Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best of 2010

At last, my top ten list is out in today's Post! You can find it here. I've also started doing a brief list of some of my fave moments and performances. The first part, comedy, is here. I'll do the more somber stuff today, as well as a list of some of the worst stuff I saw all year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Three Pianos

The year concludes with Three Pianos at NY Theatre Workshop (my review's here). A zany/loving whirlwind tour of Schubert's Winterreise song cycle, the piece seriously extends its welcome: It clocked in at nearly 2hrs 15 the night I saw it. Not a problem in itself, but one when the creators/cast run out of ideas.

Completely unrelated: watched Johnnie To's Vengeance last night. Glorious. The movie stars French-Belgian rocker Johnny Halliday (who's good), but actor-wise the big draw is Anthony Wong, whom HK-action fiends know from his turn in Infernal Affairs.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Donny and Marie: A Broadway Christmas

Yes yes yes: I saw Donny and Marie Osmond at the Marquis and lived to tell the tale. A good time was had by all, and there were enough references to Dancing with the Stars to make me happy.

Let it also be said that until January 2, there's at least one place in New York where it's safe to wear your floor-length furs.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Today's review is of Haunted, by Edna O'Brien. It stars Brenda Blethyn, who alone is well worth the trip to 59E59 Theaters.

Before going in, I let myself be tempted by a couple of macarons at a place across the street. They were tasty enough, but at $2.25 a pop — a small pop — you think twice about going back. I also wonder why American macaron stores feel they need to offer so many crazy flavors (there's a lot more than indicated on the online menu). I'd be happier with 5-6 impeccable ones.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Great Game: Afghanistan

This past Saturday, I attended yet another marathon play — it's really been the season for those events. This time around I started up at 11:30am and left just after 10pm. In between there was The Great Game: Afghanistan (my review here).

The best thing about seeing a show at the NYU Skirball Center is that the food options in the area are excellent. During the lunch break, I went to to François Payard's new bakery on W. Houston. Well worth it, even if the coffee tasted slightly burnt. Note to self: Clearly you don't go there for the coffee.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte

John Kelly brings back his 1980s piece about Egon Schiele, Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte. It's at La MaMa, and while I have mixed feelings about it, the show's certainly an interesting artifact — from downtown in the 1980s, if not Vienna in the 1910s.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

On French TV series

For many years — decades, even — French writers and directors thought of television as the ugly stepchild of cinema. There were few connections between the two fields: No filmmaker would consider working for the small screen. Which isn't to say that there weren't good shows, but even the best were considered inferior to movies. This is pretty crazy, as we had some good home-grown TV. I remember avidly watching miniseries like La Poupée sanglante , Les Rois maudits (the original, not the remake), and series like Les Nouvelles aventures de Vidocq (ah, the saucy Danièle Lebrun, my childhood crush), Arsène Lupin and Chéri-Bibi.

Things began to change in the early 1990s, when the French-German ARTE channel started drawing film directors to work on miniseries and films that often also played in cinemas at the same time as they were broadcast. André Téchiné's Wild Reeds, for instance, started off as a 60-minute made-for-ARTE movie.

But this was all pretty arty. The latest development has been the marked improvement of commercial French series — especially the ones produced by Canal Plus — and most of them influenced by HBO. Thanks to my family's busy DVR recorder, I've been able to watch quite a few. My favorites so far have been Engrenages, a great procedural that wrapped its third season in June, and Pigalle, entirely shot docu-style on location. Appeal to IFC: Show them in the US!

I had mixed feelings about Braquo, about a cop with ethical issues played by Jean-Hughes Anglade, but watched the whole first season anyway. And I haven't been very far with Mafiosa, even though it takes place in Corsica.

Right now I'm in the middle of Maison close, which takes place in a high-end Parisian brothel in 1871, right after the Commune. It's pretty good so far, even though some of the aesthetic choices are slightly cheesy. Playing George Jackson's "If I Could Open Up My Heart" while two prostitutes put on a sapphic show for a client's benefit was the equivalent of a runny brie. Still, there's good stuff in there. I even like the sour lesbian madame hopelessly in love with her star employee. It's a cliché character straight out of the 1950s, and nobody in the US would dare show someone like this now. That's something I regret, in a twisted way, as it only adds to the pulpy ambiance. Here's the start of the first episode.

Looking at Christmas

Today's review is of Steven Banks' new play Looking at Christmas, playing at the Flea.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Coward

Nick Jones and director Sam Gold were able to get some $$$ from LCT3 for their production of Jones' new play The Coward (my review's here). Lo and behold, the show looks great!

I wished they had trimmed the first act but don't leave at intermission because Kristen Schaal enters in the second half and boy oh boy is she funny. Also: tix are only $20.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Red Shoes

Emma Rice and the Kneehigh company return to St. Ann's Warehouse with The Red Shoes. First, it's not based on the Michael Powell movie but on the Hans Christian Andersen story. Second, it's not as good as Kneehigh's Brief Encounter. But hey, it still has some cool, grisly stuff. My review thataway.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I'm ready to take a bet I will be among the critics who enjoyed Elling the most (see review). This new Broadway show stars Denis O'Hare and Brendan Fraser, and is based on a Norwegian book and movie. Even the cell-phone announcement is in Norwegian. I suspect my colleagues may not be as Scandi-friendly as I am.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bells Are Ringing

The Encores! production of Bells Are Ringing, which I saw last night, is all kinds of awesome. My review just went up and will be in tomorrow's paper. Kelli O'Hara 4 ever.

A Free Man of Color

I quite enjoyed Stuart Klawans' book Film Follies -- The Cinema Out of Order, and it was hard to not think about it while watching John Guare's play A Free Man of Color at Lincoln Center. It's 2 hrs 45 mns, features 40 speaking parts, is set around the Louisiana Purchase, and will drive you crazy. I'd recommend second-acting it but the pay-offs at the end make more sense in light of what happens in the maddening first act. Sigh. My review is out today.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Marriage of Maria Braun

German director Thomas Ostermeier stages an adaptation of Fassbinder's movie The Marriage of Maria Braun. It's at BAM until Sunday and is a must for fan of bracingly cerebral Euro theater. My review's up at the Post.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

There Are No More Big Secrets

I love Heidi Schreck as an actress (Circle Mirror Transformation, The Language Archive) but I wasn't won over by her latest effort as a playwright, There Are No More Big Secrets. Fortunately, the awesome Christina Kirk is in the show, and I'd see her in anything. Review thataway.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Merchant of Venice redux

The Public Theater's production of The Merchant of Venice reopened on Broadway for a limited run, so I re-reviewed it. Considering the strain Lily Rabe was under (her mother, Jill Clayburgh, died last week), she gave an amazing, luminous performance. Forget about Al Pacino: Rabe is the best thing in this show.


The musical adaptation of the Will Ferrell movie Elf opened yesterday. The thrust of my review is that it's been overly sweetened. Gee, what a surprise.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Pee-wee Herman Show

Oh yeah, that's exactly what it says: The Pee-wee Herman Show, starring Paul Reubens, is now live on Broadway. And everything's there: Miss Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis, Chairry, Pterri, Globey, Mailman Mike, Jambi, the Mr. Bungle short, the secret word, the "why don't you marry it?" joke, the pen-pal letters.

This way to my review -- and the headline, courtesy of one of the Post's ace copy editors, is particularly brilliant.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

After the Revolution

Amy Herzog had a good topic on her hands — the legacy of 1940s American communism on a contemporary family — but she pretty much blew it in After the Revolution (reviewed today). Thank god for Mare Winningham and Lois Smith, pros that they are.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is back — as it has every year since 1932 — and I still love it. I'm far from being a Yule fanatic but this show has to be seen to be believed. Come on, it's the Rockettes! You can't call yourself a New Yorker without having seen them at least once.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short

Today's review is Colin Quinn's stand-up show Long Story Short. Nope, not at Carolines but on Broadway.

Tennis players in the NY marathon

Today, the Times ran a second article about tennis player Justin Gimelstob running the NY marathon for the first time. Apparently he signed up after a bet with his buddy Andy Roddick. Gimelstob finished in 4 hrs 10 mns.

The thing is, the Times didn't mention that another tennis player -- and a better one than Gimelstob -- also ran her first marathon this past Sunday. It was French champ Amélie Mauresmo, and she finished in 3 hrs 40 mns!

I was psyched to actually see Mauresmo on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, right around the Carroll St. intersection.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

About Tristan Garcia's Hate

I just saw in the Times' Book Review that Tristan Garcia's debut novel has been translated under the title Hate (the original is La Meilleure part des hommes, ie The Best Side of Men). I happened to read the book when it came out a couple of years ago, and was a bit startled by Alexander Nazaryan's take.

Well, by one thing mainly: He doesn't mention that the novel, set in the Parisian gay milieu of the 1980s, is a roman à clef. The lead characters are inspired by easily recognizable people, with just enough changes to prevent lawsuits (or so I assume).

Wild boy William Miller, for instance, looks very much like novelist Guillaume Dustan, who made a name for himself by advocating bareback sex. His nemesis, journalist-turned-AIDS-advocate Dominique Rossi, shares quite a few traits with journalist-turned-AIDS-advocate Didier Lestrade. Rossi cofounds an activist group called Stand; Lestrade cofounded the Parisian branch of Act Up. And so on.

Meanwhile, real-life Jewish philosopher and public intellectual Alain Finkielkraut seems to be the model for the novel's Jewish philosopher and public intellectual, Jean-Michel Leibowitz. At least Finkielkraut thought so: When the book came out, he publicly protested "the way I was transparently used," adding, "It's depressing but what can I do? Duels are now illegal."

Come on, this is good stuff!

The novel is so poorly written that trying to figure out who is who and who really did what is the best part. Not mentioning that aspect in a review is like talking about The Devil Wears Prada without mentioning Anna Wintour.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

The most eagerly expected Broadway show of the fall has finally opened! It's not great, but it's not the train wreck many message-board posters have described with great schadenfreude. Personally, I wish I could watch Laura Benanti's big number every other day or so. It's hard to think of a better pick-me-up.

My review's here.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Will Eno's new play at the Vineyard, Middletown, starts off great. But it's hard to sustain ordinariness, no matter how clever, for two hours. Full review here.

That Hopey Changey Thing

"How's that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?" Sarah Palin once asked. There's the source of the title of Richard Nelson's new play at the Public. Can't say I liked it too much (see review) but the cast is great and it's only $15…

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

In the Wake

Lisa Kron follows up Well and 2.5 Minute Ride with In the Wake, the first play she authored but doesn't star in. I'm a big fan of Kron's work but the new show, now at the Public, really needed an editor. My review's here.

On somewhat related news, since In the Wake is very much concerned with politics, I voted this morning. PS 321 was very orderly, maybe because they had tons of volunteers explaining people how to handle the new voting procedure. Chuck Schumer was leaving as I came in, trailed by a news crew.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Scottsboro Boys redux

Kander and Ebb's swan song, The Scottsboro Boys, has moved from the Vineyard to Broadway. It remains a triumph — though judging by this morning's reviews, the critics are sharply divided. I clearly fall on the side of masterpiece.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Angels in America

The revival of Tony Kushner's epic hits town. Yes, Angels in America is back, all seven and a half hours of it. I like the play but didn't love the new production, which fails to deliver the big moments.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Back to the Mudd Club

Oops, forgot to cross-post this one. On Sunday I had a short piece about the Mudd Club/Club 57 reunion. Well the event is happening tonight at the Delancey Lounge, so better late than never.

Spirit Control

It's twofer Thursday at the Post, and my second review is of Beau Willimon's Spirit Control at Manhattan Theatre Club.

Law & Order sighting: Jeremy Sisto plays the lead. Now if only Mariska Hargitay could do a play, I'd be a happy camper.


The Ridge Theater Company's Persephone is at BAM until Saturday. Hey, indie-rock friends, do you remember the late-80s band Hugo Largo? Its singer, Mimi Goese, wrote the lyrics for the show's songs, and she performs them on stage, too. Okay, that's it for the reminiscences. My review here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles

You know me: If I'm going to see a tribute band, it's going to be one about Abba.

But duty called and there I was on Sunday evening, watching Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway. I think it would have benefited from more Yoko. Or any Yoko. Review here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Driving Miss Daisy

Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy opens on Broadway (it actually was off the first time around). The stars: Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. My warm-ish review can be found here.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Here's my review of the new Broadway show Lombardi. In case you're wondering, it is about the Green Bay Packers coach. Needless to say, the scene explaining the Power Sweep left me dumbfounded, but other than that the play's not too bad.

The Mankell-Bergman connection

Why didn't I know this? Today I learned that Henning Mankell is married to Ingmar Bergman's daughter Eva. I had no idea!

Mankell was talking about Bergman in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, pegged to the French release of The Troubled Man -- apparently the final Wallander novel (at last!). At one point the interviewer says to Mankell that the characters in Depths are depressive, and asks if that's a trademark of Scandinavian literature, from Strindberg to Hamsun:
If you want really melancholy literature, check out Portugal! I'm not sure melancholia is a dominant trait of Swedish or Scandinavian literature. That's a myth spread by the movies of my father-in-law, Ingmar Bergman. He often joked that it was all his fault! But there's an inherent melancholia to an Europe that's searching for itself right now.

Q: What did you talk about with Bergman?

We were very close. The last few years, I was one of the last people he stayed in touch with. We chatted a lot, mostly about music. You can talk about music in a thousand different ways. And he had his own little cinema. We watched about 150 movies together: silent classics as well as recent films. It was always thrilling to hear his comments. He was the first one to read my plays. I miss him a lot.

Q: Can you name a specific memory?

He was very happy that I joined him in loving Hour of the Wolf, one of his most underrated, most misunderstood movies. I think I represented the brother he never had. The last time I saw him was a few days before his death. I knew he was dying. And in fact he died at the hour of the wolf, between 4 and 5am -- allegedly the time when people are born or die.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Language Archive

Julia Cho's The Language Archive is at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre. A lovable cast (Jayne Houdyshell, Heidi Schreck), but a bad play. My review here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It should get better now

I just have to get something off my chest.

The "It Gets Better" campaign is great and well-meaning and all, but something about it bugs me. Discussing it with a friend last night, she really zeroed in on the problem. The campaign seems to suggest that gay teens just grin and bear it until they get older and it gets better. Okay, but what about trying to stop the bullying now? The campaign puts the responsibility on the victim, whereas people should clamor for schools and the authorities to clamp down on the offenders, stat. If a kid attacks another kid, you need to take care of the victim and make sure the aggressor is stopped. It's basic discipline and justice.

As my friend put it, right now it's as if we were telling the kids, "It's okay to ride in the back of the bus, because one day in the future you'll get to drive your own rainbow-colored RV!"

Friday, October 15, 2010

La Bête

David Hirson's La Bête is back on Broadway after a very, very short run back in 1991. And it got the best production one could dream of, reuniting Matthew Warchus and Mark Rylance after Boeing-Boeing. Rylance alone is worth the price of admission. I liked.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson revisited

This is a milestone of some kind for me: I've now reviewed what's essentially the same production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson three times.

The first was when the musical played the Public Theater's Lab series in May 2009. The second was when it moved up to the Public proper this past spring. The third was today, on the occasion of Bloody's transfer to Broadway. Phew!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Life in the Theatre

David Mamet's 1977 comedy A Life in the Theatre gets a good Broadway production starring Patrick "Engage!" Stewart and T.R. Knight. I liked it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tigers Be Still

Playwright Kim Rosenstock, director Sam Gold and their awesome cast bring on the funny in Tigers Be Still (my review here) at the Roundabout Black Box. And it's only $20!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

How not to do historical fiction

Following recommendations, I picked up Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy. This has got to be a cult classic of some kind, because two more people, seeing me read it outside the theater and on the subway, broke out in spontaneous praise for Kerr. But I have to admit I gave up after the first novel, March Violets, and didn't finish the trilogy. A couple of things kept tripping me, preventing full immersion.

One is Kerr's relentless use of hard-boiled similes. Taken separately, they're inventive and evocative, but when you have three per page, it becomes a tiresome tic.

A building's red-brick walls "heaved into sight like the muddy flanks of some horny-skinned dinosaur."

A black door is "polished so keenly they could have used it as a mirror in a negro jazz-band's dressing room."

"He edged towards me like a crab with a bad case of corns."

"The voice emptied slowly out of the Boris Karloff mouth, with its slightly protruding teeth, like grit from a bucket."

"She produced a small lace handkerchief which seemed as improbably in her large, peasant hands as an antimacassar in those of Max Schmelling, the boxer…"

The last brings me to the other thing that bugged me: the constant overexplaining of terms and references — something that's particularly common in historical fiction. "She poured herself a glass of Bowle, Berlin's favorite summer drink, from a tall, blue-glass pitcher…"

So Berlin Noir went back to the mid-Manhattan library, unfinished. I replaced it with Sofi Oksanen's Purge, a Finnish-Estonian literary novel that's getting excellent reviews in France. Only a dozen pages in so far, but it's very promising.

And today I did my first trade at the Mystery Swap run by the Community Bookstore in Park Slope: Bring in a mystery novel, pay $1 and you can take one from their stash. I brought a couple of books, gave my $2, and made off with Carl Hiaasen's Basket Case and Maj Swöwall and Per Wahlöö's The Terrorists.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Time Stands Still redux

My review of Donald Margulies' newly reopened Time Stands Still is out today. I deeply disliked the play the first time around; now I only dislike it. I suppose that's progress of a sort. Still, I'm not convinced there was any need to bring the show back, since it ran on Broadway in the spring. Were people really clamoring for more middle-brow stuff?

Thursday, October 07, 2010


At long last, Elevator Repair Service's Gatz has made it to New York! I was half captivated, half bored to death — although the latter seemed to take up more of the show. So I didn't try to hide behind critical cool and was candid in my review: The most hyped show of the fall sent me into a catatonic state at times.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Deer House

I was left dumbstruck by Jan Lauwers' King Lear in 2001 and loved Isabella's Room in 2004. Alas, his new The Deer House, at the BAM Harvey this week, isn't so hot. Review thataway.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Mrs. Warren's Profession

Today's review is of Mrs. Warren's Profession, the George Bernard Shaw play the Roundabout just revived at its American Airlines Theatre. Hmm, Roundabout + period play = ostentatious period sets? Bingo!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Freckleface Strawberry

Frecklace Strawberry is am off-Broadway musical based on Julianne Moore's children's book. My take on it can be found here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Pitmen Painters

In today's Post, a mostly positive review of Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters. The show is often described as "Billy Elliot without the music," and it's not untrue: similar author (Lee Hall), similar background (coal miners), similar narrative arc (the discovery of art transforms working-class men).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Brief Encounter redux

The production of Brief Encounter I caught at St Ann's Warehouse last December has just transferred to Studio 54, and it remains a delight. This is the rare Broadway show that's money well spent.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fall preview on WNYC

Time Out New York's Adam Feldman and I talked about the upcoming season on WNYC. Fun times! You can listen to us go at it here.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Sarah Ruhl's overly faithful adaptation of Orlando has just hit Classic Stage (my review is here). The best thing about seeing a show at CSC is that there's an Everyman Espresso counter in the lobby. Plus they played Timbaland's "Carry Out" -- immortalized by Jenn Harris and Tim Girrbach at Our Hit Parade -- twice in a row when I was there last week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Divine Sister

Second review of the day is the new Charles Busch play, The Divine Sister, which just opened at Soho Playhouse. Vintage Busch, this one. It's hard to wreck a spoof about nuns, and he didn't.


A couple of reviews in today's paper. First off is Laurie Anderson's latest, Delusion, at BAM. It was hard to refrain playing off the title, but I did.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Little Foxes

Maximum star rating for Ivo van Hove's staging of The Little Foxes today! The season is still in its infancy, but I can already tell that this one will make my top ten list.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Roadkill Confidential

Another review, another bad show: Sheila Callaghan's Roadkill Confidential at 3LD. Fortunately the critical tide is about to turn in a big way with the last two productions I've seen. I'll say no more for now!

Monday, September 20, 2010


Today's review of a pretty bad show at the Rattlestick Theatre, underneathmybed. Ayee!

Friday, September 17, 2010

In the Heights redux

A cast change prompted a revisit to (and a re-review of) In the Heights, which I hadn't seen since it opened two and a half years ago. Okay, so Jordin Sparks can't really act -- no surprise here. But the show itself holds up rather well, and I found myself enjoyed Lin-Manuel Miranda's score even more this time around.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Paris Review online

I've become completely addicted to the Paris Review online offerings. My way in was Louisa Thomas' blogging about the US Open (tennis, of course, not golf). Simply some of the finest sports writing I've read in a long while. I hope she keeps it up somehow, somewhere.

Then this morning I discovered that Nelly Kaprièlian has begun keeping a "culture diary" for the same outlet. Her first two entries are rather long, and I really don't know where she finds the time. In addition to being an editor and writer at the French weekly Les Inrockuptibles (I'm a subscriber and actually contributed a handful of record reviews in the late '80s), she often pundits — she's a regular on the radio critics roundtable Le Masque et la plume, for instance, and I keep catching her on various public-radio outlets. Plus her first diary entry reveals an active social life.

I confess to a love-hate relationship with Kaprièlian. On the one hand, she's a tireless defender of American fiction in France, and I will always cherish her memorable tongue-lashing of Jean-Louis Ezine, a fellow Masque literary critic and serial interrupter. (He's so witty and charming, however, that he's my favorite on the show!) On the other hand, Kaprièlian is a remarkably humorless snob (very French, that) and she shares the inexplicable (to me) Gallic enthusiasm for Philip Roth — even his latest novels.

But back to the culture diary, which I can see myself becoming addicted to. The prize so far is Kaprièlian's account of her interview with Michel Houellebecq, whose new novel, La Carte et le territoire, is a critical and commercial hit in France. I've read and loved all his books, and can't wait to get my hands on this one. Susannah Hunnewell's new chat with him is a must, too.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bottom of the World

Lucy Thurber's latest, Bottom of the World, opened at the Atlantic Stage 2 last night, and I gave it a positive review. Thurber is one of the local playwrights whose work I always enjoy seeing, warts and all. She's been around long enough to not be "up and coming" anymore, yet she remains slightly under the radar.

Gaga vs Gaga

In her latest out-of-it rant, Camille Paglia -- desperately trying to cling to her bad-girl-of-feminism reputation -- "demolishes" (hardly) Gaga. The article is not online but there's more than you need here. If there's one startling thing in this embarrassing screed, it's that some people think Paglia's opinion is still relevant. Paglia keeps contradicting herself (especially when she uses Madonna as comparison) and seems to be in the con camp just to be contradictory.

A good antidote is the new book Poker Face: The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga, by my New York Post colleague Maureen Callahan. There's already several Gaga books on the market, but this one is particularly instructive about what it takes to make a pop star nowadays. Or this pop star, at least. It's not news that Gaga is a workaholic, but I found the book's detailed tracking of how hard, how relentlessly she toiled to get to where she is particularly edifying. Some may argue that it's too early in Gaga's career to warrant a book, let alone several. But the way she's built her act is interesting, and it's certainly not too early to look at that. And just think of what will come out of her fall, whenever that happens.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Me, Myself & I

It's not without trepidation that I shot down Edward Albee's latest, Me, Myself & I (review in today's Post). But it had to be done.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

From the land Down Under, part 4

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was keen on procuring some Australian novels during my trip. This proved harder than expected. Not that the pickings were slim; it's just that with the Aussie dollar higher than ever (or the US dollar lower than ever), the exchange rate made books particularly prohibitive. $26 for a new trade paperback? Yikes! So I checked used bookstores, which meant I had to throw my want list out the window and make the most of the available options.

Luckily, I found a couple of great places and came back with some nifty stuff. The highest I paid was $8; the rest of the haul cost less than $3 per book, with a couple of $1 catches.

In Port Douglas, I picked up Crew, an amusingly trashy 1980s novel about surfboat racing in Sydney; Ride On Stranger (1943) by New South Wales lefty writer Kylie Tennant; and Stiff, the first book in Shane Maloney's Murray Whelan series. I polished off Crew in a single day at the beach, then started on Stiff. The series revolves around a member of the Labor party in Melbourne, making for a really great mix of politics and crime. Maloney's humor and locale-specific details aren't unlike the ones in Carl Hiaasen's earlier (and best) novels.

I was happy to find another used Maloney novel at Melbourne's New International Bookshop on Victoria Street. The hallway leading to the store was lined with $1 bins that were actually packed with goodies like out-of-print Daphne du Maurier. While avidly foraging, I was interrupted by a young man who invited me to "the workshop about the Vietnam War."

Fittingly, the store is next door to the Victorian Trades Hall Council, "the voice of Victorian workers since 1856" (Victoria being the state Melbourne is in). And down the block is the Old Melbourne Gaol, where Ned Kelly was hanged in 1880 and whose tour include an interactive feature where "visitors are 'arrested' and encounter what it is like to be locked up."

In short: the perfect place to buy a Shane Maloney book!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

From the land Down Under, part 3

I didn't spend all my time in Oz drinking coffee and going to footy games: I also went to the theater (more on that on my NY Post blog) and caught some TV. Some random thoughts on the latter experience.

After watching most of the audition week of the local X Factor (already a hit in the UK, US version coming soon), I can only say that I'm now so hooked that I'm going to follow the proceedings online to see if my favorites (see below) make it through. The four judges are singer Natalie Imbruglia, former Australian Idol judge Kyle Sandilands (trying waaaay too hard to emulate Simon Cowell), baby-faced Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian and former Boyzone member Ronan Keating. Most striking was the candidates' sweetness and naivete — several looked almost paralyzed by shyness. This was in stark contrast to the way many American contestants show up with outsize egos and an often-lengthy history of performing.

In addition, there's four categories of candidates: groups, under 25 males, under 25 females and anybody over 25 — OMG, fogies with, like, wrinkles! This opens up the competition to seasoned people with real histories behind them. I was particularly taken, for instance, with 40-year-old Tony from Perth. His audition performance of "Proud Mary" was the epitome of rugged manliness. Also impressive was 20-year-old apprentice hairdresser Sally, with a dignified cover of Xtina's Hurt."

Another big difference: openly gay candidates (yay, Hayley). Cute.

Another TV favorite was a reality show called The Farmer Wants a Wife, which follows six country folk in various Australian states as they look for a suitable mate. Highlight of the one episode I caught was when the date between cattle farmer Charlie and equine dentist Christy was cut short after she was bitten by a redback spider and had to be taken to the emergency room. (Perhaps this is what inspired me to purchase a pair of Redback boots later on.) Note that the title is deceiving since the farmers include Becky, a woman from South Australia looking for a husband. She seemed to hit it off with an explosives technician from the Northern Territory.

Finally, homegrown pride is very important in the Australian film and TV industry. Every time an American flick starred a local, the trailer or promo blared "featuring Australia's so-and-so." A commercial for new Oz series Cops L.A.C. boasted "with a great Aussie cast!"

From the land Down Under, part 2

Australian coffee rocks. It's not the thing the country is known for abroad, but it's an essential part of the quality of life there.

One of my favorite things when traveling is spending time in the local cafés. This may have something to do with growing up in France, where cafés play a key role in the social life -- despite the fact that the coffee you get there is actually terrible. The point is that they are a place where you can while away several hours with a drink and a book, or meet friends and reconfigure the world. Also, I'm a teetotaler so bars hold little interest to me.

Café life leaves a lot to be desired in New York: Other than some spots in the Village (now mostly tourist traps), I would argue that it's a relatively recent phenomenon here, having picked up after Starbucks came to town; contrary to politically correct opinion, Starbucks didn't kill independent coffee places here, it created them. (Strangely, a similar phenomenon didn't seem to happen in London.) The problem is that it's really hard to find a good coffee, whether espresso or drip. The lattes and cappuccinos, for instance, tend to be boiled beyond recognition. I used to think that the baristas weren't properly trained to use the machines, but now I think the problem is more that the majority of the baristas don't even grasp what a latte is supposed to taste like. They have no frame of reference.

So far, Stockholm has been the standard for civilized cafés, maybe because of the local tradition known as fika, ie a coffee break accompanied by a pastry. But Australia is right up there, perhaps even better -- you won't find a more perfect latte anywhere else. And it's not just in the specialized establishments: I've had impeccable cups in airports and gas stations! And unlike the NY coffee snobs, they don't try to impress with crap like how much they paid for their hand-tooled machine or whether the beans were picked by virgins on a single hill in Nicaragua.

Even better, we went to cafés every single day for ten days straight, and not once did we see someone on a laptop -- the scourge of NY coffee joints. People read the paper or had actual conversations with each other. Imagine that! You don't realize how antisocial laptops are until they're taken out of the equation and you find yourself in an environment where sociability is encouraged. Real-life one, not virtual one. I realize this sounds crazy but you must suspend your disbelief.

We hit a lot of good spots, but a particularly enjoyable one was Re:hab, in the small town of Port Douglas. A must if you ever find yourself in FNQ (Far North Queensland -- Aussies love acronyms).

Monday, September 06, 2010

From the land Down Under, part 1

Fact: the jetlag returning from Melbourne to New York is killer. Killer. I feel like crap, exhausted with a low-pressure headache lurking in the back of my sinuses.

But a trip to Australia is well worth this hassle. Man, do I love it there!

First, the timing was just right. To begin with, the political action was primo: The country is stuck with a hung parliament and as of writing, still doesn't have a functioning government. Basically departing PM Julia Gillard (Labor) and Tony Abbott (center-right Coalition) have been spending the past 10 days or so wooing four independents — and they've been driving a hard bargain.

Then, the Sheila and I landed in Melbourne as the regular footy season was ending and Grand Final week was starting. This is the equivalent of the playoffs for Australian rules football. I went to my very first game, Collingwood vs. Hawthorn, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). What a civilized experience! We walked there as the stadium is right in the center of town — and is surrounded by a river and parks, not acres of parking lots. Then we bought general-admission seats for a mere A$20 each. Try that at Yankee Stadium! The 'G, as it's known, is a beautiful venue that feels more intimate than its 100,000 capacity would suggest. We picked seats way up so we could have a good bird's eye view of the action.

The game itself was incredible as Aussie rules is fast and fun. These guys run around a gigantic oval-shaped field so they're in tip-top shape. And as in soccer, there's no time-outs: The action keeps going. I have no idea why this sport is played only in Australia. Anyway, the favorite Collingwood Magpies lost to the underdog Hawthorn Hawks in a crazily suspenseful game, so my introduction to live footy was a really good one. (Game highlights here.)

Next: Why the Melbourne café culture rocks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wife to James Whelan

Today's review of an unexpected gem at the Mint. Teresa Deevy's Wife to James Whelan isn't experimental or brash; it's a wonderfully appealing 1930s drama about people who make bad choices. Not even bad bad, just not the best for them under the circumstances. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Brain in a jar

A few days after grandly announcing my retirement from Scandi crime and here I am again, reading Arnaldur Indriðason's Hypothermia and watching Jar City, a movie adaptation of one of his early books.

Indriðason is definitely up there when it comes to utter bleakness. His books revolve around detective Erlandur, from Reykjavik, who is just an incredibly sad sack: divorced with two dysfunctional grown children, and a seeming inability to ever enjoy himself. Mostly this goes back to a youthful trauma: Erlandur's brother disappeared in a snow blizzard and never resurfaced. All of Indriðason's book involve flashbacks, and the key to the mystery always lays in history.

This makes sense for Iceland-set novels, since the country seems to have an intense relationship with its history and itself, as illustrated by the project in which the entire population's DNA is recorded in a database. Jar City is a good illustration of Indriðason's m.o. — the database plays a big role and the action hinges on 30-year-old events — plus the movie offers an excellent visual adaptation of the books' very specific mood. Typical is a scene in which Erlendur stops by a fast-food place and orders sheep's head from the drive-through window. Then we see him eating his take-out back home, on the 16th floor of a grim high rise. He absent-mindedly extracts an eyeball and munches on it, then breaks the sheep's skull in two. It's a good deal, too: the meal comes with a side of mashed potatoes. Also noteworthy: Erlandur coming up to a key character while carrying a brain in a bowling bag.

Iceland being small, I haven't seen many noir novels from there. I enjoyed Árni Þórarinsson's Le Dresseur d'insectes (unavailable in English, as far as I know), because it has a sense of humor that breaks with the genre and because its hero isn't a cop or a lawyer but a journalist. As with other Nordic noir authors, he's quite popular in France, where I randomly picked up the aforementioned novel.

As I'm departing for vacation in Australia in a couple of days, I'm researching local authors so I can pick up some paperbacks while there. Shane Maloney looks intriguing, for instance, as well as Leigh Redhead (I may be influenced by her name) and Kel Robertson. Any other recommendations? (Other than Peter Temple and Garry Disher, whose work I'm already familiar with.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Burning in China

Another day, another Fringe show, another review. This time, it's Burning in China, a solo piece about ten months in Shanghai around the Tiananmen riots. It's a hot topic, and a boring play.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Picking Palin

Another review in today's paper: Picking Palin, at the Fringe. Yeah, the Fringe Festival is on here in New York. I'll actually be away -- very away, in Australia -- for most of it and I can't say I'm feeling bad about that.

Next to Normal redux

Last week I revisited Next to Normal since it has two new leads, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley. I'm no fan of the show but its dynamic has evolved in a way that sustained my interest. Review here.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Perky Sutton Foster as a professional dominatrix: She's a long way from Millie. Too bad Paul Weitz's new play, Trust, is so jumbled. Also, I love Bobby Cannavale but can he stop playing brawny jerks? I know he's really good at it but come on! My review's here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party

One of the perks of my job is being able to bring friends to the theater. But sometimes that blessing is a curse, as when I have to apologize to said friends for a bad show. That's exactly what happened at the lame Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party (my review's here). To his credit my pal stuck it out to the bitter end, but I was mortified. Good thing he had brought some scones from Amy's Bread, so we were able to fortify ourselves at the second intermission -- yes, the show lasted two and a half hours.


"Your boyfriend's on Leno," the Sheila has just yelled from the living room.

Yep, I'm in love with Jason Statham. Will that be enough to make me pay for The Expendables?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Run away from The Runaways

This weekend I finally got around to watching Floria Sigismondi's movie The Runaways. I've been a huge fan of the band since I discovered their Live in Japan album when I was 13 or 14. In a rare fit of fandom, I even got Joan Jett to sign my vinyl copy of it 15 or so years ago (I brought it to a Bikini Kill show that I'd been tipped off she would attend). I read Cherie Currie's memoir, Neon Angel, when it first came out. I watched Edgeplay, the doc about the band directed by one-time bassist Victory Tischler-Blue, aka Vicki Blue.

All this to explain why I carefully kept my expectations low in order to thwart disappointment. Epic fail: The new movie really bugged me.

Not only did Jett not contribute to Edgeplay, but she prevented Tischler-Blue from using the band's music. No doubt because she wanted to focus on a more high-profile biopic. And in fact Jett exec-produced The Runaways, which is based on Currie's book. Needless to say, Jett comes across very well in the new movie — she even does the DVD commentary with Kristen Stewart (who plays her) and Dakota Fanning (Currie). What a cool rebel she was! It was only about rock & roll for her! She was the driving force in the band!

Except I doubt anybody would remember the Runaways if they hadn't been, you know, a band, and not a Joan Jett vehicle with special contributions from Cherie Currie. But those two completely dominate the movie, and the only other person to be fleshed out is Kim Fowley (played by Michael Shannon, who really looks like Eddie Izzard in the role). We get a lot more Fowley than any of the other Runaways.

Fine, so apparently Jackie Fox (the longest-serving bassist) didn't authorize the filmmakers to use her in the movie, so we get a composite bassist named "Robin" instead. I understand, legal stuff, etc. (Fun reading: Fox's blog about Runaways reminiscences.)

But what about drummer and cowbell master Sandy West, or guitarist Lita Ford? West gets some lines and air time. Ford gets to pick a brief fight with Currie. Weird, I heard that the animosity was between Ford and Jett.

And then there's the lame music-video aesthetics. Too many hazy, dreamy shots of girls walking lost in deep thoughts — because that's what girls do, even the ones in a rock band. Okay, I exaggerate here because we do get snapshots of life on the road. But the live music scenes have no zest, and Stewart applies her usual indolent slouch to everything. Typical is Stewart and Fanning's underwhelming version of "Dead End Justice." The Runaways' own "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," the song requires dramatic singing for its completely over-the-top "girls in juvie" storyline; in the movie, it's not half as intense as on the record. Where is the rage? Where is the desperate energy? Currie has a great snarl when she sings this song, you can just hear it. So awesome.

To add insult to injury, the movie ends with the obligatory "what happened to them" info. But we only hear about Jett, Currie and Fowley! I seem to remember Lita having quite a career as a hair-metal guitar goddess in the 80s. Rings a bell? West died of cancer in 2006 — that didn't warrant a note? Perhaps it went by so fast that I missed it. This is especially galling since West had a really rocky post-Runaways life and was the one former member who really wanted the band to get back together, something she poignantly expressed in Edgeplay.

Oh well, we'll always have this.

Secrets of the Trade

I liked Jonathan Tolins' Secrets of the Trade a lot -- though most of my colleagues are less impressed. At least my positive review of this comedy should put an end to the rumor that I only like dark and twisty fare!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Monday, August 09, 2010

Interview with Leslye Headland

My profile of rising playwright Leslye Headland is in today's paper. If you haven't seen her off-Broadway play Bachelorette at Second Stage Uptown — what are you waiting for?


Today's review is Wolves by Delaney Britt Brewer, at 59E59. I've been spending a lot of time at that theater lately: I was there three nights in a row last week and am returning Wednesday. Which isn't a problem per se — the problem is that there isn't a decent place to have dinner in that neck of the woods. I pity upper midtown east, or whatever that part of NY is called.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Crime, Italian style

I realize that Scandi crime is super-hot right now, what with Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy being a phenomenon and all — every day I see at least one person reading one of those books on the subway. It's so huge that it even made the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and when was the last time that mag had a book on the cover? I've seen quite a few "If you like Millennium, you'll like these Scandi noirs" sidebars too, and of course they're kinda funny. If you like Stieg Larsson's proto-feminist thrillers you'll like Henning Mankell's dry procedurals? These writers have little in common — it's like saying, If you like Mary Higging Clark, you'll like Patricia Highsmith, just because they're both American women writing thrillers. But then I myself enjoy both Larsson and Mankell so who am I to say?


I've been beating the drum for Scandi crime for a while (like here for instance), but I may now be officially tired of it. Okay, I know I've said this before (as in this 2007 entry) and I keep going back to the trough, but this time I mean it!

What to replace Scandi crime with though? Sticking to the geographical angle, Italy looks like my next goldmine. What makes Italian noir novels particularly interesting is that Italy itself is such a mess. In Scandinavia, there's a sense of a strong, ordered civil society, which makes violent transgressions particularly glaring. That, of course, is the appeal of noir books from northern countries.

But the borders are a lot more blurred in Italy — after all, this is a country where the underground, off-the-book economy is almost as big as the regular one. The criminal enterprises known as the Camorra, the Mafia or the 'Ndrangheta originated in Italy, not Sweden or Denmark.

I read several novels by Sicily's Leonardo Sciascia when I was in my twenties and thirties. NYRB Classics has published quiet a few of them, and I cannot recommend them enough. Sciascia wrote a lot about the impact of the Cosa Nostra on Sicilian society but in a kind of literary way. Don't look for hardboiled stuff or tight procedurals — it's no coincidence these books are often described as metaphysical crime. Sciascia is depressing because he shows how the Mafia thrives in a dysfunctional society and political system; in fact, how both sides of the legal divide feed on each other, need each other. To Each His Own and Equal Danger are particularly good novels, while The Moro Affair is an account of the killing of politician Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades in the 1970s.

Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series is also set in Sicily but casts a much lighter look at that region. Camilleri's book are very funny — by contrast, I can't think of any Scandi procedural being funny.

Europa Editions
has put out a few good volumes too. I enjoyed Massimo Carlotto's The Goodbye Kiss, which was particularly brutal. Even better is Carlo Lucarelli, whose Commissario De Luca trilogy is a great read. The action is set immediately after WWII, when there was great confusion as to who the "good guys" were. The lead character was a police officer under Mussolini: Did that make him an active participant in fascism or was he just one of those obeying public servant who nevertheless kept the fascist state going? The power struggles between Communists and Christian Democrats in the post-war period are also quite fun to read about.

My latest discovery is Giorgio Scerbanenco, who was recommended at the used bookstore L'Amour du Noir in Paris. The book the owner picked for me as an entry point is Les Enfants du massacre (1968), even though it's the third in the Duca Lamberti series. Wow! Scerbanenco set his books in Milan and reading about that city as it was in the 1960s is bracing. Scerbanenco's most famous creation is Lamberti, a doctor who does time for euthanasia then starts working for the police since he can't practice medicine anymore. The level of amoral brutality in Les Enfants du massacre is staggering, especially since the ones performing it are teenagers, and young ones at that. Of course Scerbanenco betrays some hang-ups of his time, notably in the way he refers to an "inverted" boy not being a "real man" (a lesbian secondary character doesn't do much better). But I find it hard to let this bother me since the worldview is so jaundiced towards everybody.

Scerbanenco has been compared to Simenon, and I can see why. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be easily available in English. Perhaps NYRB Classics — my favorite American publisher — will rise to the challenge?

The Capeman in Central Park

Today in the Post, a preview of next week's staged concert of the 1998 musical The Capeman — yes, I actually praise something by Paul Simon!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Summer Shorts A

A quartet of one-act plays is collected in Summer Shorts (Series A) at 59E59. My favorite is Neil LaBute's Romance, which may surprise some of my readers but isn't all that unexpected when you think about it. Review here.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Hedda on the town

In today's Post, I preview a new production of Hedda Gabler that takes place in an East Village townhouse, and will play to only 25 people at a time.

I don't know how I managed not to succumb to a fit of envy when I saw the building, let me tell you. It ties with Richard Price's Gramercy Park abode for New York Place I Most Want to Live In. Ah, Richard Price...what a great interview that was...

Monday, August 02, 2010

A Little Night Music redux

Last week I revisited A Little Night Music, the Sondheim revival that didn't woo me back in December. The reason: Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch have stepped in the roles played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury a few months ago. Lansbury was my favorite part of the show, and I was disappointed by both CZJ and the production as a whole. But lo and behold, Bernie and Elaine have turned the whole ship around, and I can now wholeheartedly recommend ALNM. My rave is in today's Post.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Irish...and How They Got That Way

My latest review is the revival of Frank McCourt's play with music The Irish...and How They Got That Way at — where else? — Irish Rep.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Today's linkage is a little late but I just came back from an Internet-free long weekend upstate. (I may have to blog about my discovery of water parks at some point!)

I finished off last week with a review of Walking with Dinosaurs, which was at the Garden until Sunday. My technical advisor, ie my ten-year-old nephew, approved, and so did I.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Judgment Day

Ödön von Horváth isn't staged very much in the US so it was a particular thrill to see his last play, Judgment Day (1937). It's part of Bard College's SummerScape 2010, and well worth the trip to Annandale-on-Hudson. Review here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


In his latest show, Teorema, Ivo van Hove tackles Pasolini's movie of the same title — the one where Terence Stamp seduces an entire family plus the maid, then leaves them to their alienation. It's an intriguing proposition, and I'm a huge van Hove fan, but the show is oddly blah (see my review).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Falling for Eve

Joe DiPietro — excuse me, Tony-winning Joe DiPietro — strikes again, having written the book for the new musical Falling for Eve at the York. How they managed to work Nazis into the Adam and Eve story, I leave that for you to discover.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Night at the Tombs

Readers of this blog who don't live in NY need to know that the Tombs is the nickname of the city's detention house. When you need to cool off for a night, that's where you go. It happened to Bianca Leigh after she was arrested for soliciting in 1987, and now she's doing a one-woman show about it, A Night at the Tombs. Review in today's paper.

Friday, July 09, 2010


And we're off! The 2010 Lincoln Center Festival started with Hisashi Inoue's Musashi, a Noh-inflected tale of samurai vengeance. I was there, of course.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

My favorite New Yorkers

In today's Post, I write about some of the New Yorkers who bought tickets for Peter Stein's 12-hour-long staging of The Demons. (Yes, you read right: 12 hours.) It's basically a way for me to talk about the people who keep theater going in our town: the intellectually curious, the folks always looking for new experiences. I love them all.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Race reboot

Last week I revisited David Mamet's Race, and found it considerably improved thanks to a new cast that includes Eddie Izzard and Dennis Haysbert. Review in today's Post.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Winter's Tale

The Winter's Tale, the second of this summer's Shakespeare in the Park offerings has opened. Oooh it's bad. Really bad. When I greeted John Simon, who was sitting in front of me, and asked how he was doing at intermission, he replied, "Good, under the circumstances."

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Merchant of Venice

[in booming Moviefone voice] "He's an outcast and a money-lending Jew! His daughter has betrayed him, and everybody hates him! It's payback time! This summer, Al Pacino is SHYLOCK in The Merchant of Venice! Now playing in Central Park! Now reviewed in the New York Post!"

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.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Dusk Rings a Bell

Stephen Belber's Dusk Rings a Bell may have a clunky title, but it also has Paul Sparks and Kate Walsh. The latter being known, of course, for playing Dr. Addison Montgomery on Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice. Ah, Grey's… one day I'll have to do a post about my enduring fascination for that show.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Burnt Part Boys

The Burnt Part Boys is a new musical at Playwrights Horizons. Except that it feels musty, like one of those live-action Disney adventure movies from the 1960s/1970s. Or The Goonies, a reference I did use in my review. It's a long hike in the woods, is all I can say.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Le Grand Macabre

In today's Post, I preview the NY Philharmonic's upcoming performance of Le Grand Macabre — the 1978 anti-anti-opera by Ligeti, which is finally getting its local premiere later this week. This isn't really my regular beat but then the show will be fully staged. Now I just have to figure out how I can catch both Le Grand Macabre and Chrome Cranks. Rawk!!!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

Ka-POW!!! Go go go see The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity -- among the funniest Pulitzer Prize finalists ever. Not that I've seen or read them all, mind you, but I can't figure out how any of them could beat this brash tale about wrestling and how America fabricates its heroes and villains. Plus there's actual wrestling on stage, with big dudes in shiny shorts, loud music and bright lights. Awesome.