Posts Tagged ‘marriage story’

Culture Vulture: Soho Rep, AKHNATEN, BLACK EXHIBITION, the new MOMA, and MARRIAGE STORY

November 19, 2019

Another Culture Vulture marathon! (click photos to enlarge)

Thursday night at Soho Rep with for all the women who thought they were   Mad by Zawe Ashton, the British actress and author currently on Broadway in Betrayal. The idea of the play was worthy: a young businesswoman juggling numbers and motherhood struggles to find her way up the corporate ladder while haunted by the voices of the women from her village life back in Africa. The protagonist (ironically named Joy and played by Bisserat Tseggai, below photographed by Julieta Cervantes) occupies a glass-walled cubicle that spins midstage, while her sister-relatives sit, sing, chant, and sprawl around her. I admired the costumes (by Andrew Jean) and the many amazing faces among the female cast (Gibson Frazier has the unenviable task of playing all the smug white men in Joy’s life) directed by Whitney White, but the play’s dry, pretentious language left me out.

Friday night: the Metropolitan Opera’s ravishing production of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, staged by Phelim McDermott with production design by Tom Pye, costumes by Kevin Pollard, and knockout performances by Anthony Ross Costanzo in the title role of 14th century BCE Egyptian pharaoh and J’Nai Bridges as his wife Nefertiti, conducted by Karen Kamensek. I agreed with Anthony Tommasini’s New York Times review in viewing the opera as ritualistic and mystical; I also agreed with Justin Davidson’s Vulture review referring to the show as the essence of capital-C camp. (To get a sense of what I mean, you only have to read the program’s synopsis of Act I, preferably aloud in the portentous, shouting-to-the-fifth-balcony voice of Zachary James playing the quasi-narrator.)

Unlike both reviewers, I never got tired of watching the team of jugglers (led by choreographer Sean Gandini) whose ball-tossing struck me as a witty and fun visual corollary to Glass’s looping repetitive score.

After a visually trippy-murky first scene of his predecessor being eviscerated and his heart being weighed in relation to a feather, Costanzo as Akhnaten makes his entrance stark naked (with a gold stripe on his forehead) and takes six minutes to descend 12 steps to the stage floor. He prostrates himself, and a troupe of courtiers picks up his rigid body and airlifts it into a pair of pantaloons before snapping him into a giant skirt-cage over which they arrange the most fluffy-gilt Bo Peep costume you can imagine (above, photo by Karen Almond). It’s another several minutes before you hear Costanzo’s amazing countertenor voice break into song (a lot of “Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!”).

His love duet with Nefertiti (above) and his “Hymn to the Sun” in Act II are gorgeous, slow, shimmering, staged against large bright symbolic geometric sets. In the course of the opera, Akhnaten’s gender seems to morph. He and Nefertiti both wear gauzy garments over smocks with drawn-on breasts and female genitals; I found myself thinking about punk artist Genesis P-Orridge and his mate Lady Jaye, who underwent a series of cosmetic surgeries in order to resemble one another. But when their six daughters appeared wearing indigo weaves, facelift bandages, and goth-girl makeup looking like refugees from a John Waters movie (see below), I couldn’t help audibly snickering.

I’m glad I saw it, though. Who knows what the regular Met audience made of it. The woman to my right gamely compared-and-contrasted it with Doctor Atomic, John Adams and Peter Sellars’ opera about J. Robert Oppenheimer. The man to my left turned to me afterwards and said, “Give me a one-liner.” I said, “I’m not good at one-liners.” He said, “Give me a two-liner then. I’m puzzled.”

Saturday afternoon: Black Exhibition at the Bushwick Starr, aka “for colored faggots who considered suicide/when feeling invisible in gay paradise.” Five queer black men representing five literary figures (Kathy Acker, Samuel Delaney, Yukio Mishima, Gary Fisher, and Tiger Mandingo – the last not a writer but the guy convicted of having sex without disclosing his HIV+ status) haunt the mind of @GaryXXXFisher (the non-secret pseudonym for Jeremy O. Harris, currently represented on Broadway with his edgy Slave Play) hanging out in Fire Island Pines. “I came here to write and all I did was look…all I did was fuck and cry…all I did was read.” Very incantatory, referencing Suzan-Lori Parks specifically and Ntozake Shange implicitly. Aggressively sexual, even hostile, extremely explicit. In three parts, the third of which takes place in Berlin, where he attends the Laboratory and likens playwriting to being face-down ass-up in a dark room waiting to see if anyone takes an interest.

In this last section Harris lolls about onstage in a jockstrap talking about how tight his hole is, at considerable length. Lots of repetitions of a favorite tweet: “Ooops! Fleet water too hot. I almost made chitlins.” The last literary figure to arrive is Mishima (Miles Greenberg), who seems ready to enact a bondage/flogging scene with Harris/Fisher (above, photo by Sara Krulwich) but suddenly says, “You’re too skinny, I want to see you eat!” Et voila, two tables arrive onstage with gigantic trays of take-out food, and the four other performers chow down – until Harris dashes offstage to the bathroom to purge. It’s a phenomenally raw and honest outpouring.  I appreciated that, except for Frank J. Oliva’s set design (a haunted house version of Pines boardwalks) and Christopher Darbassie’s deep-dub sound design, almost the entire crew are women of color, which is what happens when you have a smart, savvy woman of color director, Machel Ross.

Sunday: first walk through “the new MOMA.”

It was the end of the day, so I only had time to stroll through “Surrounds: 11 Installations” on the top floor, pausing to inspect Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller’s The Killing Machine (above) and Hito Steyerl’s Liquidity Inc. (below).

Among the galleries devoted to new juxtapositions from the permanent collection, I admired Morris Hirshfield’s Inseparable Friends (1941).

David Siqueiros’s trippy textured Collective Suicide (1936) never fails to catch my eye and drag me ten feet.

Then there’s member: pope L., the generous retrospective of this tireless eccentric artist’s multimedia tricksterism.

Along with paintings, drawings, and objects, much of what’s shown documents his ephemeral performances, often nearly naked in public places, as artist-sannyasin. The walls and art works frequently have holes drilled into them, a witty placeholder for what’s holy and what’s missing/unknown/unknowable.

Sunday night: Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. A rare peek into the exotic mating rituals of white cisgender heterosexuals. Excellent performances throughout, none more so than the amazing Adam Driver whose finest moment is such a surprise I don’t want to spoil it for you. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda surpass themselves (a tribute to fine writing and directing) playing contrasting flavors of warrior divorce lawyers. The supporting cast brims with wonderful New York stage actors (Matt Maher! Merrit Wever! Becca Blackwell! Jasmine Cephas Jones! Julie Hagerty! Wally Shawn, perfectly capturing the veteran ensemble actor always boring other company members with his name-dropping tales of long-distant triumphs!). Lovely score by Randy Newman. It’ll be on Netflix any day now, but I was perfectly happy to watch it at the Paris Cinema, the last single-screen theater in Manhattan.

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