Friday, January 30, 2009

And the Pop Club goes on

The latest Pop Club is up on the Time Out New York site. This week, we discuss new songs by U2, Keri Hilson and Kelly Clarkson. Exciting! Still, be prepared for a shock if you click on the link to the cover of Clarkson's single.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Under the spotlight

Every week, Thibaut Estellon's instructive blog, The French Creative Connection, features a Gallic expat working in the NYC arts scene. And now my turn has come. Warning: it's not in English. At least the feline grace with which I sit in an office chair needs no translation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Is The L Word is a Republican show?

There are two kinds of televised black holes, and I was sucked into both of them lately.

The first is when you become addicted to a TV series that's been going on for a while and catch up with it on DVD: You then sink into a black hole in which you compulsively watch episode after episode, wasting entire nights and weekends. Let's just say that the Sheila and I finally discovered the current iteration of Battlestar Galactica this weekend and were sucked into it. Don't even try to ask us for dinner over the next few weeks: when we're not at the theater, we'll be home watching this space opera.

The second kind of black hole is conjured by someone whose talent doesn't match his/her ego, leading to a rather different kind of sucking. Here, let me introduce you to Ilene Chaiken, the brain (I use the term loosely) behind The L Word. I've now watched the first four episodes of the new and last season, and I can only say that Chaiken has got to be one of the most inept writers to ever be put in charge of a TV series. It's not that crazy things can't happen on soaps, but they have to have an internal logic: they couldn't happen in our world, but they can make perfect sense within one specific fictional universe—which is why I can buy Cylons bent on destroying humanity in Battlestar Galactica, but I can't even buy the girls having breakfast together on The L Word, let alone some of the most delusional plot developments (imagine highly ironic quotation marks around the previous two words) cooked up by Chaiken.

But beyond these technical problems, my core issue with the show—and one that hasn't been raised, I believe—is that its value system is screwed up to the nth degree. I would argue that underneath its libertine surface and despite paying lip service to feminist issues, The L Word is a Republican show, and that is why it feels so jarring these days.

First, the entire show feels like a gated community: Let's live among people who are identical to ourselves and shut out all the others. Throwing in a black lesbian or a deaf one doesn't change anything to the suffocating sameness that binds the characters.

Second, the precepts followed by these women—except for Kit, Tasha and Max—include crushing the "little people," lying, cheating, abusing power, consuming conspicuously, worshipping money and appearances.

Take Bette, for instance. She's adored by the fans because Jennifer Beals is hottt and she also manages to make the character more sympathetic than she actually is. But look at Bette's words and actions: In addition to being a serial cheater, she's a rather unappealing snob who treats the people she perceives as inferiors like dirt (witness her recent and repulsive outburst when she called a hospital clerk a maggot) and often abuses her position (the episode with the grad student, and worse, when she tried to fire Jodi out of spite and with no professional grounds).

Or take Tina, Bette's girlfriend. She's had a different personality every season—only Helena had more—but one thing has remained constant: she's a spoiled, judgemental bourgeoise. Just recently, she was acting all superior because Bette has a bad record when it comes to faithfulness. But Tina herself had affairs! And her mild blond exterior only camouflages rather ugly behavior, like the way she treated her lesbian friends when she lived with a man.

And of course there's Jenny. It's fine that she's a total psychopath, every show needs one. But what I find jarring is that the other characters seem to think she's merely a wacky artiste. Jenny should be the series' über-villainess, recognized as such and used as such in terms of storytelling. Instead, the last season's bad girl was club promoter Dawn Denbo—compared to Jenny, a lightweight in the evil department. So yes, I find it completely insane that supposedly sympathetic characters tolerate Jenny in their midst. Kick her out of the holy circle and fight her! That way you'd get actual stories, instead of what passes for plot on The L Word: endless processing about relationships.

Friday, January 23, 2009

United States of Joyce DiDonato

Tonight's concert was quite a festival of darkness: "Anger, scorn, and fury," "I shall die, but avenged," "Within my soul it rises," "Fierce furies"… Except Tristan and I weren't at a black-metal gig (even if that Bathory guide has put me in the mood) but at an all-Handel recital by the French ensemble Les Talens Lyriques and mezzo Joyce DiDonato.

As we waited for the evening to start, Tristan and I were mistily reminiscing about seeing DiDonato in Hercules at BAM three years ago; glancing down at the program, he gasped "Oh my god, she's going to do my favorite aria from Hercules, the one she sang face down in the dirt!"

There was no dirt at Zankel Hall, but no matter: this concert rocked so hard!

Topped by a rather voluminous blonde mane, DiDonato looked like a lioness. Which felt particularly appropriate when she unleashed "Where Shall I Fly?" This aria is just so over the top that listening to it is like going through all the emotions of watching the craziest action movie ever. It was like watching someone who loses her mind then rides a rollercoaster then swims through a river full of piranhas, then stops for a cigarette break, but right away she starts hallucinating and after that she engages in a high-speed chase with a serial killer—except it lasts four minutes and she barely moves.

But then there were the moments when DiDonato was tender and broken-hearted, the ones where she was thoughtful, the ones when she was exuberant (the second encore, "Dopo Notte" from Ariodante, brought tears of happiness to my eyes). She could do it all, sometimes in such quick succession, it was like the classical version of Toni Collette in United States of Tara. I'm pretty sure I forgot to breathe at some point.

By the way, one of the reasons I love baroque is that it combines economy when it comes to lyrics with batty excess when it comes to vocal lines and emotions. Thus you get an aria like "Crude furie," in which four lines are heatedly sung over and over for something like three and a half minutes. The word veleno alone gets stretched to endless seconds each time. (I just saw that there's a CD alluringly titled Evil Arias by G. F. Händel, which once again shows it makes total sense to dig both baroque and metal; the genres also share a taste for highly technical pyrotechnics, even if metal could learn a thing or two from baroque when it comes to lyrical economy.)

This promo video shows DiDonato explaining her approach to Handel and then killing us softly with madness. You get to see the same lovely outfit she wore tonight, plus you hear the endearing accent of dashing Talens Lyriques conductor Christophe Rousset.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Devil's horns time!

My guide to Bathory is up at eMusic. Oh what fun it was to do! I had to listen to something like 13 or 14 albums—it's all a metal-induced blur now—and I really can't say that I hated any of them, which is quite an achievement in itself. All right, so Quorthon's solo Album is pretty horrific but other than that, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Bathory's output holds up.

You may not know the hot cauldron of insanity that is Bathory if you're among those who read this blog either for the high-artsy stuff or for the textual analysis of Alphabeat lyrics. In brief, it was a Swedish one-man band (the one man being the aforementioned Quorthon) that was quite influential in the black and Viking subgenres of metal in the 1980s and 1990s. I dare hope that extreme-metal novices will enjoy my little guided tour and will feel inclined to sample some Scandi-style extremism.

Besides, how can you not love a man inspired by both Erica Jong and the Necronomicon?

Sometimes bigger is better

Over at Sunday Arts, I express my fear that we're going to see less and less of those super-expensive Euro imports I love so much. Love Théâtre du Soleil or Die Soldaten? You may not see their kind again anytime soon. Instead, brace yourself for more solo shows, two-handers and plays where the actors move the sets around.

Oh yeah, The 39 Steps is still playing on Broadway.

This year's pazz & jop poll

The results of the Village Voice's annual music poll have just come out. I'm not going to spoil anything by revealing that TV on the Radio tops the album list and M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" takes the singles crown. Needless to say, they are nowhere to be seen on my ballot—though I did vote for the no. 2 single, Estelle's "American Boy."

What surprised me, however, is the bizarrely high number of records I was the only person to vote for. I simply do not understand, for instance, why only two of us voted for Girls Aloud's Out of Control or Little Jackie's The Stoop. And it's not like many of my picks are particularly obscure either: Many topped the charts…in other countries.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cut down those trees already

Just before intermission at The Cherry Orchard this weekend, I could see the Sheila's eyes glazing over in the semi-darkness. Yet it's not like the evening had been eventless so far: A man sitting in the middle of a row suddenly got up and left during a very quiet scene, creating quite a stir—but then he did not actually leave the theater, he just sat in an empty seat across the aisle from me. And stayed there after intermission. Then there was the gentleman holding a paper bag on his lap and rustling it absent-mindedly—and quite loudly—at regular intervals. Then there were the four people who arrived an hour late and were seated anyway, despite the fact that two of them were in the first row (which is very very close to the actors at BAM's Harvey Theater). Then there was the person who erupted in braying, quasi-hysterical laughter out of the blue.

As you can see, it was action-packed. And it wasn't too bad onstage either, so I told the Sheila she should stick with it because we were seeing a pretty good Chekhov.

I'm not the biggest Chekhov fan so it's a bit unfortunate that old Anton is hot on the New York stage right now. The Seagull flew off less than a month ago, Uncle Vanya is in previews at CSC, and Sam Mendes is having his way with Ranevskaya et al. I'm sure there's more on the horizon but honestly it depresses me a bit just to think about it.

As far as this Cherry Orchard goes, however, Mendes does a fairly decent job of balancing the drama and comedy that so bewilders directors. Aesthetically speaking it's a little too close to the Lincoln Center production of Coast of Utopia, especially when Mendes brings up a line of silently threatening representatives of the lower classes. (If only angry waiters and bank tellers could pop off at Barneys and Bouley to scare off hedge-fund managers and guilt-trip fashionistas.) But overall it's not too bad, and there's a couple of visually striking scenes, which is a couple more than in most mainstream NY productions, which seem directed by blind people.

But it's the acting that rocks. While I usually cannot stand Simon Russell Beale's hamming, he keeps it in check and delivers an affecting Lopakhin. My favorites were Sinead Cusack as Ranevskaya and Rebecca Hall as Varya. For the first time I didn't get terminally irritated and frustrated by Ranevskaya's refusal to sell her orchard: Yes, she's blithely clinging to a dying world, but Cusack made you understand why, and understanding helps keep the disdain at bay. As for Hall, her ramrod-straight posture barely disguised cracks of pain. And what a voice! Low, sexy—almost Elizabeth Marvel–ian at times. I cannot wait to see this gang in The Winter's Tale, which they will do in rep at BAM starting in February.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gay, buff and tattooed

I'm a big fan of Radio France, the public-radio network that's like a dream version of NPR—we're talking hour-long interviews with dancers and novelists here, along with excellent investigative journalism and audio docs. I subscribe to several podcasts from France Inter and France Culture, two of the several stations under the Radio France umbrella.

Anyway, imagine my delighted surprise when I learned that Jean-Paul Cluzel, the 60-year-old, openly gay president of Radio France, had recently posed in the 2009 calendar of Parisian tattoo artist Abraxas. Cluzel is barechested and wears a Mexican wrestler's mask. (The guy on the right is Cluzel's boyfriend.) I mean, can you imagine the president of NPR posing like this?

The wit and wisdom of Alphabeat

I've listened to Alphabeat's This Is Alphabeat a lot in the past few months. In fact, it's one of the few albums I've listened to repeatedly all the way through. While the Danes' wicked way with hooks obviously is the primary appeal, I've also come to really appreciate their lyrics.

One song really encapsulates the Alphabeat style: "10,000 Nights." Disregarding the conventional verse-chorus-verse structure, the melody is plain addictive (and look at the adorably dorky dance moves in the video), but it's the lyrics that bring it all home: Such a poetic inanity—or is that inane poetry?—is rare, even in the kind of pop I love. See for yourself in this analysis of the entire song (I'll skip repeated lines):

I was not looking for arty-farty love
Hmm, arty-farty feels like a remote possibility if you're in a band like Alphabeat but okay, if you insist on stating the obvious, I'm with you. But why not artsy-fartsy instead of the awkward arty-farty? Would it have thrown off the meter? Is the gassy echo a reference to Serge Gainsbourg's cult novel Evguénie Sokolov?

I wanted someone to love completely
Someone more than weekly

We're starting to get somewhere: No pseudo-intellectual hipsters need apply, and no behaving like a Simenon character with a weekly prostitute habit.

I was looking for a decent boy
Despite visual evidence suggesting the opposite would make more sense, Stine sings this line, not Anders.

For a tender glance
For a safety dance

First meta reference to another song, ie Men Without Hats' "The Safety Dance." Alphabeat slyly suggests it learned English by listening to the radio.

The wuthering heights
And the stormy nights

This is the one-two punch that slays me every single time. It could be a Bronte reference in the first line but I don't think so, meaning we've got another pop allusion, this time to Kate Bush (which makes you revisit the first line: perhaps someone in Alphabeat would like arty-farty after all). And then we have the stormy nights. No verb, just minimalist description. Amazing.

You give me 10,000 nights of thunder
But I will give them all back to you

But why will you give them back? Don't you like the other person anymore? Also do you realize that 10,000 nights is 27 years??? These two lines are bewildering and insanely wonderful.

Cause you're so ooh, you're so aah, you're so cool
This doesn't help at all. Anders is giving back the nights—and not just any nights: nights of thunder—because the object of his affection is…cool? The way Anders grasps for words before settling down for "cool" is rather endearing.

You came like a thief in the night and stole my heart
Like a solitude erasure

Like an elevator

My three favorite lines of the year, no contest. Listening to the song, I thought Stine and Anders sang "Like a solitude eraser"—referring to the thief—but all the lyrics sites I consulted have "erasure." I'm not sure which one I prefer, though "erasure" somehow has a more definitive side to it. The lines are happy but a certain darkness creeps in. That elevator thing, however, is completely cryptic—like something out of a song those bearded indie-rock kids enjoy so much. Is this an example of catachresis? Discuss.

And I know we'd do anything for love
And it is you and me
For all eternity

Whoa, Stine's going all Tristan and Isolde on us! What happened to the arty-farty safety dance?

It feels like 10,000 nights of thunder
When I've spent one with you

A-ha! They didn't literally mean 27 years. Alphabeat is in absolute mastery of all the rhetorical tools at the disposal of a pop lyricist. (Remember the use of analogy in the "solitude erasure/elevator" combo?)

'Cause you're so ooh, you're so aah, you're so cool

You're so super-supremely ba-ba-di-oh

And one of these tools seems to be nonsense, which Stine uses to express the fact that her infatuation is so strong, it prevents her from articulating her thoughts, just like Anders and his bumbling "You're so ooh, so aah." I like the use of the mirror image, plus for some reason it all reminds me of "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo" from Cinderella.

And baby baby you're irresistible and I'm insatiable

Yeah love is an ocean of sweet emotion

While Alphabeat is a PG band, the first line suggests Anders has needs, like all young men his age. But he immediately drops that sensitive subject and reassures us that he understands the real force to be reckoned with is love. All's well that ends well.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Magnificent obsession on DVD

My review of the Criterion edition of Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession is in this week's Time Out New York. The two-disc set also includes John M. Stahl's original version of the movie, which starred Irene Dunne. I'm a huge fan of Stahl's, who I think has gotten unfairly neglected because his dramas aren't as sarcasm-friendly to our sad contemporary audiences as Sirk's.

But perhaps his rehabilitation is under way. Later this month, Anthology Film Archives is going to screen both his and Sirk versions of When Tomorrow Comes, Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life. In addition to testifying to Stahl's talent in the women's movie realm, fans of Irene Dunne—which means all readers of this blog, right? right?—should mark their calendars as she also stars in Tomorrow, which doesn't seem to be on DVD.

Also on the horizon, in March Film Forum is going to show Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven, from 1945, which makes great use of Gene Tierney's perverse beauty. The scene in which she rides a horse against a grandiose Western vista, dispersing her father's ashes to the wind while Alfred Newman's score swells, is one of my favorite cinematic moments ever. Like Anthony Mann's The Furies, which mixed Western and melodrama (and which I reviewed for TONY last year), Leave Her to Heaven is a genre hybrid that borrows tropes from noir and melodrama; the two movies also share the honor of being fine examples of incest sublimation, Hollywood-style.

Another incentive to see Leave Her to Heaven is that it's a particularly flamboyant example of Technicolor. I was such a film geek as a kid that when I was around 13 or 14, my enabling parents got me a hardcover coffee-table book about Natalie Kalmus, the official Technicolor consultant in the 1930s and ’40s.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The most depressing list in the world

Okay, maybe not the most depressing one, but still… Stereogum has printed a clean, reader-friendlier version of Hype Machine's "blogger-sanctioned meta-list beast," which is as good an indicator as any of what indie kids listened to in 2008.

And what a sad, sad sight it is.

The top five albums are by Fleet Foxes, TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver and MGMT, in descending order. Just looking at these names makes me want to poke a stick in my eyes. And one in my ears too, for good measure.

There's plenty to say about the list, but I'll focus on one aspect of it: Where are the women? Out of 50 entries, seven bands (Portishead, She & Him, Crystal Castles, Beach House, Ra Ra Riot, Mates of States, the Kills) include women in prominent roles, and then there's a grand total of three female solo artists (Santogold, Lykke Li, Jenny Lewis). Just pathetic.

Seriously, what is wrong with hipsters that they can't relate to women making music? Nowadays, the indie charts are dominated by dudes with beards, whereas the Billboard Hot 100 is a lot more hospitable to women making smart, chart-friendly pop music. I guess that's okay in a way: Taylor Swift, Lady GaGa, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna are the ones laughing all the way to the bank. Still, it'd be nice if they could get the critical respect they deserve, too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Playbill bio of the week

While it's nowhere near as brilliant as Tatiana Chernova's, the bio of director and choreographer Liu Tongbiao reads thus in its entirety in the Soul of Shaolin playbill: "The state's first-grade director, he is a director of the Shanghai People's Art Center. Under the guidance of drama master Huang Zuolin, he has dabbled in drama, film, plays, opera, tourism, art and large evening parties."

He's dabbled in tourism and large evening parties? Would William Powell play him in the American version?

Post-ap book group

You now have less than ten days to read John Wyndham's The Chrysalids before it's discussed at the next meeting of the Brooklyn post-apocalyptic book group. This will be on January 22 at Freebird Books & Goods in Red Hook. Typically for Red Hook, the convoluted directions from the subway stop include the likes of walking "until you can't go any further" to a venue located "across from the packing containers." This, of course, is perfectly appropriate to the subject at hand.

My fondness for post-apocalyptic fiction has long been in evidence on this blog, and I share it with my esteemed colleague Joshua Rothkopf. (We can often be seen huddled by a desk, discussing reissues of obscure novels and relevant new movies.) And so we were both psyched to hear about the book group. Clearly we are not the only ones who dream of the day after.

Also, to clarify: I am not particularly interested in End of Days scenarios—the religious element pretty much leaves me cold, as it does in real life. I'm also not that into the catastrophe itself, so I tend to pass on descriptions of meteors hitting Earth or plagues unleashing out of a lab.

That said, I'd definitely read a book about the last three days before nuclear armageddon, and I'd watch any movie involving Christina Hendricks in a lab coat saying, "We only have two minutes before the virus wipes out humanity." It hasn't been made? Well, what are you waiting for, Hollywood?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Becky Shaw rulz

Let me join the chorus praising Gina Gionfriddo's new play, Becky Shaw, at Second Stage. I can't even remember the last time I laughed so much at the theater, and not once did I feel my intelligence had been insulted. The show is also rather well constructed, though the plot's twists and turns, as satisfying as they are, are almost secondary compared to the fact that all the characters have more than one side, revealing a wealth of new complexities as the play progresses.

Plus let it be said again: Gionfriddo brings on the funny.

I don't know if she got her day job as a writer/producer on Law & Order because her lines are tight and snappy or if it's the L&O gig that's trained her to be tight and snappy, and theatergoers are benefiting. It's a chicken-and-egg situation, though a decision either way may be of interest to those who enroll in playwriting programs. If you're an aspiring author, is it worth getting into debt to get an MFA at Brown or should you send your résumé to Dick Wolfe?

Now the thing with Gionfriddo is that she did go to Brown before landing at L&O. I'd be curious to know how she rates what she learned at both places, and how they affected her playwriting.

Completely unrelated: I realize this blog hasn't gone metal in a while, but I'm listening to the entire Bathory oeuvre for an assignment so get ready for some blackened thoughts very soon.

This Hamlet I want to see

Apparently David Tennant is the greatest Hamlet of his generation, or so says The Guardian. Okay. Needless to say, these photos are not from the production that's taken London by storm. Rather, it is, as you might have guessed, a German staging—more specifically, one by Dilettante favorite Thomas Ostermeier.

I don't even know why I specify it's German because if you've been following international theater of the past 25 years, it's pretty obvious that it is. (The equivalent works in opera, too, as those who read La Cieca and her hilarious Regie quizzes know full well.)

I know, I know: It's so easy to make fun of those productions. And yet I often find them entrancing because they are so demented. I ran into a composer friend at a Park Slope coffee shop a couple of weeks ago, and we had the beginning (because I was running late and had to go) of an interesting conversation about this. I tend to fall in the pro-Regie camp, which holds that you can completely reenvision a play or opera, and his basic question was, If you're going to mangle something beyond recognition, why don't you come up with a new play or a new opera to begin with?

A valid concern, of course, to which I say: If we've seen Hamlet 100 times, why not make take liberties with the 101st? Granted, this does assume that the audience has seen enough Hamlets to be interested in a radical reimagining of it; I'm not sure one can make this leap about our local audiences.

Chances are we're not going to see Ostermeier's Hamlet here, unless maybe BAM does well enough with Sam Mendes's The Cherry Orchard and The Winter's Tale in the coming month, and uses part of the profits to import Hamlet for a five-day run. That to me is one of the reasons to mount this type of staging—so it can finance more commercially hazardous ones. We'll see.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Starry sky over New York

Over at Channel Thirteen's Sunday Arts blog, I wax poetic about the abundance of high-wattage stars about to descend on NYC stage this winter and spring. The real question is, Is it worth seeing Mary-Louise Parker as Hedda Gabler if the staging is the kind of blah we are used to getting from the Roundabout? And what the hell is up with the current obsession with all things Chekhovian? That gun will get used if I have to watch one more Cherry Orchard.

Friday, January 09, 2009

More Pop Club

I have to admit that my single favorite work assignment is doing the Pop Club with the fabulous Jimmy Draper and Kurt B. Reighley every other week or so. We chat about three new singles via Google Talk—I'm in New York, Jimmy in Ann Arbor and Kurt in Seattle—as we listen to the songs simultaneously; I then put up the conversation on the Time Out New York site along with the streaming tunes, so readers can see whether or not they agree with us.

The third installment of the Pop Club just came up today. Under the microscope: tunes by the Veronicas, Miranda Cosgrove and Leona Lewis.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Turning the tables on David Denby

My trashing of David Denby's Snark is in this week's Time Out New York.

Don't let the following prevent you from jumping to the full review, of course, but in brief: The New Yorker's film critic arrives five years late to the snark party, bearing flat, store-brand soda and stale potato chips. Fun!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The French boards, part 2

And now, the present…

Le Monde just ran an interesting interview with director Luc Bondy. One of the things he talks about is the difference between public and private institutions in France. Here in New York, the scene is very roughly divided in three: Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway houses. In Paris, you have institutions that get public subsidies and those that rely more on box-office revenues; the former is meant to present fare that's more demanding (with lower ticket prices), while the latter is meant to be more commercial (and is more expensive).

The difference can get muddy, though, as a public institution like Chaillot has often presented accessible, popular shows by directors Jérôme Deschamps and Macha Makeïeff, for instance, while private theaters can show fare that's much edgier than we get on the Off scene here.

The Swiss-born Bondy, who's worked a lot in German-speaking countries (he ran the Schaubühne in Berlin, and has been artistic director of the Vienna Festival for 20 years), says of French subsidized theater: "There's people with great potential, but the output is mediocre. First, because the French are very germanophile, they think everything that comes from Germany is great and they get very derivative. They need their own pride. It's true that it's more difficult to do theater in France than in Germany because the French are more extroverted than the German. In introverted countries, theater is the place where you're free. In extroverted countries such as France or Italy, it requires more effort to find a language." [I think he means a theatrical language here, obviously.]

Bondy on actors: "In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, actors work are hired in companies. They may be less afraid to act than French actors, because they have that safety net. But that sense of safety also sometimes makes them sure of themselves and less curious than French actors, who can get deeply involved in a project. The greatest issue in France is the ostracism between public and private theater. There are great actors working in the private sector that you'd dream of seeing in the public one. And vice versa. But the two areas are like two dogs barking at each other. It's true that when you see the price of tickets in private theaters, and those who can afford them, you don't necessarily want to work there. But without sounding populist, I find unbearable the idea that people can't go to a good boulevard play because it's too expensive. You can learn a lot from boulevard. There's a technique and actors that are marvelous. In England, they can take a tragedy by Eschylus and turn it into a play. They don't have that separation between pure and impure, which is false: a play is good or it isn't. One of the greatest conductors in the world for me was Bernstein, who led Beethoven's symphonies like no one else and wrote West Side Story. That culture is missing today."

Bondy is perceived as high-brow in France, but he's also doing quite well at the box office. Last time I was in Paris, for instance, I couldn't see his staging of Marivaux's La Seconde Surprise de l'Amour at the supposedly elite Bouffes du Nord (Peter Brook's former home, and the inspiration for BAM's Harvey Theater): it was such a big fat hit that there were no tickets to be found. When Marivaux sells out without the help of marquee-name stars, you know the director is doing something right.

And the hits keep on coming

Back in December, I raved about Our Hit Parade, a demented revue I saw at the Zipper. The brain trust behind the event—Bridget Everett, Kenny Mellman and Neal Medlyn—has now started a companion blog of the same name, which combines two of my favorite things: super-commercial pop songs and a twisted downtown sensibility.

The next edition of Our Hit Parade is at the Zipper on January 31. See you there.

The French boards, part 1

Part one of a post about French theater, ie something we rarely see in New York.

First, the past…

Reading about the recent publication of the correspondence of Gérard Philipe and his friend, actor/writer Georges Perros, I learned that even when he was a huge star in the 1940s and 1950s (think James Dean if he had been French, known equally for this theater work as for his films, and a Marx reader), Philipe's name would be listed in the middle of the casts in Jean Vilar's Théâtre National Populaire, which were organized alphabetically. The entire troupe, including him, also made the same salary. Granted, he also had an income from his screen hits, but still, I like that he was paid the same as his less famous colleagues.

I was also stunned to learn that since the troupe put on classics in repertory, Philipe could play up to four different parts in a single week—and we're talking big leads here, like the title characters in Corneille's Le Cid or Kleist's The Prince of Homburg.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Fly the friendly skies

In the current issue of Time Out New York, I interview Clove Galilee and Jenny Rogers, the brains behind Wickets, a clever adaptation of Maria Irene Fornes's play Fefu and Her Friends. Fornes has been in the news in an indirect way recently, thanks to the publication of the early diaries of Susan Sontag, with whom the playwright had an affair. A couple of excerpts, published in the Times two years ago:
November 20, 1959
"I have never been as demanding of anyone as I am of [the Cuban-American playwright Maria] I[rene Fornes]. I am jealous of everyone she sees, I hurt every minute she goes away from me. But not when I leave her, and know that she is here. My love wants to incorporate her totally, to eat her. My love is selfish. … Tonight she went from work to meet Inez at the San Remo. Ann Morrissett [journalist and playwright] was there. After, the Cedar Bar. She came home at 12:00; I was asleep. She came to bed, told me about the conversations of the evening, at 2:00 asked that the light be put out, went to sleep. I was paralyzed, mute, swollen with tears. I smoked, she slept.

December 28, 1959
Till now I have felt that the only persons I could know in depth, or really love, were duplicates or versions of my own wretched self. (My intellectual and sexual feelings have always been incestuous.) Now I know + love someone who is not like me — e.g. not a Jew, not a New York-type intellectual — without any failure of intimacy. I am always conscious of I’s foreignness, of the absence of a shared background — and I experience this as a great release.

I'm available to be U.S. Senator

Dear Governor Paterson,

I would like to express my interest in replacing Hillary Rodham Clinton in the United States Senate. I currently hold a full-time job, which I realize puts me at a disadvantage with Caroline Kennedy, but my employer is willing to grant me a sabbatical while I commute to Washington. Like Ms. Kennedy, however, I am a woman, I have never held or sought public office, I have no governing experience, and I am unwilling to disclose the state of my finances. (I shall not release my medical records so you have to trust me on this, but I am in good health.)

I am ready and able to serve my adopted state, which I've visited extensively. Just two months ago I spent four delicious days exploring the Finger Lakes region. I have also been to the Adirondacks, the Catskills and the eastern tip of Long Island. I am familiar, of course, with all five boroughs of New York City, including Staten Island; in fact, I know someone who actually works on Staten Island. I have also attended several upstate county fairs, consuming deep-fried Oreos and oohing-and-aahing at oversize farm animals.

As a resident of the cultural mecca known as Brooklyn and as Time Out New York's arts & entertainment editor, I've acquired a Rolodex bulging with artsy types; I hear candidates with built-in networks get serious consideration.

A French-American citizen, I have close ties to the immigrant community that is an essential component of the glorious mosaic known as New York State. While I refuse to reveal much of anything about my personal life, I can let on that picking me should soothe the frayed nerves of the gay community; in other words, President Obama will personally thank you for a choice that will ensure everlasting support from those squawky homosexuals, thus favoring your own re-election campaign.

As New York Senator, I realize my job would not be to govern, but rather to divert much-needed federal funds to worthy constituencies, which in our current time of crisis would include not only hedge-fund managers, but also real-estate developers and victims of investment Ponzi schemes. I would also propose that America’s Big Three automakers move their corporate headquarters to Schenectady as part of any industry restructuring; there’s got to be some bailout dollars there.

Your naming me U.S. Senator would send a clear message that as Governor, you are not afraid of putting "regular folks" first, and that in New York, anybody can live the American Dream to the fullest.

Finally, let me assure you that this is not a prank: If you call on me, I will be honored to serve.

Sincerely,

Elisabeth Vincentelli
Candidate to the U.S. Senate

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Give Katy Perry a break

Lots of gay women have been really riled up by Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." The main beef: Perry kissed a girl and liked it, but then she went on to say "I hope my boyfriend don't mind it."

Hold the presses: Katy Perry's not a real lesbian—she sings about hetero titillation!

And she stole the title of a song by Jill Sobule, who's a real bisexual!

And the dudes at Out magazine made her their Musician of the Year! Even though she isn't out ’cause she isn't gay!

And…and…and…those greedy sell-outs at the Dinah Shore made Perry their headliner over Indigo Girls for the ’09 edition of their annual orgy!!!

Can I possibly be the only lesbionic gal who'd rather see Katy Perry than Indigo Girls? The only one who'd trade the entire k.d. lang catalogue for "I Kissed a Girl"? (Okay, maybe "I Kissed a Girl" + "Hot ’n’ Cold," its even better follow-up.) Is it so wrong to want to trade earnestly strummed guitars for the magic of pop music, which is about style, fun, flirtation and yes, manipulation? Sometimes I really despair of my sisters' ability not so much to take a joke as to understand how power works. Frankly if Katy Perry wants to kiss a girl even though she has a boyfriend, we ladies should take advantage. So Katy won't show up the next day with a U-Haul—and that's a bad thing how?

(Also: girls' lips taste better with cherry chapstick than Karma Apple 95% Organic Lip Balm.)

In the meantime—and what really prompted this belated post—here is my new fave Perry-related moment: "I Kissed a Girl" + Britney Spears's "If U Seek Amy" = "If You Kissed Amy." Enjoy.

About Jon Raymond

My review of Jon Raymond's new collection, Livability, is in Time Out New York.

Raymond is best-known for adapting two of his own stories with director Kelly Reichardt for the movies Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy. I didn't have the space to expand on this thought in the review, but Raymond frequently reminded me of Adrian Tomine at his worst—when he tries to spin meaning out of nothingness.