Five Star Book: The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

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“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast.” 

I had to return this book to the library this morning and I felt a real pang at giving it back. It’s been a long time since I felt that kind of connection to a borrowed book. (Everything I Never Told You a few years ago in Austin maybe?) But I’m actually really glad that I read the slightly-water-warped Queens-communal copy of this book, because it felt like exactly the kind of evidence of other people’s search for connection that the book describes.

British writer/critic Olivia Laing moved to New York City to follow a romantic partner who then promptly broke her heart. Finding herself isolated in a city filled with far too many people (my own editorializing about my own experience in this city is unavoidable here) she burrows into the rabbit hole of studying lonely New Yorkers (and one Chicagoan) who came before her and used art to try to articulate their predicament. Through the biographies and work of artists as varied as Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, and singer Klaus Nomi, she examines loneliness not just as a feeling, but as state of existence. One that can have truly devastating consequences (like for the to-me-disturbing work of the outsider artist Henry Darger whose indigent childhood and mostly solitary adulthood worked it’s way out in twisted mythological paintings of violence towards child-like cherubs).

 

Laing’s approach, well-researched and articulated academic argument mixed with a breathtaking vulnerability about her own lonely period, drew me in from the first page and never let me go. Some of these artists I had heard of before (a few like Warhol and Nan Goldin I already loved) but her obvious affection for her subject made me want to delve into their work and lives. I especially fell in love with her depiction of the multimedia artist and activist David Wojnarowicz, and I can’t wait to delve more deeply into his work. The act of creation, according to Laing, is an attempt at connection, and though she may worry about the virtual nature of this (the last chapter is a bit of a polemic against the faux-sociability of our networked culture), I couldn’t help but feel a little less alone reading this book.

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David Wojnarowicz, Arthur Rimbaud in New York (On Subway), 1978-79.

 

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Weekly Adventure: After the Blast at the Claire Tow Theater

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I’m not usually a huge fan of dystopias. I know that might seem odd given that the last time I actually got around to writing a theater review was when I went to 1984, but it’s true. So the premise of After the Blast, generations after an ecological disaster people live in highly regulated underground compounds where they rely on chips in their brains to taste food or experience the outside world, wouldn’t have exactly grabbed me on its own. But the name Zoe Kazan almost always will. I love her as an actor, and her debut film as a screenwriter (Ruby Sparks) as always stuck with me.  So I was very excited when I got an email from Lincoln Center Theater that I could get LincTix to her new play.

And I am so glad that I did! Despite it’s extremely high concept premise, this is really a character study, or maybe a relationship study. The main female character, played wonderfully by Cristin Milloti, is a woman struggling with depression and Vitamin D deficiency (hard to image that they all wouldn’t be), who wants to start a family with her husband, the charming William Jackson Harper, but hasn’t yet passed the mental health evaluation to be allowed. So, naturally, he sets her up with a companion robot.

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Photo Credit: TheaterMania/Jeremy Daniel

It should be hokey, but it isn’t. It’s emotional and funny and raw. It’s both a glimpse at a possible (maybe uncomfortably so) future and a meditation on why it is important to keep fighting for hope in the present. It’s really good and I want a copy of it to read and underline and think about for a long time. If you’re in New York you should go.

The show runs through November 19th at the Claire Bow Theater at Lincoln Center 

 

 

Things I’ve Been Meaning to Blog About

I think at this point I should just admit that I take the month of August off from blogging and stop promising that I will write about things I do during that month. Anyway, here are some things I meant to blog about:

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

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Based mostly on watching this trailer about 20 times the week it came out, I went and got this book out of the library, and I loved it. Miró and I discussed on a couple of episodes of our podcast, that one of the things that we love about Rainbow Rowell’s books (which are very different from this, but stay with me), is that she captures the sense of adolescent longing incredibly well. Well if you’re into that, but you wish it were more explicit, gay, and heartbreaking? Well I have a book for you. It’s consuming, much like the central character’s obsession with his father’s graduate student, who inconveniently (or maybe conveniently?) is staying a door down from his room for the summer. I cannot wait for this movie. (Though you should all read this book.

Prince of Broadway 

Look, revues are tough, but Hal Prince’s career is so varied and spectacular that this evening didn’t drag for me until the very end. (And that wasn’t so much a function of the show as the fact that that I have no patience for The Phantom of the Opera.) You need to be the highest level of musical theater nerd to love it I think, but if you are, it’s fun.

HAIM cover of That Don’t Impress Me Much” 

And bonus:

And one more (can you tell I went down a YouTube rabbit hole with this one?):

Buffering the Vampire Slayer 

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Are you craving a fun feminist on-line community that also loves puns about vampires and making fun of cheap werewolf costumes? Well do I have the podcast for you. Obviously, you need to have watched (and probably rewatched) Buffy to get it, but c’mon, you should have watched Buffy by now.

There’s probably more that I meant to write about over the past month or so, including a trip to Chicago for my dear friend’s bachelorette party (and a Kelly Hogan show at The Hideout!) and my 28th birthday. But this is what I got right now.

Long Weekend Music

I’ve got a fun long weekend planned for myself, including 2 NYC theater adventures, and quick solo trip to Washington DC. So, expect a full post on Tuesday (or Wednesday depending on how tired/buried in emails I am…)

But for now, here’s some music I’ll be listening to on the Megabus:

Most Girls – Hailee Steinfeld

Note to dudes, “You’re not like other girls,” isn’t a great compliment. I like most other girls. If you’re trying to say I’m special to you, just say that.

Gonna Get Along Without You Now – She & Him

I Would Die 4 U – Prince & the Revolution

Although I’m obviously sad about the reason, I am excited that Prince’s catalog is finally available online/streaming.

You & I – Ingrid Michaelson

Kiwi – Harry Styles

Because I am really enjoying all the boys’ post One Direction moment right now. (Except Zayn, because I’ve never liked him…) And I really can’t wait to see how Harry is in Dunkirk.

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Dime Store Cowgirl – Kacey Musgraves

Liability – Lorde

Feel It Still– Portugal the Man

Shine On Me – George Auerbach

Is this basically a rip off of George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You?” – Yes. But that’s a damn good song, and so is this, so who cares.

Woman – Kesha feat. The Dap Kings horns

I could write a whole post about how excited I am that Kesha is back, and I cannot wait for this full album, but for today I’ll just say that this song is my summer anthem. (Though it’s not safe for work FYI…)

 

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)

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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