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.

 

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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!

Read Harder Review (and Five Star Book!): Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

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I underlined so many passages in this book. A fact I know Ms. Fadiman would appreciate. I also bought it on a trip to a bookstore that was explicitly to buy a book club book, and nothing else. But it fit the “book about books” line on my Book Riot Read Harder challenge list, so naturally I had to get it. (If that reeks of rationalization and addict behavior, you’re not wrong.) I knew from the blurb on the back that I was going to love this book, but I didn’t know just how much I would identify with it. Yes, I knew that Fadiman and I are both book people, who were also raised by book people, but more than that we’re both the same kind of book people.

For one, we’re both obsessive annotators, she described it as treating reading like a conversation, which I loved. We are also both collectors of words. She has an essay in here about quizzing her friends and family on words she had to look up while reading a 1920 Carl Van Vechten essay, something I have never done – I want my friends to keep liking me – but I have definitely made the same kinds of lists. (Honestly, I made a long one reading this book. I would argue her word choice was overly grand if I didn’t know she was just reveling in the diversity of the English language.)

Aside from the kinship with a fellow book and word nerd, I really loved her description of her family. When she was growing up they used to watch quiz shows religiously and shared a love of proofreading menus. I know that to some (most?) of you that must sound insufferable, but to me it was warmly familiar. My dad gives my mom (and anyone else who is around) a history quiz from the morning paper. My brother once took a victory lap around our dining room table after besting us all on a final Jeopardy question. A couple of months ago my brother’s high school friend responded to my correcting my father’s statement that Faneuil Hall opened in the 1990s by saying that he meant it was renovated then, by saying, “You can’t get away with anything with the Dennetts.” So maybe we’re a little insufferable too, but this book made me feel in good company.

Side note: She writes a lot about her husband George, and each time he came up I thought, “he seems great.” Turns out – I had read and loved his own memoir The Big House and thought the same about her!

Midweek Music

I’ve been meaning to post a playlist for awhile, but misplaced the page in my notebook where I had been keeping my list. I found it last week and added a couple to make it a square 10. As always they mostly come from the Dinner Party Download or TBTL (what can I say I rely on the men of the APM Podcast network to give me new music…)

Emerald St. – Jamila Woods feat. Saba

Direct Address – Lucy Dacus

She Turns My Radio On – Jim Ford

Eternal Flame – The Bangles

When I was in 5th grade I watched a Behind the Music about the Bangles and even though I never remember to listen to their music, I pretty much still want to be them when I grow up.

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I mean look at the attitude (and the hair) #goals

Nuit de Foile – Début de Soirée 

Please enjoy this bonus video of another role model of mine, Isabelle Hupert – possibly the coolest woman alive – dancing like a giddy teenager to this song.

Alex Chilton – The Replacements 

Cherry Hearts – Prom Queen (cover a Shins song)

Delta Lady – Joe Cocker

How I Left – Sean Hayes

Who Says – John Mayer

(I know, he’s a sleazeball, but I just love this song…)

 

 

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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Weekly Adventure: I’m Nobody Who Are You at the Morgan Library

I love Emily Dickinson. I didn’t always. When I first read her I found her cold and distant and overly formal. Which looks ridiculous to me now. Imagine, thinking of a poem like this as reserved:

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But I also love what I know about her as a person. Not the mythical figure of the ghostly pale woman upstairs in her New England attic scribbling away and never leaving her house, but the weird and wonderful, and yes unmarried (gasp!), woman that I’ve pieced together over the years. The most clues for me came not from a biography but this collection of her “Envelope Poems.” I feel like that book made it the most clear how integral writing poetry was to her daily life, but also showed that she had a life beyond poetry. She was cooking or going to a concert or reading a letter when had these flashes of inspiration.

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Poem draft on a program card

The small show of her letters and drafts on view right now at The Morgan Library does a nice job of depicting Miss Dickinson’s quiet, but not empty, life. I especially liked the way they presented her interest in botany, with a digitized version of the plant catalog she made while a student at Mt. Holyoke. (It’s really beautifully designed and lets visitors flip though the pages, which obviously could never be done with the fragile original.) I also liked the way she wrote up and down on the pages of her letters, like she simply had too many thoughts to contain them to one direction:

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I had never been to The Morgan before, and I really appreciated the design of the exhibition. There was a lot of contextual information, but it was presented in a clear, uncluttered way. Also, this was the correct paint color:

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Though it doesn’t photograph very well apparently. It’s much greener than this in person.

It’s also just a beautiful space, J.P. Morgan’s library had me swooning (as my Instagram followers can tell you), and while I was there a classical duo was playing in the central courtyard, which was a lovely addition. I highly recommend a trip as a way to pass a gray Sunday afternoon.

The exhibition is on view through May 21st at The Morgan Library & Museum at 225 Madison Ave