Culture: February 2003 Archives

Musicals bore me, but I love Keith Haring.

I also remember the Paradise Garage.

So I went to the spanking new musical, "Radiant Baby," last night at the Public Theater. Second row.

One of the characters in the production yells (I think twice) "Paradise is closed!" Well, it re-opened last night for me. It probably re-opened for everyone in the audience, even if they had never been there or even never heard of it, and it wasn't just the over-the-top production number, "Paradise/Instant Gratification," that did it.

The whole thing isn't perfect, but the cast is!

Does it mean anything that I couldn't let my handkerchief back in my pocket during the entire second act?

Don't miss it. Instant gratification.

See Barry for more.

Joe Ovelman opened a really, really great photography and video show at Daniel Silverstein Gallery last night.

We've followed Joe's work, and enjoyed living with a lot of it at home from the very first time he exhibited, so we were not surprised by the beauty, the intelligence, and the sometimes barely controlled, exhuberent queer wackiness, but the individual and total effect of his images in that space is spectacular.

The installation is brilliant, and, as in his studio layouts and his extraordinary but ephemeral indoor and outdoor and guerilla installations, his redefinition of Silverstein's white box on 21st Street is clearly a part of his art.

Great! You still have a chance to see David Neumann's brilliant creation, "Sentence," at P.S. 122.

We were there tonight and I can honestly tell you that it was one of the richest theatrical performances I have had the fortune to witness. But it's not really just theatre, and "witness" is not the right word. I suppose David is technically a dancer and choreographer, yet what he creates even goes beyond theatre. It's really more like literature, but experienced, not read, with music coming out of nowhere and everywhere.

And very very smart.

If you have ever seen anything like it, and I really doubt you have, it was not done nearly as well. If you haven't seen Neumann, and cannot imagine what I'm talking about, imagine going to the theatre in a country you love very much but whose language you do not know, yet you leave with the feeling that you have been a full participant in the experience, nothing was missing, and it was very beautiful.

Oh heck, just go!

From a "the dance insider" review of an earlier version of the work now at P.S. 122:

"Sentence" is loosely based on Donald Barthelme's Joycean prose/poem (an eight-page sentence.) In and around the Whitney's atrium, "Sentence" became in moments a wild and wily romp through interactive pedestrian performance and at other times clever, well executed site-specific choreography. Andrew Dinwiddie's security guard is calmly surrounded by track suit clad dancers. We gaze beyond the subtle shifts of Erin Wilson and Neumann to see a pink, velour clad Orlando Pabatoy riding his bicycle. Adrienne Truscott leads a group of tourists outside, a few other people stop to look through the glass at us and we begin to see narratives in every passerby.

Neumann weaves together fleeting dances, momentary encounters and brief passages of spoken word written by Will Eno to unravel his ephemeral world. Here nothing fits together quite naturally and nothing ends finite. Truscott leads her group into the atrium, discovering the dance already in progress. Her performance is fully successful as she bridges the outer and inner worlds with poetic commentary on the action of the dancers. She is both cliched cruise director and thoughtful connoisseur as she scolds her uninterested, exiting wards. Here we witness a beautiful moment of performance supported wittily with a self-conscious commentary on itself.

Broadway is experimenting with earlier showtimes, meaning 7 rather than 8. The change might catch on and become general.

Personally, I think 7 o'clock curtains are great! Lunch is normally between 2 and 3 for us, and I couldn't possibly eat dinner at 6. But under any circumstances whatsoever I wouldn't want to sit through an evening of theatre on a full stomach, even if the choice were 6 or never. Of course for us the choice is never never.

But you don't really think this piece is just going to be about curtain times, do you?

Years ago performances, whether theatre or concert, normally began at 8:30, even 8:45, making possible real pre-theatre dinners, rather than exercises in expensive fast food. Also years ago, ordinary New Yorkers enjoyed going out after their entertainment, whether it was for dinner or drinks. How do you share the impact of the music or theatre if you can't talk about it after?

So what happened? The NYTimes article doesn't begin to tell us. Once upon a time the people who worked in the City lived in the City, but beginning after the Second World War the middle class, which still feeds Broadway and Lincoln Center, opted for the suburbs. Their rapidly increasing numbers made the morning commute more and more dificult and, lacking the imagination as a class for anything better, their solution was earlier and earlier drives to the office. Real nightlife all but disappeared, except for the creative diversions of the Bohemians who never left and the youth who continually reinvent it.

I moved to New York in 1985 and was absolutely shocked to discover that my bosses, who rose in New Jersey and Long Island as early as 4:30, insisted that everyone had to be at the desk at dawn, regardless of their living arrangements. Of course these same dedicated industry servants generally slipped out of their offices sometime after 3 and fled home to 5 o'clock dinners. Until I actually showed up here for good, my New York was the New York of history and fiction (but also the New York of my New York friends, one which still persisted in their really-not-so-rarified, in Gotham, environments: fashion, publishing and the arts). No one was at work before 10, and just getting in sometime before lunch might be acceptable, but clearly the insurance industry was not one of these creative holdouts.

Years ago the work day ended in the late afternoon (or usually in the early evening for the elves toiling in culture), just in time for a drink and the scoot to a darkened auditorium. Afterward there was dinner, maybe dinner and dancing, maybe something else, but turning in early was just about out of the question--and I'm talking about working people, of all ages, not just club kids.

Some people are welcoming the 7 o'clock curtain for reasons very unlike my own. The suburban model encourages neither culture nor joy.

"When you have to go to work by 8 o'clock on Wednesday morning, you don't want to be out until 3 o'clock in the morning the night before," said Mr. Stavrides, an assistant district attorney in Queens, who saw "Urinetown" with his wife, Nicole, also a lawyer. "Not only that, we're commuting. It's not like we can jump in a cab and be home in 10 minutes. We've got a 50-minute subway ride home if the express isn't running."

Mr. Stavrides is the kind of theatergoer Broadway producers hoped to reach when they decided to raise the curtain an hour earlier than usual one night a week, on Tuesdays, for more than 20 shows.

They figured that the theater crowd no longer keeps hours that are Runyonesque, or even Conanesque; midnight is late for an audience that has a boss, a paycheck and a W-2. Mr. Stavrides, after looking at his seat mates in Henry Miller's Theater, said that an audience that can afford ticket prices of at least $80 a seat probably has all three.

And the suburbs certainly don't encourage dining.
The New York Philharmonic, which in the 1950's began concerts as late as 8:45, switched its Monday-through-Thursday curtain time to 7:30 this season. (Friday and Saturday concerts still begin at 8, as they have since the 1979-80 season.) Brasserie, on East 53rd Street, was once a 24/7 place but now closes at 1 a.m. The restaurant Around the Clock, on Third Avenue at East Ninth Street, is no longer open around the clock, either. It closes at 3 a.m. four nights a week.

"If you read E. B. White's essays, he makes the observation about how appalling it is that people have started to go to lunch at 12:30 in the afternoon," said Jed Bernstein, the president of the League of American Theaters and Producers. "Going to lunch at 1, which he was used to, made sense because they didn't get to the office till 10, and in those days, theater started at 8:30.

What was the best part about the 7 o'clock curtain for the show Mr. Stavrides attended on a recent tuesday?
"The show was mediocre," he declared. "At least I got to bed on time."
Well, he wasn't the one who established the court's work hours, and besides, he did go to the theatre, and he didn't drive.

We saw Lanford Wilson "Fifth of July" in a wonderful production at Signature Theatre tonight. It's just a magnificent play, and it still stands tall and bright in the strength of its political conscience even twenty-five years after it was first performed.

That relevance is unfortunately largely because the 60's ultimately failed, and it is that remarkable era which functions as the leading character in the play. Peace, love, sex, racial harmony, women's liberation, gay rights, recreational drug rights, tieless office workers, the elimination of stupid politicians: we aren't there yet. I've been in shock since the late 70's when I began to realize that the revolution had not stuck. I never ever expected it to be reversed.

There is one line in particular which somehow anchored the play for me. In the midst of a reunion with her former Berkeley hippie menage, fifteen years after and thousands of miles away from their youth, a mother almost screams a reproach to her teenage daughter who has just shown disdain or scepticism about the friends' radical history: "You've no idea the country we almost made for you!" I cried.

He never stops making us smile, and laugh.

The first notes in the longest and slowest piece of music in history, designed to go on for 639 years, are being played on a German church organ on Wednesday.

The three notes, which will last for a year-and-a-half, are just the start of the piece, called As Slow As Possible.

Composed by late avant-garde composer John Cage, the performance has already been going for 17 months - although all that has been heard so far is the sound of the organ's bellows being inflated.

[Thanks, after routing through BoingBoing, to Travelers Diagram, who neatly described Barry's site as "NYC-centric newsy link blog. Covers art, lit, music, food. Also anti-war."]

A magnificent man is gone. Lou Harrison died sunday evening at the age of 85, but no, of course he's not really gone. His music and his work as a gentle artistic, social, political, earth and gay activist, will reverberate forever. Maybe his splash will be modest, and this might be appropriate for the peaceful man himself, but in death he may become bigger than life. Saints have a stubborn tendancy to do that.

His own music ranged with a giddy indifference to musical polemics, from Serialism to folkish tonality in the manner of Aaron Copland to Ivesian collage to percussion, along with the many pieces for non-Western instruments. He prized just intonation, meaning pure intervals uncompromised by the Western tempered scale. He sought universal peace and brotherhood, writing or titling several of his works in Esperanto. Above all, he reveled in melodic sensuality and timbral extravagance, born from the pitch-purity of his tunings and the enormous variety of instruments and combinations that he employed.
Barry and I were honored to meet him and his lover of over thirty years, Bill Colvig, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music a few years ago at a concert which included Harrison's work. They looked and dressed like a pair of old lumberjacks, in flannel shirts and denim, they were very kind and very modest, and they had time and attention for everyone.
Personally, Mr. Harrison was warm and embracing, beloved by his many friends. Of a generation of homosexuals who often sought to mask their preferences, Mr. Harrison was an outspoken gay, marching annually and happily in the San Francisco gay pride parade.

One of his last projects was the expansion, commissioned by the Lincoln Center Festival, of his 1971 puppet opera with chamber ensemble of Asian instruments called "Young Caeser" (his spelling) into a full-scale opera. He called "Young Caeser" "the only opera with an overtly presented gay subject from history," in the composer Ned Rorem's words in the Grove Dictionary of Opera.

Love Arthur Aviles! He's at Dance Theater Workshop this week and next, and the company was reviewed by Anna Kisselgoff in the NYTimes monday.

In "Arturella," he has choreographed a not-so-campy take on "Cinderella" set in a Puerto Rican ghetto. There is plenty of Mr. Aviles to see. He likes to take his clothes off, and the nudity is frontal and otherwise. "Arturella" also has a gay pride message, and Mr. Aviles, in the title role, eventually finds his prince in a long smooch.

. . .

"Arturella" is hilarious and more than community outreach. You don't have to live in a Puerto Rican neighborhood to appreciate the authenticity of Mr. Aviles' humorous dance-theater tale. The actress Elizabeth Marrero takes on multiple roles with typical sass. The stepsisters are a man, Alberto Denis and a woman, Keila Cordova.

As the prince, Jorge Merced has a shaved head that matches Mr. Aviles'. Three mice are played by Ms. Koga, Juan Antonio Perez and a kindergarten student, Miranda Benitez. Children and nudity might not mix for everyone, but the context in which taboos exist is also important. In this case these taboos have obviously been broken.

I don't think we should be surprised to find that it is the poets who may showing the greatest courage in the face of tyranny in the White House.

Laura Bush has postponed a White House symposium on the works of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman after some of the poets invited said they hoped to use the event to protest American military action in Iraq.

. . .

In his message [to his colleagues, one of the poets invited to the symposium, Sam Hamill] said he felt "overcome by a kind of nausea" as he read his White House invitation, and decided the only response would be to reconstitute a "Poets Against the War Movement." Mr. Hamill said that he had not planned to attend the White House event himself but that the submitted poems and statements would be compiled into an antiwar anthology to be presented to Mrs. Bush on Feb. 12.

By Wednesday, Mr. Hamill said he had received 1,500 responses, and had to create a Web site, which he named poetsagainstthewar.org, to handle the e-mail messages that were overloading his system.

I don't see any other community showing the same resistance. Most people, as individuals or as groups, can't even be discreet about their glee when they are invited to add themselves to a Bush photo opportunity. Are they all starstruck, or do they just think they have to be super polite?

One of the poets who submitted compositions to Hamill was Marilyn Hacker whose poem included these lines:

The world is howling,

bleeding and dying in banner headlines.

No hope from youthful pacifists, elderly

anarchists; no solutions from diplomats.

Men maddened with revealed religion

murder their neighbors with their righteous fervor,

while claiming they're "defending democracy"

our homespun junta exports the war machine...

Mr. Hamill plans to organize anti-war poetry readings across the country on Feb. 12, in what he would like to make "A Day of Poetry Against the War."

Resist!

It's damn clear that even after 8o years he hasn't mellowed. Kurt Vonnegut has some words for the !&#*!@ in an interview on the "In These Times" site.

Based on what you’ve read and seen in the media, what is not being said in the mainstream press about President Bush’s policies and the impending war in Iraq?

That they are nonsense.

My feeling from talking to readers and friends is that many people are beginning to despair. Do you think that we’ve lost reason to hope?

I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened, though, is that it has been taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d’etat imaginable. And those now in charge of the federal government are upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka “Christians,” and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or “PPs.”

He goes on to elaborate in a most generous fashion, so hold on.

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from February 2003.

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