Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chatting away

Boy, do I like talking about theater! On WNYC, I'm discussing the dustup that's currently roiling the downtown scene with Time Out's Adam Feldman and PS 122's Vallejo Gantner. The discussion is actually far-ranging and we even touch on my feud with Leslie Jordan.

There's also Theater Talk, which airs on Channel 13 this Friday at 12:30am; and you can watch the show online. I'm revisiting the Broadway spring season with the Daily News' Joe Dziemianowicz, the Times' Charles Isherwood and Bloomberg News' John Simon. (Incidentally, I was sitting behind Simon at The Winter's Tale last night; let's just say it was an entertaining experience.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On the Levee

Marcus Gardley, Lear deBessonet and Todd Almond's new play with music, On the Levee, opened last night at the Duke. My review's here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Grand Manner

Today I reviewed A.R. Gurney's latest, The Grand Manner. Who said summer was slow at the theater? I feel like I'm seeing something every single night!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why the Eurovision is great

I've been a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest for a long time -- as evidenced in a pair of articles for the Village Voice and The Believer (the latter piece was reprinted in Best Music Writing 2007, which you obviously need to buy right now).

So it was with some trepidation that I read Anthony Lane's piece about the contest in this week's New Yorker (subscription required). Of course, Eurovision is a perfect target for Lane's panache, and he delivered the zingers. But at the same time, saying that lyrics in ESC songs are ridiculous and that performers and fans alike can be over the top is rather predictable: c'est enfoncer des portes ouvertes, as we say in France (ie, stating the obvious).

Lane falls back on the usual tropes, which Eurovision hatas have been trotting out for decades now. In short, the music heard at ESC is bad beyond redemption, the lyrics are ridonkulous (these people can't write in proper English!) and the whole thing is out of touch with popular trends, as if rock and pop (as they are understood in America and the UK) never happened. But that is exactly why the ESC is so great! It's an alternative to a kind of international one-size-fits-all tastemaking cooked up in and exported by those two countries. Lane found himself at this year's contest in Oslo, longing not so much for the Supremes, the Stranglers or R.E.M., but for the Bee Gees -- this to illustrate his view that the proceedings were so dire, he had to lower his standards.

Clearly, readers of this blog know that the Bee Gees are infinitely superior to both R.E.M. and Springsteen, another example Lane trots out. The Supremes and the Stranglers are in my personal pantheon as well, but that is not the point: The point is that one can enjoy all of these artists and the ones at Eurovision. Not all of them, of course -- even I cannot endorse some of the most turgid ballads, and admittedly 2010 wasn't a great vintage. But I love the fact that small countries in the Balkans or central Europe regularly come up with eye- and ear-popping songs, performers and choreographies. Lane mocked the Serbian entry, Milan Stankovic, which I thought was just fantastic: an ambiguous alien doing a super-catchy song by Goran Bregovic, a musician who's performed at Lincoln Center!

What's wonderful and important about Eurovision is precisely that so much of it falls outside of criteria of music and hipness defined in the UK and the US over the past 60 years or so. This is not to denigrate styles rooted in African rhythms -- and let's face it, a lot of the pro and con arguments about ESC revolve around whether or not you think these styles are necessary to make "good" music. But that is just not what the contest is about, and I for one love that it continues to offer an outlet for flamboyance and emotionalism untainted by self-consciousness.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Les Blues

And we're out! France leaves the World Cup in utter disgrace after losing to South Africa today. Honestly, I'm relieved: I just couldn't face another week of this circus. Les Bleus were terrible on the pitch, and even worse off it.

This team is amazing in its own special way: Every time I think it's hit rock bottom, it just gets worse. We got ejected of the 2002 World Cup without scoring a single goal. Then we somehow made it to the 2006 final, only to lose after Zidane's headbutt. Euro 2008: another shameful early exit. And now this -- men without skill, decency or honor.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dietrich & Chevalier

Incredibly, the World Cup isn't the only thing happening right now. The new musical Dietrich & Chevalier (about Marlene and Maurice's relationship) opened last night off-Broadway. My review's here.

I also contributed to this short article about screen actors tanking in Shakespeare in the Park. I actually like Julia Stiles, but what makes her an interesting actress -- her gravity, her refusal to be panderingly charming -- made her a bad fit for Viola, who needs to be playful.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The French farce

Another day, another catastrophe for the French team — and it didn't even play!

Let's recap the past few months, shall we? Because things actually started going wrong before the World Cup. First, we qualified in a shameful manner on a hand-assisted goal against Ireland. In April, three players were named in a prostitution scandal — and with an underage prostitute at that. One of them was Franck Ribéry, one of the team's leaders. Then secretary of state for sport Rama Yade accused Les Bleus of having picked a prohibitively expensive resort in South Africa, sending an obnoxious signal to French people hit by the recession back home.

The competition started, and we drew a 0-0 tie against Uruguay in the opening game. Then we lost 2-0 against Mexico in a display that can only be described as pathetic.

Yesterday, it surfaced that the reason Nicolas Anelka didn't play the second half against Mexico isn't that he sucked — which he did — but that he insulted coach Raymond Domenech at halftime, and Domenech pulled him out of the team. Anelka was put on the next plane back home. Right away, the players started a witch hunt to figure out who talked to the press about Anelka's outburst. Captain Evra said "The problem isn't Nicolas Anelka, it's the traitor among us. It's someone who wants to hurt the French team."

Today, that team went rogue.

The players picked their camp: They openly revolted against Domenech and refused to practice, in solidarity with Anelka! The fitness coach — who had heatedly denied being the traitor — got into a screaming match with Evra about the aborted practice, threw either his accreditation badge or his stopwatch (accounts diverge) on the ground and stormed off. The team's technical director, reportedly fighting back tears, quit and announced he was returning to France: "I'm ashamed. I'm sick, disgusted, I'm leaving my job, what happened here is a scandal."

What could possibly happen tomorrow?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It can always get worse

France's pathetic display against Mexico has provoked a huge uproar back home, as you can imagine. I listen to a lot of French radio live or on podcast, and the football shows are incredibly entertaining right now. Newspapers are mad as hell too, and I've never seen such an explosion of rage against our own, in any sport. It's so bad that many in France are now rooting for South Africa in our last game!

Adding insult to injury, it's now surfaced that at halftime of the Mexico match, coach Raymond Domenech told the inept Nicolas Anelka that he needed to play more at the front, and Anelka reportedly answered "Go get fucked, you son of a bitch." Domenech then pulled Anelka and replaced him with Gignac for the second half. Le Monde says that the team decided to ship Anelka back to France. Former coach Michel Hidalgo (who oversaw the golden age of Les Bleus in 1978-84) commented that "Anelka's insult is despicable. He can't wear the French jersey anymore. I think he won't wear that jersey ever again."

On the plus side, Australia tied against Ghana in a feisty match, despite having a player red-carded after 20 minutes or so. I don't think the scrappy Socceroos will make it to the next round — they'd have to beat Serbia — but they'll leave with their head high, unlike other teams I could name.

Oh, and England self-combusted against Algeria, losing 0-0 (to borrow a headline from the Post). Unlike France, which went into the Cup with few illusions, England thought themselves hot stuff, so it was particularly satisfying to see Algeria bring them back to reality.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Little Doc

Dan Klores' new play, Little Doc, just opened at the Rattlestick Theatre, on Waverly Place. (I love downtown shows -- good dinner options before a performance.) I wasn't crazy about the production, to say the least. What bugged me the most was how uncommitted the actors felt. They played it way too safe. It was like watching the French soccer team: You can't fake it until you make it -- 'cause you just don't make it.

Down we go

How bad did France do against Mexico today? So bad that by the end, the bartenders at the Irish pub where I was watching and my Italian neighbor were feeling sorry for me.

I had gone to a new pub — that's the thing about working in Midtown, lots of Irish pubs — and was enjoying a nice panini at the bar, and then those cretinous Bleus had to come and ruin my lunch! It's now several hours later and I still can't believe what happened today. Mexico did what it had to do with great spirit, and France just collapsed. It was worse than bad: It was mortifying.

We started okay, then in the second half everything went down the gurgler, as the Sheila says: no team spirit, no cohesion, stupid dribbling, aimless passes, constant fumbling. These guys play in some of the biggest European clubs and it was as if they had completely lost their technical skills. France got something like 7 or 8 free kicks and I stopped counting how many times they shot into the wall. Same for corners sailing wide or high. Just pathetic.

The French press is, of course, full of various theories about the vile mood within the team, in which there apparently are several warring factions. One of the most interesting theories is that valuable offensive midfielder Yoann Gourcuff has been ostracized by several of his teammates because he's mild-mannered, well-spoken and (implied) white. So those teammates have ganged up against Gourcuff and gained influence over coach Domenech, so much so that Gourcuff didn't play today. We ended up in a situation where Domenech kept Henry and Gourcuff on the bench but started the horrible Anelka and Govou, then brought in Valbuena and Gignac. Seriously: WTF???

Back to the factions. According to Le Monde, some of the faultlines also fall along whether the players are in French clubs or outside of France. Others depend on whether the players have roots in Africa or the French West Indies, the Maghreb or metropolitan France. Others are blunt: They depend on whether the player is black or white. No matter what, it's a nest of vipers in there. You'd think they'd overcome their petty rivalries because, you know, it's the fricking World Cup but no — today, they played like asses.

At this point, part of me hopes South Africa will finally get a win and France goes home early. That way I can relax and start rooting for, oh, I don't know, the Netherlands, Argentina or Germany. Yes, Germany! (Anybody but Brazil or Italy, really.)

Domenech was scheduled to leave at the end of the World Cup anyway, and coach-in-waiting Laurent Blanc played in the team that won the WC in 1998. Hopefully he'll clean house.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Let's pile on the French team again

The French press is having a field day with our team in South Africa. Rarely have I seen such an amount of loathing directed at a team and its coach, the hapless Raymond Domenech. Most recently, Domenech clashed with Florent Malouda and took him out of the starting lineup against Uruguay. More details here.

Of course, the animosity has spilled outside of the playing field. The latest attack came from Rama Yade, secretary of state for sports and one of the most popular political figures in France. A couple of weeks ago, she criticized Les Bleus, as the team is known, for staying in the most expensive hotel available to World Cup participants, the Pezula. She pointed out that in a time of recession, it didn't look good for those guys to stay in such an exclusive resort. (Many teams from developed countries chose more modest accommodations.)

To make amends, sort of, Les Bleus said they would visit a township. All right! The visit took place a couple of days ago, in Knysna, but even then, they refused to go with Yade (the Danes did a similar tour with their minister). And they stayed for a total of 29 minutes, according to a report in the French press.

My favorite take on the World Cup so far has been from Stéphane Guillon, who does daily editorials on public radio station France Inter. Below is an edited translation of this morning's intervention, which was read out in a voice dripping with sarcasm. (You can watch him here.)

Did you see the footage of our team's visit to the township of Dam Se Bos? It was moving to see all these children, barefoot in the rain, held behind security tape with their parents. (...) When the players' bus appeared, a great cheer erupted, accompanied by those vuvuzelas that are spoiling the World Cup for us. As soon as you turn on the TV, you feel as if there's a swarm of bees in the room. Apparently the players can't even hear their coach on the field. If our players don't hear Domenech, that's a good thing, maybe we'll win.

When the Bleus' bus stopped, the kids got even more excited. And then you had to wave a bit, turn off your iPod, get out in the rain during siesta time, when you could have been relaxing at the Pezula palace. 'Let's go guys, we'll stay 20 minutes, tops, you all smile for the cameras! Leave your iPhones on the seats, nothing of value outside, there have been thefts in the area -- and here we go!' The French staff gave umbrellas to the players -- no way should they get a cold before their next loss. (...)

Earlier, the players had decided to move their visit ahead so they wouldn't run into Rama Yade, who dared to criticize their hotel's splashy luxury, which stands in sharp contrast to the recession and their sorry performances on the field. The French football federation donated 100,000 euros to fix up the local stadium -- a drop in the water compared to the 240,000 euros it had paid a few days earlier to fly in the players' wives for a weekend. Just think: If the players had chosen not to get laid, we could have built a second stadium, with locker rooms, showers and maybe even cleats for each kid.

Neither Heaven nor Earth

My review of PoliglotTheater's Neither Heaven nor Earth is up today. Go on, I know you're dying to figure out how they integrated interpretive dancing in a piece about the West Bank and Gaza.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dreams of the Washer King

Today's review is of Dreams of the Washer King, by Christopher Wall. What's up with those titles? Dusk Rings a Bell? Dreams of the Washer King? Jeezus, doesn't really make you want to rush and buy a ticket, does it?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Poor Socceroos!

Oh dear, Australia really bit the dust today. I expected them to lose by 2-0 but Germany just taught them a football lesson. It was as if the Germans were running drills during practice. Their passing was just a pleasure to watch, so precise and elegant. Germany played like a team too, impressively selfless. Of course group play doesn't mean much for the rest of the competition, but so far so good for die Mannschaft.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Off to the World Cup

It's World Cup Time again at Dilettante Central!

Since I don't have cable, I rely on bars and restaurants for my football fix and this time around, there's plenty to choose from. The level of interest here in NYC is at a fever pitch. I think Americans are starting to understand the fun that comes from watching your team play in a genuine international competition. Those who read this blog outside of the US have to realize that outside of the Olympics, Americans always play each other, or Canadians. They call their baseball championship the World Series, but there's absolutely nothing global about it as it pits one American city against another. (Technically it could pit an American city against a Canadian one, but the only Canadian team to ever win the World Series has been the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992-1993. And yes, I had to look this up.)

Anyway, on weekdays I go to a pub that shall not be named, right downstairs my midtown office. The trick is that it's an Irish pub and France kicked Ireland out of the WC qualifiers after a shameful hand-assisted goal. Above the bar, they've put up a French flag on which they superimposed an Irish one and a hand. Needless to say, I'm keeping a low profile there. And it was easy to do that during yesterday's dirge-like France-Uruguay. France was fricking embarrassing: no team cohesion, mortifying fumbles in attack. I'd be surprised if we make it out of group.

Today I watched the exciting England-US match at home since it was on ABC. English goalie Robert Green made the kind of humongous mistake that will ensure his place in the Hall of Shame, but then English goalies are known for their bewildering bloopers. They may have to put Green in some kind of witness-protection program when he returns to England.

The Yanks were putting on such a good fight that by halftime, I was rooting for them — something I pretty much never do. They were the underdogs and played their heart out. It's extremely satisfying to see the English press suck it. Even The Guardian, usually not the most jingoistic paper, was being stupid before the game: Americans "won't be afraid to get stuck in to a scrap tonight, but may well end up being outclassed by superior opposition and sent home bloodied, with their tail between their legs. When push comes to shove, I think that England will probably be too good for Team America tonight and could end up steamrollering their opposition, however brave a performance they put in." Hmmm…whose tail is between whose legs now?

Tomorrow, I'm dragging the Sheila to our local Aussie pub to watch Australia-Germany, ie the Socceroos vs Die Mannschaft.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


The Amoralists are at it again with Amerissiah, a reprise of one of their early shows. (They're so new that an early show is only from 2008, mind you.) More of the same going nowhere, some of my colleagues gripe, but I enjoyed it and am always looking forward to seeing these guys in action.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Can You Hear Their Voices?

Not in this wretched production, you can't. I was really looking forward to seeing Hallie Flanagan (head of the Federal Theater Project) and Margaret Ellen Clifford's obscure 1931 play, Can You Hear Their Voices? But the Peculiar Works Project revival is just plain amateurish. My review's here if you want more details on this disappointing fiasco.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Year Zero

Year Zero (not to be confused with Zero Hour, also running off Broadway) is a sweet new play I just reviewed in today's paper.

A propos of nothing: I've been reading Francis Wyndham's The Complete Fiction with tremendous pleasure. Wyndham only wrote a short novel and two collections of stories, so it's pretty easy to read his entire output in one go. His prose is very funny in a way that sometimes approaches camp but never tilts fully into it. And a tinge of sadness is never far.

Note that Francis Wyndham shouldn't be confused with John Wyndham, whose excellent post-apocalyptic novel The Chrysalids is also out from NYRB Classics — my single favorite American publisher.