Read Harder Review Catch Up

So, I sort of forgot that I was doing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, but I discovered my spreadsheet for it (occupational hazard, I have spreadsheets for everything) yesterday, and saw that unintentionally I’ve crossed some off the list in the past few months. Here are some mini-reviews (mostly taken from my Goodreads. Are you on Goodreads? Let’s be friends there.)

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood “A book that has been banned or heavily challenged in your country” 

This is a terrifying book. The timely resonance is chilling of course, and it made it harder to read than it probably would have been before the open misogyny of the current administration. It’s well written and the character is realistic, even in her weakness – this is a person not a “strong female character,” which I appreciated. But I’m not sure how I feel now that I’ve finished it. At times it felt like a chore, not because it was dull, but because it was scary. I think I’ll be processing this one for a bit

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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – “A classic by an author of color” 

I realized a couple of weeks ago that I could remember next to nothing about this book. I think I read it in high school, but it was a quick, beautiful read. The dialect (like all dialect) took me a little bit to get into, but I really loved the rhythm of it after a bit. Janie is an excellent central character. Knocking it a star for the bullshit (of it’s time) attitude towards domestic violence.

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No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts – “A book where all of the POV characters are of color” 

Billed as a reworking of The Great Gatsby, set in a present-day, economically depressed, African American community in the South. So not really The Great Gatsby at all. But that’s great! Watts takes the broad themes, and some of the character types, from Fitzgerald’s novel and then deeply roots them in their new context. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and deeply humane. (So maybe not that different from Gatsby at all.)

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A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval – “A book published by a micropress”

So, I’m stretching a bit to classify Haymarket Books as a micropress, but whatever. This book is amazing. It will break your heart, make you laugh, and leave you wanting to storm some barricades. If you’re me, it will also make you incredibly homesick.

Award Show Round Up: Tonys 2017

Is it just me, or was last night’s Tony’s telecast sort of underwhelming? I mean, don’t get me wrong, an underwhelming Tony’s is still one of my favorite nights of the year, but still. Maybe it’s just hard to follow the Hamiltonys, but also, Kevin Spacey didn’t ever really seem very comfortable up there. Maybe having the running joke of the evening be “why is he hosting?” without ever really giving an answer to that question wasn’t the best strategy. (An answer other than a string of 90s-era impressions I mean.)

But enough snark, here were my favorite moments of the night:

I haven’t seen Oslo, or had any real desire to really, but I liked that this was the first speech of the night:

I also have zero desire to see Hello, Dolly! (Sorry, but it’s just not actually a good play, you won’t convince me that it is. You certainly won’t convince me by having David Hyde Pierce sing a song that was clearly originally cut for a reason.) But…I have loved Gavin Creel for a very long time (once he hugged me on stage at the end of Hair and it was thrilling:

(And I love that Sutton presented his Tony!)

But I would have given the Tony to Andrew Rannells for Falsettos, I loved their performance (it’s a hard show to excerpt from), but I am so excited it’s going to be broadcast. You should all go see it, even if you didn’t love this clip, because the show as a whole is a masterpiece.

Anyone who happens to have an extra ticket to Dear Evan Hansen I am an excellent theater date:

It’s pretty gross that James Earl Jones’s Lifetime Achievement Award was relegated to the commercial break. Especially to make time for what, an extended Bill Clinton joke that seemed to be aimed pretty squarely at being mean to Hillary? (Sorry guys, the more I think about last night, the more I realize I may hate Kevin Spacey.)

Kevin Kline will always make me happy:

Also, in shows I need to see:

Do I know anyone who has seen Bandstand is this the only good number or something? I keep hearing it’s not good, but this looks very good! I need opinions:

Before I get to dresses one last snarky question, does Kevin Spacey know he’s not actually Bobby Darin? (Though I do love Patti of course.)

Now, fashion!

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Rachel Bay Jones in Christian Siriano (Photo Credit: Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

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Olivia Wilde in Michael Kors Collection (Photo Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

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Laura Linney in Derek Lam (Photo Credit: CNN)

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Cynthia Erivo in Chris Gelinas (Photo Credit: Jemal Countess)

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Sarah Paulson in Rodarte (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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Alison Janney in Cristina Ottaviano (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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Laurie Metcalf in Christian Siriano (Photo Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision, via Associated Press)

Weekly Adventure: Colm Tóibín at the Paula Cooper Gallery

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Almost 8 years ago (!), when I was studying abroad at University College Cork, my contemporary Irish literature professor assigned Blackwater Lightship, and since then I have been mildly obsessed with its author Colm Tóibín. I’ve been working my way through all of his books (and they range in genre including short stories, novels, memoirs, and literary criticism.) I’ve loved all of them. Many of them fall into the category of “things that are too important to me for me to write about in any coherent fashion.”

So instead, I will just give you my three favorite quotes from last night, remind you that sometimes it is great to meet your heroes (he was so kind and I’m inspired to write for the first time in ages), and tell you all to go buy his new book, or any of his old books.

“A novel loves money, it loves disappointment, it loves a marriage, it loves a marriage that does not happen.” – On novels as secular spaces

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Follow up: “So on page 6, I rid of the gods.” 

“If you’re a novelist, the most interesting part of a story is the blurred figure in the photograph.”

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Related: The Story of Night (a beautiful book about a gay man in Argentina) is “about someone who has not spoken before but must now speak”

Where I’m from the men didn’t say much, but the women would all be talking all at the same time.” – on why he writes with such power (to borrow a phrase from a question asker) in the voices of women

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A Whole String of Adventures

Full disclosure, this is a super lazy post. I’m tired…I’ve been doing a lot…

It’s been an eventful week for me, filled with theater and movies. And I’ve been really bad about blogging about them. I’m not going to write long reviews of everything, mostly because I don’t want to, but here were some highlights:

The Golden Apple from ENCORES! at City Center

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I didn’t know anything about this show going when my New York godmother invited me to take her extra ticket last Thursday. But after reading this wonderful article, I was intrigued. I’ve always wanted to go to an Encores show, and this was a really fun discovery all around. The show is a lighthearted retelling of Homer, and I loved the choice to recreate Paris (Barton Cowperthwaite) as a silent ballet dancer. One because I love ballet and two because it allows the show to sidestep taking any stance on the character’s culpability.

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Lindsay Mendez as Helen with Cowperthwaite (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Badlands at Videology Bar and Cinema

I’ve written before about how much I love this dark, weird little fable. So for now I’ll just share my friend Arely’s thought at from some angles young Martin Sheen looks exactly like Charlie and from others exactly like Emilio Esteves. It’s sort of crazy.

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An Emilio moment

Also, the queso hot dog at Videology was a pretty tasty way to end a week.

Six Degrees of Separation (with Allison Janney!) 

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

It was raining a lot on Saturday. So I almost refused my lotto win ticket to Six Degrees of Separation. But I’m so glad I didn’t. Obivously the biggest draw is Janney and she is as fabulous as you expect her to be. But the play in general, which I had only ever read before, is surprisingly funny and heartwarming. It’s sad how relevant the racial issues (and CATS hatred) still are 26 years on, but the 1990 setting does lend a delightful pre-Google detective story element to the plot.

Also on Saturday I met an actress in the audience whom I’m a big fan of and she was very sweet. 

Mother’s Day trip to Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

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I’ve wanted to see this show for a long time. I love Carole King, and so I was so excited to get to share it with my mom on Sunday. And it was the perfect Mother’s Day show. (I’m pretty sure the entire audience was there celebrating the holiday.) We were unable to stop ourselved from singing along. We briefly felt bad but everyone else was also clapping and dancing. Highly recommend it. Bring your mom, or your most mom like friend. (I’m happy to play the role of mom like friend in your life for this occasion.)

Wakefield at the IFC Center

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A perk of my membership at the IFC is monthly free screenings. I generally go to all of these, even when I know nothing about the film (obvious caveat for avoiding horror/extreme violence), which was the case with this one. It’s…strange. Adapted from an E.L. Doctorow short story by writer/director Robin Swicord, it tells the story of a man (Bryan Cranston) who abandons his wife and family, only to live above the garage and spy on them. It works more as a conceit than it has any right to, but it also has some really icky undertones I’ll be processing for awhile. Cranston is great though.

 

Coming Clean about Purple Rain*

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Can anyone in this movie act? — No.

Is the dialogue straight up awful? — Yes.

Are the sexual politics at best questionable? — Well, there’s a scene where a woman is literally thrown in a dumpster for daring to ask something of a man…so, yeah. (It is done by the villain, but it’s played for laughs, so…)

Is it still, somehow, a masterpiece? Absolutely.

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I’ve been trying to piece together why this movie is so magical since the minute I walked out of a free screening at the Brooklyn Bazaar Wednesday night. It’s obviously a lot to do with the music, and I’ll always be thankful for the experience of singing along to “Purple Rain” with a ballroom filled with tipsy strangers. But, that can’t be all of it, because then I would just want this to be a concert film, and that’s not how I feel at all.

It may be that for all its soppy melodrama, and petrified-wooded performances, the film does have a unique and striking (if a bit dated) visual style. The lighting design and cinematography (by Donald E. Thorin) do a lot to elevate the action.

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But, lets be real, the magic here is Prince himself. Not just in his musical performances (though goddamn), but as a presence onscreen. That mad had a two hour face, and the ability to simultaneously be winking at the audience and be completely vulnerable and in the moment. Sure, the world of this movie is absurd, but his emotion was real and so its easy to get swept up with him for the ride.

 

*This series used to be called “Classics from the Queue, but no one has a Netflix Queue anymore, and that title never really got across this idea that these were movie I had lied about seeing so these posts will now be called “Coming Clean” reviews.

Weekly Adventure: Present Laughter at the St. James (with Kevin Kline!)

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I won a Broadway lotto this weekend! That hasn’t happened in such a long time. (To be fair, I haven’t been entering as obsessively lately, but still.)

I have loved Kevin Kline for a long time. I can probably pin point it to either this scene or literally any moment he is onscreen in The Big Chill. (Side noteL I’m going to rewatch The Big Chill tonight I think,) So when I saw super excited to get to see him up close, (from a box seat!) in Present Laughter on Saturday.

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Photo Credit: Emilio Madrid-Kuser/Broadway.com 

I know this is theater-nerd and anglophile sacrilege, but I’ve never completely connected to Noël Coward. Sure, he’s witty, but I have always had a hard time with farce. But, Present Laughter has enough of a sense of humor about itself that I was able to shut off the (overly) analytical part of my brain for a couple of hours and just laugh at Kline’s character’s preening insecurity. He is as fantastic in the role as I expected, and his supporting cast, especially Ellen Harvey as the eccentric “Spiritualist Swedish” housekeeper and Kate Burton as his semi-estranged wife, are excellent.

The sets (David Zinn) and costumes (Susan Hilferty) are as extravagant and beautiful as Coward’s rich world demand. And the play zips along with seductions and lies and “lost latch keys” but never gets so complicated that its frustrating. A delightful way to spend a Saturday evening.

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Kline with Cobie Smulders (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

The Shakespeare Project: Henry VI, Part III

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The Writer’s Almanac helpfully reminded me yesterday that it was Shakespeare Day (both his birth and death day, or at least as far was we know), which was good encouragement to finish reading Henry VI. I only had a few scenes left, but was having trouble motivating myself. Because, as I have now mentioned multiple times, I’m pretty over this particular interpretation of the War of the Roses. I admit this is because I have, based on very casual personal research, and a crush on this well-cast actor, I’m pretty much decided that the Yorkists were right and therefore this whole conflict was wasted bloodshed.

I basically had made up my mind at the end of Part II how I felt about all characters involved in this tragic miscommunication, and at first it felt like there was a possibility for poor Henry to escape away to a monastery and pray, letting York and his sons take back the throne (as clearly based on patriarchal genetic inheritance ridiculousness was theirs). But of course, this is a Shakespearean history play so 1. there must be heads cut off and 2. a woman must ruin everything.

I wrote last time about how I appreciated Queen Margaret’s badassery, and I still kind of do, but it turns to folly in this part. Not just because she loses the ultimate battle, but because she has no foresight. She and her son should have stayed in France and they would have lived long, prosperous lives, claiming to be wrongfully exiled but with their heads intact. But, no, the all important crown must be won back for “poor Ned.” (Side note: why did they all name all of their sons Edward? I appreciate the comparative lack of Henrys in this installment, but still…diversify for the sake of clarity at least.) She does seem to love her son, but it’s clear that she really wants to hold power for herself and as she is female this is evil, I get that. But the scene where she and Clifford murder York is a bit heavy handed on the hand wringing villainy. Great wordplay sure, but it must be tricky to play and keep her seeming even remotely human.

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Gabriela Petrushevska in a Macedonian production available from Shakespeare’s Globe Player

Even if I hadn’t already made up my mind about the rightful claimants to the throne, the really disturbing, onstage murder of the youngest York boy would have turned me against the Lancastrians from then on. (Yes, I know that the York’s then retaliate by killing the also seventeen year old Prince of Wales, but he was actively waging war against the York princes when they killed him. Rutland was traveling home with his tutor and literally begging to spared the sins of his father. It’s heartbreaking and I’m not sure how you can watch that scene and then root for anyone associated with Clifford.)

This play also begins the character assassination of Richard III, which I won’t bore you with all my grievances now, but suffice to say the conflation of physical disfigurement with moral ineptitude is pretty hard to read with a modern eye. You’ll all get to read my full treatise on this if I ever reach the Rs. For now, just one more Henry to go!

Thing I Love – Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With Soul

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I’ve been on a documentary kick lately, which luckily seems to be the genre of movie that Netflix has decided to continue paying to keep on their platform. The all knowing “you might like” algorithm got it completely right last night when it suggested that I watch Mad Dog with Soulwhich I had previously never heard of (apparently it’s going to air on Sky TV in Britain, I don’t know if it was produced for that purpose or what the deal it.)

Like any 90s child, I grew up knowing Joe Cocker’s voice from this:

And then a few years ago (while watching another documentary) I saw this clip of him singing “Space Captain” live on stage and I fell in love:

Many of the talking heads in this documentary talk about Cocker’s unique (to say the least) performance style. At least one referred to it as someone in a trance, and I’ve always felt listening to him sing that he is channeling something raw and beyond himself. I would be tempted to say it’s almost supernatural, but that would grandiose, and would also discount the deep humanity you can hear in that gravel (particularly in the ballads):

There’s nothing incredibly inventive about this as a film, or particularly revelatory about Cocker as an artist or a man. He was a kid form Sheffield England who fell in love with Ray Charles music, and skyrocketed to fame. Once there he was uncomfortable with the attention, and predictably found chemicals that could help him deal. (Though on the scale of rockstar excess he seemed to veer more to the side of “difficult to work with” rather than “force for destruction.”) But it is a lovely portrait of an incredibly talented man, who seems like he was, by nature, gentle and sensitive and dear. (There’s a long section about their life in Colorado, where he enjoyed gardening and hanging out at the local pool hall that I found particularly endearing.)

It’s mostly just an excuse to listen to him sing, which is a pretty great way to spend a Sunday evening:

Also this:

Weekly Adventure: Mini-Break to Salem

The idea of witches has always been pretty fascinating to me. I’ve always loved reading Alice Hoffman novels, in high school I wore out my copy of The Probable Future, and I still return to her sprawling tales of New England women with complicated “gifts.” It’s no surprise that this was my favorite sign at the Women’s March in January:

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Because so much of the moral panic of witch trials can be tied back to women who didn’t fit into the idea of what a woman should do. Which is why its surprising that I actually hadn’t been to Salem, MA until this past weekend. Well, this weekend I took the Megabus up to visit Hanna in Cambridge (well actually Somerville…) and we took the train out to see what Salem had to offer.

And…it was awesome! For a few reasons:

1. It’s a super cute little New England harbor town, which is a particular kind of charm I really enjoy.

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2. The history, both of the witch trials and otherwise (it’s also Nathaniel Hawthorne’s hometown)

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3. The witchy wonderfulness. There is so much camp, and so much earnest Wiccan stuff. It was just exactly what I wanted it to be, and it was also incredibly strange once I stopped to think about it. The actual historical trials were about the paranoid superstition of a group of people who were wrongly accused of witchcraft, which is obviously a tragedy. But now the town is forever associated with witchcraft, and is a Mecca of sorts for the Wiccan and neo-Pagan community. Which is cool in that it’s sort of the ultimate fuck you to the Puritan authorities, but it also leads to a strange tension where the town can’t decide if they believe if witches are real or not, which opens the uncomfortable question about the (obvious at least to me) innocence of those executed. This narrative is most confused at the Salem Witch Museum, which I wish I could describe to you but it is beyond my power. Please just go, it costs $12 but you will never experience anything quite like it….

Anyway, it was also just a great first real Spring weekend up here in the Northeast, and Hanna and I had a delightful time being silly through the streets:

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I did not buy any, but I’m really regretting that now…

Thing I Love: All This Panic

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When I first moved to New York last summer, Julia bought me a membership to the IFC Film Center, which I have been taking more advantage of in the last few weeks. (It’s helpful that they’ve been having great screenings followed by Q&As with female filmmakers.) And last night I saw one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. From first time director Jenny GageAll This Panic follows the story of a group of teenage girls in Brooklyn as they move through high school and the beginning of college, navigating their friendships, families, ambitions, and romantic lives.

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I loved so many things about this movie that I’m not even sure where to start. First these girls are so articulate and open about the particular struggle of being a teenage girl. They talk about the ridiculous expectations we place on 16 and 17 year olds (to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives, to have sex but also not have sex, to know exactly who they are) with an incredible wisdom. If this wasn’t a documentary I can just imagine the reviews that would claim “kids don’t talk like that.” But of course they do, when they’re asked what they think and we actually listen to them.

It’s so rare that we as a society take teen girls seriously. We write them off  as frivolous (for proof look at the aghast response to Teen Vogue publishing critical political reporting), so it’s refreshing to watch these girls muddle their way towards something like wisdom. And also to watch them be silly and naive and stupid the way that young people should be.

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Gage mentioned in the Q&A last night that while they thought about including a couple of boys in the group, the girls themselves were adamant that this was their film, that boys already have Stand By Me and Boyhood. I’m so glad that this generation of girls will have All This Panic. It was the best portrait I’ve ever seen of truly sustaining power of female friendships, especially when you’re really young, these girls drive each other crazy sure. There are moments of “drama,” (refreshingly never about fighting over a boy), but mostly they love and take care of each other. And it’s beautiful to watch.

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