Saturday, April 30, 2011

Born Yesterday

Born Yesterday is a cheeky little revival playing at one of those little Broadway theaters you never think to go to. I was slightly nervous going in-- secretly judging this 1940s self-proclaimed romantic comedy for its impending jazz hands, overblown stereotypes, and corny punch lines. I've been disappointed by these kooky golden age revivals more times than necessary, undoubtedly annoyed that someone out there didn't try a little harder, and that Broadway is full of blockheads, and that all the good ideas have quite frankly run out.

However. After fidgeting for the first fifteen minutes or so of introductions, and then completing a mental packing list for my little business trip the next morning during all of Jim Belushi's opening business driven dialogue, one Miss Nina Ariana snapped the entire play into focus. Oh! This play is about Billy! Ignore gravely old Brock (Belushi), he isn't the point anyway.

Born Yesterday, turns out, is a slightly deconstructed version of Pygmalion that chooses to maintain our leading lady's own version of self while simultaneously handing us the gratification of a makeover. She's smarter but not uglier. She'll question but not demand. It's also a lovely little observation on the gender war as was so brilliantly outed by Hepburn and Tracy a decade earlier in rom-coms Adam's Rib, Woman of the Year, and Pat and Mike.

It's so well observed, in fact, that the conversation I forced upon my theater companion during intermission was quite astonishingly mirrored onstage as the lights dimmed and the curtain rose again. Life imitating art!, or the other way around. (Although whether the repeated conversation is testament to the script's timeless quality or rather a commentary on the repetition of human interaction is up for further debate.)

Nina Ariana stole this one, folks. Belushi and his intellectual counterpart, played by Robert Sean Leonard, were perfectly fine but utterly forgettable in the spotlight of Broadway's next Tony award winning actress (you heard it here first). It's a fun play with a surprisingly thoughtful conclusion that if nothing else, allowed this jaded theater goer a full fledged sigh of relief.

Monday, April 25, 2011


One has to have a subscription to read John Witte's poem "Snails" in last week's New Yorker, but seek it if you can. (Oh, subscribe already.) It's so difficult to write about so-called intimate things like kissing without crossing the line into cornball, but Witte does it confidently and well. As Shakespeare once said, 'by the book.'

Zadie Smith's essay on Katherine Hepburn said everything exactly right. (Full text here!) Every once in a while Smith lets herself seep into sentiment but always with due thought and solid reason. I love that about her.

This year's clear contender for 'summer cocktail' has me convinced of it's necessity, and I realize how outlandishly pretentious that sounds. Who wants to join me? Negroni's? A garden somewhere in Brooklyn? Let's do it.

Sam Lipsyte is back with this week's NYer fiction! I have his book sitting here next to me, on my nightstand, awaiting my time and energy. Soon, Sam, I promise.

Did you all see these Whale prints?! Haunting.

And do you follow @NatGeoSociety on Twitter? No? You should.

This was lovely.

This too.

This song reentered my life this week for no apparent reason and make me ache for another sticky summer. Alison forced it one upon me around this time last year and I'll always love it for that reason. So ready for the weather to shift for real.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Parade

Easter Parade easily falls into a category of things I loved as a child but have had to rethink as a grownup (also in this category: Goonies*, Breakfast at Tiffany's**, South Pacific***, meatloaf****, and corndogs*****.)

You have to roll your eyes at this film, but I watch it every year anyway. It's one of two spin-off films from the great (albeit silly) classic Holiday Inn, the other being one of my favorite films of all time, White Christmas. I'll take Kaye over Astaire any day.

Yes, Fred Astaire is his usual douchie, self important, condescending self in Easter Parade starring alongside Judy Garland-- whom I adored in both Meet Me in St. Louis and The Wizard of Oz, but later formed a keen distaste for upon discovering her icky aging-cigarette-voiced-Christmas album in the Kmart bargain bin about fifteen years ago-- who overacts, over sings, and can't really dance at all.

The story is essentially Pygmalion, though decidedly less charming than it's counterparts and lazily constructed to match box office blockbusters of the day. It's therefore the type of movie musical that makes most of you out there DESPISE movie musicals, especially from this golden era. Here is Fred at his lowest ebb, just after his first retirement from cinema, cranky from the flash and pomp of it all. And there is Judy, emerging from a nervous breakdown, a suicide attempt, and a psychiatric hospital stay just weeks before filming.

If you're not familiar with the film, excuse the spoiler (although, why exactly would you watch this film for the first time after reading this glowing review?) but I'm going to cut to the end here. After an hour and a half of silly yet welcomed dance numbers and a dramatic makeover on Garland's part, the film slowly beats itself into a frenzy of jealous dancers, back stabbing performances ("It Only Happens When I Dance With You"), and flip flopping accusations. Who are we mad at again? Which one of you did wrong?

We take a deep breath, check our watches, then exit the film as quickly as I've ever seen. With an outpouring of gifts (including a gorgeous live white rabbit), a 'let's laugh it off' apology, an iconic stroll down fifth avenue, and a VERY QUICK proposal there amongst Easter bonnets, top hats, and jolly well wishes, we're kicked right off the MGM lot. Anyway, enough.

Almost unsurprisingly-- this was the most financially successful picture for both Garland and Astaire as well as the highest-grossing musical of 1948. And for the very same reason that thousands of movie goers stormed the theaters fifty years ago, I too will watch this film this weekend. I suppose it's my version of the Cadbury egg-- a stupidly sweet treat that comes around but once a year. Despite it's flaws Easter Parade is there in my history and I can't reject it, not just yet.

*really stupid
**not stupid AT ALL, but definitely racist and about prostitution.
***kind of stupid, and also racist and about prostitution!
****thanks, JSF
*****thanks again!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Success Story by Terence Winch

One of the many wonderful things about PRI's Writers' Almanac is that they not only publish all of them poems on their website from past episodes, but also for the four days to come. Think of it! You can actually read TOMORROW'S poem.

And tomorrow's poem happens to be hilarious!

Success Story

by Terence Winch

My clothes are perfectly contoured
to my body. my shoes & socks
fit just right. My cat is a delightful
intelligent animal. My apartment
is great. The right location,
cheap rent. I eat the best food.
My friends love me. I adore them.
My lover is terrific & beautiful.
The sun is shining. There are trees
even in the slums in Washington.
I have tons of money & a gorgeous
air conditioner. Great art hangs
on my wall. I live a spine-tingling life
of delirious sex & intense happiness.

"Success Story" by Terence Winch, from The Great Indoors. © Story Line Press, 1994.

Looking forward to a good night and a pleasant tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Images from Jonathan Franzen’s Island of Solitude

While Franzen's essay in no way lacks necessary visual information, I was still excited to find the NYer News Desk posting of actual photos from his journey to the so-called Island of Solitude. That donkey! That blue!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Farther Away

The New Yorker released Jonathan Franzen's latest essay this morning on Facebook, of all places. (Were they commenting on the NYT's wall? Or maybe on Franzen's FB line at the end there? What's going on?) I read it this morning in one big bite, while my friend Lauren--two thousand miles away in Seattle-- patiently waited for me to finish so that we could discuss it.

Farther Away starts out as a sort of overly romanticized adventure story--- all 'I feel like it would be a good idea to find my footing again by being completely alone on a tropical island for a while, and to pack nothing but some iodine tablets and “Robinson Crusoe.”' My favorite part in the essay is actually when Franzen discovers a fully functioning cabin on his campsite with food and a bed and a stove and gets all annoyed and decides to ignore it.
'The refugio’s existence made my already somewhat artificial project of solitary self-sufficiency seem even more artificial, and I resolved to pretend that it didn’t exist.'

The essay eventually switches into another story all together, one that I wasn't quite prepared for. The intended Defoe/Crusoe literary criticism fest (no one does this better than Franzen, by the way. Franzen writes about books the way that duller people wax poetically along about food. Well, Zadie Smith does it pretty damn well too.) casually morphs into The Big Essay. The one about his dear friend's suicide and the eventual acknowledgement of his own grief.

Franzen's grief is palpably raw and understandably muddled. He writes almost clumsily around his own feelings of anger and regret, love and tension. When it finally comes time to scatter Wallace's ashes on one of the island's many cliffs (at the request of his late wife), he does so with a narrative so nervously honest and confused that it caused this reader to dig at her cuticles until they bled.

'It was late afternoon, and the wind was blowing out over the insanely blue ocean, and it was time. La Cuchara seemed more suspended in the air than attached to the earth. There was a feeling of near-infinity, the sun eliciting from the hillsides more shades of green and yellow than I’d suspected the visible spectrum of containing, a dazzling near-infinity of colors, and the sky so immense that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the mainland on the eastern horizon. White shreds of remnant cloud came barrelling down from the summit, whipped past me, and vanished. The wind was blowing out, and I began to cry, because I knew it was time and I hadn’t prepared myself; had managed to forget. I went to the refugio and got the little box of David’s ashes, the “booklet”—to use the term he’d amusingly applied to his not-short book about mathematical infinity—and walked back down the promontory with it, the wind at my back.

I was doing a lot of different things at every moment. Even as I was crying, I was also scanning the ground for the missing piece of my tent, and taking my camera out of my pocket and trying to capture the celestial beauty of the light and the landscape, and damning myself for doing this when I should have been purely mourning, and telling myself that it was O.K. that I’d failed in my attempt to see the rayadito in what would surely be my only visit to the island—that it was better this way, that it was time to accept finitude and incompleteness and leave certain birds forever unseen, that the ability to accept this was the gift I’d been given and my beloved dead friend had not.'

It takes great courage to write about a failed attempt at anything, and Franzen's pursuit of quietness and isolation gives us hope that perhaps our busy world is good enough as is. He returns to his 'girlfriend and a martini' back in California without regret but also without any clear revelation or spiritual understanding gained from such a dramatic little journey. But it's this lack of closure that gives the story weight and undeniable importance-- 'As long as we have such complications, how dare we be bored?'

Monday, April 4, 2011

This American Life: Very Tough Love

Anyone out there in the mood to get angry? Specifically at this fine country's judicial system? Not that we necessarily need to drag up a reason, but have a listen to this week's episode of This American Life, Very Tough Love.

In this episode, Ira takes us to Georgia to a drug court program that is run differently from every other drug court in the country, acting in ways that are contrary to the very philosophy of drug court. The episode works because the story is unbelievably strong and should be told, but it's good because Ira clearly takes a stance. He often tries to remain non-partisan in these things but his irritation gets the best of him in this story and clearly leaks through. I love Ira.

And after you're all heated over the idiots down in Georgia, have a listen to DIY from 2005 (but happened to appear on my ipod last week so I just heard it for the first time). DIY is the story of an OUTRAGEOUS injustice against an innocent man from Brooklyn by our own city court system. It's crazy and will infuriate you.

Then if you need a palate cleanser after the podcasts above, I see that Mike Birbiglia will be on the TAL tv show this week! Laughter! Perfect! So if you're someone who watches tv and knows what the tv show is all about, there's that. (I have seen the same episode 4 times on 4 different flights. That one with the bull with the gross hangy skin.)

Or, by all means, do what I'm going to do right now--- watch Jane Feltes* instructional make-up videos on The Hairpin. Crazy. Night. In.

(More TAL here.)

*Jane Feltes is actually a producer on This American Life. Interesting.