Posts Tagged ‘taylor mac’

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: Taylor Mac in Philadelphia

June 5, 2018

Andy and I took the bus down to Philly for Part I of Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music.”

Taylor Mac is a tall bald performance artist with a phenomenal voice, an activist’s engagement with the politics of the day, and a drag queen’s ability to work the crowd. The show, which judy (Taylor Mac’s pronoun of choice) built in three-hour increments and premiered in all its glory at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in 2015, is a queer history of the United States in song. This gig, produced by Pomegranate Arts for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, is the first time Taylor Mac has performed the show in two all-day chunks. Mac refers to the show as a “radical faerie realness ritual sacrifice.” The loose concept is that every decade gets an hour, and the band starts with 24 members, one of whom peels off every hour until there’s only Taylor Mac onstage. Besides the musicians, there are random guest artists and a squadron of body-positive gender-queer helpers known as Dandy Minions (I spotted among them my friend Chris Bartlett, moonlighting from his high-powered job as executive director of Philly’s William Way Center). But the key collaborators are musical director Matt Ray, who arranged all 246 songs in the show, and Machine Dazzle, who created all the costumes including a different staggeringly creative outfit for each of Taylor Mac’s 24 hours.

We’d seen one three-hour segment (1956-1986) at St. Ann’s, which contained songs we knew. The early decades turned out to be a hodgepodge of familiar songs queered for Taylor Mac’s purposes and obscurities dug up to illustrate judy’s intersectional historical revision. The show opened with “Amazing Grace,” for which a woman in the audience was selected to come onstage and receive a blessing from the audience. It occasioned the first of many times Taylor Mac said, “This is going to go on a lot longer than you’re going to want it to.”

A conceptual show this long is bound to be padded and stretched thin in spots, and it was. There was the hour of drinking songs. There was the hour the audience spent blindfolded doing sensory perception exercises that required intimate interaction with your neighbors. Apples, beer, and ping pong balls were freely distributed. Large swaths of the show involved audience members dragged onstage to perform crucial tasks. Most of it was fun and engaging, but the real highlight of the first 12 hours came around the 9th hour when Taylor Mac rescued Gilbert and Sullivan from cultural appropriation jail by performing The Mikado on Mars, through vocoders, mostly to a reggae beat, with the crucial role of Yum-Yum played by a game young guy from the audience following instructions through a headset. It was one of the craziest and most fun things I’ve seen in the theater in years.

                                     that’s Matt Ray at the keyboard

                      that’s Machine Dazzle on the right in checkered stockings

The 12-hour show wrapped up an hour early, to no one’s complaint, since it was a pretty intense day. We’ll be back next Saturday for the second half of the show. We got to hang out later with our friends Nick and Jimmy.

We met Jimmy’s adorable ancient kitty Scarlett, and after brunch walked through the sidewalk art fair in Rittenhouse Square. I admired some stone sculptures by Paul E. Braun.

And I was impressed by the Basquiat-esque paintings on wood by Senegalese artist Michel Delgado.


December 14, 2017

Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History: Holiday Sauce was in some ways a New Orleans-style funeral for drag legend Mother Flawless Sabrina disguised as a Christmas show. Between some of the most savage, scornful renditions of carols and pointedly political commentary, Taylor shared the pearls of wisdom that judy gleaned from a long apprenticeship with Flawless Sabrina, who died three weeks ago at the age of 78. An icon within the drag/faerie/trans community, Sabrina was best known for organizing a national drag competition that culminated in an event at Town Hall that became the basis for the award-winning documentary film The Queen. That made this concert at Town Hall exactly 50 years later a very special convergence of powerful forces.

“Remember your substitution skills” was a Flawless Sabrina axiom that Taylor Mac employed in order to give a queer spin to classic holiday numbers (“O Holy Night” was thoroughly sliced and diced to layer acceptably inclusive meanings over heterosexist Christian-capitalist propaganda). And the essence of Mother Flawless Sabrina’s teaching was that “expression is an act of citizenship,” a lesson Taylor Mac has thoroughly absorbed.

The show was a sort of coda to the 24-Decade History of Popular Music that judy unfurled at St. Ann’s Warehouse last year, with the same extraordinary collaborators, genius costume designer Machine Dazzle and supernaturally gifted music director Matt Ray. Taylor’s first outfit combined a Christmas wreath headdress that conjured Medusa, a camisole with roast-pig epaulets, and a tutu-skirt of candy canes, reindeer antlers, and pussy-grabbing hands; while Tigger Ferguson performed the inevitable striptease (to “Spirit in the Sky”), Taylor changed into a Glinda tiara with carousel hoop-skirt.

Machine of course appeared as well, first as a Christmas tree, then as naughty housemaid.

From the piano, Matt Ray took the exquisite eight-piece orchestra through a nutty unpredictable set list that ended with the whole house quietly humming “Silent Night” along with the distinctly New Orleans-flavored horn section. Additional special guest Glenn Marla came out as Hot Santa to demonstrate how every mall in America could use this season to conduct a Sexual Consent Workshop.

It was one of those all-star audiences that convene for special occasions in New York. Andy and I went with our friends David Zinn, Bob Mower, and Phil Hayes (who jumped onstage when Taylor Mac summoned all the Brits to sing along with the Pogues’ beery pub anthem “Fairytale of New York,” above). There was Jackie Rudin, of course, with Fussy LoMein, and Wesley Morris, and Rob Marx and Jim Ingalls, and Emily McDonnell, and Gabriel Ebert, and and and. The minute the show ended, everyone looked at their phones and learned the good news from Alabama, and the theater erupted again with cheers and tears.

A bunch of us repaired to Cafe Un Deux Trois afterwards for refreshments. O, what a night!

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: Taylor Mac at St. Ann’s Warehouse

October 4, 2016

(click photos twice to enlarge)

I loved seeing Act VII of Taylor Mac’s epic 24-Decade History of Popular Music at St. Ann’s Warehouse, which covered 1956-1986, though it’s hard to describe exactly what I saw. Judy (Taylor Mac’s preferred pronoun) called it “a performance art concert,” which gave judy license to do pretty much whatever the hell judy and judy’s collaborators cared to dream up. This show has been developed in bits and pieces all over the country for several years, and diehard fans had been reporting day-by-day on Facebook as the production rolled out its first and probably only complete performances, which will culminate October 8-9 in a continuous 24-hour marathon. Let’s just say it’s a highly subjective queervisionist history of the United States steeped in the political ferment of this minute.

The show began in the lobby, which may have been the only but definitely the best place to store the costumes that Taylor would wear for the 24 decades, all of them meticulously designed and built by the fiendishly brilliant Machine Dazzle. Those in the know explained to newbies whatever they could: “Oh, that was the white trash segment, with the potato chip bags and the gay porn. And that was for The Mikado performed on Mars.” Machine Dazzle sauntered by for a photo op, chewing gum and looking all yeah-yeah-I-did-all-this-no-big-deal.

At showtime Taylor blazed onstage (in a Pop Art mashup outfit topped with a shawl of Campbell’s Soup cans) crooning an almost unrecognizable speed-rock version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Judy prefaced the evening with a slight recap of the previous episode, which required segregating the audience, a witty way to theatricalize 1950s America. Taylor designated the section right in front of the stage (prime VIP seating) as “inner city” and the side sections as “the suburbs.” On cue, the white people in that section were instructed to enact (in slow motion) “white flight” by surrendering their seats and moving to “the suburbs.” Meanwhile, the people of color in the audience were invited to move to the “inner city.” This was not optional. Taylor enforced the rules quite strictly. This may have happened to the tune of “I Put a Spell on You.”

The rest of the first hour revolved around the 1963 March on Washington – getting on the bus and riding the “Freedom Highway.” A show of hands brought out two audience members who had been on the march. Taylor did some very humorous yet savvy “calling in,” inviting white people to “Think” (“like maybe thinking about working for the movement rather than leading, listening rather than talking…”). The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On” gave Taylor a moment to introduce two terrific backup singers judy had collected while working on the piece in Detroit (well, judy admitted, Ann Arbor), Stephanie Christian and Thornetta Davis. The set also included “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “Mississippi Goddam,” and a beautifully earnest down-in-one version of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”


The Brooklyn United Marching Band provided an ecstatic transition (“Movin’ On Up”) to the next section, in which Taylor – wearing a crazy glittering disco-ball of a headdress, sparkly hot pants, and a giant peace sign strapped to Judy’s back like wings or a crucifix – focused on the Stonewall Riots as the centerpiece of the decade 1966-76. “Every song in this section was on the jukebox at the Stonewall,” judy lied, seguing into an amazing if out-of-context rendition of Patti Smith’s “Birdland.” Taylor’s posse of Dandy Minions passed out ping-pong balls for the audience to pelt judy with, representing homophobia as judy passed through the house singing “Born to Run” (oh, THAT gay anthem….). In honor of Judy Garland, he sang Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” with a smidge of “Over the Rainbow” at the end. “Gimme Shelter” factored in there somewhere, too.


One of my favorite parts of the whole show was watching the intimate spectacle of Taylor Mac changing costumes onstage between decades – stripping down to flesh-colored briefs and then rebuilding the next vision with the help of Machine Dazzle, who didn’t stint on his own amazing costumes. For this transition he wore most of Taylor’s glam-rock costume and feathery Mohawk headdress onto the stage and transferred it all to the star, though keeping for himself the Mapplethorpian bullwhip-up-the-ass tail. I took all the other pictures I’m posting here except for these two, which are by Jackie Rudin, who has done an amazing job documenting this performance.


The 1976-86 section perversely turned the entire theater into an imaginary backroom sex bar, with Taylor perhaps paying homage to Torch Song Trilogy with judy’s own detailed reminiscences of The Cock and The Slide and The Hole, to the tune of Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.” During “Heroes” the balcony became a curtained-off orgy space (with the Dandy Minions putting on a filthy shadow play). Taylor had the audience pair up into same-sex duos for a middle-school slow dance to Ted Nugent’s “Snakeskin Cowboys.” (In case it’s not clear, this show was ALL about audience participation, some of it simple hand gestures developed in collaboration with choreographer Jawole Jo Willa Zollar. But the alter kocker sitting in front of us would have none of it – he slept through the first hour and spent most of the rest of the evening playing bridge on his phone while his long-suffering wife and daughter seemed to enjoy themselves.) “Purple Rain” became a rousing singalong, while a giant inflatable American flag phallus balloon bounced over our heads. And the decade ended with a remarkable version of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman,” an endurance test for the audience to supply the ah-ah-ah-ah-ah rhythm track.

I would love to have seen the last act, whose themes were Direct Action (the AIDS/ACT UP years), Radical Lesbians (with guest appearance by Sarah Schulman), and Originals (for the last hour, it’s just Taylor onstage singing judy’s own songs), but c’est la vie. Big props to the incredible team of artists who made this show a memorable spectacle, including music director and arrange Matt Ray, the sizzling band (led by guitarist Viva DeConcini), and – as the pictures can attest – lighting designer John Torres. Not to mention the conceptual genius, stamina, vocal talent, political savvy, goodheartness, and generosity of Taylor Mac.


Performance diary: Harry Kondoleon’s ZERO POSITIVE at the Public Theater’s New Work Now

September 13, 2013

9.11.13 — The Public Theater’s New Work Now series has started including a play from the past, and this year’s selection was Harry Kondoleon’s Zero Positive, which Joseph Papp originally produced in 1988. Published in M. Elizabeth Osborn’s anthology The Way We Live Now, Zero Positive was part of the second wave of plays about AIDS, a lyrical and theatrically free-wheeling step beyond informative first-line dramas such as As Is and The Normal Heart. It’s one of the strongest plays in the body of work by Kondoleon, who sadly died of AIDS in 1994 at the age of 39. The original production was a troubled one in that the playwright became dissatisfied with the actor in the central role, Reed Birney, and fired him, which made the director, Mark-Linn Baker, resign in solidarity. Birney’s replacement was no slouch – David Hyde Pierce – and director Kenneth Elliott picked up the pieces, but the show didn’t make much of an impact, and the play remains one that is more admired than produced.

zero positive
Sarah Benson, artistic director of Soho Rep, assembled a fantastic cast for this one-night-only reading, which served the purpose of establishing that the play has lost none of its emotional resonance in the intervening years. Himmer lives with his father, Jacob Blank, a poet and philanderer whose estranged wife has very recently died, sending him into a grief-stricken time warp. Himmer’s BFF Samantha arrives with the news from her doctor that she and Himmer have both tested positive for HIV. Their friend Prentice, who is probably infected but is opposed to taking the test, insists, “It doesn’t mean anything.” Himmer knows different. “It’s a death sentence,” he says – a bit dramatic but not an untypical response in the dark ages before new treatment options made HIV manageable.

As a tribute to his mother, Himmer decides to put on a verse play called The Ruins of Athens he’s found among her papers and approaches his actor friend Patrick for help. Patrick is so spectacularly self-absorbed he can do little except complain about how his brilliant auditions never get him hired. He does know a woman named Debbie Fine who’s recently come into several million dollars from her family, and he enlists her to bankroll putting on the play. When Debbie Fine arrives, Jacob mistakes her for a nurse, she plays along, and they improbably fall in love. She makes a big donation to a local hospital to convert a conference room into a solarium that serves as theater for the play, in which they all perform.

I got to have a conversation after the reading with Benson, who told me she came across Harry Kondoleon’s plays when she was a young theater artist in her teens and twenties growing up in Scotland and eager to learn about American theater. We talked about what a strange play Zero Positive is – how it begins in a kind of living-room naturalism but then progressively departs from the mundane reality of clothes and food (the stage direction “It is lunchtime. It is always lunchtime” is a classic Kondoleon) until it arrives at a timeless theatrical zone. A toy train set figures heavily in act one and poetically implants a disorienting sense of scale. Each of the five scenes takes a slightly different form, almost becoming its own play. The fourth scene in particular becomes a kind of existential way station – the characters are ostensibly having an indoor picnic in the bare hospital room that will become their theater, yet they end up acting like they’re outdoors. And Kondoleon’s writing rises to exquisiteness as each character reveals something of his or her essence.

Debbie Fine describes her generic life before meeting Jacob Blank: “I had other boyfriends. We did things together, looked at movies, ran around tracks, ate unusual flavors and discussed fluctuations of all kinds.” Jacob, who seems crusty and cruelly remote until her arrival on the scene, surprisingly announces, “My childhood was only good, glorious I’d go as far as to say. I found two pearls on the open clam of my arrival: I called them my parents. They called me their prize.” Himmer reveals in one outburst his bedrock weltschmerz: “Enough of all these flowers – flowers are no more than, at their best, bright little sex organs hoodwinking insects into their sticky business and passing themselves off then hypocritically at holidays as fit subjects for centerpieces.”

Rehearsal for the original production at the Public Theater: Edward Atienza as Jacob Blank, playwright Harry Kondoleon, director Mark-Linn Baker, and Reed Birney as Himmer

Rehearsal for the original production at the Public Theater: Edward Atienza as Jacob Blank, playwright Harry Kondoleon, director Mark-Linn Baker, and Reed Birney as Himmer

Director Kenneth Elliott, David Hyde Pierce as Himmer, and Kondoleon

Director Kenneth Elliott, David Hyde Pierce as Himmer, and Kondoleon

Benson, who directed Reed Birney in a blazing award-winning production of Sarah Kane’s Blasted, was aware of his unhappy history with the play and attempted to provide closure by casting him as Jacob Blank, but ultimately he wasn’t available and the great Larry Pine played the role in the reading. Himmer’s barely contained hysteria was suitably conveyed by the great Taylor Mac – the first time I’ve ever seen him not in elaborate drag (he returns to the Public Theater later this fall with a revival of Lear de Bessonet’s terrific production of Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechuan). Two wonderful actors, B.D. Wong and Ana Reeder, played Prentice and Debbie Fine, and two young actors new to me, Gayle Rankin and Arian Moayed, played Samantha and Patrick. Moayed (who appeared on Broadway in Bengal Tiger in Baghdad Zoo) blew me away with his quick-study portrait of Patrick, a tricky role to pull off with his two crazy a capella songs and easily parodied actor-ish narcissism. Tony Shalhoub played this role originally, magnificently, but I found Moayed especially touching in scene 4, when his self-centeredness became a poignant existential cry: “I just want a big part. I just don’t want to come on with very little to say and then go off. I’ve done that. I want to make a difference. I want to know when I go off it makes sense that I came on in the first place.” Don’t we all want that? And Rankin, playing a role first performed by Frances Conroy, assumed a transcendent radiance when Samantha, as the goddess in the play-within-the-play spoke lines that connected all the dots from ancient Greece to the AIDS epidemic to the aftermath of 9/11:

I answer your call

although the city is alive in death

with screams for salvation barely audible

as the walls are torn down to

the merry whistle of the flute.

Death’s caprice is playing there;

empires dissolve in song.

Many longtime Kondoleon fans and followers attended the reading. A bunch of us went out to dinner afterwards (Stephen Soba and his partner Jonathan, Mitchell Lichtenstein, Rita Ryack and her partner Porter, Ellen and Judy Dennis) for delicious food and wine at Aroma, where we reminisced about Harry and exchanged notes on the real-life experiences that fed into the writing of Zero Positive. We were all very grateful to Jonathan Lomma, the William Morris agent who represents Harry’s work, for instigating this return visit to a beautiful play.

9-11 zero positive posse on doorstep

Culture Vulture: February 2013

February 18, 2013


Books: during my week-long vacation in Vieques, I hunkered down with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a novel friends have been raving about for years. I wanted to read it before seeing the movie.
Because six different stories travel back and forth in time, it takes a certain amount of concentration, perfect for lounging poolside in the sun in February. I liked the book and appreciated Mitchell’s clever narrative structure and imagination, though afterwards it occurred to me that almost all the stories boil down to one chase scene after another. I do look forward to seeing how it translates into a film.

DVD: the week in Vieques also gave me a chance to catch up with a bunch of screeners I’d borrowed from a movie-critic friend:

Brief Reunion – a good small psychological thriller, with a key performance by the great downtown stage actor Scott Shepherd (his first major role, I believe, and an excellent film debut — below with the movie’s central character, played by Joel de la Fuente);

brief reunion

Fairhaven – another small John Sayles-like movie about a bunch of post-collegiate friends drifting through their twenties. Curiously, an actress new to me – Alexie Gilmore – played the lead in both this and Brief Reunion;

Barbara – really smart beautiful film set in East Germany before the wall came down, with an excellent performance in the title role by Nina Hoss, even though she looks quite a bit too glamorous to be playing a small-town doctor (you can’t help seeing her as a young Jeanne Moreau — see below);

BARBARA  Regie Christian Petzold
Marley – Kevin Macdonald’s documentary gives an impressive overview of Jamaican superstar Bob Marley’s short, eventful life, with a special emphasis on his extremely poor childhood. But there are lots of holes in the narratives, which is one disadvantage to the choice of relying exclusively on talking heads. There are important pieces of Marley’s story that certain people didn’t live to tell or are not willing to tell on camera;

Seven Psychopaths – I saw Martin McDonagh’s second film in the movie theater but it was interesting to watch it on DVD with a group of friends, one of whom bailed out after 15 minutes because he couldn’t handle the violence. Too bad, because the movie doubles back on itself, critiquing itself as it goes along. It’s McDonagh’s philosophical meditation on his simultaneous attraction to and revulsion against violent stories, with game comic performances by Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, and the fearless Sam Rockwell;

Pitch Perfect – I ordered this from Netflix because Andy’s a capella singer friends recommended it, but after 15 minutes he insisted we take it off because its portrayal of college singing groups was so fake it was fingernails on the chalkboard;

Not Fade Away – David Chase’s debut as film director resonates as a highly autobiographical film about a kid who plays in a rock band in New Jersey just out of high school in the late ‘60s. That era was my childhood, too, and I loved it that all the musical references were spot-on. The movie is quirky and aggressively minor-key, with a key misstep having the main character’s younger sister provide a voiceover narration – we don’t know enough about her to trust her perspective, and it feels kinda tacked on to ward off criticism that the movie is too male-centered.


TV: Girls. After watching Lena Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture a few weeks ago, I needed to satisfy my curiosity about her TV show. After two marathon evenings with the first season on DVD, I’m hooked. She’s really something – brave, quirky, real, and unafraid to expose herself, her neuroses, her imperfect body, and her generation’s peculiarly tortured dance around intimacy, romance, and casual sex. It’s a mistake to think of Girls only as the antithesis of Sex and the City just because there are four central female characters. Dunham clearly models herself on Woody Allen as writer/director/performer, with a big hit of Louis C.K. It helps to have Judd Apatow as fearless producer. The writing is pretty amazing, the dialogue is super-fast, I could barely keep up. I know we’re supposed to think that Hannah’s boyfriend Adam (played by Adam Driver, just out of Juillard

(he's on the phone with his sister)

(he’s on the phone with his sister)

with great big ears and a Marine’s washboard abs) is a dick because he pees on her in the shower and jerks off in front of her, but I think he’s an awesome boyfriend. I love any opportunity to watch Chris O’Dowd. And I love seeing David Mamet’s daughter Zosia play the super-young motormouth Shoshonah, especially the episode where she gets high at a party in Williamsburg. “I smoked crack?? Don’t tell my mother! Don’t even tell me!” One advantage to watching the show via Netflix is to gobble up the DVD extras — commentary on three different episodes and a hilarious and illuminating conversation between Dunham and Apatow. Oh, how I love hearing a successful Hollywood writer/director/producer say the word “butthole” aloud in casual conversation!

good person playbill2.16.13
Good Person of Szechwan is another triumphant production by Melanie Joseph’s Foundry Theatre in collaboration with La Mama ETC. It’s one of Brecht’s essential texts, in which he repeatedly sets up genuine moral dilemmas – good people making bad choices and then trying to manage the consequences – and never gives definitive solutions, throwing back on the audience the responsibility to “Change the world, it needs it!” Lear DeBessonet’s lively production is Brechtian in the best sense: fun, funky, sly, surprising, shot through with music (performed live by a local skiffle band called the Lisps) and excellent comic performances. The title character is a prostitute, Shen Te, who does a kind deed for a trio of Diogenes-like gods passing through town looking for one good person. Her reward is enough money to start a little shop, which brings everyone in town to her doorstep for a handout. She’s too kind-hearted to say no, but she has enough sense to invent a male cousin, Shui Ta, who comes in and establishes order. This role is usually played by a woman who eventually dons male attire. One driving force in this production was the casting of Taylor Mac in the title role, who brings a whole other beautifully theatrical element to the gender-bending. Mac plays Shen Te with his customary bald pate and glittery eye shadow, in a red dress with hairy chest poking through (shout out to Charles Ludlam’s Camille); as Shui Ta, he wears a pinstripe suit, bowler hat, and stick-on handlebar mustache, sometimes changing in front of our eyes. (Clint Ramos’s costumes rock, as does Matt Saunders’s set, a study in the magic of cardboard.) The cast is full of downtown luminaries — Mia Katigbak, Annie Golden, and Vinnie Burrows as the gods, Lisa Kron in two contrasting roles – surrounded by a bunch of excellent game team players (I was especially impressed with David Turner as the improv-ready MC/water-seller, Kate Benson as Mrs. Shin, and Brooke Ishibashi and Darryl Winslow as utility players).

good person prodshot

The show got a rave review from Charles Isherwood in the New York Times, so the short run sold out quickly. Luckily, the Foundry added two matinees, which is how I got in. It was nice to see a heavy-duty downtown theater crowd in the audience: Jennifer Miller, Jessica Hagedorn, Mary Louise Wilson, Mac Wellman, Marc Robinson and Erika Rundle. We were handed programs leaving the theater, and my appreciation for the production extended to reading the program notes later. In the spirit of Brecht’s frank matter-of-factness about economics, the program includes a detailed production budget – first time I’ve ever seen that! Melanie Joseph is an amazing producer. Also, this was one of the rare productions where I found myself wondering who the dramaturg was who wrangled this translation (by John Willett) and helped the director keep everything fresh — the answer is Anne Erbe. Good work, Anne!

good person budget


Film: I guess because I once wrote an admiring article about Christopher Shinn’s first produced play Four, I got multiple invitations to the screening of the film version at BAM’s Rose Cinema, as part of the 3rd Annual New Voices in Black Cinema Festival, from the first-time director Joshua Sanchez and the producer Allen Frame (an old friend and associate from Soho News days).  Four tells two parallel stories – on a steamy Fourth of July night, a middle-aged black man named Joe hooks up with June, a white teenaged boy he met online, and his daughter Abigayle slips out from taking care of her sickly mother for a tryst with Dexter, a jivey jock who wishes he were black. The play is a yearning young man’s tale about that time (those times) in your life when people keep asking “What do you want? Where do you want to go?” and the only honest answer is a desolate howl of “I don’t knoooooooooow!” The movie captures all that yearning and awkwardness, with an especially good understated performance by Wendell Pierce in the trickiest part of Joe, the father. The movie felt a little slower and more ponderous than it needed to be. And I have strong memories of the original stage production, in which Dexter was played by a skinny white redhead; E. J. Bonilla in the role doesn’t really read as white, so his wannabe status is muted. Those are small points, though. It’s a nervy little art film that has the courage to zero in on a couple of heated pockets of psycho-sexual ambivalence.



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