing theoretical points of view and critiquing them at the same time. He starts with a poem about action movies as “medicine,” riffing on the screen depiction of violence against cops as both a cathartic response to real-life police brutality and a heroic mythology.  While seeming to be very casual about it, Hennessy sets up the conditions for a pagan performance ritual, donning a bear suit in such a way that conjures images both of ancient shaman and contemporary urban homeless person. There’s an extended verbal commentary about “the economy of suicide,” as it disproportionately impacts the young, the elderly, and the military. Setting up his laptop for occasional glancing reference, Hennessy duplicates a section of Nijinsky’s original choreography for Le Sacre du Printemps. Then he changes into an elaborate multilayered costume — a three-minute interval during which the audience is invited to commune with one another under the kind of mylar space blankets marathon runners and park-bench sleepers use to warm themselves — to do an entirely invented sort of shamanic ritual dance of transformation.

bearskin audience
1-8 bearskin props
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Afterwards we had dinner in the warm basement of Galli on Rivington Street and talked about the show and its many sources and layers.

wallpaper in the bathroom at Galli

wallpaper in the bathroom at Galli


Culture vulture: January 2011

February 1, 2011


I get wildly overstimulated at museums, so I can only tolerate being there for about an hour. I’ve been overdue for a visit to “On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century” at MOMA, so I went for a spin this morning when the crowds were thin – only a few clumps of adolescent students clutching study guides and making notes. I usually head straight up the stairs to the second floor but a video caught my eye at the foot of the escalators. It turned out to be Marilyn Minter’s Green Pink Caviar (above), a hilarious, luscious, and colorful seven-minute video of someone (the artist, I assume) licking caviar off a glass plate – all lips and tongue and lipstick and food and saliva. On my way to the “On Line” show, I got sidetracked elsewhere on the sixth floor by “Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures,” a beautiful gallery mounting of the famous Warhol portraits of Factory denizens (Dennis Hopper laughing and singing to himself, Lou Reed looking grave and still, Jane Holzer brushing her teeth – stay away, Michael Mele! – Nico from many angles, Edie Sedgwick looking preternaturally bright-eyed). Warhol often gives me that “hey! I can do that!” inspiration – I’ve taken similar portraits of my sisters and would like to do more action portraits of beloved friends and acquaintances. Also showing in the adjacent gallery are the famous long slow movies Empire (eight hours of the Empire State Building), Sleep (John Giorno sleeping), Kiss (couples kissing at length), and Blow Job (just the face of the recipient for 42 minutes). I can’t watch a blowjob very long without wanting to join in, so I didn’t stay long in that gallery.

“On Line” is a huge, ambitious, very interesting survey of how 20th century artists took the line from two dimensions into space and time. I was especially delighted by the inclusion of a number of dance films: loved watching William Forsyth’s “Solo” and Anna Teresa de Keersmaker in a witty film by Thierry de Mey called “Top Shot,” with ATDK doing one of her classic minimalist dances (with lots of loose arms and swishing skirt) drawing a perfect circle in the dirt. A simple Picasso paper guitar and a related collage drew me in – so simple and yet so riveting. (MOMA is opening a whole show of Picasso guitars February 9.) I encountered other intriguing works by artists I’d never heard of before: Gego (aka Gertrude Goldschmidt), a Venezuelan artist who made lovely strange wire “drawings without paper,” and Atsuko Tanaka, a Japanese performance artist whose drawings of her “Electric Dress” piece made me want to see that garment live and in person.

On my way out, I spun through the Abstract Expressionist show to revisit some favorites – the Mark Rothko room, Lee Krasner’s dense “Untitled,” and Philip Guston’s fun, ominous, self-implicating “Edge of Town” (above).


The best Christmas present I got this year was Justin Spring’s Secret Historian: The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade. As a young man, Steward befriended Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, who encouraged his writing and introduced him to their charmed circle. I knew that much, and also knew that he wrote pornography under the pseudonym Phil Andros. The biography reveals Steward’s long and important association with Alfred Kinsey. After the first Kinsey Report came out in 1949, Steward contacted Kinsey because he himself had always kept detailed notes of his sexual encounters in his Stud File (one of the first was a hotel room blowjob that he gave Rudolph Valentino, who gifted him with a lock of his pubic hair, which Steward kept as a sacred relic all his life). Steward became a close and trusted collaborator with Kinsey on his sex research, cluing the good doctor into the many and varied subcultures of man-on-man sex. He was fond of throwing sex parties in his apartment and taking pictures of cocksucking daisy chains, and he arranged on numerous occasions for Kinsey and his intrepid team to film these orgies, once even submitting to being flogged and fucked by a rough sadistic top. Steward was a lifelong sexual masochist as well as an extremely erudite English professor who tired of academia and took up the art of tattooing, the better to spend his waking hours touching and attending to hypermasculine men. He was also way ahead of his time in being openly gay and militating for public acceptance of homosexuals and the representation of gay life in literature. For instance, he was an early and ardent admirer of Genet and collected his work even when it was considered too obscene to be imported to the U.S. Spring had access to almost all Steward’s papers and doesn’t stint on either the sexual details or the social connections in a long and poignant existence.

January 18 I attended the book launch for Pamela Madsen’s Shameless: How I Ditched the Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure…and Somehow Got Home in Time To Cook Dinner. The book is a brave, funny, and articulate memoir about how the author, a suburban wife and mom pushing 40, experienced a mid-life sexual awakening by working with a series of gay male sacred intimates. It’s both an entertaining read and a friendly guidebook for women who want to follow in her footsteps. (I read the manuscript in bits and pieces while she was writing it and so receive a warm acknowledgement.) Considering the robust and sex-positive content of the book, it made perfect sense for the book party to take place at Babeland in Soho, surrounded by all manner of sex toys and pleasure objects. Pamela read an excerpt from the book to a crowd that included friends, strangers, her mother Roz, and her husband Kai (below).


The night of the first big blizzard of the season, the Sunday after Christmas, Adam Bock invited me to a preview of his new play A Small Fire at Playwrights Horizons. The theater knew it would be a smallish audience because of the weather, so the cast and crew got busy papering the house with their friends. (It was the first time I’ve ever received a printed ticket that listed the price as “paper”!) Just watching people stagger into the lobby of the theater from West 42nd Street, where the howling wind was blowing snow horizontally, was a show in itself. Adam introduced me to his director Trip Cullman, whose work I have admired for years. And I got to meet the super-handsome actor Romain Frugé in person, although he politely declined to shake my hand because he was nursing a cold.

Michelle Pawk and Reed Birney in "A Small Fire" (photo by Sara Krulwich)

I met Bock when we were both at Yaddo on artists’ residencies. He was recently out of Brown and writing what would become his first produced play, Swimming with the Sharks (which Cullman directed). His work is crazy, funny, highly original, heartful, and beautifully written. A Small Fire may be his tamest play so far, almost a TV Movie of the Week about a woman with a mysterious health ailment. Its saving grace and a hallmark of Bock’s plays is that you never know where the play is going to go next. From a construction site to a doctor’s office to a wedding to…middle-aged people naked in bed fucking – and blackout, end of play! Excellent performances by all four actors: Reed Birney, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Victor Williams, and especially the phenomenal Michele Pawk. The play got deservedly warm reviews from the New York Times and the New Yorker.

Early January became an insane vortex of downtown theater festivals, scheduled to coincide with APAP, the annual conferences of Arts Producers and Presenters, who book dance, theater, and music performances for the next year or two based on what they see in this 7-to-10-day period. I was preparing for and teaching a workshop at this exact time so I hardly got to see anything. But Keith Hennessy was staying with me so of course I went to see the return of his Bessie Award-winning Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world could not heal the pain, confusion, regret, cruelty, betrayal or trauma…). It opened American Realness, a crunchy series of encore performances curated by smart young producer Ben Pryor at the Abrons Arts Center at the Henry Street Settlement. The piece fit more awkwardly into the Abrons than it did at Dance Theater Workshop, where Keith created an almost seamless continuum between audience space and stage space. But it was still clever and beguiling the way it merged the two – starting in the lobby, bringing the audience onstage to inspect the props (while a masked Keith flogged a suspended teddy bear), engaging them all along during the mid-section of the show and then bringing them back onstage for the finale. People have often applied the word “shaman” to Keith as a performer; he disdains the word for the same reason that I do – it’s overused and too often misused. But at the end of Crotch (see below), when Keith was sitting naked in a chair, lard packed into his groin, red thread sewn through his skin and then through the garments of three audience members sitting in front of him, with big gross fake rotten teeth in his mouth, and he sprinkled himself with glitter from a jar and looked intently into the faces around him….I’ve known this man for 20 years and yet when I looked into that face I didn’t recognize the vulnerable, transported, transpersonal creature looking back at me.

I take a small bit of pride in contributing to the performance because Keith uses a mix CD I gave him as the soundtrack. He makes especially brilliant use of Teddy Thompson’s “Shine So Bright” and “Wake Up in New York,” sung by Evan Dando on Craig Armstrong’s album As If to Nothing. This was Andy’s first chance to see a real piece by Keith – and as a newcomer to performance art, with no file whatsoever on Joseph Beuys, he found the show almost completely incomprehensible. So there’s always that possible response….


Over the Christmas holidays I caught up on a bunch of movies. I like having friends who get screeners, so we can watch the big movies at home on DVD. For the record: I liked The Social Network very much. I thought The King’s Speech was well-done but very very predictable. I liked The Kids Are Alright, especially Mark Ruffalo’s performance. I’ll even admit that my heart sank as I realized how much Annette Bening’s character reminded me of myself. Yikes. Andy and I actually went to the movie theater to see The Tempest – I loved Helen Mirren and all the magical effects, and I found everything having to do with the conspirators and the comic relief quite tedious: the fault of Shakespeare, I think, not so much Julie Taymor. Don’t ask me about Black Swan, I haven’t seen it yet. I thought I’d avoid it entirely, because I suspect that I won’t care for it (one distinguished movie critic I know called it “a bunch of misogynistic bullshit”), but I do plan to see it soon, just to have my own opinion.

Andy and I caught up with Moon, the sci-fi movie starring Sam Rockwell as an astronaut who turns out to be a clone. Very fascinating movie. Only afterwards did I learn that the director, Duncan Jones, is the son of David Bowie – yes, he’s the kid whom his parents named Zowie Bowie! No wonder the movie was produced by Trudi Styler, aka Mrs. Sting. Thanks to Tom Dennison, our monthly video salon caught up with Kickass, which totally surprised me by being a fun and smart little sleeper of a teen comedy movie that even managed to make me like Nicolas Cage, and that’s saying a lot.


I am woefully uneducated when it comes to classical music. I honestly don’t know how to appreciate symphonic music. Andy got me a ticket for the January 31 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor at Carnegie Hall, because he sang with the Dessoff Symphonic Choir behind the Beethoven for the Indus Valley Orchestra, conducted by George Mathew. I wish I could say something knowledgeable about Beethoven, but all I can say is that I liked the slow movement best. The “Ode to Joy” sounded like a particularly stiff German drinking song. And even though I was sitting in the third to the last row in the uppermost balcony, I could hear all the musicians perfectly, which is never the case at amplified pop concerts at Carnegie Hall. I was able to disguise what a classical nincompoop I am over drinks and late supper with a bunch of the singers at Red 58, my favorite after-show lounge in upper midtown. But really, this is what I listen to when my iPod is on shuffle:

“You’re All I See,” the Four Freshmen
“Fantasy Man,” the Swell Season
“Anyone Who Had a Heart,” Barbara Dickson
“I’m Hers and She’s Mine,” Peter Salett
“Fish in the Sea,” Karen Alexander
“Pocket Calculator,” Kraftwerk
“Finishing the Hat,” Tom Wopat (Sondheim on Sondheim OCR)
“Comes Love,” Helen Merrill
“Flamingos,” Bit Crushers
“Rock Star,” Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson OCR
“Fix You,” Straight No Chaser
“Cheerleader,” Grizzly Bear
“You’ll Be Coming Down,” Bruce Springsteen
“El Grito,” Alberto Iglesias (Talk to her OST)
“Original Oddstep,” Vert
“Today You’re Mine,” Janis Ian
“I Thought About You,” Daryl Sherman
“Un Canto a Mi Terra,” Quantic and His Combo Barbaro
“The Anchor Song,” Bjork
“Stornelli Amorisi,” Claudio Villa (Big Night OST)
“Turbulent Indigo,” Joni Mitchell
“Beat Dat Beat,” DJ Pauly D (Jersey Shore OST)
“So Many People,” Norm Lewis (Sondheim on Sondheim OCR)
“Alcinha,” Liza Minnelli
“Brown Eyes,” Lady GaGa
“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” U2
“The Future of the Future,” Everything but the Girl
“A Love That Will Never Grown Old,” Emmylou Harris (Brokeback Mountain OST)
“Shampoo Suicide,” Broken Social Scene
“Grapes of Roth,” Sean Hayes (Promises Promises OCR)
“Damned Ladies,” Audra McDonald
“In the Deep Shade,” the Frames
“Freedom (Fila Brazillia Remix),” DJ Food
“Great Desolations,” David Byrne
“Difficult by Design,” Kylie Minogue
“Look Away,” Van Dyke Parks
“Blush (Only You),” Plumb
“Shark’s Tooth,” Archie Benson Outfit
“Like a Star,” Corinne Bailey Rae
“Hold Still,” Grizzly Bear
“Kiss My Name,” Antony & the Johnsons
“Hotel Fire,” Hem
“You’re My Thrill,” Joni Mitchell
“Blue Eyes,” Cary Brothers
“How It Feels,” Duncan Sheik
“Mongrel Heart,” Broken Bells
“That’s Just What You Are,” Aimee Mann
“J’avance,” Rollercone
“Gung Ho,” the Roches
“I Remember, I Believe,” Lizz Wright
“All for Myself,” Sufjan Stevens
“Honey and the Moon,” Phil Roy
“Glittering Clouds,” Imogen Heap
“Pop,” ‘NSYNC
“Tea Leaf Prophecy,” Joni Mitchell

Performance diary: THE GLASS MENAGERIE, Keith Hennessy, FELA! and roller derby

June 15, 2010

June 10 – John Lahr’s scorching review of Gordon Edelstein’s production of The Glass Menagerie scared me away. But thanks to a last-minute urging by David Savran, I decided to go anyway, and I’m glad I did. The production, which started at the Long Wharf in New Haven and traveled to the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre (which I will always think of as the American Place Theatre), is high-concept Tennessee Williams. Edelstein sets the play in a hotel room where Tom is holed up with a bottle of whiskey and a manual typewriter composing his “memory play. It starts with him alone reading pages aloud and conjuring the images of his mother and sister, who are first glimpsed behind a scrim and eventually come to inhabit the room with him. It’s kind of ingenious and it works just as well as the traditional staging, where Tom inhabits some kind of poetic/theatrical space when addressing the audience that’s separate from the family-life reality. I didn’t love Patch Darragh’s performance as Tom – he’s a little bland, his Southern accent is atrocious, and he way overdoes Tom’s crush on Jim (the Gentleman Caller). There are things he does pull off, like the scene where he gets as close as he can bear to telling his mother he’s gay, underneath all the talk about “going to the movies every night.”

Now Judith Ivey’s Amanda – loved every minute of her beautifully created, minutely detailed performance. Often actresses don’t quite know how to play all the different colors of Amanda and so settle for a kind of average emotional tone, but Ivey dives right into every one of Amanda’s many moods without needing to create smooth transitions. She’s fake-treacly, she’s desperate, she’s furious, she’s insanely vain, she’s loving, she’s uncontrollably controlling. It’s been clear for some time that Ivey is one of the great stage actors of her generation, someone it’s always worth seeing. Keira Keeley is very good as the turned-in Laura, and Michael Mosley is terrific at capturing the callous after-bite of the Gentleman Caller’s high-octane charm.

June 11 – Keith Hennessy was back in town for a one-night-only performance at the New Museum called “Almost Nothing, Almost Everything,” an hour-long improvisation. Talk about a high-wire act! He sang, he danced, he gave Tarot readings, he changed costumes several times, he talked, he jumped, he stripped guest performer George Stamos down to his underpants, and he managed to pull a number of arresting images out of the air and then let them go. See below.

June 12 – I really wanted Keith to see Fela! and Andy wanted to see it again, so I got us good seats for the Saturday matinee. This show’s been playing for almost nine months, and you’d think they’d be slacking off a little bit by now, but just the opposite – everybody seemed to be working at 125%. It turned out that Sahr Ngaujah’s father was in the audience (he introduced his two fathers, his blood father and his heart father, at the curtain call), which might have had something to do with it. Keith was very impressed, and in my fourth time around I was still dazzled. What keeps me going back? I think it’s the way the show generates gigantic joy that is paradoxically fueled by massive amounts of grief, rage, and mystery. And I heard some things I hadn’t taken in before. I’d forgotten the whole teacher number and was struck hard by this line: “A bad teacher tries to make sense of everything.”

After an early supper on the roofdeck of Trattoria Toscana, we headed over to Hunter College for Gotham Girls Roller Derby. It’s not the sort of thing I’d go to on my own, but having a sporty boyfriend means being exposed to new experiences, and I like that. In advance, I was inclined to avoid roller derby because I associate it with campy costumes and faux showmanship, a la World Wrestling Foundation. At the actual event, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t more showy. The players all have crazy stage names (Beyonslay, Angela Slamsbury, Anne Frankenstein, and – Andy’s favorite – Em Dash, whose number is – ), but their uniforms are simple and functional, and for the most part they take their sport seriously. I knew nothing about jammers and blockers and still find the scoring and the skills a little elusive, but I came away with a new female sports hero: Bonnie Thunders of the Bronx Gridlock, a skinny blond speed demon who literally skated circles around everybody else on the court. The Bronx team played Manhattan Mayhem, who scored almost 50 points in the first 10 minutes…and then fell apart (there were a couple of injuries so maybe they pulled back) as the Bronx gals whomped them 141-59. The audience was a funny mixture of friends and family with jock-geek fags and dykes.

June 13 – Not much to say about the Tony Awards, except that when Douglas Hodge was named Best Actor in a Musical I wanted Kanye West to run up onstage and say, “We all know who really deserves this award!” And Memphis…really?

June 14 – Adam Baran and Ira Sachs’ really smart Queer Art Film series this month invited witty Wayne Koestenbaum (above left, with his boyfriend Steven Marchetti) to pick the movie, and he selected one I’d never heard of: Tony Richardson’s black-and-white 1966 Mademoiselle with a story by Jean Genet about a repressed schoolteacher (played by Jeanne Moreau at her witchy best) who wreaks havoc on a small-town with a series of perverse crimes that only Genet could dream up. She crushes four bird’s eggs in her hands and dumps the mess back into the nest. She holds a lit cigarette to the end of an apple branch. She stalks an itinerant Italian lumberjack (hot hot hot Ettore Manni) and eventually spends an outrageous night in the woods fucking him and playing S&M games before she has him destroyed. It’s a fascinating film about the sheer exhilarating power of pure unmotivated evil. Fun and sexy.

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